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Back to making music -what gear to get?

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Back to making music -what gear to get?

Postby H. Tea » Thu Oct 31, 2013 3:12 pm

After several years away from making music and my gear stacked away I'm about to get started again.
I have several MIDI keyboards, synth modules, a sampler, drum machines and rack effects etc. and still use an Atari ST with Notator SL for sequencing (don't laugh! I find it a very capable, stable system with solid MIDI timing, so I see no reason to go DAW all the way). I also like physical gear with knobs, so I'm not ready to sell all my synths/synth modules and replace it with plugins. Still, I can see that some gear such as effects and my sampler could be better off replaced with DAW plugins. But I have no experience with the latter and having read discussions on hardware vs. software where people state that hardware often gives a better sound I'm not sure what to do.

Anyway, I never had anything for recording back then (except cassette tape) and need to start from scratch in that area. My Mac Pro 5.1. (2010) should be more than good enough to handle the task, and the first thing I probably need is a good sound-card.
A rack mountable one would be practical, but I'm not sure how many channels I'd need when not going all plugin. Would I be best off creating a virtual studio much like a traditional 16 or 24 track analog recording studio (meaning a 16 or 24 input sound card) since I'll be using external synths, or would I be just as well off with lesser inputs, but more recording takes, adding synths to a new track, or is the normal way simply to record anything sequenced "live" in one take to two tracks (stereo) meaning a cheap dual input sound card?
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Re: Back to making music -what gear to get?

Postby desmond » Thu Oct 31, 2013 3:52 pm

It all depends on what you want to do.

if you have a workflow where you want to sequence via MIDI all your hardware, and mix with a hardware mixer, and then record the stereo mix to the computer, then you only need a couple of inputs. If you want to record all twelve stereo hardware synths to their own tracks, then you'll need 24 inputs. If you don't need to record them all at once, then you can get away with only a handful of inputs and only record one or two devices to audio at once.

It's driven by how you intend to work really. I think you need to think through the way you typically work, and how that will translate into the more recent world and how to intergrate recording/computers into your setup. You might wish to carry on working in the old way you used to, or you want want to look at some more modern ways of taking advantage on of modern tech, and organise your new environment along this.

So the most important thing is to get a handle on how you want to work, and start the discussion there until you formulate what seems like a workable plan of attack regarding the gear you need...
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Re: Back to making music -what gear to get?

Postby Airfix » Thu Oct 31, 2013 4:12 pm

desmond wrote: you want want to look at some more modern ways of taking advantage on of modern tech, and organise your new environment along this.


In the latest SoS review of Kontakt 5, Nick Magnus points out that it is now more feasible than ever to produce high-quality tracks entirely within Kontakt. That's just one sample player. To get an idea of what's happening since the days of cassete tape , download Reaper.
Take a deep breath - all u may need is your mac and a good audio interface .
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Re: Back to making music -what gear to get?

Postby Chaconne » Thu Oct 31, 2013 6:43 pm

Yeah, get Logic, which is dead cheap these days and stuffed full of everything you need, and a soundcard with a built in MIDI interface so you can used any old keyboard you have to play the logic instruments, and just play with it for a month or two. I would forget multiple recording inputs for now, stereo, or 4-6 is more than enough, and don't fret to much about which one. Do some research in reliability and compatibility and go by that.

Just because you do this does not mean anything in your cupboard has to go, nothing is mutually exclusive.

However, once you see how much DAW's have come on, you will find yourself questioning why you need to have everything set up 'for real' as before. Are you really going to use your sampler when you can have a large library inside Logic ready to sequence, and a choice of much cheaper sample sets from the internet? How much outboard do you have, can you have compression and eq on every channel, and as much FX as you want, not just on auxiliaries?

Eventually you will probably find that some things that have character you might keep, but will soon see the attraction of a full DAW. I have kept a few analog synths, my S950, and a DX7, oh and a quadraverb just for playing away from the computer. The few times I do records external stuff is just for character and 'spice' - but every year what I actually need gets less and less, and now with tape emulators I rarely use my mastering machine -

In a way it is sad - but you don't have to get rid of redundant things, no one is forcing you to sit there with nothing but a mouse, but full DAWs and sound-cards are so cheap, you may as well dive in - and if you decide you still want to do it all live from the atari you can - and you will have acquired a fantastic digital multitrack and editing suite.
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Re: Back to making music -what gear to get?

Postby desmond » Thu Oct 31, 2013 6:50 pm

Plus, in sequencing terms, Logic still uses many concepts originated in Notator, so it won't be a complete world away... though Logic has had 20+ years of development since Notator, so...
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Re: Back to making music -what gear to get?

Postby H. Tea » Sat Nov 02, 2013 1:53 pm

Thanks for all comments and suggestions.
Having played around a little with the Reaper demo and the free Kontakt Player I must say I'm both impressed and overwhelmed. Too many options, endless menu items and lots and lots of mouse-clicking to get anywhere. I've briefly tested the Logic demo in the past and had the same impression back then, but understand that this is the price you pay for an all-in-one virtual recording studio/audio editor/synthesizers/samplers/MIDI sequencer system. I probably need to spend some time getting used to it all.

I think I will end up with a compromise, keeping most of my hardware synths but perhaps replacing the sampler, digital drum machines (after sampling them) and some of my hardware effects units with what's available in the DAW. I can certainly see how practical a software-sampler could be with the absence of messing around with floppy disks, limited memory, setting up patches etc. as long as there's no additional latency compared to a hardware sampler (this goes especially for drums/percussion). Whatever lets me make more music and less loading/saving, organizing/setting things up. At the same time I do appreciate hardware synths with "hands on" real knobs and buttons, and I'd save the computer's CPU from additional loads.

Since my main plan is to sync the DAW from Notator on the Atari as well as playing samples in the DAW via MIDI from the Atari I'm basically looking at a digital recording studio along with a software-sampler. Is there any less complex software I could look into for that?



Regarding audio interfaces I think a compromise is due there as well. 2 inputs would limit my creativity with so much external gear (say I want to record my TR-808's individual outputs in order to allow for different EQ and effects I'd have to spend ages to record two new tracks at a time). 8 inputs might be a good compromise. I would also need MIDI (for syncing from the Atari and for allowing a MIDI keyboard/the Atari ST to play samples from the DAW). In another thread I read that most soundcards these days are USB only and don't have MIDI -is this true?
And buying older sound cards with say Firewire/multiple inputs and MIDI can give OS compatibility issues as there are no drivers to be had for the latest OSX. Any advice on this?
I assume Firewire would be the fastest/most efficient method for transferring both audio and MIDI, and my Mac Pro has both Firewire and room for PCI express cards if that's a better option (but then again I wouldn't be able to use a laptop if I should need that at some stage, instead of the Mac Pro). I'm not too fond of tabletop gear which seems so popular these days. 19" rack devices are stackable and can save a lot of space, so I'll be going with that if I can.

I'm not sure how I should set everything up (again, I need to spend some time planning it all), but as far as MIDI hardware goes my Atari ST is equipped with multiple MIDI in/out ports and I have a Roland A-880 MIDI patchbay/merger for routing things. For audio I have a Behringer audio patchbay (24 ins/outs I think) and a Roland M-480 (48 input) line mixer. Without EQ on each channel I'm left to doing that in the DAW, so I'm not sure how the mixer would come to use.


OK, lots of thoughts and questions here, so I'll stop for now, hoping for comments and replies.
Something useful apart from reading specs and features for DAW software packages, soundcards etc. would be more practical "real world" guides where musicians explain their workflows and from that I could better understand what might suit my needs the best. Any sites, ebooks/books, videos etc. with that sort of thing available?
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Re: Back to making music -what gear to get?

Postby johnny h » Sat Nov 02, 2013 3:02 pm

Its a difficult question to answer really. The attachment to the Atari ST really complicates things. As much as it helps that you know how it works, the difficulty in setting up all the midi and audio channels in your recording DAW and syncing it all up might be more trouble than learning a new DAW from scratch.

Presumably you are making electronic music (from your synth collection and setup). If this is the case I would strongly recommend trying Ableton Live. There is a free 30 day trial. While it will seem incredibly complex at first, there are some very good tutorials on youtube which will help you get used to it. If you have some time off, say a week, give them a go and see if you can get on with it.

For recording synths Ableton is really great, its just so easy to use and comes with some pretty good drum machines and samplers. The Kontakt sampler is still far superior in terms of flexibility and (to a lesser extent) sound quality but its a lot harder to use.
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Re: Back to making music -what gear to get?

Postby The Elf » Sat Nov 02, 2013 4:13 pm

You're wanting to make things simple for yourself, but you're actually in danger of making life really difficult.

If you're determined to try to sync up two computer-based systems and try to add a mixer into the fray there's a good chance you're going to end up hopelessly bogged down, confused and frustrated. As it is you're already questioning the role of the mixer, and I'd say ditch it - it is only going to make for complications and compromise.

My advice is let go of the old, embrace the new and just knuckle down with it until it begins to make sense. All you need is a computer, an audio interface, a DAW (Cockos Reaper is free to start) and the patience to learn how it works. If it was *that* difficult none of us would be here, would we?!
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Re: Back to making music -what gear to get?

Postby BJG145 » Sun Nov 03, 2013 7:55 am

H. Tea wrote:...MIDI from the Atari ...Roland A-880 MIDI patchbay/merger...Behringer audio patchbay (24 ins/outs I think) and a Roland M-480 (48 input) line mixer....


No, no, no.


The Elf wrote:You're wanting to make things simple for yourself, but you're actually in danger of making life really difficult.

If you're determined to try to sync up two computer-based systems and try to add a mixer into the fray there's a good chance you're going to end up hopelessly bogged down, confused and frustrated. As it is you're already questioning the role of the mixer, and I'd say ditch it - it is only going to make for complications and compromise.

My advice is let go of the old, embrace the new and just knuckle down with it until it begins to make sense. All you need is a computer, an audio interface, a DAW (Cockos Reaper is free to start) and the patience to learn how it works.


^^^

This.
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