Never one to wait…

TaylorLook what I did.  🙂

In a moment of put up or shut up, I decided the heck with it and started posting some of the stuff I’ve been contemplating selling on Craigslist.   At the same time I contacted someone I knew who worked at Guitar Center, and asked him when was the best time to buy the acoustic guitar I had been eyeing.  He offered to help me out, and within a couple days I had sold the Octatrack and Machinedrum, with my HR824’s and older acoustic lined up to sell later this week.

On top of that, I got the news that I’m going to have to have surgery on my left shoulder, after dislocating it on a mountain bike trip last month in BC.  It’s an old snowboard injury that crops up every few years, but this time it’s not healing right.   So, no biking or snowboarding for 6-7 months it looks like.  The surgery will only take a couple weeks to heal, but I can’t stress it at all with sports until the ligaments are fully attached on their own.

I figured if I can’t do any biking or boarding (Grrrr!), now is as good a time as any to sit down and really relearn how to play the guitar.  With the decision made to sell the Elektrons and move on to something else, it seemed like I wouldn’t get a better chance to take a leap.

So yesterday I went and picked up a Taylor 814ce, and boy am I glad I did.

As a guitar player I’ve alwys wanted a really nice acoustic, even though historically I’ve been more into electric guitar.  It’s hard not to admire the craftsmanship and the sound of beautiful wood made into a true instrument.  The Taylor lives up to that and then some, it sounds and plays better than I would have ever expected.

TeraEcho

Didn’t take long to get comfortable playing it, so I decided to hook up my TeraEcho pedal and record my new guitar into Auria for a track I had been working on (the 814ce has an onboard preamp designed by Rupert Neve).  Of course I couldn’t get any signal in Auria for some reason, and it took an hour or so of troubleshooting to figure out that the new batteries I had just bought were in fact dead.

Hard not to laugh, here was my first night playing an acoustic guitar meant to get me away from electronic stuff for awhile.  And I’m spending it all testing cables, looking at set-up screens in my D/A, watching troubleshooting videos on YouTube, and swapping out batteries.  Sigh, I’ll learn my lesson one day, I really will…

Once I swapped out the battery for a good one, it was a great night.  Lots of fun stuff recorded, and I’m enjoying playing guitar more than I have in a long time.  Today was more of the same, though this time I just left it unplugged and enjoyed playing it acoustic.

I know a lot of people have joked than I’m going to start playing country music or something, but for me it’s no different than buying a MIDI controller or synth.  Just a different way of playing and recording notes, especially if I include something like the MIDI Guitar software to play VSTs in real time.

Rest assured, I still plan on writing trippy downtempo, I just want to get better at playing it!

Time For Change

Whew, to say things have been in a little state of flux here lately would be an understatement I suppose. And if I keep having the thoughts I am, this is only the start of things.

Huh?

Ok, I guess that’s a little cryptic, so maybe I should back up a little bit.

If you follow the blog, then you know that lately I’ve been spending more and more time writing music on the iPad. Some try to call me out on it, claiming I’m just Apple fan boi looking to jump on the latest fad. Other people have said I only do it to prove a point.  No, it’s just fun for me.

WorkWithLess

Whatever the reason, at a time when I’ve frankly been fighting burnout when it comes to producing my own music, working on the iPad has been a breath of fresh air. Portability, the fact I can DJ AND write music on it, long battery life, the minimalist nature of it, cheap apps, and most important… tools that are generally trying to do new and innovative things when it comes to music creation. It resonates much more with me than I ever expected it was going to, especially when I pair it with something like the QuNexus (another innovation IMVHO).

At the same time as I have been exploring what I could do with an iPad, I’ve also been working on putting together a new live set and album with the Elektron Octatrack (OT). Things were going pretty well, I had spent a lot of time collecting and making sample chains, and working out a new method for using the OT to perform with. Then my card reader broke in the OT, and it had to be sent in for warranty work.

After about a month the Octatrack was fixed and on it’s way back to me, but the process had left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not going into specifics (don’t ask), but for reasons between me and Elektron I wasn’t pleased with the way everything was handled. And because the OT was gone for so long, it gave me a lot of time to consider if it was really something I wanted to spend more time on.

I knew the power of that little box, and it had worked well for me for two years of gigs and studio use. But I had been questioning if I was having as much fun using it as I should be, especially given the amount of time I had put into the new set. I had my doubts, and the recent warranty episode just sealed the deal that perhaps it is time to move on to something new.

Genuinely new.  So the Octatrack is getting sold, in fact someone is on their way over to look at it right now as I type this.  So it could be gone already by the time you read this.

As I started looking around at other options like the DSI Tempest, OP-1, or maybe even the forthcoming Prophet 12 Rack, I realized I’m just not that excited by some of the hardware coming out these days. Which is odd, because by all accounts this is an exciting time for hardware! (especially if you want a cheap analog monosynth)

No, for some reason these days I’ve been feeling the irresistible draw of…

… a new acoustic guitar.

I know, no one is surprised more than me. But for a long time now I’ve been wanting to go back to my first instrument, and really put in the time to improve my playing. I have a nice electric (Parker Dragonfly 824), and I already have an ok Ovation acoustic/electric. But as I get older the allure of a really nice, hand-made acoustic guitar grows stronger. Something that will let me make music away from computers and even iPads, and really get back to what it was that drew me to music in the first place.

Nothing is set in stone yet, but for right now this is the path I’m starting to lean towards. It doesn’t mean that I’m giving up electronic music, like I said I still have the iPad which I enjoy for that, and of course there’s always Ableton and a Push sitting right here too. And I think it could be interesting processing acoustic guitar recordings with a bunch of effects too, instead of using my electric like normal.

Needless to say, there’s a lot on my mind at the moment, but it feels good to have a new direction to consider. I’ll definitely keep people updated as I get further along in this process, who knows what I’ll end up with! (A Taylor 814ce is the current front runner for those that are curious).

814ce

Until then, back to working on my new Auria track….

Shifting Sideways EP released today!

Shifting Sideways

Very excited to announce the release of my new E.P. today, Shifting Sideways!   A blend of ambient and downtempo, the E.P. takes a lot of unexpected turns I play with both space and depth in an evolving, yet grooving manner.   Available on all the major music outlets, including Beatport.  This is actually my first release on Beatport, so I’m pretty excited to see how that works out!

http://www.beatport.com/release/shifting-sideways-ep/1187629

Special thanks to the guys at Foldspace Records for releasing this album, definitely check out their site for some more quality music.  In addition, they’ve posted an interview with me where I talk about playing live, mastering other people’s music, and share funny stories about some of the crazy stuff that can happen at live gigs:

http://foldspacerecords.com/2013/11/an-interview-with-tarekith/

Hope you all enjoy the new music!

Free Octatrack Sample Chains

Octatrack

I recently decided that I’m going to be selling my Elektron Octatrack, so I’ve decided to make the all of the sample chains I had created for my new album and live set available for download, now that I no longer need them:

Octatrack Sample Chains

There are three folders of sample chains in that zip file, one containing drum sounds, one containing synth, guitar, and chord sample chains, and one that uses single-cycle waveforms for turning the Octatrack into a synthesizer.  All samples are in the key of C, and some of the chord samples use both major and minor chords.  All chains contain 64 samples, so you can make full use of the Sample Start parameter in the Octatrack.

Of course these are just wav files, so you don’t need an Elektron Octatrack to use them, they’ll work in any sampler (or DAW for that matter).

I hope some of you find these useful!

Chimera Winds

ChimeraWinds

Chimera Winds

Another new downtempo track, this one a trip down the weird and groovey path once again.    Created completely on an iPad Air using a KMI QuNexus for a keyboard.  Drums and percussion are from DM1, Alchemy, and Thor via Audiobus.  Synth sounds are from Alchemy and Thor as well, along with Animoog, Nave, and Impaktor.  Recorded, arranged, and mixed in Auria, mastered using the Fabfilter Pro-L plug in.

This is a good taste of my new Shifting Sideways EP coming out on Foldspace Records in less than two weeks.  Stay tuned for more info on that!

Let’s Talk Social Media

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 9.46.58 AM

Whew, this should be a fun topic huh? 🙂

As a small business owner, the role of things like Facebook and Twitter in promoting my business is something that I need to pay attention to quite a bit. And of course the same more or less applies for my own music-making as well, we all need the FB page for our friends and fans to Like, right?

I have to admit, after two years of putting more time into this side of my online persona than I might have liked to otherwise, I’m struggling with if it’s all been worth it or not. The downside of working this way, is that in order for it to be effective, you need to be checking it constantly. Doesn’t do me any good to have that outlet for clients to contact me if I’m not available to respond to them quickly. So as a result I’ve had to spend a lot of time each day just checking in on Facebook and trying to stay on top of what my friends are doing.

On one hand it’s been a good thing, as I’ve gotten some opportunities to do things I never would have heard about otherwise (i.e. Orcas Island Audio Conference, which was amazing). On the other hand, the more I use something like Facebook, the more friends I get, and the longer it takes me to just check for updates. Or worse, updates I really cared about from close friends and family would get buried in the mix as it were.

Of course, FB has tools to help you manage this, but more and more I started to realize that there was too much overlap with my close friends in real life, and the business side of things that led me to start using Facebook in the first place. So I thought I would try an experiment and use Facebook the way it was intended (gasp!). My personal Facebook page would be just for family, close friends, and other people I interact with regularly, while my Inner Portal Studio page would be dedicated to general music talk and all my own music related announcements.

After giving my “Friends” a couple weeks notice about this change, I sat down last week for a few hours and deleted all the people from my friends list that didn’t fit the criteria above. They had fair warning, multiple times! 🙂 Started with people who never post in the same language I speak, followed by those who invite me to events on other continents, and then the people who endlessly invite me to like their latest band pages over and over. These were the easy ones, they needed to go.

Not quite as easy were some of the friendly people I’ve met online, or perhaps clients who had Friended me over the years. Still, I had warned people to like the Inner Portal page in advance, so in the end it wasn’t too hard for me to trim down 500+ friends down to a more manageable 120.

At first this was great, my feed was now relevant me again, it made sense, and took much less time to check in on what people I knew were doing. It seemed that many people had switched to the Inner Portal page for my music news, so all would be well, right?

Unfortunately then I started getting new Friend requests from the people I just deleted, and trying to follow up with them each to explain the other Page they should be following. Or worse, people got downright offended that I unfriended them, or thought this was some ploy to get my page Likes up (I really could give a shit about how many Likes I have, this isn’t a contest to me).

So now I find myself in the position of spending MORE time dealing with social media when I’m trying to spend less time doing it. Or perhaps spending my time on Facebook more efficiently would be a better way of putting it. Sigh, sometimes you just can’t win…

twitter

At least Twitter is easier for me to manage, and honestly something I prefer more anyway. Short and to the point, and much less time-consuming to stay on top of. In fact, I’m giving serious thought to just focusing on that going forward, since I do find it personally a more appealing way of sharing news and information with people.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 9.46.44 AM

Google+ is always an option as well, and I post there sometimes, but to be honest it’s never really generated the interactions with people that Facebook and Twitter have. So for now at least it’s something I only find marginally useful.

Instagram is another option I explored, since it seemed a little more artistic in terms of content. While it’s fun to see cool pictures of gear and club nights from people I know, the fact that there’s a 9 to 1 ratio with that stuff compared to pictures of what people ate for lunch, and well…. you get the idea. 🙂

All in all I’m starting to feel like a little more like a luddite every day thanks to all of this. I find it hard to get that balance of useful information versus just wasting time trying to leverage these services to be useful. Honestly I’ve been giving serious thought to just stopping the social media altogether. GASP!

But before I do something drastic like that (err… and is it really that drastic anyway?), I thought I’d throw this back to people I know. On social media. 🙂 So, how do you deal with sort of thing? If you use sites like these for promoting your music or business, has it really been a useful way to spend your time? Is it something you’d be using anyway so who cares?

Would love to hear how other people feel on the topic, or get some ideas for approaching all this in a way that’s not only easier to manage, but generates useful returns that make the time spent worth it.
Share your thoughts in the comments, or on the particular social media site where you read this 😉

 

 

Working With Less

WorkWithLess

I like working within limitations when I make music, often creating my own self-imposed restrictions as a means to help spur on creativity. It also has the nice benefit of really forcing you to learn your gear, something I’ve talked about on the blog a lot over the years.

But a lot of people still struggle with finding a workflow they like when working with a limited set of tools, especially if they are coming from a modern DAW with near endless track counts, plug in options, and storage space to work with. Just because you have less to work with, either in terms of quantity or quality of tools, doesn’t mean you still can’t write incredible sounding songs.

As someone who spends a lot of my time writing music on portable devices like tablets and hardware grooveboxes, I’ve had to deal with restrictions a lot over the last few years. Here’s some of the strategies I’ve used to keep the writing process fun, while still getting results I’m happy with at the end of the day:

1. Drums. Most people these days take advantage of endless track counts to have all of their drum sounds on separate tracks, often with busses to process certain groups of drums sounds. Flexible yes, but not always practical if you’re using something like an iPad.

Instead try bouncing down all your drums to a single stereo track, treat them as loops and not individual sounds. It forces you to commit to a drum balance early on, uses a LOT less resources, and will teach you new ways to edit your drums for things like fills and drops.  Or maybe just use simpler drum patterns, make the rhythms less of the focus of the song and concentrate on the other instruments instead.

2. Effects. We all have our favorite effects plug-ins, go to goodies that are unique or just special sounding. But often times CPU usage is a concern, or we just don’t have those tools on the platform we’re using. Instead we have to rely on the plug ins that came with the host, or are built into the hardware to do the same tasks. I’d never try and say that you can get the same results with simpler effects, but with a bit more time and some finessing, you can often get pretty close!

Alternatively, many synths (software, hardware, iOS, etc) have built in effects that we can leverage instead. Often these are extremely CPU light, and if nothing else they offer a different flavor to whatever plugins the host device might have. Try getting as close as you can with the effects built into the synth, and then you can capture those and free up even more CPU when you….

3. Bounce to audio right away. Live synths driven by MIDI tracks are much more CPU intensive than the same result recorded to audio. The sooner you can record the results to audio for arranging and tweaking, the sooner you can use that processing power for the next sound in your composition.

4. Limit tracks. Often we have no choice on this one, the device we’re using will have limited track counts in the first place. But even if you don’t have that in place, try forcing yourself to only work with 8, or even 6 tracks or less when writing your song. It forces you to eliminate all of the normal fill and arrangement techniques you might use, and instead focus on getting your message across as simply as possible. A technique that will come in handy even when you go back to your normal way of composing.

5. Write shorter songs. Often when I’m writing on something other than the studio DAW, I find that I gravitate towards shorter songs. It’s easier on the CPU, minimizes how much storage space you need for your audio and samples, and helps you to focus on finishing the song instead of tweaking it endless.

It’s also a really good way to play with new arrangement ideas, since many of the more common arrangements don’t work as well when you only have 2-3 minutes in the song. kind of hard to find space for multiple breaks downs, or long drawn out intros when working with a shorter song structure!

None of these are particularly earth-shattering tips I know, and most are quite obvious. But if you ever find yourself working on music with limited tools away from the studio, maybe one of these will help you to look past the limitations. Give yourself a chance to work in a new way, and often you’ll find yourself creating music much different than you normally would!

On that note, back to working on my iPad track….

Air Time

AirPad

 

If you’re reading this blog, then you already know how much I enjoy making music on portable devices. So it’s no surprise that I am one of those who was very interested in the iPad Air that was just released. Prior to it’s announcement, I had been giving serious thought to possibly downsizing to an iPad Retina when they were announced.

I liked my iPad4, but there’s no denying it was kind of heavy after awhile, and the shallow bezel on the back always made it hard to hold on too. However with the new smaller Air being announced at the same time as the Retina Mini, I knew that my biggest complaints had been addressed and I could keep the larger screen after all.

Not only was it thinner and lighter, but much more powerful as well. I’m normally not one to use CPU-intensive plug-ins to the point of bringing my computer to it’s knees, but some of the iOS audio apps coming out were already at the limits of what the iPad4 would handle. More CPU power is still a very good reason to upgrade each year if music making is one of your main activities on the iPad.  Sell your old one asap and it only costs about $200 a year to stay on the newest hardware.  Well worth it for me.

Luckily getting a new Air on release day was pretty simple, considering there was no pre-order this time. Pay online, pick up at store, and skip the (longer) line for those people who just walked up without buying first on the online Apple Store. 10 minutes later I was home and restoring my data to the new iPad.  In the past I always was fine with 16GB Apple devices, not that big of a deal to sync wirelessly at home if I needed something else.  But I figured for how much I use my iPad for music making, why not pay the small additional charge and double my storage to make my life easier.  So far having 32GB has definitely felt like a luxury compared to before!

Physically the new Air is a much different feeling iPad compared to the 3 or version 4 that came before it. Where as those felt like solid pieces of glass and aluminum, the Air feels like there’s a sort of emptiness that goes along with the decreased weight. The screen flexes slightly more like plastic than glass, and there’s a hollowness to the sound of your fingers typing on it not present on the last generation iPad.

Bass (cough) from the speakers can be felt through the whole body when you play music or watch videos, reminding me almost of the vibration functions of say an Xbox controller. On the plus side, the Air has stereo speakers finally, which is a welcome improvement. Though since most people will likely be holding the iPad in landscape mode while watching a movie for instance, the sound still only comes from one side. Oh well.

All this is not to say that iPad Air feels cheap, or flimsy, it doesn’t at all. It just no longer has the solid weighty feel of the previous versions. It’s not so much the weight difference you feel when holding it, it’s the lack of mass overall. Part of being lighter I guess, and not at all something that I would change at the expense of more weight anyway. The new Air really is much easier to hold overall.

At first I didn’t think there was a huge jump in performance in day to day app use, or with the new WiFi antennas. However, the more time I spend using the Air, the more I do recognize just how much faster it is overall. Pages load quicker, my sound banks for Alchemy downloaded and installed faster, and apps launch and perform app-switching faster and smoother too.

Of course the real thing most people want to know, is how is it for music apps?

I’ve spent much of the last two days working on writing some new tracks using the QuNexus and iPad Air, and I can say it’s definitely a noticeable improvement in how easy it is to get my ideas recorded. Using Auria and Audiobus to record various synth apps like DM-1, Alchemy, Nave, Sunrizer, etc was a much smoother experience than it’s ever been.

Auria has always gotten a bit laggy when you added a lot of tracks or events to a project, and now things are extremely fluid for almost all the time I was using it. At one point last night after using a bunch of audio apps throughout the day and not clearing the iPad’s memory, Auria started to navigate a little bit slower. Nowhere near as slow as it had been at the best of times on the iPad4 though, the new graphics power really is making things better here.  After clearing the RAM, and relaunching Auria, everything was once again smooth as could be.

Switching between apps running in Audiobus was another area where I really noticed the added horsepower. App changes were almost instant, and I didn’t have any issues with freezing or other mishaps. In fact, it was probably the easiest and most trouble-free iOS sessions I’ve ever had. Can’t argue with that!

So yes, I can definitely recommend upgrading if you’re considering it and are a fan of iOS music making. The differences even from an iPad4 were pretty noticeable, and the new form factor really is a lot better I feel. It does feel strangely hollow in the middle for me, but the large decrease in weight is definitely worth it.

Anyone want to buy a 16GB iPad4?  🙂