100 Newbie Hurdles: Recording Space

Studio

Christ Lord Alge’s Studio.

One of the hardest things I had to deal with was finding a good recording space. Living in metropolitan city and on the main road, this is something that you need to deal with. What I could do was soundproof my whole room and get it ready for production, but it costs. So the alternative was to try looking for a good recording space elsewhere. There were some places that could be of use, like a friend’s house for example. But the effort to get there was a pain. Music to me is all about spontaneity and when you have to transport all your goods all the way there and do some recording after you are all tired seemed very inefficient.

Then, I stumbled upon some posts. One of it, from Tyler Ward on Youtube who had recorded a song while waiting for his delayed flight in the airport and also managed to mix it during the flight. All this with an apple headphone. Phew! Talk about inspiration. There was even a post on the Recording Revolution, something I follow on a regular basis. This guy (Graham) is like my guru, he keeps me motivated with his theories and inspirations.

I thought this was a small subset of the music maker crowd. But the internet is full of people who record stuff in their cramped bedroom with no sound proofing at all. Which leaves me with no excuses what so ever. So I began recording, although there were cars and trucks honking on a regular basis. To my surprise, it did not affect my recording so much that I felt appalled. In-fact, when I was done mixing, there was no sign of any traffic noise in the song. They were all buried under the music. The only thing lacking in it were my music skills and mixing skills. Which can only get better if I start making more music!

 

Reaper: The Final Destination

After trying out the demos of all the DAWs possible. I finally settle for Reaper. Here’s why.

Its cheap. Seriously $60 (if you are like me, a music hobbyist) for a DAW that does everything all the major DAWs do.? Yes it lacks in some features. It has no VST instruments. But with some research online you can find that there are plenty of Free VST instruments for you. Which can do almost everything that the instruments most of the DAWs offer. A good piano? Piano One. A good synth? There is Tone Bird, FMMF, and plenty more. More instruments?, There is DSK free collection of instruments that you can use. There is Alchemy who shell out plenty of good instruments to demo their line of virtual instruments that you can buy. NI (Native Instruments) give you some instruments to use so that you would buy their collection later and yes, you will :).

The number of things you can tweak in this DAW are literally endless. Everything that you can possibly think of, there’s always a way to do it, a short cut that can be assigned to it or, an easier way to do it. Every little Keyboard shortcut or Mouse Action can be changed. You can make your DAW look like how you want it to look like.

The user community is great. There are loads of good people who come for rescue when you do not know how to tackle some specific situation. There are loads of people who make plugins, themes and scripts to help you do commonly tasks easier.

Vast library of plugins. Do not be disappointed at how the the plugins look like in reaper and oh the Js Plugins, don’t get me started. But, There is more to them that what they seem like. If you know to wield your sword, you are in for a real treat. At first I couldn’t get myself to use plugins that look so plain and simple. We are so used to plugins with really good UIs that it takes some time to actually get over it. But after two months of using them, the simplicity actually makes sense to me now. Now I PREFER using the Rea Plugins for the very reason I was not interested in them at first. The Looks!. It just gets the job done quickly. I also assure you that it will take quite sometime to actually experiment with all the plugins that come with reaper.

The functionalities are very straight forward. The work flow is amazing and what’s not to like when you can tweak Reaper to bend to your workflow!

Its Light!. So light that you can carry it around in a pen drive. Downloads and updates are a bliss. It hardly takes me 5 minutes to update the whole software. Let me just say that the size could be less than the size of a song you would produce in it!

I do accept that in order to fully utilize all of reaper’s functionalities it will take you a really long time and some might find the learning curve to be a bit steep as well especially because of the Trust factor(you need to trust your DAW can do everything). But if you are new to using DAWs and if this is your first DAW, you’re gonna have to learn all the functionalities anyways so it doesn’t make a difference.

I’ve listed just a very small portion of the positives I have experienced with Reaper. I also need to talk about the negatives as well. Nothing is perfect. But the good thing about this is that it’s not a long list. The first and foremost problem that comes to my mind is the delay before playback whilst using VSTs. There is a good solid 1-2 second delay based on the number of plugins you use for a particular project. The audio plugins that come with reaper do not cause any delay. But external VSTs do cause a problem. I have not investigated this over at the forum. Did not bother me enough to spend time on investigating it. But I have a feeling those guys over there would have a solution for that as well.

Eh….. That’s it. Nothing else comes to mind. I guess that’s a good thing. I’ll wrap this up.

Thanks for reading.
Joys

johananj@yahoo.com

100 Newbie Hurdles: MIDI Ports Explained

Level: Very Basic

There are a lot of good things you can do with the MIDI IN and OUT ports, both in the studio and on stage. I’ll try to cover a little about that from my personal experience and tell you how you can use it to make some really cool music.

MIDI data is transferred from keyboard to other MIDI devices and vice versa through MIDI cables. You would need one or two of these cables depending on the kind of configuration that you would be using. Usually one is enough for most common tasks.

The configurations..

 

Keyboard Rear Panel

Keyboard Rear Panel

Shown in the image is the rear panel of my Keyboard. On the left are the two MIDI ports on my keyboard and this can be connected to either your Audio Interface, Sound Module or any MIDI operable machine which would have the same two ports of just the IN port alone. Please note that the OUT of one device is connected to the IN of the other device and vice versa.

 

A sound module is a device that contains all the sounds that you would commonly find in a keyboard in a small box which can be used with a MIDI enabled keyboard. So your keyboard does not need to have a lot of sounds. Just needs to have MIDI and you can add many sound modules as Racks for performance or in the studio. It’s a box of all the cool sounds in a keyboard but with out the keys.

 

The basic configuration is connecting the OUT of the keyboard to the IN port of a Sound Module or Audio Interface. What happens here is that the MIDI data from your keyboard is now fed to the Sound Module and based on these notes, audio is sent from the sound module to the speaker or line connected to it.

 

In the case of an Audio Interface connected to your DAW, this MIDI data is routed to your DAW, where it uses a VST in the DAW to convert MIDI data to audio. Yes of course, your DAW doesn’t work like a sound module, it saves the MIDI data and produces audio dynamically at the moment or when the track is played.

 

So this seems like you can do everything with this one way connection from the OUT of the Keyboard to the IN of the Audio Interface. What is the use of the connecting it the other way round, i.e. from the OUT of the Audio Interface to the IN of your Keyboard? That’s for the next post.

 

Thanks for reading.

Joys

johananj@yahoo.com.

Make some music yo’all.

100 Newbie Hurdles – Part 5 – MIDI Ports Explained

Previously I wrote an article that explained MIDI and VST. But there is more to MIDI than that. There are a lot of good things you can do with the MIDI ports, both in the studio and on stage. I’ll try to cover a little about what these ports can do from my personal experience.

MIDI data is transferred from keyboard to other MIDI devices and vice versa through MIDI cables. You would need one or two of these cables depending on the kind of configuration that you would be using. Usually one is enough for most common tasks.

A Midi Cable

A Midi Cable

Configurations

Keyboard Rear Panel

Keyboard Rear Panel

Shown in the image is the rear panel of my Keyboard. This I took from my keyboard manual. On the left are the two MIDI ports on my keyboard and this can be connected to either your Audio Interface, Sound Module or any MIDI operable machine which would have the same two ports or just the IN port alone. Please note that the OUT of one device is connected to the IN of the other device and vice versa.

A sound module is a device that contains all the sounds that you would commonly find in a keyboard in a small box which can be used with a MIDI enabled keyboard. So your keyboard does not need to have a lot of sounds. Just needs to have MIDI and you can add many sound modules as Racks for performance or in the studio. It’s a box of all the cool sounds in a keyboard but with out the keys. Cool right?.

The basic configuration is connecting the OUT of the keyboard to the IN port of a Sound Module or Audio Interface. What happens here is that the MIDI data from your keyboard is now fed to the Sound Module and based on these notes, audio in the form of wave is sent from the sound module to the speaker or line connected to it.

In the case of an Audio Interface which is further connected to your DAW, this MIDI data is routed to your DAW, where it uses the VST in the DAW to convert MIDI data to audio or the MIDI data can be saved as it is. Yes of course, your DAW doesn’t work like a sound module, it saves the MIDI data and produces audio dynamically at the moment ‘when the track is played’, which can be done again and again.

So this seems like you can do everything with this one way connection from the OUT of the Keyboard to the IN of the Audio Interface. What is the use of the connecting it the other way round, i.e from the OUT of the Audio Interface to the IN of your Keyboard? This is where it gets interesting. This will be covered in detail in the next part because it is one super cool thing to do and I think it deserves a post on its own.

Thanks for reading.

If you have doubts, comment (preferred because others can make use of it too) or mail me at johananj@yahoo.com.

Make some music yo’all.

100 Newbie Hurldes – Part 4 – What is Midi and VST

Modern day music production has reduced the cost of music production by a huge margin. None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for MIDI and VST. House, Techno or any sort of Electronic music contains almost no real audio recordings at all. So lets understand MIDI and VST shall we.

MIDI
MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. What MIDI is a set of musical parameters that are transferred via a Keyboard to your DAW or a Sound Module. What are these parameters? Usually, its a set of ON/OFF, Note, Velocity parameters and Foot Switch info. There are much more but lets stick to these common things for a start.

MIDI Notes

Image of MIDI Notes in Ableton Live

Lets imagine a scenario where a key has been pressed in the keyboard.

  1. The ON parameter tells the device the keyboard is connected to that there has now been a key press.
  2. The Note parameter tells the device that the a particular note like for example a C3 or a D#3 has been pressed in the keyboard.
  3. The Velocity parameter tells the device that the particular key has been hit with such and such velocity, which ranges from values 0 to 120.
  4. The OFF parameters tells the device that the key that was pressed, has now been released.
  5. The Foot Switch info tells when the Foot Switch in the Keyboard was pressed and when it was released.

The velocity parameter can be really useful if you are using these midi notes to play a dynamic instrument such as the Piano in which the velocity at which the key is hit is really important. For more info contact Wikipedia. I do not want to give redundant info here.

VST
VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology. What this means is that you get the ability to do somethings that you would traditionally do in a studio through hardware, inside a computer now, and totally virtually. Be it an effect or a complete instrument, a VST can simulate it through Digital Signal Processing Algorithms and Samples.

FMMF - An image of a Virtual Instrument available for free online

FMMF – An image of a Virtual Instrument available for free online

There are basically two types of VSTs. Plug-ins and Instruments. Plug-ins include effects like Reverbs, Delays and Choruses and Instruments include, well, Instruments. Almost all of them. Almost every instrument is now available as a Virtual Instrument. So what this can mean to you is that you do not have to buy these physical instruments at a higher cost but rather buy the VST which is a software package at a lower price and install them on your pc and sync it with your DAW. The disadvantage is that, it is not as real as a recorded version of the real instrument. More on that later.

A Virtual instrument is normally two kinds. One is built purely out of algorithms and the other one is built with samples. If you consider a piano, sometime a software algorithm or model is designed such a way that it produces the sound of a piano when inputs are given to it. These Virtual Instruments are pretty lightweight. Example: The instruments in Ableton live such as the Acoustic Piano and the Electric Pianos. On the other hand there is another set of Virtual instruments that are created based on Sampling. Each note on a piano is sampled/recorded at different velocities for example and they are made into a virtual instrument after some software polishing if you will. This kind consumes a lot of disk space. But of course they tend to be more realistic. But sometimes, there is not much of a difference, which says how good our DSP Engineers are getting.

Virtual Instruments work with MIDI and in turn can make your music production real easy. The MIDI notes can now be sent to your VST and in turn an instrument can be played based on those MIDI notes and Audio Signal can be received from it.

Comment, Like, Share. Drop me an email at johananj@yahoo.com if you need some specific help. But it is advised you comment.

Thanks for reading. Make some Music Yo’all

100 Newbie Hurdles – Part 3 – Latency Trouble

This is one of those topics that you need to understand. To be honest, most of the stuff in this series will be conceptual, which will help you to apply them when situations arise. Instead of giving you specific solutions, making you understand would be the best way, because when you understand you can apply your mind and solve things in any DAW. Although I would try to give you examples of how to do it specifically in some DAW.

Latency

Latency is the time difference between the input you give such as an Audio Signal or a Key Press on the keyboard, and the response to your input that your Musical Setup provides.

For Example,

  1. You are recording your vocals and the ‘monitor’ switch is on, so you get a feed back of your voice in your headphones. If there is a 1 second delay between the moment you utter a word and the time it is played back to your headphones, then this is the Latency issue we are talking about. Or
  1. You are playing a VST instrument, and there is a time difference between the moment you hit a note on the keyboard and the sound being produced by the DAW. This is latency too.

In any case the result is pretty annoying and it needs to be solved.

In situations where a computer’s own sound card is used, latency is very common. Unless your sound card is really powerful. This doesn’t mean that there are no latency issues when you use an Audio Interface. Just that it is not that common.

Anyway, so you are having latency issues although you are using your Audio Interface. The fix usually lies in either the Audio Interface preferences or the DAW preferences or both.

  1. Open the properties of your Audio Interface. I have a screenshot of the properties of my Audio Interface. I switched to the Latency Tab. This is where you get to tweak. Shown below is a scale of the amount of data the Audio Interface collects before sending it to the Computer. Lower the amount lesser the latency. But it is suggested by many people that you don’t go below 128.

Need Explanation?

Ok, You don’t get how lowering this can reduce the latency. Imagine this situation. There is a guy packing boxes and there is another loading them into a truck. If the first guy has a huge box. It would take a long time for him to pack this box and pass it on to the next guy right.? But what if he had small boxes. He would pass on more boxes every hour or minute or what ever unit of time you are considering. Although end of the day we would complete the work in the same time. What really matters for us is whether there is a continuous flow of boxes.

That’s the case with the Audio Interface too. We need real time processing. A continuous supply of Audio Data.

  1. The second way would be to tweak some preferences in your DAW. Every DAW will come with preferences to compensate for Latency that cannot be avoided. Shown below is a screen shot of the preferences.

Change the ‘Driver Error Compensation’ to reduce latency. Although I believe that the first solution will solve the problem for sure. This would be a supplementary method to solve things.

You can also use the Test Tone in Ableton to check if you would have Latency. Click the Button where is says ‘Off’ next to ‘Test Tone’. This will switch on the Test Tone which is one of those continuous single frequency sine wave sounds. If there is a problem with your latency, then this tone will sound distorted with noise. Simple enough?. Yes!

If you have any questions, comment here or drop a mail at johananj@yahoo.com and I’ll be happy to reply.

Thanks for Reading. Make some MUSIC yo’all!!

100 Newbie Hurdles – Part 2 – Audio Interface doesn’t get Detected

I was stuck with this problem for a really long time and this even discouraged me to not make music anymore. Although it sounds really funny now. This is, till this date my biggest hurdle because it stopped me from doing what i really wanted to. The solution though was and is really simple though and I felt really REALLY stupid when i found it. Lets take this from the top….

It is very common to think that your Audio Interface is an additional gadget to the Sound-card on your Computer but what happens when you plug in your Audio Interface is that it BECOMES your Sound-card now. It is rather a (better)substitute than a supplement. All the audio comes out from the Audio Interface now (unless you change settings in the computer to do otherwise). So if you have speakers connected to the audio jack of your PC. You will not receive any audio output from that. Instead the audio is now being routed to your Audio interface. If you now connect your speakers to your Audio interface, then you could listen to the sounds from your computer.

With that said, there is another problem that the Ultra Noobs tend to do. They switch on the Audio Interface after they open their DAW. If you post questions like these on other forums you would probably have an internet mob virtually stoning you. But hey, don’t worry, we all go through crazy situations like these. Anyways, In this case, your DAW will pop up an error message and you being an Ultra Noob might just click on Ok or Cancel and move on. Now with the DAW open, you switch on your Audio Interface and Viola… NO SOUND from the interface.! :). Why is that.. ?

For a start let me say, Switch on your Audio Interface before you open your DAW!. What happens when you don’t is that, your computer’s own soundcard is now your primary driver for your DAW. Meaning your DAW looks for ways it can send sound out to the speaker and since it finds only your on board sound card, it actually pops up an error message saying that you do not have any interface connected, since it believes that your sound card is not good enough to do most of the tasks your DAW is meant to do. But since you graciously dismissed that away your computer figures, “Ok there’s no Audio interface, I’ll use the onboard soundcard and do what i can with it”. Well yes, your on board sound card can do some bare minimum essential tasks, although be prepared for Latency (Covered in another post). So now when you switch your interface on, your DAW does pick that up but what it does not do is, select it automatically when you switch it on. So obviously, you would have to go to your preferences/options and change that. But you being an Ultra Newbie do not know where that is and what you should select.

In Ableton, head to Preferences and Go to the Audio Tab and you will be able to select, Driver Type, Audio Input Device and Output Device. This is set to Direct X for PC users if you did not have your interface ON before opening your DAW. If you change the Driver Type from Direct X to ASIO this would enable you to select your Audio interface. Usually all Audio interfaces that i have come across have been listed as an ASIO type. For ASIO, there is no option to select Input and Output device, but rather just the device itself.

In Cubase, these options are located in the ‘Device Setup’ dialog. Click on VST Audio System and then Select your Audio interface. For other DAWs, the process should be really similar.  If its not, now that you know what the problem is, you should be able to google this and find out from a blog that specifically deals with your DAWs issue. ;). Will try to upload images for these from my Ableton Live very soon.

Thanks for Reading..