Our regular column devoted to readers' hints and tips about their recording equipment, instruments, software and playing techniques.
If you've discovered any special techniques or tricks on your instruments or recording equipment that might help other readers, send them in to us. The sender of the best tip each month will win a super prize. This month, it's a free copy of Craig Anderton's highly informative book MIDI FOR MUSICIANS.
I run an 8-track studio equipped with a Tascam 38, M&A mixing desk (16-8-2), various MIDI keyboards and a sequencing system based around the Voyetra Technologies software (Sequencer Plus MkII and Patch Master). The sequencer runs on a Qubie BTurbo (PC/XT clone) and is synchronised to the Tascam using a Nomad SMC 1.0; mastering is done on a Revox A77. I rarely use the sequencer by itself, but rather have it synced up to the multitrack using the Nomad. When in 'chase' mode the sequencer behaves as an extension of the tape machine, giving me as many additional tracks as I have synths.
Apart from using the computer to run the sequencer I also keep all my track sheets on it using Borland's Sidekick, a memory resident desk accessory program for the IBM PC which can be evoked whilst the Sequencer Plus software is running.
When I load the sequencer file for the track I'm about to work on, I also load the corresponding track sheet into Sidekick's notepad area. The track sheet file has the same name as the sequencer file but has a different filename extension (ie. NAME.TS), which solves the twin problems of remembering the name of the track sheet file and keeping the files separate from the sequencer song files. I have configured the Sidekick notepad to pick up files with the .TS extension, so it's easy to skip between them if necessary.
One problem I found when I started using this scheme was that since all the track sheets were in separate files, it was difficult to relate them to the 'takes' on the multitrack tapes. Since DOS only allows 8-letter filenames, it was difficult to think of unique and meaningful names (especially for different versions of the same song), so time was wasted scanning through the track sheet files to find the correct one. To solve this problem I have written a program to produce an index of all the track sheets, sorted by tape and take.
One of the really neat features of using Sidekick with Voyetra's Sequencer Plus is that the track sheet can be displayed on-screen while a sequence is running (even in chase mode), which means that you'll never have to print out a track sheet again! The track sheet indexing program is available for download in the MIDI conference (route66) area on the CIX computer system in Guildford (Contact Details); E-mail "brianh" when you get on the system.
Brian Heywood, Guildford, Surrey.
I don't know if this information is too 'obvious' to count as a Sound Advice tip but I picked it up from watching a pro studio engineer at work and have managed to create better-sounding mixes myself at home as a result.
When equalising tracks with a mixer that features parametric/sweep EQ on the channel inputs, it is difficult to know what frequency to set the control to. Instead of just sweeping it arbitrarily up and down, as most people I know seem to do, try overboosting the EQ gain to emphasise the frequencies you are adjusting, then back off the gain until it sounds 'right'. If it doesn't sound right or doesn't make a noticeable difference to the sound whatever the gain setting, then undoubtedly the frequency setting is wrong and needs to be adjusted.
You can achieve the same effect by completely cutting the gain then gradually restoring the signal until it sounds OK. This may be a better option as it won't introduce distortion - boosting EQ can. I find them both a much better way of recognising whether an instrument needs EQ-ing or not.
C. Atkinson, Tavistock, Devon.
If, like me, you are ever stuck for new song ideas and you own a sequencer, the following technique might help generate inspiration.
Take the track containing the chord structure of your favourite song (or even the chords to somebody else's song!) and copy each change of chord onto a new sequencer track of its own, inserting blank measures before and after the chord in order to preserve the original changes. You are then free to transpose any, all, or as many chords as you wish by whatever pitch intervals your sequencer will support to create a new chord progression and, hence, the basis of a new song!
Provided you set each track to play back on the same MIDI channel, and assign that channel to one synth or sampler, no-one will be able to tell that the track wasn't recorded as one complete 'take'.
Alternatively, you can try deleting some of those empty measures so that chord changes occur at different times from the original. You can also do a spot of cut-and-pasting to re-arrange the chords randomly and just listen to the end result. Since all the chords of your original source song were (presumably) harmonically 'balanced' enough for them to sound good in the first instance, there's a pretty good chance that they will still sound OK together after a spot of chord juggling.
I can't guarantee that the results will always be musically useful, but they will certainly set the creative mind buzzing. Try it and see.
Alan Frobisher, Ware, Herts.
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