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Takeaways From #jamuary2023

For those who didn’t notice, I embarked upon a challenge in January to produce a music jam each day. In other words, 31 pieces of new electronic music in 31 days. They didn’t have to be long (though some of mine were). They didn’t have to be complete (though some could actually be considered finished). They didn’t even have to be good (many of them are not). That wasn’t the point. The point was to make time every day to make music.

If I’m honest, sometimes it seemed to border on grueling. But overall, it was a lot of fun and extremely rewarding, and I will definitely be doing it again.

What exactly is #jamuary?

#jamuary is a challenge of sorts, created by a synth YouTuber called @truecuckoo back in 2016. There’s even a website for it, though it seems that most people these days participate on various social media platforms. The gist is that musicians from all over the world challenge themselves to record and share a jam every day of the month. On social media, the hashtag is #jamuary followed by the year (eg #jamuary2023).

Hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of musicians all over the world take part in the challenge every year. As of 10PM Eastern time on January 31, there were just under 16,000 #jamuary2023 posts on Instagram, an average of about 510 uploads per day. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that’s not really a whole lot, given that Instagram has over 2 billion (yes, that’s “illion” with a “B” in front of it) active users and over 95 million images and videos are shared per day on the platform. My contribution was shared on five public platforms: YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and this web site. I also shared my jams on two private Discord servers.

Did I have any specific goal or reason for participating in #jamuary2023?

I had a few goals in mind when I started the month. Some are, in no particular order:

  1. To simply get through it (I did achieve that goal).
  2. Getting more familiar with the hardware synths that I’ve amassed over the past three years.
  3. Determine what instruments work for me, and which ones don’t, and why.
  4. Decide which gear, if any, I should divest myself of.
  5. Experiment with methods and workflows for working with my gear and making music in real time for performance or live streaming.
  6. Identify actual needs for new hardware or software vs. G.A.S.-driven wishlist items.

What were the take-aways from #jamuary2023?

I’m still mulling over a lot of it. But one take-away is that I can almost produce the kind of music I want with what I already have. I am certainly not wanting for synthesizers, although I am falling a little short in some other areas for doing live[stream] ambient and electronic performance.

I found that I really like the looper workflow a lot, and it really lends itself to making psychedelic and space ambient music, or really any music that features cyclical additive figures. In the past, this would be most easily accomplished using long tape delays (sometimes passing a single tape through two or more open reel decks placed a few feed apart, also known as Frippertronics). Much of this can now be accomplished using a variety of effects and loopers. Obviously, I have some looping capability now, but I would like to be able to have at least a little bit more control over the way the loops behave.

I’ve also determined that there is some gear that needs to go, now or in the coming months. The first, which I’ve been trying to sell for a while, is the OP-Z. I really wanted it to work for me as a musical sketchpad that I could take anywhere. But, the workflow is just not something that I can get along with, and so it’s been sitting in its box for months and months (I do take it out periodically to make sure that the battery is in good shape). It’s for sale, or maybe trade.

I’m also going back and forth about whether or not I should keep all of the Modal Electronics synths. I featured them during the second week of the month, and while they finally sounded pretty good on the last day I used them, it was really a struggle. I know I said at one point that if I kept any of it, it would be the CraftSynth, I think now that the Cobalt 5s would be the keeper, if I were to keep any of them.

The biggest shock/revelation from the month is that I really need to be concentrating musically on what got me into music in the first place, and not playing rock-and-roll in a cover band for peanuts. If I’m not gonna make money, I should at least be doing what really drives me, right?

Wait, what?

To that end, I’ve decided to leave the moderately successful cover band (7Souls) I’ve been in for the last five or so years. My last regular shows with them will be in April of this year. I will continue to be available for a time as a fill-in player for both 7Souls and for Midnite Run. I’m even considering selling the Kronos (!) sometime in the summer or fall while I can still get a fair amount of money for it. If I have fill-in gigs after it’s gone, I’ll either pick up something inexpensive that covers the sounds I need, or — gasp — use a MIDI controller and a laptop to get through the shows. I will continue with my new duo act, Shaggy ‘n’ Scooby, where I’ll be handling vocals and will only be playing occasionally.

Needs and Wants

I was actually able to do almost everything I wanted to do in almost a way that I wanted to do it during the month. I did identify a couple of shortcomings in my hardware for a “live production/performance” perspective that will necessitate acquiring a couple of things.

Boss RC-3 Loop Station

First up, the hardware looping capabilities are a bit limiting. I have two loopers at the moment — the looper within the Zoom G3n, and a Boss RC-3 Loop Station. The biggest limitations of the Zoom are that the loop length is too short and that the input to the G3n is mono only. The RC-3 can’t do fade start and stop, though it can do some outrageously long loops. I’m also not fond of the stomp-style switch, but I can live with that. Unlike a lot of other Roland gear, though, the Boss Loopstation workflow actually makes sense to me.

Boss RC-500 Loop Station with FC-7 dual foot switch

So, after spending a fair amount of time digging into YouTube videos and online reviews, I’ve decided that a Boss RC-500 will be a good compromise between deep features, ease of operation, and price to improve my looping situation.

The other shortfall was the available hardware effects. The G3n is a great multi-effects device, but I find the mono input to be its Achilles heel in most cases. Fortunately, there’s one place it really shines, and that’s teamed up with the MicroFreak. Since the MicroFreak is mono out, and tends to have a slightly lower output level than some other instruments, it’s almost like the two were designed to work together. So, that’ll be a generally permanent pairing.

To bolster hardware effects otherwise, there are really only a few good-sounding reasonably-priced multi-effect solutions that meet my criteria (I’ll get into that in another post or in a video soon), and those are the Line 6 Helix HX-series (HX Effects, HX Stomp, and HX Stomp XL). The XH Effects is the most likely candidate at this point. A very close runner up is the TC Electronic Plethora X5.

It Turns Out I Don’t Want…

A bit of a surprise is that I don’t really think I want to get any more synthesizers, at least not at present. For instance, I’ve been kind of drooling over the new Arturia MiniFreak. And while if someone were to kindly send me one, I wouldn’t refuse it. I just don’t feel a desire to go out and buy. I’ve got a number of really capable instruments to explore which should keep me busy for some time to come. If I did start to feel as if I need some more freakiness, I’d probably get a second MicroFreak and G3n pairing, or maybe a Waldorf Blofeld.

Studio Progress

Crowded console setup for #jamuary2023-7 and the #jamuary2023-7 BTS video production. Shown here are the Arturia MicroFreak, Zoom G3n, Behringer Flow 8, Black Magic Design ATEM Mini Pro, Acer Aspire 5 laptop, and a new Acer Full HD monitor.

The studio build took a back seat during the last month, although most of the jams were done in the space. It was rather inconvenient to have to reconfigure everything each Sunday to setup for the week’s jams. And today, I realized that the piece of furniture that I’d planned to use as the basis for the final work area is simply not going to be usable. Working around that is going to slow me down a little more, and I’m like to have to rearrange the work surfaces that are already in place, which will necessitate taking the camera rig back off the table. In any case, I’ll have to pick up a few supplies, and will hopefully be able to get moving on “Plan B” this evening and tomorrow.

The YouTube Channel

Producing the videos was a lot of fun, and a good be easier than I’d expected, given that Microsoft has now included a nice, basic video editor with Office 365. I’ve been editing for years in programs like Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve, but they’re really overkill for most of the stuff I’ll be doing for the YouTube channel. And, once things are in place in the studio, making the videos I’d wanted to be making since the start of the pandemic will be much easier. Almost all of the gear for that is on hand and it’s all been tested to make sure it’s going to work the way I want it too, so as soon as the studio’s in condition to shoot in, you’ll start seeing that content appear.

That’s a Wrap

So that’s that, in a post that was 31 + 4 days in the making, is the fallout from #jamuary2023 and some future ideas. I decided to not do it as a channel video, because I really dislike all the “future of this channel” videos that everyone seems compelled to put up at least once a year. Bottom line is that I’m going stop doing some stuff that I don’t enjoy anymore, and I am going to do some stuff that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride and have some fun with me.

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