Freelance Chronicles: Episode 2 – Using technology to your advantage

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There was a time while I was living in Rochester completing my doctoral studies that I would take my Salvi Juno out and play for tips.  Some days were lucrative, others not so much; there was one day that I literally made $4 after playing for 3 hours.  I learned a great deal from this experience… not only the importance of valuing myself as a performer, and how to engage an audience, but most importantly how technology can make the life of a gigging harpist significantly easier.

With only a few simple tools I was able to reduce my carrying load from 2-3 large binders full of sheet music to one magnificently light iPad.  In this blog post I will share with you the tools that I use, how I use them, and the impact they have made on my life!  Please comment below with any other kinds of technology you might use in your daily harp routine!!

The Basics:

iPadFor me this is where it all began.  This small but powerful piece of equipment allows me to have hours of music at my fingertips!  I went with the 32gb model to ensure that I would have ample room for music, and wasn’t disappointed; two years later my iPad houses over 400 pieces of music and still has 11gb of free space for more!!  My iPad has come with me for events of all kinds and I have never had a problem with it.  In low light situations it is a lifesaver, not only allowing me to read the music, but shining onto my strings and making them more visible!  I cannot suggest an iPad enough to any freelance harpist… this tool has changed my life!!  iPad stands are also much lighter and easier to carry, I would suggest Peak ($69.95) or RatStands ($123.00 – sure it’s twice as expensive, but it folds down beautifully and is made of extremely high quality materials!).

So now that you have your iPad, you are going to need a few other things to make it work for you!  First things first, download the application: forScore ($9.99 from the Apple app store).  This application will allow you to store and use your sheet music easily.  It allows you to create set lists, which are particularly helpful for wedding ceremonies, and requires only a light touch on the right ride of the screen to make a page turn.  One of my favorite things about this app is the “crop” feature.  It allows you to zoom in on the music, making it as large as possible (since the screen is slightly smaller than a normal piece of paper) and cutting out all unnecessary white space.

So you have your iPad and your music reading software, but no sheet music, what now?  I found an auto-feed scanner to be incredibly useful since a great majority of my music was already in copy form in my gig binders.  For any music still in bound book form I used a flat-bed scanner I use this Brother ($249.99) printer/scanner combo that has both an auto-feeder and a flat-bed that can scan up to an 11×17 at home and the VuPoint MagicWand ($49.90) when I’m on the go.  Don’t own, or want to spend $50+ on a scanner???  No Problem!  Download the app DocScanner Pro ($2.99) onto your iPad/iPhone and the camera becomes a scanner!!

Other useful apps: The best thing about having an iPad is you can find an app that will do almost anything that you might need!!  Forgot your tuner at home??  No problem: check out Peterson iStroboSoft ($9.99) or TonalEnergy Chromatic Tuner and Metronome ($3.99).  There are also free options through the app store, but I wouldn’t recommend them… remember: you get what you pay for!!

For the Tech-Adventurer: 

Are you feeling bold?  Beyond simply making your gigging life easier, technology can also offer a great number of benefits to your harp life!  Below you will find examples of technology that I use in my freelancing life.  The items you find below are all top of the line (my boyfriend is a huge tech-nerd and insists on nothing but the best!) and can be substituted by a multitude of more affordable options!  Be sure to watch for upcoming #HarpTechy blogs where I will explore different options for all of these items. Here are a few ideas for those looking to up their game:

Dusty Strings Pedal Harp Pickup: ($395) I installed mine back in February and couldn’t be happier!!  Sure, it makes amplification of an acoustic instrument possible… but this is only one of the many benefits of this system.  Here are two other ways that I have been using it since instillation:

1. You know that feeling you get when you walk into a rehearsal a little later than you planned (or even at the time that you planned, and there is that one percussionist who decides that now is the perfect time to practice their tambourine technique)?  How will you tune your harp with all of this sound surrounding you?  With this pickup system I am able to directly connect my harp, through a 1/4 inch instrument cable, to my tuner.  THIS IS A LIFE SAVER!  It makes tuning in the noisiest rooms possible.

2. As a freelance harpist I am constantly making recordings for perspective clients.  We all know that this is a time consuming and at times a frustrating process.  You finally get a good take of that John Legend song and just as you are finishing up someone walks into the room, or the AC cuts on, or a dog barks, and your recording is ruined.  With the amplification kit I can hook my harp through a 1/4 instrument cable directly to my recording device (I use a Roland R-26: $399.99 currently, but have also used Zoom recorders in the past to great success) and it records without picking up any outside sounds!

You may have noticed on the Dusty Strings page that there is an option to buy a 1/2″ Brad-point drill bit to drill a hole in your harp to create an access point for your amplification kit… I couldn’t bring myself to drill a hole in my harp and instead went the way of the Pickup Jack Clip ($54.95).  Need/want installation advice??  Comment below with your email address and I would be happy to send you info on my experience!

Extra toys I use with my pick-up kit:

I use a Cube Street ($299.00 on Amazon) battery powered amp, which has great battery life, and isn’t terribly heavy.  My newest and most exciting toy is my Boss RC-30 Looping Station ($299.00 at Guitar Center).  With this tool I am able to loop tracks on top of one another, creating a virtual harp ensemble, and play with rhythm tracks that are pre-loaded onto the device!  The Boss was a birthday gift and hasn’t been fully explored yet, more on this soon!

Think outside the box: When it comes to technology there is a practical application for almost anything!!  There are technology devices that I use on a daily basis that I never thought would be useful to my harp life, until they were!  The most significant item in my life right now, and for the past year or so, has been my fitness tracker.  I currently use the Up3 ($179.99), Jawbone’s newest fitness tracker, but would recommend going with one of their older models like the discontinued original UP ($39.00) or the Up2 ($99.99).  I have also heard that the FitBit bands work in a similar way, but I prefer the look of the Jawbone.  I have found this to be an extremely useful practice tool in the following ways:

1. It tracks movement and when worn on the left arm doesn’t interfere with harp playing.  By wearing the tracker in my practice sessions I am able to see how much my left arm is moving (calculated as “steps”), how often I am taking breaks, and how long I practiced.

2. There is a great alarm feature on the band that you can use to schedule practice breaks.  The band gently vibrates when you set the alarm to go off, reminding you to step away from your instrument, helping to avoid both injury and bad practice habits.

How do you use technology in your #HarpLife?  Comment below!

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About Author

Miami based Dr. of harp, gown-addict, lover of bulldogs, and fitness enthusiast.

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