Friday, August 29, 2008

Special Offer on Cakewalk Rapture and DimensionPro

From the Cakewalk website:

—Owners of Apple's Logic Pro and Garageband, MOTU Digital Performer, Steinberg's Cubase and Nuendo, Digidesign Pro Tools LE/HD, Ableton Live, Image Line's Fruity Loops, and Magix Samplitude Pro can purcahse Dimension Pro or Rapture for only $99 at select retailers through October 31st—

I own both of these synths and they are excellent. I get a lot more use out of Rapture (more synthy and wider programming capabilities) than I do DimensionPro (which is more of a ROMpler), but both sound amazing and at that price, there is no reason not to grab them.

Distorted Kick Drums With Punch

A very popular sound among the various harder-edged styles of electronic music is the distorted kick drum. The technique can add instant 'attitude' to just about any track, and pushed to extremes can make for unbelievably harsh, hard-hitting beats. The problem is, the more you distort something, the more the clipping reduces the dynamics of the sound. Why does this matter? Drum and percussion sounds in particular get their 'punch' from the attack transient at the beginning of the sound. When you reduce the dynamic level in a destructive way (like distortion), you reduce the transient, resulting in a sound with balls, but no punch. Getting around this is very easy, though. Here's how:

1. Render your kick drum track as audio and import it back into you Sequencer/Audio program of choice.
2. Create 2 new audio tracks and drag your rendered kick drum track to both of them, thus creating a second copy of the track.
3. On the first kick track, set up the compression as you would for an ordinary dance kick drum. Make any EQ adjustments, and if you feel the sound needs more low-end, this is the place to do it.
4. Now, on the second, copied track, EQ the low end out of the sound (say, cutting out everything below 200Hz) and send it through your distortion of choice. Concentrate here on getting the tone you want.
5. Now, press play on your sequencer and set the clean kick channel up to the level you want your kick drum to sit at.
6. Finally, slowly bring up the volume level of the distorted track so it sits just 'behind' the clean, punchy kick. You can fiddle with the levels to get cleaner or dirtier sounds.

So essentially, you have the spit and grit provided by the distortion, but without losing the punch of an undistorted kick, and more importantly, keeping your low-end cleaner. Below is a short example. The first bit is the regular drum track, the second is the distorted drum track by itself, and the final is the combination of the two, as described in the technique above. In my example, I've kept the distorted channel relatively tame, obviously raising the level of the distorted track makes for a harsher sound.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Oxygene" Instruments Explained

Via parisvisite on YouTube - Pointed out to me by reader LineOfControl:

As sick as I get of the 5 million ill-advised 'covers' of Jean Michel Jarre's "Oxygene" on YouTube, it really was a seminal album in electronic music. Reader LineOfControl sent me this clip that I had never seen before where the man himself gives a tour of some of the vintage goodness he used on that track. I can't believe he performs live with that stuff... can you imagine what his insurance rates must be like?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

That's a Stretch

Something unfortunate happened to sampling in recent years. Whereas sampling used to be about creating your own instruments by recording your own sounds and editing them into something interesting, in recent years it seems as if sampling has become more about pre-made drum loops and slick, pre-packaged sample libraries. This is a shame, because today's software samplers have more sound sculpting features than ever before, and the possibilities for sound manipulation are virtually limitless. Case in point: Kontakt's various sampler modes.

Of course the standard Sampler module is there, but there are also two interesting modes called Tone Machine and Time Machine. Tone machine can be used to turn sounds with no apparent tonality into melodic instruments. Time machine, on the other hand, can be used to stretch the sound out while maintaining its tonality. Simply by adjusting settings on the Speed knob, you can really change the character of a sound into something otherworldly. Even if your software sampler doesn't offer an option like this, you can use most audio editors to do time-stretching, even if it doesn't sound exactly the same. You'd be amazed at how weird even the most mundane sound source will sound if you stretch the bejeezus out of it

The point is, with a mic and whatever is laying around, you can (and should) build completely unique sounding instruments that will really stand out from the army of presets that plague a lot of modern electronic music. Hell, you can even use one of those presets as a starting point and mangle it up until it is no longer recognizable. Just give it a try, because most modern samplists are really missing out on some of the most fun you can have sampling!

Below is an example where I took a really bad sample of my guitar and molded it into something a bit more weird simply by using Time Machine and adding some compression, chorus, and reverb. The Original sample plays first, and the Time Machine version follows.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Book Recommendation: The Daily Adventures of Mixerman

A year or so ago, my friend Steve asked me if I had ever heard of this book. I hadn't, so he lent it to me and I tore through it in about two days. Granted, this book is an easy read, but it is also one of those books you'll find hard to put down. The book is basically a diary kept by a major label recording engineer as he works with a famous producer on the debut album of an unknown band that is supposed to be 'the next big thing'. All the names, including the author, are replaced with nicknames so as not to reveal their true identities, and this has lead to much speculation over the years as to who the characters are in real life. Anyway, although the topic may sound dry, Mixeman's snarky sense of humor and the drama that surrounds the band (their guitarist is a raging alcoholic... their drummer can't drum to save his life and has to be overdubbed when he is out of the studio...), make for a hilarious, and at times, a bit depressing look at the stuff that goes on behind the scenes in the music industry. You may notice that I haven't provided a link to buy a copy. That's because, for some reason, the book is no longer available to buy new. Used copies of this go anywhere from $450 - $1595 (don't believe me? Check Amazon), which is freaking ridiculous even for a book as good as this. Instead, I will refer you to the website for the book, which I believe actually features the entire diaries for you to read there if you have the patience to do that sort of thing on a computer. So CHECK IT OUT. This should be required reading at every audio engineering school.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Old Cevin Key Interview

via Bronzebed on YouTube. Includes a look inside the infamous Mushroom Studios...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Just because....

Happy weekend, everybody!

The Making of Peter Gabriel's "Security"

In two parts... these are quite long, but hell, it's Friday, and I know you're probably all screwing around at work anyway. "Security" was the first Peter Gabriel album I ever bought, and it made an amazing impact on me. I bought it on an elementary school trip to Montreal back when I lived in New Hampshire. I bought it on cassette and listened to it on my Walkman. I was so hypnotized by the album, that I declined joining my classmates on a trip to an amusement park so I could just sit and listen to the album over and over. To this day, it remains one of my favorite albums and I think if you removed some of the flanging and phasing effects that sort of date it, it still sounds far ahead of a lot of electronic music that's made today. Anyway, if you share my love of the album, this documentary is fascinating to watch, as it reveals a lot of the sources of the sounds used on the album, early versions of the songs, as well as the inspiration behind the music.

Part One

Part Two

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bored of Canada?

(Props to 'funkyappledog' for pointing out this technique many years ago in this thread...)

In case you've been living in a cave for the past decade or so, Boards of Canada are two Scottish brothers who have forged one of the most interesting and identifiable sounds in electronic music in recent memory. Some have claimed the music reminds them of their childhood and the warped educational films they used to see in school. Personally, I always thought their music was the closest anyone had come to capturing an acid trip in audio form. Not that I would know anything about that. Ahem.

Part of the the fuzzy, psychedelic quality of their music comes from their process of recording instruments to old, beat up tape machines, which gives the music a warped, slightly seasick quality. As often happens in electronic music, people pretty much immediately latched onto this sound and wondered how they could reproduce it without having to forge in Grandpa's attic to track down a tape machine of their own. Fortunately, if you work in Logic, you already have a plug-in that will reproduce this effect quite readily: Tape Delay. Here's how you do it.

1. Call up the track you wish to warp and apply a Tape Delay to the insert.
2. In the upper lefthand corner of the Tape Delay window, make sure Sync is turned off, and adjust the Delay value to around 10ms.
3. In the Output section, turned the Dry level all the way down, and the Wet level all the way up so you are only getting the effected sound.
3. Adjust the LFO rate to taste (.54Hz works nicely). Push up the LFO depth as well (73% will do fine).
4. Now adjust your Flutter rate (something toward the low end) and Flutter Intensity to taste (try around 65%).

If you've done everything correctly, you should end up with something that sounds not unlike this little example I threw together quickly...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Goldbaby Give Away Tape TR-66

Goldbaby, who have made quite the name for themselves recently by releasing both free and commercial sets of classic drum machine samples that have been recorded on vintage tape machines, have released yet another free set, this one based on Roland's old preset beatbox the TR-66 (not to be confused with the TR-606). The set includes 113 24-bit isolated hits and 7 REX files of the preset rhythms.


Korg DS-10 Available in The US

Via Matrixsynth:

The Korg DS-10, an emulation of Korg's classic MS-10 that runs on the Nintendo DS is finally available domestically, and it's cheap too!

Mac Software for the Weak of Will

Found via The Music of Sound:

The other day I read an article that said when the average worker checks their email during the work day, it takes them an average of 16 minutes to get back to the task at hand. The irony of this is that I was reading the article when I really should've been finishing a remix I was working on.

If you're a Mac user and are easily distracted by shiny things on the internet, a new utility called Freedom may help. Basically, the program deactivates your network connections for a user-defined period of time, so even if you WANT to, you can't check your email, sign on to chat programs, or waste hours arguing with people you don't know on Fark. The program is free to try, but the author asks for a $10 donation if you find the program useful.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Logic's Little Known 'Capture As Recording' Feature

Like many of you, I often come up with musical ideas by improvising. I'll call up a drum loop or program a simple drum part, press 'play', and I'll just mess around with different riffs over the drum loop until I come up with something interesting. Sometimes, though, I'll end up playing something by accident that sounds great, but that I can't replay accurately to save my life. Luckily, Logic has a little known feature to deal with just this scenario: the Capture as Recording feature.
Logic is basically always recording MIDI information whether you tell it to or not, it's just a matter of accessing this 'hidden' MIDI recording.

Here's how to do it:

1. Open up a new Logic project and load up the softsynth of your choice.

2. Press 'PLAY' and play something on your keyboard.

3. Now press 'STOP'. You'll note that since you were not recording the MIDI data, nothing appears in your arrange window. It's there, though!

4. Press the Command Key in combination with the * key on your numeric keypad. If you've followed the directions correctly, the little riff you just played should now appear on the softsynth track in your arrange window.

A couple of important notes:
- Logic only 'remembers' the MIDI info between the time you press 'play' and the time you press 'stop'. So if you press 'play', play a riff, then press 'stop' and hit 'play' again, you will lose the first recording and it will be replaced by whatever you play until you hit 'stop' again.

- This feature can only be accessed via key commands, so if you don't have a numeric keypad, or if you simply don't like the key assignment for this feature, you can reassign it under the Preferences > Key Commands... menu.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Free Studio Electronics ATC-1 Samples

Bobby Wilks, creator of the "Vector Field" sample library for M-Audio, was kind enough to email me with this link to an excellent set of samples he made of the Studio Electronics ATC-1 synth. Included are a dozen multisampled instruments in EXS, Kontakt, Halion3, and Reason formats. While you're at it, you may also want to check out Bobby's music.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

BBC Radiophonic Workshop Profile

On the BBC via Matrixsynth:

A short profile of the pioneering sound design at the fabled BBC Radiophonic Workshop (creators of the infamous Dr. Who theme...).


REALLY Early Devo Clip

Via jabberwalky on YouTube

Live clip of Devo playing their first show ever at Kent State in 1973. It's pretty striking to hear how 'normal' they started out. The band started as a sextet and featured Gerry Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Lewis, Bob Casale, Rob Reisman, and Fred Weber.

Interesting fact: David Bowie was largely responsible for Devo getting signed and was supposed to be the producer of their debut album. Scheduling conflicts arose, however, and the band had to 'settle' for having Brian Eno produce the record.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Great Sequential Pro One Demo

Via Retrosound72 on You Tube Via Matrixsynth.

Great demo (as always) by Retrosound. I bought one of these a few months ago and absolutely love it.

5 Tips for Better Sounding Drums

I get a lot of demos and bands asking me to check out their music on MySpace looking for feedback. These obviously vary a lot in production quality, but in most cases, it seems that the most lacking aspect of the mixes are the drums. Many times these are buried in the mix or simply sound thin and weak. So here are a few tips aimed more at beginners as to how you can get better sounding drums.

1. Keep 'Em Separated
If you're not doing it already, you should really be recording each individual drum sound on its own track. Thus, your kick is on a track by itself, your snare is on a track by itself, you hihats are on a track by themselves, etc. Not only does this give you more flexibility in terms of balance at the mixdown stage, but it allows you to effect each sound separately. This is especially helpful when it comes to EQ and compression settings since settings for one instrument in a drum kit are probably not appropriate for all of them. And speaking of EQ... always make a habit of EQing out frequencies that aren't needed in a particular sound. For instance, hi-hats are high frequency sound, but oftentimes, there will be lower frequencies present in the sound as well. These don't really contribute to the timbre of the hi-hats and will just end up stealing bandwidth in your mix and creating mud when combined with other tracks that have unneeded lower frequencies, so get rid of them!

2. Give Them a Squeeze
Compression is probably one of the most important effects you can utilize on drums to achieve a more professional sound. It's also one of the most difficult effects to learn to use correctly. Basically, it reduces the dynamic range of a track so the overall level of the track sounds louder, even though it is peaking at the same level. Using different settings, you can also use compression to add 'snap' to a snare drum, add sustain to a big 808 kick, or have your hats 'pump' in time with the music by using a sidechain. Most software compressors have a variety of presets for different types of instruments. No 'drum' preset is going to sound great on all drums, so just use it as a starting point and experiment with settings until you've found the sound you're after. Experiment with the order you place compression on your channel strip, too. Having compression placed before a reverb effect sounds very different if you place the compression AFTER the reverb.

3. Maximum Overdrive

If you're after a heavier, more aggressive sound, it's worth exploring overdrive effects. You could think of overdrive as the less extreme sibling of distortion. With sensible settings, there will be some clipping of the signal, but some dynamics are preserved as well so the drums still breathe a bit. Of course you can use more extreme settings as well if that's what you're after, but these tend to work best in a 'parallel' scenario. To do this, bounce out your drum track and add it to an empty track in your mixer, while keeping the unprocessed drums where they are. Now, add really extreme overdrive to the bounced track and slowly bring the level up so it sits 'behind' the unprocessed drums. This will add balls to your drums, while still preserving the transients and punch. This works great with extreme compression settings as well.

4. Bits n' Pieces
There is a school of thought among many electronic musicians that there is something very special about the sound of 12-bit drums, and I concur. Try feeding your drums (or better yet, individual drum sounds) through a bit crusher set at 12 bits, but with no drive to distort it. This should clip the drums a bit and add some 'chunk'. This effect is really better on breakbeats and electronic sounds than it is on pristine, acoustic type sounds, but it's worth experimenting with all around.

5. A Little Ambience
There is no 'magic plug-in' that is instantly going to make your drums sound great, but I'll be damned if
Ambience by Magnus @ Smartelectronix doesn't make snares sound fantastic. This is by far my favorite reverb to use on snares. If you get a lot of use out of it, be sure to donate. And check out all the Smartelectronix plug-ins while you're at it. They do amazing work.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Danish TV Profile of Trentemoller

Via Ellyodd on YouTube

Cool profile (with subtitles) of one of the more interesting remixers and electronic musicians around today...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Interview With Paul Humphreys of OMD

AV Club has a very good interview with Paul Humphreys of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Not a lot of specific tech or gear talk, but they do talk quite a bit about the band's excellent early work (and if you only know OMD from "If You Leave", you owe it to yourself to go out and pick up a copy of "Architecture & Morality").

Check out the interview...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

This Man is Going to be a Millionaire

Celemony just posted a new "behind the scenes" look at the technology behind the upcoming new version of Melodyne. I don't know a single musician who doesn't want this program. The implications are pretty staggering, especially because it is easy to imagine the NEXT generation of this technology making it possible to rearrange notes within a full arrangement. Also, I am pretty sure if I smoked his beard clippings I would be high for a week straight.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Italy, What Have Thou Wrought?

Via Synthopia via RocketIsland on YouTube

Ever wondered what it would look like if John Belushi dressed up like the guy from The Blue Lagoon and fronted an Italian new wave band? Here's your answer.

Sonic State's Art of Sampling Part 2

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Intelligent Sounds & Music Releases BazzISM 2

German plug-in company Intelligent Sounds & Music have released BazzISM 2, a cross-platform VST instrument that specializes in synthesizing kick drum sounds. It is apparently based on a tutorial the members of Infected Mushroom posted online many years ago regarding how they make their famous kick drum sounds.

E-MU Gives Away Proteus VX for Free!

Aussie sampling pioneers E-mu are giving away their Proteus VX software for free! The VST instrument is basically a big preset ROMpler, so the sounds can't be edited, but as it includes the enhanced 'Composer Bank' with over 1,000 sounds, most people probably won't mind. So what's the catch?

1.) It's PC only. (Boooooo!)
2.) You have to subscribe to E-mu's newsletter.

So what are you waiting for? Go get it!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

DVD Recommendation - High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music

Just enjoyed this very well done documentary on the origins of techno in Detroit. All the key players such as Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, & Derrick May are interviewed at length and the story of techno is told by those who were there to experience its inception firsthand. Also discusses the influence the city itself had on the sound of the music. My only complaint was that at just over an hour, it was far too brief. I'd love to see PBS do a history of electronic music series similar to what they did with Jazz and Rock.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Free Quasimidi Rave-O-Lution Drum Samples

Go get them!

5 Ways to Combat Writer's Block

If you've been writing music for any significant period of time, chances are you've encountered writer's block: that temporary inability to come up with anything musically or lyrically interesting. This can be frustrating enough if you're a hobbiest, but if you happen to make your living from music, it can be a disaster. So it's good to have some strategies in place for when it happens to you. Here are a couple to get you started:

1.) Restrict Yourself
Back when my studio set-up consisted of nothing but a single sampler, I dreamt of the days when I would be able to afford more gear. Surely that would solve all my creative blocks! What I found out was just the opposite. Sometimes, having too many options is actually counter-productive. If your studio has grown to include several hardware or software synths, you may find yourself just auditioning bass sounds all afternoon instead of committing to one and moving on. So impose some restrictions on yourself. Try making an entire song with nothing but a single synth. Make the drums and everything from scratch. Not only will you improve your sound programming abilities, but you'll likely end up with a track that sounds utterly unlike anything else you've done.

2.) Explore the Unfamiliar
Try making a track in a genre you are unfamiliar with. Track down songs that are popular within that genre and deconstruct them to find out what makes them tick. Once you have a rough idea of what makes the genre sound like it does, have a go at making your own original track in that style. Remember, no one ever needs to hear the song, this is just an exercise to get your creativity flowing. And even if you end up not being fond of the song in that particular genre, you can always adapt it back to your usual style after the fact. Or who knows? Perhaps the track could be your first steps into a brand new side project!

3.) iShuffle
If you've got an iPod or similar media player that offers a 'shuffle' function, you can use it as a way to stimulate your creativity. Fire it up and hit shuffle and listen to the first song it plays. Take some element of that song and apply it to whatever you are working on. It can be something as simple as copying the feel of a percussion line, to mimicking the structure of the entire song, to using the same types of sounds, etc.

4.) Raising the Dead
You keep every idea you sketch into your sequencer, right? RIGHT? If you don't, now is a good time to start. Keep EVERY idea you come up with, no matter how lame it may seem to you right now. What might seem kind of lackluster now, may turn out to be the perfect chorus or bridge for a song you are stuck on in the future. So if you find yourself feeling uninspired, go back and listen to some of those abandoned ideas and see if there is something you can work into an interesting song, or even just part of the current track you are working on. Context is everything, so what sounds 'bleh' on its own, may sound brilliant played against an existing riff in the song you are struggling with now.

5.) Be Productive
My motto in the studio is 'always be working on something'. You don't always have to be working on your next number one hit. If you get stuck on a track, try doing something different to clear your head, but try to make it something that might help you further down the road. Program some new sounds into your favorite synth. Sort your sample library so sounds are easier to find when you're looking for them. Make some new presets for your favorite plug-in effect. It's possible that none of these things will benefit you immediately, but they'll surely save you work further down the line, and you may just find that taking a short break from writing music recharges your creative batteries.

Monday, August 4, 2008

23db Records Signs Burikusu!!!

Okay, the blog should be back to normal this week, but if I may start things out with a bit of crass commercialism, I'd like to tell you about a new band I have signed to my label.

23db Records, the independent electronic music label I run, is proud to announce the addition of Sweden's Burikusu!!! to the label's roster. The band will release their debut album, entitled 2080, on 23db Records later this fall as both a physical CD and via digital distribution.

Burikusu!!! is the brainchild of Claes Johanson (creator of the critically acclaimed Vember Audio Surge softsynth and DSP programmer for Ableton Live) and Timmy Nilsson. Musically, the band is a highly technical mix of stuttering rhythms, haunting melodies, and severely manipulated vocals, all the while fearlessly melding elements of IDM, synthpop, hip-hop, experimental, and even straight up pop. The result is an astonishing melange of futuristic beats and forward-thinking programming that gracefully leaps over the cutting edge and bravely forges ahead into previously uncharted terrirtories.

But enough of the label hyperbole. Check them out for yourself at: �