Saturday, 25 February 2012

Electrical Supply

When you think of electrical power and computers, the quality of the power is always an issue. Computers are very sensitive to poor power quality and so is musical equipment, being computer-type devices themselves. I haven't done a huge amount of research but it wasn't hard to see the benefit of buying a really good Balanced Power Conditioner. One that I liked a lot is the Furman P-2400 IT. Let me just paste here a little of what they say on their web page. The Furman P-2400 IT is a symmetrically balanced power conditioner, designed for the most critical, ultra-low noise installations, provides unparalleled AC noise reduction and 100% isolation from the power grid for the lowest noise floor possible. The Furman P-2400 IT features over 80 dB of common-mode and over 50 dB of differential-mode noise reduction for recording, mastering, and broadcast studios, or anywhere noise-free performance is critical. With 100% isolation from line, neutral, and ground, the P-2400 IT is also ideal for breaking AC ground loops without rewiring or hiring an electrician. Sounds good or what?!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Singing Practice

I'm writing to tell you how incredible singing practice can be. On the condition that you have an ear for music, that is, you can differentiate one note from another, you can IMPROVE your voice. I don't know if everybody realizes that. I think we all believe in the gym and how it can build muscle, well, singing can build your voice. It can make it more precise, it can make it louder and it can make it expand your range. I know because I have done all those things. I could sing to begin with, but I always had the mistaken belief that I was a "backup" singer. I have a really good ear and could always play music just by listening to a song, and I could always sing harmony with no effort at all. But, to sing lead, I always thought I was missing that important property, voice strength!

First, try singing with considerable focus and effort. This is not a "sing-along". You are the lead singer, act like it! Work to make your voice precise and tone perfect. Stop and repeat, 10 or 20 times until you are satisfied with that line. Sing loudly, belt it out. But, be careful that you have a nice tone, not a yell. Copy every singer you can, try to sound like them as much as possible. It's great training! I am shocked how much improvement I have seen in my voice. I have added two full notes to my upper range! I push myself to sing EXACTLY like Elvis, or exactly like Bobby Darin. I copy every singer and my playcount is in the hundreds for most of my repertoire songs. I sing in the car where nobody can hear me and I am an audience of one. Try it, you'll like it!!!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Software - Band in a Box

This is a Windows answer to Garage Band for the Mac, I guess, but I have PCs. I like this software a lot! I like the fact that you can import an MP3 song and it will create a track for it with all the chords for the song. It will tell you the beat but I am finding that I have to massage the locations of the bars. I am probably doing something wrong. Every time I call PG Music, I get a real person that always seems to be willing to talk to me. Try that with Microsoft!

A while ago, they took their digital recording software and renamed it Real Band. They added pretty much all the Band in a Box features and started doing this Real tracks thing. They created real digital pieces of drums and base and created a patchwork system to create a great track which ended up being more or less a real drum recording, not a simulated drum sound. The trick is that you have to pick a "style" to determine the flavour of the drums and I expect that will come with experimentation. You buy drum style libraries individually or in groups. If you upgrade your software of course, you can pack in all their latest libraries. I haven't actually done much of this yet, but I'm looking forward to having great drum and base tracks for all my songs. They have other real track instruments but these are the two that I need the most and that I will be depending on.

It bugs me though to be constantly paying for upgrades. I paid $408 for the Omnipak version initially. Then I upgraded to Omnipak 2009 for $227. I still haven't really got going with this software because it is taking me so long to get my hardware set up and built. So now, I am looking at another upgrade, probably another couple of hundred dollars. So, I will have paid about $835 for a product which I could buy right now for $400. You know what I'm saying? If you're USING it, I think that's fair, but in my case, it's very frustrating. I guess the rule is, don't buy software until you are ready to use it right now!

If you want to look it up, it's a super product and has so many features, it's hard to wrap your head around all it can do. You just have to buy it and start playing around with it. Hopefully as soon as you get it downloaded!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Software - B3 Simulator

I'd like to talk about his software. It recreates the sound of the Hammond B3. It actually can do some other famous organs but I wanted it for the awesome B3 sounds. You can hear some really good sounds on the Native Instruments website. Look for B4 II, the name of the software. I like the fact that it uses drawbars exactly like the original and you can turn on and off the whirling Leslie speakers, a very important tool in the B3 player's bag of tricks. You can also say how noisy you want the keys to be. I think this is a good feature because sometimes you just want that old-fashioned beat-up B3 sound. Another must-have is the percussion. It works with a velocity sensitive keyboard and you can hear it in a lot of B3 music and it's a really important part of Jimmy Smith recordings. I plan on using these sounds a lot on my left hand keyboard for softer accompaniment-type stuff.

Check out these samples

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Digital Recording Workstation

I have a Yamaha AW4416 Digital Audio Workstation. It is described as "take(s) the all-in-one portable recording workstation to new heights, marrying a fully featured digital mixer with a 16-track hard disk recorder and sampling facilities. The published feature list promises a breathtaking specification at a highly competitive price, offering 16 tracks of uncompressed 24-bit audio, with a further 114 virtual tracks, along with comprehensive I/O and backup options, including an optional built-in SCSI CD writer. The mixer section is closely derived from that of Yamaha's existing 'O-series' digital mixers, and includes a large display with dedicated metering, two effects processors and full moving-fader automation. The built-in polyphonic sampler really is the icing on the cake." It was originally $4000 so I saw one used and grabbed it at $450. I have 7 channels in my system, two for audio and five for instruments. The nice thing for me is to be able to play back my 7 channels into my amps and, theoretically, it should sound just like me playing. I should be able to go into the audience area and check out and adjust my amp volumes. Also, I will use this to produce my CDs and to create the song samples for my website

I am going to try and upgrade the hard drive. I read that it will take up to a 64 gig drive so I should be able to get a 60 gig fairly cheaply. Apparently, it will format the drive for you once it is inserted. There are also optional cards that you can get for more inputs but they are very expensive and I think I can do without. They are also not that plentiful. I am looking forward to messing around with this thing. I plan on building a box for it with a flip top and fold down legs. I will position it behind my seat so that I can reach the controls. I want to record live performances as well and I was thinking of recording the ambient noise to track 8. Then, I might decide to mix that in if I want to release "live" tracks because eventually, I want to produce some recordings.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Breath Controller

I have a Yamaha BC3 breath controller. It is very simple and only sends breath information. Some controllers also send note info, like a clarinet or a saxophone would, and those are really like playing a self-contained instrument. I am not interested in that because I am keyboard player and my hands are 100% occupied. I don't have any limbs left over to do anything, but I can put a breath controller on my head and flip it into my mouth for a saxophone break, which is very cool! Only a few keyboards have breath controller inputs. You can also get a little box that will take your breath controller info and pass it on. In my case, I bought keyboards with those inputs, my CME UF5 and UF6. They are obsolete now which is a slightly annoying thing about technology. They still do what they did when I bought them, so I guess I can't complain.

A breath controller is somewhat like a pitch bend or a mod wheel; it sends a variable signal to whatever parameter you assign it to. The unique thing about it is how the signal comes out because you blow into it like you would a horn. That's pretty hard to duplicate with your left hand on a mod wheel. So, that's why it's special. Also, you don't really have to think about it the way it would be trying to control a mod wheel.

The Yamaha VL70m ($800) is geared up specifically for a breath controller. Believe it or not, you can use breath to modify a guitar or a base guitar sound as well, and it's awesome. Of course, I'm only talking about the VL70 with Patchman Turbo chip which you have to buy separately for $310. If you are in the US, you can buy one from with the chip installed. If you are in Canada, Yamaha finds it too confusing to let one cross over the border and maybe, oh, I don't know, just transfer the warranty?! Anyway, my pet peeve, as you can tell. So much for free trade (NAFTA)! Patchman has samples online for most of the 256 sounds available on this box. I particular like the sax sounds but the flutes are also awesome. Check them out.  

Saturday, 9 April 2011


I read an article on stage lighting intended more for an orchestra. But, it did bring something to my attention, I needed side lights. I originally thought that one good light up front would be ok, but finally decided to buy two side lights to round out my lighting. All my lights are LEDs. They run cool, take less power and I think they stand up better to handling. My front lights are the Chauvet LED 4Bar which cost me $525. It is 4 large RGB LEDs and came with a nice tripod and a bag. I can adjust the four lights to give a nice wash of light over my whole stage. My side lights are 2 Chauvet LED Rain56 lights for $375, again, on stands. I found some great generic stands for only $16 a pair. I bought these TVMP adaptors for $36 so that I could put the lights right on the top of the stand. I also bought a bag for these two stands for $35. I am starting to think that I might buy another bag and pack one light on its stand into each bag, therefore saving setup and takedown time.

I bought tree 25 foot DMX cables for $85 to connect these three lights to my lighting computer. The DMX cables daisy chain, that is, one cable from my computer to light 1, one cable from light 1 to light 2 and the third cable from light 2 to light 3. The computer needs an interface and I bought a simple and cheap one from Enttec called the Open DMX USB Interface. As you can see by the name, I will hook it to my computer with a USB cable. The software on my computer will be a free download called DMX Control.

DMX is another type of interface. It is designed to talk to lights. It can get quite exotic but for my purposes, I only need to turn lights on and off and maybe fade a bit here and there during a song. I want to create a MIDI track from RealBand and send it to DMX Control to tell it what to do with my lights. I hope that works ok, I haven't tried it yet. The software says it can understand incoming MIDI signals so I am not expecting any problems with that. Each DMX instruction has a light address with it, so the light you want to change will be the only one to actually get the message.