PART 2: Debbie Poyser & Derek Johnson fold up the cybermap, put the virtual surfboards back into storage, and conclude their musician's guide to the Internet. This is the last article in a two‑part series.
As promised at the end of last month's trawl across the 'net in search of promising music links, we're taking a curtain call with a list of record label and audio industry organisation web sites, plus more brief reviews of pages we thought were useful, fun, or useful and fun. If you're not yet part of the 'Internet Community', as they say, but would like to be, SOS ran a lengthy feature, 'Surfing the Internet', written by Stephen Bennett, in our November 1994 issue. This explained a lot of Internet jargon, discussed newsgroups and ftp (file transfer protocol, which is one of the methods of obtaining software from the Internet) and listed the kind of hardware and software required to get online. Things have moved on a bit since the feature was written, but it still makes good friendly basic reading.
This site has won a raft of awards, and it's easy to see why when you visit it. It's a beautifully‑presented and also well‑organised resource for musicians. News and new product information is provided, as are areas for guitar and bass‑related equipment, effects, keyboards and synths, MIDI, computers and music, and software. The MIDI section offers explanatory articles on MIDI, plus instructions on how to build your own PC MIDI interface, and tools for writing MIDI applications. The Effects section features FAQs and links, and a large effects database, with user comments on many current and past units, and the chance to post your own opinions. There's also a Bands Page, where you can find out about getting your music on the net, pick up some hints on generating publicity, and investigate copyright and trademarking your band name (though this is a US site, so not all the information may be relevant to British musicians). The Recording and Audio FAQs are a bit of a mixed bag, with some good (the mic FAQs) and some less useful (the 4‑track info). Needless to say, there are links here too, including one to a site for a rather nice‑looking CD‑ROM magazine called Control, which coyly witholds information while trying to get you to subscribe to it! One section which is of interest, if not a lot of use to UK surfers, is the used and new gear price lists, and there's also a classified ads section, where you can become mildly annoyed at the cheapness of some of the gear, and mildly surprised that TB303 Basslines fetch silly money (US$1100) even in the USA.
Billed as 'the Music & Pro Audio Theme park', and co‑run by avid SOS reader Nick Batt, SonicState features three different areas: Babylon is for music chat and gossip with an informal tone, the daily Burning Question (when we were there, it was 'Would you pay 80 million dollars for REM?'), and demo downloads. Anyone with the right computer setup can listen to demos selected by SonicState, but if you want your demo featured on the site, it'll cost you £50. There's also a set of music links in this area.
Synthsite is an online synth reference, featuring spec and user comments on a wide range of equipment; this is sub‑divided by manufacturer and then models, and is quite comprehensive. Also check out the huge mic database, with spec on over 400 mics. There's a Computer Corner, with news content, and Tweak of the Week, where people are asked to post their top studio tips. The archive for past tips reveals that this isn't too well supported, so if you have wisdom to impart, chip in and post some! Interviews with industry professionals are also featured.
The Yellow‑ish pages feature listings of all kinds, including record labels, with A&R names and who they've signed, which could be handy. The site tries to cover US and European (non‑UK) labels too, but there are very few of these. In all, though, it's a good site, and seems popular: SonicState claim 24,000 visitors a week.
Anyone into electronic music of the avant‑garde, serious kind will want to check out EMF's well‑organised and interesting site, "founded in 1994 to disseminate information and materials related to the history and development of electronic music." As well as featuring electronic musical instruments and a photo archive, EMF also offer sales of relevant music you might find hard to track down through conventional channels, on CD. Artists featured include Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Schaeffer, John Cage, Berio, Morton Subotnick, and John Chowning. EMF also offer electronic music compilations, and though the site is American, you can order from Europe. A worldwide events calendar, divided into different territories, helps you to keep track of what's happening on the global electronic music scene, and the site also provides links to other related pages.
This is the web site of the commercial music industry's Bible, Music Week. It features much of what's in MW, including up‑to‑date charts in various categories (namely UK singles, albums, indie albums, dance, R&B and club charts). Many tracks in the individual charts have a commentary you can access for some background information on the entries, and chart analyses are also available. Airplay charts show what's getting heavy rotation on major radio stations. Other sections of this good‑looking site provide industry news, including the Record Mirror music news, again reflecting much of what you get in the real magazine, which makes it a bit of a deal. The Talent section has a wide range of artist profiles, plus a Talent Index of around 100 of MW's favourite bands and artists, where they talk about their current projects. If you're not content with reading about the music at Dotmusic, you can also buy it from them, using a virtual shopping‑basket system, and even place pre‑orders for forthcoming releases. To top it all off, you can register to receive Music Week charts by email, free for three months.
StudioBase is a straightforward and well‑organised online database of music industry services. The listings available cover studios, producers, engineers and remixers, hire and pro audio outlets, rehearsal facilities, studio design/construction specialists, and record companies. The alphabetical directory of producers includes telephone numbers for managers where relevant, and email addresses for individual producers/engineers, where available. There's also a pretty long management companies list, which could be useful, although it doesn't tell you who the various companies already manage. You do get contact names, however. The record label list, again, is quite lengthy, with addresses, but it would have been nice to see more links to label web sites. Finally, there's a page of useful links, sponsored by hire company FX Rentals, to equipment manufacturers and industry associations.
The homepage of the American MIDI Manufacturers Association is an active and vibrant site which reflects the MMA's status as the prime US source for information on MIDI. If you're not sure what the MMA does, here's the place to find out: amongst other activities, they publish the official MIDI specification, and for those people who regularly ring SOS to find out where they can buy it, the answer is here. The MMA will take European orders, but they also provide the address for a German outlet if you'd rather buy within Europe (the full spec runs to 300 pages and weighs around two pounds!).
Also featured on the site are various articles on aspects of MIDI, including Copyright and MIDI files, and MIDI Show Control. A 'White Papers & Editorial' area presents discussion documents aimed at promoting consensus in the development of MIDI, and these make interesting reading if you follow such putative developments as XMIDI and MIDI2. When we visited the site, it was also possible to read an interview with the MMA's Chief Executive Officer, Tom White, in which he discusses the future of MIDI. In short, this is an absorbing site which renders its potentially less‑than‑exciting subject, MIDI, very approachable.
American company PAiA have been going for years (they were founded in 1967 to produce low‑cost, high‑quality, user‑assembled kits for electronic devices). If you're into DIY (and cheap) gear, this is a great site to check out, being well presented and featuring details of all PAiA's current kits. These include a make‑it‑yourself, rackmounting MIDI analogue synth, the FatMan, which has two oscillators, a VCF, two EGs and a VCA, and costs just US$170, including a front panel. PAiA also have an inexpensive theremin kit, a self‑assembly MS stereo mic, a tube mic preamp kit, and lots of guitar project kits; many of them were actually designed by occasional SOS contributor Craig Anderton. Again, though PAiA are a US company, they appear perfectly able to cope with overseas orders, and postage costs don't seem unreasonable, especially bearing in mind that the FatMan kit, for example, costs the equivalent of only about £113 in Sterling.
The UK‑based APRS maintains this comprehensive site, which features listings of UK studios, producers and engineers, manufacturers and distributors of equipment, and educational establishments, all of which are APRS members. The list of manufacturers and distributors, with contact information, is particularly useful, covering the majority of brands available in Britain, though it would be nice to see more links featured — perhaps this will be improved in the future. Accessing the Producer & Engineer list links you to the Re‑Pro website (www.aprs.co.uk /repro/), the home page of the organisation which used to be called the Producers' Guild, and is sometimes referred to as the producers' trade union. Here, there's a full listing of members and associate members, with biogs, and information on how to join Re‑Pro if you think you might be eligible.
This is the site of an American digital mastering and CD production company, who also design and sell their own hardware, including A‑D/D‑A converters and digital format converters. However, it's far from being just a company ad, offering much useful information "designed to help audio engineers and musicians make better CDs and CD‑ROMs". This includes essays like 'What is a Mastering Engineer?', 'The Philosophy of Mastering', 'Analogue or Digital Tape', and 'What processes should I use (or avoid) before sending my tape for mastering?' The truly wonderful people who run this site also explain concepts like jitter and dither, discuss audio level practices, and provide a glossary of digital audio terms. As well as all the help they give you with audio, Digital Domain also offer a helping hand with CD artwork design: in the brilliant Graphic Designer section, they provide a CD logo you can download, as well as Quark Xpress files of the correct spec for CD booklets and labels, also downloadable — excellent if you're producing your own CD and plan on doing the design work on computer yourself. They plan to post more free info on both design (use of pictures, effective booklet artwork) and audio (Red, Orange and Yellow book standards demystified).
Digital Domain are not simply useful: they're also funny. Visit the Rest stop for audio, music and computer‑related humour, and check out the mad 'Shave Bob' contest...
Synthfool is Kevin Lightner, who used to be a technician (service person) at Roland US in the '80s, and is also a real modular and old synth buff. He's a bit of an anorak, but he knows it, which possibly makes him not an anorak after all... His site is unashamedly devoted to analogue synths, with lots of graphics in areas such as 'A Peek Inside Synth Modules' (Compare Seven Different VCO Designs — oo‑er missus...), Brochures, Front Panels, Patch Sheets, and Schematics. Be warned that the pictures are high resolution and can take a long time to load. A section called 'Price Lists of the Past' makes fun reading, but of possibly more use is the selection of Roland Service bulletins Mr Fool has thoughtfully added to the site. These relate to older gear — so if you have an SH101 with a bender problem, a TR909 with a MIDI problem, or a Juno 1 with a memory problem, for example, you can check out what Roland told their own service personnel. Lightner himself still restores and repairs synths (we hear that it was he who fixed up many of the vintage instruments in the UK's own Synthesizer Museum), and has an impressive list of his clients on the site, including Hans Zimmer, for whom he built a massive modular system that covered the walls of Zimmer's studio. Bet you can't not click on the link that says 'and of course, never click here...'
Needless to say, this list doesn't cover every label, but during our search, we found a couple of sites that were very useful for label links, and which may well reward return visits as the lists grow. One such was American cable radio station WCXS 94.5 (www.axsamer.org/wcxs/record_comp...), which features one of the largest lists of record company links on the worldwide web — over 1000 links and counting. They're not just American labels, either: there's a fair proportion of European sites, though the emphasis overall definitely seems to be on smaller, independent labels. This a great way for musicians and bands to discover and suss out the stance of literally hundreds of labels, or for anyone to track down obscure recordings. WCXS have future plans to go on the air via the Internet, using RealAudio. We also found a pretty exhaustive listing of label links within the web site of search engine Yahoo (at www.yahoo.com /Business_and_Economy/Companies/Music/labels). The complete list takes a while to load, so you may want to look at one alphabetical section at a time. Some of the links aren't quite up to date, but there are often enough clues to let you figure out where to look.
- BEGGARS BANQUET
- BIG LIFE
- CHERRY RED
- DEF JAM
- ECM RECORDS
- EMI USA
- GO! DISCS
- ONE LITTLE INDIAN
- PLAY IT AGAIN SAM
- PRIVATE MUSIC
- RCA VICTOR
- SUB POP
- WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS
www.virginrecords.com/ or www.vmg.co.uk/
It was bound to happen... one or two hi‑tech music companies who slipped through the net and were not included in our bumper listing of audio manufacturers' and distributors' web sites last month have been in touch.
- Canada's QSound Labs, developers of 3D sound processing hard and software, can be found at: www.qsound.ca
- Live sound equipment specialists Rane have their virtual HQ at: www.rane.com/
- Visit Creative Labs, leading PC soundcard manufacturers, at: www.creaf.com/ or www.ctlsg.creaf.com/
- If you're interested in console automation, pop into Optifile's cyber space at: www.optifile.com
- International studio educators, School of Audio Engineering, can be found on the 'net; their web site will enable multimedia production students to link up and work with each other on set projects www.saecollege.edu.au
- That other venerable audio education institution, the Gateway School of Recording and Music Technnology, is also net‑wise, with plenty of on‑line information at: www.king.ac.uk/~xe_s516/gateway....
- AES (AUDIO ENGINEERING SOCIETY)
- APRS (ASSOCIATION OF PROFESSIONAL RECORDING SERVICES)
- MCPS (MECHANICAL COPYRIGHT PROTECTION SOCIETY)
- PRS (PERFORMING RIGHT SOCIETY)
- MU (MUSICIANS' UNION)
- PLASA (PROFESSIONAL LIGHTING & SOUND ASSOCIATION)
- IBC (INTERNATIONAL BROADCAST CONVENTION)
- EBU (EUROPEAN BROADCASTING UNION)
- NAB (NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BROADCASTERS)
- SMPTE (SOCIETY OF MOTION PICTURE & TELEVISION ENGINEERS)
A newish search engine to try while you're browsing the 'net is HotBot (at www.hotbot.com/), which offers a simple, unfussy front end, reasonably quick searches, and up‑to‑date links. The same search terms will often yield different results when entered into different search engines, so it's worth jumping around if you're not finding exactly what you're looking for. As well as HotBot, try Alta Vista (www.altavista.digital.com/), Yahoo (www.yahoo.com/) and Lycos (www.lycos.com/), which we also mentioned last month.