The Upgrade Game

Upgrade

The upgrade game, how many times have we all played this?  Something new and shiny comes out, and we start feeling that urge that what we were happily using yesterday is no longer good enough.  No where does this seem to happen more than with Apple iOS devices, something I know all too well given how much music work I do on my iPad and iPhone.

More than a few people have asked me either why I tend to upgrade my devices every year, or more common, how I can afford it?  The truth is, upgrading every year to the latest and greatest iPad is the cheapest and easiest way to do it!  Let me explain the system I use, and how it’s something I think all iOS musicians should embrace.

For starters, if you’re one of those people constantly wondering if Apple is going to release a new iPad each week, then this likely doesn’t apply to you.  The rest of you who follow this stuff know that for the last few years iPads have come out on a fairly regular yearly schedule.  The first step then in getting on the upgrade train is to get a new iPad right when they are first released.

At no other time will your iPad have the longest useable life or be worth more, so it pays to get in early. I know some people will caution that new devices mean possibly more buggy daily use, but the opposite has been true in my experience.  Both Apple and developers seem to favor the newer and faster devices when designing their software.  Ever notice how right after a new iPad is released, new app updates start appearing that make your older iPad suddenly feel slower?  We’re still in the early days of tablet computing, so every little increase in CPU power is desired for most musicians.

The first step is obviously the easiest then, buy your iPad.  The first one will never be cheap, but I encourage you to avoid going the refurb or used route if you can, because it makes a huge difference for the next step.

You see, if you sell your current iPad while it’s still the current generation, you get more money for it.  In fact, current iPads have the best resale value, so the trick is to time your sale right.   Usually I will post my current iPad for sale on eBay the same day the new ones are announced.  In fact, if like me you know an Apple press conference is coming, and that it’s likely for new iPads, you can even get a jump and do it a day early if you want.  Otherwise waiting until you see the new one announced and know it will work for you (why wouldn’t it?) is fine too.

So then, new iPads announced, time to get yours on eBay FAST.  The longer you wait to sell your’s from thsi point forward, the more money you’re going to lose.  Make sure you select global shipping, especially with eBay’s new consolidated shipping service meaning you only need to send it to the east coast US and eBay deals with the international portion.  International buyers will always pay more than US buyers, it’s not even close.  Make sure you skip the buy it now option, and start with a really low auction price to get people interested too.

On average I’ve been able to sell my 16GB iPads for around $400, which I can then use to put towards the cost of the newest iPad.  Since new 16GB iPads tend to cost about $500, this means it really only costs me around $100 to get the newest iPad.  Different storage sizes will cost more obviously, but they sell for more too so the same principle applies.

Long story short, by buying new and selling ASAP when new iPads are announced, you can stay on the latest and greatest hardware for around $100 year.

Sure you could keep that $100 a year instead and hang on to your iPad for a few years.  But consider that keeping your iPad for 3 years means that when you go to sell you’ll only likely get around $100 for it.  That means every three years you need to pay $400 to upgrade to a new iPad, where as it only cost me $300 in that same time.  And I was able to use the latest iPad each year so it’s likely I’ll have less CPU issues (software seems to get more CPU hungry each year as I said).

I’ve come to look at my iPads almost like a leasing arrangement.  As a musician, I’m always wishing for faster CPUs (lets not talk about iPad RAM at this point!) so this is well worth it for me.  This used to work the same for iPhones, though lately the carriers have gotten more strict about enforcing the 2 year upgrade path, so the savings aren’t quite as big.  Still the best way to deal with upgrades on the iPhone too though.

It might not be for everyone, but I’ve found that this is the cheapest way to upgrade my iPad over time.  And of course, it also means I can make sure I’m always using the latest hardware too.  Not a bad deal!

Play It Right The First Time

Hanon

It’s been a long time since I actively had to study intensely for something, so it’s been a pretty interesting experience as I set out to do just that in order to improve my guitar playing. I’ve always been someone on the look out for new ideas and tricks to try in audio production, but there’s a big difference between reading about new techniques to learn them, and actively practicing something over and over again. Kind of makes me feel like I’m in school to be honest, boo hiss! 🙂

On the plus side, since it has been so long since I set myself a task like this, it’s been a really pleasant surprise to see just how many options are out there for people wanting to learn an instrument (or a DAW, softsynth, etc). Not just the sheer number of people offering things like tutorial videos, the overall quality of them is actually pretty good too. Indeed, it seems like a lot more people these days are trying to make a career out of teaching other people how to play, versus playing themselves! I see a lot of parallels with the electronic music world on this front, there’s probably almost as many “how to use Ableton” videos on YouTube as there are how to play guitar (or bass, drums, etc).

Interesting the way people adapt to find the niche that works best for them when it comes to making a career in music. And that there’s such a market for it as well. But I digress…

One of the more interesting ideas I see over and over again in guitar instruction these days, is the idea of “play it right the first time”. The whole point of any activity in which you repeat something over and over to learn it, is to train your muscles to perform the action as easily as possible, with as little thought as possible. Thus it makes sense to make sure you only ever do that action correctly, so your fingers (in the case of the guitar) aren’t wasting time learning poor fingering techniques or getting used to playing the wrong notes all the time.

Usually this means SLOWING DOWN more than anything, really taking your time to play each and every note right the first time. But it also involves a lot of pre-planning before you even play a single note. Taking the time to look over a music passage and identify the areas that you think will cause you a problem, then mentally figuring out how to make that easier before you do anything else.

Or maybe it means learning shorter passages, to make sure you can remember all the notes. Maybe planning in advance where in a chord progression you might need to adjust your hand position to hit all the notes cleanly. In short, taking the time to plan out HOW you’re going to play something before you actually try and do it.

It’s a simple concept, but it’s something I think a lot of producers can benefit from as well.

If there’s areas in audio production you feel you’re lacking in, it’s tempting to just fire up your DAW and start messing around. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (all practice is good I suppose), it doesn’t always set you up to succeed either. At the very least it might just be inefficient and slow.

Sometimes the problems you’re trying to tackle are multi-faceted, and attempting to understand all of those issues at once leads to more confusion. Or worse, lack of proper understanding of what all those facets are actually doing to the sound. Yes you might have made something sound better, but do you understand WHY enough to actually apply that knowledge to future projects?

When you know you have skills that are not your weak point, take the time to sit down and think about everything involved. Try to come up with a plan that works to maximize what exactly you learn about it. Break down your learning goals, understand what you need to achieve these, and make sure you set yourself up with the right tools to do that before you even start.

Some examples:

– You’ve heard a lot about multi-band compression and want to learn to use it in your songs. But do you REALLY know how a single band compressor works first? Does it make more sense to try it on the master buss in your DAW, or on a simpler sound source like drums? Does the source audio you’re using in either case have enough dynamics to make the exercise useful in the first place?

– Your mixes always sound flat and one-dimensional, and you want to learn how to add more space and depth to them. It doesn’t make sense to start throwing all the options into the equation at the same time, like panning, reverb, wideners, etc. Focus on only one of these at a time, and use a project with fewer tracks so you can really hear what you are doing, and how it affects the sound stage. Take the time to listen to how each of these affects the way instruments sound and are placed, not just in your studio, but elsewhere too.

– After years of DJing club music, you want to learn to learn to scratch records. It doesn’t make sense to start trying to mimic a Q-bert routine you find on YouTube. Start with a basic scratch, and study the techniques ahead of time for just that one scratch. Think about where your hands and the faders need to be at each step of the way, visualize it in slow motion, and then do it exactly like that in slow motion until each motion takes place in the right order. Then work on getting faster, and combining it with other scratches you focused on the same way.

Nobody likes practicing. Well, almost nobody. 🙂 So it makes sense to maximize the time you spend actually focusing on learning something new. By having a simple and very clear plan in place ahead of time, you lessen the chance of distractions and getting side-track. Or learning bad techniques because you’re in a hurry and trying to do too much at once. It also makes it easy (and rewarding) to track your progress, because each practice activity is both achievable, and measurable because it’s so specific.

Slow down, visualize each step ahead of time, plan for the aspects will be difficult or easy, then execute what you’re trying to do accordingly.

Being a little more focused in how I approach learning something new (like the guitar) really has helped me a lot in making the most of my practice sessions. I get distracted easily, so frequent shorter sessions work better than all day marathons for me. Having a real plan in place for each practice session just makes it count for so much more. I figure if I’m going to actually spend some of my time solely to work on getting better at something, it makes sense to use that time as best I can. Life’s too short to be wasting any of it 🙂

Hopefully some of these ideas help you too! If you have other examples of how you do something similar, please post them in the comments for others to read. Reminder that all first time posts have to be approved by me (only way to accurately stop the spam), but I’m pretty quick about it.

Thanks!

Let’s Talk Social Media

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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.

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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….

Software Wears Soft Hair

Well, it’s been a week now and my Octatrack is still in the shop, hopefully getting fixed and on it’s way back to me asap. As is usually the case when a big project I’m working on gets interrupted for technical reasons, I’m having a hard time making the jump to working on something else in the mean time. I was pretty into the workflow on the OT when the card reader broke, and it’s not always the easiest for me to switch gears.

Still, I have to keep busy some how, right?

So for the last week I’ve been checking out some of the newer plug ins recently released that caught my eye, as well as upgrading my studio machine to the Mavericks OS. Let’s start with the OS upgrade, shall we?

Usually I’m one of those annoying early adopters that jumps on each new OS way before I should as an audio professional. I do this knowing that it’s easy enough to revert to a Time Machine back up if I need to, and even a full reinstall of all the OS and apps I use only takes me a couple hours if worse comes to worse.

Rarely has it been an issue for me though, and in this case, even less so. Everything works fine after install Mavericks, haven’t had a single issue at all. If anything it’s been a great update for me, Safari is running a lot smoother and graphics performance overall in CPU intensive audio apps is much better.

As always, you should really only upgrade once you’ve confirmed all your hardware and software works, but for the most part everything seems to be more or less the same for everyone else I know who’s upgraded. Just make sure you have a recent Time Machine back up before you take the plunge, and everything should be fine.

Pro-MB

One of the other new bits of software I’ve been checking out is the new multi-band compressor from Fabfilter. Those of you who read my blog regularly might be surprised since I often talk about how I almost never use multi-band compression for my mastering work. It’s just not something I find myself needing all that often, contrary to what advertisers might tell you when it comes to the tools mastering engineers use.

But in typical Fabfilter fashion, they’ve created something that is much more than just a multi-band compressor. I won’t go into a full review now, but the ability to do per band dynamic expansion, adjust the stereo width of certain bands, and the near flat crossover points (in dynamic phase mode) make it very appealing as a general purpose dynamics tool kit.

The interface I actually find a little complex compared to say Pro-L or Pro-Q, but given how much flexibility is on hand I think they did a good job of having it all make sense. At least as much as is possible, there are a LOT of parameters you have control over!

It doesn’t impart a sound of it’s own, and as someone who takes audio transparency quite seriously, that’s fine with me. Quite a different beast from say Compassion by DMG Audio, another dynamics power-house plug in, but one that excels at really coloring up the audio in useful ways. While Pro-MB is still not something I’m going to need to reach for often, it definitely is the best multi-band dynamics plug in I’ve ever used, so I’m glad I have it at my disposal for the times I do. Check it out.

Satin

Last, one plug I’ve only briefly had bit of time with, yet came away impressed, is U-He’s new Satin tape emulator plug in. Normally I’m not at all the type of person who would be interested in something like this, I don’t have the same affection for tape as a lot of people do. I LIKE the fact that our recording mediums are for all intents transparent these days!

Still, there’s definitely been a few times I wished I had something in-the-box to take some of the harshness out of a track I was sent. Usually I can tame it with gentle EQing, but even that can be overkill at times. But, I’m a big fan of URS Heckman’s plug ins and his way of engaging his community online, so I try everything he releases regardless.

Right off the bat I noticed it had that smoothness I associate with his Uhbik plug ins, they just sound silky to me. Satin was like that, but without the effect associated with it. Just pure smoothness at one end, and a warm grunge and distortion at the other end. Personally this would be something I would use only a tiny bit of, I have no need to drive things to the point of breaking up.

But for the few times I find myself thinking a track is just too cold and brittle sounding for the message it’s trying to delivery, I think Satin will do a good job at taking the edge off things. Still, early days for me with it, and I know how excited I get about new toys at first. I’ll report back with some long term thoughts once I’ve more time with it, as well as Pro-MB.

Anything else you lot are digging? I’m not really one to collect plug-ins, but if there’s something interesting out there, at least now I have the time to check it out. Send me any ideas, just post them in the comments.

Thanks!

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Just a quick reminder too. If you follow me on Facebook, specifically my Erik Magrini-Tarekith page, then please be aware that I will be making all of my music related posts from my Inner Portal Studio page in the future. The personal account will dedicated more for just that, personal things with close friends and family. There was just too much overlap happening, and quite honestly it was too much for me to stay on top of. So “Like” the Inner Portal page is you still want to get updates on Facebook about this blog, my own music releases and gigs, as well as inspiring music-related articles as I run across them.

Still on Twitter as well if that’s your thing.

Decibel Festival Mastering Session

This past weekend Dubspot asked me to host a Q&A session on mastering as part of the Decibel Festival conference.  The session went great, there were more people than I expected for it being earlier in the day, and I was able to answer a lot of questions for everyone.  Luckily, all of the conference sessions were video taped, and are now available online for anyone to watch.

There were a lot of Live focused sessions, so definitely worth a look if that’s your main DAW.  Note that it says you need to install Silverlight to watch the videos, but you can just click on the Podcast version to watch without it.  Here’s the full list:

http://dbfestival.com/news/streaming-db-conference-panopto

And here is the direct link to my mastering session:

http://decibel.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer/Default.aspx?id=6d727890-9b16-4934-a619-2e8e2d3bb65e

I was the first session of the day, so the first few minutes didn’t get recorded, and there’s some audio issues later on.  Otherwise it turned out pretty well I think.

Enjoy!

 

Inner Portal Studio Fall 2013 Update

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Hi everyone, just wanted to let you know about some changes happening at Inner Portal Studio.

First up, I have new rates for all of my studio services, effective as of today.  For those clients who I have already discussed a project and budget with, I will continue to honor that quoted price.

Mastering is $60 a song.  If you need a DDP file, physical CD master, alternate version (acapella, radio edit, etc.) it’s an additional $20 per song.

For mixdowns I’m now doing a single flat rate of $350 a song, that includes the mastering as well as the mixdown.  There will be some flexibility for extremely simple or extremely large mixes still, so let me know if  you think your project fits that category.

Track Consulting will be only $30 per song.

In addition to the new rates, I also have a new way for you to make payments if you prefer not to use PayPal.  The link below (it’s also on the Inner Portal Site) will take you to my new Square online store where you can make a payment for all of my services directly with any credit or debit card:

https://squareup.com/market/inner-portal-studio

PayPal is still accepted for those that prefer to use it, this is just another option to make things as flexible as possible for all my clients.  Please let me know if you have any trouble using the new store for submitting a payment.

 

Finally, Dubspot has asked me to give a seminar as part of this year’s Decibel Festival Conference here in Seattle.  I’ll be speaking on Thursday, Sept 26th from Noon to 2:00PM, stop by and say hi if you’re at the conference.  Full details and line-up here: http://dbfestival.com/dbx/conference

Thanks everyone, I look forward working with you on your latest projects!

More Power

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Ah, the dream of blazingly fast computers and never needing to wait for renders again, something all computer based musicians wish for at one point or another. Luckily there’s a few computer upgrades you can make that promise to speed up your workflow, but are they really worth it for day to day use? Will these upgrades make a noticeable difference?

1. Faster CPU. Let’s tackle the obvious one first, increasing your computer’s raw horsepower with a new CPU (or upgrading to a new computer completely to get a faster processor). Faster CPUs mean more you can run more plug ins and virtual synths before you run out of CPU power and start running into audio drop outs. They also speed up render times, which can be nice if you’re like me and are rendering files all day long for clients.

Having said all that, often times in use a faster CPU is rarely noticeable when I upgrade. Generally I try and replace my computers when the new CPU speed has increased to at least 2 times the performance of my current CPU. On paper and in benchmarks this looks impressive, though I have to admit it’s something I only rarely feel the benefits of day to day. Sure I can run more plug-ins if I want to, but I rarely use so many that my computer starts to struggle anyway, so for me the difference is negligible. Same with rendering files, yes they are faster with a new CPU, and while that is nice, it’s not a game changer.

Bottom line, a new CPU or faster computer is rarely a bad thing, but you might not notice a huge difference after upgrading unless you current computer is more than a few years old and struggling now.

2. Memory. Whenever I see people asking for help with a computer problem, someone always recommends they upgrade to more memory. While it’s rarely a BAD thing, it’s really not the catch all solution some people make it out to be. Today’s OS’s are very good at using as much memory as you have installed, and the more recent ones really need at least 4-8GB to operate smoothly. If you have less than that, then upgrading to at least 8GB is probably not a bad thing to do.

But unless you have large sample libraries you’re trying to load and a 64bit OS and DAW to support that much memory, it’s doubtful you will notice a difference in day to day or studio use. I just had my MacBook Pro replaced with a newer model doubling my RAM from 8 to 16GB. Can’t tell a difference at all here. Again, not neccesarily a bad thing to add more RAM, but if you’re already in the right range, adding more “probably” won’t affect the way your computer responds or fix any troubleshooting issues you’re trying to solve.

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3. Hard Drives. Faster is better, right? Like RAM, there’s very little downside to upgrading to a faster or larger HD, aside from possible making things a little louder. But again, the benefit for most people will be minimal (with one exception, which I’ll get to in a second). For years I was using 4200 RPM laptop drives and able to stream dozens and dozens of 24bit stereo wav files with no issues at all. A faster drive will certainly speed things up, but it’s not likely to be a gigantic difference.

Unless we’re talking about SSD drives.

This is one of the few computer upgrades that I found to be instantly and noticeably faster in use, by more than you would think too. Reboots on my laptop went from taking around 1:30-2:00 to less than 20 seconds. Copying files on the same drive is much faster, and loading large sample libraries is almost instantaneous now.

By and large, going to an SSD drive has been one of the most noticeable upgrades I’ve ever done on a computer in terms of speeding up common tasks I do a lot. Unfortunately it’s also one of the most expensive upgrades you can do as well, but if you’re looking to breathe new life into an older computer, this one area you definitely want to investigate.

Personally I would recommend trying to get a large enough SSD drive that you can fit your OS, all your apps, and all of your main sample and instrument libraries onto one drive. Some people like to split up things between an SSD and normal hard drive, but I like to keep it as simple as possible to avoid issues down the road.
4. USB 3.0. Recently I decided to switch out all of the USB2 infrastructure in my studio (back up drives, USB hubs, etc) to USB3 as part of my studio overhaul. Obviously you need to have a computer that actually supports USB3 in order to do this upgrade, but more and more seem to come equipped with this these days.

I was honestly surprised at how much faster transfers were over USB3 compared to USB2, almost 10 times faster here in use. I spend a lot of time shuttling client files around on various drives throughout the day, so this was a very welcome upgrade for me, and not that expensive either. If you use external drives a lot for storing your user data (perhaps combined with a smaller SSD for your OS and apps?), this is another upgrade that might be worth your time and money to look into.

Talking about computer upgrades and benefits always involves some exceptions to the rules, or worry about compatibility issues with your current components. I’m not even going to touch on that aspect of computer upgrades, as it’s just way too comprehensive to cover here (nor do I really want to go down that rabbit hole!). But hopefully some of this real-world experience will help guide you on what to focus on if you’re thinking about upgrading your computer to faster parts. Sometimes the upgrades with the most tangible benefits are the ones you least expect!

And The Best Sounding DAW Is…..

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 5.36.49 PM

Not sure what’s causing it, but in the last few weeks I’ve been getting a lot of people sending me emails about my Live versus Logic Sound Quality post from a couple years ago.  Figured it was time to maybe update my views on the topic.  Or maybe clarify my views my be a better term.

So no, I’m not really going to pick the best sounding DAW, sorry.  🙂

For years I was the guy arguing that (everything being equal) all DAWs sounded the same, or the differences were beyond the range of our playback equipment and hearing. Every test I’ve run or tried has shown the same thing, people can’t accurately hear the differences.

Then I became a full-time mastering engineer and spent a LOT of time talking to other musicians about how things SOUND. And I realized that everyone hears things differently, none of us hears things exactly the same way. Over and over I’ve been amazed at how different people focus on different areas of music, in how they approach conveying and describing it to others. In how they internalize and interpret what reaches their ears.

I’ve met people who could hear the tiniest changes to the most background parts in a song, but miss the fact that they had muted the vocal track in one section accidentally. Or people who swore two identical copies of the exact same song sounded completely different. Usually the differences are more subtle, but I’ve been surprised at what the human brain can honestly believe it is hearing.

Now, I’m not so sure all DAWs sound the same to people.

Personally, I think everyone uses a lot of other external sensory inputs when determining how things sound. Maybe one DAW is slightly brighter in it’s color palette, and for some reason that triggers something where that person hears things as slightly brighter. I don’t know, I have no idea how it works or what is happening. But I do think that for whatever reason, people can legitimately hear differences where others can not.

The question of are those differences really there in the first place is the thorny bit though, and for that I still turn to the cold hard science of digital audio. Maybe one day we’ll have a better way of describing and measuring sound.

Ultimately though, it’s a dumb fucking thing to argue about no matter what. If you can’t make a great professional sounding track in ANY modern DAW, it’s not the tool’s fault.

 

🙂

The New Studio Desk

For awhile now I’ve been thinking about building a new desk for my studio, one that would be custom-designed for my own personal needs.  In the past I’ve maintained two separate set ups in all of my studios, the main work area where I do all of my critical mastering work and most of my writing, and a separate set up for DJing and working on my live sets.  I’ve never been able to really get into the mindset of performing while sitting down, so this second set up has always been based around a taller table I could stand up at.  You can see the last set up I did like this here:

LastOldDeskShot

 

What I really wanted was a way to combine those two set ups into one area though, as well as giving me a way to take my OCD with hiding any cables to new heights (err… pun intended, as you’ll see).  Last year I saw a really cool height-adjustable desk that Argosy was making, but it was way bigger than I needed for my studio, and super expensive as well.  But it gave me the idea that perhaps an adjustable desk was the way forward, I just needed to figure out how to build.

The biggest hold up was trying to find actuators that would strong and stable enough to support not only the desk and my gear, but also the Event Opals I use for monitoring too.  No easy task considering the Opals are something like 80 lbs each!  After a lot of thought and research, I decided it just wasn’t practical, so I shelved the idea temporarily.

As luck would have it, I ran into a solution that I felt would work perfectly while out shopping for furniture with the wife.  One store had a sit/stand workstation designed by Jesper that caught my eye:

Jesper Sit Stand Desk

I had seen other desks like this before, but most were still pretty cheap feeling for my needs, they just didn’t look like they would last long.  This one however had a weight rating that met my needs (rated at 300 lbs), and more importantly it was incredible solid.  It lacked some of the functionality I had originally wanted, but I knew I could build what I needed later on.

Of course, it still didn’t solve the issue of how to raise and lower my Opals, but at this point I don’t think there IS a good solution for that yet.  In the end I decided to just move my HR824’s so that they could still be used for monitoring while working on my live material.  I had to redesign their stands a little to fit closer to the Opals, but it was the best solution for the issue.  Just use two sets of monitors, duh.

After that it was time to get rid of the old Ikea desk, and then build the new one.  Briefly thought about mastering with no desk, just via iPad control on my chair, but it felt too weird:

DeskBuild01

Time to get building!  Overall I felt desk was really well designed and easy to put together.  Heavy S.O.B. though, especially the legs with the electric actuators.

DeskBuild02

Because I was trying to minimize my studio downtime (work has been steady for awhile now), I just hooked everything back up asap when I was done so I could get back to work.  For awhile I lived with things like this, cables everywhere, still using the racks on the floor.  For the most part I just thought of it as having completed Phase 1 of the project, which gave me time to figure out how I wanted to tackle Phase 2.

DeskBuild03

I really wanted to get everything off the floor and have it attached to the underside of the desk.  That way when I raised or lowered the desk, I didn’t need to worry about cables being too short, or just the cluttered way it looked.  That meant building a rack for the power supplies (Monster Pro2500, and I bought a new Monster Pro3500), compartments for my hard drives, and shelving to allow me to hide all the cabling.  I also wanted to keep the same sort of aesthetic of the current desk, so I factored that into my plans as well.

You can see the separate shelf I built here, after one coat of paint:

DeskBuild04

I attached it to the underside of the original desk top with L-brackets and lots of screws.  The black box to the left is the brains of the electric actuators for the legs:

DeskBuild05

Here it is attached and ready to flip over.  The tape on the floor is just to mark where the desk was before, I had worked with it in that spot long enough that I knew I didn’t want to change things:

DeskBuild06

And here’s the final pictures, first with the desk down for mastering, and second when it’s raised up for my performance-based work (or just when I want to stand and check email, etc).  The switch to raise or lower the desk is just a pair of buttons under the left front section of the tabletop.  The range is huge, it goes low enough I can sit on the floor and work, or almost over my head.  The cables running off the back of the desk are the power cords for the Monster power supplies.  They go into an APC1500 UPS module that’s under a custom sound barrier I made for it in the lower right.

Mastering

Perform

I’m really happy with the way things turned out, it’s a really versatile desk for both my professional and personal studio needs.  Ended up looking better than I expected too, I’m always a little nervous tackling important woodworking projects like this.  It pays to go slow I’ve learned 🙂

Anyway, I know some people were curious about the desk I was building, so there’s all the details.  If you have any questions about the desk or build process, just ask in the comments and I’ll get right to it.