Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Tale of 3 DAWs

Its been a big month for iOS music app updates with the iPad native NanoStudio (finally!) and updated to many others. I thought I would blog a little bit about what DAWs I use (and perhaps what I don't and why).

My "big 3" DAWs lately seem to be NanoStudio, Music Studio 2 and Garageband. Missing from the common list is Multitrack DAW, Meteor and BeatMaker 2. Multitrack DAW is primarily used with audio files and since I do mostly MIDI, I haven't found a need for it. It also is useful for live recording - another feature I don't use. Meteor is a bit more complete but expensive. Every little feature costs more - a bit of a turnoff though I hear great things about it. BeatMaker, I have to admit is a personal thing. In my opinion, the interface for MIDI editing was heavily borrowed (stolen) from NanoStudio and that sort of thing just turns me off on the company - great product by most accounts though. Music Studio also has a MIDI piano roll editor and at least they used their own design there.

iPad Native NanoStudio

So when to use what? NanoStudio is often the idea generator. When I think of all the soft synths I have and begin to get a sound in my head, I sometimes go to the Eden synth in NanoStudio and quickly patch up the sound there rather than work through audio copy/paste with the other synths. In many cases this is enough. If I have a few samples I want pulled in, I record them to the TRG pads and roll away. If I had to pick only one DAW to work in on the iPad/iPod, this would probably be it. The editing is complete, the sounds are great - the interface very well laid out and the author is extremely responsive to support questions and enhancements.

While waiting for NanoStudio, I picked up Music Studio 2 which is nice in many ways though very different. The biggest feature I like in Music Studio 2 is its support for audio files. Music Studio gives you tons of sampled instruments (think of them more as "presets" - very similar to Garageband on the iMac), but also lets you paste audio files. So, if I really want to use some of my stand alone synths from the iPad, Music Studio is a great place to consolidate and edit the resulting WAV files, as well as add additional sounds from its library. Where it is weakest is in its effect bus, but usually I add the effects on the synth before generating a WAV file.

Lastly, Garageband for iPad/iPod is still a very useful performance tool. I find it very different than its big brother on the Mac but it is a favorite. Recording guitar parts, bass lines or keyboards is a pleasure on it and it also support audio file "pasting" - though it is a one way trip. To finalize the song, I almost always have to upload it to the Mac and use either Garageband or Logic 9 for mixing/mastering - not really a bad thing!

I have many other tools I am just getting the hang of (iSequence HD, Rhythm Studio, etc) but I am still learning those.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Logic Semi-Pro!

Big news for the iMac - sort of. Logic X is still not released but Logic 9 has been repackaged in the iMac App store and the price reduced. If you haven't sprung for Logic 9, you can now get the Pro version for $199 rather than spending the $499 for Logic Studio. Some of the more esoteric wave shaping and video options are missing but otherwise, it is the Studio version for the former Logic Express price - Great news if you don't have Logic 9 yet.

Logic Express is a casualty though - it is no longer being sold and the new release of Pro is um... a point upgrade from 9.1.5 to 9.1.6. For those, like me, who have Logic 9 Express, $199 is an awful lot of money for a point release.

The appealing part of upgrading is getting access to a few cool synth modules that are not in Express (such as Sculpture) and access to all of the software instruments and loops in Apples jam packs. This is a considerable value - the instruments more than the loops since I tend to play my tracks these days!

There is somewhat good news there if you can live with a few compromises. Apple also has unbundled the performance software, Mainstage and is selling it for $29. Both Logic Pro 9 and Mainstage purchases let you download all of the jam packs.

Soooo, in my case, I am keeping Logic Express and I purchased Mainstage even though I have no interest in performing. I have downloaded all of the jam packs and instruments which all appear now in Logic Express as well - so a $29 "sort of" upgrade that i can live with.

The downside is that while the cool additive Sculpture synth is available for use in Mainstage, it does not appear in the Logic Express menus - trying to see if I can get that to work but I am not optimistic.

I probably will upgrade to Logic X when/if it appears, but til then, this seems to be a good option.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Synth1 plugin for my Logic setup

Just got an incredible freeware synth for Logic/Garageband called Synth1. Its been out a long time as a Windows-only VST plugin and has been ported (in beta form) to Apple. By using a freeware AU to VST bridge, I can use it in either Garageband or Logic 9. The site is in Japanese, but there is English documentation available.

I put together the piece below using drum loops and 7 instances of the Synth1 for 9 tracks total. The CPU barely registered anything despite all the parts. The analog sounds out of this synth are very fat.

The interface isn't the prettiest but one great feature is that everything is on a single screen - no tabs, scrolling etc. so as a performance synth its pretty cool. It also supports MIDI learn to set up CC events or knobs to your hardwire.

The piece below features some bass patches - tweaked from presets and several tweaked versions of leads - one phased, one with heavy unison and one legato. There are thousands of free presets available for download on the web - just Google.

This plugin sounds as good or better than my (very expensive) Moog plugins from Arturia.
Here's what I put together with it - sort of just a jazz/funk jam session:

Honey Seeker by oldlibmike

Edit: Just more trivia of interest to synth heads maybe - The scratching section half way through the song was sort of serendipitous. I usually rehearse a part a few times before recording and I was working on the lead when I heard the cool scratching noise which was weird since I didn't have any such patch in the song. I realized that I had the wrong track selected - I was playing the bass line in a higher register instead of the lead line. I decided I liked the sound so I duplicated the bass line and played it in a new track - no scratching at all though just clean notes in a higher pitch. I wondered what was going on and finally figured out that it was the monophonic track along with its glide. when I played on the bass line with the other notes there, the "scratching" was the slide from the bass note to the higher note.

I finally got the sound by copying the baseline notes to a new track, recording the high notes for the "scratch" and then using a spectral filter to filter out the low notes since they tended to "click". So there - far more information than necessary.