Category Archives: DAW

RECORDING: Trim the fat

What do I mean by this?

Stuff everyone knows, but what no one does: stop buying shit. Stop assuming the next piece of gear will make your recordings more professional and completely make your songwriting a thousand times better.

I think back to 2002-2004. I bought SO much shit.

I got a steal on a Novation Nova IIx synthesizer in late 2002. It was $999 from Sam Ash. Retailed at the time about $2500. I have no idea why it was so cheap… maybe a closeout or something. But I bought it. I loved it. I used it for a cool pad sound in the Beauty’s Confusion song “Blue Deluge”, in the chorus. And that’s all I used it for.

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A thousand dollars for a cool patch sound, and an arpeggiator that was extremely fun to fool around with. The patches were all insanely fun. It was a great analog-modeling synth.

Luckily, I was able to sell it for about $1250 after getting bored with it, a few months later.

I also remember, a few months before picking up the Nova IIx, I bought an E-Mu Proteus 2000 rackmount for $800 from Sam Ash. I even bought a $200 “super-realistic strings” chip upgrade, that allowed the rackmount to add a bunch of sounds to it. $1000 for sounds that ultimately sounded pretty damn dated, a few years later.

proteus_2000
The rackmount soon grew to be a pain in the butt, so I sold it at a loss, and instead, bought the E-Mu Proteus Keys, which was the “keyboard” version of the Proteus 2000:

This keyboard moved with me to the Philadelphia area, in 2004. I sold it about a year later, for around $300 (with the $200 string chip).

You want to hear the best part? Several years ago, E-Mu released the Proteux VX virtual instrument for free, with all the sounds from the Proteus 2000. A mere 65MB download. And it sounds exactly like the hardware.

facepalm

In late 2002, I also bought a used Fender Rhodes Mark I Stage 73 (had to drive three hours to pick it up). It cost only $450. I sold it about a year later for exactly the same price (someone drove two hours to pick it up). I loved that thing. They now sell for $1500 used. Should have hung onto that one. But I’ve found that cheap or free virtual rhodes instrument VSTs/plugins sound as good as the real thing.

I bought a Roland Juno-60 analog synthesizer five separate times in my life, and sold it five separate times. First one I got for only $300 (broken joystick/pitch bend). Sold for $400. The others, I bought for slightly more and sold for slightly more about 6 months to a year later. Last one I bought in 2011 cost me only $650 (locally through craigslist). Turned around and sold it for $900 five months later (also through craigslist). I’ve found the TAL U-No62 virtual synth, and its big brother, TAL U-NO-LX sound EXACTLY like the real thing. The first thing is free. The big brother’s only $40 or so. Get a cool midi keyboard that has assignable knobs, buttons and sliders, and you can control every parameter of the virtual version, and hot damn, it almost feels like and plays like the real thing.

I have a habit of doing this a lot. Oftentimes it’s just to make ends meet and pay bills. Sometimes it’s all about checking out gear and messing with it, and then parting ways with it with someone more excited and/or experienced.

Since I play everything, I’m prone to buying a wider variety of gear. But…

These days, my studio is so damn stripped-down, it’s ridiculous. I own a handful of gear, but only the shit I truly, truly need.

In the early 2000s, I collected synths, almost… Juno-60, Casio CZ-1000, Roland Juno-1 and Juno-2, Proteus Keys PK-6, Kawai K4, Roland D-50…. what the hell was the point? None of that shit was helping me finish songs.

I owned one microphone (one) from early 2003 to 2009. An AKG C2000B. I still use it. Past few years, I’ve bought more and more mics. They’re always useful.

Keyboard-wise? An M-Audio Oxygen 61, to control ALL of my virtual synths (most of which are freeware/great-sounding). The other keyboard I own is a Yamaha P-60 digital piano (weighted keys). I teach on it and love the feel of it. I’ve owned the same one since 2005.

Drums? I have a Pacific CX kit I play out with (white marine pearl). Got it on trade. I record all my acoustic drum stuff with a Sonor Safari bop kit. My cymbals are cheap, but awesome-sounding Paiste 404 crashes and a ride, and New Beat hi-hats by Zildjian. I own a second Sonor Safari, that I converted into an electronic/triggered kit on the cheap.

Guitars? Not many. A couple acoustics (Martin and Yamaha). I have an Agile Les Paul clone ($300 with custom Seymor Duncan pickups), and a Gibson SG Special. I used to own a Fender strat, which I miss. I have a Fender jazz bass for all my bass needs. I have a modest pedalboard with relatively cheap pedals. I have a Vox practice amp, and a Fender Deluxe Reverb ’68 reissue, for live use.

I have your typical “must-haves” for any home studio in 2015/2016– a good USB audio interface, studio monitors, dual flat-panel widescreen¬† displays, mic stands, different mics, a harmonizer, cheap mic preamp, and a midi drum pad (Maschine MK2)… and that M-Audio Oxygen 61.

That’s it.

Anything else is just not necessary.

Trim the fat. Utilize negative space in your home studio. Basically everything you need to record good music can be found “in the box” (on your computer). All of my effects (reverb, delay, compression, etc)… all “in the box” (mostly the stock plugins included with Reaper 4 and Reaper 5). The less options, the better.

It took me like 15 years to realize I didn’t need most of the shit I bought. Don’t be stupid like me. Research, and buy only what you need. Even if you’re a multi-instrumentalist…. you don’t need much.

 

 

 

 

 

RECORDING: 25 things Pro Tools DOESN’T do

As of January 2015—

http://www.pro-tools-expert.com/home-page/2015/1/23/how-many-of-the-top-25-pro-tools-ideascale-ideas-appear-in-p.html

RECORDING: the truly best VSTi plugins (virtual instruments)

And, the best CHEAP ones…..

I hate and have hated looking for VST plugins. When I first discovered them in the early 2000s, I was addicted to finding the best free ones. Occasionally I get addicted still today, searching for newer stuff I may have missed. Let me give you a list of the absolute best… and, in the interest of saving time, I’m not going to include a screenshot of each. Just trust me when I say, these are the best free ones, and the best cheap ones. If I didn’t include a link, just google it, you’ll easily find where to download them.

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FREE Grand Piano

PianoOne (by Yichi Wang). Download from http://www.supremepiano.com. It needs a little tweaking of the “release” fader (bump it up from minimum, just a little beyond it) and enjoy the wonderful (and quite realistic) piano sounds you get from it.
mda Piano (by Maxim Digital Audio). Extremely lightweight. Very nice. http://mda.smartelectronix.com/ Make sure you click the “VST Synths” link at the top (hard to read).

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FREE Electric Piano (Rhodes and Wurlies)

Lazysnake (by Andreas Ersson). Destroys most others. Has wah, tremolo, overdrive, etc. Sick-sounding Rhodes and not-quite-Rhodes. They always sit in a mix perfectly. Extremely useful plugin.

Legacy Collection by GSi/Soundfonts.it. MrRay73 and MrRay73 version II are GREAT Rhodes emulators, as well as Mr Tramp, fur Wurlitzer 200 piano sounds. Also included in the collection is a great Hammond B3 emulator called Organized Trio. When you first insert the plugins, they nag you to donate, but there are no sound limitations. You just have to wait a few seconds to edit the parameters, but they work, and they work great. Download at http://www.genuinesoundware.com/?a=showproduct&b=37

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FREE Synths

Synth1 (by Ichiro Toda). This is one of the first, and the best. The presets and banks (made by users for over a decade) can be difficult to install/add, but this thing is so programmable and so damn good-sounding, it’s a shame to pass it up. Also has a step arpeggiator built-in. Sick. Gives Nord Leads a run for their money, no doubt. http://www.geocities.jp/daichi1969/softsynth/#down

ANYTHING and EVERYTHING from Togu Audio Line (TAL). Specifically the TAL UNO-62 (a perfect Juno-60), and Noizemaker, which is so insanely useful, I can’t even get into it. Plus, nearly all parameters are MIDI-learnable (if you have a nice midi controller with lots of knobs/faders). Download all their completely free plugins (for Mac AND PC!) here—- http://kunz.corrupt.ch/Products

Aethereal (by Psychic Modulation) – ambient/pad heaven. Gives Atmosphere a run for its money, and then some. The demo is limited to two notes polyphony, and one audio output, but it’s worth it, believe me. And the price is right for the full version. Lots of great presets. http://www.psychicmodulation.com/aethereal.html

Crystal (by Green Oak) – mentioned EVERYWHERE online. A must-download. http://www.greenoak.com/crystal/dnld.html

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FREE Drums

This is a tough one. There aren’t many good ones at all. I’d recommend using a free sampler such as ShortCircuit. You can load your own wav samples of drum one-shots, and it’s pretty easy to get the hang of, once you do. There are tutorials on YouTube on how to use it. Stick with version 1.1.1, and stay away from ShortCircuit2, as it’s very unstable and crashes constantly. http://www.vemberaudio.se/shortcircuit.php

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FREE arpeggiators

Kirnu (by Arto Vaarala). This is one of the most easy-to-use, beautiful-looking, and powerful arpeggiators, PERIOD! Throw it before your favorite synth plugin in your DAW, and have tons of fun. http://www.kirnuarp.com/kirnu1/index.html

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CHEAP, amazing stuff

For drums / sampling / hip-hop production

Poise (www.onesmallclue.com). Windows-only (but hopefully Mac, soon!) Who the hell needs an MPC anymore, or even Native Instruments’ Maschine? (I love Maschine, for the record)… but, if you’re on an insanely tight budget, all you need is Poise and an Akai MPD18. Poise is $49. The MPD18 is $99 new. Watch tutorial videos I made, on YouTube, to see how freakin’ awesome it is. I can never live without this amazing plugin.

Cheap arpeggiators

CTHULHU by Xfer Records. It’s like Kirnu, but 1000 times more powerful, fun, and intuitive. If you like arpeggiators…. you NEED this. Comes with a shit-ton of classical chord sequences, that you can arpeggiate, or create your own (playing songs essentially with one key at a time). INSANELY awesome. Only $39. http://www.xferrecords.com/products/cthulhu

Also, when you subscribe to (or buy a physical copy of) Computer Music magazine, you get the “CM COLLECTION.” LOTS of great stuff, in there, too. That magazine introduced me to the absolute power of recording with a computer, when I first bought an issue in early 2000. The technology has moved so fast, though. So new issues can be intimidating… however, they always include a chapter (in EVERY ISSUE) called CM Basics or whatever, and they cover everything you need to know, if you’re new to this.

What are some of YOUR favorites?

SONGWRITING/RECORDING: RapidComposer (huge update)

Hi guys, I wanted to talk about a program I’ve helped improve over the last six months– RapidComposer by http://www.MusicDevelopments.com (a Hungarian company).¬† I discovered it about a year and a half ago.

RCscreenshot

I work closely with the developer, in working out bugs, suggesting features and functionality improvements, and music theory consultation (the developer has no music experience, but wanted to create a program that helps users compose MIDI music insanely fast). I also re-wrote the 22-page manual from scratch (with new screenshots, etc). It’s now close to 70 pages.

We (and I use this term respectfully, as I feel like I’ve become a member of MusicDevelopments, because of how closely I’ve worked with the guy who conceived the program) are coming out with a major update to the program, on November 18th. 99% of the bugs/potential crashes have been worked out of the program, and many, many useful, fun features have been added.

I also do video tutorials for the program, and as of this writing (November 6th, 2013), I finished 11 videos. You can check them all out at my YouTube channel. Here’s a direct link to the Tutorial playlist:

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLt9aB3JimWsgmyBi8w_1ydxiMlp9P6Wu1

There are a few more tutorial videos coming out (more about the Idea Tool, Phrase/Track Variations, RC as a plugin inside your DAW, and Drag-N-Drop functionality).

The developer and I feel that this program is insanely powerful, innovative, groundbreaking, etc. No other program out there works with midi phrases/motifs that conform to chords and harmony, in such a fast way. One program works similarly: “Synfire Pro” by Cognitone (which many have said is incredibly overpriced for what it does). I was one of the first paying customers of Cognitone software (I bought Harmony Navigator 1.0 back in 2007), and I never really found that program as useful or as fun/fast to use as RapidComposer. (And on a personal note, Cognitone has never really been that friendly, regarding questions about or problems with the program.)

So I am proud to be a part of MusicDevelopments and help the tiny company get out there, more. This software deserves to be a a go-to tool for electronic music producers, songwriters, and studio nerds. Additionally, you could use RC without having any keyboard-playing experience at all… in fact, we feel that it can be easily utilized by people who may be physically-restricted due to hand/wrist injuries, aging, or partial paralysis, who may love the very essence of music, composing, MIDI, etc… but never were able to put anything together, until now. In my tutorial videos, I throw together cool music ideas with just one hand- using my mouse, and hitting keystrokes to insert Phrases, never touching a MIDI keyboard at all. So again, not only is this program extremely powerful, but it is unique and can be used by all types of people, regardless of musical experience.

So do me a favor, and check out the major update on November 18th… you can download the demo for free (though the demo does not include the Idea Tool, or the new, awesome Melody Generator).

Thanks for following my blog, and especially, thanks for checking out RapidComposer!

 

 

RECORDING: Use templates ALWAYS.

If I didn’t make templates for my recording software, I would be wasting so much time, setting up the tracks before the recording even starts.

What’s a template?

It’s a track setup in your preferred recording program/DAW, that’s ready to go when you are. Quick side note—- Some people pronounce this word “tem-plate” (rhymes with “wait”). That drives me nuts. The correct pronunciation is “tem-plit” (rhymes with “shit”, haha).

How do I make one?

Well, that depends on your recording software! Most of the time, your DAW allows you to save a song project as a song, or as a template. A template file can be utilized when you start a new project. It will usually give you the option, upon starting a new project, to use a blank slate, or a template.

Creating a Project Template in Reaper

Here’s the typical way I create a template, in Reaper:

1. I use the keyboard shortcut for “New Track” (CTRL+T) 9 times. The first 8 tracks will be 2 MIDI tracks, and 6 audio tracks. The final track will be a “reverb bus.”

2. I highlight all the tracks I created and right-click, select “Track Color”, and “Set Tracks To Random Colors” (this is essential, with Reaper… because otherwise, the tracks all have the same “silvery” color.)

3. While all tracks are highlighted, I right-click, select “Track Icon” and “Set Track Icon” (I pick a random icon, as I will change it later.)

4. I click the “FX” button on track 9, and insert “Reaverbate”, a stock Reaper reverb which sounds quite good. I set the dry mix to 0% (leaving wet at 100%), and set the decay/time way up to about 90.

5. I click the “I/O” button on track 9, and go to the “Receives” section, and click “Add receives from all tracks.”

5a. I click the “input monitoring” button and set it to on (turns into green arrow).

5b. I arm the track for recording, then right-click the record button and set it to “record: Disable– input monitoring only.”

My template is almost ready to be saved.

6. I name the first two tracks MIDI 1 and MIDI 2. I set the input of these tracks to “Input MIDI, all MIDI inputs, all MIDI channels”. I click the input monitoring button and set it to on (green arrow). I right-click the record buttons and set them to “automatically record arm when track selected.”

6a. I highlight all the other tracks (audio) except the ReverbBus track, and right-click the record buttons and choose “automatically record arm when track selected.”

7. I name tracks 3-8 as Guitar 1, Guitar 2, Bass, Vox 1, Vox 2, and Drums/Loop…. and “Reverb Bus” for track 9. I then set the icons accordingly.

8. I go up to “File”, “Project Templates”…. “Save Project as Template”…. and I name it “Default” – it saves to the ProjectTemplates folder in Reaper, so it’s always easy to find.

9. I go to “Preferences”, and the “Project” section, and up at the top, I set Reaper to start any new project with my “Default” template. Always ready to record when I click “new.”

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You can create any amount of templates you want, for any type of recording situation. I have my “default”, which works great for singer/songwriter-type stuff. Then I have “hip-hop”, which gives me a shorter number of tracks, and 4 instances of the POISE VST (I’ve written about it here at my blog), acting as banks 1, 2, 3, 4 (1 is drums, 2-4 are MPC-style “chops”). Then I have a few other templates where I have my Toontrack Superior Drummer 2.0 set up so I can play it with my electronic kit… and record guitars and whatnot. There’s another template where I have my amp modeling software ready to go, in addition to the drum software….. there’s just no need to “create” the track setup…. anything I need, I click the mouse a couple times and it’s right there.

Templates are essential. Use them! I don’t know what recording software you use, but again, for me… Reaper is my preferred software. I think it is very easy to use once you get the hang of the basics, and if you use Project Templates, you’ll wonder how you ever got along this long without Reaper…. but if Reaper’s not your thing…. look into how to make Project Templates for your favorite recording software. There are a lot of tutorials on YouTube… I’ve found videos on how to make templates with Reaper, Cubase, FL Studio, Reason, Cakewalk Sonar X1/X2, StudioOne, etc.

Here’s what Reaper looks like, the first time you use it (a bit intimidating, right?)

reapertemplate2

Here’s what my Reaper looks like, every time I start the program, or every time I click “New Project”:

reapertemplate

Looks a lot more inviting/easy/time-saving, right? Of course. That’s why templates are awesome.

Hope this helps!

RECORDING: Using Maschine as VST within Reaper (written and video tutorial)

I realized I never finished the video for the previous post (when I initially wrote this post in November 2012)…. as of February 2013, I finished a video. Here’s a walkthrough for the setup, as I posted on the Reaper forums months ago:

http://forum.cockos.com/showthread.php?t=108652

And here is the 17-minute long overview/tutorial…

RECORDING: Bought a license for Reaper, and damn glad I did.

Reaper is the best friggin’ DAW out there.

Period. Fuck Pro Tools, man!

 

I have been a Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio (now X1 Essential) user since I started getting serious about recording with computers. I still like Sonar, and I really love X1 Essential since I got a free upgrade to it when it was released.

 

However, these days… I’ve found myself using Reaper more and more and more. It’s SO friggin’ fast, SO configurable, and it can do ANYTHING you want… with keyboard shortcuts, mouse modifiers… you name it. It’s ridiculous.

 

I HATE PRO TOOLS.

It’s just hype! It’s slow as hell, it crashes all the time or gives DAE errors, and everyone is a lemming for using it. Now granted, to be fair, I got some of my students into Pro Tools MP9, because it’s a decent deal when it (and an ilok) comes bundled with the Mobile Pre interface from M-Audio. It’s a good value, yes. And Pro Tools still has the prettiest interface of them all. But that doesn’t mean shit to me. Workflow is everything.

 

That said…. Reaper’s workflow is ridiculous! It’s so fast, so easy to use, and it NEVER…. and I mean NEVER… crashes. EVER. I wish I could say the same about Sonar Home Studio or Sonar X1 Essential. Every time I use it, it crashes… no matter what I do.

 

I have used Sonar extensively for the past few years, and I still do enjoy its interface and functionality. But then…

 

A few weeks ago, I was making some midi loops, and then bouncing them down so they would become wav loops, basically for students of mine and for a songwriting camp I run (especially for the kids who don’t know how to play piano but want to write songs on it). I spent a few hours making simple piano pattern loops and simple 8th-note chord patterns in various guitar-friendly keys, and built a small library of cool piano loops.

 

During this creative time, Sonar crashed like ten times in a row, when I was messing around with a midi transpose plug-in, so I wouldn’t have to perform the same pattern in each key / scale degree. It crashed TEN TIMES IN A ROW.

 

I was so pissed!

 

Let’s backtrack a bit. I have used Reaper on and off since summer 2008 (when version 3 was out), and although it wasn’t great, it had a lot of potential. So I would suggest it to students looking for a near-free recording program (especially the kids who didn’t have macs)… but it was so confusing to use (for me, and especially for them). So I put it on the back burner for a bit.

 

Then Reaper 4 came out, and I downloaded version 4.21. I found myself using it a LOT, especially for lessons when I had to transpose a rock song in Eb tuning (Green Day, Jimmy Eat World, etc), so I, and my student didn’t have to detune our guitars. It was so easy to do this in Reaper, and I found myself exploring the program more and more in my free time. The more I explored, the more I loved it.

 

So, after the crash-happy adventure with Sonar, I exported the midi stuff I did in Sonar as basic midi files, and brought them into Reaper to do the same process (transpose, bounce, etc). Reaper didn’t crash once. It happily did everything I requested of it, and it was FAST as hell, too.

 

So after that, I said… “ya know, I’ve been using this program on off for four years… always waiting for the nag screen that says I need to buy Reaper.. (by the way, Reaper will NEVER expire… it is a fully-functioning program that will never “time-out” or whatever… it’s not really a demo. It’s a fully-functioning recording program that nags you to buy it every 5 or so times you open it or start a new project. Not a big deal. But hell, it’s ONLY $60 for a personal/non-commercial license (non-commercial meaning, if you make less than $20,000 a year through selling music or providing recording services, you can get the cheaper license… it’s like an honor-system thing, which I think is great). Anyway. Sixty bucks? I said fuck it man… I’m buyin’ this shit finally.

 

I paid Cockos Software, and within seconds, I received my license key, which I happily imported into the program, and no more nag screen.

 

I don’t really have much else to say as I want to get back to working on some music using Reaper, but seriously, people… download the program. Try it out. Watch tutorial videos on YouTube. And you should buy the “Reaper 4 Explained” tutorial videos from www.groove3.com (they’re cheap, and they show you basically everything you’d want to know, and then some).

 

This is the best DAW (digital audio workstation) out there. It’s no joke. It is insanely freakin’ powerful/configurable, relatively easy to use, and it is the SMALLEST program, and loads in seconds.

 

As I said in a previous post, don’t believe the Pro Tools hype. Reaper has only been around for about 7 years, but damn, has it come a LONG way. Exceptional and functional are the two words I can best use to describe the program. Wait, here’s another: FAST. And another: STABLE. And another: CHEAP. And another: POWERFUL…..

 

You get the point. GET IT! You won’t regret it.

 


www.reaper.fm