The Wax in Montreal August 8th, 2009

It’s official! The Wax will be playing in Montreal on Saturday August 8th at La Sala Rossa, 4848 St-Laurent. Looks like a cool place.

Update: We’ll be playing with The Naked Light, Tallest Trees and local band Ghetto Pony

We’re going to try to setup some shows around the same time (i.e. Ottawa, Quebec City). More details to come.

Harmonic mixing 101

Harmonic mixing is where you mix two songs either in the same key, or in complimentary keys. When I used to play vinyl I did this by ear. Now that I’m using Final Scratch I actually index all my MP3s by key.

The nice thing about Final Scratch is that I can “lock” the pitch, so if I’m playing one record at -4% and another at +6% they’ll still match. With vinyl I had to account for the pitch difference, so it took much more effort to work out harmonic mixes.

Here’s the basic process that I follow with my digital collection:

1. Whenever I buy a new MP3 I’ll play it back and try to identify the key using a softsynth. You have to have a bit of an ear for this. Basically, you’re looking for the root note. Typically this is the note that the bass line revolves around. I’d say something about being able to differentiate between major and minor keys, but it hasn’t come up with any of the electronic music I’ve bought (it’s all minor!)

2. Once I’ve identified the key I’ll stick it in a few different places:

  • At the start of the filename (i.e. A#_song.mp3). This allows me to find complimentary tracks without having to even load them up.
  • In the ID3/4 comment tags
  • At the end of the song title, i.e. Title (A#)

3. When I load everything in FS I just sort on the comment, and when I’m playing a track I can see the key in the title at the top. Yes, there is a place to put the “key” in FS but it’s not a standard ID3/4 tag so it doesn’t get written to the MP3 AFAIK.

When mixing, I keep a spreadsheet open in the background with all the complimentary keys:

As you can see I’ve highlighted a few cells in yellow. This is because it can be annoying to move to and from sharp/flat keys, so I’ve highlighted where these transitions can happen. Lately I’ve been pitch shifting some songs to create more possibilities (more on this in another post)

An alternative to my technique would be to use the Camelot wheel, and index everything based on key code. This way, when sorted the complimentary tracks would appear side by side. Frankly I don’t mind working with the keys though, because they’re more meaningful from a musical perspective. It just means a bit more scrolling.

This post brought to you by the letter S

I’ve determined that approximately 30% of my song titles begin with the letter S. Do I have an affinity with the letter S, or are there just that many more words that begin with it? I tried to find some information on the subject to no avail. If you have any links please post them. Note that only about 5% of the words in this post start with the letter S, not counting “S” as a word. Curious.

If I hear one more commercial with a ripoff of Coldplay’s “Clocks”

Seriously, it’s been 7 years already. You’d think this would stop after 2, maybe 3. Was some sort of study done that shows that this song, or reasonable facsimiles, causes consumers to let their guard down? “Hey, this soothing melody sounds familiar, I think I’ll go buy a car”. Yeah right!

And on that note:

Drum recording for The Wax

So my indie pop/rock band, The Wax, has started recording a 6 song EP. We ripped through the drums in a weekend. Here’s what we used for gear:

  • Overheads: Samson C02 pencil condensors
  • Kick mic: Shure Beta 52A
  • Snare: Shure SM57
  • Audio interface: ART Tubefire 8

We didn’t have the best room so I tried out the Recorderman technique for the overheads. Overall I’m pretty happy with the results. Here’s a clip of an early mix of one of the tracks.

Bi-annual update!

Well it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything. I’ve been busy getting engaged, buying and moving into a house, recording, putting on shows, etc! I hope to start doing updates more regularly, mostly pertaining to my various music projects and what’s going on with them. So without further ado here’s the first one!

If you live in the Halifax region come check my indie pop/rock band, The Wax, at the Garrison Brewery on Thursday May 7th

We actually did a show there a couple months ago. Here are a few pics:

Choosing a delay pedal

I like delay, a lot, and when a like something a lot I generally get all obsessed with it and need to know everything about it – how it works, what the options are, how much they cost, etc. And so here we are!

Analog vs. digital:
In the audio world many seem to think that analog is better than digital. In some cases it may very well be, but in many it’s just “different”. I think delay is one of those cases. Some of the key differences between digital and analog delays:

  • Delay time: analog delays cannot achieve the same delay times as digital. Typical delay time for an analog pedal is around 500-600ms
  • Looping: to my knowledge there’s no such thing in analog pedals (tape delay is whole other world though)
  • Reverse delay: ditto
  • Tap tempo: a very useful feature, but rarely one you’ll find in an analog delay (and when you do, expect to pay a premium, i.e. Diamond Memory Lane 2 @ about $550)
  • Tone: with digital what you hear is what you get. With analog the delay is much more “coloured” – each repeat comes back a little “warmer” (less highs/more lows) and with less definition.
  • Cost: expect to pay more for an analog delay, and expect the price to increase alongside the delay time.

Other considerations:

  • Tone/filter control: very useful for making your delay warmer or brighter (boosting highs and/or cutting lows). In a digital pedal this will allow you to achieve a more analog-sounding delay.
  • Reverb: I’ve only seen this in one (digital) pedal (EHX Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai). It’s pretty handy for making the delays spacier and transparent. It also allows you to achieve some basic reverbs by rolling back the repeats and delay time.
  • Modulation: that is, modulating the pitch of the delays to get a haunting chorus-like effect.
  • Multi-tap: this can have different meanings. In some cases it means multiple delay times (i.e. one delay at 300ms, and one at 600ms), in others it means “repeat exactly X times”.
  • Expression pedal: some pedals will allow you to control certain parameters via an expression pedal. This can be handy if you like to play with feedback but don’t want to break your back in the process.
  • Stereo: usually stereo outs equates to ping-pong delays (repeats alternating back and forth between left and right), but in some cases you may have more control over it. Unless you have two amps or plug directly into a PA, this is really only useful for recording.
  • Self-oscillation: this is when the feedbacks build up and start to resonate, resulting in a wacky “spaceship” sound. You’ll hear this in some digital pedals, but it’s inherent in analog.

If you’re wondering, I personally own the EHX Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai. It’s a great pedal that can get some fairly warm and transparent delays via the filter and reverb knobs. My second pick would be the Diamond Memory Lane 2, but I don’t have $550 to drop on a delay. In a perfect world I would own both 🙂

If you’re on a budget and want a decent analog delay check out the MXR Carbon Copy. No tap tempo, but it does offer modulation (you’ll need to open it up to change the speed and depth though). For a good basic digital delay you can’t go wrong with the Boss DD pedals (they’re up to the DD-7 now).

I hope these points give you something to think about next time you’re in the market for a new delay pedal. Happy shopping!

Tuning your laptop for live audio

My current rig is a Novation X-Station + Toshiba Satellite. It’s taken a fair bit of work to get it to the point where it’s relatively stable. I wanted to document what I’ve done to solve each problem in the hopes that it may help others.

Software crashes
I’m running FL Studio as my host. From time to time it would hard-crash when loading a new project. I found that updating Windows and disabling all unnecessary services and start-up apps actually helped with this. I still have the odd issue (FL Studio reports the “file is corrupt”) but this may be due to a bug in FL or my hard drive flaking out.

Stuck notes
This one was easy: I updated the drivers for the X-Station et voila.

Noise (hum)
After doing a bit of reading I found that it apparently has something do with DC offset. I guess the DC being delivered through the adapter is not as “clean” as that of the battery. Anyways, I purchased a DI with a ground lift and the noise all but gone.

Pops & clicks in the audio
I started with the obvious things – disabling any fancy Windows UI stuff, adjusting my latency – to no avail. I’ve read that switching from ACPI to standard may fix it, though this seemed like overkill.

What ultimately worked for me was disabling all power-saving features whenever doing anything with audio. Even if the power saving features never kick in, they somehow seem to interfere with the USB bus.

Hardware issues
These can be the worst types of problems. If you’re running an older laptop like I am then the warranty won’t cover it, and I expect hardware repairs on older laptops just aren’t worth. Performance-wise I have no reason to upgrade and I really don’t want to have to go through hassle of re-installing all of my audio software.

My current issue is with the screen flickering/distorting from time to time. I’ve read this may be just due to a loose connection between the display and the board. Hopefully that’s all it is. If it were the GPU that would probably mean the end of the line for my laptop. I’ll update when I’ve had a chance to investigate some more.

Korg M50 first impressions

This review is from playing around with the 61 key version for a couple 30 minutes sessions.

It’s not built like a tank, but it does feel gig-worthy. I noticed some weirdness (burn-in?) on the display. Normally this wouldn’t be surprising for a floor model, although in this case it’s a bit worrisome given that the store would have only had it for a few days.

I’m not as picky as some regarding keyboard action, so it felt fine to me. The knobs and buttons felt sturdy as well. I had no real concerns about build quality aside from the aforementioned display issue.

There are some extremely cheesy combi presets, that’s to be expected, but they are all quite expressive and show off the power of combi mode. If you like the “Korg sound” then I think you’ll be happy. It’s a big step up from the TR, sound-wise.

  • Keys: Warm and responsive. The amp sim adds a nice touch the EPs.
  • Drums: There are some pretty decent sounds in this thing. Maybe not enough to stand up on their own, but certainly to augment another source.
  • Pads: Warm and lush with lots of movement.
  • Orchestral/acoustic: The standard fare. Strings would be passable for live performance but I don’t think I’d use them in the studio.
  • Synths: A bit thin but some of the leads were definitely usable. To satisfy my curiosity I downloaded the voice list: it covers everything one would need to recreate most subtractive synth sounds – sync, PWM, etc. Of course you’re not going to get the same sort of flexibility as you would with a VA.

The effects section is quite comprehensive and easy to access. I was hoping that all parameters would be assignable, but sadly it seems only selected ones are. Along with the single stereo out, this is yet another limitation of the M50, but not a huge surprise given the price point.

The chord buttons could be pretty handy for live performance. Ditto for the tap tempo. I wasn’t able to check out the computer integration at the music shop, but if it’s stable then this would make a welcome addition to anyone’s studio.

Ease of use:
If you’ve ever used a Korg then the layout will be quite familiar. I was able to find everything I wanted fairly easily. I didn’t have a chance to try editing a patch, but I was able to find the edit mode easily. I imagine the touch screen and computer integration will simplify the editing process greatly.

The one gripe I have in this area is the arp. There were dozens if not hundreds of patterns and I didn’t see any sort of categorization to them. I spent a couple minutes just trying to find a basic “chord” mode, to no avail.

Overall impression:
An impressive piece of gear at this price point, and one that would be equally as useful in the studio as it would be on stage. It won’t replace everything I can do with my laptop, but it will come extremely close.

Update: I found out that the local music store has it listed at a couple hundred more than I was expecting. Probably not worth considering until the price drops.

Convolution reverb

It’s weird. All these years of writing music with technology and I’d never heard of convolution reverb or impulse responses until last weekend. I’m sure I’ve used it at one time or another without knowing, but never really knew what it was or how it worked. I was looking for a way to record my amp using the line out and not have it sound like complete crap when I came across some forums about cab impulses.

A couple freeware suggestions for trying this out:

Voxengo Boogex: this is intended as an amp sim, so it also has other features like drive and dynamics, but the speaker sim uses impulse responses. It comes with some default impulses, but it also allows you to load your own. If you turn of all the “preamp” stuff you could use it for reverbs too, although it’s mono.

Freeverb Impulser: the UI is not much to look at but it allows you to chain multiple impulses together, each with independent levels, filters, etc. This would be useful if you were trying to simulate a complex reverb scenario like say, a fly in a jar sitting on a windowsill beside a forest…

Speaking of which, I came across some impulse responses for small spaces like jars (“Claustrofobia”) . Check out these Impulse Responses by Fokke van Saane. I’m not sure what one would do with these exactly, but they sound pretty cool.

The more useful impulses I came across were the more typical ones – natural spaces, guitar cabs and the like. These are some of the nicer ones I found but there are tons more out there.

Update: in action

Here’s an A/B comparison of a direct recording with and without a cab impulse.

The signal chain is as follows:

  1. Fender Strat
  2. EH Memory Man (short delay with mod and low cut)
  3. Fender Vibro Champ XD (Blackface voice, mild reverb)
  4. DI box
  5. Mackie 1202 VLZ mixer
  6. Delta Audiophile 2496

Note: my DI has a speaker level switch so I was using the amp’s speaker out and not the line out.

The second sample was run through Voxengo Boogex with the “Fender SuperChamp AT4050” impulse from Beamsonic. Both samples were run through the Ultrafunk Sonitus compressor.