Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Heather Styka

Heather Styka

Singer-songwriter

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a singer-songwriter based out of Chicago, IL. I've been touring for the past seven years, and I'm currently releasing my 5th studio album, North. The fun thing about this line of work in this day and age is that you can be really hands-on in every part of the process --- booking, tour routing, promotion, graphic and web design, recording. I have a team of people who help out with various aspects but I enjoy the DIY nature of it. There's a lot of freedom in making all the decisions, even if there's a lot of effort that goes along with all that. In addition to all the songwriting and performing (which is the main point), I enjoy getting to collaborate and make videos, album cover art, all that good stuff.

What hardware do you use?

Well, it all starts with a song on my 00-18 Martin guitar. He's a shy Martin --- it doesn't have the Martin logo on the headstock. I like that he's sorta sneaky/subtle like that. I also have an Epiphone Casino Coupe that I use with a Fender Blues Junior amp when I'm rocking out. And a 1980-something Omnichord that I break out on rare occasions. Driving across the country involves my 2008 Prius named Ondine, equipped with a 12-volt car kettle (that takes 40 min. to heat up water) and an Aeropress, to make perfect coffee wherever I am. Yeah, in terms of importance, I'd say my equipment is 1. Martin Guitar, 2. Toyota Prius, 3. Car Kettle, 4. Aeropress.

I use an iPhone SE, mostly because I've got little hands, and I'm not a huge fan of latest trend of big screen phones. My phone has become a huge part of my songwriting process, because it can capture that moment of inspiration wherever I am, both in terms of quick recordings and notes on ideas or lyrics, across devices.

I also use a 13" MacBook Pro from 2012, for all the administrative stuff and occasional recording. I still think of it as my "new laptop." I've got a Blue Snowball that's handy for capturing song ideas if I want the recording to be slightly more hi-fi than a phone recording.

My 2016 album, The Bittersweet Tapes, was recorded on a 4-track cassette recorder, Tascam Portastudio, that my dad bought me from a thrift store when I was a teenager. I love recording analog, because it forces you to make creative decisions in the moment and then live with those "mistakes," which usually end up becoming my favorite parts of the recording. And I'm a fan of that low-fi sound.

We recorded the new album North with Beehive Productions out of Saranac Lake, NY. They brought their whole set-up to a cabin in northern Wisconsin, and we recorded live with a backing band from Denmark, The Sentimentals. When it comes to recording, I've tried a lot of methods, but I find the most engaging, real performances happen when it's happening live, the same way albums used to be made before Pro Tools and other advances in recording technology.

And what software?

For songwriting, I use the basic Voice Memo app on my iPhone all the time. It helps me keep track of all my ideas, and I use it in tandem with the Notes app to keep track of lyric ideas. Nothing fancy, but I find simplicity is the best method for me when I'm trying to capture a song idea quickly.

I use RapidWeaver for my web design, which makes everything so easy for anyone with rudimentary coding experience. I use Google Docs to keep track of all my accounting and such, and I actually use Pages for a lot of my poster design etc. Overall, there's not a lot that I can't accomplish with the most basic Mac set-up, accompanied by some Google apps. The ability to work across devices and have everything I need at my fingertips --- that's key when you're on the road.

I'm also a fan of Dropbox --- I'm in a weekly songwriting group where we upload a song a week to a shared Dropbox, which helps keep us creative and community-oriented no matter where we are all touring. On the creative end, I love being able to reference RhymeZone and ChordBank when I'm writing.

What would be your dream setup?

I've been curious about Spire --- I know some friends who love theirs. It's a portable multitrack recording device. I like to travel light, and I'm a minimalist at heart, but it would be nice to be able to produce really high-quality recordings wherever I am. A lot of folks dream of a home studio, but I'm more interested in capturing the collaborations I have with other musicians on the road. So portability is a big selling point.

I do dream of having a setup to do more programming and synthesizer stuff with my laptop. The only thing holding me back is that there's a real learning curve with so much of that. And I'm a folk musician at heart; at the end of the day I'm always picking up my acoustic guitar and writing whatever feels right. I guess my dream set up would be able to put folks like Beehive Productions (and all their gear) in my pocket so I'd always have someone brilliant available to turn the knobs and capture the best recording.