Friday, April 22, 2011

Interface vs Sound Card - Do you know...?

Many musicians beginning their independent music production have to travel down the path of understanding the signal chain: the equipment that gets your sound from the sound source into a recorded media. One of the main parts of the signal chain is the soundcard (when we talk digital music). It has come to my attention that many bedroom musicians still misunderstand the difference between a soundcard and an interface.

The audio interface

Though most will call it a soundcard (for sake of simplicity), an audio interface (or AI) is actually a pre-amp and converter combined into one body. The purpose of an AI is to raise the level of the incoming sound signal from mic level to line level (this is the pre-amp part of the audio interface), and to turn that analog signal into digital bits (this is the converter part of the audio interface). Many audio interfaces also include +48v phantom power (for use with condenser mics) and are usually connected to the computer via USB of Firewire.

The soundcard

A soundcard, on the other hand, is just a converter. It's called a soundcard because that's what it does in a normal household computer: to convert the digital data in the computer to analog sound that comes out the computer speakers. In normal computers, not many people use the soundcard to input sound into the computer, although it can be used for that also.

A converter that sits outside the computer body is often called an external soundcard. But if you explore the various recording equipment available for purchase, you will understand that a converter doesn't always have to be a card (though it often is). High end premium quality converters are often shaped like a box that a recording engineer fits onto his equipment rack.

The difference

By the two explanations above, we can see how a soundcard is different than an audio interface:

1. A soundcard does not have pre-amps. Stand alone converters do one thing: to convert analog to digital data and vice versa.
2. A soundcard is the specialized name for the converter.
3. A soundcard is a converter alone. An audio interface is a converter plus preamps.

I hope this short article can help you better understand the parts of your signal chain.

To your equipment savviness,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Are You "Solo"?

If you are a solo musician, there are tools that you should know about, and have in your tool box. It is best to be prepared for whatever comes your way in the form of gigs, and musical opportunities. In this article I will go over some of the general things in the form of gear, hardware, and software, that will give you an edge in this competetive, and demanding world.

Keep in mind that these are all suggestions, and it depends on your personal circumstances as to what you are, and are not able to obtain.

I will asume that you already have the musical instrument of your choice, and that you have already spent the thousands of hours that it takes to perfect your talent.

There is no way around it!...You get out of it what you put into it.

If you spend the time to perfect your talent, you will definatly reap the benefits.

So,...Lets get started.

I will list all of the items that I have in mind for this article, and where to obtain them.

In some cases, a brief discription on what to do with them.

1. PA equipment: You will need some kind of PA equipment, preferably something small and compact, but of efficient sound quality

2. Microphone: You will need a microphone for the times when you are showing off that great voice of yours.

You will also need a microphone stand.

3. Speaker Stands: I recommend speaker stands for your speakers, to raise your speakers up above peoples heads when playing in restaurants, and coffee shops, ect...

You dont want to drive people away, or blow anybodys ear drum.

4. Promo Stand: You will need a promo stand that you can use to place your promo material, your CD's, and any of your contact material for people to see, purchase, and take as they come, and go.

This can be something that is portable, small and compact, but looks presentable.

5. Tip Jar: I recommend a tip jar, something that, again, looks presentable.

6. Play-a-Long Library: I recommend a play-a-long library for all musicians, especially for solo musicians.

As I have stated in my previous article, "Tips for the solo musician", you can make a living just playing solo gigs, and targeting small establishments.

7. CD, or, Cassette player: You should have a CD, or cassette player with a pitch control to play your play-a-longs through your PA.

8. Computer: If at all possible, you should have a powerful enough computer to record your own CD's.

You can also make your own Play-a-longs with your own style of music.

9. Recording Software: You will need some kind of recording software for your computer.

I recommend, Cakewalk.

10. Soundcard: You will need, in some cases, a sound card for your computer.

I recommend, Sound Blaster Live.

11. Keyboard: I think all musicians should have some kind of keyboard.

There are hundreds to choose from, according to your budget.

12. CD Burning Software: You should have some kind of CD burning software.

Again, there are hundreds of choices.

Microsoft Media Player is free.

13. Business Card Software: I recommend some kind of business card software for your computer.

"Parabim Business Card Builder", is a very efficient one.

14. Musicians Website: Every musician should have a website.

I recommend, "Host Baby", everything you need in a musicians website is here.

15. Internet Promotion Program: A program to help promote your music, and yourself on the internet.

I recommend, "Musicians Power Promotion System".

These are just some of the things that will help you on your quest to be a successful solo musician.

One thing to remember is,...Always Act...Look...and Dress proffessionally.

That first impression can make, or break you.

Just click on the links provided in this article where indicated, and you will be taken to the particular website, were you can find the item.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spit It Solo - Produce Yourself!

Maybe you're a rapper who is tired of wack producers approaching you with their wack beats. Maybe you've already dabbled in beat making but you're trying to brush up and learn more about the craft. Or maybe you are just a plain old music enthusiast who wants to take their passion for music to the next level and create your own. Whatever your reason, you've come to the right place.

Obviously this article can't teach you everything you need to know. There are entire books and even entire college curriculums dedicated to giving you a proper music production education. However this article will hopefully give you a start, and you'll be able to research more using what you learn here.

The first thing that you'll need is a method for creating beats. There are a number of different solutions here. If you are really only trying to be a mild hobbyist there are a bunch of online beat making programs that you can gain access to for around $30 to $40. These include DubTurbo, BeatThang, and Sonic Producer. However if you are really into making beats, you will outgrow them quickly.

At that point you should try out some of the more advanced software. Reason and Fruity Loops are two of the most popular programs (DAWs) for more serious hobbyists. There are a number of producers with production credits that use one of these two. However, professional studios almost always run either Pro Tools or Logic.

Although the learning curves for Pro Tools and Logic are a little steeper than those of Reason and Fruity Loops, they are more powerful programs and allow producers to do more with their music. They also accept what are called plugins. Plugins are additional effects or sounds that you can buy to expand the functionality of your music production software.

In addition to software you also need a fast enough computer to run it. I recommend having a computer with at least 2 GB of RAM. 4 or more is definitely preferred. Your processor should also be fast. A multicore processor with processors in the 2 to 3 GHz range should suffice.

No setup would be complete without speakers. Although many producers begin to producer using their regular computer speakers, these are not ideal for mixing your beats. Really, if you are going to be a serious producer, you are going to need real monitoring speakers. KRK makes a very good entry-level monitor, the RP-5 as does M-Audio, the BX5a. Either of these should be a good start for making beats.

Finally, you'll need a MIDI controller. This can be a keyboard, an MPC, a Native Instruments Maschine, or any other MIDI controller that you can use to easily play enter MIDI (musical note) information. Keep in mind, if you get a drum machine like an MPC or Maschine, you will be able to sample more easily than if you had a keyboard, however you will not really be able to play in melodies that you compose on your own.

If you'd like to get started, check out BeatMatters' free drum samples.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tools of the Trade

Music Production Software is the first thing a new producer is looking for, it allows the producer to create music. The question I hear the most is what Music Production Software is the best? Fruity Loops (FL Studio), Reason, Logic Pro or Protools.

Fruity Loops

Fruity Loops is a great piece of software used from beginner producers to advanced producers. It's rate highly due to the VST's you can add, Fruity Loops doesn't just stay within itself. You can add so many things to it to make it a powerful music production workshop. Most professionals frown at fruity loops but believe me a hit record is produced in fruity loops everyday.


Reason is properly my favorite because every single sample included in the software is perfect. Reason is normally used by producers that already have an idea of how to make music and advanced producers. The sound quality you can get out of reason is top notch and ready for radio play, it is recommended however you have to stay within reason. You cannot add VST's and Plug-ins, however you can add samples to NNXT and Redrum

Logic Pro

Logic Pro is properly the most used music production software by Apple. It is used in almost every single record studio, it is the music industry standard piece of software. Saying that it is not the easiest to learn and master but the results are amazing. Logic allows you to produce music, add vocals and use VST's and plug ins all within one single session so you don't have to use multiple pieces of software to create a full track.

Pro Tools

Pro Tools is like Logic Pro. Industry standard. Pro Tools is normally used by producers that use instruments and hardware that require live recording to get sounds into the song. Pro Tools allows you to also like Logic do everything within one program, supports almost everything you throw at it. It is the worlds best but it also comes at a price and if you can afford it check it out, however don't buy it for the name and expect to make hits.

Remember to get as many details about the software your going to pick for maximum results.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

So You Want To Make Music?

Producing music is something that can be very intriguing, but also it is something that can be very time consuming. It takes a lot of dedication and motivation. Most of the professional music producers have extensive imaginations and years and years of experience.

So if you are someone interested in producing music are you prepared to put in the work?

A lot of people have the understanding that to start producing music you need thousands of dollars in equipment and you need to have gone to school or had some kind of schooling on producing music. This is totally untrue!

You can begin producing music very cheaply. The program (tool) that I started with was very cheap and it is actually something that I still use. It offers pretty much everything you need. It has extensive help guides and tutorials. I definitely got my money worth with this program, it gets put to use all the time.

There are programs like this all over the internet. I recommend starting with one of these programs. Not only are they inexpensive, but they are also very helpful. They offer tools that help you produce music, make instrumentals, compose music, professionally engineer and play different instruments. You can easily make beats and play them right online.

Most of these programs are basically mini music production workshops. Many of them also offer hundreds of videos and tutorials that show you exactly how to produce music, the right way.

So get rid of the preconceived notion that you need to spend thousands of dollars and start producing the kind of music you want to be listening to right now!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Its Not Easy - The Steps to Making Music

Music production involves creating the music from scratch and sound engineering involves mixing the different instruments together so it sounds nice.

I will reveal both aspects as they relate to D.J.'ing but more so on the production side.

For most established D.J.'s, meaning those who have been D.J.'ing for a while whether it is in their bedroom or in the club, music production is the next logical step. Because D.J.'s play so many different types of music they come across a lot of beats and sounds. This inspires some D.J.'s to sample those beats and sounds and make up their own songs.

This is the beginning of the music production stage. There are 3 stages to music production: pre-production, music production and postproduction.


The music production stage is the crafting of the new song. I call this the pre- production stage because you are just experimenting with music. This is where music from the record or mp3 is sampled using a sampler or drum machine like an Akai MPC. But before you can sample and produce music you have to make sure your gear is properly connected:

So that I can sample sounds into my Akai drum machine I have my Technics turntable going into the phono input of my stereo unit. Then I take the phono out of my stereo unit to the input of my MPC 3000. My MPC gets connected to my Akai DPS 24.Then the DSP 24 is connected to the CD input of the stereo unit so I can hear what I produce.

In order to sample I have to make sure I select the phono option on my stereo unit. After I sample the sounds I have to switch to the CD option on my stereo unit so I can hear the playback from the drum machine. Once you've completed your musical arrangement and saved all of your work and you are satisfied with it you can move into the part two of the pre-production phase.

During this phase is when you bring in artists to perform on you track. This is where you begin to rearrange the track or music you created with the artists. This collaboration period enables you and the artists to make minor adjustments to the music and the lyrics. You may also add to or take away parts of the track such as adding additional drums or strings. The artists will practice their song using your track. Once this is very tight you move to the studio to lay the music and the vocals on separate recording tracks. The reason why you want to practice before you get to the studio is because studio time is very expensive and you don't want to waste time practicing in. That is where you need to focus all of your time making sure the music and vocals are recorded cleanly without pops and clicks.

Music Production

When you get to the studio this is where the sound engineer comes into play. This person is responsible for making sure all of you music sounds excellent. These people have years of experience. Some D.J./Producers also like to engineer their own music because they know how they want their music to sound. If this is the case then the sound engineer simply assists the D.J. with mixing the music and using the studio equipment.

The mixing part of the music production phase is done in the studio where all of the music tracks and vocal tracks are blended together to give you what you hear on your CD.

Each musical instrument and vocal track is mixed and adjusted using what is called a mixing board like my Akai DPS24 only larger or software based mixing console like Pro Tools.


After the mixing is done the postproduction process begins. The final mix is taken to what is called a Mastering Studio where specialized equipment is used to bring out the best possible sound. When this process is completed the final results of the song are then pressed on CD or vinyl and sold to the customer.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Music Production Basics

You must take your work seriously, whether it is just a hobby or you are aligning yourself seriously about it, you should take the work involved seriously. I am going to mention a few things now that you should mull over and see if any of the points I make apply to you in any way, shape or form.

Set Time Aside For Your Music

If you want something to be completed you are going to need to give it some time. When planting seeds, they will not start to grow the instant you put them into the ground and bare fruit by sundown/sunrise you need to tend the ground until they shoot and look after them. You need to assign time to specific goals and things you know you need to know. Having set times when you will be practice, whether it is playing, mixing or going over some music theory. You need to put the time in, effectively.

Understand Influence and Understand Incompetence

This may sound a little hostile but it is best to understand this from the start. A musician is like an explorer and they are looking for something new that they can call their own, or another way to look at it would be within a music production analogy; In a mix, everything has its place within the whole audio frequency threshold, if all the frequency were the same yet from different instruments. It would sound terrible. Be influenced by other artists, do not try to replicate them. You can find personal influence in anything at all that you see, feel, touch or hear. You do not need to copy other people's style to be accepted.

Do Not Bankrupt Yourself 

When people start out producing or writing music, or even along the way, the number one mistake people make is getting caught up on marketing ploys or being seduced into believing a piece of hardware of software will turn them into an amazing producer or musician without having to gain so knowledge or feel within the area. It will not. You need a basic set up and that is all. Once you have honed your craft you can go and experiment with a little cash. Going along to big stores and trying out all the pieces of equipment is an unbeatable thing to do, you get to see what is good for you.