Archive for the ‘Computer Audio’ Category

Review: PreSonus Faderport with Sonar PE

Sunday, November 8th, 2009
The Faderport by Presonus

The Faderport by Presonus

This week I purchased the Presonus Faderport for use with my DAW, Sonar Producer Edition 8.31.  I have been finding that I really like the immediate control and hand/ear coordination that a real fader provides because I have been working a lot on the API Vision at U. Mass Lowell.  I read a zillion comparisons between the Faderport and Frontier Design’s Alphatrack, a similar single fader automation encoding device. Here’s a very interesting video that compared the speed of the faders on both units.

As you can see from the video, the Faderport’s reaction time is significantly faster than the Alphatrack.  It should be noted that fades as fast as the ones in the video are pretty rare.  For something this fast, most of us would do a mute automation and not a super fast fader move.  The fader on the Faderport is very nice feeling.  It’s quite smooth and although it is a little noisy, it is clearly the highlight of the unit.

The pan knob frankly sucks.  It is a detented pot, so it clicks as you turn it.  There is no specific center detent and in Sonar after you move the pan control the closest you can get to center is +/- 1%.  You also need to rotate the knob completely several times before you get a hard pan left or right.  The pan control is actually more cumbersome than doing fade automation with a mouse.

The instructions for install are really poor.  For individual DAWs you can’t use the included CD-ROM for the installation.  Rather you need to go to the PreSonus website and download a specific driver/plugin for your DAW, but they don’t tell you this in the instructions.  The Sonar driver doesn’t include the feature of being able to program the single user-assigned button with a task and the PROJ button (which is supposed to open the track/edit view in Sonar) doesn’t work at all.  You can open the Mix window and the Transport control, but not the Edit window which is the most commonly used window in Sonar.

It also isn’t clear if you can assign the fader or the pan control to anything other than volume or pan, so you are REALLY limited as to what you can control and automate from the device.  All in all I found the Faderport pretty disappointing and I plan on returning it and getting an Alphatrack.

Here’s the video overview of the PreSonus:

Recording at Indecent Music with Hendrik

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

The following video is about my recording philosophy and the gear that I use at Indecent Music.  I record, mix, and master out of Indecent Music.  I also provide audio engineering training and private lessons so that song writers can learn to be more effective at making their own demos.

How to Become a Hip Hop Producer

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Their is difference between someone who makes beats – meaning composing and performing (or programming) original instrumental music, someone who is really a producer, and a recording engineer that specializes in hip hop tracking and production.

The fastest way to learn to beat making is to make beats with whatever you have available. I have worked with a couple of heads who were complete geniuses with the Playstation software from MTV. Their music was simply amazing. Software that is highly under-rated is FL Studio or FruityLoops. The step sequencer is the easiest way to make music quickly. Read the manual! Watch videos online.  Start working with as many other beat makers that you can find on the net, in your home town. For me, competition made me write stuff that was much better than working by myself in a vacuum. The three big instruments to learn would be keys, drums, and bass. You did not need to work in a studio to do this kind of work. You need a computer, a decent audio interface (Not an M-Box), and a couple of nice monitors. If money is a factor, don’t get a Mac. You get a lot more computer in the PC world and there’s tons of software available.

A real producer puts the whole show together. They hire everyone, often write songs with the artists, choose the studio to work in, find live musicians to fill out the sound. Sometimes that means doing everything yourself. A lot of the time the producer FUNDS the project and gets the biggest share of the profit (if any).  A producer is a big picture person usually with an excellent understanding of the psychology of creative people, motivation, fear, competition and excellence. This is something that comes with lots of experience, a strong musical background, charisma and usually fame or money.

An engineer deals with the tiniest details of tracking and mixing. Moving a mic a half inch, rotating a mic off axis, how to attenuate the peaks of the kick to get it to sound bigger, without making it wimpy. Attack and Release time minutia for compressing drums, bass and vocals. How the sound stage can be used to the best advantage, how to either avoid masking or use it to create new timbres. You need to learn this either in a studio as an apprentice, in a good audio school that has great facilities (I teach at New England Institute of Art in Boston and at U. Mass Lowell both have great facilities) and then leverage that into getting good internships.

Sometimes there are people who really are all three. Sometimes you will find yourself in one role or the other depending on who you’re working with.

The best job to get to learn audio engineering is working for live sound companies as a grunt. You will carry the bass bins, mic stands and a 43 foot console. But you will get to watch the FOH and monitor guys throw down. Live is good because it forces you to learn to do things quickly and it puts you around dozens of musicians every weekend. Not wanting to be embarassed is a very powerful way to learn.  You are always on stage being watched from the time you load in, to the time you strike the stage.

(posted to GearSlutz 7-4-09)

External Hard Drives for PC’s and Mac’s (FAT32)

Monday, May 4th, 2009

I am a PC guy.  I think that it is the best platform that gives the most options for hardware and software.  I think Mac’s a great, but they’re way more expensive and they have always felt like toys to me.  They are the Nerf brand of computer.  Unfortunately most pro studios have Mac’s and I find that I need to use my external disks both in other people’s studios and in my own.  The only decent format that works in both is FAT32, but on both platforms FAT32 is NOT the file system of choice.

Windows machines really prefer NTFS, the NT File System which has many fewer limitations.  Mac has their own file system as well.  An important problem with the FAT32 file system is that the maximum size of a file is 4 GB. Windows won’t let you format a hard drive with FAT32 if the drive is a big modern drive.  In fact Windows XP will not format a drive bigger than 32 GB with FAT32.  This is a good example of a Windows-Style Suck-a-doodle-doo.  You need to format to Fat32 with a Mac, Linux or use a third-party tool to format on a Windows machine.  Windows will read and write to a larger FAT32 drive, but won’t allow you to create one.

For Windows, the easiest tool to download is Acronis’ True Image Home.  (http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/download/trueimage/) They offer a free 15 day trial that will allow you to format large disks as FAT32.  Just go through the process for “Adding a drive…”

Acronis is a great back up software tool as well.  It allows you to create images of your system disk and incremental or differential backups as well.  I find that it better than Norton’s Ghost, but have found that it doesn’t handle hard disk failure on the destination drive very well.  Their support offerings are pretty good, but not fast.

TASCAM’s GigaStudio Kills Your DAW

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Prepare yourself.  This will be a rant.

Several years ago I purchased GigaStudio so that I could use Sonic Implants’ (now SoniVox) amazing sounding orchestral sample library.  The library cost about double what I paid for my first car in Bean-town. It was expensive and it was worth it.  GigaStudio however is a heaping pile of turds. When I installed GigaStudio 3 the first time, it prompted me to restart my computer at which point it destroyed the boot loader for the Windows XP operating system and prevents you from being able to boot using Safe Mode.  The drivers for TASCAM’s software are “special.”  Not WDM, not ASIO, just special.  I had to rip all of the PCI-based sound cards out of the machine, disconnect everything with a USB connector on it just to get it to boot.

Then I downloaded the updated version of their software.  I installed it and rebooted my computer again with a tremendous amount of anxiety. I then tried to start the software only to find that I would have to register it to get it to work for the first time.  I went to their horrid website and registered my software.  I then got a page that said that it would take 48 hours for them to send my registration code, but that GigaStudio would work for 10 days without registration. Not true. (You’re a lying sack of crap, You’re a lying, scheming, stinking, nasty sack of liquid crap! — Stephanie Miller)

So I basically gave up on the software and purchased GVI so that I could run the samples as a plugin.  It still really sucks. You can’t open the .GSP files that you saved your settings in with GVI. So I recently had to load up a bunch of old projects where I was using GigaStudio so I could remix a bunch of old hip-hop instrumentals. Sovivox, bless their hearts, does allow you to crossgrade you samples to Kontact 2 format for $500.  So you can fix the problem by throwing more money at the problem.

TASCAM’s GigaStudio and GVI really,  really suck and their support can bite me in the booty too.

Beware the GigaStudio…

Preparing Beats and Instrumentals for a Vocal Session

Friday, March 13th, 2009

I work with a bunch of hip-hop artists and a few R&B singers. Most of the time they bring their own instrumentals to the studio instead of having me write music for them. I usually charge $300 or so to write and produce instrumentals for artists and there are 3 zillion kids with FL Studio using the title producer that will put something together for free.

The problem with free beats is that most of the time the quality of the audio really sucks.  Most MC’s are downloading instrumentals off of the web or the beats are coming in over email.  These are always compressed files which lack accuracy and sound quality.  OGG Vorbis files, MP3’s, WMA’s and Apple’s M4P’s or AAC’s all can sound pretty bad.  If you are starting a recording project, you want to start with the best quality audio that’s possible.  The following guidelines are intended to help people avoid releasing crappy sounding music.  Mix down your instrumentals using the following suggestions as a guide.

  1. Use full-quality uncompressed digital audio like WAV or AIFF files.  At the very least, these files should be 16 bit 44.1Khz stereo files.  I prefer to work with 24 bit files at either 44.1 Khz or 88.2 Khz.  The quality of the audio is much better and is easier to manipulate.  Using uncompressed files is the best way of ensuring that your engineer will be able to make a great mix of your songs.
  2. If you must use a compressed file-format, use FLAC (the Free Lossless Audio Codec) <http://flac.sourceforge.net/>
    FLAC is great because it is lossless, which means that even though the files are smaller than uncompressed files, they sound just as good as uncompressed files.  By using additional processor power you can make FLAC files even smaller.  In a series of tests that I did with my colleague Connor Smith, we discovered that FLAC was capable of shrinking our test file of uncompressed audio at 5.3 MB down to 1.6 MB without loosing any audio quality at all. FLAC files are sometimes small enough for people to email if they are short.
  3. Give the engineer stems. Stems are separate stereo tracks for each of the instruments in the instrumental.  For instance, you would have separate files for the drums, the bass, the rhythm instruments, the keyboards, the samples.  When you give the engineer stems they are able to mix the different instruments with the vocals.  A lot of the time the instruments block out the vocals in a mix.  If you send stems, the engineer can lower the instruments without lowered the drums and the bass. If you don’t bring stems, the engineer can’t leave the drums loud if the instruments are getting in the way of the vocals.
  4. If you have to use compressed lossy files, use the best possible quality that you can get.  OGG Vorbis, MP3, WMA, and AAC/M4P all offer the option of making higher quality files that are larger in size or smaller files that sound bad.  Here’s the audio choices going from best sounding to worst sounding:Ogg Vorbis (.ogg) is Open Source, Free and Awesome <http://www.vorbis.com/>
    Microsoft’s Windows Media Audio (.wma) <http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/forpros/codecs/audio.aspx>
    Apple’s Advanced Audio Codec (.aac or .m4p) <http://www.apple.com/quicktime/technologies/aac/>
    Mp3 (.mp3) MPEG layer 3 (Motion Picture Engineering Group) <http://lame.sourceforge.net/>
  5. Use the highest bit rate that you can use with all of the above audio formats.  I recommend a minimum bit rate of 256 Kbps for Ogg, WMA and AAC, but a minimum of 320 Kbps for MP3 audio.  VBR or Variable Bit Rate can be a little squirrelly, so to be safe always choose the highest quality option available.
  6. Find out if the engineer has the same software that the beat was created in.  I have FL Studio XXL so I can get FruityLoops files with the loop bundle and mix the  instrumental with the vocals directly.  It’s very likely that your engineer has software that can work with your format.
  7. If the file was ever a compressed file, you can never make the quality better.  For instance, if a beat-maker emails you a beat as an MP3 and you then convert it to a 16bit 44.1 Khz WAV file, it will never sound better than the MP3 file.  Never try to burn a CD with MP3 versions of the music.  You are just making the problem worse.

Please don’t hesitate to ask questions about file formats.  I can also help you to get great mixes either with advice or you can send me your projects to work some magic.