15 Fab Software Tips
Want to make a session run smoother? Craig Anderton offers some tips designed to save you time, energy, and maybe even a career!
1 Need a 1kHz test tone oscillator for setting levels? Digidesign's modular synthesis program, Turbosynth, is great for creating test tone samples; just drag the sine wave icon into an oscillator, then select Info and type in the number of Hz.
2 If you don't have Turbosynth, there's a simple alternative. Set your synthesizer waveform to a sine wave and play key B5, which gives a 987.77Hz note (which is probably more accurate than the average 1 kHz test tone oscillator anyway). For 100Hz, play G2 (97.999Hz). High frequencies are harder to get, but C8 gives you 4186Hz. D#8 is almost exactly 5kHz, and if you can transpose that up an octave, you'll get 10kHz. However, you might want to verify the high frequency waveforms with an oscilloscope — they may look more like a square wave than a sine.
3 Always leave a blank measure or two at the beginning of a sequence if you're syncing to tape. Sometimes a sequencer is unstable during the first few clock pulses after start-up; a blank measure circumvents this problem.
4 48ppqn not enough resolution on a keyboard sequencer? You can double a sequencer's resolution by doubling the tempo, and mentally converting all notes to twice their duration value when performing editing operations (for example, to quantise to eighth notes, select quarter notes).
5 Did adding a bunch of MIDI-controlled signal processors and mixing doodads use up all your MIDI channels? You could always get a multi-port interface for your computer, but for a less expensive alternative use your main sequencer to drive a keyboard's internal sequencer and record additional data into it. Small stand-alone sequencers, like the Alesis MMT8, can also do the job.
6 MIDI guitarists who use pitch-to-MIDI converters and record into sequencers sometimes experience situations where everything works well, but then mysterious glitches and tracking problems will occur even though nothing seems to have changed. Sometimes the interference generated by keyboards, computers, and other 'dirty' devices will enter the system through the pickup — but since it's hooked up to a MIDI converter and not audio, you may not hear it. Try changing the position of the guitar, moving further away from other devices in the studio, or turning off unnecessary gear and the problem may go away.
7 For those who have trouble getting reliable sync, the problem is often an incorrect level coming off tape. Turn the tape output control all the way down, then turn it up to just where sync starts happening. Now turn up the output control until the sync starts skipping or jittering due to overloading the sync box. Set the control midway between these two extremes and see if that fixes things.
8 MIDI program change glitches got you down when using signal processors? You can sometimes set up a single patch to give two different effects, and use continuous controllers (which can be less glitch-prone) to change salient parameters like mix, dry amount, and so on, to change from one 'patch' to another. Sometimes this is even preferable to using program changes, since you can fade smoothly from one sound into another instead of doing it on a 'snapshot' basis.
9 Sample editing programs like Alchemy, Sound Designer, GenWave and SampleVision are great — but you need a sampling keyboard, or digital I/O device like Digidesign's Pro I/O, to get samples into the programs. Or do you? The £369 Peavey DPM SX is a sampling front end that can send samples to any program or device that supports the MIDI sample dump standard (Korg T-series owners, take note).
10 So you have some great piece of signal processing gear, and you'd love to have a computer-based editor for it, but there aren't any Galaxy or X-oR templates (not yet, at least)? Solution: assign the parameters you want to edit to MIDI continuous controllers, set up the faders in a software sequencer like Vision, Performer, Beyond, Cubase, etc, to generate the appropriate controllers, and program your devices from your computer screen.
11 Sequencers make great pieces of MIDI test gear. I've placed several test sequences in the public domain (they've been distributed with most versions of Master Tracks Pro). These do tricks like stepping a synth through different program changes while playing some notes to test out each program, sending out tuning tones on each MIDI channel, checking synthesizers for MIDI guitar compatibility, and so on.
12 If you use DATs to back up your Sound Tools hard disk data, remember that tape is tape — before storing it, play it through from beginning to end so that it packs correctly, and store it in a cool, dry place.
13 How to clean up a sequence in one swell foop: MIDI guitar players and, to a lesser extent, keyboard players, have a tendency to generating glitches as they play — for example, an errant finger might brush against a key on the way to another one. Apply a 'strip data' command to any sequence to remove all notes with velocities under 15 and durations under 10 clocks or so; this will get rid of the hardest-to-find glitches.
14 Use the right mouse mat for your computer. Some mouse mats have textured surfaces and compress in response to pressure, while other pads have a smooth surface that is considerably harder. A stock Atari mouse works best with the textured kind; a smooth, hard surface will cause skipping. A standard Mac mouse, however, works best with a smooth surface and is less fatiguing to use. This is because there is a greater amount of surface area on a Mac mouse that comes into contact with the pad than an Atari, so the effects of any friction are magnified.
15 If you sync a sequencer to tape and change the tape speed, the sequencer tempo will change, but the pitch of the MIDI instruments will not track the tape's pitch change. This requires retuning the instruments, so make your life easy — record an A 440 tone at the head of the tape, and after you speed up the tape, tune the MIDI instruments to that tone.
Feature by Craig Anderton
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