Monday, 31 August 2015

Choosing a DAW Part 3

So I popped into my favourite local music store Andertons to have a look at some of these bits of kit in the flesh, and got chatting to one of the employees there. He managed to convince me that if I wanted an interface I should focus on getting a good interface with decent pre-amps. One of the options he showed me was the Presonus 22VSL. So I went away to investigate this and that introduced me to Presonus Studio One which comes with a free "Prime" version that seems to do everything I want!

So I downloaded it, installed it and within a few minutes was happily loading, editing and (most importantly) saving MIDI files! I have a solution.

Then I got to thinking, the Pod HD300 is an audio interface and guitar amp, and the VE20 is a vocal preamp, so so long as I can get a clean line through the HD300 I should be able to record guitars and vocals just fine through that (or at least until I know better what I'm doing).

As an experiment I decided to try and backup all my recordings on the VF08 through the HD300 in to Studio One. They are all rubbish so I just recorded a mixdown rather than saving each individual track (except for one song which was the one I had put most effort into). Anyway, the results were great. The only limitation is that the HD300 input has to be mono, but everything I had recorded was mono anyway so that wasn't really a problem.

So for now, I have an interface and I have a DAW, total additional cost £0! I can actually get back to my original aim of doing some music. And here for your listening pleasure is a fixed version of piano and strings:

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Detour - Hardware

So in considering my options I was thinking over the features I have with my current hardware and what I would lose in going for a laptop based solution (phone is still away for repair and I can't save with FL Studio so what else am I going to do with my time).

Anyway I currently have:

  • Portable jam backing (drum machine and / or 8-track)
  • Recording device (8-track)
  • Mixing desk (8-track)
One of my constraints is that as I have a family and no room to dedicate to my hobbies, all my music stuff has to be got out and packed away with each session, so appliance type units are really useful as I can just plug them in and switch them on, but the more things I have to connect together and set up the less useful they become. So, for example I could run my drum machine and 8-track together synced by MIDI, but I think I only ever had the time to get that working once...

So I was thinking that what I really want is an audio interface that can also record to SD so I can take drum beats that I create on my laptop and call them up at the push of a button. Also something portable I can plug into to record guitar parts that I can later save to my laptop would be cool. As it happens both BOSS and ZOOM have thought of these things and come up with some nifty bits of kit that cover my desired workflows. The BOSS BR800 looks decent but doesn't record directly to WAV and costs more. The ZOOM R8 seems perfect, but I've had ZOOM stuff in the past and never been happy with it. I think I need to investigate further...

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Choosing a DAW part 2

So, getting an AVID interface to get hold of a cheap version of Pro Tools seems like a decent option, but as I'm using FL Studio Mobile, I guess I should give FL Studio a go.

So I downloaded it and plugged in my controller and had a few notes playing. Then I tried playing a few of the sample projects and instantly hit problems - nothing played back cleanly. Now I have had some problems with my laptop with mystery HDD issues, but it didn't seem to be playing up at the time.

I played around with the version a little, somewhat limited by the fact you can't save. And while it seemed OK I wasn't bowled over. So FL studio is a possibility, but I'm not quite ready to shell out on it just yet.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Choosing a DAW (part 1 of probably far too many)

Well after loosing my phone and my main composing tool in the process (hopefully only temporarily) I need to get myself a PC based DAW to play with. I also need something more full-featured to combine the two files I have made and to provide a better high-level arranging interface.

After looking around online quite a bit I decided that as it is the "industry standard" I should give Avid ProTools a shot. Obviously I'm not planning on spending the kind of money that the Full version costs, but it does have a free version. You just need to enter your email and...


...and wait...

...and, well, OK that's not happening.

So the other option to get into Pro Tools cheaply is to buy a USB interface and get the cut-down version that comes with it. Except I'm not so flush these days and I don't want to spend money on something I'm not sure I need...

However, I do have a cupboard full of music equipment most of which I'm not using and some of which would probably be made redundant if I get a proper DAW and interface up and running. So I should sell that stuff and get a DAW / interface! Sounds like a plan!

What's my inventory?

To keep:

1 x Evolution MK-149 midi controller

To sell:

I recon I can make £140 flogging the old stuff which should be enough to get some DAW software and an interface. So, ebay here I come!

This is totally what I was trying to avoid - spending all my time on kit and none on music but I can't think of a way round it right now...

Thursday, 27 August 2015


Well, it was always going to happen.

So I've been saving my days work separately to try and have some kind of revision history to my work. I was backing the files up to dropbox (after a hard-reset of my phone meant that a bunch of work on a previous project was lost) and rendering WAVs to upload to soundcloud. Anyway, somewhere in the middle of all that I accidentally opened the original piano part and put the melody on top of that. But it seems that in FL Studio Mobile you can't just import tracks from one file into another, so I either need to redo all the piano part editing in the file with the melody or add the melody to the version2 piano part. And thinking about it I really want both versions of the piano in the same project as it would be nice to have them both as variants.

But it seems what you can and can't do in FL Studio Mobile is a bit academic anyway as my phone has just totally packed in and needs to go away for repair.

Luckily I exported all my work as midi files and saved to dropbox, so I guess I can continue on the PC (once I sort out how to do that)...

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Day 3 - melody

There is a melody that I had in mind over this general theme and here it is:

I'm trying not to obsess over things like instrument choices at the moment, but it's hard. I have no clear idea of the voices for the parts in my head, and not always the greatest idea of how the different instruments will translate into the melody, so I just end up listening to it on instrument after instrument going "no, no, no, maybe, no no, hmmm, nope" etc. etc. which is not a particularly productive use of time...

Hopefully a bit more experience will help there. Either that or I just decide that I'm going to do everything on piano and guitar (except then I'll just spend ages choosing my effects pipeline...)

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Day 2 - piano part variation

Coming back to the piano part I did yesterday I realise now that I altered it in the process of transcribing it, making it a bit more pedestrian than I originally imagined it. This is one of the problems I'm hoping to overcome with this little project - generally it takes me so long to get all my equipment set up and so much fiddling to get anything to sound right or work the way I want it (and so long to figure out how to play what I'm thinking of) that by the time I have something recorded I've forgotten what I originally was thinking.

Anyway, for day two I went back into my project and edited the piano part and came up with this.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Day 1 - beginnings

I've been listening to a bunch of contemporary composers recently and an idea in that vein came into my head so my first project is to get that down and then try and develop it a bit.

My weapon of choice is FL Studio Mobile (currently it would seem in the middle of a big rewrite) as it allows me to get tune ideas down on my phone.

So I started off with a little arpeggiated piano line with some strings in the background. It was pretty easy to edit the notes and preview things - I find the mode changing interface a bit clunky to use, I'd rather things were more note based (i.e. chose a note then what to do with it rather than the current choose what you want to do then choose the note to change) but I guess I'll get used to it!

Anyway here are the results - enjoy!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

365 Days of music

I've decided I want to improve my skills in songwriting, playing and recording my own music. So I've decided to do a little music every day for a year to force myself to get to grips with all the things I've always meant to get on top of in the fields of music and recording.

So lets start by admitting, this is not going to happen.

I have a daughter who is 16 months old and takes up almost all of my time, I'm trying to move house and at the end of the day I also have a real job that actually pays the bills. But I am going to try. And hopefully by stacking up a few posts in advance and grabbing the few minutes here and there that I do have, I'll be able to get a little momentum going and actually make some progress and have some fun!

So here goes nothing....