Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jamming with SoundFonts

I have really been bogged down with my day gig spilling into my evening guitar hours. However, although I did not have time to work on composing  I did manage to experiment with the use of a soft sampler and sound fonts. The soft sampler I use I have mentioned before. Its SFZ which is free but excellent so far. What was a pleasant surprise was the performance I am getting out of SFZ and the use of SoundFonts. Now, for those that don’t know, SoundFonts come in all shape and sizes. Some are huge. Like RealFont which is a free, good but large GM sound font. Its large because its high quality but also because its a GM font which means it provides for the entire GM (General Midi) instrument set which is large. Everything from pianos to helicopter sounds. SoundFonts can be small , of high quality but specific to a certain sound or instrument. For example, one commercial sound font I’m checking out is based on the vintage Yamaha DX-7 saw wave. Since in this case the sound font is about a specific sound it can still be of very high quality yet significantly smaller than using a GM sound font. The size is important because the size impacts the memory of your system. In other words the smaller the sound font the less chance you get into a memory hungry situation which means that your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) has the space it needs to operate best. The key is to avoid latency. Latency a fancy word for a disconnect between when your fingers play a note to the point when your ears hear the note.

I was very happy with the performance. I could not hear any discernible latency at all. Soft samplers have an edge over soft synths. They just have to compute much less. After all the sound is already made, it just needs to be mapped to a note range. Synthesisers have to generate i.e. “synthesize” the sound and this takes horse power. The other benefit to the use of the soft sampler and sound fonts is the flexibility of choosing different sounds. There are tons of free sound fonts out there. Many are very good. There is also a good selection of commercial sound fonts and they are not really expensive. I have seen prices in the low teens for certain sounds. The way I see it twenty bucks is well spent if that buys me a killer lead saw sound.

The other note is how pleased I also am with my Godin LGX-SA. Specifically, the capability of driving multiple sounds from the guitar i.e. acoustic pickup, electric humbuckers and of course the synth access. Unless, I’m trying to do some special effects ,  the guitar synth to me means the combined guitar natural tones with the synth tones. As a matter of fact, in many ways I see the synth as an effect on the guitar. For example , one combination could the use of the  natural  more staccato acoustic lines of a guitar and that of a legato string synth line which is by the nature of the string patch a “delayed” sound. The synth is providing the delayed effect but instead of delaying the guitar signal you get a delayed synth which tracks the pitches of the guitar line.

The possibilities are endless and the tracking is there.

I did run into a snag getting the soft sampler’s output to Audition but I’ll talk about that on a later post.

Feedback for this post can be left on my forum.


Monday, January 15, 2007

DiMeola experiments with CDBaby

Yes, DiMeola has released his new album Diabolic Intentions and it is being sold at CDBaby. This is very interesting to me. Here is a mainstream fusion artist, well as mainstream as fusion can get, experimenting with an unorthodox distribution channel and which is still probably associated with unknown artists. In my opinion it makes sense. It at the very least makes sense to experiment from Al’s perspective. Two good reasons:

  1. He makes more money i.e. he gets a bigger cut, a much bigger cut.
  2. He has more control if not total control over his intellectual property.
  3. No contractual arrangements to support the CD.

Reason # 1

CDBaby charges , last I checked, four bucks per CD. If you sell a CD for $10.00 and more , well I’ll bypass the math. Most artist get less than a couple dollars per CD from the big labels.

Reason # 2

Control. This is a big issue. There are DiMeola albums which are basically out of print. That’s just a ridiculous state of affairs. It should never happen. If Dimeola had legal rights to that material and assuming he has possession of the masters he could just re-issue and sell them on CDBaby.

Reason # 3.

Big labels usually force the artist to support the album by touring. Al DiMeola tours a lot. It has to be grueling. To have actual control over whether he tours or not , where and the whens must be fantastic.

I suspect that there other reasons why this was a good album to give CDBaby a shot. For one, his bandmate Gumbi Ortiz has at least a couple of his albums on CDBaby. Secondly, its my guess that this last album was cheaper to produce. My understanding is that is a solo guitar album. The cost would have been significantly cheaper to record, mix/master and obviously the musician fees were kept low . Other albums i.e. with full bands can get expensive, they take longer to record and usually would bring in more talent to assist i.e. the right engineers, producers etc. In this case depending on the scope the artist may want for the record label to foot the bill.

I hope this works out for Al because it may make it easier to get another twenty years of music from him. The way technology is going he could pretty much record his stuff in the comfort of his home studio .


BTW, feedback for this article can be left on my forum.



Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Here She Is

A late announcement but here she is in all her glory. The Godin LGX SA. Great acoustic tone, Seymour Duncan humbuckers on a 5 position switch, nice ebony action, controls the synth perfectly and you can run all three sound sources at the same time. If you need a synth capable guitar , I just don’t think that there any other good choices.

You can read my previous blog about the LGX-SA here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Music Patterns

Revised: Jan. 12th, 2007.

As some may know I’m a software engineer by day. I have come to believe that there are certain ideas in software engineering that are applicable to delivering product in the music world i.e. to compose and publish your music CD. One of those ideas is that of patterns ala Design Patterns. Simplistically, a pattern is a label on a repeatable strategy to do something. The label serves as a way of communicating an idea to somebody(s) , a collaborator or perhaps oneself . In the case of software its your team. In the case of music its your team as well. Your bandmates, your composition partner , even a teacher or student.

Often, you hear “well, there are a thousand ways to do that” and with art that goes up to a million ways. However, the case is that there is actually a limited number of commonly used and effective strategies. Often, the creativity comes in the extension or slight departure from a pattern. Of course, somebody can invent something entirely new. That’s okay, its great but often people don’t appreciate stuff that is too “new”.

From my perspective the main value of “music” patterns would be to foster communication between collaborators at all levels of expertise. To better allow one to get a grip on effective strategies and therefore enhance productivity. 

All of the above to introduce:

The Layered Riff Intro

A riff is at first introduced over for example a 4 bar phrase. Every four bars another part is added e.g. percussion, bass, piano etc,. thereby “thickening” the sound until by the end of the fourth pass one enters the top of the A section. A twist to this pattern, which I like and I’m currently using on a tune, is to repeat the riff over your A section and to finally end the tune with the riff.

Note, the riff is not the melody but something that the melody plays against. The melody can contain parts of the riff, it can contain inversions of the riff, be rhythmically symmetrical to the riff, etc. I find it very cool to do that.

Let me emphasize in case there is any confusion, I have not “invented” anything. I’m just going through a process of labelling these patterns , strategies that I hear in the music I listen to for the purposes that it may help my personal composition process. If this perhaps helps others , great. I do doubt that a seasoned composer will find much value in these, such already know them may have even coined their own terms or not for these.



Now, some heavy composer types may call this “motif development” or something else, well fine. But this pattern is more specific. It is easy to grasp and more direct to implement. Try it out. The next time YOU, and I’m now talking to those that may not have heavy music education under their belts, set out to write a tune, just try it. Come up with a riff , layer in the rest of the parts, come up with a melody that is a play off the riff, come up with some chords that work and end the tune with the riff.

You may be surprised to find a decent initial cut of an “entire” tune. Often, at least with me, having a notion of what the “entire” structure of the tune is has been difficult and a roadblock to finishing a tune. I have a lot of unfinished tunes . This pattern or if it is preferred “recipe” has been helpful.