Monthly Archives: May 2011

For posterity’s sake

Over the last week or so I’ve been taking some time in the evenings to do something that I should have done long ago: create per-track mixdowns of all of my released songs. This basically means getting back into ProTools and bouncing out each individual bit of audio into its own cohesive track.

Here we have Adoré from halt, a somewhat complex song with several programmed synthesizer parts, a few live synthesizer parts, programmed drums, live guitars, and all kinds of effects with a good bit of automation of various parameters throughout the piece. Along the bottom of the window you can see a set of ten yellow-colored tracks with audio data that spans the whole length of the track. This is the bounced audio from each of the tracks above, with all the effects, automation, panning, volume, and edits applied and pushed into a single contiguous piece of audio for each track.

Most audio workstations have a button that does this automatically, except of course for ProTools. Now why on earth the leading audio editing software would be missing this feature is beyond me, but at least it’s not impossible to do yourself. Here’s how it works:

First, figure out how many tracks you have to bounce and create that many new stereo audio tracks. You only need holder tracks for things that produce sound in your final mix — for instance, MIDI tracks themselves won’t count, but any instrument tracks that they’re attached to do count. For Adoré, there were ten distinct sound-making tracks, so I created ten new stereo audio tracks. For my own sanity’s sake, I color coded them bright yellow to distinguish them from the rest of the song and labeled all of them “Bounce [Trackname]” based on what source track they were going to hold.

Next, we need to route the audio using the ProTools bus from our source tracks into the new bounce tracks. This amounts to setting the audio out for each source track to a unique stereo pair on the bus, and then setting the input for each bounce track to the corresponding bus pair. So with Adoré (which I’m starting to regret naming with that accent mark in it), the drums are sent out to Bus 1-2 and the Bounce Drums track is set to input 1-2, and so on down the line. This is a real pain to set up each one by hand and make sure they line up, but there turns out to be a shortcut that I discovered about halfway through the process. First, select all of your source tracks (and only those). Then hold down Ctrl+Alt+Shift and click on the output bar of the first source track in the mix window and select Bus 1-2. All other selected tracks will automatically be assigned to Bus 3-4, Bus 5-6, and so on down the line. Repeat this process to set the inputs to your bounce tracks. So long as they’re in the same order, everything will line up automatically. It’s pretty awesome.

Next, we need to arm all of our bounce tracks to record. Again, there’s a nice shortcut here. Select all of the bounce tracks, then hold down Alt+Shift and click on the record button for any of them. This will arm all selected tracks at once, and you’re good.

Finally, make sure the song is rewound to the beginning and hit record and play. If everything’s set up correctly, the audio from all of your source tracks should now be emptying itself into the bounce tracks and you’ll have clean copies of all of your audio, effects and automation and all. After recording completes, don’t forget to set the output of your audio tracks back to the main interface output and mute all of your bounce tracks. You can use the same Alt+Shift trick here, too.

Now of course I do have the final mix of this song, and I obviously still have the project file, so why go through all this work? Especially considering that digital audio doesn’t degrade like old analogue tapes would, right?

Well, here’s the thing that I found out the hard way. Digital recordings can in fact degrade, but not in the same way. With digital systems, master tracks are no longer just straight recordings of what somebody played at some time. Take Mettle here, for instance. It was recorded entirely with software instruments, meaning I had no audio for any of the parts except for what was exported in the final mix. If any of these plugins had stopped working, I wouldn’t be able to go back and do anything interesting with Mettle again, like remixes or mashups or inclusion into a music game.

Software changes, computer upgrades, file system shuffles, and other things can all lead to difficulties. For example, I had sampled a software-modeled Roland TR-808 drum machine ages ago and had used those bits in lots of places. However, in the intervening years since I made those recordings I have no idea what happened to those files. I still had the drum machine sequence, but no sounds to put in it. This effectively meant that unless I found or replaced those sound files, the drum tracks to several songs would be lost forever. Several plugins that I used heavily on earlier albums under WinXP no longer run very nicely on Win7, which meant I was very close to losing the exact sound that I had carved out for each part of these songs. I spent a lot of time getting legacy software to run just to make this work. Since I’m looking to upgrade my whole setup this summer, I wanted to take some steps to make sure I had things taken care of first.

Bouncing out to individual tracks gives you a flexibility and a certain amount of future-proofing that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Thus far, I’ve managed to bounce out the three main Psycliq albums and am now working on the covers and Christmas tracks. Even though going back over some old music has made me cringe at every mistake and slip, it’s been well worth it.

Electric Goodies

Update: Due to some recent oddities with Google Groups, we’re moving the Electric Goodies newsletter onto another service. To sign up for that, go here instead: https://madmimi.com/signups/join/35668

Just a quick reminder to check out the electric goodies mailing list. Members are still getting free behind-the-scenes MP3’s, and I even just sent one out tonight. To join, go to http://groups.google.com/group/electric-goodies or send an email to electric-goodies+subscribe@googlegroups.com today!

Where do we go from here?

The last class of my degree is tomorrow night, followed by a few weeks of business travel, graduations, and family commitments. But I’ll tell you, even with being able to get the Rock Paper Armageddon soundtrack out the door, I am itching to get back into the studio and work on some new stuff. After not having the opportunity to get things out of my head for so long, I need to get things rolling.

I have a bunch of songs mostly-written that I want to bring to fruition for the next album. They have in-the-works titles like “Brushwork”, “It’s Meant To Be”, and “Winter’s Last Kiss”, and I’m hoping that I can do them the justice they deserve in final production. I think I’ve already got a title picked out for the album, too, but I don’t want to give away too much ahead of time, before things settle.

If I had the time and energy to get it all down, I’m guessing that I have enough music sitting around in various states of completion to make another two or three albums. I’d really like to let all of it see the light of day at some point.

I think that this summer may see a studio refresh for me, too. I’m looking to do some vocal tracks on the next album (scary, I know), so some vocal processing software would be very useful there. I also really need to update my drum machine software. With every reinstall, it gets harder to get things put back together. Before all of that, though, I need to take the time and bounce all of my software synths and programmed drums out to raw audio tracks. It’s something I should have been doing all along anyway, since you can never guarantee you’ll be able to get that bit of software working again, after all.

Sorry, lots of rambling in this post. My brain is fried and I’m not sure which way is up right now. But, oh, we’ll find it. And then we’ll fly.

Rock Paper Armageddon

For the past couple months, I’ve been working on a Facebook game for one of my final projects in school. This game is called Rock Paper Armageddon. It’s a take on the classic game of Rock Paper Scissors with some interesting twists. You can play it for free right now! Go ahead, I’ll wait. It’s pretty fun.

So as part of this game, I wanted to make a simple but memorable soundtrack. I set out to make everything in ReNoise using a very small set of samples and only a couple of lo-fi effects to give it that nice NES-era chiptune feeling. It also greatly simplified composition, since I had a pretty limited palette to work from.

The results are now available over on the music site, and you can preview it right here:

It will probably remain a bandcamp-exclusive album, unless the game becomes a huge smash hit. In which case, I’ll put it up on iTunes, watch the royalties roll in, and retire to a private island someplace. Until that day, though, you can listen to it all for free online and download it for just a couple dollars.

Oh, and since it’s all Creative Commons licensed, you can use it in your own games!

Chips

I’m not all dead, just mostly dead. My classes are just wrapping up, so I am up to my ears in final projects and reports. Nonetheless, I am still working on various bits of music, one of which is actually tied to a school project. Here’s a snapshot from it:

Yes, those are two stick figures. And they’re fighting. To the death. It’s totally epic and stuff. And it’s got everything to do with the new music project, because I managed to overlap my time enough to get a few things done. Killing birds with rocks and all that good stuff, right?

I’m sorry I’m being vague right now, it’s just that I’m not sure what form this is going to take yet and I don’t want to talk about it too much until it’s totally in the bag. So, more on that in a few weeks when I’ve handed in my final project.