7 Steps to Cleaning Up Your “ACT” with Hardware

by Craig Anderton

ACT (Active Controller Technology; in SONAR) is a powerful protocol, and its complexity can be sufficiently daunting that some people never take advantage of it. However, one of the rarely-considered advantages of a powerful protocol is that it’s often powerful enough to be used in a more basic way. So if you’ve wanted to take advantage of ACT without having to reach for the aspirin, you’re in the right place.

The conventional approach to ACT is using templates that let you apply hands-on control to various instruments and effects. This usually implies having a dedicated controller, spending some time setting up assignments and creating templates, and so on. However, you can also treat ACT more like a “controller scratch pad” that’s easy, efficient, and works with just about any MIDI controller. It’s the ideal solution for when you simply want some hands-on control without having to venture very far into left-brain territory.

Step 1: Choose Your Controller

One of my favorite ACT controllers is Native Instruments’ discontinued Kore 2 controller. The industrial design is first-class, it’s built solidly, and there’s enough functionality for what we need. Another advantage is that when NI stopped supporting Kore, the eBay prices took a major tumble. Although the examples in this article are based on Kore, please note that the same principles apply to virtually any MIDI controller.

Step 2: Grab Your Software

Many controllers have dedicated drivers, so if needed, make sure you have the latest. NI still offers the 32/64-bit Kore 2 Controller Driver 3.0.0 and the latest NI Controller Editor, which you can download for free from their site. Follow the instructions when installing, or you’ll wonder why the controller doesn’t work.

(Note: With the Kore 2 controller, you may first be greeted with an unusable bright red display. No worries: Hit Kore 2’s F2 button, navigate to Set, hit Enter, and use the navigation buttons and data wheel to control the Contrast and Backlight parameter values.)

The Controller Editor for NI’s Kore lets you specify various characteristics of the Kore 2 controller. In this picture, a button is being assigned to output a trigger when pushed down.

Various controllers may have options—such as assigning buttons to a latch, toggle, or trigger mode. Many of them have editors; Kore 2’s is somewhat more sophisticated than many others, but again, the principles are the same. In the case of Kore you open the Editor, select Kore Controller 2 from the drop-down menu, and use the Edit button in the Templates tab to choose New. This creates a general purpose MIDI control template. (While you’re at it, I recommend assigning the eight main buttons associated with the pots to Trigger, and action on Down. For a shift button, assign the monitor [speaker icon] button to Gate, again with action on down. Go to the file menu, and save the configuration as “Sonar ACT.ncc.”)

Step 3: Set Up SONAR

Your controller communicates with SONAR via MIDI, so go to the (more…)

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How Cakewalk Pros use SONAR X3 for Songwriting

Songwriting is such an intricate art-form. Some approach it seriously, while others find their best work casually writing with others in a lighter atmosphere. There are a lot of moving parts, and in my opinion a lot of magic and unexplainable voodoo that go into a song that simply resonates with the general public for unexplainable reasons. Do you think Afroman thought his song “Because I Got High” would have over 45 million views on YouTube when he wrote it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeYsTmIzjkw

There are so many different and interesting ways to write songs, and SONAR is a DAW that literally becomes your writing partner. From inspiring drum grooves with Addictive Drums, to the ease of workflow with loops, to quickly shaping sounds to inspire a more creative path, SONAR is way more than your industry-standard “recording” software. It’s a place you go to when you want to creatively craft a masterpiece. We thought it would be interesting to hear from some day-in-day-out professionals who depend on SONAR for their livelihood.

Javier Colon
Singer-songwriter
Major Label Recording Artist
International Touring Artist
Winner of Season 1 “NBC’s The Voice”

Cakewalk Artist Relations:     What is your main approach to songwriting?

I’m usually an acoustic guitar guy when it comes to songwriting but sometimes I’ll sit at the piano and get inspired and start writing. I’ve worked with a lot of producers and songwriters that build a track and then write to it – we’ve come up some great songs that way too.

Cakewalk Artist Relations:     How does SONAR help with the songwriting process?

Javier:     SONAR helps me tremendously when writing because it’s so flexible; you can change things in a session as quickly as you can change your mind – this really helps the songwriting process. When I write a song there is a constant process of elimination. I’ll think of a line, and I might like it for a minute, and then toss it out. There are also ideas that I absolutely know will make it into the song. I constantly record as I go so I don’t forget ideas that I really love – SONAR’s arranging workflow really keeps this process creative and easy for me in terms of songwriting.

Also, X3’s looping and comping functions really help with songwriting.  I record chord progression loops so I can come up with melody ideas in real time. Then I’ll go back and audition all the ideas easily to get a good idea of what melodies are better than others.  SONAR X3 has really been a great tool for songwriting for me.

Cakewalk Artist Relations:     What is one of the recent songwriting successes or projects you have had or really enjoyed? What was the workflow or songwriting process like for that?

Javier:     I recently wrote with a good friend of mine, Josh Kelley (more…)

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SONAR for Songwriters – By Craig Anderton

by Craig Anderton

Ask songwriters about writing on a computer, and many of them will tell you it’s a creativity killer—as they reach for an acoustic guitar or piano to get their ideas down. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Although DAWs are thought of traditionally as being all about recording, editing, and mixing, for reasons we’ll cover here I’d rather boot up Sonar for songwriting as well.

Approaches to songwriting vary considerably, from those who strum some chords on a guitar for ideas, to those who start with beats, to those who seem to draw inspiration out of nowhere, and want to record what they hear quickly—before the inspiration fades. As a result, this article isn’t about what you should do to write songs, but rather, describes some particular Sonar tools in depth—some (or all) of which might be very helpful if you’re into songwriting.

Although songwriting styles are very personal, I think we can nonetheless agree on a few general points: While songwriting, you want your tools to stay out of the way and be transparent. You want a smooth-flowing, efficient, simple process; songwriting isn’t about endlessly tweaking a synth bass patch, but about coming up with a great bass part—thanks to the fluid nature of digital recording, just about anything can be replaced or refined at a later date. You want an environment that can simplify turning your abstract ideas into something tangible, while losing as little as possible in the translation. So, let’s look at some Sonar techniques that can help you accomplish that goal.

THE MIDI QUICK START

Normally you need to arm a MIDI track before you can record on it, but it’s possible to defeat this so that recording starts on any selected MIDI track as soon as you click on the transport’s Record button. I realize the default setting is there to prevent accidental overwriting of MIDI tracks, but personally, I find not having to arm a track liberating—it saves time and makes the recording process flow faster. To do this:

  1. Go Edit > Preferences > MIDI > Playback and Recording.
  2. Check the box for “Allow MIDI Recording without an Armed Track” (the 1st box under Record).
  3. Click Apply then OK to close preferences.

It’s possible to record MIDI tracks without having to arm them first, which can be a real time-saver over the course of a song.

 

TEMPLATE FILES (more…)

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How A Small Studio in Wales is Making Big Waves Internationally Using the ProChannel and Console Emulation

Since the release of SONAR X3, there have been more and more commercially viable SONAR studios popping up around the world.  One of the more interesting ones that we have found recently is nestled in a land known more for its castles and Celtic folklore rather than commercial music.  But nevertheless, there’s a little-engine-who-could called Shabbey Road Studios who are finding great success from London to New York City through their network of talented clients and talented staff.  Operated by producers-mixers-musicians-songwriters Al Steele, and Nigel Hart, Shabbey Road Studios is a full service studio just outside of Cardiff Wales.  Al, a native Australian, has been a multi-instrumentalist since the age of 8.  A natural career progression in the music industry brought him around the world at a young age with some very significant names such as the Billboard chart-ers Johnny and the Hurricanes, and Del Shannon who had the #1 Billboard hit song “Runaway” in 1961.  He has also appeared as a featured guitarist on many music placements in the Film and TV world which has added much credibility to his current role at Shabbey Road.  Al’s studio partner Nigel Hart is a Musical Director, Film and TV Composer, Songwriter and Arranger. He plays keyboards and sings, but also has a large back catalogue of instrumental compositions and songs.  Recently, Al and Shabbey Road Studio’ staff have been recording Dan and Laura Curtis who are best known for their album “Love on 42nd Street,” which was released in aid of the BBC Children in Need appeal.   Al was assisted throughout this project by Rob Sherwood, another multi-instrumentalist/engineer and X3 enthusiast.  Daniel and Laura Curtis are considered as one of the foremost ambassadors for the preservation of the music of the Great American Songbook in the United Kingdom.  The Great American Songbook offers a dazzling parade of American popular songs as seen and heard in some of the most beloved films and musicals ever made.

“Whether a project is large or small, our emphasis is always on melody and the big arrangements and massive mixes which are all there to support the song and vocalist.  Because of this we spend a long time on recording and then editing the ‘perfect’ vocal take.

The new Comping feature in Sonar X3 is simply amazing.  The ability to quickly audition and select your preferred take without having to painstakingly move to a master track is a massive time saver.  To just be able to slip the edit point back and forth cuts our editing time by about half! (more…)

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Ben Cantil on Z3TA+ 2 – Teaching Synthesis & Sound Design at Berklee Valencia

We recently had the opportunity to catch up with our friend Ben Cantil (aka. Encanti) – EDM Producer, author of the Mutant series Expansion Packs, and evangelist for Z3TA+ 2.

Who is your Masters Sound Design Course at Berklee Valencia geared towards?
I am working with young professionals from all walks of life who have come to Berklee Valencia to earn their Master’s degree, especially as part of the Music Technology Innovation program. My curriculum emphasizes practical and professional applications of creative music software. Some of these students will become sound designers, but many others will become engineers, stage musicians, film scorers, and installation artists, so I try to find common threads to make the content really relevant and useful no matter where you take your skills outside the classroom.

 

What are your goals for the students in your class?
This course is all about the fundamentals of sound design. The first goal is to equip students with creative and technical skills for generating sounds from scratch, emulating sounds, and composing unique sonic gestures intuitively. Another goal of this course to produce content using a variety of different medians. I think it is an ideal class for anyone that learns best from hands-on experience.

 

What are some of the Cakewalk Products being used in your class?
Z3ta+ 2 is a major part of my masters sound design course. We spend several weeks building patch libraries and sequences to make the synth really sing. I’ve found this is the ideal plugin to use when teaching synthesis, because it’s so unrestrained and versatile without being a processor hog.

 

In what ways are you using Z3TA+ 2 as a teaching tool? (more…)
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How to use a vocal-double to enhance lead vocals

One of the toughest things about working with a lead vocal track is getting it to pop out, while allowing it to still sit in the track nicely in context with its surroundings [other tracks].  Every mixing engineer has her/his bag of tricks, but here are a few ideas to utilize a “vocal-double” which may help support and embellish the lead vocal track.  For this demonstration I am using the lead vocal track of NBC’s The Voice Season 1 winner Javier Colon.  Note that you can click on images to get a bigger perspective.

(more…)

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How to EQ: Carving Out The Right Sound For Your Mix

Sometimes EQ is more about “sonic sculpture” than anything else

by Craig Anderton

One of the most important aspects of mixing is using EQ to “carve out” a specific frequency range for instruments so they don’t conflict with each other. If instruments have their own sonic space, it’s easier to hear each instrument’s unique contribution, which increases the mix’s clarity.

Dan Gonzalez did a great series for the Cakewalk blog on subtractive EQ, and how cutting frequencies can help create a better a mix; this is more of a complementary article about how I carved out EQ for various instruments in a cover version of the song “Black Market Daydreams” (by UK songwriter Mark Longworth). All the displays are set for +/-6dB.

Choirs: Using a low-shelf response to cut starting at the midrange gives the choir more brightness and “air.” This way it sort of floats over the mix. The same approach works well for ethereal pads, and lets you mix them a little lower to make space for other sounds. Also note that I couldn’t resist throwing a little Gloss in there…

Try the QuadCurve EQ in the SONAR X3 Producer Free Trial

Guitar power chord: Enabling the high pass and low pass filters creates a broad bandpass in the midrange area where there’s not a lot of energy (more…)

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“Object-Oriented” Clip Mixing in SONAR

When you need to get really detailed, object-oriented mixing is a convenient solution

by Craig Anderton

Many times when mixing, you’ll want to apply an effect or volume change to a small, specific section. Clip Automation makes it easy to handle Gain or Pan changes, but you can also work with effects by isolating specific “objects” in a track, then processing them individually. This is different from the usual method of applying effects to an entire track, but can come in really handy for detailed work. Also note that object-oriented effects processing works with any type of clip—audio, MIDI, or groove.

Here’s a step-by-step example of how to apply object-oriented mixing by adding maximization to one drum fill to make it really stand out. Download SONAR X3 to give this a try.

1. To isolate the object from a selected track, alt-click with the Smart tool at the beginning of the section you want to isolate, or place the Now time at this point and type “S.” Do the same at the end of the section.

2. Right-click on the object, and select “Open Clip Effects Bin” from the context menu (keyboard shortcut: Alt+K).

3. An effects bin opens up that’s similar to the standard track effects bin.

4. Right-click on a blank part of the effects bin, choose Audio FX from the context menu, then drill down to find the effect you want.

5. The effect will now appear in the bin. Like a standard effects bin, the small “power symbol” circle (blue for enabled, gray for disabled) appears to the effect’s left. To insert more effects (more…)

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Joerg Kohring: Former Guitarist of Lifehouse Finding Success with SONAR and a Solo Music Career

We recently got a chance to sit down with Joerg Kohring who is an LA-based singer/songwriter/producer working out of Los Angeles.  Originally from Germany, Joerg found his current musical path originally playing guitar in the award winning band Lifehouse.  Since then, he has found success with his own LA-based band Orbit Monkey as well as his production work with other artists.  Orbit Monkey’s debut record “Are We Alive” came out in 2011 and the band gained many fans from the recordings.  Since then, the band recently released a follow-up EP titled “Born to be Kings” and has released another single/video titled “On Fire” which was recorded and produced completely in SONAR X3.

(more…)

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Free Songwriting Guide from Disc Makers

Songwriting

Songwriters on Songwriting
Check out Disc Makers’ free guide “Songwriters on Songwriting”. In this guide five successful songwriters weigh in on topics such as: how to write a great song, writing through writer’s block, co-writing, finishing a song, and much more!

Download your free copy

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