Artist Impression: DJ Johnny Juice on V-Studio 100

Producer, DJ, multi-instrumentalist, and long time SONAR expert, Johnny Juice was an original member of the Bomb Squad at the age of 15, and has been doing productions for Public Enemy, Reverend Run, and countless others ever since.

The man is always working; his credo is “sleep is for the dead,” so he’s always looking for tools that speed up his workflow, travel with him,  and sound great…and if they can combine more than one function in one device, even better.

Because of his long history with SONAR and relentless schedule, we asked Juice to put the V-Studio 100 through its paces. Watch the video to find out if it passed his test.

“This unit is ridiculous.   I can bounce with it on the road and use it for backing tracks AND recording, and then import my work when I get back to my studio right from the SD card.”

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Artist Spotlight: Justin Lassen

Sometimes A Road Sings In the Mind of the Darkly Inclined
Composer, producer, remixer & musician Justin Lassen

By Randy Alberts

“For me it all started with Cakewalk, a keyboard, and a lot of free time,” laughs the globetrotting Justin Lassen, a one-of-a-kind visionary 27-year-old film, game and music soundtrack composer based in Southern California.

A designer, multi-instrumentalist and self-described “heavy Sonar guy,” to boot, Lassen is also one of the most creative composers, remixers and producers in the film, game and music industries today. He’s a talented film soundtrack remixer who recently reworked the score of Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, a dark film take on the producer’s 1984 short story of a photographer tracking a serial killer, into a full length companion album to the movie. Lassen has also produced music remixes for Nine Inch Nails, Madonna, Garbage, Linkin Park, Lenny Kravitz and Blue Man Group and he’s consulted on numerous game and technology projects for companies like Interplay, Novus Delta, Intel and, of course, Cakewalk.

Interviewed by Playboy, Mix, EQ, GearWire, PC Gamer and other arts and trade mags and sites, Lassen’s a darling of the computer-generated graphics art world, as well. A rare musical subject for numerous CGI trade magazines such as Post, It’s Art, The Escapist and CG Society Magazine, he literally can translate the inspiring, hauntingly beautiful visual art he sees into his own musical performances, arrangements and remixes. It’s a phenomenon of the senses called ‘synaesthesia’ he’s personally well acquainted with: Seeing sound, hearing scents, touching words, smelling colors. If the set and setting are just right, what Justin views through his irises can literally become real-time music from his fingertips.

“I’m a visual artist, designer and programmer,” he adds, “who just finds music much more fulfilling.”

Smells Like A Symphony, Tastes Like Sonar 7

Lassen, who happened to be Cakewalk’s Featured Artist of The Week for August 25, 2008, released his own CD, And Now We See But Through A Glass Darkly, in 2003 to acclaim from leading international CG artists, film, game and music professionals. This disc of his own uniquely composed and produced dark chamber symphonic suites has already reached 5.5 million copies in circulation. His debut CG release in 2006 of Synaesthesia then melded Justin’s two worlds of “beautiful dark symphonic” music and CG artwork again to critical peer praise, and earlier this year while in Europe he wrapped up the final release: Synaesthesia Encore, a new collection of pieces that musically addresses Justin’s own personal experiences with the phenomenon.

“Synaesthesia is something that has taken quite a hold of me over pretty much my entire musical career and life,” explains Lassen. “I have had some of my best compositional and performance moments in these types of situations, where I can actually feel an image playing the song right before my ears, completely and naturally. When I see visual work like this that really inspires me in this way, my fingers begin to play music very magically.“

Remarkable. Much to his liking, Justin’s successful role in creating the remixed soundtrack CD for Barker’s wide-released Midnight Meat Train is now attracting interest from other film, music and game audio producers, as well. An always-on, busy musician, remixer and symphonic arranger who travels for his music extensively and just returned from an exhaustive trip across the EU and back to his home studio in California, nothing would please the affable Lassen more than to score more symphonies and movie soundtracks for a living.

“I use Sonar 7’s notation features to clean up my arrangement ideas for orchestra, choir or other performers I might bring into a given session,” says Lassen about his go-to laptop DAW.

“I recall this one time in Paris when I was asked by Intel to do the soundtrack for a new high-tech game for a new platform. There was a pretty tight schedule of just three weeks, and I didn’t have a lot of gear to experiment with. So, I just used FL Studio on a laptop to jot down some ideas that later I would evolve and finish up back in L.A. and Phoenix. I then took those sketches and beats and brought them into Sonar and added many of the orchestral and electronic elements, as well as tracking all the guitars and vocals and doing the final mixing and mastering. I then cleaned it all up and converted the files over to OGG format, for the Unreal Engine 3 the game uses, all quite easily and well before my deadline.”

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SONAR 8: The Fine Print

Cakewalk’s CTO Noel Borthwick sheds some light on the features “under the hood” in SONAR 8.

*Note that this list is not a substitute for the official feature list & other features already documented in the SONAR 8 manual. Rather it is a list culled from Cakewalk’s Engineering Department*

Enjoy!

Performance optimizations:

Although every version of SONAR we shipped in the past had some degree of optimization work, SONAR 8 is the first version of SONAR to which we applied the same engineering process to performance optimizations as we do with other more user visible features. i.e. we established goals, built a specification for the optimizations, split up the work into milestones and tracked the progress of these tasks just as we do for other features. To make testing more deterministic, we devised various internal profiling tools in order to track and measure changes in performance across a variety of hardware platforms on XP as well as Vista.

Systems tested included brand new cutting edge platforms from Intel and AMD as well as earlier generation machines.

We split up this work into the following classes of performance enhancements for SONAR 8:

1. CPU and kernel level optimizations – use less of your CPU to do the same amount of work

2. User Interface optimizations – faster drawing, scrolling, zooming

3. Driver level optimizations – more efficient access to drivers, minimizing driver state transitions

4. Vista OS specific optimizations – Better use of MMCSS thread priorities, support for custom MMCSS task profiles, new WASAPI support

5. Audio engine optimizations – optimize “hotspots” in our bussing, streaming and mixing code

As a result of all these changes, SONAR 8 has the following benefits:

- greatly minimized kernel usage. This helps provide more “kernel bandwidth” to drivers who need it the most. More kernel bandwidth translates into less potential for audio glitches.

- Lower CPU usage – translates to better performance at low latency

- More efficient use of audio drivers – esp with ASIO drivers

- Better performance on Windows Vista esp X64. Many of the complaints of Vista performance as compared to XP have been solved with SONAR 8. X64 low latency performance should now be on par with X86.

- Faster application launch

- Less flicker in GUI. Track view splitters no longer flicker when resizing.

- More responsive zoom and scroll with large projects. Zooming with wave files now uses 1/2 the RAM with 24-bit or less stereo or mono files used.

- Better meter performance.

- Improved thread scheduling by insuring threads are properly distributed on processors.

This link shows the overall benefits of SONAR 8 as compared to SONAR 7: http://www.cakewalk.com/Products/SONAR/English/benchmark.asp

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Studio Spotlight: Sun Studio

SONAR at Sun Studio: The Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll
Chief Engineer James Lott and Assistant Engineer Matt Ross-Spang

By Randy Alberts

“Our clients love what we do for them here with SONAR,” says James Lott, chief engineer for over 20 years at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. “It sounds great and we’ve been using it for a long, long time. But most of all they trust us and how we’re using SONAR to record them. When we tell a band ‘OK, you can move on to the next song now,’ they trust us completely.”

Spoken on behalf of Sun Studio—the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll and the country’s only National Historic Landmark with a digital audio workstation in the tour—Lott’s professional trust in Cakewalk’s SONAR shouts volumes.

“Like a good horse,” he adds with a laugh, “when something in a studio runs as fast as SONAR and does everything you tell it to, then you’re gonna ride that horse a long, long way.”

Tracking History Then & Now

The sheer history of music behind Sun Studio, since Sam Phillips first built it in 1950, deserves far more space than this story allows- to give it proper justice.

Those who visit Memphis, especially musicians and engineers, would not want to miss taking one of the studio’s daily tours to learn more about the studio’s historic past.

Elvis recorded his first two songs at Sun Studio in 1953 for $3.25, when it was still called Memphis Recording Service. Before Elvis, there was Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats who recorded the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll single, Rocket 88, at Sun, originally composed by Ike Turner.

James Lott, Cowboy Jack Clement, and Matt Ross Spang. Clement worked at Sun as an engineer. Known for works with Johny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many other Nashville greats.

With all the history within the studio’s walls—the same cozy 25×20 live room, tight vocal booth, tiny control room, and tiled front office where the original studio manager, Marion Keisker, sat in for the absent Phillips’ to record Elvis’ first songs—Sun is one of the top, most vibrant studios in the world today.

Recently, Lott used SONAR to track, edit, and mix projects for Liz Phair, Matchbox Twenty, Maroon 5 and Bowling for Soup. Tom Petty, a tape devotee, also recorded some new tunes at Sun with the studio’s prized MCI 24-track machine. Another recent SONAR session at Sun involved Amy LaVere, an Americana music composer and vocalist who expertly plays an upright acoustic bass far taller than she. Billy Bob Thornton’s band too, was due in for another Sun session shortly after our interview with Lott.

“The vibe of this place, this sort of ‘welcome homey’ kind of feel, is really what brings people back here all the time,” says Lott.

“Billy Bob is a longtime friend of Sun, in here for the fourth or fifth time now, and it’s his birthday, too. He told us that he wanted to come celebrate and to make some music up in here. It’s very old school here: not much has changed from the old days. There’s the same floor tiles, control room, front office, and even old lamps from the ’50s hanging from the ceiling. Even Marion’s front desk is still here, the same one she was sitting at when Elvis first walked in the door. Besides our staff and the gear we use, it’s the original vintage vibe of this place that keeps ‘em comin’ back.”

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Artist Spotlight: Carmen Rizzo

The Virtual Ornaments of An Innovator

Producer, mixer, remixer, writer & artist Carmen Rizzo

By Randy Alberts

Carmen Rizzo

Typically there’s room for doubt when someone claims that a new product has changed their life. Yeah, right. But when that someone is one of today’s best, busiest producer-musician-remixers around who helped forge an entirely new Grammy category, and their product rave is about a musical instrument—their favorite synthesizer—who’s to doubt it?

“Oh yes, Rapture has absolutely changed my life in how I make records,” says Carmen Rizzo, who four years ago led the way in creating NARAS’ new Grammy Award category for Best Electronic Album. “My life is all about making records and, really, I just can’t work without Rapture anymore. Every time I use it to come up with a sound I think, ‘Wow, I would’ve never come up with that sound without Rapture!’ Rapture opens up your mind to new things you just would’ve never thought of without it.”

Carrying the torch for electronic music with the help of BT, Crystal Method’s Ken Jordan and others was but one gem in Rizzo’s prodigious creative vein of music, concert, radio, t.v. and film sound achievements. Himself a two-time Grammy nominee, the short version of Carmen’s credits list reads like a who’s who of diverse talents and idioms: Coldplay, Alanis Morissette, Cirque du Soleil, Seal, Ryuichi Sakamoto, k.d. Lang, Pete Townshend and acclaimed British director Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorillas In The Mist). Rizzo scored his first film soundtrack, The Power of the Game, for Apted’s documentary about the German soccer team’s 2006 World Cup win; released two critically-adored solo albums of his own (The Lost Art of the Idle Moment and the new Ornament of An Impostor); co-founded, produces and frequently tours with the world beat/electronic fusion band Niyaz and, currently, is among many pursuits DJ-ing a radio set heard by 14 million listeners each month on the highly influential KEXP.org/Seattle.

“I’d like to think that people come to me for something different, for something unique,” says Carmen. “The Cakewalk synths definitely make that easier for me to accomplish.”

Within Sight of the Hollywood Sign

A husband and father who donates 10% of his new album’s sales to a different charity each month, Rizzo owns and produces, writes, mixes and remixes in his Studio 775. There’s a close-up view of the intersecting street signs of Hollywood & Vine right outside his workspace window.

Carmen Rizzo on the Streets

“Be it audio plug-ins for EQ, compression and effects or virtual instruments, every producer and musician has their favorite go-to tools they use on everything they do,” he says. “Rapture is one of those tools for me. It’s there no matter where I’m creating music. On the road with my portable laptop rig or at the audio workstation here at Studio 775, honestly, Rapture is in pretty much everything I do.”

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Artist Spotlight: Danny Byrd

Producer Danny Byrd swears by the sound of Cakewalk:

“Their Instruments have as much unique character as the best vintage synths!”

By Buzz Owen

Danny Byrd has been stamping his mark on the Drum & Bass scene for over a decade now. Regarded as a pioneer of Soulful and Vocal Liquid Funk, Danny’s blending of upfront and retro-inspired sounds has led him to try many of the hundreds of soft synths out there in his search for sounds that can cut through in his busy productions – a search that stopped with the discovery of Cakewalk’s sonic armory…

“I used both Rapture and Dimension Pro a hell of a lot when recording my new album [Supersized]. In fact, the Cakewalk instruments were essential to the writing of my album. These days a lot of digital music sounds the same, so it’s important to add a different sound. And this is what Cakewalk instruments do for me – they add another dimension.”

“Rapture is just amazing for evolving textures and pads, especially all the tempo-locked patches. Just one example would be how I’d often find myself playing a high, sustained note on Rapture, and using this sound to fill up the breakdowns. Rapture has such an amazingly rich and warm sound. Another great touch is the limiter they’ve put on the output for when you’re really twisting up some nasty bass lines.”

“And the effects that you get in Rapture really add to its quality, as do the step-programmable LFOs. For me, this is the key to its constant use in all my productions. Another great feature is the stock presets that come with it – they are so useable right out of the box, so you can just get playing immediately if you don’t want to delve in deep right away.”

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Artist Spotlight: Malik Williams

Wearing the Many Hats of a Busy Synthesist

Songwriter, engineer, actor, and film & t.v. music producer Malik Williams

By Randy Alberts

If some commercial jingle writers’ first gigs were in garage bands, fewer still of those went on to also write and produce music for film, reality t.v., the Web and hip-hop, pop, dance, rap, R&B and rock artists. It takes a lot of control room savvy and musical chops to wear that many hats. But from this even smaller group of first-call music and audio professionals, there may be just one—Malik Williams—who can say they’ve written a song for a movie in which they’ve also starred.

“Yeah, I’m a real Hollywood kind of guy,” jokes the 41-year-old Williams, a Bostonian since birth who values his role as father and family man over his Sunset Boulevard connections. “What I mean is that I feel real comfortable in front of the camera doing these bit parts. It’s not really something that I’m pursuing as a career. I’ve just stumbled upon this acting thing, but so far it’s been a positive stumble.”

Malik Williams plays a convincing cop with Donnie Brasco star Robert Miano on the set of Boston Girls

Malik’s song contribution and bit part as a cop in Boston Girls, a “dark horror comedy” film released this year, are two recent entries to an impressive credits list. His unique balance of old and new school music writing and production skills have been tapped for a host of song and album (Charlotte Church, Bobby Brown, Elton John, Mya, Britney Spears, Danity Kane, Tyrese, Earth Wind & Fire), feature film (Sony Pictures, Miramax, Disney, Lionsgate, Stage 6 Films) and television (CBS, ABC, MTV, VH1, TruTV, Showtime, HBO, E!, Bravo) productions. If you’ve seen Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Tila Tequila’s A Shot At Love, Pimp My Ride, Cribs and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew or happened upon some of his various ad spots running on numerous channels, chances are you’ve heard some of Malik’s music, too.

“When you think of all the types of projects I work on—film, t.v. shows, ad jingles and hip-hop, pop and rap albums,” says Williams, “you’ll see my music and audio production tastes are all over the place.”

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