One of my favorite things about Reason is that you never need to worry about updating your DAW’s third party plug-ins.  This is because all the virtual instruments and effects you need are built right into Reason.  In other words, you can open a song from two years ago and it’s going to open perfectly, every time, without any missing plug-ins.  Too cool!

However, an obvious complaint about this system was that there weren’t enough virtual instruments and effects to choose from.  End users couldn’t pick up a Korg virtual synth or a McDSP compressor plug-in and add these software devices to their music production toolkit.  Fortunately, this has all changed with the brilliant implementation of Rack Extensions (REs).  Basically, a plug-in system for Reason, but without giving up the original idea that you should never find yourself in the frustrating position of trying to open an old song file only to find missing and out of date plug-ins where there used to be sound.  Trust me, not a fun situation.

Today, in the Propellerhead REs store there’s a cornucopia of fantastic devices available for your Reason Rack. This includes synths by Korg, Rob Papen, and Synapse, and effects by McDSP, Softube, and u-he, just to mention a few.  Indeed, there are so many awesome REs now it’s getting hard to choose.  In this video I share with you a few of my favorites, broken into the categories of: synths, effects, and utilities.  And don’t forget, if you’re a Berklee Online student you get 30% off a select number of REs until the end of this month.

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:

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.

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.

Lucky Date Interview

Jan 15 2012

I recently had the opportunity to chat with up-and-coming electronic music producer and DJ, Lucky Date (Jordan Atkins-Loria). He uses Reason to produce these fantastically phat dance tracks and remixes. Plus he regularly shares his production secrets on his YouTube channel, luckydatevideos. The music that he pumps out of Reason is truly inspirational, so I wanted to ask him about how he gets such a huge sound and what other software besides Reason is part of his production and DJ arsenal. He gave a great interview and had a lot of wonderful insight and advice. Watch out for Lucky Date, I predict he’ll be producing many mega-dance-floor hits in the coming years.

 

After returning from summer vacation in Hawaii I needed a little remixing exercise to get me back into a music production mood. The Kerli’s “Army of Love” remix opportunity on www.indabamusic.com looked like just the ticket. I signed up and downloaded the vocal stems. Technically speaking, they weren’t the best vocal stems I’ve ever heard. They downloaded as WAV files but sounded like they had been converted from MP3 files. And, there was some type of parallel effect or headphone bleed mixed in with the backing vocals. You could hear the original music in the backing vocals stem. But this is what everybody had to work with, so I got busy.

I timed the vocals into my Pro Tools session, made a slight tempo change, a few beats per minute faster, and found one of my tracks that sort of matched Kerli’s performance. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on this so using one of my already produced tracks made the most sense. With a key and tempo change, a few new chords, and a couple of structural modifications to the drums I was able to get a tight sounding mashup.

Then, I spent a lot of time making the vocal stems pop in the mix. The magic bullet for this job was iZotop’s Nectar, the “complete vocal suite” plug-in, and the always fun Stutter Edit plug-in (which I’ve blogged about previously, Stutter Edit by BT). I also did a lot of automation on the vocals to remove breaths, background noise, and bleed from the original tracks.

Whew, a lot of work, but I think it came out sounding pretty cool. It was definitely a good warm up before getting back into my busy composing and production schedule. Plus, I got to play with Nectar and Stutter Edit. All the synth and drum sounds are being produced by Reason 5, rewired into Pro Tools 9. Here’s the video tour of my remix session.

I also threw together a cool video montage to go with the remix. You can find it on my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/erikhawkmusic. (Like me on Facebook please.) And, if you feel inspired to do so, you can listen to and vote for my remix on the indaba music site.  Thanks!

Stutter Edit by BT

Jan 23 2011

The new Stutter Edit plug-in, conceived and developed over the past fifteen years by pioneering electronic music artist and composer, BT, is pretty amazing. Upon installing this plug-in on my system I feel like I’ve got BT in the studio with me helping to produce stutter edits and breaks in my song. Really, it’s like I hired him as a technical consultant just for his stutter edit production techniques. It used to take me hours, even days to cook up these sound effects, through intricate slicing and dicing of waveforms and automating stacks of effects. Now, I can simply play a key on my keyboard and get the same, if not better, results! I can’t restrain myself from exclaiming, “It’s BT in a plug-in!”

How It W-w-w-works

Here’s how it works, simply insert Stutter Edit on the audio track that you want to stutter. Then, set up a MIDI track to send MIDI note and controller data to the Stutter Edit plug-in. Now, play your song and whenever you want to hear a stutter effect press a note on your keyboard to trigger one of the preset stutter effects. It’s that simple, and the presets sound great! Plus, to add more dynamics and enhance your ability to really play the effects, Pitch Bend is assigned to the plug-in’s global, resonant filter effect, and the Mod Wheel let’s you control different real-time dimensions of a preset. For example, moving the Mod Wheel could alter the speed of a preset’s stutters. You can record your MIDI performance and automate Stutter Edit directly from the MIDI track.

Sutter Edit comes with a ton of ready-made stutter effects spread out across the entire keyboard, right when you open it, so you can get to stuttering immediately. It also includes banks of stutter effect presets from BT himself, and a other electronic music luminaries, such as Richard Devine. If you’re not into the presets, you can certainly program your own stutter effects, from a simple eighth note stutter to crazy lo-fi distortion with delays and noise sweeps. Its many controls—Quantize, Delay, Gate, Filters, Buffer Position, Bit Reduction, Pan, Lo-Fi, Stutter Matrix, and Arpeggiator—combined with its Generator noise synthesis section gives you the ability to cook up just about any cutting edge stutter effect that you can dream of. Way too much fun!

Imagine the Possibilities

Sutter Edit is incredibly useful in the studio, but what I’m equally impressed by is its live performance potential. For example, stutter effecting loops in Ableton Live, in real-time right from your MIDI keyboard. Obviously, BT is deep into such things. He didn’t just dream up this plug-in in the studio, he wanted to take his stutter effects to the stage for live performances. And, clearly, he’s done exactly this, giving Stutter Edit plenty of beta testing during his Laptop Symphony shows. So, even though this is just version 1.0, it’s reassuring to know that it’s been out on the road and thoroughly tested by a pro, in high-profile, real life gigs. We know it works for live shows, not just in how it’s designed, but that it’s reasonably stable as well. How many software companies can say this about their newest software?

I’m already seeing and hearing grumblings on discussion threads saying, “I’ll never use Stutter Edit. I take pride in programming my own stutter effects one edit at a time.” Well, fine, I’ll have an entire track of stutter effects produced in the time it took you to do just one. And, besides, given a little time and patience—I know stutter edit producers have plenty of this—you can program your own unique stutter effects in this plug-in, assign them to keys on your keyboard, and save them in your own bank of presets. You don’t have to sound like the factory presets, you can develop your own unique stutter effect sound. Then, you can perform your stutter edits live, whether in the studio or on stage. This most certainly isn’t something you can do with that one stutter edit you just spent all day programming in your DAW. OK, enough said.

In the coming years, I predict that Stutter Edit will be massively overused, not unlike the AutoTune vocal sound (you know, Cher and T-Pain). Hopefully, the effect will be used tastefully, artfully, and without going completely overboard with it. Though, admittedly, I’ve probably already failed in this department—it’s just too much fun to play with. In fact, after about six instances of Stutter Edit in my Pro Tools session I managed to crash hard, several times, eventually completely freezing my Mac. Fortunately, after a quick reboot I was back in business and everything was running smoothly again. I also had problems controlling clipping at the plug-in’s output, because some of the effects pumped out serious amplitude spikes. A soft clip limiter section in the next build of Stutter Edit would be greatly appreciated.

Stutter Edit is distributed and supported by Izotope. There’s a lot of wonderful information about Stutter Edit on their Web site,
http://www.izotope.com/products/audio/stutteredit/index.asp
But, the best way to really appreciate Stutter Edit is download the trial version and take it for a test drive yourself. Also, check out this video tour of how I used Stutter Edit in a remix of my song “Delicious People”, for which the remix stems are available on my CD, Erik Hawk & The 12-Bit Justice League.
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/erikhawk

Winter NAMM 2010

Jan 22 2010

Here’s just a quick report on this past weekend’s NAMM show in Anaheim, California. Watch this, it’s the next best thing to going to the show. Well, actually, probably better than going to the show because you don’t have to deal with the crowds. Hopefully, you’ll find this video both informative and entertaining. Some of the highlights include the Korg Kaossilator, Akai MPC20, Max for Live, and Teenage Engineering’s OP-1.

Also, here’s a more extensive look at what I think is one of the coolest new products, the Ableton and Serato Bridge. The ability to mix your Live multitrack sessions straight into your Scratch DJ set is impressive. The ability to save your DJ set as an Abelton Live multitrack session is downright amazing! I’ve been dreaming of a product like this for years, ever since trying to multitrack DJ sets in order to tweak and overdub new parts after the fact. This really takes DJ “mix tape” productions to a whole other level. I can literally see a cottage industry of entrepreneurial music producers offering DJ “mix tape” production as part of their services. And, I’m pretty sure it could be a very lucrative side business.

If you haven’t already heard, Propellerhead has released a brand new recording application called, Record. Though Propellerhead doesn’t advertise it as a DAW software program, this is indeed what it is. There’s been a lot of buzz about Record, so chances are you already know something about it. But, even though Propellerhead’s promotional video is informative, and very entertaining, there’s nothing like actually using the program to hear how it sounds and feel how it handles. Over the past couple of months this is exactly what I’ve been doing, putting Record through it’s paces. Now, after spending some quality time with this new DAW, I feel comfortable commenting on Record and answering the questions I keep hearing from students, “Should I buy Record? Is it a good DAW and can it take the place of other DAW programs like Pro Tools and Logic?”

If you’re a registered user of Reason (any version, from 1.0 to 4.0), it’s hard to pass up the deal that Propellerhead is offering. For only $149 USD you can pick up a copy of Record. Plus, if you haven’t yet upgraded your last version of Reason, you’ll get the upgrade to Reason 4.0 in the package. So, if you’re a registered user of Reason, picking up a copy of Record is a no brainer.

Considering that this is only version 1.0 of Record, it’s a fantasy to think that it could replace a time tested DAW program like Pro Tools or Logic. But, Record does indeed sound impressive, and if you’re already comfortable using Reason, transitioning to working in Record is a piece of cake. Indeed, as I was composing and mixing in Record I couldn’t help but feel like I was using Reason on steroids, with a side of audio tracks. It’s really much more than this, but the user interface and general operations very closely mirror Reason’s interface and operations. For example, there’s a rack of virtual hardware devices, complete with a backside view and a jumble of cables, just like in Reason. And, the sequencer window in Record looks pretty much identical to the sequencer window in Reason. It’s the improvements that make me feel like Reason has been pumping up on steroids, such as the ability to have racks side by side, the virtual SSL mixer, and the Line 6 guitar and bass POD effect devices.

There’s a ton of great features in Record, far more than I can cover in a single blog. For example, its real-time audio time stretching algorithm that allows the audio tracks in your song to follow tempo changes. And, this is after you’ve recorded your audio to track. This feature is similar to Warp in Live and Elastic Audio in Pro Tools, and sounds just as good. It’s also easy to find fault with Record. For example, it doesn’t support third party plug-ins and there isn’t a bussing function on the mixer. But, these shortcomings are more than made up for in the fact that Record supports rewire. That’s right, it will operate as a rewire slave. This means that you could compose entirely in Record and then rewire your tracks into a Pro Tools HD system for a killer TDM mix down! Don’t try this with another DAW program. I’ve always said that the rewire slave mode is one of the coolest features about Reason, and I’m happy to see it lives on in Record.

To summarize, Record is an awesome program. And, it didn’t crash once on me while using it these past couple of months. If you use Reason and want to get into recording audio, Record is an excellent choice for your first DAW program. But, don’t expect it to replace a tried and true DAW program like Logic or Pro Tools. Though, I wouldn’t be surprised if someday it has features that rival today’s most popular DAW programs.

Keep up the great work Propellerhead!

When enabled, the Elastic Time plug-in analyzes two dimensions of your audio in order to calculate the recorded performance’s tempo. It looks at the audio region’s duration in bars and beats, and it looks for transients that represent a regular periodic rhythm in the recording. In theory, if the rhythmic content of your recording is clear, with distinct transients, Elastic Time can figure out a performance’s tempo regardless of whether the audio region is trimmed to a perfect loop or not. This is really neat when it works, but it doesn’t perform miracles (nor should you expect it to, that’s not producing your own music).

Instead of relying blindly on Elastic Time to perform your beat matching (as in, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best), there are several simple steps that you can take ahead of time to prepare the audio and ensure perfect results every time. Performing this pre-processing, even though it’s a tedious task, helps to preserve the audio quality and the groove of the original performance after your tempo change.

The easiest way to demonstrate my pre-processing approach is to take you step by step through the process. This is the best way to understand not only the steps in the process but the logic behind my approach. (Try it a different way and you’ll find out just how quickly you can end up with a train wreck.) The DRM (Digital Rights Management) free stems being offered for your remixing pleasure by Radiohead, of their song “Nude”, on iTunes is perfect for this example. The stems are $0.99 each and you only really need two of the five available, the “Drum Stem” and the “Voice Stem”. But, it’s nice to have all of the stems in your session, even if you don’t use the “Bass Stem” and “Guitar Stem” they’re handy for finding the key of the original, and the “String FX Etc. Stem” contains several sounds that are perfect for a remix.
iTunes Nude

Remixing Radiohead

1. Create a new Pro Tools session and import all of the “Nude” stems. When prompted, select the import Destination as New Track with a Location of Session Start.
step 1

2. Arrange the tracks in the Edit window with the Drum Stem on top and the Voice Stem just below.
step 2

3. Mute all of the tracks except the Drum Stem. Use Tab to Transient to locate the very first downbeat in front of the vocals (approximately 1946229 samples in from the session’s start) and separate the regions.
step 3

4. Select the Edit Group, double click on the latter Drum Stem region and separate all of the regions.
step 4

5. Select the Shuffle Edit Mode and delete the first set of regions so that the downbeat of the second set of regions scoots to the beginning of the session.
step 5

6. Disable the Edit Group and using Tab to Transient find the downbeat every two bars in the Drum Stem and separate the regions. (The only region that I left as 4 bars is the drum break, having 2 bars before the break itself.) In some instances, you can make the separations every 4 bars, but with “Nude” there’s a lot of human tempo variation and every 2 bars will produce the most precise overall beat match.
step 6

7. Select the Edit Group and double click on each 2 bar Drum Stem section and separate the sections.
step 7

8. Select each 2 bar section and apply Identify Beat to generate a tempo map for each section. This will beat match and lock each 2 bar section to your session’s tempo grid. (You could use Beat Detective to generate a tempo map, but my method preserves the original performance’s groove every two bars, while simultaneously guaranteeing that the original’s downbeat is locked exactly to the grid every two bars. This way, your beat match never drifts.) At this stage, it’s also helpful to create a Click track in order to audition your tempo lock.
step 8

9. Change the Timebase selector for all of the tracks to Ticks. This will lock the regions to their relative bar and beat positions so that they stay in beat when you make your tempo change. Then, enable the Elastic Time plug-in for each track. Set the Drum Stem to Rhythmic, the Voice Stem to Monophonic, the String FX Etc. Stem to Polyphonic, the Bass Stem to Monophonic, and the Guitar Stem to Polyphonic. Give Pro Tools time to analyze the audio. (For now, leave the Elastic Time plug-in set to Real-Time Processing.)
step 9

10. In the Transport bar, disable the Conductor and enter a new tempo in the Current Tempo field, or experiment with the Manual Tempo Slider. Since the original tempo is about 42 BPM, it’s nice to bring the tempo up to about 62 BPM. At this tempo you can then record drums in double-time (124 BPM) and be at a dance tempo! (Once you decide on your remix target tempo, if your computer is running short on processing power, your can set the Elastic Time plug-in to Rendered Processing.)
step 10

Here’s what the final results sound like, using all of the stems at 62 BPM, some effect processing, and backed by Digidesign’s Strike virtual drum instrument playing in double-time at 124 BPM:
Nude – The Strike Remix (by Erik Hawk)