From the Boiler Room: February Update

drum_comboThe drum parts for all of the original songs are now complete, as are the bass parts. There may be some tweaking of the basslines as the arrangements develop, but they’re there or thereabouts for all songs. The drums are mainly the EZX Indie Folk and Americana kits, (a 50-50 split), but I couldn’t find the right parts for “One More Time”. In fact, anything I tried, no matter how simple, seemed too busy or just leaden, so I’ve opted for some simple (EZX) Latin Percussion on that and it’s just enough to provide some movement without becoming a distraction. [Read more…]


Question – are you losing your bass?

When I was mixing the Changes set , I noticed that I was struggling to get a solid bass sound.  I was using my trusty Broomstick Bass, but when I put it through a VST plugin to try to add some amp character to the samples, (which were recorded DI), I seemed to be losing the low end.  Surely not, I thought?  Must be me – right?  Wrong.

I hold with the axiom that you mix with your ears and not your eyes, but in this case, I was so frustrated by what I [wasn’t] hearing, that I put a metering plugin across the output to reassure myself it was my imagination.  Only it wasn’t.  The VST plugin in question, (Cubase’s own AmpSimulator), was effectively acting as if there was a High Pass Filter in line and was removing the low end of the signal.  This sent me on a path to find VST plugins that would add the character I was looking for, without costing me that low end energy.


Video Tutorial: Using key switches to add articulation

The earliest sample-based instruments tended to have one sample for each note, leading to a “machine gun” effect with rapid retriggering. The drum part for New Order’s Blue Monday is a classic example of this, although, (ironically), it was meant to be an echo style effect, but the Linn Drum they were using kept crashing and they forgot to reprogram the dynamics at the crucial moment. With the growth of multi-sample instruments, samples are played on a “round robin” basis, each successive note triggering a different sample, so that there is variation in the sound, in an effort to generate a more human performance.

But musicians don’t only play with slight differences in intonation and attack, they also bring an arsenal of playing styles and techniques to bear. We can emulate vibrato with the pitch bend wheel, tremolo with the modulation wheel, but it’s not always straightforward. The current generation of sample based VSTi’s such as Kontakt have a solution – using keys outside the normal range of the instrument to switch to a wholly different set of samples, for example going from legato string playing to pizzicato. In this video, I look at the articulations available in Broomstick Bass and how to write those key switches into an existing MIDI part.


From The Boiler Room: Bass Line Sprint

broomstickWith the end of the holidays fast approaching, I was able to take some time to get some actual recording done.  Serial bass line recording was where I started.  I’ve got drum parts down for most of the tracks using the EZ Drummer libraries, but my efforts to generate acceptable basslines from Broomstick Bass’ internal library were (almost) going nowhere, so I abandoned that as an idea and reverted to playing them in off a keyboard.  In the space of a couple of hours, I had bass parts for 4 songs recorded and ready for editing and a second session yielded seven more – sometimes, you just have to go with what you know.  I’ve uploaded videos showing how I’ve gone about editing them to the YouTube channel.  Why almost?  Well, as you might expect, there was the exception that proved the rule – the bass line for “A Winter’s Blues” is, as it stands, what was generated by Broomstick Bass from the Chord Track. [Read more…]


From The Boiler Room: January Update

renaissance-bassSo Christmas is a time for relaxing, taking time out and doing the fun things in life, right?  What world are you living in…..  I had no sooner posted the December update than progress came to an almost complete standstill, as preparations for the festivities took over and I was presented with enough vegetables to feed a small country for a year that needed to be peeled and sliced by Christmas Eve.  Add in the welcome opportunity to spend some quality time with a family I don’t see enough of and there aren’t enough hours in the day.  However, in the lull between New Year and actually going back to work, I did manage to squeeze some time in for music.  Oddly, the most satisfying thing was the least productive – I took advantage of being home for a few days to clear out the flotsam and jetsam that tends to accrue in my study whilst I’m away.  I now no longer have to step over random boxes to get to my chair and when I sit down, I sit down at a clear desk.  Luxury! [Read more…]


Video Tutorial: Match Quantise

It’s one thing to tighten up the timing of a recorded part, be it MIDI or audio, but there’s no guarantee that it will be in time with the other parts in the song you’re recording.  What happens when your bassist doesn’t sync with your drums, be they virtual or real, (or both)?  Fortunately, Cubase has an easy system for copying the quantise from one part to another, so that you can copy the groove of one part onto any or all of the other parts playing at the same time.  In this video, I give you an example of aligning the groove of a bass part with some pretty busy drums and look at some of the issues that can arise when you do so.


Video Tutorial: Iterative Quantise and Delete Overlaps

For those of us whose keyboard skills are not as complete as Rick Wakeman’s, recording MIDI from a keyboard can be a humbling experience when you open the resulting part for editing.  What felt like a good performance can often be revealed to be a shambolic approximation of the desired recording, (or is that just me?).  All too often, the temptation is to quantise the notes to within an inch of their life, leaving the part in time, but robbed of that human ebb and flow that separates man-made music from machine music.  However, Cubase offers a halfway house between a performance that’s just go too much swing and sterile perfection – iterative quantising.  This takes your ragged timing and smooths out the edges, leaving something close to the beat, but not welded to it.

Another issue with recording MIDI bass lines is that a bass guitar is (mostly) a monophonic instrument, but keyboard recording can leave you sounding adjacent notes that you could never play on a bass.  This registers with the listener and detracts from the overall effect you’re trying to achieve.  Cubase offers the facility to eliminate overlaps between notes, ensuring that your bassline is a one note wonder and doesn’t sound like you stumbled your way through.  The video below looks at the application of both Iterative Quantise and Delete Overlaps to editing a less-than-perfect MIDI bass part.