Friday, March 25, 2011

Which Daw? A Beginner's Guide pt 2; Dialectic 1


Rotund Alfred
yeah, as a reason user I am in a constant dilemma as to whether to abandon the software [Reason] that I have spent so long learning the ins and outs of just to see what a 'real' DAW is like; I love reason but at the same time I fucking hate it too, and its hard to tell how much is down to my own failing creativity and how much is down to the oddities of the program itself. Do other people get as annoyed with their DAWs as reason users do?

Despite what was said in the comments in Which Daw? A Beginner’s Guide pt. 2, I've used reason over the years.  I remember intently waiting for Reason 1 to be released.  Reason at that time was unmatched.  Nothing like it existed.  Imagine that for a second, a totally new way of producing electronic music.  Nothing has come along since its November 2000 release to change the game as much.  Well, maybe Ableton Live, wink wink, check Which Daw? A Beginner’s Guide pt. 3.

I've always found Reason to be a really fun (not to be overlooked) and immensely inspirational environment.  I think Scream is the best computer based distortion I've ever heard (why has no one cloned Scream in vst form, WHY?), though Ohm Force’s Ohmicide does kick a fair amount of ass.  I also love the rv7000.  I think Thor and Maelstrom are really powerful synths with a lot of creative potential, but they cannot compete with the sound put out by top tier vsti's.

Now it gets even worse, the samplers are very underpowered and don't allow for the creative manipulation of samples to the extent that something like Native Instrument’s Kontakt does.  And even worse, the compression and equalization in reason are extremely limited.  You can do just about anything in Reason with clever patching and workflow, but you cannot patch your way out of poor compression and equalization (I suppose you can, by ReWiring, a very common practice amongst professional Reason users).

Reason just falls off for me.  Great environment, great limitations, great synths, great distortion, great reverb, so so samplers, poor eq and compression, and just unspeakable metering, a very important, if nerdy, feature that is essential in proper gain staging.  See future post regarding gain staging.  If you are just starting out, this coming post will change your life, and shave years off of your production learning curve.  I swear to you, that is no joke.

All of this doesn't really matter, though, if you are a Reason user who produces dope tracks.  Whatever works for you, works.  That is the bottom line.  Results speak for themselves.

But, as I’ve tried to emphasize, learning a daw is a long, sometimes frustrating process.  True facility in a daw is equivalent to facility with a musical instrument in many ways.  It does take years to feel out all the nuances, peculiarities, propensities of an instrument like a daw.  Casting that knowledge aside and starting with a new daw is a painful process, and necessitates years more of learning, and less than optimal performance all the while as the new daw is mastered.

So where does that leave us?  For Reason users who have been producing successfully for years, I’ve got nothing to say to you, go for it.  But for a young producer who is just getting started, I really can’t recommend Reason.  I feel its inherent limitations outweigh its positives with the exception of those with severely underpowered computers and no ability to upgrade, or those who need extreme restrictions to be productive.

And for the extremely difficult case of the midstream producer who has been working with Reason for a couple of years, knows it really well, but is still unsatisfied with the music they are producing…  hard choices are going to have to be made.  You have to look inside yourself and really try to determine if your own musical ability is holding you back, or if your musical ability is there, but workflow limitations or the sound of Reason is the final barrier to achieving your production goals.  If this proves too difficult one potential way to discern this is to demo another daw and rewire Reason into the daw.

Because all or most of the sound design and writing will be taking place in Reason, you will initially be required to learn a smaller set of skills in the new daw.  This will allow you to test another daw’s sound against Reason’s, and as familiarity grows in the new daw, you can begin preliminary attempts at sound design and writing. 

I have to warn you.  Using a new daw will feel like you are on square one again, and square one in computer music can be very frustrating.  But you have to try to learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can to really determine if the potential of the new daw exceeds that of Reason's.

I know many producers that have ReWired Reason into other daws, only to eventually abandon Reason entirely over time as they became more familiar with the new daw, but I also know others who are happy to continue in Reason and ReWire into another daw for mixing purposes (where sound is summed together, and much of the compression and equalization of sounds takes place).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Which Daw? A Beginner's Guide pt. 2

.... Continued from pt. 1

Okay, now for the real deal.  You want to make music, which daw do you choose?

First of all, you MUST demo a daw before you purchase it.  This is a long term commitment, so it helps to get it right from the start.  All the daw's now have demos.  If a company doesn't want to give you a demo, don't even bother, they're trying to hide something.

Unfortunately, if you don't know the first thing about music production, evaluating software like this through a demo is going to be really difficult.  I'm not gonna lie on that one.  But, when you are trying out the demos, definitely watch the included introductory videos.  You'll notice some daws don't include video tutorials, that should tell you something about the company behind the daw.

Also, there are millions of tutorials (both written and videos on youtube) on the basics of most of the daws.  As you're trying the demo, and using these tutorials, try to determine which daw has the most vocal user support.  You will need help learning production and your daw.  The availability of information and communities online should play a role in selecting a daw.

So my opinions on the major daws:

Logic Studio

If you are on a Mac, you should seriously consider Logic.  This daw is made by the company that makes the hardware (sort of!) and operating system that you are using.  There is no tighter integration than that.  Also, the plugins are generally regarded as some of the best that come bundled with a daw.  Good audio and midi round it out.

The downside of logic is it is on the Mac platform.  That means the price will be much higher and there will be much less software available to you.  If you are a Mac person and already own a Mac, and only will ever buy a Mac, Logic is probably for you.  (Please keep in mind that Ableton Live is also on the Mac.  See pt. 3 of this series for a look at the extremely powerful and innovative Ableton.) But if you haven't figured out your hardware yet, I would not recommend shelling out for a Mac just to go with Logic, unless you have a large disposable income.  If you do have a large disposable income, why not literally save someone's life with that extra cash, and still produce dope tracks on the PC platform?

In terms of hardware costs, for towers, the Apple mark up over homebuilt pc's is around 4x.  You'll pay 4 times the cost of an equivalently powered home built pc!  That is a lot.  Apple laptops are around 2x the price.  In terms of value, the laptop route does make more sense than towers from Apple.  Also, the MacBook Pro can be a very effective prop in the elaborate courtship rituals of affluent western art minded youth.

In terms of software availability, some of the cool stuff will be available to you; some will not.  Almost all of the really interesting, quirky, experimental freeware will NOT be available to you as it is Windows only.  Please do not underestimate this.  There are absolute freeware gems out there (see future series covering this topic) and to miss out on them is really a shame.  Yes you can boot into windows... but that doesn't really do you any good when you make music in Logic.


If you like an extremely cut up sound or if you think base 10 is for idiots.  Renoise can produce any type of music, but due to its legacy tracker format, it heavily lends itself to a highly chopped up sound.  Also, with the exception of Reason, all the other daws can easily produce this sound as well.  But when I think Renoise, I think Venetian Snares.  Many of the daw centered technical skills that you learn in Renoise will not be transferable to other daws because, for all intents and purposes, it is the only tracker left amongst the majors.  Of course, what you learn about music, arrangement and processing and mixing sound will hold true across any daw.

My personal opinion is that Renoise is useful for producing beats or phrases, but those segments can more effectively be combined in another, more fully featured daw.  Many producers either rewire (a method of sending audio from renoise into another daw) or just render beats to audio, which are then imported into another daw.  Renoise is also very inexpensive.  Around 40 euros now, something like $50, not a bad deal at all.  I honestly recommend Renoise to those that have mastered their own daw and want to consider a new way to make beats or engage in sound design from left field.


If you have an extremely weak computer and don't ever plan on upgrading, OR if you like working in a very limited environment where your creativity will be tested just to produce a halfway decent sound.  Propellerhead revolutionized computer music way back in the day with ReBirth, software that emulated two 303's (Roland bass line synth from further back in the day) and an 808 and 909 (Roland drum machines)  Before this, there really was no software emulation of electronic hardware like this.  This really did revolutionize music making, and personally changed my life.

And so it is such a shame to say that Propellerhead stopped innovating entirely after they introduced Reason.  Reason's pluses are that it uses comparatively less computer resources.  That means if you have an old computer from 2002, and don't ever plan on upgrading, Reason might be for you, other daws will choke you out before you even get a beat going.

The thing to remember about Reason is that it doesn't allow third party plugins.  There are millions of really interesting and powerful plugins out there, both free and commercial that really allow you to create new and innovative sounds.  None of them will work with Reason.  Reason has a few synths, a few samplers, and a few fx.  You have to create everything with that.  That is both good and bad.  The good is that you won't be tempted to go out and try all million of those plugins, so you can focus on making music. (see The Mind Versus Vst) The bad is that you will be forced to work really hard patching up device after device just to get to something that is mostly as good as a free plugin.  Compression and equalization are also just baseline deficient in Reason, and there is nothing short of rewiring that can fix that.

The above was supposed to be my positive paragraph about Reason.  Guess it didn't work out.  Let me try again.  Because Reason is such a limited environment it excludes external distraction as mentioned above, but more than that it fosters, or even forces a certain type of creativity.  Reason forces you to learn its tools, and its tools alone to achieve the sound you want.  There is nothing else, no magic synth that will save you.  So you really start to dig in and learn.  And as that happens, as you start to see all the potential in a synth like Thor, the possibilities explode.  Playing with those possibilities is a great source of inspiration in electronic music.  And beyond the scope of just a synthesizer, in a modular environment like Reason, where devices can be patched into other devices in just about any structure, the potential combinations and connections become just staggering, and Reason itself turns into a hugely fertile environment.

My caveats for Reason: it can be rewired (a technology invented by Propellerhead to get the sound out of ReBirth and into a real daw) into a daw alleviating some of the deficiencies of Reason's internal sound engine.  Also,  Propellerhead has released Record, a separate, and separately purchasable ($$$) application to mix and work with audio.  Reason slots nicely into Record.  Together they form about half of a real daw.  I would also like to point out that Propellerhead has been very careful not to call Reason a daw.  I include it in this analysis because it is a very interesting piece of music making software, despite its actual classification.


If you are doing serious multitrack recording.  This software is for recording bands, and that type of thing.  First off, if you don't have 10 mics, you probably don't need ProTools.  There was a time when protools was the "industry standard" in recording studios.  That is because early music software and hardware was notoriously unreliable, and ProTtools worked relatively well.  Now however, ProTools is less relevant because recording studios are disappearing, and because other daws are just as reliable, or more so than ProTools.

Beyond multitrack recording, ProTools' other main focus has been mixing, so includes a very powerful set of tools and workflow dedicatd to those tasks.  (Mixing is the art and science of combining or layering different elements of a track together, a lot harder than it sounds)  I know some producers who like to design and write everything in one daw, and then mix  in ProTools. For a new producer though, I feel that mixing is less important than developing musicality and learning the fundamentals of sound creation and arrangement.  Really if you have 10 mics and a recording studio, ProTools might work for you, but I doubt that type of person is reading this, so I'd say fuggetaboutit.


Cubase was the big daddy of pc daws for a long time.  Pretty good midi editing, very good with audio.  But there are problems.  Cubase was a very early player in the computer music software scene.  Way back then, the idea of making music on the computer was new, and software developers didn't really know how best to go about it.  There were a lot of different ideas at the time.  You saw the same thing with cars.  Back in the day, there were all sorts of funny ideas about how to move people around with motors.  Steam, electric, gas, some cars didn't even have steering wheels.  Over time some ideas have proven to be less effective than others.  Unfortunately, Cubase has kept many of those old ideas around.

On top of that, Cubase remains an extremely buggy application.  Steinberg's customer support is atrocious, going so far as to insult their customers for Steinberg's flaws.  Cubase also requires a dongle.  I can't recommend any software that requires the use of dongle. To cut this short, in this day and age, with better alternatives out there, there is no reason to get started with Cubase.

Okay, there is one.  Cubase allows extremely tight editing of audio in its arrangement page (this is where you put all the different bits of audio and midi together).  This means you can zoom way in on one or two bits of audio and make very tight edits.  This is extremely powerful and I sincerely wish other daw developers would allow this type of visual precision.

If you are a fan of Cubase, feel free to comment on why you think it is a good daw.  I personally know many incredible tracks that have been made in Cubase.  But I believe that is because there was no alternative to Cubase back in the day.  That is no longer the case.

Footnote:  Nuendo is like Cubase's bigger brother that is into video.  If you are solely interested in putting sound to video, Nuendo might be worth investigating.  I really don't know if Sony's Vegas is equivalent, but it is something to check out if audio for video is your thing.


Like Studio One, Reaper is another new kid on the block.  Just as Cubase is stuck with early computer music paradigms, Reaper has thrown them off and started from a relatively fresh viewpoint.  Reaper is a highly flexible, powerful daw.  For example, you can combine audio, midi and automation in the same channel.  This may not mean anything to you now, but it is a pretty good idea that other daws can't implement because of their old code.

Reaper is also very actively being developed.  If you have a problem, or wish there was a feature, you can post it on their forums, and if it is a good idea, it really might show up in an update (which come often).  Also Reaper has an excellent demo.  You can use a fully featured demo with no restrictions to evaluate the daw.  At the end of the demo period, the demo doesn't expire, but Reaper will nag you to pay for it.  And why wouldn't you, if you're using it and you like it, why not pay $60 for it?  Yeah that's right, it only costs $60!  That's crazy inexpensive for such a powerful daw.

I've tried Reaper a couple of times through its development.  I personally haven't liked it enough to switch, but that statement really is meaningless to someone who is just getting started.  When you learn a daw for the first time, the daw's workflow just kind of sinks in, and you get used to working in a particular manner.  After a few years, other daws tend to feel backwards or unnecessarily difficult.  But I will say that over the two times that I've tried Reaper, it has improved incredibly, and I expect that not to stop.  Reaper is strong, and getting stronger every day.

Okay, check: Which Daw? A Beginner's Guide pt. 3 for Fl Studio and Ableton Live (hint, I saved the best for last).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Mind versus VST; Dialectic 1


Regarding the post - I'd say that the collection of vst's is the product of a hoarded mentality (humans love to collect things) combined with an unfounded hope that said collection will increase their production skills. In many ways it does serve as a pathway to expand the way one's mindset works whilst making music, little by little, but often it's done in a way that's counterproductive or useless.

From a post I made about software hoarding, and the necessity to focus instead on the development of artistic skills.

I'd just like to say that I agree with this.  I acknowledge that the diversity of tools does have the profound ability to expand the artist's mindset.  But I believe this expansion should only happen at the appropriate times in the artist's development.  It should not happen in the beginning when the artist just approaches their tools for the first time.  It is honestly hard enough just to figure out the basics in computer music, even with how easy everything has become.

It also is a great sign of curiosity that shines favorably on the artist's disposition.  But that natural and beneficial curiosity needs to be restrained to strengthen the core, the foundation of the artist's coming personhood.  <-- no that is not a euphemism for masturbation.

I really feel that when an artist is in all honesty satisfied with their work, they should definitely go out and try new things.  It is a gateway issue, it is at the beginning of a plateau of struggle, not of artistic interest or capability.  When things become too easy, expand and challenge the workflow that has taken so long to develope.  Break it, and see what emerges, what new ways there are to do things and think about sound and rhythm and your vst directory.

But in the beginning, it is hard enough to climb one mountain, why climb fifteen all at once?  How incremental, discouraging, and maybe ultimately fatal (for the stated purpose :) ) would such an endeavor prove?

Again, this is just from my experience. Ymmv.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Which Daw? A Beginner's Guide pt. 1

Okay, you've heard some music you like, and you want to make music like that.  But where to start?

You're going to need a computer, some type of audio input/output from your computer and some speakers so you can hear the music you are making.

All of those are individual topics that I'll cover in later posts.  But for now, after you have all those elements sorted out, you need a DAW.  A daw is an old term for Digital Audio Workstation.  Back in the day people were freaking out about working with sound digitally, so had to come up with stupid names for things.

Now DAW usually refers to the audio software used to produce music.

There are many companies that have released daws, but I'm going to focus on what I perceive as the major players.  If you feel I'm not representing your daw at all, or inaccurately, leave a comment and we'll see what is up.

The big players I see now are (in alphabetic order, of sorts):
  1. Ableton Live
  2. Cubase
  3. Fl Studio
  4. Logic
  5. ProTools
  6. Reaper
  7. Reason
  8. Renoise

There are a handful of others, but others deserving mention are MOTU's Digital Performer, PreSonus' Studio One, and Cakewalk's Sonar.  DP has been around for a while only on the mac, but has a small number of users, mostly in the film biz.  Studio One is a brand new daw, with supposedly good native plugins (devices used to create and process sounds).  New really might be better in the daw world, antique daw's like Cubase suffer from some bad design decisions made at the beginning of computer music that unfortunately are too fundamental and costly for them to fix.  But Studio One has not totally caught on yet.  Maybe in the future we'll see more users.  And it is worth mentioning here, that learning a daw properly will take a few years, so switching is no easy thing.  Users have to be pretty unhappy with their daw to give up all that knowledge and start over again.  And for the last of the unlisted, Sonar... I wish I knew more about Sonar, but almost everyone I try to talk to has no experience with it.  No one I know uses it, I think that speaks volumes.

I don't know if this is relevant but one thing to think about is the parent company of the daw.  In the past, daws were independent companies, but they were bought up by larger hardware companies.
  • Ableton Live - Something going on with Alesis/Akai
  • Cubase - Yamaha
  • Logic - Apple
  • ProTools - Digi Desgin/Avid/M-audio
  • Sonar - Roland (too bad too, because Roland hardware is good stuff)

Really, I don't know what this tells you, but it is something to think about. These parent companies bought up all the daws in a daw rush, so I don't think there is any correlation between the parent companies and the daw's they now own, per se, but I expect that over time, the parent companies' general business ethic will work its way into the daws themselves.

On to pt. 2!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Mind Versus VST

(Was just reading a post by my boi Wrigzilla and it got me thinking, as it is kind of the thesis of this blog in general.)

The mind is the single most powerful tool in the studio.  To think otherwise is insanity and diminishes the glory of what it is to be a human.

Tools do have a profound effect on the resultant sound, as well as the workflow, which also ultimately has an effect on the sound.

But you must understand the extent to which the artist's mind dictates the final sound.  It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the mind contributes 95%, while the tools contribute only 5% .

So why in the world would people fiendishly pursue all the latest tools when instead they could be pursuing strengthening their mind? Because it is much easier to go out and steal (or buy in the rare instance) the latest and greatest vst rather than improving and strengthening your mind.

People that I respect have spent a good time and effort making young producers aware of freeware vst's and vsti's in an attempt to alleviate the need to steal by providing alternatives to paid software.

But, I think this fails to acknowledge the true source of the endless searching for tools, that of a lack of focus on the development of the mind.

So, it is the intention of Da Muse Blog to provide techniques and exercises to strengthen the mind (soul!) of the artist so that they can stop this endless searching for tools, and actually get down to making music.

Thanks for reading, and I'd like you to consider disabling your ad blocking software, just for this page.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Arts Education vs Crafts Education Part 1

DaMuseBlog intends to discuss artistic inspiration and specifically inspiration's application to music creation and production.  It is my intention to provide techniques for inspiration as well as the production techniques required to embody that inspiration in a medium of expression.


When I begin anything, I can't help but think of the openning line of Frank Herbert's (prophetic) classic Dune.

"A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct." 
So these first few posts regarding art education  likely will be the longest post's you'll find on the DaMuseBlog.  But I am attempting to express to you, and to myself, the appropriate balance that I intend to strike in this blog.

Art education is tricky.  The act of art making (visual or auditory) is a fundamental human activity.  It is a base activity.  Even if you are making the most intellectualized art known to man, you are still expressing your soul.

So, how can you teach someone to express their soul without inserting your own soul?  Some educational institutions balk at the notion.  They simply say, "We cannot do that, so we won't."   Instead, they teach the craft of art making, and leave the soul (finding/expressing) to the artist.

I don't believe this is the best possible solution to the difficult problem of art education.  It has it's merits though.

First, craft is extremely important in the art making process.  Craft is the means by which we externalize our inner realities.  Some mundane examples of craft teaching are how to apply paint to canvas, how to play a particular instrument in the harmonic minor scale, etc.

Second, it is far easier to teach craft.  This one is a bit cynical but it is true.  It is far easier to teach a fledgling artist that this tone next to this tone produce a sufficient contrast, or that this note played with this note produces this type of harmony.  Teaching someone to find their own voice, their own soul... well how do you go about doing that?

Third, this craft only solution doesn't overtly interfere with the student's soul, allowing their own soul to find expression through their enhanced craft skills.  Imagine a danger of the alternative: an institution focused on soul education that yearly graduates a class full of institutional clones.  Each student could have their soul removed through the course of the education, and have the institution's soul implanted.  How catastrophic would that be for the individual artists?  What a loss to the society to have so many young expressive people essentially silenced?

This is a long post, so please proceed to Part 2.  When I figure out how to link to part 2, I'll post it!  For the mean time, hunt for it.  (Actually, just idiotically deleted part 2... it only took me ten hours to write it... this is honestly breaking my heart at the moment)

Also, I'd like you to consider disabling your ad blocking software, just for this page.   I know what you've read so far hasn't been the most useful information you've ever read on the interwebz, but I have good things coming.  Thank You!

Friday, March 11, 2011


First post, so I'll keep it brief and just say a little about myself.  My name is nowaysj and I love music.  I started making electronic music before computer music really got underway.  I've attempted to quit a couple of times through the years, but it is unfortunately not in the cards.

Music has always been a hobby, but it has started to reach the point of madness.  I don't know what it is called when a hobby leads to insanity, but that's pretty much where I'm at. 

Through this blog I intend to discuss artistic aspects of music creation, a topic often overlooked on the interwebz, as well as the more mundane discussion of tools and techniques commonly used in music production. 

Next Topic:  Arts Education