Push Part 2

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It’s great to see that so many people are curious about Push still, I’ve been getting a lot of questions since I posted my first thoughts after playing one.  So I think I’ll keep a running log here on the blog about how I’m getting on with it over time, since it’s likely going to be something I use a lot more than I first thought.

As you can no doubt guess, I’m pretty excited about it still, which really surprises me as it’s been awhile since I felt that way about a piece of music equipment.  I’m not ashamed to admit my expectations about what using it would be like were way off, it really is a cool bit of kit.

In the last 3 days I’ve gotten the foundations for 8 new songs laid out, and 2 more sketches in the works today.  Not just simple melodies or a basic drum beat in most cases, but 8-10 tracks of polished sounding recordings, and even basic arrangements.

Best of all, it was fun!  Like seriously fun, I haven’t had this much fun using a piece of gear in a long time.  I’m laying awake at night thinking about new ways to use it, and excited to get in the studio and mess around with it some more.  And this after more or less learning it inside and out, so now my time now is just spent using it the way it was intended.

It has such a streamlined but flexible workflow, that it’s really easy to just start laying down ideas and building up song.  A lot of people complain about the lack of some editing functions, but I think this is a good thing myself.  Rather than trying to do it all from the hardware, like say Maschine does, they opted to focus on the main things you need for creating your song parts.  Detailed editing can be done later on the computer where it’s easier anyway.

The result is that using Push feels more like using a dedicated piece of hardware to me than Maschine did.  The need to control so many functions with so few controls on Maschine meant that it always felt like a generic MIDI controller to me.  Push feels like an instrument with a more streamlined purpose, it has set controls for specific things you’ll use a lot.  Way more dedicated buttons in fact, and this goes a long way to speeding up how you use it, as well as how easy it is to use.

Also, I wanted to make a correction to my earlier first look at Push, there are a TON of drum kits you can access, way more than the instrument racks in fact.  So now I’m wishing for more Instrument Rack sounds, not Drum Racks, doh!   I had an issue with a beta version of Live I was using not showing me all my Drum Kits, once that was solved I could see there were hundreds of kits.  Sweet!

There are a few things still that I wish were a little better of course.  Push lets you easily try out some very exotic scales, and it’s great fun.  But when you load up a song next time, there’s no way to see what scale you were using,  so time is spent figuring it out manually.  Also, I wish there was a way to rename things with Push, as that’s one of the very few things I find myself using the laptop for still.

Finally, please give us a way to Save our work in progress from the Push controller itself!

I’m sure that there’s a couple small things I’m forgetting at the moment, but those are really the only issues I’d like to see resolved for now.  As you can see, it’s been a really positive experience so far.  In fact, I think I’m going to end this post here, so I can get back to making music!  More details coming soon!

Ableton Push – First Thoughts

Push01

I have to admit, I was on the fence about Push when Ableton first announced it with Live 9.  After people started getting them and I heard generally positive things, I decided perhaps it was time to give one a try.  So I placed an order and after a bit of a wait, it arrived yesterday.

A few people have asked me why I post reviews of a product after only having it day.  This is less a review than it is just my initial impressions.  Things that immediately stand out, both good and bad.  How easy is it to learn, things like that.  I’ll probably do a more comprehensive review after using it for a few weeks for some actual songs.  So then, how is it?

Well, it was a bit of a rocky start if I must be honest.  I had heard about people getting theirs with the white balance all out of whack on the LEDs, but in general it seemed like a rare occurence.  But of course, mine has the issue, and quite badly too.

RainbowPush

 

Yes that’s mine, and yes it really does look like that.  So it was a bit of a bummer, as it’s MUCH harder to play when it looks like this.  Ableton was very quick in getting back to me about sorting out the issue, so that’s good.  Luckily a user on the Ableton forums has created the great looking “Seapunk” skin that you can load onto Push (see first picture), which not only looks better than stock, but also hides the irregularities.  Whew!

Other than that one issue, things have been great in terms of the hardware.  I had a chance to use one briefly before, so I already knew that it was built to a much higher standard than most controllers.   The finish is soft and modern looking, the buttons are all solid feeling without being hard, and the knobs are great.  The pads are easily playable once you adjust the sensitivity, didn’t take long at all to get used to the way they feel.   It’s really a nice looking and feeling controller, it feels like an instrument should, not something generic.

Which is good, because it’s huge!  Ok, maybe not huge, but still a little bigger than you might expect.  I like it though, it’s meant to be the focus of all your attention, and the size feels right when on a desk in front of you.   It’s surprisingly bright when using just the USB cable for power, though the PSU that comes with it steps things up even more.  I personally found the PSU mode to almost too bright in a dark studio, so it’s nice that there’s the dimmer USB mode to fall back on.

Live recognized it right away, nothing I had to do to start right in and get to know it.  I’ll admit I watched the 5 or so videos on how to use Push that Ableton has on their website before it arrived, so I had an idea of where things were.  It was still very easy to get up and running with Push, I had a simple groove happening in no time, with only a few glances at the laptop to see what a couple of the buttons were doing.

Things like Live 9’s new browser make a lot more sense when accessed via Push, making it intuitive to use, at least with the factory and suite content.  Adding new tracks, loading new sounds, tweaking and recording loops, they’re all incredibly simple to do on Push.  After I made a few different song ideas, I really saw the attraction of what Ableton had done.

They’ve managed to make something that interfaces with a program I know so well I’m bored with it, and created a workflow that feels really new and fun.  You really don’t need to look at the computer at all to come up with some pretty complex song sketches, even a basic arrangement in Session view.  You’re not going to be doing a lot of detailed editing necessarily, but I was still surprised at how easy it was to add and tweak effects, come up with new synth sounds, or get some decent sounding drums programmed.

Speaking of decent, let’s talk about the content you can access from Push.   For the most part the sounds are pretty decent.  They aren’t amazing awesome, but with some quick tweaks they can work quite well.  Overall things are organized by what kind of sound it is (Bass, Synth Keys, Drum Kit, etc), what instrument makes it (Analog, Tension, Drum Rack, etc), or what Live Pack it’s a part of (Konkrete Drums, Factory, etc).  So you can find the sounds in the library pretty easily a few different ways.

Thump

I have the Suite and most of the packs, and it adds up to a fair bit of sounds to choose from.  Not overwhelmingly so like with Omnisphere or maybe NI’s Komplete, but a good enough variety to choose from.  I haven’t yet tried importing my own samples, I think for now I’ll keep using Push just with the Live content to ensure the best compatibility.  And to sort of force me to start using Live’s devices again too!

Gripes so far?

Well I do wish there were a few more drum kits.  While there’s lots of individual hits if you want to build your own, there’s far too few of the really good Drum Racks compared to the number of Instrument Racks.  Also, it seems like the touch strip is really under-utilized too.  It only does pitchbend for some instruments, and switches the grid up and down in Drum Racks currently.  I have a couple other wishlists, but I have a feeling given how many others share the same ideas they will be addressed soon.

But, so far I’m a lot more enthusiastic about Push than I thought I would be if I’m honest.  It’s fun to come up with new ideas on, easy to find your way around most of the basic tasks, and truly doesn’t require you to look at the laptop for just about everything.

I found that I had to go to the laptop to save (really Ableton?), rename tracks and clips, or reorder tracks.  For the most part everything else I needed to create some good solid song ideas could be done right from Push.  Cool.

I’ll post some more reviews after I get some more time with it!

Plan Generate Content

Octatrack

Well, now that I’m taking a break from my recent iPad music making kick, I find myself once again in between projects.   That nebulous place where you’re not quite sure what you want to work on next.  It has to be BIG, it has to be NEW, and it has to be FUN.  Ideally, it will happen with ease right NOW.

Of course it rarely does.

After watching some of the Dataline Octatrack videos he’s been posting, I’ve been getting a real itch to dive a little deeper into the OT.  Maybe put together a new live set using just that, something I haven’t done yet.  Despite using it a lot live and in the studio for two years, there’s a lot areas I still have to get to know better.

Which brings me to my least favorite aspect of samplers, getting something to put into them so you can actually do something.

Like most people, I’ve been saving samples into a custom library, and I’ve gotten to be pretty efficient at finding what I need.  But after collecting and organizing some of these sounds for years now, frankly I’m sick of hearing them.  Most of the good ones I’ve already used, and the rest obviously weren’t exciting enough for me to use earlier.

Time to make some new samples, which is always easier said than done.  In a way the timing is actually pretty good when I think about it.  For awhile now I’ve had some pretty gear-specific projects I’ve working on, and I just sort of feel like playing around for awhile.  It will be a good chance to just have fun and try diving deeper into some of my gear, as well as let me better learn some of the things I’ve been neglecting lately.

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 2.09.08 PM

The plan is to just save everything as audio clips using whatever is easiest at the time.  Not sticking with any one DAW, the only requirement that the end result is a 24bit, 44.kHz stereo wav file.  Then, once I have a decent enough collection of samples, I can put them into the Octatrack and take it from there.   I’m still some ways off from having nearly as many samples as I want, but so far the process has been pretty enjoyable.

I have my Ableton Push arriving today as well, so I’m sure that will be put to good use generating new loops too.  Expect a review after I’ve had some time to get to grips with it.

Until then!

Bits Gone By

Logic

Last week I had a some fun putting together a list of all the different music making hardware I’ve owned over the years, so I thought I’d try and do the same thing with the different software I’ve used over the years.  There’s a lot more overlap in the software realm than the hardware side of things for me, but I’ll do my best to keep it as chronological as possible.  So, here goes:

– Cakewalk for DOS (I have no idea, it was barely a GUI is about all I can remember).  A guy I used to work with got this free with some computer magazine or something, so he thought I might want to mess with it.  I spent about 3 days trying to figure it out, and eventually it made a “ping” sound that might have been a 3 bit piano.

– Cubase 5 VST.  Years later while attempting to rebuild my studio after having to sell a lot of it off, I decided to build my own PC (my first ever) and get into music software.  Went to a lot of seminars checking different ones out, but it was Cubase that seemed the most intuitive to me.  Used it until about the SX3 days.

– Reason 3.  Shortly after I got into making music on the computer, a lot of my friends did too.  They all liked Reason and were always asking me for help with the program, so eventually I got it too.  It provided the intro and hook for the very first track I ever got signed, so I’ll always have fond memories of Reason.  Bit too tiny and cluttered for me now though  🙁

wavelab3

– Wavelab 3.  At the Cubase demo they also showed the latest version of Wavelab, and it was that app more than Cubase that got me excited.  Hmmm, it’s for mastering you say….?

– GRM Tools.  I got talked into getting these by a friend who really didn’t know what he was talking about.  Very wild for weird sound effects and what not, but never stable at all for me and ultimately a lot of wasted time.

– Cakewalk Z3ta+.  I think this was my first softsynth.  Such a spartan UI, it felt like the perfect computer synth at the time.  Still a great sounding and really flexible synth though.

– Waves Linear Mastering plug ins.  I bought these when I started getting people coming to me asking me to “master” their work for them.  In those days there was very much a “linear is better” mindset, so they seemed like the best package for my needs.  Oh boy did I like to go overboard with those in hindsight, though I guess we all need to learn one way or another.

– UAD Plug ins.  In many ways I think my Cubase and UAD set up was one of the easiest to use and offered the greatest range of tones.  I wrote a lot of tracks using these plug ins, and only sold them when I decided to switch to a laptop and UAD didn’t have any options for those yet.  I still plan on getting an Apollo one day….

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– NI Spektral Delay, Absynth 2, Akoustik Piano.  My first disastrous foray into NI plug ins, all of these were nothing but buggy and crash prone.  I loved the Alien looking GUI of Absynth, though the tiny text boxes you used for actually programming it were less liked.  This is one of those synths I find myself often considering repurchasing.

– Ableton Live 3.  I had been watching Live since version 1 came out, but it wasn’t until around version 3 when I started to see that I could use one program for writing, DJing, and playing live.  I didn’t have any hardware for playing live at the time, and I missed doing that.  Enter Live…

– Battery 3.  So much potential, and so much wasted time lost to buggy errors and crashes.  I swore I’d never buy another NI product after this.  I didn’t listen to myself though.

– Elemental Audio Inspector XL.  Got this on some sale, excellent set of tools, too bad they got dropped when EAS was bought by RND (short-lived as it was).

– Logic 7.  I finally got curious enough about Logic after being a Mac user for awhile that I had to get it.  Seemed needlessly complicated at first, though over time I’ve grown to get more accustomed to it’s little peculiarities.  I’m still amazed at how little it’s changed over the years.

sv517eq

– Sonalksis SV-517 EQ.  The first digital EQ that made me go “wow, this sounds as good or better than analogue.”  Debate amongst yourselves.

– Audiofile Engineering Wave Editor.  Switching to an OSX based set up also meant leaving my beloved Wavelab behind.  I used it for awhile in Parallels, but eventually got sick of the Windows-ness of it and looked for a native OSX solution.  Audiofile Engineering seemed new and full of good ideas, so I jumped onboard with Wave Editor pretty early on.

– Sonic Charge MicroTonic.  Best drum synth period.

– u-He Zebra2.  Huge potential and amazing customer support and interaction on his forums, and it sounds as good as you’d expect.  Ultimately I just found the UI uninspiring and sold it though.  The new version due out soon is making me rethink this one as well.

– Spectrasonics Omnisphere and Stylus RMX.  For years these were my go to plug ins for synth and drums.  Incredible sound and flexibility, easy to program yet capable of a lot of variations.  Only because I’ve been looking at them for so long am I starting to check out other options.

– DMG Audio Equality.  If you love the SV-517 EQ, this one will blow you away.  Sounds amazing.

sonic_charge-synplant

– Sonic Charge Synplant.  I bought this one on principle alone.  A weirdly unique way of programing a synth from the creator of MicroTonic?  I was first in line.  Drives me crazy that this one still is not 64bit compatible, it’s the only one of my plug ins I miss that is not.  🙁

– Voxengo Elephant 2 and Polysquasher.  Serious mastering tools in the right hands, frustration and distortion if you don’t know what you’re doing.  A little complex to set up, but still what I reach for when I need a really clean and cool sounding master.

– PSP Xenon.  Bought this on a whim after hearing so much about it, but I rarely use it.  I like it for softer more dynamic music, something where you don’t want a really transparent limiter, but you don’t want too much color either.  Has a way to reacting to transients that feels different to me from anything else.  Not often used here, but I know exactly when I need it with some projects.

– NI Traktor 2.  After using Live to DJ for years and years, it was time for a break.  Checked out Traktor and was hooked immediately.  Combined with the S4, it’s most tightly integrated laptop/controller set up I’ve ever used.  Works great, never gives me any issues, and is a ton of fun to use.

– u-He Uhbiks.  Bought these on a deal when they first came out, and loved the sound of them.  Sadly, I hated the interface, weird tempo multiple for delays times and what not.  As a result, for two years I never used them and eventually sold them.

– Presonus Studio One.   Presonus heard I was interested in Studio One and invited me to join the beta team.  So I’ve used Studio One quite a bit since it was released, and it’s still my go to for client mixdowns and audio editing.

Pro-l

– Fabfilter Pro-L.  Best sounding limiter ever, very easy to make things weak sounding though.  Powerful when you can really hear what you’re doing through

– Audiofile Engineering Triumph.  The update to Wave Editor took me awhile to get used to, and this is with daily use as part of my mastering business.  For every user request they added, it felt like 2 steps back in the usability of some other function.  I’m used to it now and rely on it daily to earn a living, but it still feels needlessly complicated at times.

– Jam Origin MIDI Guitar.  Finally, an audio to MIDI program for guitar that works with my playing style. I love this app, it’s amazing how well it works.

– DMG Equilibrium.  The best EQ ever.   This does everything, and expects you know what you’re doing when it comes to EQ.  If you do, welcome to the most amazing EQ ever designed.

 

I’m sure there’s quite a few smaller plug ins I’m forgetting about, but I think this covers most of what I’ve purchased over the years.  Quite the list again in hindsight!

Odds and Ends

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Well, as I mentioned when I released my last song “TH1”, I’ve been spending a lot of time making music on the iPad the last few weeks.  Not just messing around and coming up with interesting sounds or grooves, but making serious music.  I figure if something is interesting enough to keep me working in a particular way for more than a couple weeks, then likely it’s something I need to keep exploring as long as I can.  Most of the time these exercises where I limit my tools might only last a week or two before I get bored, but not in this case.

While not an entirely care free experience (still the odd bug or crash), it’s been a really exciting way of crafting full songs.  I’m really enjoying using Auria as a DAW, it’s a much more interactive experience arranging and editing songs just by dragging things around by your finger.  The biggest issue so far has been the iPad4 getting a little sluggish when navigating Auria’s Edit (Arrange) page when I have a lot of tracks in the songs.  I had hoped that upgrading to the iPad4 would fix this, but while it’s much better than the iPad3 was, there’s still a bit of slow down at times.  Nothing too major, but it’s the only really negative thing I can think of so far.

So, my plan remains to keep working on the iPad and try to get a new EP done in a couple of months.  So far I have 3 songs well on their way, and a few ideas for a couple more, so I feel right on track.  I do find myself wanting a new drum app though, anyone have any suggestions?  At the moment I’m using the excellent DM1 primarily, but I also have Bleep!Box and the sample-based apps like Beatmaker2 and NanoStudio.  Not really looking for MPC style composing though, I’m more interested in unique drum machine style programming.  Any suggestions are most welcome!

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In other news, a friend and local Seattle producer I know is working on a pretty interesting Kickstarter project I thought I would let people know about.  From the producer:

“It’s been my life goal to get people collaborating on art and music. I’ve been able to do that through my Subaqueous website, but I wanted to take it a step further with a new product that helps bridge the gap between musicians and other music producers. This lead me to create the USB Splash Drive. It’s an 8gb custom usb drive that is loaded with music, remix stems, samples, Ableton live sets, and more.

This remix album isn’t just about releasing a few produced tracks. It’s about releasing the information on how I made a lot of my music. I want to share with my community, fellow musicians, and friends the knowledge I have acquired along the way.”

As most of my readers know I’m really into sharing HOW people make music, and this looks like a great way to get some more insight into that from another producer. You can find more info about this project here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cotec/subaqueous-usb-splash-drive-and-remix-album?ref=card

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Finally, I’ve had a few people ask me about my live gigs this summer.  At the moment I’m currently only booked for Photosynthesis 6, on July 19-21st.  It will be a downtempo/midtempo gig, and I have a lot of brand new material prepped that I will be playing out for the first time.  This is one of my favorite festivals of the summer, so it’s definitely worth coming out to if you want to hear some amazing music in a beautiful location.

I’ll post more info about this show, and some other ones I’m still working out once I get more specifics.

Thanks, until next time!

Tarekith

 

 

Tarekith DJ EFX Racks version 9

Well, it’s taken me a little while to revisit my DJ EFX for Ableton Live, but recently it was brought to my attention that some of the DJ EQ Racks I had created no longer functioned properly in Live 9.  It seems that the new Adaptive Q in EQ 8 was causing some pretty massive spikes in the signal, and the EQ curves no longer matched my original models.  Now all of the EFX Racks are compatible with Ableton Live 9, and you will need Live version 9.04 (or newer) for them to work properly.

Tarekith DJ EFX v9

I also create a couple of new racks as well, called “Lock & Key” and “Red Shift”.  These are a little on the weirder side, so look in the included READ ME file for the details.

Lock & Key

 

Red Shift

Hope you enjoy the new effects, and that the ones I fixed solved any issues people were having. If you notice any issues with any of the other Racks when using Live 9, please let me know and I will try and fix them ASAP.

Thanks, and have fun!

Post Album Odds and Ends

Whew, it’s been a busy couple of weeks getting my new “Fractured Time” E.P. wrapped up and ready to sell.  Seems like that’s always the case the though, the very end of the process is where things get complicated.  It’s not even just finishing up the act of actually writing the music either, though that’s certainly the most important.

There’s quite a few things that need to happen before I can release a larger project like this:

– Am I happy with the artwork, and do I have it in all the sizes and resolutions I need for the various online outlets?
– Do I know which stores I want to sell it in, and can I coordinate the release for a specific day among all of them?
– What formats do all of the stores want the audio files in (some like Addictech are particular about the file-naming)?
– How much do I want to sell it for?
– Have I added all the images and info for the album on my website, both the Tracks page and the Blog?
– How am I going to handle giving away the Live 9 Project files for the album (free for people who buy it)?
– Is all the correct artwork and album info embedded in the AAC (or MP3) files?
– Who am I going to give free copies too, and do I need to worry about it getting pirated that way?
– How do I want to announce it on the social media sites, with different wording for each, or the same for all?
– Did I upload the album to Soundcloud, YouTube (working on this today), or Vimeo?

Those are just a few of the things I’m trying to coordinate and plan for in the last couple of weeks that I’m writing an album, I’m sure there’s more I’m forgetting.  But it goes even farther than that for me, because I also like to play live and DJ in addition to writing tracks in the studio.  So I’ve also got to make sure I have copies of all the new songs tagged and ‘gridded’ in my DJ software ready for my next gig.

There’s also the live set to think about.

Do I want to play any of these songs in my downtempo or uptempo live sets?  If so, then I need to go through the process of getting the right loops from all the songs to use in the Octatrack.  Those have to be set up properly, and all new drum parts have to be written for the Machinedrum.  Then I’ll remix it all to give it a fresh take for the live set (I hate live acts that sound EXACTLY like their studio songs).  Right when I am soooo sick of hearing the same songs over and over again, I have a lot more work doing just that while I get them ready to perform on stage.  🙂

Oh well, it’s all part of the process I guess, and at least most of it is fun.  just thought some people might be curious about what goes into a Tarekith album launch.  If you have any specific questions though, just put them in the comments below and I’ll answer them ASAP.

Thanks, and I hope many of you out there are enjoying the new music!

“Fractured Time” – New E.P.

While there are 4 ‘songs’ on this EP, it was written and intended to be played as a single piece of music.  It’s only 14 minutes long, don’t worry.  The start times of the different songs that make up this EP are:

00:00 – The Way In
04:00 – Involved
07:52 – The Endless Muse
10:38 – No Further

Here is the link to the complete album, as a single continuous 320kbps AAC:

http://tarekith.com/mp3s/Tarekith-FracturedTime.m4a 

Higher resolution and lossless versions, as well as the individual tracks, are available from Bandcamp:

http://tarekith.bandcamp.com

If you purchase the album, email a copy of your order to me and I’ll send you the Ableton Live 9 Project of the entire album for you to explore and mangle as you will.  Normal Creative Commons Licensing applies, see the bottom of this page for details before you release anything: http://tarekith.com/tracks/

Project requires Live 9 to open, sorry to those with earlier versions!   220MB.

For the producers (and the curious) out there, you can read the full story of how this EP came to be further below:

 

The Story

This has been one of those projects that you love and hate at the same time.  It took me way longer than I expected, and by the end I was a millions miles away from where I thought I would be.  The early stages of this EP actually began with me wanting to create a new hard techno live set using just the Elektron Machinedrum.  It had been awhile since I had used just the Machinedrum for a live set, and I was feeling drawn to the simplicity of just working with one piece of gear for awhile.

Why a hard techno live set instead of my usual downtempo?  No idea, other than I had been going to a few festivals last summer, and that was the music I kept getting drawn to.

For the new live set I wanted to use the UW aspect of the Machinedrum as much as possible, so most of the sounds I prepared for it came from this techno DJ set I had been listening to for a few weeks in my car.  I didn’t so much sample individual sounds and specific noises as I did just short little micro bursts of sound to mess with later.  I was looking for textures and sounds with lots of harmonics I could filter later on.  With all 48 memory slots on the MD-UW filled, I was only using 700kb of memory, so tiny samples indeed.

Over the next few weeks I basically wrote 16 ‘songs’ on the Machinedrum, with the intention that this would be a live set I performed on the fly.  Working with so much focus on one piece of gear for so long is a very intense experience, and after a month or so I needed a break away from all things Elektron 🙂  So I packed up the Machinedrum and focused on DJing for awhile.

In a few weeks when I felt I was ready to dive back into the techno set, I sat down to give everything a listen with fresh ears.  Of course more than half of what I had written sounded like garbage now, so I began the process of trying to save as many of the songs as I could.  After a few days, I could tell that trying to do the whole set with only the Machinedrum was just not giving me the range of sounds I was looking for.  Not so much a fault of the MD, as it was due to me having a pool of very specific (and honestly too similar) samples for my core sounds.

Having spent weeks of very long days writing material, and now realizing only about half of it was worth saving, I once again decided to take a break and work on other projects while I thought about how to save all those hours of work.  When things just aren’t working for me, I’m notorious for deleting everything and starting over.  But in this case I really liked the material that WAS good, so I didn’t want to go that far yet.

Around this time, I ran into the plug-in “MIDI Guitar” from Jam Origin and things started to change.  The plug-in is basically a real-time audio to midi converter for guitar, which you can use standalone or in your DAW.  I was really enjoying using my guitar to play something like Omnisphere, so I thought it might be cool to create new loops to go over the Machinedrum material. I could use the Octatrack to play them back, so I’d still be using all hardware to perform the set.  It might not be a strictly techno set on just the Machinedrum anymore, but at least I was still using all this material I had written.  Good enough for me!

First I went back to the MD songs and deleted all but the 8 that I liked the best.  It was tough, but it just wasn’t worth the time or the effort at this point to try and save the others.  I’d tried that once and they still weren’t doing it for me, so away they went, problem solved.

Syncing the MD to Ableton Live is easy enough, so I was able to record 5-6 new loops for each of the remaining Machinedrum songs.  As I mentioned, I did all of this using my guitar to play Omnisphere, so all of the non-drum sounds were recorded that way.  Probably the most fun making music I’ve had in years, this MIDI Guitar software has changed the way I write music for the better I think.

I dove in and in just a few days managed to record all of the new audio material I needed for the Octatrack, roughly 48 new 4-bar audio loops.  I loaded these into the OT and did a rough mix with the Machinedrum sounds.  I also reordered all of the songs so that they flowed from start to finish better.  By this time, I was once again getting a little burned out on hearing the same sounds so much, so I took yet another multi-week break from the Elektrons to give my brain a break.  On bigger projects like this, I find it critical to take time away now and then to make sure I can come back to it now and then with a fresh perspective.  It keeps me from wasting weeks of time taking things too far, and helps me really edit out all the material that’s just not working in the larger context.

By this point I should have been expecting it, but once I listened to the material again a few weeks later I was left still feeling like some of it was just not that strong.  Once again I was forced to make the tough (but necessary) decision to get rid of the stuff that wasn’t working so I could focus on what was sounding like it had potential.  In this case, that meant deciding to go from an 8 song mini live set, to a 4 song studio EP.  Oh well, these things happen.

I spent a couple of weeks tweaking and remixing my new loops in the Octatrack, and then recorded everything back into Ableton Live to arrange.  My plan was to create the songs as 4 parts of one larger piece of music, which meant doing all 4 songs in the same project.  The Live 9 beta was just getting going, so I figured I would use this as a chance to put the new version through it’s paces.  Don’t try this at home.

It took me about 2-3 more weeks to arrange all the songs for the album, and finish all the fills and edits.  I had planned to add more parts with MIDI Guitar, but once I did my last pass of edits and fills, I realized it was fine the way it was.  I took another week to fine-tune the arrangement, and then did some last minute tweaking to the mixdown of all the songs.  I used only the built in effects from Live 9 for the mix, and they did the job perfectly, no complaints.

So there you have it, from an hour long techno live set to a 4 track E.P.

One of Twelve

Screen Shot 2013-01-30 at 10.55.11 AM

Well, the first month of 2013 is almost over, so I wanted to give a quick update on some of my current projects.  Sorry, no deep-thinking posts or handy production tips this time, though certainly more are on their way soon (next Production Q&A is almost done for instance).  I just wanted to take some time to talk about some of the things I’ve been exploring and trying out lately for my own productions.

One of the more recent things I’ve been spending my time doing, as I mentioned in a few earlier posts, is DJing with Traktor and the S4 controller again.  I have to admit with all the work I’ve been doing preparing material to play live the last couple of years, I really haven’t had much chance to focus on DJing for awhile.  It’s been nice going back to that way of working, it’s a real good chance to play with music on a much more relaxing level.

ChromaCaps01

Of course, it’s not all roses though.  I’ve been amazed at how long it’s been taking me to go and find new tracks to DJ with these days.  Not for lack of choices mind you, there’s basically too much choice!  I can spend all day quickly flipping through songs on Beatport, and I’m lucky to find 4-5 that I really like.  I mean, I know I’m picky, but wow!  It’s great having so many options on one hand, but on the other hand it can be a bit soul-sucking listening to so many ummm….. not-so-good tracks during the process too!  Oh well, I guess it could be worse.  🙂

If you’re interested in catching one of my DJ sets, the next time will be at the next Liquid Beats night I run at Beer Authority in Seattle on February 6th.  This is the grand opening of their new larger location, so it should be quite a party.  I’ll be playing mostly catchy downtempo, but if things get crazy later in the night, who knows where it could go.

Beer Authority
12720 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98125.
7-10PM

In other news, I’ve taken a bit of a break from the Elektron based techno set I was almost done with.  Well, I thought I was almost done, but as will often happen when you write music, after a bit of time away from the set I listened to it again and realized that I wasn’t happy with how things were going.

LiveSet

The intention had been to do the set entirely in the Machinedrum, but it was starting to sound a little samey, so I figured it was time to press the Octatrack into duty as well.  So, I edited down my 16 songs in the MD into my favorite 8, and set about recording new samples in Live that I could use in the Octatrack.

After a few weeks doing this and getting everything set up to perform and record, once again reality snuck in and I found that I was still really not happy with the direction the set was going.  Hard to describe what exactly was wrong, but it wasn’t sitting well with me and I was on the verge of just taking the best song of the set and making a studio track out of it.

But while I’m a huge fan of editing out things that aren’t working and only keeping things that are, going from 16 songs for an hour long live set down to just one for a studio song seemed a bit drastic.  So instead I decided to just shelve the project for a bit and focus on other stuff.  I even went so far as to pack up the MD and OT (after backing them up of course) for now, out of sight and out of mind as it were.

Hopefully in a couple months I can come back to this project a little more excited about it and see if I can give it one more go!

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So, for now I’m just going to focus on working on a couple of single tracks for awhile.  I’ve had a lot of really large projects I’ve been working on over the last couple of years, from writing complete live sets to releasing full on albums.  I think for at least a couple months it’s time to just ratchet it back a notch and just have fun writing on some smaller projects.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time working in Presonus Studio One, and I’ve been really impressed by it.  So much so that I haven’t even opened Logic once on the new laptop, and I’m only barely finding a need to use the Live 9 beta now and then.  It’s not perfect, there have been some crashes and other bits of weirdness, but no more so than with other DAWs I have access to lately I guess.

I’ve been a bit bored with the DAW offerings lately (let’s admit it, the Live 9 update is kind of…. underwhelming once you’ve used it) and while Studio One isn’t the breath of fresh air I had hoped Live 9 would be, it’s at least something different to work with for now.  Really hoping that the beta of Bitwig goes live soon, as that’s my last hope for something truly revolutionary when it comes to DAWs!  Then again, I have been known to have high expectations too, so I suppose I should temper my expectations again 🙂

That reminds me, I want to mention the MIDI Guitar software from Jam Origin.  This is the first pitch to MIDI tracking software I’ve used that I felt let me play my guitar the way I want while still sending predictable MIDI to my synths.  It’s a bit rough around the edges, but well worth the $60 they are asking while it’s in the beta-stage.  Free to try, so I definitely recommend trying it if you’re a guitar player.

I’ll try and get some reviews written for both MIDI Guitar and Live 9 once they get out of beta, just to make sure the features are set in stone before I talk about them in depth.  Stay tuned!

Finally, man is it nice to have a guitar to turn to now and then, I have to say.  As you can tell from the above, I’ve been a little frustrated with my usual music making tools.  So it’s been really nice having another outlet to turn to for making music.  Over the years my guitar playing has gotten regulated to being something I only used a couple times a year when I needed a part in a specific song.

Parker SetUp

But lately I’ve been making a real effort to try and pick up the guitar at least once a day and play for a couple of minutes.  Sometimes that turns into a couple of hours, and I can honestly say those have been the more enjoyable days in the studio lately.  I think it’s time I start focusing some more on getting my chops back, and seeing how I can integrate the guitar more into my own productions.  Either on it’s own, or as a MIDI Controller via MIDI Guitar instead of using a keyboard controller.   Regardless, this is the direction that is giving me the most to look forward to in 2013, so I plan to roll with it as long as possible.

Hmmm, maybe it’s time to go down the rabbit hole of boutique guitar pedals as well…..

Random Production Tips

Been awhile since I’ve written a more general purpose music production blog post, as some of my readers have been kind enough to point out to me.  Sorry for the excess of Elektron related posts since I’ve gotten the Octatrack, I rarely get new gear anymore so I’ve been a bit excited. 🙂

Anyway, here’s a few random production tips I thought I would pass on, hope some people find these useful!

 

1. Faking Bandaxall EQ Curves.

One of the more useful EQ types I’ve found over the years is the Bandaxall curve.  It’s similar to a high-shelf filter type, except that instead of flattening out above the EQ frequency you set, it instead continues to rise past the upper limits of our hearing.  You can see the differences below (exaggerated to make the point more obvious):

High Shelving

Bandaxall Curve

One of the best uses for a Bandaxall EQ curve is to gently boost the very upper frequencies, which can be useful for adding ‘air’ and enhancing the sense of space in a sound or song.  Typically it can be very transparent to the ear, as long as you don’t go overboard and boost too much of course.

Unfortunately not all EQs have this type of EQ curve (or even a high-shelf), but it’s easy enough to fake an approximation with just about any full-range parametric EQ.  Set one of the parametric bands so that the frequency is at it’s max.  Ideally this will be close to around 20kHz.  With the normal bell-shaped EQ curve, this means that the bell ‘peaks’ at the upper limit of our hearing, resulting in a gradual rise in the higher frequencies up to point.

As usual, the gain parameter will control how much the EQ adds to the sound, and in this case you can use the Q control to adjust the shape of the boost.  Again, use it sparingly and it can be a great way to unobtrusively enhance the upper frequencies that give a song or a sound the sense of depth and space a good mix should have.

 

2. Apple Earbuds are the new NS10’s.

Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, the Yamaha NS10 speaker with it’s iconic white woofer was a staple in many professional studios.  It wasn’t because it sounded good, in fact it was literally a pain to listen to.  Very harsh and unforgiving, the NS10s became popular because they were known for helping mix engineers hear things the way your average listener at home would.  Issues in the mixdown in the critical midrange were often more recognizable on the NS10’s, and many a mixing engineer would use these to reference their mixdowns for that reason.

Today of course, very few people seem to actually listen to music at home, and for many the home stereo has been replaced by iPods and their equally iconic white earbuds.  Some might even say equally painful to listen to (count me in this group btw).

This was a point brought home to me last year when working on a mastering job for a client.  He was thrilled with how the mastering I had done sounded everywhere except on his iPod headphones, so I found myself in the position of having to use a pair of those to make adjustments to the mastering.

While I definitely would NOT recommend mastering or mixing a song only with the iPod earbud as your main listening tool, it’s definitely useful now and then to check out how your work is sounding in those as well.  Like the NS10, it will give you a good representation of the way most people will be listening to your music, and can help you make small adjustments to suit those listeners as well.  Just try not to do it at the expense of making your song sound good on a more proper setup 🙂

 

3. Easy compression setup.

One of the issues I consistently hear producers struggling with, is the proper way to set up  and use compression.  Even though I’ve written more comprehensive guide on the subject here:

http://tarekith.com/assets/pdfs/DynamicsControl.pdf

I thought it might be useful to cover what I used to find was the easiest way to approach it when I was first learning about compression myself.  So, here’s a quick and dirty way to set up a compressor if you’re struggling to understand how they work.  It won’t be the best way in all cases, but it’s a good starting point.

First thing you want to do is set the release to minimum, and the attack to maximum.  Then, set the ratio to 3:1 with a medium or soft-knee, turn off any auto make-up functions, and lower the threshold until you’re seeing about 3dB of gain reduction on the gain meter.

Now you’re going to adjust the release and attack parameters.  In general, for short and quick sounds with sharp transients (like drums), you want a longer attack phase to let that initial transient through.  You also want a shorter release so that the compressor is ready and waiting to let the next transient through untouched.

For more sustained sounds like basslines or vocals (or a full mix),  you generally want a shorter attack phase so the compressor kicks in sooner, and a longer release so that you don’t get unwanted pumping or distortion.  This is also true if you’re trying to reduce initial transients to give a sound more consistent volume, like with an acoustic guitar or electric bass.  If your compressor has an auto-release setting, it can be worth turning this on if you’re not sure what you’re doing.  That way you only need to adjust the attack parameter and can focus on how that is making your sound change.

Once you’re happy with how you have these set, then you can adjust the threshold for more or less compression as needed.  Keep in mind that as you add more compression though, the amount of signal the compressor is affecting with change, and thus you may need to fine-tune the attack and release again.

This is a good way to approach the order in which you adjust the parameters when you’re first learning compression.  It also help you to avoid the common mistake of not having the parameters set for the material, which often just ends up turning the compressor into a simple gain boost.  As always though, play around with the settings in your free time, the more you do it, the more it will make sense.

Well, that’s it for this time.  Next up, more Elektron stuff!  😉