Making the most of MeFi Music April 14, 2003 4:24 PM   Subscribe

We've all seen the extensive how-tos of home recording that abound on the internet, but their suggestions can seem unreachable to someone with limited time, knowledge, income, or resources. How do we go from catchy riff to digitally mixing hit Metafilter-Music? Will a free version of Pro-Tools let us easily track up a house band? Should we shell out major dollars for a major software package like Cakewalk, PowerTracks, Cool Edit Pro, et cetera? Or, can the same sounds be achieved with free/share-ware like N-Track Studio or Goldwave & Multi-quence? Surely someone out there can offer some sage advice [...more inside...]
posted by krisis to MetaFilter Music at 4:24 PM (57 comments total)

Home recording for the acoustic amateur... what's an eager Metafilter member to do? While creating digitally composed music is an entirely different topic (with which i have no experience), i am positive that for for every potential breakbeats DJ out there that there are a few members who are in a similar position to my own: they have a few songs, an instrument to play them on, a microphone/line-in, and a computer ... but not too much else.

Some history: Ever since the the day i bought my first acoustic guitar i have been recording myself. At first it was a very unsophisticated process ... i would just play for as long as Sound Recorder would record. Fast forward six years and i have a huge catalogue of songs, five guitars, and an eight track mixer that i use to record myself live (with no dubs) for use on my website (which leaves me approximately here on the home-mixing checklist). Yet, i cannot seem to get any home-produced, PC-mixed, multi-tracked songs off the ground.

What is ironic is that i have experience with digital recording -- i've recorded a whole demo digitally! However, that was in an already established studio with a recent version of Pro-Tools, a huge mixing board, and three ADAT machines. There i feel at home, but at home i have absolutely no idea how to make my own glitzy recordings complete with dubbed harmonies and additional instruments, though i'm sure it can't be too hard (see recent fpp on Songfight for an example).

There's probably more than a handful of members who have always dreamed about hearing their own sonic creations being broadcast from MetaFilter servers, and i'm hoping to get us all collectively on our way to realizing that dream (and maybe making a handy little FAQ), so speak up with suggestions please! (Oh, and, this is my first post, fp or otherwise, so please attempt to rein in the snark.)
posted by krisis at 4:26 PM on April 14, 2003

N-track studio looks really nice if your source material is an actual instrument. Sonic Foundy Acid can also do some pretty neat stuff.

If you're serious about sound quality make sure you get a *good* sound card - one that support bit rates higher than 16, like 24 or 96. While your output will be 16bit, you need the extra bits so that you don't loose data when you process the sound. has some reasonably priced audio gear.

If you want to tweak your samples: soundforge or cooledit.

IMHO, of course.
posted by jaded at 4:47 PM on April 14, 2003

What's the best quick/easy/cheap tool for making drum samples? Reason?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 4:50 PM on April 14, 2003

I've been messing around with Fruity Loops (which is way cool), for drums and other stuff, but I'm a rank amateur, having only started (coincidentally) messing with the stuff a week ago.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:56 PM on April 14, 2003

To be honest, in terms of recording live instruments, I haven't had much success using purely a computer. I've returned to using a Foxtex 4-track mixer, then running the audio onto a PC (CoolEdit) for the final production. It's more organic, you can adjust levels by pushing sliders rather than fiddling with the mouse, and, importantly, it's more forgiving towards defects like distortion. Push too hot an input level into a soundcard (they can't handle much) and you'll get digital distortion that you simply can't get rid of. So you have to resort to recording at very low gain, which introduces noise and reduces the dynamic range. On the other hand, you can put quite a hot signal into a good anologue 4-track without having to worry too much. It has nothing to do with "anologue sounds better than digital" - but rather "anologue is easier than digital".

The only way to really take advantage of PC-based multi-track recording is to go for the full set-up with high quality sound cards capable of receiving multiple simultaneous inputs. And you'll need a patch bay. And a good set of cans.

As for electronic music, well obviously the PC comes into it's own. In terms of drum samples, I use about half a dozen pieces of software; Orangator, SimSynth, a pile of VST-i plugins. Orangator used to be the best when it was available in it's traditional form - however, they've stopped producing it now and only make Visual Orangator, which has a component-based interface (see AudioMulch below). Technically this offers more options for creating sounds, but the old tabbed interface was so much simpler to create with. I've still got a copy of the original Orangator in a zip file if anyone wants it (Shareware).

In term of making loops, I haven't seen anything better than FruityLoops - really, sole reason I still have a Windows partition on my PC. It's so feature packed, organic, and fun. And best of all, you can export loops to WAV files in the demo version! Generally I construct all my loops - drums, melody, synths, bass, ambience - in FruityLoops, then export to AudioMulch. This is another great organic piece of software, where you "plug" various components (loop players, effects, mixers, cross-faders, VST plugins, samplers, granular synths) into each other. Most of my more ambient, smooth tracks are composed in AudioMulch - you can set it to make a loop fade in over the course of several minutes, leading to subtle colorations to the music. Great in the live setting too.
posted by Jimbob at 4:57 PM on April 14, 2003

What's the best quick/easy/cheap tool for making drum samples?

Please use stand alone hardware from drum beats. Check out Vintage Synth for ideas.

To answer your question more directly, you could go with Roland/Boss entry level .

You want a stand alone because you want to "play" it, not just program it. Even if you loop it and sequence it, there has to be some sort of feeling, baby.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 5:25 PM on April 14, 2003

What's the best quick/easy/cheap tool for making drum samples? Reason?

Only if you want to sound like every other Kid 606.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 5:29 PM on April 14, 2003

For my recording stuff, I use a fairly un-featured version of Cool Edit Pro, because -- and this is vital -- I got it for free off of a friend. For electric guitar stuff, and for compression on vocals (which is something I've only recently bothered with), I've got a Digitech RP-6. That's basically it, and it works pretty well but nothing ever sounds pro-quality. I've got a garage-sale mic, an old SB Live, and whatever noises I can produce.

All my experience with electronic stuff is confined to some fiddling about with FastTrakkerII back in the day, and nothing terribly grand ever came of it. So I'm sort of fascinated by the stuff people produce (I didn't expect that so much of the music.metafilter content would be electronic).

I've always had the impression that one of the bottlenecks of really clean recording is a really good mic. Is that valid, or are there affordable (as in low, low 3-figures) mics that do a really good job?

I've also discovered that recording in a sparsely-furnished apartment with hardwood floors can save you some bucks on DSP equipment -- assuming you're always looking for that "sparsely-furnished apartment with hardwood floors" sort of reverb in your recordings. :/ (see Things Fall Apart and The Sean Song for examples of this stunning effect.)

My question, I guess, is this: if I wanted to upgrade my crappy home-recording setup to something closer to pro quality, what's the cheapest sane path to go down? What's vital, what's not such an issue?
posted by cortex at 5:36 PM on April 14, 2003

Cortex, a good mic is essential. You don't need a brilliant, gold-plated, foil mic, but you do need something better than you'd buy at Radio Shack. Having said that, I haven't got a good mic, but the one I've got is better than the one I started with and you can tell this difference. Vocals sound lifeless and tinny with a cheap mic, and it's impossible to capture the sound of a guitar amp with anything costing less than three figures.

Regarding the hardwood floors - I agree totally. So much modern "professional" recording involves recording in a completely silent, sterile, reverb-free space, then adding fake effects on top. That's pathetic. Some of the greatest sounding recordings some from real spaces with their own reverb characteristics.
posted by Jimbob at 5:41 PM on April 14, 2003

Is that valid, or are there affordable (as in low, low 3-figures) mics that do a really good job?

I recommend the AKG C 2000 B.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 5:51 PM on April 14, 2003

what would syd do ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:05 PM on April 14, 2003

Well if any of you have an Apple with OSX or iMovie on it, here's what I do... I take my video camera, put it on my piano, hit record, sing/play whatever song it is I've written, bring it over to my Powerbook, hook it up, dump it into iMovie, click "extract audio," save the project, find the folder, and look for the mp3 that I extracted. Then I simply copy that mp3 to my mp3 folder and I'm done! That's the po' man's version of music recording, but it works pretty well.
posted by adrober at 6:31 PM on April 14, 2003

Bah, you don't need 24-bit unless you're going semi-pro. Use the SB Live and spend the money on microphones, mic pre, etc.

A good set of articles to bring you start to finish. I've used the inf0z in them a lot and can vouch for the results.
posted by bingbangbong at 6:31 PM on April 14, 2003

adrober - I did the same thing with Premiere for a few months. It gets the job done, but when you're recording multiple takes of 20+ tracks, it becomes a pain in the ass. Videocam mics are also highly compressed (which a good thing when you're starting out, to minimize changes in a singer/instrument's volume), but tend to pick up things like passing cars, dogs, you farting, etc.
posted by bingbangbong at 6:34 PM on April 14, 2003

a quick primer for home recording solo types such as myself!!!

if you're just one guy in a room somewhere playing everything and you want to use your computer as a multi-track, here's what I've found to be the best and cheapest set-up.

for actually multi-tracking wave forms, I recommend sonic foundry acid and sound forge (or maybe cool edit if you're kinda poor). if you're really resourceful perhaps you can someone find a copy of all of those for free!

actually this is sounding like it's gonna be really long, let me just slap it all into an off-site link.
posted by mcsweetie at 6:35 PM on April 14, 2003

By the way, the hands-down choice for the cheap all-purpose microphone is the Shure SM-57. It sounds good on a variety of instruments & all voices, can be purchased for >$80, survives nuclear blasts.

If you guys are getting serious about a mefi recording project, hit this: don at donred dot org I've been doing the ninja home recording thing for a while & could offer plenty of advice. Unpleasant inquiries will be happily ignored.
posted by bingbangbong at 6:40 PM on April 14, 2003

mcsweetie: acid 2.0. ow.
posted by bingbangbong at 6:41 PM on April 14, 2003

I bought Cubasis VST some time back and never figured out how to do anything with it. It's now two versions old--is it worth upgrading it, or is there an easier, more intuitive program that I should switch to?
posted by rushmc at 6:41 PM on April 14, 2003

What's the best quick/easy/cheap tool for making drum samples? Reason?

buy em (this is serious)

short of that, reason is the standard -- personally I like fruity better.
posted by victors at 7:01 PM on April 14, 2003

I've always found the thought of buying loops to be strange, victors. Buying individual samples, fine (but even then I wouldn't feel comfortable using them without fiddling them to make them sound original - the 808 kick drum is so 1992), but buying whole drum loops? It feels like buying a little miniature piece of music, then looping it and calling it your own song. Programs like FruityLoops are brilliant for constructing your own original loops.
posted by Jimbob at 7:05 PM on April 14, 2003

for actually multi-tracking wave forms, I recommend sonic foundry acid and sound forge

just to be clear: technically these tools you list are NOT multi-track recorders, they can only record ONE track at a time, so if you have more than one input (guitar/vocal, snare/hi-hat) then you are sol and have to burn the two track together.

vegas, cakewalk and (now) fruity are examples of recorders that can assign multiple input to separate channels.

fergodsakes -- get off of sound blaster. just do it. Not for 24bit, but the noise on the card is like having a vacuum cleaner in your mixing line. it makes a HUGE difference.

you can too "play" software loop generators with a very, very simple midi controller (I use this, picked it up used for < $50). imho buying a hw loop box is no longer a>
jimbob: I respectfully disagree with your analysis about acoustic home recording but don't have the time to deconstruct it right now. Let's just say I don't know anybody who still has their fostex still plugged in.

It feels like buying a little miniature piece of music, then looping it and calling it your own song.

I LOVE having this debate... just can't right now. It's a new world jim.
posted by victors at 7:19 PM on April 14, 2003

I doubt Aphex Twin, Chemial Brothers, Autechre or Boards of Canada buy pre-made drumloops found on a Google search, Victors. The new world is creating electronic music in an organic way, breaking away from linear loops and samples. I guess you could do some cool things by cutting up pre-made loops, but it still seems cheaper, more creative, and more fun to compose the beats yourself.
posted by Jimbob at 7:30 PM on April 14, 2003

Ditto on the recommendations of the Shure SM series of microphones -- they are not prohibitively expensive, and they are of a very respected quality. I am by no means an expert on any of this, but i do know what i've been getting by on for a relatively small amount of money. For vocals I bought a Shure PG58 XLR, which for around $50 is not too bad of a start. For guitars i typically run from my (very used) guitar amp to my mixer for some EQ and then straight to the PC, though i occasionally use some old condenser mics to round out my sound. All told this cost me under $250 over the course of a couple of years and doubles for live equipment, but obviously is not completely ideal.

On preview: Jaded - Why do you single out N-Track for recording actual instruments? JimBob/Cortex, can you tell us a little more about CoolEdit -- it's the one that i've heard the least about.

In general: Do any of you have software recommendations for vocal compression? What about programs that have good automated EQ presets for vocals, guitars, drums, ect?

From what i've read so far it seems like McSweetie had the most practical answer for the lowest price, but victors comment has dissuaded me. Regarding his multi-track comment: most members probably won't have the capability to record more than one live track at a time with their current equipment anyhow, so the distinction is slightly moot for many of us. However, if you can only record one stereo track at a time and you panned vocal left and guitar right, couldn't you separate the two after the face in any wave program? Or, does this flatten out the result too much. (Damn, it's been a long time since i took that recording class...)

I find all of this information to be very exciting ... i can tell that it's going to wind up in a withdrawl from my bank account sometime in the near future. Keep it coming.
posted by krisis at 7:32 PM on April 14, 2003

I've never used CoolEdit for multitracking, krisis, but it is capable of it (although, as Victor points out, I'm unsure if it's capable of actually recording to multiple tracks simultaneously). However, I find it's audio processing capabilities amazing. The compression / dynamic range adjustment / equilizer options are great, and the noise reduction can work wonders. Great for post-production to clean up tracks.
posted by Jimbob at 7:41 PM on April 14, 2003

something else really good. if you like software synthesizers, Native Instruments Reaktor is one way to go for actual original sounds. MIDI support, recording directly to wav, the works. My own opinion and experience, though.
posted by angry modem at 8:19 PM on April 14, 2003

The Shure SM-57 works ok for recording instruments on a budget, and the SM-58 is a great live vocal mike, but if you want to record really sparkling vocals, you need something a bit more high-end. If you're on a budget, I'd recommend checking out
. You can pick up a good mike for about half of what you might pay elsewhere. It's been a few years since I had opportunity to order anything from Carvin, but I've had nothing but good experiences with them.
posted by tdismukes at 8:31 PM on April 14, 2003

The SM57s and SM58s are both great mics, and are pretty much all you need for home-recording stuff like this. Classically, the '57 is used for guitar amps and the '58 is for vocals, but you can use 'em either-or. (The White House Signal Corps has used SM57s as the microphones on presidential podiums for years.) I believe they have a "Beta Series" that is a cheaper version of the regular '57s and '58s, but I've never bought 'em for myself, just used them.

(of course, if you want something truly indestructible, go for the ElectroVoice line of mics. Not nearly as good-quality, but you can damn near pound nails with the things. (I dropped one in a duck pond once in college. I rolled up my sleeve, stuck my arm in the water, cleaned the guck off the head, unscrewed it, took out the capsule, shook it a few times, patted it dry, and put it back in place. Worked just fine...I think it was an EV900.)
posted by Vidiot at 8:31 PM on April 14, 2003

However, if you can only record one stereo track at a time and you panned vocal left and guitar right, couldn't you separate the two after the face in any wave program

this is perfectly legit -- happens all the time. Then Cool Edit or Sound Forge could separate right/left channels with a few clicks of the mouse.

As far as I know CoolEdit is about single wav manipulation. It lets you blend two sounds, but I don't think it maintains the original pre-blended material -- it's been quite a quite since I've looked at it.

Native Instruments Reaktor

Watch out for this -- it is amazingly flexible and powerful but it's a user model only a schematics engineer could love. I had a huge amount of fun for a whole month playing with Reaktor -- and didn't get a note of music recorded in that whole time ;-)

Regarding compressors the high end ones are from Waves and IZotope but these are way expensive ($500++). To my ears they are unbeatable. There are some surprisingly good ones that come for free right as part of Fruity Loops. The same is true for almost any wav editor/mixer but they aren't quite as transparent. (This is still a good read on the subject.)

I doubt Aphex Twin, Chemial Brothers, Autechre or Boards of Canada buy pre-made drumloops found on a Google search, Victors

You can doubt it but in fact virtual sound makers/mixers do not care where they find their source material. In many cases the freakier the dig, the prouder they are of the "story" -- but it still takes a back seat to the actual auditory find.

For a guy like matt who ready to jump in and start messin with beats I highly recommend studio recorded beat libraries (sonic foundry, big fish audio are great starts).
posted by victors at 8:51 PM on April 14, 2003

I don't do a helluva lot with CoolEdit -- I use it because it does a couple things:

(1) Allows me to record track after track, against my current mix of all the tracks I've recorded before (so multitracking in the sense that isn't recording multiple tracks simultaneously), and

(2) Has workable basic volume/panning envelopes.

This is basically all I *need* for most of my stuff. My version has no effects, no compression, no nothing. Which is sort of a shame, but see the "free" issue mentioned above.

I used some better software when I was in college, in our little Mac-based recording lab, but at the time I didn't know even the little I know now, so didn't bother using handy extras at the time.

Really, I'm just pretty much ignorant to the details of recording and production. :)
posted by cortex at 9:04 PM on April 14, 2003

Actually, most instruments in popular music are recorded in mono. There are complex reasons why you should record some instruments in stereo and some not - there was a good article in Computer Music about this. It's a British magazine which I recommend if you want to get into music-making on the computer. Unfortunately it's upwards of $15 per issue in the US, but it comes with a disc each month with tons of good instrument samples and some decent VST synths etc.

Make sure to check their forums too, they cover every question you could possibly have if you care to spend some time digging.

Oh, and I'm in the FruityLoops camp. Excellent program.
posted by edlundart at 9:08 PM on April 14, 2003

Oops, sorry for the non-linked link. Try this.
posted by edlundart at 9:09 PM on April 14, 2003

Regarding guitars and recording them on PC; check out Line 6's Guitar Port. I got one last month and it's really amazing. Cheap too.
I own a JMP 100w Marshal head made in England around 1978 with the vintage 4/12 cabs to match.
Guitar port gets pretty damn close to it on many levels and it's "line in" mics, making it PC recording friendly.

For drums; maybe an Alesis SR16 would do the trick? Roland's got a nice electric kit out there but it's expensive.

All the music posted here is inspiring and sometimes mind stunning. Got to hand to you folks for the great tunes.
posted by Ravarion at 9:26 PM on April 14, 2003

krisis: I didn't mean to single out N-track specifically. I just thought that it looks pretty neat. Since I've alway done ALL my tracks one sample at a time, I wouldn't know one multi-track audio recorder from another.

Specicially: I've always been a one man band. This pretty much means that I tape the guitar. Rewind. track: tape the bass. rewind. track 3 tape the space monkeys (whatever), etc, ad naseum. This was back when I got started on a four-track.

If I wanted stereo stuff, I had to ping-pong the tracks. MMM. tape hiss. I have one really old track that has 11 layers of tape hiss - because all the parts were stereo and I had to ping-pong it back and forth and forth and back.

These days, I don't have the time or the energy to keep up my guitar and keyboard chops, so I end up falling into the category of pure composer rather than "musician". I used to play all kinds of instruments. No I can't play shit. More to the point: I can play shit, so I don't.

Most of my good music (and some of my not so good music )can be found on my website - music.meta... only has four of my tracks. The funny thing (to me) is that all of the music except for "This is my boomstick", and "Come See Me" was done in FastTracker. Even "Burn" which has lyrics was done in fast track. I sampled the lyrics, processed the hell out of them and stuck them in the track at the approriate times.

"Boomstick" was done in Acid2.0 which I bought a few years ago, and is the only track I've managed to complete with Acid. I picked up Reason the minute it came out, and despite the fact that it is an AMAZING and BEATIFUL piece of software, I have not yet managed to complete a single piece. A couple are pretty close, but I find that the better my equipment and software gets the less I produce.

Sort of a side effect of no longer being completely broke and sort of genericaly pissed at the world. I've been a much happier guy these last few years and music has suffered immesurably.

So, Hardware of choise: maudio sound card (any of them)
on a reasonably fast PC

software of choice:
fast tracker
sound forge.

oh - and yeah - fuity loops is neato.
posted by jaded at 9:27 PM on April 14, 2003

on re-read of jimbob's earlier comment about breaking-away from linear sampling I realize we are probably talking past each other a little and I'm sorry about that.

Readers should also caveat my comments in general in that I do not seek out the cheapest solutions. My ears no longer tolerate that end of the spectrum. I guess I'm what Sony calls a pro-sumer -- on the line between hobby and pro and so my opinions are skewed that way. Hopefully I'm making it clear in my comments when I'm stating (my version of) factual data vs. opinion...

This is basically all I *need* for most of my stuff

unless you like tinkering and reformatting and other life shortening experiences you should never, ever do anything else.

I also use computermusic as a resource.
posted by victors at 9:29 PM on April 14, 2003

this is one of the most useful discussions i've ever read in metatalk. i used to record on an old fostex four-track and was always frustrated by the reduction in quality you'd get when you had to bounce tracks across a cassette to get all four tracks. or maybe i never knew what i was doing.

so, did i miss a link, or is there any freeware out there that essentially turns your pc into a fostex four-track? 'cause i got some hot licks to lay down, baby!
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 10:36 PM on April 14, 2003

Well, sirmissalot, how about some open source multitracking? Note that this software is still fairly obviously beta - last time I tried it (3 months ago) it was pretty unstable, but it does the job.

Yeah, bouncing is noisy, but some of us love that lo-fi sound.
posted by Jimbob at 11:18 PM on April 14, 2003

My experience with audio freeware is extremely bad. acid 3 is $30 online, less at costco. You won't be disapointed.
posted by victors at 11:20 PM on April 14, 2003

I'm sort of posting second-hand here, but I can tell you some things that I have observed from The Almost-Husband's recording. He just finished a new album and, in my opinion (which is quite unbiased, actually), it sounds excellent and he did the whole thing himself. He was a diehard analog guy before I came along and forced my older computer on him. But he still uses a Tascam 4-track recorder at times.

Anyway, apart from the gaggle of instruments that one could use, there are two things that he swears by in terms of digital equipment. I had a copy of CoolEdit (paid for, yes!), so he is forced to use that, but it's met pretty much all of his demands.

The other relatively cheap toy is the Alesis Ineko. It's a tiny little box containing a bunload of effects that make it easy for anyone to add some oomph to their recording. I'm pretty sure it goes for less that $100 now. It's one of those things that seems a little gimmicky, but I can assure you that it does some pretty awesome stuff. I think he wants to be buried with it.

But the most important thing to keep in mind when making music or any kind of art is that all the effects in the world will not cover up a bad song.
posted by stefnet at 11:20 PM on April 14, 2003

Bah! Don't buy anything! If possible move all audio to the computer through your line port on your crappy soundcard. As Jimbob suggests, use AUDACITY to record and mix the tracks then you can manipulate the tracks all you want. It's a great opensource tool that works for most platforms.

Try it first THEN see if the quality is acceptable. If you have a mic amp or a mixer connect the line out on that to your computer line in.

Also on google if you're searching for drum samples etc search for words like sample pack or samples or drum loops.
posted by abez at 11:48 PM on April 14, 2003

im with the lofi on this one.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:45 AM on April 15, 2003

Yeah, bouncing is noisy, but some of us love that lo-fi sound.

you said it, brother. I always put a fair amount of compression on my recordings to give them that extra tascam crunch!

oh yeah, another trick for dirt-poor do-it-yourselfers, if you want to record music now but you don't have any microphones, you can use a set of headphones. for real, plug them into the mic in on your sound card, set them down in front of you and play an acoustic guitar! it's not awesome, but it'll technically record in stereo so you'd be surprised.

any crazy cats out there wanna see if this works with a set of speakers? also, I'm thinking of a site especially for cheap music production with a tweakxp vibe to it...forums, lists of tips, FAQs, software indexes, etc...who wants to make it? c'mon, speak up!
posted by mcsweetie at 6:01 AM on April 15, 2003

I used FastTracker2 for a long, long time... When I started, I was on a 166 pentium I, recording demo tapes to a tape deck because CD-R's hadn't been invented yet, oh, and the best part, FT2 would only output 8-bit sound for some reason. This led me to writing industrial music, mostly to make the hiss an active part of the music. Oh, the fun I had...

The far more modern and much improved equivalent of FastTracker is Buzz, which is crazy cool, and very object-oriented in its approach to things. A lot of people find the learning curve to be pretty steep, but it's mega powerful once you get the hang of it. It acts as a tracker/ sequencer, but also integrates an extensive capacity for real-time synthesis and effects. You can play with knobs on stuff as its synthesizing... And of course, you can also use it as a multi-tracker, to some extent.

I used FruityLoops for a while, and, while its nice, I felt that it was really kinda restrictive. You know how you sometimes see pictures where you're like, "Oh, that's SO photoshop 5.1!" because of how its way too easy to use certain lazy features of whatever version of photoshop? Yeah. Fruityloops is like that. It has a style and aesthetic that tries to rub off on your creation, methinks. This is true of any of these programs, but some are way more transparent than others. I'm not saying you shouldn't use it - you can learn a lot from it - but you should also beware. And if you've never done it before, go join a drum circle some time and play for a few hours. Your sequencing skilz will skyrocket.

(mcsweetie: I used the headphones-for-a-mic trick in Budapest a couple months ago. Really wierd results: The hard drive was louder than the instrument, but it was probably just a side effect of using a shitty laptop soundcard and a pair of gameboy headphones to do the recording.)
posted by kaibutsu at 6:37 AM on April 15, 2003

Can anyone suggest an effects unit for live synth?

I have a Roland Juno 106 and am doing a lot of real damaged new-wavey stuff with intermittent blasts of noise. I need to add some outside effect to the blasts of noise that's not the conventional flange/phase/distortion, et al. Any warped-sounding effects boxes out there that someone can suggest?
posted by dhoyt at 6:42 AM on April 15, 2003

if you want to record music now but you don't have any microphones, you can use a set of headphones. for real, plug them into the mic in on your sound card, set them down in front of you and play an acoustic guitar!

I've done this. If they're biggish headphones, I've found actually taping them to the soundboard to be good, unless you want to accompany yourself vocally.

I have been tempted since the advent of MetaMusic to dig out the old geetar and spruce up my chords, but I'm guessing I haven't exactly improved since last time I banged out a tune, so I'd better spare you all the aural pain.
posted by walrus at 7:01 AM on April 15, 2003

What's the best quick/easy/cheap tool for making drum samples? Reason?

Only if you want to sound like every other Kid 606.

Reason was my first piece of hardcore audio software, and though I've moved onto more complex pastures (pure data), I still use Reason to program some of my percussion.

Reason's sampler and drum machine are both .wav-based, so using them doesn't have to give your percussion a cliched sound. They are useful because Reason's sequencer is very easy and user friendly.

I'd recommend Reason to anyone who is just starting out in the world of computer synthesis. Just avoid the presets and sample banks, and you'll be OK.
posted by Pinwheel at 8:28 AM on April 15, 2003

Music.MetaFilter: All The Aural Pain
posted by armoured-ant at 8:30 AM on April 15, 2003

krisis, great thread. I had no idea there were so many veterans of the old Fostex days. I did at least a hundred tracks on one of those, and I think I can say, sirmissalot, that it wasn't your lack of skillz causing the massive noise after bouncing. Over time, I got better at cutting it down a little, but there was just so much you could improve things on the X15.

Any iMac-specific suggestions for conveying already-recorded analog to an MP3 destination? I have an old one (from the first "DV" line) and it has iMovie, but I'm not on OSX. Oh yeah, and I really, really prefer free stuff.
posted by soyjoy at 10:03 AM on April 15, 2003

I doubt Aphex Twin, Chemial Brothers, Autechre or Boards of Canada buy pre-made drumloops found on a Google search, Victors.

I heard Autechre uses Max/MSP.

If you like the artists above, try branching out to some of the more obscure ones (Accelera Deck, Arovane, Boulderdash, Thomas Brinkmann, Crunch, Freeform, Freescha, Gescom, Kettel, Lexaunculpt, L'Usine, Metamatics, Rhythm & Sound, Si-cut.db, Venetian Snares, etc.). You'll be glad you did!
posted by hyperizer at 10:57 AM on April 15, 2003

a friend of mine recently picked up an m-box from digidesign (go to Products, M-Box), and he is in love with it. it interfaces with the computer (mac or pc) via USB 2 and has two mic/line (XLR and 1/4") inputs, anaolog and digital outputs, and comes bundled with ProTools LE all for under $500 list. this seems to me to be an ideal all-in-one solution for someone looking to get into high quality home recording on the cheap.

as for what i use, i do have access to a full recording studio, but at home i use a Mackie 1202 mixer (can be had used for under $200) into a Soundblaster Live, and Sonar, Soundforge and SAW Plus for recording and MIDI, along with an assortment of drum machines and guitar boxes. i find the newer Soundblasters are much quieter than their predecessors, and certainly capable for the hobbyist.
posted by modge at 11:12 AM on April 15, 2003

btw, for linux folks the options are pretty cool too...
posted by victors at 12:20 PM on April 15, 2003

Of course a more powerful and harder to use alternative to pure data is CSound. Well know for it's forks which integrate audio and video (CSoundAV) as well Yamaha even optioned it from MIT to do pitch tracking and correction on a karaoke box they were producing. CSound is much like a macroassembler for audio.
posted by abez at 3:45 PM on April 15, 2003

The piece I put up was made with Csound. I wouldn't say it is much of an alternative to pd, as pd is more for realtime processing (correct me if I am wrong).

A couple of years ago, I tried running pd and a visual component called GEM, but I couldn't get it to work on the laptop with less than a 5 second gap, thus negating the realtime approach.
posted by mblandi at 6:01 PM on April 15, 2003

if you want to record music now but you don't have any microphones, you can use a set of headphones. for real, plug them into the mic in on your sound card, set them down in front of you and play an acoustic guitar!

If you have semi-adequate soldering skills, you can build your own guitar mic with little time or cost out of parts from radio shack. Alternatively, you could just build a little preamp for your headphones qua microphone.

I've tried both, and was quite pleased with the results.
posted by iceberg273 at 8:05 PM on April 15, 2003

There are a lot of different factors to consider when starting with home recording and it can be a bit bewildering when all you want to do is rock.

My two cents are that for introductory multitracking you should go with Cool Edit Pro or Acid and if you find yourself wanting more then look into a more professional multitracker such as Cubase or Logic (for the mac, anyhow).

Acid is intended for short loops and eventually starts to buckle under the weight of huge audio files. It's still a very good starter program however, especially if you're working with mostly loops such as in hip hop. Just be aware of its limitations. If you want to record five tracks of ten minute guitar solos, you will make Acid cry. Cool Edit Pro is more geared for that task, but doesn't have the looping love that Acid has.

If you're looking for samples, you can troll around the net to mixed results, but there's also a pretty cool solution for those who can throw a bit of money around. Primesounds offers lots of loops you can use stock or slice and dice to your heart's content.
posted by frenetic at 1:38 PM on April 16, 2003

That should be Primesounds, dummy me.
posted by frenetic at 1:39 PM on April 16, 2003

When it comes to MIDI, I couldn't live without MegaFont. MegaFont is a SoundBank cacher for Creative Labs' cards. I have hundreds of megabytes of samples making up my main bank, a 27Mb grand piano SoundBank, and some very high quality drums.. you can download high quality SoundBanks from many places on the Web. With just a slight touch of reverb, my MIDI bank is almost professional quality, but without spending thousands of bucks on high end gear or high end SoundBanks.
posted by wackybrit at 7:09 AM on April 23, 2003

adrober said: Well if any of you have an Apple with OSX or iMovie on it, here's what I do... [...] That's the po' man's version of music recording, but it works pretty well.

Poor man's version? You record on a probably $1000+ camcorder, and copy it across to a computer that probably cost almost $1500? Yeah, no wonder you're poor! :-)
posted by wackybrit at 7:32 AM on April 23, 2003

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