How Eliud “Liu” Ortiz used SONAR X3 for his recent Jennifer Hudson mix (RCA Records)

These days, some professional mixing and recording engineers are doing work for major labels completely missed the analogue age. Others are still mixing on consoles.  We have come to a point where there really is no “right” or “wrong” in terms of mixing.  Some tracks are mixed so perfectly that they are not signed off on by the label because they are lacking something “distinct” or “of a raw nature.”  Other times, indie songs are mixed by a band itself and find their way to the top, where at that point the label just has someone remix the single for mainstream radio. (For example compare the normal and radio mixes of Gotye “Somebody That I Used to Know.)

NYC based mixing and recording engineer Liu Ortiz has seen it from all sides of the music and business spectrum.  Starting out at such a young age of 16 as an engineer, his career has placed him with a perfect balance (at still a young age) with a ton of knowledge in both the digital and analogue worlds.  He has worked on tracks with and for artists such as Mary J. Blige, Pink, Luther Vandross, Christina Aguilera, and even RZA to name a few, and was quite a successful engineer at the Hit Factory in New York City.

Coming from the world of Cubase and Pro Tools, and after hearing all the buzz about the full feature-set of SONAR X3, Liu decided to give SONAR X3 a whirl on a new track by Jennifer Hudson feat. R Kelley for RCA Records.  After mixing the track, he found himself gravitating towards the workflow so he continued the journey onto another project called The Summer Set; a very well established band from Scottsdale Arizona who are quickly making waves internationally.  I recently got a chance to visit with Liu at the new Cakewalk Room which is ironically enough in the old Hit Factory where he often worked.  Liu showed me some of his new mixes, showed me where his picture and plaques were on the wall, and even gave me a few interesting stories about some of the “good ole days” featuring Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah and Sean Puffy Combs [don’t worry Liu – I’ll never tell ;-)

Cakewalk Artist Relations:           Since you grew up on analogue consoles, what are there big sonic differences you hear now that you mix “in the box”?

 Liu Ortiz:           Well in the beginning way back when DAWs first started, I noticed that no matter what I did as I progressed with more plugins and inserts of each channel, the mix coming out the box would progressively get thinner; especially with vocals. I couldn’t really do much to fix that problem until not too long ago where technology has progressed with DAWs and computers in general.  Now, I can pretty much faithfully emulate hardware with EQ’s and compressors of pretty much all the consoles I have worked on in the past.

Neve and SSL’s had such distinctive qualities about them similar in comparison to that of Strats and Les Pauls. Since I worked on both extensively, I remember all the little nuances that each series had. So when I am mixing I just try my best to EQ with those particular traits in mind since they were my personal favorites. Pretty much all DAWs now are inherently very neutral, so I can dial in whatever tone I want and don’t have to worry about the vocals or guitars becoming shrill. I really appreciate technology now and just concentrate on crafting the best mix possible.  I must add that it is pretty amazing to me that SONAR X3 has a Console Emulator built into every bus and every track – this blew me away (more…)

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DAW Best Practices: How to use metering in SONAR

[Originally posted as a daily tip on the SONAR forums and reposted for viewers here on the blog.]

The Overachieving Meters

by Craig Anderton

To change resolution for any audio meter, in any view, right-click on it and choose a range of 12, 24, 42, 60, 78, or 90 dB. Each meter can have its own range. With the Console view, I set the output bus meters to 12 dB to help gauge the approximate amount of loudness maximization that may be required. For example, if the meters make it to 0 but otherwise spend very little time in those upper 12 dB, then the track will probably need to be made “hotter” when mastering. For the Track View track meters, choosing the maximum resolution (90 dB) helps reveal if there’s noise at the lower range of an incoming signal.

Vertical or Horizontal Metering

In Track View, the meters can be vertical or horizontal. Choose Options > Meter Options and select the desired option. When vertical, the meters behave more like activity/clipping indicators, because when you collapse the track to a short height, you basically see only activity and clipping. If you use the Console for mixing, this is a good choice because you can see more track parameters in the Tracks Pane, as the vertical meters don’t take up space along the bottom.

If you generally mix using the Track View rather than the Console, then you can extend the width of the Track Pane, enable horizontal metering, set them to a fairly wide playback range, and enjoy high-resolution metering. Also under Options > Meter Options, you can specify the Record, Playback, and Bus meter characteristics. Choose from Peak, RMS, or Peak+RMS (my favorite choice) response, whether playback meters are pre- or post-fader, and whether bus meters are pre-fader, post-fader, or pre-fader and post-FX.


These settings are independent from equivalent meter settings for the Console view. You can also choose whether peaks are held or locked (I recommend checking both), as well as show Peak Markers. These indicate the highest point in the track and can be extremely useful when mastering.

This kind of flexibility allows the Track and Console views to be far more than just two ways to view the same type of material. For example, the Console meters are probably better set to post-fader, so you can see at a glance which tracks are contributing the most amount of level. But in Track view, a pre-fader setting lets you monitor track activity so you can check whether a Track has signal, regardless of the fader position. The metering options are just one more reason why I tend to mix in Console view, but track and edit in Track View.

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HOW UPGRADING TO SONAR X3 GAVE THESE PRO ARTISTS AN EDGE

Luigie Gonzalez
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Grammy nominated Producer, Songwriter, Mixer, Multi-Instrumentalist

“When I walk into sessions with my SONAR machine, I hear ‘what is THAT’ a lot from other producers and artists.  And then like clockwork, I hear a lot of ‘whoah’ and ‘wow’ when they see what I can do beyond their limitations.  I’ll never forget Jimmy Jam being blown away once in a studio when I started getting my sounds going in SONAR – that was a pretty cool feeling because he could see and hear what made my **** sound different from other producers on the scene at that time.”  

Since upgrading to SONAR X3, my favorite new feature is the Nomad plugin suite.

The Nomad Bundle that comes with X3  has been a go-to for me when boosting mid and high frequencies.   The mids are awesome and super-musical!  I also usually use them for HiHats to boost 8KHz – 16KHz without sounding to square-digital or harsh.   It just has a nice sizzling tone that sounds so different than any other plugin in my arsenal of VSTs.  When I mix I am very observant of the “stereo image,” and Nomad’s “Imager” is the trick to help make room for things.  Also, I use the Tempo Delay often because of its warmth and versatility.   I also, love the Tempo Delay’s parameter controllers – having 3 independent delay configurations is great to achieve the perfect delay tone in my mixes.  I can really get unique sounds with the delays and shape them to my heart’s content.

On the other hand, I cannot live without the Console Emulator (I believe this was new to X2 but it just never gets old)…  It just opens my mixes in such organic ways that have I become addicted to it!  I use the trident (A-type) mode for kicks, bass and everything with low end character because it adds great sub harmonics.  The SSL (S-Type) I use for snares, kicks and everything in between to achieve that pocket /punchy sound which warms up the top end frequencies without dulling the sound.  The Neve (A-Type) for Vocals, synths, guitars and everything that needs to sound frontal or cut through mix.  It helps my “center” in the mixes along with some nice mid-frequency response.

I always add a bit of drive (Console Emulator) to my buses to emulate the console circuitry saturation because it works without distorting anything too much – just enough to add more random harmonics and make the whole mix sound even more organic and full.  I think the Console Emulator is one of the best features to SONAR in a long time, and I’m very happy Cakewalk implemented it as part of the ProChannel.

Track coloring is also something I was waiting for some time.   It helps me keep organized especially when mixing 100 plus tracks sessions which is usually the case for me.  It’s so smart that the track colors respond to the bus colors, this way I stay even more organized by visually understanding my large mixes.

I really dig the QuadCurve ProChannel EQ as well.   It’s super-transparent and colorless on certain modes which plays an important part when carving very precise frequencies.   It’s kind of like the FabFilter but the fact that it’s part of the ProChannel makes it easier and faster to use.  It’s also dead-precise while still sounding amazingly clean!

~Luigie Gonzalez

DJ Spooky
Location: New York City and The Poles
Producer, Music/Song/Sound Creator, Author, Visionary

When you are as diverse of an artist as DJ Spooky you need some serious music-creation tools.  Take Of Water and Ice for example.  This album is the result of DJ Spooky’s art residency at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Of Water and Ice is a composition for string quartet and video that evolved out of his large-scale multimedia work Sinfonia Antarctica: an exploration of the composition of ice and water, and our relationship to the vanishing environment of the arctic poles. DJ Spooky created The Book of Ice based on his travels to the poles. All of the electronic sounds are generated by interpretations of either algorithms that mirror the geometry in ice crystals or the math of climate change data.

“The biggest asset to me upgrading to SONAR X3 was the speed (more…)

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How Adventure Club is using SONAR X3 to stay on the EDM charts and ahead of the pack

There is an interesting movement happening in the music industry.  We have all seen it, and most are very opinionated about it…  The EDM Revolution.  Love it, like it, hate it – regardless, it’s here and thriving.  I recently had the good fortune to spend a few very interesting days with SONAR X3 users Adventure Club; one in LA, and one in NYC, and I can honestly say that I think these guys have figured out [some sort of] a new model of the “music industry.”

Truthfully speaking, I really was unsure about what our interaction would be.  I understand the EDM scene from afar and surely respect it, but I wasn’t sure what actually goes into the work behind the scenes of an EDM artist.  SONAR is used by Composers, Songwriters, and Producers of all genres, but when Cakewalk found out that Adventure Club, a heavyweight EDM act was using SONAR 8.5, we were pretty intrigued.  I had heard of the duo strictly from their online presence and charting activity, but I had never focused in on any of their productions.  Their popularity alone on social media told me there was something different and unique about this artist, and my assumptions were correct.

If you are not familiar with Adventure Club [“AC”] they are a Canadian Elecronic Dance Music duo, composed of Christian Srigley and Leighton James, and based out of Montreal, Quebec.  The duo formed while attending high school in Montreal as a hardcore pop-punk band, but later decided to move onto the more electronic sound of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) after simply getting bored with the pop-punk sound.  The first song to put the duo on the map was their remix of the song “Daisy” by the American alternative-rock band Brand New, which was put on The Hype Machine, an MP3 blog aggregator website.  After this track resonated deeply with EDM fans around the world, the duo was off to a solid start with a solid online fan base and foundation.  What separates this group from other EDM acts is that they both are accomplished musicians with a great knack for music production in general.  This translates into very solid tracks which they produce on their own in SONAR X3 (more…)

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TOP 5 REASONS IT’S TIME TO UPGRADE YOUR MUSIC STUDIO COMPUTER

By Brian, PCAudioLabs

It’s your one day off, you sit down to make some music, and boom, your computer crashes. Then you start to think; how long have I had this thing? When you get that feeling, it’s time to look at a new music computer. We’re going to outline the top five reasons you should consider a new Windows computer for your music studio.

1.      You’re still running Windows XP

Windows XP was a great operating system, really, it was! But, Microsoft recently ended support for the well-known OS, and that means no more updates.  This also means your computer could be at risk to crash at any moment.  Additionally, many new Digital Audio Workstations, such as SONAR X3, don’t run on Windows XP.  It’s ok, it’s time to let go.  Windows 7 or Windows 8 offers a slew of new features that will make your music making experience easier.

2.      You’re not able to get work done as fast

It stands to reason that if you have a computer that is over five years old and wasn’t built by a music computer manufacturer, it’s probably going to run a little slower than you’d like.  Are your tracks taking longer to bounce down? Can’t run as many plugins as you used to? There’s only so much power you’re going to get out of an older computer that wasn’t built for audio, and that’s when it’s time to look at a new rig.

3.      Your workflow is suffering

When you spend more time troubleshooting than you do making music, that’s a bad thing.  We all know that time is limited, especially for being creative, and you have to make the most of your time. When you have to spend your time making your computer do what you want, instead of making music, your frustration goes up, and your creativity goes down.

The ROKBOX MC 64/64s can support up to 3 monitors! Think about what that could do for your workflow…

4.      You’ve outgrown your machine

Let’s face it, it happens. You get a computer, you put it to good use, but with time and growth, your needs outweigh what your computer is capable of.  Maybe you need to be able to record more tracks at once, or maybe you simply can’t do what you need with your current hardware.  It’s ok, that just means you’re growing as a creative, and it’s time to look for a new computer.

5.      Your current machine is loud, filled with bloatware, and doesn’t fit your studio.

Most off the shelf computers – meaning those from big box stores and websites – might seem like great deals on paper, but when you get them home, you find that your computer’s hard drive is filled with bloatware (did you really want all those demo antivirus applications? Yeah, we didn’t think so).  That is why your computer was cheap – lots of companies rented out space on your hard drive, and your Windows installation image isn’t really a true Windows image, which means you can’t even re-install Windows cleanly. Additionally, your computer is a lot slower due to all that bloatware, which means you won’t get anything done.

Off the shelf computers aren’t made with silence in mind, nor with the needs of a creative in mind.  They use sub-par components that mean your computer will be loud – which is hard when you need to record that perfect vocal cut.  You can’t replace many of those components, because they’re proprietary, which means you can’t purchase replacement parts.

You can have a PC designed for music that will fit nicely in any studio space with a PCAudioLabs ROKBOX Mobile MC laptop!

 

What about Support? If you have an issue with your music software, you can’t call a big box computer manufacturer and ask them for help – they simply won’t help you.  That can be pretty frustrating when you need answers.

Finally, off the shelf computers rarely fit the needs of the creative – literally. They’re not rackmountable, they don’t have the motherboard slots you need (like legacy PCI slots, for instance), and their case sizes can be limiting at the very least.  All of this leads to a less-than-stellar experience with a computer you paid good money for, expecting it to be great for audio production.

 

These are just a few reasons you should look at obtaining a new computer which has been certified for music production. If you answered yes to even one of these points, you might want to consider getting a new music computer so you can truly get back to being creative with your computer.

 

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Craig’s Five Fave Studio Hardware Accessories

By Craig Anderton

Granted, it was hard to narrow it down to five. But these goodies have stood out over the past year as being essentials for my own studio, and they can contribute much to any studio makeover.

Uninterruptible Power Supply

 

I first became aware of the power of the UPS with ADATs. My ADATs used to do weird things, but stopped doing weird things after I bought a UPS. My friends with ADATs who didn’t have a UPS experienced weird things. Anecdotal evidence? Sure. But the first time a UPS keeps your project alive when some idiot drunk driver slams into a power pole and you lose your electricity, or you live where lightning is a frequent visitor, you’ll be glad you paid attention to this article and got a UPS. Just make sure you find one with sufficient power for your super-duper multi-core wonder box (and your monitor)—a lot of UPS devices in office supply stores are for little old ladies who use Pentium 4 computers only on Sundays to cruise the internet for recipes.

Pauly Superscreen Pop Filter

(Photo courtesy Las Vegas Pro Audio)

Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s worth it. I do a lot of narration and close-mic my vocals (more…)

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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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