Don’t send files that look like this to your mix engineer. There’s nothing he can do to fix that.
Even if your ears are broken, here’s a handy visual reference to get you in the ballpark:
Don’t send files that look like this to your mix engineer. There’s nothing he can do to fix that.
Even if your ears are broken, here’s a handy visual reference to get you in the ballpark:
Shapes like this sound cool, especially through a vocoder. Set a voice limit that makes sense and play some overlapping chords. It’s not random, but it kind of feels like it is.
Look familiar? There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you fire up a month-old project, hit play and hear all your VST synths banging away while your system shrugs its shoulders, lights up a blunt and says “drums wha??”
Okay, the hand has been forced a little bit. I’ve learned more about file handling in Live than I ever wanted to know and here are some choice takeaways:
If you store and organize your samples in samplers (and you should–this guy explains why) then you have to keep the samples in the Library. Or, you don’t have to (my feet are not on the couch) but you kind of have to for a simple reason that wasn’t apparent to me until pretty recently. When you work this way, you’re using a lot of samples in every project. For every dumb blippy little hi-hat sound that you’re using, you’ve loaded 128 samples into your project. This is cool; they’re just sitting there and not really eating up resources and the tradeoff (auditioning sounds in context, through your mix bus) is totally worth it. But let’s say you do a lot of remix work or dragging clips from iTunes or whatever, and you’re dragging files into your Live sets a lot. You’re going to want to Collect All and Save so that all these files are copied into the project folder. This gets shitty when you start to do this for lots of files and every single sample variation for every single drum sound you’re using is also copied into the project folder. Disk space is cheap, but it’s not that cheap. Fortunately, Live gives you the option to skip collecting all referenced files that are contained in the Library. Nice. Now, the Library is just another big, bloated system-crashing Live Project, right? So, if I want to save all my 128s, samples, presets etc in my own Live Project called BOUNCE CASTLE that I keep in a dark, secret place on my hard drive, that should be pretty much the same thing as storing them in the Library, right? Kind of. Yes, it then has a cool icon and when you drag devices there (assuming you have Collect On Export turned on) it will collect all your samples to that project and nothing will ever get lost, which is cool. But when you’re doing a Collect All on a set you’re working on, there’s no “Exclude Files from BOUNCE CASTLE” option, meaning you’re going to be making a shitload of duplicates. This is why you have to use the Library, even though it might kind of suck and there are a ton of reasons why you might want to separate your church and state. For example: I do Ableton/Pro Tools stuff for my day job. I compose music and do sound design for videos and TV spots and stuff. I have all my Library crap on a big thumb drive so that I can access it on the work machine, but it’s a bunch of my own stuff, from my own studio, and I don’t necessarily want to leave it all hanging out on the work computer–it’s my stuff, it’s part of my own workflow and I use it at work but I don’t want them claiming ownership of every sound I’ve ever made if things one day go sour. It would be like them trying to confiscate your neck-pillow and gel wristpad and family size bottle of Dayquil (brought from home yeah) when you quit, but I’ve seen it happen so I watch my ass. Also, I like to keep all the copies of my library pretty much in sync and keeping the number of copies to a minimum helps with this. Now, I don’t need to be carrying around every single grand piano and timbale sample from the factory Live Library, do I? I have Suite at my studio, they have Suite at the work studio, I’m a Lebowski…all those sounds are shared between systems anyway and it seems lame and redundant. I’d like to just bring my BOUNCE CASTLE in my bag with me but I don’t think I can have all these different types of cake and eat them all too. So I drag this albatross of a library around with me, pony up for the big thumb drive and it’s not that big a deal. More to come on this subject. Fascinating, huh?
There is some really cool DSP stuff out there for guitars. There are a lot of guitar players in the world and the big software guys are competing for their business. There are some killer values to be had, even for non-player producer nerd types…
I got Guitar Rig 5 a while back as part of the Native Instruments 50% off Halloween sale or whatever holiday that was. I blew the bank that day, my only regret is not getting FM8. (Never buy anything full-price from them if you can afford to wait a while; they’re always having sales and if you play your cards right you can probably get a steep discount on whatever you want to buy from their online store.) It seemed like a good deal at $100 and it totally was. I work out most of my basslines and melody ideas on a crappy old Electra 4-string and right off the bat it was nice to have a bunch of different amps to play with. And they absolutely load this plugin with toys. A lot of the amp-modeling and cabinet stuff is nice to use on leads and drums (for the latter, usually in parallel with a clean signal) but there are also a bunch of compressors, EQs, distortions, flangers, phasers, a tape delay, spring reverbs, octave doublers and crap like that. It’s all very colorful stuff, not exactly transparent or subtle but a serious bang for the buck, and it can do wonders for separating otherwise homogenous mix elements. Just sayin’.
Also worth checking out is The Long Goodbye on Netflix (thanks to Staggeredly for the reminder). You can crib enough style points from that bad MF Elliott Gould to allow you to sail through your 20s and 30s as the coolest guy in the room.
Booooring. But that’s because I’m boring and I’ve got this incredible Mongolian Death Flu sweat-through-your-carpet sick aaand I’ve been spending my days doing audio post work instead of riding my bike around and sitting on my ass and eating pastries. I’m overhauling the library right now and am finding this superuseful.
Pretty much every element in Live can have info text associated with it. Devices, tracks, scenes, even Arrangement markers. The manual covers this, but I ignored it for a long time because I generally keep the text view hidden. It’s a great way to learn how to do stuff on the fly (thanks Abes!) but once you know it, you tend to keep that window out of sight to save space. Welp, it’s a damn fine way to label your own stuff. Question-mark that genie sumbitch back into your life for a minute and get taggin’. For example, here’s a Reaktor patch stored in an Instrument rack with the associated text:
This way I know from the title alone that it’s a synth bass* that contains a Razor synth inside an instance of Reaktor, inside an instrument rack (yo dawg) and when I select it in the browser, the info text appears with more specifics. (In this case I’ve already loaded the rack into a track, but you don’t have to do this to see all the relevant information.)
*My naming conventions are weird; they’re all these 3-letter upper/lower case things and they let me organize things pretty well just by alphabetizing them, which any browser will do. Anything starting with B is a bass. BSY_ means synth bass. BSb_ is a sub bass. Plm_ means Pad/lush/monophonic. There’s not always a lot of consistency but I’ve managed to adapt the stupid way that my brain filters things into a system of cataloguing that I seem to be able to remember, and I have an evolving cheat sheet as my desktop wallpaper, so…
I seem to recall somebody telling me that info text is searchable, but I’ve never found a way to do it. I imagine, however, that one day this functionality will be added, and on that day I will do a sweet dance to celebrate. In the meantime it’s still really useful, especially for racks I’ve built that contain weird freeware plugins (MDSP I’m looking at you) that are buggy and make strange effects if you do some weird combinations of moves (like “bugger the 6 macro and the Exponent toggle while switching the effect on and off to make melty sorts of coming-off-drugs sounds, save first and resample immediately because this will probably crash your set” for example) or some other shit that you’ll never remember if you only use the plugin once every six months. If you take ten minutes to figure out what something does, write it down and you now own that information forever, or at least until your hard drive, which you haven’t backed up since you bought your computer, suddenly fizzles while you’re rendering the audio for the last track of your brilliant debut solo record.
Here’s one I had to make in a hurry for the Synaesthesia party. Next time I’ll be prepared:
U_ is for Utility. Blah.
If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a treat. Check out how small this weazal is!
This may be an ongoing series; I’ve got a bunch of posts lined up that could fall under this title. Hell, I’m making this a category.
Ever a/b’d that nice set of converters against…I dunno, the headphone jack on your laptop? Like, seriously, patched them in next to each other and really listened? You’d be surprised what you’re paying for. I don’t know, maybe I’m a dope but I spend most of my waking life in front of a set of good monitors or with headphones on and I think I have a decent ear. I’ve recorded the same vocalist a) in a proper booth with a U87 through a Neve Portico II channel strip and Apogee converters at 96k/24 bit, and b) at my own studio with a NT1a through a Mackie 1402 channel strip and an Alesis Nanocompressor I got on Craigslist for twenty bucks, through an Echo interface at 44.1/16. And the difference is marginal, especially once you hit it with whatever processing it’s getting for the mix. Now, real audio guys will say that this is because of my lack of sophistication or my tone-deaf ears. Be that as it may, any audio guy ever who is worth anything will say “trust your ears” so that’s what I’m doing. If somebody says that you need that $2k preamp to do voiceover work for web ads, find a place to go do some listening and make up your own mind. Sure, you might need the flashy gear to get the talent in the door or to make your business look professional, but that’s a whole different story…
Which brings me to the next thing. Sort of. Everyone says you need firewire for more than X number of audio streams. They say USB’s no good for more than 4 channels. They say a lot of shit. As I was preparing for an upcoming set and experiencing horrible glitches and dropouts on a very conservative Live set with my trusty 2×2 Firewire interface, I started to panic. I tried everything I could think of and performance was still very unreliable. (I think it’s a Lion issue; I’ve used the same interface for years with Leopard, trouble-free.) Ideally, to avoid submixing in the box, I need a number of audio streams for this set, since I’m running a mic in, three sets of stereo outs and a mono out to a talkbox. I have the NI Audio 6 interface to use with Traktor but never thought of using it for anything other than timecode and DJ stuff. Then I thought waaaaait a minute…to run Traktor you need two stereo ins and two stereo outs for a total of 8 audio streams. I don’t know why this never really registered with me before. So: DJs have been using Serato and Traktor without problems for years now and I’m still supposed to believe that USB can’t handle that much data? Long story short: I reconfigured the set to use the Traktor interface and it’s running flawlessly. It still strikes me as weird, and I’m not sure why. I’m using some crap mic preamp and I had to get a couple of 1/4″-to-RCA converters but that’s about it. And the internet is littered with yammering morons saying that USB will ruin your life. It won’t. This will. I would like to add my yammering to the din to say slow down, put away the credit card and make it work with what you have.
So your Dumb Friend can be anybody–your actual dumb friend, the blowhard engineer across the hall, the babbling Guitar Center salesman, the client you want to impress. If anyone tells you they can, like, obviously hear the difference between 48k and 96k, squint one eye at them, cock your head a few degrees, furrow your brow and “Subletter-face the shit out of them”, then go have a listen for yourself and see if you agree.
This sort of face works well too–it’s a slightly more aggressive Subletter-face. It’s a more “really dude, really are you saying this to me” type of pose and it works great if you can pull it off.
Hot damn, it’s Friday!
There are a lot of functions in Live that don’t have keyboard shortcuts, which is infuriating until you make your own in the OSX Preferences. Here are some basic ones you can make that will save lots of time and make you look pro.
One thing I can’t figure out how to do is transfer all these settings to a new computer, which is something that I’ve been needing lately as I’ve installed Live on three machines in the last month….Anybody know how to do that?
Aaaaand a note to my dear readers: these posts have not been as fast or as furious as I’d like. Life’s been happening at a brutal pace. Perhaps I was a bit ambitious in thinking that this could be a daily thing…also, there have been a lot of new developments with work life in the last few weeks that have substantially eaten into the loads of time I thought I’d have to devote to this. I think I may go for better, more substantive posts in the future, even at the expense of missing days here and there. I try to go for quality over quantity in my music, and I’d like to hold this blog to the same standard. Bear with me.
One of the most difficult things (for me) about being an internationally recognized superstar producer is keeping track of all the sounds I make. I make everything from scratch, but it gets old doing it from scratch every single time. How many times do you need to set up and route a sampler full of crash cymbals, or a selection of some basic filtered noise patches on your favorite synths? Workflow, dude. Still figuring it out. Miles to go on this, but little tricks keep making life easier. Here’s one.
A rad thing about Live is that you go into the browser and dig into your other sets while you’re working. You can grab individual clips, tracks, even entire sets, and drag them into the current set. All your automation will be there, all your plugins and samples and settings. Unfortunately, you can’t do this with Group tracks. All the tracks contained within a group will be visible, but anything that lives on the Group itself (plugins, automation, etc) will be lost. I make extensive use of group tracks, which makes this tricky. So here’s how I work around it. Here’s a drum group from a dubstep track I just finished working on:
Now, when I’m done with a track and it’s all saved, I’ll delete everything except the group, delete all the clips and automation, clear the Master channel and delete all the scenes except for one. So now only the instruments remain. Now I’ll save the set under a new filename (under a new filename…there, I said it twice) and stash it in a folder that I’ve created for this purpose. Now, when I want to drag this entire drum kit to a new session, I can drop this set from the browser and only my group (which is the entire set at this point) will appear, ready to go, with all the internal routing intact. On the picture above, for example, the PercSub track is a submix for all the percussion elements within the group, and that routing is maintained.
Today’s a quickie, poorly written, and it pertains to FXpansion’s Strobe synth, but it’s a good bit of knowledge to keep in the brain no matter what kind of synth you’re using.
One of the cool things about FXpansion’s modulation system is that it allows a great deal of routing flexibility–there’s a hardwired signal flow, and a few modulation sources and destinations with dedicated knobs (envelope-to-pitch, LFO-to-filter, keytracking to filter) but the way the TransMod system (whoa futurespeak) allows you mess with the default routing is pretty cool. Here’s a quick example that can be extended to all kinds of other stuff:
Here’s a simple Strobe patch. It’s a punchy, slightly gritty sine bass with a long release. By default, the Amp envelope shaping happens at the very end of the signal path. Which is cool. But in this example, the envelope is modulating a few things before the voice even reaches the Amp stage. First, it’s directly controlling the oscillator’s output before it reaches the filter. This is cool because the filter has great overdrive characteristics that depend a lot on the level of the input signal. So instead of feeding it a constant-volume tone to work with, it’s getting the enveloped oscillator to work with, giving it a nice gritty overdriven attack with a smooth, deep decay. I’ve further exaggerated this effect by modulating the filter drive with the amp envelope. Keep in mind, the amp envelope is still modulating the signal post-filter so the sound retains its punch and shape, which it would lose if we’d simply moved the envelope to its pre-filter location. Thinking this way lets you get a lot more depth out of a simple synth than you’d think. (One sweet thing about this patch, for example, is that when the oscillator’s amplitude drops to a level where it’s not overdriving the filter, the filter self-oscillates and fades in with a cool creepy feedback, which, since the filter’s keytracking is all the way up, follows the input pitch. A little reverb on the mids and this sound is terrifying. Bing zing!)
In other news, I’m making an incredibly unpopular move here–I’m using my soapbox to call bullshit on the Lil Phatty. Yeesh. $1300 for a monosynth with four encoders to program it? Sweet, all the limitations of analog combined with the incredible inconvenience of menu-based digital! One of the reasons my TX81z was so cheap is because no one wants to be bothered to program it. This is…well, a little bit better than that. I play a Lil Phatty at at a friend’s studio periodically, and every time I go there, I expect that I’ll somehow start to like it. Not yet. I run it through a huge bass amp and yes, the sound can be vast and savage and incredible. But so can the sound from this, if you know how to program it. Having to shift through eight pages of parameters to use the single envelope knob (for example) is a bit much. They couldn’t have given us at least dedicated ADSR knobs and provided pages for amp and filter? Yeah, Moog can shit on a paper plate and get away with selling it for a mint because of their LEGENDARY NAME but if anyone else had released this synth it would have raised some WTF eyebrows. Says me.
People seem to have this idea that Live’s great for loops and warping and beats but that you can’t do vocals with it. Rong! Here’s why you shouldn’t hate it.
Recording in Arrangement
This is perhaps the most common way of recording full takes to an arranged track: lay it out on the arrangement view and run it like a tape machine. You can punch in and out manually like in any DAW, plus you can use the loop brace to do (wait for it) loop recording, or to define auto punch in/out points. Here we’ve got three takes of the same vocal, with no punching:
Always name your tracks before recording, that way it will automatically name everything you record to that track with the name of the track and the number of the take. It’s a bitch trying to sort through a gigabyte of files called “#Audio###” when you want to locate a file. Next I put a marker on the downbeat of Verse 1. This helps us visually arrange the set, but also allows us to use it as a zero-point when we want to keep extra takes stashed in our Session clips, sort of like a Playlist in Pro Tools. More on that later…
So we’ve got three takes and I’ve colored them all differently. I’ve grouped them to a group track, which serves two purposes: it acts as a container to keep the tracks organized and it also serves as a submix. To make switching between the takes quick and painless, I’ll map each channel mute to a hotkey. It takes two seconds and you can undo it as soon as you’re done. This is why I always keep the bottom row of keys on my keyboard free from assignments, so I’ve got them available for tasks like this. Next, create a Comp track above the other three.
Go through and pick the best parts of each take. I like to do this right away, while the vocalist is still in the room and the energy from the session is still going. It sucks to do this stuff after the fact. If a take, or a section of a take, is bad, just delete it right away. With digital audio, you’ll almost always suffer from Too Many Options since you’re not paying for tape. Work your way through the takes, dragging the best portion from each take to the Comp track. Since all the takes are color-coded, it’s very easy to see what you’ve done. Then you can mute and collapse the other vocal tracks and do any crossfades on the new comp.
Clean up any edges, breaths you don’t want to hear, long bits of silence, any recording fluff that you can easily trim, etc. Now’s also the time to do any pitch correction you want to do.
Session Clips as Holding Tank
Let’s say we want to keep these individual takes for posterity or in case we want to do some doubling later. We don’t need them in the Arrangement right now. We can store them in the Session view, where they’re instantly available but out of the way. This is why placing the track marker is important, so we know where our clips start. In this example, all the vocal takes begin at a different point, and all three begin before the downbeat of the verse. Let’s start with take three. I’ll rename it to Verse1 (to match the marker) and keep the original filename after that so now it’s “Verse1 1Vox3″) So we know that it’s the first take on the third vocal track, and it starts at the Verse1 marker.
Whew! But wait…the clip doesn’t actually start at the verse1 marker…Well, since we’re not cropping or consolidating this clip, let’s just split it so that it starts exactly where we want it to. The file remains unchanged, no information is lost, but the start point is moved to where it should intercept the timeline marker. You can then select the new clip (whose start now conveniently coincides with the marker), cut it out of the Arrangement it and paste it to a free Session slot.
So now, if you begin playback at the marker by hitting play on the session clip, it will be perfectly in sync, and if you want to revisit the take for any reason, you can paste it back on the Arrangment at the marker. If you need the section before the downbeat, just drag the beginning of the clip back and your clip will be back the way it was.
I’ll usually wind up using these extra tracks for vocal adlibs, doubling, glitchy cut n paste effects, filtered pitch-shifted madness or whatever. The extra takes will still live in the Session view so if I need a snippet of vocal to loop, sample or tweak, I can always find them but they’re never in the way.
Now go check out this interview with Wolfgang Gartner where he talks about how Cubase stomps all over Live for vocals. I haven’t pulled out the Steinberg dongle in a few years and I can’t imagine why I’d want to, but hey, different strokes.