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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Karl Sanders of Nile talks SONAR and Metal

Nile’s sound comes from a mixture of down-tuned riffing, inhuman drum speeds, and lyrical content about ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia – making them one of the most technical groups that exists in the Extreme Metal genre. Karl Sanders was gracious enough to spend some time doing an interview with us about his writing process, heavy metal, and SONAR.

1. How long have you been a Cakewalk user? What version did you start with? I have been a Cakewalk user since the mid 90′s, starting with Cakewalk Pro Audio 5. I was writing songs and recording song demos of the early Nile songs that eventually became the Nephren-Ka album. I really went nuts with all available MIDI and audio tracks– adding tons of ethnic instruments and MIDI orchestrations to the record. Then when it came time to tour the album, I had the insane idea that maybe we could have all those extraneous tracks available to us in our live performances if I brought my PC with me and just ran Cakewalk. At that time in 1996-97 this was an unheard of concept in Death Metal and everyone thought I was a lunatic. Nowadays (more…)

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Making the Gibson EB 5-String Bass Expansion Pack

What goes into creating a comprehensive expansion pack? It’s not as easy as it might seem…

If only I’d known what I was getting into…

When I first played the EB 5-String Bass, I loved the sound and wanted to sample it for my own use. In the process, I created a Dimension Pro instrument and made it available for free to the Cakewalk community as a “thank you” for all the support you’ve given SONAR.

But also in the process, I found out the EB uses a unique Tuned Coil Tap technology for the two pickups, yielding a total of eight distinct sounds. I found them all useful, so of course I wanted to sample those before the loaner bass went back.

And that’s how the new Gibson EB-5 String Bass Expansion Pack started. If you’re interested in what goes into creating a Dimension Pro instrument…read on (more…)

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