Ever since Elvis Presley appeared in 1956, flailing and rhythmically beating up the guitar that was strapped just above his undulating hips, guitars have been one of the best-selling instruments among youth in America.
Currently, it’s the second most popular instrument for students taking private music lessons in America, dancing only behind the ubiquitous piano.
In my studio, the charm, charisma and iconic flash of the guitar is always represented by dozens and dozens of starry-eyed youth, wanting to emulate the latest axe-slinging guitar star, and trying not to think about how their fingertips hurt.
The question of how to play guitar for beginners is one that has many answers. Like any instrument, there’s so much to learn when you first pick it up that it seems ridiculous to believe you’ll ever be more than a hack.
Also, there are so many ways to play the guitar that one could get stuck just considering which educational direction to take on the instrument.
If you’re just looking into it, you might feel confused and uncertain; you may feel like taking the Beavis route – pick up a guitar, strum any old place on the neck, start singing radical, crazy guitar licks and then proceed to demolish the guitar in true Pete Townsend fashion all over the floor. You may have even already tried that and now need a new guitar!
It might not be a great guitar performance, but I’ll give ya points for Hendrix flair. 😉
Instead of pretending and being a laughable poser like Beavis, let’s look at the best first steps to take as a beginner that will help you make the most of this radically esteemed instrument with such a rich, inspiring history, and put you in the footsteps of the masters. Let’s rock!
Legendary stories abound of many guitar slingers, Elvis included, who started out on a guitar that was so hard to play their technique suffered horribly and they couldn’t progress. This is why it’s important to have an instrument that’s not so hard to play it feels like Steve Martin’s “Cruel Shoes”.
After all, who wants to play an instrument that uses a vice and razor blades to hold their hands in place?!
You want to make it so that the guitar is inviting, and fun to spend time with. If you’re spending less than $100 on some “new” guitar, you’re probably going to be sorry you even tried. Instead, if you don’t have much cash to initially invest in your new interest, try CraigsList or Music-Go-Round.
CraigsList will show you people in your local area who want to get rid of guitars in their homes, and sometimes these are really good instruments that are stupid cheap because the person selling it has no idea of its worth.
Music-Go-Round is a store that specializes in used gear. I personally have saved hundreds of dollars buying from them, and all the gear they’ve provided me with is still in excellent shape.
If money is no object and you’re looking to buy new, my recommendation is to spend at least $250. Then you’re pretty much assured that you’re not going to go home with a baseball bat that has strings on it.
If you want an electric guitar, get one of THESE ELECTRICS FOR UNDER $200!
If you’re feeling called more towards acoustic guitar, any of THESE ACOUSTICS will cost little and work great!
Also, before you buy be sure you play quite a few guitars. This will give you an idea of how they all feel. Make sure one of them is a really expensive model, over a $1,000. This will let you experience what a quality instrument should feel like. Then try to buy the closest thing to that that doesn’t keep you from making your rent payment.
It all comes down to this: buy the very best instrument you can afford, and stay away from anything that feels incredibly hard to play. Got one? Ok, let’s move on…
Before you strike a note, imagine the instrument you just bought… years, even decades from now.
There it is… still delivering great sound. It’s been constant in its tonal friendship. Inspiring you to greatness in soloing, rhythm chording, melody-writing… all the things you’ve come to love and be quite good at in music.
It’s been with you in your room, with your friends, on your first stages, into the spotlights… and the glory.
You’ve written dozens, maybe hundreds of songs on it. Some of them can still make you laugh out loud, or still bring you to tears. Its sound, through those decades, was the magic, the glue, that held every song together. Always just a reach away, it has become… like an extension of your soul.
There’s a reason why guitarists often name their guitars – they become so familiar and cherished through the years and gigs that they’re almost like a dear friend; a part of the family.
This now is your opportunity; the chance to discover the power and alchemy of your new companion. And if you invest time in this symbiotic partnership, I promise you it will take you and your aspirations to places you never thought possible. Dreams come alive and stay alive through one thing…
Practice. It’s the best next step. Spending time with your new instrument like a friend will start unlocking its secrets, and reveal to you understandings you never knew were even there.
Like any great relationship tho’, it shouldn’t be forced. Don’t wanna play today? Then don’t. Would your girlfriend or boyfriend want you to be with them because you “should”? Or because you want to? We all know the answer to that.
And don’t view your new instrument like the U.S. Mint, locking all the greatest treasures away, and mocking you – just daring you to try to get in. It’s not at all like that!
Rather, see your new guitar like the very best teacher you ever had; you know, the one that showed you endless ways to enjoy the subject at hand, that kindled a real fire inside about the possibilities and wonders that are latent in its study and tools. THAT is this new companion. And that is just a glimpse into the time treasures to come.
With all this in mind, keep your guitar out of the case, in arm’s reach, somewhere that you will be often on a daily basis. If you keep your instrument accessible, just seeing it will remind you of its devotion to your happiness, which will in turn prompt you to pick it up. If you can get it in your hands just ten minutes a day, you will see real progress.
As I type this, one of my guitars is right next to my table on the right, ready at a moment’s notice to deliver the goods.
It’s my oldest guitar, and it has been put through the ringer. It’s not expensive. It doesn’t even have a recognizable brand. It was my first acoustic and remains what it was when I bought it: a cheap beater.
Good thing too, because one time going to a gig in Idaho from L.A. our drummer fell asleep at the wheel at 5 a.m. and all of our luggage, instruments… and myself were thrown headlong into the Arizona desert plain!
None of us were hurt (read that as “miracle”) but the truck was totaled. One of this guitar’s seams, along the back bottom edge, was cracked open. It still is today. I leave it that way to remind me of how blessed I am to still be here writing this.
There are few feelings more awesome than that of accomplishing something very difficult, that took a lot of commitment, time, energy and patience to bring to fruition, and that you now see happening in front of your very eyes. When you have practiced something enough this will happen to you, again and again. And just like any human… you’re gonna love it!
To get there, make sure you spend at least half of your practice time focusing on a specific song and trying to play it as exactly as you can. This teaches you technique, and after doing this with many songs, you will naturally have many techniques to draw from.
Some you will play more than others, and this is partly what becomes your “style”. Thus, learning music by others actually unlocks your own music, and one day… a student will be excited to learn your songs!
The other half of your time you can mess around on your instrument. Do crazy things. Pretend you can play things you can’t. Get in front of big windows or mirrors with your favorite songs on and mimic being the guitarist. It’s FUN! And it helps you visualize yourself actually being an accomplished player.
Basically, if you’re playing your instrument at all, it’s a good thing, but mix it up with half free-play and half applied study on some tune. This will mature your playing quickly and be entertaining at the same time.
How long will it take ’til you’re any good? Depends on how much you’re hangin’ with your new friend. The more your fingers on the fretboard the faster you’ll progress.
Oh, yea, and if you do, don’t be surprised if times just flies! Countless times I’ve picked up one of my instruments to practice “just a few minutes” and found myself still there, digging, searching, pushing, plaaaaaaying… hours later.
That’s because music is so much fun, and so rewarding that it never gets old. If you treat it like the gift it is, and go it with anticipation, never in drudgery, you’ll be amazed at the bond you’ll create.
As for what to play, that’s also up to you. Got a favorite song? Google it with “how to play…” in front of the title. You’ll find hundreds of websites and YouTube videos showing you how to play it.
Especially when you’re first beginning, just learn songs you like. Don’t try to play something you hate but someone else recommends. Life’s too short. Investigate what you’re interested in and you’ll have an absolute blast!
One guitarist that I’ve always looked up to and is still, in my opinion, the best guitarist alive today, is Phil Keaggy.
I’ve seen him play countless types of music: rock, classical, country, roots, medieval, pop… and he not only plays them adequately, he excels in each of them!
Here’s what he says about playing guitar:
“There are times when I am able to free myself from concerns about technique, and suddenly my spirit soars and the music just ﬂows through my hands spontaneously. That comes with living with the guitar for a long time.”
Take it from my hero Phil and I: enrich yourself with quality and quantity time with your new axe. Do so, and you won’t have to try to be good at your instrument – you will simply become so.
Explore, attempt, stay curious & inspired, and practice like a boss. You’ll be pleased with how easily progress comes.
Oh, and if you’re ready… HERE IS PART TWO of how to play guitar for beginners… all about focusing your efforts to make quicker progress.
Now, go… make… sounds!
(Editor’s Note: Teaj here. Today you’re in a for a special treat! While I’m unpacking a brand new mic pre, my ol’ pal Charlotte will be tutoring us in “how to make a song”, as she puts it.
She’s really good at it and I know you’ll dig her methods. I asked her to share with us because it’s not often that someone comes along who is a good friend and a good writer.
Charlotte is both. Enjoy!)
Salutations! I’m Charlotte. You may have heard of me and my famous “Web” from a while back. My friend Wilbur and I created quite a stir in our little town with our unique method of communications.
I still get fans asking for my trademark “eight signatures” wherever I go because of that. Today though, I’m here to teach you how to make a song. Didn’t know I was into that too? Well… one book can’t tell you everything!
Oh, and if you’re wondering how I’m able to write you this when I’m supposed to be… well, gone, the answer is simple: every 65 years a spider’s essence, or “Spinneseele”, is reincarnated into another web-working wunderkind.
Back in ’52 when I exited, stage left, I knew my comeback was inevitable. This time I’m extending my writing into the musical kind, so look out, barnyard slackers… Charlotte’s baaaaack!
Everyone knows the glory of a spider is her web. The intricasy and incredible complexity of our gossamer nets cannot be equaled in the animal world!
Humans have come very close to producing our thread, but even now have never quite equaled the properties of what we create – our silk has a tensile strength greater than steel and tougher than Kevlar!
As such, it’s the perfect tool for catching things and keeping them. After all, a girl’s gotta eat, right?
To begin writing songs, you will need to produce your own ‘web’ – something to catch and keep ideas for songs upon which you can build and complete your own classic tunes.
I happen to know that your WEB-master and my friend Teaj, has kept many journals, cassettes, mini-tapes, CDs, palm-sized digital recorders and, today, smart phone recordings, that have captured literally thousands of ideas for his compositions.
Like his tools and my webbing, you need to carry with you, wherever you go, something like these to speak into or write upon that becomes your go-to place for storing great song ideas.
If you do this, you will never run out of places to start writing, which is often the most difficult part. The blank web is the most daunting, so keep yours full! Then you’ll never have to try to create from scratch something to write about.
If you are going to write songs with a vocal, then that means by default you’re going to have to write lyrics. AAach! I can hear some of you trembling now. “But I’m not good at writing words. How can I even start?!” Trust me, you’ll have no problem if you use the method I’m going to give you.
The method that both Teaj and I use often in our writing, in addition to capturing ideas on the fly (that phrase always makes me hungry) or writing lyrics straight from our poetic brains, is called F.A.W., or Free Association Writing. There are two kinds, the Textual F.A.W. and the Tonal F.A.W. We’ll begin with the Textual. Here’s how it works:
Set in front of you a blank piece of paper. Or, if you prefer the digital method, set yourself in front of your keyboard with a blank document at the ready.
You may have an idea in mind of what you want to write about, or you may have nothing; it doesn’t matter, because either way will work.
Next, at whatever moment you choose, you simply start writing.
But here’s the catch: you may not stop writing until you have filled a page completely or TWO pages completely. No exceptions!
You. May. Not. Stop.
Once you have filled the page, or two, you may relax, take a deep breath and shake your hands (or spider legs) in the air to rid them of the ‘worked-out’ feeling you’ll probably have.
Now, believe me, I’ve done this hundreds of times and I know you will get to a point on the page where you can’t think of anything to write. That’s okay – write that!! Meaning actually type out “I have no idea what to say here. I really don’t…”
Whatever words fill your head, no matter how unrelated, asinine, pedestrian, vulgar (yes, that pops up occasionally), confusing, metaphysical, ordinary or hippie-sounding….write them down!
The goal here is to start getting your mind released from the confines of its usual “editor”. You know the one: it’s that voice that frequently tells you your thoughts are too this, or too that, or not worth sharing, or dumb, or…
You get the picture. During the F.A.W. stage there are no bad ideas. They are all terrific. Radiant. Impressive.
Don’t let your mind tell you otherwise. Release yourself from the stranglehold of the “Office of Self-Doubt”, that for too long has pushed you around. You don’t have to take that! You’re some pig!!
Oh, whoops, I mean… you’re SOME WRITER!!
When you have finished this first part of F.A.W.-ing, take a break. Go do something else. Leave it. At least for at least a few minutes.
Sometimes I don’t go back and read what I’ve spun in the corners of my web until the next day.
Abandoning it helps seperate the two roles you must play in the your head and let’s them know you will not ever allow them to speak to or influence each other.
The first role you played was the great superhero “F.A.W. Girl!” (or Guy), where there were no boundaries, no parameters, no off-limits barriers to your progress.
The second role?
Well, once that’s done, you can play the Editor. This is where you’re finally free to get picky.
Get a highlighter if you went the paper route (hey… I had one of those in a way distant past!).
If you typed digitally use the computer highlighter option which is almost always included with any writing software.
What you do now is read through what you wrote. As you do, highlight or digitally “grab and paste” to the top of the page any words, phrases or sentences that sound unique, eloquent, arresting or extraordinary.
If you started your F.A.W. with a specific theme in mind, cull out anything that really helps you tell that theme’s story.
Once these choice, superior lines are collected on a seperate piece of paper, or at the top of your digital document, voilà – you have the beginnings of your song!
If you don’t like much of what appeared in your first F.A.W., try again. Keep trying. If you F.A.W. enough times you will eventually teach your mind to “shut up!” and allow you, unfettered, to unfurl the sails of your creative mind and travel to the inventive islands, inspired reefs and innovative isles that only your personal genius can reveal.
But like Columbus, you must go! Put the pencil to paper, lassie! Type until you ache there, laddie!
There are always new world’s to discover!!
Next I would start putting your words to music. Now, there are two musical anchors you must produce for a song to get everyone singing along to it:
First, let’s look at CHORDS. These will be the notes behind what you sing that harmonize with them and provide emotional color to your three or four-minute journey of sound.
There are three levels of familiarity to chords in music. You must honestly surmise where you place on this list:
No matter which one defines you, it’s no problem. We can get there!
If you are in the first two definitions, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve already finished a whole article just for you that Teaj will be sharing with you soon, probably in the next week. It will really empower you once you spend a little time with it because it explains, in a very easy-to-understand way, how to make sense of chord options within a song.
So hang on… it’s comin’.
If you’re a musician familiar with chords and such, then you probably already have a good idea what you must do. If not, I’ve got a recipe for you. Compose three different chord progressions for the following popular song sections:
These sections are currently in almost all popular songs, so if you want your compositions to be popular (you do want that, right?) then I’d make sure your first songs have each of them represented.
I play the different sections of my web, which have different lengths of silk, to get these sections and the chords I need. It’s hard to hear for humans, but for me… my web is like the world’s largest harp! And every day I’m on it, writing for the world.
Play the each section through, and then proceed through the song stringing all the sections together to make sure they transition well with each other.
How do you know? Use this technique: record the whole thing and see if it sounds right to you when you listen back to it objectively. If not, change it.
Then record it again. Repeat this process until the whole thing sound killer to you. Only then can you move on to… the melody!
The MELODY is what you are singing along with your words. If someone whistles your song, the notes they blow out would be your melody.
There are two ways you can spin a melody onto your lyrics:
Which one of these you use depends mostly on whether you play, or have, an instrument (besides your voice) or not.
If all you have is your voice, then your first step is to tell your internal Editor to shut up once again and start improvising melodies over your lyrics. This is the Tonal F.A.W. I mentioned earlier. Because we’re working with sound instead of words, you’ll need something to record what you come up with, like your phone. Record while you sing one, then stop.
If you are just starting out, I suggest coming up with at least three different melodies for your words. This gives you some choice when you bring out your Editor again and will probably cause you to have better quality of music up front than if you only came up with one option.
After you’ve recorded three different melody options, do the same as with your earlier Textual F.A.W.s and leave it. Go away. Do something else. Swing on a barn rope. Talk to a pig. Bathe in buttermilk (it does wonders for the skin, I hear). Just don’t listen to it now.
Later come back and listen to all three. I guarantee you one of them will stand out as a better melody. That’s the one to use!
Now that you have lyrics, a melody and chords you are only lacking one thing – a recording! The only way a song truly exists these days is if it is recorded and put out on the Web for all the world to hear.. and know… and (hopefully!) love.
If you don’t already have it, get some recording software (Audacity is free!) and go record that bad boy!!
First put down the chords and make sure they sound perfect.
Then overdub (to record on a separate track, over the chords) your words sung to your melody.
This is where you truly know if your song is ready for the world, because if something isn’t quite right in your vocal, instrument or words, the recording software makes it obvious.
If you are satisfied with what you hear, then you know have a good, quality song that, like a good, quality web, is anchored in at least four places: your lyrics, your chords, your melody and your recording.
Is this truly all you need to make your impact on the world huuuuuuge (Trump quote notwithstanding)?
Yes, indeed. Oh, yes, indeed!
My song “Sleep, Sleep, My Love, My Only” has done especially well over the years, but it too was once just an idea I had spun in a corner of my web. It took effort, perserverance and study to get it to the level of excellence it ended up at.
My good friend E.B. really likes that one, as does Teaj. And his dog Pippin!
Songwriting is ever the wonderful adventure, but don’t be fooled -it’s also hard work, and demands undaunting focus and dedication.
Like anything though, it gets easier the more you practice. So keep studying, keep trying, and never stop believing you can make a song too.
As Teaj always says:
“Writing a song is easy.
Writing a good song is hard.
Writing a great song… well, you won’t even know if you’ve done that. But the world will… !!”
Keep at it, fellow composers, and someday you too may produce a “magnum opus” just like I have so many times (in more ways than one!).
Hope to hear from you. If this article helped, comment below and let us know. If you have questions, Teaj is here always, and I’ll check in from time to time.
Now, go… spin… songs!
(Editorial note #2: Teaj would like to sincerely thank E.B. White and his wonderful book, “Charlotte’s Web“, without which my childhood would have been much less inspired. Indeed!)
Well, I have had a blast as usual in the studio today, and you all will reap the benefits of my fun!
I decided to really put my new Aston Spirit mic through the ringer and test it against other mics in my arsenal that I use on an ongoing basis.
The results are pretty much what I expected based on the research I’ve already done, but with the samples and data I provide here, I’ll let you make up your own mind on the subject!
So, for any type of mic shootout it’s important to keep the individual elements as uniform as possible when it comes to levels, enhancements, dynamics, effects and so on. I was extremely careful here to verify that all were exactly the same for each mic before I committed the performance to disc.
To make this shootout as transparent as possible, I only added one thing to the raw signal, and that was a small 2:1 compression from my good ol’ dependable Tascam 16×08 I/O (see it’s review here). The reason for this is I wanted to make sure I could perform a very wide dynamic range for these mics to pick up.
Mics can act very differently at different dB levels, so what I’ve delivered here really shows us the goods concerning mic dynamic sensitivities. Because my dynamics were so wide though I had to use a little compression so my quiet section wouldn’t be completely lost.
I also took great pains to point the mics in the exact same direction, so they’d pick up the same point of reference. I usually would not do this. Acoustic guitar, for example, usually has four mics on it in my studio, but all in different places, to pick up diverse nuances of the instrument. I have always adhered to the recording rule that it’s always best to have a lot of inputs even if you don’t use those inputs in your final mix. The extra tracks have come in handy maaaaany times!
As for the Spirit, I did not use the high-pass filter on it. I also kept the normal cardioid polar pattern, tho’ I really can’t wait to use the other two it provides, the omni and the figure-eight, on something soon. I just love it when a mic is versatile but remains top shelf in sound!
I have constructed a section of my house to be very sound-proof, but not totally so. I find my recordings to be quiet enough by far, so I decided long ago not to go to the trouble and expense of constructing a “room-in-a-room” for vocals and such. As you can hear in these recordings my dead zone is exactly that, and sucks up noise like elephants to water.
Most condensor mics sold these days have a shock mount of some kind to go with it, either as an option or sold with the mic.
The Spirit does not.
“But why not??!”, you may ask. Well, the Aston company constructed this mic to internally mitigate hits or rumbles. What does that mean??
It means you don’t need one. When you plug it into the bottom it is connected to an internal mic cage that is designed to keep those pesky thump gremlins from jumping up and down on the capsule and ruining your take.
I thought I’d test their mic the way they say we should trust it, so thus it is connected straight onto the mic stand, with no shock mount at all.
Bring on the gremlins. 😉
Lastly, I also did not use a pop filter for the vocal track. Usually I would, but I wanted, again, for us to be able to hear the naked mics (sounds like a Leslie Nielsen movie!) in all their glory.
So with all that in mind, let’s get on to the shootout…
Acoustic guitar is such a great instrument. It’s the first thing I ever played besides singing all my life, so it holds a special place in my heart.
I used my bangin’ M.J. Franks guitar on this tune, as is usual whenever I’m tracking acoustic here in the studio. It’s my go-to recording acoustic simply because… well, it’s AWESOME! But also because I paid Mike to make for me the perfect RECORDING guitar, with a very balanced EQ and warm, legacy sound.
You can learn all about it, and Mike the luthier who made it for me, in my review of it HERE.
The mics you shall hear appear in this order:
Rather than bore you with the whole song, I chose a short recorded snippet for both guitar and vocals that showcases extreme dynamic ranges. You will hear them, in order, one after the other with only a second in between.
Obviously, listening to this recording with either headphones or through some studio monitors will provide you with the best audio fidelity. They are being played in the .wav file format to circumvent compression loss and noise.
And, with that… let’s listen!
Whatja think?? Have a favorite? Was it what you expected from each mic? Were you surprised by any mics performance? Which one sounds like you want a guitar to sound like without having to EQ it or change it at all? These are the types of questions to ask yourself if you’re considering buying any of these. If you’re just starting out, the best thing is to get a mic that can handle a lot of sound sources and get the result you want.
I have these answered for myself certainly, but I’m gonna hold my cards close to my chest for the moment, so as to not influence your decision. Base it purely on how it sounds, ‘cuz if it sounds good… it IS good.
Now let’s add a vocal. This was a fun song to write and even more fun to record. I firmly believe the vocal is the most important part of a sung song, so mic effectiveness is a big deal to me. Let’s look at how I threw the gauntlet down for these four mics:
As before, you’ll be hearing a short recorded snippet of the full vocal. This part really has extreme dynamic ranges; it goes from a whisper to a rock roar! You will hear the mics, in order, one after the other with only a second in between, just like before. Here we go….
And again… whatja think?? All the same questions apply here as we asked for guitar, but there are some more I ask for vocals, like was this mic good for this song? Was this mic good for the timbre of this singer? Does the transparency of the mic (or lack thereof) help to sell the song lyric? Which of these mics makes me believe what the singer is telling me most?
If I fully produced this tune there’s effects I’d put on, a flat note I’d fix, further dynamics I’d apply… but this was a shootout so I’m keeping it raw and real, cowboy! Or cowgirls. ‘Cuz… there are girls who are into pro audio, ya know. Not a lot, mind you, but… enough to keep us interested!
The decision to keep the Spirit mic to me is a no-brainer. I still like how a couple of the other mics brought my guitar and vocal to life and I will still be using them frequently, but, as you can hear, the Spirit just brought a special something that the others did not have. It’s own unique color. It’s own spin on things. And it’s a spin I can really use to make my recordings better. I’m sure you heard it too.
For the vocal I’m personally torn. I could use the Spirit. But I also like how the 4050 put the brightness in that I like (as usual). This always helps it cut through a bigger mix. So if I end up putting drums and bass on this tune, I probably would stay with the 4050 track.
If I keep it stripped-down though, I really like the ‘width’ that the Spirit mic adds to my voice. It thickened it up a bit somehow, and, hey, what guy doesn’t want his voice more manly? Well, at least this guy likes the extra beef. 😉
My Oktava tube mic, as usual, sounds good and warm, but a little too warm for this particular song. I always judge by the song, and just try to facilitate its message, or the emotion it’s trying to convey?
Finally, my gift to you: here’s the two put together on this, my latest tune. I call it… well, DUH, whaddya think I call it. “Serious G.A.S.!!” of course! lol
Agree? Disagree? Unsure?? Mic shootouts can be very subtle comparisons so if you’re fine with all of ’em that’s okay too. There really wasn’t a bad mic in the bunch. I use them all, all the time.
If you, like myself, have just become an avid fan of Aston mic clarity and color, here’s your quick ticket to Hitsville:
If you prefer Amazon Prime, no problem, their coming drones will fly one to you in no time!:
When you start using the Spirit in your own studio, share your thoughts and results with us. Use the Comments section below. Gear isn’t just made to use, after all – it’s there to talk about! Especially if we’ve been G.A.S.-ing for it for weeks or months, like I did for the Aston Spirit.
Special thanks to David Borovoy from Guitar Center, Southfield for turning me on to this mic and being my “go-to” rep when serious G.A.S. drives me to his pro audio corner!
Now, go… make… sounds!!
The world wasn’t really expecting, wanting or needing yet another microphone, let alone another microphone brand, to appear in 2016.
Most would’ve said, “Okay, there’re enough kids in the pool at this point. Let’s stop the propagation before one of ’em breaks the ‘no pee‘ rule!”
But despite our jaded-gearhound cynicism, a resounding SPLASH was heard ’round the pro audio pool last year, the waves of which are still gently bobbing us towards superlative sound here in 2017.
The debut line of Aston microphones has arrived, people, and quality sound is more attainable than ever!
It’s not every day that a product is made by a group of USERS, instead of just profit shakers and specs-focused engineers. Aston decided before they opened that they would demand of themselves as a microphone company the highest audio outcomes for their products.
The biggest way they chose to do that and keep themselves accountable to their goal is by bringing together a “Development Panel” of pro audio experts who work daily in the field as their ears for testing. The sheer breadth of knowledge and number of collaborators in this panel is daunting; I’ve never seen so many amassed to bring their competence to bear upon a singular product. Here’s the full list of panel auditors: http://www.astonmics.com/the-a…
But they didn’t just ask these folks to use the mics and then help ’em endorse them: they conducted double-blind listening tests to prove that these mics could stand up against the big boys. Finally, after months of tweaking, Aston chose to deliver the mics that consistently impressed their pro audio consultants to the point where they all wanted one of their own. Now that’s what I call a job well done.
Obviously these guys and gals are into the details. Their focus is on making products that audio professionals can use, day in, day out, and actually want to use. No small feat considering the dizzying array of mics that are available in this day and age. I first was told about these mics by a fellow musician and G.A.S.-er who said was using one over a Neumann (more on that to come). That got my attention pretty quick. And so, dear readers, this is why we’re here. Let’s take a peek into the products of this rare ensemble of audio nerds…
Okay, I’m just going to put this out there: putting a pointing laser on a pencil mic?? Brilliant move!
Not only is that extremely usable feature that I would use every time for drum overheads, but, can we just talk about the cool factor a minute? What client is not going to mention something about those lasers being the bomb when they see the engineers setting the mics up and using ’em? They’re like mini Star Wars light sabers making that “Hhruoom” sound over the drum kit! You know the one. “Hhruoom.Hhruooooom!!”
Help me, Aston Kenobi, you’re my only hope for an engineer that knows what they’re doing.
Your clients will also know by the mock laser battles that you, along with your closet of classic ‘older mics’, are staying on the cutting edge of things for their recordings, with new, fancy-schmancy gizmos, and since they’re our bread and butter, that’s what matters.
For the Starlight mic, Aston expanded their Development Panel from 33 to 50. They knew this mic would be used on many different sound sources, so they opted for more diversity in the auditing – a brave and vulnerable move on their part. But this is what separates the Poe’s from the posers, folks…and it worked.
In testing this mic actually caused a ‘listeners rift’ between our friendly auditing panel. Aston discovered as they put the starlight through its paces that half the pro audio guys liked the “old school sound” of small diaphragm condenser mics: those that exhibited a warm, “vintage” tone. The other half had a penchant for brighter, ‘airy-er’ sounding mics for their small condenser uses. With a pretty dead-even split, they did what any great compromiser does – they gave us both! What this means for the industry is we now have the first small diaphragm condenser mic that offers voicing options built in. Touché, Aston!
If you want specs and pics, check ’em out here. My personal take? Get two of these before the price is raised. They’re currently at $349 retail. But I can’t see the prices staying as low as they are now on any of these three mics. They’re that good. Oh, and the guy that sold me these (you rock, David at G.C. Southfield!!) thinks so too.
Now we’re in the land of large condensers. It’s getting bigger in here! The Origin is designed to excel on acoustic guitars and vocals according to Aston and its secret weapon is the 1″ gold evaporated capsule that captures your sound source.
Aston went through hundreds of these types of capsules before they settled on three that were consistently awesome enough to put their name on.
There’s a gentle slope boost from about 3 to 20k on this mic, giving it some nice “air”, a definite must for acoustic guitars and vocals. Otherwise, it’s pretty flat from around 100 and up. I’m used to seeing mic frequency charts look pretty wavy and hilly. Not this contender! And with the rave reviews I’m hearing and reading it seems pretty clear: if you make something well you won’t have to EQ it up the wazoo.
Quiet. Smooth. Direct. I’d put it in the category of WYSIWYG. Not a whole lot of colorization going on here. It just transparently bears your soul clean, so… make sure you’re ready for a vocal session with this puppy. There’s no hiding! It will find you!!
Currently under $300 retail, if you’re just getting into audio, don’t have much cash but want a quality mic, especially for vocals, this has to be your first choice. For the price, I don’t see anything beating it out right now. Compare its specs here and you’ll see what I mean.
The Spirit mic is the Aston option that I immediately was most interested in, because one of my engineer comrades told me he tried it out and since then is consistently using this mic instead of his Neumann U-87.
Impossible, you say?? Pas de tout, mon ami!
I myself had a similar experience, not choosing the esteemed U-87, years ago while testing mics for my first album. Check out that story here. But that just goes to show what a shocker this mic is with regard to quality per price point.
The Spirit is Aston’s better choice for acoustic guitar and/or vocals, as compared to the Origin, due to its lower noise floor.
If you’re doing a stripped-down number that needs a reeeeeally quiet mic, you’ve found it. Not to mention it’s extremely flattering EQ, which has only two slight hills at 4K and around 10K and is otherwise flat above 90 Hz.
It’s also tremendous that, at this price, we also get three polar patterns that all sound so good! If you need cardioid, omni or a figure-of-eight pattern, just dial it up on the mic and voilà… you’re in the zone.
I am more than happy about purchasing this mic. If you want to hear the recordings I made with it, showcasing the acoustic guitar and vocals, check out my SPIRIT MIC REVIEW HERE. Suffice it to say for now that I really think that, like me, you’ll appreciate what this baby brings to the studio, no matter what you want to use it for.
It’s hard to believe this mic is selling at a $449 retail price. These specs bespeak of a much more expensive microphone. When it first came out in 2016 it retailed for $299 (told ya it’s gonna go up!) but the sound it provides, trust me, is worth way more than either of those numbers.
Like I mentioned, it’s being compared to Neumann mics frequently. That says it all.
Aston pulls no punches. Because of the lengthy development, testing and auditing by pro audio purists of their microphones, they boldly state that these are the best-sounding mics available, not only at their price point, but well beyond it.
I, for one, think they’re onto something. The only area where I see these mics having any lack at all is in their self-noise numbers: they each rank in the “good” range at 15, 18, and 14 respectively. But the fact is that few condensers go below 10 dB. The Neumann TLM103 is one of them, but that mic retails for over $1,000!!
Unless you’re doing an extremely quiet song with, say, only a vocal and one soft instrument, you’re not even going to notice any noise at all. I didn’t, and my hearing is still very good thanks to vigilance against extreme sound levels. Just ask my son; he’ll tell ya: “Dad’s always saying to watch dB levels and wear earplugs if needed!!”
So, having dipped my foot into Aston’s private mic party pool for my own recordings, I heartily endorse their findings – these things really are as versatile and useful as they say they are. And I’ll go out on a very strong limb and say that I choose the Spirit as the best new, mid-priced condenser mic of the year for vocals. I’m lovin’ mine!!
Stay tuned for specific recordings from each mic. I’ll be A-B-ing them against other mics in my arsenal and will share the results, with you, soon.
Until then, definitely check these out. Make some music with them and let me know your results. These windows through which our talent shines can be murky or heavenly, but Aston is consistently making the angels sing.
Whether you have two or eighty-two mics in your closet, their products are almost a steal at current pricing, and will hold their own long into your production future.
For SeriousGAS.com, this is Teaj, sayin’…
… go… make… sounds!
Happy Halloween everybody!
There are some to whom the thought of being an accountant, a lab technician, an I.T. worker or even a helpful cop just can’t rub them the right way. Those who hear a different call; those who must stoke the inside fires and be true to the elusive muse that is shy but ever-present. Those to whom the dreaded words, “You need to get a real job” shall ever be blasphemous. I’m talking about, of course,… the professional elephant dressers of Sri Lanka.
No, wait; sorry. That’s not right. Heh. Silly me. I meant to say the creatives: the artists of all cut and cloth, disciplines and districts, those who reveal life through the filters of their own understanding and experiences, and then display their discoveries to us for entertainment, enlightenment or emotional impact. Of that unique breed, those who choose music for a career are certainly among the most brave.
There’s a reason why those of us who are parents tend to suggest, as insightfully as we can, that if our kids are interested in a career involving art in any way, that they should have something else to empower them through the down times. Notice I did not say “fall back on”. Having lived as a “starving artist” not only across our fine country but also throughout Europe, I have learned a thing or two about what is the best way to push art forward. And stay alive. And smell nice. And be able to afford… Top Ramen.
If you’re considering the musician life, let’s take a look at the realities of what it entails in this day and age. Why? Not to dissuade you, let me say first. If art is calling you, then you should by all means work hard at it full steam ahead. But I also believe in knowing what you’re up against so you minimize unpleasant surprises. Face the facts head-on, and hold your art head high. That way, not even a richly-dressed elephant will stop you.
So, how’d you like this gig: you must learn a few set lists worth of music; perform daily for crowds who take your work seriously and value your talent; your food and housing will be provided, you get to wear cool clothes designed just for you and composing new material is not only appreciated, it’s encouraged. Anybody interested?? I know I would be!
Well, this is exactly how things worked in the Old Testament Bible days for the musicians who worked the Jewish religious ceremonies court events, feasts. They were well taken-care-of for sure. In fact, the longest section in that book is….their song book, Psalms!
Excavations have uncovered musician instruments in the Mesopotamia region that date back to 3,000 B.C. Looks like this bug’s been around a loooooong time. No wonder its bite is so transformational. I wonder though: instead of the long rectangular beards braided with leather laces at that time…did musicians even then sport soul patches??
The Middle Ages saw the Western churches become the place to gig. You could get a steady paycheck, be known by patrons much more affluent (i.e. RICHER) than you, see your renown grow beyond your local geography, and often compose instead of just regurgitating other people’s compositions.
With Mozart and Beethovan we see the church as a gig still present, but, especially with good ol’ Ludwig, secular venues began to proliferate, as well as the opportunities to play in them.
All this led up to the 20th century, where television, radio and film pushed musicians more to the forefront of everyone’s mind than ever before. And with that came serious riches. Which, for the musician, always leads to serious G.A.S. No matter tho’; money was like water for any that ‘made it’ in the 1900’s. Unless of course you were one of the unlucky few who signed ridiculously bad contracts with the record execs. I’m eye-in’ you, Mr. Joel.
The banquet, we now see, couldn’t last forever. Enter the new millennium with me…
We’re in the last quarter of 2017, and the changes keep right on comin’. But REO was right: If we’ve “felt the tables turnin” then we gotta “roll with the changes”. Let’s take a look at what’s rolling at us right now, like that giant rock at Indiana Jones….
As of July of this year, overall music consumption actually did rise 9.9% over last year’s statistics. The reason is audio streaming: it’s up, again, rising 58.5% over last year. That’s huge.
Record Store Day has had a slightly mitigating effect on plummeting CD and vinyl sales. Last year, for the first time in about a decade, they stopped dropping. The trouble is, of course, their percentage is a tiny drop in the income bucket for those trying to make a living at music.
Another plus that doesn’t help us pay the rent, but does contribute to the goal of music dispersion, is that streaming sites are causing people (myself included) to listen to albums I’ve never heard before. Because the artists on most streaming sites have all their albums there, is now a click away to hop from Rod Stewart’s recent “Time” (GREAT album) to Bob Dylan’s first album (SO Guthrie) to the just-released new album from Styx “The Mission” (if you like old Styx, you’ll love this!)… all without buying a thing.
But obviously, those positives don’t really help musicians garner income. Current music stats show other serious blows to that goal as well: Physical album sales have been plummeting for years, and they continued to drop this past year 2.1%. You may not have heard this, but digital download sales have also fallen, at an even steeper rate than physical sales. For example, digital single sales fell by 23.9%!
What does this mean for composing musicians? It means if you thought putting your CD (which no one’s been buying) up on iTunes to sell was gonna pay for your groceries… sorry to have to tell you, but…they’re not buying it there either anymore. People have just stopped buying.
Instead, streaming is the latest thing. Even though it’s still the best venue for showcasing your artist videos, even YouTube is being affected: it grew by only 6.1% over last year, a deep drop compared to streaming’s 58.5% overall growth.
There are some cool things about streaming sites for sure, but income is definitely not one of them. The current per-stream payout to rights holders (get ready to shake your head and purse your lips) is somewhere between .006 cents and .0084 cents. That’s right. It’s that low. You can see now why Pharrell only made $2,700 total in royalties from Pandora playing his awesome tune “Happy” 43 million times! I gotta say, folks… that just ain’t right.
The bands and artists that I know personally are all feeling it, and saying the only way they’re making dollars at this point is by taking a cut of live concert tickets (which usually isn’t much unless you’re famous) and selling their merch (the only cut actually bringing in a good percentage of profit).
So, in a nutshell: don’t expect your album sales to do much for you. If you want to grow an audience you have to make videos, tour, tour, tour… and sell shirts.
Just as the music industry has been turned on its head by Internet music availability, so musician’s lives have been stretched and challenged and changed by these turning tides. Because of this, two choices are now becoming more ubiquitous than ever: Portfolio Careers, and Side Hustles.
“Portfolio Careers” are what the work-a-day world has turned to of late, regardless of the field, and we’ll probably continue to see this approach burgeon to bursting. Instead of a tradition job, a Portfolio Careerist is one who, instead of choosing one type of job and career interest, diversifies and chooses deliberately to work several jobs in different areas. We’re talking self-employment, temporary jobs, free-lancing, part-time positions, or any combination of the above. The combination of these income streams pays the bills. The diversity of the work keeps things interesting, and if one job is lost, it’s much easier to carry on since you still have income from the others.
The hardest part of this approach is probably the absence of company health-care care, since it usually is only given to full-time employees. Since the Obama presidency, the severity of those consequences has lessened, in America at least, but even so, if you’re making enough from several jobs you can always purchase individual care packages that solve the problem and keep you protected.
“Side Hustles” are also becoming more prevalant to the modern working class, though we musicians have been doing these for decades (if not millennia!). A side hustle is work that one does in addition to a normal job, or jobs, that gives you some extra cash but is not expected to pay the bills. You just do it ‘cuz you love it. This is what musicians have always done, and we’ll keep doing it, while everyone else tries out this ‘latest fad’.
In Detroit, near where I live, many of those who are retired tell of days in the Automotive Industry where you had worked one job all week long and you worked it until you retired. End of story. Well, those days are looooong gone.
Can we expect any change on the front of album sales? I wouldn’t count on it, but I think with the continued backing of the Performing Rights organizations across the globe and strategic, unending campaigns for better recompense for our work I believe we’ll see at least a rise in streaming revenue. When we finally make it to one cent per stream I say we all hold a big party together.
But don’t invite the streaming business people. They’ll take that as a sign we’re “happy”. lol
Okay, now that we know what we’re up against, is it too daunting for you? Does it make you want to throw in the towel? Hang up your dreams? Put your instruments in their cases and rely on Engineering books?? In short… are you up for the challenge??!!
Yea, I am too. Nothing takes away our passions. Nothing! Don’t let the bastards grind you down, as Bono so eloquently sings.
Never lose sight of your heroes. They inspired us here in the first place. We may have to climb the mountain a little differently. We’ve lost some ropes that were there in the past, but we’ve gained some bright spotlights showcasing our music from nations away, there on the summit. And, with new career methods, we can still join them in the great rockin’ Pantheon of Groove.
And also there, right there… can you see him?! A beacon for the struggling; a vision for the contender; power cell for those who aspire upwards! Beckoning us onward and upwards… it’s… Port-FOLIO!!
Now, go… make… sounds!