Month / January, 2004

Getting Physical the Review

Whilst browsing on Amazon for some old CDs I had lost back in college, I came across a video called “Getting Physical.”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/6301801482/qid=1075322041/sr=1-7/ref=sr_1_7/103-2331412-6519822?v=glance&s=video The reason I bring it up is the first review for Getting Physical is kind of disturbing.

My New Tascam US-122 for GarageBand

Yesterday, I received the first peice in my home recording puzzle, the Tascam US-122 USB Audio/MIDI Interface ($185 new on ebay shipped). This thing is bigger than I thought it was going to be but I was expecting a cheap little plastic USB Device… Not so. The first thing I noticed about the Tascam US-122 is that it’s a substantial piece of audio equipment, the solid steel construction of the 2 pound interface sits firmly on your desktop, without many fears that a coiled mic cable will flip it over.

Tascam US-122

Tascam US-122 features:

  • USB power
  • Two analog inputs and outputs (stereo)
  • 24-bit (44.1 kHz or 48 kHz) input to output path
  • Separate source selection (MIC/LINE/INST) and gain control per channel
  • 48V phantom power
  • Hi-Z input for (D.I.) instrument pickup
  • TRS inserts on each input channel
  • Balanced/unbalanced connections
  • Zero-latency direct monitoring
  • Unbalanced RCA and Headphone outputs with dedicated volume controls
  • MIDI input and output ports
  • 16-channel MIDI interface

Installation of the drivers needed was a breeze, I decided to download drivers directly from the Tascam website instead of messing with the included installation CD. A restart later the US-122 was up and running. In GarageBand’s Preferences, selecting Audio/MIDI was equally easy to start recording from my guitars pickup. Although at first I noticed an audio lag from what I was playing when I was monitoring the guitar track, I quickly found opening the included utility US-122 Manager I could set the Audio Safety Buffer from 2ms to 1ms and the lag disappeared.

The sound quality, recording directly from my Takamine EG330SC acoustic guitar, was very clear and synched to my playing, although I could detect a slight latency. Unfortunately latency, or audio lag, is a problem on all USB recording devices and the Tascam US-122 is susceptible, but Tascam includes a zero latency direct monitoring feature which allows you to bypass the circuitry and listen to your input directly. The latency was almost imperceptible with all track effects off in GarageBand.

I had never heard my guitar accept through cheap guitar amps and the US-122 was so clear and detailed that I could hear every movement of my fingers on the strings and every missed fret. It was a little unnerving. The short of it is, the Tascam US-122 is extremely responsive, so much so you may be surprised to hear your guitar uncolored.

( Here’s a sample from my horrible playing. MP3 340k )

To my Takamine’s defense, I really didn’t have a chance to fool around with any settings and the recording is done straight, without any EQ adjustments. It will be interested to see what I can do to make the guitar sound like I want it to… fingers crossed.

UPDATE: Sat down for half an hour with my acoustic guitar and went through GarageBand’s settings. This is more like it. Forgive Me Love instrumental as QuickTime Movie 450kb.

(To be added later this week, dynamic microphones and the Tascam US-122)

Do It Yourself Home Recording Studio

Just to clarify things, putting together a home studio is my first attempt at any musical recording outside of recoding on a hand held tape recorder, I am not a professional. The way I’m approaching it is to look at my influences, see how they recorded, and try to reproduce it in my budget and using the latest technology. This my list and shouldn’t been seen as a guide. I am writing this both to record to myself as well as help others in my position of wanting to record music, but not knowing how to go about doing it. I set up this list of things I must remember when setting up a home studio, acquired from different books and online articles.

  • Your recordings are only as good as their weakest link (Basically this means that even if you have a $2,000 guitar, if you plug it into a crappy amp it will sound crappy)
  • Buy the best equipment you can (an economy in quality, is always a false economy)
  • Always look for affordable alternatives (this may seem the opposite of the above statement, but it isn’t. Sometimes you may not be able to buy the best equipment and some lower priced alternatives may be there if you look)

To start with I needed an audio recording and mixing device. Back in the days it would have been a huge reel-to-reel recorders with huge mixing boards and teams of engineers in lab coats pushing little light up buttons. In the professional world today they use huge digital recorders and mixing decks, behind glass with millions of dollars of equipment. In an amateur home recording studio there are many different approaches from analog tape mixers, digital deck mixers, to computer based recoding. I chose to edit on my old Apple laptop using software which takes up the least space and allows for maximum quality and maximum edit-ability over all the other amateur formats, for this I am using a PowerBook and a copy of GarageBand to record and mix. GarageBand also has virtual amps which utilize DI (Direct Inject) which sound great, cost a fraction of real amps, are post-production friendly (can change amp’s sound later in the mix) and save a huge amount of my limited urban living space.

(Direct Injecting is a recording term used when you don’t mic up a guitar’s amp, but rather plug the guitar directly into the mixing board. It is often seen by professionals as cheating because it does not allow for an artist’s individual amplifier sound to be captured, but then again the same was said about digital photography 5 years ago.)

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Recording Influences

I love music. Not only listening, but from 6 months old playing with sounds that I could make by fluttering my lips. I am by no means a professional, but more a lover of audio. I’m not sure where this love came from. My father is probably the cause, being a man who implored in me a love of all things.

*Including the Beatles.*

I can remember the day I heard them. My parents were visiting their friends who lived somewhere near the bear mountain bridge. They were nice people and all, but I remember that their children were complete animals. After an hour of these children, I escaped out the front door and into my parents’ silver Volvo. I knew the tape player worked without the key in the ignition, so I grabbed one of the tapes my father kept in the car and sat in the drivers seat. It was at this point that I heard a jet plane about to land on my father’s car. I can remember, quite vividly, looking up through the windshield at the sky as Back in the U.S.S.R. began to play. I knew from then on that this was the band for me.

*This was it.*

Since then it’s happened a few more times (in date order); Paul Simon’s _Graceland,_ Talking Heads’ _Stop Making Sense,_ Nirvana’s _Nevermind,_ Counting Crows’ _August and Everything After,_ Jeff Buckley’s _Grace,_ DJ Shadow’s _Entroducing,_ Bob Dylan’s _Blond on Blond,_ Jellyfish’s _Spilt Milk,_ and Wilco’s _Yankee Hotel Foxtrot._ Looking at them as a whole, they all represent very distinct sounds-capes. Each one has an amazing “transparent” production, where you feel like you’re sitting in the midst band not listening to a recording.

*These are my influences.*

My New Garage Band

“GarageBand,”:http://www.apple.com/ilife/garageband/ the latest and, hopefully, greatest new application from “Apple”:http://www.apple.com/ arrives on Friday and promises to be a hoot to play with. The basic premise behind GarageBand is that you can create music on your Mac without any musical training at all. The concept has been around a while, but Apple always seems to deliver while other manufacturers always seem to botch it up (Mixman Studio).

As I said back in “November,”:/archives/031103_52_pickup.html I intend to record my musical ramblings for you guys to see what you think… I’m thinking of it as writing music like a blog. I would post a new song, you guys would take a listen and I would repost a revised edition, unless I thought that your comments sucked… like somebody out there says Barry Gibb isn’t the king of disco. It would be a big experiment, that will probably self-destruct but it’s worth a try.

GarageBand is basically a program to supply anybody with a backing band for their musical expressions. You can even record into the thing using a microphone, or guitar! I am totally stoked. I have already started looking at new electric guitars for recording these compositions.

* “Fender Stratocaster”:http://www.music123.com/Item/?itemno=119416 (American Made)
* “Epiphone Casino”:http://www.music123.com/Item/?itemno=69552 (Lennons guitar) (No, not the dictator)
* “Epiphone Dot”:http://www.music123.com/Item/?itemno=28135 (Like Chuck Berry’s guitar only cheeper)

The best part of GarageBand is that it costs a measley $49.00 with 4 other great iLife applications (iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD). The only question I have, is why didn’t they call it iBand, or iPerform, or iMix? GarageBand seems like a strange move in their naming strategy.

Apple, iPod Mini, and HP

So, everybody else is talking about it, why don’t I enter the fray and publish my opinions about the new “iPod Mini”:http://www.apple.com/ipodmini/ and the seeming disapproval of many diehard mac enthusiasts.

Contrary to popular belief, the iPod Mini is priced perfectly in the “MP3 player market.”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0000AXKBK/ref=pd_ts_e_12/102-4376633-4439302?v=glance&s=electronics&n=493964 Sure there’s people who are saying that a $250 price tag is too high to compete with the junky players offered by other companies and I agree. That doesn’t, however, mean that Apple has ever tried to get enter that market or should.

*Jaguar cars has never offered a low end car because they want to compete with Honda.*

Apple’s original iPod was not marketed from it’s low price. It was, and still is, the top of the line in portable digital music players. It costs the most and sells, why? Because Apple’s strategy is not to create the lowest price digital players on the market, there is enough competition already, instead they created the best MP3 player in the world.

People still don’t quite understand that when you buy an iPod it’s because it is the best player that money can buy, not because it’s a cheap product. I’ve had this conversation with a few people so I shall post it here. People say…

“I wouldn’t buy the 4GB Mini for $250, when I could have the 15BG iPod for $300.”

So, where’s the downside for Apple? Instead of shelling out $250 you’ll shell out $300 and think you’re getting something even better. What Apple do, extremely well I might add, is up the ante ever so slowly that before you know it you’ve bought the $400 model because you wanted the remote and sleeve. The scenario is this you go into the Best Buy to buy a MP3 player and see the iPod Mini. Wow, you say to yourself it’s only $50 bucks more than that other player that holds 1/16th the amount of music. Wow, you say to yourself again for $50 more I get 3 times the amount of storage!

You have just added $100 to your purchase, in small increments and before you know it Apple has you as a customer. It’s simple and brilliant. The best part is that it’s a win win situation, Apple gets you as a customer and you purchase the best MP3 player in the world.

“Then there’s the fact that later this year HP will be producing their own iPods thanks to an agreement with Apple.”:http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2004/jan/08hp.html So all those PC people out there who don’t get it, will buy one and marvel at it’s ease of use and the thought will creep in “maybe I should try a mac.”

_Or maybe that’s wishful thinking._

Angry Face

Am I psyhcologically disturbed? When I sit at a computer to draw, I always seem to draw upset male serial killer type men. What would Freud say?

upset male serial killer type face

Not Angry Woman

Taa-da a not so angry woman. I just don’t want to be the one to mention that the shade of lipstick isn’t really her color… if you know what I mean.

Not Angry Woman

_I really hope Freud isn’t looking._