Your musical future: Hints from the 2012 NAMM show
Virtually every industry has one or more trade associations that represent the industry as a whole. This is true for producers of car parts, toy manufacturers, medical suppliers, funeral homes, and so forth. Typically, these groups have trade shows that are open only to members and provide opportunities for suppliers to show their latest wares and for buyers to place new orders. According to Wikipedia, there are more than 2,500 trade shows annually in the United States alone.
These trade shows are great sources of information for anyone who wants to understand current trends and predict the future. And this is just as true for the music industry as it is for any other industry.
In the United States, the music industry as a whole is represented by an organization called NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), which holds a huge convention every January in Anaheim, CA, as well as a smaller trade show in Nashville, TN, during the summer. The winter NAMM show is attended by instrument manufacturers, music publishers, music software companies, manufacturers of recording gear, and so forth. Just about every company that is important to your musical existence shows up at "Winter NAMM."
Important changes in the music industry are happening so rapidly that it is hard for performing musicians and music educators to keep up. Attending the NAMM show is a great way to find out what's going on in our business. This year, for the first time, the College Music Society decided that it was important for academic leaders to meet with industry leaders at NAMM, and CMS organized a summit for this purpose.
I had the good fortune to attend the recent NAMM show and will provide you with some highlights that suggest important trends that will affect you and your students. Please note that I cannot cover all of the new and exciting products in one article. Products mentioned in this article should not be assumed to be better than those that are not mentioned. The products mentioned in the article were chosen as being representative of important directions that are shaping our musical lives in dramatic ways.
The iPad is ubiquitous
In the world at large, there are many players in the tablet arena. Some tablets, like Kindle or Nook, tend to be specialized devices (primarily for reading books or magazines) while others, such as the iPad and certain Android tablets, tend to be used for a broad range of purposes. The important question for readers of this magazine is, "Which tablet represents the best option for a musician?"
The NAMM show had a clear and convincing answer to that question: the iPad. iPads were everywhere at the NAMM show. In fact, I did not notice a single tablet that was not an iPad.
Many instrument makers demonstrated their wares in conjunction with iPads. In some cases they showed how third-party music software can be used with their instruments. In other cases, they demonstrated software developed by the instrument makers themselves. In the case of piano manufacturers, the major manufacturers of player pianos—Yamaha (www.yamaha.com), PianoDisc (www.pianodisc.com), and QRS (www.qrs music.com)—all showed iPad apps for wirelessly controlling their player systems.
Mobile apps for learning and playing music
Yamaha unveiled a new app called NoteStar. NoteStar provides you with a way to purchase and view sheet music (mostly pop titles) on the iPad. You can turn pages by swiping the screen with your finger, and you can even hear the original audio recording if you tap the Play button. The musical scores are intended for keyboard players who want to play along with the recording.
The idea of interactive play-along apps is not restricted to piano and keyboard players. Jammit (http://jammit.com) has created a similar app (called Jammit) with score arrangements for keyboard & piano, guitar, bass guitar, drums, and vocals. A major feature of Jammit is that the song files contain original studio recordings with each part isolated. Given that part isolation, the app enables you to adjust or cancel parts, thus creating your own unique mix.
ION Audio (www.ionaudio.com) demonstrated a new line of electronic keyboard products. Several of these keyboards (ranging from 25 notes to 61 notes) have docking stations for the iPad as well as lighted keys. In particular, ION featured an app called Piano Apprentice (see Example 1). This app provides video lessons given by Scott Huston (a.k.a. The Piano Guy). The lessons use the lighted keys to guide you.
Instruments that connect to computing devices
Of course, keyboard manufacturers have been offering MIDI instruments for years. A MIDI keyboard can easily be connected to a computer or iPad, thus opening up a world of interactive possibilities. If the NAMM show is our guide to the future, it is safe to say that there is an increasing emphasis on instrument connectivity.
For example, QRS makes a product called PNOscan that can be added to any acoustic piano. PNOscan provides an optical strip that goes under the keys as well as sensors for the pedals. With PNOscan in place, any piano can be connected to a computer or iPad.
For years, Yamaha has offered lights above the keys of their CVP series Clavinova pianos. This year, Casio (www.casio.com) was promoting keyboards with lights within the key itself (in a manner similar to the ION products). These lighted key systems provide an opportunity for a deeper level of interactivity with instructional music apps that run on a laptop or tablet.
It is interesting to note that the concept of instrument connectivity is not restricted to keyboards. YouRock Guitar (www.yourockguitar.com), for example, showed off its latest fretted instrument, which is a full MIDI controller at a very affordable price. With MIDI capability, it can be used with any number of computer and iPad apps.
Electronic music display
The iPad has become a very hot item as a music display device. There are any number of apps that can display classical and modern music in PDF format on the screen.
When using the iPad to display static music pages, there is no direct interactivity with an attached MIDI keyboard. If you want to turn the page, you simply tap the iPad screen. The iPad screen is approximately 5.75 x 7.75 inches as opposed to traditional music, which is printed on 9 x 12 paper. However, if the screen size of the iPad is not too small for you, you'll probably agree that it is much easier and more reliable to turn the pages on an iPad.
AirTurn (www.airturn.com) makes turning pages on an iPad or a laptop even easier. The company offers a hands-free page-turner than enables you to turn the pages with a pair of foot pedals. Best of all, communication between the foot pedals and the iPad or computer is wireless (see Example 2).
AirTurn is a very convenient device for keyboardists as well as singers and players of other instruments. There are any number of companies that make stands for the iPad, including combo stands that support the iPad and even a microphone. Used together, an iPad, an iPad stand, AirTurn, and a library of music in PDF format constitute a pretty slick, portable music display kit.
Everything is going wireless
One of the problems that has plagued musicians over the years is the issue of cables. Audio, MIDI, and computer cables can easily clutter any studio. Fortunately, wireless technology continues to improve and many cables can now be eliminated.
Wi Digital Systems (www.widigitalsystems.com) is a great example of a company with many wireless solutions for musicians. Products include wireless earset and lavalier microphones, wireless headphones, and wireless accessories that will stream audio from a speaker or singer, musical instrument, Mac, PC, tablet, iPod, or iPhone.
Is your MIDI keyboard or computer some distance from your speakers? Forget the idea of stringing wires across your studio and go wireless!
A new level of quality for portable devices
It is very common for musicians to carry a smart phone, such as a Droid or iPhone. You can get apps for these devices that make it possible to record audio and video and even to stream audio and video to the Internet in real time. The problem, of course, is the quality of the result. Not surprisingly, these devices simply do not have high quality, built-in microphones.
Fortunately, hardware manufacturers are hastily supplying accessories that complete the picture. For example, Fostex (www.fostexinternational.com) has produced an audio interface for the iPhone 4 called the AR-4i (see Example 3). This interface is actually a compact cradle for the iPhone which holds the iPhone in either portrait or landscape mode, provides inputs for two microphones (which come with the product), and has an optional handle for either holding the device or mounting it on a tripod. In short, the AR-4i turns an iPhone 4 into a portable audio/video recording studio. With an appropriate Internet connection, you can use this combination to stream a recital to the Internet in real time.
Beaming live concerts into the home
Anyone can now stream recitals to the Internet in real time. All it takes is a broadband Internet connection, laptop with webcam and microphone (or iPhone 4 with AR-4i), and a free or paid account with any of several video-streaming services.
But what about "beaming" the actual performance into people's homes, directly to their pianos? Imagine, for example, that you are playing on your own piano and simultaneously playing on hundreds of other pianos elsewhere in the world?
Yamaha showed this concept at NAMM using its RemoteLive technology for the Disklavier piano. The Disklavier is an acoustic piano with an advanced player system that can reproduce your performance as it is received over the Internet.
RemoteLive is still in the beta testing stage, but it definitely shows that the Star Trek era is almost here!