Monday, January 30, 2012

I STILL have no idea.

Here's something I'm not concerned with -- being "authentic". Whatever I'm doing, I assure you, I'm not being "authentic". I'm not playing music associated with whatever ethnic or sociopolitical group you want to assign me to. I'm just not.
I think people get all bent about how "authentic" their music artists are because they simply don't know what kind of music they do, or do not, like. Nobody wants to listen to uncool music. And what's cool music? Well, it's the music that the cool kids listen to. Right?
Who the cool kids are may depend on who you are. Or which kids tried to sell you their Kinks live album for drug money when you were a Freshman in high school (incidentally, thanks Charlie, that was a pretty good album.)
To some degree I was immune from "cool" because I listened to classical music. It's an immunity to cool because let's face it, you will never be cool because you're listening to some Stokowski arrangement of a Bach fugue.
Where was I going with this? I have no idea.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Journey of Discovery

So here's a thing I've discovered about myself. It only took 46 years:
As a composer, I've almost always composed alone. Indeed I know I've been resistant to composing with other people.
And you know what? I hate composing alone. Hate it hate it hate it.
There isn't any music there Dog. C'mon. Just improvise.
Now, composing with other people is another set of problems. You have to be on the same "wavelength" as the people you're working with. This is one reason I like Tyrannosaurus Mouse so much. Our best material has come about through someone saying "how about we do this?" and us trying it and liking it.
How does all of this apply to composing for film? Well, I think I hate composing for film. There. I said it.
Whew. I feel better.
I wonder how this makes me feel about writing the Blade Runner Musical by myself? Hmm... The guys in Tyrannosaurus Mouse have ignored the idea. But I might be able to fool them into doing the music by pretending we're doing something else. Tricking your friends, as it turns out, is the most efficient course of action.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Everything Samplitude Standardizations and Monetary Outlays

Kraznet has a whole page of YouTube tutorials on Samplitude. They're great tutorials and will take you through everything you need to know.
As it turns out, you can be a rock star for $100,000. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable price to me. Oh wait, that cost includes lessons and living in NYC. So hey, I've already done that!
Oh wait, it also doesn't work.
OK, do you remember the olden days? Back in the early 80's when my composition teacher Dean Powell was showing me how to write music he had his own drum notation method (by the way, you can't blame Dean for my guitar playing, I only took a few lessons on guitar before we switched to writing music.) The kick was a "D" below the staff (if it were a treble clef, drums are written in non-pitched clefs) and the snare was the middle "G". The trick was that the quavers came from below on those notes. It does indeed make for a very readable chart.
But now it looks as though notation for a trap kit is standardized. Well isn't that something? I suppose that helps that all of those General Midi drumkits needed to have standard notes to play to.
And I'd say that I should learn how to write in standard trap kit but lets face it: who is ever going to read it? ;-)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Samplitude and You Volume III

Every new release of software ends up having a couple issues which confuse lil' ol' me. But one of the best things about Samplitude is the user forum. It's registered, which keeps out some of the riff-raff. And although the developers don't always respond directly, the distributors do and it can be really helpful.

I had a couple problems with the new way Samplitude Pro X handles "objects". And a couple folks on the Samplitude forum, Kraznet and Graham Duncan solved them for me.

The big deal about Samplitude, and why it is so much better than anyone else's software, is the whole concept of "object editing". What that's all about is this: each "segment" or "clip" of audio can have any number of effects applied to it, and volume and fade-in and fade-outs applied.

This saves you from two things which makes audio projects unwieldy. Firstly, it keeps the track - count from going into hundreds of tracks because you don't need a separate track if you want an effect to just be on a brief bit of audio. Secondly it saves from having to automate every damn reverb or EQ setting or bit of compression you put on something.
You want a single note on the guitar to have a big ol' delay on it? That's fine -- just take the object/clip/segment* with that guitar note you want and put a big ol' delay on it. (Make sure you set the order of effects so that the delay will ring out past the length of the object and you're all set.) Easier and simpler than automating the send for the delay on the entire track.
In the world of music mixing I think that's pretty cool. In the world of dialog editing this "object" methodology of working is a HUGE improvement. For instance on feature films I only use three main dialog tracks. That's it. I only have a total of 29 tracks of audio on my feature film template (and I usually use far fewer tracks on any given act). Not having a bazillion tracks of audio to keep track of makes things go hugely faster for me.

The object editor lets you alter time, pitch, EQ, fades, and any effects you like.
What are the downsides of Samplitude?
It's a small company. Making software is expensive. And you're going to have to sacrifice something in order to get the software out on time and actually make some sort of profit. So what do they sacrifice?

  • Documentation. 

Of course that's true with all software. Documentation is always lacking. Writing up new docs doesn't help you sell any more copies of your program and it's very expensive and time-consuming. I'm sure most of their customers would rather they put their minds to bug fixing rather than writing documentation which will be obsolete in a few months. On the flip side, there's the user forum. The forum is very helpful and friendly.

  • Very large number of edits.

Actually, I don't know if this is a problem anymore. Up through version 8 of the software you could go crazy making edits. Like 20-minutes of dialog edits. Hundreds and hundreds of edits. And the program didn't care. Then starting with version 9 there was a problem with huge numbers of edits.
I know that for a while ProTools had this problem too. But eventually Avid fixed it.
But back to Samplitude -- what I did was to go down to 10-minute reels for all of my audio-for-picture. That was my work-around for VLNoE (Very Large Number of Edits). Because it's so much easier to deal with 10-minute reels than 20-minute reels I've been keeping the length of our reels down to 10 minutes. And there have been many many versions of Samplitude since this problem first came up. So the problem might not exist anymore. I'm still keeping our reel-length to 10 minutes.
Note that for music purposes you almost never run into the Very Large Number of Edits issue. That's only an issue for dialog editors. And I've never had a problem with Samplitude running a memory error when working on a 10-minute reel, no matter how much dialog is in it. I suppose your mileage may vary.

  • Waveform display

This isn't so much a sacrifice as a philosophical issue with how you like your waveforms displayed. I find that Pro Tools is better for editing music and Samplitude is better for editing dialog. For some reason I find it harder to find dialog ins and outs in Pro Tools and I find seeing the beginning of (say) kick drums harder in Samplitude. Since one gets used to whatever waveform display one is looking at, it's probably not that big a deal ultimately. I edit lots of music in Samplitude and heaven knows I used to edit dialog in Pro Tools like crazy.

So the downsides are pretty minimal. And the object editing is a monster. You're paying ProTools - like prices to own Samplitude, at the same time it's completely possible to work entirely within Samplitude without buying additional plugins.

I gotta get back to work now.

*"Object" is the Samplitude word for what other programs call "clips" or "segments". Objects go onto tracks.

Delicate Cutters

You know, a lot of reviews point out the "folk"-ish-ness of the Delicate Cutters. To me they're more of that REM-ish in-specifically influenced band.
There's a fantastic sense of space in their arrangements. Yet they also sound big. That can be hard to do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Azania Triad

Azania is performing at Triad on February 4th.

Samplitude and You Part II

The Restoration Suite
One of the new tools that comes with Samplitude Pro X Suite is a "denoiser" in the "Restoration Suite". The denoiser works on tracks in real-time and you can use a preset noise or a noise sample.
The first thing I tried it on was a classical musical recording -- I had a bit of a hum in the left channel of a recording I made for the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York. Chorus, cello, and piano, recorded at St. Joseph's Church in Greenwich Village.
[I'm still not so sure what caused the hum. Of course, I bring all the gear back to my studio and can't make any of it hum at all. Perhaps the lights were inducting some noise into only one of the two AKG 460's? Who knows?]
Anyway, I tried Samplitude's de-noising on the tracks and... it sounds nice. Very nice.
How nice? Well, actually I decided not to use it actually because the "natural" noise reduction of the actual chorus singing overtaking the noise on the track was maybe a bit nicer (this also means that the sound of the hum will probably only bother me as it is so quiet to start with) but the Samplitude noise reduction was surprising in its lack of artifacts -- the way most noise reduction "chomps" on the signal making it all swishy and chewy.
I spend a lot of time cleaning up dialog in movies. Not enough time, actually, as we have to mix very quickly. So for a long time I've fantasized about having a Cedar DNS 1500 to run all the dialog through.
Instead what I do is run all the dialog through a submix buss that has multi-band expansion, some hard limiting, and now the De-Noiser.
Is it better than a DNS 1500 (at about $5000)? No.
Are we getting close? Sure thing.
Now note that one should go through each piece of dialog in a motion picture and carefully craft the volume and the noise reduction for each phrase of speech. That's not happening. Why? Because I am too lazy we simply do not have that kind of time.
So we slam the dialog into the "SMax11" limiter (which is part of Samplitude) and we do all that expansion and noise reduction and we move on.
Samplitude is funny. It's an immense and fully-featured Digital Audio Workstation. And the concepts (especially the "objekt" editing) are brilliant. But the company that makes it is small -- so sometimes the releases are few and far between and they take a bit of updating to get stable.
On the other hand, I've been running Samplitude Pro X Suite on a very creaky old computer and (knock on wood) it hasn't crashed. Plus (and this is a big freakin' deal, actually) if I have trouble with a project opening in a newer version of Samplitude I can always go back to an older version. If there are special Samplitude effects the older version doesn't have it'll say "plugin missing", but it will read the project.
For those of us who use Final Cut Pro or any Adobe product this is quite the big deal.
Look, screen captures don't show you the video playing in the window!

Monday, January 23, 2012

My Dream Song

In my dream on Saturday morning I was playing this song with Tyrannosaurus Mouse. So I recorded it into my answering machine.

Just as soon as our bass player leaves the land of milk and honey that is his day job at the opera, we'll get to playing more and making more music.
You'll have to click through to hear the "music".

Pianos and Mice

EQ Magazine says that the Native Instruments pianos are the best. Interestingly the most recent versions of their Steinway and their Bosendorfer are only $79.
The Line6 Stagescape is a very interesting idea. On the one hand it seems kind of childish to have a graphic of the band as your main screen. On the other hand, that might ultimately be very wise. I can imagine that especially in worship service pro audio that there's a huge problem with the competence of the sound operator and anything that can make it easier for them to not mess up the sound is a plus.
Now I need an awesome and inexpensive string library. Unless I'm cool with the Independence Workstation which came with Samplitude. And I might be. I might be.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Samplitude and You part I

So, I'm one of those guys who says "Samplitude is better than any other editing/mixing program out there." Exactly, one of those guys. Yeah, I've been a Pro Tools editor. And I've worked with strange systems (Pyramix, etc.) over the years. And still, Samplitude is the best.
Now, sometimes people think one system is somehow inherently better than another just because they're used to it. And I can totally understand that. And look, there are things that Pro Tools is very good at -- tracking live bands for instance. But Samplitude is better for editing. Maybe not even for editing music, but better for editing everything else. And it sounds great with music.
"But Drew" you say to yourself "how can you objectively say one thing is better? You're just prejudiced because you've been using Samplitude since, like, version 2 or something."
And I say: "objective" is right. The big difference is objekt editing. Samplitude does it. Nobody else does. Ergo: Samplitude is better.

(Tanita Tikaram. Not in any way related to the rest of this blog post.)
First of all a disclaimer. All audio editing programs work. And they all sound great. At one time engineers would slag on Pro Tools because they said it sounded bad. Me? I never thought that was so. But now those engineers seem happy again with Pro Tools. Further more, pretty much very major album is recorded and mixed using Pro Tools (even if they go through an analog desk). So the only difference in audio editing/mixing applications is the process of doing that work. OK, I'm glad we got that out of the way. Now:

I do two things: music and sound-for-picture.
In my music life I'm primarily mixing or pre-mixing my own band. And I'm surprised every dang time how nice the comes-with-the-product effects are with Samplitude. You want a nice 1176-type compressor? You want a Pultec or some older-sounding limiters or compressors? The ones built into Samplitude sound fantastic. Really, they're just great sounding. Believe me, you have much bigger problems in your life than the sound quality of the compressors, limiters, EQ's, and reverbs in Samplitude.
There are some advantages to the Waves stuff. They're multiband L3 is pretty nice sounding for that horrible squash sound you hear on modern records. But the single-band "L1-like" limiter in Samplitude is pretty good.
I do love the analog delays in Samplitude. They just subjectively sound nice. Mmm... nice.
In my sound-for-picture life I have much more exotic needs. For instance I need to be able to import OMF files. ProTools has traditionally been very difficult to work with in this regard. And Samplitude used to make you buy something called "EDL Convert" which was like six hundred bucks. But now Samplitude will let you import OMF directly. And it works.

I bought the upgrade to Samplitude, which is called Samplitude X. Right. It's technically version 12, but it's named "X". Fine. I've also reconciled myself to the fact that "Samplitude" is kinda a silly name anyway. So now we're at "X".
A 70GB sample library comes with the "Pro X Suite" version. I was a tad confused about how to load the samples 'till I found it was a menu item rather than an installer on the 10 DVD's you get with the program. But once I pressed the icon in the start menu it all worked automatically.
There's an automatic updater for Samplitude. It's a tad confusing to me. Actually, it doesn't seem to work at all. Maybe one day it will work. Nobody knows. Samplitude has had a history of "Oh, there's this thing which just doesn't work" which is what you get when you have a small company competing against the big boys (Avid). But the rest of this release is pretty stable it seems to me. UPDATE: the "auto update" seems to work now. To which I say  "hooray!"
Automatic Update unfortunately freezes at this screen.
The "Independence Workstation" comes with the Samplitude Pro X Suite. There are some surprisingly nice horn sounds included. I don't particularly like the piano sounds [UPDATE: oddly, there was a big high-end roll off filter applied to the default piano sound making it very dead - sounding, the piano is much better sounding than I first thought -- just turn off that dang EQ]. Ironically, the pianos included in the Vita workstation (which also comes with Samplitude) I find a bit more "real" sounding. Perhaps the pianos with Independence sound the way they do in order to better mix with an orchestra? I'd that that might be true except that the pianos are a bit dull - sounding and normally to get them to mix better you'd brighten them up a bit. But perhaps the pianos sound a bit more "real" only because they don't have the hyped-up top end of other sampled pianos?

Anyway, those are my first and somewhat incoherent impressions. Seeing as how I have to mix this movie, I'll have plenty more to say about the restoration suite and other features in Samplitude in the coming weeks.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tell Your Unicorn

Jammit is actually kinda cool. I have no idea how they get the original masters, but it's kinda cool. When they put Comfortably Numb on there I'm totally buying it.
Brady Cases. They make cases. You know. For stuff. I need roadies. I need a guitar tech. I need fans first though, I think.

I am unnecessarily proud of this sound of talking on a radio of a landing craft in a science fiction movie. What I like most is the modulation sound caused by my using the Vandal plugin in Samplitude and kicking in a bit of the "octaver" sound "pedal".

Thursday, January 19, 2012


So I have to stack amplifiers on top of speaker cabinets (and other amplifiers) that have handles on the top. I will use wooden blocks. Ethan came up with the very smart notion to put suede leather on the blocks so the blocks wouldn't be all slidy and would also not hurt the finish on the nice wooden cabinets.

This article in EM on processing while recording is... actually quite helpful. I woulda never thought of that. You can apply software effects while you're recording. Rock on.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Marina Del Ray

I don't really get all the hating on Lana Del Ray happening on the Twitters for her performance on Saturday Night Live. Well, I think I do get it -- and I think it's misdirected.
The first thing which was a tad cringe-inducing is that she really looked nervous. Scared, even.

But you know, she can actually sing. This isn't a matter of opinion. You might like or dislike her voice. You might like or dislike her style or her songs. But she has control over how she hits notes. So she can actually do it. (I don't hear the common artifacts of Auto Tune on this performance, although that's possible for broadcast.)
I think the thing many people were reacting to was that the shtick that was going on was a very chanteuse - style of performing artist. And you know, SNL does not put up with someone singing to background tracks very well, so there kinda has to be a live band. (Yes, it's possible that the band was playing to a click-track and she was lip syncing to a played-back vocal performance, but in any case this is a perfectly good vocal performance so let's just pretend for this argument that those things are off the table.)
But the band was very deliberately un-lit.
And I think the psychological effect was that the relatively unknown artist was being just a bit too much and up-front. If they'd put the keyboard player down on the stage and had her singing with him I think that people would have been vastly more charitable to her performance.
Well, and maybe the mix was done too loud: that tends to make the vocals too hot in the mix. Now, her vocals are very loud in the album-version of her material. But but but I think the keyboards are a bit buried in the SNL version.
Actually maybe it's not an awesome arrangement for the live performance of this song?
So say I. So say we All.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


So, we're going to have this new album finished very soon, right?
The question is: what physical means will it be available?
The thing is that obviously it'll be available for digital download from But should we also make CD's? Who actually listens to CD's anymore? I don't know of anybody.
Which ironically (in so many ways) brings us to the possibility of making vinyl LP's. I think we could easily find ourselves in the position that most of the people who want a physical copy want vinyl rather than a CD.
Capsule Labs makes LP's.  Of course, you're talkin' about two thousand bucks for even a short run. But, you know, it's something to think about.

Lazed and Refused

This live version of Dazed and Confused is pretty good. It's fascinating how good the sounds are. The drums sound dynamite. They're just enormous sounding. And John Bonham is a very tasteful player. He makes the drum part sound huge and powerful by playing very specifically.
The quality of the bass sound in this video is also a tad surprising. Normally these old film versions don't have the hefty low end to really make the bass sound good.

Every electric guitar trick for making a guitar sound different is going on here. And I don't just mean the wah pedal. Flipping pickups and changing the position of the right hand all contribute to a wide tonal palate and dynamic range. And all the time the sound is fairly distorted, which oftentimes masks those kinds of details.
And, er, just as a warning -- the video cuts off abruptly at 10 minutes.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ooh La Moose

You wanna see some people who look really uncomfortable at what they're doing? Goldfrapp in the music video for "Ooh La La", here:

I'm looking for a miniature opera house. There's a place called The Box which has a simply stunning number of reviews saying the doorman is an ass.
Seriously, life's too short. Why subject yourself to that?

Not a single member of my band answered my email where I suggested we write the music to Blade Runner the Musical.
Not. A. One.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Filth and the Future

I love how casually Steeleye Span rocks this version of The Bonnie Black Hare.

It's a nice hard-rocker with filthy lyrics. Me powder is wet and me bullets is spent.
In T-Mouse news, we're trying to finish our first album. We need to record other "bits" that go in-between songs as well as an "Underture" (a reprise of the Mouseverture but with acoustic instruments). Then we need to master the record. And take a picture for the cover.

In the meantime I'm jonesing to make another record. Maybe it can be the music to the Blade Runner Musical?

Hey Ethan -- can we come rehearse new songs at your house?

Monday, January 2, 2012

More Alabama Artists

What I kind of like about this song "There's a Hole" by Ex Cantador is that it starts with these very straight plainsong-indy vocals and guitar but then goes in a direction one doesn't expect. The player is embedded above, if you're reading on email or an RSS reader you may not see the link.

Cutter Theater Clone

My buddy Chance's band, The Delicate Cutter's, won a 2011 "Moddy" award. I'm totally envious of the Alabama music scene. They have an awesome scene down there for the arts, music, and film. The politics, of course, are another matter. ;-)
Tyrannosaurus Mouse needs a jewel-box theater to play in. Like a little puppet theater. And we need puppets.
The Metropoulos amps are absurdly inexpensive. I mean, for what you get from them. They're cheap, but made with the best parts and put together by experts. Further evidence that we're living in a golden age of guitars and amplifiers.