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Thread: What should I do?

  1. #1
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    In highschool I used to compse musin in the electonic lab... It had a keyboard, a drum machine, and another keyboard all attached to a Mac. The Mac was running some software that allowed it to see what the keyboard is doing... it then spit out what I played into music notation (real notes onto staves and such). The drum machine was connected and everything could be used at once to make music... I loved it...

    Well I've been away from that lab for almost 10 years now... I'm sure lots has changed... What I'm looking for is a way to expand what I have into something similar to what I used to work on...

    I think it was all midi connected... not sure how but here is what I have so far:

    A VERY fast PC that I built myself... easy to upgrade and add parts to if I need to... Its an Athlon 1000mhz system with a SB Live card...

    I have a Korg ES-1 that is fun to play with but I thinkI can get a lot more out of it if I connect it to a system...

    I actually have two of the computers above and a smaller Compaq POS...

    I don't have experience setting up midi systems but I can learn real fast...

    I guess what I need is a midi-controller (keyboard) and some way to interface with the computers and the software to control that interface...

    Basically I'm a newbie looking for some info so I can start to research what I want... I'm not looing for someone to tell me what to get.. just some suggestions of a place to start looking... I like to learn everything I can then make decisions myself...

    Thanks to anyone who replies... Your help is greatly appreciated!

  2. #2
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    blynn

    You've got a good starting place with the gigahertz Athlon and the SB Live is a very decent card you might outgrow as a primary card but which will serve you well for general use and testing even if you later add in a more robust card or outboard device (via Firewire or even USB)... but many people can probably get along just fine with the SB Live. (And I'm using one at this moment myself... although it's a bit of a change from the 8 in 8 out system I've been running since '96.)

    As you note, you'll probably want some kind of keyboard controller. Most controllers are combined with a synth, organ, or electronic piano of some kind (because its the keyboard that's expensive... they can practically give away the electronics).

    As long as your midi setup doesn't get too complex the MIDI port on the SB Live will probably suffice... you might need to route out to a midi patch bay/switcher and some folks firmly believe you'll get the best results with a dedicated midi controller/time source but for now I'd go with the SB's built in midi port.

    (The specs on the Korg site don't show any external MIDI capabilities for the ES-1 box but of course even if it (bizarrely) forgoes midi connectivity you could still use it free form.)

    If you end up with a keyboard that has a built in sound module (as I said quite likely) you'll be able to use it in combination with the synth module on the SB.

    You'll need MIDI sequencer software -- and all the contemporary players offer "audio sequencing" as well -- in essence a combination audio and MIDI workstation environment. The major players are Cakewalk/Sonar, Steinberg Cubase, and Logic. Also available is software from Digidesign associated with the Protools system. Additionally, there are products like Vegas Audio from Sonic Foundry. (And, for that matter, you can even use ACID to record multitrack audio... although you have to go to the more expensive pro package to get integrated MIDI capabilities.

    If you're going to record audio as well as MIDI you'll need a microphone and some kind of mic preamp. The preamp could be a standalone unit, a "voice channel" or "strip" (a combination preamp, eq, compressor, etc) or as part of a mixer. Don't even bother with the mic input on the SB -- this is strictly for those little $5 plastic desktop microphones they give away with computers... you need to use a proper mic preamp and plug that into your LINE IN. (Also, keep in mind that if you buy a condensor mic you'll probably need "phantom power" capability from your preamp.)

    If you're looking for general tutorials on home/PC recording (in addition to this excellent site) you can find a lot of good, basic info at http://homerecording.about.com/

  3. #3
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    Hi there,

    sounds like you've got a lot of what you need already. The main thing you still need is a sequencer package, theblue1 mentioned a few - all of them have their supporters and opponents. I know for certain ('cos I use it) that Cubase (that's regular, cheaper Cubase as well as Cubase Score) has the capacity to convert what you play onto a stave and then play it back - I'll bet the others do too, I just don't know. You will also need a controller keyboard and some instruments, these can be either external hardware (more expensive, but a lot of people prefer them) or software. I'm sure the ES-1 has at least a midi-in so you'll be able to integrate it into your system. Check out this site for an introduction to what's available in the world of soft-synths - it's nowhere near a definitive selection of what's out there, but it may whet your appetite a bit.

    To be honest if you can build a PC to your own specs then connecting up all the MIDI stuff will be a piece of cake for you. Just get your sequencer up and running and go from there.

    Good luck,
    KasioRoks

  4. #4
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    To be honest if you can build a PC to your own specs then connecting up all the MIDI stuff will be a piece of cake for you.
    I agree you'll probably do just fine... but I think under some circumstances that building a PC can be much easier than getting a bunch of MIDI gear together and talking to each other correctly -- at least if you're coming to it cold. (That said I think building a PC is often easier than installing and optimizing a lot of high-end software packages, too. It's debugging software and hardware conflicts that will drive you crazy. Building a basic PC is pretty much a walk in the park these days.)

    It's been 9 or 10 years now since I rigged up my first MIDI setup (I had moderate experience with analog non-midi synths in the early 80s so at least I knew how to "patch" synths).

    I think a good "Idiot's Guide" style book or alternate source (but one that explains terms clearly and is well organized with a good ref section) would have helped me considerably at the time. A lot of my headaches came from either confusion over terms (particularly since the manufacturers often used terms differently) and a vagueness on my part about how the whole voice/patch/multi-timbral-multi/patch thing and that hierarchy (at that time a newer concept) worked -- which was just confused by a bad manufacturers manual.
    Last edited by theblue1; 09-26-2001 at 08:39 AM.

  5. #5
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    Wow... thanks for all the help...

    I can install and maintain compicated software like Windows2000 Adv. Sever... I am a Microsoft Certified Professional so software is no problem...

    So can someone recommend a keyboard that won't break me but is still highly functional?

    And: The difference between Cakewalk and Cubase? I've heard Cubase is hard to learn and Cakewalk is easier... but I know cubase is more powerful... what is the real differece? And what is a VST?

  6. #6
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    Cakewalk, Cubase, Logic, others

    Cakewalk (and their new flagship product Sonar which is what "would have been" CW Pro Audio 10 [not 9 as I originally wrote -- thanks to eagle-eyed Funktastico for catching my slip]), Cubase, and Logic (to hit the big 3) are essentially competing packages with much of the same features but differing philosophies about user interfaces, etc. (VST is a tier of the Cubase family.)

    I use Sonar and have little experience with the others (I did set up Cubasis for a novice user, the entry level pkg of Cubase, which undoubtedly lags behind the flagship pkg. I found it "unintuitive" (but then I originally found CW unintuitive -- and it was -- but Sonar and recent CW pkgs are much much better and higher end Cubase pkgs may be as well). One concern I would have with any audio sequencing software is how it deals with audio clips. As I understand it (and hopefully if I'm wrong someone will correct me) Cubase and Pro Tools (don't know about Logic) require you to treat each audio clip as a separate file (selecting a folder for it to go into, naming it, deleting it when you no longer need it, etc, -- this was how Cubasis worked) while in CW and Sonar audio clips are managed for you by the software and are "out of sight out of mind" (pretty much the same as individual MIDI tracks although they do reside in discrete files on your HD -- but CW manages them for you, and you never even have to look in the directory)... my limited experience with Cubasis made me think I would never, ever be comfortable with that more awkward and detail intensive system. I tend to have scores, even hundreds of audio clips in my work tracks and, for me, the headache of keeping track of all of them would mean I would probably go back to my ADATS in no time flat.

    Now, if the higher end Cubase has a more convenient audio file system now, hopefully someone with experience with that 'ware will chime in... certainly, all the packages have their partisans and I'm sure there are strong points in all of them.

    I think there are demo versions available from CW, Cubase, Digidesign/Pro Tools (and maybe Logic?) -- since the flagship packages run from 3 or 4 hundred bucks on up into the thousands (?) -- and different people may strongly like one or the other better -- I think it might be worth your while to try them out before buying...
    Last edited by theblue1; 10-05-2001 at 09:14 AM.

  7. #7
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    OK I've never used Cubasis, so I can't talk about that, but Cubase5 and Pro-tools use pretty similar ways of dealing with audio. Both work very easily and you don't have to be going into and out of files on your hard-drive to name clips, delete them and so on. The important thing to remember is that the actual audio is stored somewhere (in Cubase it's called the Audio pool) but 'segments' of it (Steinberg's word) can be used as you like. So you can keep looping the same guitar lick without swallowing up memory. Both of these aspects of audio in pro-tools and Cubase are easy to get a handle on - Cubase probably easier than pro-tools, but only just. All the files are set up automatically, it is very easy.

    Pro-tools wins hands down when it comes to automation of your mixes. Once you've used it Cubase seems very clunky and difficult. However the midi implementation on pro-tools sucks. It really does. Personally I love Cubase for midi sequencing, I find it easy to use, but also with enough depth to do whatever I need. If you take yourself over to www.digidesign.com you can download pro-tools free to try that out. Fully functional, but only 8 tracks of audio. worth a look just to see what all the fuss is about.

    Check here for a round-up of controller keyboards.

    I seriously doubt if Cubase is that much more powerful than Cakewalk - if you compare flagship versions. VST is the acronym of Virtual Studio Technology. That's how Steinberg view Cubase, because it can do everything that a studio can do in a soft setting. A VSTi is a soft-synth which exists happily in the VST world. All the major names have their own version of this technology.

    Hope this helps,
    KasioRoks

  8. #8
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    I'm happy to stand corrected on the file thing. (Although KasioRoks description doesn't sound totally inconsistent with what I saw in Cubasis... I may well have missed some convenience features, too. And it could be I just overemphasize what I perceived as inconvenience or that CW has made me lazy )

    On the which is more powerful question, it's been my perception that (mostly with regard to MIDI effects and more recently the VST plug-in protocol) that Cubase gets the cool toys and innovations and some conveniences first and then they later show up in CW (and now, indeed, Sonar includes -- in addition to the DirectX support they've had for years -- a new "open standard" plug-in protocol that supports V-synths and more sophisticated plug-ins).

    And on the automation front (again keeping in mind I've got no experience on Cubase VST or Pro Tools) the automation in CW/Sonar is pretty straightforward and mostly intuitive and allows you to automate some midi and audio plug-ins as well.
    Last edited by theblue1; 09-26-2001 at 06:46 PM.

  9. #9
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    Sonar review in this months EM

    By the way... there's a review of Sonar in this month's Electronic Musician magazine. I'm not sure how long it takes for content to reach their internet site. It looks like they still have last months reviews up... (and not ony that, some of the pages there don't display right no matter how you tinker with your browser -- at least with IE 5.5).

    The review is written by Scott Garigus, the home recording How To book guy and is pretty thorough... but like most EM reviews they avoid comparing and contrasting it with other products...

    (BTW, I was at the Digidesign site looking for the link to their free crippleware version of Pro Tools LE-superlite and couldn't find it... was I being especially dense? Does anyone have the link? I walked through a bunch of their online QT tours and didn't see much that was compelling to me -- but, man, as a sometimes copywriter I really appreciated how much spin they put on their copy to make possible minuses look like possible pluses... if they don't have a given feature -- it's to make the software more elegant or easy to understand. You gotta give 'em credit for marketing... )

    BTW... there's a fairly in depth review of Sonar in the latest Electronic Musician magazine.
    Last edited by theblue1; 10-02-2001 at 05:14 PM.

  10. #10
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    Automatic audio pool management has been in cakewalk, cubase, pro tools, logic, etc. for several years already. And Sonar was supposed to be CW 10, not 9.

    Btw. I think Sonar 1.02 beats all other MIDI&audio sequencers with its fast learning curve, extremely fast UI and midi/audio features as well.

    <edit> Oh yeah and did I mention stability? </edit>

    C'yall
    Toni L.
    www.mp3.com/NativeAlien
    Last edited by Funktastico; 10-05-2001 at 03:37 AM.

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