Restricting polyphony has it’s uses.

Native Instruments - Massive

Here’s a quick beginner tip thats important for everyone making music with computers. Polyphony is when two or more notes are being played at the same time. An instrument capable of doing this is called polyphonic. This is opposed to an instrument which can only play one note at a time (monophonic) such as a Moog Voyager. While it may seem strange to limit the amount of voices in your synth there are a few good reasons to do it.

For one, roaring prog rock keyboard solos rely on each note getting the full ear’s attention. Taking a keyboard into mono makes sure that when each new note is hit the last one stops playing completely. If your using a software synthesizer another good reason to limit polyphony is to save CPU power. Each note you play at the same time is practically another complete instance of the plug-in running. Be aware that each note of sound with a long decay such as pads or strings continues to register until every piece of the sound completely fades out. Some plug-ins let you set the polyphony globally and others save the amount of voices within each preset.

Impulse - hi-hat cut off

Drum machines also use this trick to have the closed hi-hat cut off the open hat. In Ableton’s Impulse plug-in, put your open hi-hat in the last drum slot and the closed hat one slot to the left of it. Now click the Link button at the bottom left of the plug-in. Depending on what I am looking for stylistically I will leave Link on or off. Of course you can even Automate the Link button!

My new single is #2 on the German Club Chart.

German Club Chart - The Horrorist

I’m not going to talk too much about my own music on this blog. People can find plenty about me all over the internet under The Horrorist. But news like this is fun to share so here you have it.The Horrorist - 13 Dobermans

The song is called 13 Dobermans and it has remixes by The Advent, Die Krupps, Felix Krocher and Gabriel Palomo. It’s released on a big German alternative/goth label called Out of Line Music.

The song was recorded completely “in the box”. Some of the plug-ins included Audiorealism’s Bassline Pro, D-16 Nepheton, Izotope Ozone and Wavearts Power Suite.

Alien Devices Modified Instruments from Arizona.

Circuit Bent Alesis

Robert Green has been circuit bending instruments for about 7 years. If your not the type to pick up a soldering gun and risk electric shock but need a bent device definitely take a close look at what Robert has to offer.

Besides the usual Speak N Spell and Casio SK modifications, Robert specializes in digital drum machines including the Alesis HR-16, Roland TR-707 and Yamaha series. Some of his bends use a patch bay modification and others metal switches.

This Alien-Devices modified Alesis HR16 drum synthesizer features 28 sound modifications which are controlled by 14 three-way switches. The modifications can effect the drum sounds in subtle or drastic ways creating beat mutations, digital filtering, distortion, synth tones, envelope warping, overload, bizarre beats and electronic textures. These units are excellent sample sources as well as stable live instruments and are fully MIDI capable.

If you want to get your hands dirty and try some modifications yourself there is a CD-Rom video tutorial for sale on Amazon called Circuit Bending for Beginners. I personally have not seen it but I’ve heard good reviews. There is of course plenty of free stuff to start watching on YouTubeCircuit Bending for Beginners including “Circuit Bending Workshop” by Ben Goldstone. The comments under that video are pretty interesting.

A few years ago I went to the Bent Festival in New York. It’s a nice geek fest of circuit bending. My favorite “instrument” was a old dot matrix printer rigged to play audio notes depending on which key you pressed. Here are the upcoming dates/locations for 2008:

Los Angeles Bent Festival – April 17th-19th, 2008.
New York Bent Festival – April 24th-26th, 2008.
Minneapolis Bent Festival – May 1st-3rd, 2008.

Do you own any bent instruments?

The Doepfer A-189-1 Voltage Controlled Bit Modifier.

Deopfer Modular Synthesizer

There is a fantastic new Doepfer module expected to be released in May. The A-189 Voltage Controlled Bit Crusher / Modifier makes some serious noise. It has a A/D converter which Doepfer A-189-1takes your incoming signal and makes it digital. Once in the digital realm it reduces and shuffles the bit order of the incoming sound.

It offers several voltage controlled algorithmic functions like voltage controlled bit crunching, bit shifting (with/without carry over), bit exchange, rectifying, absolute value and calculating operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. – Doepfer.de

Because it’s part of a modular synthesizer system it has various inputs. You can send an LFO or ADSR into the module to effect different parameters. Voltage control over the bit crusher and sampling rate is awesome! Analog control into this digital module is xxxx. The digital module has 16 different modes which all sound different from each other.

Here are two audio samples from the Doepfer.com homepage:
A1891_sampling_rate.mp3
A1891_playing_around_01.mp3

To see a great video of Dieter Doepfer at NAMM 2008 head to Sonic State. The A-189-1 show begins at 4:55: click here

The projected price is 80 euros (no brainer!). For more audio samples click to: www.doepfer.de

photo credit: kedasc

How we use to do it! Energy Flash tribute.

In the early 90s I was in several techno acts. To toot my own horn a little I have over 75 12″ singles out there. This video reminds me how John Selway and I as Disintegrator used to make music. The guy in this (awesome) video is covering the classic track Energy Flash by Joey Beltram. I really loved watching this. Seeing the Akai discs and Mackie mixer being muted/unmuted again was cool. Thanks for the flashback attack!

Use iStockphoto.com for album covers and more.

iStockphoto Website

If you’re a small digital record label or an artist selling your music directly to fans you’re probably on a limited budget. Certainly you can’t afford a graphic designer to create all your album covers. Everyone should have some basic knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator but knowing those programs won’t give you visual flare or a sense of style.

iStockphoto.com is the most popular royalty free stock photography and illustration online store. They host over 2.5 million images from 40,000 contributors. Images are quite iStockphoto Screenshotinexpensive ranging from about $1 for a photo to $10 for a complex illustration. What’s terrific for independent musicians and small label owners is you can use these images for album covers.

You can search images by colors, keywords or contributor. You can create Lightboxes which are basically folders of images you want to remember. Once I know an album’s subject I will go to iStockphoto.com and over a weeks time throw related images into a Lightbox for it.

The site is also a social network with populated forums. You can follow other members’ choices or contributions. There are blogs and you can make your own blog posts too. There is a section under each image for a rating and review. Other niceties include a Free Vector each month and tutorials scattered around the site.

There are some caveats you need to be aware of. You will need to purchase an extended license if you want to use the album cover on a T-shirt, sticker or something similar where the image itself is the main show. An extended license does cost much more. Be aware that unless you purchase the extended exclusive license the image you choose can also be sold and used by other people.

As musicians, we can appreciate skill and craft it takes to create good visual art. I know we are all capable of putting an album cover together but why not let real artists with experience handle it for you? Today it’s an affordable option.

Making Tracks: Unique Recording Studios

Making Tracks: Unique Recording Studio EnvironmentsSometimes in life you have to wait. I was reminded of that on Friday when I showed up to record some voice overs for a mobile phone company. It turned out my appointment at 4pm was also twenty other people’s exact time slot and they were only recording one at a time! Normally, I would have walked, but I spotted the cover of a book that looked interesting on the table in the waiting room.

“Making Tracks: Unique Recording Studio Environments” is a 208 page hard cover coffee book with photos of one of a kind, unusual recording studios. We are not talking bedroom studios. These are multi-million dollar facilities on beaches, mountains, vineyards, etc…

The Interviews are great, discussing how people arrived at the designs, what the use of the space is about, personal journeys, and more. I highly recommend this book and have enjoyed reading it.” – Tape Op Magazine

Unlike so many of the available studio coffee table books, Making Tracks has that high quality, hard cover, colorful coffee table style quality, with tons of photography and in-depth interviews with each subject. This book is very easy to pick up when you have five minutes to kill, or sit with for a good hour.” – Pro Sound News

I own a few coffee table books including Supercade and Digital Retro which I also recommend. One good thing about the “Making Tracks….” is it’s from 2006 and you can get it at Amazon for $32. Highly recommended.

Robot Drummers! The new Roland TR-2010?

What do you call the guy who hangs out with the band? The drummer! I always seem to find that joke funny for some reason. Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I love drum machines. Well people, soon we can take the drum machine to the next level! Imagine the new Roland TR-2010: Fully robotic drummer! Come on Roland we want it! We are all bored with your new Grooveboxes, we want robots!

More Robot Drummer videos:
Fredy Fantastico
DrRythm55
Mindstorm Robot Drummer

I speak for everyone right?

Keep your channel faders low and the Master at 0db!

Ableton Live - dB Set Up

Today I would like to talk about the biggest epiphany I had when it comes to recording entirely inside a computer. If you take one thing away with you by reading this blog this should be it. In 1996, Steinberg released Cubase VST which stands for Virtual Studio Technology. For the first time, someone with a limited budget and a PC could record audio to the hard drive and have access to a virtual effects rack and software synthesizers. People today call this mixing “in the box”. This had profoundTascam Portastudio implications, so much so I would compare it to the release of the Tascam 4-Track Portastudio. Recently, laptops have become so powerful that they themselves can be full virtual studios anywhere you are.

Almost weekly I am asked for mixing advice. Usually after a few probing questions I discover that 90% of the people unhappy with their sound are making the same mistake. They are completely overdriving their internal summing bus! Take all your song’s individual channel faders and bring them at least -12db and keep the Master fader at 0dB at all times.

Look at your DAW’s mixer. Now imagine the volume of your individual channel fader’s adding up from left to right heading to your Master. If you keep your channel faders close to zero surely your Master will go over odB and clip. As we all know any clipping in the digital realm is very bad.

Why not keep your channel faders all hot and turn the master down? Because you will still be overdriving cheap plug-ins. Well written plug-ins can handle a hot signal but some of the coolest freeware and to be honest some big name effects clip internally when even a warm signal is shot at them. The worst part about this happening is there is no visual warning. All you know is your mixes just sound like crap.

If you ran a test overdriving one plug-in and pushing a channel fader too hot you may not notice anything. But keep your levels low in a complicated song with over 10 channels and you will definitely notice a major improvement.

If this is news to you don’t stress about it. It took me a while to wrap my head around it. To give credit where it’s due I first came across this advice when reading an article in EQ magazine by Craig Anderton. After I read it I emailed Digidesign MBoxhim to clarify some questions I had. He was graceful enough to answer me and I then did some searches online and found this was huge discussion on several high end pro-audio forums. Forum members at Tapeop, Gearslutz and the Digidesign sites were rambling on about audio levels and mixing ITB. Most of the threads were over 50 pages. Everyone was learning the same lesson.

How did I choose -12db as a start point? First, each DAW has a different summing engine so your own number may differ. I use Ableton Live and originally I was starting projects with channel faders at -6db. However, I constantly had to adjust them all down as I built the songs up. I settled at -10db but recently I noticed something very interesting. In Live 7 they introduced Drum Racks and a Slice to Midi feature. A group set of faders becomes automatically available to you for the individual drum sounds of audio slices the new features create. Guess what? The channel faders are automatically set to -12db! It seems Ableton headquarters has also caught on how to make their DAW sound better. Interesting no?

In Ableton Live if you hover over the Track Volume slider you can see the exact dB it’s set at by looking at the Status Bar located bottom left of the screen. If you click on a channel faders small left facing triangle you can then use the up and down arrows to nudge the volume in small increments.

Apple AU Limiter

As I mentioned in this post something to keep in mind is when you add EQ to a sound you add dBs. If you add +6db of high end EQ to a vocal you may want to adjust the channel fader. Lastly, I add a limiter to the Master and set it at -0.1 to catch anything that manages to spike a little too loud. Anyone with a Mac has Apple’s free AU limiter built-in.

I think you will really enjoy mixing quiet a lot more once you try this method.

photo credit: oooh.oooh

Vestax VCM600 is a Ableton Specific Controller

Vestax VCM600

I am a mouse and keyboard shortcut guy. I work faster sitting in front of a LCD screen than in front of a hardware mixer. If your an Ableton Live user I highly recommend opening Live, go to the Help menu and select Read the Live Manual… Next, head directly to Chapter 26 “Live Keyboard Shortcuts” and start memorizing.

For those of you who still want to touch some knobs there is an interesting new device from Vestax that was announced at NAMM. The VCM600 was designed in partnership with Ableton and it’s specific use is Live.

There are lots of controllers out there and almost all of them will work Ableton Live but this one is in my radar for a few reasons. First off, it’s designed for Live. Second, Vestax VCM100Vestax is a on a roll lately. Have you seen the VCM-100/VCI-100? Highly gearlustable DJ controllers that match Apple’s Macbook Pro line perfectly. The third reason is: metal. These things are made of metal. The faders sit and slide in a metal chassis. Lastly, check out the sides of the unit. From underneath the curved edges is a row of white LEDs that light up the face of the unit in the dark. Wicked!

If you buy a hardware controller it’s for how it looks and feels. The new Vestax makes me want to touch it. That said, I’m still sticking with my Matias Tactile Pro Keyboard and Apple Mighty Mouse.

Check out a video of the VCM600 from NAMM:

Do you use an external controller for mixing?