Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get the job done?

Jonathan Mann

Jonathan Mann

Musician (2000 Songs In 2000 Days)

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Jonathan Mann! I write songs. I've been writing a song a day and posting them to the internet for over 2,000 days. Prior to this I had an online alter-ego called GameJew. Prior to that I created the Mario Opera. I make my living making custom songs on the spot for conferences, companies and fun.

What hardware do you use?

[RANT] Because I make a new song everyday, I often get emails from people asking me for advice about being more creatively productive. A lot of times these emails are asking me what kind of gear I use. I tell them to just figure out what they want to do, find the absolute cheapest way to do it and just start - don't get fixated on having the exact right thing. The reason I do this is because a preoccupation with gear can lead to people stifling their creativity - they use the fact that they don't have X or Y as an excuse for why they're not making what they want to make. So find what you absolutely NEED and just start! OK! Let's talk stuff! [/RANT]

My favorite instrument is this baritone ukulele that I've had for ages - I guess it's been 12 years, since my 2nd year at college. I bought it on eBay for $100. It's brand is "Lauren" (which I find hilarious for some reason). It's appeared in more Song A Day videos than any other instrument - it's my go to for quick, simple songs. When I first bought it, it sounded like shit. But oddly, over time, it's started to sound better and better. It has a huge hole in it, and a lot of people have suggested that maybe that's why it sounds better. I'm of the mind that an instrument starts sounding better the more you use it. Like Wabi-sabi, but for sound.

A baritone uke is usually tuned like the top (highest) 4 strings on the guitar: D-G-B-E. One day I started messing with some open tunings and I hit on G#-D#-C-D#, and now that's what I keep it in exclusively. It seems to really fit the instrument quite well.

My second favorite instrument is a custom made bass. It was made by this musician/magician dude in Berkeley. The body is plastic - he told me this story about how during WW2 they stopped manufacturing instruments with wood because all the wood was needed for the war effort. I'm not sure if that's story is true, but I like it. Anyway the idea is that, during that time, they manufactured a series of plastic guitars. This guy in Berkeley was a collector, and he bought one of the plastic bodies, reinforced it, and put a bass neck on it. I was at his house and I played the thing and immediately fell in love. It has a really rich, warm tone. I went to an ATM to get some cash and paid him $300 for it. Sadly, the plastic body got mangled on a cross country move, but it still sounds great. And who cares how it looks? (Not me!)

I have Kala Mahogany Travel Tenor Ukulele that I got from my grandmother, who lived in Hawaii for the last 10 years of her life. It's a really beautiful instrument. She was learning to play it off and on for maybe 5 years. She was also taking African drum lessons, doing Qigong and doing sunrise outrigger canoe rides twice a week right up until the last few weeks of her life. She was awesome. I went out there in her final days to help take care of her, and when she passed, I just took the uke home. It's a nice way to stay connected to her - I still miss her everyday.

I have an electric guitar that a fan sent me! It's like this Godin LGX (though slightly different). He told me he never uses it. I paid him $75 for shipping and it arrived the next week. Insane. It's a nice guitar!

I have an acoustic guitar that American Express gave me. I did a thing with them called Passion Project, and one of the perks was that they said they'd buy me a piece of gear. I hadn't had an acoustic guitar in ages, so I asked them to get me this Martin Golden Era guitar. I guess it's a replica of a guitar from 1937? It's a $3400 guitar. To be honest, I can't REALLY tell the difference between the way this one sounds and, say, a $1000 guitar. But it does sound great.

I have a Hohner 5-string open backed banjo that I think I got on eBay. I started playing banjo in college and then learned a big more at this wonderful place called The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. I can't really pick it that well, but I do a passable claw hammer style.

I have a set of Hohner harmonicas.

There's the M-Audio Keystation 49 for playing sounds into my computer.

Let's talk microphones. For a long time, I refused to pay more than $200 for a mic. I felt like for most purposes, the difference between this MXL 2003A (which I used to use all the time) and this AKG 414 (which is $1000 and is my main mic now) just wasn't that great. That being said, since I've been using the 414 for a while, I do think I can hear the difference. But - honestly, the MXL will get the job done JUST FINE. The first 1500 song a day songs were recorded with it (or one like it).

Right now my audio interface is this Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. It's nice. I have these Sony MDR-7506 headphones. I could probably use some nicer ones. One of these days!

I have a MacBook Pro Retina first gen and a Mac Pro from 2009 with one 27 inch newer screen and one 24 inch older kind. The Mac Pro has four 3 terabyte hard drives and I'm still running out of space. I need a new system for managing data. A song and video a day takes up a lot of space.

Many short, acoustic daily songs are shot on my iPhone 5s, then downloaded to my MacBook and just uploaded, as is. I've found that the built in microphone is actually pretty damn great, much better than the one on my Panasonic GH4 camera, which I use to do more heavy duty filming. I love the simplicity of just shooting on my iPhone and not having to really capture footage or edit it all.

I have a first gen iPad that I only use to read comics (it's SO SLOW). I got the iPad after Steve Jobs used my song to open his AntennaGate press conference. An Apple PR guy called me up and asked me what I wanted in exchange for them using the song. I was so taken aback by the question (what DID I want from Apple?!) that I just blurted out that I wanted an iPad.

I have a Mac Mini that I got for Christmas this year. It's connected to the TV and I keep all my media on it and control it via my laptop. I really like this setup.

The TV is a 55 inch Panasonic plasma from 2008 (or is it '09?). I bought the TV by selling 2 ounces of gold. I won the gold in an New Zealand based online video contest called "World Nude Day". I made a song called "I'd Rather Be Naked" (NSFW). The idea was that "gold" was "naked" money. Anyway, I won $10,000 in gold coins, which they shipped to me via FedEx. Life is weird.

I have a table that I bought at Home Depot and it's standing on an AC unit and a cooler - that's been my standing desk. Now that it's gotten to be sweltering hot in Brooklyn where I live, I've had to cannibalize the AC unit, but, somewhat fortuitously, I backed a Kickstarter back in April for a cardboard standing desk from Chairagami! It JUST arrived.

I have a bunch of softbox lights and a green screen that I use for shooting cheesy video stuff.

And what software?

I learned recording on Digital Performer (back in 2001), honed my skills on Pro Tools, but for the first year or so of Song A Day, I used a combination of GarageBand for recording and Reason for backing tracks. I LOVE Reason. It's a fantastic program that I can't recommend highly enough. When they added audio recording to the mix, I switched to using it full time. That was my setup for about 4 years.

Recently, like in the past year or so, I've made the switch to using Logic. (Reason to Logic, hardy har har). I'm not really sure why - it was more just to switch things up than anything else. I'm really enjoying it.

I use TextEdit to write all my lyrics. I use a Google Docs spreadsheet to keep the master log of all my songs.

I learned to edit video on iMovie, and eventually graduated to Final Cut. Once Final Cut went to X and got wonky, I switched to Premiere and couldn't be happier. It's like the Final Cut update I wish Apple had done. I pay the monthly subscription to get all the Adobe things, and use Photoshop regularly, and After Effects occasionally.

I upload all my videos to YouTube.

I upload all my songs to Bandcamp. When Bandcamp came out in 2009, I was so elated because they were exactly what I had been waiting for: A dead simple, clean and versatile way to sell my music online. I'm a real edge case for them - 5 albums of 365 song each. The way that Bandcamp works is that you upload uncompressed files, and when someone purchases something for the first time, they compress them to the customer's specification. I heard that right at the beginning of my second year of Song A Day, a Bandcamp employee was about to take the servers offline for scheduled maintenance. Just then someone bought my first year Song A Day album. The Bandcamp employee had to wait an hour as all 365 songs were encoded into mp3s.

I also just started using Distrokid, which I found through the recommendation of Andy Baio. Distrokid lets you publish your music on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify, etc. It's cheap, simple, fast and awesome.

What would be your dream setup?

One thing I'd really love is floating instruments. I want just a cloud of instruments around me while I'm working. I want to be able to just reach out into the air and grab the thing I need at any given moment. That's my fantasy.

So, like, imagine a huge, beautiful sounding room, maybe like a church, just filled to the brim with floating instruments. Also, all my amazing musician friends would be there, and they wouldn't need day jobs, and we could just work on each other's music all day every day.

Also, instead of asking Apple for one iPad in exchange for using my song, I'd have asked that from then on, they'd just send me every new thing they make.