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Issue 158 May 2016

The magazine for producers, engineers and recording musicians

PRODUCE A TRACK TODAY Essential tips to inspire you to compose, arrange, mix and master your music…

Exclusive access to his LA studio New trends

Modular madness from Berlin • Hardware-only music production New gear

Issue 158 May 2016 £5.99 MT158.cover.indd 1

3 Pocket Operators 6 best soft synths 

       

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Welcome to the Family

Introducing the New Rokit 4 & Rokit 10-3 G3 Professional Studio Reference Monitors It’s hard to top the world’s best-selling studio reference monitors—so we created two new ones to evolve the Rokit line further. Go compact with the Rokit 4, for portability and performance that fits in your carry-on. Or go big with the Rokit 10-3 three-way, which fills even large rooms with the high definition sound quality you expect from KRK—and then some. Music is your passion. Reproducing it with clarity, and detail is ours. Welcome to the family.

Rokit 8, 6, 5

KRK Systems is a member of the Gibson Family of Brands. ©2015 Gibson Brands, Inc. All rights reserved.

Welcome MT

Expert Panel Studio Hardware John Pickford

A studio engineer for over 25 years, John’s a keen sound-recording historian who has a passion for valve-driven analogue equipment and classic recording techniques.

Mixing/Mastering/Logic Mark Cousins Mark specialises in sound design and cinematic productions. He’s recorded with orchestras across Europe and is heavily involved in soundtrack composition.

Careers Editor Rob Boffard

A sound designer with a background in TV and radio work, Rob’s a Reason evangelist and – when he isn’t writing for MusicTech – releases hip-hop music under the name Rob One.

Digital/Composition Andy Price

With a Masters in songwriting and a vast interest in music history and recording techniques, Andy works daily on MusicTech. net and regularly contributing to the magazine. He’s currently heading up our songwriting and Cubase series.

Recording & Guitar Tech Huw Price

A recording engineer since 1987, Huw has worked with the likes of David Bowie, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, Heidi Berry and Fad Gadget.

Scoring/Orchestral Keith Gemmell

Keith specialises in areas where traditional music-making meets music technology, including orchestral and jazz sample libraries, acoustic virtual instruments and notation software.

Ableton Live Martin Delaney

Martin was one of the first UK Ableton-Certified Trainers. He’s taught everyone from musicians to psychiatric patients and written three books about Live. Martin also designed the Kenton Killamix Mini USB MIDI controller and is now the editor of

Synthesisers/Modular Dave Gale

Dave is an award-winning Media Composer, Orchestrator and Producer, with a passion for synths and modulars in all their forms, whether software, hardware, vintage or contemporary.

Electronic Music Alex Holmes

Alex has been a computer musician for 15 years, having a keen passion for beats, bass and all forms of electronic music. He’s currently involved in three different dance-music projects.

Modular synthesis reached something of a peak this month with its own show in, where else, Berlin. Superbooth16 was its name and it really was rather good: synth companies by the dozen, lots of very cool noises and, conspicuously, lots of bigger, more traditional music-gear companies joining them too… A more cynical me might point out a possible Emperor’s New Clothes angle here – modular synthesis is expensive, impractical and, expensive again, compared to software – and the fact that some companies just seem to be getting ‘modulared up’ for the sake of it is wearing. But, actually, many of the software companies at the show were pointing towards an exciting future of hybridisation, which will be good for all producers. So alongside your ‘boutique, built-in-garages modules’ you had software companies controlling modules, software updatable modules and even software-app modules – a superb level of integration of old and new (even though it’s unclear which companies are old and which are new any more). You can read more about the show with my Superbooth16 report on p6 and, of course, we’ll be bandwagon-jumping, too, with more reviews and modular news over the next few issues. And I almost forgot to mention Frankfurt Musikmesse, once the biggest show for music gear news and happening now (ish). Check out the latest from there at See you next month! Andy Jones Senior Editor Email facebook: Twitter @AndyJonesMT Instagram: musictech_official Tumblr:

Pro Tools Mike Hillier

Mike spent five years at Metropolis Studios, working alongside some of the best-known mix and mastering engineers in the world. He now works out of his own studio in London.


Head to our constantly updated website for the latest news, reviews and 12 years of quality content:

Tech? New to Music Check out ourde Beginner’s Gui et at musictech.n


Subscribe and save 40% – see p88 for full details.


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MT Contents

MT Contents Issue 158

May 2016


MT Interview

32 Gary Numan On studio gear and finally coming to terms with his legacy

15-110 PRODUCE A TRACK FROM START TO FINISH A five-part guide to starting, arranging, mixing, finishing and mastering a complete tune 4 | May 2016

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MT Workshop

18 COMPUTERLESS RECORDING MT explores ways to produce music entirely outside of your computer


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Contents MT

MT Issue 158 Full listings… STUDIO 006 | The latest news Superbooth16 show special 010 | Show off your studio here!

The Latest Reviews

GOTHIC INSTRUMENTS DRONAR HYBRID MODULE Plus Chandler, A&H, Teenage Engineering, Hans Zimmer and more Produce A Track

15 Start 56 Arrange 93 Mix 107 Finish 110 Master

Seven ways to kickstart your creativity

How to progress from loops to a structured song

10 pro tips to take your mix to the next level

How to actually complete a tune

Top ways to add a pro finish to your tunes

MT Buyer’s Guide

103 6 of the

best soft synths

COVER FEATURE 015 | Produce a track Top producers offer advice in all aspects of track building… 016 | 7 ways to start a track Inspiration and composition 056 | 8 ways to arrange a track Turn your ideas into songs 093 | 10 ways to mix a track Our top advice for perfect mixes 107 | 7 ways to finish a track And how to best finish your tunes 110 | 8 ways to master a track Make your music sound pro FEATURE 018 | Computerless recording Grid controllers, mobile DAWs, standalone systems and more TECHNIQUE 042 | Logic Pro X EXS24 in depth 046 | Live In Depth Audio to MIDI and back again 052 | Mastering: Part 6 Concluding with running parts INTERVIEW 032 | Gary Numan on coming to terms with history, studio gear and a new crowd-funding venture SUBSCRIBE 088 | …and get a huge discount! REVIEWS 062 | GI Dronar Hybrid Module A modular software instrument 065 | Aston Spirit microphone 068 | Chandler RS124 compressor 072 | TE PO-20 Series all-new pocket operators 078 | Meldaproduction MMorph morphing plug-in 081 | Spitfire Audio HZ2 & HZ3 cinematic percussion libraries 085 | Blocs Wave iOS arranger 086 | Sonnox Envolution plug-in 090 | Pigtronix Keymaster effects 099 | Mini Reviews REGULAR FEATURES 103 | 6 of the best… soft synths 114 | On your MT DVD MAGAZINE May 2016

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MT Studio Special – Superbooth16

MTStudio Round-ups


Industry insight



THE COOLEST SHOW ON EARTH MusicTech reports from Superbooth16 in Berlin, a brand-new show for modular-synth fans, but one attracting so much attention that it looks set to become a major event on the music-production calendar…

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06/04/2016 14:38

Studio Special – Superbooth16 MT


ere you there at Superbooth16?’ is a line that we like to think we’ll get asked in the distant future, to which we will answer ‘ah yes, Superbooth, it was so cool back then.’ This was, in case you don’t know, the brand-new show in trendy Berlin that was all about modular synths, which, if you didn’t know, are all over music production at the moment as part of a hardware music-making revival thought unheard of even a few years ago. But Superbooth wasn’t all about the synth. While it was the focus, there were bigger companies there, non-synth companies, too, and with the big changes afoot at Frankfurt Musikmesse the very next week, there were many people at the show already muttering that Superbooth could well take over as the music production event to go to. Either way, it was good news that we were there, with plenty to see, plenty to get hands-on with and lots of companies, we admit, that we hadn’t spoken to before – so it was time to make amends. Oh, and there was also a certain German music pioneer to act incredibly uncool in front of, too. But more on that later… First up, let’s get geeky. So we have Berlin. Check. We have beards. Check. We have abandoned warehouses. Check. An incredibly cool venue? You gotcha. And how about a 20-minute boat ride to get you there? Why not indeed?! Throw in 100 of the finest music-gear companies and some brilliant organisation and you have a superb show. The vibe was great, and in the main, the show was a good leveller in

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Main: There were several debates and talks throughout Superbooth with this highlight featuring Richie Hawtin and Mute legend Daniel Miller… Bottom far left: A pair of Schmidt synths. That’s the cost of a trendy loft apartment in Berlin, right there Bottom left: Even the iPad goes modular with this setup, which uses Ableton’s Link to run several apps together Top left: The impressive Addac modular system Right: Bristol-based Modal Electronics had its new modules on show

terms of company profile. While your bigger companies – Moog, Roland and Yamaha, among others – had larger rooms, most of the rest shared equal billing, so you could end up with a company that had just started making oscillators out of its garage displaying its wares on a table next to Dave Smith. Talking of whom, we managed to grab some words with the iconic synth designer… “It’s great that we have so many people involved back in hardware,” he told us of the event. But why does he think there has been such a resurgence of hardware? “Well, you might know that I was one of the people involved in producing the first soft synth, but I always like to say I was one of the first people to stop being involved in producing soft synths, too, they just don’t do it for me. So, at that point, I got back to hardware.” He went on to tell us that soft synths have increased the awareness of the synth in general, but people love the tactility of wrestling with a real instrument and making it make sounds instantly, hence the modular madness that we see today. We closed our conversation by attempting to take the OB-6, the star of the NAMM show, away from him for a review, but he was having none of it – they’re selling them faster than they’re making them at the moment. We told him we gave his Prophet-6 10/10 in our MusicTech test in a crude and obvious way to butter him up. “Well, with the OB-6 you’d better get ready to move your scoring up to 11, then!” he laughed.

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Studio Special – Superbooth16 MT

The man behind Superbooth …is the incredible Andreas Schneider, a man probably more responsible for the success and emergence of hardware synthesis today than anyone else on the planet. Okay, maybe that is overstating things, but he has championed the format for years and doggedly stood out at every music-production show with his havens for hardware. We also spoke to him on the final day, and he was obviously pleased with both the show and the thriving modular scene, one that has not always been as popular as it is now… “When I first started dealing with modular synths many years ago, people laughed at me and wondered why. It was the digital revolution, but I think that went too fast, with everyone thinking they could just copy everything. But what it couldn’t do was copy the physical connection and experience of using synthesisers and patch cables. It’s not just about the music and the sounds, it is about the physical experience.” Andreas was also very upbeat on the success of this year’s event. “We’ll definitely do it again next year,” he told us. “I don’t know if it will be bigger, as this year, the size of the show was good. However, we do have plenty of room to grow if we want to.”

And then we met Kraftwerk (kind of) Andreas was not the only Schneider we meet at Superbooth. Oh no. After our interview with Gary Numan this month (see p32) and John Foxx (see a future issue), we were already feeling pretty smug on the synth-pioneer stakes, but at Superbooth16, we only went and bumped into an icon to rule them all – Kraftwerk founder member Florian Schneider.

From top left… Lunar Modular – is that a new sequencer from one of the best (and most expensive) in the business? One of the most impressive demos – Bitwig Studio being controlled via two touchscreens Andreas Schneider is the colourful character behind Superbooth16, and was delighted by the success of the show Dave Smith guarding the OB-6 from us The Moog island. A place of solitude and wonder, and also where we lost it with Florian Schneider The rather beautiful Studio Electronics Sensei. Admit it. You want it, don’t you…

Patchblocks are programmable bits of electronics that you can use to make pretty much anything you want

We’d like to tell you we discussed synths in a professional and dignified manner and that we didn’t start acting like 14-year-old kids. But we’d be lying… So that was Superbooth16. We’ve scattered some gear pictures and more information across these pages and expect to see some of it reviewed in the coming months. Be sure to keep your browser pointed at for all the latest Frankfurt Musikmesse news, too. MT MAGAZINE May 2016

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MT STUDIO – Show off your studio

Show off your studio

It’s MusicTech’s Show Off Your Studio feature, where your studio could become famous! Get in touch through the MusicTech Facebook page to show us where you produce your music…

Room first, then ergonomics, then gear…

BlackBox Sound Interviewee: Alexander Tschiggerl Contact: Web: MT: Tell us about the key components of your studio? Logic Pro running on an Apple Mac Pro 12 Core 3; MoTU PCI Audio with 3 2408 mk3; Avid EuCon Artist; two Soundtracs Project 8 analogue boards (one for recording and one for summing and mixing); Mackie HR824 Mk2 monitors (5.1 setup); Focusrite ISA 428 MkI with AD converters; Sonnox OXF-R3 EQ; OXF-R3 Dynamics; Lexicon PCM 96 and 480L Reverb; TC VSS reverb; 2CAudio AetherVerb; SSL Duende bus compressor, E&G Channel, X-EQ; Eventide chorus/delay; Akai S1100; E-mu Emulator E5000, E6400 and E-mu Emax II samplers; Emagic EXS24 mkII sampler; Ultrabeat; Sculpture; EVB3; Roland Super JX-10, JX-8P, Alpha Juno 2 and Waldorf Microwave II synths; Rhodes MK-60; Neumann, Avantone and AKG mics. Which DAW do you use, and why? I use Logic Pro, because I’ve worked

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with it from the beginning when Emagic built it. I like it for everything: composing, recording and mixing. What is your favourite gear and why? The Focusrite ISA 428 with the Avantone CV-12 microphone. Why? It’s the sound handling – it’s my dream team. How often do you spend time in your studio? Six days a week. How do you use your setup? I use it for recording bands, my own projects and with up-and-coming artists. What is next on your shopping list? More microphones, and possibly a new sound system with a newer workstation. Is there anything that annoys you about your current studio setup? The Apple/Logic update cycles are

frustrating, especially when sometimes there are bugs in the software. What is your dream piece of gear, either real or imaginary? An SSL Duality, Neumann U47, Telefunken mic, Neve 1073 Pres and EQs. Do you have any advice for MusicTech readers about setting up a studio? Sort your rooms and acoustic out first (along with your monitor system), then work out the ergonomics, and finally then sort your gear. Do you have any studio anecdotes for us from your time running BlackBox Sound? Well, I have worked for George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger – they called me to attend a press conference for the movie Batman & Robin in 1997. {Alexander, tell us more please! Ed]


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STUDIO – Show off your studio MT

Alexander at the controls of BlackBox (top), plus various shots of his setup including live room (left and below left)


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MT STUDIO Show off –your Show studio off your studio

Shaun Cronin

James Green



Another old sampler is in use, but out of shot in this setup

We love a compact setup, too…

Tell us the key components of your studio? Logic Pro X DAW with plug-ins – perfect for mixing using a powerful 15-inch MacBook Pro; Rode NT1-A condenser microphone and Shure SM58 dynamic microphone and Focusrite recording audio interface. Which DAW and why? Logic X, because you can compose, sequence and mix in one program in a more intuitive, user-friendly way, especially when compared to other DAWs. What is your favourite gear and why? I like my Rode NT-1A microphone, because it allows you to record with a well-balanced sound with very low noise, which is really good for recording professionalsounding vocals. It’s very good value for money, as well. My flat response monitor speakers are great, too.

I would like to record more singers and musicians like that. Does anything annoy you about your set-up? My MPD16 has USB connecting issues; it doesn’t stay connected for long, so I have to plug and unplug it every now and then. Next on your shopping list? I would like to buy either an MPC Studio or Native Instruments Maschine, because I would like a bettter drum machine, as I’m going to need it for future live work, so I need to upgrade my MPD16. What is your dream piece of gear? An SSL mixing desk, because it’s a legendary piece of equipment. I miss the sound of desks and being hands-on with mixing rather than doing everything from a laptop.

How do you use your studio? I’m producing tracks and recording vocals for a singer’s EP which we intend to support by touring the major festival circuit next summer.

Any advice? Don’t buy expensive equipment immediately; learn the basics on cheaper equipment and learn how to troubleshoot when your setup isn’t working straight away.

Meet&Jam Studio

We’ve teamed up with Meet&Jam Studio, a new service for studio owners to rent out their facilities across the UK and US. Sign up to the service at and you will automatically be considered for inclusion in this, MusicTech’s (award-winning) Show Off Your Studio!


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Tell us the key components of your studio? M-Audio Axiom 25; Samson C01U condenser mic; Behringer MS40 studio monitors; Korg Volca Sample & Volca keys; Akai S2000 sampler; AKG K240 MKII headphones; Presonus Audiobox. Which DAW do you use and why? FL Studio 12 (Fruity Loops). It is easy to use and has a fantastic workflow, that works great for me. The interface has been updated recently, and some new, cool features have been added. It has never let me use any other DAW! What is your favourite gear and why? The Korg Volca Sample, as you can create complex ideas on the go such as creating melodies, breakbeats for drum ’n’ bass, plus it also has the ability to resynthesise samples to create strange and magical noises. Finally, it’s analogue, so it creates a nice, warm sound. How do you use your studio? At the moment, I’m producing an experimental drum ’n’ bass album with a friend of mine, which we shall be releasing soon. Next on your shopping list? A nice pair of KRK RP5 G3s and sound proofing. How often do you spend in your studio? All the time that I can get, if I’m not at my music college (Platform One College Of Music – Isle Of Wight). Any advice? Get sound proofing, some good studio monitors, good headphones (my ones are AKG K240 MKIIs and they sound great) and a decent computer. It doesn’t matter if it’s Mac or PC. MT


04/04/2016 11:07

M50x Shades of Gray Limited Edition ATH-M50xMG Matte Gray We’ve taken the classic ATH-M50x, and created a Limited Edition Matte Gray version for 2016. With the same critically acclaimed sonic performance as the ATH-M50x, which continue to receive praise from top live and studio engineers and reviewers alike, year after year. Only a limited number of this model will be available, so get one while you can.

Produce a track Feature MT

MT Cover Feature Produce a track from start to finish

PRODUCE A TRACK FROM START TO FINISH It’s time for the ultimate advice on music production: how to produce a track, from start to finish! In features spread through the issue – see the full contents below – we have top tips from the pros and advice to get you inspired, composing, mixing, arranging and mastering your music


he art of music production can, like most processes, be broken down into several stages – some creative, some perhaps more scientific than others. For this special feature on producing a complete track, we’ve explored the best advice ever assembled on the art of music production and broken it down into five main areas: starting a track, arranging it, mixing it, finishing it and mastering it. We’ll start with the best ways and practices to help you to get moving, to get creative and to make the most of inspirational thoughts when they strike; to capture the moment… fast! We’ll tell you how to avoid using other people’s ideas, and also (confusingly) when to use other people’s ideas! Then there’s the all-important stage of turning those ideas or simple loops into complete works. This is often the stage you get caught up in. Like us, your hard drive might be full of great ideas which will become incredible killer tunes… one day. But for now, they are one, two, five or six sounds and melodies that might work together, but nothing more. This part of our feature will help you turn them into complete tunes. Then we move onto the art of mixing: checking levels, checking pan positions,

adjusting EQ not only to enhance certain frequency ranges, but also to prevent elements clashing – the art of mix ‘breathing’, and adding space to enable your main song elements to shine. In our penultimate feature, we bring you essential advice on making the ultimate move in composition: finishing! Here, we also team up with Novation to bring you insight into the ways certain top-name producers complete their songwriting process. Finally, it’s time to tackle the mastering process, with top advice on how add a professional sheen. We’ll suggest ways to add that elusive sprinkling of sophistication and magic dust to your tunes, to make them sound as good as your reference material – the track that you initially admired, which inspired you to go full circle, back to the start of your music making in the first place. Without dwelling on the clichéd ‘journey’ analogy, it’s true that music production is a process that can be massively enjoyable, but also have the odd stumbling block or creative frustration along the way. With our feature, we’re hoping to make your process smoother and your songwriting experience more fulfilling. As ever, send us links to your resulting tunes at

MT Cover feature PRODUCE A TRACK FROM START TO FINISH Top producers offer advice in all aspects of track building… 016 | 7 ways to start a track Let’s start with a look at ways to capture ideas, sources of inspiration and how to prepare 056 | 8 ways to arrange a track Going beyond the loop and turning your ideas into songs is a stumbling block, but here’s how to overcome it 093 | 10 ways to mix a track The mixing process is where your track comes to life. Here are our top tips for perfecting the art 107 | 7 ways to finish a track Here are some effective strategies to make sure you actually finish your tunes 110 | 8 ways to master a track Mastering dos and don’ts to add a pro sheen to your productions


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MT Feature Produce a track part 1

MT Cover Feature Produce a track from start to finish

7 WAYS TO START A TRACK Part 1 It’s the first step: how to get those ideas you have in your head onto your virtual notepad – and also how to get more ideas into your head in the first place!

the best starting points for your music – bass, lead, pad, guitar, vocals, or whatever – in whatever style of music you make. Remember that most successful artists will only use a small set of tools to create their work – it’s their signature set of sounds. They won’t surround themselves with endless options, or they might not get anything done. Instead, they’ll work within their own restrictions, so there’s a compelling argument to do the same with your instruments. And as well as choosing your favourite synths for your template project, you can even home in on your favourite sounds within each one. And now go one step further and clear out that sample folder. Go on, spend an hour clearing out samples and audio that you’ll never use and you’ll have saved that time tenfold when it comes to choosing samples later. Too many options slow your workflow to a crawl…



Clear your head

It’s important to get into the right mindset when starting music. Getting into the mood helps with anything creative – if it feels like hard work, it’ll end up being hard work. You have to have no distractions so switch off your internet, your doorbell, your phone – anything that could interrupt your flow. 02

Start from scratch

You’ve been there. You’ve opened up your DAW and it’s loaded up an old song or some looped ideas you’ve been working on. Perhaps if you just spend a few minutes with it… But it’s another distraction. If you’re starting from scratch, start from scratch. Produce an inspirational template that your DAW loads each time you boot it up (instead of those old ideas) and make it full of your favourite synths and virtual instruments, all ready to play. 03

1. Turn the internet off? Really? Yes! Get rid of those distractions 2. In Logic, use the Template option to create your ultimate instrument-packed template 2. In Live, you can create an inspirational template, then save it as your default project


Favourites, favourites

And while we’re at it, keep on choosing your favourite sounds and presets. Home in on a set of

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Produce a track part 1 Feature MT 03 they are great for identifying an artist who suddenly inspires you. Give them a go anyway – there are free versions of both. 06



Get a style… and a plan

One massive hurdle for composition is sitting with a blank sheet of paper and expecting to fill it. You can zero in on sounds and instruments as we’ve suggested, but you should also have an idea of your own style from the off. You might think that this is something you have already mapped out in your music life – the kind of music that you will be making – but it’s not quite as easy as that. You’ll very probably like more than one kind of genre yourself, so it’s all too simple to be easily led by that floozy of a breakbeat over there, or that dirty dubstep of a modulation over there. Musical temptation is everywhere and it is evil! The danger is you will end up with a hotchpotch of styles that can only lead to disaster (or, worse still, Bro Country!). So think very carefully about what you are setting out to do – have a tempo, a plan and a reference point in mind, because if you’re up against a deadline, you will need a tight target and to go for it. If not, give yourself a fake deadline and go for it anyway!


3. Home in on your favourite synths and sounds in whatever DAW you use 4. There are a lot of genres to be tempted by – try to settle on one! 5. Use Shazam or SoundHound to help you nail a specific style, or identify an intriguing tune you can’t place



Embrace inspiration

Always carry some kind of recorder with you (or download an app such as RecorderPro), as you never know when ideas will come to mind. Some people swear by keeping one by their beds, as ideas can come while waking or drifting off to sleep. Carry a recorder with you and speak (or sing!) those ideas into it wherever you are. You can also use one to capture unusual sounds and atmospheres for use later in your music – sometimes ‘found sounds’ can be the difference between your tunes and everyone else’s. Take note, however! Very often, any tune that comes to you might well be someone else’s. A quick way to identify a tune is to try apps like Shazam and SoundHound. These are primarily used to identify commercial music played around you in bars, but might just do the trick for new tunes. If nothing else,

6. Borrow from the earworm that’s currently in your head. Even Agadoo (if you feel you absolutely have to)

Borrow the earworm

Having said avoid other people’s music, now we’re spinning that on its head by saying… Don’t be afraid to borrow ideas! Whether it be the odd sampled riff (with lots of post editing, naturally, and one that you would clear on release), or melodic progressions, you can and should use other people’s music as inspiration. But let’s clarify that and stress the word inspiration. The Blurred Lines/Robin Thicke case has, well, blurred things in music copyright and what you can and can’t do. But don’t be frightened to analyse that earworm to find out what makes it so ‘wormy’. Is there anything you can use or learn from it to make your own creations as memorable? Examine some of the key themes and trends from memorable songs (so long as it’s not Agadoo in your head in the first place). Many people have borrowed ideas; you could take that argument further and say that every musician has borrowed from every other one at some point. Some, though, are more obvious than others: the odd riff here, the odd chord progression there. Again, use ideas carefully and edit, edit and edit some more… MT 07

The best start

And the best tip for starting a piece of music is… To listen. Absorb. Learn. Be inspired. All of the above! Yes, you could say that the best advice we have for starting your own music is, well, not to. Listen to as much other music as possible: all genres, all tastes. Learn from it and really want to do it. This is probably the top tip above everything else for every step of the music-making process, including mixing and mastering (which we will also cover later). You need to have the desire to produce and this will come from being inspired by someone else and led in the direction in which you want to produce. This will only come from listening, listening and more listening, and not only to music that you like, but also to new genres and styles, stuff that you might not necessarily appreciate. Classical music will help you arrange strings, for example; other styles might inspire you not to go down certain routes. It’s all about finding your way, and you’ll need to be as open as possible to follow your own choices.


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MT Feature Complete guide to computerless recording

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Complete guide to computerless recording Feature MT

Complete guide to computerless recording Working ‘in the box’ is far from the only way for producers to make music nowadays. Here’s our complete guide to taking the computer partly – or even entirely – out of the equation


he ubiquity of computers in our everyday lives makes it easy to forget that things were not always like this. Anyone over about 30 will probably have experience of making music entirely without computers. They were things you played games on, typed letters on and later, connected to the phone line using a modem. But they most definitely were not up to the task of serious music production. Indeed, it was only in 1979 that the first cassette-based tape Portastudio was released by Tascam. And if that’s earlier than you would’ve guessed, at the time it still cost 1,200 Canadian Dollars, putting it out of reach of many people. It would take until the late 1980s for Portastudios to make recording available to a much wider audience, and even then, it was distinctly lo-fi by today’s standards. If you wanted something to sound great, you still had to go to a studio, where the setup would include professional tape, DAT or perhaps hard-disk recorders. For a while, in the later 1990s and much of the 2000s, computers became more dominant as they became more powerful and cheaper, and software started to become the default way to synthesise, program and record music. Working ‘in the box’ was much cheaper and could be done in a spare room at home, rather than requiring racks of outboard. A decade or so ago, however, the pendulum began to swing back towards hardware in many areas of

music production. It hasn’t been a decisive or dramatic shift all the way back to hardware, but instead has become more of a rebalancing of the way people approach production. The reasons for this are manifold, and touch upon several different factors. As software has become incredibly powerful, the mouse has been exposed as a less-than-perfect way to interact with instruments and DAWs with all their new functions. Hardware controllers have evolved to mesh perfectly with software: NI’s Komplete Kontrol and Ableton’s Push are just a couple of examples. This is partly down to the fact that this stuff has only become technically possible in the last few years. Touch screens, velocity-sensing pads and tablets have all fallen in price, making it possible for manufacturers to include them in products that don’t cost the earth. Some people also perceive hardware as being more authentic or credible than software. Not just in the sense that it’s preferable to have a real Moog than a software one, but also because having a physical product is somehow more tangible. Again, more accessible prices have increased the appeal of hardware from when it mostly consisted of the kinds of mega-synths you couldn’t possibly afford a couple of decades ago. So even if you’re not a hardware junkie, we’re at a point now where hardware is most definitely re-established in music production – often in conjunction with software, it’s true, but it looks like it’s here to stay.


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Grid Controllers You’ve heard of going ‘off the grid’ – but for increasing numbers of musicians, the grid is actually very much where it’s at…


f you actually stop to think about it, the mouse and computer keyboard are very limited tools for interacting with something as advanced and multi-functional as a modern DJ app, DAW or drum machine. They essentially do one thing at once, and you have to look at the screen to figure out where to click next. It’s no coincidence that pro mixing desks and modular synths have hundreds of physical controls, and a DJ mixer-plus-turntables a fair few as well. In the move to software, much of this tactile, hands-on control fell by the wayside in the excitement over being able to have a bunch of synths and effects on your hard drive, rather than taking up a whole room. You only have to look at the history of step sequencers and drum machines and compare their design with modern grid controllers to realise that there’s obviously something familiar and intuitive to humans about a grid of controls. To begin with, drum machines laid out their sounds across a grid of pads, and classic hardware units like Akai’s MPC60 did a similar thing with user-edited samples. The way talented producers interacted with the layout of these kinds of modules had a tangible effect on a whole new

Four of the best

• Maschine Studio • Web • Price £729

Probably the ultimate grid controller, Maschine Studio is the largest member of the Maschine family and as you might expect, is geared to work seamlessly with the Maschine software, although it can be used in generic MIDI mode as well. With almost every command available on the hardware itself, it really is a hands-off way to use Maschine on your Mac or PC.

There’s obviously something familiar and intuitive to humans about a grid of controls way of making music, from RZA’s sample-based hip-hop to DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing. If they’d been arranging blocks on a computer screen, who knows if their styles would have developed in the same way?

Early days When grid controllers started to appear on the market, they were largely intended to use templates or for building MIDI maps for triggering your software of choice. It’s become more commonplace to see grid controllers designed to work mainly with one piece of software. They lend themselves to a certain way of

working, so you’re not likely to see one for tracking in Pro Tools, for example, because that’s a very different workflow. Often, hardware and software need to be developed either by the same company, or by two companies working very closely together. Basic MIDI mapping may be easy these days, but deeper integration – proper visual feedback, advanced commands and bi-directional communication – require a lot more work to get right. The most obvious example of a DAW that’s very well catered for is Ableton Live. Thanks to its clip-based approach and use of scenes, it’s perfectly suited to a grid of hardware controls for launching and modifying clips. Over time, controllers from Akai and Novation, such as the MPD and Launchpad series respectively, have become more advanced at controlling Live. Eventually, Ableton developed and released its own controller, Push, recently upgraded to version 2.

Four of the best

• Push • Web • Price €778

Completely dedicated to Ableton Live, Push 2 is a sleek and powerful grid controller, which gives you hands-on control of almost every aspect of a Live set – from recording and sequencing, to editing instruments and effects and mixing. It’s designed to be as much about live performance as studio recording.

Four of the best

• BeatStep Pro • Web • Price €249

Arturia’s BeatStep Pro expands greatly on the regular BeatStep with a multiplicity of ways to send MIDI, CV and Gate signal in and out, providing a way to bridge your software and hardware worlds. It’s compact, and even has touch-sensitive controls. You don’t often get such extensive connectivity in a unit this affordable.

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Total control Controllers such as these work by sending MIDI data to a computer running the software and by showing visual feedback about what the user is doing. Depending on the model in question, they can even allow almost total hands-off operation – which is the holy grail of controllerists’, or even ust people who like work in a more tactile way. One of the best examples of this is NI’s Maschine system, and specifically the Maschine Studio model, which has a ton of controls for beat making, programming and even sampling and editing, without ever going near your computer. Grid controllers are often touted as performance tools and while they’re excellent for live performance, many people find their supremely interactive workflow means it can be preferable to record and sequence with them as well, especially when there’s a high degree of integration between the hardware and software. You don’t ust play notes you can load instruments, edit samples, change effects and so on. There are many smaller controllers available at fairly low price points, too Arturia’s BeatStep Pro, for example, is a controller and sequencer and is designed to work not ust with your computer, but with hardware both old and new. With SB, MIDI, CV Gate and DIN connections as well as touch-sensitive knobs, touch-strips and eight separate drum-gate outputs, it’s a perfect example of how hardware is expected to do more than ust one thing these days – and how people don’t always want to buy three devices when

one can do it all. Convergence and integration are the way things are going – great news for musicians.

Grid locked? Grid controllers have gone from being a novelty to something much more serious. Developers have built ever-deeper hooks between controllers and their software, to the extent that some people would find it very limiting to try to use Live without one, say, or the Maschine software without a hardware unit attached. Although they’re generally designed to work with a specific app they can almost always be switched into generic MIDI mode at which point they become usable with any software and indeed any hardware, so even your dusty old workstations and synths get a look in. More importantly, they can often provide a bridge between the old and new worlds, linking the latest DAW to your oldest synth in a way that makes sense.

Four of the best

• Launchpad Pro • Web • Price £ 99

The largest of the three hardware Launchpad models, Novation’s hardware controller is designed to work with Live, but can also be flipped into MIDI mode to work with any other software or hardware. If you prefer something even more portable, smaller models are available as well.

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Making a computer invisible with great controllers Hands-off control of instruments and DAWs has become the latest ‘big thing’ in production. But how does it work?


s software has become more powerful, it has taken on far more features than ever before. Advanced DAWs, virtual instruments and effects and DJ apps can do stuff that would have boggled the mind just a couple of decades ago. The only problem with this is that a computer mouse isn’t really the ideal way to interact with such feature-rich software. In terms of creativity, we often need to do more than one thing at once, or at least not be slowed down by hunting for and digging around in menu items. As such, there has been a concerted push in recent years to improve the controller experience and make it one that people go to as their primary means of working with music software instead of a novelty extra. In truth, computers are likely to remain at the heart of many people’s setups, because they are simply so powerful and multi-functional that to replace them would take many different hardware products. However, the way things seem to be going is producers are being encouraged to interact with the computer less and with controllers more, leaving the computer as the ‘brain’ of the system, but the controller taking over the creative role. You can see

Four of the best

• Maschine Studio • Web • Price £729

NI’s Maschine Studio is the big boy on the block, a performance powerhouse with near-total control of the Maschine software without having to ever go near your computer.

Computers are still the ‘brains’ of the system, but controllers are taking over the creative role this most clearly with companies such as NI, which are working hard to make just such a future happen, though there are many others doing the same. This idea of making the computer ‘invisible’ has been around for a while, but it’s only in the last few years technology has started to make it truly possible.

Dedicated systems Most of the controllers on the market can be used in generic MIDI mode, but almost all are better suited to linking up specifically with the application

Four of the best

• Console 1 • Web • Price £479 Console 1 is a dedicated mix controller that focuses on the bundled software channel strip modelled on a classic SSL unit. It provides an analogue console-style mixing experience with a much smaller footprint.

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or instrument that they have been designed alongside. For years, MIDI control meant triggering drums from pads or changing filters with knobs – and though this is still possible, users expect a much deeper level of integration now. A bit of performance control doesn’t equal making the computer near-invisible. As noted, Native Instruments has done a huge amount of work on making its instruments and applications respond almost entirely to input from its hardware, enabling people to perform, record and edit from the hardware, while the computer does the heavy lifting. The company has three main product lines and all now have companion hardware that enables almost full hands-off operation. The Maschine beat-making system has Mikro, Maschine and Studio controllers with varying levels of functionality, and the Traktor DJ system also has multiple controllers, with the largest S5 and S8 systems having built-in audio mixers and interfaces, too. The Komplete Kontrol software and hardware allows extensive control of the company’s instruments and also third-party VST plug-ins. All these hardware units can also use MIDI templates,


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MT Feature Complete guide to computerless recording

which you can create yourself to control any software or hardware. Another developer that does this kind of stuff, albeit with a wider scope in terms of what it supports, is Nektar. The company’s Panorama and Impact range of controllers come with mapping for some leading DAWs straight out of the box (Bitwig, Cubase, Logic and Reason) as well as 93 physical controls and a large colour screen for visual feedback. They also have shortcuts for macros so you can, for example, send chains of commands or keystrokes without having to use the computer keyboard. A grid of pads also lets you play beats. An even newer series is Akai’s Advance keyboard controllers. Again, these have a multitude of physical controls and a colour screen, but in this case, the VIP software lets you catalogue, control and map all your VST instruments for use inside your DAW.

(left) NI’s Traktor Kontrol S8 has a futuristic workflow designed to make sense to old-school DJs and progressive producers (above) Nektar’s Panorama combines a vast range of MIDI options, DAW shortcuts and transport control into an all-inclusive creative tool

There’s never been a better time to get into remote-controlling your music sessions A similar system is used by Novation, whose Impulse controller keyboards use the Automap software to map hardware to software parameters. Again, there are multiple sizes of controller depending on your needs.

Mix controllers Although there’s a lot of focus on all-in-one keyboard controllers, because most people would prefer using one device over using three if possible, some controllers are more unique. Softube’s Console 1, for example, is a specialised mix controller unit. Install the software and you get a software version of the SSL 4000 E channel strip, plus a dedicated way to manipulate this for any channel in your project. The hardware has a fixed layout, but is the same for every channel; so the idea is you move between tracks and, for each one, dial in settings for EQ, compression, gain, filters and more using the dials. It’s pretty specialised, but also an amazing way to mix in an old-school way using cutting-edge computers. Mixing is an area where hands-on controllers can really help you improve the sound of your tracks, freeing you from the mouse and giving you a ‘real’ mixer experience, one which anyone who has tried it will probably admit is superior. They range greatly in cost and featureset: at the more affordable end are units such as the Nektar Panorama P1, Behringer X-Touch and Novation Launch Control. The Avid Artist

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Mix is a little more expensive, but great for mixing with Pro Tools. If you go a few notches up, you start taking steps into the world of dedicated touch-screen mix controllers, far bigger than anything running on the iPad. For example, the PreSonus StudioLive CS18AI works with Studio One, and Slate’s Raven MTi2 Production Console can be used to get touch-based control of most major DAWs. As you can see, there is a great selection of controllers out there, depending on what you’re trying to control and what your budget is. If you‘ve bought into one particular software ecosystem, such as NI’s, then you’re probably best off with their controllers. If you want to turn your controllers to lots of different uses, you can do this with most units, although you’ll be able to save some cash by selecting hardware that isn’t targeted at one company’s software. All told, there’s never been a better time to get into remote-controlling your music sessions.

Four of the best

• Akai Advance 61 • Web • Price £4 9

As well as being a USB MIDI keyboard, the AKAI Advance series has serious controller functionality, including the ability to map your VST plug-in collection for use inside your DAW. Two more-compact models are available in addition to the 61.

Four of the best

• Nektar Panorama • Web • Price rom £ 7 P

Nektar’s mix controller has multiple faders, transport controls and rotary dials, plus a dedicated colour screen and maps for some leading DAWs. Use it to control your mix sessions or send key combos to your software to perform advanced functions. Other range options, e.g. the P6 below, merge the tech with a keyboard controller.


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Hardware It’s quite possible to record without a computer in sight…


here won’t be many musicians who don’t own a computer or a tablet, but that doesn’t mean you inveitably or automatically have to involve them in your music-making. There have been examples of big acts deliberately choosing computer-free studios to make their albums, such as avowed traditionalist Jack White. And though it can sound like a stereotype, it’s often guitarists who gravitate towards systems not based around computers – presumably because some feel more comfortable with real hardware, instead of a mouse and screen.

Old school If you’re lucky enough to have the money and the space, it’s still possible to record the old-fashioned way using a mixing desk and a tape machine (though realistically, you’ll be looking for a used reel-to-reel machine, which may need servicing and won’t be cheap, so you’d have to be pretty committed to tape to go down that route). Manufacturers such as Tascam and Fostex still make new hardware recording units, though these are often aimed at the field recording, live sound or broadcast industries, where a dedicated system can be preferable to something running Windows and a web browser, since stability is

Tascam’s DP-32 is a s self-contained Portastudio which can export recorded and edited audio files to a DAW

It’s often guitarists who gravitate towards systems not based around computers

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people used to in the 1980s and then create longer sequences and record these either as audio or MIDI onto whatever system you like, be it a solid-state recorder or a computer. This kind of kit is also usually capable of triggering other MIDI gear, so you can use the hardware controls to program both on older hardware and on software, via a MIDI interface. WHY USE OLDER GEAR TO RECORD?

paramount. Nonetheless, they will do the job of capturing multi-channel audio perfectly well and can be used as the basis of a music-recording system.

The resurgence in hardware instruments has also seen classic sequencing make a comeback Standalone systems At a more ‘prosumer’ level, there are still hard-disk or solid-state-based dedicated music-recording units around, in the vein of the classic Portastudio, though obviously with a more advanced featureset. In fact, Tascam still makes a range of Portastudios – from very portable models up to the DP-32SD, a 32-track model with hands-on controls, faders, effects, mastering and finalising tools and expandable storage. BOSS, another guitar-friendly manufacturer, makes several units including the BR-800 for portable, computer-free multitracking with mixing and effects. Hardware units like these are more limited than computers, in that you don’t have an infinite number of tracks and channels or insert slots – but that actually suits some people perfectly. You have a set hardware layout, and you know what you have to work with. Almost all of these will also give you the option to move files to a computer at some point, anyway, so you can go to a studio, for example, to mix or master – you’re not completely bound to finishing a project on the same hardware you started it on. The resurgence in hardware instruments has also seen classic sequencing make a comeback, especially with gear like Roland’s AIRA series of synths and beatboxes. These enable you to program patterns and beats like

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A few people who choose to use older recording kit do so out of a kind of knee-jerk reaction to the fact that technology pervades almost every part of our lives. Most, however, do it for more tangible reasons. Probably the main draw is that analogue recording just sounds different. Clearly, the sound of your setup depends on the precise combination of hardware that makes it up, but there’s a certain truth to the suggestion that fully digital recording sounds very clean. Sometimes this is exactly what you want, but for other people, it can be a downside. Recording through an analogue desk, either onto tape or a digital system, perhaps using analogue outboard effects, will have a bearing on the character of the sound that gets captured. It won’t be a stark difference in most cases, but it will be noticeable. Remember, your end recording medium can be digital, but analogue components coming before it in the recording chain will impart a warmth, or certainly some kind of change, to the sound. The other thing that makes some people choose fully computerless recording is that it imposes limits on you that aren’t there with software DAWs. Pro Tools or Cubase will let you use an almost infinite number of tracks, instruments and effects and edit in minute detail for ever. For some people, that kind of choice can be overwhelming – and being limited to 16 or 24 tracks focuses their mind and creativity. Rather than just sticking another 10 drum parts down, you’re forced to use the parts you do have more effectively. There is certainly something to this idea, and there are studios which specifically limit the amount of gear they have so that the gear itself does not become the focus of the sessions, but the music does.

Limiting yourself to 16 tracks can actually end up being an unexpected benefit of hardware recording


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Complete guide to computerless recording Feature MT

Mobile/iPad Mobile music-making has really come of age in the last couple of years


obile music-making is the area that has seen the most radical changes of all, primarily because, until the release of the iPhone, ‘mobile’ meant carrying a portable recorder of some kind, usually based on tape and not flash memory. You might argue that iPhones and iPads are still computers because they have CPUs and RAM, but the way we interact with them and the software they run is fundamentally different from a desktop or even laptop computer. So it’s reasonable to say that they constitute a separate category of music-making tools just like Portastudios did, or modular synths still do. We’re going to focus heavily on Apple’s iOS devices here, simply because they have practically all the pro music applications. Android is just beginning to receive some serious development as far as music apps go, but it’s still early days. As soon as the iOS App Store first appeared, and later when the iPad was released, people began to make music on their devices. For a while, the selection and quality of apps was limited by the immaturity of the platform and the power of the devices, but that didn’t take very long to change. And although many apps still let you start a

Four of the best

• GarageBand for iOS • Web • Price £ .99 Apple’s own mobile DAW is not the most advanced on the market in terms of features, but still a fantastic sketchpad for many users, as well as being really inexpensive. Record, arrange, edit and mix live audio and software instruments in a way that almost anyone will be able to pick up easily.

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Four of the best

• iProphet • Web • Price £7.99

There are quite a few iOS recreations of classic synths, and Arturia really knows its stuff. This is the Sequential Circuits Prophet VS and can swap presets with the company’s desktop version. It supports all iOS audio and MIDI protocols and is Tabletop-ready, so it can be used in the iPad-based modular-synth system.

Damon Albarn made a whole album on an iPad 1, using tech that already seems primitive project on iOS and then transfer it back to your computer for ‘proper’ work, it’s becoming increasingly common to find apps that will let you do the whole thing on your device. For example, Damon Albarn made a whole album on an iPad 1, using technology that seems primitive even by today’s standards.

Mobile DAWs One of the most useful developments has been the emergence of mobile DAWs, which are much more flexible than you might think. With iOS hardware approaching the levels of performance of lower-end laptops (especially with the iPad Pro), there’s no reason you can’t record, edit and mix music on your iPad or, with a bit more fiddling, your phone. One of the most affordable is Apple’s own GarageBand, which is

actually rather nicer to use on iOS than on the Mac, since it doesn’t have all the legacy code that still somehow seems to make the Mac version feel sluggish. It lets you record audio and use Smart Instruments to play some of its drum, guitar or keyboard sounds, and these are really very good. It packs basic sampling and modelled guitar amps, as well as MIDI loops and effects. Since Apple subsidises the app, it’s very cheap and is honestly one of the slickest mobile DAWs around. Other big music developers make their own mobile DAWs as well, often allowing transfer to the full desktop version. Some of the best include Cubasis, FL Studio Mobile HD and Korg’s Gadget synth sequencer. Some third-party developers skipped the desktop altogether and went straight to mobile. Retronyms’ Tabletop, Auria and NanoStudio are all examples of clever and powerful mobile recording and programming environments. There are a ton of software synths for iOS as well, many from established developers, with some modelling classic hardware. They tend to be pretty affordable, so if you check out instruments like Animoog, iProphet, Thor or Nanologue (to name but a few), you will find much to like. Pressing keys on a screen isn’t particularly exciting, of course, so there are peripherals you can use to get more hands-on with your iPad synths and beatboxes. These include IK Multimedia’s iRig Keys models and also many class-compliant USB MIDI keyboards and controllers via a camera-connection kit. IK leads the way with this stuff, making other iOS-focused hardware as well as guitar-, DJ- and microphone-input devices to connect directly to your iOS device.

Extra hardware There are iPad Docks available which give you professional-level I/O for connecting MIDI devices, studio mics and monitors, all via your Lightning

Four of the best

• Apogee ONE • Web • Price 49

Apogee is best known for its high-end studio electronics, but in recent years, has been adding iOS compatibility to its more portable models. The ONE is a 2x2 USB audio-and-mic interface with top-quality circuitry that will give you proper I/O via a mic input, headphone out and also a builtin omnidirectional condenser mic.

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MT Feature Complete guide to computerless recording

Four of the best

• BIAS for iPad • Web • Price £ 4.99

Positive Grid makes a selection of amazing guitar and bass amp, cab and pedal effects suites that work across iOS, and also your desktop computer. BIAS is an incredibly powerful iOS app for creating authentic-sounding guitar setups with very fine levels of tweakability.

connection, Focusrite’s iTrack Dock and the Alesis StudioDock are the two main contenders, but a new generation of smaller audio interfaces are offering universal compatibility so you can use them with your Mac, PC or iOS device. Again a result of maturing technology, these can be a great choice, as they essentially save you having to buy two different devices. Models from Steinberg, MOTU and Apogee are among those that can be used wherever you need them. Hardware is necessary when you’re doing things like using an iOS device for effect processing, as guitarists and bassists increasingly do through apps like AmpliTube and BIAS, two powerful guitar FX suites from IK and Positive Grid respectively.

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These apps are used not just for live performance but also for studio recording, potentially replacing whole stacks of amps, cabs and pedals. If you are staying ‘in the box’ with your device, technologies like Audiobus and Inter-App Audio mean it’s possible to route MIDI and audio between synths, effects and DAWs inside your device. Apple has even developed a plug-in format for iOS 9, although it’s taking a little while to break into the mainstream.

Mobile mastering All this programming and recording on iOS is great, of course, but if you have to move to a computer to mix and master, surely you could have just started on one in the first place? Well, luckily, this side of things is taken care of as well. Your DAW will let you mix out of the box – some even allow automation – and if you’re monitoring properly through a decent I/O device, you should be able to mix accurately. There’s an app called Final Touch available for iPad, priced at around £10 (the cost seems to vary over time), but which is far more powerful and professional than an iPad app has any right to be. Again, just as with any mastering task, you will need to monitor properly, but the results are way beyond what many people might expect could be achieved using an iPad-based app. This final link in the production chain is what iOS was missing – but it’s now complete. Producing music on iOS requires a slight reorganisation of your working methods and is still technically more limited than on the desktop, but it’s light years ahead of where it started out, and is only likely to get more powerful. MT


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MT Interview Gary Numan

MT Interview Gary Numan

With the success of the album Splinter, Gary Numan has finally come to terms with, and is proud of, his early work – including tracks like Cars and Are Friends Electric? that kick-started synth pop and heralded a new world of music technology back at the end of the 1970s. Andy Jones meets a very English man in LA and finds someone more at home with today’s studio technology, but still coming to terms with newfound levels of respect…


ou could argue that Bob Moog was the guy who did more for the advancement of music technology than any other person in history – this was the man who brought the synthesiser to the masses, after all. But you could also argue that Kraftwerk put the sound of the synth on the music-making map. They exported their robotic noises Stateside and contributed to and informed – heck, some even say formed – techno and hip hop. Indeed, such is the hushed reverence that these German robots are held in, it surely can’t be too long before some kind of hi-tech religion starts. Yet the person who I would say did more for the ‘tech’ in MusicTech – albeit unwittingly – was Gary Numan. While Kraftwerk impressed the beardy

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geeks with 22-minute tracks about motorways, while The Human League stayed in the lab in the midst of their white-coat phase in Sheffield (pre-girls, pre-pop and pre-hits) and John Foxx’s Ultravox impressed the art school with their synth rock, it was Gary Numan who picked up a Moog, used the first sound he played on it for the track Are Friends Electric? and suddenly, everyone wanted a synth. He’d hate to admit it, but the sound and popularity of the instrument wouldn’t be quite where it is now without him. Indeed, John Foxx tells us (in an interview for our sister magazine, Classic Pop): “Gary triggered the whole synth thing off in 1979. It was an instant changeover and, of course, very welcome for everyone who was doing that sort of thing – it was great.”


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Gary Numan Interview MT

But over the last 30-odd years, Gary has had a hard time coming to terms with the impact he made. Never one to dwell on the past or be retro, he has struggled to move on, to get ‘out of the shadow’ caused by numerous number-one hit albums and singles at the end of the 70s and start of the 80s. “I was very sensitive to things that put you in an era,” he tells us now. “I’ve had a very long career and it’s still going. I might not be having number-one singles, but I am still having an ongoing career.” You’ll notice he now describes this sensitivity in the past tense. It was the album Splinter that not only injected new life into Numan’s career, but also helped him come to terms with his past. Splinter was released a couple of years back not only to huge acclaim, but it also became an album which, when played live, actually went down better than Numan’s classic material. “It happened regularly where we’d say ‘we can’t believe that that song did better than Cars’,” Gary recalls. “I never thought that would happen and it was lovely. It really did feel like, ‘I’ve finally done it, I’ve moved on!’, and as soon as that happened, it made me feel different about the old stuff.” “Here I was with magazines making Splinter Album Of The Month, saying it was the best album I’d ever made, better than Replicas and The Pleasure Principle, which are now regarded as my classic albums. When that happened, I suddenly found myself in a position when I could look back on my catalogue and be proud of it, as it’s not a ball and chain around my ankle – now, it’s something I could actually use; not only have I done Splinter, but I did all of that cool stuff back then that you talk about as

being classic. It has become something that I can now brag about rather than keep at arm’s length. “My whole way of life is about ‘what are you going to do next?’ That’s what I find exciting. That is still the case, but I now have two ends of my career: the beginning of me which people will come and see but now I have Splinter – two guns rather than one! And the longevity has become something to be proud of, having albums out in so many different decades. It is something cool, whereas before, I didn’t want people to know I was about in the 70s. I wanted to keep that quiet!”

On the up So, Gary’s move to LA three years ago seems to have paid dividends. It was a move, in part, to get more film work (although he has since shifted his targets on this one: “I don’t really want to be making film music now, because I still love doing my albums, I still love touring, I love the life I’ve had, more than ever, actually, and I don’t want to get rid of it!”) but more for family reasons, and the fact that he fell out of love with England: “For the first year, I didn’t miss anything, just mum, dad, brother; the second year, I missed a few things, visiting the odd castle! I missed that history, and the green colours, and the third year, I’ve started missing it more.” And Gary does like his castles. He might miss his English visits, but he’s more than made up for it by buying a castle. It might be a modern one, but it comes complete with secret staircases, apartments, turrets and a 200-strong sword collection, and we’ll come to the studio shortly… So everything is pretty rosy, except knowing Gary, we’re not quite there yet. MAGAZINE May 2016

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A TYPICAL TRACK So how does a Gary Numan track come together? “Normally, when I did Splinter, I’d get up in the morning, sort the kids, they would go to school, and I’d do a bit of email and I’d like to be over in the studio by 10. So I’d start then and it was quite regimented because of the children, actually – they make you have an organised life to make it all fit. So say that was a Monday, by the end of the day, I’d like to have a basic song structure, melody, chords, piano, maybe some drum loops in the background. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I’d flesh that out and start adding production layers to it, and by Thursday morning, I’d have a working song under way. Then I’d do rough or guide vocals. I’d write the melody for them on the piano and then start singing it – you adapt once you get your voice in and add things to it. So Thursday would be doing that – not singing any words, just singing any old nonsense that comes to mind just to do the phrasing, where it should be, and from that, you can begin to get an idea of which points of the song that will need certain words. I know, for

example, that if I’m going to be singing at the top of my range or where it needs any kind of power, because I don’t have a powerful voice that there are certain words that work better than others. So anything that has an ‘aw’ sound at the end of it is great for singing really loud or really high because it is easy. Anything with an ‘ee’ or an ‘ind’ or ‘find’, ‘kind’ or ‘mind’, I can’t sing them loud or high – they sound a bit feeble. But ‘or’, ‘war’ or ‘law’, they are easier, so you work out what it’s going to need and that helps you with the lyric a little bit. The mood of the song and certain phrases come out naturally when you do the gobbledy gook, certain phrases come out and form the lyric. On Friday, I do the proper lyric, hopefully sing the proper finished vocal and that is my demo done with a finished vocal. “So that is the one-song-a-week turnaround as I was doing with Splinter, and at the end of that week that song would go on the shelf and I would try and get 15-20 of them done. Then I’d go back through those and spend another week with each one finding things to make them better.”

“I want [the new album] to be heavy, to be dark, aggressive in places; very electronic”

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With Splinter, he regained something of a peak, but has now put the pressure on himself with its follow up. Not only that, he’s decided to do it by way of PledgeMusic, an option taken by an increasing number of bands wishing to avoid the traditional and less financially viable record-contract route and fund a release by way of this crowd-funding resource. Numan announced the PledgeMusic project at the end of last year and quickly reached double his target. Like other bands, he offered many more options to buy than just a physical CD or a digital download of the new album. There are signed instruments including classic synths (quickly snapped up, sadly), plus VIP events and all sorts of packages to include fans and keep them in tune with the album as it develops. Gary explains why has he decided to follow this particular funding route… “It’s not about funding, funnily enough. I had a real chip on my shoulder about crowdfunding at one point. It always seemed to me when it started a few years ago, that people who did crowdfunding were a little bit desperate, and needed the money. I wasn’t down on it, I actually thought it was a good thing for people to be doing, but I didn’t want to be seen as one of the people that needed to do it, ‘cos to be honest, I’m doing alright and I have my studio, so I can make albums pretty cheaply anyway. “Instead, I see it it as a way of trying to circumvent some of the layers that get between you and the audience, so I’m there [points to studio] making an album and a year later, it comes out as this shrink-wrapped item for the fans. But a lot of things happen in between, and there are a lot of people in between, each one taking a bit, and I wanted to try and find a way of being more direct with fans. “With the conventional label-and-distribution route I did notice, with Splinter, that the number of albums you sell compared to money you make now is incredibly disappointing. And as an independent artist and without a record company giving me stonking great advances, I have got to do whatever is possible, so Pledge is a way. “I also wanted more control over it; I wanted to give fans what they wanted without people interfering. Essentially, it’s controlling things myself and making sure I owned it at the end of the day, so if a sync offer comes in I can just say ‘yes’, rather than email everyone for two days getting people to agree it – you lose things that way.” But letting fans in on the process can obviously be both a blessing and a curse as can having a deadline to work to… “I do find making albums tough, and I thought it [the PledgeMusic deadline] would give me the necessary push. Having a really heavy deadline to work to is normally a good thing, but the problem I have got is I’m doing 18 hours of organising a day at the moment, and it’s been a bit of a nightmare and I’ve not been working on the album. I should have been doing weekly updates, but I’ve not been doing nearly as much as I should have, to be honest.” Surely there is scope to move the deadline now he has set the process up to give himself longer?


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“No, I’ve committed to it,” Gary replies. “But I don’t think it’s the end of the world. And actually, at the moment I’m bothered by it and I’m desperate to be getting out there in the studio, which is good in its own way… and I don’t want to lose that motivation.”

New sounds Gary then details how he wants the new, as-yet untitled, album to sound. “The idea is to do it myself and I’ve done that plenty of times before, but that would make it sound very different from the last one, too. I know that Splinter did really, really well, but I think this one needs to move a little way away from it, not radically different – I don’t want to do a country and western album! In fact, if I wrote up a list of where I want the new album to be, Splinter would probably fit that list as well. I still want it to be heavy, I still want it to be dark, I still want it to be aggressive in places; very electronic – more so than guitar-y. As I say, all of this could apply to Splinter but I know that when I did the demos for Splinter, some of those ended up being quite different, in a good way – I’m not saying there was anything wrong with it; I think Ade [Fenton] did a great job with it, but they are different. So I’m thinking I could have easily done the versions I’d done and it would have been a slightly different-sounding album. It would have been more basic, that’s for sure! Ade is brilliant at refining things and his attention to detail is very impressive but it does change it, it gives it a different feel. He is, I guess, more like an audio craftsman, and I’m like a heavy-handed plumber!” At the time of the interview, Gary had what he described as “Mickey Mouse bits and pieces – maybe nine or 10 things on the go…” Since the interview, progress has been made with one or two snippets, released via the PledgeMusic page. The original release date of October would mean finishing the album at least three months prior. “I’d ideally have to have it ready by mid June, and I’m supposed to be gigging throughout May!” Gary knows that many of these problems will be shared with the fans – it’s all part of the PledgeMusic experience after all… “Yeah, I wanted them to know the grief I’m having, but it was meant to be the grief I’m having about making an album, not about life outside of it! In a sense, it is part of the process, but it’s not typical. I wanted them to see the process, the

Gary at the desk in his Pro Tools-based studio in LA

songwriting, the good days when it goes well, and the bad days. I want you to see me being upset because I can’t think of anything, and stomping around, as it is part of it. So I guess these extra pressures that are coming in are part of the album, but it isn’t what I intended.” So now having tried this route, would he recommend PledgeMusic to other bands? “Any band that wants to do something like this I would recommend Pledge 100 per cent, as they have been brilliant. But it isn’t going to sell the number of albums I want, so that ultimately involves some kind of other distribution – but it will be from a position of more security after the Pledge campaign. I don’t know about the next album. I’ll be touring this one for all of 2017 and ‘18 so I don’t have to look at the next album until then. As we’re living in an age where there are new technologies almost every week, there might be something new… or it might all have gone back to vinyl and cassette again by then!” Turn the page for Numan in the studio…

SPLINTERING SUCCESS The success of Splinter has been double-edged. On the one hand, it’s meant more sync work than ever, with tracks from the album used on TV and in film, but it’s also led to many more offers of work, almost too many… “I’ve been doing loads of collaborations and doing vocals for games. I did a single with the Vowws, a track with John Foxx, a track with a Mexican band called Titan, and I’m doing a separate album with a good mate of mine, Andy Gray, which is a collaboration – he’s been doing the music and I add the vocals and lyrics. We’ve done a few things together. He’s done loads of remixes [including live favourite, Prayer For The Unborn] for me and a track called Ancients, which is pretty much where the songwriting

thing together started. We did one called For You after and we’re now working on a load more stuff, but he’s crazy busy, a little workaholic! “The sync on Splinter was amazing,” Gary continues. “My sync history has tended to be one of Cars. That track gets used on everything and it does really well. I’m aware of that. But I had more syncs on Splinter than any other album that I have done, combined. It was phenomenal. You can do alright on album sales, but it’s nothing like it was. But the Pledge campaign has been an eye-opening exercise in another way of doing it, an amazing experience so far. It’s still done better in terms of everything else, and the Pledge people themselves are amazing.”


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immersed in software. Omnisphere 2 is the best thing ever invented – more useful than the wheel! It’s an amazing bit of kit, so I think software is still very much the heart of it for me. I’ve got a Moog Voyager XL, but you’ll see it leaning up against the side of the studio as I’ve not actually plugged it in yet. It’s a good bit of kit, though. I’ve also got a couple of Roland bits coming. I don’t have the names yet, but it’s a big red thing – the JD-XA…”

Numan in the studio Gary has his own studio, which he uses to produce complete albums as well as remixes and collaborations – of which he has many lined up as we interview him. After our main chat, we step out to this studio to discover a comprehensive software set-up, a Moog and the bass that he wrote Cars on… Numan’s studio is a self-contained unit, formerly a guest house in his garden. He had it converted while his main house was being worked on, but had to work within several constraints, financial and otherwise…

MT: We noticed that part of the PledgeMusic offers were some of your old synths, which were quickly snapped up. So do you have any classics left? GN: “I have two Moogs, actually. One is in the Hard Rock Cafe in one of their display cases and one is back in England. I didn’t buy any Moogs until I was working on The Pleasure Principle album. For the two albums before that, I didn’t have my own synths, I didn’t have any money, I used to rent them. But I ended up buying eight or nine Minimoogs and four Polymoogs!” MT: Because of your long association with synthesisers, you’d have expected synth companies to be offering you gear all the time. Not so, it’d seem? GN: “No, no one has offered before now, which is weird considering how I seem to be well known for electronic music. In fact, I think that Moog was the first in 36 years. I’m not good at dropping hints with them [gear companies], though! I’ve got a mate back in England who isn’t particularly well known, hasn’t sold any records to speak of, and he has a sponsorship deal

“Omnisphere 2 is the best thing ever invented – more useful than the wheel!”

MusicTech: Tell us how the studio came about? Gary Numan: “I was going to get it fully converted into a studio, but I was getting nervous that it would not be affordable, so I started looking at alternatives. I came across the VocalBooth website one day and realised that they made bigger rooms, not just vocal booths and I talked to them about helping with the conversion. I gave them the sizes and we came up with this – it’s essentially a vocal booth, dumped inside a bigger room! “All the sound-proofing is in there, there’s nothing outside at all. Another problem with getting the building converted was that I needed planning permission and in this zone [in LA], we weren’t allowed an audio studio, so I was nervous about that, but this doesn’t need any planning permission as it’s a removable structure – it comes as a flatpack kit! It turned up in the morning and by that evening, it was built – it’s great. We have one of the busiest airports in the world just down the road, but you don’t hear a thing inside it, and I’m pretty deaf so I play at an ear-splitting volume, but you can stand outside and not hear anything at all. So I can sing in here and know that no one’s listening outside!” MT: In recent years, we’ve witnessed the return of the analogue synth with new models from the likes of Moog, Sequential, Oberheim, companies who provided you with your synths originally… GN: “Well, I’m watching it, but I’m still deeply

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Cars is possibly the most famous Numan song, an iconic synth tune that was surely written on, well, a keyboard of some kind? Nope. It was written on bass guitar, one that has been leaning against a wall outside the studio during the interview. “That one guitar, more than anything, has changed my entire life,” says Gary. “In my life I have written, I don’t know, maybe 300 or 400 songs out on record, but only two of them on a bass and one of them was Cars. I went to London in the morning and bought this bass, came home, took it out of its case and the very first thing I played was ‘da do do do’ [main riff of Cars] and I thought ‘that sounds alright’ and I had the whole song done including lyrics in about half an hour. The quickest song I ever wrote, Cars, and only one of two done on bass. I haven’t really looked after the guitar, it’s a bit rusty!”

where he actually gets a wage! And he has gear coming out of his arse! I had another mate who was the same and he had a garage full of gear. He’d say, ‘just ask the companies, blag it’, but I said ‘I can’t!’” MT: Synth-wise, on top of the Voyager, there’s an Access Virus, and an Alesis QuadraSynth which you say you use mainly for its piano sound… GN: “Not a lot of people liked that when it came out, but I thought it was great. I’ve got another one back in England, I think, but I’ve lost it, I need to find out where I left it.” MT: So the rest of the studio is a software-driven affair, with just one or two choice pieces of gear? GN: “I have no outboard gear to speak of. I use Pro Tools. I used to have an HD3 system with the expansion chassis which was noisy and horrible and I didn’t like it. So when I finished Splinter, I went over to this system which is the native one and was told it would be every bit as good as the HD3. I didn’t really research it and I should have – it’s useless, it runs at a really low speed. But that’s pretty much it. I’m very much Native, Omnisphere. I have most of Native’s stuff – Kontakt, Damage. The Spectrasonics stuff is at the core of what I’ve got. “I’ve got [Unity Audio] Rock speakers and Tannoys I’ve had something like 30 years or more. They’re Tannoy Little Golds, the ones to have back then; really, really cool speakers. The good thing about the Rocks is that you can take them right down to low levels without losing the bottom end. Most main speakers, as soon as you go back on the power, the bass starts to disappear, but they don’t. As a reference speaker, they’re great. You can listen to things quietly, but still true.”

Top left: The Access Virus, complete with notes for live use Top: Gary at the desk. Check out the Unity Audio and Tannoy monitors behind him The main desk (left), plus monitors and more monitors!

MT: Finally, what about beats nowadays – do you have any preferences? GN: “I’ve not had an actual drum machine for 30 years, but the new Roland TR drum machines that I’ve tried are great. All that key triggering you can get with one sound; there’s some pretty good stuff that can come out of it, so I’m really looking forward to getting into it. “Ade [Fenton, one time collaborator] was a bit of a programmer for drums, which I often found was a waste of time! So I don’t know what I’m going to do with that now – I guess it depends if Andy [Gray] is involved and if I end up working with someone over here. I like the idea of having a real drummer, but I also love the rhythmic complexity and power of combining loops. Maybe one song with one thing, one with another, we’ll see…” MAGAZINE May 2016

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at me, I just had a Top 20 album,’ you’re kidding yourself. I shouldn’t be too down on it, though, because it genuinely did do much better than anything else I’ve done for a very long time. “I was nervous about it. I’d only done a UK-only album, Dead Son Rising before that was meant to be a side project with me and Ade but ended up as a full album. So it had been about seven or eight years since my previous album, which is the kiss of death, usually, to be away that long. But I liked it, I was really proud of it as a record and I thought we’d done a good job with it. I was really happy with my songwriting and when I got down to do it, it was coming easily and I had very few of those horrid days where nothing works and you get down on yourself – which have all been on this one so far!”



“Ever since Cars in 1979, I’ve been trying to come out of the shadow that they created”

“You just hear so many stories about what a horrible experience it can be, but there are many successful ones, like Junkie XL. I’ve only just found out that he’s out here and his name is on everything now; he’s really, really cracked it, so I’m trying to find a way of hooking up with him.

“But when I came out here, the reason was to sow the seeds to my future with film music. It was something I thought would be a natural progression that I’d do when I had to to do it, and by coming out here I would build my knowledge, experience and skills up at it and get known to be competent at it. I would get to know people and over five or six years, I’d get to know people and build up a meaningful portfolio to do with film music. But then I thought, ‘I don’t really want to do it, actually’, I just want to make another album, do another tour and all of that. It is a bit childish, actually, because it is a very sensible idea and is something I should be doing…”

…GETTING BACK INTO THE TOP 20 WITH SPLINTER “Well, you can’t put much faith in the charts. It’s easier to get in the charts than it was. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, but you just need a good pre-sale – then it’s possible to get a chart hit, especially if you’re lucky and time it on a week when not a lot of other people put albums out. So it looks great, but if you sit back and tell yourself: ‘Oh, look

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“I use to be fiercely ‘anti’ it. The problem was for me is obviously that I made it really big early on and I had this massive success and nothing else I did since then ever came close, even though I’ve had a long career. So you had this shadow, if you like, which isn’t the right way of looking at it, but you had this huge success that feels like it casts a shadow over everything else you do. Nothing else is ever as successful, people refer back to it all the time, when there’s a photo of you in a magazine it says ‘80s pop star’, and you begin to resent the very thing that put you where you are and you try and distance yourself from it and just want to be known for new stuff, and it becomes an obsession, and it’s been like that for almost my entire career. Ever since Cars in 1979, I’ve been trying to come out of the shadow that they created, I feel, and trying to establish the fact that I am still around and still going and not an 80s pop star. So it became a massive thing for me… I was turning down things, big things. There was a long period when I was desperate for promotion. I couldn’t give myself away for a while. The albums weren’t selling, the gigs weren’t selling and I was really in trouble, but even then, I knew that if I started doing anything retro because it was there as an option, the long-term effect of that would be catastrophic, because once you become a retro act you are fucked. I didn’t want it anyway, and I didn’t want to be seen that way and I thought from a career point of view it would be very counter-productive. There were things like The Big Breakfast – a huge programme – where they wanted me to go on there and do a duet of Are Friends Electric? with Zoe Ball. And I was like, ‘No, I won’t be doing that, thanks’, but it was a big thing to turn down in terms of being out in front of people and reminding people that you’re still alive, which is what everyone around me was saying: ‘People will remember you!’ But I didn’t want to be remembered, that was the problem! So you start turning down this and that and I went through two or three years where I said no to almost everything that came in, because it was so retro-orientated.” MT


05/04/2016 11:58



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MTTechnique EXS24 sample mapping

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Technique Logic In Depth

EXS24 sample mapping Creating your own EXS24 instruments can be a quick and intuitive process, opening a wealth of creative potential. Mark Cousins is caught mapping…


hile the EXS24 might not be the most elegant part of the Logic Pro X experience, it is certainly a superbly functional instrument and an essential part of the overall Logic workflow. Turning a collection of samples – either taken from our cover DVD, or recorded by your own hands – into a fully fledged sample-based instrument needn’t take more than just a few mouse clicks. Once saved, these newly created instruments can become an essential part of your sound palette, accessible across the entirety of your Logic projects.

On the disc Accompanying project file included on the DVD

Mapping success One key component that can confuse new users is the difference between the EXS24 instrument plug-in, which you instantiate into your track list or mixer, and the

Turning samples into a fully fledged instrument needn’t take more than a few mouse clicks so-called EXS24 Instrument Editor. In essence, the EXS24 Instrument plug-in is the front-end of the sampler, complete with a set of synthesiser-like controls that can be used to modify the sample playback – using envelope generators, for example, to shape the amplitude over time, or the filter to home in on harmonic information. The EXS24 Editor, which sits ‘behind’ the EXS24 plug-in, mainly deals with the mapping of samples, although there are other creative sound-manipulation techniques up its sleeve that are well worth closer inspection, as we’ll see. Creating a new instrument from scratch begins with an empty instance of the EXS24. To open the editor, press the small Edit button in the top right-hand corner of the EXS24 plug-in. The editor window works as a graphic representation of your instrument’s mapping, with a

keyboard across the bottom of the window. From here, we can see a list of the samples used in our instrument, along with their relative position on the keyboard, the number of keys that they span across, as well as how they respond to velocity.

Zone out Technically speaking, an EXS24 instrument is comprised of a series of zones, with each zone containing a sample of your choice. To make sample mapping quick and easy, the EXS24 supports dragging-and-dropping directly onto the editor, which is arguably easiest to achieve using Logic’s built-in file browser. The importing process works intelligently, so that you could drag just one sample over a single note and have it mapped accordingly, or drag a collection of samples and have them auto-mapped across a series of consecutive keys. Once imported, you’ll note each zone has its own set of parameters. Basic controls like volume and pan let you mix the samples – maybe panning some drum samples across the stereo image, for example, or sitting a reverberated snare sample behind a dry snare. Tuning controls can either be used correctively (re-tuning a sampled bass note with poor intonation, for example) or creatively, particularly in the example of re-tuning drum samples. Other creative options include the option to reverse the sample playback, which is well worth using in conjunction with the in-built sample editor (accessible via a drop-down menu in the Audio File column) to adjust the start and end points. To keep your EXS24 instrument organised, it’s possible to make use of the Groups feature. The Groups are listed down the left-hand side of the editor window, and work much the same as playlists in iTunes – simply select your required zones and drag them across into the Groups list. Once set, Groups can be used as a selective zone display

DATA MANAGEMENT Remember to store all your sample data in a clear, organised way, arguably making some optimisation in respect to the speed of the hard drive (which will affect how many voices you can stream). An external drive, connected via a fast connection protocol like FireWire 800 or USB 3, or an additional internal drive, should be considered essential, reserved solely for the task of sample streaming. The Instruments themselves, which only contain the mapping data, are relatively small and are best stored as part of your library, under Music > Audio Music Apps > Sampler Instruments. Instruments in this folder will appear at the root level of the EXS24’s instrument list and can be accessed from any of your Logic projects.

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04/04/2016 11:37

EXS24 sample mapping Technique MT

MT Step-by-Step EXS24 In Depth

Create an empty instance of EXS24 and then press the Edit button in the top right-hand corner to open the EXS24 editor. Resize the editor window and then open the All Files media browser in Logic’s main window. Locate your samples using the browser.

Samples in the browser can be dragged-and-dropped into the EXS24 editor. In this case, we’ve dragged each sound group across separately, using the ‘Contiguous zones starting at the key the file was dropped…’ option to auto-map the samples accordingly.

Each zone (which contains the sample we’ve imported) has its own tuning, pan and level controls. This is useful with our drum samples, letting us pan the hi-hat samples hard left and right, for example, or attenuate the level of the Hi-Q zones.

One particularly creative option is the ability to reverse a zone. Try this on one of the snares. Open the sample editor (using the drop-down menu in the Audio File column) so that you can change the end marker, which is currently the start point.

For complicated EXS24 instruments, it’s useful to organise zones into groups. As we performed an incremental import, Logic has created an accompanying Group, which we re-name. Alternatively, select the zones and use the local menu option Group > New Group.

Once you’re happy with the instrument, using the local menu Instrument > Save As to permanently store your creation. Logic defaults to the Sampler Instruments folder in your Library, which will mean all songs can access the same instrument.




tool, which is useful for large multisampling instruments, or as means of accessing some of the EXS24’s advanced mapping features, such as Release Triggering.

Front-panel controls Moving back to the EXS24 instrument plug-in, we can now see how it works as the front-end to the instrument we’ve created. In effect, the controls here – including filters, envelopes, LFOs, a modulation matrix and tuning functions




– are applied globally across all the zones, making it a quick and easy way of changing the sound of the instrument en masse. If you want to keep the panel settings with the instrument, remember to use EXS24’s Option menu to select Save Settings To Instrument, otherwise the panel simply returns to its default setting each time you load the instrument. Once you’ve mastered the key principles of sample mapping with the EXS24, you can soon start to apply it in MAGAZINE May 2016

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MTTechnique EXS24 sample mapping

all your production work. Even with Native instruments’ Kontakt residing in our plug-in folder, the EXS24 remains our first choice for DIY sampling, as it has become for many Logic-based producers – largely because of the speedy and efficient way it can integrate into the day-to-day workflow with Logic Pro X. Ultimately, the quicker you can map the samples, the less interruption there is to your creative process, giving

you more time to explore the creative potential of sampling in your music. MT This tutorial is endorsed by Point Blank Music School, which specialises in courses on production, sound engineering, the music business, singing, radio production, DJ skills and film production, all run by top British music producers and media professionals, with regular visits from legends in music and media. For more information, go to

MT Step-by-Step EXS24 In Depth (cont’d)

While the Instrument Editor deals with mapping the samples, the front panel of the EXS24 handles a number of important parameters. For example, with a drum instrument, we might want to reduce the velocity scaling using the bottom half of the Level slider.

Env 2 controls the amplitude envelope of the sample. Try reducing sustain to 0 and then gradually lower the decay, to produce a more clipped envelope. This is also interesting with either a raised or lowered tuning using the Tune control.

Move over to the C Saw patch on Instrument 2 to understand the filter. To make the filter active, switch the Off button to On. Adjust the cutoff, resonance and drive to taste, using the tabs to move between high-pass, low-pass and band-pass operation.

Now let’s add some filter modulation using LFO 2. All the LFOs have the advantage of being MIDI-syncable, moving the rate control to the left of the zero point on a 1/16 setting. Set the waveshape to the sawtooth option.

The EXS24’s modulation matrix is much the same as that of the ES2. First, select a destination (in this case, filter cutoff) and then pick LFO2 as the source. Set the amount of modulation using the slider on the right-hand side of the routing path.

Settings on the front panel are temporary unless written to the mapping data created in the EXS24 Editor. To do this, use the EXS24 Option menu and select Save Settings To Instrument, so that your panel settings are stored with the mapping data.




44 | May 2016

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04/04/2016 11:38

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03.08.2015 16:29:46

MT Technique Live In Depth Part 3

Ableton Live Live In Depth – Part 3

On the disc Accompanying project file included on the DVD

Audio-to-MIDI conversion… and back the other way! Live’s audio-to-MIDI conversion provides mind-blowing ways to create new musical parts. Martin Delaney shows you how separate the notes from the samples…


e’re looking at audio-to-MIDI conversion, which is one of the most fun activities in the Ableton World. Introduced in Live 9, ‘Convert…to MIDI’ gives us new ways of disrespecting samples and creating new sounds. Used with the ‘Slice to New MIDI Track’ and Freeze/Flatten commands, you can get amazing results. These handy commands let us transform an audio sample or recording into an editable form, without having to do any programming; we can create a MIDI track from an original recording or we can create parts to play in parallel with the original part. We can even venture far deeper into substituting different instrument sounds and applying MIDI effects. The source material can be, well, anything. For more conservative uses, it’s typically drums or bass sounds, but it doesn’t take long to get into more left-field territory by converting field recordings, miscellaneous noise, and speech samples into rhythmic or melodic MIDI parts. Some complain that Live’s MIDI conversion tools aren’t as accurate or sophisticated as those in Melodyne, for example, but that’s missing the point. With Live it’s all about immediacy and creativity; with these tools you’ll get results you wouldn’t have dreamed of – never a bad thing. In this tutorial’s example Live set, we’ve provided a few audio clips that’ll give straightforward illustrations of how audio-to-MIDI conversion works. You should really start using your own audio samples as soon as possible though – that’ll be much more rewarding. One usage example that comes to mind is with drums. You’ve recorded a beat that you liked at the time, but now you want to use

different kit sounds while keeping the notes and timing of the original beat. Or maybe you’ve taken a beat from a record, and instead of using it as a straight sample loop, you just want the parts from the beat. You might also use it to create a second part that plays along with the original. The conversion process can work very well, but it’s dependent on the quality and character of the source recording. If there’s a lot of sounds playing at once, audio effects in use or other influences like audience noise – anything else in the background – of course it’s going to be harder to get a clean clip. You might have to tidy the notes afterwards but the idea is this can still be faster than programming the part from scratch. It’s not dissimilar to Slice to New MIDI Track except that command keeps the original sample sliced across different chains in a rack, while this discards the original sound altogether. Bass is typically easy to convert with the ‘Convert Melody to MIDI’ command, because for the most part, bass tracks

FOCUS ON: REAL TIME CONVERSION One thing you can’t do with Live’s wonderful audio-to-MIDI tools is convert in real-time i.e. create MIDI notes directly from incoming audio. I use a piece of hardware to achieve this: the Sonuus B2M bass converter (there’s also a G2M model for guitar). Connect your guitar at one end and a MIDI cable at the other, and you’re in business. It works pretty well and it’s a good incentive to clean up your playing technique. I also connect a microphone to it sometimes, to see what kind of chaos that generates, converting speech to synth parts.

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06/04/2016 12:06

Live In Depth Part 3 Technique MT

MT Step-by-Step Audio to MIDI

We’ve provided an example Live set so you can practice your audio-to-MIDI conversion techniques (called LID02) and it contains audio clips for drums, bass, piano (two clips) and speech.

The clip called ‘audio beat’ is a drum loop with acoustic sounds, compression, distortion and some reverb. Right-click on it and choose ‘Convert Drums to New MIDI Track’ from the Context Menu.

That’s all you have to do! Live creates a new MIDI track, containing a clip based on how it’s interpreted the audio. A default drum kit’s loaded, ready to play and ready to edit.

Now let’s do the ‘audio bass’ clip. This is a very simple part and a clean sound – just a little bit of reverb, that’s all. Convert it again but this time choose ‘Convert Melody to…’.

This is designed for monophonic sources such as (typical) bass parts or synth and guitar leads. You should hear that the bass converts to MIDI well, unaffected by the presence of that subtle reverb.

Use ‘Convert Harmony…’ for the piano clip – it contains chords. There’s also distortion and reverb present. This doesn’t provide a clean conversion so you will have to remove a few ‘spare’ notes.




are monophonic, and reasonably clean. Bass guitar can be harder to process because there’s variation in dynamics and clarity, as well as finger/fret noise. In this context, ‘Harmony’ refers to any audio sample with more than one instrument note playing at the same time: piano, guitar, synthesiser and so on. This is harder for software to decipher, but Live does a good job as long as it’s presented




with a clean-ish recording. So as not to make things too easy, the piano clips in the example set include distortion, delay, and reverb so you can see and hear how they affect conversion. I’ve also provided a voice sample, but you can also use any sound. If you’re the sort of person who likes to use their own sources for everything, but also favours MIDI programming over plain sample manipulation, then why MAGAZINE May 2016

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MT Technique Live In Depth Part 3

MT Step-by-Step Audio to MIDI (cont’d)

There’s another version of the clip with delays; Live interprets these as extra notes, requiring clean-up unless we retain them as an effect. The delay repeats also affect how Live handles clip length.

The speech sample is where things get extra-interesting. You can try all of those conversion options with a speech sample – it’s going to be weird either way. Let’s settle for ‘Convert Drums to…’.

Now you’ve got a frankly off-the-wall drum beat, which probably won’t fit so well. We can fix this. Find the Scale MIDI effect device in the Browser and load the ‘In C’ preset.

Play the clip. We don’t need a kick, though, so use Scale’s Base control to shift those incoming notes up to F#. You should now be hearing a hi-hat part. Quantize it to 1/16ths.

The Convert to MIDI commands load default instrument sounds, which is really helpful but you’re not supposed to stick with those. Load different sounds and experiment – that’s the whole point!

There’s another variation of these commands. We can also choose ‘Slice to New MIDI Track’, which relates to these techniques. Let’s try it with the original drum clip for more options.




not snag a few recordings using your iPhone or other recorder, and create an album’s worth of songs using MIDI conversion to create all of the parts? Furthermore, it’s really unpredictable and exciting to take one original audio recording and apply all of the conversion options to it in turn, creating a beat, melody, and chords, from that single sample. If necessary you can use Live’s MIDI effect devices

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to squeeze the notes back into some kind of semiorganised timing and pitch. I dare you, go on, it’ll be good! I included the Freeze and Flatten commands in the walkthrough because they complete the circle – you can use them to bounce your MIDI clips back into a purely audio format, for yet more processing, or for re-use in other live sets. Much as I like to work with MIDI parts for the


06/04/2016 12:06

MT Technique Live In Depth Part 3

MT Step-by-Step Audio to MIDI (cont’d)

Choose 1/8ths for the slices. Tap Enter and another MIDI track appears. This time the audio remains with an instrument rack containing 1/8th note slices of the sample ready to trigger via MIDI.

When we do the same thing with the bass part we can restructure the notes entirely, apply different effects to each note/chain if we want to – just drag the effect onto the chain.

Slicing the piano part with the chords should give interesting results – you’ll get a chord on each key of your keyboard, good for a blatantly sampled chord sound. Add Auto Filter for extra cool points.

Try slicing the delayed piano clip with the note values at 32nds, for a more samply/glitchy vibe as you play it across your MIDI keyboard. You’ll get 128 slices.

Same thing goes with the speech sample. To me sliced speech always sounds cool with those short notes. Put an arpeggiator in front of it for a nice choppy rhythm effect.

Our last command is actually two commands: Freeze and Flatten; use these on a MIDI track to convert everything in the track to audio clips, with instrument and effects baked into the samples.




original programming, I still put everything into audio tracks for live use – it’s just more robust and portable. If you’re seriously interested in audio-to-MIDI conversion there’s no reason why you couldn’t use it as the basis for all of your sound design. Live has the commands I’m talking about here. There are hardware options as well, like the Sonuus products mentioned in our little sidebox

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and I also mentioned Melodyne at the top of this story, which is the king of audio manipulation – converting audio to MIDI is only part of what it does. Give it a try (see www. But even without such extras Live, of course, has more than enough options to keep us happy and productive, and converting audio to MIDI is one of the most exciting of those options. MT


06/04/2016 12:06

䐀䤀䜀䤀吀䄀䰀 䴀䤀堀䤀一䜀


吀栀攀 挀氀愀猀猀ⴀ氀攀愀搀椀渀最 挀漀洀瀀愀挀琀 搀椀最椀琀愀氀 洀椀砀攀爀猀 樀甀猀琀 最漀琀 攀砀琀爀愀  挀栀爀漀洀攀Ⰰ  眀椀琀栀  愀甀琀漀洀愀琀椀挀  洀椀挀  洀椀砀椀渀最  昀漀爀  挀漀渀昀攀爀攀渀挀攀猀  愀渀搀 洀攀攀琀椀渀最猀Ⰰ 洀漀爀攀 洀漀渀椀琀漀爀 洀椀砀攀猀Ⰰ 愀 猀瀀攀挀琀爀漀最爀愀洀 昀漀爀  昀攀攀搀戀愀挀欀  栀甀渀琀椀渀最  愀渀搀  琀愀洀椀渀最  瀀爀漀戀氀攀洀  爀漀漀洀  愀挀漀甀猀琀椀挀猀Ⰰ  瀀氀甀猀  栀椀最栀  挀漀渀琀爀愀猀琀  洀攀琀愀氀氀椀挀  挀漀渀琀爀漀氀猀  昀漀爀  攀渀栀愀渀挀攀搀 琀愀挀琀椀氀攀 挀漀渀琀爀漀氀⸀ 


MT Technique Mastering Part 6 – Running parts

Technique Mastering Part 6

Running Parts The final process in the mastering stage doesn’t involve processing the audio at all. Mike Hillier readies his printer...


he final step of mastering comes once all the tracks for the release are processed and (usually) rendered, and involves the transfer of the final files to the release medium. In the case of a digital download, this can be quite simple, involving little more than converting the file into whichever format is required by the digital store you are releasing through. But for CD, vinyl or cassette, this process can involve quite a few extra steps.

On the disc Accompanying project file included on the DVD

Digital download For downloads, the mastered files simply need to be converted to the relevant formats and checked. The final mastered format should be the highest quality available. This is usually 32-bit WAV at the sample-rate the track was recorded at. While increasing the bit-depth can be advantageous in mastering, you should only increase the

The final format for most CDs is now the DDPi format, which contains all the info necessary sample-rate if you’re running the audio out through analogue hardware. There’s no advantage to converting a 44.1kHz file to 96kHz or 192kHz if all processing is done in the box, but plenty of headaches will be incurred – not least the additional disk space required.

HIGHLIGHT Dither should always be applied whenever you move from one bit-depth to a lower bit-depth; for example, when rendering a 24- or 32-bit file down to 16-bit. This process adds very low-level noise which randomises the quantisation errors which are otherwise frozen in the audio signal. The result is paradoxically a cleaner signal.

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As a rule, it’s best to provide the client with the ‘archive master’ at full resolution, alongside 24-bit, full sample-rate and 16-bit/44.1kHz dithered versions. This will future-proof the master for any potential digital formats, while also providing a 24-bit version for most online stores and a 16-bit version for older stores. Don’t forget to clearly name each file. Some clients may also request an mp3, which we usually supply at 320kbps fixed bitrate unless an alternative is requested. The mp3 should be converted from the archive master, and not one of the second-generation dithered files.

CD The final format for most CDs is now the DDPi format, which contains all the information necessary to print Red Book-standard audio discs, complete with the running order, gaps, and any additional metadata embedded in the disc. The alternative is to print a Gold Master disc, although this is becoming increasingly less common. Some DAWs, such as PreSonus Studio One, can export DDPi files already, while others require additional plug-ins such as the HOFA CD-Burn suite. Many mastering engineers, however, prefer to use dedicated mastering suites such as Steinberg WaveLab, DSP-Quattro or Prism Sound SADiE.

Vinyl and cassette For analogue masters, the final playlist should be bounced down as two stereo files, one for each side of the analogue medium. These files should contain all the tracks for each side, with any gaps embedded in the audio. Like the archive master, these files should be provided at full resolution to whoever is printing the analogue copies. MT


06/04/2016 12:09

Mastering Part 6 – Running parts Technique MT

MT Step-by-Step Using HOFA CD-Burn & DDP plug-in

If you’ve been working through the previous workshops, you should have five mastered tracks to work with. Line them up how you’d like to hear them in your DAW, with the HOFA CD-Burn & DDP plug-in as the last plug-in on the master channel. Leave gaps or fades between songs.



HOFA will ask where the new file has been placed, so navigate to the newly bounced audio and direct HOFA to the file.

Enter the album metadata into the HOFA CD-Burn & DDP plug-in. Make sure you spellcheck all the song and album titles as well as artist names, and triple-check any UPC/EAN or ISRC codes you are embedding.


In the HOFA plug-in, create a new CD project and then bounce the full session to a single audio file. The bounce must start at 0:00 on the DAW timeline. In the export settings, export as a 16-bit 44.1kHz audio file. If your audio isn’t dithered, add a dither to the master buss.


The HOFA plug-in will now reference the new audio file, and place markers corresponding to the tracks in your session. If, like here, it misses any, be sure to enter new Track Start positions for the missing tracks. Check each of the track markers in turn to be sure they match up.



The final task left is to render the DDP to a folder and send it to the client.

MAGAZINE May 2016 |

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06/04/2016 12:09

MT Technique Mastering Part 6 – Running parts

MT Step-by-Step Using DSP Quattro

Create a new CD Project in DSP Quattro and import each of the tracks you want on the CD. Once in DSP Quattro you can alter the running order by simply dragging the tracks up and down in the Regions list at the bottom left.

DSP Quattro will automatically place song markers between each region with gaps of two seconds. You can alter this by dragging the audio around the main timeline, to create longer or shorter gaps – or crossfades between the intro and outro of songs.

You can edit your disc’s metadata, including the album title and UPC/EAN code from the AudioCD>AudioCD Disc Settings window.

Song metadata, including the artist, song title, and ISRC codes can be edited from the AudioCD>Edit CD Track Parameters window. Again, be sure to spellcheck all song titles and artist names, and triple-check any ISRC codes you are embedding.




You can now render the DDP to a folder and send it to the client.

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DSP Quattro also lets you write a text file with all the DDP data in it, which can be very useful for sending along with the DDP folder, as it enables the client to double-check your spelling.



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05/04/2016 16:19

MT Feature Produce a track part 2

MT Cover Feature Produce a track from start to finish


8 WAYS TO COMPOSE AND ARRANGE A TRACK You’ve got your ideas down into your DAW. They might be loops or simple scratchpad ideas. How do you flesh them out into full arrangements? Read on…


01 1. In Live, looping is what it’s all about and it’s done for you, but don’t let the loop rule you. Using looping in Logic is simply a case of defining loop points by clicking and dragging your cursor 2. The trick is to get to the point when you are happy with your loops, and then switch looping off. Look at all that space to fill 01

Use looping creatively

You will probably find that whatever DAW you use, you will be positively encouraged to use loops at some point in the production process – usually at the start. And this, by and large, is a good thing. It gets to the heart of why you are using technology in the first place, as looping enables you to try musical ideas together very easily and very quickly. You can build all the elements of your song together using loops – bass, drums, leads, guitars – and then the

56 | May 2016

3. Duplicating parts in Live is also easy within an arrangement, but is arguably less used than in other DAWs 3. Rinse and repeat. DAWs are built for this, so make use of the repeat feature in whatever one you use…

main arrangement process starts. All good so far, but we’d also add the caveat that people are getting a little too reliant on loops – and looping does lead you down certain paths and towards certain genres. So, our current thinking is that looping is great at the start of your arrangement process, and we’d even encourage people who don’t do it to try it. Like we say, every DAW is a click away from a loop. Ableton dominates its part of the DAW world because of the loop, so use it, but be clever. Have them running at different lengths from each other (again, Live is great for this), have them jumping around, be less rigid with quantisation within them. Think free, be free. Don’t let the loop rule you, you rule the loop. And once you have them in line, then… 02

Don’t be afraid to stop looping

After decades of making music, we think we know the Big Secret, the doorway to a finished track, and this it. This is the point, the one tip that will make your purchase of this magazine, or your investment of time in reading this article on, worth it. This is the Holy Grail, The Area 51, the Crystal Skull (okay, not the Crystal Skull) of music making: the ‘one thing’ that people need to know about DAW use and making music with technology. So… When you have a bunch of loops that work well together… here goes… Stop. Looping. Them. And Arrange. Them. Quick, while you have the motivation, while you have the time. Arrange them now! Okay, it’s obvious, right, and you might feel slightly disappointed after our big build up, but this really is important. Technology – an increasing number of grid controllers, hardware sequencers,


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Produce a track part 2 Feature MT



plus every software DAW – will encourage you to loop, and you will sound excellent by doing so. But the next step is the crucial one, the one that takes you away from every other bloody looper on the planet. You are the girl or the guy that stops looping and starts arranging. And you know what? It’s… 03

Easier than you think

In certain DAWs like Live, arranging can simply be a matter of recording whatever clips you launch and stop – all movements get recorded, and you can tweak them afterwards if you make any mistakes. Lo and behold, you have an arrangement! In other DAWs, arranging is perhaps less obvious, but one sure-fire easy fix for any DAW is to copy the loops you are so happy with and repeat them for the duration of a song. Then it’s simply a case of deleting certain parts of your new arrangement as the song progresses. More experienced DAW users might see

4. Starting off any dance arrangement with beats is one of the golden rules to help the DJ 5. Use the arranging features in your DAW to move big chunks around in one go, like the chorus and verse

– and point you in the direction of some of the more obvious rules instead… Open with your beats. Obvious, yes, but DJs will want to mix your beats, not your notes. Technology such as NI’s Stems is making this one a little more redundant, as DJs are getting more and more access to your song parts, but it’s still safe to open on a bunch of tuneless beats than it is your breakdown. There are other arrangement tips, which will be specific to your genre of music, so a really useful and more general tip to follow here is… 05


this as a cop-out or a ‘cheat’ way to arrange, but it’s what DAWs were built to do: easily repeat stuff so you don’t have to play it again. So make use of it, but, like everything in the world of music production (and indeed life), use it in moderation… 04

Reference, reference, reference

As with mixing and mastering, learn from the pros with arranging. And the best way here is obviously to listen to other artists’ arrangements. Consider even loading an entire song into your DAW by someone else, but one similar to the style you are producing, and noting its intro length, verse lengths, breakdowns, choruses, everything… Map out your production in the same way using your DAW’s arranging tools. Many have built-in arranging features that allow you to title parts of your production as intro, or verse etc, and then move them around in big chunks to various marker points. In this way, you’ll quickly produce an arrangement and wonder why you were ever stuck with just a few bars of loops in the first place!


Follow the formula

Do dance music? Been told your music is formulaic? That’s not such a bad comment, actually, because dance music does demand a certain amount of formula in the arrangement. We’ll gloss over the arguments that say that it’s the blander and formulaic styles of dance music that are killing it – people have been saying that for three decades now MAGAZINE May 2016

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MT Feature Produce a track part 2

saves you time and enables one person to do what, at one time in our music-making history, was a job for a few people. This can be as simple as fading tracks in and out, but go a few steps further and you can automate instrument parameters so that a synth, for example, will change in sound while it’s being played, or effects could be added during a chorus, or even the tempo could be slowed down or speeded up. Almost anything can be automated, so while DAWs encourage looping, they also encourage the variation of these loops with automation.



6. When you want to stand out, don’t follow the formula. Sometimes a simple addition, such as an extra kick in an arrangement, can create a whole new genre…

Don’t follow the formula

Important one this – almost as important as the ‘break out of the loops’ one. You could argue that by us saying ‘use loops’ and ‘be formulaic’ with your arrangements, we are contributing to the death of music. And you’d be right! Kind of. Actually, we’re only advocating using these two methods up to a certain point in your productions, or during your music-making careers. Sooner or later, you will have to break the mould of whatever genre you are producing and try and make your own mark on it. There is so much music these days, in so many different areas, that in order to stand out, you have to do something a little different, and sometimes this may just be something a little different in your arrangement. So look at what everyone is doing and tweak it. An extra kick here? A few extra bars on a breakdown? More percussive elements to add swing? All these and more can be scattered across an arrangement to help take it up a level. 07

Use automation

To our minds, automation is one of the great music technology advances. It’s up there with MIDI, virtual instruments, audio recording and Bro Country. It’s yet another DAW feature that

7. Automation can help vary your loops, from simply increasing the volume (as shown), to changing sounds 8. Live and Logic are great DAWs for remixing. Simply load up a bunch of different beats to trial styles and genres. If it sounds good, you might have just created a remix of your own tune!


Consider the remix

The real beauty of the DAW – and we really are finding many things to thank our software friends for here – is that once you have a good-ish idea, you can tweak and refine it (pretty much forever if you’re not careful, so read our tips on finishing!), or you can just leave it or come back to it. Consider a third option, though, one that is perhaps an extension of the ‘Don’t follow the formula’ rule: the remix! It’s likely that up to this point, you’ve been working on a particular tune in a particular style. We previously told you to tweak it and break the mould, but at this point in your arrangement, it could also be time to twist it and smash the mould by remixing. You can try a couple of very quick tips here to change your tune very quickly, before we step into an entirely new tutorial on remixing (check for plenty of guides on this). First, change your beats, or lose them altogether. Stick something else – other beat loops – beneath your song and see what happens. Blend generic elements – dark trap with hip-hop, techno with country, and so on. Sounds crazy, but a thousand sub-genres were born this way. Also consider radically changing your tempo, or simply shifting your MIDI tracks up and down to hear how notes played on one instrument play on another. Beautiful accidents can happen this way, and the charts are full of them… MT



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06/04/2016 12:12

MusicTech.indd 1

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MT Reviews Gothic Instruments Dronar Hybrid Module

MT Lead Review Hardware


Mobile tech




Dronar Hybrid Module With Gothic Instruments’ new title, we may well have a build-your-own software – not hardware – instrument. Andy Jones drones on. And on… Details Product Dronar Hybrid Module Price £59.95 Contact via website Web

Features ● Atmospheric Kontakt instrument ● Multi-timbral synth/sampler with multiple arpeggiators ● 6 main controls ● 300 presets ● 16GB of data compressed to 8GB ● Produced by Hollywood trailer sound designer Alessandro Camnasio ● Live strings by players from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

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very aspect of music production is being made more accessible with technology: from creating the perfect dancefloor beats to easy pro mastering. However, in more recent times, the target audience for software developers seems to have shifted to the

While all very different, these collections do have one thing in common: atmosphere. They will help transport your music making to another place or time, so are ideal tools for the soundtrack composer. With the blockbuster soundtrack being so high-profile, and pop careers being so

Everyone wants to be the next Hans Zimmer rather than the next Eurovision entry… soundtrack composer – or wannabe soundtrack composer – so we’ve had many libraries and instruments aimed specifically at them. I’ve looked at a stack of these over the last couple of years, including fantasy favourites from Eduardo Tarilonte (Shevannai and Era) and sci-fi blockbusters from Heavyocity (Gravity) and Wide Blue Sound (Orbit).

low-cash, everybody wants to be the next Hans Zimmer rather than the next Eurovision entry, so collections like these are becoming almost as ubiquitous as analogue synths. Dronar Hybrid Module is the first release from the superbly named Gothic Instruments. It’s an instrument aimed at the soundtrack artist but also one designed to stand out from the rest.

Modular software The first reason for this is its modular approach. The instrument is being released in blocks of downloads, hence the low price, which is an interesting approach (we love modular synths, so maybe we’re seeing the start of DIY software – see the box below for info). Secondly, Dronar is setting its sights on The first of many? The reason we’re going to town on Dronar is terms of a lengthier review is that it purports to be the first of several modules under the Dronar moniker. This collection/instrument is called ‘The Hybrid Module’ and if you buy into it for the not unreasonable sum of £59.95, you’ll get further downloads and additions cheaper. The idea is that these are released every couple of months, as Gothic Instruments head honcho Dan Graham explains: “We realised that it would take two years to create all the audio content we wanted, so we thought – why not release the project in modules? This means getting a new module out every two months until finally we can bundle it all together into a giant Master Dronar in a year or so. Until then, this approach means users don’t have to wait until 2017, and also each module is quite attractively priced, making it a good chance to try it without breaking the bank.”


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Gothic Instruments Dronar Hybrid Module Reviews MT

The Expert tab On a basic level, Dronar is very, well, basic, with six controls for big dramatic changes. Hit the Expert tab, though, and you get access to around 30 extra parameters as drop-down menus for the main controls, plus other controls like attack and decay.

The Arp tab Like the Expert tab, the Arp tab allows you access to more parameters from the top-level controls. And like the Expert tab, you don’t really need to be an expert! Here, you can adjust the Intensity, filter and arpeggiator steps and rate.

Master FX Here, edit your effects on a deeper level with distortion and chorus (shown in this picture). With reverb, you get a drop-down menu, too.

Interstellar than Going For Gold [clever Zimmer reference there for UK readers of a certain age – Ed]. specific soundtracks, not more general scores. Clearly all about dark, twisted atmosphere (the company’s called Gothic Instruments, after all) and it’s pretty obvious what you’re getting. If you’re doing the soundtrack to Dumb And Dumber 3 or Meet The Fockers 17, you might want to turn the page now. The library installs pretty much like any other Kontakt library, although it’s

these controls will easily take your sound away from what you start with, and very quickly, too. So if you do think they’re a bit, well, ‘droney’, then get hands-on – it’s easy. You can dig deeper, of course, but you’ll get a good idea of the scope of Dronar with just the top level. Step down into the ‘Expert’ page and you can define which of 30-plus parameters

If you’re doing the soundtrack to Dumb & Dumber 3, you might want to turn the page now… the type where you don’t get the fancy NI graphics – you load instruments and presets via the more standard Kontakt finder interface. The 20 categories have self-explanatory names like Alien, Low End, Pads and Chaos, plus 300 preset sounds spread between them. Auditioning is as easy as you’d expect with it being Kontakt-based, although load times are occasionally a little long. The first few categories of Alien, Atmospheres and Dark are exactly that. You may feel slightly underwhelmed by ‘otherworldliness’ – it’s a tad samey. But the strength is the simplicity and how a few controls on Dronar can do so much. The producers of Dronar deliberately held back on the number of controls just to see how much control they could get from a simple set-up, and I think it’s one of Dronar’s main strengths. You get a couple of effects (which can be varied) plus controls for Hi, Mid and Low, which vary actual sounds within those EQ ranges rather than just the frequencies. Then there’s an Intensity dial linked to your mod wheel and a Movement dial, and that is pretty much it. One or two of

can be affected by the main controls (you don’t really need to be an ‘expert’ to be here to be fair), and you can also delve deeper into the arpgeggiation and LFO features with their own dedicated pages, too. The later sound categories are much more musical than earlier ones, which perhaps emphasise the ‘drone’ part of Dronar. The strings are superb, the organs suitably dramatic and the pads as creepy and menacing as you’d expect. In fact, I’ll leave it to three more category names to sum up the rest: Fear, Tension and Dark. So, if you want to give it some kind of Hans Zimmer ‘rating’, Dronar is definitely more Alternatives I’ve already hinted at the collections and instruments I’ve used which are similar to Dronar, including Wide Blue Sound’s Orbit ($150 and Heavyocity’s Gravity ($449, www.heavyocity. com), both big, evolving sound makers and manglers, perhaps without the total darkness that this has. Elsewhere in MusicTech, we’ve also looked at Output’s Signal (£150, www. which is an incredible instrument for drones and other atmospheres.

Conclusion The Hybrid Module – the first Dronar release – didn’t surprise me in what it could do in terms of atmosphere and tension, and it very much delivers its menace in spades. As an opening module of possibly many, it is very good indeed. Initially, you might think it’s a bit of a one-trick pony, but there are enough strings and melodic folders to take it on more musical journeys, and it also features so many parameters just under the skin that you can easily move onto newer things. The Movement and Intensity dials alone will have you off exploring new sonic paths and there is more than enough content to experiment with… And that may well prove to be the downfall for Gothic Instruments’ modular plans – there might just be enough in this pack to suffice! Either way, with just £60 needed to start your dark and atmospheric journey, I think it’s one well worth taking. MT

MT Verdict + Huge amount of atmosphere for the money + Modular upgrade path could be interesting + Lovely big and easy controls make dramatic changes easy + Lots to explore and very easy to do it (and you will!) - It’s perhaps a little samey in places, but what did you expect? - Some hanging issues in Logic The Hybrid Module is a great opening chapter in the Dronar series. Beautifully put together and flexes within its own constraints well, with very easy controls and more available if you want them.



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23/09/2015 09:37

Aston Microphones Spirit Reviews MT




Aston’s second mic is another large-diaphragm condenser. Mike Hillier enters the Spirit world… Details Manufacturer Aston Microphones Price £299 Contact Sonic Distribution Web

Features ● Largediaphragm condenser microphone ● Three polar patterns – cardioid, omni, figure-of-eight ● -10 / -20dB pad ● 80Hz high-pass filter ● Frequency response: 20Hz20kHz (+/- 3dB) ● Max SPL: 138dB


few months back, we got our hands on the first of Aston Microphones’ new products; the Aston Origin. To say we were impressed is to put things lightly. This new contender seemed to have it all. It sounded great on guitars, piano, in front of a drum kit… and on vocals, it was winning shoot-outs against some of the most sought-after vocal mics in the world. So when a second Aston microphone turned up for review, we found ourselves wondering what more they could bring to the table. At first glance, the Spirit looks almost the same as the Origin. It’s a little taller, but the body is the same rugged tumbled-steel, with the same wave-form mesh head which gives the Aston mics their unique aesthetic. Other than the taller body, the only other feature that visually distinguishes the Spirit from the Origin is the presence of a pattern switch between the pad and filter switches. The Spirit is capable of cardioid, omni and figure-eight patterns, giving it a versatility the Origin didn’t have.

Live spirit I had a drum-tracking session lined up the same day as the Spirit turned up, so tried it on a kick drum. I usually like a

Neumann U47 FET on kick drum, so began by comparing the two side-byside. The Spirit performed admirably next to its considerably more expensive competitor. Both require some scooping of the mids to get to a usable kick sound for most modern genres, but the top-end definition of the Spirit seemed more articulate than the 47. At the bottom end, though, the 47 seemed to give the kick more weight, producing a larger-than-life sound

low-end to match the 47, but at the cost of some of the articulation in the top end. In this position, however, the Spirit did require less EQ scooping through the mids to get to a sound we would be likely to use. Next up, we tested the Spirit as a mono kit mic next to an AKG C414 XLS, first in cardioid and then in omni patterns. In cardioid, the Spirit seemed like an enhanced version of the C414, presenting the kit in a similar space, but

The Spirit performed admirably next to its much more expensive competitor which can be very useful in some mixes. Next, we tried switching the Spirit to its figure-of-eight pattern, which still helps when dealing with rejection, but can produce a stronger proximity effect to add additional low-end to the signal – a trick we often use when using a Neumann U87 rather than U47 FET on kick drums. The additional low-end build-up meant we had to place the Spirit a little further back to get a usable sound. This gave the additional

the cymbals were brighter and the snare cut through with more snap. The C414, by contrast, seemed almost lifeless. Switching to omni, the Spirit brought the kick and cymbals out even more, but this time pushing the snare back a little. The cymbals now seemed overly bright, bordering on harsh, while the C414 still seemed to present a similarly balanced quality to the cardioid pattern, only with more room tone. MAGAZINE May 2016

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MT Reviews Aston Microphones Spirit

The Spirit is versatile and performed well at just about everything we threw it on Studio spirit Packing the drum kit away, we decided to test the Spirit on acoustic and then electric guitar. Our studio Blueridge acoustic has a big, bold and quite bright tone; it records exceptionally well, but can sound somewhat harsh when boosted in the upper midrange. Thankfully, there was no sign of harshness with the Spirit. A single mono mic about a foot from the 12th fret and angled in was perfect for our tracking session. When angled more towards the neck, the tonality changed, reducing the bottom-end and bringing out the sparkle in the neck, but still without sounding harsh, or unnatural. For recording electric guitar, we placed the Spirit in cardioid right up against the grille of our Vox AC30, alongside a Neumann U87 and a Heil PR 20, and then drove the amplifier hard. Despite all the gain, the Spirit picked up the amp sound well, but did have a bright, slightly brittle quality that we’d want to pull out of the top-end, and which was something we weren’t getting on our recordings with the Aston Origin. The U87 produced similar harsh brightness, none of which was present on the dynamic Heil mic, which sounded almost comically dark in comparison. Despite this, though, the

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Heil is often a good choice in the mix, as these additional frequencies may sound great in isolation, but often crowd the mix. Switching the amp out for a Fender Blues Deluxe produced a very different sound, and one that the Spirit worked with perfectly. There was no harshness at the top this time, and the slight lift worked with, rather than against, the amp to produce a very usable guitar tone, that would need almost no EQ to sit in the mix. Finally, we tested the Spirit on vocals, and given how well it had performed in our last test, we put it up against the Origin – only this time, on a male vocal and with our Neumann U47 FET on hand as an alternative. Leaving the Spirit in cardioid position, the two Aston mics were similar, but not identical. The FET47 couldn’t match either Aston in the upper ranges of the vocal, and didn’t seem to catch the snarl in the vocal on the grittier sections. But neither the Spirit nor the Origin sounded quite as forward on the deeper, quieter sections of the performance.

Neat spirit All in all, the Spirit is a useful all-round microphone. It performed well at just

(left) The Spirit’s distinctive wave-form mesh head is designed to protect its capsule (right) The unique custom-moulded end cap, with XLR and stand adaptor

about everything we threw it on, matching and even outperforming some much more expensive microphones in the process. If you’re on a budget and need a multi-pattern large-diaphragm condenser mic, then this has to be on your list, but if we could push the budget for a C414, this would still remain our preference. However, if you already have a few mics and are just looking to expand your selection, the Spirit is virtually a must-have. It performs well enough to add to any mic locker, and is also inexpensive enough to demand your attention. MT Alternatives The Aston Spirit expands on the Origin in a number of ways. If you’re just looking for something for vocals, the Origin is everything you’ll need, but if you do want a little more flexibility, the Spirit is a great choice. At this price, there are a good number of alternatives, but we’ve been very impressed with the audio quality as well as the build quality of these Aston mics.

MT Verdict + Great-sounding microphone + Built-in pop-shield + Internal shock-mount + Three polar patterns - Omni mode is not as flat as other mics Aston Microphones has brought the Spirit back into British microphone manufacturing.



06/04/2016 12:19

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02/10/2015 12:05

MT Reviews Chandler Limited RS124 Compressor


RS124 Compressor The Chandler REDD.47 mic pre was so popular that it won our Gear Of The Year award. Now, the company with the EMI touch has the follow-up RS124 ready to go. Will John Pickford fall for its charms in a similar way? Details Price £2,749 (including VAT) Contact Nova Distribution 0203 589 2530 Web www.

Key Features ● Pure valve design (6B68, 6CG7 & 6AL5) ● Historic Attack presets ● Recovery Hold control ● Circuit balance adjuster ● SuperFuse setting ● Stereo linking ● Impedance switching

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ot on the heels of its REDD.47 microphone preamplifier, winner of a coveted Music Tech Outboard Of The Year award, Chandler Ltd has released the second of its units based on the valve gear used at EMI’s Abbey Road studios throughout the 1960s and beyond – the RS124 compressor. Back in the day, EMI was justifiably known by its slogan – The Greatest Recording Organisation In The World – and who could argue with that? Not only did it build its own equipment, it also produced some of the finest classical orchestral recordings and filled the pop charts with innovative records by the leading artists of the day, not least The Beatles. There’s no getting away from the fact that many potential customers for the RS124 will want one (or more) of these units precisely because of its association with the Fab Four. It’s this association that has made the Fairchild 660 limiter the most sought after and expensive vintage dynamics processor on the planet. The RS124 isn’t as well known as the 660 because it was never

produced commercially, making it much more rare than its famous cousin. The 660’s use on Beatles records has been well documented in the past, contributing to the group’s vocal sound and, from 1966’s groundbreaking Revolver album onwards, the sound of Ringo Starr’s drums. What is less well known is the contribution EMI’s RS124

several American-made Altec 436B compressors. In their original form, the Altecs did not meet with EMI’s high standards of technical excellence, so the company’s technical team of Len Page, Bill Livy and Mike Bachelor comprehensively modified the basic units to create, in effect, a brand-new compressor – the RS124. The units

Many will want the RS124 precisely because of its association with the Fab Four made to the The Beatles’ sound. It was used when tracking guitar, piano, sitar, mellotron and all manner of strings, brass and woodwind. It also served as a mix-buss compressor and was employed in Abbey Road’s mastering and disc-cutting rooms. Before we examine Chandler’s RS124 in detail, let’s look at the origins of the unit. In 1959, EMI acquired

soon became popular with the engineers at Abbey Road who, despite the fact that the compressors were essentially an EMI design, always referred to them as ‘the Altecs’, because the American company’s logo was displayed on the RS124’s VU meter. Bringing us up to date, Chandler Limited has, in the company’s own words, ‘re-imagined’ the RS124 to meet


04/04/2016 11:28

Chandler Limited RS124 Compressor Reviews MT

the demands of the 21st century. So, this new RS124 isn’t an exact clone of the original, rather it retains the style, feel and unique controls of the originals, while offering additional features that are better suited for modern recording practice. Finished in period-correct grey and sporting authentic chicken-head style knobs, the RS124 is a single-channel (mono) unit housed in a conventional 2U, 19-inch rack mountable case. A ¼-inch jack connector is provided on the rear of the unit, to link two units for stereo processing; for stereo operation, both units must be set up the same. Standard models come with continuously variable Input and Output controls. However, Chandler offers

includes three settings based upon the response times of historic units still in use at Abbey Road. The compressor’s release control (labelled ‘Recovery’ for historical accuracy) offers six response times, from fast to slow, via a stepped switch. Chandler Limited doesn’t publish response times for attack or release, which doesn’t matter, as the unit’s behaviour is interdependent of the chosen attack and release times. The unique feature of the Recovery control is a Hold setting, found between each of the release settings. This feature, as explained in original 1960s EMI documents, offered: “a very long recovery time to prevent increase in gain on silent sections.”

In -use tip The RS124 performs best when used heavily. In fact, when low compression levels are dialled in (2 or 3 dBs), negative thumping effects can occur, so keep the VU meter’s needle ticking beyond 5dB or so for better results. As the unit is disinclined to pump, due to its even-handed nature, more compression than might normally be advisable can be dialled in without causing audio havoc. Sub-groups and mix busses are best processed in standard mode, while the SuperFuse setting is excellent for injecting some punch to instruments and, in particular, vocal tracks.

The RS124 has a nine-position stepped Attack control, with settings based on historic units stepped controls, as per the original design, at additional cost. Our review samples came with the stepped controls, making precise set up for stereo processing simple. Original RS124s did not feature an Attack control – the initial response time was fixed. However, no two units were identical and EMI’s engineers would favour particular units for various applications. In a nod to modernity, Chandler has incorporated a nineposition stepped Attack control, which

In other words, when a mix was heavily compressed, as much as 30dB at times, the compressor could be put into Hold mode to prevent unwanted ambient noise rising at the end of a track. Another useful trick that this feature performs is to prime the compressor, by sending through audio in order to set the desired level of compression, then switching in the Hold setting before restarting the track. This prevents spikes from initial transients that may escape

The Hold mode stops a bloom of unwanted noise in ‘silent’ sections

uncompressed due to the unit’s naturally slow attack time. Once the audio has begun, the unit can be taken out of Hold mode and into an adjacent release setting. A new feature of the modern RS124 is the SuperFuse mode, selected by turning the switch disguised as a fuse cap on the upper right of the unit’s front panel (a genuine fuse cap houses a 25-amp Slow-Blow fuse at the rear of the unit). Chandler is somewhat cagey about this feature’s inner workings (something to do with impedance perhaps?), however, engaging SuperFuse turns the unit into another beast altogether, producing a far more aggressive effect, more suited to modern production styles. Before we report on the RS124’s performance, two more features should be pointed out. Firstly, a silver button marked Bal is provided to allow users to balance the unit’s push/pull circuit for optimum performance; the user manual explains this feature in detail. Secondly, a toggle switch on the rear panel allows selection of either 200 or


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600 ohms output impedance. EMI’s equipment was optimised for 200 ohms; however, the 600-ohms setting should be considered standard for modern usage. We used our review pair of RS124s for a wide variety of applications, with superb results. Its first task was to compress a bass guitar during a tracking session, as original units were favoured for this task in the 1960s. It would’ve been nice to have a Hofner violin bass or Rickenbacker 4001S, like Paul McCartney often used, but I had to make do with a Fender bass amplified through a Fender Bassman. McCartney sometimes used this setup during later Beatles sessions for the ‘White Album’ and Abbey Road. We mic’d the cabinet with an AKG C414, a descendant of the AKG C12, the preferred bass mic of Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick. With many modern compressor designs, it’s common to take it easy with compression levels, especially when tracking, taming peaks by a few

frightened by these levels – the RS124 thrives on this level of compression and will not squeeze the life out of signals as many lesser designs would. The Hold feature was useful here, priming the unit so that the initial transient didn’t appear too much louder than the body of the tone. Next, we strapped the unit across a vocal track mic’d with our valve Neumann U67 amplified by Thermionic Culture’s Rooster 2, a preamp with a similar bold-yet-rich character as Chandler’s REDD.47. In Standard mode, the unit levelled the signal well enough. However, when we switched in the SuperFuse, the sound became much punchier, with more grip and presence, rather like a Fairchild, in fact. Most impressive of all, though, was the pair’s performance when used across the stereo mix buss. Even with reasonably high compression levels, the RS124 didn’t produce any nasty artefacts such as pumping, instead providing a gorgeous, full-bodied sound

It provided a full-bodied sound with the right amount of glue to transform the final mix dBs; however, the RS124 works best at levels that may seem extreme to some. We selected the attack time originally fixed for EMI’s original unit numbered 61010B coupled with Recovery position 4 and achieved a lovely smooth, warm and even sound with the VU meter’s needle hovering around the 15dB mark, sometimes nudging 20dB. Don’t be

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with just the right amount of glue to transform the final mix into a radio-ready master. Chandler Limited’s new version of Abbey Road Studios’ classic RS124 will appeal to a certain type of music producer and engineer. Producers of bass-heavy electronica might prefer the vice-like grip of a solid-state VCA

Alternatives The RS124 is quite unlike most compressors currently available. However, Thermionic Culture’s Phoenix HG15 (£1,872) is another single-channel valve processor with unique features. Its high gain enables it to be used as a mic-pre as well as a compressor, and its Presence and Air EQ controls make it an excellent tracking device that is truly superb with vocal tracks.

compressor, ideally with a high-pass filter. Those with a love of vintage sounds from the 1960s and 1970s however, should check out this wonderful re-creation at once. MT

MT Verdict + Authentic Abbey Road Studio sound + Rich, warm tonal character + Smooth, transparent compression style + ‘SuperFuse’ setting for extra punch + Great for individual sounds and group busses - Not ideal for pumping beats For lovers of vintage audio – valve compressors in particular – the RS124 is a dream-come-true. Its period-correct styling is matched by its smooth, rich tone that effortlessly re-creates the sound that shaped so many influential recordings from pop music’s earliest experimental stages. Producers with a rack full of EQP-1As and 1176s will love this modern version of an ultra-rare classic, while dance-music creators will likely find the RS124 too relaxed and refined. Coupled with Chandler’s REDD.47 Mic Amplifier, Abbey Road’s 1960s sound is available to everyone.



04/04/2016 11:28

H E R I TA G E R E D E F I N E D an audient console on your desktop



Used by thousands of studios and professionals worldwide the Audient sound can now be on your desktop. Featuring the all new virtual scroll wheel ScrollControl, our award winning audio interface iD14 alongside our brand new 8 channel mic pre ASP800 (with tone controls HMX & IRON), offers up to 10 channels of our renowned console mic pre design at your fingertips!

MT Reviews Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator 20 Series


€£$ Innovation



Details Price €75 each (inc postage) Contact via website Web www. teenageengineering. com

Key features Shared ● 16-part step sequencer with 16 patterns ● Parameter locks on sequencer ● Built-in speaker ● 3.5mm audio out/in sync ● Jam sync ● Folding stand ● Step Multiplier

PO-20 Arcade ● Beat making and chiptune improv ● 16 synthesised arcade sounds ● 128-chord and pattern chaining ● 16 punch-in effects

PO-24 Office ● Noise percussion drum machine and sequencer ● Sampled vintage h/ware and real synth engines ● 16 sounds ● Solo control ● 128-pattern chaining ● 16 punch-in effects

PO-28 Robot ● Live synth and sequencer, ● 8-bit synth engine ● 15 sounds and micro drum ● 128-pattern chaining ● Live play and sequencer

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Pocket Operator 20 Series Three new Pocket Operators from Teenage Engineering. Can they possibly be as good as last year’s hat-trick? Andy Jones goes 8-bit…


ast year’s NAMM show – that is to say NAMM 2015 – was stolen by Teenage Engineering, with its Pocket Operator Series. Three calculator-style sound modules for beats, sub bass and leads had everyone crowding around the TE stand and while the big companies made big announcements, three sub-€70 Euro gadgets walked away with the honours. A couple of months later, they walked off with just about every MusicTech award I could bestow on them, too… Yes, the original Pocket Operators – PO-12 Rhythm, PO-14 Sub and PO-16 Factory – were (and indeed still are) incredibly fun and big-sounding melody and beat makers. Sync them together for complete tunes, admire the fancy and fantastical LCD screens, marvel at how such a small device can deliver such a big sound… They were great. So for Teenage Engineering, this year’s NAMM was always going to be a case of, ‘Well, how do we follow that?’

So how do they follow that? The answer, of course, is with something as cool, something as geeky and something as futuristic as the first three POs – a new trio of POs known as the PO-20 Series, comprising the PO-20 Arcade, PO-24 Office and PO-28 Robot.

The names give a little away about where each of the new series is heading sonically, but it’s all perhaps a little less obvious than the PO-10 Series, each of which effectively offered beats, bass, and lead sounds (actually, it was a little more complex than that, but that will do for now). So here, the Arcade focuses on beats and chip tunes; the Office on percussion and sequencing and the

around the back – actually a couple of hard wires, and I had to push the connectors to make sure they connected with the batteries on the first unit I tested – is hit the ’Play’ button to hear the onboard patterns. Press the Pattern key and you will be able to choose your pattern from the 16 number keys. Hit the Sound button and, similarly, you can play one of the

For TE, this year’s NAMM was always going to be a case of ‘how do we follow that?’ Robot on synth and sequencer. Three new strands of PO, then, and each promising a tantalising tangent away from the original three, already innovative, devices.

Shared features Time for a quick overview of the main ways of using the POs before I get specific. With all three, it’s a similar scenario and less than a year after reviewing the 10s, I am on familiar ground. So the first thing you’ll do after slotting in the batteries in the ‘case’

onboard sounds, again by hitting a number key. The two dials here typically alter volume and an effect, like filter, per sound. So you can adjust the pitch of the sound you want to record at this stage and then you can record it, either by step sequencer or by playing live over a pattern as it plays. The former recording method is done by holding the Write button down (along with Chord) and then inputting notes of the sound you chose above on the 16-part grid. You can also play them in live by holding the Write button and


04/04/2016 11:36

Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator 20 Series Reviews MT

A teenager…

playing them (again, you choose the pitch before hand). Initially, this is a bit hit and miss, but better if you make use of the screen to make sure the Record icon is highlighted, and then you choose either method. Just make sure your pitch is defined before you record… so a little reverse thinking is in order.

rotaries can be recorded). Then there’s a Chord button that lets you choose chord changes over following patterns by selecting them in number order – again, a nice way of bringing in some variation. Other features common to the range include tempo selection – either home in by holding the BPM button and use the dials to choose a value, or select from Hip Hop (80BPM), Disco (120) and Techno (140) at the touch of the button. The volume of each PO is set here, too: hold the BPM button and set a level, highlighted by the number of the number keys lit. And just like last time, I’m pleasantly surprised by just how loud these things go, and also by the quality of the sounds on each. Additionally, you can chain the patterns together by holding the Pattern button down again and then hitting the pattern-number buttons in the order in which you want them to play to create complete songs. All the

The publicity shot from the TE website implies the Arcade model might bring you games, but sadly, it doesn’t

school calculator. I’d have also wanted games – especially on the Arcade one – but that’s probably just me. (Maybe we’ll see some chip tuners hack these to play games as some kind of weird reverse-parallel universe stuff.)

There’s something of a sonic curry fest here: a few core ingredients but lots of results If you’ve used any of the 10s, though, you’ll be at home here, as you will with other functions like adding effects live – hold the FX button and choose your effect, as you would a pattern or sound. There are lots of filtery, trigger and glitch-type of effects to choose from, which really do bring an extra edge to all pattern performances. These can also be recorded in real time as the pattern cycles (any changes using the two


units can also be sync’d together, so you might use the beats from one and play live with another – and as we’ll see, some do excel in certain areas for this. The manual (aka piece of paper) that comes with each unit lists some scenarios here, including syncing a PO with a phone and Volca, something that has ‘achingly cool’ written all over it. Finally, there’s a clock on each unit, very much reminding me of my old

If you read our review of the first three POs from Teenage Engineering, you might think we have put exactly the same pictures, albeit with different colours, in exactly the same positions. Would we really be that lazy?

So that is the overview. I’ll now deal with each unit in number order, so it’s PO-20 Arcade first. Arcade sound effects have been used in music since Space Invaders, from the Yellow Magic Orchestra onwards via novelty hits through the 80s, where the scene flourished via Tracker software. Of course, now there’s a whole community of chip tuners who have taken the guts of old gear and made new sounds from it. Arcade (and in some respects the other two new POs) is a reverential nod to that scene. Ironically, though, having a machine with the 8-bit sounds laid out so accessibly might not actually appeal to many within that scene, but for the rest of us, Arcade brings a taste of it to our fingertips. You’ll recognise the sounds in PO-20 from a hundred trips to those exciting and slightly sinister amusement arcades that still litter the coastal resorts in this country (that is if you had my kind of childhood and haven’t completely had the 70s tragically erased from your mind by now). The key sounds are there: drones, lasers, beeps and basses. And while the sounds might be based in the 70s and early 80s, like the chip-tune scene, the patterns that they produce are vibrant and fresh and surprisingly varied. This has much to do with the PO ethos, which is to shove as many features in MAGAZINE May 2016

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MT Reviews Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator 20 Series

There’s no getting away from it, they are flimsy and open to the elements. Here’s what you get around the back of each PO

Office. You see?

there to vary, let’s face it, not that many core ingredients and patterns. So the pitch dial will radically alter your core sounds and the effects and tempos will radically alter your patterns. Throw in some chord changes and real-time effects and you will be altering these

I didn’t expect to be blown away by Arcade – Margate was always a lot more exciting to drive to on the school bus trip than actually getting there – but I found myself charmed by it. Whether the unit has the longevity is another matter, though.

If you made beats from what you hear in our office, it would be the stuff of nightmares ingredients a lot more than you think. Teenage Engineering has pulled off something of a sonic curry-fest here: a few core ingredients, yes, but a huge variety of results.

On to Office; and while I was excited by Arcade but not expecting big things, I did struggle with the idea of this one: office noises to make beats, right? It’s hardly the stuff of dream rhythms, is it? And if you worked in our office and made beats out of the noises you hear here, it would result in the stuff of nightmares, let me tell you. Fortunately, the Teenage Engineering office seems to be a little more musical and alongside what could be photocopy, typing and general shelf/ door/filing cabinet hit sounds, there are half-a-dozen decent beats and basses to bolster things up – almost like Richie Hawtin is sat your office, maybe just like your new intern, and making beats out of your hole punch and stapler. “Alright Richie, yeah two sugars in my coffee please, mate.” The resulting Office beats and patterns are surprisingly punchy and aggressive and very edgy. It’s here

Robot is the best for synthesis (of sorts) and melody playing – perhaps not beats

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that the PO effects really do come into full force and you’ll find yourself performing full live sets without realising it, with a few button pushes and casual glances over to your imaginary crowd (of co-workers). So, yeah, Office is surprisingly cool, and out of the three units, I’d probably pick this one to use in my studio and to extract beats and ideas from and into my main DAW set-up. I just love the overall level of control that enables you to stamp your own authority onto the existing sounds and patterns, and again, you are amazed what PO has done with so few initial sounds. Finally, it’s time for the robots. Being a certain age, I must make the link between robots, operators, and calculators and mention Kraftwerk (yes, I didn’t just hang about in amusement arcades in the 70s), and perhaps here we have the whole Teenage Engineering philosophy wrapped up in one unit. Robot is solidly electro, comes packed with a bunch of synth sounds (not so much in the way of robot voices, though) and the ability to actually play and synthesise notes (to some extent In use tips When using the new PO series (as with the current PO-10s) it’s all about what you can do with them in real time/live. The Robot might be more about playing along with patterns and Office might be more about the beats, but each one allows chaining of patterns to make songs; the addition of live effects (which can be recorded); chord changes (again which can be chained) and a Step Multiplier that allows retriggering of steps. You can even fade your performances out with a couple of key presses (FX and Play) and on the Arcade, add a Drone version of the current chord. These real-time additions are the PO’s core strength.


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MT Reviews Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator 20 Series

Alternatives Korg’s Volca range is still the closest thing out there to the original PO-10 series, but there’s little out there that touches the new PO-20 series, not in standard hardware, anyway. I say ‘standard’ because, of course, there is a world of chip-tuning, DIY electronic customisation out there where people are taking everyday gadgets and making them make notes. Expect a feature on that soon. Until then, grab a Speak & Spell and a screwdriver… and experiment. (Actually, thinking about it… don’t.)

If you don’t want all six, then you’re stronger willed than us…

MT Verdict PO-20 Arcade anyway). In this way, it seems more open than the other units, as you can make more in the way of melodies and have some control over the filter and envelope of the sound (via the rotaries). The sequencer is a little more limited in the sense that the sounds you play live are not necessarily recorded when you hit Write – they’re more designed to be played live – but the overall feel is more ‘play me’ than ‘program me’, which is a nice variation. Back to the sounds and you get good leads, whistles, the odd arcade bleep and some fantastic delayed synth notes (very Kraftwerk), although I’d have wanted some vocoder action – maybe that’s an idea for the PO-30 range… Patterns are chugging electro, some interesting more glitchy, off-beat breaks and again, some arcade-type movement. Because the source sounds are more synth than beat, the underlying rhythm sounds (from a micro drum kit selected as sound number 16) are a bit less varied here, so I wasn’t perhaps as blown away by the patterns, I have to say. This is probably down to the fact that each sequencer makes use of one of the lead sounds and beats. The other units have more varied sounds across their key ranges (rather than just different pitches), so

their patterns sound a little more varied. But fun-wise and ideas-wise, and particularly just for playing tunes with beats – and there are additional options for vibrato and expression for playing – Robot is where it’s at for me.


If you want to finish the job off, silicone cases are available at €39 a go

I’ll leave aside any debates over chip-tune purity – whereby the ethos is to mod old gear to make sound rather than have it done for you – and attempt to sum these up as music-making devices. And it’s a little harder this time around, compared to the 10s. Inevitably, this set of Operators is a little more niche – the bass, leads and beats have been done, after all. This means that some will love them even more than the first set, but they will probably appeal to fewer people overall. I have to say, though, that Office was the biggest revelation to me, while Robot was the most amount of fun. Like the reface keyboards from Yamaha – four devices for very specific and different tasks – these are very personal, so my opinions are, as always, just a guide. But I doubt there are any other products anywhere on the planet with which you can have so much musical fun and creativity, and that cost so little cash. MT

+ Surprisingly varied Patterns + Good sound + Easy to use + Great hands-on tweaking + Few core sounds = many results - Might not last creatively over the long term and have narrow appeal - We wanted games! Surprisingly flexible beats and melodies take this away from just chip tune. Longevity may suffer.


MT Verdict PO-24 Office + Best for beats + A good range of Pattern styles + Extra sounds on top of beats add weight to the vibe + Effects really do help the variation on this one - Much less melodic possibility than the other two on test - As with all, the unit is flimsy A lot better than we thought it would be, Office is the one we’ll be using with our DAW productions. Inspiring beats, and it begs you to perform it live (which you will do!)


MT Verdict PO-28 Robot + Great for hands-on melodies + Nice and simple synth action + Great for recording melodic ideas + Good and varied synth sounds + Impressive delayed sounds - One lead and beats make the Patterns less varied - Could have done with robot voices The best for getting ideas down quickly and playing live. 35 years on, Kraftwerk could use it live!


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04/04/2016 11:36


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28/08/2015 14:26

MT Reviews MeldaProduction MMorph



MeldaProduction’s latest plug-in offers real-time sound morphing between two signals. Alex Holmes finds out if it’s the perfect union, or a match made in hell...


lthough some producers may be happy to mine the depths of a soft synth, others look to the latest software and hardware for new, interesting sounds. One technique that offers up uniqueounding results is spectral morphing. Rather than simply fading from one sound to another, a true morph finds common elements from each and blends smoothly between them. MMorph brings this cutting-edge processing effect into your DAW. MMorph runs as a VST, Audio Unit or AAX plug-in and has features common to all MeldaProduction software. These include a stylable and scalable GUI, classic meters and time graphs showing the input and output signals, four versatile modulators (more on these later), four multiparameters, M/S, single channel and up to eight channels surround processing, automatic gain compensation, a safety limiter, MIDI learn, a refined smart randomisation, preset management, online preset exchange and more. You control the morphing via a single dial that blends between the main input and a signal coming in through the sidechain input, with additional controls for blending in the dry signals. Most of the power, however, comes from fine-tuning the controls on the A and B panels, which essentially prep each signal ahead of the spectral blending for the best possible results. Ideally, you want to use sounds that share certain frequency characteristics to get the most effective blends, and controls for spectral compression, tone,

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Details Price €149 (€399 included in MCreativeBundle with 27 effects) Contact Via website Web www. meldaproduction. com Minimum system requirements Windows XP/ Vista/7/8/10 (32-bit or 64-bit) Mac OS X 10.6 and newer (32-bit or 64-bit) Intel/AMD Processor with SSE2 support VST/VST3/AU/AAX compatible host (32-bit or 64-bit)

Features ● Real-time spectral morphing plug-in ● Blends between main input and side-chain signal ● Stylable, resizable GUI, plus online preset exchange ● Four versatile modulators, Smart randomisation ● Automatic Gain Compensation and Safety Limiter


9/10 9 9/ 10

flattening and whitening, harmonics, attack and release, gain and gate all allow you to tailor each signal.

Patience is a virtue In practice, the results are a little hit and miss, and require time and patience to get a good sound and a good blend. However, when you hit on something, it’s truly magical. I tried a range of audio, including playing a gnarly bass line with beat and vocal signals coming in on the sidechain, then tried morphing between a steel-string guitar instrument and a piano, and finally from a fog horn to a Morse code bleep. The possibilities are endless, and it’s a lot of fun trying out different combinations. In many cases, you get characteristics of both signals, much like with vocoding, but in a more smooth, nuanced and detailed way. We found the best results came from combining more sustained signals in the A channel, and more rhythmic signals in the B channel. Either that, or using two different instruments playing the same MIDI part. Although you can solo each channel for preview purposes, the nature of the process means you can’t actually hear the changes in parameters until you blend and play them together, so a lot of the work has to be done by ear. As mentioned earlier, there are also four modulators – an advanced LFO/step sequencer, an envelope follower, a random generator and a pitch detector – which can be assigned to any parameter for some insanely complex and flexible modulations.

If you’re expecting instant usable results, you may be disappointed. But if you’re a sound designer or producer looking for new and interesting sounds, this is a great tool. It’s not especially cheap, but the results speak for themselves, and it’s especially tempting as part of the MCreativeBundle (€399). Ultimately, it’s all about the thrill of hitting on a unique new combination of sounds that fuse the best elements of each to create something richer and more characterful. MT Alternatives Real-time spectral morphing isn’t really a crowded market. Kyma is a highly advanced hardware and software sound-design system, but even the cheapest version will set you back $2,970! The closest alternative is probably Zynaptiq’s Morph 2 (€199), which has a cleaner, simpler interface but fewer features. You could also experiment with non-realtime morphing using Alchemy 2 in Logic X (£149).

MT Verdict + Unique and interesting effect + Great fun experimenting and mashing sounds together + Highly flexible GUI, controls and modulation - Getting good results takes time - It’s not always obvious what effect each slider is having An advanced sound-design tool that favours patience and experimentation. Pick the right sources and spend time tweaking, and you’ll be rewarded with something truly unique.



04/04/2016 11:30

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- the little brother The PRE-73 Jr offers the classic sound at an even more affordable price point. It has everything you need to make great sounding recordings and the insert jack allows you to connect one of our EQ-units to modify the tone of your tracks. «The PRE-73 Jr is a great, affordable way into the classic 1073 sound, big and punchy – some might say larger than life – but with a musical heart.» Check out the review in MusichTech magazine


The latest version of our big seller with several new features: - Tantalum capacitors in the signal path - Selectable two position high frequency AIR boost eq, 3 or 6 dB @ 30 kHz - Selectable two frequency high pass filter, 6 dB/octave at 40 or 170Hz - The pcb is prepared for the Carnhill input transformer - Less complicated GAIN switch with a separate switch for MIC/LINE selection - All GAIN settings can also be used in LINE mode

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Imagine being able to manipulate the envelope of a sound so radically that its dynamics, ambience, timing and feel are completely changed. The creative possibilities would be endless. Enter the new Oxford Envolution plug-in from Sonnox - the next level of control in envelope shaping.

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Spitfire HZ2 Los Angeles, HZ3 London Soloists Reviews MT



HZ2 Los Angeles HZ3 London Soloists Details Product HZ2 Los Angeles, HZ3 London Soloists Price £239 each Contact via website Web www.

Features HZ2 ● Jason Bonham on unique Vistalite kit ● 3 LA recording locations ● Grammy Award-winning engineers ● Numerous mic positions ● Kickstart engine

HZ3 ● Frank Ricotti on percussion ● Recorded at AIR Sudios, London ● Grammy/ Oscar-winning engineers ● Several mic positions ● Numerous articulations

In conjunction with Spitfire Audio, Hans Zimmer and his engineering team have produced two more cinematic percussion libraries to complete the HZ trilogy. Keith Gemmell gets under their skin…


while back we reviewed HZ1, a truly epic percussion library collaboration from Hans Zimmer and Spitfire Audio. It featured four percussionists and was recorded at London’s AIR Studios. We now have two follow-up libraries – HZ2 and HZ3 – produced by Hans himself

the form of some modular-synth drum programming. HZ3 is an expansion of the first library; a collection of Hybrid Cinematic Widescreen percussion recorded, like the first library, in London’s AIR Studios, and performed by renowned percussionist Frank Ricotti.

HZ2 features John Bonham, and HZ3 is performed by percussionist Frank Ricotti and the same team of engineers that worked on the original. HZ2 features Jason Bonham, recorded at three different Los Angeles locations – 20th Century’s Newman Stage, the Sony Stage and The Cathedral, a large concrete space on Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions lot. Hans has also contributed extra material himself, in

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previously mentioned. And within each of those is a full performance kit with basic GM mapping and four folders containing patches for cymbals, kicks, snares and toms – quite an arsenal. As expected, it’s a superb-sounding kit and you can adjust its sound using close, overhead and room mics, plus a special gated room mic. There’s also a Beat mapping Spitfire now features a new type of interface for percussive instruments and libraries. In HZ2, there are three ‘takes’ on Jason Bonham’s kit, one by Alan Meyerson, one by Geoff Foster and a third stereo mix. All the kit pieces are displayed in the centre and, using a panel to the right, you can configure them individually and map them to a MIDI controller.

Looking at HZ2 first, at the top tier we have two main folders, a Stereo Mix and an Artist Elements section, each containing three folders for each engineer’s specific take on Jason’s unique Vistalite kit. The engineers are Alan Meyerson, Geoff Foster and Steve Lipson. Inside those, there are three more folders for each of the locations MAGAZINE May 2016

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C R E ATI V E M A STE R I N G. R E I N V E NTE D. WaveLab is today’s leading mastering and audio editing platform, favored by mastering facilities, music studios, sound designers, journalists and broadcasters. Its comprehensive set of features, customizability and outstanding audio quality are the reasons WaveLab became the world’s most popular professional platform for audio refinement. WaveLab Pro 9 reinvents creative mastering once again by providing a revolutionary new user interface, full M/S mastering support including editing and processing, the superior MasterRig plug-in suite as well as direct exchange with Steinberg DAWs, such as Cubase, among many other features.

Spitfire HZ2 Los Angeles, HZ3 London Soloists Reviews MT

Sound articulation After rummaging around in HZ2, we found a bonus folder with bass drum, toms and surdos, seen here. Note the detailed articulation (highlighted within the red triangle).

stereo mix. There are plenty of controls, filters and so on, many of which are similar to HZ1, so if you own that library you will feel pretty much at home here. Our only grumble is with the GUI – tiny black text on a grey background is tricky to read in places. The performance kits are superb and instantly useable as everyday ‘go to’

Familiar look and feel The HZ3 (solo instruments) GUI is very similar to that of HZ1 (ensembles). An overview panel provides a quick and easy way to load articulations, mic mixes and a set of ‘easy tweak’ controls.

them, as soon as you see the pictures that are displayed in the GUI, everything makes sense and it soon becomes obvious how and when to use them. Mics are mostly close, front and surround perspectives, each with a very distinctive sound. If you need more, there’s that Additional Mics folder. Articulations are many. For example, the

If you want the real thing, both of these beautifully recorded libraries will serve you well rock drum kits. However, you can go much deeper than this by loading the individual kit pieces to further tailor the sounds to your own requirements. A snare patch, for example, provides a selection of sticks, bamboo sticks and mallets, all with snare on or off. Zimmer’s synth-drum patches are a real treat: powerful and dangerous sounding and bearing no resemblance to the tacky ‘syn drums’ of the 80s. There’s plenty of variety here: anything from dry up-close hits to big roomy cinematic thunderclaps, all very exciting and immaculately recorded.

Percussive Paradise Recorded on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean to HZ2, London Solos (HZ3) is an expanded selection of the solo content found in HZ1, which was mainly an ensembles library. It’s structurally similar to HZ2, with two top-tier folders – Artists Elements and Additional Mics. Apart from the Bucket and Snare, the instruments might be unfamiliar, with names like, Djun, Tombek and Dohl. If you don’t know

Dohl has Both Sticks, Top and Bottom Sticks, Both Hands and Top and Bottom Hands, all laid out in an intuitive fashion on the keyboard, making it enjoyable to play. Again, like the Jason Bonham library, there’s a wealth of controls. As expected, there’s plenty of leap-out-of-your-cinema-seat material on offer here, but it’s not all blood and thunder. There’s a good deal of quieter, more delicate, detailed percussion to be found if you root around a bit.

Teamwork Both of these libraries have been beautifully recorded and immaculately produced and offer a huge array of Alternatives There are so many percussion and drum libraries out there that choosing a good alternative can become quite confusing. For creating epic cinematic percussion, Native Instrument’s Damage is a good choice. Drums Of War from Cinesamples has been used in many a blockbuster, as has True Strike from ProjectSAM. If you want some of the work done for you, NI’s Action Strikes has many designed rhythm sets, making it easy to drum up a thunderous cinematic atmosphere.

Deeper editing A deeper HZ3 general controls panel allows tweaking of the general settings, round robins, pitch options, velocity workings and so on.

drum hits and sound-shaping possibilities. Hans Zimmer, as we all know, is primarily an Oscar-winning composer of countless films but he also has lots of engineering experience behind him. Over the years, he has developed a truly unique approach to cinematic sound production that has been widely imitated. What you get here, though, isn’t a copy. It’s a recreation. He has used the same team of engineers and performers that were responsible for many of his film soundtracks, and even used many of the same recording locations. So, if you want the real thing, these two libraries will serve you well. MT Do you really need this? One good reason for buying HZ3 is that it complements HZ1 perfectly. It features solo instruments as opposed to the ensembles found in HZ1. They have the same GUI and scripting and even share the same manual. HZ2, being kit-based is a different prospect and most musicians and producers reading this will have at least one sampled kit at their disposal. That said, Jason Bonham’s kit has been so well recorded and immaculately produced that we’re fairly confident that if you buy HZ2, it may well become your favourite virtual drum kit.

MT Verdict + Great engineering + Great sound + Outstanding drum kit (HZ2) - GUI has tiny text - Online manuals only These two libraries are both outstanding, each in its own way. Jason Bonham’s kit has been recorded as a cinematic product, but it also makes for an excellent standalone virtual drum kit. Veteran percussionist Frank Ricotti’s skilful performances have been beautifully captured by an award-winning team of engineers, including Hans himself. First-class material all round.



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Novation/Blocs Wave iOS Reviews MT



Wave iOS

Wave hello to a new kid on the iOS music-making Bloc. Andy Jones ponders whether Novation’s new Blocs brand could usher in a fresh era of composition for Apple-based music producers… Details

Kit Blocs Wave iOS Manufacturer Novation Price £3.99/$4.99 Distributor Novation/Blocs Contact via website Web blocswave

Key Features ● iPhone and iPad ideas/composer ● 8 sound combinations ● includes 6 sound packs (300 sounds) ● 12 additional sound packs available (more to come) ● uses 3D Touch on iPhone 6s ● Real-time tempo and pitch change ● Low-latency recording ● Import and export audio via Mail, AudioCopy, AudioShare


ovation seems to be doing its utmost to surprise us these days. When we expect one thing to come along, we get another. Circuit was a Groovebox for the 21st century. I said a Groovebox for the 21st century, for pity’s sake. Who thought we needed one of those 12 months ago? Turns out we did, and it’s bloody amazing. Now we have Blocs, a completely new brand and its first product: Blocs Wave for iOS. It’s an arranger/composer app, of sorts. It’s not quite what I thought it could be at first. Nor is it quite what I wanted it to be five minutes after that. But an hour into playing with it, it turns out to be something I didn’t know I wanted it to be, but now do want it to be! Just like Circuit then. Typical Novation. Or Blocs. Whatever!

On your starting Blocs We would dearly love something like Ableton Live for the iPad and initially, I thought that Blocs Wave might well be just that. But while it’s not, it does have elements of Ableton’s finest DAW that make it quite beautiful and usable in its own right. So Live is what Blocs Wave isn’t (yet) but what it is is an arrangement tool, and an ideas cruncher. You start with someone else’s ideas, 300 of them across six sound packs, for hip hop,

house, indie, dark trap and more, and you arrange whichever ones you fancy into eight ‘blocks’ to come up with your own tunes. So far, so sample arranger, but fortunately, there’s a bit more to it than that. And potentially a lot more… So each one of Wave’s sounds will play in time and in pitch with another one, so everything will sound great when combined – indie with trap, house with hip hop and so on (okay, it won’t always sound absolutely great, but you know what I mean). So, if nothing else, we have a great way of mixing musical ideas up in a very easy and intuitive way. That’s because arranging sounds is very easy. You use a hexagon-shaped grid (the Discover tab) with your six song elements – bass, drums, melodic, percussion, vocal and FX – and you use it to fill the eight slots in your main song/project. You can then audition each sound from the six sound packs in the next two tabs, either by sound-pack type (genre) or sound type. Press Auto, and ideas are randomly placed together. You can easily ditch a sound by replacing it with another (or undoing in case you make a mistake), plus easily mute and unmute tracks by swiping up and down. The programmers have thought this through; the swiping and touch are so well implemented, you don’t realise you’re doing it after a while, as it becomes so second-nature.

However, as easy as it all is to arrange, of course we all know that the real beauty and joy of composition is crossing the line from messing with someone else’s ideas to creating something that you can truly call your own. Fortunately, the wave editor makes this part a reality, as does some pretty impressive pitch-and-time adjusting, where you simply select your key, or plus and minus your tempo value to adjust. Both approaches work very well, particularly the tempo. But wave editing is Blocs Wave’s real strength, and utilises all that iOS touch power for ease. Open a sample, shorten it, increase and decrease volume – it’s all possible, and everything you do just fits with what you already have. And while editing audio is the best feature, the most important one is the ability to import your own audio and export what you come up with. Now this is key, because I like Blocs Wave and I want to work with it, but with more of my stuff. I want it to connect up with my Dropbox (Drop Blocs?) and to batch-add a load of my loops. At the moment, I can do this more slowly via the AudioShare App which connects to Dropbox, but maybe I’ll also want Blocs Wave to chain to the outputs of Logic and Live and for all of my ideas to flow into Blocs, so I can experiment with them on the move? So, clearly, I want some things that it doesn’t do… yet. But this is very much V1 and I think the important part is done – the editing, the ease-of-use, the real-time pitch and tempo stuff – and the fact that I’m even thinking ahead to future versions means Novation/Blocs has done this well. So let’s look to a potential future. V2 could sync direct to Dropbox. V3 could well have a layer of cells that trigger loops – let’s call them Clips… See where I’m going? MT

MT Verdict + Easy. You don’t need instructions + Good range of sound packs + Like the newsfeed that offers more of them (for free!) + Can import and export audio + Great touch design and workflow + Mix trap with hip hop - Mix trap with hip hop! - A bit dark - We’re at V1, lots of potential… Blocs Wave could be what we’ve been waiting for and, at present, is a great ideas-mangling app. Loads of potential, get your loops in!



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MT Reviews Sonnox Oxford Envolution


Oxford Envolution When it comes to transient shaping, Sonnox is pushing the envelope. Mike Hillier explores Oxford Envolution… Details Kit Oxford Envolution Manufacturer Sonnox Price Native £170, AAX DSP and Native £275 Contact Minimum System Requirements PC Windows 7, 1GB RAM, iLok 2, VST or AAX-compatible DAW Mac OSX 10.7, 1GB RAM, iLok 2, VST, AU or AAX-compatible DAW

Key features ● Frequency dependent control of Transients and Sustain ● Tilt/Parametric targeting of frequencies ● DIFF button to solo the effect ● Warmth control ● Requires iLok 2

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ransient shapers combine elements of compressors and expanders into a single tool for controlling the envelope of a signal. By splitting the signal into the ‘attack’ and ‘sustain’ portions, the user can then turn up or down each portion as they desire. Transient shapers are most commonly used on drums and other percussive signals, to add either presence or distance to the signal, but they can also be used on many other instruments to either bring up or push back the transients or the room sound, just as you otherwise would with a compressor or expander. While many transient-shaping tools, such as the highly revered SPL Transient Designer hardware, offer only basic tools – the SPL Transient Designer having just two knobs, Attack and Sustain – the Sonnox Oxford Envolution provides parameter junkies with everything they could want. The ‘attack’ portion, referred to here as ‘Transients’, has attack, hold, release and sensitivity controls in addition to the main gain knob, while the ‘Sustain’ portion has hold, attack and release controls alongside the main gain control. Both Transient and Sustain portions can be made frequency conscious, by clicking one of the FREQ

buttons, which opens up a basic one-band EQ, which can be switched from Focus (think standard parametric, with variable Q) to Tilt (which provides either a hi- or low-frequency shelving EQ, with 6 or 12dB/octave slopes). The main output section has its own fader for gain staging, a mix knob, and a Warmth control which adds in additional harmonic saturation.

Rather than pulling the sustain out of the kick as a whole, we could fine-tune the Sustain portion to work on the low-end only, with the Focus EQ enabling us to pinpoint the fundamental frequency, leaving the harmonics to ring out without using up all the bottom end in the mix. Using the Hold, Attack and Release controls, we could further control the gain reduction


The Oxford Envolution provides parameter junkies with everything they could want Additionally, there’s a DIFF button, which outputs only the changes in the signal, which can be useful for hearing what the processor is doing, or conceivably for creative sound design.

Punching through We often use a transient shaper on kick and snare duties, pulling a little sustain out of a kick drum to control the low end, or for shaping the snare to bring attention to the initial snap of the stick hitting the skin. With Envolution, we were able to fine-tune those decisions.

curve, dialling the boom of the kick sustain down just how we like it. On snare, the Tilt EQ was a little more useful, letting us bring up the snap in the top end, without muddying the bottom end of the snare. Similarly, on the bottom end, we could pull out a little low-end muddiness, while leaving the sweet top-end of the tail alone. Finally, we ramped up the Warmth control, to give our kick and snare some extra harmonic content, and the end result was not dissimilar to tape emulation. Although with so many tape


04/04/2016 12:35





Sonnox Oxford Envolution Reviews MT

emulators available now, this function is likely to get less play than the other, more immediate, parts of the plug-in. The end result was a tighter, punchier drum sound which helped to

was definitely much easier to get to grips with. All the additional parameters won’t be to everyone’s taste, though, and we’re not going to be giving up our other transient-shaping tools

Dig in and craft the envelope of each element in a loop to achieve the perfect sound for your mix clean up the imperfect room problems in the recording. Envolution needn’t only be applied to individual kit pieces, though. It could work wonders on overheads or room mics, and really shines when used on loops, enabling you to dig in and craft the envelope of each of the elements in the loop to achieve the perfect sound for your mix.

Natural selection In many ways, Envolution is a little like using a multi-band dynamics tool, but it

completely in favour of this one. There are plenty of occasions where broad brush strokes with a simpler tool will give us all we need, but for those sounds where we need to dig in, Envolution will be ideal. Overall, Oxford Envolution is a very useful tool. People after options will love the control, not only over the frequencies that are processed, but also the attack and release envelopes for both the Transient and Sustain portions of the signal. MT

Alternatives The Elysia Nvelope (available as either software or hardware) has similar frequency-focusing tools to the Sonnox Oxford Envolution, although it doesn’t have the same level of control over the envelope, with no attack, hold or release parameters. The SPL Transient Designer (also available as both software and hardware) has only attack and sustain gain controls, making it the least flexible, but also the easiest to use. Flux BitterSweet is another great simple option, and is available for free.

MT Verdict + Focus the gain change on just the frequencies needed + Add or remove attack or sustain + Great for use on loops - Not as instant, or as intuitive, as the alternatives Envolution has everything needed to survive and thrive. Great control especially for the fine detail and extra options.



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04/04/2016 12:35




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MT Reviews Pigtronix Keymaster


Keymaster Details Manufacturer Pigtronix Price £249 Contact John Hornby Skewes Tel 01132 865 381 Web

Features ● XLR and ¼” (balanced /un-balanced) inputs & outputs ● Dual instrumentlevel FX loops, true bypass ● Impedancematching, all-analogue audio path ● Series /parallel operation ● Crossfade function with expressionpedal option ● 10dB input-gain boost /10dB output-gain boost ● Pigtronix 18V DC adaptor included ● Size (cm): 14.48x11.93x3.81

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The Keymaster intuitively impedance-matches inputs and outputs, and with its two effects loops, enables you to connect and combine gear in new, creative ways. Marcus Leadley asks: are you the Gatekeeper?


igtronix’s Keymaster is one of those devices, which, in itself, doesn’t process sound. As a universal signal-routing device, what it does instead is enable you to get a whole lot more out of the gear you already own. You can convert mic or line-level signals to instrument

blend of effects. This crossfade can be controlled by an expression pedal, so the creative potential for both live and studio situations is huge. And once you’ve processed your signal, it can exit the device at mic level using the XLR out, or at line level via the balanced/ unbalanced ¼-inch connection.

As a universal signal-routing device, the Keymaster lets you get more out of your gear level – balanced to unbalanced, and visa versa. You can get any signal into a group of guitar pedals (or other processors) and then back out again. Or, as it happens, into two groups of guitar effects; there are two unbalanced pedal-level effects loops – both with true-bypass switching. And you can either alternate between loops or crossfade between them to create a

The Keymaster is a chunky, business-like package with the controls neatly laid out over the green-andwhite graphic. The XLR input/outputs are on the top while the TRS In/Outs are on the right and left sides of the unit respectively. The send and return sockets for loop A are on the right side of the unit and for loop B on the left. The power socket and expression pedal

sockets are along the forward edge. Although supplied with an 18-volt power supply, the unit will run on anything between nine and 24 volts, with the upper level providing the maximum headroom. There are two gain controls – one for the input stage and one for the output. Each offers a 10dB boost to help you manage any signal-loss issues through the chains of effects. There’s also a mini toggle switch to switch the effects loops between series and parallel mode.

In Use The question is, really, where do you start? Possibly the most obvious use of the Keymaster is on a pedalboard, as a means of managing a guitarist’s effects. In use tip If you don’t have a patchbay in your studio, the Keymaster can function as a convenient point of connectivity through which to connect external hardware processors to your DAW. Its ability as an intuitive impedance-matching device means you can use a wide range of kit while maintaining sonic integrity.


06/04/2016 14:36

Fos e

Pigtronix Keymaster Reviews MT

As well as switching between or blending groups of effects, there are some simple, very practical uses. For example, I put a delay in loop A, put B into bypass mode, and connected an expression pedal: this gave me a very effective way of controlling the wet/dry effect blend while playing. I also set up two distortion pedals with very different characteristics in loop A and B. The Keymaster made it possible to switch rapidly for different parts and create a range of hybrid tones. Older pedals that aren’t true bypass can also be ‘truly’ bypassed. It’s also very easy to connect a single instrument to the input and connect to two different amps via the loop sends. This means you can effectively turn the amps on and off using the loop buttons. This is an example of the Keymaster’s credentials as a ‘sonic Swiss Army Knife’, which can facilitate any number of audio solutions. In the studio, I recorded some clean parts to Pro Tools and then passed the signal out to the Keymaster. One of the Keymaster’s sends was then used to connect to a physical amp and the other to a Kemper Profiler Amp

MT Verdict

modeller, to create a range of reamping configurations. It was also possible to put two different instruments in the loop’s return jacks and run both out to a single desk channel and use crossfade to blend between the two, especially interesting when using vintage synths. Next, I connected a mic to the Keymaster and, using various combinations of loopers, delays and a pitch-shifter, had a lot of fun pretending to be a beatbox artist. Finally, I split the stereo signal from my laptop into discrete mono signals using a splitter cable and fed each side to a different loop. This let me process and blend a range of field recordings and found sounds into a dense sound-art-style montage. In all instances, the sound quality was excellent. MT

+ Ideal for musicians who need to control multiple effects + Useful tool for any producer’s kit bag + Ideal home-studio tool for getting the most out of instruments and effects - While good for studios, it is more suited to pedal-based set ups - A more basic solution might well suffice

Alternatives Not too many products offer the same range of characteristics as the Keymaster. If you need a basic true-bypass dual effects-loop pedal, Radial’s Big Shot (£79.13) is a practical solution. Want to go totally crazy with multiple effect loops and pedal combinations? How about the JOYO PXL8 (£139), which offers no fewer than eight switchable effects loops? Alternatively, if you need to connect equipment operating at -10dBV with +4 or 8dBM systems, drive long lines or split an unbalanced mono signal into two balanced outputs, then the Aphex 124B (£309) is a very professional piece of kit.

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The Keymaster combines several audio-utility concepts in one place and will definitely enable you to pull a range of new sounds from the equipment you already own. It’s an impedance-matching device, so it automatically optimises any input for use with effects pedals and then optimises the output to an amp, mixer or DAW. The unit is transparent in operation and with two effect loops, you can process both mono and stereo sources. No matter what setup you plan to use it in, it’s likely to perform faultlessly and become an invisible facilitator of your process.


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Produce a track part 3 Feature MT

MT Cover Feature Produce a track from start to finish




10 WAYS TO MIX A TRACK It’s our ‘produce a track special’ – and it’s time to mix your tune. Here are some pro ideas to take your mix up a level and let your musical ideas shine through…

Keep it simple

With technology comes options – many, many options. You can layer many audio tracks together, plus a whole bunch of soft synths and instruments. But do you really want to do that? Wouldn’t your tune work better with one great sound, rather than 10 mediocre ones? Do classic pieces of popular music all rely on massive mixes? Okay, some do, but more memorable songs rely on a great hook or a well-produced individual sound, rather than walls of many sounds. With dance music, especially, if you get a great kick or bass sound, you are 90-per-cent there, and the rest is all about the arrangement. Spend time on getting your core sounds right and the rest will follow… But not too much time, mind…


1. Keep it simple, with just one or two great sounds which could make your track 2. Yes, we are recommending playing video games. Only maybe not Fallout 4, as you might be playing for a while…



Take a break

As cool as spending the whole night mixing sounds or how good a day’s eight-hour session at the monitors feels, the truth is that the longer you spend listening to one mix, the more negatives will come from the experience than positives. Firstly, your ears will get tired and then so will your brain. You’ll start edging volume levels up across the board until you are mixing at excessive levels and your ears will soon start ringing. Your brain will start to turn to glue and your decision making will suffer; you’ll soon go from making vital and essential tweaks to undoing all the good work you put in at the start of your sessions. So, stop! Hold on a minute! While distractions can be regarded as your enemy at the start of the production and compositional process, they might well be your friends here. A good video game or pool table might be just the accessory your studio needs. Just make sure you return to your mix at some point, though…


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MT Feature Produce a track part 3

03 06

Breathe more easily 05


Loud. Loud. Loud

While we’re talking volume, you might find that you end up with the kind of ‘mix creep’ mentioned earlier, especially over longer sessions; but you should always try and reduce volume levels, no matter how long your sessions are. You can give your mix the odd big blast just to make sure it kicks at high levels, but always bring it back down for the main mixing session. Remember that a really well-engineered mix will sound good at any level. 04

Fill it up, but not right to the top

One of our favourite mix analogies is to consider your mix not only as a stereo left-to-right picture, but also as one going up and down. By this, we mean that when panning, think about filling the space ‘left to right’, and if it’s a band you’re mixing, consider using the positions of the band members as they would play on a stage as references for your main positions within the mix. And when EQ-ing, you could do worse than thinking ‘top to bottom’. Your low-end frequencies are at ground level, and your highs are, well, at the top. In this way, you can use judicious panning and EQ to ‘fill up’ the entire picture. But having said that, don’t fill your picture up completely…

3. Don’t let those levels get too loud. Here they are in Live and Logic, going into the red… 4. One simple way to mix is to consider your mix in the positions that a band traditionally takes on stage, and pan the instruments accordingly 5. If you have a vocalist like Adele in your song, then the last thing you want to do is crowd her out of the track 6. Use a compressor in your DAW mix for extra clout and power


Use your mixing skills to allow the most important parts of your mix to breathe. If you happen to have Adele in your studio, the last thing you want to do is mask her voice with a bunch of things that sit in the EQ range or pan position of her vocal part. Move everything away from the most important part of your mix and give it room. If necessary, don’t shy away from using EQ reduction to help take other mix elements away from the most outstanding part of your tune. 06

Compress and limit

Getting your levels right is not just about adjusting faders per channel. More subtle adjustments can be made with compression, while less subtle ones can be made with limiting. In general, the entire mix is compressed and limited at the mastering stage, so don’t use this method so much in mixing. However, do consider applying compression to individual parts, so that your bass can pump and your snares can have more bite. Limiting helps cut out stray levels across the board, too. 07

Use references

As well as using several different reference monitors to check your mix – see the boxout – you should remember to use musical reference material to check your mix against, too. This could be as simple as loading in a similar type of music to the one you’re mixing as a reference point. You aren’t so much checking the volume here, as this will be done in the mastering process; it’s more the style and the mix. You can get a great idea on EQ types and levels here, too. How does their bass cut through the mix compared to yours? Does your kick have as much clout? It’s a great way to learn from the pros, by just hearing their efforts side-by-side with yours. Beware, this can be a little depressing at first, but do bear in mind much of the extra shine comes from mastering, so don’t get too down.




With effects, as with virtual instruments and synths, technology is spoiling us rotten. Back in the day (oh,

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06/04/2016 12:22


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MT Feature Produce a track part 3



9. Grouping tracks together can save time, and allow changes to be made quicker. It’s also a quick, non-destructive way to apply experimental changes to whole portions of a mix

don’t you just hate it when old timers say that?), you might only have had a couple of effects to use, so you had to make do with just those and nothing more… and this was not necessarily ‘a bad thing’. Today, it’s tempting to smear effects across everything simply because you can, but the technology message is, once again, that it’s great to have it on tap, but use it sparingly. So don’t, for example, slather reverb on everything, or your mix will sound like it’s recorded in a cathedral, which could be a bad thing.*

10. You need to make your mixes sound good on any device, including mp3 players. Okay, this was an excuse to put a pic of the new iPad in

* Unless you want it to sound like it’s recorded in a cathedral, in which case this could be a good thing.



Grouping is a powerful feature. Your DAW should allow you to do this, so learn how to do it now! Grouping can save a lot of time and a lot of effort as, essentially, groups allow you to process several (usually similar) mix elements at the same time. Your vocal harmonies, for example, might all use similar effects, so group them – as might your percussive elements. Then you can automate, mix, and process multiple tracks to your heart’s content… MT

7. (Above) Juxtapose some reference material with your mix so you can compare your efforts with the best music out there 8. Just because effects are available, it doesn’t mean you should automatically use them


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Best mixing tip ever? 10

And the most popular mixing tip award goes to… Listen to your mix on as many different systems as possible. And this top tip still holds true, today more than ever. People consume music on a vast array of different devices: from minute players and phones right up to high-quality recording studios, so you have to make sure your mixes sound as good as they can on as many of these as possible. This means that as well as sounding great within the confines of your own studio and on your expensive monitors, they should also sound good through the headphones of your phone, compressed down to mp3; they should also sound great on the CD player in your car; and they should also sound great on your mate’s hi-fi. In the olden days, people even made them sound great in mono for radio play – it’s not so vital now, but if you can, then why not?


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Mini Reviews MT

Sounds Like Teen Spirit Manufacturer Tim English books Price £18 Contact via website Web


he new edition of Tim English’s book on ‘stolen melodies and ripped off beats’ was always going to be an expanded one, what with the relatively recent and very high-profile Thicke/Pharrell v Gaye case. This resulted in the Gaye estate claiming over $7m in royalties and damages for the Pharrell song Blurred Lines being of the same vibe, but not identical to, the Marvin Gaye song Got To Give It Up. There was an outcry by songwriters at the time, as the thinking was that one was not too much like the other. It all led to some blurred advice by magazines such as this one on what was allowed and not, in terms of songwriting. The truth, it seems, was a little more complicated than the ruling suggested, with all sorts of nonsense going behind

Blue Lola

Manufacturer Blue

Key Features ● Over 400 pages (although one of them has a single word on it which really annoys us) ● Musical family trees section ● Oasis quiz! ● Chapters cover bands like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dylan and Oasis ● Covers new music including Uptown Funk and Sam Smith’s Stay With Me

the scenes (and not so behind the scenes), together with some pretty inept defence work. All of which was gleaned from this rather great book on the subject of plagiarism, inspiration and sometimes, it would seem, simple subconscious idea transference. The book details some of the most well-known cases, but also covers some lesser known works and songs that sound like other songs from the last 70 years of music production. From Smells Like Teen Spirit using a similar


9/10 9 9/ 10

Price £220 Contact via website Web


few issues back, we picked Blue’s latest headphone range as one of our ‘six products of NAMM that you may have missed’. This was mainly down to the design; not only do they look darn cool, but they have been designed from scratch to be different from your average ’phones (rather like Blue did with its microphones). As we found out when we reviewed the Mo-Fi model from the range, this new ground-up thinking has resulted in headphones that work very well in terms of comfort, but also sound very good. So on to these, the Lola model from the range. The first thing that strikes you is the aforementioned brand-new design, which helps the ’phones sit and fit around your head. There’s no shifting of parts to extend straps, as the ’phones expand width-ways to cover your head

Key Features ● Sealed enclosure with tuned damping materials ● 50mm, fibre-reinforced dynamic driver ● Over-ear design for isolation ● Imp: 42 ohms ● Multi-jointed headband design ● Frequency response: 15Hz-20kHz ● Weight: 397g ● Dimensions (mm) 210 x140 x120

and the pads angle forwards to fit your ear height. They therefore fit snugly on when you use them, and when you’re done with them, they return to their original ‘compact’ position with just a little gentle nudging. It’s a very cool concept and well executed. Some may criticise these for being too heavy and large for mobile use and they are heavier and larger than our AT reference ’phones (less heavy than Mo-Fi). However, our grown-up ‘dad

riff to More Than A Feeling to Mike Batt apparently settling out of court for recording a minute’s silence which was too similar to John Cage’s own silence (yes, that happened), it’s a list of stories that will help to fill your anecdotes for years to come (if you are as dull as us, that is). We’d have liked some more facts about what people won – probably hard to get – and also firm advice on what is allowed (there’s a feature right there). And while some cases are more obvious than others, some are less proven than others and it does sometimes lead you to feel that all music is art and that all composition must be inspired from something, so why don’t we all just get on with it and have fun? Peace and love and all that. But when there’s money to be made, there will always be court cases. Perhaps when all music is free then no-one will care. MT

MT Verdict A bit random in terms of order, but there are enough facts to keep any party going here and several hundred lessons to be learnt…


voice’ says you shouldn’t be using these when out and about anyway – the isolation is very, very good, so you won’t hear what is around you. Sound-wise, this isolation is important. These are effectively the passive version of the Mo-Fis, with no built-in amp, but the isolation is so good and the design makes them so snug-fitting, that you don’t feel any lack of volume at all. For listening to and monitoring on (arguably not critical monitoring, but certainly good enough for reference), the Lolas are a very good buy. For the money, we’d even say that these are the better buy of the two Blues we’ve now looked at – with the Mo-Fis you might be paying extra for volume levels you might not need – but we’d recommend both as good reference sets. Like all ’phones with good isolation, however (adopts dad voice) – just don’t take them out and about, kids. MT

MT Verdict Another great set of ’phones from Blue. Not so great for monitoring on the move, but great isolation and sound – plus a comfortable design.



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MT Mini Reviews


Key Features ● Drum ’n’ bass synthesis, mixing and arrangement tips ● Three hours of streaming video ● Uses Ableton Live, Fab Filter plug-ins, and NI FM8 and Massive ● Includes 9 Live projects and 100MB of d’n’b samples ● Written and presented by Icicle

Publisher Producertech Price £29.95 Contact via website Web


rum ’n’ bass production wizard Icicle has teamed up with Producertech for a tip-filled three-hour course on modern d’n’b production techniques. The tutorial is available to stream from the Producertech website and is divided into 16 chapters covering synthesising and processing drums, creating and resampling complex bass sounds, bussing and mixing techniques, and adding effects and automation. Icicle mostly uses Ableton Live, but also explores the Fab Filter plug-ins and NI’s FM8 and Massive, with some great tips on FM synthesis. You also get nine Live projects, plus a varied and decent 100MB folder of samples taken from Icicle’s Loopmasters pack. The quality of the video and

spoken audio could be a bit better, but this is an excellent tutorial for anyone looking to learn d’n’b techniques from a pro. MT

MT Verdict Some great synthesis and production techniques from a d’n’b master who’s not afraid to explain how to break the rules to get a big, modern sound.


Deep Analog Tech

Publisher Loopmasters Price £34.95 Contact Web


ong-time Loopmasters collaborator Terry Grant is back with a massive collection of cinematic soundscapes and dubbed-out beats. Dark Dub Odyssey has over 2GB worth of loops divided into 80, 100 and 120BPM, with your choice of WAV and REX, and Apple Loops and REX formats. You’ll find a mixture of live dub bass guitar, reverby pianos, and acoustic drums and percussion, alongside fat analogue bass riffs, electronic beats, and 206 atmospheric, ethereal pad loops. The sound design is excellent and there are some decent loops spread across this giant library. However, the

drawn-out pads are a little samey and we found some drums and sounds to be a little dated. That said, some of these textures could work really well in media projects and ambient productions. MT

MT Verdict Despite some of the loops sounding a little dated, this is a large collection with some deep and atmospheric sound design.



Price €34 Contact Via website

Price £29.95


Contact Key Features



ometimes a pack will tell you it’s been made on analogue hardware, but you struggle to hear it in the loops. However, Deep Analog Tech from Loopmasters wears its analogue heart on its sleeve, with a rich and varied collection of gritty loops and hits dripping with raw energy. Inspired by the Kompakt label and artists such as Gui Boratto and Agoria, sounds were created using a Roland Juno-60, MS-20 Mini, Roland RE-201 Space Echo, Elektron Analog Rytm and Korg Volca Keys. You’ll find folders of twisted arps, throbbing basses, haunting chord progressions and beats and percussion, crunchy drum hits, weird FX, and fat bass and synth hits. Although this pack is aimed squarely at tech

MT158.REV minis_p100.indd 100

Key Features ● 2.31GB of 24-bit audio ● Over 500 loops in WAV, Apple Loops and REX2 format ● 80, 100 and 120BPM ● Live bass guitar, drums, pianos, synth bass and pads ● Produced by Terry Grant

Developer Cableguys

Publisher Loopmasters

100 | May 2016

Terry Grant Dark Dub Odyssey



● 847MB of 24-bit loops and hits ● Arps, bass, chords, drums and percussion ● Recorded with a range of analogue hardware ● 123 sampler patches for NN-XT, Kontakt, EXS24 and SFZ ● Inspired by the Kompakt label

house, there’s plenty of sonic variety and the quality is exceptional throughout. MT

MT Verdict A stunning pack of rich and characterful analogue loops and sounds with interesting quirks and details in every folder.



anShaper is a new plug-in from Cableguys that combines elements of its free PanCake plug-in with features from the useful VolumeShaper 4. PanShaper is a three-band stereo modulation effect that allows you to draw or load in complex pan position curves for each band, along with width and volume controls, and LFO control of the overall speed. The LFO can run freely, or sync to tempo or input MIDI for some crazy audio-range FX. An excellent GUI means it’s easy to see the waveform position and edit nodes to build complex sweeping patterns, and there are also plenty of presets to try out. We found it excellent for pinpointing and panning specific drum hits in a loop, adding subtle movement to arps and pads, and for pseudowidening without phase issues. MT

Key Features


9/10 9 9/ 10

● Multiband stereo modulation plug-in ● VST and AU ● Independent curves for all three bands ● LFO with tempo sync and Hz-viaMIDI mode ● Comprehensive preset library and curves

MT Verdict A great value plug-in that’s easy to use, with a clear GUI and some decent presets. PanShaper is a useful tool for controlling your stereo width in new, creative ways.



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Six of the best Buyer’s Guide MT

Six of the best Hardware


Mobile Technology


Welcome to the MusicTech Buyer’s Guide where we round up some of the best products recently reviewed in the magazine. After last month’s round up of hardware synths, it’s time for our favourite soft synths – including multi-touch, dance-based, classic and a whole lot more besides…


BEST Analogue classic

GForce Oddity 2

Details Price £139.99 Developer GForce Contact Via website Web www.

BEST For everyone

U-He Hive


-He’s Hive was designed to run light on any system and run smooth, so that anyone can use it. You get everything in one window and while that window may seem initially confusing, it’s actually not that hard to get your head around. We said in our review: “Hive covers a great deal of sonic territory and should find a home in almost any setup as a great ‘go-to’ synth for cutting-edge production,” and then concluded: “A very solid and adaptable synth for a range of electronic and other styles of production. Great workflow and tons of presets.”

Details Price $149 Contact U-He via website Web

e predicted that GForce’s Oddity would make numerous appearances in our Six Of The Best and we were correct – here it is again! The Oddity – a virtual recreation of the original hardware ARP Odyssey synth – has been around for so long and made so many famous friends that it has become a classic piece of software in its own right. Electronic music legend John Foxx said of it: “The Oddity is beautifully realised. All the power, character, precision, intricacy, grunge and sonic extremes of the original.” Reviewer Andy Jones said: “Oddity 2 is a triumph. It comes packed with many features over the original – we love the extra mod options and using it as an effect. But the best is Polyphonic mode, a feature that takes Oddity to new heights.” He concluded: “If ARP had carried on as a company, this is the synth it would have made now.”

Details Price $129 to $379 Contact +90 312 265 0558 Web www.synthmaster. com

BEST Master

KV331 Synth Master


ynthMaster claims to be all synths to all people, but wrestling with it does not (necessarily) send you running for the hills. The ‘Everything Bundle’ has around 3,000 sounds and a very easy routing system to get your head around. Andy Jones said: “I love the options to use SynthMaster on a more basic level. Sonically, it should be all you need, but I could say that about many soft synths – Blue II, Omnisphere and so on do what you want and a lot more, if you get to know them. And it’s testament to KV331 that I’m putting SynthMaster on the same level as those. It really does an incredible amount in a no-nonsense, almost calm way. So sit back, don’t panic and enjoy the ride. It does what it says. It truly is a master of synths. Simple as…” MAGAZINE May 2016

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MT Buyer’s Guide Six of the best

BEST Big, big sound

Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2

Details Price £285 Contact Spectrasonics Web www.


pectrasonics spent a good seven years updating Omnisphere and while the update is a complete overhaul, it pleasingly keeps all that was good about the original. “Look under the bonnet, though,” said reviewer Mark Cousins, “and you’ll soon see how far-reaching the improvements are in Omnisphere 2, with a list of new

features almost as long as a fully fledged DAW upgrade.” New features include the ability to import audio, more sounds (included in a new 20GB download) and masses of new flexibility. “It’s hard to imagine any software instrument delivering the same breadth and sheer sonic excellence as Omnisphere 2 does. An essential purchase for all.”

“It’s hard to imagine any software instrument delivering the same breadth and sheer sonic excellence as Omnisphere 2 does…” BEST Multi-dimensional


ROLI Equator


trictly speaking, you’ll need a ROLI Seaboard RISE ‘keyboard’ to get the best out of Equator. That is the futuristic controller with the latex multi-touch keyboard that allows you to play and record dimensions you simply can’t get to with a regular keyboard. However, Equator is a great synth in its own right. It looks pretty

Price Free with a RISE or app Contact ROLI 0207 254 2155 Web

bland, but can sound incredible. Reviewer Andy Jones said of the software: “Equator obviously sits excellently with RISE, but also works quite well standalone. It has enough sonically to make what you do with it incredibly creative.” There’s also a free version of Equator, called NOISE, available for iOS, which utilises the iPhone 6’s 3D-touch features.

BEST Dance

Details Price $99/£59 Contact Plug-in Boutique Web www.pluginboutique. com

Plug-in Boutique Carbon Electra


ever judge a synth by its specs. Carbon Electra could be ‘just another subtractive synth’, but behind its featureset and rather blusterous name lies a great synth, with lots of movement and a sound that really cuts through your mix. Reviewer Andy Jones said: “It turns out that this is one synth

104 May 2016

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that is not as easy to lazily pigeon-hole as I’d originally anticipated. It’s easy, fun and packed full of potential. “The synth sounds great, and is very easy to get more from. It also has a sound that will not only act as the backbone to many a dance track, but one that could bring a lot to a variety of genres.”


04/04/2016 11:09

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06/04/2016 09:21

Produce a track part 4 Feature MT

MT Cover Feature Produce a track from start to finish

7 WAYS TO FINISH A TRACK Part 4 We’re nearly at the end of our ‘produce a track’ special and now it’s time for some advice on that hardest of tasks: finishing a track…


Learn to delete

One of the things that gets in the way of finishing a track can be having too many ideas kicking around on your hard drive. Opening up a folder crammed full of half-finished songs can be depressing and fill you with dread – when will you ever get around to completing some of those tracks that you’ve had for so long? One of the key secrets to composition, then, is actually learning when to discard old ideas. What is good? What is worth keeping? More importantly: what can you delete? Getting rid of old ideas can be nerve-racking at first, but actually binning rubbish can be surprisingly rewarding. Have a clearout once in a while and you will be surprised at just how focused you become on finishing what you have left. 02

1. Got a load of old song ideas? Maybe just get shot of them… 2. Bounce, bounce and bounce again!


Bounce, bounce and bounce again

No matter how far you are into making a track, it’s


always a good idea to bounce your work down to a stereo file so you can listen to it away from the studio. Load it on to your phone, play it in the car… you’ll be inspired on where to take it and how to finish it. This is also a good exercise to do to keep focus. If you keep all the versions you have made of a song and then go back to an earlier one every so often, you might rediscover the original direction and point of the tune, which might have got lost along the way. Making music with technology can take you in all sorts of directions, very often far away from where you originally wanted to go, so using this technique can help you stay on your original path. MAGAZINE May 2016

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MT Feature Produce a track part 4



Work to a deadline

If you have someone waiting in the wings demanding you finish something, there’s a much better chance that you’ll actually finish it! We’re not advocating employing someone to stand next to you looking at their watch and shaking their head every few minutes, but having a deadline is a good way to get focus and, as you might be realising by now, focus is the key! Set your own deadline, if you must, but try getting a track done within a certain time period and you are almost certain to get more done (whether you finish it or not). 04

Accept that it won’t be perfect

Don’t take this the wrong way, as it’s always good to aim for perfection – the higher you set your sights, the better your results. But – and it’s a big but – if your level of perfection is too high, there’s a very good chance you won’t hit it. If you accept your work will never be perfect, you will finish it. Why not deliberately add subtle mistakes, so you know perfection will never be achieved? Flaunt that imperfection – at least your music will be out there.

Get more ears… but not too many 05


ears to comment on what you are doing or even help it along is always a good idea but – as with everything to do with music production – don’t overdo it. More ears can mean more ideas and even less focus. Did we mention the ‘focus’ word again? 3. Set your own deadline if you have to and try and stick to it 4. Accept that no track is going to be perfect and you might finish it. You could even consider deliberate imperfection! 5. Astronautica offers advice at 6. Novation has created a video asking artists such as Floating Points how they finish their music, at /finish-something


Limit your options

This one could be applied to the whole process, not just finishing a track. If you limit your options, you can get things moving and get to an end point quicker. So you might want to consider keeping your track-count down – why not go old-school with eight tracks? – or keep the number of instruments and effects you use to a minimum. With far fewer options you’ll not only start your productions more quickly, but you’ll also finish them sooner, too. 07

Know when something is finished

It’s the ultimate question: how do you know when a track is finished? When it’s ready to be shared? When you’ve played it to death and not criticised it? When you play it back after a week of not hearing it and it makes the hairs on your arm stand up? The answer is all of these and more, but don’t let it fester on your hard drive for too long. Finish something today!

Getting bogged down? Been working on the same loop for hours? Losing focus? Perspective gone? Get someone else in! Having a fresh set of


We nicked some of these from a rather good video that the folks at Novation have put together on finishing music. You can see more here MT


108 | May 2016

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05/04/2016 12:26


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06/04/2016 09:23

MT Feature Produce a track part 5

MT Cover Feature Produce a track from start to finish


It’s the final part of our ‘produce a track from start to finish’ feature and it’s the big one: how to give your final mix the pro sheen it deserves…

reference material you are trying to put it against and to perhaps sound like (in terms of its sonic character, anyway). If, during this process, you notice some glaring things wrong with the mix, then you’ll need to go back into the mix and process it again (or return it to whoever did it). Hopefully, this is something that can easily be done, either by you or the original mix engineer – so that you can consider the whole rather than having problems with the parts get in your way…




Zoom out

In the mixing process, you will be considering the detail: the levels, the effects, the EQ, plus perhaps some automation, including fades and other parameters. With mixing, then, you are very much looking ‘inside’ at every aspect you can. With mastering, you need to forget that and step back, zoom out, rise above it, look down and consider everything as a large picture with everything you were working on in the mix all joined up as one whole. You need to consider the track – a stereo mix (usually!) – as a single entity and now start to think about it in the context of other tracks on an album or

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1. Trouble with your output file? You’ll need to go back into the mix, so sort all of these problems out before mastering and consider the bigger picture 2. Research expert mastering services like Abbey Road and Metropolis, where a named engineer can master your music… for a fee. But do learn the process yourself, as well 3. Mastering software like IZotope’s Ozone 7 can make the process easier, but don’t use presets just to do the job quickly. Explore and expand…

Don’t be afraid not to do it

And this leads nicely on to our next point, especially, if you have mixed your own music. You might be just like us and want to handle every single aspect of music production yourself (yes, making music does turn you into a control freak, we know!), but don’t be frightened to let someone else master your mixes. There are many online companies that offer very reasonably priced mastering services for as little as £50 a track. Obviously, these do vary in terms of quality – although we’ve been impressed with a couple of very cheap ones that we’ve tested (see for more), but you could consider a ‘named’ service like Metropolis or even Abbey Road where you can pretty much guarantee a good job if you have more budget (£110 per track for a named engineer). So why pay someone else to do it? Two main reasons: the first is that you are paying for experience. We know for a fact – because we’ve interviewed them all – that the mastering engineers at Metropolis, as just one example, have had their ears around just about every single piece of music you can imagine (and several you can’t). So no matter


04/04/2016 15:12

Produce a track part 5 Feature MT

02 04

what you throw at them, they will have someone on their team who can handle it. Secondly, simply having another set of fresh ears listen to your music and can offer a new perspective. This should always be encouraged (at any step of the production process, actually). By the way, don’t consider this point as us telling you not to give mastering a go. We would encourage you to learn the craft and to work with others doing it. Get to a point where you can master another person’s mix and they master yours. Fresh perspectives all round!

you’re new to mastering, by all means use a mix of both methods; check what the presets are offering, listen to what they do and how they do it, and experiment. Can you make the presets sound better? Of course you can – just like preset sounds on a synth! 04


4. The processes you need include compression, EQ and limiting. The smile EQ is a commonly used EQ shape


Don’t follow a preset path

Now we can’t prove this, but there’s every chance that a less reputable mastering engineer could just charge you to whack your mix through a set of preset EQ, limiting and other process presets, depending on your music’s style (or even not!). And you know what, this might just work! Indeed, many of the specialist mastering plug-ins we’ve reviewed have similar presets, where they’ll ‘suggest’ a signal path with certain parameter values for certain styles of music. And they often do result in a better-sounding master. But while this can be a good way to go as a first stab at mastering, we think that the best way to master is to treat each track on its own merits – or lack of them – and not just according to a genre it is supposed to be from. On a broader level, you could probably get away with applying a very slight ‘smile’ EQ curve to any track to give it a bit of welly at the top and bottom and then add some width – this could also be a good start. Or you could listen well, decide what you think it needs and then do it. If

5. Limiting will help you boost your levels, but don’t make mastering all about loud. That’s a war you don’t want to be in…

The actual processes are…

Here are some typical mastering processes to consider, all detailed more at Compression does what it says – you’ll create a more even mix with louder quiet bits and fewer deafening louder parts. Think about that song which brings loads of instrumentation in after a quiet interval without you having to reach for the volume control – it’s compression in action. It smooths out a mix, and multiband compressors allow you to smooth out certain parts of a mix. With EQ, it’s more about a general look at the overall picture, where high end will add fizz and low end cuts will reduce some sub rumble. And the final general process is limiting, which brings us to… 05 Don’t make it all about the volume

Volume! Or rather, limiting your volume. Don’t let volume take



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MT Feature Produce a track part 5

towards your reference goal. Similarly, make sure you reference other tracks that you’ve mastered that will be appearing on the same EP or album. You need all the tracks within a body of work to gel together, rather than having them sound as though they were recorded, mixed and mastered by different artists and engineers. It’s bad enough playing tunes on Shuffle from your iPod and hearing the volume levels jump from decade to decade – you really don’t want that happening on an album! 07


over in any sense. By this, we mean don’t master to make your tunes louder, and while you’re at it, don’t listen to extreme points of view in the loudness wars, either. On a (perhaps too) simplistic level, mastering is about making your music carry more of an impact. This doesn’t mean making it louder, although we do advocate brick-wall limiting at the end of the process to add a small amount of level and to control the peaks of a mix. 06

6. You should reference your music against your own tracks, and those of other musicians 7. Additional mastering processes include M/S or Mid/Side processing and stereo widening. As ever, go easy on these… 8. And reference again. Did we mention referencing?

Go easy

Whereas compression, EQ and limiting are the mainstays of mastering, it’s not all about these processes all of the time. There are plenty of other ones to get yourself involved in. Mid/Side processing is where the mix can be broken down into its mid and side areas, which typically allows you to process only those areas with, say, compression, EQ or reverb; stereo widening is just as it says, but is also one that should be considered as a process that is sorted in mixing – you can widen in mastering, and many people do, but be careful. Indeed, that is the message with all mastering processes: go easy. Each is such a subtle process that you might end up being unsubtle with certain aspects just so you can easily hear the results. But some would argue that if you can hear the results too obviously, you’ve overdone things (or have a very bad mix to start with!). 08

And finally… reference again

You’ve referenced the track you are mastering against other people’s music; you’ve also referenced it against your own music that will be appearing on the same album, so now it’s time to reference it against itself. Yes, at every stage, do reference what you are doing against the unmastered version you started with, to make sure that you’re going in the right direction. If you want to get really anal about it, make and label versions at every step (with different compressors, etc), so that you’re able to reference each step of the process and hear the influence it had on your original mix. Just don’t get too bogged down in it… MT

Reference, reference, reference

Have we said this in other steps of the production process? Yes, we have! But it’s sooooooo important to reference your material with a track that you admire – one that has been mastered to a high standard. Load it into the software you are using to master, or your DAW, and play it side by side with your own material. As with mixing, this may be a little disappointing at first, but as you progress and progress, you will gradually step up level by level



112 | May 2016

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MusicTech Magazine, ISSN number 1479-4187, is published monthly (12 times per year) by Anthem Publishing c/o USACAN Media Dist. Srv. 26 Power Dam Way

06/04/2016 12:26

MT Your Disc

DVD158 4GB+ PC&Mac


Welcome to DVD 158 – we’ve got epic synths, chilled beats, dubbed-out instruments and analogue synth loops aplenty. There are tips from Icicle, Paul Maddox, Hodgson and Stefano Ritteri, plus demos, software, videos and workshop files…


//EPIC SYNTHS Digital subscriber?

D Download your DV from code: with the following

Size 434MB Format 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV, Kontakt, NN-XT Web Our exclusive lead pack this month comes courtesy of PinkNoise Studio and includes 14 multi-sampled instruments for Kontakt and NN-XT that have been crafted on a Kawai K4 synth. Multiple sounds were used to build up synth, vocal and instrumental layers, with additional processing using the internal effects to create epic-sounding instruments for use in your tracks and cinematic productions.




Size 565MB Format 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV, MIDI Web Equinox Sounds has provided 15 inspiring melodies for creating chillout, ambient and downtempo tracks, or for use in film, TV and media work. There are also three construction kits packed with piano, guitar, drum, pad, flute loops and more, with complete mix and component parts. All files are key labelled, with tempos ranging from 56 to 98BPM.


Size 229MB Format MP4 Web Producer Icicle gives us some insider d’n’b knowledge with two videos from Producertech looking at frequency-selective sidechaining and slicing a resampled break in Live. There’s also Paul Maddox explaining how to create polyrhythmic techno grooves, and a free Live Rack for creating instant house grooves, with an accompanying video by Rob Jones.



The latest Toontrack instrument features a carefully sampled Steinway & Sons B-211 grand piano combined with the usual EZkeys creative songwriting features.


DEMO//SOFTWARE SINEVIBES ARRAY 3 (MAC OS X) A unique spectral-animation plug-in that filters incoming audio into eight bands and allows filter sequencing with 32 steps, waveform view and a clear, colour-coded GUI.

114 | May 2016

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MMORPH (WINDOWS, MAC OS X) A powerful spectral-morphing plug-in that lets you blend seamlessly between two signals, with extensive sound controls and four highly flexible modulators.

A vintage tube program equaliser combining three passive EQs, carefully emulated through advanced filtering and tube-simulation algorithms.


ADAM SZABO PHAZOR (WINDOWS, MAC OS X) A free effect plug-in that emulates the phaser found in Virus synthesisers, with selectable one- to six-stage all-pass filters controlled by an LFO, and spread and feedback controls.


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Your Disc MT



Size 234MB Format 24-bit/44.1kHz WAV Web Our sample selection from Loopmasters this month includes plucked arps, warm basses and tech beats taken from Deep Analog Tech, Synthwerk, and Tech House Tools, plus spaced-out riffs and instruments from Dark Dub Odyssey and Lost In Time Dub House. You’ll also find a handful of soulful guitar, bass and drum grooves from Undercover Funk Vol 2. Use the code MUSICTECH10 for an exclusive discount at



Size 727MB Format MP4 Web This month’s videos from Point Blank Music School include a chat with Stefano Ritteri who delivers some top tips on how to beat creative block using random vocal chops, audio-to-MIDI conversion, and NI Reaktor instruments. There’s also a masterclass by Hodgson on his Babylon System track, and an Ableton Live Quick Tip on how to use key tracking with the Filter in Simpler.

Size 292MB Format MOV Web Loop+ has provided a bumper bundle of studio know-how videos, starting with a detailed look at the AutoTheory musical chord and melody plug-in from Mozaic Beats. There’s also producer Multiplier giving a demonstration of Complete Toy Museum from UVI, and the EVE-AT1 EQ plug-in from Kuassa. Finally, producer Rob Jones takes us through some great examples of the new StereoSavage stereo-widening plug-in from Plugin Boutique.


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INTRODUCING THE NEW AKG K72 & K92 Superior sound meets style and affordability with the AKG K72 and K92 over-ear, closed back headphones. Professional-grade 40mm drivers reveal even the subtlest nuances, while the self-adjusting headband and lightweight design provide hours of comfort during long tracking and mix sessions. Whether you’re fine-tuning your vocal, or checking your final mixes, you can be confident your projects will translate accurately on any system. Designed by the company whose mics and headphones have helped create some of the world’s most iconic recordings, the durable K72 and K92 deliver great sound in the studio and beyond. FIND OUT MORE AT WWW.AKG.COM © 2016 HARMAN INTERNATIONAL INDUSTRIES, INCORPORATED. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. AKG IS A TRADEMARK OF AKG ACOUSTICS GMBH, REGISTERED IN THE UNITED STATES AND/OR OTHER COUNTRIES. FEATURES, SPECIFICATIONS AND APPEARANCE ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE WITHOUT NOTICE.





Distributed in the UK and Eire by Sound Technology Ltd | 01462 480000 | |

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