Riding the Fader on a Musical Performance

Hello. My name is Mark Galang, and I’m here today to talk about riding the fader on a musical performance. This piece has been written in compliance with the peer-reviewed assignment requirement for the course “Introduction to Music Production” by the Berklee College of Music, hosted for free by Coursera.org.

Nothing is more satisfying than hearing a musical performance by humans. However, as much as we’d like human performance to be perfect, it is far from from being one. While the quirks of a live performance may sometimes be tolerated, studio recordings usually are more demanding. Therefore we use a couple of processes here and there to somewhat address imperfections, and one of these techniques is riding the fader. Riding the fader aims to Control dynamics over a recorded audio track in an effort to achieve some sort of balance I.e. to decrease volume of sections that are too loud and increase sections that are too soft. To demonstrate how to do this, I have opened up a project in Cakewalk Sonar 11, and I will be manipulating the bass track.

To start riding the fader, I have to enable automation write first by clicking on the W button on the bass track. You’ll notice that it would turn red as soon as I click on it. Once that’s been accomplished, I can now start recording automation once I press play or record. Let’s begin.

1. Opening a Project

01-Opening a Project and Selecting Bass Track

For this assignment, I have used the same project I recorded for the previous piece (How to Prepare a Project and Record Audio in a DAW). I selected the bass track for this particular task.

2. Enabling Automation Write

02-Enabling Automation Write

To start actually recording volume fader movements (“riding the fader”), I clicked on the small button that looks like a “W”. It’s the automation write button. Once it turns red, I know that it has been enabled and I could then start recording fader movements after I hit the play or record button.

3. Riding the Fader

03-Riding the Fader

I started playing back the project and then manipulated the volume fader so that Cakewalk Sonar would begin recording my fader movement. Generally, I try my best to follow the shape of the waveform to somewhat preserve the actual dynamics I recorded during performance. I was aiming to somewhat reduce the amplitude of sections I felt I had played too loud.

4. Editing the Volume Envelope

04-Editing the Volume Envelope

Once I have recorded the volume fader movements, I can now see that Cakewalk Sonar has generated a volume envelope with nodes that I can move around. If I want to make adjustments to the envelope, I can just move the nodes either upwards to increase volume or downwards to decrease.

Upon completing the task of riding the fader, I realized that it is far from perfect. I was just using the mouse to perform this task and I think I would have achieved better results if I had a control surface connected to my DAW. I think that it would take me a while to edit the nodes in the automation that I wrote. I was not happy with the result. In the end, I decided to scrap my work and I would try another time to ride the fader (or perhaps use a compressor plugin).

I do think that riding the fader is a skill that takes as much precision as playing an instrument. It demands careful listening and practice to achieve good results without resorting to editing the envelope later. I’m not surprised that compressors were developed to automate this process.

I hope that this short piece has helped you in understanding how to control dynamics in musical recordings through riding the fader. If you have any comments, feedback or constructive criticism for me regarding this post, please let me know. I would be happy to read them as I would like to further improve myself. Thank you very much for your time and attention.

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How to Prepare a Project and Record Audio in a DAW

Hello dear readers. It’s Mark A. Galang again in another installment of audio production tutorials. This tutorial was written in compliance to the peer review assignment requirement of the Berklee Course “Introduction to Music Production” being hosted by Coursera. I do hope that you all find this tutorial to be informative.

This tutorial features the way how I prepare a project in my DAW for recording. It also gives some insight into how I compose and record music. I use Cakewalk Sonar X1 as my DAW software. Let’s get started.

1. Sequencing the Drums

01 Sequencing the Drums

Before I actually create a project in Sonar, I usually write drum parts, orchestral parts, etc. using Sibelius 6. In this case, I just wrote the drum part for this project.

2. Exporting to MIDI

02 Exporting to MIDI

After writing the drum part in Sibelius, I would then save my work and then export it as a MIDI file to the folder of my choosing.

3. Creating a New Project

03 Creating a New Project

After opening Sonar X1, I make use of an atypical method of creating a project. I close the project creation wizard and then just drag the MIDI file I created into Sonar. Sonar will automatically open the MIDI file as a project.

4. Creating an Instrument Track

04 Creating an Instrument Track

Once the MIDI file has opened, I would then create an instrument track that would play back the MIDI data in the project. In this case, I’m using a VST instrument called EZDrummer. An instrument track is a combination of a MIDI and Audio track. The data displayed is MIDI but the playback comes from an audio source, usually a software instrument.

5. Transferring MIDI data to Instrument Track

05 Transfering MIDI Track to Instrument Track

Instead of assigning EZDrummer as the output for my MIDI track, I just simply drag the MIDI data into the instrument track and then delete the resulting empty MIDI track. The instrument track can read MIDI data anyway so I have no further use for the empty MIDI track.

6. Creating an Audio Track

06 Creating an Audio Track

I would then create an audio track next by right clicking on the empty space where the channels are supposed to be in Track View and then selecting the “Insert Audio Track” command.

7. Labeling Audio Track and Setting Up for Recording

07 Labeling Audio Track and Setting Up Channel for Recording

After creating the audio track, I would then label the audio track. In this instance, I’m recording a bass guitar track so I simply label it “Bass”. Afterwards, I select the appropriate input source for my audio track. In this case, my bass is connected to the left instrument input of my audio interface and so I select the left one in my DAW. If I select it this way, I will be able to record my bass part in mono.

8. Saving as a Project File

08 Saving as a Project File

Because Sonar opened my project as a MIDI file, it cannot save audio data yet. I would then save the project as a “Normal” CWP (Cakewalk Project) file with the “Copy All Audio With Project” option ticked so that I can assign the project and audio data folders for easier file management.

9. Arming the Audio Track for Recording

09 Arming the Audio Track for Recording

Before I begin recording, I then click on the red button in my audio track so that it would be “armed” for recording. Once the audio track is armed, I check my instrument’s recording levels on my audio interface and on the DAW. I am now ready to record my bass parts.

10. Setting up Metronome/Click and Countoff

10 Setting up Metronome or Click and Countoff

Before I start recording, I check my metronome/click and then see if I have the correct settings. I prefer using an audio click rather than MIDI and I set up the record count in to just “1”. Since the time signature in my project is 7/8 with a tempo of 100 bpm (in quarter notes), I expect to hear seven fast clicks before the DAW starts recording my audio.

11. Recording an Audio Track

11 Recording Audio

Once the levels are set and the audio track is armed, I start recording by pressing “R” on my computer keyboard. I count along to the count-in clicks (one, two, three, four, five, six, sev) and then start playing my bass parts. Once I’m done recording, I press the space bar to stop.

12. Cloning an Audio Track for a Second Take

12 Cloning an Audio Track for Second Take

Because I need to have a couple of recorded options, I record a number of takes. To do this, I just clone the audio channel where my bass is recorded. To do this, I just right-click on my audio track and select the option “Clone Track”. Sonar will then duplicate the audio track in its entirety.

13. Setting up Cloned Audio Track for a Second Take

13 Setting Up Cloned Audio Track for Second Take

The cloned audio track contains all of the data from the previous audio track, including recorded audio. Therefore, I would delete the recorded audio from the cloned track in order to empty it so I can begin recording a second take. To lessen distractions, I would then mute the original audio track before I record my second take.

14. Recording a Second Take

14 Recording a Second Take

Once my cloned audio track is ready, I would then record a second take following the steps mentioned a while ago.

After completing all of these steps, I think the entire effort went well. I was able to set up a project and record an audio track. Upon reviewing the project, I think that I should have saved the project immediately as a normal DAW project before setting up the audio track so that I wouldn’t run into a problem later should the application crash. Some of the steps I took to create the DAW project are atypical. However, this fits my usual workflow which involves composing and notating music first before recording audio.

For those who are interested, here’s the track I recorded for this particular tutorial:

I hope that you all have enjoyed reading and learning about recording audio in a DAW through this post. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you. If you have any feedback, comments, or constructive criticism, please feel free to let me know as I would love to learn new things as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Cesar Wycoco

This man right here is one of the most fascinating people I’ve met:

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Ladies and gentlemen, this is Mr. Cesar Wycoco, a real renaissance man or “Ilustrado”. He speaks around six different languages, educated for diplomatic service (he earned his M.A. in Political Science from the University of Hawaii and has a graduate degree in French from the University of Nice), and has a good deal of experience working in the U.S. Navy. What probably is much more significant is the fact that he is a self-taught piano virtuoso and composer that has spent time playing gigs in cruise ships and in various places. I am very fortunate to have been given an opportunity to work with this man whose talent and wisdom I have been trying a lot to learn from.

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Mark Galang (left) and Cesar Wycoco (right)

I started working with him in the last quarter of 2011 as a music transcriber for his album entitled “Cesar plays Wycoco”. I was introduced to him through Mariza Esteban, the owner of MSE Musical Services (the establishment where my son is currently studying violin). After that project, I continue to provide engraving and transcription work for his newer compositions.

People like Mr. Wycoco defy convention. You would expect that most pianists of his caliber to have a conservatory-level education. The fact is that he doesn’t. I can’t help but find that common thing between him and me, and that is a passion for music. He probably broke people’s expectations when he became a musician rather than a diplomat; I broke expectations when I got involved into music rather than healthcare. Sometimes I can’t help but think that if you have been called into music, you really can’t help but go do it no matter what.

If you look into Kuya Cesar’s history as a musician, I could see some parallels between him and Frederic Chopin. Both men are essentially self-taught pianists and composers. Both have had experience playing in France and elsewhere. Kuya Cesar even has a Chopinesque style in both his playing and composing. You can’t really help but be amazed every time you hear him play. He just can’t help but let music ooze out of his soul.

If you’d like to know more about Kuya Cesar and his musical activities, read more about him at http://www.himig.com.ph/people/438-cesar-wycoco?composer=true. Better yet, drop by the Makati Shangri-La Hotel every Monday to Friday just right about lunch time to hear him play. For the meantime, here’s a video of Kuya Cesar playing “I Dreamed a Dream” from the Les Miserables musical:

Piano Testing with Romantic and Impressionist Music

During the last quarter of 2012, I finally was able to get the old piano I grew up with reconditioned and tuned. So, here are some videos of me testing it out. These videos were shot using my iPad.

The first clip here features my attempts at Frederic Chopin’s Etude Numbers 1 and 12 from Opus 10:

 

 

The second clip is features Claude Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1:

 

The last clip is a crack at Claude Debussy’s Reflets Dans L’Eau from Images Book 1 with an improvisation added as an intro. Of all the pieces I play on the piano, this is probably my favorite:

 

 

My sister and I grew up on this piano, and so it holds a lot of memories. It’s a good thing that I didn’t have this piano traded in for another. To my ears, it sounds fantastic whenever I’m playing it. However, it does have that effect where it doesn’t sound as well as I would like it to be when recorded. Every time I record this piano, it doesn’t sound like how I’m hearing it when playing. Perhaps I’m fooling myself to thinking how fantastic it sounds every time I play, much in the same way that any person would love his or her own voice when one is singing in the shower. At the very least I don’t despise the sound when it’s recorded (I can’t say the same thing for my vocals, the timbre of which I’m not fond of).

I could say that my technician really did a good job restoring a once-neglected piano. This actually reminds me that I need to call him up again for this piano’s supposedly biannual tuning and maintenance requirements. On that note, with regard to tuning, I would really appreciate it if anyone could point me to where I can purchase a piano tuning wrench and a set of mutes locally. It’s best if I can tune the piano myself rather than hiring a technician to do it. Given the way I batter the piano almost every day, I do need my own piano tuning kit.

Perhaps when I feel like it I might post more recent clips of me playing the piano. I hope you all enjoy this one.

How to Record an Electric Guitar or Bass without an Amplifier

Good day. My name is Mark Galang, and I am a freelance musician and composer from Paranaque City, Philippines. This is my first peer-reviewed assignment for Introduction to Music Production, a Coursera.Org course provided by the Berklee College of Music. Part of my work involves recording electric guitar and bass parts. Certain circumstances prevent me from recording with an amplifier (lack of a good room and neighbors), and so I usually record without one. This tutorial will teach you how to record an electric guitar or bass without an amplifier.

For this tutorial, we need the following equipment:

A computer with a DAW of your choice installed (I’m using a PC with a copy of Cakewalk Sonar)

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USB or Firewire Audio Interface (TASCAM US-122 USB Audio Interface)

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Electric Guitar or Bass

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Instrument cable with 1/4″ plug (at least one)

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Studio monitors and/or headphones

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Guitar/Bass effects pedals and extra instrument cable/s (optional)

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1. Before you begin recording, make sure that your audio interface is connected to your computer via USB or Firewire and that your speakers and/or headphones are connected to the line out/headphone out of your audio interface.

2. Set the level of your audio interface’s instrument input channel to zero. If you have a device that you can switch between mic and instrument mode (LoZ and HiZ), please switch it first to instrument or HiZ mode.

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3. Plug in your electric guitar or bass into the audio interface’s instrument input (also known as guitar input) using your instrument’s cable. If you have effects pedals, make sure you have connected them as well in between the instrument and the audio interface.

4. Open up your DAW and create a new project.

New Project DAW

5. Select one of your DAW’s audio tracks and assign the input device where your electric guitar or bass is connected.

Select Input for Recording

6. Raise and adjust the level of the input channel at the audio interface where your instrument is connected. Before recording, play some music with the instrument first to check the levels. Make sure that the level is not too high to avoid distortion. Most audio interfaces have an LED or display that allows you to check levels. If the level is above 0 dB, it goes into the “red” zone (or causes a red LED to flash) meaning that the level is too high and it will cause distortion (not the good electric guitar amp kind!) or clipping to occur.

7. If your device has a direct monitoring feature, switch it on so that you can monitor your instrument during recording in real time. Otherwise, you can turn on your DAWs live monitoring feature. Live monitoring on a DAW, however, takes up more computer resources to run and suffers from some degree of latency.

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9. Once you’ve set up the appropriate levels, arm the audio track in your DAW and then you can start recording.

Recording in Progress

Here below is a link to an example of guitar and bass work that used the procedures described in this lesson:

Prior to signing up for this class, I had learned how to record in this manner through trial and error. As a result, I’ve had my share of badly recorded audio. I accept those mistakes though as the part of the learning process. All in all, I think the entire process or recording without an amplifier went well. Nowadays, I make use of a Digitech RP255 multi-effects pedal to emulate a variety of amp sounds and guitar effects. With the combination of the direct monitoring feature in my audio interface, I can hear my guitar processed with the effects that I want in real time. When using the direct monitoring feature when recording, I prefer to switch the audio interface to mono mode so I can hear the guitar’s output on both speakers (since it’s only connected to one input). Previously, I was using VST amp simulators and effects plus live playback monitoring in my DAW. As described in the lesson, the problem with this is latency plus the fact that VSTs use up computer resources.

Thank you for taking the time to read and evaluate this lesson. I do hope that I have presented the lesson accurately. If you have any feedback or if there’s anything else I could have done to explain things better, I would love to hear from you.