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Mountain_Bluebird

Bitesize Tips: We’ll Tweet You

We’ve woefully under-used Twitter in the past and as a result found it difficult to get our own shadow to follow us. Part of the reason was that we couldn’t quite get our heads around why we should be tweeting – or even what we should be tweeting about. There have been numerous head scratching sessions in the past couple of months focused on how to make Oh Drat the finest name in music production on the web in 2012, and they’ve led to some big decisions. Some of them are secret for now, some of them we’ve teased over the past little while (the new site is going to blow your mind. We hope…), and one of them is all about that little blue bird. Here’s how we’re going to be tweeting:

  • Bite size tips
  • Definitions of audio terms
  • Re-tweets of music we love and think will inspire you
  • Re-tweets of important announcements even quicker than we can post about them
  • Re-tweets of other tips and tricks

Anything else you think we should be doing? Let us know!
So, make sure you follow us on Twitter right away, and help us to get involved in the chatter with your re-tweets and messages!

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Akai Announce MPC Renaissance, Studio, and Fly Controllers

[break]As we beaver away behind the scenes on the oh-so-nearly-here Oh Drat update and work overtime in preparation for NAMM, we’re excited, intrigued, interested, and simultaneously a little reserved about Akai’s hand showing ahead of the Anaheim extravaganza: the MPC Renaissance, MPC Studio, and MPC Fly. First off check the reveal video for the MPC Renaissance:

[highlighted_text color=]So what does this mean?![/highlighted_text] Details are light, and the only current information we have on the MPC Studio is that it’s going to be a ‘slimline’ controller whilst the MPC Fly is an iPad app.

Akai are obviously hurting from repeated blows from Native Instruments’ Maschine over the past couple of years, and with 2011′s introduction of Maschine Mikro and iMaschine, it’s understandable that Akai are really going head to head on all fronts with the Renaissance, Studio, and Fly. [infos]First off, the key information on Renaissance:[/infos]

      [list type="type1"]

    • It’s a controller with a built in audio interface; there’s no standalone operation here
    • It supports direct import of all existing MPC projects
    • 16 rotary encoders with LED ring feedback
    • Hinged LCD screen
    • Combi inputs with phantom power, phono inputs with turntable preamp
    • Stereo 1/4″ output with additional stereo 1/4″ mix out.
    • Multi colour back light on pads
    • MPC Software can use VST plugins and run standalone or as VST, AU or RTAS plugin
    • 64 track sequencer

[/list]

[biglines]We’ve got so many questions about the new MPC range.[/biglines]
The big shock… apart from the fact that there’s a new MPC at all, of course, is that this MPC requires a computer to run. No brains inside it at all. Are we happy with that? …no, not really. We think there’s something really special about firing up an MPC and not having the hum of a computer or the glow from its screen in sight, and I think many will have expected any new MPC to have capabilities that could be augmented  by software, not require it. All that said, it’s also a new dawn, and with so many producers switching to Maschine – and importantly, having a decent enough computer to run the MPC software is now more or less as likely as having a two slice toaster – perhaps it won’t be such a problem. we’re still a little sore though.

There’s no indication as to whether it requires its power supply (there’s one plugged in in the video), although we suspect it does, especially if it’s to provide phantom power AND power the screen. Akai boast ‘genuine MPC pads’, which is something they’ve run fast and loose with in the past and there’s something of a philosophical argument to how much you can remove from an MPC pad until it stops being one. Between the MPC 2500/5000 and now, though, funnily enough people have gotten over the ‘MPC or nothing’ mentality that competitors’ controllers were blighted with for years. Maschine’s pads are extremely sensitive and have a much more consistent feel across the pad surface, and third party suppliers have had large successes both with aftermarket thicker pads and mods to improve sensitivity across a greater area of pad. Not only that, but one of the prevailing determiners of what makes an MPC pad – at least in our opinion – is the soft rubber that’s used, a markedly different feel to the backlit variety that Native Instruments, Korg, et al use. It’s a surprise to see backlit pads, then; we’re a little worried that they look just like the ones used on Akai’s LPD and MPK Mini, and they’re not great. Perhaps it’s the sensors that qualify the Renaissance’s pads as MPC – it can’t simply be that they’re on an MPC controller, therefore they must be! Either way, multicoloured backlights are going to be very useful.

 


[heading size=]Akai’s first ever MPC software looks… okay, actually.[/heading]
There’s no indication on exactly how much you can do with your eyes away from the screen and hands away from the keyboard and mouse of your computer on the Renaissance, but we hope you can do pretty much everything – including play with plugins – on the unit itself. NI absolutely nailed Maschine’s heads down workflow, and so a company who has spent the past 30 years making instruments that rely on tiny dot matrix displays should be easily capable of pulling it out of the bag. We assume ‘MPC workflow’ means just that; you can work as if you were using any hardware MPC. Perhaps it’s the usability of the MPC Software that we should be most interested in then, because we get precious little indication of the real capabilities it holds. We imagine that despite only advertising VST plugin compatibility that it will also be compatible with AU on Mac (and likely RTAS on ProTools setups), but don’t take our word for it. One potential issue we did notice is that there are faders on the software, but Akai has actually done away with all faders in the hardware. We think it’d make more sense to use GUI elements that either tied in with the controller or were completely abstract, but maybe we’ll change our minds.

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Looks wise, we think Akai have made a superb decision.

What do you do when your competitor out-high techs you in the looks department and makes your attempts at ‘modern’ look dated? Go back to your roots. The MPC Renaissance has taken its style right from the MPC 3000; the button shapes, the jog wheel, palm rest, white on blue screen and beige box with red and blue highlights screams ‘classic’, and thankfully Akai have also reverted to their classic MPC logo (the reboot that began with the 2500 was one of my biggest disappointments after switching from a 2000xl!). Only the new backlit pads and LED rings round the encoders indicate that this is Akai 2012. Bravo.

We’re also really interested in audio quality.

Akai boast MPC sound, but MPC sound has always been such a weird thing. No two MPC models sound exactly alike, and it’s always been the converters as the digital audio gets turned back into electric that have given the MPC ‘that MPC sound’. It remains to be seen whether the MPC Software will require audio to go through the outputs of the MPC Renaissance so that sound is coloured by the hardware to really get that MPC sound, whether there’s an internal connection that can enable the Renaissance to perform these conversions, re-convert, and send back as digital audio through the USB cable (that’s probably dream-land, but still…), or whether the MPC sound is just well researched and programmed emulation within the MPC software audio engine. The same goes for the emulation modes – are they hardware or software? We’re pretty sure the answer to all these questions is going to be the most boring – ‘yes, it’s software’, but we can’t help but wonder.

More information as we have it – including on the MPC Studio and MPC Fly as well as what this means for the MPD range – but for now, let us know what you think!

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Nektar Announce Panorama P4 Competition

We’ve been keeping our eye on Nektar‘s forthcoming Panorama Controller, because not only is it gorgeous but since we got our review copy of Reason 6 we’ve been absolutely in love (prepare for our review soon!).

Nektar have announced that they’ll be giving away the very first Panorama P4 to one lucky winner

Presumably feeling the Christmas spirit, Nektar have announced that they’ll be giving away the very first Panorama P4 off the production lines to one lucky winner; you can enter for your chance to scoop up the controller here. This isn’t an endorsement of course, as we’re yet to use one – but we hope that’ll change soon, right Nektar?!

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Number Line Records – Sampler Vol. 2

When it comes to recommending new music – and that’s what our music posts are all about here on Oh Drat, we only post things we think will give you inspiration – there’s little better than a label sampler in our book.
[pullquote]Instead of one new artist, a label sampler is like a seed that branches out into a veritable harvest of new artists to get to know and love[/pullquote]
Instead of one new artist, a label sampler is like a seed that branches out into a veritable harvest of new artists to get to know and love, but a seed that continues to give after all the fruit from the current crop’s been plucked. Number Line Records is new to us, but we’ll certainly be keeping up with them from now on as their second sampler features a superb blend of electronic and acoustic artists, from the feedback swamped, reverb drenched guitar licks of Pious Kiss by Manuel Nicolas Alvero are perfectly underpinned by some electronic toms and cowbells, before drifting out into the ether. The change of pace with Tarsius’s housey Deathless Gods came at just the right time to assure me that the release would span both pace and genre, and following the grungey, garage band stylings of PNP’s Plant a Tree is another change of pace into a more acoustic themed, noisily mic’d, somehow tactile final third.

Himal - Makin' Moves

Himal – Makin’ Moves

Just a single track today, but we hope that Himal’s Makin’ Moves is indicative of his forthcoming EP. The track is rich with tonality, a fact that’s likely attributable to the combination of artists involved in the composition.

Himal’s soulful, modern sound is given impressive width and depth

Kensaye the producer, Andrew Yeates on keys, Jack Stevens on bass, previously featured artist Cherri Prince on backing vocals, and Mr Dex providing scratches allows not only each instrument but the character of the player to bring the track to life, and each element – along, of course, with Himal’s soulful, modern sound and simple laid back lyricism – is given impressive width and depth in the recording by Kensaye. Enjoy the free download!

Oranges... good for an analogy

Quick Tips: Sound Consistent

Have you ever worried that your music just doesn’t have that sparkling sheen that the biggest and best seem to make so effortlessly in their productions? Today’s return to quick tips is a hint at an almost philosophical (don’t worry, we won’t forget that we’re here to help you make music!) tutorial that we’re planning, and we’ve got an important concept:

Our brains order everything relative to everything else vying for attention in a particular context.

When you’re given time to settle into a particular sonic quality, you appreciate the consistency

Take orange juice. If all you ever drink is concentrate juice, you’ll really notice a glass of freshly squeezed. Similarly, if you’re a connoisseur and never drink anything you’ve not seen pulverised with your own eyes, you’ll find the long life stuff pretty hard to swallow. However, keep drinking and soon enough you’ll stop noticing so much. It’s the initial change that’s the eye opener, and whilst your experience may be subconsciously better or worse, when you’re not being constantly given different types of orange juice… okay, it’s time to stop with the orange juice analogy. When you’re given time to settle into a particular sonic quality, you appreciate the consistency.

The best way to apply this concept is to accept your limitations – be they your own lack of experience and confidence with objectively ‘better’ sound quality or just your equipment’s weaknesses – and use them to set the bar. There are some great examples of this; Madlib’s Beat Konducta series has a sketchbook quality underpinned by the grainy, lo-fi sound of the Boss SP-303 and a portable turntable, and ‘giving in’ to the pumping compression and aliased samples rewards you with a raw, deep listening experience.

Here are three pointers (we’re working on more, as we said – but this is Quick Tips, after all) for achieving a sound that will help to provide a consistency that glues an EP, album, or even your entire sound, together:

  • Work from a pool of drums. Rather than picking fresh drums from multi-gigabyte libraries every time you start a project, try and resolve a go-to personal drum library. Listen to your favourite producers; most producers have – certainly for kicks and snares, if not more – a handful of drum sounds that they base the rest of their percussion around. Doing this will help to ground your drums in the same acoustic space in your productions, providing consistency in your tracks.
  • Bit crunch is your friend. Although it can be overused, a little bit of bit crunch can go a long way to smoothing out sounds and making things fit that little bit better. A quick A/B comparison with the bit crunching off will help you to establish whether you’re going too far; bit crunching is best utilised to soften the edges of sounds, making them less obviously from wildly different sources.
  • Choose your character with master EQ. When you make tracks, don’t worry too much about EQing an individual track to tick as many characteristics (‘deep bass’, ‘snappy snares’, crisp ‘hats’, and so on)  as you can, instead try to keep things fairly flat. Different dynamics, instruments, moods and so on will make the ‘perfect’ EQ for each track different, so it’s much better to EQ with an entire EP/LP on the table to see where you can join the dots, and to a certain extent let the material choose how it wants to sound.

Let us know what you think to this concept, and any of your own tips! Compression, both precision and creative uses, can also play a big part in creating your own coherent sound, but that’s another tip for another day…

Au Palais - Tender Mercy EP

Au Palais – Tender Mercy EP

By Andrew McHarg

Rumbling low end and arpeggiated synths collide to create a sharp yet pleasing contrast in the new Au Palais EP ‘Tender Mercy’. A snapshot of the sound achieved here would be Depeche Mode crossed with The XX and a lot of reverb.

Au Palais record their music at night and it is reflected in the tone of the EP

Au Palais record their music at night and it is reflected in the tone of the EP. The title track ‘Tender Mercy’ makes excellent use of the low end to provide a ‘dark’ sound, yet its neon vocals transform the atmosphere into a more optimistic feeling. It’s night time, but it’s not neccesarily dark.
The sound of ‘Pathos’ reflects its title and moves into darker territory with brooding vocals and eerie synths.
‘Because The Night’ is the standout track for me – an evolving dream like sequence with a driving beat and a lot of tension.
The final track, ‘H.o.l.l.a.n.d’ is an instrumental number with bright, swirling chords and a unique squawking synth melody and departs from the darker tone heard previously.

There is a set sound throughout the EP, yet the Canadian duo inject enough creativity to keep it interesting. This, along with the attention to detail and high production value make it a treat to listen to.

The full EP is available on December 5th.

Four Sites to Give Your Music a Beautiful, Permanent Home

When it comes to your home on the web, what do you think of? SoundCloud? Facebook? Twitter? MySpace… okay, not MySpace. But that’s part of the point of this article: in these slip-slidey times of new technologies, emerging networks and transient user bases, tying your home on the web to a single site could be a recipe for disaster. You could create a static website or even a dynamic one based on CMS like WordPress, and that’s probably the most flexible way – but we’ll be the first to tell you how much hassle it is to make changes to the design and top level content of a ‘proper’ website. We’ve noticed a few new sites emerging recently, ones that boast they can take your various online presences and present them in a single, easy to manage, and beautiful hub. Let’s take a look at four we’ve found that each approach the principle from slightly different angles…


One Sheet

One Sheet’s big selling point is its massive catalogue of services relevant to musicians. If you’ve got music uploaded to somewhere online, One Sheet can probably put it on your page inside a click. Being social’s a strong point of One Sheet too; users can comment on your page and One Sheet will automatically syndicate the comment with Facebook to potentially pull friends of your commenter over to your site. Like many of One Sheet’s best features, though, control over this behaviour is limited to Pro accounts – and without a Pro account there’s no way to see your page’s viewer stats… in fact even with a Pro account there’s no stats, just the option to tie in to Google Analytics. The price of a Pro account? $9.99/month, which we think is a little steep.

Pros:
• Huge amount of music based services
• Unlimited services in free account
• Lots of social and user retention options in Pro account

Cons:
• High price for pro account
• Customisation limited in free account
• No internal stats


Flavors.me

Of the sites mentioned in this article, Flavors is definitely the most customisable. That’s going to mean one of two things to you: the artistically inclined amongst you will have a field day creating a pretty, unique looking site, and those of you whose creativity molecules were entirely spent on the musical part of your brain will just be worried about something else to mess up. Fear not, though, because a basic site is still extremely easy to conjure up in Flavors, and if a basic site is all you need then it’s completely free. Like One Sheet, most of the best features – such as de-branding the site and getting the most customisation options – are only available to Pro accounts, but Flavors has a very fair $20 per year fee for its Pro accounts. A Pro account will even unlock a ‘custom’ page type in a Flavors page, allowing you to import HTML and build traditional web pages in the service.

Pros:
• Supremely customisable
• Lots of relevant services
• Cheap yearly pro account

Cons:
• Limited to five services/pages in free account
• No stats in free account


About.me

About.me is definitely designed to be your hub on the web, but it’s not music specific and thus you might find it somewhat lacking when it comes to adding in services. No SoundCloud and no BandCamp might be a dealbreaker, but if it’s not, and you’re happy to link to those sites externally whilst enjoying YouTube and Vimeo videos embedded in the page, you can take advantage of a great looking stats page, something that none of the other sites in this roundup offer for free.

Pros:
• Pretty statistics page
• Free
• Drag and drop homepage design

Cons:
• No real music-centric services
• No way to de-brand the page


Viinyl (beta)

Viinyl perhaps doesn’t quite fit in with the theme as it’s not designed to let you add all your services for viewing on the one site. It is a hub, though, and it lets you add artist information, bio, links and so on, and then create a number of ‘singles’ that each have unique URLs and allow a single track to play, along with (if you like) video and lyrics, share and purchase links. It’s in beta at the moment, and whilst it’s a bit light on features we do like the minimalism of it all. It’s a bit like receiving one of those business cards that manages to mean so much by saying so little.

Pros:
• Idiot proof design
• Free
• Novel concept

Cons:
• Limited scope
• Limited customisation
• No way to debrand


Our Winner: Flavors.me

We really like Flavors, and it seems to tow the line between simplicity and customisation the best out of all the ‘auto site’ websites we’ve tested (and we tested way more than the four we’ve shown you today!). About.me is, for the majority of you musos, not quite fit for purpose, Viinyl gets a special mention for its fresh approach but it’s ultimately just a bit too limited, and despite the audience retention features built in to One Sheet we think the Pro account is just too over priced.

Have we missed your favourite off? Please let us know which your favourites are and your experiences with the sites we’ve mentioned!

Maschine Mikro

Video: Native Instruments Maschine Mikro Review

Maschine Mikro is the little brother to Maschine;  the software’s the same, but the hardware and price have both been slashed. I’ve been giving it a fair trial and here’s the video lowdown of the Oh Drat verdict. Text and photography to follow soon!

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