Category Archives: Recommends

My Guitar Rig

In case you care and haven’t been following closely, in response to the latest request here is my current guitar rig:

  • Custom Shop Strat
  • I use a Digitech 2112 basically as a tube preamp and some of the analog (but rarely digital) effects.
  • Fender Blues Jr. Amp that I don’t crank nearly as loud as I really should because I’m a chicken about drowning out the lovely Hare Krishna temple guys next door. (This is Berkeley.)

The part about the hippie girl quilt was meant to be, you know, JK.

Personally I don’t think I’m getting a good sound, that is, the sound that it’s my head which primarily a cross between Steve Cropper, Leo Nocentelli and Jeff Beck’s quieter moment (few as they are).


Because I have to rebuild a DAW from scratch I’m finding that I’m a tad behind on some of my utilities. There a new LAME encoder. I don’t install tools that aren’t truly useful just for the heck of it — your WAV to MP3 encoder really does make a difference and if you’re not using LAME then imho you’re not using the best one.

Since the last time I’ve checked winLAME has really come into it’s own. Until now I used a batch file on my desktop as a drop target for WAV files but I’m definitely going to start using winLAME for a while.

Dual Core 2 Duo DAW

I don’t like computers. I like the idea of them well enough, just not the actual boxes. Meanwhile I don’t even like the idea of shopping, even for things I like. Not online, not in stores, not in a box, not with a fox, not here or there, not anywhere. However, when I screwed the pooch on my last working machine I was forced to get out there and get something.

Now some other background fun facts based on buying/building DAWs for nearly 20 years:

As an over arching philosophy of hardware and software: forget about what should work. Just give it up. I am completely burned out on technicians, engineers, support staff and sales people telling me what combination of the hardware and software should work. Either sound comes out of the speakers or it doesn’t. Either I can use my hosts and plugins or it blue screens my system. No other industry I know of promises so much and gets away with so little so my work around has been to accept that I will get overcharged for basic, if uneven, performance. To adopt a common axiom in every other walk of life:

If it sounds like it “should just work”, it’s probably too good to be true.

Or put another way: Buying cheap gets you cheap. In the old days I used to go (or dispatch others) to swap meets to pick up parts and build PCs. In those days an off-the-shelf PC was completely out of the question for a DAW, even a MIDI-only box (recording audio was pretty much out of the question, even after you souped up a PC). Opening up a box to replace the hard drive, put in a sound card, adjust jumpers on the MIDI card, etc. were going to happen anyway so you might as well build the whole box.

Then the Internet happened and, even though it was slightly more expensive, the advent of bare-bones systems that would be built for you and shipped to your house.

Here’s why I stopped all that that about 10 years ago:

– Even though I was building my own boxes and trying to move components like hard disks and sound cards forward to save money, I almost always had to replace those components anyway with the new box because of compatibility issues (e.g. bus size).

– These machines were louder than a drier full of sneakers.

– They only worked about 50% of time. Sometimes they never booted up from the box, sometimes they lasted a few months before I had to reformat every week or so to recover from crazy errors.

– About 10 years ago off-the-shelf brand computers started showing almost enough muscle to be DAWs.

Here’s what’s left of all the arguments NOT to buy an off the shelf brand name computer for a DAW:

– You will probably spend $300-$400 more, probably for features you will never use
– You have to spend a day uninstalling all their “partner” software,

Now that I have external USB hard drives and USB sound devices I haven’t opened up a PC in almost 10 years.

I just bought what amounts to one of these at Fry’s mainly because it was the baddest machine they had. The version I have is a Dual Core 2 Duo with something called an Intel “Viv” chip. Don’t have a clue what that is. This was not the best informed decision I’ve ever made, I have a nagging feeling that if I had more time to research it and wasn’t desperate to get back up and running I might have ended up with a similar dual-boot Intel based Mac, maybe for about the same money. Or maybe not. I wanted to experiment for once: I wanted to see if part of the problem I’ve had is being too cheap for my music’s own good.

Here’s what I do know: Ableton Live 6 was designed to work with dual core in mind and for the first time in my life every I have zero latency on MIDI or live guitar recordings. I pummel the thing with high powered, CPU hungry plugins, then I run Reason in ReWire mode with it’s own full rack of instruments and FX and I can’t the CPU meter above 7%.

I load FL Studio with a project that I had to split up because my old machine was freezing when I hit ‘play’. On my new DAW I add half a dozen of the heaviest FX I have and the CPU tops out at 22%.

There are several variables including an empty hard disk and twice as much RAM as my last machine that could easily account for this. Still, the fact that there are 2 CPU cores, both running dual mode have to be making a difference.

I’ve heard people give mixed reviews of Dual Core systems so I’m sure having 2gig of RAM has to be a huge factor. Either way, I’m impressed with the performance and have run out of excuses for using brand name computers for DAWs.

Free Online File Converter

I haven’t tried it so it’s not strictly a ‘recommendation’ but an online file converter sounds very intriguing…

Media Convert – free and on line – convert and split sound, ringtones, images, docs – MP3 WMV 3GP AMR FLV SWF AMV MOV WMA AVI MPG MP4 DivX MPEG4 iPOD PSP OGG WMA AAC MP4 MPC MMF QCP KAR MIDI REALAUDIO FLAC JPG PSD DOC PDF RTF TXT ODG ODP ODS ODT SXW WK1 MDB XLS VOB

FL Studio 6, Worth Every Penny

Made w/FL 6

[ listen ]
[ download ]

Musicians invest a lot in their music host software. Hours, dollars, patience and emotions all get stretched to their limits. Learning the software, using the software, cursing the software. The solitude leads to back aches, blurry eyes, divorce and a visit from Child Services. After a while the musician will get dependent on and defensive about the host they use, sometimes to point of fanaticism. The name for this is “software Stockholm syndrome.”

An “upgrade” is typically where the musician gets to pay for the privilege of having bugs fixed in the last version at same time as paying for the introduction of a few features they were hoping for, several they can’t fathom and of course, all new bugs in the latest version of the software that, without fail, forces a hardware upgrade simply to open the default demo project.

FL Studio, with it’s upgrade to version 6, remains the bargain of the century, remains one the best sounding hosts out there, remains stable as ever and it remains one of the hardest and most obtuse applications to learn and master.

But as always, the new features are very cool. The best way to describe the latest upgrade to FL Studio is “two steps forward, a bunch of steps of not taken.”

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Stylus RMX: The Horse Beaten

The hot beat maker plugin is Stylus RMX. Professional gurus claim it to be among their favorite synths of all time and the KVR user reviews don’t get much better.

I picked up my copy a few days ago (yes on extended financing — and no, this won’t be the last entry I will post from that shopping spree) and I’ve been playing around with it in a few hosts.

Stylus RMX is a VSTi/AU plugin instrument that you call up in your host to handle the beats and percussion. The best thing RMX does is consolidate a world of stuff under one roof into a very productive environment. A very, very, very productive environment. I want to emphasize that because in the rest of this article it will be easy to forget why to get this plugin in the first place.

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BlogTorrent Update

Blogtorrent (a coding project of Downhill Battle) has just been updated to include Mac and mySQL support. If you post music to a weblog (or just post music) this looks like an ideal, easy way to distribute the bandwidth.

To be honest I’m not sure how this relates to the P2P-based Magnet Protocol which I can tell you, using Bitzi Bitcollider, took about a minute to apply to every upload on CC Mixter. I think these two things have the same goal using different means. Magnet is supposed to be “application neutral” but doesn’t seem include BitTorrent in their list of supported applications. (If some one out there actually knows about this feel free to pipe in.)

At some point I’m going to be updating my fourstones catalog to use at least one of these so at that point I’ll report back what I find out.

How to Score A (Bunny) Film

My wife (the artist“) recently Netflixed “How To Draw A Bunny” and I highly recommend this film for two reasons:

1) Ray Johnson (the film’s subject) was a shining example of brilliant ‘remix’ art. Every scrap in this man’s life was fodder for art.

2) The “score” is by the phenomenal drummer, composer, activist Max Roach but hardly in the conventional sense: the film is interspersed with clips of close-ups of Max playing a snare with brushes.

Brilliant artist, great music, remix culture. Good stuff.