Category: Technophilia Aural

Instant radio hit, revisited

Technophilia Aural

Back in 2007, I tried out a site called Hit Song Science. Since then, it’s become uPlaya, and it’s been tricked out as a music marketing site.

When I tried out the early incarnation of the site, my mixes were pretty novice. (Now, they’re safely amateur.) I think the results I got were softballs, and my second go at the site confirmed it.

In fact, I even dropped cash to get full access to the site’s services. I uploaded a beta mix of Imprint, and the results were brutal. Of the 12 tracks on the album, only "Choices", "Take It Apart" and "Late Thaw" were considered having hit potential. Most tracks got an "Honorable Mention", and a few earned the rank of "Keep Trying". At least I didn’t score so low as to be told to keep my day job.

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What I learned: V-Vocal turns me into a female Japanese backing singer

Technophilia Aural

I’m not enough of a singer to dismiss V-Vocal, the Cakewalk SONAR pitch correction plug-in, as an essential part of my recording process. V-Vocal, in fact, helps me hear my own voice sing my own melodies properly, and that helps me develop better muscle memory.

A long time ago, I saw a bulletin board post on the Cakewalk web site claiming V-Vocal is really good for creating temporary background vocals. I decided to give it a try.

One of my songs, "Melt", sounds better if the third verse were doubled an octave higher, but that would put the melody far, far out of my comfortable range. I’ve attempted it and practically had to scream. The microphone didn’t like that, and the resulting recording was clipped as hell.

So I tried a different tactic — I recorded a second part in unison, then used V-Vocal to transpose that part an octave higher. The results were remarkable — it sounded like me an octave higher without the near-screaming and without the clipping. Listen:

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

var s1 = new SWFObject(“”,”playlist”,”400″,”40″,”7″); s1.addParam(“allowfullscreen”,”false”); s1.addVariable(“file”,’′); s1.addVariable(‘displaywidth’,’0′); s1.addVariable(‘shuffle’,’false’); s1.addVariable(‘thumbsinplaylist’,’false’); s1.addVariable(‘autostart’,’false’); s1.addVariable(‘author’,’Eponymous 4′); s1.addVariable(‘title’,’Melt (background vocal example)’); s1.write(“player1”);

If V-Vocal can create a frighteningly accurate facsimile of my voice an octave higher, what would happen if I went further into the female ranges?

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Upgrading the Closet

Technophilia Aural

The recent release of Cakewalk SONAR 7 has me covetous of new and upgraded studio software. Just about every piece of software in the Closet — that’s what I call my studio — has an upgrade available. This entry is more of a note to myself, to weigh the pros and cons of dropping all that cash to keep everything current.

So I’m making myself a handy table:

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Evaluation period: Native Instruments Kontakt 3, Cakewalk Project5 v.2, Cakewalk Rapture

Technophilia Aural

As deep as I am into home studio recording, I’m not much of a synthesizer guy. For the longest time, I used preset sounds because I had no idea what all those knobs and settings did. Even after taking classes on synthesis, I’m probably more inclined to use sampled sounds than to create my own. I pretty much write music for live bands, but I don’t have a band. So I use synthesizers and samplers.

Cakewalk recently released SONAR 7, the 2007 update of their flagship digital audio workstation software. The company has also bundled SONAR 7 with its other large products — Project5, Rapture and Dimension Pro — into a package called Cakewalk Pro Suite. The bundle sells for about $799 retail, but since I own SONAR 5 Producer Edition, I qualify for an upgrade price of $479. The upgrade price to SONAR 7 Producer Edition is $229. For $250 more, I can get software that would cost $707 to get separately with entirely new licenses.

So that begs the question — do I need them?

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Instant radio hit (You’ll Dance to Anything by Terry Riley)

Technophilia Aural

I ran across a site called Hit Song Science, which uses the PolyphonicHMI algorithms to determine mathematically whether a song has hit potential. The site is offering four months of free service till Oct. 31, and I didn’t see much in the way of small print to determine what would happen after that grace period expires. I figured I may as well give it a shot with some tracks by Eponymous 4.

However much I may love the songs I create, I have this sense my music is too middle ground to fit any particular audience. It’s too commercial for the indie audience (with whom I have most affinity) but it’s experimental enough to keep it out of reach of mainstream taste. I went into this experiment knowing I probably wouldn’t score very high.

According to the site, a song with a score higher than 7.0 has less resistance to becoming a hit. Scores between 6.75 and 7.0 indicate a borderline hit which requires further marketing push. Anything below that, I guess, you don’t bother.

Here’s how it turned out.

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What I learned: You too can sound like you don’t suck at karaoke

Technophilia Aural

When dealing with the V-Vocal editor in Cakewalk SONAR, it’s important to know these helpful hints. For the past three weeks, I’ve been recording vocals, and I make no claims of being a singer. So the results often require lots of clean-up.

I tried figuring out V-Vocal on my own, but it’s a quirky tool and unstable to boot. I can’t count the number of times my computer crashed while I was using it. If you just look at it wrong, it craps out. Despite that inconvenience, it did work incredible wonders on my voice.

But to get to that point, it helps to know the subtleties of V-Vocal, which isn’t really spelled out in the documentation. In addition to adjusting pitches, V-Vocal can fix modulations (like vibrato or warbled notes) and smooth out portamento. That attack a little sharp? It can be flattened out. That long note a bit shaky? It can be tamed.

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Adventures in vinyl transfers, or I’m sick of waiting for a boxed set by the Waitresses

Technophilia Aural

I bought a laptop. And because I want to work on studio stuff with that laptop, I also bought a USB audio interface.

A while back, I considered taking out an old boombox that had a phonograph input and setting it up next to my computer to transfer some vinyl. I have some records I bought from the Austin Record Convention that I never actually listened to because I don’t have time to sit and spin sides. With my mixer, external sound card and industrial strength audio software, I could make a decent transfer.

The thought occurred to me again today, but laziness, of course, reared its head. I didn’t want to disconnect my record player from the entertainment system and set it up in my cramped bedroom. Then I realized I now own a laptop, and the USB audio interface contains the drivers to power the industrial-strength audio software.

So this morning, I embarked on transferring Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?, the long out-of-print debut by the Waitresses.

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Adventures in music notation, or what crap will you pull now, Finale?

Technophilia Aural

I spent this past weekend getting familiar with Finale, and I have to say, it’s one of the most antagonistic user experiences I’ve ever encountered. I often felt it went out of its way to prevent me from accomplishing anything. I got curious about how Finale managed to earn its clout as the premier software for music notation. How can so many users settle for such hostile interface?

I did a search for "finale sibelius" to see what kind of discussion I’d find. One thing Finale seems to get credit for is minute control over all aspects of a score, and folks who use it value that thoroughness over any need for an intuitive interface. I also get the impression that Finale users just settle for what they have because it gets the job done.

This post, however, details the shortcomings I discovered in Finale on my first try. The author also compares Finale with Sibelius and found Sibelius easier to work with.

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Tunnel vision: Winamp

Technophilia Aural

I’m a creature of habit.

Most of it arises from the notion of not breaking what doesn’t need to be fixed. The problem with that line of thinking is that waiting for something to break can make you oblivious to doing something better.

I’ve never really explored the media library feature of Winamp. I organize my listening around playlists, and anytime some program offers to scan my hard drive to find all my music, I know it’s not going to be smart enough to discern music files from raw sound files used in applications.

Those prompts almost always come from media library features, and I’ve paid them no mind.

iTunes, however, is purely a library interface. It’s driven by the metadata in your media files, not by file system naming conventions. My library is my file naming convention, so when iTunes and my habits diverge, I usually end up cursing iTunes.

I wondered whether there was a way I could use Winamp to interface with my iPod instead of using iTunes. As a matter of fact, it can, but you would need to use the Media Library.

So I took it for a whirl.

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