Archive for the ‘music technology’ Category

I posted a poem earlier called “Let You Go” https://midimike.com/2020/07/07/let-you-go/ that I really liked. While I was working on writing the music for these lyrics I got side-tracked. I had recorded a few MIDI drum parts and had a guitar theme I liked playing on my Martin Acoustic/Electric guitar chained together trying to get a feel for the song.

A good friend called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to have his old MIDI studio gear. No instruments or toys will be orphaned if I can help it so I drove over that day. We chatted for a while and I left with a van full of what most people would call ‘ancient’ gear. This is the stuff hits were made with. Everything you heard growing up using electronic drums or synths used these gems.

I got home and hooked up a few pieces like a kid not knowing which present he wants to open first. DAYS LATER I opened up my recording project again and played with a vocal effect toy I had not gotten to yet. Not wanting to stop an idea I was working on I started recording in another section of the session. As you will hear, I decided not to sing the chorus parts. Instead I used some of the lyrics to do a chant-style intro and outro.

After juggling the original music around I started to work on a melody for the lyrics. I used some of the chant themes so the melody took shape pretty quickly. Not wanting to overdo the vocal effect, I just used reverb on my voice. Then I added some MIDI bass guitar sounds and put the pieces together.

Next, I added a little MIDI piano in the chorus sections and sprinkled through the end of the song. Then I made some stupid editing error and trashed all of the drum tracks!!! Redo the drum tracks and a few days later I have a rough mix for you.

As some of you will know, a rough mix is probably the last one I do! LOL.

Here is “Let You Go” as it stands today. I hope you enjoy this one.

“Let You Go” by MSK
Sonar Track Panel Wave and MIDI files that generate sounds from computer programs called plug-ins

I mentioned experimenting with an on-line jamming program. It became the clipboard for a few guitar sections I created while waiting for one thing or another to work. I titled each as verse, bridge, chorus, etc. I had to give it a project name to save the clipboard and I came up with “Not Now”.

I used those short pieces and assembled them into a song arrangement. Once the chords and arrangement were in place I naturally started thinking of lyrics (as I have a tendency to do). The file was named Not Now so I kept it as my Cakewalk (BandLab) project name. So it becomes the theme of the lyrics. In one hour they were written. Getting them to match the odd rhythms and sparse instrumentation became a challenge. It took me a few days to come up with the melody and then practice it enough to get the rough tracks down. To all just joining; I get things down to rough tracks and then write another song, poetry, lyric or instrumental. When I was young I hoped some band would do my songs correctly in a studio. I am not young now.

Here is a rough mix of “Not Now”. I used a Martin Acoustic/Electric guitar for the guitar track. Using my MIDI keyboard I pulled up a plug-in for drum sounds. I imported the original noodling guitar parts I did from the clipboard but they were not recorded to a metronome or drum pattern. I listened and figured out the tempo of the segments and set Cakewalk to match. That way I could listen to the short guitar segments as I created the basic drum parts and arranged all the segments in order. I pulled up a bass guitar sound and played the MIDI keyboard to generate the bass line.

Next, I Muted the original guitar tracks and recorded a new track to replace it. The song seemed to cry out for strings but that is usually just me. I like good sounding strings in various styles of music.

Lyrics were posted here: https://midimike.com/2020/06/01/not-now/

I use two monitors as there is a lot of information to keep ‘track’ of even for a small project.
This is the Piano Roll view. Each color represents different instruments. The lower group triggers drum sounds.

I gave a link to BandLab above. Full disclaimer this is not a commercial and I do not get paid for anything I do here. However….. if you are interested I used to pay hundreds of dollars every year or so to keep this great recording program updated. They now offer the program and all updates for FREE. No kidding.

I hope you enjoy “Not Now”. Each time I listen to it I like it more. Again, this is just me as each new song I write becomes my newest favorite.

If just for a little while.

The lyrics for “The Border” were posted earlier. There is also a little story to this song using the link above.

…….. for the nerds and geeks in the audience, I created the song in Bandlab’s Sonar (formerly Cakewalk Sonar). This is not a commercial but if you are interested in recording, podcasts, audio to video and a bunch more, BandLab bought Sonar out of bankruptcy and is making this program free to download and use!!! Argh! I paid hundreds of dollars each year to keep current and have new toys.

I am not against commercials or someone making a bit of money but there really is no connection here. If you want to download Sonar, search for BandLab and hit the download button. It is a powerful multi-track recording program with sounds and plug-ins ready to use. I could give you the link but that would seem like I am pushing it lol!

Here is my new song, “The Border”:

“The Border” (C) MSK 2-11-2020

Most of the connectors used for outputs will be 1/4″ male jacks.  These can be for ‘grounded’ (three-wire) or two-wire cables.  To make this part confusing, the cables can be made or changed with adapters to almost any connector type.  For long distances we prefer grounded or three conductor-wire cables as the third wire is used to take common signals from the other two wires, and ‘dump them to ground’.  Common signals would be interference and noise as the plus and negative wires are carrying the signal from the board.  The result is good signal with low noise introduced.  Guitar and keyboard cables typically go shorter distances and typically have a higher or stronger output signal than a microphone for example.  The cables in the snake will use three wire grounded shielded cables even if they are 1/4″ male connectors.

So we might expect to have an XLR connector for the Main Outs to the Main House power amps, but this is not a guarantee.  If 1/4″ jacks are provided it is recommended to use grounded three wire cables.

Most cables will provide a male connector on one end and a similar but female connector on the other end.  Male connectors are often used to connect to In-Puts and Female connectors are often used to connect to the Out-Put.  The male connector of the microphone cable connects to the mixing board In-Put and on the other end the female connector will connect to the microphone out.  Generally speaking there is little advantage plugging an in to an in or an out to another out.   I like to state the obvious LOL!

The mixing board will give us a Main Left and Right out, and probably a Mono Main Out.  These will be connected to the Main or House power amps.  During an event, the amps are usually turned all the way up and the House volume is ultimately controlled by the Main L-R faders on the mixing board.  This is why it is important to turn the Master Volume Faders on the mixing board all the way down whenever connecting or disconnecting equipment or making dramatic changes.

Depending on the board size and configuration you may also have a 1/4″ Direct-Out for many if not all input channels. (this is REALLY cool for recording and a lot of other creative uses…)   These can be really handy for independent channel recording, triggers, audio effects and alternate mixes to name a few.  Basically connect these to external recorder, processor or triggering gear as needed.  I will give some examples as the series expands to other main topics.  You will also have a number of Sends that are used for a variety of tasks and have different names, but with a few configuration details are for the most part the same thing.  Effect Sends, Monitor Sends, Auxiliary Sends, Sub Sends are splitters; they split the signal – keeping the one going to the House or recorder – and allowing you to send a lot or a little of that signal to the Send of your choice using the Send knob. As in the Monitor amps and House amps, the volume knob will ultimately be used to send the proper signal level to the external (and internal) devices or effects.  If you ‘send’ this to a digital delay, it may also have its own input and out put level knobs.

You may also have a two-track input and/or out put.  This is for playing stereo audio devices and for a straight stereo record out option.  Handy to listen to practice tapes, intermission music, PA system tests and other performance related media.

 https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/touch-down/id962542289

For me, sequencing is fun and very versatile.  I am not the kind of keyboard player that can jump in on any song and just start jamming.  I do better if I can take my time and learn, practice, and improve before practicing with a full band.  A lot of this might be from the lack of confidence in the early days, but in reality I find myself a jack of all trades and master of none.  If I had spent more time on any one instrument, I might have gotten pretty good.  Fortunately – or unfortunately, I have always been interested in so many different things that my chops were not the best.  As a percussionist, I was able to hear what I wanted, but did not play drum kits so my feet and hands were always locked in perfect step!  Sequencing gave me the ability to lay down rough performances on the keyboard (and remember I use the keyboard keys to ‘trigger’ the drum sounds, so I am still playing keys).  Once recorded using MIDI – again I am not recording the sounds but the physical action and movements, I could enter the Edit Mode on the sequencer and make corrections to timing, notes, durations etc. until the piece felt good to me. For the drums, the standard practice is to use the Quantizing feature (I can go into this later as well for future posts) to make sure all beats were perfectly ‘on the grid’.  I have used drum machines and sequencers since they first came out.  The sounds are great but too often the result of overusing the quantize feature makes the drum tracks sound mechanical – unmoving – and even impossible for a real drummer.  I preferred to leave a little slop here and there.  I want emotion in my songs, not perfection.

In “Bassics”, I just enjoyed the new sounds I had and played with this Bass Guitar patch and came up with the basic groove.   I like adding textures and unusual percussion/FX sounds to keep the songs flowing and changing.  Available sounds are so much better now, but I still enjoy bringing out these old tunes.

The sound board or audio mixer represents the hub in most audio mixing and mastering functions.  everything connects to the board.  Even the lighting system will use channels in the snake to connect from stage to console.  Things get plugged into and things get plugged out of the mixer as needed.  Today’s mixers are blue tooth USB WiFi fire-wired and light-piped together and will connect to an amazing array of devices.  So far we have focused on what gets plugged to the Inputs of the sound board.  There are a number of connection possibilities for the Outputs as well. We have already discussed some of them earlier, so this can be brief as you already know a lot of this in general.

On most sound boards you have a number of analog-out options.  In earlier discussions we talked about XLR and 1/4″ cables and connectors.  These will continue to be the main ones used for outputs.  On the front or face of most mixing boards you will see a stereo headphone out.  It will usually have its own volume knob and probably a selector to pick the options to Monitor including Stereo Out, Solo, Effects Sends, Effects Returns, Sub or Groups, Auxiliary Returns, and other options.  On the back or the top of the mixing board you will see the panel for Out-put connections in different sections.  There are some rules to determine what type of Audio Cable is used and whether it is a male end or female end and whether it has two connectors or three (or more).

In the early days of mixing boards, microphones and keyboards, it was important which brand you purchased.  If you wanted to get ‘that sound’ you had to have this mixing board channel strip or that particular keyboard.  Later on the computer industry similarly shot through their early days and you had the Macintosh or the Windows PC.  If you were brought up with one you could not be talked into the other.  Most modern equipment from PC’s to Automobiles can do everything.  They all have similar platforms and emulators.  There is style and quality as there always will be, but you can get software mixing programs and microphone/guitar emulator plugins that will make your audio tracks sound like anything you want —-THEY CAN EVEN MAKE YOU SOUND LIKE YOU ARE SINGING IN TUNE!!

So if you like Pepsi, no problem.  Want Coke?  Press this button……  More comfortable using a Mac?  Go for it.

All it takes is cash, a thorough understanding of what all the terms mean and a good idea where all the buttons are?!!?

Enjoy!

I am famous for doing things the easy way and if I can, as cheap as possible.  Now that does not mean forget quality and versatility.  It means I won’t spend money on gadgets that I don’t need.  I try to run as clean a mix as possible, and making sure everyone gets heard.  If they are up there ‘playin it‘, I want the audience to hear it.  In reality, it doesn’t take a lot of gadgets to accomplish those two major things; make it sound good and loud enough for the venue, and put all instruments/vocals/strings/spoons or tambourines, I don’t care what it is….  in the mix.   As a band member, hiring sound guys and their rigs, a number of times after sound check and a few songs of the first set, my microphone was turned down so low, no one could hear me even in-between songs.  I could not get the sound man’s attention, or anyone else’s for that matter because no one could hear me (and as a keyboard player I was usually in the back corner of the stage in the shadows Ha!).  So eventually I just adjusted the microphone stand down toward the floor in front of me.  It is easy to hit the wrong button or turn the wrong knob; happens all the time.

Remember that the sound guy cannot hear what is really happening up on stage.  Sometimes you THINK you can.  But you as the sound engineer should be the first person to know what is going wrong when it does.  Keep an eye on all performers – they will look to you first.  As a performer and studio guy, I could tell when the guitar player broke a string, or if the drum head split and when or if the drummer had too much to drink on his birthday gig.  Things will go wrong but a lot of the time it is the sound guy.  You make an adjustment and grab the wrong knob.  They all look alike in the dark part of the venue or room.  The consequences can be anything from a non-event to a full blown crisis, depending on which knob you grab.  Obviously for the extreme crisis, you will know right away what happened and will probably be able to correct quickly.

It is the slow creepy ones that will get you.  Two songs later something changes on stage and chaos begins.

I suggested we set up the mixing board so the FX Returns are plugged into open channels so you can control their volume with the faders rather than the FX Return knobs.  I always turn the effects down in-between songs.  (you also get EQ and other benefits)  This makes it SOOO much easier to see in the dark clubs. I also use the sub-groups to assign drums, vocals, and other groups of mics their own fader that feeds directly to the Main Out or house out.  If there is a problem with one group, you can quickly test by adjusting that sub-group fader and see if problem goes away.  If not, return it to where it was and go to the next sub-group.  This way you do not have to go through fader after fader searching for a bad signal or feedback loop.   Once you narrow down the offending group, you will have a much better idea what the source is!

I would say most live performances the sound board is mixed to a Mono output.  In smaller rooms or clubs, I loved running in stereo.  I mixed for keyboard progressive bands a lot and the stereo keyboards and samplers consumed the rooms when mixed right.  Not in volume——– The vocals (sometimes three sometimes five in the band) panned as well.  Overkill in a way, but not much work and easy to arrange with equipment versatility.  Most boards have stereo FX that can add lot to the imaging.  But again, that is not the norm.  So you can either set board up in stereo and have the Main Output plugged into the MONO OUT to your system, or you can mix to mono and use one Main fader or the other.  That’s about it.  We have covered the entire mixing board, in its basic format.  Headphone outs, Tape or other inputs, on-board effects, Solo or Audition functions as well as digital features make new sections.

As we continue down the signal path, we get to a new section.  This is separated from the EQ section and generally uses a different color coding for the associated knobs.  The next group is the Aux Sends.  Each send represents an output jack that will go to external audio sources. One example would be the stage monitor mix(s).  If you have two monitors on each end of the stage serving performers, you can use Aux Send 1 going to the left monitor and use Aux Send 2 going to the right monitor.  If performer 1 wants to hear themselves and a little bit of performer 2 in the same monitor, simply send a lot of performer 1’s channel to Aux Send 1 and a little of the performer 2 to the Aux Send 1.  If performer 2 does not want to hear performer 1 in their respective monitor, simply turn up performer 2’s channel Aux Send 2 up a bunch and do not turn up Aux Send 2 on the channel for performer 1.  That was probably harder to say correctly than actually doing it.

Three

You can use Auxiliary Sends to route a signal from any channel to external effects boxes like Digital Delays, Reverbs, and even recording devices in a pinch.  You can use it to trigger light boards that have an Audio Input mode.

These Auxiliary Sends can sometimes be switched from Pre to Post.  Some are fixed either way.  This can also get confusing but if the channel Aux Send is in Pre mode it means Pre-Fader.   The volume faders on each channel will affect the level of the signal that is sent to the House or the Main Out of the mixer and when selected, to the headphone out.  It is a good idea to solo instruments in the headphones to pick or change microphone locations and isolate room noise and other performers.  If the Aux is set to Pre-Fader, it means that the Aux Send levels will be determined before the channel fader has any effect.  Turn the channel volume fader all the way down and you will still have plenty of signal going to the Aux Send.   If the Aux Send is in Post Fader mode, the amount of signal sent to the Aux Send for that channel will be directly affected by the level of the channel volume fader.  Fader off = no Aux Send level.  The number of sends will vary widely.  In this case, more is better!

At this point the example starts a new section.  This will affect the Main Out section.  This is where we can set the stereo Pan position, Mute or un-Mute the channel, and Solo the instrument for gain staging and troubleshooting during a performance.  When running in stereo, general rule is very low frequencies get panned to center.  After that, adjust to performance and venue.  Sometimes the stage sound is very loud, and listeners close to the stage will only be able to hear that performer.  Sometimes the shape of the stage or design of venue will require creative solutions using stereo panning.

This strip includes a pair of colored LED’s for signal strength and Peak warning level indicators.  Occasional red for short periods of time are OK, but better to avoid as long as you have a strong signal otherwise.  After we have set the various knobs correctly and have good signal strength, we can use the channel volume fader to set the level of that channel in the House mix.   Channel Mutes can have different affects.  Some boards Muting a channel will stop that audio source from all outs, and some might allow Aux Send 1 & 2 for monitors.  See manuals for lots of details I cannot cover in these articles.

Other examples below with different lay-outs;

TwoOne

But here is the good news;  we have just learned 75% of the face of the mixing board.  Each channel duplicates what we just went over.  All those knobs are now grouped logically, easily identified explained and we understand what each one is for.  Here on in it is repetition for gain staging and sound check.  Use Pad and 1st Gain Stage to adjust signal strength, add or subtract frequencies using the channel EQ, set amount of Aux Send to monitors and effects and set the stereo field positions as we watch level indicators and set channel volume fader.  Repeat.  Finished!

Next we can go over the benefits of Group Sends and the other 20%

Again, there are lots of guidelines about setting EQ.  But don’t let this confuse you early on.  Basically, this is a fancy way to change the tone of the signal.  Knobs that are tied together in brackets work together. One determines the frequency range that will be affected and the other knob determines how much boost or cut will be applied to the selected frequency range.  The first instinct is to turn everything up.  Indeed this is quite natural but wrong.  Test after test, many people will say one sound is better than the other even though the only real difference is the higher or louder volume level.  If you think of boosting the frequency group with the EQ as if it were an amplifier turning the frequency group louder, this will help explain why we needed the extra head room when setting up the gain stage – you are making the signal louder when you add EQ boost.  If everything is set and you boost a channel EQ, you can unintentionally overload the input level on the EX send for example, causing that signal to distort or clip when returning back to the mix.

In this configuration there is a hi frequency group cut/boost knob.  Then there are hi-mid frequency knob tied to a cut/boost knob and below another pair in the Low-mid frequency range.  Underneath that is the low end group cut/boost knob.  In essence, select the amount of cut or boost on the frequency groups (Hi – Lo) to shape sound so it reflects the source signal.

For the paired knobs, select the frequency to be affected and using its pair cut or boost that particular frequency (as opposed to a larger group of frequencies for the Hi-LO knobs).  Keeping in mind sometimes less is really more, rather than try to turn frequencies up or louder to make them sound better, try making them sound bad.  Which frequencies interfere with the shape and tone of the instrument?  Does a certain frequency make a nasty squawking sound when it is a bit louder?  Try cutting that frequency a good amount.  You might be able to turn the channel volume up after cutting signals and keep the level not necessarily louder over-all in the mix but in the correct group or place in the instrument/vocal mix.  Listeners will be able to hear the instrument clearer and more distinctly if it closely resembles the real instrument’s group. So this gets pretty easy.  Like a simple home stereo, turn the top know to clockwise to make the sound brighter by increasing the hi frequency group.   Turn it counter-clockwise if it sounds harsh or brittle in the upper range.  The paired knobs allow you to select specific frequencies within a group (Hi or Mid) and then cut or boost to shape the tone of the source and add flavor or reduce gremlins.

For microphones that will be used by vocalists, this is an area where you can make a lot of difference because the vocalist signal is also being sent to the on-stage monitors.  Sometimes they are really loud.  And when that happens, the monitor is blaring the vocalist’s signal right back into the microphone on stage.  This in turn goes quickly to the monitor and straight at the microphone again.  Soon this will turn into a squeal in the range that is strongest or loudest.  This is the classic example of a ‘feed-back loop‘.

The knee-jerk reaction is to turn the channel volume down or turn the monitor sends down.  The better way is to learn which frequency/frequency group is triggering the loop first.  Use the paired EQ knobs to change the hi-mid or lo-mid frequency responsible for triggering the nasty loop.  Successfully done, slowly turn the volume up a bit.  Slowly increase volume (usually to the monitors, but will apply to the House Mains in some situations) until you start to hear a feed-back loop starting.  Determine which frequency it is and turn it down in the mix. You want as much clear gain as you can to the performers. If you can only turn Monitor Send up to 5, let’s say or you get feedback, the performer might not be able to hear themselves over the amplified instruments and will be forced to scream louder and louder to get heard.  If you pull down the offending frequencies you can turn the same signal to the Monitor Send to maybe 8 or so.  Happy vocalist.

Now that we are back to audio channels, see the examples below.  Remember, that the channels run down from the TOP.  In some mixing boards, there is a ‘pad‘ switch – it could be above or below the 1st gain knob – that can determine which input type will be monitored by that channel and it can also change the input level or signal strength.  To reinforce the general definition below, if the audio source uses a battery or gets plugged into AC, it will need to be ‘padded‘ using this switch, where MOST microphone applications will not be strong enough if the channel is padded.

Whatever is plugged into the input jack on the mixer for that channel will send a signal to the 1st ‘gain stage‘.

This acts more like a flood gate than an amplifier in that it allows you to reduce the strength of the signal coming into that channel.  But it feels like an amplifier as when you turn it clock wise – it gets louder and if you turn it counter-clockwise – it gets softer or lower in volume……  This is the great balancer.  This knob determines how much of the signal gets distributed or sent to other out puts, effects, processors and recording devices, etc.  This is the foundation of the mix you are creating.   We start here and do not continue with the other knobs and gizmos in the ‘channel strip‘ until this is set correctly.

The biggest trick in setting this up for most band performances is – well – band members.  A lot of them do not trust the sound guys they have worked with for a lot of reasons.  Some performers will set their level (amp, energy, settings) really low during sound check, knowing once the sound is going they can turn themselves up so they can hear themselves.  Most often, it is just difficult to play really hard and loud like you will during a full band live performance when no one else is making noise.  Knowing all that, you need to start with a good level here so you can set the gain stage properly.  Generally, open microphones will need more gain than instruments like keyboards or mp3 players.  Things that get plugged into AC or use a battery will probably have a stronger signal strength than those that go directly to the snake/mixing board.

As a caution again, make sure the amplifiers are turned all the way down before you plug anything into the mixer once the full system is connected.  We tested the House PA and Stage monitors before the band got here, so before you start plugging in instruments and performers, turn the House PA amplifiers down.  I also turn the Monitor Sends down all the way so you do not hit the monitors with some pretty ugly sounds.  If you use fantom power for your microphones or other devices, I have heard people suggest you do the same whenever turning this function ON or OFF.

Now we are ready to move through the rest of the channel.  I am old school, and I like to start with the mixing board ‘clean’.  With all knobs and gizmos set to center or neutral.  Some guys like to start off where they left or pre-mix, but I have seen many situations where that theory gets yanked.

Above board design has the +48 fantom power switch.  When pressed in it will send appropriate voltage to the microphone or device.  Best to have Master faders turned down during this part as well.  Underneath is the pad/Line switch.  This you can safely determine a good guess in advance depending on what type of instrument is plugged into that channel.  You can always start with pad pressed in and gain stage at minimum to be on the cautious side and then release pad and turn gain knob as you watch the signal LED’s.  Get good performing signal as opposed to good practice level and see where the gain stage knob is pointing.  Try to get signal meters and LED’s close to the red or overload stage, and then back off the gain stage knob just a little.  We may need the extra head room when we add EQ, use ‘inserts‘ etc.

This board and many others offer a HPF (‘High Pass Filter‘).  When depressed it will allow mid and high frequencies to go through the channel and process normally.   So, it really cuts or turns down the really low end signals.  This is where the frequencies and ranges of instruments in an earlier LSR series come into play.  Instruments like, flutes, acoustic guitars, vocalists, cymbals, snares cannot make sounds in the low end.  The over-all mix will benefit if you use the HPF and cut the very low frequencies on those instruments.   Microphone stand rumble, bleed over from the kick drum into the snare along with a number of other unwanted sounds can be eliminated before they even get into the mix.

Next series we will continue down the signal path.