Getting to know Pro Tools

Hi, I’m Dave, and I’m a DAW junkie  (DAW is a digital audio workstation, or software version of a mixing console for all the non computer music people)  I’ve worked with several different DAWs over the last 20 years or so… First Cakewalk / Sonar, then Logic, then Studio One, and back to Logic X.  I’ve usually stayed away from ProTools, as the hardware requirements / copy protection and perceived complexity have always been issues for me. A couple of years ago, I purchased an Avid MBox 3 Pro which included a copy of ProTools.  I didn’t really think much about it, but was able to get Version 10 and 11.  I plunked around with ProTools, but quickly went back to Logic, as Logic X came out.  For the most part, I’ve sat out all of the drama surrounding Avid and their upgrade policies, as I really wasn’t interested in upgrading…

That was until about 3 weeks ago…  A band I’m with recorded a live video at a studio, but we tracked all of the audio to a ProTools session.  I wanted to see what I could do.  After working with the guy who did the recording to come up with a mix for the 6 songs, I wanted to see if I could do a different job.  Since I knew I might need to bring the session back, I went ahead and did my upgrade to ProTools 12, and opened up the session.

From this point on, note that all of my statements are going to be subjective and not based upon comparisons.  I did no null testing, I didm’t try to duplicate my mixes in every DAW; i’m just going off of my memory, so take this with a grain of salt…

The first thing that I noticed was how open the sound was.  This may be due to the fact that the recording was done inside of a big room, not the normal small studio, but I’ve done a bunch of live band recordings and worked with Logic, and none have started off with the openness that I was hearing in Pro Tools.  The second thing that I noticed was that the meters in Pro Tools were REALLY good.  I feel like in Logic, there’s a bit of a ‘fudge factor’.  With the ProTools meters, i was able to see the peaks really well.

I started off my session pretty simply, just using some Waves plug-ins.  That didn’t get me exactly where I needed, so I brought in a couple of tools that turned out to be critical to me getting through my mix.  The first set of tools was the FabFilter Pro Bundle from FabFilter.  I used every plug-in in that bundle.  All of these plug-ins are incredible.  The spectrograph on the EQ is very helpful for ‘seeing’ problem frequencies, and dealing with them.  All of their plug-ins show you what they are doing to the sound, so you can really understand what is happening.

Second tool that I would not use ProTools without is Melodyne.  I’m no fan of doing ‘fixing’ vocals and guitars with plug-ins like Melodyne and AutoTune, but, there are times when it’s useful.  I was able to take a song that didn’t sound very good to pretty rockin’ with Melodyne.  Given the time and budget constraints, Melodyne worked REALLY well 🙂  Sometimes, you just have to make it sound good, and darn the ‘how’.

Finally, the last thing that got me to really like Pro Tools was the mix down.  Normally, when I do a mix down in Logic or Studio One, especially to MP3, it feels like the MP3 doesn’t sound very good compared to playing the audio out of the DAW.  With Pro Tools, I FELT LIKE THE MP3 SOUNDED AS GOOD AS THE DAW.  To re-iterate, this is VERY subjective, I did no testing.  I just know that with Logic and Studio One, my MP3 mixes never sounded as good a the DAW mix.  With Pro Tools, the MP3 equaled the DAW.  That ALONE is reason to use it.

In the end, my final result came out pretty good.  I definitely had a couple of ‘oopses’ that I wish I’d been able to fix at the time. I’ll probably do more learning about Pro Tools, and hopefully getting faster.

One last thing that I think is very telling… Graham from The Recording Revolution constantly tries different DAWs, but he always seems to come back to Pro Tools.  I know that he knows what he’s doing, and I’ve seen him do awesome mixes in Garageband, Reason, and definitely Logic, but he has always returned to Pro Tools.  I can assume that part of that is comfort factor, but I also assume that there is something more.  I certainly can see why Pro Tools is different, and I hope to learn a lot more!

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Finally, some output from the musical toys!

For all the wonderful toys that I have for playing guitar and recording, I don’t put out a lot of material.  One of my New Year’s resolutions is to change that.  Here is the first thing that I’ve done with some of the new toys.  This was just a longish loop have something to jam over:

https://soundcloud.com/davidscheidt/axe-hard-rock-loop-riff-ab

This recording is almost all virtual.  The guitar and bass instrument are real (a 2014 Gibson Les Paul ’59 Reissue R9 and a real 1968 Fender Jazz Bass) but the amps and drums are all processors.  The guitar is running through a Fractal Audio Axe-FX II XL with a basic Marshall amp patch.  The bass is running direct into my audio interface, and then using IK Multimedia’s Amplitude 3.  The drums are done using Logic Pro X’s Drummer plug-in.

Logic Pro X 10.1 is out!

Woo-hoo!  Apple updated Logic Pro X to 10.1 today! (and MainStage to 3.1) http://www.loopinsight.com/2015/01/21/apple-releases-logic-pro-x-10-1/

This is a great development.  There are several key elements to this update that I’m VERY happy to see.

  1. The update happened at all!  The time between Logic 8, 9 and X was VERY long, almost 4 years between the release of 9 and the release of X.  There were some upgrades during that time, including the 9.1 release that switched to 64-bit, but there did not seem to be any major work being done on the program.  Apple has been much better about updating X, but with nothing since May, the Logic user community was beginning to worry.
  2. Drummer received a great update.  Even though EDM / Techno is not my thing, I’m very happy to see a current feature continue to get updated.  Many times, Apple has created some awesome things for music, and then let them rot.  The two examples that come to mind are in GarageBand.  Those two features were the lessons and the instant songs.  They were great ideas that never received any additional material.  Same thing for the Apple Loops.  After the first 5 packs, nothing happened.
  3. The update focused on more than just one or two specific things.  A couple of months ago, I remember getting a survey from Apple about Logic.  In filling it out, I noticed that it was very comprehensive.  It appears that Apple took the responses to heart, and made lots of changes to improve the program.

Lots to chew through in the new update.  This, plus the other updates coming out of NAMM look to get me excited about mixing again!

Challenging musical weekend (gear and band, both…)

I can’t believe I survived this weekend.  To say that it was challenging was a MAJOR understatement.  Two shows, one Friday night with my new band, and one Saturday running sound for a very popular band, had me very stressed out.  The last month or two has been some changes to my equipment, which caused a not so inconsiderable amount of grief.  I just wanted to put down some thoughts on what worked and didn’t, and what I learned (and need to continue to work at)

  • What worked
    • The van.  Best idea I’ve had in FOREVER… I picked up an ’05 Dodge Grand Caravan with Stow-and-go seats.  By putting the seats away, I basically have a very nice cargo van, and the PA fits wonderfully in the back.
    • The ’59 Les Paul reissue.  This is my new main guitar, played it at my gig on Friday for the first time.  I’ve been a PRS only guitarist for many years.  I’ve tried some different guitars, including Les Pauls, but nothing has really ‘stuck’.  Enter a Les Paul Custom Pro that I picked up two years ago.  This guitar rocked my world.  Good quality, great sounds, and very versatile.  This had me revisit my ‘no Gibson’ stance.  I happened across a WONDERFUL 2013 Les Paul that is a reissue of a 1959 Les Paul.  This is the best guitar I’ve played in both feel and tone.  I have some awesome PRS guitars, including Private Stocks, and the Les Paul just captures something that the PRS don’t.
    • The Axe-FX II XL.  This is a digital modeling platform for guitarist.  I’ve been struggling to get a great sound out of my tube amps and pedals that I own.  The amp + pedals have been wildly inconsistent.  Some nights, the tone is amazing, and other nights are a struggle.  To get it to sound even remotely good, there needs to be some volume, and the way that most guitar speakers are oriented, the sound is aimed at the player’s knees.  The Axe gives me a consistent sound that can be run through a monitor rather than a guitar cab and the monitor can be aimed at my head.  A lot less volume is needed, and the sound is phenomenal.  It needs to be tweaked for the PA a bit better, but that is an easy fix.  I did have one issue where the wah pedal was engaged on each setting by default.  I had to turn the wah off each time I changed patches.  Easy enough to fix, but needs be done before next practice.
    • Husky roller crate.  Bought a crate with wheels for all of the cables and ‘stuff’.  Makes for a lot less trips between the van and the gig.
    • Third and fourth sets with the new band.  Things came together, and people danced almost from beginning to the end of the sets.
  • What was OK
    • The Mackie DL32R.  This has been a godsend and a curse all at the same time.  My Line 6 mixer only has 12 XLR inputs and 4 guitar inputs.  For the sound gigs I’ve been doing, 16 inputs is not enough.  Mackie just came out with this new mixer that allows for 32 inputs, 8 of which have the dual 1/4″ / XLR connectors, and 14 outputs.  And, the mixer fits in a 3 space rack unit that is very portable.  The mixer relies on having an iPad and a wifi router to work.  So far, the mixer is working well, but I am missing some features that the Line 6 mixer had.  Multi band compression, separate limiter from the regular compressor, built in feedback suppression, a spectrograph on the EQ screen for each channel, output level views and few presets have made me feel like I’ve taken a step backwards.  I’m hoping that NAMM will bring an updated release to the firmware & iPad software to add some of these features.
  • What sucked
    • Trying to play with a new band and set up a new mix at the same time.  This was a VERY bad idea.  First problem was getting to the gig only an hour and a half before we were supposed to play.  Normally, that’s not a problem, as I have presets set up for my old mixer.  The new mixer, however, had not been used for the current band.  I was struggling all evening to mix and play, which never works out well.  There were a couple of points where I just had mental breakdowns trying to solve problems.  Sorry guys.
    • My knowledge.  One thing that I haven’t been doing at home lately doing any mixing.  I’ve been running sound for bands, but not really doing my ‘homework’ of figuring out how the new systems react.  I’ve been a bit spoiled by the Line 6 Stagescape mixer, as the presets are darned good, and usually require minimal changes to get a good sound.  The Mackie mixer doesn’t have all of the presets, so I have to figure out how to get things to sound great.  After Friday night’s gig, I spent some serious time on Saturday working on understanding some EQ curves for the vocals.  Saturday, I was able to get a much better sound for the band.
    • Loading in and out and setup.  For some reason, even though I’ve bought containers for the equipment for less trips, it seemed to take longer to setup and tear down.  The Saturday gig, we arrived 2 1/2 hours before the show, and we still felt rushed, and didn’t get a proper sound check.  Last Saturday’s gig was similar.  We really don’t have any more equipment than before, but things seem to be taking longer, rather than shorter.
    • The Line 6 speakers.  This is the most frustrating one.  The speakers sound AMAZING.  BUT… one of the speakers has some gawd-awful issue where it starts to ‘splutter’.  This is the digital equivalent of a loose cable.  The problem is that if the speaker starts to do this, all of the OTHER speakers are affected.  This happened last night almost all night.  I thought it might be a bad power line, as it seemed that if I moved the power cable up, or held it up, the nonsense stopped.  I was able to swap the cables, but that brought on a DIFFERENT problem.  I either reset the speaker too fast, or something else was wrong, because at that point, the downstream speakers stopped getting signal.  Part of the issue might have been that I was daisy chaining two AES cables together (NOT recommended).  In the end, I was able to resolve the issues, but I now have a lack of faith in the system.
    • First two sets with the new band.  Between trying to fight with the PA, being late to start, playing a song we’ve never played (with a guest singer, no less), and having two new members of the group, the first two sets were, shall we say, ah, rough?  By the middle of the second set, everything had settled down, and hopefully, no permanent damage was done.

Last part of my thoughts is some solutions:

  • Buy the correct digital cable from Line 6.  A 50′ cable exists that Line 6 recommends.  Not cheap, but certainly cheaper than loosing the gigs.
  • Try running the Line 6 speakers in ‘analog’ mode, as if they were just regular speakers.  This would eliminate the problem of one speaker going crazy and taking out the whole PA.
  • Creating a check list for setup & tear down.  That way, the next step is alway visible.
  • Practice, both with my playing and my mixing.
  • Get in contact with the people at Mackie and either get on the beta group or at least contact the product manager to give suggestions.

Hopefully this weekend’s lessons will be learned and solutions applied in the future!

Wow, 10 years, where does the time go?

Wow, this blog has been (mostly) active over 10 years.  My writing has been pretty quiet since September.  Not because of lack of activity, but for the complete opposite reason!  Too much going on!  One of the major things that has happened is that I left my job with my previous company, and have started working with a much smaller company.  I’ve moved from DevOps back into Development, and have actually been working with Visual Basic.NET, Windows Presentation Framework, and Javascript / jQuery / Knockout.js.  I have written more code in the last two months than I have in the last 3-4 years, and I’m VERY happy about that!  I am now also mentoring a couple of developers, and doing a LOT of learning myself.

On the music front, they ‘year-and-a-bit more’ of gear continued.  I swear I thought that I was done recently.  Time has a way of changing that, though!  I’ve picked up a LOT of sound gigs lately, and they are paying much better than the late night bar gigs.  To continue doing them, though, I’ve had to make a couple of updates, which I’ll be reviewing soon.  Plus, my taste in guitars has changed a bit recently, too.  I’ve got to say, Fender and Gibson have stepped up their game in the last couple of years, and I think that is directly correlated to the fact that PRS guitars sound and build quality is amazing.

It been an interesting ride, and it is going to get more interesting!

Universal Audio’s Apollo Twin Duo quick review

I’m an equipment junkie, I’ll admit it.  The amount of guitars and recording equipment I’ve played with is well above the average hobbyist.  There are a LOT of promises out there, and rarely does the hype live up to the reality.  The Apollo Twin does live up to the hype, and more…  Now for the full story.

I’ve gone through several prosumer audio interfaces in the last couple of years.  Everything from an M-Audio Delta 66 all the way up to the Avid M-Box 3 Pro.  For the most part, none of them have been truly exceptional.  There’s always been issues of some sort with every one of them.  Getting an interface that works 100% of the time has been an absolute challenge.  My last interface, the M-Box 3 Pro was so bad, I was calling tech support to get a resolution.  After over a year and a half, 3 firmware updates, and updated drivers, the interface STILL wouldn’t work correctly, and the issue seemed to be pretty prevalent on the user forums.  Things got better over time, but it never did work correctly.

At the beginning of the year Universal Audio brought out the Apollo Twin.  To me, and my studio usage, this seemed like an ideal interface for my setup, but there was one problem.  The interface is a thunderbolt interface, but it only had one thunderbolt port.  I use an Apple Macbook Pro with thunderbolt, and I drive my external monitor off of the thunderbolt connection.  That was a real problem until the CalDigit Thunderbolt expansion showed up.  That has an HDMI port that allowed me to drive my monitor, and a second thunderbolt port that would allow me to connect the interface to the computer.

Last weekend, a fortuitous turn of events allowed me to get an Apollo Twin Duo without breaking my budget.  I was expecting good, but I’ve been jaded enough by lots of interfaces to be expecting some trouble.  Fortunately, my fears were completely unfounded.  The setup of the interface was very straightforward.  There is a link to a video and driver downloads in the box.  Following the instructions was simple and straight forward.  Once I finished, everything just WORKED.  Amazing!!!! So, I pulled up a some audio, and hit play…  I had to scrape my jaw off the floor.  I thought that the M-Box 3 Pro was supposed to be the top of the line audio.  The Apollo blew it away.  The detail on what was coming out of my speakers was freakin’ AMAZING.  For some reason, the stereo separation is much more apparent on the Apollo.  When I brought up one of the projects I was mixing (my own band’s live show), I was flabbergasted.  I had been struggling to get some balances correct.  With the new interface, I was able to hear it, and correct it almost instantly.  Because the interface is PCIe over Thunderbolt, the buffers and latency are incredible.

I did run into one issue when I first set the interface up… apparently, I had bought one that had been tested and returned to the place I bought it from.  This meant that the first night I had it, a Sunday, I couldn’t register to get all of the plug-ins that are part of the package.  I sent a support ticket in, and called to Tech support the next day.  They were able to clear up the registration very quickly, with a minimum of fuss.  They did a great job.

Once I was able to get the plug-ins installed and working, I did a bit of testing… nothing scientific, just replacing some of my other plug-ins that are models of similar equipment to the Apollo’s plug-ins.  Again, blown away is the least I can say about them.  Just switching to the LA-2A compressors in the latest package was like taking a video from 2D to 3D.  The detail is just amazing.  And, the preamp modeling is just crazy.  Running the included 610-B on a guitar input before sending to Amplitube warmed up the signal significantly.  I imagine that running it on vocals is even better.

Ok, enough gushing… what are the drawbacks?  #1 is that for a basic interface, it is expensive.  It’s worth it, but that’s hard to explain.  #2 is the endless parade of plug-ins are not cheap in two different ways.  One is money, and two is the processor requirements.  I can’t imagine buying the Twin Solo with just one processor.  I’ve already pushed the Duo to 50% processing power with just a small number of plugin instances.  Fortunately, it is fairly easy to expand the processing power by buying the expansion units.  I’m hoping that Universal Audio will start making the expansions with Thunderbolt instead of Firewire (and have pass thru functionality!).  I can see an OCTO processor in my future if I keep using the plug-ins!

All-in-all, the Apollo Twin Duo is a great piece of equipment for anyone recording or mixing and doesn’t need a ton of I/O.

Great tool for Recording!

This week, FabFilter is having a sale on their plug-ins.  All of their plug-ins are excellent tools, but I wanted to recommend two of them in particular.

The first is the Pro-Q EQ plug-in.  I know that all of the DAWS have good EQ plug-ins built in, but this one has some rather unique properties that make it worth having in the tool box.  One of the features that really helps me is the analyzer display.  There is a setting for Pre + Post analyzation.  This makes it super easy to see what you doing to the original sound coming in.  With the 26 parametric EQ points and the analyzer, the sounds can really be shaped in a very visual fashion.

Second plug-in from FabFilter that I like is the Pro-C Compressor (and by extension the Pro-L Limiter and Pro-MB Multi-band compressor).  Compression to most musicians is a black art… done right it seems to make things ‘better’, but done wrong can completely drive you crazy.  What I like about the Pro-C is that it shows you what it is doing as it is working.  By drawing a continuous line on the internal volume, one gets the ability to see things like the compression ratio and the release and attack.

Great plug-ins worth their full price, and even better on sale!

NAMM thoughts, and a gig…

So, this week was NAMM.  NAMM is one of the large music creation / production industry trade shows, held out in California.  Most of the products announced here will show up over the next 6 months to a year.  This is where all the new toys, goodies, and trends start.  After reading a lot of the forums and following as much of the press as possible, I just wanted to sum up what seemed interesting to ME with some editorial on my thoughts (Your Mileage May Vary)…

First off, true Thunderbolt audio interfaces started showing up.  Between Motu‘s 828x, Zoom’s new interface, and Universal Audio‘s Apollo Twin, true Thunderbolt audio interfaces are finally showing up.  There is one small problem will all of the new interfaces though… no pass through.  For me, that’s a deal breaker.  I have 2011 Macbook Pro, which has a Thunderbolt port that pulls double duty as a Thunderbolt to DVI connector.  Which, makes these new audio devices pretty useless for me right now.  Still, it’s GREAT to see the Thunderbolt port being used, and with the Apollo, because the device is also being used to off-load effects, the PCIe bus allows for a LOT of streams to be going back and forth.  I’m surprised that more of the audio interfaces haven’t moved to ‘true’ USB 3.0, as that would open up a lot of bandwidth for higher input track counts.

Second, more and more digital mixers are getting built.  This is kind of a two edged sword.  Personally, I LOVE the new digital mixers and am amazed at what the companies like QSC, Allen and Heath, and Behringer are putting into the price point of what the old basic Mackie boards go for.  The counterpoint to that is the old saying ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.  These mixers can do amazing things if you understand what needs to be done, and you have someone actually running the board.  The Line 6 StageScape mixers are pretty unique in that they focus on doing the mixing as a musician would, not a sound tech.  From what I’ve read about the QSC mixers, they have a similar idea, but not as ‘friendly’ as the StageScape is.  The thing is, you still need someone to run the boards to get an effective mix.  I’ve been moonlighting with my P.A. to mix a friend of mine’s band.  It always amazes me how much adding or removing just 1 or 2 db of sound changes the mix.  Having someone who knows when to push the instruments forward and to pull them back can make the night much more enjoyable for the entire room.  It’s unfortunate that the clubs really aren’t paying groups enough to actually pay a sound tech to run the shows.  It would make a HUGE difference in the performances.  Back to the original subject, the new mixers are getting more and more amazing with each iteration.  The Behringer X18 (was the X16) looks like the biggest winner, if and when they get it out to the public.  It was supposed to be released last year, but a redesign came about, and it certainly looks worth it.  This space is certainly going to get better and better.

Finally, there was some guitar stuff that was interesting.  Fender’s new Strat Deluxe Plus, with it’s easy part replacement plus personality cards look really cool.  Talk about a tweaker’s delight!  Pickups can be changed with no wiring to do, and the characteristics of the pickups, selector switch, and tone knobs can be changed by popping in personality cards.  Very cool.  Everything else was a bit ho-hum.  Line 6’s ‘amplifier redesign’ looks interesting, but there seemed to be some basic features left out, like direct outs, that leave me scratching my head at the market that they are going for.  It’s also interesting that they are using the older Pod X3 technology, rather than the newer HD technology.  One company that wasn’t at NAMM, but had a really interesting beta release is the Fractal Audio Axe-FX II.  The guy who designs and builds those things is crazy about capturing the nuances of a tube amplifier in a DSP, and he is close, if not having already surpassed a good tube amp.  The Axe is on my ‘next to buy’ list.

So, how does this tie into playing a gig this weekend?

The music instrument business seems to be going into two different directions.  You either have insanely specialized equipment that is VERY expensive, or you have things that ‘do everything’ at rock bottom prices with lots of trade-offs.  The middle ground equipment seems to be getting lost.  I’ll go to the Line 6 example.  The new amp is interesting because it’s a digital amp that is controlled via bluetooth with an iPad or iPhone, but it still has some basic controls on the amp itself.  The power wattage is enough to play live, and the price is fairly inexpensive, but I doubt that many people will use them live.  There’s just too much that has to go right to get it to sound good.  Not putting in a line out takes away a lot of the usability.  Heck, I just ran a show for someone who had an old Line 6 Flextone III, and we used the XLR out directly to the board to get a great sound.  I guess it just feels like the companies are really focused on the bedroom musician, and not the performing musician.  Amps are either 100 watt tube monsters or 10 watt recording amps.  Same thing with the guitars, great quality instruments are either insanely expensive or not up to gigging standards.

And, the million dollar question is… do we actually NEED a lot of this stuff?  For my gig this weekend, my power supply that I use to run my pedals went haywire.  I couldn’t run my entire board like I normally do.  Fortunately, I had a backup power supply, but it only allowed me to run my most important pedals. (which were my wah, tuner, compressor, and noise gate) .  I ended up having a pretty stripped down sound, and you know what?  That was all I really needed to play for 4 sets.  (It’s fortunate that we don’t play too many ‘effect-y’ songs).

Still, it’s a great time to be a musician!  Lot’s of great tools to help produce better and better quality music!

Jammin’

This is kind of a zen post, a bit of train of thought stuff, but I wanted to capture the moment…

I picked up an interesting guitar book recently, Introduction to Jazz Guitar Soloing.  In the first couple of pages, the author made an interesting statement, ‘Most key centered solos can be compared to pointless conversation’, and that really hit home.

Ok, gotta back up and explain what that means before moving forward…

When playing a solo over chord changes, there is usually a specific ‘key’ of notes that can be used over the whole chord progression.  One can play any note in the key, and it will work with the overall tonality of the chords, and sound OK.  Personally, I don’t think that there is much wrong with this, but it amounts to ‘noodling’ (something I do a fair amount of! 🙂 )

What the author is point out is that without some idea of where you are going, or what you are trying to achieve with a solo, it can be just kind of a ‘random note’ thing.  Of course, he has his ideas of how to not have ‘pointless conversation’, which is interesting to absorb.

One of the first exercises in the book is to play over a progression, and record it.  This is great practice, as it gives one a better idea of how one REALLY sounds 🙂  Tonight, I decided to create my own backing track to play over for the exercise.  I decided to play around with Logic X, as the new drummer piece is incredible for doing good backing tracks.  I recorded a couple of bass lines to add some basic definition, and then proceeded to jam out on the guitar.  I didn’t even dial in a fancy sound or anything, just used Amplitube’s default patch of a nice clean sound.  Wow, did I have some fun.  My little backing track had enough dynamics for me to switch up a bit on, and I tried a bit of the different techniques from the book.  That turned into some very cool stuff.  I haven’t played like this in a while, and, boy, did it feel good to have some nice melody and dynamics, and it was pretty much effortless.

It just all comes back around to having fun making music.

Ok, Zen off… 🙂

Adventures in Guitar Amp Modeling, Amplitube style

Today, IK Multimedia released an update to Amplitube.  Ok, so they’ve been doing this for a long time, why is today a big deal?  Well, 2 things… first off, the latest version is compatible with ProTools 11.  But that’s not what this article is about 🙂  The second thing is that today they added a model of a pedal that I actually own, the Fulltone OCD pedal.  Again you ask, why is that interesting.   Because, this is the first time I can personally compare the program / model to the real thing, as I have a Fulltone OCD on my pedal board.  Long and short of it is that the model is excellent, works like the real thing.  VERY impressed.

So, why the blog post, then?

One thing that I’ve seen is that guitar rig modeling has gotten a bad rap over the years.  There have been some very crappy pieces of software that have deserved to be ridiculed.  In fact, Amplitube was one of them!  There have been lots of pieces of software that have sounded hideous.  And, probably every one of them is somewhere on a ‘professional’ recording 🙂  Whaaaaa!?!   How’s that?  Well, the current modeling software can sound darn good, but there are some things that one needs to do to get that good sound.

1.  Know what sound you want.  This is important.  Certain modeling software does certain things.  Check the software to see if it has the amp you are looking for.  Looking for high gain?  or low crunch?  Some programs are stronger than others.  Can you live with it inside of a DAW?  New DAW software has some great plug-ins, but they only work in each particular program.

2.  Accept that it’s not going to be the ‘real amp’.  This is what hangs most guitarists up.  Tubes react a certain way.  No matter how much is tried, digital circuits don’t feel the same.  Keyboard players have had to deal with this for years.  NOTHING sounds or feels like a grand piano, yet every keyboard tries to get there.  It’s just a lot easier to carry today’s keyboards than it is to lug a baby grand.  Guitarists are headed in the same direction.  Turning up amps to 11 has gone the way of the dodo in most places.

3.  Know how the real hardware works!  This is one of the reasons I wrote this post.  The current rig modeling is getting things EXACTLY right.  Which means, you have to know how the things that are being modeled really work.  Take the OCD pedal that came out today.  One thing on the real pedal that I had to learn was that unity gain on the pedal (where the signal out of the pedal isn’t louder with the pedal on than when it it off) on the level knob is as somewhere around 9 o’clock.  The convention on pedals is that the 12 o’clock position is unity.  Well, the model has it exactly right.  Unity on the pedal model is at 9 o’clock.  That can definitely negatively affect the sound, and I would not have known that unless I’d used the real thing (or experimented a lot).  So understanding what is being modeled, and knowing how to make that sound good definitely helps.

4.  Good hardware.  This starts with a good guitar, good cables, a good interface, good computer, good software, and good speakers.  Skimp on any one of those, and the sound is going to be horrible.  I recently changed my Line 6 Toneport UX8 audio interface out for an MBox Pro 3, my M-Audio BX-5 speakers for Mackie 824mk2s, and my PRS guitars out for a Les Paul.  (Aside, PRS are still my beloved #1s, but I found an awesome Les Paul that gets some playing time).  I’ve switched between several Amp / Rig simulator programs / plug-ins, and I’ve settled on Amplitube currently.  These changes have made an enormous difference in the sound.  It sounded OK before the changes.  Now, my guitar tone at low volumes is great, very much what I am looking for.

5.  Guitar cabinet simulations are important.  Impulse Response (IR for short) cabinet models go a LONG way to making a modeler sound good.  Also, modeling room points help.  One trick I use with Amplitube is the room mics on the cabinet.  Amplitube has 4 sound points.  You can have two mics on the cabinet, plus two ‘room mics’.  Mixing the room into the output can really open up the sound, and take away the digital harshness that modelers are known for.

6.  Don’t be afraid to throw what anyone else says out the window.  The number one rule is that ‘if it sounds good, it is good’.  Experimenting with modelers can be very interesting.  Find a sound you like?  Save the settings, and then it’s easy to get back.

All in all, there’s a lot of great programs out there!

Got Logic X? Got a Faderport? Wanna know how to make them work together?

Talk about poor communications…

Over two years ago, Logic 9.1 went 64-bit optional.  The Presonus Faderport only had a 32-bit configuration file for Logic.  So, for over two years, I basically put Logic on the shelf, as the time to move to 64-bit was then.  Studio One supported 64-bit and the Faderport, so it made no sense why Logic would not have the same abilities.  It is, after all, just a MIDI device.  So, after two years, no driver updates, no install package updates for the Faderport, and no communication on the message board.  Cue Logic X.  Not only is it pretty awesome, it happens to be 64-bit ONLY.  So, the Faderport is useless, right?  I even wrote on the Presonus forums asking about the compatibility between Logic X and the Faderpoart.  No answer.  That board makes most graveyards seem jumping.  So, was perusing the forum tonight, and noticed someone had made a post to a thread from 2010 about Logic.  In the new message to the topic, someone mentioned that there was a Presonus recompiled bundle for 64-bit Logic!!!!  Hot DAYUM!!!!  Click on the link, and sure enough, it’s all legit.  Pull the bundle in and voila!  Logic X and the FaderPort are best buddies!  Here’s the perverse part… the following tech note has been available SINCE AUGUST 2011!!!!!  WTH!?!  There’s no sticky on the forum, have never seen anyone say ‘boo’ about it.  This is crazy!  The answer has been on Presonus’ site for YEARS, and no one has pointed it out.  Crazy!

Well, if anyone else needs it, here’s the link:

http://support.presonus.com/entries/20399677-faderport-logic-64-bit

Edit:

It appears that Presonus updated the page with worse instructions than before…  To install the bundle that is attached to the link, start with Logic Pro X as the application folder to ‘Show Package Contents’.  Drag the Faderport bundle into the Contents -> Midi Devices Plug-ins folder.  Start Logic at that point, and the Faderport should just work.

Knowing more than one tool can sometimes save you…

Fun story… I usually use my computer to record a church’s Sunday service off of a Presonus StudioLive 24.4.2.  I get each channel as a .wav file, and then can cut out the message for the pastor’s podcast, and I usually do a quick mix of the worship service for the worship team.  These load into a program called StudioOne, again from Presonus.  The integration between the board and the software is awesome, and I usually can get the message cut out, dropped into a podcast project and converted into an .mp3 in about 20-30 minutes total time.  Well, this week, I was sick, and not able do use my normal computer to do the recording.  Fortunately, it is easy to record from the pastor’s computer.  Great!  It worked…

Sorta

Somehow, the sample rates got screwed up.  The files were recorded at 44.1 kHz, but were marked as 48 kHz.  So, when I went to play the files back, I got chipmunks.  Playing a file at the wrong sample rate is like playing a 50 rpm record at 33 rpm.  Unfortunately, StudioOne wouldn’t set the timing right.  So, I tried Logic.  I was able to get the files to play at the right speed if I told the sound card to play at 44.1 and let Logic think it was playing the file at 48.  It worked, but I couldn’t get a .wav file with the correct settings.  Ugh…

Last resort time…  time to find a good audio file editor.  Lots of ‘for pay’, but I just needed a one time only thing.  So I opened up Audacity, and just tried to the the message converted.  Import the .wav file and notice that Audacity shows all the gory details about the file (bit rate, mono/stereo, format and sampling rate).  Hmmm, there is a menu to allow to you select the sample rate.  Change the 48 kHz file to 44.1 kHz inside of Audacity.  It worked!!!!  Hooray!  The file played at the correct speed!  Then, all I had to do was export the file, and tell it to go out as a .wav at 44.1.  Boom!  I had the correct file, and was able to bring it into my podcast project.  Yea!!!!

It’s always helpful to know what’s available, even if it’s just cursory.  Knowing that there are options, and what the option’s strengths and weaknesses can really save some time.  I knew that Audacity had some good audio tools, and I got VERY lucky that it worked 🙂

Learning to use my toys…

More new tricks for the ol’ dawg…

Recently, I’ve been working with a Presonus digital mixing board.  This has allowed me to capture tracks right at the source, right after the initial preamp.  By doing that, I’ve been getting tracks that are absolutely bare, no compression, no EQ, no Limiting, nothing.  These tracks give me a great base line to allow me to play with the sounds.  Because of these bare tracks, I’ve been able to do a LOT of learning 🙂  Oh, and these tracks can be pulled into a program called ‘Studio One’ also from Presonus.  I’m REALLY enjoying Studio One.

Ok, on to the new tricks..

Well, the first trick is an extension of an older trick that I wrote about here.  Adding Hi-pass / low-pass filters to the tracks can REALLY clean a mix up.

Speaking of Limiters, another trick that I learned is that volume limiters are your friend.  I had a very quiet track recorded from the digital board.  Adding a gain boost, compression, and some EQ brought the volume up to a nice acceptable level.  The only problem was that there were a couple of places where the signal jumped by 48 db!  OUCH!!!  I threw on a Limiter plug-in to the track, set it to Unity Gain output (0db), and presto, the track didn’t jump above 0db (that’s a good thing, as 0db is full volume, not NO volume.  No volume is -infinity on most mixing boards).

More tricks coming!