It’s no surprise that we’re big fans of digital music as a website dedicated to reviewing the best digital pianos on the market. Computers are used in almost every aspect of our lives these days, and music is no exception.
MIDI is a technology that is almost definitely familiar to you, as it is included with practically every modern keyboard and digital piano. While it may appear ancient, it is one of a keyboardist’s most effective weapons.
This is the second instalment in our series on the principles of software-based music production. We previously addressed the unsightly task of connecting our keyboards and PCs. Then we taught you how to use software pianos to have more flexible recording options.
The previous post was either trivially easy or a valuable guide to the digital arena of music making, depending on your level of tech savvy. In any case, we hope it was a useful introduction to or review of the field of music software.
THIS TIME, WE’RE GOING TO:
I made a bold claim at the end of the previous piece. I claimed that all I needed to compose a radio-ready tune was a mixture of software instruments and a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). This time, I’m hoping to prove it, or at the very least, progress in that direction.
The piano has a beautiful tone, and we all appreciate a good piano-solo piece now and then. However, if we only use a DAW to record pianos, we are underutilizing its advantages.
We’ll show you how to build music arrangements today. That means we’ll be including some new instruments into our songs.
I have an idea for a song that could include drums, bass, and acoustic guitar. We could rent a studio and collect a few acquaintances with the necessary experience (assuming the global pandemic is gone).
Let us, however, impose some limitations. Is it possible to create this idealised setup with the bare-bones configuration we established in the previous guide (which lacks even a microphone)?
The answer is yes, which is probably not unexpected (since this article would not exist if it weren’t).
To refresh your memory, here are the tools you have at your disposal following the previous session:
A MIDI keyboard/digital piano is our primary means of converting our live performances into data. The Nektar SE49 is what I’m using.
A capable computer — Because we’re doing things in software, we’ll need some processing power from our computer, but any system created or released in the last 7 years or so should suffice. I’m working on my Windows 10 production laptop, which is in the mid-range.
The major brains behind the process is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). This will serve as the central centre for recording, editing, and synchronisation. I’m using Ableton Live 10 Suite again this time, but you may use any DAW you have. However, Ableton Live 10 has the longest trial time of any modern DAW, so give it a chance if you’re unsure. If you’re interested in learning more about alternative DAWs, Ben offers a great overview of the benefits and drawbacks of modern DAWs.
VST Software Pianos – A simple approach to get studio-quality piano sounds without having to deal with complicated mic setups or audio hookups. I’ll be using AiR’s Mini Grand, a simple piano plugin that I’ve just fallen in love with, but you can use any piano sound you choose.
We’ll use the same configuration as last time, with any new tools being free software plugins that you can get right now. I recommend downloading and installing all of these plugins before restarting your DAW, as DAWs do checks every time plugins are detected, which can take a long time.
a set of strings
Synthesizer is a type of electronic instrument.
These plugins were chosen based on a simple set of criteria. They had to be unrestricted, and they had to sound fantastic. In general, you shouldn’t expect much from free software, but these plugins are indisputably the best, and I’ve used them all in some capacity for commercial projects or demos.
Simply download and instal these plugins’ VST formats into the VST folder created in the previous guide. If you’re using Logic Pro as your DAW, keep in mind that VSTs aren’t supported, therefore utilise the AAX format instead.
Why don’t you suggest (insert plugin here)?
PREPARATIONS IN ADVANCE
If you’re using Ableton, keep in mind that I’ll be working in the horizontal Arrangement view rather than the vertical Session view that the programme uses by default. You can do so by pressing the ‘Tab’ key on your keyboard. Other DAW users will be able to follow along more easily as a result of this.
Let’s set up our production environment now that we’ve chosen our instruments. This step may appear monotonous and unappealing, but dealing with the scum ahead of time will surely save time in the long run.
We’ll also use this time to troubleshoot frequent problems.
We’ll use a Digital Audio Workstation to do the heavy lifting, as we did last time. We’re using Ableton Live, but any current DAW will suffice.
Regardless of the application, the same concepts apply, and you’ll be able to apply the abilities you learn here to any situation.
We used our DAW straight out of the box the last time, and it worked fine for simple piano recordings and MIDI editing. However, by making a few adjustments and performing some checks ahead of time, we can help the event go more smoothly.
First and foremost, we must select the appropriate audio driver and buffer size. Because Apple’s MacOS handles this well by default, you may ignore it for the time being.
If you’re a Windows user, I strongly advise you to utilise ASIO drivers, which eliminate many of the drawbacks that DirectX audio drivers have, such as latency.
Users of Windows
Setting the Buffer Size
Let’s move on to fine-tuning the user interface. You may be happy with your DAW’s default look and feel, but I believe that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, and that altering basics like font size and colour scheme can improve the whole experience.
Configure the User Interface
Finally, let’s double-check that our VST plugins are installed appropriately. In theory, every DAW scans for new plugins as it starts up, so we should be OK.
Unfortunately, some plugins have unusual installation paths, or you may have been utilising a custom VST plugin folder. The simplest method to check this is to load your plugin into your DAW and see if it works.
If you’re experiencing trouble, I’ll go over a few typical pitfalls further down.
Plugin Issues That You Should Be Aware Of
We can now get into the meat of this article now that we’ve dealt with the most inconvenient element of the procedure. Let’s get some music going.
STEP ONE: COMPOSE A SONG
This phase is perhaps the most time-consuming of the entire procedure, but it is also the most crucial. Even if we’re only performing a quick tutorial on arrangement tools, having a good idea will be really beneficial.
You may have heard of the term “noodling,” which refers to the act of playing ideas at random with no rhyme or reason and never fully remembering or refining them.
This is something you should try to avoid at all costs. Even if you only have a hazy idea, it’s better than beginning from scratch. After all, even the tiniest hint of direction can propel you forward.
To get the most out of this guide, set aside an hour to brainstorm some ideas. Record yourself playing chords and melodies on your piano. It’s better than nothing if you only have an intro and a stanza.
Try to recall your current instrument set if at all feasible. Pianos, drums, bass, and guitars are among the instruments available. Try to work within those restrictions because that’s a complete band.
When you’re finished, we can start fleshing out the concept.
For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m going with a concept from my label’s work. I want to write a Taiwanese-Pop Rock song with an 80-beat-per-minute tempo and a catchy backbeat. I also want to keep things simple enough for the vocals and topline to shine.
It’s a rudimentary concept, but it’s enough to work with.
Knowing what I want also allows me to set the tempo and metronome to make recording go more smoothly. Note that I’m also utilising a one-bar count-in for ease of recording.
You’ll note that I’m utilising an 8/8 time signature. It’s just a matter of taste, but I prefer a faster metronome for keeping time. If you’re in the mood for a waltz, leave yours in 4/4 or even 3/4 time.
STEP 2: RECORDING THE ORIGINAL THOUGHT
We’ll start by recording the piano sections because we’re pianists. If you’re not sure where to begin, check out the previous instalment in this series, where we walk you through the basics of recording software pianos.
To summarise, we loaded our piano plugin, turned on the metronome, and set the piano track to record. After that, all we have to do is press the record button and play along with the beat. Remember that we’ll be adding drums and bass to this song, so keep it as rhythmic as possible.
I also designate the ‘R’ key on my PC keyboard to the record button for convenience. This allows me to record multiple takes without having to use my mouse, which saves time.
I personally took a few tries before finding one I liked, so don’t be scared to combine many takes.
For example, you can see that the intro and verse were recorded separately. You could think it’s unethical, but I believe it’s my job to write good music, not to obtain ideal one-shot takes.
Comping: In its most basic form, comping entails sewing together several different takes. This is most typically employed on vocal performances, with separate takes for each word syllable being employed in extreme cases. Other DAWs offer more detailed options, but Ableton Live’s comping functionality lags behind the competition.
It’s worth noting that we’ll almost certainly have to re-record.