What Musicians Want

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 • Dot Bustelo

Dot Bustelo is SuperMegaUltraGroovy’s Creative Marketing Director since 2013. Dot has had a unique career as an electronic music producer, Logic expert for world-touring bands, stage demonstrator for Apple, and #1 best-selling Logic author on Amazon and Lynda.com. Here Dot reflects on what world touring musicians want, how they think about playing music and what Capo adds to the mix.

Introducing musicians to Capo for the last three years has got me thinking about being a musician, specifically how musicians think about and relate to playing music. I thought about it unconsciously while showing Logic Pro to musicians for many years at Apple and before that at Emagic, the company that first developed Logic. There were patterns in what got musicians most excited in Logic, and what tripped them up. It was a little trippy when it happened to be A-trak, Jazzy Jeff, James Valentine, Ronnie Vannucci, T Pain or Tommy Lee. Lately I’ve been reflecting on the interesting similarities between introducing Logic and Capo, what musicians and producers want to understand about a song, whether a famous published song, or one they’re still writing.

The Evolution (DAWs)

I had the privilege of being at the forefront of what many of us remember as the most exciting time in the evolution of DAWs, the late 90s/early 2000s when DAWs were first were coming into being. I helped introduce one of the first virtual synthesizers ever, the Emagic ES1 and first software samplers in the EXS24, all part of the first mobile studio on a laptop. (The big deal for touring musicians then was that Logic unlike ProTools didn’t need hardware to run, an audio interface, only a little usb stick “the Emagic dongle” which made it the better option for being on the go, on a tour bus.) These computer-based tools or DAWs like ProTools, Logic Pro, Cubase, and Ableton Live were all focused on slicing, dicing, quantizing— computer tricks for swinging and humanizing music. It was all about making your performance more perfect, more in the pocket, more… human.

Few computer tools are designed for furthering musicianship itself in the process of creating and writing music today so that the hooks, and riffs are naturally musical and memorable. There’s a mastery to editing with the Marquee tool in Logic and making Hi-Hats swing right. But, what about a tool that helps you get to an authentic starting point as a musician laying in the groove when you play the part and record into the computer—the performance of the song that will forever be the song, the record?

The Logic Years & Musicianship

It was very cool spending hours demoing at a trade show or in world-touring musicians’ homes, studios, or green rooms back stage dissecting production tools. I didn’t mind being on call given how appreciative everyone was.

Something makes those years all a prelude to showing musicians Capo today. One of my best tricks was a feature from the earliest days of Logic called “Capture Last Take”. I’d show this to not just brand new users but longtime Logic users whose minds would be blown.  Logic held in buffer whatever you played even when you weren’t recording as long as the transport was running. You could hit a keystroke to grab the MIDI performance.

Capture Last Take was a musician’s feature, not an audio engineer or editor’s feature. The feature was for all those times you didn’t know you had the funky riff to play that was totally in the pocket and belonged in the recording. You’re relaxed, no pressure to get it right because you’re just grooving out along with the track. Then baam! You nail it without having to stress trying to play it again exactly the same dope way. Every time I did this in front of a group of musicians, without fail I’d hear, “Wait!–How’d you do that??!!!”

Why the consistently extreme and passionate response? Here’s why. People still want to play music. Even during the process of writing music, they want to capture that piece of their soul that comes uniquely from playing a part. Not step entering MIDI notes and nudging them.

Today we have new styles of music that merge the two pillars of music creation, musicianship and studio production/software tricks and it’s making for incredible new genres in the evolution of music. But, Ginsu knives in DAWs do not make obsolete the soul of a good performance. Even if you only take a bar or a turnaround, it’s magic when it lays in the pocket. Even if you end up running quantize settings, you still need something in a performance to work with. You can scientifically move around notes inside the computer until they create the funk but we can’t ignore musicianship on the path to great songwriting and production.

Instant Love (“Whoa, the Chords!”)

Capo is a musician’s enabler, it’s all about learning to play songs, musicianship. It’s very fun (and kinda funny) watching how fast and hard musicians appreciate Capo. Capo takes ten seconds to fall in love. All you have to see is the chords pop up when you drag an mp3 in. With another 30 seconds I can show looping a section to play along. With another minute I show slowing and speeding up the mp3 with the BPM updating in real-time, then changing key by semitone and watching the chords transpose in real-time. At that point, they’ve basically seen half of Capo’s features and can’t wait to download the app and start using it. Big smiles and lots of “No way, I need that! That’s sick!! I gotta have it!! How much is that?!”

The VIP List

Vernon Reid, Al Carty with Alicia Keys, Darrell Thorpe with Radiohead and Beck, Man-Man and Kenny Wright with John Legend. So many of the greatest musicians of our times have given praise to Capo. It blows me away the uniqueness of how musicians respond to Capo and what they say they do with it. Like Kristian Bush of Sugarland confessing how he often writes songs a little too slow to be pop hits so he experiments with speeding up the demos in Capo before he hires musicians to play on the record. Or, P-Thugg from Chromeo loving Capo’s spectrogram for studying the nuance of a performance or riff whether an instrument or a vocal, explaining that he doesn’t even use Capo for the chords. (I had to eat my own words to the developer about the spectogram being a little confusing—ha.) The impromptu Larkin Poe iPhone video of Rebecca and Megan Lovell responding to Capo for the first time is priceless.

One of the deepest observations about Capo came from vocal coach/music educator Peggy Johnson when she described the role of Capo beyond learning chords to the artistry of being a musician. “I’ve been using Capo to help my piano and voice students with their rhythm. Even after they learn a song, if we slow it way down, they can follow the right meter. You can be right on key but if you don’t have the groove it won’t be a performance.

“As musicians, we tend to rush the beat. Capo is a great way to learn how to not rush, how to be in the pocket. A lot of musicians don’t realize they don’t have the groove. Their engineer fixes it,” Peggy explains. “It’s always about getting that better performance and you can work on that with Capo.”

Final Note

Half the musicians and music teachers I show Capo to say they didn’t know they needed Capo until I shared it with them and now they can’t live without it. It’s very satisfying to hear every time, even after three years. With every new user, the developer Chris Liscio grows more determined to keep improving the quality of Capo’s chord detection algorithm, the detail in the user interface and the fidelity of the audio itself, which happens to be even more incredible with the new Isolation. I can attest that with the exception of the musicians with perfect pitch, every musician today would agree Capo’s worth the download.