One of the most exciting things about being in the musical instrument industry is getting to play a part in monumental cultural changes by partnering with the musicians, songwriters, and developers who pioneer them. While the workflow of
playing a guitar or a keyboard, or operating a mixing console has stayed more or less the same over the hundred years since music went electric, the things
we can do with those creative tools continues to expand as the technology behind them evolves and companies and inventors afford us more avenues for creative expression.
As members of the Cordial family and creators of PATHWAYS magazine, we are constantly working with and meeting new people and businesses that are looking to bring the next big idea to market. Many of them excite and inspire us, and all have a singular vision of making music creation and listening more enjoyable. Some of these ideas and products are iterative, making small improvements or changes to an established process, and others are entirely groundbreaking—so far ahead of the pack that their biggest challenge is explaining how the magic works!
We’d like to share three small stories about industry partner friends we have worked with in the last year or two who have products and visions that made us collectively step back and say, “The future in music is now!”
Changing the Way We Perform:
ASI Audio 3DME In-Ear Ambient Monitoring System
Sensaphonics was founded by audiologist Michael Santucci in 1985 as a research and development company committed to controlling the damaging effects of loud sound, with a special emphasis on hearing loss prevention for musicians. Santucci’s work with artists ranging from Steven Tyler to Sarah McLachlan has focused on improved on-stage audio monitoring and hearing protection through customized in-ear monitors, giving each artist a personalized experience that balances sonic clarity, personal control, hearing preservation, and more.
One of the biggest challenges in using an in-ear monitor (IEM) is that the wearer can often feel isolated from the rest of the band and audience, largely due to the earpieces’ hearing protection seal preventing most or all of the environment’s ambient sound from reaching their eardrums. This isolation is the reason you often see performers removing an IEM and letting it dangle while they talk with a bandmate between songs or troubleshoot a tone problem: They are removing their hearing protection to reconnect with the room (hello, tinnitus).
Santucci’s work led to the invention and patent in 2006 of a new active ambient technology for IEMs that includes integrated microphones in each earpiece and a proprietary mixing app to take any board mix, re-EQ it, and blend in the appropriate amount of stage sound from the earbud microphones. This breakthrough finally made it to the consumer world in 2020 when Sensaphonics launched a new brand—ASI Audio—and revealed the 3DME active ambient in-ear monitor system. The system consists of a bodypack, Bluetooth-connected earpieces, and an Android or iOS-based app to control the mixing, EQ, and blend of the incoming mix and the room.
What seems like an obvious solution to a long-standing problem turned out to be a true game-changer for live performances. Not only does the ASI Audio 3DME provide superior in-ear audio quality, protect hearing from loud stage volumes, and allow you to hear the audience and bandmates again, you get to hear them exactly where they are in the room. When you’re used to hearing a guitar cabinet over your left shoulder, the drums directly behind you, and the bass somewhere past your right shoulder, you know you’re in the room, and every time you take a step or move your head what you hear in the room changes. This is a subtle, but powerful, distinction that reintroduces all of the opportunities to play off the crowd, your bandmates, and sink further into your performance.
Of course, if you’re paying attention to the timeline, you may have noticed “changing the way musicians experience their live performance!” and being able to perform in front of live audiences at all came to a halt in 2020. With professional musicians finally hitting the road again in major ways and venues that support local artists again filling up every weekend, we anticipate that we’ll be seeing a lot more ASI Audio 3DME IEMs onstage protecting hearing and connecting artists to their audience.
Changing the Way We Learn and Play:
MatchMySound.com and RealTime Audio
As a magazine launched in the middle of the Pandemic, PATHWAYS has touched on a few exciting ways instructors have stayed connected to their students remotely, including a cover story with Cordial Copper Corps artist Jennifer Batten and her Guitar Cloud Symposium, as well as shared stories of YouTube instructors with channels to attract advertising dollars, and Patreon accounts for individual student donations. We’ve even touched on more programmatic, publisher-style offerings from sites like Guitarchalk and Truefire.
They’re each tackling the distance learning problem using their own approach, with some focused on learning through watching and copying (video instruction that’s not all that different from the Hot Lixx guitar instruction videos of the 80s), reading (the traditional instruction book, digitized), and even cohort feedback (like a 360 session in a university class). But the one piece of traditional, in-person instruction that has proven elusive is the instructor interaction: the ability to play along with your instructor, have them watch your playing, and provide feedback about technique correction.
MatchMySound was looking to change the concept of remote music instruction before the world shut down in 2020, working with technologists and instructors to envision what world-class online instruction could be. They focused on the two problems they felt needed to be solved: instructor feedback and ease of access. Obviously, if the instructor can’t observe the student’s technique in real time, they can’t cut bad habits off at the pass. And the barriers to entry (be they expensive required hardware or counterintuitive user interfaces) needed to be low enough for anyone to step over.
RealTime Audio, partner company of MatchMySound. com, has developed a hardware-optional, nearly latency-free way for musicians within 1,000 miles of each other to collaborate over the internet in real time with lag-free audio and high-quality video including conferencing. Assorted handy on-line tools, including tuners, metronomes, chord chart generators, and more, round out the package. Latency, the killer of vibe, becomes distracting (if not impossible to deal with) when it goes beyond a dozen or so milliseconds, so by wiping that out players can play to the same beat, online.
As a result, tricky timing issues in complex songs can now be tackled in realtime, over video, between instructors and students and they can tradeoff between chords and licks like they are in the room together.
Jennifer Batten, who originally gravitated to RealTime Audio for rehearsals during the pandemic now finds it indispensable. “It’s a must-have,” she says. “The pandemic was a good way to get started because we couldn’t safely get together. But now I find I come up with other excuses to rehearse remotely. Rehearsals are a daytrip—the packing up hour, the driving hour, the setting up hour, and then the reverse when you’re done. RealTime Audio puts those hours back into your life.”
If the perfection of technology is when it becomes so invisible to the user that it gets entirely out of the way so they can create, MatchMySound and RealTime Audio are at the apex of the movement. They are currently offering demos and limited instruction through https://matchmysound.com and https://realtimeaudio.com
Changing the Way We Collaborate:
Online recording has been a Holy Grail concept pursued by music and tech companies for several decades now. Endaba, Groove Zoo, and many more have looked at the concept of an online system for recording projects in which songwriters and studio players can collaborate at a variety of levels, from issuing a track call to providing review routing and contract negotiation. While many of the more sticky points have been figured out over the years, including several DAWs attempting to “get social,” there hasn’t been a clear, easy-to-adopt-to winner.
Sessionwire may be the company that finally gets it all right.
Sessionwire provides ultra-low-latency, bi-directional, studio quality live audio over the internet so you can work together regardless of geographical location. Features essential to recording include videochat, AAX, AU, and VST send and receive plug-ins, a separate studio-style talkback system, encrypted file transfer, and two-way live audio streaming between macOS or PC recording applications. It’s essentially its own, brand-agnostic ecosystem to drop, record, and collaborate on tracks.
While Sessionwire includes plenty of social and match-making features to help solo artists find hot artists who are already recording within Sessionwire, the team has placed the majority of its efforts into the collaboration workflow with an already established group to ensure the experience is as analogous to being in the studio with your players as possible. In practice, this starts with a user uploading their tracks to Sessionwire and opening a session to begin collaboration. Communication can happen through notes, live video chat, or via audio. Tweaks and alternative takes are captured until everyone is satisfied, and the track(s) can either be finalized in Sessionwire or pulled directly into the engineer’s DAW for final mixing and mastering.
What Sessionwire does differently, and better, than those who came before them is authentically reproducing the feel and flow of musicians working together in a studio. Everyone from would-be TikTok music stars to gray-haired engineers who still remember slicing their fingers while splicing tape finds their preferred flow as Sessionwire’s technology quickly steps to the background and . . . just works. Every time.
Welcome to the Future
Our world got a little nutty in the 90s with the introduction of Big Tech: democratization of information; global connection is a WiFi signal away; software rushes to replace, and eventually outstrip, physical hardware. We’ve all been burned by “killer apps” that were half-baked . . . all tech and no intuition, inadequate processing power, poor adoption by the community, and sluggish connection speeds have typically been the problems to solve. As musicians, most of us aren’t trying to become programming experts, electrical engineers, or corporate CEOs— we are looking to scratch whatever manifestation of creative itch it is that drives us to create music.
Our hours spent at trade shows and on Skype calls with ASI Audio, MatchMySound, and Sessionwire revealed something different for us: truly innovative and intuitive solutions to long-standing problems (IEMs, for example) and some of the best thoughtout approaches to virtualizing what have traditionally been analog, in-person experiences, such as lesson instruction or recording. As our staff experienced these three technologies (each with their own pedigree and experience), we all reached the same conclusion: The future is here, things that didn’t work even a few years ago are now so seamless that you don’t need a user’s guide, and musicians are ready and beginning to flood these platforms.
There has truly never been a better time to be a musician!