Production

More Kontrol Than Ever

Right after Christmas of last year, I posted about my first run in with the KORG nanoKONTROL and my adventures in getting it hooked up with ProTools. Many things have happened in the intervening seven months, but two items are of particular note here. First off, KORG came out with an updated version of the nano series, tweaking all of them in pretty good ways all around. Second, I finished graduate school, and set about to upgrade a bunch of bits of studio equipment and software as a kind of graduation present.

I’ve only had it plugged in for a few minutes, but the nanoKONTROL2 is an upgrade to its predecessor in many ways. First off, it has native support of the HUI protocol, which ProTools speaks without any further configuration. Thus, you plug this guy in, fire up ProTools (or any number of other editor softwares), and you’re good to go. One of the most immediate differences is the support for the lights behind all the buttons. While the original nanoKONTROL does have lighted buttons, the hacked scene file I had to use to hook it up didn’t let the DAW light buttons up appropriately. Thus, you had no indication on your control of the state of any of your tracks, or even which tracks were selected. Withe the nanoKONTROL2, all of this comes working out of the box. The dedicated solo, mute, and record switches work exactly as you’d expect, and the transport controls all do what they should as well. There are a few new controls on this device as well. In particular, there are buttons for switching track groups (something that had to be done with a mouse with the original nanoKONTROL) and for navigating between markers in the song. Even a few minutes in and it’s already a better experience overall.

I feel kinda bad about upgrading so soon after getting the original, but it’s hard to argue with such progress. I’m going to keep it around for the moment and reprogram it into a general MIDI controller, with the intent of using it in software synths, effects plugins, and things of that nature. We’ll see if it ends up being truly useful in that mode, but there are at least many good possibilities ahead.

Another newcomer to the recording studio is the Akai MPD18, a 16-pad drum controller. As I understand it, this is what one uses to create Phat Beatz. Or bizzeatz. I’m not sure, really. In any case, the velocity sensitive pads on this will be much more conducive to programming drum tracks than either a mouse or a piano keyboard ever were. Since it’s just a basic MIDI controller as well, and not a drum machine in and of itself, I can also use this as a MIDI trigger for other things. Perhaps someday if I ever get up the nerve to play live, this will all come in handy.

As you can see by the low-quality smartphone shots of my desk here, all of these devices leave me with about a mile and a half of USB cables strewn about, leading me to get yet another USB hub for the workstation. Several years ago, I very gladly picked up one of these guys to keep things from falling back into the oblivion behind my desk. Cordies are totally awesome. So simple of an idea, but so well executed. I haven’t yet figured out if latency is going to be an issue with all of the intervening hardware, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

The rest of the studio upgrade is all software, most of which is still on its way. Finally able to upgrade ProTools, Reason, Melodyne, and Amplitube to their latest releases, I’ll have a shiny and full suite of new tools with which to work on new music.

Oh yeah– there is new music. There is actually quite a lot of new music, and once I get all the software installed and set up, I’m going to be working on it in earnest. Keep tuned for more of that.

Production

Moogerfoogers on the Cheap

I had cause to squeal like a little girl last night, and that cause was Moogerfoogers.

For those of you that don’t know, the Moog Music company (makers of fine analogue synthesizers) also makes a range of effects pedals these days called Moogerfoogers. And I dare you to say “moogerfooger” ten times fast. They’re all-analogue and are practically modular synth components, and they cost somewhere between $200 and $900 each. A bit rich for my budget. However, Avid, the folks who make ProTools, have managed to put together some really great software emulations of the real thing. It’s not the same, that’s for sure, but they do a really good job of reproducing the effects they create digitally. The pack of four sells for $500 these days, which is also a bit much for me to drop on four audio plugins, even in the midst of trying to update my studio.

Last night, however, I found hope. Back when I first bought my Mbox2, I sprung for the “Factory Bundle”, which came with a bunch of extra bits of demo software like Melodyne, Abelton, Reason, and most importantly the Moogerfooger Analogue Delay. I have used this delay effect on every major Psycliq recording to date, and I just absolutely love its sound and definitely wanted to keep it working during the upgrade. Thus, I went poking around the internet to make sure it would still work when I upgrade to ProTools 9, and I saw that I would have to get a patch from Avid to keep things happy. Not too surprising, I had to do the same thing when I upgraded from 7 to 8. But then I found something interesting.

In the Avid store, I stumbled across the Mbox and Mbox 2 Factory/Producer Factory 8.0 Upgrade for $15. It was a bundle that included all four Moogerfooger plugins as well as a few other nice ones, including the Cosmonaut Voice effect that I was fond of from the original Factory pack. For only 15 bucks, I was expecting this to simply upgrade the license to the plugins I already owned. Imagine my surprise then when I found out that it does in fact come with everything on the box, in full, no strings attached.

I quickly fired up ProTools and pulled open Mettle to make sure the delay plugin still worked, at least. Having confirmed that, I dug through the menu and found the other three Moogerfoogers happily staring at me. I toss the lowpass filter onto one of the tracks and hit play.

This is the part where I squealed with glee.

So for $15, I’ve got a suite of world-class effects, and I can’t wait to see what I can do with them now. Stay tuned to hear.

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Coverage

I’d like to shake the cobwebs off of my production skills by doing a cover/remix kind of song. There’s a lot of good music out there on the planet, much of which I’m unfamiliar with. So, dear audience, what song should I do?

Back when I did the Kickstarter project, I had an option to let supporters have me cover a song of their choice. Only one person took me up on that, and they challenged me to cover Monsters by Electric President. I had never heard of the band or the song, so it was an interesting exercise to say the least. I ended up having a blast flinging that song into some place it wasn’t really meant to go.

With summer upon us, I want to take on that challenge again. I want you, the world, to tell me what song I should try and cover and give it a bit of Psycliq flair. Any results will be put up for free as part of the Mergers & Aquisitions album.

I know there’s a lot of good stuff out there, so let’s hear it. I’m officially Open to Suggestions.

Production

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.

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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!

Production

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.

Music

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!

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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.

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Magnatune

Like I mentioned in the last post, a little while ago I signed up for a deal with Magnatune, an outfit I’d heard little about until a few months ago. I’d seen the logo inside of Amarok’s Internet Music tab, but I never used it and never really knew what its deal was. Since the site’s motto is the odd phrase “we are not evil,” I knew something was up. When I looked into it, I found out there were a lot of pretty cool things about it.

Magnatune is, on the surface, a subscription-based streaming music service. You pay a monthly fee and can listen ad-free to as much music as you want from their thousands of songs available across a bunch of different genres. But perhaps the coolest part of that is the unlimited download that comes along with it. These downloads are DRM-free, so you can copy them to whatever device you want to.

And their audience seems to really like that system. Much to my amazement, The Mathemagician’s Riddle (so far the only Psycliq album released with them) is sitting at the #1 spot on their electronica charts and has been for about a week, also floating around the #3 album on the overall popularity chart for at least the past few days. I’m sure it’ll float down once more new albums release (they do about 7 or 8 a week, it seems), but I’ll happily revel in being #1 at something while it holds.

Plus, everything they have is released under the Create Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, not a traditional all-rights-reserved copyright. This might seem like an arbitrary bit of legalese, but it actually means quite a lot to artistic society as a whole. When you get something under a CC license, you have the right to make copies of it, to share it with other people  and even to make derivative works from it with only a few stipulations. In this case, so long as you’re not making money off of it, you also put your work under a CC style license, and you attribute the artist somewhere, you’re free to use it all in podcasts, video soundtracks, and a bunch of other things like that. The CC license has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for artistic expression in the digital age, and it’s got the traditional media companies running scared to the point of them spreading fear campaigns against it.

Magnatune is far from the only place that is doing Creative Commons for music. In fact, that’s the license that you’ll get if you download Psycliq music from Bandcamp or The Sixtyone as well, since they both gave me the option and I really believe in the CC license for creative works. The difference is that Magnatune insisted on the CC license. It was in fact the only option available on the contract with them.

Speaking of contracts, that’s another funny thing about Magnatune. It’s not just a self-distribution site like The Sixtyone or MySpace, where the artist can upload any and all of their music. Instead, they run Magnatune like a record label, only signing on stuff that their founder likes. Since they only accept a small percentage of submitted artists, it’s an honor to have Psycliq signed up with them. But it’s a nonexclusive contract, which is wonderful for starving indie artists like me. (I really am starving right now, I should probably go eat breakfast.)

With this exclusivity filter comes a weird quirk. When I say it’s all music that the founder likes, it’s not just artists that he likes, it’s actual songs that he likes. In particular, their version of The Mathemagician’s Riddle is what I would consider incomplete, since they did not want to distribute “Your Eyes Look Like Starlight” with the rest of the tracks. The same will actually be true when Results Not Typical makes it on through there in a few months, since they didn’t like “By Pint and Pound” either. And it really is a matter of liking or not: I was told these songs “weren’t as strong,” something I’d expect to hear from a record label producer. I’ll admit, as an artist, and an opinionated one at that, this does kinda sting. But at least they’re upfront about it, and I’m still free as an artist to release whatever I want to elsewhere. Thus it’s my hope that folks will wander over from Magnatune and find out what they’re missing. Maybe I should offer a Magnatune Amnesty Program to people to get the rest of their music. 🙂

Along with this, the version of Burn Bright that’s up there is also a bit incomplete. Since Magnatune has a strict no-samples policy (it makes their licensing structure simpler), I had to cut the clip of Klaatu from The Day The Earth Stood Still from the end of the track, giving birth to the confusingly-named “Impatience Mix”.

All said, I’m so far really happy to be up on their service, since if nothing else it’s exposing lots of new listeners to the music of Psycliq who would have probably never heard of it otherwise. And that’s a good thing. So to any new listeners, welcome to the show, we’re glad you came. We hope you stick around, as there’s quite a bit to see.

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So indie it hurts

The internet is positively exploding with ways to get to new music. Seems that everyone’s trying to build the next hot spot for discovering new bands that nobody’s heard of yet. While I think that most of them won’t catch on, I think it’s great that people are trying so many different approaches to this whole thing, and I’m doing my best to try and get Psycliq music up into all of them.

The Sixty One is a very slick music-player-community site that I’ve just run across. I’ve started to put Psycliq songs up there, but they’ve got a one-song daily upload limit so this could take a while. Ironically, somebody already bought a copy of Results Not Typical from there, even though only ten out of the seventeen tracks have been uploaded. I kinda feel bad for that person. So, person who bought that album, if you’re reading this, just drop me a line and I’ll make sure you get the rest of your music!

Noisetrade is an interesting experiment in letting people download free music but setting out a tip jar. They limit what you can put in there, so there’s not much to speak of and most folks seem to just come for the free downloads of the latest updates.

Grooveshark is a neat little indie radio station thing, similar in concept to Last.FM. I have no idea how to extract stats from that sucker though so I have no idea if anybody’s listening. If you are listening, thank you!

I’ve got a deal in the works with Magnatune to get onto their distribution service, which will make it so that movie studios and game companies can license Psycliq tracks for their stuff. That’d be kind of awesome. They even publish under Creative Commons, which is really cool. In a bit of an odd move, they didn’t want to carry a couple of tracks, but hey. More on that whole thing once it actually goes live, and I have no idea when that’d be. Update: The Mathemagician’s Riddle is up on Magnatune right now. Other albums will be up in the next few weeks sometime.

Then there are the few distribution places that I know of but haven’t managed to break into yet, including Pandora and FiXT Music. Those would be awesome channels and would open up a whole new world of listeners, but it seems that they’re pretty picky about what gets in the door. I’m sure there are many other places out there, too, so let me know if there’s anyplace that Psycliq ought to be and isn’t.

The main music site on Bandcamp remains the official home for Psycliq music and will be the first and sometimes only place to get certain songs, like the remixes and christmas albums. And CDBaby is still one of the best places to buy physical CDs, if you’re a curmudgeon like me and still like to own atoms.

Now is a really good time to be an independent musician. There’s so much you can accomplish without the structure of the record industry. There are listeners out there that small timers could have never reached before. Unfortunately, that means that everybody else is trying to do the same thing, leading to a world of noise like none other. At least a lot of this new noise is actually pretty good in its own right.