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!

Why Make It Easy?

Audiobus

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 🙂

Never one to wait…

TaylorLook what I did.  🙂

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

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

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

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

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

TeraEcho

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

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

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

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

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

Time For Change

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

Huh?

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

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

WorkWithLess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… a new acoustic guitar.

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

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

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

814ce

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

Let’s Talk Social Media

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 9.46.58 AM

Whew, this should be a fun topic huh? 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

twitter

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

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 9.46.44 AM

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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!

 

Decibel Festival 2013

Well, that week is upon us, a non-stop ride of electronic music here in Seattle as Decibel Festival celebrates it’s 10th anniversary.  This year I won’t be performing, but I will be giving a talk as part of Dubspot’s workshops on Thursday, Sept. 26th, from noon to 2:00 PM.  The topic will be “A Day in the Life of a Professional Mastering Engineer”.

Dubspot Instructor Chris Petti will be fielding me questions about what it’s like to be an audio professional today, and of course we’ll be taking audience questions as well.  Stop by to say hi or if you have any questions you’d like me to answer, happy to talk about other audio subjects afterwards too 🙂

SXSW_pj_02

The following day Ableton will be hosting a day of seminars as well, along with Warp Academy who are launching their new Live-focused video tutorial service this weekend.  I did some videos for them that I think people will find really useful, stay tuned for more details!  I’ll be there all day Friday as well most likely, say hi if you see me.

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 http://dbfestival.com/dbx/schedule

For those of you going to Decibel, who are you looking forward to seeing this year?  Other than the Orb, I haven’t made up my mind, so I’m open to suggestions 🙂  Anything but Dubstep or Bass music please, nothing against it but I hear that music all day.  Thanks!

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.

 

🙂

Bits Gone By

Logic

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

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

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

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

wavelab3

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

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

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

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

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

spektraldelayscreen

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

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

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

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

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

sv517eq

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

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

– Sonic Charge MicroTonic.  Best drum synth period.

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

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

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

sonic_charge-synplant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro-l

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

Waukegan01

– 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!