Stephen Galvin

Stephen Galvin “At ABC Studios, we use Elevation because it is so simple to operate”

Customer Experience

Stephen Galvin is an expert musician with performing experience in rock, jazz, church music, classical music and musical theatre. He is a registered teacher with the New Zealand Teacher’s Council and taught Music at Green Bay High School from 2002 to 2008. He holds a Performer’s Diploma from Trinity College London, a Bachelor of Music degree, a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Master of Music degree with First Class Honours and a Diploma of Teaching from the University of Auckland. Stephen is also a qualified English teacher. He is a member of the New Zealand Association of Teachers of Singing, the New Zealand Musician’s Union, Opera Factory, Titirangi Folk Music Club, the Wagner Society, the Guitar Association of New Zealand and the Classic Guitar Society of Auckland. Stephen now performs with his own band, The Stevie G Band, the jazz trio Crystal Silence and others. His current interests are in developing Music Production through live and media performance. http://www.abcstudios.co.nz

THE COOL STUFF

Elevation is software that enables you to change the key of a song while it is playing, change its tempo, and play parts of the song round and round. It can also create karaoke type tracks, and allow you to record an extra track on top. You can export your tracks in the new key, tempo, with your added overdubs, or looped sections.

SO HOW DO MUSICIANS USE IT?

Lets look at a few examples Mayan plays the guitar: He is to perform the Jimi Hendrix classic “Hey Joe” at a show later this month. To learn the solo he can drag and drop the Hey Joe file into Elevation, zoom into the solo section, place makers around each phrase and loop the phrase while playing his guitar. At one practice session he says that he can play the phrase but that it is too fast. So we drop the tempo 25% while the phrase is still looping. He practices the phrase, gets the feel and timing then we speed it back up again. Cool.

Jodie sings for pleasure. She likes to sing at home after work. She likes“Hand In My Pocket” my Alanis Morrisette. She wants to sing the song a bit a faster and try it in a different key to suit her voice. She drops the song into Elevation, experiments with changing the speed and tries raising and lowering the key until it feels right. She finds it distracting having to sing along with Alanis Morrissette so she presses the vocal-reduction (karaoke button). Some of the original voice is removed but the track sounds a bit garbled. Jodie uses the built-in equalizer to reduce the treble on the original and sings along to the track without Alanis Morrisette in a new key and faster. That works.

Sarah-Jane has a gig on Saturday. She wants to sing “Bathe In the River” and knows that the crowd would find Hollie Smith’s slow 12/8 rhythm too slow to dance to. We drop an mp3 into the Elevation library and test the song at 145% of the original. [It is still a slow song but danceable.] Sarah-Jane says she cannot fit all the words in easily at that tempo so we adjust it to 140%. Sounds right. We export the track in the new tempo to a CD so Sarah-Jane can practice for the gig. Great! We do the show and the crowd goes off!

Stevie has a gig with Pat Urlich on the same night. Pat is playing a set of Beatles numbers. Most of them in lower keys, for example “Come Together” in A minor instead of the usual D minor. Stevie puts the entire set list into Elevation and practices the songs for Saturday in the new keys and for most of the songs a little faster.

THE NOT SO COOL STUFF

Elevation uses its own library. That means if you import all your songs into the Elevation library you will have two copies of every song on your hard-drive. Not so bad if you have a hundred songs. Our studio has about 2 terabyte of songs and growing. So that would mean an extra harddrive just to accommodate Elevation. Our workaround is to drop files into Elevation while they are being auditioned, then delete. That keeps the library small and saves unnecessary duplication.

When we first started using Elevation importing new tracks took up to seven or eight minutes. I contacted the support team. They replied after a couple of days but they could not reproduce the problem. After a lot of fiddling we found that we could drag and drop files quickly into the program library. Cool.

The key-change and tempo-change functions are cool. You play a song, try singing along with it and it is too high. Turn the knob and it instantly transposes. The knob is rotary. I would have preferred to type in the number myself but that option is not available. Software designers sometimes just want to make their programs simple while musicians like to customize and set things up to their personal taste. My view is that it could easily have an option page where the musician can customize such things as colour schemes, rotary knobs versus sliders, zoom settings and keyboard shortcuts.

The loop function is also cool. You want to learn the intro to “Venus” by The Feelers. Press the waveform display button, the loop button, then drag a locator to the end of the intro. The music plays over and over. Too fast to hear the individual notes? Just adjust the tempo knob and the loop slows down. If you want the loop to go back to the beginning press the left arrow. (This works some of the time. But sometimes the software would jump to the previous track. A bug Elevation may fix for 1.0.1) A problem we had with this time-saving function is that we select a section, press zoom and the display zooms the middle of the track, instead of the loop, which is a bit cumbersome because we had to then zoom out, drag the horizontal slider to the loop then zoom, sometimes several times which just wastes time. Elevation has the ability to record an audio file over the original. This seems like a good idea for making quick recordings in a teaching or rehearsal situation. There are no effects, compression, or other electronics so the recordings are fairly basic. If you do have a recording program such as Cubase or Protools you can simply export your backing track into a full recording program apply effects and mix down to the finished track. Oddly, Elevation requires the user to add the filename and the extension (.mp3 or .wav) when exporting which adds to the number of keystrokes.

Finally there is the price. At NZ$354 the program costs a lot more than others. For example Steinberg’s Sequel which has all of Elevation’s features and a few hundred more. All for under NZ$100. That may just be the issue. Elevation is so simple to use if all you want to do is transpose, adjust the tempo and loop a track you can do it just a few keystrokes. For busy musicians and teachers those few keystrokes and the easy-to-use screen may make all the difference. At ABC studios we use Elevation because it is so simple to operate. We compared Sequel with Elevation doing the same task: Opening Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross”, transposing up two keys, slowing to half speed then exporting Elevation took four minutes and 19 keystrokes, Sequel three minutes nine and fifteen strokes. Elevation felt easier to use despite being a little slower and requiring more keystrokes. Is that worth an extra $250+? You decide.

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