z Gear Stories episode 17

Gear Stories 17:  Changing my life with software!



Hey there everybody… it’s Gear Stories time again, and this month I am focusing on two great pieces of software that both have changed my music, and since music is my life, the have changed my LIFE!!!!


Of course, the rules of engagement are thus… if you don’t want to get this e-mail, don’t get mad… don’t even get EVEN!  Just let me know and I’ll take you off the list… but check it out first.  You might like it!


So here we go!


Changing my mixes with I.K. Multimedia’s ARC System.


It seems that a lot of speaker companies these days are putting room analysis digital signal processing right in the electronics of the speakers… but at the same time, those systems can be pretty pricey, and a lot of us with home studios, or small project studios that couldn’t afford to pay Russ Berger to design their rooms (http://www.rbdg.com/), don’t really have the cash to lay out for a new set of monitor speakers, when the monitors that we have are already good.


I confess that I actually am still using my old first generation of Mackie HR824 monitors in my studio…  They’re old, but they still sound good, and I’m used to them!   But still, I had this problem.  My customers would at times tell me that the mixes sounded great in the studio, but then when they get out in the real world, the mixes didn’t translate into their home stereo, or boom box, or car CD player the same way.


Part of that is the nature of the beast… every system you listen to your music on, and every environment you listen to music in has different acoustic factors that actually make the music sound different.  We don’t generally notice that when we are listening to the latest Britney Spears CD secretly in our cars  (NO… I don’t… I was just using her as an example of a commercially released CD so get off my back!  …  humming “womanizer” to myself…)


We usually don’t notice when we haven’t worked on the mixes ourselves, but all music has this issue, we are just hyper-sensative to our OWN music, because we know exactly how we want it to sound.  I know that when I was working on my solo album, I would burn copy after copy of songs when I was in the final mixing and mastering phase and listen to them in my car and then go back in and make minor tweaks, and the do it again.


Well, I have significantly cut down on that by using the ARC system.


Arc is a plug in that you put on the master bus of your recording software.  It comes with a room analysis mic, and takes about 15 minutes from install to analysis to use… and I can’t believe what a difference it makes.


It comes with a little map of your studio control room…  (Well, not YOUR room, but a general “Every studio” control room) and it tells you in relation to your speakers where to place the mic.  You place the mic where the map tells you to, then push a little button and it makes a little swooping sound a few times, and analyzes that, then you move the mic to the second position on the map and do it again.  You do this about ten or fifteen times, and then save the results of that analysis as a preset.  Then, every time you are working within that room, you can use that preset and it will give you an adjusted output in terms of the frequency response and phase of the room, which will compensate for the acoustic problems of the room.  The result is that you hear NOT what your  music sounds like in that room, but what your music sounds like in a flatly tuned control room that doesn’t color the sound.


It’s really telling when you are listening to a playback with the arc system on, and get it sounding just the way you want it to sound… and then turn it off… at that point, you will hear what damage your room’s problems are doing to your mixes…   Every time I do that, I simply shudder and turn it back on… It’s too frightening to think that I was hearing things that way and overcompensating for lack of bass response in the room… It’s a wonder my old mixes didn’t blow people’s woofers!


The only drawback about using it that I have found is this…




If you don’t. then your compensations are being applied to your mix, and then when you take it out into the real world, it will still sound funky… (And not Funky in a good way)… as if you hadn’t been using it.  That’s because it’s there compensating for the problems in playback in YOUR ROOM only, and other people will not be listening to your music in your room… or at least if they are, you should know about it!


I would estimate that the amount of mixes I bounce down where I get halfway through and then look at the screen and yell “for crying out loud!” then have to hit cancel and then bypass the ARC system and do the bounce again has got to be about 85%.  But this is my own personal problem with forgetfulness…


My mixes now sound punchier and more rich and full right out of the box… they are clearer and less muddy (which is really the same thing, I guess).  I attribute this directly to my use of the ARC system, so now, instead of six or seven revisions to my mixes, usually I only do one or two!


From now until the next issue of Gear Stories, you can get this WONDERFUL, life changing system for $50 off, so instead of $499.  It is now $449!  But to get this price, you have to call or e-mail me to make the order.





Changing my arrangements with Native Instruments Komplete  (Brought to you by the number 5 and the letter C)



Virtual instruments were kind of a novelty only a few years ago, but now they have become the industry standard.  If you’re not familiar with the concept of Virtual instruments, think about those great big synthesizers that people use up on stage.  They can do a lot, but they are heavy, and cost a LOT of money!  But inside, what are they really?  They are simply a key-bed connected to electronics that are essentially just a computer that is dedicated to one task… making those sounds.


So what if you removed the key- bed… and then removed the electronics… all you would have is software.  And that’s a lot less heavy than those big synthesizers… and also, it costs a whole lot less to make!  So therefore, it costs a whole lot less to BUY!


I am composing and arranging music all the time… I spend about ten to fifteen hours a week doing that, and probably 90% of that time, I am using a virtual instrument.  I have a LOT of them, but I definitely have my favorites.  One of my very favorites is a bundle called Komplete5, by a company called Native Instruments.




If you followed that link, you will notice that the basic Komplete 5 is now going for $399.97.  That is truly amazing!  Especially since when I got my copy last year, it cost $1000.  (We’ll get to the reasons for the price drop in a minute, but first I want to tell you about the software!)


Native instruments is a company that has made a number of VERY popular virtual instruments over the years, and to buy them separately would cost thousands of dollars, but eventually, the cries of the people were heard, and N.I. bundled them together in one complete package, and spelled it with a “K” and made a lot of people very happy!


Here’s what’s in it…


Kontakt (Speaking of spelling things with a “K” for some reason!)  I use this pretty constantly  (or should I say Konstantly)  It is a GREAT sampler, and comes with a huge library of sounds, which are very useful, but on top of that LOADS of other companies make sample libraries that can be loaded into it, so i find it to be the part of Komplete that I use most.  I have a symphonic library from Sonic implants that I use inside Kontakt  as well as “Evolve” from Heaviocity…





B4 is my second favorite part of Komplete.  It is a virtual organ, and I till you, in all my days, it has the best organ sounds I have EVER heard!  I have known of people lugging around Hammond B3 organ with ginormous Leslie speaker cabinets, and this just sounds better!


Akoustic Piano:  Great piano samples of some of the greatest acoustic pianos ever made.  Easy to use!  It responds just like an acoustic piano, and I particularly like the way they cut through the mix!  Beautiful!


Elektric Piano:  Ditto of the Akoustic Piano one, except electric pianos.


FM8:  Ditto the previous two, only for the legendary Yamaha DX7 and it’s family of FM synthesizers.


Massive and Absynth:  I lump these two together, because they both act kind of like the great analog synthesizers, though Massive tends to lean toward the more aggressive sounds, and Absynth toward the more textural.  I love them both!


Guitar Rig:  At the price of this bundle now, this one is worth the price of the whole package!  Great guitar amp emulation… plug your guitar in, patch it through and choose your favorite vintage amp!  it ROCKS!


Battery:  Great drums, leaning toward the electronically produced, great for Hip Hop and techno, but also with some wonderful acoustic drum sounds.


Pro 53:  Ah yes… remember the old Prophet 5 synth originally designed by Bob Moog?   (Well you’re not old enough, then!  I remember them, and I used to walk five miles back  and forth to school in the snow, uphill both ways, carrying an analog synthesizer!)  This instrument emulates the old Classic analog synth to the T… or since it’s Native Instruments, perhaps I should say “to the K.”


Ah yes, and there’s Reaktor, which is like the REALLY old modular synths.  I must Konfess, that I do not use this one as much as the others… but perhaps I better look into that!


It seems every time I pop open a virtual instrument that I’m not as familiar with, and start messing around with what it can do, I discover that new music just comes out!  That’s very exciting!


From the moment I got Komplete, I have been using virtual instruments more and more, and my poor hardware boards and modules are getting very jealous!



The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it has SO MUCH content (Kontent) that it took me over four hours to install!


Now, to the price drop…  Komplete has been out for a while.  You have to appreciate the people from Native instruments, because they are constantly updating these instruments and offering the updates to registered users for free online…  but it’s obvious that something is coming.  Perhaps Komplete 6… who knows?  They are Kompletely tight lipped about it… but I CAN tell you this… even if there is a new version or a new collection coming, at this price, you  cannot beat this bundle!  It is just SO worth it!



If I were you, I would jump on these historically low prices for this incredible bundle of software.  There is no way that you’re going to regret it.  SO call me and we’ll get your copy on it’s way out to you!


And remember… when you buy from Sweetwater, we stand behind everything we sell, and provide free lifetime tech support!  No other company out there provides that like we do!


Until next time… keep making music!