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…..

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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.

 

🙂

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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  🙁

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– 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.

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– 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.

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– 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.

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– 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!

Gear Gone By

Mastering

I recently finished a major overhaul of the studio, improving it not only for my mastering business, but also making things a little better for me as a musician as well.  You can read the full details of the build process here if you’re curious:

The New Studio Desk

As I was working on rearranging things, I started thinking about all the different pieces of musical equipment I’ve used over the years.  Interesting to see how they shaped the path my life has taken, so I thought I’d list them from the beginning:

– Used White Crappy Electric Guitar & Tiny Crappy Amp.  Got this at a pawn shop for my 16th birthday for $120, and the owner threw in a tiny POS 4″ amp for me.  He tuned it to pitch pipes, and that was the last time it was tuned in the year I owned it.  I had no idea what I was doing with this thing, but I did it every day.  I don’t even think it was a full scale guitar now that I think of it.

– Black Dean 88 Guitar, Jackson Preamp, Racked Spring Reverb.  After a year of the white guitar, I knew I was hooked and wanted to upgrade to something nicer.  Got the Dean and they threw in a tuner, suddenly it was a LOT easier to learn to play songs.  Amazing what a nice guitar can do I thought (not to mention being in tune!).  The Jackson Preamp I bought from a friend, and despite a bunch of knobs, it basically had two sounds: Clean with hiss, or full on shred with hiss and mains noise.  The reverb was meant to be for my guitar, but you couldn’t look at it without the spring starting to move, so I more or less always had reverb and couldn’t turn it off.

– ADA MP2 and Foot Pedal & Digitech TSR24s.  I knew that I’d never get to appreciate a full on guitar amp, so I jumped on the modeling bandwagon early on.  This was my first preamp, and also my introduction to MIDI.  The MP2 was one of the first midi controlled preamps, so getting that, the foot switch, and the Digitech I bought for effects to work together was a huge learning curve for me.  Helped me a lot later on though.

– Fender Bassman Amp.  This was one of those things I regret selling quite a bit, even though I was young and had no idea.  A guy I worked with was in need of cash for some reason, and was selling his sizable guitar and bass collection for pennies.  I got a mint Fender Bassman head and cabinet for $200.  I think I sold it for $800?

S540-01

– Ibanez S540FMTT.  Saw this while shopping with a friend and instantly fell in love.  Took a loan from my boss at the time, and owned this guitar for almost 20 years.  Only now is the Parker DF724 I replaced it with starting to feel like “my guitar”.  The Ibanez was amazing though, stayed in tune forever for a floyd style trem.

– Custom Guitar Cabinets.  A guy I worked with at another job also worked nights at the Washburn factory, and offered to make me some custom guitar cabinets.  Much easier to travel with than the Bassman was, and more suited to the guitar sound I was after at the time.  Unfortunately they were just one of those things I always held on to, but never really used that much.  After moving with them 3 times and not playing them once, I recently sold them to a very happy buyer who will use them much more than I did.

– Korg X2.  Eventually I got into industrial music, and failing to make my guitar make the noises I wanted I purchased my first keyboard.  It happened to be a workstation too, so for the first time I was able to learn sequencing and how to arrange a song.  All my industrial tunes ended up sounding like dancier club tracks people told me though, so I started getting more into rave and club music.  Life changer.

– Roland MC505 & SP808.  Eventually my friends started to get into DJing, but as a musician I wanted to make my own songs live, not play other people’s.  Preordered the very first MC505 in the USA, and happily used that for a couple year.  Taught me everything about playing live electronic music, and got me exposed to it super early in my “career”.  Added the SP808 and learned sampling, this was my main live rig for years.

– Yamaha CS2x.  Eventually I started feeling the X2 was too polished for the rougher dance music I wanted to make, so I traded it in for the CS2x.  Instantly regretted it, the Yamaha was just too basic and I hated the way they organized their patches with the XG standard.  The X2 was so much more flexible in hindsight, I just didn’t know what I was doing with it.

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– Akai S3000XL.  By this time I was reading Sound On Sound and Future Music a lot, and according to them you HAD to have a real sampler to be a legitimate electronic musician.  This was one of those things I spent a lot of money on, then kept upgrading it thinking it would make me like it more.  Interesting way of working, but so tedious.  I sadly never really used it that much, but luckily sold it before the prices really dropped on hardware samplers a couple years later.

– Korg ER-1.  My roommate got a new DJ mixer which had me jones for new gear.  This was all I could afford at the time, so it’s what I bought.  Fun little beat box, nice and jammable, if a little limiting in scope.  I keep meaning to get the iOS version….

– Computer!!!  Due to a car accident, I had to sell most of my gear to make sure I could still get to work and school at the time.  Once I got my settlement money, I figured it was time to jump into computer thing.  So I built my own and started working with Cubase and Reason.  I’ll save my software progression for another blog post, suffice to say this was the gateway into audio engineering for me.

XL7Outside(My custom painted XL-7)

– Emu XL-7.  Computers are fun, but I missed the hands on aspect of playing live.  These had just come out, so I was one of the first to get one again.  In many ways this was one of the best pieces of gear I’ve owned, I just wished it had better sounds internally.  Very tedious programming your own patches.

– Access Virus KC. The first of many Virii I would own over the years.  I still love the evil red and black look of this one the best.  Also one of the best key beds I’ve ever played on a synth, the standard to which I hold others.

– Xone62 & Line6 Pod XT.  Around this time I was DJing more at home, so I wanted the best mixer I could get at the time.  Then it was the Xone62, and it’s been my main hardware DJ mixer ever since.  I know that thing so well it’s like an instrument to me.  Also got my first Line6 Pod modeler to replace the ADA stuff.  Big fan of Line6 gear, great variety of tones, and so easy to program even a drummer could do it.

– Emu PX-7.  Despite getting sick of the sound of my XL-7 and selling it only a year before, one day I got the urge to try working with one again and bought the newer PX-7.  It was fun for a little while, but ultimately my music making was happening more and more in the computer, and I wasn’t working on many live sets then.

622FMilwaukeeStudio-04

– Elektron Machinedrum.  After lusting after one of these for years, I finally had the funds to take the plunge and boy was I glad I did.  To date, still my favorite bit of kit of all time.  Easy to use, sounded amazing, and designed with live performance in mind too.  I love Elektron gear, it just “clicks” with me in a way nothing else has.

– Virus TI & Roland TB303.  Shortly after getting the Virus KC I became part of the Virus beta team and was given a TI-K about a year before they actually came out.  Was an interesting time having a cutting edge keyboard and not being able to talk about it!  Also briefly owned the mighty TB303 around this time.  It was neat having a chance to play with a piece of history, but after a few months it felt like a one trick pony and had to go.  Crazy, I know.

622FMilwaukeeStudio-02

– DSI Evolver Desktop. One of the few pieces of gear I regret selling, and one I hope to replace sooner rather than later.  Really interesting and flexible synth, capable of mad little sequences. Only had mine a few months before I sold it, but it left a really good impression on me.

– Ovation Celebrity Deluxe Acoustic Guitar.  For years I wanted an acoustic guitar, something I could play without electricity, anywhere I wanted.  Getting one was a great moment, though I quickly learned that I still preferred playing my electrics.  I still play the Ovation every once in awhile though, so it’s nice to have around.  Every time I start having a bad week in the studio, I think about selling all my gear and just getting a really nice acoustic guitar to focus on the rest of my life.  🙂

– Line6 Pod X3.  Upgraded from the XT, nothing major.

– MIDI Controller phase.  I’ve owned so many MIDI controllers that it’s hard trying to remember them all.  In rough order, I believe this is most of them: M-Audio Oxygen 8, Edirol PCR-m1, Korg MicroKontrol, M-Audio Trigger Finger, Behringer BCR-2000, M-Audio Keystation88, Kenton Killamix Mini, Novation SL37, NI Traktor X1 and S4 (twice), Akai APC40 and MPK25, and finally the KMI QuNexus.

RedMD 04

– Elektron Machinedrum MKII Anniversary Edition #49.  Sometimes we make really DUMB decisions.  One of my all time classics was deciding to sell my first Machinedrum, I regretted it the second I left the UPS store when I shipped it out.  Only a couple months later I decided to buy another, and as luck would have it they were still selling the anniversary edition.  This is my baby, this is the very last piece of music gear I would sell, my desert island choice if you will.

– Korg EMX-1.  This is a box that always intrigued me, and finally I had enough people tell me it was deeper than you’d expect that I had to try it myself.  In many ways it’s probably one of the best all in one grooveboxes ever made.  Unfortunately, once again I was on a bit of a live bent at the time, and for performing I just didn’t find it intuitive enough.  I still get the urge to get another one every so often though…

TraktorS4SetUp

– Traktor S4.  After years of DJing with Ableton Live I needed a break and made the jump to Traktor.  The S4 has been a perfect fit, one to one mapping with the software, and it feels pretty robust for being made of plastic.  Very happy with this combo for now.

– Virus Polar TI2.  Don’t ask me why I bought this, but despite owning and selling two previously, I just had to have another.  It really is the best all around hardware synth IMO, especially considering how awesome the build quality is.  You feel like you get your money’s worth and then some.  But after almost a year of work on an album, a known bug in the OS caused me to lose all my patches on the day I was going to record it.  And it had corrupted all the previous daily backups I had been making.  I was mad.  I sold it.

– Line6 Pod HD500.  Upgraded the X3 in order to get the new HD models.  Huge difference, makes the guitar sound much more dynamic.

– Monomachine.  An interesting synth that was MUCH more capable than I expected it to be.  I was shocked at the range of sounds on offer in fact.  But, as is a common theme by now, it just didn’t gel with me for playing live, so I ended up getting rid of it.  One of those things I’d like to keep around if I had more money, but at the moment it’s value was better put towards something new.

Parker-SetUp

– Parker Dragonfly.  After almost 20 years, I decided I wanted a new axe.  I loved the Ibanez dearly, but it’s tone just didn’t have the bite I was looking for.  I’ve always lusted after a Parker Fly, I love the mix of new and old tech that they stand for.  I ran into a killer deal on a one of a kind Dragonfly that was JUST in my price range at the right time, so I jumped on it.  Amazing guitar in the hands, it just feels like a lot of workmanship went into it.  Craftsman quality, just beautiful.

– Maschine.  Everyone has Maschine and loves it, so I had to as well.  I liked a lot of aspects of it, and could see it’s appeal for a lot of people.  For me it was still just a bit too computer centric for me to get into though.  Though I’m lucky in that I’ve owned a lot of really nice grooveboxes over the years, so I have a lot to compare and hold it up against.  Neat idea, just not something I’d really use much for the way I write music.

MD&OT

– Octatrack.  Now this, is a true black box in every way.  Deeper than you can imagine, approachable in numerous ways, and designed with a performer in mind too.  Quirky, capable, professional feeling, and totally unique.  After two years of using and gigging with this, I still feel like there’s SO much I don’t really have the best grasp of.  Rare I can say that these days! 🙂

– Line6 Pod HD.  Decided the floor-based HD500 was getting annoying to program, and I was playing less guitar as a result.  Traded down for the desktop based Pod HD, which I use a lot more of now.
Whew, I always thought I was a bit of a minimalist when it came to gear, but that’s still quite a list!  Stay tuned for a software one coming soon!

Photo Fest Prep

Photosynthesis2012-16

http://photosynthesisfestival.com

Two days to go until I leave for my next gig, once again playing at the Photosynthesis Festivals in Neah Bay, WA.  This is my third time performing at this location, and my 6th time playing out at a larger gig with my current Elektron live pa.  In a way it’s made me a lot more at ease than I normally am, and in other ways I’m more stressed than usual.

Back in the early spring I spent a lot of time refining my downtempo set for any gigs I managed to get this summer.  Quite a bit of the songs got remixing, everything got a new mixdown, and I moved a lot of things around to make it all flow better.  At the time things were a little slow with work, so I figured I’d use the time to get my live set prepped and ready for a new season.  And it would save me the stress of having to do it when I’m typically more busy in the summer, right when the gigs start rolling in.

So this summer I’ve been more or less set, knowing that my live set is working and sounding better than ever.

Or is it.

I guess no matter how well prepared I am,  I’m going to have last minute doubts about how the set will go.  Of course, the best way to get over this is to practice, run through the set and fix any issues that come up.  Simple!  Except I have just not been feeling like working on music lately.  I just released a new EP that I spent a lot of time on, and quite frankly I was a little burned out.

So the weeks went by, and I knew the gig was getting closer, but everytime I would sit down to give the set a try I just felt like it was half-assed so I stopped pretty quickly.  This happened a few times, which is of course frustrating.  Normally I love playing out, and when I had last worked on the set I finished very happy about how things sounded, so it wasn’t like I didn’t think it was good enough.  I just couldn’t get in the right mindset to really dive in properly and perform the songs the way I knew they deserved to be played.

Of course, eventually you run out of time.

This past Sunday, 6 days before I have to perform, I finally get in the right mood to give the set a proper run through. I know I’ll be busy all week getting work wrapped up so I can be gone for the festival, so it’s truly now or never.

Thankfully, all that prep work earlier in the year truly had paid off.  Properly motivated (i.e. no other choice) to sit down and practice for real, it didn’t take me long to get into the groove of performing, and I noticed very few things I wanted to adjust in the set. Whew!

Now at last I was in the mood to play, and I was 100% comfortable with the material as well.  I made a few more changes to some of the sounds, and gave the set a couple more plays over the next few days, then time to pack it all up.

It’s amazing how sometimes we spend all this time to prepare ourselves for what’s to come, and in many ways it still ends up being a mental exercise we need to deal with none the less.  Ultimately my prep work DID save me a lot of time right when I was obviously not feeling it 100%, so it was worth it in the end.  Though I have to admit, I almost wonder if preparing this far in advance is making twice as much mental stress for myself as just waiting until the last minute!

Heading out the festival in a couple days, I’ll let you all know how it goes and if I get a recording once I’m back.  Until then,

Peace and Beats!

– Tarekith

 

Logic Pro X First Play

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 7.04.12 PM

Specific Features

Well, today ended up being quite a bit different from what I had originally planned!  Woke up and during the usual coffee, email, and web-browsing routine, realized that Apple’s Logic Pro X was released overnight.  Ok then, guess that answers a lot of questions about Logic’s future!

At first look there were some nice changes, but nothing that made me go WOW, that’s awesome.  I think that I was one of those in the camp that was hoping that Logic version 10 would be a major rewrite, something new from the ground up.  Logic Pro X (LPX) is definitely a refinement of what was there before however, even if it does have a much needed visual overhaul.

I’ve always had a weird relationship with Logic, I’ve gone through a lot of periods where I was using it every day for months, and some where I didn’t open it for what felt like years.  Recently I’ve been using Presonus Studio One v2 for everything as far as mixdowns go, so I really haven’t been missing Logic all that much.  There was nothing wrong with Logic, it was just getting a little long in the tooth and Studio One fit the bill better for me.

I also have my first festival gig of the summer this coming weekend, and I’m busy as can be trying to wrap up work related projects for my clients and get all the last minute bugs worked out of the system for the live set.  So I really had no intention of even really looking at Logic Pro X until I got back.

Well, as you might have guess, that didn’t work as planned.  🙂

One of my regular mixdown clients hopped on the LPX bandwagon, imported a Logic 9 Project she had been about to send me for a mixdown, and asked me to do the mix in LPX instead.  So, I ended up installing and using the app most of the day while working on that for her.

This is my first install of Logic from the Apple store, I was still using the DVD installers of Logic 9 for each fresh install.  I love not having to save those anymore, and the fact that you can still pick and choose which of the additional content packs you want to download and install.  Lots of the loops and such have no interest for me, so I’m glad to retain the HD space.

The basic app is about 700MB, and the core content you need to install when you first run it is about 2GB.  Took me roughly 12 minutes to have it all downloaded and installed, and it sure beat swapping in DVDs every 20 minutes.  You can download up to 35GB of additional content right away, or wait until later, it’s up to you.  It’ll also open with your default template from Logic 9 if you have one and so choose.

When I first saw the new version, “Clean” is what came to mind.  Retina graphics looked great on my 15″ rMBP, and I really liked the new dark look they are using.  Much easier on the eyes, and definitely looks more up to date.  Except for the fake leather in the blank portions of the mixer.  That has to go.  Now.

If you’ve used Logic 9, finding your way around will be easy, as much is still exactly the same.  The time display and transport controls are at the top of the app now, which does seem to feel better.  What’s more, you can drag the lower edge of the transport panel down to reveal (and assign) your frequent edit comments, or drag it up to hide the transport panel completely.  I love this!

Some of the menus are reorganized, and honestly they make a lot more sense now.  Logic has always had a lot of menus to dive into depending on what you were doing, so it’s a welcome improvement.  The Library has also had an overhaul, with all new sounds and loops in LPX, and is organized much cleaner.  It’s also now on the left, which is a little weird at first, but not a huge deal.

I personally wasn’t blown away by the new sounds, most sound like… well the old sounds to be honest.  I first got into Logic around version 7 or so, and at the time, the included presets were amazing sounding.  A lot has changed since then, and with the exception of the new bass synth presets, I just felt that Logic’s presets were only so so now.  Then again, I’ve never really been blown away by DAW presets since then either.

I don’t have much use for the additional Apple Loops, so for now I have not installed them.  Given how many commercial productions used the previous loops though, I’m we’re all glad to finally have some new ones to listen to on the radio.

The Mixer is where I spend a lot of my time, so it was interesting to see such a change there as well.  Skinny meters, bigger fader, and overall more blank space give it a whole new feel.  The plug in slots work differently now, no more click and hold to bring up the menus.  You can reorder, mute, and browse your plug ins with one mouse click.  I thought the previous way Logic handled this all was obtuse at first, so while this will take some getting used to, it’s much easier as well.

Another new feature is Flex Pitch, which lets you handle pitch mistakes ala Melodyne or Autotune.  In my brief play with it I thought it was very simple to use and I liked how easy it was to access functionality this deep.  The results were so so on solo’d material except for small changes, but in a mix most of that was hidden and it worked just fine.

Finally, another change I’ve long been begging for, improvements to audio editing.  Well, sort of.  When you double click and audio region now, you open an editor where you can destructively edit the audio file, just like the Sample Editor of previous versions.  Or, you can choose the Track Editor option, and now you get a nice zoomed up view of the audio regions including their real time song position in bars and beats.

The reasoning behind this is that it’s easier to make audio edits when you don’t have to constantly zoom the main arrange view, so now you can do it track by track in a dedicated editor.  (Which is nice, because is it just me or are there no longer any Global Zoom Out Full key commands?)  On paper, this sounds great, and for simple joining and crossfading purposes it more or less works as you’d expect.  The issue, is that a lot of time you are editing audio based on information in other audio tracks, and with the new dedicated audio editor, you can easily see those other visual references.

Overall it’s useful in some very specific circumstances, but I find it just adds one more layer to the audio editing complexity in Logic.  Personally, I was hoping to see things simplified, to allow more details and destructive editing right on the Arrange Window.  Oh well.

The last new feature (there’s plenty more) that I want to talk about is the new iPad companion app.  On first glance it looks like a simple controller app, not too much different from some of the TouchOSC templates I’ve seen over the years.  At first I almost dismissed it, there’s only 5 or 6 different screens, and it doesn’t really look like much.

But as I played with it during my first mixdown, I realized how much more often I was using the iPad for certain tasks than my usual key commands.  In many ways it reminds me of what Ableton is trying to do with Push, though without the nice tactile feel of Push of course.  For many basic ideas and just sketching out a song, you can do quite a lot from just the iPad.  It even has a built in keyboard, drum, and guitar interfaces like the iPad version of GarageBand.

I’m still not sold on the idea, but it’s definitely getting more use here than most DAW controller apps do.

General Thoughts

Like a lot of people I’ve been curious for awhile about what Apple was going to do with Logic, or if they were going to do anything at all.  The new version is admittedly not what I was excpecting, which was a major new forward thinking version of something that has been lagging behind the competition for awhile now.  In many ways though, what we got instead was an even better compromise.  It’s not so new that you don’t know your way around, but it feels new enough that the wait feels worth it.  I really had hoped to be this excited with Live 9, and I wasn’t, it looked and felt just like the last version.

But, a modern look is not always done well either.  In general, I really like the new look of Logic’s interface, dark and sharp, it’s much easier on the eyes and feels fresh. However, all of the old included plug ins are still not retina versions, and look noticeably jagged.  (this has me seriously going WTF?)  Also, the reliance of generic instrument pictures in the Library, and the fake leather of the mixer feel the exact opposite to what Apple said is the future of interfaces in terms of iOS7.  A lot of Logic X seems to be modeled after Garageband, you can even show and hide different editing options in the preferences to “dumb things down” if you want.

I don’t get the need to make a pro app as simple as the app they make that comes free with every Apple computer.

For the most part though, everything feels better organized, and done to save you time.  Things are laid out better, the organization of menus is improved, and it just seems like it’s a lot easier to get rough ideas done now.  Detailed editing for MIDI has been greatly expanded, and while there’s more options for audio editing, I still think apps like Pro Tools and Studio One win here.

Overall stability for me was so so.  I had a few times where the iPad app lost contact with my laptop and I had to restart it to re-establish connection.  Once LPX crashed when playing with Drummer (neat, but more for rock bands), and once my mixer randomly would show and disappear across the screen requiring a restart.

Not exactly confidence inspiring for one day.

But!

I’m excited.  A little.  This is the first time in awhile I’ve wanted to use Logic, and not just because it’s new, but because there’s some genuinely nice workflow changes.  They’ve given us more detailed editing options, but also made the initial song creation steps simpler and faster as well.  Seems to be a common theme among DAW manufacturers, glad to see Apple has caught on too.

At this point I don’t see myself using Logic over Studio One for my daily studio work unless I’m requested to like today.  But I think for my own music making, I’m interested and impressed enough that I can see myself spending some time working on new material using LPX.

I’ll certainly post my long term thoughts after a few more weeks of using it, but I wanted to get some of my first thoughts out there while everyone was still curious about it.  Let me know if you have any questions, happy to answer if I can!