2012 Holiday Guide to Music and Audio Gifts and Deals

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This holiday season, you may celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Ramadan, impassioned political yelling matches with distant family members, or international Chinese-food-and-a-movie day.

But regardless of your faith and habits, I think all of us Americans can agree on one thing: It’s a great time of year for unbridled consumerism, for being nicer than usual to total strangers, and for putting lights and flashy things all over our stuff.

I mean c’mon. The sun is only up for what, like 4 hours a day right now? We’ve got to do something.

Before I return to celebrating the Holidays the only way I know how (silently mouthing every word to It’s a Wonderful Life and attempting to play through the Vince Guaraldi songbook, with mixed results) I’d like to leave you with this brief list of end-of-the-year specials and inexpensive holidays gift ideas for the musicians, studio owners, producers and engineers in your life.

Consider it my holiday gift to you.

Software and Hardware Bundles

Steep sales on audio software makes it easy to be an unapologetic consumer around the end of each year. There are no plastic parts to pile up in landfills, negligible shipping costs, a limited carbon footprint and so on.

It also allows us to come the closest we ever can to rewarding pure ideas and sustained effort, which is pretty damn neat. And, since the costs of software are not directly to physical objects and economies of scale, it is endlessly easy to discount whenever companies are given a good reason.

The holidays have come to seem like a damn good reason for a lot of companies, and today, deep holiday deals on software have become something of a norm.

How about some Moog merch to spread the holiday cheer?

This year, Korg is offering 50% off all iPad and iPhone apps, like the and the newly launched iPolysix and the endlessly fun iMS-20.

Meanwhile, Ableton is doing 25% discounts on Live 8, with the promise of a free upgrade to version 9 as soon as it’s available.

Retailers selling Propellerhead’s Reason Essentials have brought prices down as low as $79.99 until the end of the year, and iZotope is selling its bundles for as much as 50% off list price (about 30% less than what these packages normally sell for.)

Not to be outdone, McDSP is offering its introductory Project Studio Pack for just $39 and its complete Emerald Pack for 40% off. For their part, Waves are taking 40% off upgrades, 50% off bundles, 60% off their complete Mercury Collection, selling the entire line for $2,499 – less than ever before.

Other software companies have decided to go a different route and offer more stuff for the same money: SoundToys is now giving away its popular Devil-Loc Deluxe  plugin with the purchase of any bundle, while Native Instruments is giving away Guitar Rig 5 Pro with every purchase of their Komplete Audio 6 Interface.

This is not the only 2-for-1 kind of deal from a hybrid software/hardware maker. Universal Audio is currently offering 20%-60% off plugins, including up to $100 off new models of Manley, EMT and Lexicon effects processors.

But more amazingly than that, the company is offering a special where anyone who purchases a new 4-710d preamp gets a UAD-2 Quad DSP Accelerator plus the Analog Classics plugin bundle for free. That is a pretty major deal. One that could save you $1,000 on real, functional hardware.

Inexpensive Oddball Instruments

Sometimes when it comes to gift-giving, something a bit more tangible is in order. Fortunately, you can still get something memorable for the musicians or studio owners you know without spending a lot.

The mini Schoenhut

Among the last generation of music producers and engineers, there was a popular saying that “it’s just not a studio without a lava lamp.” But now in the 21st century, we might be able to replace that with “toy piano.”

Have a colleague who doesn’t have one? Slap some sense into him or her with a mini Schoenhut upright for as little as $50. It will probably see more use than the average iPad app, and adds charm to a room, even when it lies mostly dormant for months. They also come in deluxe models.

There’s another saying that might have also been a good fit these past few years: “It’s just not an Indie Rock band without a little plastic glockenspiel.” (And despite what fashion may have led us to believe, they are also still made from wood as well.)

But don’t just focus on what’s already been popular. There’s a whole world of unusual inexpensive instruments that any client or musician or studio owner might remember you by for years to come.

Kalimbas and Thumb Pianos range from the traditional to the modern to the amplified. How about a miniature celtic harp? Or better yet, how about a Melodica, which often start as low as $50 and change, even from reputable brands like Hohner.

What self-respecting musician wouldn’t be thrilled to death by the gift of a melodica, I have no idea. You could probably get a handful of melodicas for the members of Slayer and they’d secretly love you for it.

Ukuleles are similarly inexpensive and memorable, and they come in a variety of sizes. But beware: some studio owners lament ever letting one into their space. The things do have an uncanny knack for being picked up and thoughtlessly strummed from the couch for the full duration of a session.

Of course, if you really hate your friends, you can always give them the gift of the toy accordion. Consider it audio fruitcake.

Corrupt Them Young

We musicy-types know that the survival of our industry requires constant offerings of new blood.

To that end, companies like Fender offer introductory Squier Strat Packs for around $350. But if you’re not too picky, companies often blow out starter packs for acoustic, electric guitar and bass for as little as $99 this time of year, cheap enough to start indiscriminately hurling these things at young relatives in the hopes that one of them may some day refer you some clients.

If you really want to give them an addiction that will haunt them for the rest of their lives, there’s always the “My First Studio” bundle for $300. They’re never too young for the gift of G.A.S.

Of course, if you go with one of the above, you may also want to pick up some of the next gift on our list, the Vox miniature headphone amp for guitar or bass. A great gift for offspring, significant others, neighbors, roommates – anyone you’d like to see reap the benefits of regular practice – without ever having to suffer the consequences yourself.

Marshall Major 50 Headphones

Other Stocking Stuffers

There are a whole host of affordable stocking stuffers that say, “hey, I know something about your style.”

From Marshall Headphones and cigarette box-size amplifiers to accessories for iPads and iPhones like miniature instrument interfaces, microphones, and even full-fledged DJ controllers, trinkets can be small, personally targeted, and even endlessly useful.

Of course, you don’t need to get anyone anything from the store to wish them a happy holiday. But if you’re so inclined, it often doesn’t take much to remind a friend, family member or colleague that they’re always on your list.

Got your own recommendations for great deals or affordable gifts? Please feel free to add them in to the comments section below.

Justin Colletti is a producer/engineer, professor and journalist who lives in Brooklyn. He is a regular contributor to SonicScoop and edits the musician magazine Trust Me, I’m a Scientist.

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