Cakewalk Momentum

Momentum is the last product I designed and worked on at Cakewalk. We designed this from the ground up to be a fluid platform to capture ideas and inspiration on the go. All you need is a smartphone, tablet or PC and you can capture up to four tracks of audio wherever you might be. Recorded audio is automatically synced to the momentum cloud allowing you to seamlessly sync all your devices. You can record something on your phone, pick up the same idea on an iPad or laptop, or even transfer all the tracks into the DAW of your choice via the momentum plugin. The transfer process is bi-directional so you can quickly transfer stems or backing tracks from a DAW or any other audio program to momentum via simple drag and drop at any time.

Momentum is a fantastic practice tool. Here is a video showing how I use it, playing Coltrane’s 26-2. I recorded this on an iPad with Momentum. The backing tracks were transferred from SONAR via simple drag and drop.

SONAR X2 R-Mix: Remix / Remaster Case Study

I recorded my first album with a jazz quartet in 1991. OMG, 21 years ago last century – has it been that long? The original recording was released on cassette tape (!) and is now long out of print. Over the years I got requests for a reissue of this recording from friends and people curious about the music on that project. I had a DAT tape of the final mixes which I had fortunately transferred to WAV files before the tape died (those things have a limited life as I found out the hard way). Unfortunately whenever I’d listen to the mixes, they sounded dated and suffered from some fundamental issues that made them unpleasant to listen to:

  • Hard panning of the instruments. (makes mixes uncomfortable to listen to especially on headphones)
  • Relative levels of instruments were unbalanced
  • Center of mix lacked definition
  • Lack of dimension and air
  • Missing mastering attention

On a couple of occasions I tried using various mastering tools to rectify some of these problems. However the deal breaker was always the faulty imaging – anything I did would ultimately end up negatively affecting the rest of the mix without adequately addressing the fundamental problems. While working on SONAR X2 earlier this year, I saw R-Mix’s abilities to isolate a voice in a stereo field and remembered this project – would R-Mix be the tool that to use to fix that mix?  I’ve always been a fan of Roland’s V-series technology, so the idea of virtual remixing piqued my interest. Continue reading “SONAR X2 R-Mix: Remix / Remaster Case Study”

AMD Bulldozer Review, AVX Performance using SONAR benchmark

Its pretty cool that Cakewalks AVX optimization work was featured in this review of AMD’s bulldozer from Tom’s Hardware. For those unfamiliar with Tom’s Hardware, the site is the holy grail of hardware reviews and benchmarks. Their depth of knowledge and coverage of the state of the art in computer hardware is unparalleled.

A few months ago I was contacted by Chris Angelini, the Editor in chief at Tom’s Hardware. He had come across a white paper that I co authored with Intel, featuring the AVX optimization’s in SONAR X1, and was very interested in knowing more about our experiences with AVX in relation to Bulldozer vs Intel’s SandyBrige.
Continue reading “AMD Bulldozer Review, AVX Performance using SONAR benchmark”

Utilizing Intel® AVX with Cakewalk SONAR X1

This is a whitepaper (Utilizing Intel® AVX with Cakewalk SONAR X1) which I co-authored with Intel engineer Rajshree Chabukswar, highlighting the advantages of optimizing for the Intel AVX chipset, with a focus on digital audio processing in a modern DAW like SONAR X1.

We’re excited with our synergetic relationship with Intel, which allows us to take  advantage of their bleeding edge technology in ways that directly beneft our users, allowing them to squeeze the most power out of their systems. While the paper is technical and requires an understanding of some low level programming, it also offers insight into the nuts and bolts of whats involved in optimizations for Intel CPU architectures in a modern DAW.

The paper features a real world case study of SONAR X1 code that was optimized in to take advantage of the benefits of the 256 bit AVX instruction set. If you have an Intel CPU from the Sandy Bridge processor family, it supports AVX and SONAR X1 will take advantage of it.
(While AVX is an Intel instruction set, it has also been adopted by AMD will be available in their upcoming Bulldozer processors. )

Code which is optimized for AVX  vectorization capabilities can work with 256-bit vectors, allowing working on 8 32-bit floating point values per iteration. In other words, this is twice the data throughput of earlier SSE instruction set! While this doesn’t necessarily translate to twice as fast, it is a huge step up in performance in many cases as the white paper illustrates.

The first step in any optimization task is what is referred to as “hotspot analysis”. In this phase you identify the bottlenecks in the code or that would benefit most from AVX optimization. We did analysis running through stress test projects and workflows that showed some classic hotspots. Once these were identified, the code was AVX optimized using the new AVX intrinsics available in Visual Studio 2010.

Click below to read the paper or download the PDF from Intel’s site:
Utilizing Intel® AVX with Cakewalk SONAR X1

[ Additional credits to Keith Albright and Bob Currie from Cakewalk, for hotspot analysis, development, and troubleshooting ]

Why a program crash can be good for you

OK that sounds like an oxymoron. A crash, good? Thats crazy talk!
Well maybe not quite that crazy – read on to find out why…

Why would anyone actually want their app to crash you may ask? To answer that question lets cover some background about why applications crash on Windows (or any OS).

An application crashes when it performs an unexpected operation or encounters what is called an “exception condition”. Exceptions include unwanted operations like writing to invalid memory locations, divide by zero errors, page faults, etc. Programs can end up with exceptions like this for a variety of reasons:

  •  bugs in the progam code 
  •  bugs in loaded DLL’s which share the same memory and address space as the host application. You frequently encounter dll’s via plug-in’s in applications (eg. loading a VST in an audio application or a imaging plug-in in Photoshop)
  • bugs in the operating system

Normally when an error like this occurs, Windows will display the familiar error message “This Program Has Performed an Illegal Operation and Will Be Shut Down” and the program will close. Some applications like SONAR handle such errors more gracefully and will even try and intercept these exception and attempt to allow the user to save their work before exiting the program. Additionally on Windows you can choose to save what is called a Minidump containing “post mortem” debugging info that is very useful to developers to find out why the program crashed.
Continue reading “Why a program crash can be good for you”

Why It’s Important to Practice Slowly

Great advice from master musician Kenny Werner.

“Moving slow enough for the hands to feel like they are aware of where to go next.
This sets up a platform for one to increase the speed the next time around.
Because one is moving slow enough to to program the hands to know… and to remember which finger goes where without one having to remind them.
It is only by creating this auto-muscle memory that one can play clearly and economically even as the tempo increases.”

DownBeat puts ‘One Of Us’ in the HotBox!

The album is featured in the May issue of DownBeat magazine in the section called ‘The HotBox’, a somewhat infamous column where four albums are selected each month for review by four DownBeat reviewers. It’s a pretty tough crowd and reviews can be scorching at times, so when Ramona got a call from the magazine editor recently asking her to send copies of the CD for review in Hot Box, there were some mixed feelings!

The May issue is available on newstands now. We were happy to learn that the album received a 3 1/2 star review (out of 5). By HotBox standards, that’s actually an excellent review! We grew up with DownBeat magazine and have learned so much from it, so it’s a milestone to be featured there.

Here is the review if you don’t subscribe to DownBeat:


New music uploads

I’ve uploaded some very nice live recordings of Ramona’s trio from some older gigs at Les Zygomates in Boston. They were all recorded on a Zoom H4 field recorder and I mastered them using Izotope Alloy and Ozone. Great band and I think the recordings sound pretty nice. Click here to download them for free. It features the trio primarily playing her arrangements of some great jazz standards.

New live video’s up on YouTube

Yep we broke down finally and created a YouTube account 🙂

There are two video’s now posted of the Ramona Borthwick Quintet from our recent CD release concert. It’s an amateur recording but the results were not too bad. Audio was recorded on a Zoom H4 field recorder from the audience perspective. Video footage was provided by two cameras, one static and one mobile. I had taken my Canon HF10 to the gig but found that the LCD had broken earlier, so I was unable to use it at the gig! Thanks to Dan Abreu for doing the video with his cameras and Dave Malaguti for the audio recording.

I used Corel Video Studio Pro X2 to author the video. Not the most intuitive software for video editing, esp if you are doing audio, but I managed to get what I wanted with some creative workarounds. Can someone from Corel please take a short refresher course on the basic things people want to do when editing a music video – ahem, like providing some tools to align clips so that they sound in sync 🙂

Anyway here are two video’s. Enjoy!

SONAR 8.5 / Intel Core I7 / Windows 7 X64 – a heavenly trilogy for DAW users

I tend to upgrade hardware infrequently but when I do I typically go for the best of breed so that I can get the maximum life out of my system. Having recently finished a project and suffered the pain of an underpowered system it was finally time for a big upgrade…

My new DAW for my studio which runs SONAR 8.5 was built using an Intel Core I7 950 with Windows 7 Professional X64. The system was build completely from off the shelf components all available at Newegg and was relatively inexpensive. (It helped that I bought most of the components the day after thanksgiving <g>)

For a CPU, I chose an Intel Core i7-950 Bloomfield, 3.06GHz processor. The Core I7 is truly a breakthrough in processing power and a great choice for a DAW because of its blistering speed. I passed on the Extreme Edition since I didn’t think it was a good value for the price differential. At Cakewalk, we worked closely with Intel on evaluation versions of the Core I7, optimizing and streamlining SONAR to  work better with this chip, so this made it an obvious choice for me. During testing this processor broke all our benchmarks 🙂 I will post some results once I run our internal benchmark on my rig.

For the operating system Windows 7 X64 was a no brainer choice. During the SONAR 8.5 cycle we tested SONAR with beta and RC versions of Windows 7 and addressed all known compatibility issues.  We also found that the kernel enhancements in Win7 to be complimentary to a lot of the optimizations we did in SONAR itself. I chose the Professional SKU because I wanted some of the extra’s like the XP compatibility mode and remote desktop host. More Windows 7 resources and some articles I contributed to can be found here and in this Create Digital Music article.
Installing the 64 bit version was also an easy choice since I wanted 6GB of RAM. There are also other benefits to a 64 bit OS even if you are primarily running 32 bit applications as outlined in this blog post.

Anyway here are the parts from my original newegg order:

MB MSI X58M 1366 RT
VGA EVGA 01G-P3-N945-LR 9400GT 1G R
CPU INTEL|CORE I7 950 3.06G 45N R
MEM 2Gx3|CRUC BL3KIT25664TB1337 R
HD 1.5T|WD 32M SATA2 WD15EADS % 
I’m running this with two dual 22″ monitors – Acer’s that I had from my last setup. 

Disk: The Western Digital hard disks is not especially a great choice for disk streaming performance, but I couldn’t resist the price of less than 90 bucks for 1.5 terabyte! So far the disk throughput has been fine for my needs though it has a Win7 performance rank of 4.5.

OS: Windows 7 Professional X64

Audio interface: MOTU 828 MK2
I was a bit apprehensive after reading some install problems from users on the SONAR forums. However I loaded the latest MOTU 828 64-bit drivers without too much trouble at all. I found that I had to explicitly run the setup program as administrator or it wouldn’t install properly :-/ Once installed, the driver itself works great and I can dial down the buffer size all the way down to the minimum size and it plays back flawlessly. And my motherboard has a Via chipset for Firewire too which MOTU doesn’t recommend – go figure!

OS Installation:
The OS install went without a single hitch and picked up all the devices – but I went and installed native drivers for all the devices later since some were more recent than Windows update. 

WIFI Warning:
Do NOT buy the WMP600N WIFI adapter until Linksys fix their X64 drivers. They suck big time and. I returned the unit since the drivers performance were unusable with WIFI. This after the product is listed as being Win7 logo compliant! Instead I went with a wired solution which rocks. I’m using an old WRT54G converted into a wireless bridge using the opensource DD-WRT firmware. It takes some tweaking and requires you to be a bit brave with your router but its pretty well supported on that site. I now connected via standard ethernet to the machine which works great and I get 10MBPS internet speeds with it which is all I need. In general be wary of 64 bit WIFI drivers – they are notoriously bad. 

I can categorically say that the SONAR/Core I7/Windows 7 combination is a match made in heaven for DAW users! I easily have way more bandwidth than I would ever need for the next several years on this rig. On my largest projects which would previously max out the CPU or drop out (an older dual CPU Windows 2003 based machine), I am now able to run at 128 sample buffers with a MOTU 828 MK2, at 24bit/96KHz with under 20% CPU utilization in SONAR!

We finally have reached a time when 64-bit computing, low latency performance and low cost components are a reality. It’s a great time for DAW users!

One Of Us: SONAR

Getting into some details about how I used SONAR during the course of this project. If you wish to read the full thread about the project lifecycle start here – One Of Us: Conception

I started out with Cakewalk software way back in 1992 when I bought my first Windows 3.1 box. A screaming 386 with 2 MB of RAM, woo hoo :-). Cakewalk was already well known for its DOS sequencer written by Greg Hendershott, so when I read a review in Keyboard magazine talking about CAL (the scripting language built into Cakewalk Profeessional) I was convinced to buy Cakewalk Professional For Windows 1.0.  At the time I’d only written some rudimentary DOS software for MIDI, so being able to write my own scripts to generate MIDI in a real sequencer was exciting.  My interest in the product led me to become a beta tester for Cakewalk from ’94 through ’96. The bugs I logged wore them down and they finally broke down and hired me in 1997 :-).  Its been a long journey – yet it seems not so long ago when the days of getting 8 tracks of digital audio to stream stably on a PC was a challenge. Its easy to forget just how far we have come from what was once considered standard. Fun times!

I’ve always enjoyed mixing in SONAR. It suits my workflow, and the flexible mixing options allow me to change gears easily at any point in the mixing process, without needing to start over. Also the high resolution 64 bit resolution makes it ideal DAW to use when you want to mix as transparently as possible. Over the years, I have done many smaller projects in SONAR, but never a full blown CD production from start to finish. Producing this album provided me with the opportunity to do just that. Its can be a good thing to eat your own dog food once in a while – you might want to try it sometime, it’s not quite that bad I promise. 🙂 

For the initial phase of the project I started out running SONAR 8.3.1, where I set up the bussing setup and did some initial editing. I soon moved SONAR 8.5 (which was in beta at the time) for the main editing and mixing. I upgraded Dan Abreu’s production rig as well (not without some kicking and screaming), so that we could share the same  environment. I would take my external hard drive back and forth, doing part of the work at his studio and some at mine. This scheme worked very well for us.  Dan had a pretty fast quad core Intel box, and some nice mic’s so we decided to track the vocals and do the initial mixes at his place. My system was an aged dual processor Opteron rig, with a MOTU 828 MK2 for an audio interface. I regret not upgrading the system before I started this project, but it served me well throughout, with no problems other than the lack of horsepower when the projects got bigger. It was actually a great stress test for the software since SONAR performed flawlessly on this rig despite this.

Almost all the work done on this project was “in the box”. With the exception of a couple of virtual instruments (Garritan Steinway, Kontakt and Ozone 4) for some isolated tracks, all the plugins used are from SONAR 8.5. Below are some SONAR features of interest and misc tips and tricks I used on this project:

1. Fast bounce

For those who might not know this – a slower or faster computer makes no difference whatsoever on the quality of the mixes. For that matter, once you are in the mixing and editing phase, the audio interface also has no bearing on the final sound (as long as you are not recording the analog inputs of course). SONAR’s ability to “fast bounce” independently from your audio hardware is really invaluable in an environment like this (and in general too).  In other words, you can take a complex project that won’t even play on your system and render the mix to a wave file. I was typically working with around 24-32 tracks of 24/96 audio on this project. Whenever my system would bog down, I would bounce a submix, and archive/mute the source tracks to reclaim CPU. This would let me keep working with other areas of the project.

2. Global effects bypass

This feature got a lot of use to preview my mixes without effects. Also there were times when my old machine just couldn’t cope with the load of all the effects going while mixing. I would use this all the time to bypass all effects and then selectively turn on just the bins I wanted. This can also be an interesting way to mix since it helps you to focus on certain elements at one time – drums, vox, bass etc.

3. Offset Mode

SONAR has this somewhat hidden gem of a feature that I rely on a lot while mixing. I am always surprised how few users take full advantage of it. I suspect its because its not that visible in the user interface. You basically switch to offset mode by pressing the O key. In offset mode you get access to an additional gainstage for each mix parameter on a track or bus. This gain stage acts as an offset to any parameter that is being automated on the track/bus. Why is this so useful? Lets say you are mixing your project and you have added track/clip envelopes to get the balance just right on one of the drum tracks for example. Now you find that you need an overall gain boost or cut on that track. You could go and painstakingly edit every envelope on that track (potentially screwing up the relative levels you have so carefully set up) or you can tweak the offset value and be done! The offset is applied after all the envelopes so it acts like a master fader per parameter. In offset mode this way I can make very quick relative changes to the track while mixing without affecting the rest of the envelopes.

4. Using clip envelopes as an alternative to dynamics compression

I’m generally not a huge fan of compressors especially in the sort of music I do, unless they are used to add to the sound itself. While they are great for stuff like drums the automatic nature of a compressor takes away a lot of dynamics from the music. Instead often I will use clip and track gain envelopes to address unwanted peaks in the music while mixing. While this approach it can be somewhat labor intensive, I find the results a lot more musical sounding than just slapping a compressor on every track.
Used in tandem with bus waveform preview it can be an effective way to mix while retaining the natural dynamics of the music.

5.  Bus Waveform preview

Another extremely favourite feature of mine. As described above I use it a lot while mixing with clip envelopes. I turn on bus preview on my submix buses while tweaking the clip envelopes at mix time. The waveform preview gives me a good idea of where the mix is getting too hot allowing me to make changes to my envelopes in response to what I see.

6. VX64

This plugin was a surprise to me. I’d originally started processing the vocals with VC64 and some other plugins but wasn’t very happy with the results I was getting. One evening I put this on my vocal bus and in 10 minutes had something that sounded really great. It has this really smooth sound even when the vocals are compressed. TIP: Use the automated bypass to turn off the compressor module when you don’t need it. Every vocal bus on this project uses this plugin!

7. VC64

VC 64 is my goto compressor and EQ in SONAR. I don’t use compressors a lot but when I do I like the sound of this one and even its EQ so I tend to use it a lot.

8. LP64

I found this to be great to EQ for use on overheads. Its very transparent sounding.

9. Using a NAS and networked audio player for auditioning mixes.

This is my favourite “trick” to do fast consumer audio tests. My studio is in the basement and my stereo system is upstairs in the living room. So normally to test a mix on my stereo I would need to burn a CD and lug it upstairs and test. Some years ago I bought a Logitech SqueezeBox – a network music player. Its a super device that will connect to a share on your network via a SqueezeServer running on your home network. In SONAR I would simply export the mix to my NAS shared music folder and instantly be able to listen to the mix on my stereo. This was invaluable and a HUGE time saver since it allowed me to quickly teste my mixes on a reference consumer audio system all the time. I don’t think I burned more than 2 or 3 CD’s during the entire course of the project just because of this! A much greener solution than burning CD’s for sure.

 10. Phase Invert

Most people use the humble phase invert button on a track to fix phase issues or for testing mainly. I found (by accident) a good use for this seemingly mundane button. One night while working on a mix I noticed that one of the trumpet tracks had the phase invert button on and the other didn’t. (We had two close mics on the trumpet while recording) I didn’t recall doing that intentionally so I assumed Dan had done it for some reason some days ago. So I tried turning it off and the trumpet kind of sounded different but not as rich. So I turned it back on… Later I asked Dan about this and he said it must have been accidental.  Well, so much for happy accidents <g>
I ended up flipping the phase – on a couple of tracks to create that sound since it worked really well.

11. Audiosnap Slip Stretching

Audiosnap might not look like a feature that would get used in a jazz project but it can be useful in some instances. I had a section in one of the tunes where I needed to switch between two takes mid song. The second take was really close but the tempo was off by about 5% making a crossfade impossible. I lined up the two takes one below each other and measured the difference in samples. I then computed the stretch amount based on this and then slip stretched all the clips by the exact amount. Once I did that I cross faded the clips with a very quick fade. It worked beautifully – nobody I have played it for has been able to spot the edit despite the fact that there are some 16 tracks slip stretched! Additionally the new “phase coherence” parameter in the SONAR 8.5 radius stretching options made a huge difference here especially on the piano track. Without that I could hear some slight flanging in the sound when I did the operation in SONAR 8.3 initially.

12. MME mode

MME is typically only used to play back audio on consumer PC’s that don’t have professional audio devices. It has some other uses as well however. In this project I often wanted to play back the mixes on a vanilla PC sound system as a consumer audio test. I couldn’t play back my mixes in WDM mode with my soundcard since it doesn’t support 24×96 audio. However in MME mode thanks to KMIXER we have dynamoc sample rate conversion capabilities. Switching to MME provided me with a handy way to preview the mixes on my PC.

CD release ‘ONE OF US’

Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010
Ryles Jazz Club |
Inman Square, 212 Hampshire Street
Cambridge, MA 0213

Ramona Borthwick Quintet with Noel Borthwick (guitar), Richard DiMuzio (sax), Victor Belanger (bass), Mauricio Zottarelli (drums) and special guests.

One Of Us: CD’s now shipping

CD’s are now officially shipping.
We received 2^10 CD’s from DiscMakers on Monday. All 1024 of them. Either someone there is a computer geek or the duplication machine only makes powers of two 🙂

Great job from DiscMakers. Very good cardstock and the print work exceeded our expectations. The donut with Ramona’s hand drawn art looks awesome. Its worth buying the CD just for that I can assure you <g>
Now if we could get rid of 2^9 of these we’ll be even happier.

One Of Us: Released!

Our latest project One Of Us from jazz pianist Ramona Borthwick, produced and mixed entirely in SONAR, has finally been released and is now available here! The CD comprises ten fresh new compositions of hers, recorded last summer with some wonderful jazz players. The lineup includes – Ramona Borthwick (pno, voice), Ingrid Jensen (tpt), Noel Borthwick (gtr),  Johannes Weidenmueller (b), Adam Cruz (dr).

Recorded in high-definition audio format at 24/96, mixed in SONAR at 64 bit resolution and mastered at 24/96, all efforts were made to capture and retain pristine quality throughout the production process. You can preview several of the tunes in the music player on the left. Please spread the word if you know someone who might be interested in the this. To share the music, click on “Share” in the player to generate a quick link for facebook, e-mail, etc.

The album is available in a variety of formats through our webstore here:

  • CD – packaged in a slick environment friendly digipak
  • Digital downloads – Instantly download the music in your favorite format ready to play on your portable music player, with artist and title info pre setup for you. Popular compressed formats such as MP3, AAC, OGG, etc are all supported. All full album downloads include the high-resolution album art as a PDF.
  • High-definition lossless audiophile downloads – For our audiophile listeners, who want the ultimate uncompromised high definition 24 bit/96 KHz  DVD-quality experience, you can download our final hi-def masters as lossless FLAC or Apple Lossless Audio (ALAC). These are large, higher than CD quality files and you must also have a music player capable of playing these formats. High-definition downloads are the same price as other digital downloads! ($1 a track and $10 for a full album)
  • CD + Digital Download Combo packbuy the CD and digital download together. This is currently available at the same price as the CD!
  • Sheet Music – If you are a musician and would like to play any of the compositions with your band or just check out the scores, sheet music for all the compositions is now available as downloads! The sheet music files are in standard PDF format and can be printed or viewed easily.

I have also posted a log documenting our journey through the process of producing this album from conception through release, in this blog starting here → One Of Us: Conception

Some listener responses to this CD may also be found here on the Cakewalk Songs Forum

One Of Us: Delivery

Having a master in hand might signal the completion of the most important task in the production process, but we are far from being done. Since this project is 100% self produced, we are both the producer and the Record Label,  and there is a ton of work to be done even after this stage. We have to handle the design and artwork for the CD, start up the copyright and digital distribution process, do the disk duplication and, set up the infrastructure to sell and distribute the CD, and finally get it out to reviewers and fans. All of these can be surprisingly complex and time consuming tasks. Fortunately, we have some experience with this from our last CD project, so we’d already started working on many of these tasks in parallel. Ramona is a professional graphic artist/web designer, through her company Leitmotif, so she’d started up with the concept and design of the CD a couple of weeks earlier. We have also done e-stores several times before so we’re familiar with the setup issues. There are still many pending tasks:

Decide on a CD duplication company. We finally settle with DiscMakers. They seemed to have the most reasonable prices for the features they offered, so we set up an account with them.

Finalize CD design concept and artwork. Ramona had some great ideas for the CD concept and had started working on it. She scheduled a photo-shoot with photographer Glenn Kulbako. The inital concept was to get pictures of her against the mural outside the Middle East cafe in Cambridge and use that as the focus for the album art. She even went as far as getting permission from the Cambridge arts council to use the photo on the CD. So she does the photo shoot and they get some nice pictures.

However, when she tried to put it all together in the design it somehow didn’t quite work – murals can be tricky to work with. Disappointed with the setback, she booked another shoot for a simpler more personal theme she came up with. It works well and she is finally able to integrate into her artwork. Phew, a lot of work but finally the artwork and layout for the CD is done! It looks great and she came up with this really funky hand drawing of the “One Of Us” theme for the CD donut. Very unique!

In early Nov we sent the final artwork and master to DiscMakers. They were very prompt and sent us a hard copy proof of the art within a day of sending the artwork. Very professional.

Next we registered with the myriad companies that handle the payment and distribution of royalties. ASCAP, soundscan etc.. Its unbelievable how scattered and disorganized some of this stuff is and the amount of research you have to do to dig out that information. They certainly don’t make it easy! We also kick started the digital distribution process while waiting for the CD so that the music can be available on ITunes and other services as soon as possible.
We must have filled in a million forms for all the paperwork you have to do.

Finally, it is time to get the back end in place for the website. The plan this time is to sell the CD as well as provide high quality digital downloads from our website. This means I have to cook up something on our server to offer secure digital downloads as well as hard copy CD sales. I was going to code up a download solution myself, but decided on using BandCamp for the digital downloads instead since they offered the same high quality download options I was planning for anyway. Ramona and I spent a few days revamping her web store. Click here to see the web store in action.

The CD’s are produced and enroute to us via UPS, as I write this. Ramona’s website has been redesigned and is online. The web store is live. The CD release concert is booked.  I’m sure there are more things we need to do but we are done for now. It has been a journey…

One Of Us: Mastering

Towards the end of our mixing process, I had been looking around for someone to handle the mastering of the CD. I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to that myself. For a few reasons – I don’t have the specialized plugin’s hardware or acoustic environment to do mastering. Its normally a good idea to have someone who is a specialist in mastering handle this anyway since they may find and be able to fix subtle problems that you may overlook. Its also great to get another pair of ears on the final product.

One of my colleague’s at work recommended a friend who ran a mastering Studio in NYC so I checked him out. After checking out his work and talking with him, I decided to go with Oscar Zambrano from Zampol Productions.  I gave Oscar one of my final mixes and he did a sample master mix which I was impressed with. I am not a fan of excessive compression in masters (especially with jazz) and I liked what he did with the test mix I gave him. His mix sounded transparent but louder which is what a good mastering engineer does.
The specification was for him to master at 24/96K and deliver the final master in CD format as well as raw mastered 24/96 files. This would allow me to consider later releasing this in high definition DTS format on a DVD.

Around Oct 1’st I finally ready with my mixes. I first did rough masters in SONAR to get an idea what the mixes would sound like with basic dynamics added. Right upto this point I had no compression on my master bus whatsover. So I added the Boost 11 plugin from SONAR 8 to my master bus, and dialled in a 3-6 dB boost to get a preview of what the mixes would sound like with a compressor on the main bus. It sounded nice but I had to make a few subtle tweaks to the bass to account for the gain boost, since adding compression can subtly alter the balance of various frequencies in the mix. Once I did that the mixes were sounding very close to what I wanted already, so I was confident that Oscar would have good source mixes to work with. I then exported all the mixes from SONAR (after removing the compression) to 96K/32 bit wave files and uploaded them to the zampol web site. I also sent him a bunch of my test master mixes so that he would know the sound I was shooting for, along with some other artist CD references for mixes that we like.
I also “discovered” ISRC codes around this time! If you want to submit a CD for digital distribution you want to embed ISRC codes onto the disk at mastering time. This is important for royalties management via radio air play as well as digital distribution. So we registered for our own ISRC codes and generated them.

Around end October after a few scheduling delays, I got back some preview masters from Oscar – they sounded very good. I had a few minor requests to tweak EQ and track levels but besides that it was very close to done. He also found a couple of bugs in my mixes that we had not noticed before – A couple of clicks due to bad cross fades. Good ears!  He made the edits and sent me the final PMCD image. (pre-master CD image that is used by the duplication house to produce the final CD’s). A job well done.

It was time to send it for duplication! [Next -> One Of Us: Delivery]

One Of Us: Production

If you read the earlier posts in this thread you might have noticed that we finished the main recording session for One Of Us back in 2008 April. So why is it being released now in Nov 2009 you might ask? Funny you should ask  🙂

The astute reader might have observed a subtle hint of burnout when we were done with the recording. Or you might have smelled the burnout several blocks away. At the end of any recording project the last thing we want to do is listen to it. I want to play my guitar, listen to some other music on my play list, do some other stuff, and Ramona would rather play,teach or do her web design. Anything but listen to our shit! Sooo, we basically came back home, I backed up the recording, then I put the disk on the shelf and we went on with our lives. I got really busy doing SONAR 8, and then in late 2008 we took a vacation to India. Then it was back to SONAR 8.3 season, and NAMM and …. And before we knew it literally was April 2009. We had a polite message from Ingrid asking – “hey guys what happened to that recording”. Huh, which recording? Uhhh, oh that one!!!  Anyway one fine day in April I woke up and said nuff is enough we need to finish this.

So I cranked up the disk. Thankfully it started, phew that would have been a problem! I opened up ProTools LE, got some advice on how to navigate the sessions (again the astute reader might have observed that I am not a PT fan by now), and imported all all the multi track wave files to SONAR. Ahhh, comfort zone 🙂 All the tracks were recorded in one giant session as is customary with many recording engineers. I split them up into multiple project files in SONAR so that I could mix them independently as I prefer. The original sessions had 8 tracks for drums, 2 for trumpet, 2 for bass, 2 for piano and 2 for guitar, for a total of 16 source tracks, all recorded at 24/96. Pretty simple to start with.

I set up basic gainstaging and pan – I like to mix in offset mode in SONAR so all my gains and pans are set as offsets. I then load up the first project in SONAR and press play. Whee – this is literally the first time I am hearing this music in close to a year. It sounds fresh and much nicer than it did a year ago. I am excited! The trumpet and piano and bass and drums sound awesome. But wait a minute – what is up with that guitar sound? I must have messed up the EQ accidently somewhere. I look – nope, everything looks ok in SONAR. It sounds a lot thinner than I remember it sounding in the recording session. If anything I normally err on the side of thickness not thinness with my sound. Hmmm.. Took me awhile before I finally saw what was going on. I solo the miced guitar track, thats the one sounding thin. Finally, I put two and two together – its the darn downfiring woofer on my Acoustic Image amp. The mic didn’t pick up any of that. Man was I pissed off – the miced amp track is unusable. Why the engineer didn’t spot that at record time is a mystery. A major disappointment on my first day of mixing. Anyway, I have the direct stereo out from my VG-99 recorded as a backup (thank God for that) so I figure I can re-amp my guitar in my studio and fix it where necessary. Note to self: When tracking at someone else’s studio always, always check the printed signal to make sure its what you want. Don’t rely on what you are hearing in the sound booth. I kick myself for not being thorough about that.

So begins day 1, the first in a series of many others over the rest of the summer of 2009. I spent most of my weekends and nights working on additional tracking, editing and mixing of this project. Ramona had several new parts that we needed to record. We intentionally didn’t track the extras in the studio to save time. I track all the additional piano and guitar parts in my studio and reamp my guitar tracks where the sound is not what I wanted. Guitars sound vastly nicer than the studio original recording, since I used my other (non downfiring) speaker cab! 

While working on stuff in my home studio, for the longest time I was plagued by some crazy RF interferance I was picking up when using the balanced outputs from my VG-99 to my MOTU. It was the strangest thing – every day after a certain time 8:30pm to be exact, I would get these radio stations mixed in with the recorded signal! So I’d have to stop tracking after that. I tried everything I could think of – new cables, relocating gear, new power conditioning power strips, etc, but nothing would get rid of that. After several days of this, I finally found the root cause of it. I had the sub out’s from VG at +4dB going to my MOTU balanced inputs, and I had the ground lift switch engaged on the VG. That in intself was fine – the root issue was that the MOTU 828 has a software switch in its control panel to set the inputs to -10dB or +4DB. I had missed that that switch was set to -10dB. I flipped the software switch in the panel and voila the RF vanished! Its critical to do this if you are using balanced outs since otherwise you potentially get all sorts of noice induced in the circuit. Anyway that was a big finding for me!

Later on in the process once I have all the 10 songs edited, I do basic mixes then recruit the help of my friend and colleague, Dan Abreu from Cakewalk to track the vocals on this project. All the vocals were recorded in his project studio Pennyco Productions, where we spent many nights doing the initial mixes. Dan’s input was super helpful during this phase. He has great ears and a lot of experience with mixing drums, so it was great getting his expertise in the initial mixing phase. We’re especially thankful to him, since he was so pressed for time preparing for the birth of  his baby daughter Penelope. Once we have the core mixes done at his place, we transferred to my studio for all the tweaky time consuming nit-picky stuff.  

Work and other engagements made this take longer than I expected, but by Sept I have mixes that are pretty close to what we think are finished. Or so we thought 🙂 Just a few more tweaks and we would be ready for mastering. The devil is in the details however. I don’t have a treated room, so we test the mixes in several locations and on multiple speaker combinations. One of the goals I had for this project is to ensure it sounds good on multiple delivery systems, audiophile equipment, consumer stereo’s, car stereos, desktop computer systems, and the ubiquitous iPod’s with ear-buds. I also solicited feedback from some experienced Cakewalk users to get more ears on the mixes. This is super important since when listening to mixes a hundred times you can adapt to a sound and miss the obvious. I get lots of great feedback on the mixes which help me fine tune them. Special thanks go to Cakewalk user (and fine guitarist) Eric Hansen as well as Tom Jacobs for their valuable input. During this process I go back several times and make adjustments to the mixes to account for something or the other. Acoustic bass, as I learned, can be one of the hardest things to get just right in a mix since the subtlest of changes can result in you over or under compensating other tracks. I would run into cases where the bass sounded great on ear buds but woofy on a stereo or vice versa. The frequencies that make up the ideal elements in the bass sound for a jazz mix can be subtle. I also compared what we had with several reference mixes that we considered to be ideal – caught some good problems during that process as well. I tend to like the way acoustic bass is recorded on some European labels like ECM records with more of the string sound mixed in and less of a thump. After much experimentation, we were relieved when our mixes sounding good across multiple systems. We were finally ready for mastering.

One Of Us: Mastering →[next]