Hey folks -

If you’ve been checking out this blog and you’re interested in learning production techniques using Pro Tools with me, why not sign up for my class? Its called Producing with Pro Tools. Here’s the course description:

Producing with Pro Tools will help you learn professional recording and producing techniques utilizing Digidesign’s Pro Tools software, the industry standard in music production. Throughout the course, I will help you hone your production and engineering skills through hands-on activities using Pro Tools, interaction with other students, and personalized instructor feedback.

Learning in an online environment might be new to you, yet all of the same elements exist from regular classroom learning, with a few notable improvements.

* Lectures are replaced by guided, hands-on practice.
* You can learn at your own pace.
* You can interact, collaborate, and trade files with me and your classmates easily in chat and Discussion Board.
* You can ask dumb questions or carry on deep discussions with personal stories while remaining somewhat anonymous.
* You can visit me in my virtual office hours from any time zone.

By the end of this course, you will be able to

* use Pro Tools to record and edit audio and MIDI files
* operate Pro Tools with a well-rounded knowledge of the software, including many keyboard shortcuts and other timesaving techniques
* master many basic and advanced functions within Pro Tools
* set up your home studio equipment and recording environment to maximize efficiency and sound quality
* apply your knowledge of the production process to all of your current and future projects, including all of the production and engineering duties along the way

Read more about it here… and see a video with your truly taped at Capitol Records.

Producing with Pro Tools

If you’ve already taken me class, check out any of the other amazing offerings from Berklee Music.

Hope to see in you class soon.

df

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To complete the review of all of the new virtual instruments in Pro Tools 8, let’s check out Vacuum. Admittedly, I’m not totally knowledgeable when it comes to analog synths, but I’ll tell ya… running through the parameters on this synth was quite enlightening. After reading up on and tweaking Vacuum’s controls, now I feel like I can intelligently create my own sounds from scratch or intelligently alter the presets on this instrument. Here, I’ll share the way I went through the controls.

For this review, I recommend loading up a preset sound and tweaking the parameters as I mention them here. Twist all the knobs from side to side. Totally dive in. Because a lot of the parameters are linked to each other, you might tweak a control and nothing will happen. If the parameter doesn’t affect anything, then either adjust one of the other parameters in the same section first or try a different preset. OK, on to the review…

Vacuum is a monophonic analog-style synth with a lot of sonic control. Modeled after classic synths, it has one control per parameter and no menus… which is a novel feature these days. ☺

Vacuum

On the left side, it has two Vacuum Tube Oscillators (VTOs). All sounds originate here. Range sets the octave for the VTO, Fine varies the pitch up or down 7 semitones, Shape continuously morphs the VTO between several wave shapes, and Env 1 to Shape controls the modulation of the current VTO wave shape by Envelope 1.

In Mixer section, the two oscillator signals are mixed. Drive adds distortion, RingMod creates a ring modulation effect by multiplying the VTO1 and VTO2 signals together. This is one of my favorite effects of all-time.

Next there’s the Filter section where there’s a High Pass Filter and the Low Pass Filter. These do exactly what their names say… they either let high frequencies pass through, or low frequencies pass through. The VTOs volume level drives these filters… use the mixer volume at a low level for cleaner tones, or boost the mixer volume for more distorted tones.

On to the Filter parameters…

Cutoff – the frequency where the HPF or LPF begins to cutoff the frequencies

Slope – sets the curve of the filter slope. Higher values mean higher slopes and more frequencies are cutoff

Reso refers to resonance, which is the amount of signal that’s fed back into the filter circuit

Env 1 controls the amount that the filter cutoff frequency is modulated by Envelope 1. When it’s centered, no modulation occurs. Move it right for positive modulation, left for negative modulation.

Key Trk controls how the pitch affects the filter’s cutoff frequency. There’s no effect at 0%, but at 100% the frequency is directly related to the keys played.

Sat adds saturation to the resonant feedback loop.

Below the filter section is the Envelope section. Envelope 1 modulates each filters’ cutoff frequency over time, while Envelope 2 modulates each filters’ amplitude over time. Or you can assign them to modulate other parameters using the Modulation Routing section. Use the Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, and Vel (Velocity) controls to adjust the modulation envelope shape.

The Modulation Routing section enables you to change up the signal routing within the synth if you want to dig deeper into designing sounds. Choose a source and a destination, then choose a depth to set the amount that the source modulates the destination.

Use the Age controls to add pitch drift and dirt to the sound. At low levels, Drift can actually thicken the sound, while higher levels can detune the sound heavily. Dust adds noise to the sound, mimicking how real dust might affect an older synth.

The VTA (Vacuum Tube Amplifier) section sets the master (Vol)ume and is the last place you can add saturation and distortion to the signal using the Shape control.

The ARP section is where you can add an arpeggiator to the sound. On/off is self-explanatory. Rate is the speed of arpeggiation while Mode refers to the direction or shape (up, down, up/down, or random) of the arpeggiation.

The Pitchbend and Mod Wheel can be easily assigned. Use Dest to choose what parameter the Mod Wheel controls (Vibrato, Wah, Tremolo, or Nothing). Rate selects the modulation speed. Click the Setup button (the little wrench icon) to access the Glide, Pitch Bend Range, and Envelope Retrigger settings.

Vacuum is obviously a pretty deep instrument. There are some great sounds in the roughly 200 presets that come with it, but I’d recommend spending some time testing out and reading about its parameters… the time will be well spent as you explore the sonic possibilities that this instrument has to offer.

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To complete the review of all of the new virtual instruments in Pro Tools 8, let’s check out Vacuum. Admittedly, I’m not totally knowledgeable when it comes to analog synths, but I’ll tell ya… running through the parameters on this synth was quite enlightening. After reading up on and tweaking Vacuum’s controls, now I feel like I can intelligently create my own sounds from scratch or intelligently alter the presets on this instrument. Here, I’ll share the way I went through the controls.

For this review, I recommend loading up a preset sound and tweaking the parameters as I mention them here. Twist all the knobs from side to side. Totally dive in. Because a lot of the parameters are linked to each other, you might tweak a control and nothing will happen. If the parameter doesn’t affect anything, then either adjust one of the other parameters in the same section first or try a different preset. OK, on to the review…

Vacuum is a monophonic analog-style synth with a lot of sonic control. Modeled after classic synths, it has one control per parameter and no menus… which is a novel feature these days. ☺

Vacuum

On the left side, it has two Vacuum Tube Oscillators (VTOs). All sounds originate here. Range sets the octave for the VTO, Fine varies the pitch up or down 7 semitones, Shape continuously morphs the VTO between several wave shapes, and Env 1 to Shape controls the modulation of the current VTO wave shape by Envelope 1.

In Mixer section, the two oscillator signals are mixed. Drive adds distortion, RingMod creates a ring modulation effect by multiplying the VTO1 and VTO2 signals together. This is one of my favorite effects of all-time.

Next there’s the Filter section where there’s a High Pass Filter and the Low Pass Filter. These do exactly what their names say… they either let high frequencies pass through, or low frequencies pass through. The VTOs volume level drives these filters… use the mixer volume at a low level for cleaner tones, or boost the mixer volume for more distorted tones.

On to the Filter parameters…

Cutoff – the frequency where the HPF or LPF begins to cutoff the frequencies

Slope – sets the curve of the filter slope. Higher values mean higher slopes and more frequencies are cutoff

Reso refers to resonance, which is the amount of signal that’s fed back into the filter circuit

Env 1 controls the amount that the filter cutoff frequency is modulated by Envelope 1. When it’s centered, no modulation occurs. Move it right for positive modulation, left for negative modulation.

Key Trk controls how the pitch affects the filter’s cutoff frequency. There’s no effect at 0%, but at 100% the frequency is directly related to the keys played.

Sat adds saturation to the resonant feedback loop.

Below the filter section is the Envelope section. Envelope 1 modulates each filters’ cutoff frequency over time, while Envelope 2 modulates each filters’ amplitude over time. Or you can assign them to modulate other parameters using the Modulation Routing section. Use the Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, and Vel (Velocity) controls to adjust the modulation envelope shape.

The Modulation Routing section enables you to change up the signal routing within the synth if you want to dig deeper into designing sounds. Choose a source and a destination, then choose a depth to set the amount that the source modulates the destination.

Use the Age controls to add pitch drift and dirt to the sound. At low levels, Drift can actually thicken the sound, while higher levels can detune the sound heavily. Dust adds noise to the sound, mimicking how real dust might affect an older synth.

The VTA (Vacuum Tube Amplifier) section sets the master (Vol)ume and is the last place you can add saturation and distortion to the signal using the Shape control.

The ARP section is where you can add an arpeggiator to the sound. On/off is self-explanatory. Rate is the speed of arpeggiation while Mode refers to the direction or shape (up, down, up/down, or random) of the arpeggiation.

The Pitchbend and Mod Wheel can be easily assigned. Use Dest to choose what parameter the Mod Wheel controls (Vibrato, Wah, Tremolo, or Nothing). Rate selects the modulation speed. Click the Setup button (the little wrench icon) to access the Glide, Pitch Bend Range, and Envelope Retrigger settings.

Vacuum is obviously a pretty deep instrument. There are some great sounds in the roughly 200 presets that come with it, but I’d recommend spending some time testing out and reading about its parameters… the time will be well spent as you explore the sonic possibilities that this instrument has to offer.

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When I think of John Madden, famous American football announcer, I always imagine him telestrating and yelling “Boom!” With John Madden announcing his retirement recently, I figured it was a good time to review Boom, Digidesign’s drum machine virtual instrument. Boom is included for free with Pro Tools 8 and is definitely a cool and powerful device.

Boom is a drum-machine-style pattern sequencer. You can create your own patterns, use the innumerable preset patterns, or edit those presets… and easily trigger and switch between the patterns with the mouse or using MIDI data. Boom has 10 drum kits, including Urban 1 & 2, Dance 1 & 2, Electro, Retro, Eight-O, Nine-O, Fat-8, and Fat-9. The last four are based off of the classic 808 and 909 analog drum machines, where the Fat versions feature processed, harder-hitting versions of the Eight-O and Nine-O sounds.

The Matrix display on the upper left side of the screen gives you a visual display of what samples are sequenced to play in the pattern. Click notes in the Matrix to add or delete them. Click a note multiple times to change its velocity. (Like the Reason Redrum drum machine, there are 3 velocity levels.) Adjust the SWING, VOLUME, and DYNAMICS global controls and choose the DRUM KIT below the Matrix.

Boom

The Instrument section in the top center and left enables you to alter the panning, volume, tuning, and decay. You can also mute, solo, select the sample (for instance, you can choose a clap sound from any of the 10 preset drum kits), and use the mysterious “Adjuster” button to calibrate the sound of the instrument in “varying ways.” Click and drag the Adjuster button to change the intensity and impact of the sound.

You can change the speed of the beat from double-time (X2), regular speed (X1), or half-time (X 1/2)… try switching between these in real time… fun! Use the Triplet button to create triplet feels, which will only make use of the first 12 steps in the beat. The last four steps will be greyed-out.

The Event bar consists of the 16 Event switches, where each Event switch corresponds to a 1/16 note in a drum pattern. To add or delete notes to the drum pattern using the Event bar, just select an instrument (e.g., click on the name of the KICK track to select it), then click on an Event switch to cycle through the fours states… Note On at full velocity, Note On at medium velocity, Note On at low velocity, and Note Off. Pretty intuitive. Every note you add or delete, as well as the note velocity, is reflected in the Matrix section.

Use the Edit Mode switch to toggle between editing a pattern (Pat Edit) or switching between patterns in a current preset (Pat Sel). For instance, if you load the preset “Electrobump in trunk 103″, set the Edit Mode to Pat Sel to listen to all 16 varieties of that pattern preset. If you want to edit one of the patterns, toggle the Edit mode to Pat Edit and then edit that selected pattern. There are 128 preset patterns, with 16 variations… so that’s a total of 2048 preset beats for you to choose from and edit, if you need a place to start. You can also chain patterns together to create a song arrangement, as well as trigger patterns from a MIDI controller and build your own patterns with MIDI notes.

Here’s an MP3 that plays a few of the presets…

Boom sample beats

I like Boom. I think you will too once you get to know it. Its a pretty powerful beat creation station when you dig a little deeper beyond the presets. Check it out and have fun!

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When I think of John Madden, famous American football announcer, I always imagine him telestrating and yelling “Boom!” With John Madden announcing his retirement recently, I figured it was a good time to review Boom, Digidesign’s drum machine virtual instrument. Boom is included for free with Pro Tools 8 and is definitely a cool and powerful device.

Boom is a drum-machine-style pattern sequencer. You can create your own patterns, use the innumerable preset patterns, or edit those presets… and easily trigger and switch between the patterns with the mouse or using MIDI data. Boom has 10 drum kits, including Urban 1 & 2, Dance 1 & 2, Electro, Retro, Eight-O, Nine-O, Fat-8, and Fat-9. The last four are based off of the classic 808 and 909 analog drum machines, where the Fat versions feature processed, harder-hitting versions of the Eight-O and Nine-O sounds.

The Matrix display on the upper left side of the screen gives you a visual display of what samples are sequenced to play in the pattern. Click notes in the Matrix to add or delete them. Click a note multiple times to change its velocity. (Like the Reason Redrum drum machine, there are 3 velocity levels.) Adjust the SWING, VOLUME, and DYNAMICS global controls and choose the DRUM KIT below the Matrix.

Boom

The Instrument section in the top center and left enables you to alter the panning, volume, tuning, and decay. You can also mute, solo, select the sample (for instance, you can choose a clap sound from any of the 10 preset drum kits), and use the mysterious “Adjuster” button to calibrate the sound of the instrument in “varying ways.” Click and drag the Adjuster button to change the intensity and impact of the sound.

You can change the speed of the beat from double-time (X2), regular speed (X1), or half-time (X 1/2)… try switching between these in real time… fun! Use the Triplet button to create triplet feels, which will only make use of the first 12 steps in the beat. The last four steps will be greyed-out.

The Event bar consists of the 16 Event switches, where each Event switch corresponds to a 1/16 note in a drum pattern. To add or delete notes to the drum pattern using the Event bar, just select an instrument (e.g., click on the name of the KICK track to select it), then click on an Event switch to cycle through the fours states… Note On at full velocity, Note On at medium velocity, Note On at low velocity, and Note Off. Pretty intuitive. Every note you add or delete, as well as the note velocity, is reflected in the Matrix section.

Use the Edit Mode switch to toggle between editing a pattern (Pat Edit) or switching between patterns in a current preset (Pat Sel). For instance, if you load the preset “Electrobump in trunk 103″, set the Edit Mode to Pat Sel to listen to all 16 varieties of that pattern preset. If you want to edit one of the patterns, toggle the Edit mode to Pat Edit and then edit that selected pattern. There are 128 preset patterns, with 16 variations… so that’s a total of 2048 preset beats for you to choose from and edit, if you need a place to start. You can also chain patterns together to create a song arrangement, as well as trigger patterns from a MIDI controller and build your own patterns with MIDI notes.

Here’s an MP3 that plays a few of the presets…

Boom sample beats

I like Boom. I think you will too once you get to know it. Its a pretty powerful beat creation station when you dig a little deeper beyond the presets. Check it out and have fun!

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Hey folks -

If you’ve been checking out this blog and you’re interested in learning production techniques using Pro Tools with me, why not sign up for my class? Its called Producing with Pro Tools. Here’s the course description:

Producing with Pro Tools will help you learn professional recording and producing techniques utilizing Digidesign’s Pro Tools software, the industry standard in music production. Throughout the course, I will help you hone your production and engineering skills through hands-on activities using Pro Tools, interaction with other students, and personalized instructor feedback.

Learning in an online environment might be new to you, yet all of the same elements exist from regular classroom learning, with a few notable improvements.

* Lectures are replaced by guided, hands-on practice.
* You can learn at your own pace.
* You can interact, collaborate, and trade files with me and your classmates easily in chat and Discussion Board.
* You can ask dumb questions or carry on deep discussions with personal stories while remaining somewhat anonymous.
* You can visit me in my virtual office hours from any time zone.

By the end of this course, you will be able to

* use Pro Tools to record and edit audio and MIDI files
* operate Pro Tools with a well-rounded knowledge of the software, including many keyboard shortcuts and other timesaving techniques
* master many basic and advanced functions within Pro Tools
* set up your home studio equipment and recording environment to maximize efficiency and sound quality
* apply your knowledge of the production process to all of your current and future projects, including all of the production and engineering duties along the way

Read more about it here:

Producing with Pro Tools

If you’ve already taken me class, check out any of the other amazing offerings from Berklee Music.

Hope to see in you class soon.

df

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Hey Folks –

I really didn’t have high hopes for the third virtual instrument in my review here. With a name like Mini-Grand, I expected a small sound and an uninspired feature set. Well, don’t let the name fool you like it did me.

For contrast, I’ve been using Synthogy’s Ivory piano instrument for a while and was very impressed with it. The samples are rich and the responsiveness is great. But I think Mini-Grand actually competes with it. It’s not as full-featured, nor does it possess the obvious commitment to quality samples as Ivory does, however Mini-Grand has some gorgeous tones, simple and useful effects, and an elegantly simple interface. The true test is that I’ve been going to it for client work more often than Ivory lately due to its quality sounds and the simplicity of its interface.

Mini-Grand

There are 30 tweakable presets to choose from, and I usually can find the sound that I’m looking for in a pinch right in the presets. You can also dial in your own sounds. Start with the Model to get an overall sound. Tweak the Dynamic Response to adjust the feel and responsiveness of the piano. Then find the appropriate reverb/environment for the piano with the Room knob and use the Mix knob to adjust the amount of reverb/environment in the overall sound. The Level knob controls the output level.

Check out a quick MP3 example here. This MP3 shows off two patches… the first “Real Piano” patch and then my favorite patch called “Deep Blue Sea.” This instrument can make even a piano hack like me sound good. ☺

mini-grand example MP3
Mini-Grand Patch List

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OK, I’ve got to take a quick detour away from my Pro Tools 8 plug-in tour to feature a new video/song that a good friend of mine has created. His name is Diego Stocco, who you might know from his work on a number of Spectrasonics virtual instruments, or as a sound designer for TV and films, or as a composer. Regardless, if you don’t know him, you should… because this is what he can do. This track was made completely from sampling sand! Very cool… enjoy.


Diego Stocco – Music From Sand from Diego Stocco on Vimeo.

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Continuing on with my quick reviews of the new instruments in Pro Tools 8… I present to you, the DB-33.

The DB-33 is an excellent-sounding organ virtual instrument. Totally comparable to Native Instruments B4 in sound and then some, its got over 70 useful presets to start you off with. One of the unique features of this plug-in is that it actually lists the drawbar positions for each preset, as in the figure below.

DB-33 Organ with Presets menu

Yes, the plug-in sounds great… but it also comes with an amazing and unique feature. You can use the Leslie-like cabinet separately from the Organ sound… more clearly put, you can insert the cabinet as an effects plug-in to add the cabinet sound to any track. Super cool!

Cabinet

Here’s an MP3 example of one of the DB-33′s patches… Enjoy!

DB-33 demo MP3

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Hi Folks -

So sorry for the lag in posts. I’ve been mad busy perusing and using Pro Tools 8. Now that I’m out of the studio cave, I want to bring you the first of many posts about the new features of Pro Tools 8. Let’s start with the new instruments.

Pro Tools 8 comes with 5 brand new instruments (Xpand2, DB-33, MiniGrand, Vacuum, and Boom), as well as Structure Free. If you’ve owned earlier versions of Pro Tools, you’ve probably had Xpand! already… well, XPand2 is a serious upgrade to that already well-rounded instrument. Xpand2 has double the number of patches as XPand!, as well as an easier to use interface.

Xpand2 takes all four different pages of the original Xpand! interface and combines them into one. All controls are on one page… including the effects, arpeggiators, and modulation. The effects section has also been upgraded with some new effects… see the Chaos Delay and Cloud Delay listed on this Sitar patch.

Xpand2

XPand2 includes all of the original Xpand content, and adds almost a gig of new content. All new patches have a little plus “+” symbol in front of them, while the original patches are labeled just as they were in Xpand.

Xpand2 patch menu

Xpand2 has a lot of firepower. Shoot, I’ve used the original Xpand on innumerable projects for studio projects and corporate clients alike. Get in there and use this program!

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