For the fifth annual edition of “What to Give a Live Sound Roadie for the Holidays,” we searched high and low for good gift ideas, turned to Pro Sound News’ followers on Linked-In, Twitter and Facebook, and even tried retro communication methods like e-mail, texts and speaking to actual real people in actual real life.
The rules are that items have to be equally appropriate for audio pros working local gigs or cranking it out on a stadium tour; everything has to be small enough to fit in a road case without using a sledgehammer to make it fit; and most importantly, all items have to be useful—except for the goofball stuff that’s too good to resist. As a result, the most popular suggestion (“Someone else to hang the PA”) didn’t make the cut, but here’s what we found this year:
• FlashHarp: The engineer in your life carries both the USB stick for his digital console and his harmonica everywhere he goes. Make his life a little simpler with the FlashHarp, a 4GB thumb drive/mouthharp, hand-built in the USA from U.S.-derived parts. $60, etsy.me/t3i8ua
• Twelve South BassJump 2: MacBooks are nice, but those built-in speakers leave a lot to be desired. This portable, USB-powered subwoofer uses proprietary software that blends the sound output of the BassJump subwoofer with the output of built-in Mac speakers. $70, twelvesouth.com
• Cool T-Shirts: A great passive/aggressive way to get under an indie band’s skin is to wear far cooler T-shirts than them; what better way to undermine a hipster’s confidence? Friend Or Foe offers high-end threads with classic Jazz album art from Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and others, while Chop Shop’s Rock Collection shirts each feature dozens of famous silhouettes from music history, making them a must for trivia wackos (which is to say, I own one). Jazz: $35-$45, merchdirect.com/FriendorFoe; Rock: $22, chopshopstore.com (15% off with “comiccon11” coupon code)
• Personalized Sharpies: Last year, we suggested these and judging from feedback, they were the most popular thing we’ve ever listed—so we’re not above running them again. Have your pal’s name printed on ’em, and everybody will know whose Sharpie they stole. 6/$12, mysharpie.com
• Soundwaves Tape: Close up a bunch of cardboard boxes with packing tape, and they all start to look the same. Which ones have audio gear in them? Well, you could use one of those personalized Sharpies to, you know, label them, or you could order this special packing tape all the way from Russia which features one long, unending soundwave on it. $5, store.artlebedev.com/office/tape/sound-wave/
• NuForce Icon uDAC-2: Your audiophile pal carefully encoded her vinyl collection in FLAC but is stuck listening to her cruddy laptop? Give her this, a USB-powered digital audio converter with a 24-bit/96 kHz USB DA and improved headphone amp. $129, nuforce.com
• Handstand iPad Holder: Apple’s iPads are becoming popular at the mix positions, thanks to RTA apps, BlackCat Software’s iFunGen audio function generator app, and remote console control software from Yamaha, PreSonus and others. The iPad isn’t really designed to be walked around with, however, so the Handstand is a case that includes a strap on the back so you can slip your hand under it and wander around without dropping your precious baby. $50 on Amazon.Com
• DCI Product Volume Knob Ear Buds: On Linked-In, Michael Moore suggested, “Who wouldn't want a spare pair of their favorite headphones? Live guys and headphones are like a tech episode of Hoarders.” Audio folks are picky about what they listen to, of course, but if you don’t care, try these. The sound quality isn’t the selling point; it’s the fact that volume knobs are jammed in your pal’s skull. $12 on Amazon.com
• Clothing: Belts are not the first thing that jumps to mind when you think “pro audio,” but on Linked-In, Christopher Mael pointed out, “My belts deteriorate from having knife/flashlight/Leatherman on them, so I don't mind getting decent quality new belts for Christmas.” Another clothing suggestion came from Eric Munoz who made his case plainly with “Short Cargo Pants: nerdy but practical.”
• TsirTech Joypad Silicone Joystick Gamepad Holder for iPhone: Ronnie Anne Spang suggested game apps, noting that “Some shows can be really long/tedious or even boring, and a little diversion can really break up the monotony.” That’s a great point, and if you want to give your pal something to go with an app store gift card, try this rubbery case that lets users hold an iPhone like an Xbox controller. $12
• Books: Real books made of paper are a great diversion on a slow gig, plus unlike Kindles or Nooks, you can throw them at the production manager. We’ve reviewed plenty of books on the ProSoundNetwork.Com blog this year, and some of the titles we recommend include Rockin’ Your Stage Sound by Rob Gainey; Nile Rodgers’ autobiography, Le Freak; Stephen Davis’ self-explanatory LZ-'75—The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour; the recording tale Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy; and Mountains Come Out of the Sky—The Illustrated History of Prog Rock. Check out the blog for our in-depth takes on them.
Other tomes that we’re still finishing but will review soon include Neil Strauss’ rock interview compendium, Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead; the massive oral history of music television, I Want My MTV; analysis of 1980s 7” and 12” artwork in Put the Needle on the Record; and producer Butch Walker’s autobiography about his “rise to the middle,” Drinking With Strangers. $15-$35 at your local bookstore.