Gear

Four Ubiquitous Instruments Every Band Insists on Using

By Davo McConville

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KORG MICROKORG
The MicroKORG pretty much sucks. I mean, I guess by any objective estimate it's okay. Lots of sounds, a kind-of-but-not-really onboard editor, portable, and the clincher? It’s affordable. This is key because I noticed as soon as this affordable iteration of a Korg was on the market, every electroclash wannabe was rocking up to shows carrying them. Which sucks because they have no character and they're essentially plastic toys. 

Let's be clear about what an instrument should be:
1. They should look sweet. Like, cool. WOOD and METAL and DESTRUCTION should seep out of their man-made pores. A guitar is a beautiful object because you can imagine it shattering into fragile wooden splinters. Drums are just big tubs mere seconds from being knocked over in a clatter.

Synths have always been nerdy and boring because they're so precious. You couldn't spill beer on them, the little knobs are easy to bend and you shouldn't, you know, drop them. I'm not advocating smashing equipment for no reason—step forward, bands who specifically tour with cheap guitars just for the end of their set—but you should feel, as an audience member, that these beautiful items are just one impulse away from obliteration. But however cheap a MicroKORG, no one smashes them because they're not beautiful enough to bother. And even if they did, who cares.

2. An instrument should have a character of its own; a moving part, a bit that the sweaty human hand can slip and bend and pull out of tune. This is an argument against all synths, really. But the MicroKORG is even worse because it has laughably small keys that no one can look good playing. You can stand in front of a MicroKORG and play it, or you can stand in front of it and… not play it. The result is the same, but you might look better doing the latter. 

So, despite having failed my two-step test, the MicroKORG continues to sell well. It's one of the most popular synths of all time, despite—and undoubtedly because of—sounding like a tasteless and strident clone of every halfway decent synth manufactured in the 1980s. 

It is a synth for our generation because we're the broadly-informed, postmodern shallow generation that can totally "get" what the fake wood paneling nods to and appreciate the presets labeled in handy genres like Trance, Techno, House, Hip-hop, and Retro. (Hear it all here.)

It also runs on batteries, which, terrifyingly, equips people who play instruments on street corners and in the depths of the subway with the tools to perform deeply sincere covers of Killers songs. Side note: The Killers continue, as a globally recognized band of extreme ticket sale-power, to use a MicroKORG in their live setup. Tiny hands, people. Tiny hands.

ROLAND SPD-S DRUMPAD
Roll out the drummer jokes all you like, they're usually the most musically competent person in your band, and if they're not, you need a new drummer. Immediately. But the best thing about drums is that they don't need to be plugged in. Normally the issue is how to get them to play quieter or how far away you can stand from their deafening ride cymbal, but now every drummer has access to an arsenal of bleep noises and 808 bass drums thanks to the Roland SPD series. 

This is not a good thing. Anything that discourages a drummer from tuning their kit is a bad thing. Anything that might mean standing in a rehearsal room while samples are painstakingly loaded into a machine is a bad thing. Giving drummers more power is your worst move. The 80s were full of aggressively marketed electronic supplements to a drummer's arsenal, not to mention odd specimens like Phil Collins who made drummers think they should be at the front of the stage as they'd suspected all along. 

Listen, drummers. I'm going to get real with you here: you are important. The most. THE MOST IMPORTANT (if you're any good). You're the goalkeeper: the position no one wants to play because if you screw up, everyone notices. If the lead guitarist fluffs a note, or the singer missed a lyrics, it's a performance feature. Additionally, you don't look cool when you're playing a small electronic device with nine tightly spaced hit zones. You just don't. Can't. (See the MicroKORG section above.)

P.S. If you're a shitty drummer ESPECIALLY do not get involved with the SPD-S. Please stop drumming, or at least stop doing it in front of crowds.



ABLETON LIVE

Dear bands, you don't need laptops, so please leave your samples for the record. This dovetails a number of paranoias and anxieties indie musicians face. The first is obsolescence. They're buffeted by the winds of change and the winds portend a greater integration into the future or present. Radiohead remained a pork 'n' beans guitar band until they were at such a point that facing a giant wall of patch cables could be considered a rock and roll move. 

You were brought onto this earth for one reason: to play the guitar a little sloppily, using Tom Petty's “American Girls” drumbeat to make a new generation of girls dance, thus forcing the boys to dance with them, leading to eventual copulation and the continuation of the human race. Why do you persist in undermining the sexy, animalistic nature of drums and guitars by bringing an Apple laptop onstage? Laptops, which for the last 30 years have embodied businessmen on the move and nerds programming visual basic. Laptops, which you'll never smash in a sweet moment of rock release. Laptops, which can't have alcohol splashed over them, and laptops which no one's thinking about setting on fire. 

Indie bands, why are you obsessed with Ableton Live? You're trying to play catch-up with EDM; you're layering PHAT BASS SOUNDS under your grooves. You're programming BEEPS AND BOOPS that no one cares to hear. You force your drummer to WEAR HEADPHONES like a NASCAR Pit Boss listening for instructions. 


Huge Ableton Fans, The Ramones.

All we want you to be are four guys in a gang, getting your guitar strings slippy with sweat, reworking a reworking of blues music for a new generation. Thanks. 

SHURE SM58
There's no particular problem with using any of Shure's microphones—the SM57 Beta, SM57, SM58 Beta, SM58, SM7 or SM7b—it's just that they are, altogether, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled. Namely, that Shure have made loads of consumer microphones, and they're all the same one. Über-grade engineers might care, but to the rest of us, these six microphones are largely the same. 

They differ largely in:
a) Grille structures, which affects the sound minutely.
b) Shape and appearance, which affects how you feel holding a phallus-like object.
c) Price points.

So you take the same Unidyne III capsule and put it in different bodies. Then market them at different prices and for different applications. Boom! Success. 

I call on you, musicians, to use any microphone that comes to hand. The inbuilt one on your laptop is good and crunchy. Try a pair of headphones. They're a reversed microphone! Fun fact. You're welcome.

Davo has made all the mistakes in this article, so he knows. He's on Twitter - @battery_licker.

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