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Studio Update: October 2009

Posted by Scott

Akai MPD18

Akai MPD18


I usually hesitate to do music production related posts as the focus of this blog is more centered in the visual world (On a side note, I always wonder how many of you produce music as well as design? | Comment). But I’ve really been shifting gears lately into album mode, getting the studio all dialed in so the final stretch is as trouble free as possible. To tell the truth, this past year has been one giant computer headache. Photoshop has been running like a champ on Windows 7 64-bit, but Sonar — the audio software platform I use to record / produce with — has been nothing but trouble. Over the years, I’ve slowly moved to where I do all of my sound generation and most of my processing outside the computer with analog gear but I still use the computer to record and arrange. Sonar is still the central element to the most complex stage of the production process. If it’s not behaving, the whole chain breaks down very quickly. To be fair though, it’s actually the supporting cast of digital hardware that’s been causing all the problems, not Sonar itself. My analog-to-digital digital conversion system was built around a MOTU 828MKII audio interface and a MOTU MIDI timepiece. They worked great in Windows XP but just weren’t making the cut in Windows 7 and Vista. MOTU’s driver support for Windows is pretty bad, they’re more of a Mac-centric company. So I finally ditched them and went with German manufacturer RME’s Fireface 800 as the core of the system. RME were originally a Windows only hardware maker and are very dedicated to stable performance across both platforms. They also make some of the best analog to digital converters in the business so it was nice to get that upgrade included in the deal. I also finally took the time to really tweak the computer and chase down all the little bugs and conflicts so everything is running smoother than ever now. Unfortunately I had to leave the ridiculously fast Windows 7 and go back to Vista Pro x64, but it’s only a minor step down in performance so it’s well worth the added stability. I am betting I’ll be able to move back up to Win7 within the next 6 months. And before anyone says “you should switch to Mac” I must add that most of my go-to plugins and music software are PC-only, I couldn’t really switch to Mac if I wanted to. And believe me, over this past year I have wanted to on several occasions. But I think all that is behind me, the new rig is rock solid and I’ve cloned the drive with Acronis True Image so it will always be fast and clean (I can just flash the drive back to the initial state any time things start to bog down).

So now with everything working properly, all at once, for what seems like the first time in ages, it’s time to get down to the business of producing this album. I have all the material in place, it’s just a matter of arrangement and production at this point. I do enjoy this phase, when I’m in the middle of it, but truthfully I don’t always look forward to it. I just remember all the late nights up at 7am driving back and forth from LA and Sacramento getting stuff mixed and mastered, then mixed and mastered again, and again…. and so on. Sometimes it seems like it never ends. The last song I finished — the forthcoming Coastal Brake 12″ — was one of those very trying experiences. It was just such a dense and complex mix, I hit the wall a few times and really had to reconsider things. Luckily I was able to keep my head and after about two months of pushing and pulling I finally got a version I was happy with.

So here I am coming off that experience with a whole album’s worth of tracks all lined up for the same treatment. I figured it was time to evaluate my work flow and determine what I could do to optimize things and make the process more fun than work. I started by rewiring and reconfiguring the entire studio, from top to bottom, three times. With each pass I took a week to work with things and noted all the little issues and roadblocks that I encountered with the setup. I then incorporated those into the next redesign. I spent years trying to just get things setup quickly so I could get to work, not realizing that if I really took the time to get it all set up and configured properly the first time, in the end I would save a ton of time and energy.

So now I’m sitting in the newly optimized studio and it really feels good. My head is clear and I feel like I have instant access to all the tools I need to get work done. I’ve already written a chunk of new material in the past few days and am starting the process of working back through the existing songs and getting them into their finished forms. One very cool perk of this whole experience was rediscovering something that I had all but forgotten about from my earlier days as a musician. When I first started out in music, my first real piece of gear was an Ensoniq ASR-X, a combination drum machine / synth which used drum pads instead of keys. I sold it years ago and always regretted it (Actually, I sold one, got a new one, then sold that, then got another, then finally sold that again…but that’s a very long story). Anyways, I’ve always missed the physical drum pads and ever since I moved to San Francisco I can’t play my real drum kit very late at night anymore. Over the weekend I was at Guitar Center picking up some cables and noticed Akai’s new little drum trigger pad, the MPD18 (pictured at the top). Only $99 for 18 genuine MPC pads, that’s an insane deal. My ASR-X was always like the poor man’s MPC so I always lusted after them whenever I saw one at a show or something. I was a bit skeptical about whether the $99 MPD18 could live up to the venerable MPC, but once I got it home I was amazed at how sensitive and tactile the pads are. Needless to say, I’ve been loading my drum machine up and triggering it with the MPD for the past two days straight. It’s not even work anymore, I forgot how fun these things are, and I honestly think the results are more fluid and realistic than programming drum patterns by mouse.

I will be posting some pics of the new studio just as soon as I borrow my brother’s wide angle lens. For now, here is some gratuitous gear smut, the original MPC60 (Akai + Roger Linn) in all it’s glory:

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69 Comments Leave A Comment

1

Karl Peterson says:

October 5, 2009 at 11:24 pm

I appreciate the studio updates. It’s nice to know a bit about your process.

To answer your question: I design and produce music as well. Tycho has been an inspiring project to follow. I can’t wait for the new album.

4

Bigsky says:

October 6, 2009 at 12:11 am

We read it because it’s you, whatever happens or is produced is good news!
(Songwriter / designer)

5

Spir says:

October 6, 2009 at 12:24 am

I love music and design but I keep my hand off both. Damn can’t wait to hear the new tunes. You know you are teasing hard here?

9

alex says:

October 6, 2009 at 4:51 am

always a musician, always made a living with design. until a few years ago, when i made the switch. i’m now writing for a music house. my google reader is split pretty even between the two obsessions. i find parallels all the time.

gaussian blur = plate reverb

10

nik karlin says:

October 6, 2009 at 5:05 am

I am just a producer,
i have alot of design friends and design interests me but i dont design anything but music.

11

john says:

October 6, 2009 at 5:58 am

i used an MPC in high school… but mostly using the computer these days (can’t compete with 23 inches). i tried out a Trigger Finger (m-audio’s version of the MPD) but wasn’t crazy on it.. but just last week i picked up an SP-303 with the intention of trying to build my live rig. Also have an gibson echoplex for live looping.. and there are a few interesting controllers out for Ableton live out these days.

i’m a designer for a living

14

scott says:

October 6, 2009 at 7:03 am

i look to both your music and design and inspiration. but… backwards. i listen to your music when designing… and submerge myself in design when i hit a musical wall. love seeing the set-up of other musicians… can wait for the new pics.

what are some of the windows only plugins your using?

15

sean patrick says:

October 6, 2009 at 7:03 am

I am a filmmaker and designer, doing alot of things in the ann arbor area as of late (would like more though). can see recent objects at my flickr below.
i also own a label called andrasklang. we kind of focus on the more avant garde side of things our sister label is square root records, which is now based in detroit.

check out our fuzzed out ideas, spreading tape loops over the city…
http://www.andrasklang.com
http://www.flickr.com/breathsound

16

Chris Stevens says:

October 6, 2009 at 7:04 am

I’m a designer and I’ve really gotten into producing music in the last year or so. I’ve been using Reason, Ableton, Audition and FL Studio. This blog has been a source of inspiration for me on both the design and musical front for a long time now. Feel free to make more posts about your musical process! I’d love to see a post about your music creation process like you did with your design process/tutorial!

17

toby_s says:

October 6, 2009 at 7:52 am

Did you ever try the Korg PadKontrol – about $125 with nice light effects and chaostouchpad. I bought mine about a year ago and still love it :)

18

Rob says:

October 6, 2009 at 8:01 am

I love these posts, I DJ and have started looking into production.

Your headphones look nice, do you use those when playing out? What model are they?

19

Rent says:

October 6, 2009 at 8:13 am

I just recently bought myself the korg nanopads and in the same way, was greatly surprised with how sensitive they were for such a cheap price. wish I would’ve known about this though before buying it…

I design and produce as well. seems like they go hand in hand for most designers.

20

mike cottone says:

October 6, 2009 at 8:16 am

I’m a designer and release music as The Green Kingdom. I really think there are a lot of parallels between the two. Funny, I’ve been contemplating checking out a “touchpads” interface lately (either the Akai or Korg).

21

Ryan says:

October 6, 2009 at 8:29 am

I’m inspired by design, but I only produce music. However, my mental approach to music is extremely visual. Texture and color are crucial in my sound production. I’m still using Cubase VST 5.0 along with my Edirol FA-101. I feel like I know it so well that I can bend it to my will and make it do exactly what I want it to now. There’s nothing worse than fighting your hardware/software. I’m so grateful that I finally have a system that’s stable (and even under Vista!!)

Great blog! A friend recommended that I give a listen to your music. He said if I liked my own music, that I would probably like yours. I don’t think we sound all that similar, but I now have pretty much everything you’ve released and totally dig it.

BTW, I produce under the name Ambuláunz:

https://rcpt.yousendit.com/750210739/675cb80d9f1ddeea228ec788367c2230

22

Damion says:

October 6, 2009 at 8:34 am

I produce music, dj and I design as well. I enjoy them both and find them to be my outlets. I am looking forward to your new album . Good inspiration for sure.

23

Paulo says:

October 6, 2009 at 8:34 am

Keep the music production posts coming… I think there is something about being a designer that makes us (at least want to be) creative swiss army knives. Photography, film, music… it’s all related! Anyway, always good to read about gear.

24

Design Police says:

October 6, 2009 at 8:38 am

I think design and music go hand in hand. It’s amazing to me how many similarities these two supposedly different art forms share. I know you have commented about Logic before but I loooove it. Apple’s Logic is so powerful, easy to use and compatible with just about everything I plug into it. You have control over every single aspect of the program and it actually gets out of the way enough for you to focus on your music. It most definitely will work with your nice new MBP and you will finally be able to join the elite with your glowing white apple on stage.

25

Oliver says:

October 6, 2009 at 8:51 am

*Puts Hand in the air*
I read an interview with Scott once and he said that he “pendulums” between music and design.

I basically do and feel the same way.

I wish i could say that one inspires the other, though Ive not had that experience, yet.

26

effixx says:

October 6, 2009 at 8:56 am

jack of all trades/master of none.

design, photography, video, music, actionscript, motion… hehehe

flash pays my bills though.

bought the trigger finger, hated it. pads are mush. i snagged the korg padkontrol and even though it’s nothing like actual mpc pads… neither are the mpd’s. the trigger finger pads are very rigid but sensitive, which i love. there have been an explosion of new pad controllers on the market and each has it’s pros and cons but i really wish that one of them even came close to the original MPC’s tank-like pads.

27

Jim Smith says:

October 6, 2009 at 9:03 am

I search for music posts on here all the time. I produce electronica/ambient downtempo too. keep the posts coming and more pics of the sudio. We all love to look at gear! love your music and designs. Huge fan!

CAN YOU POST VIDEOS of working in the studio or on a track or recording a synth! That would be amazing!!!

29

cmh says:

October 6, 2009 at 11:04 am

I love your music/studio posts as that is how I discovered you to begin with it was only a added bonus that I loved your design aesthetic.

Anyway can’t wait for the new shots and the new album. I’ve been toying with the idea of an MPD or MPC as well.. because they are fun. I’ve loved Bibio’s recent use as well. But it may have to wait as I’ve decided to go nutters and build myself a modular.

30

Hembree says:

October 6, 2009 at 12:14 pm

I do music and design, usually when I’m working on my abstract music, I try to work on the album design at the same time as the music itself because the two sides have a tendency to inform each other, if not outright feed off of each other. It helps me to unify my concepts and keep the entity a whole as opposed to a collection of songs lumped together.

I really dig your music posts – really really informative. I usually only use the gear I can afford at the time, and generally use a lot of analog gear because it’s what I know. Maybe now would be a good time to expand to computer tho?

31

Fletch says:

October 6, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Most graphics people I know do music in some way – either production, performance or just jamming with mates.

I work in Animation and VFX and prob pay more attention to your music posts. Big fan of Erlend Oye, Whitest Boy, Notwist, Horrors.

I spend most of my evenings working with Ableton and my Access Virus. Most likely annoying the neighbors to no end ;-)

32

mg33 says:

October 6, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Great post Scott. I do a small amount of design work and work professionally as a technology consultant & project manager to law firms. I’m also a musician – guitarist, singer, songwriter, etc., etc. All of our band’s music (www.loominglights.com) has been typical guitar, bass, drums, vocals, but on my own I’ve been spending quite a bit of time of the last year learning Logic and doing mostly electronic stuff on my own. It’s so much fun, especially when ideas really get going and one song turns into three and then six…

I’m actually excited that winter is on the way here in Chicago – I won’t feel guilty about staying indoors and recording since there’s no point to being outside!

Would love to see more posts about your studio and recording experiences. I’m really inspired by your music and no doubt I’d love to know even 1/10th of what goes into making tracks like that. All that analog gear… I’ve shown several musician friends the picture of your keyboards and all were drooling!

34

Grady says:

October 6, 2009 at 6:02 pm

I’m an aspiring designer but make music on Renoise as well. I have no idea how any of these samplers or anything work! (though I wish I did)

35

grey says:

October 6, 2009 at 9:01 pm

++ To more of the music posts. Both sides are interesting.

And do try and make the effort to snap a pick of the whole studio setup. Would be really interesting to see!

36

marqmoz says:

October 6, 2009 at 9:05 pm

I love the music posts… fell in love with Tycho Before I even knew about the Design work that you do. I do music and design as well… Music is my hobby while design is more like my profession. I envy that you can professionally do both… that’s my dream. I do Music Videos too, and recently started a small production group called SUKKATASH. (www.sukkatash.com)

I also just sold my MPC2500. I’ve been looking at this pad-controller (MPD18), since the price is right, and its 100 times better than being a mouse musician. I really like the Native Instrument’s “Machine”… because it’s really built to interact with software… but $600 is pretty steep.

I look forward to the new album… actually i can’t wait. I’m psyched.

37

Anonymous says:

October 6, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Pro art director
Hobbyist musician

Currently using Logic, used to use ProTools LE with external synths. Actually prefer the PT setup.

38

Scott says:

October 6, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Yes, I would definitely enjoy more posts on music production. In fact I’ve been curious about how you achieve your “aged” or “lo-fi” sound. Do you primarily use EQ or do have favorite pieces of gear or techniques? Always enjoy the posts…

Career: Landcape Architect
2nd Career: Music/Graphic Design
http://www.myspace.com/thenightowl

39

michael j. says:

October 7, 2009 at 3:03 am

I played music first and got into design years later…but I don’t think I’d be a designer if it weren’t for my love of music, and not just because I was in love with record covers. I think it’s just a natural extension for a lot of people and I’m sure knowing that you have your feet in both keeps your readership populated with musicians too. I’ve enjoyed the balance of music and design-related posts, these about your studio are always welcome!

40

Eric T. says:

October 7, 2009 at 10:54 am

I love these posts; please keep them coming!

I work at a software instruments (plug-ins) company and design the website as well as the graphical interfaces of the instruments (Ultra Analog VA-1 and both Strum Acoustic GS-1 and Strum Electric GS-1). I play music too.

43

Giusto says:

October 7, 2009 at 7:16 pm

Music is what got me into design. Back in 7th grade – circa ’93 – I started a punk rock band. We started playing shows and needed posters and flyers … the pen, computer and xerox became my friend. I’ve been an addict of design ever since.

45

chuck says:

October 8, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I’m a designer and a electronic music producer. I’ve been producing music for a 10 years , recording for labels Underground Resistance, 430west, hitechfunk, ect.. I’ve also been a designer for 20 something years the last 10 years professionally. I’ve often found it hard to really focus on one for a extended period of time. I truly want to excel in both but its a bit difficult at times.

46

Chris says:

October 8, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Keep up the music posts Scott! I am a fan of both of your music and design.

I also do both. I have been playing various instruments for 16 or 17 years and doing graphic design for about 13 years. In fact, like a lot of people I know it was being involved in a music scene and needing album art, flyers, posters, etc. that first led me into design.

48

Anton says:

October 10, 2009 at 11:02 am

I create music as well as work with graphics and motion. I enjoy the studio posts the most and I’d like to know more about your gear and such.

53

John Athayde says:

October 13, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Scott -

I produce music (rock, electronic, etc) as well as do design—mainly UI/UX these days, but I’ve also done film animation and massive amounts of print over the years. And funny enough I don’t have a degree in either. I went to school for Architecture.

Anyway, linkage:

Rock band: http://myspace.com/juniperlaneband
Breakbeat/Ambient/Prog House project: http://myspace.com/boboroshikynz
My home studio where I produce other local bands: http://myspace.com/borealisstudios
And finally, my personal project that is more rock band than anything: http://www.rotoscope.com

My synth collection is more 80s era, but It’s addicting. I always enjoy seeing these types of posts, so please keep them up or if you post them elsewhere, let us know!

54

moni says:

October 18, 2009 at 11:57 am

What audio interface is that in the picture? That’s not the RME, and it’s not a MOTU 828. It looks like something from Presonus, but I can’t seem to find it. Thanks.

55

Svend G says:

October 22, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Well, I guess that an interest in music leads to an interest in other ways of expression. I got interested in design thru record covers.
thx for a great blog, and keep mixing it up w/ music as well.

61

Mark says:

November 10, 2009 at 7:46 am

It’s great to hear about your setup, glad it’s all coming together! Looking forward to the new tunes, it’s been far too long ;) on a side not I noticed you have a set if beyer 770 phones there, I’ve been looking for a new set of cans for ages and just ordered a set a few days ago. Great to know you make your tunes on them, so they should sound as near as perfect to the music as possible ;)

62

kyle says:

November 10, 2009 at 9:50 am

Hey Scott, great post. I am a long time musician and designer, i have a design studio in Oakland CA (www.muellerdesign.com), and music studio at my place in Orinda CA. where most recently i produced a solo CD under the name “DADDIO”.

Your work is exceptional in both realms, and it’s great to hear a little about your process. Will try to get out and see you live soon, here is a link to myspace page where you can hear my tunes. would love to keep the conversation going.

http://www.myspace.com/muellster

63

erik says:

November 13, 2009 at 5:34 pm

wow we sorta have the same pc/windows daw — i use sonar and have two 828mkII’s and cannot for the life of me get them running w/o crashing XP SP 3, Vista SP 2 and Windows 7. i did some research and it turns out that the problem is deep within windows’ drivers for USB/FW. apparently the bus is unable to handle the amount of streaming data. needless to say i am curious to hear how you’ve gotten your 828s to work w/o crashing yr computer.

64

Mars says:

November 13, 2009 at 5:40 pm

What other gear do you use i.e. drum machines? where do you start writing?

Great inspirational post thanks.

65

Örjan says:

November 16, 2009 at 3:16 am

Long time reader, first time poster.

I do music as a hobby (albeit on a semipro level) and for the moment I live off my visual design work.

I really like the Tycho sound, especially the sense of everything being sampled off vinyl (hence the vinyl hiss).

I too have had my share of problems with MOTU (own a Traveler). XP works fine so does Vista, but since Vista is such a resource hog I prefer XP. I have been looking at RME Fireface as well, maybe I’ll do the switch…

66

Foniks says:

November 19, 2009 at 9:52 pm

Your MPC 60 shot and pad talk prompted me to send you this video I made awhile back. It’s a 2000xl, but I figured you might enjoy the fun that ensues when I start hitting those ubiquitous grey buttons.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OljvEp_lmuY

When I get money, I’ll be copping your material on wax. Are you performing in LA anytime in the future (solo or w/ Ghostly cats)?

68

Juan Miguel Marin says:

October 14, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Started of in music at 11 years old back in Ecuador where design was joke at the time I graduated from high-school… moved to the US after spending one full year at an engineering school in Ecuador and go into design school… It is definitely the balance between design and music that makes me a fulfilled creative individual… not sure if I can live without one or the other