Harmony Navigator 2 coming soon!

One of my most loved audio software tools is about to reach version 2. Harmony Navigator from Germany’s Cognitone software will get some nice new features. The developer will also release a stripped down version called HN2 LE for those who don’t need the advanced features. Be sure to check out my screencast showing a few of the features of the original Harmony Navigator: click here

“After more than a year, it’s now time to bring Harmony Navigator to the next level. During the past year we more and more noticed that the needs of our users largely fall into two categories. While purists and fans of electronic music could comfortably do without virtual accompaniment bands, others wished they had more possibilities for adding their own patterns and building songs. Therefore we decided to offer two separate products for everyone’s needs and budget: A compact and very affordable product for pure harmonic work, and a more comprehensive product for drafting prototypes of entire songs. We invested a lot of work in order to enhance the features of Harmony Navigator and make it more comfortable to draft of entire songs. The new song window is the most important achievement. It features multiple parts on a timeline, which also supports loop playback. You can now maintain your entire project in a single window.” – cognitone.com

It should be released next month (Feb 2010). Read the full press release: click here

The best car for the car test?

VW Bug

I was talking via IM to “Raytrace” who’s name you see all over music tech social media sites. We were talking about checking our mixing in cars and he said that the Volkswagen Beetle is known to have the best shape for audio playback. I never heard that before but on the surface it makes sense. I guess if the circular interior walls are matched with a killer Blaupunkt system right?

Here’s my check the mix workflow:

  1. Adam P11A (nice monitors)
  2. Yamaha NS10M’s + Powerful Amp (harsh but acurite)
  3. Sony MDR-7506 headphones (loud cans)
  4. Apple iPod in-ear headphones
  5. Subaru Impreza (Japanese car)
  6. Nightclub Soundcheck

Remember to listen from other rooms from where the speakers are playing with the doors shut. The next door effect can point out too loud mix elements. Try mixing with a fan or noise in the room. Check mixes in loud cars (see above) and in parked cars. Remember to mix with fresh ears before any other music making.

photo credit: nitrox09

The Horrorist – We Will Get Wicked

We Will Get Wicked - The Horrorist

Here’s a clip of a new song I am working on called “We Will Get Wicked” which will end up on my next album. A man speaks to a woman letting him know his dirty plans for her. I imagine those plans take place sometime early in the morning on a weekend night.

“And it’s something we must go through.” – The Horrorist

I know this music maybe isn’t for everyone but we can all appreciate the drums of from the Vermona DRM1 MKIII firing all full force. The snare (with analog Bucket Delay full up) and clap are panned hard left and right making a sweet stereo spread. The nice synth that plays behind the breathing section is a Korg MS20 I borrowed from a friend. The MS20’s nasal filter really shines there. My favorite part of the song is when the breathing echos every 8 or 16th time they appear. I know it’s a bit Kraftwerkesque but I think it appropriately fits in a song about sex. Part of the reason they echo so nicely is that I use a TC Electronic Powercore’s Chorus/Delay plug-in. Take a listen:

Remember that music is only the soundtrack for a real life. Now go and find yourself someone to torture.

Related post: The Horrorist – Born This Way

Masterwriter 2.0

Masterwriter 2.0

I’m a huge fan of any software that helps me get from inspiration to finally arrangement as fast as possible. Once I have my arrangement done the hard part is over and I can spend a week or two mixing and making minor changes to the lyrics. When writing lyrics I always have my browser at: http://thesaurus.reference.com/

I also have a copy of Masterwriter on my hard drive and I really love it. I don’t use it all the time but when I do it always helps me with at least two or three rhymes or ideas. I’ve been pining for them to overhaul the interface and this week Masterwriter 2.0 was released. My biggest gripe with 1.0 was the inability to resize the application’s window. This was an annoying issue because you really want to have Masterwriter sitting next to your DAW’s window on the same screen. Happily, 2.0 fixes the resize issue and adds some other nifty new features including “Word Families” and “Parts of Speech”.

“MasterWriter presents accessible information that’s powerful yet doesn’t interfere with the creative process. In fact, anyone who’s involved with writing words – authors, journalists and sub-editors, for example – would benefit from having such an easy-to-use set of searchable dictionaries to keep the creative juices flowing in times of need.” – Simon Jary, MacWorld UK

I could try an explain all the ins and outs about Masterwriter but their site is loaded with tutorial videos so just head over and take a look. Some people think it’s cheating to use software like this but I think if you sat several serious song-writers down and listened to their final songs all written with the help of Masterwriter each one’s music would ring 100% true to their own style. You don’t belive me? Trent Reznor, Clint Black, Babyface, Amy Grant, Rick Springfield are just a few of people who use this software.

More info: masterwriter.com

Work on your music not your excuses.

Today I read two interesting articles that I want to share with you. I like to constantly bombard myself with self help dribble whether it’s fluff or full on therapy. Part of my homework is to read Lifehacker every morning with my coffee. It’s a blog of self improvement tips with a strong does of tech mixed in to help with the taste. Today, one of the writers at Lifehacker, Kevin Purdy posted a piece titled, “Why Your Self-Handicapping Excuses Don’t Work (And How to Fix Them)“. It’s a short commentary on another article written by Benedict Carey in the NYTimes.com titled, “Some Protect the Ego by Working on Their Excuses Early“.

Basically both articles talk about how many times we create exuses in advance of something we want to avoid. We set ourselves up to fail and we have an excuse all packaged ready to open with the time comes. An example would be, “I stayed out too late last night so no real music making for me today.”.

“If you’re a regular self-handicapper, though, you can grow too attached to whatever you use without knowing it, whether it’s alcohol, rule-defying, sleep-deprivation, or whatever convenience you cling to.” – Lifehacker.com

“This is one reason that genuine excuse artisans — and there are millions of them — don’t wait until after choking to practice their craft. They hobble themselves, in earnest, before pursuing a goal or delivering a performance. Their excuses come preattached: I never went to class. I was hung over at the interview. I had no idea what the college application required.” – NYTimes.com

These two articles remind me of my most important music making tip. Many people ask me where I get my inspiration from. This question has a two part answer. The first answer is obvious: You have to get out an live a big life… Fall in love, fail, win, hurt, crash, run, etc… Only then will you have anything worth writing about. There are many incredible producers out there with nothing to say. The second answer relates more to the two articles I share above: Don’t ever wait for inspiration to start work. Get in the studio are start making music.

There are only rare moments where you will feel the fire of a great song coming on and get into the studio fast enough to get it down. However, all your great songs are inside you anyway. Whether or not you’re hot or cold they are there. You have to get into the studio and warm yourself up. Sit and make a crap dull song, erase it, get frustrated and then viola the good one starts to creep out.

I can’t tell you how many times I went into the studio with a sterile mind and came out with a song I was proud of only because I stayed long enough to make it happen. I also am ashamed to tell you I wasted too much time in life waiting for inspiration, full of self-handicapped exuses instead of sitting in front of Ableton Live.

photo credit: TheTruthAbout…

Start producing a song with effects 100% full on.

Not so long ago computers for producing music were all seriously underpowered. I remember on my old Mac clone, a Power Computer PowerCenter Pro210 I could only open 2-3 plug-ins before the computer would click and glitch to a halt. However, today we live in an amazing time as far as music technology. I can load up my Macbook Pro all day long with plug-ins and it seems my CPU never jumps past 50%. It actually took me a few months to get used to piling on plug-ins without freezing or bouncing tracks. I realized I was wasting time bouncing everything by watching younger kids demo their Ableton and Cubase tracks on YouTube. My keen eye caught mountains of plug-ins placed frivolously over twenty plus channels. I realized I better “un-old fogey” myself and start painting with thick strokes of live effects or be left behind.

So today’s quick tip is to start a song with plenty of effects placed on assorted channels before you ever even place a sound producing synth, sample or voice anywhere. What do I mean? Well how about putting Altiverb with a Neuman Mic IR (Impulse Response) on the Master Channel? Why not also put a nice compressor there too? Now as your build your song and mix as you go building into those plug-ins. In effect it’s almost like you bought a new sounding mixer.

There’s no reason to be subtle either. Try creating a sub-mixer of 6+ channels and on the Group’s master fader and have a flanger set to 100% wet. Next place all your synths in your new flanger group and adjust the oscillators and filters toward the flanger not the other way around. The key is to start off fully loaded with effects on so everything you hear isn’t the same ole, same ole…

Related post: Making Groups in Ableton Live is really easy.

photo credit: Pulpolux !!!

Bring a stadium of fans into your recording.

Sometimes I like to add the sound of thousands of screaming fans into my recordings. You can find Creative Commons licensed large crowd samples online at the Free Sound Project. Another great place to search is SugarMegs which is a huge archive of free, legal concert recordings. Be sure that there’s no music playing even softly in the background or you risk the possibility of being outed as faker. If possible grab a section of pure crowd that’s long enough to fill the section of your own song in which your placing it because properly looping audience noise can be tricky.

A fun example of a fake crowd placed into a techno track is Slaves to the Rave by the Inferno Bros:

Sometimes I like to start a track with the large crowd fading in. Next I will add a single kick with a ton of reverb on it creating a boom. I then automated the crowd’s volume envelope to jump up after the boom sound creating the effect that the audience is reacting excitedly. I also use this triangular looking volume curve after a few opening screaming vocal sentences. With some careful placement and tweaking the end result kind be quite realistic.

On the other hand experimenting and creating something wild out of the crowd noise also can work. I’ve pitch shifted, flanged and “trance gated” crowd sounds into really worthwhile parts.

photo credit: stijnbokhove

Every song you write is about yourself.

I have a friend who is a psychiatrist. She’s an middle aged woman born in Eastern Europe and she treats some of the hardest cases out there such as prostitutes and heroin addicts. We call her “The Oracle” because her method is to only tell the patient what he/she needs to know at any certain given moment. She’s quite smart and funny and I always enjoy getting a chance to speak with her.

A few years ago when my music was mostly of the hard, angry, screaming type I gave her a CD. A few weeks later she was visiting my family and she pulled me aside and told me something extremely profound. She said, “You know Oliver every song you write, you write about yourself.”. Over the following weeks I studied my own songs and realized she was right on. When I was singing about hate and destruction I was really just expressing how much I hated myself, how angry I was at myself. Ever since my eyes were opened I look at kids making angry music as some of the most wounded members of society.

For well adjusted adults this is pretty clear stuff but for someone like myself to come to a wakening point it’s thrilling. My own music has improved dramatically now that I can write from a different perspective. I can tell my own story without hiding behind a veil of an anonymous third person. An effect of my new perspective is new music is far more serious.

photo credit: massdistraction

Use delay to make a rolling kick drum.

Often I use delay on the main kick drum to create a rolling or pumping under current to a song. This technique is sort of the old school equivalent to sidechaining a bassline. However, the old school method sounds different enough that it should be a color on anyone’s sound making palette. It’s a simple trick and in Ableton its just a matter of a few clicks to the desired effect.

First create an Impluse and put a place in a 4/4 kick drum. Next, add an Ableton Simple Delay to a Send Return channel. The Simple Delay loads up with the preset we want so you don’t have to tweak anything. Lastly, turn up the Send Return’s volume on the Impulse Channel to hear the kick drum start pumping and rolling along.

Imagine you have a song and during the verse you have the Delay off (by turning the Send Return to zero) and then when the Chorus begins the Delay is on. This builds some tension and energy into the Chorus. Maybe you have a song and you can’t get any bass sound to fit? Just forget the bass and use a delaying kick drum instead. Many dance records in the 90s used this technique. Partly because it was a sure way to get a dance groove and possibly even because there wasn’t enough sample memory available for a bass sound in an Akai S900!

Adding a delay to a bassline which has notes strategically placed off the 4/4 grid can get you an old school EBM sound. Early Front Line Assembly tracks all had basslines treated with delay in this manner. Here’s an example:

But let’s not stay stuck in the 90s. Switch the kick to something tight, increase the shuffle to about 50% and replace the bass sound with a high end noise sound and add a low pad and your now in this decade:

I know this is an incredible simple technique but it’s hundreds of small details like these that add up to a song that’s infinity interesting.

Related post: 6 steps to Sidechain the Auto Filter in Ableton Live 7

Momentum or perfection? If you had to choose.

It seems I am in a constant dilemma when it comes to my music career. I simply can’t create my albums as fast as I should. Ideally I would like to release an all new full length album every 18 months. However, with all the remixes, live shows and well simple procrastination I never meet my own deadline. It’s a shame because I really feel it’s important to remain in the eyes and ears of your fans. It’s also important if you want a constant strong flow of income from royalties and publishing.

I could put filler music on my albums and get the release out the door. Yet this is a shamefull practice because your seriously devaluing your own art. In the long run you will loose fans and your own self respect. Another thing to consider is if you make every song on your album as perfect as possible then people will listen to it longer. Heck we all own great albums from the 60s we still listen to.

Don’t think I can write perfect songs one after another. My absolute biggest trick as a musician is to simply throw away most of the of the music I create. Out of twenty songs I end up finishing I only think eight or ten are worth sharing with the world. Some people say to wait for inspiration to strike but I don’t think that works. I find many times I end up with that killer tune only after pulling my hair out on something that started out quite crappy.

The reason this is all on my mind this morning is I am making a major move from Berlin to NYC in a few weeks. I finally will go from being a renter to landlord! There will be about six months of renovation before my all new music studio is a room a can work in. Yes you will see photos of the build and whatever sound treatment we use. Now to my point… I have seven great songs finished for my next album. I really need about twelve. I took what I had to the label that releases my music (www.outofline.de) to discuss the situation. In the end we decided to put off the release until Spring/Summer 2009. This way it will surely be something I am proud of.

Luckily we live in the internet age and because of that there is now distribution from artist to fan. I decided a good compromise would be to give away two of the best songs from the upcoming album to keep myself in the mind’s eye. So shortly after I get a little settled in New York and armed with some new promo photos I will do just that. I’ll shoot to the world a song I recorded called “Born this Way”. Besides my own websites and Social Media spots I will have my friends help me contact the million music blogs out there and see if they want to help spread the tune.

photo credit: in touch