Computer Music's A to Z of Digital Music Making: Part 1
The A-Z of digital music makingA Zof digital music making toThe first half of our essential home studioreference guide take us all the way to ‘M’… Part 1O ne of the most difficult things the definitive ‘Encyclopaedia about making music with Computermusica’. Originally conceived computers is keeping track of as a single article, we realised thatall the terms and techniques involved. we’d need considerably more spaceThe pace of change is so fast that to than that, so we’ve divided thekeep up with all the developments you alphabet in half, with A to M here andcan find yourself spending more time N to Z next month.surfing the net and reading magazines Here it is, then – Part 1 of ourthan you do actually making music! complete A-Z guide to all things music So, to combat this we’ve compiled production-related… cm
The A-Z of digital music making ADSR AAC Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release. The most common form of modulation envelope. Advanced Audio Coding. A compressed music file format similar in concept to MP3, AAC is the audio format Apple users are encouraged (by Apple!) to use. ■ ATTACK ■ DECAY The speed at which the The speed at which the parameter (volume, parameter drops to the Acoustics filter cutoff, etc) being sustain level. With a modulated reaches piano, after the initial The sonic properties of an environment. A square room with maximum value after strike there’s a loud brick walls, high ceilings, wood floors and no furniture is the the envelope is burst of sound, after triggered. In volume which the level drops worst acoustic setup. Near-field monitoring compensates terms, a piano or other quickly to a much somewhat, but it’s well worth applying some acoustic treatment struck instrument has lower volume to such a space. Asymmetrical shapes are best, as they prevent an attack of almost bass from building up too much. Covered walls and full rooms zero, while a violin has also ease reflections. If you want accurate bass monitoring, avoid a slow attack placing your speakers halfway between major surfaces (floor, ceiling and walls) and keep them out of corners. Active monitors Monitor speakers with built-in amplifiers. The advantages of this include lower signal degradation when using long amp-to- speaker cabling, and reliable frequency response. It’s also harder to blow speakers with amps in them. Active speakers are more expensive than passive speakers. A/D converter Analogue-to-Digital Analogue-to-Digital. The circuitry used to convert soundwaves into a series of ■ SUSTAIN ■ RELEASE digital snapshots that can be recorded by a computer. The level at which the The time taken for the modulated parameter parameter to drop to ADAT (volume in our piano zero after the key is example) settles at for released. String as long as the key is instruments take longer Alesis Digital Audio Tape. A very popular multitrack digital held down to stop reverberating recording format in the 90s. The tape has gone, but the eight- than wind instruments channel optical audio interface remains and is a standard port and thus have a longer for multi-channel digital audio. release time Additive synthesis Two other parameters sometimes found on envelopes are Delay (the time taken for the envelope to enter the attack stage after it’s triggered) and Hold A synthesis technique (found between Sustain and Release, defining the time between when the whereby a sine wave is envelope stops Sustaining and starts Releasing after the key is released). generated at a root frequency and then ‘partials’ (additional sine waves) are stacked on top of it at harmonically related intervals. MODERN ADDITIVE SYNTHS CAN Modern additive synths can stack hundreds of partials for incredibly STACK HUNDREDS OF PARTIALS FOR rich textures. If you’ve heard a Hammond INCREDIBLY RICH TEXTURES organ, youll know how great stacked sine waves sound…
The A-Z of digital music making to a track’s timeline. Different genres have standardAftertouch Analogue modelling arrangements, incorporating distinct sections such as chorus, verse and middle-eight. Arrangement can have aThe ability of some keyboards to Software processes and algorithms massive impact on the final product and is one oftransmit pressure information after that aim to mimic the sounds and the key concepts in songwriting.the initial key strike. You can hit a effects created by analoguekey and then press harder and circuitry. These days, software can ASIOlighter, which is transmitted as simulate the individual parts of acontrol data. Most keyboards offer circuit, right down to diodes and Developed by Steinberg, ASIO stands for Audiokeyboard-wide aftertouch (Channel) transistors, resulting in uncannily Stream In/Out and is a driver standard developedbut some handle it separately for realistic soft recreations of to minimise latency when recording and playingeach key (Polyphonic). hardware synths, such as Arturia’s back multitrack digital audio simultaneously. ASIO is Moog Modular V. the music industry’s standard driver format for Windows.AIFF AttenuationAudio Interchange File Format.The default audio file type for Mac. The lowering in volume of an audio signal.It’s handled in exactly the sameway as WAV, supporting various bit- Audible frequency rangerates – most commonly 16- or 24-bit. Most audio software, on both The range of sound frequencies that can be heard by theMac and PC, can handle both of 1 The original Moog wouldve taken up half your human ear. This is usually defined as 20Hz-20kHz (20,000Hz), butthese file formats. bedroom and cost the earth. Hurrah for software! in practice can be much less, according to the individual and their age. To complicate things further, many audio engineersAliasing Apple believe even higher frequencies have a psychoacoustic effect on how we hear sounds, despite being inaudible.A digital audio artefact resulting The Cupertino-based companyfrom any audio material that behind the Macintosh series of Audio Unitscontains frequencies higher than computers. The Mac has alwaysone half of the sample rate. For sold itself as the musician’s Apple’s proprietary plug-in format for Mac OS X. FunctionallyCD quality audio, this is anything computer of choice, but the fact is indistinguishable from VST or any other format, once installed, AUabove 22kHz. there’s absolutely no difference in plug-ins become available to all compatible host software. terms of final output between itAmplifier and its Windows PC rival – it’s Automation purely down to personal choice. InMany people shell out a small the past, Apple have relied on Control data used to manipulate mixer or plug-in parameters infortune on a high-end audio processors from Motorola and IBM a sequencer – such as volume,interface and monitors, then run to build their machines, but pan, cutoff or reverb time, forthem alongside a ten year-old hi-fi they recently announced example. Just about any parameteramp. A bad amp equals bad the controversial in any plug-in effect or instrumentsound, period, and hi-fi amps often move to Intel chips. should be able to receive controllerhave sonically flattering circuitry in 3 The Apple information. Different sequencersthem, even if they don’t say it on Apple Loops brand has become handle automation slightlythe box. Finally, your amp’s per- synonymous differently, but the data tends tochannel power should be slightly A relatively new audio with beautiful appear alongside audio and MIDI design, from thegreater than your monitors’ format, used by iPod to the G5 tracks within your arrangement, andcapacity, in order to prolong the life GarageBand and you can draw it, record it from aof the amp. Logic Pro. Apple MIDI controller, or copy it from Loops have timing another part of the arrangement.Analogue and pitch information Automation data can be graphically embedded, allowing edited just like any other part ofEquipment in which sound is them to be dropped your song.transmitted as variable voltage into compositions andelectrical signals, such as a automatically Auxiliary busconventional amp and speakers, timestretched andnon-digital hardware synths and pitchshifted, just like Spatial effects such as reverb andelectric guitars. Purists argue that the older Acidized delay are sometimes set up onanalogue sounds warmer, but a lot WAV format. auxiliary busses in the mixer inof analogue equipment introduces order to be shared by multiplehiss and unpleasant distortion. Arrangement tracks. A controllable amount of theWhen it’s good it’s very, very good, signal from any mixer channel canbut when it’s noisy it’s horrible – The placement of then be sent to these effects via thewhich explains why the whole different musical Send knob, and theirworld of music production is sections and output is returned separately to thegradually going digital. elements in relation main mix.
The A-Z of digital music making musicians recording external Balance (pan) Cakewalk instruments do so through a single analogue channel strip, often The distribution of audio between the left and right channels of One of the oldest names in containing valves, to give their a stereo image. On analogue mixers each channel is commonly sequencing, this American recordings a warmer sound than mono, and the balance control is used to pan sounds left or company now produce a range of digital soundcard circuitry can right, the aim being to create a ‘balance’ of sound between the software to suit most budgets and deliver on its own. Many such speakers. Software mixers feature both mono and stereo levels, the two best known being channel strips now feature digital channels, and in the case of the latter, the pan control usually Project 5 and Sonar. outputs for lossless transfer directly determines the relative volumes of the left and right signal, rather into a computer. Focusrite’s Trak than actually panning one signal left or right. Master is one example of a great sounding, budget priced channel Bit-rate strip (www.focusrite.com). Cent Also known as bit-depth, bit-rate determines the theoretical Chords maximum dynamic range of a digital audio stream. When audio The smallest subdivision of is displayed as a waveform, bit-rate can be thought of as the musical pitch: there are 100 cents Groups of notes (named after their resolution of the vertical axis, representing, in essence, the to a semitone (one musical note). root note and variation), that can accuracy with which the volume difference between individual It’s always worth using fine-tune be played as one for a samples can be expressed. 24-bit is the current professional when working with synths and harmonically pleasing sound. Try standard, but high bit-rates are more important for music with samplers, as the best judge of pressing C, E and G on your high dynamic range (such as classical or jazz) than for heavily musical harmony is not your keyboard simultaneously. limited pop and dance music. computer display but your own Congratulations – that’s your ears. You’ll be amazed what a first chord! Bounce difference ten cents can make. Chorus The rendering of a complete song, group of channels or Channel strip individual channel as an audio file. Also called ‘audio export’. A thickening effect created by Once a channel or track is bounced, it cannot be altered, but the A catch-all name for the controls layering two identical sounds with resulting audio file can be edited and reprocessed. (volume, pan, EQ, sends, etc) on a delay, slight modulation and single mixer channel. Although the possibly detuning applied. Chorus Buffer concept is equally applicable to often has the effect of pushing a software mixers as hardware, many sound back in the mix, so layering In computing, a buffer is an area of RAM used to store data while it’s being processed. With music software, this data is any number of audio streams, and getting the size of the buffer right Compressor (usually adjustable in your soundcard or audio interface’s Settings A tool for altering the dynamic range and character of an audio signal, dialog) is an important consideration. Small buffer sizes give Compressors can be applied to complete mixes or individual channels, but lower latency for virtual instrument playback and software they always have two main effects. Firstly, they reduce the difference between monitoring, but can cause glitches and dropouts as the computer the loudest and quietest parts of an audio signal, making it seem louder and struggles to keep up with the rate at which the buffer needs to fuller; and secondly, they can add punch and ‘pump’ to an audio signal. be filled and emptied. Large buffer sizes result in greater stability but at the expense of latency. Generally, you’ll probably want to use small buffers when recording and composing (for maximum 1 3 instrument and monitoring response) and larger ones when 5 mixing (for stability). 2 Bus 4 As the name suggests, 6 buses are used to transport sounds around the mixer environment, but bus also stands for Bloody Useful Submixers. If you have eight drum channels, for example, 1 Threshold Sets the signal level at which compression will begin to be applied 3 Attack Sets the speed with which the compressor responds to the incoming that you want to process signal. A setting of a few milliseconds 2 together, you can combine Ratio creates a punchy effect, allowing a the output of all eight Controls the amount of signal small section of the signal through channels into one bus, reduction applied, presented as a before the compression kicks in ratio. For example, a ratio of 5:1 which you can then insert whatever effects you like into. Busses can also be means that for every 5dB the signal exceeds the threshold, it’s attenuated so that it only actually 4 Release Sets the speed with which the compression is released after the used for handling effects increases by 1dB signal drops back below the threshold returns (see Auxiliary bus).
The A-Z of digital music making loudest recordable signal. Anything more than this and youll end up with clipping. Controllers There’s nothing wrong with a mouse, CC (Continuous Controller) but for sheer sex appeal, you can’t beat a big knob. Hardware The MIDI forerunner to today’s sequencer automation systems. controllers aren’t just about looking On hardware synths, samplers and effects, most parameters will cool, though, they’re practical too. be assigned a MIDI CC number. By sending data on the For example, if your track sounds matching CC number ‘channel’ from a sequencer or keyboard, great, but the bass and drums aren’t quite right, it’s better to alter them that parameter can be automated. Despite today’s much more both simultaneously, which a mouse powerful automation setups, many plug-ins can still also be doesn’t allow. Here are a few of the configured to respond to specific CC numbers, for the sake of1 Two sounds are better than one: bulk up your different controller types… compatibility with older systems.sound with a good Chorus plug-in different sounds (or multiple Convolution reverb takes, if it’s a live instrument) is often a better option with up-front A reverb based on samples of real spaces, called impulse lead sounds. responses (or IRs). A test signal (usually a gunshot) is played in an environment, and all of the complex reverberations it creates Clipping are recorded. The convolution reverb then uses this as a template for how sound behaves in that space, calculating the paths your Digital clipping is one of the more sound would take around it and producing reverberation based unpleasant sounds man has on that. Convolution reverb sounds unbelievably realistic, but is introduced to the world. It takes one of the most processor hungry effects you can apply. For this place when an incoming signal reason, some producers call it ‘frozen reverb’! exceeds a digital-to-analogue converter’s capacity to record its Core Audio value, and commonly sounds like sharp static or clicking when Mixers – Real faders, transport Core Audio is Apple’s standardised low-latency audio driver played back. To visualise it, controls, record-arming buttons, system for all versions of OS X since 10.2. Any compatible audio remember the bit-rate explanation, channel strips and scene recall! interface (just about all of them these days) will be available to Whether you go a for a fully and imagine that the upper portion expanded Mackie Control setup or any audio application running under OS X. of a waveform display is the are happy with the eight motorised faders of the Behringer BCF2000, a Crack hardware mixing surface is one investment you’ll never5 Knee A piece of software that’s been illegally broken (cracked) into to regret making. The response curve of the remove its copy-protection. Often unstable, always illegal and acompressor. A soft knee allows the threat to the future of software development (and the livelihoodscompression to begin slowly as thesignal approaches the threshold, thus of smaller developers), it’s suggested that for every legal copy ofsmoothing the transition from a piece of music software installed, there are five cracks beingcompressed to uncompressed. This used. So dont do it, OK?can prevent the pumping effect whenprocessing whole tracks, but is lessuseful for punchy effects Cubase6 Make-up gain Because by its very naturecompression lowers the volume of a Probably the most famous sequencer of all, Cubase is manufactured by Germansignal, gain must be applied at theend of the processing to raise the company Steinberg (now ownedoverall level back to that of the by Yamaha). The evolution of anoriginal peaks early MIDI-only sequencing Knobs – Nothing package, Cubase was the7 Peak/RMS (Not shown) The human ear does not perceiveshort sounds as being as loud as encourages hands-on programming like a rack full of software that introduced the milestone VST standard, and it rotaries. The best example of lateequivalent-level long sounds. comes from Behringer: their could well be argued thatTherefore, the RMS (Root Mean BCR2000 offers a unit full of the Cubase VST (released in the second half of the 90s)Square) setting is used to calculate things for a little over a ton.something closer to the average heralded the birth of the 100% virtual studio as we know it today.signal level over a short period of Nice one, Steinberg! Pads – Sometimestime, rather than responding solely to tickling the ivories justactual peaks. The resulting sound is a can’t cut it when laying Cutofflot more natural. However, RMS is not down beats. Find newquite as punchy as peak operation inspiration by bashing(which is more suited to punchy The frequency at which a filter stops assignable drum pads,sounds) and can allow some short such as those on the M- affecting an audio signal. For example, atransients through. This can potentially Audio Trigger Finger. low-pass filter plug-in with the cutoff set tooverload digital systems 1kHz will filter out all of the sound going through it above 1kHz.
The A-Z of digital music making feature a low-cut filter. OS X come with generic drivers for D/A converter most types of device, you should Digital audio always use the driver supplied by Digital-to-Analogue converter. The opposite of an A/D converter. the hardware manufacturer if The term used to describe real available. In audio terms, this DAW world soundwaves captured, translates directly into improved stored and/or played back as performance and lower latencies. Digital Audio Workstation. A catch-all term for a multitrack discrete numerical values. Just as Keeping up to date with all your system used for the recording, playback and manipulation of a moving picture is actually a hardware’s latest drivers is vital to digital audio. With today’s sequencers all audio-enabled, the series of still images played quickly, the smooth running of your system, terms ‘DAW’ and ‘sequencer’ are pretty much interchangeable. so digital audio is a series of sonic so check the net for updates. snapshots played quickly. Decibel (dB) Dry/wet Dithering While in the real world decibels refer to the actual loudness of a The balance of unprocessed and sound, within a DAW they’re the unit of measurement of the The process used to reduce processed signal output from a intensity (volume) of a signal. artefacts in digital audio when bit- plug-in such as a reverb or delay. rates are reduced – commonly Fully dry means only the original De-esser from 24-bit to 16-bit, for burning a (unprocessed) signal will be heard; finished track to CD. Changing the fully wet means only the processed A processor that reduces the sibilance and hiss that vocalists bit-rate changes the relationship signal (minus the original sound) often produce when singing plosive sounds such as ‘s’ or ‘p’. between consecutive samples in will be heard. Fully wet signals are Early techniques involved elaborate side-chained compression an audio file, which can result in used in send/receive loops (since and EQ combinations, but now we can just insert a plug-in. unpleasant harmonics. Dithering the amount of signal sent to the works by adding a small amount of effect is set on the original signal’s Defragmentation ‘noise’ to the signal, eliminating channel strip), while a mixture is these unwanted harmonics. used for insert effects. Your computer writes data to its hard drive countless times every day, and although all sorts of clever techniques are Distortion Digital Signal employed by the operating system to keep it streamlined and Processing (DSP) efficient, eventually it will distribute data wherever there’s space. We’ll assume you all know what This means it has to work much harder to retrieve it. If you find distortion sounds like. If not, find Effects and other types of signal your disk is spluttering every time you try to stream audio off it, it an old Dictaphone, shout into the creation and modification may well be time to defragment it. This reorganises the files and microphone at the top of your voice calculated by the computer’s CPU. empty regions of your hard drive. Windows has a defrag utility and play it back. Distortion can be The more powerful your CPU, the built-in, but there are better third party utilities out there. great or terrible. Distorted lead more DSP plug-ins you can run. guitar – tasty. Distorted final mix – minging. Our advice is to get DirectX Instruments yourself a good distortion plug-in (DXi) and take it slow. A PC-only virtual instrument plug-in Dongle standard developed by Cakewalk. Copy-protection devices (usually Dynamic range USB). To operate, the protected software must detect the presence The difference between the of the dongle when launched. loudest and quietest part of a sound, which greatly affects the Driver way we perceive it, particularly over the course of time. Dynamic Piece of software that tells your processors such as compressors computer how to address certain and limiters are used to control 1 Its important to defrag regularly to keep your hard drive at the top of its game hardware. While Windows and Mac dynamic range. Delay Also known as echo, delay is one of the most useful effects around. It can often fill out a track more than an additional musical element, and can be switched on and off for choruses and verses. The basic controls on a delay unit are delay time (measured in milliseconds or note lengths), feedback (controls the number of repeats) and wet/dry mix. In addition, because in nature each echo loses some of its top-end, many delays feature a high-cut filter. Finally, so as not to overpower a mix, some also 1 TC Electronic’s PowerCore has dedicated DSP chips for powering plug-ins without taxing your CPU
The A-Z of digital music making The resulting sound is a distinctiveEnvelope FireWire whooshing, ‘metal-pipe’, phase-like Filter effect and was used to death by(See also ADSR.) A common type of The trademark name of Apple’s early drum ’n’ bass producers. Try A plug-in (ormodulation source, used to less catchy sounding IEEE 1394 applying it before other effects for a section of adetermine the timing and intensity interface standard. FireWire can subtler vibe. plug-in) thatof a parameter, such as volume, handle large amounts of data literally filters a signal, allowingfilter cutoff or pitch. transfer and so is often used as the Freeze only specific connection protocol for audio frequenciesEthernet interfaces. It’s also used to link Freezing is a process by which through. In hard drives and other external your sequencer automatically synthesis the filter shares the crown forThe most common type of LAN hardware, and even to network renders an audio or plug-in most influential sound-(Local Area Network) connection. pairs of machines. instrument track as an audio file, shaping device with theEthernet can be used to connect complete with any plug-in effects oscillators themselves.multiple computers in the studio, Flanger processing. Freezing a channel Here are the four most common filter types…and various software is available for frees your CPU from the burden ofcombining their power in musically Similar to a phaser, a flanger all the DSP-hungry effects and Low-pass – Low-passuseful ways, such as FX Teleport doubles a signal, modulating the instruments on that channel, as the filters allow only(www.fxteleport.com) and Apple’s copy and slightly delaying it. You computer only has to play back an frequencies below a definable cutoff pointLogic Node (www.apple.com). can then alter the modulation audio file. A track must be unfrozen to pass. This is the speed and relative signal levels. to make changes to its content, but most common type ofExciters/enhancers filter. On synths itPlug-ins that make high frequency FREEZING A CHANNEL FREES allows sounds to retain their weight and power, whilst changing theirsounds brighter and clearer, andbass punchier and deeper.Izotope’s Ozone 3 YOUR CPU FROM THE BURDEN sonic characteristics. High-pass – The(www.izotope.com), for example. OF DSP-HUNGRY EFFECTS opposite of low-pass, a high-pass filter is both a creative effect and a you can still alter the volume and tool for taming unruly Equaliser (EQ) panning while frozen. bass frequencies in a mix. Good mixesA type of filter that either boosts or attenuates specific frequencies, be they generally allow eachbass, treble or midrange. Cutting sounds around the one you want to bring Frequency sound or group of sounds space toout works better than boosting the sound you’re trying to highlight – eg, cut breathe, and good bass Sound is simply the name given toguitars to bring out vocals. If something’s not clear in the mix, it’s because certainly requires this. vibrations in air that are detectablethere’s too much going on, which boosting will often only exacerbate. to our ears. These vibrations travel Band-pass – Band- in waves, which vary in length. In pass filters only allow a ■ FREQUENCY The point around which all the action takes place. Whether you’re cutting or audio terms, frequency is the specific and definable boosting, the easiest way to find your target frequency is to apply significant number of times these waves selection of frequencies boost and a reasonably low Q setting, and sweep the frequency until you hit (a band) to pass occur per second. It’s measured in though. The controls on the spot. You can then set the correct cut or boost, and tweak the Q setting Hz (Hertz) and kHz (Kilohertz). Bass offer are the central sounds have long wavelengths (and frequency and width can shake solid objects), while (the amount either side of the central frequency treble sounds have short allowed to pass), along wavelengths (and can shatter with resonance. For a glass). For example, a bass lush filtering effect that soundwave at 20Hz will complete combines the best of the high- and low-pass its wave cycle 20 times per filter sweep sound, second, while a treble sound at sweep the central 20kHz will complete it a whopping frequency up and down 20,000 times per second. while experimenting with the bandwidth. Front Side Bus (FSB) Notch – The opposite of the band-pass, a AKA System Bus. The connection notch (or band-reject) between a computer’s processor, filter removes specific frequencies in a ■Q ■ BOOST/CUT RAM and other motherboard prescribed range. With The Q setting determines Boosting bass and treble components. Its speed is measured a variable wet/dry how wide a frequency band frequencies can be effective, but in MHz or GHz and it’s critical to control, this works just either side of the central mid-range boost tends to alter like a conventional EQ frequency is affected by the the tonal quality of a sound the overall speed of a computer. cut and can be used as EQ. Small ranges are very (often for the worse). Mid-range The thing to measure is the ratio a creative effect or as a unnatural sounding but not cutting of competing elements is between the processor and FSB tool for removing any without their uses usually a better idea speed. The smaller the better, or it unruly frequencies. can become a bottleneck…
The A-Z of digital music making Gain Harmonics Key Measured in dB, gain refers to the raising of an audio signal An oft-used but rarely understood The scale(s) employed in any given level. A volume slider only controls how much of the signal term. In basic terms, harmonics are piece of music, based around a present is allowed through, while the gain actually boosts the simply musically related central note (the root). Trained signal level in absolute terms. Remember, though, that boosting frequencies at specific intervals musicians can improvise live gain boosts all the sounds present in the signal, including any beyond the fundamental frequency together and still ensure they only hiss and hum. of a given note (every octave above play harmonious combinations of or below it, for example). The more notes, based on a mutually agreed GarageBand 2 harmonics present, the fuller and key. Fortunately, most people can richer the sound. hear when two notes sound ‘wrong’ More proof (if needed) that Apple are together, so can usually construct bent on total world domination, musical parts that don’t clash, even starting with the music industry. Insert if only through trial and error with a GarageBand 2 comes as part of the looped sequence. But nothing iLife ’05 consumer creative package When an effect plug-in is placed beats the thrill of playing riffs live, and offers instruments, effects, loops directly into a signal chain, it’s so we’d suggest learning at least a and recording. It comes free with called an insert effect. Some little music theory. every new Mac and is so easy to effects, such as reverb, work best use that even a one-armed, tone- when the processed signal is Keyboard (QWERTY) deaf gibbon with behavioural added to the original, but for problems could produce tracks with others, particularly filters and The thing that we’re writing these it that are in time and in key. dynamics processors, the original words on. The QWERTY keyboard is signal is replaced by the new, a hugely untapped production Gate modified version via an insert. resource. Get to know your software’s shortcuts (many apps This aptly named device selectively allows audio signals to pass allow you to set your own) and or not – the bouncer of the processing world, if you will. By use them. There are even setting a threshold, a gate can be set to only allow signals above companies producing specially a certain level to pass. Other controls determine how quickly the labelled and colour-coded gate opens and closes. A gate can also be triggered by additional keyboards for specific signals, so you could, for example, use a dedicated (and unheard) software packages, such as drum loop to trigger the gate on strings or a vocal, for a chopping Logic Keyboard effect. Simply route the trigger channel to the gate’s sidechain ( (www.logickeyboard.com (www.logickeyboard.com). input instead of the main outputs and tap away. 1 Use your Logic: speed up your music Keyboard (musical) Gigahertz (GHz) production with a colour coded keyboard In days gone by, if you wanted an The main measurement of processor clock speeds. It references Jitter electronic keyboard, you had to the number of clock cycles your processor operates at – 1GHz buy a synth, electric piano or being one billion cycles per second. In terms of Windows PCs, Jitter describes erroneous home organ, but with the rise of all you really need to know is that anything above 3GHz should fluctuations in a digital clock the standalone sound module and be plenty for the next couple of years, and anything below signal, such as that keeping two then music software, ‘soundless’ 1-2GHz means you should probably start thinking about digital audio devices in sync. This is controller keyboards have become upgrading soon… more of an issue for the hardware- all the rage. When you’ve got so based studio than the software- many sounds in your computer, General MIDI (GM) based one, since the former utilises why waste money and space on a many totally independent big old synth? Little more than Long before we cared where our supermarket produce came instruments and effects, while control surfaces for playing plug-in from, GM stood for General MIDI. It allows standardised playback software plug-ins automatically instruments, most transmit data of MIDI files so that while the piano, guitar, drums or flute part sync via their host protocol. and receive power via a USB cable. might sound better on one GM sound module than another, different machines will at least play back the right instrument type for each part. GM has been elaborated on by various companies (Yamaha XG, Roland GS, etc), but thanks to today’s more diverse music production landscape, it’s quickly going the way of the dodo. Granular synthesis Similar in essence to digital sampling, granular synthesis employs tiny ‘grains’ of sound (typically 1-50ms in length). These can then be re-ordered, layered and modulated to produce truly unique sonic soundscapes. 1 A good controller keyboard is a studio essential
The A-Z of digital music making careful not to overdo it, though (3-Latency 6dB of attenuation is plenty), as it Look-ahead can squeeze all of the dynamic lifeThe delay in playback and out of a track in exchange for just Technique employed by softwareresponse of audio and MIDI data being bloody loud. For club music dynamics processors to preventcaused by the software and that’s an acceptable trade-off, but short and abrupt transientshardware in your system. You for more natural styles it might just passing through. When used live,might, for example, notice a delay your stuff sound like Busted. processing is usually delayed by abetween the time you press a key couple of milliseconds, which,on a keyboard and the note from a Linux although imperceptible to us, givessoft synth issuing from your the processor time to react. Whenspeakers. Bad drivers, long MIDI Developed by a guy called Linus streaming from a hard drive, thecables and poor hardware can all Torvalds, Linux is a UNIX-basedcontribute. Most software andhardware has I/O buffer and latency operating system. The source code is freely available for all to tinker LOOK-AHEAD IS EMPLOYED TO PREVENT SHORT ANDsettings. It’s usually measured in with, provided the results aremilliseconds and anything under shared. It’s slowly finding favourabout 10ms will be pretty with some electronic musiciansunnoticeable to anybodycompletely human. We have heard because it’s got the ‘geek factor’ in spades, it’s free from the ABRUPT TRANSIENTStales of engineers who can discern convolution and legacy issues of processor will often simply load thesingle millisecond latencies, but we Windows, and there are an material a few milliseconds earliersuspect they’d short-circuit if we increasing number of free and than it’s due to be played.chucked water in their face. stable Linux music applications coming onto the scene. LoopLegato Live A section of music edited for the 5 Version 5 of Live should beA style of musical playback imminent as you read this purpose of repetition within aninvolving smooth, sliding transitions While most DAWs constitute virtual arrangement, or layering on top ofbetween consecutive notes. Often recreations of analogue hardware one. Loops are chopped into barcalled glide in synthesizer parlance. (or other DAWs!), Live broke the lengths that generally divide into or mould on its release. Based by eight. Many sequencers nowLow Frequency around the use of audio clips, it deal primarily with loops, such asOscillator (LFO) facilitates truly spontaneous music FL Studio, Acid and Live, but thanks creation. Its tools for navigating and to technology and user pressure,A type of modulator with countless time-stretching sections of audio most have now expanded to allowuses, the LFO can be wired to all from larger files and combining more traditional and versatilemanner of instrument and effect them in easily modifiable groups sequencing and recording as well.parameters. For example, a have made it a favourite amongstconventional sine wave LFO routed forward thinking DJs and dance Loopingto filter cutoff produces a wah-wah music producers, and it’s single-effect – as the sine wave goes up handedly revolutionising the live Sample looping was the techniqueand down, it takes the filter cutoff electronica arena. Since its initial used by early samplers to extendwith it. In addition to the LFO shape, release, Live’s developers, Ableton, the length of a sampled sound. Forthere’s also a speed or rate control have striven to harness this real- example, after the initial attack andthat dictates how quickly the time creative power in a workable decay phase (see ADSR), mostoscillator oscillates (goes up and studio tool, and in its current sounds tend to sound prettydown), and thus the speed of the incarnation, it offers all of its consistent until they’re releasedeffect. In our case, increasing the previous live audio manipulation and start to fade away. Because ofspeed would increase the speed of prowess, combined with a low memory constraints, earlythe wah-wah effect (from seconds competitive sequencing samplists had to set the sampler tolong to almost imperceptible). package, VST/AU compatibility loop that section until the key was and onboard effects. released, thus allowing sustainedLimiting notes to be created from short Logic Pro samples. This was also the wayA vital step in the mixing and almost all sample-based soundmastering processes. Essentially a Logic Pro is Apple’s very own, modules would handle theirsevere form of compression, Mac-only sequencer. Though sample banks. Finding the correctlimiting raises the apparent volume expensive, it offers the most looping points and setting upof a signal, making the quieter bits comprehensive studio smooth fade points between thelouder and the louder bits as loud package available, shipping start and end of a loop was aas they can be. It can make the with a huge number of skilled art that’s been rendereddifference between a confident, excellent built-in synths and largely redundant by hugeprofessional sounding mix and a effects, a sampler and a huge 1 Lovin the Logic: expensive and increases in available memory andtimid, amateurish demo track. Be sound library. Now at version 7. Mac only, but well worth its weight hard disk streaming samplers.
The A-Z of digital music making complicated control information Master and sends the signal to Mastering we’ve associated with sequencers Slave units. It’s transmitted 24 for two decades was unthinkable. times per quarter note (one beat), The process by which finished tracks are subsequently Originally designed to travel down and so the speed of these signals processed to make them more polished and appropriate for one cable (and in one direction is directly proportional to the their target medium. Common processes employed include only) MIDI data could operate on tempo. OK, maths lovers: if a track stereo widening, bass and treble enhancement, compression, EQ 16 channels, delivering up to 128 is playing at 120bpm, how many and limiting. For commercial release, it’s probably best to go to a types of controller information for MIDI clock signals will the master professional mastering engineer who is skilled in your genre, but each one (with a range 128 send the slave in one minute? gentle limiting is often all you need to transform a quiet sounding possible values each). Some of Yeah, thats right – loads. mix. Just be sure not to overdo things and always retain an these parameters were, and still original unprocessed copy in case the need for alterative are, ‘hardwired’, but others were left Mix mastering arises later. free for people to assign to whatever they wanted. In addition, The mix, in its broadest sense, Matrix editor MIDI equipment can be daisy- refers to the balance of the chained and used to return musical elements in a composition A graph-like window for inputting, displaying and editing MIDI performance information to a in terms of relative volume and notes and controller data, the matrix editor usually takes the sequencer. It’s absolutely speaker placement (pan). In form of a piano roll or a dedicated drum editor. The most impossible to overstate the practice, though, the mix is also the common arrangement involves a timeline running from left to contribution MIDI has made to sum of all the processing applied right at the top of the window, with a list of either drum types or modern music. Even today, it’s the to each channel and via any effects notes running down the left side, thus allowing you to graphically language used within most sends and returns. Some genres determine what sounds play when and for how long. sequencers to control most plug-in require very full mixes (such as instruments. It’s a credit to the hard rock, with its ‘wall-of-sound’ Metronome system that, almost unchanged, it’s approach) and others sparser still built into very nearly every mixes where each element has A time-keeping device that acts as a guide for musicians when single bit of music software. It is plenty of space. Tricks like EQ playing live. Also known as a click, it’s usually found on a beginning to show its age, but only reduction, targeted filtering and sequencer’s transport bar. When engaged it sounds on the beat slightly, and we hope that whatever compression can all be used to at the prescribed tempo and time-signature. system eventually replaces it is at create a complete sonic image, least as future-proof and, even and the fullest mixes are often the MIDI more importantly, as universally most carefully crafted, as for that adopted as this. sonic wall to sound like a wall and Acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. MIDI was not a total mess, judicious created in the 80s during a rare moment of cooperation between MIDI clock processing has been applied to music equipment manufacturers (you’d never see them doing each piece. If this seems anything so silly and helpful these days!) in order to solve the A type of synchronisation data somewhat contradictory to you, just problem of cross-compatibility. Before then, it was often used to keep MIDI equipped think about the difference between impossible to get equipment from one manufacturer to software and hardware in time. a pile of stones and a crafted solid communicate with that of any other. More importantly, all the One device is assigned as the brick wall! Microphone Dynamic Condenser There are also a number of different microphone pick-up patterns to Dynamic mics use a plastic Also known as a capacitor mic, this It doesnt matter how good consider. Here’s what they do: diaphragm attached to a type has two very thin metal plates your system, your voice or coil of wire suspended in a (often gold), one of which is fixed. your playing is, if you want magnetic field. Sound Sound makes the other plate vibrate to capture real world pressure causes the entire and thanks to a polarising charge, a assembly to move, very small current is produced. sounds, theres one thing producing a very small Because the vibrating assembly is all that digital magic cant electric current. Dynamic mics very light, these mics are much more make up for and thats a bad are very rugged, making them sensitive to higher frequencies, but recording. Mics range in price ideal for live work, and theyre also more delicate. Large or from as little as £5 for a mobile relatively cheap. The small diaphragm versions drawback is that, because are available, with the phone hands-free kit, right up of the bulky diaphragm former great for warm to £2000 or more for a good assembly, they aren’t as sounding vocals and the Neumann (www.neumann.com). (www.neumann.com). ( sensitive to high latter great at capturing But thankfully there are some frequencies. They can still the highs. The classic pro do a good job on vocals, condenser is the Neumann Cardioid exceptionally competitively though, and are the ideal U87 (yours for around two Also known as unidirectional, this is priced imports on the market choice for close miking grand) and a new classic the most common type. Here, the these days. There are several drums and guitar amps. A budget model is the Rode mic picks up sound from directly in classic dynamic mic is the NT1A (on the road for a little front (the name comes from the different types of microphone Shure SM58, which can be over a ton). This latter mic heart shape of the pick-up pattern available, for a range of different when plotted on a graph). Cardioid is picked up for as little as £90 offers exceptional accuracy applications. Here, weve outlined these days. Every studio for the price and is therefore ideal for less forgiving acoustic the two basic models – Dynamic should have at least one. a great partner to plug-ins spaces. Hyper-cardioid mics are and Condenser… like Antares Mic Modeller. even more directional.
The A-Z of digital music makingMixer Modulation wheel MotherboardThe mixer, whether virtual or real, A wheel on a keyboard controller The heart of any Mac oris the centre of almost any music (next to the pitchbend wheel) that PC. The motherboard isproduction setup. It’s the place can be linked to any modulatable the hardware host onwhere all of the musical elements parameter you like. This could be which all of theare compiled, routed, processed LFO speed, filter cutoff or distortion elements of aand finally combined into a intensity – go nuts! computer are combined.complete track. Most software Motherboards are availableoffers a mixer based on old Monitors ever more cheaply, buthardware designs, and this is for cheaper motherboardstwo reasons. Firstly, it helps to have There’s no point having an may not be fullyone screen in which mix settings astronomically powerful PC if you compatible with all thecan be made (often you must alter can’t hear what you’re doing add-on cards theythe settings of two channels properly. Cheap monitor speakers should be. Apart from price, other things to consider are therelative to each other to achieve render the rest of your system number of available PCI slots, front side bus speed, layout, andthe best overall mix). Secondly, pointless – it’s as simple as that. the connectivity they offer out of the box.much modern software was Pick the best you can afford, savedesigned to look like its older for a while and then get some that Mark Of The Unicorn (MOTU)hardware counterparts to ease the are even better. Things to watch outtransition for reluctant old-timers. for are frequency response and The company behind the superb Digital Performer sequencer,As a new generation of producers power. Read the reviews and and the producers of a range of high-spec but affordable audioemerges, developers have at last always try before you buy. and MIDI interfaces, not to mention the stunning MX4 plug-inbegun to experiment with other synth and MachFive sampler.ways – Cakewalk Project 5 andMackie Tracktion, which have no MP3mixing windows, offer mixparameters alongside channels in Short for MPEG Layer 3, MP3 is a compressed audio formatthe arrangement, for example. enabling mass storage and easy transfer of music. It’s revitalised the fortunes of portable music devices and Apple (via the iPod),Modulation but has decimated the music industry in the process thanks to illegal downloads.The act of altering a sound orparameter with the movement of Multiband compressionanother source. These can includeLFOs, envelopes, a keyboard Multiband compression is exactly that – compression that actsmodulation wheel, sequences, independently on multiple frequency bands. This is most useful 1 Do your monitor homework and enjoyvolume intensities, controller the fruits of your outlay for years to come when compressing whole tracks, as heavy bass elements caninformation, etc. trigger a normal compressor to reduce the entire range, creating an audible pumping in the upper frequencies. With a multiband compressor, however, you can increase the punch and volume of the lower bands while leaving the upper untouched. The only rule of thumb to be aware of is that similar Attack and Release settings should usually be used for the different frequency bands. Multisamples With so many sample libraries, ROMplers and free samples on the net, the art of home multisampling is in danger of being lost forever, but essentially it means recording instruments at a variety of pitches, lengths, styles and velocities. Once recorded, these samples are then spread across the sampler’s note range (C3 on C3, D3 on D3 and so on). Multiple samples can also be layered onto one key, so that if you strike a key softly, the sample of that note being played softly is played back.Omni-directional Figure-eightThese mics pick up sound from all These pick up sound equally fromaround, and so are great ambience in front and behind. There are Multitimbralmics but not well-suited to any other various applications for thistype of work in untreated acoustic (multiple backing singers sharing a Refers to a synth or sampler’s ability to reproduce more thanspaces (ie, most of our studios!). mic, using a pair to stereo mic a piano, etc), but for most purposes one different type of sound at once. Its not really an issue these cardioid is a better choice. days, as with multiple instances of each plug-in in our arsenal, we usually only need each of them to reproduce one sound. Most soft samplers are also multitimbral, though, which is particularly handy for playing back multiple drum parts.