The Step Record feature in Digital Performer v3 is by no means new, but if you haven't used it much before, it's well worth getting to grips with. It allows you to record MIDI data into a track in non-real time -- for each note you specify both pitch and duration. This approach isn't renowned for its natural-sounding results, but it really suits some styles of music, and is perfect for creating otherwise 'unplayable' passages, and parts which 'key' MIDI-aware audio plug-ins -- but more on that next month...
Try this: record-enable a MIDI track, make an output and default patch selection, and name the track. Now hold down the Apple key and hit '8' to open the Step Record window (you can also access it from the Basics menu). You'll notice that the window carries a range of note-value buttons (one of which is already selected), its own 'transport' controls (backstep, beat, and so on) plus some other specialised controls. Whenever Step Record is the active window it lays claim to your keypad, allowing you to specify other note values using keys 1 to 9, although note that you have to deselect a note before selecting a new one. For now try selecting an eighth-note (quaver), by hitting '5' on the keypad.
Play some notes on your MIDI controller and they should start to be entered into your record-enabled track at eighth-note intervals -- this is all down to 'Auto Step' being on, which advances the 'current step' location whenever a note (or last note of a chord) is released. You can force the current step to advance with the 'step' button (or Enter on the keypad), and this is an essential technique for entering rests. Turn Auto Step off and you have to use the 'step' button to enter notes into the track, but this makes it possible to enter parts which use sustained notes, staggered chord entries and releases, and so on.
Obviously you can change note value as often as you like, and no matter what rhythm you've just entered, the 'Beat' ('+' on the keypad) and 'Measure' ('-') buttons will take you to the beginning of the next beat or measure. Backstep ('0' -- that's zero, not the letter) is a sort of localised Undo function; it literally steps back through your most If you're into the grungier side of bit-depth reduction try Degrader in Pluggo, or, for the ultimate in retro-chic, the freeware Trasher (right) from: www.refx.net If the keyboard shortcuts for the Step Record window are getting you down (or you have a PowerBook with no keypad) go to the Commands window and change them. For the ultimate in speed, abandon keyboard shortcuts altogether, and use MIDI notes.
Holding down the Apple key and typing '/' (slash) clears overload indicators on all meters in the Mixing Board, and does the honours in MW Limiter as well.
If you're into the grungier side of bit-depth reduction try Degrader in Pluggo, or, for the ultimate in retro-chic, the freeware Trasher (right) from: www.refx.net
If the keyboard shortcuts for the Step Record window are getting you down (or you have a PowerBook with no keypad) go to the Commands window and change them. For the ultimate in speed, abandon keyboard shortcuts altogether, and use MIDI notes.
Next month, I'll go through the finer points of Step Record, and detail some tricks for your pitch-bend and modulation wheels...
Over the next few months, I'm going to be looking at some of DP3's most useful plug-ins, and how they can be best used to advantage on a variety of projects. To kick off this survey I've chosen a plug-in I find indispensable -- MW Limiter.
Limiters come into their own in the final stages of a mix, particularly when trying to get it to sound as loud as possible (as is the norm these days), and MW Limiter is very good at doing just this.
On the far right of the window, the input and output level meters are placed next to each other for easy comparison, and they show both peak and RMS (average) levels. The relationship between input and output level is shown by the red line in the input/output 'graph', and current input level is indicated by a little 'ball' that shoots around on this line. To modify the shape and position of the line, you can grab the small handles on the bottom and right edges of the graph -- they're just alternatives to moving the Threshold and Ceiling controls (respectively). Ceiling governs the maximum level that will come out of MW Limiter, and Threshold determines the level at which signals will start to be limited. To the right of the graph there's a red, downward-reading gain reduction meter. There's no makeup gain control, as it's been rolled into the action of the Threshold control -- turning down the threshold causes more limiting to occur and makes things louder at the same time.
To get the best results from MW Limiter, it's definitely worth taking some time to set up the Release and Lookahead controls. Release determines how long it takes for limiting to cease after the input level has fallen below the threshold -- I find a setting of 0.10 seconds gives good results. Of course, with release times up to two seconds, you can really make things 'pump' if you so wish. As for Lookahead, this introduces a delay into the audio path through the limiter which is used to analyse signal peaks before they're limited. By setting this to somewhere between 7 and 14 milliseconds, it's possible to achieve wonderfully transparent limiting. It's hard to know exactly what happens when Lookahead is used, though I'd take a guess that the limiter's knee becomes adaptive. Oddly, though, Lookahead settings of more than 14mS don't sound as good.
Remember that if the signal level going into MW Limiter is generally low, it's better to boost it with the input gain control (there are two of these in the stereo-to-stereo version of the plug-in) rather than apply, say, 20dB of limiting and associated make-up gain. In general, MW Limiter sounds most transparent when limiting no more than about 6dB.
An unusual feature is the Histogram display, under the Clear Indicators button, which shows a constantly updating statistical analysis of output level. MOTU suggest this could come into its own when mastering several tracks for an album. For example, if you match histogram shapes between the tracks, the levels should match better than they will if you rely on the RMS meter reading.
To make the MW Limiter the perfect mastering environment MOTU have helpfully equipped it with flexible bit-depth reduction options (more on this next month). It's important to realise that since dither is added after limiting has occurred, you shouldn't be surprised if you get 'overs' on the output meter when the ceiling is set at or near 0dB.
When it comes to high-end plug-ins, DP users have never had it so good. There's all manner of tasty stuff on the market, but a plug-in that really stands out is ChannelStrip, by American company Metric Halo. This aims to recreate an input channel on a really top-class mixing desk (we're talking SSL, Neve, and so on), and offers EQ, an expander/gate and a compressor, a simple signal delay function, and metering. Whilst all this could arguably be achieved using several of DP3's bundled plug-ins, it's the sound quality of ChannelStrip that makes it so special. The EQ section, in particular, has few peers, at least in the digital world, and is a world away from MOTU's Parametric EQ -- it oozes character, and can add subtle warmth and sparkle as well as perform fierce sonic manipulations. It's one of those plug-ins, like PSP's VintageWarmer, that seems to make everything sound better.
Getting the best from the dynamics section takes a bit more effort, but there's great flexibility (especially if you're into side-chains) and informative visual feedback. Set the compressor's ratio to 1000:1 and ChannelStrip takes on the character of a vintage photo-optical compressor design. There are many included presets which amply demonstrate the versatility of the gate, from simple noise-catching duties to awesome drum treatments. The plug-in even comes with a truly excellent PDF manual.
As you'd expect, ChannelStrip doesn't come cheap -- the full version is $345. But by offering a slightly cut-down version, ChannelStrip SP ($175), Metric Halo have made it easier for less well-heeled DP users to get the high-end sound.
So if you're missing the feel of analogue EQ and dynamics in DP3, I can recommend ChannelStrip wholeheartedly. It's somewhat pricier than MOTU users are used to, but I'd say it's worth every penny. Drop by www.mhlabs.com to download a demo and find out more.