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Some Digital Audio
Tricks and Tips

By Tweak
(this article goes back to 1999)

As computers get faster and can handle more of these processes we used to relegate to outboard gear, it may become  possible to  rid ourselves of the need for any equipment other than a keyboard, amp and speakers.  Those days are not here yet, but they will be soon.  Just noting my own behavior, I no longer mix to DAT, but rather bounce to hard disk, sometimes through an analog desk right back to the application sending and mixing the 20-50 tracks of a typical song.  Call me Old Fashioned if you want, but I am not ready to give up analog mixing yet. (It's making a comeback).  By the way, a lot of the guys of my generation still don't like this virtual stuff.  Nothing like the feeling of having invested $100,000 in hardware to find all the teenage girls dancing to some track made in Reason on a laptop in someone's parent's basement!  But even the pros have gone into the virtual realms, now that vintage compressors are being emulated perfectly in software with high end plugins.  There's no way to avoid it now and there is no going back. 

Also, one should consider that it's now possible to emulate any of the classic synths down to such detail, and soon only collectors will want the original hardware synth. If the Pro53, FM7 and MiniMoog V is an indication of what is possible, it's not going to be long before we have anything we want our virtual racks. And this is looking backwards to old gear we know.  When we look forward, we are looking rather dumbly into an open sky of sonic possibility.

Use Two Computers.  Right now we can have more plugin devices than a single computer can handle.  Just try running 16 channels of Reaktor inside Kore2 and call up a Korg Legacy or MiniMoog V. Now add convolution reverb.  You might find some new stuttering wretch of an effect.  2 computers helps you balanced the load and put a big 'n heavy virtual device on the second one.  Today you can easily and inexpensively connect these digitally, via ADAT.  If your audio interface on both computers has an ADAT connection, with a single cable you can transfer 8 channels of audio in real time from one to another.  To trigger the virtual instruments on your second computer, all you need is a single MIDI cable. 

Can all your audio sources get to your computer?  Can you use your computer as a Track at your mixing board? 

The most common ways to get multiple sources to a computer is a mixer or a patchbay or both.  As the studio branches out to different rooms, a patchbay becomes more necessary.  Basically you run everything into the patchbay and run just a few pairs to the mixer or audio interface.  And you sit there like a phone operator connecting the gear when it needs to be connected.  This will also allow you to set your cables up in a more permanent fashion, i.e., running behind the tables and shelves rather than right through the middle of your room.

 Yamaha 01V96VCM Digital Mixer

Connectivity is everything.  And everything must be connected.  Do you have a website?  If not, get one.  Can people access your music from anywhere in the world?  These days is a must.  Say you finally do have a song that is great.  Hey, one song can change your life forever. Its an amazing thing when someone on the opposite side of the globe and hear your music 5 minutes after you master it.

1. Know your gear and software.  Test all the features.  While this is a task of magnitude in itself these days, when you need to use a feature, your experience with it will often spell the difference between success and failure.  Read the manuals.  When you aren't working on a song, do experiments in the sequencer.  Do you know the finer points of Quantize? Time-stretching?  Can you split an audio file?  Are all your key commands defined so you can actually remember them?  MIDI bank Select working? Importing a Rex file? Are you using MIDI clock sync with your synths? Have you tried Rewire yet? Can you make a tempo map? Can you go into a 1000 note sequence and change only the Ab notes to F#?  Ok, think you're smart huh?  Can you transform all CC21s to CC91s?  Can you do a sysex dump from a synth to your sequencer? 

2. Digital outs on instruments allow you to send huge voice chunks to a wave file, which free up that instrument for other uses.  In other words, rather than use a synth or sampler in multitimbral mode, where all voices get routed through the same effects, you can use the performance patches, which typically are of higher quality and track each instrument at a time. You just make a midi track, bounce to audio, make another bounce again.

3.  Time stretching digital audio loops is not only about tempo matching.  Stretching the audio adds artifacts to the sound that have in themselves become "cool".  This is particularly the case in dance music.

4.  Record at 24 bits.  Not only does it sound better, but the noise floor is so far down that you can record without a compressor and wait to compress in software. 

5. Make a stereo track with just effects recorded 100% wet.  Use the sequencer's mixer to bring it in and out artistically.  You can also add effects to the FX tracks.

6.  Many sequencers allow you to break up a drum loop into regions.  Each region has a start time that is quantisable.  Hence you can re arrange the regions and quantize them with a different groove and at different tempo that the original loop with no loss of audio quality.  The result is sometimes outstanding.

7.  If your drum kit is wimpy, make an isolated track of your favorite snare and perhaps throw in the toms too.  Process with 2:1 compression.  Using MIDI drums?    You'll have better sounding drums if you dedicate a channel (in software or on your mixer) to kik, snare/toms, cymbals,  Adds nice dimension.

8.  Even with all the great drum loops out there, I find it best to keep my kik and hats in the midi domain.  Often I will use the loop as a guide to getting the kik placed exactly as it is in the loop. having MIDI drums allows you to do better transitions and tempo changes.  Its perfectly acceptable to do both together.


Sony Acid Pro Loop-Based Creation Software

9.  Lots of innovation going on with playing 2 even three drum loops together, even hard panned L/R.

10. Nearly all sequencers now let you use audio loops in a way that adjusts them automatically to project tempos.  We often neglect to make our own loops out of our own audio material. When you have a nice track, bounce down 8 bars or each track and add a loop to your collection.

11. EQs on audio sequencers can be used to create lo-fi- audio effects.  High pass filters are good at this.  Use to help short vocal passages cut through the mix.  Little accents here and there are easy to do but to the casual listener, its what separates the wanabees from the artists.

12. Plugin processors and other real-time FX eat up valuable processor time.  Rather than bogging your system down doing, for example, reverb, render the effect to its own audio track to free up the plugin resources to do something else.   Ditto for midi tracks that use lots of controllers.  Restore some breathing room to the limited MIDI bandwidth by putting the controller intensive tracks into an audio file.  And it doesn't hurt to use outboard for reverb.  Average hardware reverbs will sound better than all but the best software reverbs.   

13.  Its so easy to get lost with all these toys and tools at our disposal.  I try to keep a focus on one thing--what's coming out the speakers. Everything else is a means to that end.  Helps keep it all in perspective.

14.  One more.  While we all know there are copyright laws that keep us from sampling others tracks, we often forget that it perfectly legal to sample our own library of compositions.  You should consider anything you ever wrote or recorded as your source library.  If you have been doing MIDI for a while like I have, with old classic synths like Juno's and CZ's, you are probably sitting on a goldmine of vintage synth loops.  These may add tremendous color to your stuff.  get the biggest hard drives you can and keep some of your classic gems "ready for ripping".   

Best of Luck to you in your music making,

Rich the TweakMeister

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Cool Quote:

"The feelings that Beethoven put into his music were the feelings of a god. There was something olympian in his snarls and rages, and there was a touch of hellfire in his mirth.."

  H.L.Mencken (1880–1956), U.S. journalist

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