“Deviate” – Korg Gadget Track & Review

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Deviate <- Right click to Save or Play

“Deviate” is the first track I’ve written using the new Korg Gadget app, this time around it’s a darker tech house track.   Here’s the Gadget project file for those that came here via GadgetCloud: Deviate Project  Feel free to explore and play around with the song if you want.

My Gadget review follows:

Korg caught a lot of people by surprise when they released their new Gadget app at this winter’s NAMM show.  Unlike their previous efforts to recreate their older hardware with iOS apps, Gadget is a brand new experience.  Designed as a self-contained groovebox of sorts, Korg has included 15 new instruments designed to speed up the initial steps song writing process.

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It took me some time to really get into the workflow of Gadget, not because it’s difficult to grasp, but because at first glance it looks similar to other apps like Live or Electrify NXT.  There’s what looks like a Session view taking up most of the screen space, though unlike Live and NXT you can’t launch individual clips.  Instead you can launch and loop complete Scenes, or set Gadget to step through all the scenes sequentially.  All in all it’s more of a linear sequencer than a live performance tool at the moment, but once you get your head around that things are generally easy to figure out.

It should also be pointed out that Gadget ONLY works in portait orientation on the iPad.  This can be a little frustrating since so many of todays stands and covers are made for landscape mode.  It does help with keeping everything you need to see in one view most of the time, but ergonomically I really wish Korg would come up with a way to do this in landscape mode too.

I won’t go into all 15 instruments (Gadgets, in Korg speak) in this review, that’s easy enough to check into with the manual.  I will say that there’s a great variety of drum machines, one shot effect players, and synths to keep you busy for a long time.  Each device has some really nice sounding presets to get your started, and just enough control to shape them into something unique without getting bogged down by layers of synth programming.

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I thought it was a great compromise myself, depth enough to make some seriously cool sounds, but each Gadget is simple to use too.  All synth and mixer parameters can be automated, and you can even record song length automation if you turn off scene looping.  When you’re done you can export the song to iTunes, Gadget Cloud (a Korg branded Soundcloud page), or Audioshare and Audio Copy.  For a first release, it’s got a lot of well thought out features, and for me it was very stable with not a single crash.  Not a huge CPU hog at all on the iPad Air either!

It’s not perfect though, there are a few areas I hope they address in the promised updates coming later this month:

– It really needs an undo function, it’s too easily to accidentally delete something on touchscreen devices and there’s no way to get it back if you don’t make frequent sequential backups manually.

– Audiobus and IAA support!

– I’d love an option to trigger individual clips and scenes.

– Hardware MIDI-mapping please.

– Patterns can only be 8 bars long.

– Editing automation of multiple notes at the same point in time can be hit or miss.

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Most of my complaints are relatively minor though, and hopefully will get addressed soon.  While it’s not one of the cheaper music-making apps on the App Store, I definitely think it’s one of the best.  Easy to make incredible sounds that are unique to you, and the samples it comes with (drums, one shots, efx clips, etc) are modern sounding as well.

I really can’t wait to see what Korg does with this app, already some clever users have found mention of other devices not yet turned on in the code for Gadget.  This is a serious tool for mobile musicians, and I have a feeling Korg is only getting started.

The Upgrade Game

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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!

Lines In Space – New Downtempo Track

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Lines Of Space <- Right Click to Download

Well, luckily I managed to keep myself busy during the first couple of weeks of my recovery from the shoulder surgery.  Surprised myself a bit, but I actually managed to get a track written over the last few days, and one I really like no less!

To write this one I used the iPad again, along with the following apps: Auria, Audiobus, iElectribe, Electrify NXT, Nave, Alchemy, and iSEM.  The guitar parts were recorded with a Taylor 814ce recorded dry into a Lynx Hilo DAC, then effected with Fabfilter’s Timeless2 and Pro-C in Auria.  Fabfilter Pro-L in Auria handled all of the “mastering” in this song.

As you can see, I’m still on an iPad music making kick.  🙂

Well, hope you enjoy the new track.  Hopefully if things go well, I can get another track written before my new monitors arrive in 3 weeks.  But that’s a story for another post!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Tern – Downtempo track

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Tern – Downtempo – 12-16-2013 <- Right Click to Save or Play

Been on a bit of a roll lately with my current way of writing music, having a good time and just seeing where it takes me.  Here’s another slightly happy one (for me at least), done once again with the iPad and my new acoustic guitar.

Speaking of the guitar, it’s been a real joy to play since I got it, no regrets at all.  Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly customizing it, to make it a little more my style and a bit more unique.  Swapped the tuners, strap button, and truss rod cover screws from gold to cosmo black from Gotoh.  Less blingy, looks pretty sharp if I do say so.

I also took off the pick guard that came on it, though I debated that one for a bit.  I originally hadn’t wanted one when I was shopping for a guitar, but I had no choice unless I wanted to pay big bucks for a custom guitar.  It looked nice enough for a pick guard I guess, but in the end was just a little too red for my taste.

Easy enough to remove it turns out, and it looks much nicer without it I think.  I’ll post some pics once we get some decent light here in Seattle.  Until then, enjoy the new track!

Why Make It Easy?

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More than a few times over the last couple of months I’ve had to stop what I was doing and laugh a little bit at the situations I get myself into. After years of having to deal with computer issues related to music-making, I finally have a problem free set up. No more hardware incompatibilities, chipset issues, lack of driver support, or OS updates that cause all manner of software issues.

My current laptop is more than fast enough to run as many of my biggest CPU-hogging plug-ins as I want, I have more memory than I’ll ever use, and with SSD drives and USB3 external hardware, data transfers and back ups are lightening fast. My preferred DAWs are mature and stable, I know them inside and out, and one of them (Ableton Live) even has a dedicated MIDI Controller that’s not only solidly built, but super intuitive to use.

In short, I have a music set up that’s more or less ideal; fast, portable, stable, and generally a breeze to use day in and day out. Which makes it all the baffling why I’m not using it for writing music much these days!

No, instead of taking the easy route, one that I know very well and can rely on to work exactly as I expect, I’ve decided to make music on an iPad these days. And once again it feels almost like it used to when I first got into computer music. Apps sometimes crash for no reason, there’s memory-usage issues to keep track of, compatibility between apps is still hit or miss, and there’s a real lack of standardization still when it comes to sync and routing between apps. It’s hard to look at my laptop after spending an hour trying to troubleshoot some weird iOS issue and not chuckle a little at the decisions I make sometimes when it comes to my music. Sort of like selling my Elektrons to buy an acoustic guitar. 🙂

To be fair, there’s not THAT many times I run into an issue on the iPad when I’m working on a song. Most of the problems tend to be app specific at this point, and the major apps usually run fairly well. Apps that give me more than a couple problems tend to get deleted until they are more stable. The biggest issues so far involve things like Audiobus or Inter-App Audio being flaky, sometimes it works like you expect, sometimes it doesn’t work at all.

Memory use is the other concern, with even the latest iPads only having 1GB of RAM, and the OS taking about half of that on average. Start opening up more than a few apps that are memory hogs and you’re likely going to discover that iOS closes apps when they take up too much memory making them look like they crashed. Doh!

Oh well, I’ve learned to just move on these days and keep working, trying not to let some small bug slow me down much. The limitations and little problems here and there keep me working fast and lean, and force me to not go overboard when writing songs.  Focus on the core song ideas and trim the fat is the way forward when writing with “limited” resources, so in some ways it’s making me a better songwriter I feel.

Still, it’s hard to ignore that little voice asking “Why not make it easy? Use the laptop, forget these issues and come back to the land of abundant CPU-power and stable music software”. Of course, that would be the easy way, but I just have to remind myself that if it was supposed to be easy, everyone would be doing it 🙂

In Splits & Starts – New Downtempo Track

In Splits & Starts <- Click to download

This is the first track I’ve written since selling my Elektron gear and buying a nice acoustic guitar. Don’t worry though, this is definitely not country music! A bit happier and more playful than my usual downtempo tracks, still lots of interesting twists to keep your ears on their toes. Err… something like that.

Recorded in Auria on an iPad Air, drums are a combination of Beatmaker2 and Alchemy Mobile, the few synth sounds in this track are from Alchemy or Nave. Most of the instrumental sounds are actually my Taylor 814ce acoustic guitar processed with a Boss TeraEcho pedal, or the effects and time-stretching in Auria.

Hopefully this marks a new direction for my music making, looking forward to seeing where this takes me next!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

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.

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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).

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

Shifting Sideways EP released today!

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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!

Chimera Winds

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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!

Working With Less

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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….