We’re all slightly toasted and sand blasted from our summer camping and traditionally it’s a quiet month in music technology but no, instead we get Windows 10 dropped on us, we get a brand new version of Reaper, we get some cool updates to FL Studio and Reason, we get my Sound On Sound review of Studio One 3, there’s IK Multimedia Sampletank 3 and their custom shop and Native Instruments do something with stems – what’s that about? I dunno but let’s have a look.
Here’s the video version, for the text simply skip below:
We are currently in the grip of upgrade fever as Microsoft make Windows 10 available for free for all current Windows 7 and 8 users. In the opening weekend apparently there were 14 million downloads and now numbers like 67 million are being banded about but I’m not sure anyone actually knows. What seems to be different this time as opposed to Windows 8 three years ago is the general lack of outcry, wailing and calls for revolution. There’ll always be a bunch of people being angry about it, but they probably have a lot of other sources of angst to draw upon. There are some things that may raise eyebrows – the always on updates, the ability to share downloads across a network and the questions over privacy and information gathering but all these come from a positive space of wanting to keep your OS secure, working and up-to-date – to speed up downloads and to present the user with the most relevant computing experience. All of this assumes that you want a fully connected, active and diverse working environment. Many pro users want their computers to do one thing really well – music production – and so all the other things that Windows 10 offers are largely irrelevant. If that’s you then probably Windows 7 still remains your best bet, but if you’ve become accustomed to using your computer for music production and email, image processing, social media, news and general internet then Windows 10 offers a great platform for it.
I’ve not yet moved my big desktop machine to Windows 10 – I want to do a fresh install for that and probably on a new computer – but I have upgraded a Surface 3 and a Surface Pro 3, both without incident and on the Pro 3 all the audio software survived completely intact – even Cubase and Pro Tools which are both currently unsupported – Check out my video all about that. Plus I’ve upgraded a 5 year old laptop, again without any trouble at all – all drivers present and correct.
I wish there was more interesting and specific things to say about it in terms of music production but in all my testing I’ve not seen any difference in performance, or any trouble getting things to work – your experience of course may vary.
So should you upgrade? Yeah probably but do all the usual stuff of doing a backup first, giving yourself some time and see how it goes. If you’re in any doubt at all then don’t do it – wait for 6 months or wait until your next computer – it’s no big thing either way.
Studio One 3 Review
Last month I mentioned how I was writing a review of Studio One 3 for Sound On Sound magazine. Well that’s now out and available in all good newsagents or online. I’ve also produced two videos on the multi-touch side which you’ll find in this youtube channel. To summarise – Studio One is fabulous and the multi-touch is both good and bad and if you want to know why then check out the videos.
This months big software release came from that subversive bunch at Cockos with version 5 of Reaper. Cockos have been crafting Reaper now for over 10 years following their original goal of providing a quality bit of DAW software that’s cheap enough for everyone to use. The result has been a fiercely supported work of love that’s attracted a wide range of users from beginners to pros who are disillusioned with the expensive, unresponsive and corporate worlds of the likes of Pro Tools and Cubase. Version 5 continues the evolution and brings in things like VST3 support, flexible VCA fader control, better video support, effects automation and a nice fresh look. It’s free to use for a couple of months so you really can give a thorough try out if you wish, and then it’s $60 for a personal license. The user support via the forum is second to none with contributions directly from the people who write the code – if something goes weird then they’ll have a fix or an improvement together in no time – no one else operates in quite the same way. Personally I’ve struggled with the look of Reaper, found it a bit complicated and busy – much in a similar way to how I don’t get on well with Sonar – but this latest build improves the environment greatly and could be a really great solution. It does have levels of complexity with scripting and programming built into the software the likes of which you won’t find elsewhere but sometimes the language leans towards the nerdy developer rather than the musical explorer. It is all looking pretty good so go and download a copy.
I did a review of Reason 8 back in October 2014 and it’s one of our most viewed videos. One of my criticisms was that you couldn’t choose to play an instrument by selecting it in the rack, you had to always go to the sequencer window and select the track it was assigned to. With version 8.3 they’ve stuck a nice little button onto the title bar of each instrument that, when pressed, selects the relevant track automatically. So now you can browse the rack and easily play whatever you want to without having to search around in another window – hoorah!
FL Studio 12
Following the theme of the enormous amount of power I wield through my reviews the latest version 12.1.2 of FL Studio 12 tackles another bunch of my criticisms. The mixer, that wonderful window of grey, can now be fully coloured to reflect the colour in the Channel Rack. It’s now much easier to assign items in the Channel Rack to the mixer, with the track number being present alongside. There’s also some icons to show the type of channel and other little enhancements like that. They’ve improved the video plug-in for doing sound-to-picture and added a handful of new drum kits and a piano. They’ve also got a new XYZ vector controller to assign three parameters and then get your fingers in there to control it – nice. And lastly they’ve introduced full hardware compatibility with the new Novation LaunchPad Pro – groovy. I love Image Lines ability and wiliness to respond to their users and build in functions or make adjustments in such a short period of time.
Sampletank 3 Custom Shop
Sampletank has been around for donkeys years – I was selling it in Turnkey about 15 years ago and it’s an awesome workstation synth – the virtual equivalent of the Roland JV1080. But the years have not been kind, Sampletank has looked and sounded dated for quite some time and IK Multimedia seem to get side tracked into all things iPad related. However, they finally got their finger out last summer and produced a nice new sparkly version. It comes with 33GB of sounds, 4000 instruments, 2500 loops, 2000 MIDI files, 55 effects and a ton of extra sounds purchasable through the on obligatory inbuilt shop. So why am I talking about it a year after it was released? Because IK have just released SampleTank Custom Shop which is a free version of Sampletank 3 in which you can purchase all the available sound libraries. Included in the free download is a half decent piano and nothing else – that seems a little mean to me and I think IK miss an opportunity to demonstrate a selection of cool sounds that would entice people to buy into it. The Custom Shop is easy to navigate and gives decent sound examples and descriptions of what’s in each pack. But I can’t work out what’s going on with their various virtual currencies. You can use Gear Credits in the shop which equate to slightly more than a Euro each – so you get more for your money – but they also had JamPoints which you could use in the online shop. You can convert between the two by buying Gear Credits in the online shop with your JamPoints – but it only allows you to use 30% of your JamPoints in one purchase. Which essentially means you will never be able to spend all your JamPoints. This again is a bit stingy and I think IK should do an amnesty and covert all JamPoints to Gear Credits and then dump the JamPoints idea. Anyway I’ve always had a soft spot for IK as I’ve used their software since the early days of computer music but it’s a shame they can’t be more generous. But hey – free piano!
Native Instrument Stems
When people talk about Stems they are generally talking about the individual instrument or audio tracks that make up a piece of music. So you might send a disk containing the stems of a track you’re working on to another producer to get a fresh remix. However the word Stems has been appropriated as the name of an open multi-track audio format which contains four elements – for example drums, bass, melody and vocals. This is most immediately helpful to DJs who can mix these four elements on the fly, or mix the bass of one with the drums of another – a bit like they might use kill switches on a regular track. As a musician you can produce your own stems which would be potentially more attractive to DJs or to make your own performance more interesting. The Stem format is a version of MP4 and you can create your own by mixing down your four elements and adding them along with a stereo mix to a Stem Creator Tool which creates the finished Stem File. It can be played as a regular stereo audio file because it also contains a mix of the stems. Currently the only software that supports Stem mixing is Traktor and its associated hardware. It does sound really interesting and the opportunity to sell you music in a new, manipulatable format could be very cool indeed. I’ve often thought of providing Ableton Live loop packs of my music to give people the tools to perform it or remix it themselves. Maybe we’ll start finding stem mixing knobs on hi-fi music equipment rather than tone controls. Personally four tracks doesn’t seem like enough and I tend to perform with far more tracks available in Ableton Live but in that connection between producer and performing DJ it looks like it could be awesome.
In the crazy gadget of the month category come Remofinger. Not sure if I love it or hate it yet but the gist is that it’s a wireless foot pedal for the iPad, Surface or any other tablet. But instead of working via Bluetooth or MIDI which usually involves a lot of setting up and troubleshooting, this one physically pushes buttons on your touch screen. Sounds bizarre but you stick these colourful sucker things over the button you want to push and it activates when you stomp on the relevant foot switch. Obvious uses would be with guitar effect stomp boxes, or with record/stop or triggering loop recording when you are holding an instrument. The beauty of it is that if you can see the button on screen then this thing can press it – no setup or configuration required. I love how it looks like a bunch of analogue patch cables dragging over your screen – it’s also looks slightly ridiculous. Anyway, it’s just achieved its funding on Kickstarter and so should be in production later this year. I’d definitely review it someone wants to send me one.
Film of the month
And finally my film recommendation for this month is Samsara – a beautiful, strange and illuminating meditation on the impermanence of planet. Directed by Ron Fricke and produced by Mark Magidson it’s a series of scenes that leap unexplained, unlabelled and unnarrated from sweeping landscapes to the wrinkles on a face, majestic temples to office cubicles but filmed with the same reverence and care. The ancient and modern collide and contrast, the familiar mixed with the completely weird. It’s heavy on our religious spirituality and then unsettles you with the complete absence of it. We are passengers on a journey through humanities creative power without comment or judgement. Majestic gives way to minutiae, which gives way to systems, flowing through processing people, then food, sexuality, violence, war, death, poverty and back through the majestic oddness of ourselves. The accompanying music is rich, contemplative and completely sublime. Composed by Michael Steams, Lisa Gerrard and Marcello de Francisci it surrounds you and fills you with unspoken narrative – the combination of aural and visual stimulation feels like it will pull you out of your body until you are shocked back to attention, dismay and fascination. It took five years to film, through 100 locations in 25 countries on superb quality 70mm film. It’s an amazing thing, images I’ve never encountered before and creates a real sense of global consciousness by simply opening up your brain and pouring itself in. It’s not easy viewing but you will feel somehow larger afterwards – pick it up on DVD or Blu-Ray.