The Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide for Your Musician Friends and Family

by Phillip Nichols, iZotope Contributor

November 16, 2017

The Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide for Your Musician Friends and Family

Musicians, music creators, and miscellaneous content creators might just be the worst to shop for. “Those people”—you know the type—talk incessantly about their endeavors and equipment, yet still manage to leave you clueless as to what sort of hi-tech, lo-fi, ultra-modern, retro thing you could get for them.

This holiday season, don’t let the frustration of a failed gifting quest ruin the fun. What follows is a helpful list of gift ideas for “those people,” whether they are fresh-faced in their field or withered, aged masters of their craft.  

Gifts for Guitarists and Bassists

These folks love little things, even if they won’t admit it. Get them a miniscule gift inversely proportional to your fondness for them.

Picks:

Picks make so much sense once you understand how quickly guitar and bass players burn through them. They throw them to the crowd at shows, lose them inside their own instruments, and swear that they are sucked to a different dimension the moment the picks are out of sight. For $5 to $10, the D’Addario Limited Edition Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band picks or Dunlop Variety Packs make great stocking fodder.

Straps:

This is one area in which players can express themselves through the use of flair. Look into the Planet Waves Leather straps and Levy’s models and expect varying prices from $30 to $200. They’re sturdy straps and give the guitarist the right to say, “I’m not your average player from Dullsville.”

Stompboxes:

Years from now, it will be found that guitarists of today suffer from a rare condition that compels them to collect pedals. The Valeton Coral series ($40 to $60), Hotone Skyline series ($45 to $90), Mooer Micro series ($50 to $100) are affordable, cool, and ultra-compact. For bassists, Darkglass distortion and preamp pedals are all the rage!

Portable Recorders:

iZotope’s Spire Studio ($349) makes recording professional-quality audio fun and easy, no matter where you are. Connecting to the free Spire iPhone app via built-in Wi-Fi, your musicians friends and fam can record anywhere they please: around the coffee table...in the garage...on the toboggan in the park! No more carrying around loads of gear and wrestling with complicated setups in order to record music in high quality. It’s professional-quality recording made simple. (Toboggan not included.)

Snarky:

For $10 to $20, a tuner/metronome such as the Korg TM-50 or perfectly-named Snark ST-2 will remind them that although off-key and off-time is fine for Christmas caroling, they had better play in tune and play in time if they want to be taken seriously in the real world.

Gifts for Beatmakers and Producers

A big part of the workflow for beatmakers and producers is playing samples and virtual instruments. With that in mind, here are a few relevant gift categories.

Portable MIDI Controllers:

Your humble hitmaker can bang out the freshness pretty much anywhere with one of these. The AKAI MPK mini MKII ($100), Korg nanoKey Studio ($150), and M-Audio Code 49 ($300) offer multi-octave keyboards, drum pads, and more with easy connectivity to their DAW of choice.

Akai MPK Mini MK2

AKAI MPK mini MKII

Sample/Loop Packs:

Since they’re always after new sounds, load them up with a collection of drum samples and loops. Check out Big Fish Audio Hit Zone 3 and Drums Vol 1 and Sonic Reality R.A.W. Paks for a pack of sounds that’ll keep them busy well into next year. $50 will score oodles of loops!

Samplers:

Beatmakers and producers love sampling and chopping music to create something new. The Image-Line Slicex ($80) and SugarBytes Looperator ($120) are designed for such madness. They’re chock-full of wild features for versatile signal manipulation and are pretty user-friendly.

Plug-ins:

Software instruments and effects plug-ins are the lifeblood of beatmakers and producers everywhere. Wrapped up in iZotope’s Creative Bundle are four instruments and effects plug-ins—Iris 2, BreakTweaker, Trash 2, and Stutter Edit—to expand any musician’s creative palette. This software is regularly used by artists like Neon Indian and The Naked and Famous to shake up their signature sounds.

Snarky:

Spare a handful of bucks for drum sticks from ProMark, Zildjian, or Vic Firth. Why? To remind them of the original beatmakers.

Gifts for Drummers

Drummers like big things. Big drums, big cymbals, big cases, and big thrones. However, those things won’t fit in a stocking unless it’s the Jolly Green Giant’s floppy sock. So, opt for something useful and more space-efficient.

Drum Keys:

The Gibraltar SC-RK Ratchet Key ($10) and Evans Torque Drum Key ($20) will make changing drum heads and tuning a breeze.

Mallets/Brushes/Hot Rods:

Most drummers have a healthy supply of drum sticks, but are shy on other drum-smacking utensils. Allocate $15 to $30, then check out mallets, brushes, and hot rods from Remo, Pro Mark, and Vic Firth and consider getting a pair of each. Getting only one mallet is no good unless you’re playing Secret Santa for the one-armed drummer from Def Leppard.

Sample Players:

With the Alesis SamplePad 4 ($160) or Roland SPD::One Wav Pad ($250) placed near a kit, your hitter of drums can trigger their own loops, samples, SFX, or even full tracks. Either will be a slick electronic addition to a drummer’s acoustic setup!  

Alesis SamplePad 4

Alesis SamplePad 4

Snarky:

A book of sheet music from Hal Leonard should do the trick. What trick? It’ll make them face the truth that it’s all about the melody, not that flashy drum solo. $20 for a wonderfully snarky statement!

Gifts for DJs

How about you give a DJ something DJ-ish? Don’t go rocking the boat.

The Korg KP3+ ($350) is a sampler and real-time effects controller allowing the hopefully talented user to record and trigger samples and apply tons of effects to samples or the mic or line input signal.

The Numark iM1 DJ mixer ($50) is a portable two-channel DJ mixer with an iPod dock. It has line and phono inputs for CD players and turntables, plus a mic input so your charming DJ can get crunk with their call-outs and drops.

Numark iM1 DJ mixer

Numark iM1 DJ mixer

The Mixfader ($100) is a wireless programmable crossfader that can be used for scratching, pitch, and audio effects for a variety of apps on smartphones, tablets, and computers. Just think, with the whole family gathered around the dinner table at the peak of your holiday get-together, DJ TaterTot can entertain the eager eyes and ears of the onlookers with his or her Mixfader and Grandma’s iPad.

Don’t Forget Snarky:

For $15 to $25, a vinyl cleaning kit from ION Audio, Audio Technica, or Stanton will make cleaning their vinyl records easy. What’s that? They don’t have any vinyl? Definitely buy a cleaning kit. It’ll shed some light on that personal flaw of living a vinyl-less life.

Gifts for Singers and Songwriters

Like podcasters, singers can benefit from pop filters, reflection filters, and bottled water. In addition to those, check out the following items.

Microphone Isolation:

The Kaotica Eyeball ($200) serves as a portable microphone isolation system ideal for singers who record themselves in less-than-ideal rooms. It won’t improve their ability to summon a muse, but it can improve the quality of their recordings by reducing the level of ambient noise and room reflections picked up by their mic.

Looper Pedals:


These little marvels work wonders for creative layering, stacking, and fun effects. The Vox Lil Looper ($160) and TC Helicon VoiceLive Play ($300) each offer looping and multiple effects, and the VoiceLive Play can even generate harmonies. It’s like singing with subservient clones! The TC Helicon SingThing ($400) includes a microphone and combines similar functionality with a built-in speaker and simultaneous mic, instrument, and music inputs. So, EVERYONE can hear the developing genius or artistic squawks of a misunderstood soul!

Portable Recorders:

Singers and songwriters come up with ideas at the most random times and in quite random places. A portable recorder can empower them to get those ideas down and skip the deflating feeling of a forgotten melody or hook. Making another appearance is the iZotope Spire Studio. Its built-in microphone, support for external dynamic and condenser mics, instrument input, simple and smooth app integration, and flexible recording and mixing functions make for a top-notch combo.

Spire Studio for Singers and Songwriters

Spire Studio

Snarky:

The VocoPro CarryOkeBell ($90) is a microphone with vocal effects, a built-in speaker, and an integrated Bluetooth receiver. The lucky user can stream music from a smartphone and sing along. Think of it as a handheld karaoke system that screams, “Brilliant musical complexities be darned, people want to be entertained!”

Gifts for Synth Lovers

Mini Synths:

These will give synthesizer aficionados beeps and boops a’plenty, whether in a room full of noise-core groupies or in their personal musical laboratory. The seven different Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators ($50 to $90) are wacky synths about the size of a calculator. Don’t worry, the only numbers they’ll have to tally are the lines of digits they’ll score from wowed fans. The Korg monoTron series ($50) are similar, pocket-size synths with built-in speakers, but they look less like calculators and more like keyboards. If your friendly synth-master prefers the DIY approach, the Modal Electronics CRAFTsynth ($100) is perfect. No tools are required for its assembly, making it the closest thing to a Lego-synth around!

Modal Electronics CRAFTsynth

Modal Electronics CRAFTsynth

Patch Cables:

If you’ve heard lots of talk about modular this and modular that, CV something, and “So I patched the VCO into blah, blah, blah,” a bundle of patch cables might be much appreciated. Pittsburgh Nazca Noodles or sets from Moog or Hosa for $10 to $40 will work with most synth modules.

Snarky:

Get a flashy microphone such as the Peavey PVi2 XLR Gold for $70 or a Taylor Swift poster ($10 to “the sky is the limit”) to not-so-subtly imply that they should be singing if they want to get any attention.

Gifts for Recording Engineers

Mic Cables:

Engineers don’t enjoy spending money on high-end cabling, although they want it. Buy him or her a quality mic cable from Canare or Mogami for $25 to $70 and show them that you care about the difference quad conductors and a great wrap can make.

Mic Stands:

Recording engineers are plagued by the curse of broken mic stands. Give the gift of hope for a better life with a new, fully functional mic stand from Atlas Sound, Gator Cases, On-Stage, or Ultimate Support. $20 and waaaay up from there!

Mic stand with microphone

Mic stand with microphone

Monitor Risers:

These unassuming little platforms can improve the accuracy of monitoring when speakers are placed directly on tables, desks, and stands. The IsoAcoustics ISO-L8R ($80 to $160) and Ultimate Acoustics Ultimate Isolators ($45) are examples of units that will get the job the done, no fancy installation required!

Snarky:

Get a Lava lamp and label it “The Great Distraction.” It’ll give the engineer something to be entertained by when waiting for the client to finish writing lyrics in the booth.

Gifts for Podcasters

Podcasting is all about the power of the spoken word. Even if your dear podcaster drinks from an endless spring of creativity, poor audio quality will turn away listeners. I recommend the following categories to keep the quality crisp and uncompromised.

USB Microphones:

A quality voice deserves a quality mic. These are beyond easy to setup and have uniquely cool looks, which can provide a little boost in confidence and ‘tude. The Shure MV51 seems straight out of the ‘50s with its classic design and chrome grille, while the Blue Raspberry looks like a classic mic designed by the Jetsons. The MXL USB.009 combines the outwardly appearance of a traditional studio condenser mic with a non-traditional glow from a blue LED mounted behind the grille. All three mics offer comparable functionality and ease of use and sit in the $150 to $300 price range.

Pop Filters:

These will minimize the annoying and distracting “p” and “b” plosives that occur when people say phrases like, “Peter Bumpat of the Pelinski Point Police Force burned an appendage on a piping hot plate of Boston crème pies.” Check out pop filters from Stedman and On-Stage and expect prices ranging from $20 to $70.

Reflection Filters:

These will reduce room reflections, a welcome change for podcasters recording in a bedroom, office, or studio without proper acoustic treatment. The CAD Acousti-Shield 32, SE Electronics RF-X, and Aston Microphones Halo work the same way—place the reflection filter behind the mic so it creates a curved shield around the back and sides of the microphone. Prices? $100 to $300.

Plug-ins:

Most likely, your beloved podcaster is already using the stock plug-ins that came with his or her recording software. Better plug-ins can make an absolutely massive difference in achievable sound quality. Check out the iZotope Elements Suite ($199), which includes a set of user-friendly and sonically life-changing processors ranging from noise-reduction to mastering.

elements-bundle-ui-fan

iZotope Elements Suite

Snarky:

Bottled water—Aquafina, Fiji, or your favorite free-range, organic H2O; most brands will work for the intended purpose… to remind the podcaster to DRINK and make fewer of those annoying mouth clicks and lip smacks!!! No one wants to hear those! Expect to pay $1 to $10 per bottle.

Gifts for Vloggers

Successful vlogging requires a balance of quality video and audio. Speaking of balance...

Gimbals:

In the $150 to $250 range, a gimbal such as the EVO Gimbals Shift 3 or the Lanparte HHG-01 would come in handy for stable and steady handheld video footage. Shaky face be gone!

EVO Gimbals Shift 3

EVO Gimbals Shift 3

Phone Holders:

For stationary recording scenarios, a simple tripod-style phone holder such as the Joby GripTight One GorillaPod or the Polar Pro Trippler allows your vlogger to have both hands free for wild gesturing and emphatic hand-talking. A small investment of 35 to 40 of your dollars pays big dividends in web-based attention for your vlogging loved one.

Microphones:

Smartphones have built-in microphones, but they’re embarrassingly bad for professional content. The Ampridge MightyMic W+ clips on the subject’s clothing and wirelessly sends audio to the smartphone for recording, while the Ampridge MightyMic S+ plugs in and attaches to the smartphone and provides directional sound pickup without being extremely close to the vlogger. The MXL MM-130 is better for classic handheld mic functionality. $50 to $100 gets you a slick smartphone mic to stuff in a gift bag or unadorned box.

Snarky:

In jest, a self-help book serves as a reminder that being popular online still requires a personality. Knowing that vloggers are more likely to watch than read, the book title is what really matters. Check out “How To Be Funny” and “How To Be a Bawse.” Or make your gift a stranger thing by going for the “Guide to Taxidermy,” because sometimes weird is what goes viral. $10 to $20 is all it takes!

...Wrapping Up

Selecting the right gift for someone who is obsessed with things you know little about? That can seem like an insurmountable challenge if attempted without the aid of a guide. Hopefully, this guide gives some enlightening insight, interesting ideas, and a clearer picture of what to look for. Happy holidays and merry gifting!

Head over to the iZotope deals page to take advantage of special holiday savings.