Band-in-a-Box 2020 for Mac … WOW!

I reviewed Band-in-a-Box 2019 for Mac less than a year ago and, being an “annual-update-skeptic” wondered about reviewing it again so soon. No need to wonder — Band-in-a-Box 2020 for Mac is a fantastic leap forward!

Band-in-a-Box 2020  Box

Of course we can expect all sorts of additional RealTracks and instruments and styles, and there are many!, but the additions this year are so focused on truly upping your musical game that it seems almost like a new product. And it replaces the need for some other software and hardware, which I will get to but for now it seems like “Good-bye” to my Digitech Vocalist Live 4 harmony generator.

And before I go any further (in case you stop reading and decide to just buy it) I have to add that my online chats with Sales Support were some of the most pleasant interactions I have ever had with a vendor, even BEFORE it became obvious that I was a reviewer! Amidst ever more shattered nerves than usual, especially for support workers, I was able to have all of my questions answered politely and correctly (even a few moronic ones) and had all of my issues resolved before the chat had ended. Support such as this is rare but it seems to be a feature of the BiaB “family”, as I will mention later with my comments on Stelios Panos, a transcriber of great jazz performances for, and reseller of Band-in-a-Box products.

FEATURE BROWSER

One of the best, most crucial additions is the Feature Browser. Crucial because there are so many new features that even experienced users are liable to need a reminder sometimes, and this is much more. It begins with a list of features from which you can choose, or you can type one in. It tells you the basic information about the feature you enter with buttons to take you to the manual page for that feature and also a video button if it is one of the features that has a video for it.  It also displays the Tool Bar on which it is found, its Hot Key if there is one, where it is on the Main Window (if it’s there), and other ways to launch it. If it has its own window with options and other choices, this is displayed as well.

But that’s not all. You can choose the type of features you are looking for by entering, say, “guitar”. This gives you all features that relate to the guitar. Or “video” to find all features that have a video on them.

Getting to the Feature Browser is easy too. If the chord window is open, just type “/” and Enter, instead of a chord. Or, with the Main Window click on the “?” button in maximized view, or in the Misc tab if in Compact view.

This is a terrific feature for a program with so many great features. We tend to know those that we use the most, but sometimes forget about those that could make our work easier or improve our music. Plus you no longer have to feel guilty for not reading the manual.

Try this yourself by calling it up, typing chord, then adding “builder” for the “chord builder” feature to really show what it can do.

Find BEST SUB

Cmd-click or right-click on track button in the mixer > Select RealTracks > Find Best Sub. Not only do you get a long list of possible RealTrack substitutes, but the best ones are close to the top. Each works well with the whole song, but gives you different ways to explore it with different  musical styles and genres, especially if you pick a different player. However, even choosing the same player gives you insight into the subtle changes that can be used by the same person in a different performance but retaining their personal style.

You can even change to a RealTrack if the current track doesn’t have one.  Here you can choose a RealTrack, and choosing “All” gives you a bunch of new options to change even the type of instrument, and I really like the option to choose a family of instruments so that you can try out, say, all sorts of different guitars for a part (and there are a lot of guitars). You can even open an Artist Bio to learn about the player, and once in that browser you can choose any artist to learn more about them. Just one more example of the enhanced usability that has been added throughout this entire release.

Drag-and-Drop File Opening

I particularly like the drag-and-drop file opening, which simplifies all the choices if you just want, say, to load a basic MIDI file to start working on it. Not just BiaB files are supported, but audio, MIDI, and more. If you have a lot of files and need to search for the one you want, it’s nice to be able to just drag it into the app. This improves your workflow and lowers your blood pressure.

Multi-Window Display

Having more than one window open can be a real time-saver. Using the new multi-window display you can easily enter barlines in the audio window with the chord window still open. The demo of this process is particularly interesting, at just before the 27:00 mark of the BB2020 for Mac video referenced earlier. You can enter barlines to fix tracks that were not recorded with a click track by entering the correct spot for a few barlines. I won’t transcribe the process here, but I urge you to watch the video to see how easy it is to correct the timing of a song, as well as to find out how far the tempo changes over time (a lot of performers speed up over the course of an exciting song, or slow down in a bluesy one). Of course, you may want just a little deviance which gives a more human feel to some tracks, while others really do call for a “metronomic” beat. This is especially helpful for tightening up quick demos or just a band’s bad days’ work.

Track Thickening

One standard audio recording trick is to have multiple copies of a single track to give it a “thicker” sound. For example, many singers use double-tracking to make their voices sound better. John Lennon disliked this finicky process so much in the pre-digital age that the EMI engineers created ADT (Artificial Double-Tracking) to create a second copy of the original recording, slightly different by speeding up and slowing down slightly. Like the more modern digital recording studios, Band-in-a-Box now lets you use multiple copies of the same RealTrack on a single track, thickening it further by changing the panning of each (and usually lowering the volume as well). You can even add a different, related RealTrack for greater authenticity. I really like the demo that uses the _GLORY style thickened, as shown in the video on BB2020 for Mac.  The soloist really adds to the depth and realism of the choir.

Note that the video was adapted from the Windows version that has been on the PG Music site for a while now, and there are a few references to Windows that creep in here and there. Remember to substitute Command-click (or right-click) for Ctrl-click, and Finder for Windows Explorer. The folders mentioned are correct,  at least those that I have double-checked.

Thickening is really an extended application of the “Medley” feature where several instruments could “take turns” on one track; now they can play all together.

There are several different ways to start and use thickening:

1) pick a style that uses it (often with “thickened in the name)
2) pick a track from the RealTrack picker that has it applied to it
3) apply it yourself to any RealTrack that you like

There are great additions for blues and other styles with thickened horns forming sections in some truly great styles.

Guitar Goodies

Many of the new features are particularly useful for guitar and some are specific to it. For example, you now have FOUR different views of the Fretboard Window: the regular right-handed one, the new left-handed view, the student view (as if you are sitting across from your teacher looking at their fretboard), and the student view for a left-handed guitarist. 

Jazz guitarists will love the new Rhythm Changes and Jazz Blues RealTracks, the two most important progressions for any jazz player. Combine this with Find Best Sub and you have a serious jazz guitar learning environment.

Other genres are not skimped on. There are great 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s rock guitar styles, and the low-tuned metal styles are amazing with some thickening added to them. Double that for baritone guitar! And many of the new Country and Old-Time Americana styles will open your ears and styles to different and even “exotic” stringed instruments. And speaking of exotic, there are also new Latin American “island” styles and instruments for authentic Latin grooves including soka, merengue, and more. (But personally, I was most impressed by the new Blues RealTracks that really kick it. Maybe it’s my age showing?)

Eliminate Note Overlap

Better control of overlapping notes is vital for getting a true guitar sound. In this version, if you have different guitar strings on different channels you can stop notes on the same string from overlapping but leave notes on different strings ringing through. Fingerstyle players will now be able to accurately write and hear Chet Atkins-style “banjo-roll” runs, while any stylist can combine arpeggios with single-line parts and have the strings ring appropriately. A great addition.

Enhanced Notation Editing

While previous versions had the N hotkey for adding notes, the new M hotkey allows the addition of harmony to an existing note. The note is first presented as a 3rd above, but can be changed using the up / down arrow keys. The R hotkey lets you choose a rest.

So Many More Great Features

The program now automatically checks the key signature and warns you if your song material doesn’t match that key.

Files can now be saved as .xml, .mxl (compressed format), and .musicxml. This last one, musicxml, is particularly useful for guitarists, saving hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides.

The intro can now be just drums, or just bass and drums and the notation will reflect that.

You will also be impressed by the larger range of singer-songwriter styles that will really fire your imagination.

Multi-Riffs is now available in the full Band-in-a-Box (previously it was just in the plug-in). This creates 7 different “takes” of a section or entire part (like an automated version of a Logic “Takes folder”). These can be used to find the most suitable one, or combined (comped) to make a “best” version from parts of each.

Audio time-stretching has been enhanced to give much more realistic sound easier.

Chord Search has several enhancements such as letting you choose the level of exactness for your progression.

There are also enhancements to chord search,, and many enhancements and additions to RealDrums including many more notated ones.

Several user requests have been incorporated as well, including: drag from mixer to drop station; new options for bit depth and sample rate (as well as in main render dialog); customized track are shown with an “=”, settings in style are ignored for these as well; bar settings dialog lets you change them from within the dialog; new content is displayed when you start the program, with the option to download it before you get into your work flow, and many more.

BiaB Plug-in

The Band-in-a-Box Plug-in is still free with BB2020 and, of course, improved. It works pretty much like BiaB in your DAW, where you can drag the tracks you create in it into the DAW and process them there. You can harmonize in the plug-in and drag back to DAW either a track generated in the plug-in or its harmony in 3rds, 6ths, or both.

But you don’t have to drag any tracks into the DAW to hear them. You can play the music from the plug-in along with the tracks in the DAW merely by sync’ing them!

If you are one of the MANY fans of Stelios Panos, or are a jazz guitarist interested in the Jazz Guitar Masters, check out his “Django-in-a-Box” web site where you can find special deals on bundles of his transcriptions with Band-in-a-box for sale, as well as a page of videos that demonstrate several of his transcriptions as well as display their usage of various features in BiaB.On top of this, you get Skype support after buying a bundle from Mr. Panos! Special bundles that include ALL of the Jazz Greats  transcriptions (including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Louis Armstrong)are on this page, while a special “guitarists only” set that includes even the recent transcriptions of Johnny Smith and Tal Farlow is here. If you have any more questions, need support, or just want to thank Stelois Panos for his outstanding work you can contact him here.

IN SUMMARY: Band-in-a-Box 2020 is a huge advance over even BB2019, with easier to use, more powerful features that give you more information while creating more musical results. You have never had more control of more features which are now much easier to find. The move forward with this version is astonishing. Again … WOW!

My very highest recommendation. Just upgrade! Or if for some strange reason you don’t have it yet, BUY THIS ONE! It will change your musical life!

Band-in-a-Box 2019 for Mac PERFECT for the Holidays

Band-in-a-Box 2019 for Mac is the latest incarnation of a perennial star of the music software world. Hard as it is to believe, it will be 30 next year, and that 2020 version is already available for Windows! But I’m a Mac user so I’ll be reviewing that one which is MORE than exciting enough!

Box Image

I’ll admit that I don’t upgrade BiaB every year, but my last review of it in 2015 — in Just Jazz Guitar magazine — was a rave. The 2019 version has really improved, but I have another compelling reason to revisit this wonderful software: Stelios Panos has upgraded his astonishingly accurate Django Reinhardt transcriptions as well as adding several new jazz guitar artists to his collection, and these take full advantage of the new capabilities of Biab 2019 for Mac.

Band-in-a-Box has come a long way from the early days and each of the many upgrades has introduced lots of features including new songs and styles as well as more realistic performances. Their focus on making fine music and helping musicians achieve their best has remained constant, and Band-in-a-Box 2019 does itself proud in this and every other area. BiaB started as a brilliant MIDI app in its earliest days on the Atari ST, moving to the PC and Mac soon after they became available. The addition of pure digital content in RealTracks was a huge step into more realistic sound, and this realism keeps evolving with studio musicians recording licks, patterns, and even complete songs and studies. The musical content of BiaB continues to expand, taking advantage of new technologies to keep up with computing necessities. With the huge growth in content came the option to purchase BiaB in its own hard disk, and now with speed improvements that we will look at more closely.

YouNameIt-in-a-Box

Yes you have a band in the box, but do you know all that your band can do? You can work with it to have input from individual instruments to complete arrangers (bandmates-in-a-box to arranger-in-a-box). The best bands get input from each of their members, while the best soloists work with arranger/producers to get that extra input that we all need to do our best. You might be a great guitarist, but how are your drum chops? You might want to call on an expert, or a bunch of them. Then there are teachers in that box that let you study specially-written etudes as well as the arrangements that you like and showing you great licks, chord progressions, melodic ideas, you name it! Whatever you can do with a real band (except maybe fight between members) this boxed version provides. And like seasoned pros, each iteration gets better and benefits from more experience.

So, 2019?

So what’s new for 2019? Real Tracks have expanded the genres of Jazz, Blues, Latin, Pop, Rock, World, Country, Americana, and especially Celtic. There are even vocals! Yes, Gospel “Mmms” can be used as a choir of four doubled voices, or as individual voices mixed or solo.

Bassists will love the new Pop Basses with 6 new MIDI Super Tracks (much like the existing Jazz ones) in both electric and acoustic flavours.

Nashville guitar whiz Brent Mason adds Country Pop Guitar Licks in all 12 keys. The most amazing part of this feature is the way they are presented, showing how useful they are in all sorts of different musical situations. These country cousins are at home in any city.

Drummers have a lot to love in this package including drum notation that can be viewed in the RealDrums Picker by filtering for “RealDrums with RealCharts“. A great way to improve your reading, your ear, and your playing all at once. This is also a real boon for arrangers who are not fluent with the notation but know the sound they want.

One of the more unexpected but very welcome additions is “Low Man” and “Re-amped” Metal/Thrash Electric Guitar RealTracks in all 12 keys. These are previous RealTracks that have been  “re-amped” to give them authentic Metal/Thrash tones, with both rhythm and solo playing over the necessarily wide range of tempo. Like the snarl and growl of tuning a guitar down 4 or even 6 semitones? “Low Man” has you covered with that very particular timbre of distortion.

Brent Mason returns with a country Train-Beat licks as Instrumental Studies in all 12 keys: 10 each for a total of 120. Geoff Kelly, a founding member of Canadian band Spirit of the West,  contributes his Celtic Flute to the Celtic RealTracks for a new sound you want to get to know. There is even Celtic Cello provided by Natalie Haas!

BiaB as a PLUG-IN!

One of the most exciting developments for recording is the ability of BiaB to act as a plug-in for virtual every major DAW. The plug-in generates the same BiaB audio or MIDI that you then drop into a track on your DAW! No need for intermediate solutions and complicated routings. The whole Band-in-a-Box is just one plug-in!

USB 3.0

If you are like me and constantly run out of disk space, you will be glad to know that the HD version of BiaB now blazes at USB 3.0 to keep the music flowing. If you prefer (and have the space) you can still install and / or download the app to your own hard disk, of course. And with USB 3 there is no need for an extra USB port “just in case.”

New SongPicker Design

The SongPicker was overdue for a rewrite, so it’s great to see that the new one has many added features that users have requested or dreamt of. Most outstanding for me are the filters, which let you choose songs by genre, feel, time signature, style, and many more musical features or by the more traditional sub-folder choices. Interesting results can come from filtering files with similar chord progressions or melodic fragments. This is a great way to find variations on your favourite progressions or melodies. I like to combine both approaches and save particular favourites that I’ve filtered for into their own folders and sub-folders.

The filter for RealTracks, RealDrums, and MIDI SuperTracks uses a hash tag (#) to trigger the Advanced Filter with many new options. The StylePicker has been rewritten as well. All these filters for choosing songs are very welcome improvements when dealing with up to 50,000 songs! (If these are not enough for you their are also optional Xtra Styles PAKs that you can purchase separately to keep up with the very latest styles!)

VIDEO

PG Music has been providing videos to help you learn about Band-in-a-Box for quite a while now, and if you’d rather see the new features than read about them (or best of all, do both) you can find the videos here. You will not want to miss “Band-in-a-Box 2019 in less than 6 minutes!” because, if you notice that it actually runs just over 10 minutes, it contains special offers that you want to know about! Other than that one, there are many helpful videos from “What is Band-in-a-Box” to dozens and dozens of videos on specific topics to make sure that you get the most out of BiaB in the shortest time.

Of course the whole idea of Band-in-a-Box is that you can create your own music and save it. This extensibility also means that you can create your own libraries of greats that work with BiaB, which is exactly what Stelios Panos has done with the great jazz guitarists. My next post will look at his new transcriptions of Joe Pass, Grant Green, and the upgrade to his stellar work on the music of Django Reinhardt. Stay tuned for that one!

I have only scratched the surface of the capabilities — and even the new features — of Band-in-a-Box 2019. There is a full 32-page booklet included with Version 2019 for Mac that is the New Features Guide! At least you don’t have to worry about upgrading to run Biab. Here are the System Requirements for Macintosh and Windows. Windows users are in luck as Band-in-a-Box 2020 for Windows is already here! For more information on special offers, new features, and even to chat online with the experts visit PG Music here.

Create, arrange, learn, record — is there anything musical you can’t do in Band-in-a-Box. With some creativity there is very little, so be sure to get a copy and dive into the deep end of music!

BiaB name

 

Stay Off the “Bleeding Edge”

If you are a Mac user you probably have heard about their new operating system that will be introduced soon. It’s called “Catalina” (and is macOS 10.15). The good news is that it incorporates a LOT of security enhancements. The TERRIBLE news is that virtually all music software will not work with it. I do NOT recommend upgrading to it for computer-based musicians.

If you were a reader of my Computer Music column in Just Jazz Guitar then you know that I am the former owner of a computer security company and urge everyone to be more conscious about security on their computers. To make up for some laxness in the past Apple has put a lot of security into Catalina, but unfortunately it conflicts with how music software works. In fact, much of the way things work in the music world of computing are similar to the way a lot of the nastiest malware works. So in trying to block hackers, Apple is also blocking music software. One way that some hackers get into your computer is by finding holes in older software, which is often 32-bit. So the new OS will only support 64-bit apps. However, many sample libraries ARE 32-bits for speed, to take up less disk space, and because 64-bits would be a pointless waste. Re-writing these will take a LONG time, if even possible.  Also, besides using these soon-to-be forbidden libraries, DAW’s often call other programs which then call others again. This chaining seems like malware at work to Catalina, but it is commonplace in DAW’s. For example, you might load Kontakt and from there Kontakt will load a library of sounds. This is a real problem.

These are just a couple of examples of the problems we musicians will face with the new OS. Peter Kirn wrote an excellent article on all of the problems that we will encounter with Catalina. I urge you to read it, especially if you are thinking of buying a new Mac soon. I strongly suggest getting it before Catalina is announced and installed on all new machines.

If you still insist on having the latest macOS when Catalina arrives, be sure to check with your software vendors to see if their products will support it. Swar Systems has already emailed all of their customers asking us to hold off on installing Catalina. Native Instruments have a web site dedicated to their progress on compatibility with Catalina here. And for Dorico and other Steinberg product users Steinberg has released the following statement, which I took from the Dorico forum on October 7, 2019:

“macOS Catalina (10.15) will be released in October, replacing the current operating system Mojave (10.14). To Steinberg customers who are planning to update their Mac computer to Catalina right away: please continue to use macOS Mojave and earlier until further notice.

Steinberg is working through issues with Soft-eLicenser and Dorico on macOS Catalina. Due to this situation, we recommend users of Steinberg applications to remain on their current versions of macOS until further notice.

We will provide further information on compatibility with Catalina by the end of October.”

The bold part is my own emphasis. Most music software developers have made similar statements.

IN SHORT: I would hold off on upgrading to Catalina for now. It may be quite a while before all music software is upgraded to Catalina, and those upgrades are liable to be expensive. I know that some people like to have the very latest software, but there is a BIG difference between being on the leading edge and getting cut by the bleeding edge of new software that kills functions that you need for your crucial work.

Slate Digital continues innovation: with tech support

I have been a fan of Steven Slate‘s several companies ever since Mixerman dubbed their digital plug-ins the only ones that sounded as good as their analog originals. From such a hardcore analog enthusiast, this was a huge endorsement. And an accurate one, as usual. Steven Slate and his colleagues have revolutionized recording, from pro studios to home hobbyists. He has made the dream of working with ultra-expensive, classic gear affordable and sonically better than perfect as he often adds features that give many great pieces of classic gear some help from newer technology while retaining their vintage sound.

Slate digital

That and Slate’s continuing innovations alone would have made his name revered among recordists, mixers, producers, and musicians world-wide, but he proceeded to overhaul the way plug-ins are sold by leasing the entire set of Slate Digital effects in the suitably named EVERYTHING Bundle at a price that virtually anyone can afford. And unlike some plug-ins that leave you with buyer’s remorse when you realize that you haven’t used them in months or years (often because the upgrades were just too expensive), you pay Slate Digital only for the months that you are actually using the plug-ins; those fallow months when you are either writing or just taking a break from recording, you don’t pay a cent. And when you return to recording, you will find that all of those plug-ins that have been upgraded are ready for your use.

So what’s new? Well literally, the Virtual Mix Rack has just had a major upgrade, which Slate users (or those subscribed to Steven’s blog, now a vlog) already know. It may shock you to learn that I am not an EVERYTHING Bundle user, only because I have licenses for several individual products, but still I qualify for the upgrade, and there the new story begins. It didn’t work.

VMR 2

This is a surprise, but I admit that I am a special case and the problems arose from the upgrade including ALL of the plug-ins available to EVERYTHING Bundle users, so I just had to delete files for products I do not own. It was a simple fix, made even simpler by an excellent video showing exactly how to carry it out. I then ran into a second problem where my iLok dongle was unrecognized, and here I learned the true depth of the innovation in tech support. I received a quick reply that directed me to another video (with text and graphics for those who prefer that format) that addressed the problem (and that I used to fix it in under a minute), but the reply also included several other ways that I might have caused the error. Paying closer attention this time, I looked over the page and found an entire list of possible problems, including problems that a user might cause themselves by making a mistake during the fix or other problems that a user could run into. So beyond just having instruction on fixing problems, they have figured out issues and problems that users might run into and have pro-actively created support solutions for these! This sets an even higher bar for tech support by plug-in makers.

These DIY videos for fixing problems are great for people who can’t afford to be offline waiting for someone to possibly get back to them. This focus on video education (which it really is) may have come from Steven Slate’s vlog, where he has set aside marketing hype in favour of demonstrating how to use several of the plug-ins to fix specific problems that we all are likely to face. A “great problem to have” is still a problem, and having so many plug-ins, it can be daunting to choose among them in live situations. Steven’s demonstrations show his own working methods as he chooses effects and tweaks them, commenting on what he is doing and why. As he says, fire up your copy and work along with him to get the feel for doing it, then vary it to suit your own taste.

I’ve written more about the technology a lot already (here and also earlier in Just Jazz Guitar), so to return to today’s focus: hats off to Slate Digital’s tech support team for not only solving my problem, but telling me which pitfalls I’m liable to encounter with fixes for them when I ignore the warnings. As usual, a very welcome improvement in an often over-looked part of any business.

Steinberg’s Cubase Marketing Works on Me!

I can usually resist valueless marketing but Steinberg got me with a truly valuable invitation to start using the free copy of Cubase that I have gathering dust on my hard disk.

A couple of years back my basic interface died so I was looking for a replacement with two audio inputs (mic/line) and two MIDI inputs (IN/OUT); as basic as they get. The best deal I found was the Steinberg UR22, which has the features that I need plus great feedback from users and (I discovered) excellent sound. It also came with Cubase LE AI Elements 7 (the least powerful version of Cubase only available with OEM hardware) at no extra cost. Since I use Logic, I didn’t need another recording program so I let it sit. Some algorithm (or [gasp] possibly a human?!!) noticed that I had not been using it. I don’t know how. Didn’t I ask for tech support enough? Didn’t I ask questions in the forums? Didn’t I check for updates? Or something more sinister????

However they did it, I got an email encouraging me to start using it, and to sweeten the request they gave me three libraries of more modern drums, bass, and guitar sounds as VST add-ins to Cubase: Indie Rock, Dubstep, and Urban. OK, it worked. I followed the directions to download and register them, then watched a tutorial on how to use them in Cubase which was not relevant to my bottom-of-the-barrel version, but it was simple enough to figure out using the top menu bar rather than the nifty little icon that my version doesn’t have. The sounds are technically great, and depending on your taste, great as well. For free, it’s hard to beat, and very nice to get something of value that I will use in future projects because they sound so good I got ideas just running through them.

So for someone just starting out, or on a tight budget, it’s hard to beat the Steinberg UR22 and free Cubase software, especially if they are going to send you free libraries from time to time. Given the fact that this is the same company that produces Dorico I have to say that Steinberg has high standards and gives you more than your money’s worth with their products.

So the Steinberg marketing worked and I’m glad it did. This is a great model for any company that wants to get, or retain, customers. Give us something useful and if it fits our needs we’ll use it.

Slate Virtual Recording System (VRS) – Q & A

My post on the Slate Virtual Recording System (VRS) prompted a lot of questions via email. I still can’t find out what’s going on with comments, but one got through; how many others didn’t I have no idea, so the best route is still email to my address drdavejjg on gmail.

COST

Several questions revolved around my rough figure of about $5,000 (US) for a full Slate setup. This is for a single VRS module, which has 8 physical inputs (digital trickery aside). How many inputs YOU need depends on the group or individual you are recording. Some engineers would use more than those 8 just for a drum set, so for most bands with a full drum set you would need a second VRS joined to the first one via Thunderbolt, UNLESS you wanted to record the drums separately, and then add the band. If I were in that situation I’d prefer to use 7 inputs for the drums and keep (at least) one for the bass and record those two instruments at the same time. Of course that depends on several things, such as how many toms and other percussion instruments need to be miked. Remember that the one bass input can be duplicated on another track in your recording software and treated differently to get a fuller or other type of enriched sound.

Of course, with another VRS you will need more mics, cables, etc. You may even need these with a single VRS if you don’t use and DI instruments.

WHICH COMPUTER?

The other most common question was which computer to use and its specs. This is a HUGE question, and several books have been written about it, most if not all of which are now obsolete because the field moves so quickly, but I’ll tell you what I can for today. I prefer a Mac but that’s my own choice. I can’t comment on the Thunderbolt card for PC’s except for the obvious: an additional component in the signal chain and another potential point of failure. Laptops area great choice for portability, but beware since the trend is to solder the RAM on these, so you can’t upgrade later without a skilled technician re-soldering new RAM onto the motherboard, IF that is possible (i.e. the system will support it) and, if it matters to you, whether it will void the warranty. So choose as much RAM as you can at the outset to put off becoming obsolete for as long as you can (the computer that is; time will take care of your own obsolescence). Go for the most memory and powerful processor your budget can afford. I like the Powerbook Pro, which (maxed out) should be able to handle most bands thanks to the work offloaded to the VRS’s. If you have a dedicated studio and don’t do location work you may be able to get by with a desktop or tower. (If you make enough from your dedicated studio you should be able to afford a laptop if you need it, and the extra work should pay for it once you have it.)

LEARNING

As for learning about recording, especially using the Slate plug-ins remember that the Everything Bundle (included for a year with the VRS)  includes the Tutorials created by pros who use the plug-ins in their work as well as Slate engineers. You can view several of these on YouTube just searching for things like “Slate Digital” “tutorials” “Everything Bundle.”  Some people have done their own tutorials, some of which are very good, but be careful about ‘knowledge’ that might be mistaken or the long way around a simpler method. In general, I’d stick to tutorials from Slate Digital or well-known recording pros (e.g. Mixerman). If you sign up to their newsletter you will be notified when they make some of these available for free, as they did over the holiday season. But like anything, if you want to do good work, you need knowledge of your tools, how they work individually and how they work with each other and the full system.

As for recording in general, Mixerman’s books and e-b00ks are invaluable resources.

NEAR FUTURE

I do read all of your emails, as well as every comment that gets through (they all go to the Spam folder). I can’t provide tech support for your particular system, nor can I compare big systems that I don’t use. A lot of questions asked for comparisons of ProTools  and Logic or another program. I don’t have ProTools and the comments from engineers seem to agree with Steven Slate’s own, so I’d suggest you look those up or contact Slate pre-sales support who I am told are quite approachable.

I have to go in for minor surgery so I’ll be offline for a little while, but I’ll get back to reading your emails as soon as I can, although I might just be checking News once a day for a few days.

I hope to return soon.

Slate Digital Completes Its Virtual Recording Studio

If you have been following Steven Slate realize his dream, you have been expecting this day. After revolutionizing software plug-ins to rival classic effect and pre-amp models, it was only a matter of time before he moved into the hardware side of recording. The Raven replaced the physical desk with a virtual one via touch screen, and provides a great interface for using the plug-ins. The Virtual Microphone System brought the same kind of software modeling of classic hardware to the microphone realm. Now the Virtual Recording Studio picks up the rest.

video-thumb-virtual-recording-studioYou can find out all of the details of the Virtual Recording Studio and how it fits into the entire Slate ideology by clicking on the link or image above. It looks and sounds great to me but I am NOT a hardware engineer, so I can’t comment on how it compares to the high-end gear that Steven discusses, nor on their custom components. I also can’t A/B the mics as he does in the demo video, so I suggest that you check out the engineering forums to see what the recording  pros really think.

The deal itself seems incredibly great, which is why I think it is worth your while to check it out. For about $5,000 (USD) you can set up a state-of-the-art studio with the mics, inputs, plug-ins, and extras that you need (stands, booms, cables, etc.). (Oh, except for the high-end computer that’s going to be running this thing. A modern Mac Pro or PC tower should do, and if you are into recording it’s quite likely that you have one now or are planning to upgrade soon.) That’s pretty amazing — if you have a space that can make the most of such precise equipment.

So now you have 8 inputs for your sound, which you can make seem like more by doing things like adding second mic emulations on a different track but using the same physical mic, as Steven does in the latter part of the video. You can get more physical inputs by joining several VRS’s via Thunderbolt too. You now have a choice of large- or small-diaphragm mics that can emulate different vintage mics (or in some cases, the same ones, at least close enough). Because most studios outside of bedrooms need more than one mic, the VRS can be purchased with 5-packs of either type of Slate mic, and it comes with permanent licenses for the mic emulations, as well as a 1-year subscription to the Everything Bundle. But remember that it won’t be long before you want a Raven to control those plug-ins.

Slate has always provided great value for the money, and the Virtual Recording Studio looks to be the epitome of their line-up. If you do any recording, you must look into this one seriously.

Slate Takes On the Entire Recording Process

For those new to Slate Digital I’ll give a short history,  then the new software and hardware. If you are already familiar with Slate, scroll down to NEW SOFTWARE.

SLATE HISTORY

When I first wrote about Slate Digital they had begun marketing plug-ins that emulated analog recording gear well enough to fool the ears of some of the best engineers and producers in the business. In fact, it was Mixerman who gave me the heads-up on Slate, and since he had been so adamantly against using plug-ins I had to hear them for myself. I was amazed.

As they continued to produce more and more software, they also moved into hardware with their MTX/MTi touch screen controllers for the plug-ins so that their emulations were even easier to use than the original hardware. (In his book #Mixerman and the Billionheir Apparent, Mixerman’s MTi console is virtually one of the characters, showing up at several key moments and always there in the background of his studio.)

Hardware continued to develop with the Virtual Microphone System, where a single mic and pre-amp is programmed to emulate some of the finest (and most expensive) mic & pre-amp combos in history, many no longer available commercially. Another dream-come-true for any studio owner.

As the plug-in list grew, Slate re-wrote the rules of selling plug-ins by selling subscriptions to EVERY plug-in that Slate makes, PLUS some of the finest plug-ins from other partners (their EVERYTHING Bundle).As of this writing, the price point has held at $14.99 per month for an annual licence; and $24.99 per month ONLY for months that you use the software; if you don’t use it some months, you don’t pay for it for those months.

NEW SOFTWARE

Ever improving, this month Slate announced the VerbSuite Classics Digital Reverbs. By partnering wisely Slate is able to include “eight of the most popular professional digital reverbs from the past forty years” — some of which have never before been emulated — in a single plug-in. VerbSuite Classics uses LiquidSonics proprietary Fusion IR processing, which captures the actual tone of the modeled reverb and so “is able to reproduce the evolving character of modulating digital reverbs for the first time.”And since the EVERYTHING Bundle includes all updates and new plug-ins, bundle users have access to this suite of reverbs automatically and immediately. A similar set of Repeater Analog Modeled Delays is coming soon and will be available the same way.

verbsuite-classics2

NEW HARDWARE

The Slate Control is an analog monitoring device built as the “official monitor section of the new RAVEN MTX mk2, and the RAVEN MTi2.” It can be used as a standalone monitor control or be retrofitted into existing setups.

slate-control-top

SUMMARY

Slate has given the greatest gift to studio owners of all sizes by providing state-of-the-art processing and hardware at incredibly low prices.Their continual additions to the EVERYTHING Bundle makes it one of the greatest deals in all of music history!

Steven Slate Virtual Microphone System

I was planning to blog about some great new books that have just come out, but I ran across a new article on the web site of Mix magazine that gives a rave review to the Virtual Microphone System (VMS) from Slate Digital. As I noted in my column in Just Jazz Guitar, Slate Digital has managed to emulate a number of classic, incredibly expensive microphones and mic pre-amps for the price of a single modern mid-level mic. As these classic mics get rarer and rarer, and so become pricier and pricier, the Slate VMS becomes a better deal every day.

Slate-VMS-1

I won’t ask you believe me, or even Mix: you can check out the real-world A-B comparison of the Slate VMS with some of the finest examples of the vintage mics at the famous NRG Recording Studios by clicking here.

I planned this blog to bring great deals to the attention of working musicians and recording folks, and in the world of microphones it doesn’t get better than this! When a product arrives that can be up to 100 times cheaper than the alternative, doesn’t it just make sense to check it out?

Get Slate Digital’s MONSTER — For FREE

Slate MONSTER

With The Monster Extreme Dynamic Processor, Slate Digital has done it again: they have created a Dynamic Processor that you have to hear to believe! At heart, it is a state-of-the-art compressor that lets you blend the “wet” and “dry” sounds. Wet / dry is more accurate than “compressed and non-compressed” because you have much more control than that. The Monster has High Frequency Detection that makes it react more “dramatically” to high frequencies, smoothing out the high end. Complementing this is a Variable High-Pass Filter that gives you control over the low end for more “punch” in your sound. And being a Slate Digital product, it even has a “Punch” button to get this sound more quickly and easily! Check it out on the Slate Digital web site and hear it demonstrated on the video here.

This great plug-in has an even greater price: it’s FREE!

One caveat: like all Slate Digital products, the Monster requires an iLok2 dongle for copy protection. These are inexpensive, and allow you to try out ALL of the Slate Digital demos. They also let you use Revival, another FREE Slate plug-in that provides wonderful air and space in high frequencies and body, warmth, and fullness in the low end, on either individual tracks or an entire mix. These two great plug-ins make the cost of the iLok2 insignificant if you don’t already have one. But there’s even a way to get the iLok2 free as well.

The best deal is to go for the Slate Digital EVERYTHING BUNDLE, and get all of the Slate plug-ins, some of the very best plug-ins from their partners, 5 great guitar amp simulators, and a FREE iLok2! Click here to see Everything included in the bundle, as well as a few upcoming ones that make it an even greater buy.

As I keep saying, Slate’s bundles are the best deals in the recording world. Why not test that for yourself? Try out The Monster, and Revival, and then some of the free demos. I’m confident that your music will never have sounded as good.