Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Waves plugins & Bitwig

I’m posting this as a service to the internet really.

I was having trouble using my Waves v11 plugins in Bitwig 4. The window was 3/4 red with the bottom left quarter showing the plugin graphic, and mouse clicks inside the plugin area didn’t match the display, effectively making them unusable.

Contacting BitWig support, apparently there are some graphics issues in V4 and Waves have/will-have a fix coming out – hopefully for the v11 plugins (but I’m not optimistic TBH).

In the meantime I found a workaround. If you install the free Waves StudioRack plugin, you can then insert any Waves plugin you like into that, and it will display correctly.

I hope this helps someone!

The small time

My albums are getting less popular – EVEN less popular! These things are all relative, of course; “The Way Through” scored twelve downloads and it’s been downhill all the way since then – this latest one has just two downloads.


This isn’t a whinge, I observe this more in amusement than annoyance – as I have said before I don’t do this for the money, or even adulation, and I think I understand what’s going on. But I’m not about to change.


My first few albums were pretty awful, in my opinion. I didn’t really know what I was doing in terms of production or even composition. I just threw a few ideas into the DAW and kept the ones that didn’t sound terrible – which was the point of RPM challenge of course, only I adopted it as normal workflow. Things started to get a little more organised after that, but they were all still very much improvised. 


“It’s not a Game” went quite well for downloads(ten). These tracks were basically layered improvisations, I would put down a synth track and then see what I thought went with it and what it seemed to need. “Diversions” was a halfway house between those earlier albums and the new one, a bit more structured and more upbeat, but still quite ‘loose’. “Felix Variations” is very structured and quite upbeat, it’s less relentlessly depressingly and there is more ‘music’ – in the sense of chords and, to some extent, tunes and beats.


I think process this really took off when I started taking piano lessons; I developed more of a sense of harmony and structure, and less tolerance of the very loose approach to improvisation I used to have. My teacher would be pretty strict on keeping my improvisations within the required bar lengths and also not too far away from the home key – all sensible things really, the first pretty much essential if you’re going to do this with a band. My ‘old’ approach to improvisation was very much, “pick up the violin (or whatever) and play some stuff, ideally inspired by whatever else is going on”. This caused me all sorts of odd problems when mixing/arranging (they were largely the same thing in those days) in trying to make things fit, especially as it was almost impossible to do retakes without getting something different.


For this album I’ve laid down structures quite strictly before working out what should go into them; this was helped, deliberately, by it being a “theme and variations” album so I had an actual melody or chord progression to work to.

In my opinion, this makes the new album is less “weird” than previous ones, though it has been still described as ‘very experimental’, so maybe that’s just my perception. I thought I was heading for the mainstream – especially with “Jasmine”/“J.M.” which I even released as as single! Obviously I’m kidding there but I’m certainly heading for less “just mad noises” and more “music” in what I do.


So the collapsed download figure is, I am assuming, the people who started following me for the mad noises and dark depressive textures not being into what I’m doing now, and that’s fine. It might be that I’ll attract a new audience for what I’m doing but I think that’s unlikely, I don’t really know anybody, and I’m famously atrocious at publicity (oxymoron alert). It could also be that I’m not, yet, good enough at what I’m doing that it’s comparable with actual good stuff in that arena. It’s not for me to judge, but I hope I will continue to improve anyway.

In the meantime I am resolutely heading in the right direction for the “No Audience Underground” as Rob Hayler would phrase it. Even if that’s not exactly what he means.

On video sync

I’m not one to use the phrase “blew my mind” but … no, I’m not going to use it today either. But I watched this video and was .. shocked.

INTRODUCTION

The precis of the video is that syncing music videos to the audio track is not as straightforward as it sounds. In an earlier video, John Hess shows that physchoacoustics tells us that the audio beat should precede the related video event by a few milliseconds. So video editors usually cut audio so it’s one frame AHEAD of the video event. BUT in this video he finds out that YouTube shifts the audio so that it’s one frame BEHIND the video!

So, does this mean we need to cut audio TWO frames before video? and what about Vimeo? And does H.264 vs ProRes make a difference here?

I wanted to find out.

METHOD

I made 3 videos in DaVinci Resolve using a simple drum beat and some still photos. One had the video cuts exactly on the beat, on had the cuts with the audio one frame behind the video, and another with the audio one frame ahead of the video. I then rendered these into both H.264 and ProRes and uploaded all of those to YouTube and Vimeo. I’m not going to link to these videos (sorry) because I screwed up a couple of things and that messes up the results if you don’t know what I did.

RESULTS

Before uploading I had a look at the files that came out of DaVinci Resolve – using Reaper. The synced ProRes file look perfectly synced, but in the H.264 file, the audo was about 40ms behind the video – about one frame at 25fps. I don’t think this is exclusively a Resolve issue as Hess noted similar results with Premiere Pro.

On YouTube that particular difference didn’t seem to manifest itself. But the files where the audio and video where exactly synced, the audio looks clearly delayed to my eyes. On Vimeo there was a very slight delay but only really visible if you’re looking for it.

With the files where the audio was ahead by one frame, the YouTube videos looked much better. There was still a slight delay in the audio but, like the Vimeo above, it was quite reasonable. On Vimeo the files looked precisely synced.

Now this might be down to me using 25fps, I do this because I’m in the UK and that’s the TV convention here but I wonder (and haven’t had time to test this) whether 30fps might be better (or worse) on YouTube, it being American.

CONCLUSION

For best sync on both YouTube and Vimeo, cut your video so that the audio is one frame ahead of the video. In other words, when cutting video to audio, make your video cuts one frame BEHIND the beat. On YouTube (at 25fps) it’ll look fine, and on Vimeo it’ll look great.

Of course cutting video to audio is a subjective process and sometimes you want to cut across the beat – be creative folks!

All tests done on a a 2019 i9 Macbook Pro running DaVinci Resolve Studio 16.2.6 on OS/X 10.15.6, with 350Mb/s internet connection, and watched using Mozilla Firefox 79 full-screen after waiting for all online processing to complete.

Introducing Synth Natter

Synth Natter is a YouTube podcast started by Stuart Russell in which one of us talks to someone interesting in the world of synthesizers. We’ve done 2 1/2 episodes now (the first one was just an intro) and have guests lined up for several more, so hopefully we can make a ‘go-er’ of it.

The idea is to interview someone new every second week and to get people from as wide a variety of the field as possible – the world of synths is very varied and there are people doing a huge variety of things with them.

Episode 0 was just a very short introduction from my studio where we chat about the point of the project and I give a quick tour of my studio synths.

In episode 1, Stuart interviewed Leah Kardos from Kingston University about her Stylophone Orchestra and her charge of the Visconti Studio (and its Mellotron!) as well as playing a couple of tracks of hers.

In episode 2 I chatted to Annie Jamieson (AKA Dr Sonic the Curator) from the Science and Media Museum in Bradford about the collection of fascinating synths and other audio equipment in the collection there.

The next one is on Saturday 22nd August where Stuart will be interviewing Matthew Bourne. We moved the show from Sunday to Saturday to avoid clashes with some other programmes (that I can’t remember the names of).

Subscribe to Stuart’s YouTube channel to keep informed about upcoming episodes.

New CSMA album

Yeah, you wait for ages for an album then three come along at once.

I’m joking of course, literally nobody is waiting for albums from me.

But I do have 3 main music projects and they all seem to have reached fruition at nearly the same time, so maybe I should apologise for the bunching of releases at least.

To clarify. my projects divide up as follows:

Helicopter Quartet: violin & synths (me) and Guitar (mike)

CSMA: Synths (me) and Synths (Stuart)

Chrissie: anything I feel like playing, but mostly violin & synths (me)

So, anyway, this came out today from Stuart & me, and has a large collection of synths on it. If you like synth music, you will hopefully find something to enjoy here. Some of it has been previewed on YouTube, but all the tracks have been carefully mixed and mastered so will be better than what you’ve already seen.

New solo album

Just after lockdown in the UK I decided to get on with making another solo album. I put down around 8 tracks in total and then realised they were all terrible. Well, maybe not actually terrible, but no different from anything I’d done before, and all a bit ‘static’. They didn’t GO anywhere. So I deleted them all and decided to start again with a different idea.

I saw lots of people releasing ‘lockdown’ or ‘isolation’ music in response to the pandemic – all isolated drones or dour themes and decided I didn’t want any more misery in my life at this time. Music can do many things and I’ve often used it as a release from bad situations – orchestra rehearsals have often provided an escape from reality for me, but these are not possible at the moment. My last couple of albums have built on bad personal situations, of course. But this time I wanted a release.

So “Diversions” is what it says it is, a diversion from the current isolations; music for it’s own sake. As such there a few slightly different styles here, there are a couple of ‘techno-type’ tracks and some with definite rock drum beats. I’m not claiming to be actually producing real techno or real rock music here, just appropriating styles for my own purposes really.

The worry with this sort of approach is that is not ‘what I normally do’ so the (few) people who actually like what I normally do won’t like this, and that it’s not sufficiently good techno or rock to be liked by afficionados of those genres. But that’s not really the point. I did this for me more than for anyone else, but if someone else does also like it then that’s lovely.

Of course, I’m not really thinking that this is so far different from anything I’ve done before that it’s TOTALLY new, it’s not. There are steps leading up to ideas I’ve used here all over the place, even in those last two or three albums of mine, and certainly on the CSMA albums (though I had to do my own rhythmic work on this one), so in a way it’s really just another step on the ladder of musical progression. The next album will probably build on things I did here. Probably.

So, here is “Diversions” – see what you think.

It still takes us a year to record a Helicopter Quartet album, even when half of it was done in lockdown. Three tracks on this album were recorded as normal – at Rock & Roll Circus in Leeds with both of us together, reacting to each other as if playing live – and three were recorded at home.

Recording at home is difficult for a band like us, we play together, constantly reacting to what the other is doing. Even though the tracks were ‘written’ before lockdown so we had a good idea what were were going to do, there is still so much that we do when playing that informs the final track. So doing this in isolation was always going to be difficult.

We did manage it, in a slow, iterative manner, one of us laying down a base track to start with then gradually adding the layers independently. Still reacting to each other but in an extremely slow way!

But we got there in the end and here are our six tracks for 2020. I’m not going to tell you which 3 were recorded normally and which in isolation – I’ll leave that for you to speculate.

As we are still unable to meet I’m not sure when the next album will appear, I suspect that one will take much longer, so enjoy this one.

New EP / album / whatever

Speaking of being ‘too shit for the mainstream’, here’s some more of it.

It’s only four tracks this time so feel free to call it an EP or album or anything else. This is all I had to say. Well, I did record 5½ tracks but only these four made it into the release.

I’ve not put any notes up with this album, things are getting too personal to document in public, suffice to say it’s not been a good year and I react to that by making dark music and hope it won’t disturb people too much.

I’m quite impressed how consistent I was with the timings on these tracks, they’re all around 4-5 minutes – almost ‘song length’ if you will. Some of them started out at 7,8 or 9 minutes and got cut down because I found them too rambling or boring. 4-5 minutes seems like an optimum amount of time to convey one ‘thing’ – whatever that thing may be. And I’m not telling.

It’s available on the usual Free/Pay What You Want deal, of course, and I suspect the cover sets the tone. Read into that what you will…

You know what it’s like, you get a small following on bandcamp for your music and wonder what the next step in building in audience might be. You see people posting Spotify playlists on social media and think – we really should be on Spotify, then we can take part in these things and get more people  to hear about our music.

So I signed up for DistroKid. They offer a service to upload your music to all the major players – Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, and all the others that I’ve never head of but other people seem to have. It seems reasonable – for a small fee you can upload an unlimited number of tracks from one or two artists. It sounded good and they have been recommended by others so it seemed the thing to do.

I uploaded Onward Travel by my synth band CSMA and it all seemed to go OK. I got lots of messages saying that the tracks and the artwork has been Sucessfully Processed.

The next day I got the first rejection. They didn’t like the artwork. Apparently the blue letterboxing around the picture  is “not allowed” by ‘The Stores’ (remember that phrase ‘The Stores’, it’s key).

*sigh*. OK, so they have rules about these things, that particular one seemed a little arbitrary, but I’ll go with it. I asked Stuart to redesign the artwork for the album without the border.

While he was doing this I thought I’d use my other slot to upload the latest Helicopter Quartet album. This one doesn’t have a border around the cover so it might be OK.

The next morning I got this email from DistroKid:

We’ve been notified that this release has been rejected due to editorial discretion.There are a few reasons why this may have happened. Some possible reasons are:

  1. “Businesses” such as beat libraries, sample packs, karaoke collections and sound effects
  2. Similar content already in stores (ex: “rain sounds” and that sort of thing)
  3. Poor quality sound recording
  4. Poor quality artwork
  5. Too many similar releases from same artist (flooding)

Sorry about this.While the vast majority of releases are approved for distribution, stores do occasionally curate content. This is to ensure that end-users have a high-quality experience. This doesn’t mean your music is bad. It just means that stores don’t need this release at the moment.

I don’t know which (if any) of those reasons was why ‘The Stores’ rejected that album but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t 1,2 or 5.

There is no appeal against this decision and no more explanation. All you can do is delete the album and forget about it. “The Stores” are all-powerful gatekeepers. I did consider trying an earlier HQ album but it seemed pointless, if they won’t take the latest then why go back in time?

A couple of days later Stuart came back with the ‘fixed’ artwork for Onward Travel so I uploaded that and instructed DIstroKid to get on with distributing the updated album. I got the email saying the new artwork had been accepted (by DistroKid) and waited. It can take “a few days” to complete distribution to “The Stores”.

No more messages

a week passed

No more messages

another week passed

No more messages

I tried to find a contact email for DistroKid. Their website doesn’t seem to have the information – or if it does they’ve hidden it very well. I googled “distrokid support” and that brings up a copy of their twitter page that has a contact form URL on it. So I use that to ask what’s happening with the CSMA album.

I won’t post the reply verbatim here as it wasn’t an automatic reply, I think an actual human had responded (plus points to DistroKid for that), but basically it said that because the Helicopter Quartet album had been rejected by “The Stores”, anything I now try to upload will now automatically be rejected.

I’m on a blacklist!

I have no reason to disbelieve DistroKid when they say this is not their fault and this is not meant to be a diatribe against them – people I respect have used them to good effect, but if ever you wonder why there is no Helicopter Quartet anywhere other than bandcamp (you were having sleepless nights about this, I can tell), then that is why.

I hear people saying that there are “no gatekeepers” any more or that they are losing their power. But it seems like they still exist and still wield SOME power at least.

VIVA BANDCAMP!

As for CSMA, I might try again when I’ve stopped fuming, or Stuart might have a go. But no promises. I don’t really care enough any more after all that.

Documentary film

Here’s something a little different from me – though there is a musical element. Some friends of mine have been writing and putting on plays around the country and at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe festivals so I decided to follow them around with a video camera while they did their latest one “Death and the Dominatrix”

It’s a great play, just one hour long (to fit in the festival schedules), and very funny as well as making you think so if it comes up anywhere near you, go and see it – or whatever else they’re putting on!

The play uses lots of music by Eurythmics but I didn’t want to get my YouTube channel hit with copyright claims and adverts so I did my own “Eurythmics-y” music to go under the narration.

This is my third attempt at documentaries. The first was on the local railway line and the second about the rehearsal studios we use. I need another project now!