by Rich Van Slyke
"TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS? ARE YOU NUTS?!" That was the reaction from my wife when I told her of my plan to enter the world of MIDI. My goal was to produce studio quality music for spots and promos. I needed a system I could set up easily in the radio station's production room, and I couldn't convince the GM to trade until I demonstrated the possibilities.
"I really think this equipment will make me more valuable," I said, explaining why we should spend our vacation money on expensive toys. "For two grand," she said, "it better!"
So, I've made the financial commitment. Now, what do I buy? After several visits to the local music stores, I learned that a complete music production system must have the following: a synthesizer, a drum machine, a sequencer, and an effects unit. Because I said I wanted something that could be set up easily and quickly, they suggested a "music workstation." This unit combines a synthesizer that can play many sounds at once, including drums, with a multi-track sequencer. I looked at the Ensoniq ESQ, the Korg M-1, and the Roland W-30. I bought the W-30 because it's also a sampler which is G-G-G-GR-GREAT for radio, as you know. So, I dropped my $2,000 and hoped I'd be able to make this thing play and PAY!
It took about a month to get going. The manual is confusing, and patience is a must; but when you create something musical, it's a blast!! If you invest a lot of money, you get a professional instrument that sounds great, and the sound motivates you. At first I just used the sampler for effects. Then I made my first music bed. I knew I had something when I put down a simple 1-2-3-4 drum pattern and a two note repeating bass line, and people were saying: "Where did you get that music?" The sequencer corrects mistakes for you, and it's easy to add or subtract tracks, like a multi-track tape. When you are composing, you decide where the music should stop, start, hit posts, etc.. I love the control! The client loved the music and so did other clients. "Can you do custom music for me too?" "Well sure," I said, "but I need $500. After all, if you went to a recording studio and hired musicians, it would cost you more than that."
Within a year, I had produced enough music to pay for the W-30 and buy a few synthesizer modules to add sounds. The sequencer drives these modules and the sounds are stunning! I really believe my MIDI gear helped me get the Production Director's gig at WCMF. On my tape, half the commercials and most of the promos contained music and effects I produced. When I arrived here and showed the sales staff what was possible with MIDI gear, our Sales Manager, Ray Noone, set up a trade with the House of Guitars for more toys! Now, I can charge more money for spots that travel to other stations because I write and produce custom music.
There are many "workstation" keyboards on the market. Most are between $2,000 and $3,000. It's a great starter unit because it'll do all the basics: drums, bass, keyboards, horns, strings. If you can swing it, buy one. Your job will be even more fun! It will increase your value as a producer, and it will earn you money. I have to stress the fact that you don't need to know about music, just have an ear for good sounds. The computer does all the hard stuff. A drum pattern, a simple bass line, a couple of orchestra hits, and suddenly...you're makin' music!