Javier Colon, Winner of NBC The Voice Using SONAR X2 for New Record

It’s been quite a ride in the last 2 years for Javier Colon after being crowned the winner of NBC’s hit TV show The Voice.  Some highlights include releasing the record “Come Through for You” on the Universal/Republic label, gaining millions of new fans, and touring around the world sharing the stage with artists including Maroon 5, Colbie Caillat and Gavin DeGraw to name a few.  It’s rare for an artist like Javier to experience so many facets of the music industry.  He is been signed to two major labels, put out his own successful independent music, and claimed the top spot on one of the biggest television shows of our time.  But what sets him apart from other artists (besides the obvious) in today’s never ending plethora of supposable talent?  I recently got a chance to catch up with Javier in his new SONAR X2 home studio in Connecticut and find out what he’s been up to, and where he’s going. (more…)

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Approaching Drums Left of Center with AudioSnap and Session Drummer – Norman Matthew [MURDER FM]

So Last “NorMonday” I went on a little (ok a lot) about how I approached tracking guitars, before that we tapped on my signature vocal techniques. Now it’s time to get into the foundation of it all, drums. Again, prepare yourself for some left of self-centered techniques.

THE KICK DRUM SUCKS…NO WORRIES, THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT

Seems there’s an app for EVERYthing these days. In the recording world, I like to think of plugins as the “apps.” I’ve been part of approximately 16.25 trillion sessions and not a-one has gone by that I haven’t run into a horrible kick drum sound – clicks, flaps, slaps, flops or just generally sounding like a basketball being dribbled through my mic. The flip-side to these tones of course, is that Gawd-awful weak kick drum that sounds like an egg-beater hitting a pillowcase.

Well I have found a Godsend when it comes to such atrocities….SESSION DRUMMER and AUDIO SNAP!

Drum replacement happens EVERYwhere, ALL the time, so don’t let anyone fool you… the key is knowing how to keep the feel and dynamics alive. I learned a lot about drum replacement from producer Beau Hill (Ratt, Eric Clapton, Alice Cooper, etc.), who took me under his production wing and mentored me on many techniques. In music production, we all strive for the best drum sounds because after all, that is what the rest of the music sits on. Unfortunately, we can’t all afford fancy tracking rooms where the walls move to adjust to the natural reverb. So, many of us at one point or another are slaves to the machine: tracking drums in the jam room, or in mom’s garage next to the washing machine (which is constantly on for some reason). (more…)

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An Unorthodox Approach to Tracking Guitars with TH2 – Norman Matthew [MURDER FM]

REINVENTING THE STEEL

Murder FM FestRecording Guitars in this day and age can be a daunting task. With so much to choose from, the possibilities are endless, yet, with so much groundwork already being laid by artists, engineers and producers before us, what else is left to do and where can we go? Luckily, I found the answers regarding my own work. We can’t reinvent the wheel, but we can put our own rims and wheels on it and make it a banger.

Technology has made it amazing for me to create the sounds I’m looking for quickly and easily, especially with the new OVERLOUD / TH2 Producer plugin in SONAR X2 Producer. Ideas flow through me quickly and when inspiration hits, I want to commit my idea to “tape” (aka the hard drive) but not have to commit them to the tone. This is where SONAR X2 has really become one of the greatest things I’ve encountered in the studio.

CLEAN IS THE NEW “HEAVY”

TH2 is my partner in crime. I laugh at how I used to maneuver in the studio without it. The Randall modeler is just explosive as can be. How I track guitars is probably the weirdest thing you are about to hear, but as you progress in your own endeavors, I guarantee it will make a ton of sense. As I mentioned earlier, I like to lay my idea down without having to commit to the tone, so how do I go about the perils of tracking decadence without getting in the way of creativity? Simple, I track my guitar with a DRY direct signal.

Now if you have heard my band MURDER FM before, you will undoubtedly be scratching your head “huh?” This method solves multiple issues for me in the studio and here’s why:

1.) I can start the creation process quickly without having to noodle around with tones. I can concentrate simply on writing as if I was sitting on the couch with my acoustic guitar just letting the song write itself, that’s the best way for me – heartfelt and innocent.

2.) With a dry signal, I have the most optimal amount of flexibility as the song begins to grow. I think a lot of artists can sometimes put the proverbial “cart before the horse” in production, by wanting their guitars to “sound like this guy or that rig” before even writing the song, but to me that’s a big mistake. You aren’t creating your own signature sound and you aren’t letting the song grow and speak for you. Instantly you have set parameters and guidelines on your creativity without even realizing it.

3.) With very heavy guitars, you tend to brick-wall your transients and this can make for massive migraines when it comes to editing. Further, if you are meticulous like me, you’re heading for disaster in the editing department. So having a clean direct signal helps me to see where the dynamics in the riffs are and to really expand on that in terms of editing to make the tightest (or loosest) composite tracks possible. Another bonus is that the plugin responds so much better to a DI signal versus a straight up – ramped up signal, and this is where the OVERLOUD / TH2 plug really make its presence known AND felt. Heavy guitars can now sound like chainsaws and clean tones can be dark, majestic and celestial.

So now that I’ve tracked my dry signal, I go to TH2 to start messing around with scratch tones. I load up the click-track and start tracking drums. Once drum tracks are down, I re-track guitars with a clearer picture of the song and what it is saying as it is “speaking to me,” then start to formulate my tones around that. Some of the HEAVIEST riffs I have ever recorded have been the least “gainy” tones believe it or not; it’s all about sitting in the right place within the song and letting the track tell the story. I then cue up a tempo with the click track and start creating. SONAR X2′s simplicity along with the Skylight User Interface have allowed me to literally start tracking on my PC in the airport, on the tour bus, backstage and in the hotel room. Low Latency = High results in my world and X2 is amazing at handling that.

SLAPPIN’ THE BASS, DROPPING THE TUNING

Since I play in “Drop B” or “Drop C” tunings with MURDER FM, clean tracks come in VERY handy again because I can actually adjust the tones to the riff and really bring out those low B and C notes. TH2 has some great benefits. The Randall modeling is second to none, the flexibility, low CPU usage, Mic positing, Amp Channels, Smart Control and SLR technology make combining tone & personal style with the greatest of ease. I also use TH2 on my bass tracks.

Another really backwards sort of thing I do is track the bass after the guitars have been laid down. Why? Well for one, drop tunings tend to lend themselves to tuning issues when you hit certain frets, so I start with the tuner, but usually tune the bass to the majority of movements in the track, or to those fickle 7th and 8th frets (since I LOVE my minor keys and flats). In a break glass scenario, I use “V-Vocal Editor” in SONAR X2 to fine tune the track! How’bout that for ground-breaking? Also, with the super-heavy-groove-oriented beats MURDER FM regurgitates, I don’t approach things in the typical rhythm section mentality. Sometimes we are precise, sometimes very loose, and I feel the bass is the glue between the two worlds when trying to create our own brand of tuned-down metallic-voodoo.

Once I’ve heard the drums, the dry guitars with the TH2 plug ins loaded up, and the bass in its place, I move to the mic’d tracks. Let’s face it; nothing beats the feeling of pushing air with a loud cabinet against your back or in your face when you hit that Drop B chord. I then tweak my tone not to “sound like this or that”, but to fill in what is missing [air and frequency-wise] in my dry / TH2 signals. Sometimes its missing feedback, fret noise or even that irritating squawk a non-gated – heavy gained guitar has, but I put in whatever I need to make the track feel loud and real. After all this, I then mix my two tones together to get that chainsaw I so desire. This same method also works for getting very angelic, celestial and glassy clean tones reminiscent of one of my favorite bands, THE CURE.

NEW STRINGS, PUTTIN’ ON THE SQUEEZE AND NOISE GATES

I did an experiment with my dry tones and realized that brand spanking new strings responded to the TH2 plugins MUCH better than old dead strings. With the transients being tracked so bright and clean, things just sounded a lot heavier through TH2 with new strings. So do yourself the solid and before doing some serious tracking, change those strings dude. Now, we’ve got dry signals, TH2 plugins loaded, mic’d amps/cabinets committed to the track, let’s clean ‘em up. Noise Gates – NEVER leave home without them. Using my SONAR effects, I pull up a few different noise gates and adjust the threshold and ratio to my noisy mic’d amp signals. Once I’ve found the cleanest, tightest settings, I make my own user preset and apply it to my dry signal chain right behind the TH2 / OVERLOUD for consistency. The dry signals are more often than not cleaner and tighter, but JUST in case, In the world of the gnar and loving tight guitars, I make sure these are set to match one another; and it works beautifully. Add to that, the fact that I can see the CLEAN .wav and its transients, I can almost set the noise gate by simply looking at the guitar tracks without even having to listen. Didn’t I tell ya earlier, those clean tracks can save you the migraine bro!

PUTTIN ON THE SQUEEZE

As far as compression goes, ProChannel modules are amazing! However, I don’t generally use compression on guitar tracks because I really want the natural dynamic of the riffs and clean guitars to shine. It doesn’t have the same “feeling” to me if you can’t feel those peaks and valleys. If you track properly, you won’t really need to compress guitars to keep things at bay, although I’ve had to mix some projects that were sent to me tracked very poorly, and SONR X2′s CONCRETE LIMITER and ProChannel compressors really saved the day.

To add the feeling of old 2 inch tape saturation, I will run my guitar tracks through the CONSOLE EMULATION in the ProChannel Strip using the “S Type” setting. This mode emulates a clean and transparent British console that is popular among mixing engineers in rock and pop genres, and has been used on more platinum selling albums than all other consoles combined.

BEFORE YOU TURN THE SINGER UP, TURN YOUR GAIN DOWN

Now sitting in the mix, the chainsaw metal guitars I love tend to hover around the same frequencies as the vocalist (in this case myself as well ha) and cymbals. Not many people think about it, but EQ should be used for correction, not enhancement. I’ve seen too many guys go straight for the EQ before even hearing what it sounds like. Mixing guitars with vocals is like putting together a 10,000 piece puzzle; every little move, transient, frequency, pan, and volume point matters. So before you start cranking up the singer because “I can’t hear my vocals”, try turning down the gain or ready for this metal guys?… turn UP the mid-range (mind=blown) and really let each instrument reside in its own frequency range before nudging the EQ and moving the faders.

One other thing I suggest on guitars, ALWAYS double track your chorus rhythm guitars and pan each one hard left and hard right. This leaves room for more vocals, backups, and harmonies in the panoramic spectrum and also leaves room up the middle for guitar solos and all the little bells and whistles we need with guitars and percussion. Depending on the track, I like the verse guitars to run up the center, then explode with the panned hard left /hard right chorus guitars. Just because it’s heavy doesn’t mean you can’t tell a story. If you hit the wall out the gate, you have nowhere to go but down and I just can’t live with that. \m/

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Recording and Mixing Our Signature Vocal Sound in SONAR X2 – Norman Matthew [MURDER FM]

Hey world, forget your Monday-hate and dive in with me to make the first day of the week a little less sucky and a bit more murderous. Henceforth, it’s NorMonday. So if you find crawling back into the grind a bore, let’s get board–maybe a little chitty-chat about production techniques, tricks, voodoo, esoterica and sleight-of-hand. No blahs here, just blast.

MURDER FM has been blessed with some really nice response to our sound both here at home and the U.K. and the Cakewalk folks were kind enough to ask me to talk a little about the things that go into producing our sound. Hahhh! The real trick’ll be to shut me up, let’s get to it—hopefully it’s helpful.

The nuts, bolts and screams of “We The Evil.”
Coming back from our Sold Out UK Tour, I really wanted to push the envelope with MURDER FM’s new record, so when SONAR X2 arrived, I immediately went to work on using it to shape what would become MURDER FM’s heavier and darker sound.

I recorded the Vocals for “We The Evil” using a Cakewalk UA-101 as my interface into X2. Using a Nady condenser mic, I always track as direct and flat as possible, including no preamps for multiple reasons, 1.) I have the cleanest signal for optimal mix options and preamps will color the signal nicely, which leads to reason number 2.) Cleaner signals force me to have to be a better singer and really develop my character versus letting the effects and preamps shape my tone. It’s a bit more work in the end, but much better for what I am trying to do with my own signature production techniques.

Oh yeah, screamage. There’s a lot of textures in the vocals on “We The Evil”. You don’t “hear” some, but you “feel” them and that’s what I’m going for. It’s a lot more orchestral in the arrangement than one might think when it comes to creating “big dark vocals” that feel huge, but are still intimate. There are some lower octave vocal accents in the verses and lots of doubles and harmonies in the chorus to create that arena sing along vibe. To really make the screams punch, I cranked the SOFTUBE “saturation knob” about 40% of the way to get my point across!

Mic, pre and chain (or not).
Here is where I would sing the praises of the Nady SCM-1000 Wired Cardioid Studio Condenser Microphone. For it’s price, this thing is a beast and has yet to let me down. It captures my voice perfectly and really accentuates things without me having to going into a preamp. On “We The Evil” I used and abused X2′s ProChannel feature for everything I needed vocal wise. It’s such an amazing and powerful tool from the PC2A and Console Emulator Channel/Bus to the Compressor and Saturation Knob, it really gave me everything I needed for the vocal track and is perfect for drums and my master bus.

Getting my grit on: Not a perfect science.
For FX, I used VX-64 Vocal Strip. The doubler really helps the chorus vocals pop out, especially in the gang vocal sections and the Compander in the vocal strip really brings out the “throaty” tone in verse vocals, so much so, when mixing I cranked the tracked and could literally feel the grit in my throat in my stomach, it’s really a powerful tool. TheDeesser in the strip helps to clean up the throaty “s and p” mishaps. The “tube equalizer” allows me to bring out that mid range punch. I used the Delay within the VX-64 on my main chorus vocal help to create the hugeness of the chorus vocal by putting it just a tad out of time with the backup vocals and harmonies. That way, everything isn’t hitting directly at you–but more at slight little milliseconds off of one another, much like the natural movement of a choir…Too perfect is tooo bland in my opinion.

Scene of the rhyme.
All of the new MURDER FM record was tracked at my studio, THE SOUND FOUNDATION in Dallas. I’ve got multiple amp setups, drum isolation booth, a collection of different mics and all the latest Cakewalk plug-ins. One of my new faves for guitar tones is OVERLOUD. I track a mic’d amp tone and a clean DI signal for both post production and editing purposes. Heavier sounds such as MURDER FM’s tend to brickwall with distorted tones. Having a clean signal helps to view the transients gives me the flexibility to plug in anything missing in the mic’d amp tone to obtain the fullest guitar tone I possibly clean and avoid that “thin” one dimensional tone.

I told you—get me going and I don’t stop. But hey—God is in the details and I don’t wanna make him mad, so I spend a lotta time there. Besides, who wants to think about how far it is to the weekend when you could be thinking interfaces and plug-ins. ‘Tis the diff between a mere Monday and a NorMonday.

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Murder FM Finds Their Way to Revolver Magazine with SONAR X2; New Single “We the Evil” Finding International Success

The interesting and never-boring Texas-native front man of MURDER FM, Norman Matthew, will be guest appearing on the Cakewalk blog every other Monday (NorMondays) delivering music production tips, tricks and conditional evilness.  As a seasoned producer/songwriter/instrumentalist, he will be delving into his bag of production wickedness to shed some interesting light on how he approached sounds, songs and life in general;)

MURDER FM’s dark, edgy, and sleek style has been creating a buzz in the music industry domestically, and is quickly becoming a huge hit internationally.  Norman Matthew and the band have established a cult-like following, propelling two of the bands’ videos “As Beautiful as You Are” and “Machine Gun Kisses “to the Top-Ten list on (more…)

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International German Composer Jochen Flach Chooses SONAR X2: Interview from MusikMesse – Frankfurt

Recently and fortunately, I had the opportunity to attend MuskMesse in Frankfurt Germany where I demonstrated the powerful workflow of SONAR X2a.  Similar to The NAMM Show, MusikMesse brings gear junkies like you and me into one centralized location to discover all the new products for anything-music-creation.  The one constituent factor I noticed that sets MusikMesse apart from The NAMM Show is the undeniable international presence; both on the company side, and the consumer side.

Roland Germany's Michael Menze with Jochen Flach at MusikMesse

I was able to discover some great new products as well as meet some great new artists.  One artist that I was looking forward to meeting was composer/producer (and SONAR X2 user) Jochen Flach who is doing some great things on an international level based out of Germany.  I was excited to meet Jochen after becoming a fan of his compositions as the music he is creating on SONAR X2 is nothing short of innovative and captivating.

As a member of DYNAMEDION – Germany’s leading game-audio company, he was awarded back in 2009 for the best game soundtrack (for the game ANNO 1404).  In addition to usages in games, his music is being used for international promotion-campaigns for movies, TV-series, TV-shows as well as for soundtracks.  You can find his tracks on numerous releases for the movie-trailer business of several major companies – all composed in SONAR.

I got a chance to sit down with Jochen in a somewhat controlled environment at MusikMesse and had a great conversation with him about music production, and why he chooses SONAR for his complex music compositions.

Download the SONAR X2 Producer trial today and find out why more and more award winning producers and musicians from around the world are switching to SONAR. The trial is fully-functional for up to 30-days and includes the award-winning Skylight User Interface and the innovative ProChannel.

 

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New Videos: Create Amazing Things with SONAR X2 and Intel Technology

Intel video

Chuck Carr creates amazing content for Twisted Metal
Chuck Carr is a multi-faceted game audio professional and accomplished musician for over 60 games and counting. Intel has put out a new video showing how Chuck Carr used SONAR X2, an Intel® Core™-based PC and SSDs in his creative process to create the soundtrack for the hit game, Twisted Metal. It’s just one example of the amazing results that can be achieved with Intel technology and SONAR X2.

 

Timothy Michael Wynn Composes Amazing Content for Darkness II
Timothy Michael Wynn is an award-winning composer for films, television and video games. Hear how he uses SONAR X2 and the Intel® Core™ Processor and SSDs in his creative process.

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Remixing in SONAR: An MGMT inspired remix using SONAR X2 Producer and Z3TA+ 2

While working as a Quality Assurance Engineer for Cakewalk I have the privilege and duty to test the latest builds before they are available to the public. While testing SONAR X2a and the CA-2A T-Type Leveling Amplifier I decided to work on an MGMT inspired remix of new song written by Cakewalk Graphic Designer Dan Kaplan.  Dan gave me the stems from his studio sessions and from there I remixed the song using SONAR X2 Producer, the CA-2A, and Z3TA+ 2.

 

When I first listened to Dan Kaplan’s song Sink or Swim one of my favorite things about the song was the dynamic between the male and female vocals. I thought it would be interesting to try and approach the song more as a duet or at least feature the female vocal more than in the original. I started by putting the original stems in one folder in SONAR and began setting up tracks for the remix in another. I created some instrument tracks for Session Drummer 3, Studio Instruments Electric Piano, and Z3TA+ 2. I then brought in sections of the bass and piano stems and began working on the first chorus trying to get the vocal dynamic working. I added Kick samples and built a pad to fade between chords using Z3TA+ 2. The Bass needed to be a lot more aggressive and the saturation knob in combination with some EQ got the sound I wanted. I used a synth sample from the original stems for the instrumental sections that reminded me of a MGMT riff and layered some different snares and claps to add more energy. Things were already moving well towards the end of the song but I needed to figure out how to get to the first chorus. I found a great background vocal sample from the end of the original track that reminded me of something the band FUN might do and thought that it would be a cool way to start the song. Using 4 different instances of SD3 I built the giant drum circle intro and added some of my own guitars using TH2. I put some rhodes and strings in the intro as well which to me kept the space that was there but left some nice texture. The strings also really helped the transition into the first chorus when the pad comes in and takes over.

 

I’ve always liked well planned vocal arrangements in pop music and wanted to build a 3 or 4 part vocal section for the end. I copied and moved the original chorus to the end and began playing around with other vocal samples to see where other phrases could come in without hurting the melody. It started with the female sample “There’s one more step” which besides adding to the context of the song helped setup the lead vocal when Dan repeats the same lyrics. I then used it for the bridge as well. I cut up the lyrics “Sink or Swim” that Dan sings and also layered that in a few choice spots.

 

I added some splashy electronic cymbal hits for added effect throughout the song and chopped some of the kick and snare samples to give it some life and not be too repetitive. I found a great long kick hit in the included sample library that I reversed for the sub swells along with reversing some other samples and sections of the guitar. Each track went through the A-Type console emulator which I think adds more air to the track and used a lot of the BREVERB SONAR plug-in for reverb on tracks and busses. To get the weird watery effect on the female vocals in the bridge I pulled out the original Z3TA+ which can be used as an audio plug-in also and found a preset to start with and tweaked it so the words were still understandable.

 

Listen to Dan Kaplan’s original version of Sink or Swim.

Sink or Swim
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Designing Sounds for Cakewalk Synthesizers – Behind the Scenes at Digital Sound Factory

Digital Sound Factory

When people ask me what I do for a living, it is often difficult for them to grasp the words; I record sounds and musical instruments that musicians use to create music. At Digital Sound Factory we breakdown the instrument to the fundamentals and capture the sounds that make up its character. Each note and playing style is recorded. We are essentially creating a ‘digital archive’ of musical instrument sounds that render playback on modern computers.

Creating sound expansion packs for Cakewalk synthesizers involves many steps in the development process. It’s a long journey from defining the scope of the sound set to hearing a sound when playing a MIDI note. This is an overview of how an expansion pack is born and what goes on behind the scenes.

 

Defining the Project

First we take a close look at the scope of the project and define the instruments and samples required.

Musicians, engineers, and studio time are not free, so the better prepared we are, the more we capture. Each instrument requires different considerations. Sampling drum’s is different from sampling synthesizers is different from sampling brass or winds. In the case of drums, how the drum should be tuned, number of velocity hits on center to the edge of the head, matching rim shots, various microphone placements, to name a few. Sampling brass or woodwinds will entail multiple volume levels of sustain, more breath, less breath, breath only, mutes, staccato, and more.

 

The Recording Process

Sampling is similar to recording music in some ways, but in other ways it is very different. The similarities are musicians are recorded in professional sound environments using microphones, mixing console, speakers, etc. The very different part is we are not there to record music. We record the instrument and its characteristics. I can’t begin to tell you how many sessions I have walked into and the musicians are ready to impress with great music. In these sessions we focus on the technique, not the music.

Each note the instrument is capable of playing is meticulously recorded at various amplitude levels and styles (ie: sustained, mute, fast attack, slow attack, soft, loud, etc.) using 4 – 16 microphones, fast computers, and Sonar. It is imperative that any addition sounds that are not part of the instrument, such as squeaky chairs, breathing, or noise from the musician are identified and eliminated during the recording process. Occasionally there are sounds that make their way into the sample and need to later be isolated and removed using software tools. All microphones, takes, tracks, hard drives, etc. are documented for use during the editing process.

 

Selection and Editing

After days, weeks, or months of recording, the tracks are reviewed and the best takes are sliced and copied to a new project. This may include as many as 4 to 16 tracks of microphones that can be mixed or separated to create the final individual .wav files for each pitch/velocity/etc. Selecting the best ‘takes’ involves a lot of listening and is essential to delivering the highest quality instruments. Any additional DSP (Digital Signal Processing), such as leveling, noise cancelation, equalization, and amplitude fades are completed at this stage. Sustained notes require looping the recordings to create a seamless pitch at the loop points. Loops are adjusted to lengths based on memory size targets. Each .wav file is tagged with the instrument name, style, and pitch identification.

 

SFZ Creation

SFZ files are created and used to map the incoming MIDI controller note number to the correct .wav file and location. The SFZ files are text files and use ‘opcodes’ or operation codes that are used to control various synthesizer program parameters. It contains relevant information about the instrument such as velocity, filter types, envelopes, LFO’s, and others. SFZ files are programmed for each playing style and sometimes combined to create layers.

 

Programming

This is where the instruments develop personality and flavor. SFZ files can be combined as elements to create layers. Filters, modulation sources and destinations, and effects are assigned. The program is named and saved to the relevant style folder.

 

Digital Sound Factory Recording Video

This video includes recording sessions for orchestral strings, winds, brass, and percussion in the concert hall and studio, drum kits and percussion, ethnic instruments, and grand piano.

Buy Sounds for Cakewalk Synths

Digital Sound Factory offers over fifty expansion packs for Cakewalk’s Dimension, Rapture, Sound Center, Z3TA+2, and Session Drummer 3.  Digital Sound Factory on the Cakewalk Store

DSF Sale

Download DSF Expansion Packs for as low as $19.95
Stock up this weekend on DSF expansion packs for Dimension Pro/Dimension LE. The DSF collection features thousands of sounds for all types of music and genres. Included are Grand Pianos, Guitars, Basses, Classic Keys, Orchestral, Hollywood Sound FX and much more. Buy one or buy them all and save big during this special offer. Ends February 28th, 2013.

Shop and save today

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Testing the CA-2A in the Real World: Three Reasons it’s a Must-Have Plugin for Mixing

I was recently hired to burn the ole midnight oil and produce, mix, co-write and play just about every instrument on an EP for an artist out of NYC.  The record is pretty cool, definitely fun to make, and it falls somewhere between Fiona Apple and Taylor Swift.  Considering the genre, I figured it was a great time to try out our new CA-2A T-Type Leveling Amplifier in the field and in a practical situation.

From testing the beta out briefly during development, I knew I was going to like the outcome of using the CA-2A, but what I didn’t expect was the versatility of the plugin.  I ended up using it on a lot more than what I expected.  From smoothing out vocals to arpeggiated guitars to piano tones, I really loved what I was getting from the CA-2A.  I also had the benefit of A/B’ing it with another branded Leveling Amplifier that I use, and I found the Cakewalk CA-2A thicker sounding in general and also more versatile due to the R37 screw [knob.]   Here are the reasons I found myself going to the CA-2A instead of my other comparable leveling amplifier.

1.)    R37 Adjuster on Vocals – This adjustable screw is interesting.  The physical appearance of the screw does not give off the importance of its usefulness.  Basically, this parameter allows you to adjust the compression on the high frequencies.  Since my other Leveling Amplifier does not have this adjustment, I always started out by keeping the screw all the way to the left (0%) and then dialing it in until I found the sweet spot.  The result was amazing especially on vocals.  I was able to always get a warm yet transparent sound but without the harshness on most of the “ess” words.  Since this project is with a female vocalist, I found it especially helpful.  I was also able to work the QuadCurve EQ into the mix and combine it with the CA-2A nicely.  By tweaking the hi-end frequencies on the EQ along with the R37 screw, I was able to get a more present vocals without any harshness.

2.)    “Limit” Mode on Bass Guitar – I’m not sure if it will be like this for every song, but for this track the CA-2A on the bass guitar in “Limit” mode was a magic bullet.  I always run the bass into its separate bus, so I ended up using the limiter on that stage.  I played the bass guitar (as you can hear from the track on this post) with a pick for this song.  The CA-2A in limiting mode on the bass bus really allowed me to fatten up the sound of the low end, but also kept the attack of the pick in focus.  It leveled out the attack of the pick hitting the string but also kept it present.  I had the EQ running on the bass track, and then the limiter on the bass hitting the peak reduction at about -3db.  I kept the R37 at 0% as you can see from the image.

3.)    “Compress” Mode on Piano and Whirlie – fortunately for this track I had the benefit of having David Cook (keyboardist and MD for Taylor Swift) play on the track – the guy is a genius.  I’m pretty much a hack at keyboards so my usual piano editing (to make myself sound decent enough) was not going to cut it.  As you can hear from the attached track, there is a lot going on in the song, so I had to figure out a creative mixing strategy to make room and carve frequencies.  To say that the CA-2A helped me achieve this on the track would be an understatement.  Using the plugin in compress mode on the piano enabled me to really place it in the mix correctly.  It also helped dial in the frequencies to get it out of the way of all the other things that were in the same frequency range.  To get the piano to sit correctly, I hit the compressor pretty hard, used the R37 at 50%, and then notched up the highs of the QuadCurve EQ.  I also used the Channel Tools plugin to give it some more width and depth and get it out of the way of the guitars.  The more I use this, the more I understand the importance of the R37 screw.  It’s almost an oxymoron, but by combining the R37 with the high-end frequencies on the QuadCurve EQ it seems like I am able to get a warm top end sound out of instruments.

On the rest of the track I also ended up using the CA-2A on some acoustic guitar tracks as well as one of the clean electric guitars.  I’m psyched about the performance and versatility of this plugin – instantly you can hear the difference wherever you use it.  I also think this is a plugin that would be a great benefit to folks who are just getting into mixing.  The simplicity of the unit basically makes it fool proof for obtaining professional results without a lot of technical worries – basically just use your ear and turn the knobs;)

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Thanks for reading and be sure listen to the mix posted below.

The song on this post uses the CA-2A on exactly the following tracks:
Lead Vocal track (Compress Mode)
Bass bus (Limit mode)
Piano track (Compress Mode)
Whirlie track (Compress Mode)
B3 track (very lightly) (Compress Mode)
Left acoustic guitar track (both mics)  (Compress Mode)
Arpeggiated Electric Guitar track (Compress Mode)
1 of the backing vocal tracks (Compress Mode)
Tom drums bus (Limit mode)
Hi Hat (Compress Mode)
Mandolin track (Compress Mode) (doubled – CA-2A only on 1 of the tracks)

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