Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Side Chain Pumping for Fun and Profit

Side chain pumping isn't quite as ubiquitous as it was a few years ago, but it's still quite a common effect to hear in dance music and can be a lot of fun to mess around with. If you've never tried it before, today I'm going to show you how quickly and easy it can be done.

A side chain, quite simply, is an input into an effect (usually a compressor) that lets an outside signal modify the effects settings of another. Side chain pumping is basically the same thing as ducking. You know when you're listening to the radio and the DJ is talking over the intro of a song, and the volume of the music automatically goes down every time the DJ talks? That's ducking. The DJ's voice is being used to automatically control the level of the music. When you use a rhythmic signal to control the compression of another signal, you can get a very musical, pleasing pumping sound that can do everything from keeping the kick and bassline from interfering with one another, to adding a driving, pulsing feel to a musical part. As usual, I will be working in Logic, but it shouldn't be terribly hard to find a compressor plug-in with side chaining possibilities these days and the process is mostly the same regardless of DAW.

1. Open up Logic and create 2 new audio instrument tracks.

2. The first instrument is going to provide the signal that triggers the compressor. Although really any signal can be used here, the most common one to use is a 4-on-the-floor kick drum. I'm calling up Spectrasonics Stylus RMX and using the factory Massive Kick loop, but you can use any drum instrument that can provide a 4-on-the-floor kick. When you're done, check the LOOP box in the region's parameter controls in the top left hand corner of the arrange window so the 4-on-the-floor will last throughout the entire song.

3. We're just using this signal to control the compressor, though, we don't want to actually hear it. So, on the kick drum's instrument channel (on the mixer), you should see the output assignment right below the instrument's name. This probably reads OUT 1-2 right now, depending on how you have your system set-up. We don't want to hear it at all, so change this to NO OUTPUT.

4. While we're here, we want to route the silent kick drum signal to a bus, so that the compressor will be able to see it (at this time, Logic won't accept a direct output of an audio instrument as a side chain source). So go ahead and in the SENDS section above the instrument's name in the mixer, select BUS 1 and turn the send knob all the way up. However, since you have sent this signal to the bus, it is actually audibly playing back through that bus, which we don't want. So do the same thing you did to the instrument channel to the BUS 1 channel: change the output assignment of the bus to NO OUTPUT. Our kick is silent again, just how we want it.

5. On your second instrument slot, call up an instrument with some good pad or string sounds on it. Go ahead and record a short chord progression with it. Find a string or pad sound you like and on that instrument's mixer channel, assign a side chain-ready compressor to the INSERTS. I'm using Logic's built-in Compressor effect.

6. The first thing we need to do is route the kick to the side chain of this compressor. In Logic's Compressor, you'll find the Side Chain menu at the very upper right of the plug-in window. Click on the menu and it will list all available side chain sources. Look for BUS 1 and select it.

7. Now we need to tweak the Compressor's settings to optimize the pumping effect. Start out by setting your RATIO somewhere in the range of 4:1 to 6:1. There are no hard fast rules here, but that's a good area to start. Next, back off the compressor's attack time to at least 10ms or so. Your release time isn't quite as important, but if your compressor has an AUTO RELEASE time setting, as Logic's does, just select that. Otherwise, you want a low-medium setting for the release, say about 10-50 ms or so. If you set this too high, you will lose the pumping effect.

8. We're almost there, but we need to set the compressor's THRESHOLD level. This is the audio level at which the compressor is triggered, and in this case, basically controls how extreme a pumping effect we'll get. Go ahead and hit play on your sequencer so that pad part you programmed earlier plays back (you'll probably want to set it up to loop over and over). As it plays back, pull down the COMPRESSOR THRESHOLD slider until the GAIN REDUCTION meter is showing about a 20db reduction. If you've done things correctly, you should hear something like this:

You can obviously go a lot more subtle than this, and it is often appropriate to do so, in which case, you just need to mess around with your THRESHOLD setting. You may be asking why we bothered to jump through hoops to create a silent kick drum track versus just using the kick drum track from your song. The answer is, technically you can do exactly that. But because of the typical structure of dance music often involves breakdowns where the kick drum might drop out for a bit, creating a dedicated, silent kick specifically for side chaining means you can have that pumping effect all the time, even when the kick in your song drops out.
As I always say, this is just to get you started. Experimentation is the key to finding just the right settings for your individual tastes!

Waldorf Microwave XT on Ebay with No Reserve

I've got one of these and I love it. Great for purely electronic sounds with a digital character, although it does pretty respectable virtual analog timbres as well. Super tight envelopes, too. The software is a bit buggy, but nothing that makes it a pain to use. And of course, the knobs are what make it the most fun.

More info at the listing...

Monday, March 30, 2009

EMS Synthi AKS on Houston Craigslist

Alert reader Chad sent me an email about this listing on the Houston Craigslist for an EMS Synthi AKS in case there is anyone out there looking for one. Looks pretty dusty, but the price, while still as much as a used car, is actually quite a bit less than I usually see them go for...

Film Composer Maurice Jarre Dies

It's being reported that famed film composer Maurice Jarre, most famous for his scores for Lawrence of Arabia & Dr. Zhivago, died yesterday in Los Angeles, California. Jarre had a long and illustrious career creating music for picture and was the father to the well-known electronic musician Jean-Michel Jarre. He was 84.

Vintage Gear Manuals Galore on Ebay

If you're looking for a hard to find owner's manual, service manual, or schematics for some vintage equipment, this guy just posted a whole bunch of them.

Check out the listing...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Top Secret Drum Corps Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2006

My wife is a drummer and someone sent this to her this morning. I can't even imagine the number of hours of practice it takes to get to this level of precision. Amazing.

Oberheim TVS-1 Two Voice Synth on Ebay

Info at the listing...

Friday, March 27, 2009

iTunes to Hike Price of Hottest Songs

Reported in the L.A. Times. This seems like a phenomenally bad idea to me.

"The world's largest music store, Apple's iTunes, plans to boost the price of many hit singles and selected classic tracks to $1.29 on April 7, breaking the psychological barrier of 99 cents in what could be the first big test of how much consumers are willing to pay to download individual songs. Although the date for higher prices has not been publicly announced, Apple has been notifying record labels it will go into effect on that date, industry executives said."

Can We Have a Moratorium on Jordan Rudess Endorsements, Please?

So in my daily stroll through other music blogs today, I see Rudess is now endorsing some iPhone music program now. ENOUGH.

I get it. Rudess is an incredibly skilled musician. He can play things in his sleep that I could only dream of playing after months of practice. I respect that. I think the music he chooses to play, like most prog-rock, is unlistenable and a complete waste of his talent, but different strokes for different folks.

However... this guy endorses everything that makes a god damn sound. I don't understand what companies are hoping to acheive by having him give thumbs up to their products. After a certain point, do they not see how meaningless a Rudess endorsement is? He's like the opposite of Mikey from the Life Cereal commercials - he likes EVERYTHING.

Before Rudess, BT seemed to be the endorser of choice, and it got equally ridiculous. Paying a famous person to say your product is good doesn't make it good. Just make good products and let them speak for themselves. I'm BEGGING you.

[/cranky rant]

Flashback Friday: I Start Counting

Via Komputermusik on YouTube.

This British duo was never very well known in the U.S., although they had some songs that charted in the U.K. I hadn't realized that these were the same guys who went on to do Fortran 5 and the Kraftwerk soundalike band Komputer.

Roland TR-808 on Ebay

If you don't know what it is, you shouldn't be bidding on it...

More info at the listing...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Review: Prime Loops Sample Library Round-up

Dirty Electro Synth Loops

Format: Download in Ableton, Apple Loops, Reason Refill, REX2, Acidized WAV, and more…
Genre: Electro House
Distributed by:
Prime Loops

Price: £14.95
Audio demos on the product page.

If there is an ‘it’ genre of the moment, one could argue that it’s Electro House. Sites like Beatport are positively brimming over with new tracks every week, and the genre seems to be absolutely dominating the sample library market. Typically, though, these sample libraries tend to focus on drum loops more than anything else, leaving the synth parts out. That’s where this library from Prime Loops comes in. True to the title, “Dirty Electro Synth Loops” consists of nothing but synth riffs appropriate for use in Electro House carefully produced with the requisite amount of in-your-face grit.

As is the standard these days, the loops come in a variety of different formats to accommodate a wide base of users. When you cut to the core, you get 137 actual loops, which isn’t bad at all for the asking price. Within those 137 loops, a nice variety of styles is represented with some more heavily weighted towards the ‘House’ side of things, and others putting more emphasis on the ‘Electro’ side – a few could even be useful for more aggressive Trance tracks. The complexity of the riffs varies a lot too, with some consisting of just a single synth line and others combining several riffs or even bits of percussion and complex edits. Most of the loops have 2 or more variations, giving them more mileage within an actual song setting.

The sound quality is excellent and the production and use of effects is spot-on in terms of the style they’re representing. The actual synth sounds themselves are very well programmed, and there really aren’t any riffs here that are clunkers – everything is quite catchy and usable. I tested the sounds in REX2 formats, and while they are put together well, the complexity and more sustained nature of the synth loops (as opposed to percussion or drum loop) means that you can’t go too far outside of the loops original tempo (125-130 BPM) before hearing artifacts. So long as you use them in the typical Electro House range of BPMs, they work great, though.

Although there are riffs in a number of different keys, the key of C clearly dominates this collection. It would be nice to see a wider selection of keys available for people looking to drop something into an existing arrangement. It would also be nice to have multi-samples of the actual synth sounds themselves for those of us who might like to program our own riffs. Then again, the library’s name clearly states what it is, and that’s loops, so you can’t really fault them there.

So who will this collection appeal to? I’d mainly say beginners looking to get started at making Electro House, but I could also see it appealing to those doing soundtrack and music for advertising who need to throw together a track in this style quickly. If that sounds like you, you would do well to check out this very reasonably priced collection! (8/10)

House Guitar Loops

Format: Download in Ableton, Apple Loops, Reason Refill, REX2, Acidized WAV, and more…
Genre: Anything that needs some guitars
Distributed by:
Prime Loops

Price: £12.95
Audio demos on the product page.

I’ll start off by saying that I think the title of this collection is a bit misleading. There isn’t anything about the guitar loops contained in this collection that particularly suggests ‘House’, not does House strike me as a genre that has demand for lots of guitar riffs. If anything, I think the title may sell the collection short, as it could really be useful in a pretty wide variety of styles.

As one would expect, the loops come ready to go in a number of different file formats. All-in-all, you get 112 loops (most loops have several variations), with the bonus of 12 individual dry Major 7th chords and 12 dry Minor 7th chords should you want to create your own riffs. 2 different acoustic and 2 different electric guitars were used by 5 different guitarists to create these loops, so there is little danger of this collection being too homogenous. In fact, there is a pretty wide variety of styles represented with the one unifying factor being that most of them are rather light, clean, and ‘summery’ for lack of a better description.

Tempos range from 120 BPM to 137 BPM, well within the expected range for dance-oriented music. Most of the riffs can change tempo within a reasonable range without too much trouble, but you’re not going to be able to have the same range of possibilities as you would with drum loops. A very nice variety of different keys are available as well which means it should be easy to find something that you can drop into a track you’ve already started without too much trouble.

The musicianship is excellent, as is the sound quality. The addition of individual sampled chords is very nice, although I would argue that perhaps ‘straight’ chords versus 7ths might be more useful in the grand scheme of things. As it is, though, the included chords have a pleasant, jazzy sound to them that will sound right at home on your next summer anthem. I had a lot of fun playing around with the individual slices in the REX2 version of the library, too. This extends the usefulness of the library and lets you get into more artificial edits that can take the loops into more unique, techy directions.

So who will find this collection most useful? I’d say anyone who is not a guitarist who needs some well-played riffs in a variety of mostly light and clean styles. Users may find themselves wishing there were more riffs of each specific style available, but for the price, it’s very hard to fault. (9/10)

Lee Coombs Presents Tech Funk

Download in Ableton, Apple Loops, Reason Refill, REX2, Acidized WAV, and more…

House, Techno, Breaks

Distributed by:
Prime Loops
Price: £12.95
Demo: Audio demos on the product page.

As with the House Guitar Loops collection, I would say this is another library whose name is a bit misleading. While you’ll find the odd squiggly chord or funky synth sound, overall the
collection leans much more towards straight-ahead house than anything else.

The bulk of the collection is made up of 12 construction kit style ‘grooves’. This is quite different from the type that can be used to create a whole song. What you get here is anywhere from 4 to over a dozen different parts that, when put together create an individual ‘part’ of a song.

Conceivably, by dropping elements in and out, you could create an entire track, but most of what is here is so repetitive that it would be difficult to pull off well. What you get in each of these groove kits is wildly inconsistent. Some feature drum parts, some just consist of synths and a bassline to which you can add your own. The quality of the riffs varies a lot too. On the whole, most of them were pretty uninspired and dull, but there are some very nice bits as well if you’re willing to dig for them.

Thankfully, there is more to the library than this. For one thing, you get 33 very nice drum sounds that should provide you with most of what you would need to put together a typical dance track. The kicks are solid with a nice oomph to them, the snares are punchy as can be, and the various percussion sounds are all crisp and clear sounding. There are also 21 synth and FX type sounds. These range from noises wooshes to rezzy Moog synths and grimey house chords. The quality of the sounds here are very good and I found myself wishing there were more of these than the groove kits. Finally, we have 15 ‘Extra Loops’, consisting mainly of 303 riffs, grooving basslines, and some very nice percussion loops. Ironically, the quality of these loops is actually much higher than those contained in the individual groove kits.

Overall, this collection feels unfocused and frankly, not that useful. Obviously, your mileage may vary, but I found most of the loops and grooves dull and uninspiring and simple enough that most anyone who isn’t a total beginner could probably come up with on their own without too much effort. The production is quite good and there are some really nice Moog type sounds used throughout, but I kept finding myself wishing that the library consisted of multi-samples of those sounds rather than used within loops of questionable usability. There are some very nice sounds and decent riffs to be sure, but you have to dig for them which, to me at least, sort of defeats to purpose of a sample library. The bonus loops and individual drum and synth samples are excellent and perhaps should’ve been the focus of the library rather than the groove kits. (5/10)

Interesting Analasis of the Loudness War

Music Machinery has posted a very interesting study regarding the Loudness War you should check out if you're interested in such things...

Casio DG-10 Digital Guitar Synth on Ebay

Info at the listing...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Free Korg MS-20 Patches from Waveformless!

I must really like you guys or something. Here, for no reason at all, is a full bank of sounds for Korg's wonderful MS-20 plug-in, many of which have been used in Assemblage 23 or Nerve Filter songs. So... happy ...Wednesday or something!

(Make sure you try out the modwheel on these, as on some of the patches have cool mods mapped to it...)


Elektron SIDstation on Ebay

And it's going for surprisingly cheap so far...

Check out the listing...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Free BigMono Drum Samples from Analoguedrums.com

"Big Mono is a roomy rendition of a lovable Ludwig, a Rogers Dynasonic snare drum, some tasty Zildjians, and a Sabian ride for good luck. Tracked through a '75 Neve desk, and as always onto a nice thick roll of tape. Recorded in mono using a decca-tree configuration, this kit sounds retro with plenty of space."


Interesting Music Documentary for Free on Hulu.com

Although it's several years old, Before the Music Dies is an interesting look at what the music industry has become and how we got here. Being a few years old, there are bits of it that are a little outdated already, but most of it still rings true. The best part? You can watch it for absolutely free while you're at work and your boss is paying you like a sucker! Boo-ya!

Worth watching for Billy Preston's dancing in the intro alone.

What Will the New Model Be for Music Sales on Tour?

Tunecore's blog has an interesting article regarding the relevancy of the CD in the age of digital downloads. As CD sales fall and digital sales increase, an important question to consider is how bands can sell their music when they tour. Most major label bands don't need to sell CD's at their live shows because their distribution is such, that the releases are pretty much everywhere, but for the rest of us, losing CD sales on tour is a not insignificant hit to our incomes. What is needed is a practical way to allow for digital sales at the merch table. One idea the article mentions is the sale of download cards. These would be customized with the band's artwork and the name of the album, and would include a code the buyer could enter on the band's website to collect the digital files they just purchased. I think this is a very interesting idea, but it does entail some rather significant technical hurdles for the average band who might not be made up of computer programmers. Perhaps companies like TuneCore will provide the service by producing the cards and providing copy and pastable code the bands can insert onto their own website. So what do you all think of this idea? If you buy music digitally, would you buy a card like this at a show, or would you prefer to just hit iTunes when you get home (keeping in mind that direct sales would mean a higher percentage of the sale going directly to the band). If you don't like the idea, what other possibilities would you like to see?

Moog Sonic 6 on Ebay

The Sonic 6 was originally designed by another company called Musonics primarily for home and educational use, but Moog updated their design to make it more 'Moogy'.

More info at the listing...

Monday, March 23, 2009

23db Records Signs T.H.D.

23db Records is proud to announce the addition of T.H.D. to our roster. Readers may remember the band from their several critically-acclaimed releases through Hard, Cleopatra, and Pendragon Records in the mid to late 90's.

Now, 10 years since their last release, they're back with a brand new, digital-only album entitled "The Evolution of Our Decay", which will be out on April 28th through iTunes, iTunes Canada, iTunes UK/European Union, iTunes Australia/New Zealand, Amazon MP3, Rhapsody, eMusic, Napster, Lala, Amie Street, and Shockhound. The album picks up where 1999's "Under a Statik Sky" left off and mixes the echoes of seminal acts like Cabaret Voltaire and Lassigue Bendthaus with the retro-futuristic, heavily analog sound T.H.D.'s fans know them for.

As a special thank you to their fans, T.H.D. will also release a free, 10-track EP entitled "Subconscious Drip" consisting of entirely different material than what is on the album. This will be available for download on April 28th via: http://www.assemblage23.com/THD.html

The EP will optionally be available for purchase through all the outlets listed above should any fans wish to show an extra bit of support.

Check them out at: http://www.myspace.com/totalharmonicdistortionthd

The Xpander is Sold!

Just an update on the Oberheim Xpander I had up for auction... I found a local buyer who made a good offer on it, so the item is sold. Thanks to everyone who checked it out!

What Are TableHooters?

If your first thought was of a place where girls in skanky outfits serve you terrible chicken wings, you're probably not alone. In fact, this appears to be a German phrase used to describe consumer and toy-grade musical instruments and noisemakers. This website breaks down dozens and dozens of them into categories and contains profiles, pictures, reviews and lots of interesting information. This would be an excellent reference for circuit-bending enthusiasts or even just people interested in weird, forgotten instruments. Lots of good reading!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Depeche Mode's Pipeline - Demo by Martin Gore

on YouTube via DepModEmpire

There are several more of Gore's demos posted by this same user as well...

Save Money on Assemblage 23 Swag!

Have a tax refund burning a hole in your pocket? Or do just want to save a ton of money during these tough economic times? We're happy to announce The Assemblage 23 Ultimate Fan Pack, a great way to stock up on A23 swag and save a TON of money in the process! Here's what you get!

• All 5 Assemblage 23 albums (Contempt, Failure, Defiance, Storm, Meta), signed by Tom Shear

• A copy of Early, Rare, and Unreleased Volume 2, signed by Tom Shear

• All 3 in-print maxi -singles (Let the Wind Erase Me, Ground, Binary), signed by Tom Shear

• An Assemblage 23 Messenger Bag

• All 3 Assemblage 23 Vinyl Stickers

• An Assemblage 23 Shot Glass

You get all this for only $100 (a savings of $37.90!) And shipping is STILL just $4 within the US, $4.50 to Canada, and $8 to the rest of the world for even MORE savings! We'll only be running this special while we still have copies of Early, Rare, and Unreleased Volume 2 in stock, so don't wait until it's too late!

$100.00 - Buy It

Friday, March 20, 2009

Don't Try This At Home!

From YouTube via ArcAttackMusic:

Based on the concept of a Faraday Cage, this guy has built a "Faraday Suit" and uses it to play pretty much the most bad-ass version of the Imperial March from Star Wars you'll ever hear using a giant tesla coil. You can read more about this project on the ArcAttack website. Now go cry, knowing you will never do anything this awesome in your life.

More Free Samples...

What better way to kick off the weekend than with some free samples?

• Cyberworm has been busy putting together this sample pack of sounds from the Korg Wavestation SR.

• SoundResource has a new sample pack of percussion and general weirdness created in Native Instruments Reaktor.

Have you found any other good sources for free samples I haven't mentioned here? Let me know!

MTI Auto Orchestra on Ebay

I love weird old stuff like this!

Details at the listing...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Togu Audio Line Re-names TAL TiltEQ

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Togu Audio Line was forced to come up with a new name for their recently-released TiltEQ plug-in due to a copyright issue. The new name is TAL-USEq (for ultra simple EQ). If you managed to download the original plug-in, congrats, you have a collector's item! And if you haven't yet, go get it... it's free!

Review: Drumdrops in Dub Sample Library

Library: Drumdrops in Dub Featuring Style Scott
Format: Available as download or DVD.
Genre: Dub, Chillout, Downtempo
Distributed by: Loopmasters
Price: Double DVD (with instant download too, so you don't have to wait) £79.95, download £74.95
Demo: Audio demos on the product page.

Today I'm going to be looking at the first in a series of dub-oriented loop libraries from Drumdrops featuring the drumming skills of Style Scott whose work you may have heard with artists such as Gregory Isaacs and producers such as King Tubby and Scientist. As you might expect, the library focuses mainly on the 70's style of dub rather than more current offshoots like dubstep, but most of the loops could be used in a much wider variety of styles with proper post-production.

This 2 DVD set consists of just under 3GB of live drum tracks ranging in tempo from a chilled 69 BPM all the way up to a more peppy 143 BPM. As with most of the libraries distributed by Loopmasters, the loops are available in a wide variety of formats including REX2, Apple Loops, and Acidized WAVs with the individual hits available in EXS24, Halion, Reason NNXT, Kontakt, and SFZ. The second disc in the set is what makes it stand out from other sample libraries. It contains 24 full-length drum tracks with each instrument on its own dedicated track allowing you to produce and mix them any way you see fit. These all come tempo-mapped with session files for ProTools, Cubase, and Logic (MIDI files are also included if you use a different host).

So let's have a look at what's on offer! We start off with a number of dry loops. These run the gamut of tempos and feels, but are consistently excellent. The playing is tight, but with a human feel, and the recording quality is pristine without being sterile. It's very cool to have the option to effect these anyway you see fit and it goes a long way towards making this a library that could appeal to musicians in a wider variety of styles for whom the traditional dub effects might not be appropriate. Most of the loops include several variations and fills which makes them a lot more musically useful in the context of a song. The loops in the same tempo range mix and match very well, but because there is such a wide variety of tempos available, you won't, for example, find that the loops in the 130 BPM range translate well down to 60 BPM. But that would be true of pretty much any drum loop.

Next up is a huge selection of dub loops complete with the appropriate effects such as spring reverb and tape delay. Once again, the playing is spot on and the production couldn't possibly be any more authentic sounding. Everything has a fantastically retro vibe to it and the feel of the beats have the perfect combination of syncopation and head-bobbing lope. As before, variations and fills for most of the beats are included so you aren't locked into just a single beat.

These are followed by a small selection of live hi-hat loops. These again add value for those not wanting to use the library strictly for making dub. All the loops have great dynamics and are recorded with a pleasing room ambience. Most are in the 70-80 BPM range, but a handul of more up-tempo options are available as well.

Next, we have a nice selection of percussion loops. These are multi-instrument loops played on bongos, guiro, tambourines, triangles, woodblocks, and pretty much any traditional percussion sound you care to name. These mix with the drum loops very well and can help you get even further mileage out of the loops by adding more variety to your track.

The loop library is rounded out with a decent selection of shaker and tambourine loops. Like the hihat loops, they could be useful in just about any genre and the playing and production is superb.

If loops aren't your thing, there is a nice selection of one-shots for creating your own dub magic. Not only do you get a selection of authentic sounding kicks, hats, rims, snares, snare rolls, and percussion, but a whole bunch of FX type sounds including dub sirens and all manner of bleeps and bloops to fill out your arrangement. These sounds are all recorded dry, allowing you to produce them as you see fit. The only thing that really seems to be missing here are crash cymbals, but arguably there is nothing really special about crashes in dub that makes them any different from the hundreds of crash samples you probably already have.

The full drum arrangements on the second DVD will be a huge time-saver for anyone looking to get started on a track quickly. The 24 different full-length songs are divided up in folders according to tempo and each drum, percussion instrument, and effect is isolated on its own channel allowing you to mix and produce them however you like. Overheads are also featured as you would expect. As with the rest of the library, the playing and recording quality is bang on and the ability to play with the multi-tracks is incredibly useful and potentially educational for musicians who are just learning to mix. People working on TV and film music, where deadlines can often be ridiculously tight, will especially appreciate having full, ready-to-go drum tracks available so they can hit the ground running.

If you make your own traditional style dub and find that your drum programming just isn't cutting it as far as authenticity goes, you'd have a hard time finding a more useful library than this. But it needn't be limited just to that style. These beats would work well in many different contexts including chillout and lounge, world music, and any other style requiring a downtempo, live feel. The inclusion of dry loops really extends the usefulness and flexibility of the library and, as I said before, the full-length drum tracks are a fantastic, time-saving addition. 10/10

Here is a quick and dirty demo put together using a handful of REX loops and some of the effects sounds. The loops have no additional effects on them (aside from the percussion loop towards the end which has some spring reverb added), while the effects sounds are treated with Logic's Tape Delay plug-in. The bass sound is Logic's built-in ES-M synth, while the organ skanks are Logic's EVB3 sent through a spring reverb in Space Designer.

Open Labs Neko Timbaland Edition on Ebay

If you're into virtual instruments, but wish for something more hands-on, the Neko is basically a marriage of hardware and software. Essentially it's a computer housed in a keyboard for running softsynths.

Specs and more info at the listing...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SFLogicNinja Tutorials

If you haven't run across them yet, I think this guy's Logic tutorials are some of the best around. I've been using Logic since version 4, and I still learn something really useful from pretty much every tutorial this guy posts. He takes viewer questions too, so be sure to check him out!

Get Amped!

It's the day after St. Patrick's day and I imagine a lot of my dear readers are hung over, so what better time to discuss the skull-splitting volume of amplifiers? ; )

Now more than ever, it seems as if the plug-in market is seeing more and more amp modeling plug-ins. I would imagine that a good number of electronic musicians who aren't guitar players overlook these. That's a shame, because amps and amp simulators can really add something special to electronics if they're used correctly. Never tried it before? Here's some ideas to get you started in your own experimentation...

1.) Keyboards- Apparently when they were recording "Black Celebration", Depeche Mode producer Gareth Jones enjoyed sending the synth sounds through guitar amplifiers. If you've ever messed with this, it's easy to see why. Sure, you can distorted the holy hell out of your sounds, but used more subtly, you can add everything from a slight increase in presence and weight, to some nice, organic grit. This can especially be effective on softsynths which can sometimes sound a little too perfect. If you have access to a real guitar amp, try sending your softsynths out to it, mic it up, and re-record the parts. Not only will you get a more 'alive' sound, but you may pick up some of the natural room ambience which can also give synths a more 'real' character. Granted, micing and recording an amp takes practice to get right, but that's part of the fun. Try using different mics, placing them different distances and at different angles (many amp simulators, such as Native Instruments Guitar Rig allow you to do this in software too). You'll be surprised at how drastically small changes can sometimes make to a sound.

2. Drums - Again, while you can go full-on power noise and distort drums into oblivion, used in a subtle way, amps or amp simulators can sound really nice on drums if you are after an edgier sound. Although nothing is out of the question, it's best to avoid using them on cymbals and toms as much as with kicks and snares. This can sound great on acoustic sounds, but I personally feel like it's most useful for adding interest to electronic sounds. There's nothing wrong with clean, electronic perfection, but it's undeniable that a little bit of imperfection can go a long way towards adding interest to sounds.

3. Vocals - The distorted vocal thing is probably a bit over-done, but it can still be a cool source of sounds for your sampler if you care to experiment. Try making different sounds with your mouth through an amp or amp simulator, experiment with different amp settings and see what kind of interesting textures or percussive sounds you can make. Play around with the mic, too. Placing a mic right up against your mouth (or body part of choice) will sound a lot different than if you are holding it 8-12 inches away. This is called the proximity effect and refers to the way bass frequencies tend to get emphasized when the mic is closer to the source. You can hear stand-up comedians use this all the time when they're imitating a sound effect such as an explosions, etc. And remember - the initial sounds you make are just the beginning. Take it into your sampler of choice, stretch it, filter it, reverse it, and toss all kinds of other effects on it and see how far away from the original source you can get.

4. Imitating Guitars - I'll admit to being a bit of a frustrated guitarist. I can play a handful of chords, but for the most part, the layout of a guitar just doesn't make sense to me in the same the keyboard does. The good news is, if you have an amp or amp simulator, you can do pretty convincing, basic imitations of rock guitars. Yeah, you won't have all the nuances of the real deal, but if all you need are some power chords or solos, you should have no problem pulling it off. There are two main things you should keep in mind for a convincing simulation. The first is voicing. Chords are voiced differently on the guitar than they are on a keyboard, and chords on a distorted guitar are voiced even more differently. Because of the nature of distortion, you'll want to use very open voicings for best result. For a power chord, just play the root note, a fifth up from the root note, and an octave up from the root note. The second thing to consider are the source sounds you use. I find that a Wurlitzer electric piano sound gives fantastic results for chords and general playing. If you're interested in solo sounds, do what Jan Hammer did on the Miami Vice theme. Take a monophonic Minimoog-type solo sound (squarewaves often work best) and learn to work the pitch wheel the way a guitarist bends strings. It takes practice to get right, but it's most definitely possible.

These are just a handful of ideas to get you started. Be warned, though, it can get extremely addictive once you get started!

D16 Group Announce Nithonat TR-606 Emulator

Polish software developers D16 Group have announced their latest creation: the Nithonat drum machine. Based on Roland's famous TR-606, Nithonat is equipped with an array of synthesis capabilities to create its sounds and reportedly offers more flexibility than their previous offerings. Nithonat will be available for both Windows and OSX in VST and AU formats. No release date has been announced yet.

Roland MKS-7 Super Quartet (Juno-106/TR-707) on Ebay

(Image is not the unit in the auction)

The Roland MKS-7 is a 4 part multi-timbral rackmount synth where 3 of the parts have the same architecture as the famous Juno-106, with the 4th essentially consisting of the PCM samples from the TR-707. Nice!

More info at the listing...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Loopmasters Corrects Coldcut Sample Library Error

Last week I posted a review of Loopmasters Sound Science Coldcut sample library. It's an excellent library that was only marred by some Logic EXS and Native Instruments Kontakt instrument file errors that caused some unusual and unintended modulations. Loopmasters tells me they have corrected the problem, so all of the downloads of this library should be updated now. If, however, you've purchased the library on DVD, you can write to Loopmasters at: studio@loopmasters.com to get the corrected instrument files sent to you. Kudos to them for the quick response!

Rolling Your Own Lead Sounds: The 'Tarnce' Lead

(Click the above image to enlarge and see settings...)

It seems like it is simply impossible to buy a synth these days without having some sort of trance lead among the presets. In fact, more likely than not, there are tons of them. It's become the most over-used sound in music for the past decade or so. The trance lead is to the 2000's what the dreaded DX-7 Rhodes patch was to the 1980's. So why bother learning to program one? Well, aside from it always being a good idea to know what makes a sound tick, the lowly trance lead can be the starting point for a myriad of other cool sounds. So against my better judgement, here's how you do it.

You can use any synth that offers pulse width modulation (PWM) and a unison mode, but I'll be using Korg's simple and great-sounding Polysix softsynth. The default sound on this softsynth is Fat Line Bass, so if you want to follow along, that's your starting point. Alright, so in case you're not familiar with it, pulse width modulation is, as the name suggests, simply modulating the width of a pulse wave. If you've messed with the width of a pulse wave before, you know that at wider settings you essentially get a nice, hollow square wave, and at narrower settings, the wave begins to take on a more nasal tone (think of an oboe or banjo). The magic happens when you modulate the width in real time using an LFO. When you are sweeping back and forth from a wide pulse width to a narrow one, you get a very nice, warm, fat tone sort of like a detuned sawtooth wave.

1. So our first order of business will be to set the Polysix's WAVEFORM to PWM. If you play a few notes, you'll hear pretty much your standard square wave. Let's change that and get into slightly fatter territory. Push the PW/PWM value up to between 7 and 8, and the PWM SPEED up to between 6 and 7. The tone should be a bit thicker at this point.

2. We want this to be nice and bright, so head on over to the VCF section and turn the CUTOFF value all the way up to 10.

3. The tone is getting closer, but our envelope isn't quite right. For most lead sounds, you want what is essentially an organ type envelope - you press a key and it sustains as long as you hold it, and when you let go, it stops sounding immediately. So go ahead and knock the SUSTAIN level in the EG section all the way up to 10, and bring the RELEASE value down to 0.

4. Finally, head down to the KEY ASSIGN MODE section and make sure UNISON is selected. This will sound several notes at once each time you hit the key for a thicker sound. Turn UNISON DETUNE up to around 7, and UNISON SPREAD up to 10. Play a few notes and there it is, the plague of all music kind!

The aim of most trance leads is to sound as big and impressive as possible, so you'll want to feed it through some reverb and a nice delay for best results. From here, you can easily dial up a whole slew of different sounds. Mess with different envelope settings and filter cutoff settings to create pads, basses and other synthy tones. Try messing around with the PW/PWM and PWM SPEED values for variations on the same theme.

If you've done everything correctly, you should have something that sounds like this:

Korg SB-100 Synthe-Bass on Ebay

I can't say I've ever seen one of these before. Extremely simple 1-osc bass synth that apparently had the Cars and Soft Cell as fans.

More info at the listing...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Review of Arturia's Origin Posted on Create Digital Music

I've been very interested for quite some time now in hearing how Arturia's Origin hardware synth turned out. Its price is a bit over the top (especially given the current economic climate), but the idea of being able to essentially build a modular patch out of components from different synths sounds like a lot of fun to me. Some initial reviews are popping up here and there and today Create Digital Music has a guest review of the Origin you might want to check out.

A Few That Fell Between the Cracks...

Here's a few stories I missed last week, and maybe you did too...

• Rusty Trombone Released Erectifier.
Delicately-named Shuriken.se programmer Rusty Trombone has released the free Erectifier plug in for both Windows and OSX in VST format. It offers a variety of controls for doing everything from subtle phattening to full-fledged sonic dementia.

• TOGU Audio Line Released TAL-Tilt-EQ.
Purveyors of awesome free plug-ins TOGU Audio Line has released TAL-TiltEq, for both Windows and OSX which they say is aimed at allowing the user to easily change the over all tone of a track without too much coloration. At the moment, they've taken the plug-in down, as another company raised a copyright concern over the name, but expect it to be back with a new one soon.

• SMP Pro Audio Released VFX Mac Public Beta.
The creators of the V-Machine hardware VST player have announced the public beta for VFX Mac, a program that will allow Mac users to use Windows VST instruments and apparently without need for the V-Machine. Peter Kirn has a nice write-up about it on Create Digital Music. You can also see a YouTube demonstation of the software in action here.

Any other interesting stuff you guys have seen that I might have missed?

UPDATE: Reader Visitour mentioned that Audio Damage has released their BigSeq 2 plug-in. Check it out!

Kawai SX-240 Synth on Ebay

2 DCO polysynth with MIDI originally released by Teisco.

More info at the listing...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Review: Loopmasters Sound Science - Coldcut Sample Library

Library: Loopmasters Sound Science - Coldcut
Format: Available as download or DVD.
Genre: Breakbeat, Trip-hop, Edgy Hip-hop, Chillout, Lounge
Distributed by: Loopmasters
Price: DVD (with instant download too, so you don't have to wait) £39.95, download £34.95
Demo: Audio demos on the product page.

As a big fan of the UK Ninjatune Label, I was very excited to see this title show up in my mailbox. Coldcut, if you don't know, is a duo comprised of Matt Black and Jon More who, when they're not running Ninjatune, push the music and technology envelope with ground-breaking videos, legendary remixes, and head-bobbing live performances around the world. It really is no hyperbole to say that these two helped shape the use of sampling the way we know it today. So naturally, you'd expect a sample library put together by them would pretty well done.

This library is available both as a download or in physical format as a data DVD. It contains 620 MB of samples including bass loops, drum loops, musical loops, vocal & FX loops, and all manner of single hit drums, FX, and instrument multisamples if loops aren't your thing. As is usual for Loopmasters releases, the samples come in tons of ready to use formats including WAV, REX2, Acid, Reason, Halion, Kontakt, EXS-24, Apple Loops, Emulator X2, and more. As someone who remembers the days of audio-only sample CDs where you had to sample, edit, and build your own instruments, I really appreciate having everything laid out for me and ready to go.

So let's have a listen to the sounds themselves, shall we? The loops are divided up into folders by BPM with tempos at 70, 88, 100, and 133 BPM. This isn't a library where they just pointlessly repeat the same loops at different tempos, the loops in each tempo folder are totally unique (I think there are a handful of repeats, but this is the exception and not the rule). The REX files are put together very well, so you can still use the loops well outside their intended range without much problem. All musical loops contain the key in the file name for easy mixing and matching.

We start out with a selection of bass loops. These consist of everything from jazzy double bass riffs, to electric bass grooves, to gritty synth basslines. While there's less the 40 of them, what they lack in volume, they make up for with variety. A good number of different styles and feels are represented here and the production of each is fantastic.

Far more abundant are the drum loops, which number just over 150. From a sound quality standpoint alone, these are some of the best-sounding breakbeats I've heard. Everything is recorded very well and the tonal balance between splashy cymbals and punchy lows is as good as you could ask for. Here you'll find everything from beats played on a real drum kit, to loops made of chopped-up samples, to edgy, heavily-processed electronic rhythms. Many of the loops here also offer mutiple variations or fills.

Next up, we have a selection of just over 100 musical loops. These include riffs on electric piano, guitar, vintage synths, strings & brass and everything in between. Most of the loops are quite short, so these aren't likely to be the basis for an entire track, but they work well as cut and paste bits to fill out an arrangement and all have a nice edge of grit to them that's missing from a lot of sample library music loops.

The last section of loops are the vocals & FX. Some of these would be better suited as one-shots and spot type effects than loops, but they're set up to work perfectly in loop format if that's what you prefer. Here you'll find harmonized vocal snippets, spacey dub effects drenched in tape echo, strange synth noises, and lots of other odd sounds with a very authentic 'vintage' feel to them.

Rounding out the collection are a number of multi-samples and drum kits in various formats and it was here that I ran into the only flaw I could really find with the collection. I had problems with the sampler files for all of the multi-sampled bass and instrument sounds. I first tried loading them up in Logic's EXS-24 sampler and all the instruments had an odd volume tremolo and really slow attack times on them that rendered most of them useless. I then tried loading them into Native Instruments Kontakt 2, and although the crazy tremolo wasn't there, the slow attack still was. It made me wonder if perhaps they create the instruments in one particular soft-sampler and use a translation program to write it to other formats, as I know it is not unusual for things like this to happen during the translation process. Regardless, it's a pretty significant problem, and most people don't have the luxury of multiple samplers to use in case the instrument has been improperly programmed in their format of choice. Yeah, you can manually import the raw samples and build the instruments up from scratch, but that's no why you buy a ready-made library like this, right? (UPDATE: Loopmasters is aware of the problem now and has created corrected versions of the Kontakt and EXS files. These have been fixed on the downloadable versions of the library, but if you happen to have it in DVD format, you can write to them at: studio@loopmasters.com to get the corrected files.)

Fortunately, the one-shot drum sounds and drum kits don't seem to suffer from this problem, which is great because there's some really nice sounding stuff here. Kicks, snares, cymbals, and percussion are all on offer here and the production quality is up to the same gold standard as the rest of the library. Coldcut has managed to find just the right balance between vintage vibe and more modern production standards and all the sounds have that paradoxical combination of new and old. This is no easy thing to do, so they deserve to be lauded for that alone.

As far as break-beat type sample collections go, it'd be hard to go wrong here. There's tons of variety, the sound and production quality is second to none, and the loops all work with one another almost effortlessly. I'm giving this a 9.5/10. The only thing keeping it from being a full 10 are the botched multisamples, but as these represent less than 20 sounds out of the collection, I'm just going to knock off half a point for the apparent lack of QC. That small problem aside, this really is a nice collection that will leave you eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

Here's a brief demo I put together using some of the factory loops in Spectrasonics Stylus RMX. No external effects, compression, or EQ was added. Everything is coming straight out of Stylus.

Dirt Cheap Ensoniq ESQ-1 on Ebay

The Ensoniq ESQ-1 was a synth that had digital oscillators, but analog filters and it can sound amazingly warm for a digital synth. This is a really underrated machine, and this guy is selling his for only $100. The flaws are, the internal battery is dead (so it won't retain new patches you write to it, but that's what SYS-EX is for...you can also have it replaced if you like...) and there is a chip on the bottom 'C' key. This is an absolute steal...

I've got nothing to do with the auction, but as someone who has owned 2 SQ-80's (an expanded ESQ-1) and an ESQ-1, I know this will make someone out there happy for such a cheap price.

More info at the listing...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hitting the Ground Running

I don't know about you, but I always seem to have about a thousand things to juggle all at once. In addition to all the writing, recording, and touring for my band, I do a lot of mixing, remixing, and production for other artists as well. Add into this designing the merchandise, running my band's online store, maintaining the website and social network sites, answering e-mails, and - oh yeah- writing this blog, you get the picture. I'm a bit busy.

Inspiration, when it strikes, usually does so out of the blue, and almost always when I am in the middle of doing something else. Since time is not a commodity I have a whole ton of, I wanted a way to be able to get ideas down quickly so I could get back to whatever the task at hand is. My solution was to create a template for my DAW with a basic layout designed to let me get my idea down fast.

This has been something I've done for years, but now Logic allows you to save different templates that come up whenever you open a new file. Regardless of your DAW of choice (others may have this feature too, I'm just not familiar enough with them to know for sure), all you really need to do is set it up and save it as a song file you can load up whenever a cool idea pops into your head.

What your template contains will largely depend on what kind of music you make, but try to make it as flexible as possible to suit any sort of idea you might need to jot down. You just want to create channels of software instruments that are preloaded with the types of sounds you need just to make a basic sketch of a song. Don't worry too much about picking cool sounding patches, you want something pretty generic and boring just to get the idea across. You can worry about the sounds themselves when you actually start working on the song later.

I usually start with a drum loop of some sort so that I have a rhythm to write to. Nothing fancy, just a four on the floor kick, snares on the 2 and 4, and an eighth-note hi-hat line - something that can be used with just about any idea. Then I make a channel with a generic synth bass, one with a generic lead sound, one with a generic pad or string sound, and one with a piano sound of some sort. This way, I have pretty much every type of sound I need to get the very basics of an idea down. All I have to do is have an idea, open up my template, play my idea into the sequencer, save it to a separate file (don't overwrite your template!), and I have a (hopefully) cool idea I can come back to later to flesh into an actual song when things are a bit less hectic.

This technique has another advantage as well. Because you're using the same sounds every time you sketch an idea out, you aren't distracted by fancy presets or ear candy. Instead, you can concentrate on the actual musical idea itself to sort out whether or not it's as good as you initially thought it might be. It's often been said that a proper song is something you can sit down and play with just a guitar or piano. This isn't quite that extreme, but it plays to the same basic principle: sticking to a few generic sounds will make you concentrate more on the music itself and less on the gimmicky parts of a song (as fun as those may be).

Do you use templates to get down ideas? What's in yours?