Posted tagged ‘Musical Instrument Digital Interface’

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 55 – MIDI CONTINUED

March 19, 2012

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 55 MIDI Continued

In last week’s TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series, we looked at the various pieces of gear (Sound Generator, Interface, Controller and Sequencer) that are needed for a MIDI setup, as well as looking at the various MIDI messages and modes.

This week, we continue our look at MIDI by considering General MIDI. We’ll also delve into sequencing, recording and editing MIDI data.

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General MIDI

General MIDI (level 1) is a protocol that was developed in 1991 which defined specific features of a MIDI instrument. It means that the sounds on one MIDI instrument are largely consistent with the sounds on another MIDI instrument. In conjunction with the use of Standard MIDI Files (SMF), this means that a sequence created in one programme can be replicated or played back in another – the result should be that both sequences sound the same.

Writing Music With Pencil & Paper And With Finale Software.

The process of composing music these days is quite different to how it was done 100 years ago. There are many musicians of course who still compose the ‘traditional’ way, using pencil and paper. But for those musicians who never had much of a formal musical training, modern technology and particularly MIDI, allows them to create music by playing their efforts directly into a sequencer or computer and then adjusting or fixing any errors, without touching a pencil or piece of paper.

The Popular Sibelius Scoring Software.

What’s more, music can be created and recorded by a musician in one part of the world, then worked on or completed by a musician in another, without either of them leaving their studios.

Musicians On Opposite Sides Of The World Can Contribute To The Same Project.

For example, let’s say there are two musicians – Courtney in New York and Kurt who lives in London. They both have home studio setups with General MIDI compatible synths and sound modules. Using GM, Courtney can take the SMF of a song created in her programme, send it over the internet to Kurt who then plays it back on his system. The result is that the playback heard in the UK will (or should) sound the same as the version created in the USA.

It’s important to mention different programmes and sequencers often use proprietary file formats which may not be compatible with each other. For the example above to work, the file needs to be saved in Standard MIDI File format, which is usually an available option in most good sequencing programmes today.

In addition, not all MIDI instruments follow the GM standards. So if  this feature is likely to be important to you, then make sure the synth or other MIDI instrument you’re considering is GM compatible, before you buy it.

4 Families Of GM Instruments Each Containing 8 Patches.

General MIDI Level 1 protocols consist of…..

A minimum of 24 polyphonic voices which respond to velocity and 128 instrument patches. The 128 patches are divided into 16 family types, with 8 instrument patches in each family. For example, family #1 consists of piano type sounds whilst family #4 is guitars.

All 16 MIDI channels are supported for receiving and sending. Each individual channel is capable of playing a variable number of voices (polyphony) and can play a different instrument (patch or timbre).

Sound Patches Can Contain Several Different Instruments Spread Over A Keyboard’s Width. Here We See The Standard GM Key Assignments For Drums & Percussion.

Key-based percussion defaults to MIDI Channel 10. With each Note number (key #) corresponding to a different drum sound. For example, Note 35 is Acoustic Bass Drum, whilst Note 60 (middle C) is High Bongo.

In addition, General MIDI 1 is capable of handling a multitude of performance and controller messages.

General MIDI Level 2 was introduced in 1999. It is compatible with GM 1 and consists of…..

Over 380 sounds, 32 note polyphony, added features and greater control for sound editing and musical performance. A GM 2 device can handle 16 channels, up to 16 simultaneous instruments (patches) and 2 simultaneous percussion kits (on channels 10 and 11). Several more control messages were implemented, including MIDI tuning. Also added to the GM 2 standard were various effects, for example reverb and chorus.

Pro Tools MIDI Editor.

Sequencing

A MIDI sequencer works on the same principle as a multitrack recorder in some ways (except you never record to tape). There are the same transport functions – Record, Start, Stop etc. Each instrument is assigned and recorded to a separate track.

To differentiate between the various tracks, a separate performance can be assigned to one of 16 MIDI channels. Meaning that 16 different MIDI sounds or instruments (if you have that many) can be played back simultaneously – providing you have the right equipment (MIDI interface etc.) with enough Ins and Outs and a computer or sequencer with the processing power that is capable of handling it all.

In this way, the audio outputs from each instrument (synth or sound module) can be connected directly into a mixing deck (often part of the software programme or DAW that contains the sequencer) without ever going to tape and therefore are first generation sounds, giving you the cleanest of signals.

The sequencer can record the incoming MIDI signal in Real Time (as you play it) or Step Time (one note at a time), this signal contains the performance information for that recording – the note pitches, durations and volumes. No audio is recorded. To play back the MIDI recording, a MIDI OUT signal is sent to the synth or sound module where a sound is then triggered.

BeatDesigner – MIDI Plug-In Step Sequencer For Drum Patterns.

The advantages of recording performance information are…..

  • It allows you to record a track using a piano then play back that track information using any instrument you desire.
  • If you’re not the greatest player in the world, it allows you to record each note of a sequence one note at a time.
  • On play back you can alter the musical key of the performance from the original.
  • You can also alter the placement, pitch, volume or length of a note in the sequencer.

Recording

Prior to recording you need to make sure that all of your instruments, sound modules and sequencer/computer are talking to each other or synchronised.

You will need to…..

  • Decide which device is going to send MIDI commands – be the ‘Master’ and which devices are to receive commands – ‘Slaves’.
  • Check the polyphony setup for your instruments.
  • Assign MIDI channels for each device. For example, drum machines are usually set to channel 10, because this is the default channel for General MIDI.

If you play the ‘Master’ device and hear nothing from the other devices in your system, check through your setup. In particular, check the MIDI channel assigns (and of course you will need to monitor the audio outputs from each instrument in your system). Your specific instrument manuals should be able to help you with these setups.

Prior To Recording, You May Find It Useful To Sketch Out Your Setup If You’re New To MIDI, Noting Channels & MIDI Ins/Outs/Thrus.

Before recording, make sure you have the correct sound patch going to the right track and adjust the levels of the various instruments assigned to the various MIDI channels.

Your sequencer will have a metronome. If you choose to use it, you need to set the tempo and time signature…..3/4, 4/4 etc. Tempo can always be altered after you’ve recorded. You may find it useful to record at 60 bpm (beats/minute) if your playing skills are basic, but want the track to play back at 120 bpm.

Just make sure you decide on the final tempo before you start recording any audio. MIDI can be sped up and slowed down without altering the pitch. Audio cannot, without using pitch change plug-ins or software like Elastic Time and Pitch (see links below).

Editing

As with digital audio you can cut, copy and paste MIDI recordings. You can also easily quantise and transpose MIDI too. In recent years, big steps in audio manipulation software enable you to treat audio files in similar ways to your MIDI files. Check out Quantising audio with Elastic Time and Transposing with Elastic Pitch.

Left: Unquantised MIDI. Right: Quantised MIDI.

Quantising a performance can fix poor timing or rhythm. Let’s say you recorded a MIDI kick and snare from a synth keyboard, but on hearing back your performance, you feel it’s not quite tight enough – some of the beats stray a little.

You could manually move each drum hit to the correct position, but that might take a long time, especially if your performance is really bad! Alternatively, by setting the right quantisation value in your sequencer, you could hit a button and all the hits would snap to the correct beat.

If you choose a quantisation value of 8, then all your notes or drum hits would snap to the nearest 8th note. Choose a value of 16 and all the notes would move to the nearest 16th note. Most good programmes often have the added ability to somewhat or partially quantise – allowing a human feel to remain in your recording and preventing a robotic quality to the music.

If you’re rhythm is really out, there’s the risk that quantising the track will move some beats further out than in. It tends to work best for tracks that are slightly out. So listen carefully to the result. If it makes some beats worse, you may have to move those specific beats manually.

Transposed Music Sequence From A Major To E Major.

Transposing allows you to simply change your MIDI tracks from the key of A major to the key of E major, for example.

You may want to try out several vocalists for a song. Each one may have a different vocal range and consequently require the song to be played in a different musical key. Using the sequencer’s transposing facility enables you to change key at the touch of a button, without having to re-record your tracks.

Logic’s Piano Roll Editor Window.

In most good software programmes, MIDI can be represented graphically in a few different ways. The Piano-Roll Window tends to be the most common window used when editing. The picture above shows the piano keys represented on the left. The horizontal bars represent the different MIDI notes recorded on a track. The length of the bars shows how long each note was played. By selecting a note you can alter its position, length, pitch etc. Additional features allow you to adjust volume, change MIDI channels and more.

Logic’s Score Page.

When using Step Time to record one note at a time, some sequencers provide a Score Page where your musical performance shows up in musical notation. If you can read music this may be a useful page to work on and edit your MIDI tracks. It allows you to make all the alterations we’ve discussed earlier e.g. move notes, alter pitch, volume etc.

Events List Showing MIDI Data.

Some programmes include an Events List Window. Those of you who are techies will probably appreciate this page. It presents all the MIDI data of your music. Everything from velocity, pitch bend, pan and more.

So by using a combination of window displays, you can alter every nuance of a MIDI performance, even if the original lacked expression and dynamics.

Next week we look at Mastering, the final stage in the technical process of music making.

TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering provide full recording, mixing, mastering and production services from their facilities in the UK and Nashville, USA

Producing music takes time and effort. Give your music that final shine by using our online mastering service. TCM take pride in providing a professional, fast and affordable service to the music community.

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TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 54 – MIDI CONTINUED

March 12, 2012

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 54 MIDI Continued

Last week we considered – What is MIDI and what is it good for? This week we’ll continue by looking in some detail, at the type of equipment you will need for a MIDI setup.

We mentioned last week that various MIDI compatible synths, keyboards, sound modules, drum machines, computers and sequencers can ‘talk’ to each other. And that a MIDI interface is required when using a computer. So what part do all these various devices play and how do they work together?

Alesis Q25 USB/MIDI – 25 Keys, Keyboard Controller.

A basic MIDI setup will need…..

  • MIDI Sound Generator: This is what it says it is. It generates the sounds you will need for your music. It can be a synth, sound module, drum machine or sampler. The first synths equipped with MIDI were Sequential Circuits’ Prophet 600 and Yamaha’s DX7 (both in 1983). The latter became an almost instant hit, selling in huge numbers.
  • MIDI Interface: We briefly discussed the interface in last week’s blog. It allows your computer to receive and send MIDI messages.
  • MIDI Controller: These are devices that can control other devices. Initially, controllers were only keyboards. But today, there are controllers for keyboards, guitars, xylophones, drums and wind controllers for saxophones (and other wind instruments).
  • MIDI Sequencer: This device is often part of your computer software or DAW, but you can buy stand alone sequencers. It records the MIDI data and can also play it back. Remember, it’s not recording audio but the performance information.

Today’s equipment often combines one or more of the above MIDI essentials. For example, a particular synth could incorporate a sound generator, MIDI controller and sequencer, all in one device and maybe include a sampler too.

MIDI Sound Generator

These devices are the core to your MIDI setup. You will need at least one sound generator. However, if you’re home studio is mainly MIDI based, you will undoubtedly have several. As well as the hardware synths, modules and drum machines we’ve already mentioned, there are software synths and computer soundcards. Some sound generators are better than others. So let’s look at some in detail.

Korg microKorg Synth & Vocoder – Analogue Modelling, 37 Velocity Sensitive Keys.

Synthesisers

Synths consist of sounds which are generated and a keyboard to play them on. Synths vary tremendously in size, complexity and price. Compare Korg’s 37 key model above to the 88 key Nord Stage 2 Series 88 HA88, below.

If your MIDI setup is centred around a keyboard, you need to consider…..

Keyboard sensitivity or feel: the cheaper instruments normally tend to dispense with keys that are weighted. In other words, it won’t feel like a real piano keyboard when played. If you’ve been classically trained, a weighted keyboard may be essential for you. If you’re an enthusiastic but not very skilled player, you may be able to save some money by buying an instrument without. Try both types, then decide which you prefer.

The Incredible Nord Stage 2 Series 88 HA88 – Hammer Action Weighted Keyboard.

Quality of the sounds: most expensive instruments from respectable manufacturers have hundreds of fantastic sounds. But there are some synths at the cheaper end of the scale that have great sounds too. Listen to as many different synths as possible, in your price range, to determine which are your favourites.

One thing you might want to consider is General MIDI. This is a protocol which provides consistent sounds between different MIDI instruments and makes. We’ll look at it in more detail next week.

Polyphony: generally, the more keys you can play simultaneously the better. 32 note polyphony is common these days. It may sound like a lot – after all we only have 10 fingers – but you can use up those 32 notes quite quickly. Some synths have sound ‘patches’ that use several different samples layered on top of each other to produce the desired effect.

Let’s consider an extreme example, a synth ‘patch’ may include 4 different voice/choir samples and 4 separate strings layered to form a particular sound. That single sound patch has used up 8 of your polyphonic voices. Meaning your 32 note polyphony has just been reduced by a quarter, to 4! So always go for the highest polyphony you can afford.

Rick Wakeman In The Early Days – Surrounded By Keyboards.

Multitimbrality: most conventional instruments e.g. violin, piano, classical guitar only produce one timbre, one specific sound. Although, they are certainly capable of producing variations in tone. When synths first came out, they were able to produce very different timbres by twiddling or tweaking various knobs or sliders. But they could still only produce one timbre at any one time.

Rick In 2010. A Powerful, Modern Multitimbral Synth/Keyboard (Or Two) Can Effectively Replace A Whole Stack of Keyboards Or Other Instruments.

Today, some keyboards/synths can produce multiple timbres simultaneously. Either layering different timbres on top of each other or by splitting the keyboard up into distinct sections. So that the left hand can play a bass line whilst the right hand plays electric piano, for instance.Think of a multitimbral synth as one instrument containing several specific instruments, with the ability to play multiple instruments simultaneously.

Of course the concept of multitimbrality ties in directly with polyphony. The more timbres you use at any one time the quicker you use up your polyphonic voices.

But it has become almost standard in many quality synths today. So again, when testing out synths/keyboards consider multimbrality and polyphony together. One affects the other.

When looking at how this all fits in with MIDI, most modern instruments will accept data on all 16 MIDI channels simultaneously. Some synths allow you to dynamically allocate voices which means providing you don’t want to use all your voices all the time, the synth’s resources will go much further.

The Classic Korg Triton Synth – 62 Voices & Built-In Sequencer.

Sequencing: some synths come with built-in sequencers. These instruments allow you to record and play back (or programme) multiple tracks of a performance. Essentially, they’re complete mini studios.

Manufacturers’ designs can be quite different. So take a close look at the various options on the market to see which instrument/sequencer combination works for you. Some are more user friendly than others.

Roland SP-555 Sampler & Pattern Sequencer.

Instead of generating sounds like a synth, Samplers are sound modules containing short audio ‘samples’ of real instruments e.g. violin, sax, drums or sound effects e.g. explosions, dog barks or gunshots. These samples are then played back on a keyboard or triggered by a sequencer.

You could for example, sample (record) percussive sounds like a car door closing, a pane of glass smashing or someone coughing and use them to enhance a drum track. These sounds and many more (you wouldn’t normally associate with music) have been used for just that purpose.

Logic EXS24 Sampler.

There are hundreds of Soft Synth plug-ins available for use with your music software or DAW. Although not all plug-ins work with every music/recording programme. These software equivalents of stand alone synths and sound modules are usually cheaper because there’s no hardware cost involved.

The Boss DR-880 Dr Rhythm Drum Machine.

Drum Machines

Many drum machines contain several different drum sounds and have a sequencer which allows you to programme those sounds into song patterns. Sounds are usually produced by hitting pads designated for kick, snare etc.

A Small Part Of A Drum Patch On Keyboard, With Instruments Assigned To Specific Keys – Showing Hi-Hat, Kicks, Snares, Crash, Ride & Tom.

Most good synths or sampler keyboards contain a few drum ‘patches’ that can be spread across the entire width of the keyboard. A drum patch could start with various kicks assigned to the low keys, snare hits and rolls next, then toms, cymbals and hi-hat towards the upper keys. Maybe a few percussion instruments at the top end of the keyboard e.g. tambourine, cow bell etc.

Sound Modules

Think of a synth without a keyboard. Or a drum machine without pads to strike. Sound modules provide the sounds but are triggered by a sequencer, master synth or other type of MIDI controller. They tend to be very compact and cheaper than their keyboard equivalents. So if you have a good quality master keyboard controller, you can set up a few sound modules in a daisy chain to work with it.

M Audio USB MIDISPORT 8X8.

MIDI Interface

As we saw last week, MIDI Interfaces can be quite basic In/Out boxes or provide numerous Ins and Outs for more complex setups, like M Audio’s box above. The connections are usually either 5 Pin-DIN or USB. Connections for modern Mac computers tend to favour USB. PCs use USB or sometimes parallel ports. Whatever your setup there’s a connector and interface out there that can hook you up.

Yamaha WX5 Wind MIDI Controller.

MIDI Controller

The most popular MIDI controller is still probably the keyboard. But guitarists, drummers and wind players can also be part of the wonderful world of MIDI. The MIDI controller can be regarded as the ‘master’ that controls the ‘slaves’, which can be other synths, sound modules or a drum machine. The controller can also be a sequencer or computer.

MIDI Sequencer

Logic, Cubase, Pro Tools and other good programmes include a sequencer. There is no unanimous agreement as to which one is best, so you should check out as many programmes as possible to see which one suits your style of working.

You can buy stand alone sequencers and some synths/keyboards also include on board sequencing.

Pro Tools MIDI & Audio Tracks Alongside Each Other.

The software programme choice usually provides the most comprehensive facilities. Being able to view your MIDI tracks alongside any audio tracks your session may have on a good sized screen is invaluable. Editing and other options are typically more extensive too.

MIDI Messages

We looked at Performance data last week. This information pertains to note-on/off, velocity, after touch, pitch bend and vibrato messages.

As well as the performance data, there are other messages that MIDI can communicate. Control Change messages deal with expression data. For example, volume, pan and modulation.

System Common messages provide information on which MIDI channel the performance data should be sent to and which sound or ‘patch’ should be played as well as data on timing, master volume and effects settings.

System Exclusive messages deal with data about a specific device.

In a live performance or a studio setting where you may have only one sound generator, MIDI can select different sounds at different points in a song e.g. ‘Super Electric Piano’ for the verse and ‘Rock Piano’ for the chorus.

MIDI Modes

There are four operating modes which can affect the way a device (synth, sound module or drum machine) responds to MIDI messages.

Mode 1: Omni On/Poly – your synth will play polyphonically but ignores MIDI data. In other words it will try to play whatever you send it on whatever channel.

Mode 2: Omni On/Mono – this is the mono equivalent of Mode 1. This Mode is not commonly used, but is sometimes useful if you want a polyphonic synth to emulate an old mono synth. Messages from any of the 16 MIDI channels are all sent to the same voice.

Mode 3: Omni Off/Poly – in this mode the synth plays polyphonically but only responds to messages on its own MIDI channel. This is the most commonly used mode, especially if a sequencer is involved.

The Mode 3 diagram above, shows the recipient device is assigned to MIDI channel six. MIDI channel messages received can then be rendered polyphonically.

Mode 4: Omni Off/Mono – this is the mono equivalent of Mode 3. This Mode was more useful before multitimbral synths came along, allowing some early MIDI synths to play 4 different sounds over 4 separate MIDI channels. Although it is still commonly used by guitar synth players who assign each string to a separate MIDI channel.

MIDI can be a really ‘deep’ subject. But you don’t have to know it inside out to be able to make good use of it. Start out with a simple setup and add to it as your knowledge and experience grows.

Next week we’ll look at General MIDI, sequencing, recording and editing MIDI data.

TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering provide full recording, mixing, mastering and production services from their facilities in the UK and Nashville, USA

Producing music takes time and effort. Give your music that final shine by using our online mastering service. TCM take pride in providing a professional, fast and affordable service to the music community.

For more information, click here.

Make Your Music Shine.

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 53 – MIDI, WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

March 5, 2012

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 53 MIDI – What Is It Good For?

MIDI…..what is it good for? Some die-hard traditionalists might answer – absolutely nothing!

War – Released By Motown 1969.

This sentiment, worked well for Motown in 1969 when they released ‘War’, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and made famous by Edwin Starr. But in the right hands, MIDI is an incredibly useful tool.

Hans Zimmer’s Legendary Orchestral Samples Are Used In MIDI Scores, By Musicians & Studios Worldwide.

With enough skill, a song or instrumental put together using MIDI can sound as dynamic, creative and expressive as any track put together using more traditional techniques. You’ll need a little patience to learn the basics and a degree of skill to take full advantage of all it can offer…..as with all technology, you need to know your equipment to get the best out of it.

MIDI can be used in a band setting with other musicians or can be the core of a one man band setup in a home studio. It’s also an extremely useful tool,  if you aspire to compose music for TV or film.

 

Some iPhone Ringtones Are Available in MP3 Or MIDI Format.

Its use is no longer restricted to the music studio. MIDI is used in many live performances and can now be used to control lighting equipment, as well as video images on stage. And partly because of its small file size, it has been used in ‘ring tones’ for phones (although recently, real compressed audio of popular hits has become the norm).

What Is MIDI?

The Musical Instrument Digital Interface is basically a communications protocol that allows MIDI compatible instruments like synthesisers, sequencers, sound modules, drum machines and computers to talk to each other. MIDI messages are sent and received through MIDI cables to MIDI ports, usually located on the back of the devices.

M-Audio USB/MIDI Interface.

A MIDI interface allows MIDI message exchanges with a computer. You can buy MIDI interface boxes with 2 ins and 2 outs if your needs are basic .But if you have a more complicated MIDI setup you may need something bigger that can handle 8 ins and 8 outs. The number of connections depends entirely on how many instruments or devices you will need hooked up at any one time.

5-Pin DIN MIDI Cable & MIDI Interface w/USB To 5-Pin DIN.

Some devices can connect with a computer and communicate MIDI through a USB cable. But normally, the cables have 5-pin DIN connectors on each end and plug into a MIDI IN, MIDI OUT or MIDI THRU port.

The IN port receives MIDI messages, the OUT port sends messages and the THRU port is used to create a daisy chain of devices. It enables messages received by one device to be sent out to another device’s IN port.

MIDI Ports In, Out & Thru.

MIDI data travels in one direction. It flows from the OUT port of a device to the IN port of another device. Data going through the THRU port of a device will have come from the first device in a chain. It is not generated by the device whose THRU port it’s going through.

Basic MIDI Setup With Two Keyboards.

So by playing a ‘master’ MIDI synth, you can trigger sounds on another MIDI device, synth or sound module. You can play multiple sounds from different synths at the same time, creating extremely rich and sophisticated musical textures.

MIDI Setup For 3 Keyboards. Note How The THRU Port Is Used To Daisy Chain Devices.

MIDI data can be recorded by a sequencer or computer, then played back. That data can be manipulated and edited in various ways. Note pitch, volume and length can be altered and mistakes can be fixed. All notes can be transposed, to play back in a different musical key. And different instrument samples can be assigned to the sequence data. So that a melody ‘recorded’ using a violin sample, can be played back by a guitar sample or any other instrument sample for that matter.

Basic MIDI Setup With Computer & Keyboard.

Sequencers allow musicians to build up song arrangements one track at a time, enabling those with good ears and a creative streak (who lack formal music theory or expertise on an instrument), to produce large and complex musical scores from basic musical techniques.

On most good quality MIDI keyboards, when a key is depressed an electronic signal is produced which tells the internal circuitry of the keyboard which note is played, how loud and for how long. And if you monitored the audio outputs of the keyboard, you would hear the note that’s being played. At the same time that the audio is produced, MIDI messages or signals are generated. Those signals include…..

Performance Data Messages:

  • Note On/Off: which note is played and its duration e.g. middle C for 1.5 seconds.
  • Velocity: how hard the key is hit, producing a soft or loud note.
  • After-touch: is there any change in the pressure on the key after the initial hit? For example, sometimes this is used to control or add vibrato to a sound.
  • Pitch Bend & Vibrato: is the pitch bend wheel or vibrato used while the key is depressed and by how much?

Remember, unlike an audio signal MIDI data does not contain sound as such, just performance information. There are other types of messages, which we’ll look at in more detail next week.

Diagram Showing MIDI Connections From Keyboard To 2 Sound Modules And Audio Out From All Three Going To Amp.

So let’s say you have a master keyboard, and a couple of sound modules set up in a daisy chain configuration and you want the master keyboard or a sequencer to control all the devices.

Each MIDI connection can handle 16 individual channels of MIDI data in a basic system (although there are multi-port MIDI interfaces which can handle many more). Each device can be programmed to receive MIDI data on 1 or more of the 16 channels.

The MIDI channels system can be compared to the way we receive TV channels. Your TV can receive many channels of programmes that are being transmitted, but you choose to tune in to one particular channel at a time.

The MIDI cable consists of 3 wires. One is a shield whilst the other two carry the data. So to send multiple ‘chunks’ of information, the MIDI messages are sent using a channel code. This tells the device on the receiving end which channel the data following the code is for.

On channel 2, you could assign a Strings sample on your first sound module. And on channel 9 you could assign a Brass section to the second sound module. Your particular MIDI keyboard or synth will have a System Parameters Menu – so check your owner’s manual for specifics.

Once you’ve assigned the various channels, your master keyboard can send the performance information to the various devices in the daisy chain. Each device only responds to the data received on their assigned channel. The first sound module in the chain after the master keyboard, receives all the data but only responds to the messages on channel 2, then sends on the data to the second sound module which responds to the messages on channel 9.

So even this basic MIDI setup allows up to 16 different instruments to be controlled at one time, from the master keyboard. Alternatively, if you have a multitimbral device, you can play up to 16 different parts from that one device.

Next week we continue our look at MIDI – what equipment you need for a MIDI setup, the different modes and types of messages.

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TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 52 – INTRODUCING MIDI

February 27, 2012

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 52 Introducing MIDI

If you’ve been following this series of Home Music Studio blogs from TCM Mastering, you’ll have noticed that from time to time, I mention MIDI. I’m sure  some of you already use MIDI in your home studio setup. For those of you who don’t but would like to – over the next few weeks, I’ll try to explain what it is and what you can do with it.

If you have a music project that you need help with…..TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering provide full recording, mixing, mastering and production services from their facilities in the UK and Nashville, USA. For more information, click here.

The 1955 RCA Electronic Music Synthesiser.

First, let’s start with a bit of history. Synthesisers arrived on the scene in the 1950s. These ‘instruments’ were large (by today’s standards), cumbersome and not very user-friendly. And certainly not in general use by musicians.

Keith Emerson With Moog Modular 3C – Which Used Patch Cords To Connect The Various Oscillators And Modulators.

The Minimoog.

Robert Moog is most often credited for bringing the technology out of the lab into the hands of musicians in the mid to late 60s, with the Moog Modular System. The Minimoog released in 1970 was the first popular monophonic synth that was portable and simple to use.

However, the synths of the early 1970’s were still quite limited in their stability and polyphony. It would take the Japanese (Korg, Yamaha and Roland) to transform the synth into an affordable and popular musical instrument.

The 80’s Classic Analog Synth – Prophet 5 From Sequential Circuits.

The Prophet 5 by Sequential Circuits, was introduced in 1978 and offered good levels of playability and polyphony, albeit at a price ($4000). This was a fully programmable, polyphonic analog synth, which became a classic of its time – renowned for its strings sound and punchy bass. Although like many of its competitors, it suffered from tuning problems.

By the 80s the microprocessor brought prices down, allowing any serious musician to buy a synthesiser.

Unfortunately, compatibility between the different makes was still an issue. Each manufacturer produced instruments that were unable to ‘talk’ with the other makes, despite improving the onboard facilities.

Some manufacturers were beginning to worry that incompatibility would stunt the growth and sales of their instruments. So in 1981 a ‘universal digital communications system’ was discussed and in 1982 at NAMM, further meetings took place between the leading American and Japanese manufacturers, eventually leading to what we now know as MIDI.

Roland JX-3P Synth – 6 Voice Polyphony Plus MIDI.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It first appeared on a synth in 1983 – the Sequential Prophet 600. Followed by many others, of which the Roland JX-3P became another classic.

In the beginning, MIDI was capable of handling pretty basic messages. The way that MIDI works has not really changed since it was first developed. But over the years greater functionality has been added, giving much more detailed control of synths. Today, MIDI is also used to control stage lighting and recording equipment.

For many of today’s musicians, MIDI has become an essential part of a studio setup. Without it synths, samplers, sequencers and drum machines would not hold such an important place in a large part of modern music.

Essentially MIDI allows certain musical instruments to communicate with one another when they’re connected by a MIDI cable. No sound is present in MIDI. It contains the performance information – which note(s) are played and when, how hard the key is pressed (for example on a keyboard), whether the key pressure changes after the initial press and whether there is a pitch change whilst a key is pressed. This information can be ‘recorded’ and then altered after the performance is finished. Note timing, pitch, length and volume can all be adjusted. It even allows you to change the instrument from say a piano sample to an organ or guitar.

Next week we’ll get into more detail about what MIDI is and what it is not.

Over the years TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group have worked with most of the major record labels and several major artists. If you would like more information on what TCM can do for you and your music, our UK contact details are above.

Our USA contact details are listed below.

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 33 – OVERDUBBING

October 16, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 33 Overdubbing

We took an overview of the multitrack process in TCM Mastering’s Home Music Studio Part 29 and over the last three weeks we have looked at Setup and the Recording Stage in more detail.

Depending on whether you’re recording a full band, yourself as a one-man-band with various instruments or a MIDI setup will determine the approach you use to recording and the rest of the multitrack process.

Recording A Band In A Home Studio. Carefully Placed Acoustic Screens Can Really Help To Separate Instruments As Well As Improve The Sound Of Your Recording Space.

A band is likely to be the most challenging setup in a Home Studio setting. There could be several personalities and egos all fighting for their opinions to be heard.

Acoustics in a home could be less than perfect. Physical space could pose problems with the lack of good instrument separation (although you could always use more than one room if available, or well placed screens – see picture above).

And if you record the band as a whole, there’s a good chance that one person will not play exactly as planned which could compromise the band recording….. because no matter how good the separation is, there’s bound to be some spill from one mic to another.

Let’s say you have an electric guitar going through an amp. Other mics that are setup for the drums, for example, will undoubtedly pick up some of the guitar sound. If the guitarist makes a mistake whilst the whole band are recording, you can’t fix that mistake by overdubbing. The drum microphones will have picked up the mistake too, which means any fix that is done on the guitar track will still conflict with the original mistake in the drum tracks.

 Recording An Acoustic Trio & Vocalist In A Home Studio.

There are good arguments for recording a band as a whole…..the performance will have more of a ‘live’ feel. Band members will take cues from each other whilst playing. One player could take inspiration from another and deliver a great solo. And perhaps the best reason is that, most bands prefer playing as a band! Not as individuals.

However, once that first good track (or tracks in the case of a band) has been recorded, we then move into the Overdubbing Stage. With the technology that is now available to the home musician, it’s a very rare session that does not involve some overdubbing.

In fact musicians can even add tracks to a session if they are in totally different locations. You could start a session in your home studio in the UK and someone else could finish it off in Nashville or Los Angeles.

Les Paul – Recording In His Home Studio.

The overdub technique is pretty straight forward in principle. Whilst listening back (usually on headphones) to the track or tracks that have been recorded, you record another track in sync with the original tracks.

Let’s return to our example used in last week’s blog…..you’re a one man band singing and playing several different instruments. We’ll use Pro Tools again as our system of choice – as it’s a very popular system, it tends to be the choice of many pro studios and space prevents us explaining how every system works.

#1 Suggestion: Unless you’re recording a purely instrumental track, it’s always a good idea to record a ‘guide’ vocal on the initial pass with an instrument if you’re capable of doing the two things simultaneously. First, it may end up being so good you want to keep it. And second, it will help to keep you (or everyone else in a band) together, whilst letting you know if the tempo, key and arrangement is right for the song.

#2 Suggestion: A click track is very useful for keeping the tempo consistent throughout a song – especially if you choose to later overdub drums or edit sections of your song. But many musicians do not like to use them and some songs are written without a regular tempo. So you need to decide if it will help or hinder.

Recording Vocal & Acoustic Guitar In Home Studio.

So you’ve recorded a vocal and/or acoustic guitar with or without a click track. You’re happy with the result, now you want to add more tracks.

Of course, you may eventually decide to replace your original vocal and/or guitar once more tracks have been added. You may feel by the time your song is sounding more full and produced that you could do a better vocal or guitar. This is the beauty of overdubbing at home, you can tweak and perfect your song until you think you have the best possible performance.

Note: Overdubbing, is probably the stage that is abused more than any other. If you have a hundred audio tracks and more MIDI tracks at your disposal, there is great temptation to use too many of them. Use only what the song needs.

Pro Tools Showing The Record Enable Button & Level Registering On The Track Meter.

Connect your instrument or mic and route it to your track, so that you can see level registering in Pro Tools (or in your DAW). Setup and signal paths were discussed in this blog, but always refer to your DAW manual for specific instructions.

Depending on your setup (see Part 29 for examples), connect a pair of headphones to your mixer or preamp headphone out. Make sure the tracks already recorded are made safe. Cue the session to the start of the song.

Hit play and adjust the already recorded track level(s) coming out of Pro Tools or the DAW, so that you can hear the track(s) you want to add to in the headphones. You will also want to hear yourself…..that is, the instrument or vocal you’re adding as the overdub.

If the levels seem okay, cue back to the beginning and go for it. Hit record. If you make a mistake, no problem, stop and try again.

Overdubbing Horns & Drums.

Some musicians take to overdubbing like a ‘duck to water’ and have no problems. Others need a little practice playing, whilst listening to previously recorded tracks. Setting up a good mix in your headphones is very important and makes overdubbing a lot easier (see this article for more details on setting up a headphone mix).

Take time setting the levels of various tracks. You will need the click track or an instrument track which provides a good tempo and rhythm in order to overdub in sync and with proper timing.

Often turning down the level of certain tracks can help with the recording of the overdub. For example, if an electric guitar is too loud, strident or very syncopated it can make it very difficult to play the new part, so try turning the level of the guitar down or removing it completely from the headphone mix.

Overdubbing Electric Guitar.

Take a look at the 24 tracks to the left. It shows how quick you can fill up tracks with just a few instrument overdubs. Some effects (eg. guitar reverb, piano flange) may be recorded to tracks. This can ease the strain on your computer’s processor. Other effects eg. reverb on vocals, may be just added in the monitor mix fed back into the headphones. Remember, running too many plug-ins on too many tracks can often slow your processor down or even choke it completely.

Once you’re happy with the first overdub, the process is basically the same for subsequent ones. You don’t need to listen to all the tracks that have been recorded to do your overdubs, but you should check what they all sound like together, after you have successfully added another overdub track.

What you want to try to avoid is too many instruments playing the same phrase or recording an instrument out of tune or out of tempo with the rest of the tracks. So keep a watchful ‘ear’ on the progress of your song as the number of tracks increases.

The track layout above illustrates an important point…..planning. It’s useful to consider the number and types of instruments that will be used in a song. And when recording them in your DAW, group similar instruments next to each other. For example, by placing all the backing vocals together or the drums, you will find it easier to visually monitor their levels. And by setting multiple channel outputs to a common bus, the signals can be controlled by one aux fader.

Tuning The Piano & Other Instruments To Concert Pitch Before A Session Will Save Problems Later.

#3 Suggestion: You always want to ensure that all instruments are in tune with each other. Normally in today’s Western music, everything is tuned to concert pitch, A (above middle C) 440Hz. For an interesting look at how concert pitch has changed over the centuries, click here.

The overdub process is similar for MIDI instruments. And you need to make the same considerations with regards to phrasing, tuning and tempo. We will cover all aspects of MIDI in later blogs…..coming soon.

Next week we’ll look at Editing your music tracks. Followed by Mixing and Mastering.

If you have any questions regarding the recording or overdub process, drop us a line. Our contact details are here. We love to hear from you.

And don’t forget, TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group provide a professional, fast and affordable service to musicians of all genres.

So if you have some songs that need producing, recording, mixing or mastering contact us for details on our rates and some incredible recording packages.

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 31 – MULTITRACK RECORDING

October 3, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 31 Multitrack Recording

At TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group we love what we do. We love music. So if you have any questions please feel free to drop us a line or call us. Our contact details are here.

We started outlining the multitrack process in TCM Mastering’s Home Music Studio Part 29. Then last week we discussed basic setups (MIDI or Live band) and signal paths.

Before we embark on the Recording stage, it may be useful to refer back to a few earlier blog posts.

Mic Selection And Polarity Patterns.

If you want to read more on microphone types and techniques look at parts 5 and 6.

The Glyn Johns 3 Mic Technique For Recording Drums.

Check out parts 9 and 10 for recording guitars…..followed by strings, horns and woodwind, then drums kicked off in part 18 going through to part 23 for percussion.

Signal Processing – Dynamics And EQ Plug-Ins.

Signal processing started at part 24 and the multitracking process came in at 29.

 TCM Editor’s Note: In order to keep the blogs to a reasonable length every week, we have to make some assumptions. But if you have questions – please let us know by dropping us a line.

Assuming most of you are working in the digital realm, to start recording you will need to open up a new session in your software programme or Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

Pro Tools I/O Setup Matrix Page.

If we use Pro Tools on a Mac as our example…..when you first open up a new session, there are no tracks or mix channels set up. You have to create ‘new’ tracks, set up input/output (I/Os) routings, set your sampling (44.1/48/96 kHz) and bit (16/24 bit) rates etc.

If you are setting up the same parameters, inputs/outputs, plug-ins, tracks and instruments for each session, you will want to put together a Template session. Pro Tools 9 offers several ready to use Templates (see pix below), but it’s also easy to make one to your own specific requirements.

Pro Tools Offers Various Ready To Use Templates.

For example, you could have a Template setup for a 4 piece band or a MIDI setup depending on how you work.

It’s a similar concept to the Word Processing Template, this will pull together all the common things you want in your session, so that you don’t have to start from scratch every time…..a huge time saver.

There will be slight differences for a PC. And other programmes will be different again. But most offer this facility as well as many other time saving options, which you should explore to make your recording experience easier and more efficient.

Remember each system is different, so for specific details read your user manual.


Recording Electric Guitar In Home Studio.

So your DAW is set up and ready for recording. Make sure your input and mixer fader (real or virtual) are turned down all the way. This is just good practice to prevent any unwanted clicks or snaps damaging the speakers (and your ears) when connecting anything.

Plug in the mic or instrument into the correct input of your mixer or interface. Remember an electric or bass guitar will probably need to go through a DI box or into the Hi-Z input and condenser mics will need phantom power.

Providing You Have Setup Your I/Os Correctly, You Should See Your Track Meter Registering Some Activity When There Is A Sound Source Present.

In your programme or DAW, choose the track you want to record to. Providing you have set up I/O routings (as part of your Template) you can then arm the track for record. In Pro Tools you can arm your track in either the Edit or Mix page.

As mentioned in last week’s blog, take care to set the optimum level at each stage of the signal path. Remember your aim is to record the best quality sound signal into your DAW. You want the highest level at each stage with as little noise as possible (a high signal-to-noise ratio) and without distortion or clipping.

There Are Various Types Of Meters To Measure Sound Levels.

Instruments and voices have dynamic range, so you need to allow for the highest peaks and transients from them. Recording in the digital realm is nowhere near as forgiving as analog tape. So if your system allows, always use 24 bit rate over 16 bit, this will give you better signal-to-noise, and remember to peak your recording level no higher than about minus 6-8dB.

Whilst recommending the higher bit rate, I should mention that a 3 minute song with say, 16 tracks recorded at 24 bit rate and 44.1 kHz sample rate will  need about 360 MB of space on your hard drive. If you choose a 96 kHz sample rate you’d be looking at double this amount.

I also recommend you use a separate hard drive from your computer system drive for storing all your audio files and session data, with as much storage space as possible. Audio sessions can use up an awful lot of space.

And whilst we’re on the subject of equipment, don’t under-estimate the importance of a good pair of monitor speakers. To record and mix effectively, you need a pair of monitors that do not colour the sound. Some speakers may accentuate high frequencies whilst some enhance the bass.

KRK VXT6 Active Studio Monitors.

Monitor speakers are available as either Passive or Active. Passive monitors require a separate amp to power them, much like speakers in a Hi-Fi. Active monitors have their own built-in amps. There are plenty of choices on the market in all price ranges. So go for the best you can afford.

A Single Analog Mixer Channel Strip, Split Into 3 Sections For Easy Viewing: Section A – Input Pot & Preamp Plus EQ…..Section B – Aux & Monitor Sends…..Section C – Fader, Pan, Mute, Solo & Bus Assigns Switches.

Meter levels can often be monitored at different points in the signal path but not all systems are the same.

The Prefader Input Level shows you the level of signal entering the mixer channel before it passes through the fader and channel EQ. How much level the meter registers depends on how loud or soft the sound source is and the adjustment of the trim pot (or input gain pot). If you’re using a separate preamp you can make adjustments on the preamp’s trim pot. And if you’re recording with a mic, the position and proximity of the mic will affect the level of your sound source too.

Logic Studio And Cubase Record Pages, Both Systems Offer Excellent Facilities.

The Postfader Input Level shows the signal level after passing through the channel strip including the fader and any EQ adjustments that have been made. The level you see here is different to the prefader level only if the channel trim pot is in a position other than unity gain or if EQ has been adjusted in some way.

The Prefader Track Level is the level actually being recorded on the hard drive or recorder. If you’re setup uses a separate analog mixer and a stand alone recorder, this level is shown on the recorder not the mixer.

The Postfader Track Level displays the level after you have made changes to the track channel’s fader and EQ. This level will only be different to the Prefader Track Level if adjustments have been made to the track fader level and/or EQ.


The Meter Level On The Pro Tools Master Track Represents The Sum Of All The Tracks Being Fed To It.

Master Bus Levels need to be monitored very carefully when mixing. In a typical session there will be many tracks being routed to the Master Bus. Which means that this level represents the sum of all those tracks.

The reason I mention these various points in the signal path is to make you aware that a problem with the sound could be at any one of these stages. If you hear distortion when recording, systematically check your various levels and trust your ears.

It’s also important to mention that in Pro Tools, a track’s channel fader only affects the track’s output level, it does not affect the input (record) level. That is set earlier in the signal chain at the sound source itself or the mic’s preamp.

If you want more information and are using Pro Tools, click here for an excellent article on headroom and the use of the Mix Bus. If you’re using MIDI with Pro Tools you might find this article useful too.

Next week we will continue with the Recording stage by discussing the use of EQ and Effects, recording your first take, punching in and the importance of saving your work.

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 30 – MULTITRACK RECORDING, SETUP & SIGNAL PATHS

September 25, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 30 Multitrack Recording, Setup & Signal Paths

Last week we outlined the multitrack process from – Setup, Recording, Overdubbing, Editing, Mixing to Mastering. Over the next few weeks we’ll look at each stage in detail. Starting this week with Setup and an explanation of what to look out for with signal paths.

 A Compact MIDI Based Home Music Studio.

A home studio that is based primarily around MIDI (short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and keyboards is going to have quite a different setup to a studio that will be working with acoustic instruments or a band. For the latter, you will need a much larger collection of mics (obviously!), and enough space to accommodate all the players.

MIDI is a widely used industry standard protocol that allows various electronic instruments (and computers) to talk to, and synchronise with, each other. MIDI doesn’t contain sound as such, but describes the performance information…..which notes are played, when and for how long…..how hard or soft a note is played…..after-touch pressure…..pitch wheel information etc.

MIDI Setup: If you’re primarily working solo in your home studio and are a keyboard player, chances are you will want to base your setup around MIDI. If you’re not a keyboard player, there are other instruments eg. guitar, saxophone or drums that can be used as MIDI controllers.

The beauty of MIDI is that each instrument part can be programmed perfectly. Pitch, velocity, timing are just a few of the parameters that can be edited. The downside is that MIDI can make a track sound too perfect and stiff, if not enough care and attention is given to producing a ‘human’ feel.

With MIDI, different instruments can be programmed to play the same performance. For example, if you performed a section of a music track with a piano sample, you could replace it or add another track quite easily with a string ensemble sample. This allows you to try out different sounds before committing to one.

Note: In order for different music samples to sound authentic, they do need to be played and phrased like the real instruments, within the appropriate tonal ranges. But with practice you can get very close to the feeling of the real thing.

Logic Pro Is A Top Quality DAW And Sequencer.

A MIDI based studio will have at its heart a sequencer. This device records and plays back the MIDI data. A computer based sequencer, allows both your audio tracks and MIDI tracks to be handled in one place and usually gives you more detailed editing capability than a stand alone sequencer box which might only have a small LCD screen.

A decent sound source or sound generator eg. MIDI keyboard, synthesiser or drum machine is essential for producing authentic sounding, quality instruments.

Drum And Keyboard MIDI Controllers.

You’ll need a MIDI controller, this generates and transmits MIDI data, allowing all your various components to work together. This could be part of your computer software or your main keyboard. A MIDI interface will also be required to connect your keyboards and other sound sources to your computer if that’s where your sequencer exists.

Apart from all of your MIDI components you’ll need a recorder. This is often part of the software programme in your DAW. And for those occasions when you want to add vocals over your instruments, a good quality mic or two will come in useful.

There are so many variations with a MIDI setup depending on the number of keyboards and other pieces of equipment, that there is no one ‘normal’ signal path. Having said that it’s not rocket science. We will delve into the ‘mysteries’ of MIDI in detail in a later blog.

A Four Piece Band Comprising – Guitar, Vocals, Bass And Drums.

Live Setup: This approach is favoured more by bands or groups of musicians – although many bands will use MIDI as part of their setup – and it assumes your studio space is big enough to record several musicians at the same time.

The advantage of recording a band ‘live’ is that there’s a better chance of capturing the magic of a complete performance. But if you don’t get the best mic for the job or the position is not right, or the band is under rehearsed, you could spend more time doing re-takes to fix mistakes or bad mic placement.

For acoustic instruments and vocalists, you will need a good selection of quality microphones, mic stands and cables. See this blog for more information on mics.

The electric and bass guitars may need DI boxes to interface with a mixer, but you can also mic up their amps.

Any keyboards or synths can usually be connected directly into a mixer if you’re recording audio only. If you want to capture MIDI information, you will need a MIDI interface.

A point worth mentioning is that it’s often worth recording MIDI as well as audio. With the MIDI data you can then try out different samples for the same performance without having to re-record.

Again, assuming most of you with home studios are using a DAW or software programme to record your performances, make sure your interface or mixer has enough inputs to record all instruments simultaneously, if that’s the approach you want to use.

If you’re a multi-instrumentalist working on your own you won’t need as many inputs for your setup, as you’ll be recording each instrument individually and overdubbing. But you may still want the flexibility, so make sure you don’t limit yourself by getting too basic a system, with too few facilities.

Being Organised Is Essential With Multiple Audio And MIDI Track Session. Colour Coding Tracks Allows You To Quickly Find Groups eg. Drums In Red.

Not having enough tracks is rarely an issue with most good programmes. Even Pro Tools LE (the basic option) supports 32 instrument tracks and over 200 MIDI tracks!

Ultimately, in a home studio you may need to compromise in one way or another, either by sub-mixing some instruments together eg. the drums or by recording the band in two passes. There’s always a solution to the problem, you just have to be creative and not too rigid in your approach.

You can of course borrow tips from both the MIDI and the Live setups. Tailor your session to what is needed. Don’t get stuck in a rut.

Signal Path: Whether you use a mixer and analog multitrack, a studio-in-the-box, Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase or any other make of software you will still have to get your signal into the recorder at the optimum level without unwanted distortion.

How A Full Band Setup Could Look.

For the purposes of this blog we will assume most home music studio setups are using some kind of digital software, but the principles are much the same whichever setup you own.

Note: Not all software is best suited for all jobs. Some is designed for bands others for MIDI setups. Each has its pros and its cons. Some can only be used on Macs, some on PCs and some on both. So do some research before you buy.

How good your finished recordings sound, depends on the quality of the instruments and players, and how good you are at getting those signals into your recorder (recording stage)…..and out again (mix stage).

Let’s consider an acoustic guitar which is being recorded into a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)…..something like Pro Tools or Logic. The guitar has new strings, it’s tuned and ready to go.

Using the best quality mic you have for recording guitar, connect the mic to a quality preamp. The mic converts acoustical energy into electrical energy. The preamp boosts the weak mic signal up to ‘line-level’.

If you’re signal is going into a stand alone mixer, you have more options for monitoring the audio…..pre- and post-fader input level, pre- and post fader track level, master bus level. We will cover this in more detail next week in Part 31 Recording.

The signal then continues into a soundcard, where it gets converted from analog to digital, before being sent to the computer and your recording software or DAW.

 It’s worth mentioning that most computers have their own built-in sound card. But they are usually quite basic. To achieve good recording results it’s worth investing in a separate soundcard that is specifically designed for the recording task. Make sure you select the external soundcard in your computer settings.

Digidesign (now Avid) make a great selection of interfaces, from the now classic Mbox to M Audio’s Fast Track audio and MIDI interfaces.

If Everything Is Connected And Setup Correctly, You Should See Signal Level On The Metering. Hit Record And You’re In Business.

Once the signal is in your DAW you will need to create a track and setup the correct input in your programme, for the signal to be recorded.

At each of the different stages, you will need to pay attention to the signal level. Levels should be high enough to get a good signal-to-noise ratio, but not so hot that they distort.

If you adjust level too low at one stage, you will end up having to raise it at another. Alternatively, if it’s too hot at the preamp stage, for example, you will need to lower it at a later stage in the signal path.

The optimum level at each stage will produce the best recording results.

Assuming you have everything setup correctly, if you play the instrument you should be able to see signal level on the metering for the track you’re recording onto. All that’s left is to hit the record button and you should be in business.

Small But Powerful Mixer Which Can Be Interfaced With Pro Tools Software.

If you’re using something like Pro Tools, there is a mix page in the programme where you can monitor incoming signals and make adjustments to your final mix. Or you could hook up an external mixer (like the ProjectMix I/O above), if you prefer to use real faders as opposed to moving faders on a page with a mouse.

It’s worth mentioning that audio recording and playing back uses up a lot of computer processing power, especially when you use lots of plug-ins. So it’s wise to go for the fastest computer, with the most RAM that you can afford.

Also, invest in a couple of hard drives. Use one drive for all your software and operating system (OS) and another for all the audio session files and data. This setup increases stability and helps to prevent crashes.

Glyph Hard Drive – Firewire 400/800 & USB 2.0

The drive in the computer is usually sufficient to handle the software and OS, but for the other make sure you get a fast (7200 rpm) drive with a fast seek time (less than 10 m/s), with at least an 8MB buffer and fast connection…..firewire works well. Check out this link for more information.

Don’t forget, if you have any questions about the blog series so far, or any queries about the whole recording/mixing process – get in touch, by clicking here.

Or if you have a project that needs a session musician, producing, mixing or mastering – TCM Music Group are offering some really incredible recording and online mastering packages.