Working with Digital Audio

It is truly a strange and wonderful time. And though the inmates seem to be running the asylum (ever read that book by Alan Cooper?), we, the lowly musicians, suddenly have in our hands tools which once were only available to those with six and seven figure bank accounts. For the price of a computer and software and an interface, one can become a "recording artist."

Heh, nothing quite works the way we'd like it to yet, but we know if we wait a little longer, buy the next upgrade or fix, the kinks they call bugs, will get ironed out REALLY they will. The new version will have new features which we cannot live without so we put up with the annoying new bugs until the next release. And of course, next upgrade, we'll have to get a newer, faster, machine, to maintain this upwardly mobile madness. In this fun adventure we find ourselves becoming technicians, troubleshooters, and sometimes yearning for the days when we walked into a studio and someone else did all the work. We are the guinea pigs, the beta testers. And all we wanted to do was record our music. I really don't want to know how the toaster works. I just want my toast! Fortunately most software is not life threatening, although I've been known to threaten various applications with their removal if they do not shape up.

[To avoid reading further and get straight to my collection of digital/audio links you can go to this page ]

In England, last century, in the late 80's nearly every musician and studio I knew had an Atari -- with a midi sequencing program (Pro24) put out by Steinberg, who now puts out an audio and midi recording package called Cubase VST. Over here in America, only game enthsiasts and displaced Europeans had Ataris. On bad days I threaten to get the Atari out of the storage locker. Then I remind myself that it requires a transformer from UK to US voltages and the Atari didn't even have an internal hard drive, the program loaded off a floppy, and the operating system was resident in a chip.. Hey, but with a floppy in the drive there was no boot up time. Ah yes, Life was good. It worked, within its limitations.

So, when I got back to the States, I tried a midi sequencing program of a similar type ported to PC. It was like a demo that didn't work. I called up the company tech support, frustrated at having spent so much money on something which didn't work. I described what was happening and said this can't be right, and basically they told me, yes, that's how it works. Then I said, "Well, this is a toy, a fake, it doesn't do what it says it does." I was supposed to wait for the upgrade, and the "fixes". I was infuriated, bought the upgrade and worked with this program for about 6 months. I learned the term "work around".

Around this time, the effects of the Digital Revolution were beginning to be felt more broadly in the consumer market. Atari released a product which could do digital audio recording called The Falcon -- but the Falcon never flew. Not sure why, since as a dedicated machine, it would have been great, but like VHS versus the beta max, market forces took over.

Now, several years later, we're still riding the rising wave of the “Digital Revolution”. Forearmed with the knowledge that it is the inmates in charge, one can dive into this realm feeling somewhat empowered. “I’m not an idiot. It was the guy who designed this software who is the idiot. heh.” For some of us, the Digital Revolution means getting free music in mp3s on the net from their favorite artist. For recording artists the Digital Revolution means not only that powerful technology that once was only available to those with large bank accounts which can be had for a fraction of the cost, but also, that the means of distribution is changing as shown by the recent mp3 frenzy

Unfortunately, the giant media corporations like dinosaurs have been slow to respond to the quick changes, and have not provided an easy, cheap, and reasonable method of digital delivery of pop music. And as quite a few artists are getting uppity about contracts, such as the quite vocal Courtney Love, and quite a few others, the industry may actually be forced to come to terms with their ineptitude and bad practices -- or not.

So some enterprising programmer and his uncle filled the gap with Napster. The debate still rages. I put up an anti-Napster site which mocked Napster. Now Napster has decided to pay the songwriters, and has stopped it's file sharing service until it's new technology is in place. I'm going to quote from my opening article although there is more than this on the site:

"To Nab or not to Nab, that is the question. Just what does "Nab" mean? It means: "to seize, grab, or snatch", or "to take into custody as of suspected criminals . . . .".

It's a complicated issue.

There is an exchange or currency which is being ignored-- the artist's creation. The moment an artist creates a song, it belongs to the artist. This is copyright. This is the artist's property just as your furniture or CD player or computer are your property.

Copyright laws may be in some need of reworking. There is the recent use of Creative Commons licenses. But the trend would seem to be not in favor of artists. Just look at the the new "WORK FOR HIRE" provision which has been passed by Confress by stealth tacked onto some other legislation. If an artist signs this "WORK FOR HIRE" contract, in effect, the artist is giving away all past, present future rights to his/her work. Screwed again.

Here's some food for thought: If I work hard, invest time and money to create a product, should someone else be able to have the benefit of that product without having to pay for it? If I have a fruit and vegetable garden, is it ok for everyone else to come pick it without my permission just because it's now "cool" and easy to do so? However, if I give my friends a basket to fill or invite them to share in the food on my table, that's different. the analogy is not a perfect one really since vegetables and fruits cannot be perfectly digitally reproduced (we need replicators) although there are a lot of parallels between music and a good feast.

And just what is a definition of sharing? If copyright says you can make copies of something you have bought for your personal use, then does this mean offering it to thousands of strangers just because you can?

I have issues with the way the music industry has reduced music to a product to sustain their boardroom bottom lines, and the institutionalized crime of standard industry practices. Free expression and having music freely available is a good thing, an integral part of our daily lives, part of "community" -- but music is not "FOR FREE". One invests in it just as one does any other business, endeavor or path with time and/or money. This is still in the realm of commerce and one cannot give away everything for free without a complete reassessment and reworking of all of our basic economic premises, not to mention human nature and entrenched systems.

Just because information is so easily replicable? In some parallel universe, where we can all bang on our drum all day long, and food magically appears on our tables because we all can walk out toe the free gardens, and we're all happily ever after cooperating and sharing and living in our new digital villages, music will fill the air . . . la la la la la la.....can't help myself, sorry... please give me a replicator now!!!!"

And just what is this work that an artist does? For us, it has been living on a constant learning curve. I never would have gotten into all this technology if it weren't for music. My second career choice was to join a circus or become a lion tamer.Some days, that looks much easier.

Recording Digital Audio

Until fairly recently, "Analog" was the only kind of recording available to most musicians. An analog recording device use a plastic tape coated with magnetic particles moving across a magnetic recording head at a constant speed to record and playback.

My first tape recorder was a little Sony portable with a built in mic. I thought it was great. I wrote and recorded songs in real time. Then came the four track portastudio which Warner Brothers gave to me and said, "Go write". I couldn't believe how complicated it was. I read the manual and still wasn't sure if I was doing it right. "Pan all odd tracks left and all even tracks right." .. "uh, one, left...two...right..." This was extremely difficult for one so directionally challenged. I learned to "overdub" and "bounce". Then came the 12-track to cassette all in one portastudio, connected to the PC via timecode with the toy program. It was still analog recording to tape.

Tape has improved greatly over the years, and some will argue that a freshly minted analog vinyl recording put next to a freshly minted CD recording sounds better. With tape, fatal flaws caused by mechanical problems can damage the tape by stretching or wrinkling it -- not to mention cooking it in the back of your car. There is no error correction for this! CDs also have a temperature at which they become baked, but it is much higher. Other problems with tape include "shedding" (loss of particles off the tape), speed fluctuations which produce "wow and flutter" and improper tape to head contact. Digital recordings also have their fatal flaws, mostly if one does not have adequate backups....

The really great leap came with ADATs. They look like an ordinary video tape, but don't really work in a VCR.(Of course I had to check it out).

The digital recording process is far simpler mechanically than analog recording, but much more involved electronically. The input signal is sampled 1000's of times per second and each acoustic slice is given it's own digital number, consisting of 0's and 1's. Theoretically, the "analog-to-digital converter" (ADC) recieves the analog input and converts it into a stream of numbers and conversely, the "digital-to-analog converter" (DAC) reverses the process

So, now one can cheaply have a state of the art 64 track digital studio in a box and unlimited "virtual tracks". What's interesting to me is that it's just a slightly bigger version of the four track porta-studio, and the principles are still the same. We're still panning odd tracks left and panning even tracks right. The virtual interface looks just like the old faders and knobs. And when it comes down to it, analog or digital it's all about the quality of music which is going to tape or hard disk. I still speak of it as "going to tape", even though it's going to hard disk. Amazing really.

In many small project studios, you will find Digital tape machines such as the Alesis ADATs which have mechanical transports and plastic tape as a storage medium for the digital information. In addition we use a DAT machine for mixdowns and masters, which is another digital tape format. If you happen to record in a digital studio, make sure you make notes of in what format and sample rate things are recorded. We chose ADATs as one of our early formats because they were so common. Several years later, like an old PC, they are virtually doorstops, not worth reselling, worth keeping around for the occasional project that needs transfer or mixing. There are so many dedicated "boxes" to choose from, one cannot keep up it seems.

Another form of digital recording involves using a computer as a hard disk recorder: your computer can become a "virtual" studio. Some have computers with software as front-end controllers, and additional hardware like the Digi-Design and Soundscape machines, while others are dedicated boxes like the Akai DR 16, a completely dedicated recording machine, but is actually recording audio directly to it's internal or external hard disks. With a great sound card, now many are virtually latency free, you've nearly got your studio in a box.

Recording on your home computer

So, it's now possible you can record whatever you want on your home computer, and within hours send it via mp3 to friends, family and the world at large via the internet. Now everybody and their brother can be a recording artist. The amount of sound power being offered from inside a PC today is incredible.

Anyone who has used a Mac or Windows machine knows how to drag and click with a mouse and that's basically how you manipulate the sound files. It’s like a word processor for music. The difference being that one is dealing with large files, doing computationally intensive work in real time.

The Machine: The biggest hurdle besides an initial investment in computer hardware and software, is that it can be a complicated process to get the hardware and software installed properly and working correctly. However, once these "configuration" issues are solved, the computer recording enviornment can be a lot of fun to use and can produce professional quality recordings. One of the reasons we chose Mactintosh as our platform of choice had to do with midi and audio timing issues, sound card compatibility, and general user friendliness. At the time, Mac clones were still available and the price was right so we got a couple of them.

If you don’t already have a computer, get the fastest machine you can. Fast bus speed, and all the RAM it can hold. Although I’ve seen audio programs open with 64 MBs of RAM, that doesn’t mean the program will actually work. 128 MB RAM minimum. if you’re getting into this seriously, check the number of PCI slots. Although it is possible to record using your laptop, iBook, it presents its own set of additional challenges. Ideally, you may also want separate Hard Drive(s) to be used for recording your digital audio. Audio files are large and you don't want to be recording on the same hard drive that your operating system is on. It's not that it won't work; it might not work in optimal fashion. The size of the hard disk determines the amount of recording time and number of tracks you can record.

The Software:

OK, so let’s assume you' ve got your computer whether it be a PC or Mac Beastie. They’re both beasts and don’t let anyone tell you different. Unless you can tame your tool, it’s worthless.

The next thing you are going to need is recording software. For starters, figure out what it is you want to do. What do you already have? Do you have a synthesizer/keyboard or a trombone? Or do you want to record spoken word, or perhaps make a sound track for your home movie, or have a song you’ve written which you want to record for posterity and send it to family and friends, or to get a publishing deal or a platinum record?

First figuring out what you want to do, and how much you're willing to invest, in time and money, is important. You can do this with a minimal set up or you can spend any amount....But doing a bit of homework and research first could save you time and money later.

More than likely you will want a multi-track software package, which enables you to record tracks and then overdub additional tracks in any order. For instance, you might record your keyboard parts on four tracks, then go back and record a guitar part, etc. To do this, the machine, whether analog or digital, must be able to record one track while its playing back the others.

There are lots of multi-track programs out there for both the Mac and the PC (like Syntrillium's CoolEdit Pro, IQS Saw Plus and SEK'd Samplitude,), to name a few. There are a few you can download for free to test capabilities and see whether or not you really want to buy.. You probably want more than a stereo editing program if you're planning on recording more than one instrument.

There are also powerful MIDI Sequencing programs combiningDigital Audio capabilities some of which are available for both Mac and PC: Steinberg’s Cubase VST, MOTU Digital Performer, E-Magic Logic Audio and Opcode Vision DSP. With these you can build MIDI sequences and record your audio and place the digital audio right along with the sequences. The audio becomes another sound that is triggered along with the rest of the MIDI sequence. For example, if you have a midi keyboard connected to your computer via a midi interface, you will play parts into your computer which will play back the sounds on your keyboard. You might want to record your voice or an acoustic instrument and then mix them together, first recording the midi parts to audio, mix them and then burn the final result to CD. A good entry level program which does both audio and midi is Steinberg's Cubasis, which is significantly cheaper than many professional packages. Having midi sequencing is only important if you are using midi devices such as synthesizers. If you're only recording acoustic guitar and voice, you may never use the midi recording features in these programs.

Note about he Internet: It's invaluable and nearly indispensable! All of these companies have websites. Many of them have technical forums and there are lists devoted entirely to their product. You can find out what others are using, the problems they're having before you ever spend a penny. Always, check the minimum capabilities required to run software. It is almost a given that you won't be happy with any music software running on the"minimum machine" listed in the software specs. Software updates are often available online. Some are available ONLY online.

In addition there is now also collaboration over the internet, which brings together musicians from all around the world who would not be able to record together otherwise. I've been asked to do a vocal track for someone in Belgium. He sent an mp3 of the backing which I converted to an AIF file and then transferred into Cubase. I'll send him the rough on MP3 and if he approves, I'll send the vocal take, by uploading it to an ftp server. I did this using the Rocket Network. At first it was midi only, now using Steinberg's Cubasis, or Cubase VST 5, or Logic Audio, one can actually record audio, but not in real time, and share files. The Rocket Network no longer exists. I'm waiting for the next great thing to come out!

This page has a bunch of software, descriptions and links for audio recording software. (Also mentioned at the beginning of this paper, for those who wish to skip all the blabber and just get down to buying and researching their own particular needs)

For much of our midi sequencing and audio recording and editing we use Steinberg's Cubase VST (Virtual Studio Technology). We also use Deck and Pro Tools, and use Pro Tools, Masterlist and Jam for mastering. Digidesign has been offering a version of Pro Tools Free, for PC and Mac. It will not work with Digidesign's hardware however and is intended to entice you to buy their product in full, which is quite expensive.

Sound Card: This is the device that gets the sound into and out of the computer.If you have an older Mac, from pre USB days, it may already has native audio in and out, so you can get away with no sound card, unless you want to have pro quality sound. If you have a later model Mac or a PC you will need a sound card or USB or firewire audio interface of some sort. This is homework time. Check the software you plan to use for compatibility. Any new technology may require you to troubleshoot problems with your particular set up. This is one reason why having a tower with PCI slots is an advantage. We use three different sound cards in three different machines: Korg 1212, Sonorus StudI/O and a Digidesign Audio Media III card. Each one interacts differently with different software and different machines. Each of them has specs which we require for a particular set up.

There are lots of sound cards out there and you need to pick the right one for doing what you want to do. Again, go to the maufacturers' websites. Make sure the software that you have picked will work with the soundcard you're looking at. The software should list soundcards that have been tested and work correctly with it.

If you're only doing simple recordings, then you'll probably be fine with a simple stereo ANALOG L/R in/out soundcard. For overdubbing, it must be "full duplex" which means the soundcard can input and output at the same time. To take advantage of the multi-track recording programs, if you want to record more than two tracks at once, you'll want multiple ANALOG ins and outs and that's why they cost more. Look for the number of simultaneous record and playback channels capabilities as well as the types of ANALOG and DIGITAL connections.

Don't get a card that only has digital in/outs unless you have a DAT machine or other box that reads a digital signal. There are two flavors of digital in/out. One is S/PDIF which uses an RCA style connector (like your cassette deck) and the other is AES/EBU which uses a cannon connector (like a microphone cable). Some cards have one, some have both. You can't plug them into your home stereo and hear them! Whether its simply for stereo editing or full blown multi-track recording, get a sound card with at least a stereo analog monitor output so you can plug this into an amplifier and speakers and hear what is going on.

CD BURNER: If you don't have one, you will want one.A CD burner, besides creating audio CDs is also a means to back up files and this is really helpful when you've filled up that big hard drive with audio files. It’s best to make two backups and save all the related files onto a cd-r and erase the old files on my hard drive.

To burn cd's on your computer, you need cd-r software. CD-RW's will come bundled with a pared down version of CD-R software, which will work for ordering your songs, backing up files and folders. A lot of software companies now have separate add-on cd-r software to go with their recording packages. Easy CD Creator5 and Roxio Toast 5. goes beyond the software that came with your CD recorder. Now you can burn and share anything on CD - your music just the way you like it, your photos, your video - even backup your critical data - faster and easier than ever. If you are using a new Mac with a built-in CD burner, it came with an iTunes and a package with which you can use to do the basics.

Next year you will probably want a built in DVD burner on your new machine......;-)

There are all sorts of resources and books on the subject such as The Quick Guide to Digital Audio

OK, you’ve got the box, you’ve got the soundcard, you’ve installed the recording software, and you’re ready to go!! Maybe.....

COMPATIBILITY ISSUES: Most software manufacturers list hardware which is compatible, but it is impossible for them to beta test every possible combination. We found out that our clone machines were no longer supported by the software and card which we were using, thus, when we upgraded to the new version, after two months of trouble and trouble-shooting, we had to buy a new computer, a new sound card and a new midi interface. That was a rather expensive $99 upgrade, which we don't regret. There are quite a few serious reasons not to upgrade. If it ain't broke don't fix it can be an important decision in regards to serious digital audio recording.

The Drivers: These are little software programs that communicate with the operating system, your hardware and software. Windows machines and Macs have this in common. You need to make sure that your software and hardware BOTH are supported by whatever version of the operating system is on your computer. If something isn't working, the driver version can be the first suspect.. In Macs, it might be an extension conflict, but there are so many potential causes, it can take patience and troubleshooting skills to figure these things out.

Little Savage ™ knows how to deal with technology.

There are many sites and user forums devoted to problems with digital audio recording. Audioamigo has tips for PC users. Harmony Central is another good on-line resource. We subscribe to several lists which deal specifically with the software we are using and subscribed to lists of items which we were interested in purchasing before we decided to buy or not to buy. Doing your homework may take a while but it probably will save you hours and hours of hairpulling and headaches later.

Assuming you didn't have any compatibility issues, now how do you go about the mechanics of getting sound into your computer?

SOUND SOURCE. There are only two ways to get your noises onto the tape, or into your computer: through a microphone or directly from an electronic output source. This could be a keyboard synthesizer, a softsynth, which is a bunch of resident noises inside your computer, which can depending upon the program you’re using, be recorded directly to audio without leaving your box.

In general, the quality of what comes back is affected by the quality of the equipment the signal passes through.

Depending on your sound card, you may not be able to plug your microphone directly into your computer. Check the specs. There are mics from Shure which will work directly with a sound card. This is where the set up can become more complicated. Especially if you want to monitor what it going into the box. Having an external mixer and pre-amp for your microphones is a necessity if your’re doing serious overdubbing.

Microphone: There are 5 main types of microphones: Dynamic, Condenser, Tube, Ribbon, and PZM. The two most common types however are: "dynamic", which have no active electronics involved in amplifying the input signal, and "condenser", which require either batteries or "phantom power" to power their electronics. Both types have a thin membrane, called the diaphragm, that vibrates and that physical vibration is translated into an electronic signal. In general, condenser mikes are brighter and have a broader frequency response, but they are more fragile. That's why you usually see an SM57, a general purpose dynamic mike, in the lead singer's hands at a concert. They can withstand a lot of abuse. Even though mine has ten years of spit, dents, lipstick, grease and years of secondhand smoke, it still sounds the same as a brand new SM57.

Classic condenser microphones like the Neumann U-47 and AKG C-12 use vacuum tube electronics and are treasured for their unique sound. They are rather large and have large diaphrams. Ribbon microphones are another vintage design that incorporates a thin rectangular strip as it's diaphragm, hence the name. PZM designs are a relatively new invention. They work on a completely different principle and don't look anything like traditional microphones. We've been trying get a pair of those cheap Radio Shack PZMs for over a year. . . ..

The signal created by the microphone is very small and it is the microphone pre-amp that increases this level to what is known as "line-level" for interfacing with the mixing board. This is yet another link in the chain with it's opportunity to affect the sound, and it will.

My favorite vocal mic is the Microtech Gefell UM92 which is made by the same company that made Neumann, but when East and West Germany split, one half of the factory/owners went to East Germany, and these mics were not available until the Berlin Wall came down. My second favorite is the Studio Projects C-1, a new condenser mic made in China, which for its price, is absolutely amazing. It sounds like a much more expensive mic.

When it comes to sound source, the most important thing is to get the hottest undistorted signal you can on tape. With digital recording, being in the red usually means nasty digital noise. Being inthe red with analog tape is generally not the same kind of a disaster.

No matter how wonderous the facility, it's the music that counts. Get the best performance possible. Do as many takes as possible without losing the spirit, and never think you can fix it in the mix. Garbage in is garbage out. At this point, this could become a manual on how to record voice, how to record drums, using samples, keyboards, various other means of making noise.

Note on Sampling Rate: The "sampling rate" is how many times per second the sound is sliced is the main factor in how well the sound will survive its digitization. CD's are sampled at 44.1 K or 44,100 times per second, and that has become an industry standard. If you record at any other sampling rate, you will have to somehow get it back to 44.1 to record to CD -- not necessarily so with new surround sound DVD formats.

There are all sorts of resources and books on the subject such as The Quick Guide to Digital Audio

Articles Choosing a Recording Set up

Home Recording Website

SLicing and Dicing aka Audio Editing

Once recorded, the ability to edit and manipulate sound becomes nearly infinite in the digital medium.

This is where the fun begins. In the old days of analog recording, an expert at slicing and dicing would actually cut up the tape and tape it back together. The great thing about digital hard disk recording is the non-linear, non-destructive (RTM for when it is destructive) editing. Non-linear is a fancy word for being able to move things around a lot without regard to the time-line. For example if you typed a legal brief on a typewriter, and the lawyer made a change in paragraph three, unless it just happened to be a sentence added at the bottom of the page, you’d have to retype that page and perhaps even all the pages following. If you recorded a take to a four track recorder and discovered you wanted to change the order of the verses, you would probably have to re-record both verses.....In digital editing you would select, copy and paste.

Mixing and Mastering. The last step in creating your masterpiece is mixing all the tracks to a stereo pair, and putting it onto a medium which can be played on commercial machines, such as an mp3 player, a CD, a cassette, etc. If you want to do everything within your “Studio in a Box”, you will create a mixdown in the audio recording software. It depends on the software, but most of these have automated faders so you can program the levels of all of your tracks, and then export the result as an interleaved stereo file which can then be burned to CD. Mastering can be an involved process, getting levels right, EQ, compression, or it can mean creating your master which then can be delivered onto CD or tape. There are mastering packages available, but for most basic needs, Toast or CD Creator Pro will work just fine.

Interacting with other devices

If you want to use your midi keyboard with your computer, you will need a midi interface.

For USB Macs, you might check into midi solutions for the Mac the Fastlane Opcode also makes a midi interface, and Megawolf has a PCI option. We have used the MOTU MTP/AV and now use the Midi EXPress

If you plan to connect your computer to another digital device, you will need to deal with word clock. All digital devices have computers inside them running their own internal digital clocks. To work properly together, there has to be a MASTER WORDCLOCK device with all the others being connected to it. When you start to interconnect them and move the digital audio between devices, and don't properly connect the wordclock ins and outs, these different digital clocks begin to cause problems which can include pops and clicks, random noise, timing discrepancies, audio drift or no audio at all. Furthermore, different combinations of digital equipment will require some experimentation as to which particular device should be the wordclock master. This is where it can get hairy, some devices refusing to slaves to the master. ;-) We're using another MOTU product the Digital Time Piece for our word clock/sync


There are some questions about how the new technologies will affect the creation and delivery of music. In the field of literature, which is also facing some of the same challenges as music, some writers swear by their old IMB selectrics and will not use a word processor. Some writers swear by their pen and paper. As a tool, the computer is great but it is totally an individual matter as to what medium feels most comfortable.

The digital audio revolution is not limited to actual recording. It has affected the instruments. It’s fairly difficult to lug a concert grand piano around, but with a sampled piano sound in one’s 30 pound synthesizer, you have a reasonable facimile. Granted, all the overtones are not there, but your back or pocketbook is more intact.

Ever since I saw the Next Generation Star Trek where Picard's friend rolled out a keyboard which then played without any speakers, I've wanted a roll-up velcro keyboard I can slip in my purse. There are speakers which project sound in space, but you do not actually see the speakers.

When bandwidth catches up, internet collaboration may become more and more common, especially once the technology really works well. Those of us who have been playing with it know internet collaboration has a long way to go. But it's not just within the realm of possibility -- it exists, and has for several years. Unless we figure out how to circumvent light speed however, simultaneous remote collaboration is a bit more problematic.

Already, with an entire orchestra in a box, with a bit of care and ingenuity, you can create a film score with strings and horns which can come pretty close to the real thing. Symphony musicians have probably not been all that pleased about this, just as drummers have not been happy about often being replaced by drum machines. There is nothing quite as good as the real thing, especially if the real thing is a good player, arrives sober and can keep time. In fact, at times it almost seems self defeating trying to recreate real sounds, and drum tracks with real feel, when a drummer could probably play in three takes what it might take hours and hours to program something which will almost sound like an authentically played drum part. But then again, recording drums and having the space, padding, and mics to record drums effectively, get the drummer there, etc., it may seem easier to use a couple loops, a drum machine and program some grooves and fills..

I think with processing power increasing, as the power and scope of these programs will increase, DVD becoming more and more the norm, built-in DVD burners in all machines -- we might even see a higher sampling rate of 96k with surround sound and a return to more audiophile sensibilities. Multi-media and web delivery forced the need for compression of files. Without compression, download times are prohibitive. For example, a CD quality stereo audio file on a dial-up modem might just take a hours, with frustrating cut-offs by your internet provider just as it reaches 99 per cent complete. heh. but when everyone has broadband, this will be less of a problem, and there are new means of delivery, such as MP4, structured audio and other ideas in the works. Here is a speed chart showing how long it would take to download Beethoven's Symphony's with dial up, ISDN, Cable, various networks.

I'm looking forward to improvements in interfaces, and there will be quite a few novelty interfaces cropping up here and there. One such novelty is using virtual reality type glasses and being able to move things such as volumes and mixes around in space. We saw this a couple years ago at the AES show on a silicon graphics machine. I've always been a fan of Harry Partch because he believed that the musician needs to dance around and interact with the musical instrument. I can see the same thing happening with interfaces. There's the Brain Opera at MIT, and things like the laser harp, and Laurie Anderson's all body drum suit. Perhaps some of these will remain in the realm of performance art, but I can imagine a studio which works in a more sensory manner. Virtual knobs and faders aren't as much fun as the real thing, but touching multi- colored bubbles in space comes close.

I sometimes question how all this technology has affected art. With so many presets and ready made palettes available, it is easy for someone to put together a professional sounding/looking piece quickly, without much original input. The creators of the software are subtly and not so subtly influencing the creative process. It's not just about a blank canvas and tubes of paint anymore. Now there are preset filters and predetermined palettes, ready made phrases and shapes. This can either free one to use one's own imagative powers, or trap one in preconceived notions. Just remember, cheesey presets SUCK!!!! Won't go into MS Rant here.

Art and it's appreciation is an individual matter, one of personal choices and decisions. In collective art, it's still about choices and decisions, it's just that the "person" now has many heads and limbs. It's all about how one uses the tool, developes one's talents and technique. When everyone and anyone is a recording artist, a film producer, or a web designer, a multi-media artist, those who have developed their skills, done the woodshedding, know the tools, know their medium, who go beyond the presets to find their own individual and genuine expression will be the ones whose work stands out. It does help if you have something to say and know the language.

What a strange and wonderful time!

Here’s a list of what you might need to begin the adventure of hard disk audio recording:

Basic setup


the computer $1000-3000 (plus)

the monitor $ 200-800 (plus if you want the new cinema display...still drooling...)

the soundcard $ 350-1000

dedicated hard drive(s) $ 200-600 (plus)

cd-r/cd-rw $ 200-600

recording software $ 100-800 (plus)

cd-rw software $ 80-100

other possible computer needs: SCSI card $ 120-300

UltraDMA-66/100 card $ 300



external mixer



And after this, it’s endless....;-)

external recorders

external digital synchronization

external signal processors

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