John Walden introduces the email discussion list — one of the most valuable Internet resources for information, advice and opinion.
I guess we have all experienced it at some stage... A technical problem in the studio that you just can't seem to solve even with the help of your various manuals, some strong coffee and a lot of head scratching. For most people, a call to the 'tech support' line of the software or equipment manufacturer is a last and rather desperate resort — and even then, you may not always get an effective solution. This is particularly true when your problems stem from the interaction between different pieces of studio equipment made by different manufacturers.
Wouldn't it be great to be able to ask the advice of someone else who has a similar studio setup to your own, to see if they had experienced the same problem? Come to think of it, wouldn't it be great to be able to ask someone why your mixes always sound a bit flat or why your vocal recordings don't 'sit' in the mix properly? Well, as well as the excellent SOS Discussion Forum (https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." target="_blank), thanks to the way the Internet allows almost instant communications around the globe, you now can shout these questions into the ether and wait to see if some answers appear. All you need is an email account.
Email is now an accepted and essential part of many people's working lives. Indeed, once you have become used to communicating in this way, it can be difficult to work efficiently without access to email. As anyone who has used email will know, messages can be sent to another person anywhere in the world as long as younow their email address. In many cases, once you have sent such a message, it will arrive at its destination within a few minutes, and will simply sit there in a virtual postbox until the recipient next checks their email.
With an email discussion list, things operate in a slightly different way. Instead of sending your message to an individual person, you send it to an email address for that discussion list. This message then arrives at a computer system that manages all the incoming email to the list and, often after moderation (the person who set up the list checks the content to make sure it is appropriate for the members of the list), your message is then sent automatically to everyone who has subscribed to the list. You can subscribe to most lists in either a 'normal' or a 'digest' format. In the former, subscribers receive messages one at a time, as they are received by the host system; in the latter, groups of messages are collected and sent out as a single, larger email, perhaps once a day. If you belong to a number of lists or a particularly active list, the digest format is often more efficient in terms of download times, and means that you are not constantly distracted by incoming emails.
Subscribing to (and unsubscribing from) such lists is easy, and usually involves sending an initial email message with a particular format to the mailing list's host. Instructions on how to subscribe can usually be found in two ways. A few of these lists have their own web pages, which provide details on the discussion list. A more common way of finding and subscribing to lists is through a number of web sites that either provide homes for mailing lists (that is, they provide the automatic 'postman' service for a particular list or set of lists) or maintain searchable 'lists of lists'. In both cases, the site will contain an entry for a particular list that will usually give a brief description of the list and provide instructions on subscribing — and in the latter case, by finding just a few key web sites, you can actually get information on a large number of email discussion lists.
Subscribing to such music‑related lists is free, and therefore the only costs for most people will be a small amount of additional time spent downloading your incoming email via your modem.
Some of the most useful email discussion lists are the virtual communities that discuss the 'big three' sequencers. For example, if you use Emagic's Logic, then a visit to the Logic User Group site via www.mcc.ac.uk/~emagic/emagic_pag... will provide all the information you need about the Logic Users' email list. Like many such lists, it is run by users of the software and not by Emagic, but a number of Emagic employees subscribe and make regular contributions in response to user questions or comments. Similar lists are available for both Cubase and Cakewalk users; for information on subscribing to these lists, try a quick visit to www.neosoft.com/internet/paml/ (which is one of the sites that provide a 'list of lists'). Cubase users have quite a choice, including at least two lists that are in French!
All of the lists for the big‑selling sequencers are pretty active, with members situated all around the world, and membership varies from complete 'newbies' to some very experienced professionals. As the membership is large, you are almost certain to find others on the list who are using the same sort of equipment combination as yourself, so some problem‑solving advice should be available. As is also typical of many email discussion lists, the topics of conversation vary tremendously, from detailed discussions of technical aspects of the software or advice about hardware combinations through to some slightly off‑topic (OT) themes such as production tips or comments on other studio equipment. While certain individual topics might only be of passing interest to some users, there is often a mine of useful information and advice on offer.
Of course, sequencers are not the only software to generate discussion‑list bandwidth. If you are a user of Propellerheads' Rebirth software, then a quick search of the www.neosoft.com/internet/paml/ site will provide details of how to subscribe to the Rebirth discussion list. Bitheadz software users should check out www.bitheadz.com for information on an unofficial discussion list covering all the company's software products (such as the Retro AS‑1 virtual analogue synth). The SF‑users list (www.viagram.no/privat/sfusers/) is for people using Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge, while SEK'D Samplitude users also have a forum for discussion: more details can be found at the www.sekd.com site. Users of Arboretum Systems digital audio software can join a suitable discussion list by following the instructions at www.electronicmusic.com/datafile....
Music and studio hardware is also well catered for in terms of discussion lists. If you want to learn a little more about a particular synth, hardware recorder or effects processor, the odds are that someone, somewhere has created a discussion list to talk about it. A quick search for music lists at the ONElist site (www.onelist.com) will provide an idea of what is available. If synthesizers are your thing then information on lists about popular synths such as the Alesis QS series, Roland's JV1080, JP8000 series and SH‑101 and the Quasimidi synths, among others, is available here. If you want a more general discussion of synthesis and its many approaches, then the Synth‑L (www.neosoft.com/internet/paml/gr...‑l.html) or Analogue Heaven (www.electronicmusic.com/datafile...) lists might be worth a try.
The ONElist site also provides introduction and subscription information for lists that discuss the 01v (covering all the Yamaha digital mixers) and the more popular digital recorders such as the Akai DPS12, the Korg D8 and the Fostex DMT8VL. You can also check out www.tnlis.com/mailinglist for information on Roland's VS digital workstations. For those who do their digital recording straight to a computer, many of the multi‑channel soundcards have their own lists. Yamaha's DSP Factory soundcard has a very active list hosted by the TekLab site at (www.teklab.com/services/mailingl...). Having a DSP Factory card in my own PC, I can safely say that this list has bailed me out of a problem situation on more than one occasion. The level of technical expertise (and willingness to share it!) is also excellent. Users of Event's Layla, Gina or Darla soundcards can find a suitable discussion list at the www.onelist.com site. People starting out with more modest studios should not feel left out however, as you can get information from the 4‑Trak_Newbies list via the www.tnlis.com/mailinglist site.
Outboard effects processors like the Alesis Quadraverb series (www.neato.org/qv/) or the Ensoniq DP/4 (www.neosoft.com/internet/paml/gr...) have their own lists for users to exchange advice and effects patches. For the gear‑minded guitarist, there is also plenty of choice. The ONElist site provides information on a range of guitar‑related lists, from the general (eg. the Guitar Gear list) to the more specific. Examples of the latter would include the lists for the Boss GT3 and GT5 guitar effects processors (www.members.tripod.com/bossgt3) or Line 6's POD (www.viagram.no/privat/podusers/).
There are a number of useful discussion lists that focus more on studio and recording techniques than particular pieces of equipment. The threads discussed can be quite diverse, from a 'what mic should I use for this sort of job?' to a 'here is an MP3 file, please tell me what is wrong with my mix' sort of thing. Again, ONElist hosts four such lists that might be useful (Mixmasters, Music Producers, Studio Talk and Computer Music), although there is a certain amount of overlap in content. The Emusic‑L list (www.neosoft.com/internet/paml/gr...‑l.html) covers some similar ground, but with an emphasis on electronic music.
There is, of course, a wide range of other music‑related discussion lists available that are not mentioned here. But if you are desperate to get discussion going on a particular piece of equipment or topic, and you can not find a suitable list via either the sites mentioned above or your usual Internet search engine, then why not start your own list? Both the ONElist (www.onelist.com/) and TekLab (www.teklab.com/services/mailingl...) sites provide facilities to do just this. You then become the 'list owner', but much of the management of the list is done automatically by the host site.
With any email discussion list, and in particular lists that have only recently been set up, the level of membership and the quality of the discussion will vary tremendously. As unsubscribing is usually as simple as subscribing in the first place (by sending an email message in the correct format), trying out a list for a week or two is a fairly painless experience — and if all you want to do is monitor the discussion rather than actively contribute yourself, just subscribe and wait for the emails to arrive.
Without passing comment on its political correctness, perhaps I should close by mentioning one other particular list... If you already spend long hours in the studio and perhaps a few more rehearsing and gigging in a band, getting involved with a number of mailing lists is going to mean even less time spent with any 'significant other'. If that 'significant other' happens to be your wife then perhaps she could subscribe to the Music Wives list (via www.onelist.com) in order to receive the sympathy and advice of other, suitably disadvantaged, partners? Er... can anyone recommend a good lawyer?
As with any conversation conducted via email, when sending messages to a mailing list it's important (and polite) to observe a few simple conventions — perhaps more so than usual, since your remarks may be read by thousands of subscribers worldwide. Obviously, you shouldn't send rude or abusive messages, for instance — and take care with attachments. You're unlikely to make yourself very popular if you send everyone a 10 Megabyte WAV file without their asking, or (worse still) a virus. Messages posted to a mailing list are usually sent out to subscribers with the original sender's email address attached, so before sending a reply that goes to the whole list it's worth asking yourself whether it would be more appropriate to just send it to that person. It can be very annoying for other subscribers to be constantly bombarded with trivial or irrelevant messages clearly intended just for one person on the list.
It's also important to give your messages meaningful and appropriate titles: on high‑traffic lists, most subscribers won't be able to read all the messages, so they will decide whether or not to read each one on the basis of the title. In particular, if your message is only marginally relevant to the theme of the list, it's polite to tell people by putting 'OT' (for 'off topic') at the start of the title.