Music and finances (Part 4)

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Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
Read Part 3 here

We are sort of wandering through this series, and I want to take a brief detour to discuss a little dilemma I am working through that is financially related.

I mentioned earlier in the week that I moved my piano to my office so I could have a semi-permanent studio and generate higher quality videos more efficiently. At the same time, I installed a QRS PNOscan which is a sensor bar that sits under the keys and outputs what I play as midi. I am going to use that technology to generate a virtual keyboard with keys that light up as I play them. I have used that in videos in the past and want to do it more in the future.

However, there is another very valuable possible use for that midi technology that is very controversial: I could use those midi files for recording. Rather than putting microphones on the piano and recording acoustically, I could play those midi files with piano samples and generate digital recordings from them.

In other words, it would be like recording a keyboard instead of a piano except for one huge difference: I would still be playing a piano. That gets rid of the biggest concern that pianists have about playing keyboards. Pianists hate keyboards because they don’t feel like pianos and they don’t respond like pianos.

For that reason, playing an acoustic piano and capturing the recording in midi is sort of like having your cake and eating it too. At least that is true if the sound is right. Since sound is actually what is most important, let’s talk sound.

Twenty years ago, piano samples on keyboards were not great. Today, that is not the case. For example, Ivory II is considered a premier package of piano samples from the great pianos of the world. Very discriminating pianists love those samples. I bought Ivory II and while it is not here yet, I will be shocked if I don’t like the sound of those samples better than I like the sound of my own piano. Frankly, I will be shocked if I don’t like them better than practically any piano I have ever played in a studio.

If I can get better sound playing my own piano and using midi, there are three benefits to recording solo piano projects like this. (FYI, I can’t see doing this for big orchestra projects or live recordings.)

1) I will be playing my own piano that I am used to and I can do it here in the office without worrying about studio stuff such as microphones, sound proof rooms, sound boards and engineers.
2) I can record a song at a time when I want to on my own time rather than being pressured to generate several songs in a block of studio time. That should allow me to play better.
3) I will save a lot of money.

Let’s talk about the money since this is a series on finances and music. The cost of that QRS PNOscan was $1500 installed. The Ivory II samples cost $350. That is all I had to buy to get set up (though to be fair, I already have some software, a computer and speakers that I needed too).

Now, let’s compare the cost of me recording a solo piano project the traditional way vs the midi way.

Traditional in a studio:

Studio rental:$1200
Piano tuning:$200
Graphic design:$500

Midi recording in my office:

Studio rental:$0
Piano tuning:$0
Graphic design:$500

To be honest, the first two benefits by themselves are enough to make me consider this route, and the cost savings are extraordinary too.

I want you to know two things. First, I am not going to sacrifice quality and the sound. I have never been afraid to spend money for quality. Except for my first project, I have never done anything on the cheap. The two orchestra projects have been very expensive but my latest Looking Up cost three times more than those. So don’t worry that I am throwing away quality and going to the dark side.

Second, the key to this is the sound. If the sound is equal or better, I will likely consider it. If not, I won’t. I will be playing around with this for a while and will keep you updated. I will post some samples for you too and get your opinion.

In the meantime, feel free to give your thoughts.