A Christmas Gift Idea for Any Musician

Touchpad VNC

Tablets: The Ultimate Control Surface

I’m normally not one for hawking dry goods around Christmastime, even my own, but after working on The Lives of Dexter Peterson for over a year and sitting in the studio for months, I’ve discovered a tool that has made my life a thousand times easier: The Tablet. If you’re looking to spoil a musician friend this year, this is probably the best way to do it.

I’m not going to get into buying advice for specific models since that advice will be irrelevant two days after I post this. Heck, the tablet I’ve got is an HP Touchpad, probably the most unlikely candidate for anyone shopping right now. I will, however, tell you why this thing has changed my life and you can decide if your potential purchase will do the same.

I Can VNC Clearly Now…

Probably the most significant impact on my studio workflow has been a tablet with VNC. For those that don’t know, VNC is what lets you control another computer’s screen- like Apple’s “Screen Sharing” feature. When recording previous albums I often found myself dancing back and forth between the microphone and the computer to set up new vocal tracks, save my progress, mess with effects, and so on. Talk about killing the creative process!

Hardware makers have sold “control surfaces” for years- little devices that look like mixing boards that interface with your recording software. Hell, I own one… but few if any of these will let you create a new track, save your work, undo bad takes, etc. Some of them can run hundreds of dollars and most of them still have to be plugged in via USB cables. My tablet lets me control everything my computer can do and has no moving parts so I can keep it in the mic booth with me.

It’s like recording in Star Trek.

The Digital Stage Hand

If you’ve ever seen one of my shows, you know I’m technologically oriented even when I’m on stage. Most of my shows are streamed live to my own website with a chat room for people to interact. Since my laptop is already working at 100% to keep up with all the effects, plugins, and software instruments I’m asking it to process, I really don’t want to ask it to handle chat rooms as well. Now I keep the chat room sitting right on top of the piano via the tablet. Not only can I interact with the folks in the front rows, I can respond to people halfway across the globe.

If I played covers or wanted to debut a tune I wasn’t too familiar with yet (Lord knows I never forget my own lyrics), the tablet would make a perfect sheet music and lyric reader. Hell, if the venue had internet access (or my tablet wasn’t wifi-only), I could take requests and go search for the sheet music and lyrics online without having to tax the laptop any more. Even in a dark club the backlit display would be easy to read.

Paper Or Plastic?

Thanks to companies like Square and Intuit, credit card swipers are now available for guys like me. While they started life on smart phones, these digital readers now work with Android and iOS tablets. I haven’t had a chance to play with Square on my tablet yet (the last show I played was before I put Android on the Touchpad), but the point-of-sale software I’ve seen really makes use of the screen size.

New fans are a lot more comfortable saying “I’ll take one of everything” when they can put it on plastic, and I’m a lot more comfortable taking their plastic knowing that it’ll be approved or declined on the spot.

Merch Table Magnet

Finally I get to the flashiest part of the tablet- its, um, flashiness. If you’re playing a convention or festival with a bunch of indie band merch tables lined up by the stage, how do you stand out? VIDEO. I can cue up a YouTube playlist of my best concert videos and leave it on permanent loop to catch people’s eye. Hell, the Touchpad case that I bought even props it up like a digital picture frame so all I have to bring is the tablet itself.

If not videos, maybe just a slideshow of photos and promos would do. A QR code as part of the mix could draw in that extra 10% geek crowd, who knows?

If I had another tablet to spare, I would probably set one up as my email signup kiosk. You’d be surprised what some idiots consider “legible” when dealing with a pen and clipboard, but it’s hard to screw up typed letters. If they can’t even type properly, well… that’s their problem, not mine. Either way, it’d save me the trouble of having to manually enter all those names in later. Then again, what will I do in the airport when I’m bored waiting for my flight home?

The Final Word

I know that a tablet is not exactly a stocking-stuffer. (If you consider a $200-$500 device as such, then you REALLY need to grab a Robot Army subscription before you do anything else.) If you’re looking for something that could truly change a musician’s lifestyle, though, a good tablet can streamline any number of processes for the working songsmith.

I’m sure I’ve left out some benefits and I know I haven’t discovered all of them for myself yet. If you’ve got other ideas, please share them in the comments- I’m always looking for ways I can experiment with my system!

If you’d like to grab a tablet as a gift, I encourage you to use one of the links I’ve shared in this article or just visit http://amzn.to/v8qhRU – I will get a miniscule chunk of change from Amazon if you use these links to buy anything. Anyhoo, back into the mic booth I go!

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