Production

There is a House down in N’Awlins

I’ve been hard at work on a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” over the past couple weeks. I’m using it as an opportunity to find my way around new software and equipment, and to try out some new ways of working with what I’d had already.

One really big change? No programmed drums on this track. They’re still synth generated, but I played the whole rhythm section on the MPD18 drum pad controller. The results are a lot more organic than usual, with a lot more variation in dynamics. I’m sure I’ll gravitate back towards at least a few programmed loops, but this has been a really interesting experience. Granted, the fact that the song is in 6/8 helped push that decision, but it’s still been good. I’ve also been figuring out how to mix using the nanoKontrol2, and it’s already been a great upgrade to its predecessor. The physical control over volume sliders is actually making me use the volume automation a lot more than I used to, and doing things by ear instead of by what was easy to set up.

The song itself is really starting to come along, and I’m excited about the arrangement. I’m hoping to have it wrapped up sometime in mid August if all goes well. Subscribers to the newsletter will be getting a preview cut of it in the next week. Want in on the action? Subscribe today!

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Uncategorized

Now We Begin Again

As you all know, I’ve been in the process of upgrading the studio. Over the weekend, I finally got the rest of my packages and got everything installed and running. Now with all of that overhead out of the way, I can finally sit down and begin working on music again. Once I get my head wrapped around these new tools, I’ll start putting up a few blog posts about what’s what. I will say, though, that it’s nice not having to jump through a half dozen hoops every time I want to open a program now. It’s the beginning of a new era! Until the next upgrade is required, of course.

This has taught me that waiting for sales and special offers really pays off though. The way I calculate it, I spent about a third of what I would have if I had paid full price for everything. The makes my inner cheapskate very happy.

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, Uncategorized

I Have Kontrol

Update: For those wandering in looking how to use a nanoKontrol with ProTools 8, I’ve since updated to a nanoKontrol2 and ProTools 9, and the two work seamlessly out of the box with each other.  On the chance that you’re still shopping around for stuff, I highly recommend going with the nanoKontrol2. Original post below...

I hope that everyone had and/or is having a wonderful holiday season! Have you downloaded Light The Tree yet? It’s only going to be up for another week, and it’s completely free! My holiday has been filled with a lot of driving around to family events, but now I think we’re finally settled into the house for a bit.

Exhausting, yes, but lots of fun, with a brand new year that’s almost begun. And what did I find under the tree this year? Why, nothing short of a new piece of gear! OK, this rhyming has to stop. (Anybody got a mop?) Seriously.

What you’re looking at in the product shot (courtesy of a fine review from SKRATCHWORX) is a Korg NanoKontrol. This lovely (and tiny) piece of hardware is really just a USB MIDI controller with a bunch of sliders and knobs and buttons on it. Nothing fancy on its own, but when you pair it with the right software you’ve got a pretty powerful setup on your hands. The obvious use case for me is for a mixing board, controlling track volumes and plugin controls in ProTools. With nine independent sliders, each with a knob and pair of buttons, you’ve got some really nice physical control over the mixing process. Since ProTools is notoriously picky about non-Avid-owned hardware, it sadly didn’t work out of the box. However, there is hope! You see, with its included editor software, this little guy can spit out pretty much whatever MIDI control codes you want it to, thereby pretending to be basically any kind of control surface out there. I used a great little tutorial to wire it up into ProTools, and I was very quickly in business. The first eight sliders map to the volume control on the first eight channels, and the last slider maps to the volume control of the last master fader. In other words, it does exactly what you’d expect it to do. In fact, I was a bit amazed at how smoothly everything worked. I will likely be tweaking the control mappings going forward, but this is a fantastic starting point, and I’d like to thank the folks at Trikome for their setup.

One of the main reasons for loving it so much has got to be the hardware transport controls. The ability to start, stop, rewind, and record from dedicated buttons cannot be beat. This way, I don’t have to fumble over to my computer keyboard to mash the right arcane button combination just to get things to start and stop when I want them to.

Mind you, the NanoKontrol doesn’t do any recording or mixing on its own — it is nothing more than a simple MIDI device. But like all good tools, it’s in exactly the form factor it needs to be in to make it useful. I’m going to need to rearrange my desk a bit to accommodate it, but I really needed to rework the studio space anyway. Maybe that’s something we can look forward to in the new year.