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No Sound!

The Noob's Checklist for Installing a Sequencer

by Tweak

spoonDefinition of a Spoonie

There are Newbies and Spoonies (or Noobs and Spoons for short).

A Spoonie is a person who wants to be SPOONFED information, like a little baby. "Open wide, Spoonie, here it comes!". The Spoonie is unwilling to do any work at all. They want all the relevant information spooned into their little mouths where they can spit it out if they don't like it. If the Spoon does not get the information they want, they get mad and throw their baby food all over the place.

We hear it nearly every day at studio-central: "I just installed Soundcard X and Sequencer Y. It appears to be working but I can't hear any sound! Help!" Of course, there are many variations on this motif.  Like " HELP ME!!!!  PRODUCAH TRIED EVERYTHING!!! MY SOUNDCARD IS CRAP!!   Awww. You poor, poor producah you! We just LOVE those posts with ALL CAPS!  Go ahead, respond to your own post with "BUMP" so we can feel the love again.  Wanna know why no one answers? It's because there are too many reason's why you don't hear sound and you probably did not give us enough clues to guess where the following process failed. Plus we have done the work of figuring it out.  You have not and we try to imagine why. 


Someone shouts from the back.  "That's cause all the young noobs are frickin' LAZY.  They expect everything will be handed to them on a silver platter!" Someone else shouts "Don't help 'em Tweak, he's a SPOONIE, they are all running CRACKS!" 

(Tweak grimaces.  He hates the thought of someone using his site to access illegal software.)

Sigh, but I am going to help you out here, showing you the logical order that things need to be set and tested, and some common points where people get lost in the process.

First, stop kicking yourself so loudly, we don't want the advanced users to start laughing at you now, do we? But they are not really laughing at you, but at your plight. We have all been there at one time, stabbing away blindly at the screen with the mouse, turning up the volume of the speakers FULL BLAST (no, dude, DON'T do that!) wondering when, how, if you will EVER hear a bloody sound come out of your computer.  So lets go over why and where people mess this up.

The #1 problem is the new user did not read the manual carefully enough (if they read it all). They may have tried but either did not understand it or misunderstood a basic concept. I urge those to try again, after you finish this article. You should be in good shape to tackle it again.

There are two basic concepts you have to know. The main concept people don't get is the difference between MIDI and Audio. If one does not understand that, the sequencer package will not make sense. Go back to the guide to the basic and advanced class for this. These articles tell you want you need to know to understand your manual. Critical point: MIDI data does not make sound, it triggers devices that make sounds, whether these are softsynths inside your computer's sequencer or external hardware midi keyboards.

The second main concept people don't get is that the signal flow must be defined from outside the computer, through the audio or MIDI driver, through the tracks, and out the outputs. This is never automatic, you must set the routing it for every track. When you properly set up this flow or audio or MIDI data you will have sound. The way a sequencer works is perfectly logical.  Remember that when it seems you have "tried everything".  


A lot of people have trouble with Controllers AND keyboards together.  The answer is simple.  Just select "all inputs" as the source of a MIDI track.  Remember that a controller cannot do anything to an audio track.  Its not sending audio, just MIDI and MIDI makes no sound, right?  Right! 


The Noob's Checklist

1. Install the soundcard or audio interface.

Update the drivers at the manufacturers website. If on a PC, set the driver as the default device in the windows control panel. If on a Mac, set it as the default input and output in the audio-midi utility. Note: Many noobs fail to do this and as a result the sequencer may send the sound to the wrong sound device. Also make sure your speakers are connected to your new card. Yes! You have to change this. Some people expect the sound of the new sound card or audio interface is going to come out of the old soundcard or built in speakers on the computer. Trust me, it won't!

Nerve wracker solution:  You just installed a new soundcard or interface and the sequencer runs but runs like total crap!  It used to be ok and you bought the new interface to make it sound better, not <insert explicative> worse!  What happened?  Your sequencer may still be using audio settings based on the old soundcard.  Sometimes, its a good idea to reinstall the sequencer when you get a new audio interface.  I find this is true when the sequencer "profiles" the soundcard/interface when installed.

2. Install your midi interface or USB keyboard.

Update drivers for your OS at the manufacturers website. USB drivers can be very tricky to install. You must read the installation instructions carefully.

3. Install your sequencer following all instructions in the manual.

You may have to install a copy protection key first. Register it. Go to the developer's website and look for updates.

4. If your software has a setup assistant, run it now.

Note that these assistants do not always set up your system optimally. You must check and test the settings and most likely you will want to alter them.  I have seen setup assistants choose the wrong soundcard and sometimes the wrong drivers for the correct soundcard.  This is not a big deal, just set it to the card/driver you want.

The main concept people don't get is the difference between MIDI and Audio.

5. Define and enable your available MIDI and Audio inputs and outputs.

In every sequencer, there is a place, (often in a menu called "preferences" "global settings" or "VST connections" depending on which sequencer you have) to define your available MIDI and Audio inputs and outputs. Sometimes the setup assistant does this properly, sometimes it does not. If you correctly did #1 and #2, your computer will have entries to select in these dialog boxes. If something went wrong in #1 or #2, you won't get much farther and you won't see any inputs or outputs to select, or you will see the names of your old soundcard and not the new one.

6. Set up MIDI first.

There should be a drop down box where all your MIDI ports are listed. Select the port that your keyboard is on as the input. If you are using external MIDI gear, you need to also set the MIDI outputs that are available. These correspond to the output ports on your MIDI interface. Tip, enable all the outputs you see.

True Studio Legends:  The "Red" vs the "Green" Mix

Or, how to quiet the client who cannot be pleased.

Ok, I have never done this.  But I know people who have and they shall remain nameless.  The customer has gone through several of your mixes of their work and can't decide.  Days and weeks pass and you know the mix is not getting better.  This is where you pull out the green and red tape and label the patchbay such.

Call the client:  "I've got it finally!  But need your help.  The client rushes over.  "Alright, we have the green mix and the red mix.  I'm going to give you the patch cables and you can take your time and decide which is the final mix.  Plug in to these 2 jacks for Red, and those two  for the Green. "

The client is shown to the chair in the perfect mix position in reach of the patchbay.  For an hour they agonizing scrutinize every detail of each mix, scribbling notes on a legal pad.

"So did you choose?  Could you tell the difference?  I think its pretty obvious myself, but want to know what YOU think.  The client thinks 'of course I hear it, then clear his throat,  "its that shadow behind the bass, and some other elements.."?

(The clients picks up his notes and reads.."Red has the better image, but Green has more crack..  green flows better, but red is hotter..."  

"Man you have some incredible ears, I don't think many people could have picked up on that!  See how it COMPLETELY CHANGES the Mix?"

 Of course, the Red and Green mixes are identical. 

Ok, not only is this practice unethical, its also illustrates and important process you must not ignore.  When we want to hear difference, we will create it, even if its not there.  Cable manufacturers for audiophile cables have been doing this for years.

Tweak Out

October 2009


7. Now setup the audio.

You should have a drop down box that allows you to select one of a handful of audio drivers available. Choose one that has the name of your soundcard or audio interface in it, appended by "asio" or "wdm" if on a PC, or "core audio" if on a Mac. Note the names may only be slightly different.  For example, in Cubase I have an option between Asio Multimedia and Delta Asio for my Delta 1010.  The setup assistant will choose Asio Multimedia on my system and its wrong.  Cubase will barely work and click and pop all the way.  However, when I select Delta Asio, the problems disappear and cubase runs smooth and slick as a sequencer should.  The bottom line: One of these drivers will work perfectly, the others may not, and it is very possible the setup assistant chose the wrong one.

8. Test MIDI

Hardware synth:

If you did #6 correctly, when you play the keyboard, you should see a little light go on somewhere on the screen. Now, create a midi track. Set the input of the track to the midi port you defined in #6. Set the Output to the MIDI output that your keyboard is on. Set the channel to channel 1. Press a key. If you have headphones plug it into the keyboard's headphone jack. You have sound. Record enable the midi track. Play a few notes. Hit stop. Go back to the start, press play. Your keyboard should play the notes you played.

If it does not: 1. Check in input and output of the track. Check that the volume is up on the keyboard. Check that the keyboard is set to receive data on channel 1. Some sequencer's will let you set the midi input to "all inputs", "omni", or "default". All of those may work, but may need to be defined as well in the midi preferences. Try them if you are not getting sound.

Software synth:
The second main concept people don't get is that the signal flow must be defined from outside the computer, through the audio or MIDI driver, through the tracks, and out the outputs.

If your sequencer has software synths you must first enable them. Once enabled, they will show up in a list of available midi outputs after you create a track. Set the input as above. Set the track's MIDI output to the softsynth. Press a key. You should not hear sound yet. You still need to set up the audio out for the softsynth.  Many, many people get stuck here.

Some sequencers (Sonar 4) will create 2 tracks for you when you enable a softsynth. One is for MIDI, the other is for Audio. On the audio track, the input will be the softsynth's name, the output should be one of the outputs enabled on your soundcard.

Now go back an highlight the MIDI track for the softsynth. Press a key. You have sound. Record enable the midi track. Play a few notes. Hit stop. Go back to the start, press play. Your keyboard should play the notes you played.

If you do not hear sound, check the window of the softsynth and make sure a program is selected or loaded. Check the track input and output settings an make sure your keyboard is routed to the input and the output is pointing to the softsynth. Check the audio channel an make sure the soft synth is routed to an enabled audio out. Check that the audio out is connected to a hi fi amp, mixer or speakers that you know actually work.

9. Test audio.

Connect an audio source to the input of your soundcard--tape deck, synth output, cd player will work. (or if you have a mixer already or mic preamps on your soundcard, connect a mic) Create an audio track. Set the input of the track to the soundcard's input you enabled. Set the output of the track to the output of the soundcard that you enabled. Now "record enable" the track. You should hear audio piping through the soundcard. Press record for a few seconds, then stop. You should see an audio waveform on the screen and when you play it back, you will hear it.

If you do not hear sound, check the output of the track is routed to the audio outs of the soundcard. Check that the audio out is connected to a hi fi amp, mixer or speakers that you know actually work. Make sure the input you selected is the correct one.  In some cases, there is a switch called "software monitoring" that needs to be enabled to hear the input as it is recorded. To setup your mixer go to the mixer setup class.


OK, lets deal with some common questions:

Q) I think I have MIDI setup properly as I can record and play back, but the sound of my Fantom (or any hardware MIDI synth) sound like it is echoing or flanging.  What is wrong?

Tweak: Make sure local control is set to off.  There is a switch on your keyboard that turns it on and off.  You only need it on when you use your keyboard without a computer.  When local control is OFF your keyboard only sounds when it receives MIDI data from the sequencer.  It will also echo what you play on the whatever channel is selected on the current MIDI track

Q) My soft synth sounds delayed.  I press a key and the sound happen almost a whole second later. What do I do?

Tweak: That is called latency.  If you selected the wrong audio driver, this may occur.  Try another driver if available.  There are some soundcards that may have unacceptable latency no matter which driver you use.  This is particularly the case with consumer-level cards and built-in sound devices.  Your option is to see if a better driver exists or to get a better soundcard that is know to work well.


Still need help? There are thousands of questions answered on my forums.  Look and you will find.  But never post in ALL CAPS.  Never say "I tried Everything" when you have not.  Read your manual.  Its not rocket science, but it is a procedure with several steps.

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Forums on Sequencers

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Cubase Forum
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Cakewalk/Sonar Forum
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Reason Users Forum
Digital Performer Forum
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Sequencers and DAWS Index
Review of Cubase 5
Logic Studio 9
Pro Tools LE 8.1
Logic Studio 8
Review of Sonar
Review of Reason
Reason (1st review)
Ableton Live
Logic Pro 7
Logic Pro 6
Logic Platinum 6
Logic Platinum 5
Digital Performer
Sony's Acid
Vintage Sequencers
Early History of Logic
Mac vs PC for Music?
Project 5
Sequencer City!
Cubase SX (original)
Cubase SX3
Using a Mac Pro as your DAW
Using Notebooks as your DAW
Which Sequencer is Best?
MIDI Time Code and Sync Issues
Custom Bank Select Methods in Logic
Write a Sonar Instrument Definition File
Sequencers Price List
zZounds Sequencer Store


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