Category Archives: Audio

TunesBag Stores and Shares Your Music Online – Free Invites

tunesbag-logo Currently in beta, tunesBag is a free browser-based media player that allows you to (legally) upload your music, play it online, and share with other people.

Think of tunesBag as an online version of iTunes that grants you access to your full audio library from any computer with an Internet connection. Since it’s entirely web based, it lacks features such as CD ripping and iPod syncing, but that’s not really the point. What it does offer is the ability to sit down at any computer and immediately have your full music library at your disposal.

Here’s the main window. Hard to believe this is all running in a browser, huh?

TunesBag - Main Window

Uploading Your Music

tunesBag offers several ways to upload your music files, including a browser-based uploader, an installable Desktop Uploader (currently Windows only), via e-mail, and directly from elsewhere on the Web.

TunesBag - Upload Options

There’s currently no hard limit on how much you can upload, though they do ask that you contact them if you plan to upload more than 5-7 GB of files. tunesBag supports MP3, M4A, WMA, and OGG. Audio files laden with DRM are not supported, sorry.

The browser uploader allows for multiple-file uploads, plus creating a playlist for the uploaded files.

TunesBag - Browser Uploader

The Desktop Uploader (Windows only) has some more advanced features. Those of you with existing iTunes or Winamp libraries will appreciate the ability to upload your existing library (or just selected playlists). No such love yet for us MediaMonkey fans, but perhaps the developers could consider it for future releases.

TunesBag - Desktop Uploader

Another cool feature of the Desktop Uploader is that you can use it to completely restore your original audio files back to your computer in case of catastrophic hard disk failure. In this sense, tunesBag functions as a backup for your original files.

TunesBag - Uploader Restore

General Usage

After you have uploaded audio files, tunesBag will analyze them for you and create acoustic fingerprints to help you fix any missing or incorrect elements, such as the album name or cover art. This is a pretty handy feature, and tunesBag will present to you multiple options in case there’s a potential conflict.

TunesBag - Fix Meta Tags

While playing a song, you have control over playback using the transport bar at the bottom of the page, including options for volume, repeat, and randomize.

TunesBag - Transport Bar

Just like with most media players, you can search and sort your music library by genre, artist, or album. You can also create any number of playlists that you like.

TunesBag - Sorting Library

Whenever you hover over each Title, you can bring up a menu for each song by clicking the arrow. This presents a number of options, such as adding that song to a playlist, commenting, sharing, editing Meta information, and deleting. You can also download the original audio file.

TunesBag - Menu Options

Only the original owner can actually download the original audio file, but this brings up the issue of file sharing.

Sharing

Since tunesBag runs completely online, it seems only natural that the ability to share files should be inherent to the way it works. It is… to an extent.

You can share individual files or full playlists in just about any way imaginable: by e-mail, via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, or through a direct link to a sharing page. You can also add friends and view their music directly within tunesBag.

The important aspect here is that friends can only stream your music (and vice-versa) – they cannot download and keep the original files. While I am definitely not a lawyer, the streaming-only nature of tunesBag should keep it protected from the likes of the RIAA. tunesBag is a legal service in Austria, the country in which it operates.

See for yourself – Want to listen to that Apocalyptica album that I uploaded in one of the above screenshots? Sure, just click here.

Invitations

While in beta, tunesBag is completely free. While they may eventually offer premium services, hopefully a free version will always exist.

The private beta requires an invitation to join. We have 18 invitations available for TipsFor.us readers. To receive an invitation, just ask for an invite in the comments below. Be sure to leave your valid e-mail address in the e-mail field. We’ll contact you as soon as possible. As always, first come, first serve!

An Introduction to Podcasting with Blogger and iTunes

Podcasting is the practice of distributing media files online for subscribers to view. Since it is Internet-based, it is similar to simply posting on a website. Many podcasts are distributed as episodic content – such as weekly radio or television shows.

This brief tutorial is focused toward people who have never created an audio podcast before. I put it together for an electronic music class that I teach, and thought it could be of use here on TipsFor.us.

Required Tools

Software

  • Digital Audio Workstation Software

If you’re only recording speech with little or no music, you likely won’t need software like this. Something like Audacity will suffice. For more complicated editing and mixing, you’re going to need digital audio workstation (DAW) software.

The big-boy software titles include Cubase, Sonar, Digital Performer, Pro Tools, Logic, and Samplitude. They also come with a big-boy price. For more modest uses, consider Tracktion or even FREE offerings such as MU.LAB. Use Linux? Try Ardour.

  • Audio Compression Software

You’re going to need to compress that audio file for the Web, and free tools such as Audacity, iTunes, and BonkEnc will do the job with aplomb.

  • FTP Client

Use a free FTP client such as Filezilla or Cyberduck to store your files online on a file/web host of choice (more on that below).

  • Podcast Catcher

To take a look/listen at your newly created podcast, subscribe to it with a tool such as iTunes or Google Reader.

Web

  • Online Web Space

You need a place to store your files on the Web that allows for direct linking. If you already own web space, fantastic. If you do not, don’t worry. There are free workarounds.

  • A Publisher

Though not absolutely required, a free publishing account with a service such as Blogger or WordPress is highly recommended. Podcasts require an RSS Feed (allows podcast catchers to subscribe), and services such as Blogger generate the feed for you automatically. The other option is to write the XML file yourself… tedious.

Create Your Audio File

When you have finished composing and mixing your masterpiece, you need to prepare it for the web. The issue here is to make the file small enough without sacrificing too much quality. You will need to to compress your hi-res audio mix (*.aif) into a lossy format. Most podcasts use either MP3 or AAC. See our digital audio primer.

I suggest using Audacity to compress your audio. No matter what software you use, set the bitrate to at least 128/k (up to about 192/k). Make sure the resulting file has all lowercase letters and no spaces or special characters. Also, make sure your file has an extension (*.mp3).

The compressed audio file is what your subscribers will hear, naturally.

Storing Your File on the Web

The next step is to upload your file to a storage host. The aforementioned free services such as Blogger and WordPress do not currently allow for storage of audio files (legal/piracy reasons). Instead, I suggest using some web space to store your files.

If you do not pay for any webspace, don’t fret. Take a look at our article on overcoming Blogger’s upload limitations. Though the article mentions Blogger specifically, the solutions can apply to any other service.

Publish your Podcast

Now it’s time to publish your podcast so that the world can listen. This section of the tutorial is specific to the Google Blogger service. If you use a different service, please consult their Help section for podcast-specific tips.

The site that my class used is: http://ku-electronic.blogspot.com

To set up a Blogger account for podcasting, do the following:

In your Blogger dashboard, go to Settings → Formatting. Enable the Link Field to enclose audio in your posts.

Now, when you create a New Post, you will see a field for Enclosures.

Add the full link to your hosted audio file (including the http://).

Voila! When you publish your post, it will instantly become a podcast. All RSS Feed requirements are handled automatically.

Subscribe to the Podcast

If you want to subscribe to the newly created podcast, just enter the full URL to your Blogger site in your podcast-catching software.

Example (Google Reader):

Subscribe with iTunes

iTunes is slightly different. To subscribe to a Blogger feed in iTunes, go to the Advanced menu, then click Subscribe to Podcast.

Add the full URL to your site, plus /feeds/posts/default

Click OK, and your podcast subscription will show up like this:

Anytime you write a new post on the site, it will show up in the feed reader.

This concludes the tutorial. Happy podcasting!

I Hate ID3 tags (Part 2)

I think I finally found a good solution to my dilemma.  The best part is, it’s open source and available for windows, linux, and mac.

Songbird

I had tried it in its early beta, and decided to try it again.  It can easily do everything iTunes does (except for all the stuff you don’t want iTunes to do).  Any feature it’s missing is typically available as a plugin.  It has some flaws, but they are already set for later releases (such as CD burning, but heck why not just use infra recorder for everything).  Just take a look at the features and “coming soon” section of the page.

Here is the important part:

The Single Most Amazing Plugin Ever. You can set multiple folders for it display in the folder tree, and it is simple to add content to.

When combined with Songbird, it solves all the problems the ID3-tag-hater has.  I also managed to install and uninstall enough plugins that it feels like it was made just for me.

Oh, did I mention it has a web browser built in and is fully skinnable?  I might do a full review in the future, but for now, I’m going to go listen to well organized music that I didn’t have to import into a sloppy music library.

A Digital Audio Primer

(What the common person should know about their MP3 players)

(simplified of all technical junk you don’t need to know, techies: keep walking.)

File Formats, and what’s the difference?

Why use file formats? The answer to that is simple: space. The CDs you buy have the audio recorded at the highest quality they can fit on a single disc. Imagine if you were to direct transfer a full CD to your hard drive. We’d be talking 500-700 megabytes. That means roughly 30 CDs could fit on your 20 gigabyte iPod. That would be pretty disappointing. So we had to find a way to make the files smaller.

The answer: The MP3 format (Yes there were many compression formats before that, but this is just the high points)

How does an MP3 file work, conceptually? The “compression” takes the form of removing data to shrink the file size. This trimming, and the amount removed is what we mean when we say Bitrate. The higher the bitrate, the less data lost; the lower the bitrate, the more data trimmed away. Consider bitrate being the amount of the good stuff left.

128 bits = not much left

320 bits= Barely trimmed, about as good as it gets.

So why not always use 320? Every file is more than twice the size on your hard drive.

So what is lost when the file is trimmed? Take this sound wave (A graphical representation of what the sound looks like):

A Basic Music Soundwave

The blue section in the middle is the easiest for us to hear. As you get closer to the top and bottom of the wave, it becomes harder for our ears to discern (Think about the light spectrum, ultraviolet on one end and infrared on the other).

We have trouble hearing the furthest parts of the spectrum.

So naturally, this is the best part to cut. A good way to visualize it (it’s considerably more complex algorithms) is like this:

As you trim it down, the sound becomes less full, more tinny/metallic/shallow/etc. Now lets talk about VBR, or Variable Bit Rate MP3’s. It is exactly what it sounds like: The bitrate changes to preserve as much sound as possible, but cut the most data possible. More cutting, with less loss. Here’s a way to envision VBR (Of course the algorithm is even more complex, but let’s just think about it conceptually):

See, if there is a moment in the song with only a single speaking voice, a wider range can be cut without much damage (maybe down to 128). Now if you have a drum set and a guitar (maybe down to 256). A violin, a flute, an oboe, and a bass would probably stay at 320). As the MP3 plays, the bit rate changes, hence: Variable.

Transcoding: This is a process of horrible badness.  Lets examine this cycle of musical destruction.  We start with a CD, the data on this CD is in the purest state possible (Technically).

-We decide to rip them to MP3 (See, now you know why we call it ripping, we are forcibly removing data and only keeping what we need.)  256 bitrate sounds good enough. Let’s say that we lost approximately 20 percent of the total data. That’s fine, we can still listen to the remaining 80% without problem in our headphones (But I wouldn’t recommend playing it through a massive club system, you’ll hear the difference.).

-Now, we want to burn these MP3s for our friend as an audio cd that he can listen to in his car.  The CD we burn for him will be the same 80% of the original data that we found perfectly satisfactory.  It will be just fine.

-Now this friend of ours, he has no idea that we just burned the MP3s instead of a copy of the original CD for him (I recommend writing on the CD you burn what the bitrate was, but that only helps if your friend already knows, or has read this article.)

-Here’s where the trouble starts.  Your friend decides he wants to listen to this CD on his MP3 player.  So he rips the CD into MP3s.  So what’s the big deal?  His computer has no idea that these were 256 bit MP3s, and not pure CD audio.  So our friend re-rips (transcodes) the music back into MP3s, cutting the already cut data again. He’s now ripped another 20% of the information from our already-reduced-by-20% files.  He’s left with maybe 60% of the data, masquerading as a full 80% (The files will proudly proclaim themselves to be 256 bitrate, when they no longer are).  The cycle continues.

Transcoding

Other Formats:

Lossy – Like MP3 encoding, these format’s compress data using the “trim what isn’t necessary” method.

Apple’s version – AAC – these files can support Digital Rights Management (Which means that if you don’t follow the rules, they can take your music away.)  Slightly more efficient than MP3s at compressing data, but not by a massive amount.  It’s not the container that is fancy on these, it’s the locks.

Microsoft’s version – WMA – without getting too deep in the details, these are MP3s that make Microsoft money.  The sound quality is a smidge better for the same file size as MP3s, but not enough that you would want to convert your entire collection to it.

Lossless – Unlike MP3, these formats compress the data without losing any of it (It will always sound exactly like the CD did).  Think of it like installing a closet organizer that allows you to fit twice as much stuff in the same closet.  These codecs just reorganize the data into a smaller package.  On average, the files are half the size.  (Half is not amazing if you are short on drive space.  You are still looking at 150-200 megs per CD)  The beauty of this type of compression: Transcoding can not happen.  You can rip and burn all day.

Apple’s version – M4A – Mac claims files will be 40-60% smaller than the original (CD) data.  This statement is pretty much true.

Microsoft’s version – WMA – Microsoft claims a startling 20-40% smaller, but in most testing, it turns out that is actually in the same 40-60% category as Apple. Imagine that.

Open Source Version – FLAC – The same results as both formats above.  So why use FLAC?  Well, any software you use that is capable of playing WMA files, probably paid to use that codec.  Even MP3 money goes to patent holders.

Audio File Type Summary:

It doesn’t really matter which lossy codec you use, as long as you acknowledge that it is lossy.  If you choose to use Lossless (for the true audiophile for whom storage is not a problem, or for archival purposes) know the limitations of each file type.  If you use Linux, FLAC is your best bet since getting Windows and Mac proprietary codecs work can be a headache.

If you find audio interesting, a good place to start is wikipedia.  You can get a more in-depth explanation, but stop reading once they get to the math or patent rights sections.  There is an infinite supply of technical information online on this subject, but a lot of it is impenetrable if you don’t already know about it.

I hate ID3 Tags

(A Post for the musically disaffected)

I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but for those meager few who don’t, this should be useful. I detest ID3 tags and library interfaces that use them. I spent hours googling for alternatives and turned up virtually nothing, except for a few people voicing their anti-ID3 tag thoughts and getting forum flamed. So I will attempt to put together some lifestyle alternatives for the ID3-hating minority.  This article is skewed towards a Windows audience, as less freedom is usually present amongst proprietary software.

Reasons Why I Have ID3 Angst

1. I’m a minorly-disorganized person who owns way too many CDs. As a result, I can rarely find the CD I want when I want it. I find it’s quicker to just download the CD than to go find the actual physical disc (In my office, in storage, in my car, etc.)

Why is this a problem? No one seems to ever be able to agree – despite internet databases – on how to spell a band’s name. If I load up my music library via ID3 tags, take a look at a few examples of what I get:

Pennywise
PennyWise
pennywise
Penny_wise
etc, etc, etc,

Don’t even get me started on bands with “The” in their name.  If all I want to do is listen to a random play-list of Pennywise’s discography I need to select 5-8 different bands. In what world is this organized? Now if I go into my music folder on my computer I find a file tree like this:

Pennywise
—Full Circle (Album)
——Songs
—Straight Ahead (Album)
——Songs.

So my computer realizes that these albums belong to pennywise and that the songs within each album folder belong to that album, so why can’t my music software recognize (I’m looking at you iTunes).

2. I have CDs I ripped in 2001. This is a problem, I also ripped them with a variety of software, and relied on file tree. ID3-guessing software – ones that use the file name to deduce – get very confused by:

-Track Number, Artist Name, Song Title, Album.mp3
-Track Number, Song title, Artist Name, Album.mp3
-etc.

Now, I could go through and fix these tags and have no complaints, but how long would that take with 105 gigs of music (Maybe 50 gigs is properly labeled).

3. Players that think they are the lord and savior of my music collection. I had heard a lot of great talk about iTunes when it first arrived on the scene. I decided to try it. Now my box sets and compilations are irreparably ruined. Example: My Queen Discography Box Set (I believe it was 15 CDs). The songs were labeled by who was in the band, featured guests, etc. This is useful meta-information when you want to know who’s involved. They were also arranged in folders by year. iTunes decided to help me out, by giving every single song its own folder as a different band. “Queen featuring (Anyone)” is apparently a different band than “Queen” or “Queen Live.” So, needless to say, my perfect chronology became 41 different bands in iTunes. Thanks.

I can actually tell which music predates my installation of the first version of iTunes, because it had the amazing task of helping me out by re-labeling every track with a track number – even if it had one already – sometimes multiple times arbitrarily. My favorite: 06_06_06_Broken_Pennywise_Fullcircle.mp3…sweet.

4. Tiny MP3 players. If I can only fit 18 tracks (usually in the form of a compilation I made) on my MP3 player, why would I want it listed as 18 separate bands in order for me to select the song I want?

Enough Complaining, now some solutions.

I’m not going to list all the wonderful software that exists (as proof of a problem) for repairing and organizing your music library – that’s a topic for another posting. Instead I’m going to tell you some work around for an ID3-tag-free lifestyle.

1. Music Player Software that support file tree interface (this is by no means a complete survey, please let me know your solution.)

  • Amarok (Linux Based)- It has a file browser, but I would not call it elegant. If you’re in linux, however, it is probably your best bet. There is sketchy and buggy implementation of Amarok in Windows via the KDE4windows project. I, personally, cannot wait for this project to reach maturity.
  • Winamp (Windows Based)- Not vanilla support however. Out of the box, it only supports “Media Library,” but there is a wonderful plugin: Dynamic Library. It isn’t free, or OSS, but it is cheap. $10 and you can be eternally freed from ID3 tags on your PC. It functions in a free mode, limiting you to only one watched directory, but if your music is in one directory only it works just fine. I don’t condone this, however, as this man is doing glorious work to free us from the confines of disorder. $10 dollars is a small price to pay, in my opinion.

Dynamic Library allows you to move files within their directory, display the live-editable file tree, drag and drop into Winamp’s playlist (you can drag any directory level, album, song, etc.), display tracks in a full directory or sub directory, etc.

I know Winamp isn’t free, either. The only major things they lock, however, are ripping and burning functions. Anyone ripping a CD, in Windows should be using something like CDex anyway. It gives you absolute freedom in your ripping options. As for burning, InfraRecorder is king.

Are there other options? Probably. None that I have managed to find, short of dragging from explorer into a play list in Quintessential player.

2. MP3 Players. Now when I’m out and about, how do I avoid ID3 tag confinement? Rockbox. Free Open Source Firmware. It functions as a file tree, and interfaces with the PC as a removable flash media.

The Good:

-Customizable. Themes, fonts, programs, icons, etc. The play screen can be customized to display/or not display album art. If you don’t like one of the numerous themes available, you can make your own. The instructions are easy to follow and provided on the website.

-File Tree. Yes.

-Sometimes increased usability. Some mp3 players that were not designed to display images can gain the ability to. Other ones, that merely have awful controls and gui for image display, gain a customizable interface.

-Open Source.

The Bad:

-Yes, you have to re-flash the firmware. I’ve installed it 3 or 4 times, if you follow the instructions you won’t brick it. At least, the odds are slim….

-It does not work on every mp3 player. It currently only works on 28 different models. This isn’t really a situation where it will probably work on your mp3 player. More like, you buy an mp3 player off their list when you break your old one by throwing it against the wall in disgust at your chaotic and nonsensical ID3 tag management.

-It doesn’t support DRM content:

No. It is highly unlikely that Rockbox will ever support playback of DRM encrypted audio files.

-Rockbox.com

Some Screens from Rockbox’s site, you can see the potential variation. (My model is not capable of screencapture, all images are (c) their owners [the theme designers and Rockbox.org] ):

So, that’s my rant.  Again, please post your own solutions or workarounds you have found.  This method is not for everyone, but hopefully this will help those who have googled repeatedly for “Music player software file tree” to no avail.

Using Sibelius to Play EWQL or Reason

This document describes how to use Sibelius to play Propellerheads Reason on a Mac

There are 4 primary things that need to happen in order to allow Sibelius to play samples from an external program (e.g. East West Gold):
1. A path (i.e. bus) between applications must be opened so that MIDI data can travel from Sibelius to the external sampler. (The “path” is known as a “bus”).
2. Send Sibelius’ MIDI data down this inter-application bus.

3. the gate must be opened in the sample program so that it can receive and play the MIDI data that has come down the bus from Sibelius.
4. Route the audio outputs of the sampler program so you can hear or record the performance.

1. OPEN THE MIDI PATH BETWEEN APPLICATIONS
(Enabling the IAC Driver)

Launch Audio MIDI Setup in your
/Applications/Utilities/ folder
OR launch it via Sibelius:
Play → Playback and Input Devices…

OS X\'s Inter-Application MIDI Driver Settings

If the IAC Driver icon is grayed out, select
it and press “Get Info”. Check the box
“Device is online”. Apple’s IAC Bus is now available for use. (To add multiple IAC buses, use the settings on the Ports tab).

With each port listed, you get 16 channels of MIDI, which will translate to 16 different instruments of EWQL per port. This is probably as many as you will need (or many as your computer will handle).

2. SEND SIBELIUS’S MIDI DATA DOWN THE IAC

5. Back in the Sibelius “Playback and Input Devices” Window, select “Apple IAC Driver IAC Bus 1” so it is highlighted in blue (the name will be different if you changed the default settings).

*If you get a message from Sibelius about wanting to reset the default sounds, do it. If you had a document open and fiddled with the MIDI settings, the IAC Driver won’t show up in the Playback and Input Devices window until you reset the sounds.

6. Next, open up Sibelius’ mixer (press M or select Window → Mixer). Here you can set which MIDI Channel each track will use to send its notes. Notice that the settings presented in the Mixer window change depending on which track you have highlighted (click the track’s name in blue at the base of each fader). Normally, each staff will use its own channel (i.e. instrument). If you don’t see the IAC bus in the Device list, then click the “Reset Sounds” button.

Sibelius Mixer Window

3. PREPARE SAMPLER TO RECEIVE MIDI DATA FROM IAC BUS

7. Now, launch your East West stand alone application, and you should see the notes on the keyboard play. Make sure to have your MIDI channels correspond with those in Sibelius. For example, if you have an Oboe set to MIDI Channel 2 in Sibelius. You’ll want to change the first track from OMNI to 2 and load the Oboe sample.

Note: When you want to use sounds from Sibelius, like GPO or Kontakt Gold/Silver, you will need to go back into the IAC (see Step 3) and uncheck the box in Step 4.
If you want to mix up the sounds used by your score, you do this in the mixer (e.g. use the Kontakt player for cello, GPO for viola, and EWQL for violin).

If you use the Kontakt player, you may have trouble balancing the audio levels (it often plays back much more quietly than other sounds) or it may use a different audio output (e.g. it might use your computer’s built-in output while EWQL might use your MOTU audio interface). To change the Kontakt player’s settings, open it’s window (Window → Kontakt player, or press the small keyboard icon in the Toolbar, or press option + Apple + O).

On the Kontakt player, there is a button on the left called “Audio Setup” – press it and you can change which driver is used for audio output (e.g. “built-in” or “MOTU 896”). There is also a volume knob on the Kontakt player. Turn it up to 0db or above to balance it against the other sounds you’re using. (Turning up the volume on the mixer won’t effect the sound as drastically as the control directly on the Kontakt player).

GPO

Open up the stand alone GPO application, load a patch, then choose a MIDI channel for it. Changing a patch will reset the MIDI channel and volume! So be sure to double check the MIDI channel and volume after loading a new patch. GPO also defaults to a Pan setting which corresponds to an instrument’s position in a traditional orchestra (e.g. contrabasses 70% to the right of the conductor), so you may want to adjust the pan setting for each patch as well.

Reason (3.0)

Reason in Audio Card Mode

Before you start trying to hook up Reason to Sibelius, please make sure that Reason is working normally with your standard MIDI keyboard (i.e. your “control surface”).
You’ll also need to make sure that you’ve enabled Apple’s IAC Driver in Audio Midi Setup (see above), otherwise the MIDI info can’t travel between applications.

Open up Reason and create the instrument(s) you want and load the patch(es) you want to use. There is no need to add a mixer, but you can add one if you want to fine tune groups of instruments or use Reason’s effects. Note that Reason will open as a stand-alone application and NOT as a ReWire application, although Sibelius does control Reason’s playback.

Open up Reason’s preferences and go to the Advanced MIDI section. For External Control of Bus A, select “IAC Driver Bus 1” and close the window.

Back in Reason’s main window, take a look at the very top of the rack, at Reason’s “MIDI IN DEVICE” and verify that Bus A is lighted. Next, decide on a MIDI channel that will be used to send MIDI data from Sibelius, e.g. Channel 5 (this corresponds to the Sibelius Mixer and the channel selected for that track/staff). In Reason, click the small triangle button next to the channel, and from the pull-down list, select the device that will play on that channel (e.g. NN-19). Note that if you have a mixer in your Reason file, it will also show up in the pull-down list because it too is a MIDI instrument that can accept and “play” MIDI data.

Finally, in Reason’s Preferences → Audio, make sure the “Play in Background” box is checked.

4. ROUTE THE AUDIO OUTPUTS OF THE SAMPLER PROGRAM (so you can hear or record the performance).

For playback purposes, it is usually sufficient to route all the samplers’ outputs to the same audio driver, e.g. built-in, or to an audio interface like a MOTU 828. Each sampler has its own way of setting this preference.

Setting the Output of Various Samplers

Kontakt Player (included in Sibelius): Open the Kontakt Player (Window → Kontakt Player), then press the “Audio Setup” button on the left side of the Player. Choose the Output Device.

DLS Device (QuickTime): Apple Menu → System Preferences → Sound → Output
East West: File → Setup → SoundCard → Output Device
Garritan Personal Orchestra: File → Setup → SoundCard → Output Device
Reason: Reason → Preferences → Audio → Audio Card

Recording the Performance

If you wish to record the performance, you have several options.

Record to an External Device (e.g. DAT player, Mini-Disc):

Use the appropriate cables to hook up the recording device to the output that you have set.
Start recording on the external device, then play the Sibelius file. Stop recording when playback finishes.

Record to another Program (e.g. Peak, Audacity, Logic, Digital Performer):

Routing audio from all samplers used to another program is a bit tricky. Just as we needed to enable the IAC-Bus to send MIDI data between applications, we need to establish an inter-application bus for audio data. Unlike the IAC MIDI bus, this functionality is not built-in to OS X, so third party software must be downloaded. However, there is FREE software available that accomplishes this functionality for all PPC and Intel based Macs. Two programs are listed. Download and install one of them.

Soundflower: http://www.cycling74.com/products/soundflower
Jack OS X: http://www.jackosx.com/

Refer to the application’s documentation for installation and setup. Once a routing application is running, you should be able to go to each sampler and choose that application as an output. Soundflower has a 2 channel bus for simple stereo recordings and a 16-channel bus for multi-channel recordings.

On your recording software, configure the input used for recording to be the routing bus (e.g. Soundflower-2).

It is unlikely that a multi-track sequencer would be used for recording a Sibelius performance in this way simply because the sequencer software would act as a much better host application for controlling and recording software samplers – simply import the MIDI file from Sibelius. However, the principle is the same as above: route the sampler outputs to the inter-application audio bus (e.g. to Soundflower 3,4) and set the recording inputs on the multi-track sequencing program to use those inputs for recording.

If digital distortion is audible in the recording, verify that all samplers (including Sibelius’s Kontakt Player) are using the same sample rate, then verify that the recording application you are using is using that same sample rate. Do not set the sample automatically; set it manually to the rate used by the samplers (e.g. 441000). Set the sample format manually, too (e.g. 16-bit). If the recording application has a clock source, you may need to set it to use an internal clock source, or set it to use a clock source that is external to all applications involved in the recording (e.g. a MOTU Digital Timepiece or an Alesis BRC).

When Reopening a Sibelius File that Uses External Samplers

There is no way for Sibelius to control all the external samplers used in one of its documents, so it is up to you to open up the necessary samplers and load the required patches. (Gulp. Hope your documentation was good).

Avoiding Noisy Recording: Tips for BEFORE you Record

Have you ever ended up with a horrible recording of a concert or wedding and wondered how it could sound so bad? How do you possibly clean up all that hiss and rumble? Well, most of us have been there… but I’ve also been in million dollar recording studios and worked with some pretty tight software, so hopefully I can help shed some light on this elusive topic.

Signal Path

Signal Path

The route that sound takes to get from its source to the recording device can drastically affect its sound. A weak link destroys the end result. It’s like fresh food: the freshest, most succulent, vine-ripened organic tomato tastes like crap if it fell into a pit toilet before ending up on your porcelain dinner plate. Here are the main stops in a signal’s path:

  1. The sound source (the thing you are recording)

  2. …the air between…

  3. The microphone (and the pre-amp)

  4. The cable(s)

  5. The Recording Device (e.g. your video camera)

You can and should try to adjust *every* element in your signal path to get the best possible sound BEFORE YOU RECORD. You can only do so much afterwards.

Mic Placement: Controlling the Air Between

Even an inch can make all the difference (no penis jokes please). Try to get the mic close to the sound source, and take the time to test different angles/positions. If you have ever mic’ed up a drum kit, you know what I’m talking about.

If you are recording with a camera, please remember that the location for the best shot is usually NOT the best location for the best sound recording. That’s why those cameras with an external mic input are golden.

The Microphone Itself

You get what you pay for when it comes to mics. Built-in mics on a camera are generally low-quality. Radio Shack’s $10 cassette mic won’t sound as good as a $3,000 Neumann. Consider the following suggestions:

Neumann TLM103 Microphone

  • Avoid omni-directional mics if you can — they tend to be far noisier than their cardiod counterparts. They may have “better sonic clarity”, but they pick up all kinds of room noise, which is usually NOT what you want. More about pickup patterns…
  • Condenser microphones are generally much better mics and much more sensitive. More about types of mics…
  • Use a good pre-amp to ensure your mic gets the power it needs. The pre-amp built into your camera isn’t very good. You can find reasonable portable camera preamps. The Beachtek DXA-10 is no longer available, but there are things out there like it.

The best piece of advice I can give here is to TRY a few different kinds of microphones. Buy a couple, knowing that you will return one. If your ear can’t tell the difference, ask a friend. For recording a human voice, I recommend the Neumann 103, or if you’re on a budget, the Rode NT1-A.

Cables

These matter a lot, surprisingly. There’s a bigger difference in sound quality between good and bad cables than there is between good and bad mics. Wow. Read that again. I am not kidding. Again, tease your credit card and buy a couple good cables and listen to how they sound — if you don’t think they make a big difference, you can send them back. I unabashedly recommend MIT microphone cables. But they ain’t cheap. Monster cable also has a high-end line that’s much more affordable. The point is to avoid the cheap-ass cables because they will muddy up your sound.

The Recording Device

Make it the best possible. If you are recording to your computer, you’d better have a good audio interface. The little 1/8 inch input on your SoundBlaster does not qualify as “good.” DV tapes on cameras are good, but set it to use the highest bit rate possible (often there is a 12 bit and a 16 bit setting). More about bit rates…

Spend some time with these ideas and your recordings will improve. Look for a future post about software to help you improve the sound of existing recordings.