Then to Now

It’s been about a year and a half or so since I first got up and running. It was probably another year before that from when I first spied the pinball glass to the time I had a counter for my computer.

I guess we’ll start with the beginning and end up with the present…


For $20, in late December 2017, I purchased a Humble Bundle that equipped me with basic audio and video editing capabilities.

The “VEGAS PRO: Discover Creative Freedom” software bundle included, among other titles, MAGIX Music Maker, which is a basic DAW, and VEGAS Pro 14 Edit, which is video editing software that I was already somewhat familiar with.


For $30, in early March 2018, I purchased a second Humble Bundle. This one came loaded with some powerful audio software.

The highlights of the “MAGIX Sound of Music” software bundle included both ACID Music Studio 10 and ACID Pro 7, as well as both SOUND FORGE Audio Studio 10 and SOUND FORGE Pro 11.


Having all of this software really got me to feeling like I was wasting the opportunity to do something with it. I wasn’t sure what direction to take, if any. All I know is I opened the programs and closed them a bunch of times without doing too much of anything.

Around this time I found myself looking into the storage room that would become the studio office. That’s when I saw the pinball glass leaning up against the wall.

It took some time to build the recording booth and counter space. After over a year, in late December 2019, I had something. I started with running a USB condenser mic, which was fun to experiment with. Within a month I realized I was going to need some kind of mixer or USB interface to really do what I wanted. That, by the way, was to include my friends in my ridiculous recordings.

In January 2020 I purchased some inexpensive Behringer mics and a TASCAM Model 16 which is a combo USB audio interface, physical mixer, and recorder.

Pretty much right away I reached out to my friend Joe (aka Smokin’ Joe Rodak) and invited him check out what I was trying to do. Before long he brought over a guitar (or two) and a vocalist (or two). Over the next year he’d go on to record three sessions on the Model 16.

In mid-March 2020 I started using PreSonus Studio One 4.5 Artist, which was later upgraded for free to Studio One 5 Artist. I found myself pretty happy with the interface though it’s sometimes stupid about hardware, so I have to make sure everything I want to use is turned on before I click on the icon.

In April 2020 I stepped into the world of MIDI with an AKAI Professional MPK249 controller keyboard. There are 49 keys and a 4×4 array of 16 finger pads. I am able to use this to play a wide array of virtual instruments.

I had the TASCAM Model 16 connected to my ASUS ROG laptop, but I found myself editing on the Alienware tower more than the laptop. It was then, at the end of June 2020 that I purchased a TASCAM Series 102i USB audio interface.

In later July 2020 I recorded this rather embarrassing track, “Be That Guy” on the Model 16. I used the Series 102i to connect a XLR microphone to my iPad. With this setup I was able to use the pitch correction feature in GarageBand to affect my “vocals”. I also used GarageBand for the drums. The AKAI MPK249 provided the background sounds.

On Groundhog’s Day in February 2021 I laid down this drum track using Air Technology’s “Strike” virtual drum instrument. I was stumbling through my day in a swirling cloud of vertigo, which explains the name.

Towards the end of March 2021 I took the “Vertigo Drums” track and added more instruments, all of which I played on the AKAI MPK 249 and recorded onto the TASCAM Model 16. The track files were then mixed in Studio One 5. I titled it “Vertigo” as the drums weren’t the sole focus anymore.

Around the same time I put together this bit with me playing all the virtual instruments. I recorded loops and layered them together to create the finished track. I named it “The Only One I Want” as that’s what was going through my head when I started.

In the last couple days of March 2021 I put together some samples and layered them into a minute long track titled “Layered Loops”. I guess ‘Layered Samples’ would have been a more apt title, but I must have preferred the way it sounds.

In early April 2021 I added a set of Alesis Surge Mesh electronic drums.

Also in April, I adapted to an all digital workflow. This came by way of upgrading to a TASCAM Model 208i USB audio interface and a pair of TASCAM Series 8p Dyna microphone preamps, which allows me to input 20 audio sources. While that may seem like a lot, what it really means is I can leave the drums, keyboards, mic cables, and guitar cables all connected instead of unplugging them every time someone wants to use a different instrument or input.

The TASCAM Series 102i now serves as an audio interface for my iPad.


Last month, towards the end of April 2021, I paid $30 for another Humble Bundle. This one served to upgrade some of my audio and video editing software, including adding the ability to speed up and slow down video.

Included in the “VEGAS PRO: Discover Your Endless Freedom” software bundle were VEGAS Movie Studio 16, VEGAS Pro 16 Edit, SOUND FORGE Audio Studio 13, proDAD ReSpeedr, and a few other titles.


In the first few days of May 2021 a Furman M-8x2 circuit breaker and power conditioner was added to protect my growing collection of gear. In addition to peace of mind, this unit cleared up an issue where FM radio signals would sometimes get picked up on the studio monitor headphones. Clean power apparently affects more than the condition of your circuitry. It also affects the clarity of your sound.

Recently, my girlfriend and I went on a trip to Times Square in NYC. My phone was hanging from the passenger visor while we travelled through several tunnels, starting with the Lincoln Tunnel into the city. I used VEGAS Pro 14 (and 16) to create the edited video and remove the audio. I then used Studio One 5 to create a 13 minute soundtrack for the video. It was created using licensed audio samples, so I guess I more just “arranged” the track. It took the first 8 minutes of the video to travel the Lincoln Tunnel into the city; it was much quicker to leave.

In the past few days here in mid-May 2021 I put together a track using licensed audio samples. It has mostly the same drum loop sample throughout. It starts with a saxophone and ends with classical strings. Being ever so creative, I titled it “Drums Sax and Strings”. Oh… and there’s a tambourine in there.


And, so, here we are…

As you can see, lately I’ve been experimenting with layering and arranging audio samples. I’ve started with licensed samples to make it easier to get the hang of.

I’d like to sample sounds from my environment to use on my tracks. I use a Zoom H4n Pro handy recorder for field recording. It has a pair of X configured built in mics. It also features two dual TRS/XLR inputs with phantom power so I can use other microphones instead of or in addition to those built in. Like I did as a photographer, I was always finding pictures waiting to be taken. Maybe that’s what hunting for sound is like.

That buddy Joe I mentioned has been teaching me to play guitar, which will be my first instrument. So, maybe there’s some hope yet for me to create more meaningful songs. I have been using pitch correction software to help with my vocals. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be able to sing, but I’ll keep making whatever it is I want to make.

For the most part, my future plans involve learning to play that guitar and to keep fumbling around with my own music stuff. I don’t anticipate inviting anyone new into my setup anytime too soon. I really do this out of curiosity; it’s turned into a fun hobby.

Thanks for checking this out. I hope you enjoy my musings.


Ohio Music Scene

I recently started helping the Ohio Music Scene Wiki (OHMS) with their efforts to add artists and bands that I come across to the wiki. It’s somewhat like Wikipedia, but focused on musicians and bands that exist in Ohio’s history… maybe ones like you.

Updated Tunnel Music

When I first published the video of my trip through the tunnels I used my one minute “Layered Loops” track on repeat as background music. Now, thirteen minutes of tunnels isn’t really all that fascinating to watch on video. To make it more interesting (hopefully, right?!) I arranged a 13 minute audio track from my collection of licensed audio samples.

“Tunnel Workshop” arrangement for the Lincoln Tunnel video.

For this track I used several collections of samples to create a fairly long track. I did not play any of the instruments. I arranged the sounds and mixed everything into something resembling music.

Here’s the updated video with the new audio!

Tunnels

Travelling through the Lincoln Tunnel and PA Tunnels.

When we were about to get to the Lincoln Tunnel my phone was clipped to the passenger side visor to record the experience. This was repeated as we left the city, and through each of the four tunnels through Pennsylvania mountains along our route home.

Rather than share our conversation, I replaced the audio with my short “Layered Loops” audio track repeated about 13 times. Maybe for another trip I’ll compose something that fits the length of the video.

I used Vegas Pro 14 to create this original edited video.

UPDATE (May 17, 2021)

I created a new soundtrack for the Tunnels video! There’s a noticeable change in the music as we change from one tunnel to the next. The music was created by arranging and manipulating licensed audio samples. I saved the arrangement as “Tunnel Workshop”.

I used Vegas Pro 16 to edit and apply changes to this video and Studio One 5 to edit and manipulate the audio samples.

The original video with “Layered Loops” on repeat.

Furman M-8×2

On more than one occasion I’ve heard what sounded like a radio broadcast over my headphones in between recordings. It’s pretty amazing what seems capable of traveling through your home electrical wiring. So, aside from the important circuit breaker aspect, that is why I added a power conditioner to my rack.

This device handles 15 amps of power shared between 8 switched outlets on the back and one on the front. It’s supposed to help protect my gear by keeping the electrical flow from damaging fluctuations with its cleaner power. Additionally, power strips largely only temporarily handle some of a surge while still letting power get into your gear. This, on the other hand, has a resettable circuit breaker that trips and gives a better chance of protecting that expensive gear from damage.

I’d much rather replace this $80 device than any single piece of gear.

This power conditioner takes up 1U of rack space, so it’s easy to fit in at the top of any standard rack.

Everything in my office/control room now runs through the power conditioner, without any strain on the amp capacity.

TASCAM Series 8p Dyna

Image courtesy of TASCAM.

In the Fall of 2020 I began using the Series 102i, which has two combo XLR/TRS inputs, as the main audio interface on my main tower computer. I just recently connected it to TASCAM’s Series 8p Dyna; I was able to add 8 more combo XLR/TRS (balanced) inputs to the 102i.

The Series 8p Dyna features per-input analogue compression. Just like on the Series 102i the first two inputs are on the front of the box, which has proven to be a major convenience. This now gives me four (4) instrument (such as electric guitar) inputs between the two devices.

It took an optical cable to connect the two units. The TASCAM driver software treats them as one device with ten inputs. This has been working perfectly in Studio One.

As with the Series 102i, the Series 8p Dyna included a promotion for both the TASCAM TM-80 large-diaphragm condenser mic and TH-02 closed back studio headphones free.

This promotional video from TASCAM features the Series 102i and Series 8p Dyna as well as the 102i‘s bigger sibling, the Series 208i audio interface.

Vertigo

I laid down a drum track with Strike® the other day. Then, yesterday, I sat down and created a few more layers of audio. The track now includes bass and electric guitar, and a synthesizer track.

The synth is powered by the Revolta 2 virtual synthethizer within MAGIX Music Maker. The electric guitar was played using Strum Session 2 from Applied Acoustic Systems. I don’t remember who made the bass guitar virtual instrument.

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TASCAM Series 102i

To make it easier to use microphones on my iPad, this USB audio interface was a great choice! It offers two combo XLR/TRS inputs on the front. The back adds eight (8) more inputs that I won’t likely use, but are great additions for the price.

Image courtesy of TASCAM

This device came with a rebate for a free pair of TASCAM TH-02 headphones AND a free TASCAM TM-80 microphone. The headphones are what I was already using in the studio, so I now have a pair for someone who joins me in the control room. The microphone is now being used for vocals in the booth.

I often use this interface with my iPad to run vocals through effects available in Garage Band. I usually then send the modified vocals to the TASCAM Model 16 mixer if I’m not instead trying to figure it out on the tablet.

Some Recording Progress

Since I got started with this hobby (back in early December) I’ve had the opportunity to spend some time toying with that Tascam Model 16 mixer. I feel like it took me longer than I think it should have for me to figure how to get it to send sound to and from my DAW applications, but now it’s helping me have some real fun. A few months ago I started recording music for some friends — most notably two different but equally excellent guitarists — and I believe I’m starting to get the hang of this.

I’ve had some fun recording my friend Smokin’ Joe Rodak in my home studio. I put together a page highlighting his albums, the last of which I lent a hand with compiling and some of the producing.

Tascam Model 16

As pretty as the Allen & Heath ZED24 mixer clearly is, I had arranged for its return before it even arrived. The mixer would be amazing if it was going to be used for live venues where a simple left and right track would suffice.

Image courtesy of TASCAM.

In its place I’ve gone and ordered a Tascam Model 16. While the ZED24 comes with 8 more inputs, the Model 16 has some of what the Zed24 is missing. With it, I can get a stereo mix as well as 14 individual audio tracks all simultaneously pumped into the DAC. It also features a Bluetooth input (it could come in handy) and an SD card slot to record without connecting to a computer.

The ZED24 is a mixer. The Model 16 is a mixer, an audio interface, and a recorder all in one. I’m a little disappointed that the distinction wasn’t clear enough before I made the initial purchase. Fortunately the vendor made the exchange easy and rather painless.

Trying Out a Mixer

Image courtesy of Allen & Heath

As the studio continues to take shape, it’s come time to start looking at mixers. The ability to mix sound from numerous sources definitely fits in with what we want to do.

Tomorrow we take delivery of an Allen & Heath ZED24, which is a 24 channel multipurpose mixer with USB.

The ability to connect with a PC based DAW is extremely important. While this mixer is great for live performances, we want to mix in the studio environment.

Something I discovered late in my research has to do with limitations of the USB feature. This board sends a left and right audio stream of the mixed inputs. It seems some of these mixers are capable of sending every input as a separate track into the DAW, but this one may not.

We shall see.