Uses This

1283 interviews since 2009

A picture of Piers Cawley

Piers Cawley

Carer, singer, photographer, streamer

in developer, mac, photographer, streamer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Piers Cawley. I'm a carer, singer, photographer and streamer. I have been a professional Perl and Ruby programmer (but RSI did for that), an artisan baker (but lockdown did for that) and a far more frequent blogger than I am these days.

What hardware do you use?

The great thing about being an unaccompanied folk singer is the only hardware I actually need is built-in. Lungs, vocal folds, memory - we all get those for free the moment we're born and we've spent all of our lives practicing with them. The second we start wanting to share our music with anyone out of direct earshot, the need to acquire hardware descends.

For my Friday Night streams, I use an Aston Spirit condenser mic into an iConnectivity AUDIO4c audio interface. For a streamer like me, who uses an iPad and an M1 Mac Mini as part of their setup, the AUDIO4c is a godsend. I think it was originally designed for seriously high end touring setups who needed redundancy. If one of their PCs running Ableton or something went down, the techs could switch over to the backup PC without changing anything else, so the A4c has two USB-C connections which provide access to the full capabilities of the interface to both devices that connect to it. There are other dual USB interfaces on the market, but they tend to have a primary and a secondary more limited interface which doesn't suit me.

My sound is primarily handled by my iPad Pro, which runs my vocal chain and looper, the resulting audio is shipped over to the M1 Mac Mini via the A4c and routed out to HDMI1. If I have a Zoom guest, their audio (and the Zoom window they appear in) are routed out to HDMI2.

Meanwhile, my Nikon d810 sits behind a Glide Gear TMP 500 teleprompter on a Manfrotto video head, on a no-brand levelling head on a Manfrotto 055 tripod behind my desk. Its clean HDMI feed is split via a passive HDMI splitter with one side going to the first input of my ATEM Mini Pro ISO video switcher and the other going to the cheapest USB capture card I could find in 2019. The ATEM handles video switching, compositing and streaming and the capture card is so my Zoom guests can see my smiling face. The d810 is definitely an odd choice as a video camera - it's a really good stills camera and an okay video camera so long as you don't want continuous autofocus. However, it had the enormous advantage of being the camera I already had when I got sick of the quality of my old Logitech webcam.

My key light is a Godox 100W COB light that I don't think they make any more bouncing into a 60â³ umbrella and diffuser, held in place by a Neewer C-stand and arm. Fill is a Pixapro Glowpad 450D set to warm light on a Manfrotto Magic Arm clamped to the pole of my monitor stand. I can't say enough good things about the Manfrotto Magic arm. They can hold a ludicrous amount of weight and once you lock it down, it's definitely staying put. If you get serious about lighting, I promise you'll end up spending more on 'grip gear' - things to hold your lights in place and/or modify the light - than you do on the lights themselves. There's a similar thing with lenses and cameras; camera bodies come and go, but glass is eternal, so get the best you can afford. Back in the film days, it wasn't hard to have a lens collection that was two or three times more valuable than your camera, but now we're digital, camera bodies are more of a consumable than they used to be, so you can spend an awful lot on them over the years.

The ATEM has four HDMI inputs. Input 1 comes from my camera, inputs 2 and 3 are the Mac's primary and secondary display outs and input 4 is either from a Raspberry Pi running a browser locked to H2R Graphics, or from my iPad via Apple's USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter - a ludicrously expensive dongle which is, nevertheless, far more reliable than the inexpensive versions I threw away before finally buying the Apple one. The iPad sits on a Reloop Stand Hub, a combination tablet stand and powered USB hub that's about the best thing I added to my rig last year. It's especially useful in a live setting because it eliminates a dongle and lets me power the iPad, the SSL 2+ audio interface I use for gigs and a Launchpad X MIDI controller from a single high wattage USB PD power supply.

I have the SSL2+ for gigs because the rest of my gear lives in a 6U Gator rolling rack case that's far more disorganised than I'd like. As well as the ATEM, Mac, Raspberry Pi and AUDIO4c there's a 60W DC power supply feeding a big old splitter cable to power a couple of USB hubs, an Ethernet hub, the ATEM and a Gear4Music Wireless IEM Transmitter. There's also an OWC Thunderbolt 4 hub because the only thing wrong with the M1 Mac Mini from my point of view is that it doesn't have nearly enough ports. In the back of the case, I've a jury-rigged HDMI patch bay with four sockets connected to the ATEM's inputs, and outgoing ports from the ATEM, and the primary and secondary displays of the Mac and the Pi. I keep meaning to add a couple of HDMI splitters into the patch bay as well, but I've not got around to it yet.

My primary keyboard is a Keyboardio Model 100 with the delightful Linear-A keycaps. I've been a fan of Jesse's keyboards since before Keyboard.io actually existed. I was one of the 'shut up and take my money' folks when he first started showing his keyboard experiments off at OSCON, in fact I'm the proud owner of the very first keyboard he ever sold. I've also got one of their tiny Atreus boards that would be absolutely perfect as a road keyboard, if only it could do Bluetooth. I await that Kickstarter with bated breath.

I have a slightly weird dual screen setup. Screen 1 is bog standard desktop monitor, connected to the HDMI out of ATEM, which I primarily switch between the primary and secondary mac screens and the ATEM multiview display (which is where it mostly sits when I'm streaming on a Friday night), and a 10â³ Liliput field monitor on the teleprompter which, through the magic of HDMI splitters and a dumb selector switch, I can switch between the camera view and the Mac's secondary display.

Then there's the Box of Shame filled with the gear I don't use but can't get rid of. The prime position there is held by an Ebony 45S - a beautiful large format camera that I love dearly and have taken some cracking photos with, but that was over ten years ago. There's also chemistry and gear for making palladium contact prints from the negatives that's not even in solution yet, and an ArtixScan 1800 for scanning the negatives that's been in its box since we moved to this house 15 years ago. And a Stearman Press SP-445 daylight film processing system and chemistry that's never been used. One day, all you neglected gear, one day. Maybe even one day soon.

Every day carry and notes stuff

  • A leather notepad holder made by a friend, holding:
    • A Rhodia No. 12 dot pad: Filled with beautiful paper for writing on with.
    • A Parker 25 cartridge pen: Got from eBay that's the same as the much loved, but long lost, first cartridge pen I ever owned.
  • A small canvas 'EDC wallet' from Etsy containing:
    • A barlow handled, sheepsfoot blade folding pocket knife by Michael May: I mostly use it to sharpen pencils.
    • An Olight Perun Mini flashlight: Purchased because it was so cute, but oh boy is ever useful!
    • Small change: It just accumulates, doesn't it?

There's a Pilot Custom 823 with an FA Nib that lives in the breast pocket of my jacket which gives me a small amount of joy every time I have the excuse to use it, and a Traveller's Notebook style passport sized notebook holder holding a couple of notebooks with Tomoe River paper that I got from Jetpens.com. The notepad in my hip pocket is for shopping lists and the like, the notebook in my breast pocket is for less ephemeral notes and stuff without a deadline.

I've lost count of the half-started and entirely empty notebooks I have scattered about the place, but the one that gets the most use is a wonderful ring bound notebook from William Hannah (which, I note, is a lot more expensive than when I bought mine). I'm a failed bullet journaller, so it mostly holds song lyrics, repertoire lists, notes from rehearsals ("Learn this! Don't forget to send Emily the lyrics to that!") in it. I even have an Atoma/William Hannah compatible paper punch somewhere, but I'm impressed enough with the paper that came with it that I've tended to refill with the same. Dot grids, obviously.

And what software?

My looper is Loopy Pro running on an M1 iPad Pro and I love it. It's the work of one man dev shop Michael Tyson, aka A Tasty Pixel and it's astonishing. I primarily use it as a kind of on the fly multitrack recorder to layer up chorus harmonies as I sing. I started doing this with Logic Pro on the Mac, but Loopy Pro makes things much easier, especially when I'm singing songs with more complicated structures than just a chorus - shanties often have a call and response structure as well as a chorus, for instance. I've developed a Loopy Pro config that supports my style perfectly and helps minimise pilot error as well. More conventional loop artists will have configurations that suit their performance style and Loopy just supports that.

My vocals come into loopy via a bunch of FabFilter plugins that I picked up as a bundle during a Black Friday sale.

Over on the Mac, I host guests in a Zoom session (I don't like Zoom - it's annoyingly fiddly to set up for good sound and the company's pronouncements don't fill me with joy - but it tends to be software that people already have, so I use it) and route the sound hither and yon with Rogue Amoeba's Loopback. I'm told that there's nothing Loopback can't do that can't also be done with BlackHole, which is free and open source, but I'd already bought Loopback when I found out about BlackHole and Loopback's UI is much nicer than Blackhole's, so I stick with it.

I do motion graphics and overlays with a combination of the free version of H2R Graphics and OBS (these days, I could probably run the whole show from OBS, but I bought the ATEM back in the days when I was running on a PC that was having a hard enough time just doing my audio without burdening it with streaming as well).

On the occasions when my ADHD lets (makes?) me edit videos, I work in DaVinci Resolve Studio - I sprang for the paid edition because I wanted to use their Speed Editor hardware, but I'd pay for it all over again for the new auto transcript stuff that makes chopping down a long stream into a highlights reel so much faster. I'm generally skeptical of LLM based 'AI' hype, but there's no denying that it's remarkably good at transcribing audio.

I do all my writing and occasional coding in Emacs. I've been using Emacs since university, over thirty years ago so I doubt I'll ever stop. I was a late comer to org-mode, and I'm not one of those who pours their whole life into it, but I used to use it as the daybook in my bakery, and my blog is written as a big old org file that exports to Hugo markdown files, which get converted to HTML and uploaded to a Mythic Beasts hosted Raspberry Pi using GitHub's CI tooling. I code in Emacs Lisp, Perl, Racket, Raku and Smalltalk in rough order of frequency.

My gaming fix of choice is Dwarf Fortress or something from Zachtronics when I can be bothered to play on anything but my iPad, and Slay the Spire or Threes when can't.

What would be your dream setup?

More space!

What makes streaming easy for me is that I have a dedicated space where the gear is permanently set up. I can go into there, turn on the camera and lights and be performing within 10 minutes of deciding (or remembering) to. I would dearly love to have a similar space set up as a permanent darkroom for my film based photography, and it wouldn't hurt if my studio was a little less cramped as well, which would make it far easier to have guests in person rather than only over Zoom.

In terms of upgrades, I'd love to replace my Nikon with a couple of BlackMagic Mini Studio cameras (so I could have an 'over the shoulder' shot of how I'm using the looper and also free up the dSLR for taking photographs with) and upgrade the ATEM to an ATEM Mini Extreme - not so much because of the 8 HDMI inputs, but because of the dual HDMI outputs, super source and multiple upstream keyers that would add an enormous amount of flexibility to the way I could set up my stream displays. The Extreme was announced about 2 months after I bought the Mini and if only I had've known it was coming, I would have waited for it. Ho hum.

I'd also like to replace my lighting stands with a pantograph system and get as much as possible hanging from the ceiling and moveable rather than on the floor ready to be tripped over.

A decent inkjet printer for making digital negatives and fine photo prints would be wonderful as well, but I doubt I'd really use it enough for it to be worthwhile, but a boy can dream.

I would also split my AV rack into two boxes, one with the ATEM, Mac Mini, Raspberry Pi, Ethernet hub, and HDMI splitters and another with the AUDIO4c, monitoring stuff and a big old USB-C power supply, so I could stack them for streams but easily lug the audio gear to gigs.

There are microphones I covet (something from Ear Trumpet Labs in Portland, a matched pair Neumann U87s) and cameras and lenses that I wouldn't object to owning (Nikon Zf, fast glass, a Cooke PS945 229/4.5 soft focus lens). A new laptop wouldn't go amiss because my 2013 MacBook Pro is definitely on its last legs, but on the whole I'm pretty happy with the gear I have.

When it comes down to it, my primary job is caring for my wife, and I can do that without any of the gear I've listed or dream of, and so long as I can open my mouth and remember the words, I can sing. If it all went away tomorrow, so long as I can cook and make music I'd be... well, I'd be enormously pissed off, but I'd cope.