Monday, August 22, 2011

Music on the cheap

Recently an young friend of mine started asking me about Logic prices. He is a college freshman using his MacBook pro for school as well as amateur music. I started putting a reply together and decided that it might make a good blog posting.

In his case, the platform (mac) is already decided so I won't cover Windows options - that is a different topic altogether right up there with religion and politics.

My advice to him is basically to stick to GarageBand '11 along with some great free add-ons. I made the move to logic express about 6 months ago and love the tool, but there is little that I use it for that is impossible in GarageBand, just a little less convenient in places.

It is important to remember that GarageBand is at least 100 times more powerful than the software/studio equipment used in past decades. As for saving money, it is generally free with a new Mac and only $15 if you have to buy it. So what are you missing compared to Logic?

Apple documents this fairly well but mainly it is large libraries of instruments, some effects and soft synthesizers. In the interests of saving money, these short-comings can be overcome. I don't discount the value of logic express or logic studio but on a budget, there are good free or cheap alternatives.

Garageband's loop library is a bit limited but there are thousands of free samples available online. With the Apple Loop Utility you can convert many simple WAV files into pitch shifting apple loops and build up the list. It is also possible to make use of the many soundfont libraries available.

As for Synths, Logic gives you many great built-in synths. GarageBand has a number of software instruments as well. Rather than have you tweaking every oscillator and filter, GarageBand gives simpler control of just a few parameters and bundles various sounds as software instruments. A software instrument in GarageBand is somewhat analogous to a pre-set on a software synth.

If tweaking is your thing though, GarageBand supports AU plugins just like Logic does. Two very good synthesizers to get are Crystal and TAL both free and both extremely powerful and flexible.

One necessary expense, however is a midi keyboard. You can use a laptop as a midi keyboard in a pinch but to do anything much you will need a piano keyboard. If you want portability to go with the laptop, I strongly recommend the Akai MPK mini. If you want full size keys though you sacrifice portability. In any case go for a midi over USB connection for convenience. Many keyboards can be powered from the USB port.

An iPad is also a discretionary expense but if you are fortunate enough to have one, you can get tons of cheap music making software usually for $10 or less. In fact GarageBand on the iPad is an excellent addition and uploads to the mac version (as well as logic).

Those are my initial recommendations. Feel free to comment on budget crunching music tips!

EDIT: I left out another great free tool - Audacity, a terrific and free audio file editor. By all means add that to the list.

Also, when/if you go the logic route, all GarageBand projects are easily converted and all of the instruments, loops etc are compatible with both. Take advantage of student discounts on software!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mixtikl 4 - Still a favorite

I have to admit that for all of the many iPad synth apps that I continually purchase, one of the apps that I use the most is Mixtikl. In terms of interfaces, Mixtikl is um...well, unique? Complex? Esoteric? The appeal for me is that on the desktop (iMac) or iPad or iPod, the interface as quirky as it is, is exactly the same. Mixtikl, as I have blogged before, is a very interesting application that produces "generative" music or music that evolves algorithmically into new interesting patterns. I think the "hook" for me was that Brian Eno used an earlier version (Koan) to produce an entire album. This particular tool seems perfect for my own inclinations. I love computers, always loved synths and with Mixtikl, rather then performing keyboard parts and editing ad-nauseum, I get to program the music! The new release unleashes most of the generative engine and lets me add and manipulate rules and patterns to produce sounds. I think it is more music-engineering than performing which is extremely appealing to me!There are some phenomenal tutorials available HERE that show exactly how to create precise sounds with the underlying Partikl synthesizer. Every release of Mixtikl (free by the way) have added considerable functionality and power in creating unique sounds. 

So while I underutilize NanoStudio, Sunrizer, Nlog Synth etc, I continue to return to Mixtikl when I want to put interesting soundscapes together. Perhaps this has a little to do with my keyboard skills or lack thereof but this tool continues to evolve and amaze me. If you haven't checked it out yet or are turned off by the interface....get over it and try it for awhile! 

Attached is a mixed piece with some iElectribe beats, Mixtikl loops and generative rules rolled into one 80ish melange. So, mousse up that comb-over, die it bright red and enjoy.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Featured in iOS Music And You

I just got a nice mention in the iOS Music And You website featuring my NanoStudio iOS piece called "Givin it 125" - check it out here!

iOS Music and You is a relatively new site that has had some fantastic reviews and tutorials - be sure to check out their tutorials on the Sunrizer arpeggiator and on the new Retronyms Tabletop app.

They are going to feature one artist every Monday - happy to be the first :)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

RIP Synthstation 25

Well.....6 volts/1 amp does not enjoy being give 12 volts/3 amps! I put the wrong power supply on the Synthstation 25 and sadly it is no more!

Now to decide whether or not to replace it. I got it to use with my iPod touch and it worked very well with NanoStudio and other synths, but I still found the screen size too small and had to use it too much. Often I would find myself moving the project to the iPad for processing and I seem to prefer the keyboard on the iPad to the "real" keys on the Synthstation.

I have a MPK mini that usually remains on my iMac and I can attach that to the iPad with the camera connection kit but I rarely do that.

So, we'll see if I feel the need for the iPod music making any time soon. For now, its predominantly back to the iPad and iMac.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Some thoughts on iPad Music workflows

I still enjoy the convenience of being able to put together electronic pieces on my couch with an iPad. In "How to Make a Noise" (a great book for learning how to put together synth sounds), Simon Can stresses the point that you should thoroughly learn a synthesizer tool before purchasing many more.

While this is good professional advice, as an amateur, I am free to ignore it and buy synth apps as soon as they come out which, of course, affects my productivity - fortunately I lack the talent and the inclination to try to make a living a producing music so I am free to fritter away my time collecting new apps, DAWs and soft synths.

With so many tools to play with, when I DO want to create something I am forced to think a bit about where I am going with the project. Early on I have to decide:

  • Will this be developed solely on the iPad or will I upload and refine the project in Garageband or Logic 9?
  • Will I use a "studio" type app that lets me put together all the tracks in one go or will I be using Audiocopy and paste?
If I am going to go the "upload" route, I am inclined to use Garageband on the iPad as a starting point. It is one of the best "performing" tools that I have and is incredibly fun to use for guitar riffs, bass lines or even synthesized leads. With the new capability to paste in audio files from other apps, it can even act a a bit of a DAW. I can then upload to the iMac and continue to refine the project in Logic 9 or Garageband '11.

More often than not, however, I am finding myself putting together projects on just the iPad - not sure why that is but I seem to enjoy it more. There are several "self-contained" tools that let me combine beats, bass and leads and I do most of my work there. These tools include NanoStudio, GarageBand, Mixtikl, Korg iMS-20 and Xenon Studio. 

The tools I own that get neglected are the single synth gems such as NLog Pro, Sunrizer, Addictive Synth and SynthX. For these "single-tracking" tools, it takes a good deal more work and imagination to get something going and I have yet to do much with them. I tend to take a "layering" approach to building up songs starting with drum beats and basslines and then gradually adding in leads.

One project I am still working on was done as: 
  1. Creating some patterns in the Korg iElectribe
  2. Pasting the patterns into Mixtikl and adding some generative sounds and a few Mixtikl loops
  3. Moving the project to the iMac, mixing down the Mixtikl song with the desktop version to a WAV file
  4. Importing the WAV file into Logic 9 and adding some synth leads there
In tools such as SynthX or Sunrizer, they play more or less on their own. You can with Sunrizer play background drum beats but it takes a lot of imagination to hear the finished project. SynthX is much worse - a great synth but not even a metronome - how on earth do you create something that fits the beat? I don't really want to beat-stretch in Logic after the fact.

So for now I seem to be doing most of my work with the "studio" type products on the iPad. I'd love to hear other ideas and workflows that work for others if you care to comment.

Here is a "studio" style project I put together with the Korg iMS-20: