This year’s NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) was off the hook!  A few years ago when the economy was really in the doldrums there were significantly fewer participants. This year saw hundreds of manufacturers displaying their wares, thousands of patrons checking out the newest music gear, and a whole lot of business deals in the works.

Best of all, this year’s NAMM highlighted electronic dance music (EDM) for the first time with DJ sets and audio expos, including panels featuring Crystal Method’s Ken Jordan and Grammy Award-nominated DJ/producer BT hosting the Technical Excellence and Creatively Awards (TEC). Nightly, there were DJs, including Greyboy, QBert and Melo D, spinning on The Venue Stage presented by Pioneer DJ. In short, it was a wild party for music gear addicts.

There are so many products to see in a show of this size that it’s impossible to see them all. So when I’m wandering the floor I usually have a few general categories I’m looking out for. This year, the categories were: innovative mixing control surfaces, MIDI controllers with decent finger drum pads, and interesting new software. Anything else that catches my eye and holds my attention is frosting on the cake.

Mixer Control Surfaces

If you’ve been paying attention it’s obvious that touch screen control of your software is the wave of the future. From iPads to Windows 8, direct interaction with your software using a touch screen is cropping up all around us. Just look at what Mackie has done with its DL806 and DL1608 units. I had a chance to check out the latest control software (Master Fader 2.0) for the iPad and it felt amazing. Very positive and intuitive. Plus, the new EQ and Compressor models were stellar.

The DL Series employs an iPad as its brains and remote mixing via iPhone.

The SSL Nucleus is cool, and even though it’s also an audio interface, in my opinion it’s way overpriced. Consider the options (sans audio interface), if you’re on a budget, Behringer introduces the X-TOUCH Universal Control Surface for just $599. It’s due out later this year, features motorized faders, scribble strips, and runs in HUI and Logic control modes. It has some striking similarities to Mackie’s venerable old HUI control surface.

The Behringer X-TOUCH features both HUI and Logic modes.

Or, for just half the price of the Nucleus you can pick up Slate Pro Audio’s Raven MTi 27-inch Multitouch DAW Controller ($2,500). It’s like an iPad on steroids! I finely had a chance to sit down with this beast at the show and it was astounding. I will definitely be scrutinizing the Raven MTi more closely and seriously considering one for my home studio. Just think about it, no more delicate motorized faders and knobs to break.

MIDI Controllers & Finger Drum Pads

For a long time there’s only been a few good choices on the market for small, inexpensive keyboard controllers that also feature great finger drum pads. Major kudos go to Alesis for designing the new V Series keyboard controllers with the drum pads to the left of the keyboard rather than above the keyboard. About time! The drum pads felt responsive with a nice velocity curve. The keyboard comes in 25, 49, and 61 key flavors and should be available in a couple of months, starting at $129 for the smallest unit.

The Alesis V Series keyboards have drum pads in line with the keyboard.

I’m a big fan of Nektar keyboards because they feel great and integrate seamlessly with Reason (as well as many other DAW programs). Unfortunately, their keyboards have been out of the price range of many of my students. So I’m very happy to announce that they have a couple of new, less expensive, keyboard controllers, the LX49 (shipping now for $180) and the LX25 (coming soon for $120). Considering how well Naktar’s Panorama keyboard works with Reason, I’m sure the LX series keyboards will integrate just as seamlessly. If it does, the LX25 will be my new top pick for students who need a small MIDI controller keyboard that works great and doesn’t break the bank.

Nektar’s LX49 has a little sibling coming soon, the LX25 for just $120.

M-Audio’s new Trigger Finger Pro looks interesting but I wasn’t excited about how the drum pads felt. On-the-other-hand—or should I say finger?—Arturia’s BeatStep feels really good, with very responsive pads, and an intriguing built-in 16-step sequencer. For $99 it’s hard to complain about this fun gizmo.

Arturia’s BeatStep controlling an Oberheim synth module.

But if you’re looking for a MIDI controller that’s really different, check out the AlphaSphere (about $800).  I had a blast playing with this device. They had it set up to work with Ableton Live. The pads are squishy and send MIDI aftertouch so you can apply pressure on a pad to modulate your sound source. Too cool!

The AlphaSphere is a blast to play.

Tweaking & Hero Cams

Hands down the most exciting piece of software I saw was iZotope’s Break Tweaker ($249 but currently on sale for $199), developed with BT. (Interesting, the software’s acronym is the same as the artist’s name, strangely suspicious.) I got the full demo at the show and it looks amazing. I can’t wait to get my hands on this and start tweaking!

GoPro was at the show, yes, the live action camera people. They had an amazing booth set up with a big, see-through isolation booth containing instruments for bands to play. There were GoPro Hero 3+ cameras available for the musicians to attach to their instruments (such as the headstock of a guitar) as they were jamming and the video from each camera was streamed to giant screens outside the booth. Seeing the GoPro cameras being used for musical performances gets me thinking about how these cameras could be used for teaching online and video chats. This is going to be a fun ride!

 

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A couple of electronic dance music (EDM) production tricks that can come in handy for all types of beat driven, electronic music styles: hip-hop, pop, rocktronica, deep house, electro, glitch hop, dubstep, trance, hard dance, you name it.

Big Room Sidechain Compression

Complextro Audio Edits

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I’ve got to say, the new features in Reason 7 are killer!  I’m having a whole lot of fun working with everything from the new Spectrum EQ Window, to the buses and parallel channels on the Main Mixer.  And of course all the rocking Rack Extension devices, especially the Korg Polysix and Propellerhead PX7 instruments, and the Pef Buffre and FXPansion Etch Red Filter effects, and iZotope Ozone for mastering.  Way too much fun and not enough time in a day to play with all these new shiny toys!

And did I mention that you can turn audio loops into REX loops directly in Reason now?  No more need for the ReCycle program.  This is so cool!

About the new bus paths in Reason’s Main Mixer.

And it’s so easy to create parallel channels now.

My Berklee Online Courses:

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Remix Song Structure

Jul 20 2013

Do remixes have a defined song structure?  Yes they do, and for good reason. The object of a dance music remix is to get the song that’s been remixed played in the clubs. To do this, having a DJ friendly song structure that makes it easy for a DJ to play the remix in their set is mission critical. Also, having a song structure that breathes energy into the dance floor through dramatic rises, breaks, and drops will make your remix popular with dance music patrons and DJs alike. To this end, a well defined remix song structure is of paramount importance. Here’s my take on understanding and analyzing good remix song structure.

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Remixing Renaissance

May 09 2013

tr.v. re·mixed, re·mix·ing, re·mix·es: To recombine audio tracks from a recording to produce a new or modified audio recording.

To this definition I would add, and so much more!

Remixing has been around for quite awhile, having got its start before even the disco years and the hip-hop pioneers (such as Grandmaster Flash and Jam Master Jay). Seminal remixing truly began in the late 1960s, with the sound of Jamaican dub (an offshoot of ska and dancehall raggae). Jamaican DJs (such as Rudolph “Ruddy” Redwood) discovered that people enjoyed dancing to instrumental versions of ska hits. To spice up and personalize these instrumentals, artists like King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry began adding their own parts (such as horn stabs and percussive fills) using a 4-track cassette recorder and echo effects. These permutations of the original instrumental where called “dubs’ (for “doubles”) and their low-fidelity, bass heavy, effected tracks (partly a byproduct of repeatedly bouncing tracks down on 4-track tape) became an integral part of the dub sound.  This sound and style of the original dub pioneers has transcended time and geography to become part of today’s remixes.

Fortunately, we no longer need to struggle with 4-track cassette machines and splicing analog tape.  Now we have amazing music production software tools (such as Live, Reason, and Pro Tools) in which we can remix, quite literally, anything.  You could turn a country song into a dubstep tune, or a jazz ballad into an electro house banger.  There’s really no limit to the possibilities.

As a result of these amazing tools, and so many wonderfully talented and creative people that have pushed forward the art of remixing, remix production has become a critical skill for many working producers and hip-hop and EDM (electronic dance music) artists. Business savvy music industry entrepreneurs recognize that remixing songs is a great way to generate income, publicity, attract new fans, and keep their catalog relevant. Remixing is also a whole lot of fun and gives you the opportunity to join a thriving online community of remixers who share their music on the Web and enter remix competitions (on sites such as indabamusic.com and play.beatport.com) with substantial prizes (from cash, to gear, and label deals)

With this current swirl of activity around remixing, it feels to me like a remixing renaissance.  Not that remixing ever disappeared, it’s just enjoying a surge of popularity thanks to all the cool software tools and community support.  Remixing is a wonderful form of self-expression for both novices and pros alike, and Web sites like play.beatport.com make it super easy to jump right into the mix (or, remix) with both feet and start exchanging feedback and ideas with fellow music producers from all over the globe.  It’s on this crest of remixing exuberance that I am pleased to announce a series of remixing tutorials for beginners, in partnership with Berkleemusic and Beatport.  Check out the videos on play.beatport.com, and feel free to let me know on my YouTube channel (Erik Hawk’s Music Education Channel at youtube.com/muzicali) if you have any suggestions for a remixing topic.

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I’ve worked in a lot of DAW programs: Digital Performer, Cubase, Pro Tools, Logic, Live, and Reason.  I keep coming back to Reason for its amazing sonic palette (which has grown immensely with the release of Rack Extensions) and its inspiring interface for developing custom sounds.  I’m a big believer in taking the time to design sounds that fit each production, and then recycling these sounds for future productions.  Over time, I believe this helps you to develop a voice as a producer.  Your productions will be recognizable not only from your arrangements and writing, but also from your personal bank of synth and sampler patches.

Reason makes developing such sounds as easy as plug and play, like simple object oriented programming.  You don’t need to be a technically minded, sound designer whiz to cook up great sounding patches using just a combinator and some simple layering techniques.  This is how I make a lot of my sounds that you can hear in my productions.  In this video, Easy Sound Design with Reason (or, Building a Cool Electro Bass), I demonstrate how you can easily and quickly build your own custom sounds without needing to understand anything to technical.

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AES Report 2012

Nov 07 2012

The Audio Engineering Society (AES) held its annual conference in the beautiful city of San Francisco a couple of weekends ago.  It was the 133rd conference!  That’s a lot of shows.  I had the opportunity to visit the show room floor where manufacturers where hocking their wares.  It’s always a fun atmosphere in which to see, touch, and learn about the newest and coolest music production gear.

As a rule, when I hit the show room floor I’m keeping my eyes open for specific products, as well as anything groundbreaking that might make my job easier and inspire my music production work.  This year I was looking out for studio monitor control devices, mid-sized studio monitors with great bass response, MIDI controllers with finger pads, and innovative work surfaces.

The monitor controller that caught my eye was the Oculus by Shadow Hills.  Its fat, ergonomic level knob felt great, and its toggle switches for selecting input and monitor sources were a pleasant change from the usual push buttons.  Most impressive of all, it was wireless!  The company’s demo guy handed me the Oculus controller, sat me in front of an array of Barefoot Sound monitors, and asked me what I wanted to hear.  Of course I asked, “Got some dance music with good bass?”  He happily obliged my musical preference and the next thing you know I’m banging an EDM track while fluidly switching between three sets of speakers.  Selecting speakers with the Oculus was a real pleasure, and the Barefoot Monitors sounded amazing.  I was especially impressed by their smooth, consistent mid and high frequency response across three different sized speakers: MicroMain35, MicroMain27, and MiniMain12.  The large MiniMain12 and mid-sized MicroMain27 speakers both had excellent, tight bass response.  I was impressed.

Oculus by Shadow Hills

Barefoot Monitors

While fantasizing that I could somehow fit the MiniMain12 speakers into my home studio, much less afford them ($19,950 a pair, ouch!) I heard two people behind me say, “We’ve got these speakers in a room at Berklee.”  I turn around to see Mark Wessel and Leanne Ungar, both Berklee College of Music Associate Professors in the Music Production and Engineering department.  Pretty cool!  It’s always a lot of fun to meet people at these shows, especially fellow Berklee folk.

Akai also had a booth at which the new Akai MPC Renaissance and its little brother, the Akai MPC Studio were on display.  Of course I had to try out some finger drumming on the pads to see if they felt at all similar to the classic MPC pads.  I was not disappointed.  The MPC Renaissance felt especially good, with a solid feel, responsive pads that are velocity and after touch sensitive, and a bank of sixteen very grab-and-turn friendly rotary knobs.  The Renaissance is a surefire hit for folks wanting that classic MPC feel in a fully integrated MIDI controller and beat making platform.  The MPC Studio’s pads felt identical to the Renaissance, but its dials felt decidedly inferior to the Renaissance’s rotary knobs.  I found myself wondering why you would design a controller with dials that feel like mini plastic plates rather than knobs you can grab between your thumb and forefinger?  Maybe they’re for spinning rather than turning and I’m missing the point?  In any case, some knobs on the Studio would be nice.

Akai MPC Renaissance

 

Raven Multitouch Audio Production Console by Slate Pro Audio

One booth that always had a crowd was Slate Pro Audio, where they were demonstrating the Raven Multitouch Audio Production Console.  It appears to be a truly innovative work surface, a giant touch screen from which to control your DAW program.  I’m always wanting a bigger screen and this definitely fits the bill!  But wait, didn’t I just say I like knobs to turn?  This is more like a really giant iPad.  In any case, it’s a truly innovative concept and it will be interesting to see how the platform develops.  Really amazing technology.

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It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best gear money can buy if your studio isn’t properly set up.  I can’t tell you how many home studios I’ve seen with improperly positioned monitors, uncomfortable workstations, and a poorly tuned room.  What you end up with is a sound that might be fine in your home studio but doesn’t translate at all to the outside world.  And you’re left scratching your head, wondering why you just bought the best gear you could afford but it’s not sounding right?  Well, you’ve got to set it up correctly in order to truly hear what you’re doing.  This doesn’t mean you have to build your own room from scratch, or spend a ton on acoustic material, you just need to understand basic acoustic principles and apply some common sense.

When I did consulting I used to go into home studios and help clients set up their gear for the best results.  When I saw Grammy award winning audio engineer Francis Buckley’s Studio Rescue series (sponsored by Rode Microphones) on YouTube, I said to myself, “Wow, that’s exactly what I would have recommended. I’ve got to tell my students about these YouTube videos.”  They’re really excellent.  Buckley knows what he’s talking about and offers practical advice on working with the space you have, and how to tune it using furniture placement and a few strategically placed Vicoustic foam panels.  Watch this video series if you’re not sure about how to position all the gear in your home studio.  I guarantee you’ll learn a ton.

There are twelve episodes posted so far.  Here are a few direct links:

Studio Rescue – Episode 1

http://youtu.be/02qpJt0hsL0

Studio Rescue – Episode 9

http://youtu.be/pf_7sC9wV8Q

Studio Rescue – Episode 12

http://youtu.be/K0iuj56c_eg

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There once was a DAW program called Record, and then there wasn’t.  In its place rose Reason 6, with all of Record’s features (audio tracks, a new Main Mixer, and Line 6 Guitar and Bass amps) but without its marketing cloud of confusion.  Or, so it would seem, I’m not really sure since I’m not privy to such top secret information.  But, as an end user, the sudden drop of Record like it was a scalding hot potato and the Release of Reason 6, with a name your own price upgrade path, made me feel awfully uncomfortable about what might be going on inside Propellerhead.  Fortunately, the heads at Propellerhead appear to have a plan, a path back from the precipice that was Record.

With the release of Reason 6.5 (due sometime in the second quarter of this year) featuring a newly unveiled third party effect development system called Rack Extensions, and a spanking new iOS App called Figure, I’m excited to report that Propellerhead is definitely back in action and firing on all cylinders.  I think that Rack Extensions is a brilliant move both from a business and creative standpoint, and the complaint that Reason doesn’t support third party plug-ins will be a thing of the past.  Plus, Figure looks like an absolute blast and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

While I’m talking about Reason, I should mention that we’ve been having a ball with Reason 6 in my Producing Music With Reason course at Berkleemusic.  The projects students have been cooking up with all its new features and the audio tracks are amazing.  It’s really exciting to be hearing students put all these creative tools in Reason 6 to good use.  I can’t wait to hear what our community does with Rack Extensions in the next version of Reason.  But now, enough of me talking, check out this video detailing the new music-making wonder tools from Propellerhead.

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Headed to SXSW

Mar 06 2012

I just want to let everybody know that I’ll be in Austin for the SXSW Conference next week.  I will be presenting a workshop on producing music in Reason in the Artist Central area on Thursday, March 15th, from 4 to 5 PM.  If you’re around, definitely drop in and say “Hi!”  (Or is it “Howdy!” in Texas?)

If you would like to hear a couple of the EDM tracks I’ve been producing in Reason lately, check out my new singles,  “Energy” and “Hiccup”.  “Energy” is out now (available everywhere, including iTunes, and soon Beatport), and “Hiccup” will be released next month on my Synchronized Music label.

“Energy” on Juno Download

“Hiccup” on Soundcloud

 
Hiccup (Original Mix) by Erik Hawk Music

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