Category Archives: Info for musicians

OK – back to music

After clearing up the “studio housekeeping” problems I am back working on songs. I have a few things currently in the works, early versions of which I hope to offer here soon.

I’m interested in extreme and death metal lately, which means guitar playing. I have been wrestling with my cheap electric solid body for a long time: with mediumweight strings and all 5 springs installed on the tremolo I still have too high strings. So finally a huge light bulb went off; I detuned all strings by a whole step and I get perfect action and a nice fatter sound.

I have been agonizing over guitar amp sims too, trying every demo in sight. The problem is that I’ll dial in a sound that seems perfect, then come back in the morning at hate it. Currently my strategy is to layer the fabulous free Dirthead 0.80 and Voxengo BoogeX as a group in live, tweak each plugin for a different part of the sound and then mix them. I also find myself returning to the built-in guitar processors in the humble but might Zoom R8 recorder. So maybe I won’t plunk down money for a software guitar sim for the moment….

Meanwhile let me recommend the interview with Oneohtrix Point Never in the latest (December 2015) issue of Electronic Musician. His process is intriguing and I note with satisfaction that he is also an Ableton Live exclusivist.

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NWEAMO San Diego – Feb/Mar 2012

I feel really blessed to have this wonderful event just a few miles from my house. Sometimes I think it’s a pity that more people from the community don’t attend.

This year there is a very nice article, mainly based on an interview (with a handy description of the festival schedule) with festival adjuvant Dr Joseph Waters, that hopefully will raise the series’ profile. But unfortunately it is still 90% music students from SDSU attending.

Tonight the Partch ensemble is playing; I only hope it will not be sold out before I can buy a ticket.

“The Producers Conference” notes: San Diego 14 May 2011 stop

See the description here

This was well worth the nominal $35 admission fee. It’s difficult to get good technical and business information about the music industry so these rare events are very welcome.

This seminar struck a great balance between technology and industry. The first two presenters, Matt Piper of Line6 (Reason’s US distributor) and Kurt “PEFF” Kurasaki (Reason expert from its earliest days) concentrated on technique, focusing on the Neptune pitch correction tool and advanced compression methods in Reason 5/Record 1.5. Even for producers not using Reason this was valuable info.

Ted Breuner then spoke about his journey into the innards of the music industry from his days as an amateur songwriter in his hometown band to working with L.A. A-list artists. At first I thought he minimized the business aspects in favor of “touchy-feely” concepts, but what he was trying to get across was that, if you enter the business to get rich it will be a miracle if you do, but with passion, commitment and persistence you will be rewarded. You could argue this point but I wouldn’t with someone as experienced as him.

Finally, dance music production wizard Jake Stanczak of Kill The Noise showed some secrets of producing monster tracks using Reason. But with his intensity and commitment, he could probably make fantastic tracks using a handheld cassette recorder and the contents of the average kitchen. Props to him for sharing so generously of his experience as well as his techniques.

I hope there are more of these sorts of events in the San Diego area.

It’s ironic how pop music production seems to have returned back to L.A. again just as it was decades ago…

Last modified (fixed page title!) 2012 01 12

Computer music pioneer Max Mathews dies at 84

The influence of Max Mathews on all aspects of electronic and digital music since its birth has been enormous. The seminal music programming system Max (originally sold by the now-defunct Opcode Systems was named for him. It has recently been rearchitected to work with Ableton Live as Max4Live.

Appreciation of Max Mathews at createdigitalmusic.com

Review of the Korg Pandora PX5D effects unit

I don’t have a page in this site that this belongs on, so I’m just throwing this post out there for anyone who might be interested.

This model appears to be discontinued already (2012) but the replacement (the Pandora Mini) looks excellent and sells for only USD100.

Korg Pandora PX5D

My new favorite toy...

Review of the Korg Pandora PX5D

Processor, tuner, phrase trainer and USB interface for electric guitar and bass players.

Executive overview

Pros:

  • great sound
  • great guitar effects including difficult-to-model crunchy/heavy distortion varieties
  • numerous drum/bass patterns for practicing with
  • rugged (metal case)
  • very compact (the fingers in the photo above are average size)
  • runs (up to 7 hours) on 2 AA batteries (YAY)
  • USB computer interface to edit patches, or record from device
  • aux input
  • switchable display backlight
  • good features for bass as well as guitar
  • other useful features like a tuner, transposing of input audio signals, and audio interface mode

Cons:

  • small size (!) buttons and knobs can be a bit tiny to manipulate
  • no included A/C p/s
  • not dirt cheap (list is USD330, but most places sell it for less than USD200)
  • support software is for WinXP. No problem for me but many musicians do use Macs

Introduction

I felt the urge to replace my 10-year-old DigiTech RP100 pedal. As nice a device as it was, it wasn’t the most convenient for me, mainly because I don’t play live. I was tired of having to stick the pedal up on the table to edit things. And I thought I had got all the best sounds out of it I could get.

So my plan was to get a new efx processor for my guitar, but also soup up the axe by replacing the old pickup set with EMG active pickups.

Before I did any of that however, I paid the local guitar experts to set up and intonate the guitar. This was long overdue and made the instrument 100 times more enjoyable to play.

After a fair amount of research on guitar effects, I decided on the Korg. One of the things I particularly liked was the design for electric bass as well as electric guitar. Since I play both this was a plus. The smaller and less expensive PX4 model looked interesting, but for its additional features the PX5D was relatively not that much more in price–so that’s what I ordered. (I read somewhere that the “D” part of the name meant “dual”; i.e., guitar and bass.)

The Korg can be used live which I’ll talk about later but that is not the way I use it, so this review will be mostly aimed at the studionaut.

Effects use and editing

The simplest way to begin, once you tear it out of its box (batteries included!) is to plug in your instrument, connect your amp to its output and just start hitting presets. There are 100 presets and 100 user patch slots. The last 30 presets have names that begin with “B ” and are particularly optimized for bass.

There are 4 dedicated buttons A-D for your absolute favorite patches. The other way to access a group of your favorite patches quickly is to copy them into adjacent user slots. For instance, I liked patches P00, P02, P04, P09, P17, etc., so I copied them to user memory locations U00, U01, U02, U03, etc. You can then tweak those Unn patches, match their output levels, etc.

The tweakability of the effects is great. The effects structure is a chain of 7 blocks (plus a noise reduction block). The blocks are:

  • dynamics/pickup modeling (including octave, ring modulator, compressors, limiters, distortion, etc.)
  • amplifier models (15 guitar amps, 10 bass amps, guitar and bass synths)
  • cabinet models (11 types of guitar cabinets and 12 types of bass cabinets)
  • modulation and filtering effects (chorus, flanger, pager, pitch shifter)
  • delay effects (slap, echo, pingpong, reverse, with adjustable delay times)
  • reverb models (11 types)
  • noise reduction

The coolest thing is to hook up the USB connection and install the Pandora patch editor. This makes it simple to try patches, which you can then also save from and load to the device. If you for some reason find the 100 user patches too few, you can create your own banks and download them when you need them.

As is often the case in these type of devices, in a lot of cases they can only hint at the amp models they are intending to emulate. It’s fun to try to guess which models they are intending to refer to.

For instance “BTQ CLN” (“Boutique Clean”) is described as “clean channel of a high-end 100W hand-made amp.” Some of the other models you can choose from are (just listing the guitar ones):

  • BTQ OD
  • TWD1x12 (“Tweed 1×2”)
  • TWD4x10
  • BLK2x12 (Fender Twin  series?)
  • AC15/AC15B – they actually use the name VOX AC15 in the description
  • AC30/AC30TB
  • UKBLUES (“UK-manufactured vintage stack guitar amp head”) Orange, Marshall, Hiwatt?
  • UK 70s/UK 80s/UK 90s (UK-manufactured guitar heads from 1969, 1983 and the 90s)

Rhythm section

The next feature you need to play with is the Rhythm section. This consists of 120 rhythm patterns, including a number in non-4/4 rhythms, and 8 metronome patterns. The cool thing is that most rhythm patterns have 4 bass options: off, basic pattern, variation 1 (major key) and variation 2 (minor key) for your selected root note.

You can string up to 16 patterns in a Chain. Up to 20 Chains can be stored.

The rhythm set sounds OK but you can tell just one sample is used for the snare which becomes a little mechanical after a while.

Phrase trainer

This is a very powerful and handy feature. You select a phrase buffer length of 20, 40 or 80 seconds, and you can either record your instrument, and audio source or even load a loop into the device via your computer. Then you can play it back in a loop and work out your leads or rhythm parts with it. A cool feature is the speed adjustment where you can set the playback speed to one of 6 values from 50% to 100% of original. It’s not a high fidelity adjustment but useful for practice.

Summary

In a nutshell, this is an extremely feature rich, well designed, compact and useful device. The criticisms I have of it are so minor as to be negligible. I think for around USD200 or even less it represents and excellent value. Korg may not be the first name you think of when it comes to guitar effect but it’s well worth checking this out.

I just ran across a very detailed review of the PX5D on Harmony Central, and I hope they won’t mind if I throw the link here: Review of PX5D by Jon Chappell (April 2010)

Last edited 20110109

Life is like that…

I had really wanted to release another “on-line album” by the end of 2010, but it doesn’t look like I’m going to make it. I hate to disappoint all the tim p scott fans of the world, but there’s no help for it.
Meanwhile, this gives me a chance to consider the whole concept of an “album” in the 21st Century. It’s been pointed out that the model of mainstream pop music consumption has returned to the “pre-album” days of the 1950s and 1960s, when the unit of music purchase was the 45 RPM record with the “hit” on one side and the “B-side” on the other. Today, people still have their pop music favorites, but they are more interested in the individual song or track than in an album. Part of the problem was (once again) the “industry” where record companies (and even artists, I’m sorry to say) released their hit song on an album where the rest of the tracks were little more than filler. Or released what looked like and album with 5 or 6 remixes of the same one song. In combination with the artificially high price of records (and CDs), consumers got fed up with this and embraced the a la carte world that the internet age brought.
I hope I don’t get kicked out of ASCAP for talking this way, but it was the RIAA and its constituent company members that were primarily responsible for that boondoggle.
Meanwhile, I have a bunch of individual tracks I’ve produced since 2008, and those are mostly available easily for listening. Go to http://wp.me/PnrSR-nY to check them out.
Meanwhile I’m going to have some good new stuff out I promise, but my other work committments are weird and require travel and other strange scheduling stuff…

Some notes on software guitar processors

Update in 2015

Well, this is already 5 or 6 years old and there has been much progress in this field.

First an

Introduction

I’m not much of a guitar player, and the guitar I have is of equal quality. So, can using VST guitar plugins make the proverbial silk purse out of a sow’s ear? Yes and no.

Here are some notes about a few demo and freeware versions I’ve used. Your mileage will certainly vary, but at the least it may be something for you to consider.

Also remember that many of these are continually being worked on and improved, so the versions I’m writing about are probably already obsolete as you read this.

Native Instruments Guitar Rig

My collaborator pointed me at this; the best part being that the demo version (5) sounds great even though it is very limited in the number of components you can select. I am using it quite a but

Line 6 (www.line6.com)

I liked the POD but ultimately I couldn’t get the sounds out of it I wanted. Maybe my problem. In any case they now have a software only version, the demo is worth checking out.

Studio Devil BVC (www.studiodevil.com)

+ VST

+ Free version  for eval! (BVC variant)

+ Cheap

Pretty nasty distortion tool which can border on shrill. A little of this goes a long way.

ReValver (www.alienconnections.com)

Free versions of this commercial product can be found that have a subset of its entire feature set. This is the ultimate tweaker tool. You have a tool box full of preamp and amp models and processors you can wire together into a virtual rack, sort of like the Reason model. In each device you can actually get in and edit it as though you were actually modifying the device’s electronics. Very powerful and capable of great sounds.

Not using it so much now in 2015 since the NI Guitar Rig 5 does everything it does, at least in the demo mode which is all I can afford at the moment.

♥ Dirthead 0.80

My favorite single processor. May require a little EQ to tame the “honkiness” you can get from a cheap guitar.

++ FREE!

+ Three levels of distortion

+ “Cabinet” switch is useful and adds good sound

+ Simple to use, stable, extremely light CPU footprint

Voxengo Tube Amp

Voxengo BoogeX

After tinkering with these a lot, it became clear that they often had one or two great characteristics, but alone didn’t do the trick. This is where Ableton’s Rack paradigm comes in handy. It’s simple to create a Rack which is a layer of several of these tools. I have Racks that parallel three or four of them, usually Dirthead, Studio Devil and Boogex. Another channel with a Live Utility device allows you to add some clean signal.

Then you can map Macro controls to easily tweak the amount of contribution to the entire sound from each device.

Now that I’m rich…

Or actually, now that I have an income again–after some research I splurged on my guitar. First I paid an expert (Moze Guitars) to set up and intonate it. It’s a hell of a lot more fun to play now.

I decided my trusty DigiTech RP100 was due for retirement, so after some research I ended up with the Korg Pandora PX5D. The short story is that it’s a great little unit but since this page is supposed about software I’ll write about these things elsewhere.

Last updated 3 Dec 2010

Google AdWords and the New Marketing

I don’t know. There’s a big part of retro me that really resents the New Marketing. This is where you scramble, lie, cheat, and do whatever’s necessary to drive traffic to your site and sell stuff.* Yes, we want to sell tracks and CDs. But I just hate the concept that New Marketing is the way to do it.

I got a voucher recently for a $100 credit for Google AdWords. Just as an experiment, I decided to go ahead and set up an account and see what would happen.

Amazingly, it worked. Even with the clumsy choice of trigger names, it actually did drive traffic to this site.

Results of AdWords campaign

Here’s the number of visitors to this site over the period the AdWords campaign was running.

It didn’t really result in any sales that I can tell, but there’s probably other reasons for that.

*The King of Self-Promoters (no point in giving him yet more publicity by adding his name here) wrote a book which he titled “The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman“. In an interview he said that he crowdsourced the title; that is, he put a bunch of adwords keywords out there and scientifically distilled the results to get a title that would be most likely to sell. Basically the content is irrelevant. Once you’ve sold a physical book, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get a return. Part of me admires his approach, part of me is disgusted by it.

last updated 2010 may

A new and excellent site for musicians: bandcamp.com

Update stardate 4 Sept 2009

I’m liking this site more and more. If nothing else, their FAQ is the most fun to read of any site. They obviously understand “Web gruettiquette” and “independent music” well.

The little player tool that embeds into wordpress stuff doesn’t look so hot. I went back to their site to see if they had improved it any..doesn’t look like it yet.

The history

I found a site called “bandcamp” through some forums I read.  This is a new site for independent bands and musicians to put their tracks and albums, sort of like amiestreet and many others (some of which I describe on other pages of this site.) It looks very flashy and professional; obviously whoever is behind it has some $$ for programmers. At the moment it’s free in order to try to get musicians to put some content on it (otherwise…what good is it?)

I’m also getting sucked in by their nerdy+cool attitude in their newsletter and

I’ve signed up and stuck one song from “The Circle of Art” up just as a tryout. It will of course take some time and effort to set up a band page on yet another site, but it does look well thought out and feature rich.

One nice little feature is that they offer a player shortcode that lets you easily embed tracks back into a wordpress.com page! Isn’t that a nice feature? Thus:

This was the original shortcode:

Now they recommend I use this one:

which sort of looks the same to me.

(I can’t show the code that generates that player in wordpress.com, the “sourcode” tag doesn’t work for it either.)

Anyway–bandcamp is not a social networking music site where you can message the artists, rate their works, etc. (as far as I know so far) but more or less just a showcase at present.)

The other thing it doesn’t have at the moment is a “browse” or “search genre” feature. All the artists appear to be on the same level without a way to filter for certain genres, popularity, etc. Maybe these things will be implemented or maybe I’m missing them. More Will Be Revealed, Doubtless. But if you have your own promotion mechanism and just need a place to park your product, this looks like a good place to do it.

(Eventually this page will probably end up on “51-Places to put your music” but I just wanted to get this note written quickly.)

Note added 20090526

It looks like they’re implementing a way to buy tracks at “U choose the price” value.