Archive for the ‘music software’ Category

Free Audio Effects (part II)

These are the wonderful Bootsy effects. The fact that they are free is extraordinary and has caused quite a stir.

I have spent hundreds of pounds on UAD effects yet often reach for these free Bootsy effects instead. They’re just great.

These are more complicated effects and maybe not for beginners. Be sure to download the manual for each of these: you won’t know what you are doing otherwise.

General Processors:

smooth analogue style eq with pre-amp simulation strip for warmth and harmonic colouration. Extra CPU used for every knob tweaked, so leave in default position unless needed. Nonetheless, very economical.

BootEQ: smooth analogue style eq with pre-amp simulation strip for warmth and harmonic colouration. Extra CPU used for every knob tweaked, so leave in default position unless needed. Nonetheless, very economical.

very nice compressor. Note the sidechain can be set to 'external'. It has four inputs: make sure something is feeding inputs three and four (your sidechain trigger) from another track, or your sidechain won't do anything. In Reaper, this involves clicking the '4 in 2 out' box and setting up a little matrix. Neat.

Density MKII: very nice compressor. Note the sidechain can be set to 'external'. If you want to use this feature, note that it has four inputs: make sure something is feeding inputs three and four (your sidechain trigger) from another track, or your sidechain won't do anything. In Reaper, this involves clicking the '4 in 2 out' box and setting up a little matrix. Neat.

epicVerb: highly configurable reverb with distincive 'rattly' sound. Fully automatable. Occassionally glitchy, so save your work before you load it. On the other hand, it can have a huge 10 second reverb time which sounds incredible, so it's worth it.

EpicVerb: highly configurable reverb with distincive 'rattly' sound. Fully automatable. Occassionally glitchy, so save your work before you load it. On the other hand, it can have a huge 10 second reverb time which sounds incredible, so it's worth it.

RescueAE: separate processor for mid and side signals: add punch to the middle, widen the stereo sides. Or turn off the middle to hear just the sides. This can be used subtly or in extreme - both can be great. Seriously though, read the manual.

RescueAE: separate processor for mid and side signals: add punch to the middle, widen the stereo sides. Or turn off the middle to hear just the sides (or vice versa). This can be used subtly or in extreme - both can be great. Read the manual.

TesslaPro: a transient aware signal saturator. That means it's a (very) subtle compressor that you can tweak on the stereo output "to improve slightly the overall sonic image and density". It's subtle, but if you already have a great mix, popping this on the end can make make it sound like a record.

TesslaPro: a transient aware signal saturator. That means it's a (very) subtle compressor that you can tweak on the stereo output "to improve slightly the overall sonic image and density". It's subtle, but if you already have a great mix, popping this on the end can make make it sound like a record. Some will say it is 'the emperor's new clothes', while for others it is Bootsy's crowning glory.

Bootsy discusses the creation of TesslaPro and the ideas behind it here. It’s a very useful read.

The ‘Nasty’ Processors:

Like most of his other effects, the ‘Nasty’ series of Bootsy FX are not designed to be ‘transparent’ effects, they are designed to add colour to the sound in the way that very expensive analogue gear does. Also, like that gear, they are surprisingly easy to use. Bootsy frequently uses the word ‘mojo’ when describing that special something that the Nasty FX add.

bootsy nastyHF

NastyHF: boost your high frequencies smoothly and brilliantly. You will never want to touch a Cubase EQ again. It's not far off the smoothness of the Neve 1073, and that's very expensive.

NastyLF: cuts as well as boosts low frequencies.

NastyLF: cuts as well as boosts low frequencies. The LF boost is designed to distort nicely.

TableTop: boosts lower mid frequencies and adds harmonic distortion. Bootsy suggests this be used to "pimp lame soft synths". It's only got one knob, which is ace.

TableTop: boosts lower mid frequencies and adds harmonic distortion. Bootsy suggests this be used to "pimp lame soft synths". It's only got one knob, which is ace.

Nasty CS: channel strip. It's got it all and it looks like the UAD 1073 emulation. However, if you're mainly wanting that nice top end, it's actually easier to use NastyHF on its own.

Nasty CS: channel strip. It's got it all and it looks like the UAD 1073 emulation. However, if you're mainly wanting that nice top end, it's actually easier to use NastyHF on its own.

NastyVSD: Virtual Summing Device. This is the bomb. Crank it up and your track starts to sound dirtier, livelier, louder, punchier even. It will smear your track and mess it up sonically and it should not be used as a stereo-out mastering limiter. Unless you like the sound it makes. It's pretty addictive.

NastyVSD: Virtual Summing Device. This is the bomb. Crank it up and your track starts to sound dirtier, livelier, louder, punchier even. It will smear your track and mess it up sonically and it should not be used as a stereo-out mastering limiter. Unless you like the sound it makes. It's pretty addictive.

Get them all here.

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Free Audio Effects (part I)

You need to have the a good set of ‘bread and butter’ audio effects.

This free set from Danish company Kjaerhus Audio is superb in every way:

  • very low CPU usage
  • excellent sound quality
  • analogue type sound
  • simple interface
  • consistent design
  • very helpful website
best free autofilter on the web: envelope following and LFO tempo sync. Sounds great.

best free autofilter on the web: envelope following and LFO tempo sync. Sounds great.

nice chorus: good for fattening / wetting guitars, bass, synths, etc.

nice chorus: good for fattening / wetting guitars, bass, synths, etc.

good compressor: easy to use, sounds good

good compressor: easy to use, sounds good

excellent delay: syncable to tempo, ping pong, tape delay, the lot.

excellent delay: syncable to tempo, ping pong, etc. very good.

a nice 7 band eq with separate settings for both channels: this allows you to play with the stereo image as well as the eq. Sounds nice and warm.

a nice 7 band eq with separate settings for both channels: this allows you to play with the stereo image as well as the eq. Sounds nice and warm.

flanger: my favourite in the collection because it actually sounds like a real analogue flanger, not like a horrible digital tube flanger. This is great.

flanger: my favourite in the collection because it actually sounds like a real analogue flanger, not like a horrible digital tube flanger. This is great.

limiter: useful but don't overdo it. There are better free limiters.

limiter: useful but don't overdo it. There are better free limiters.

phaser. it works fine and sounds real.

phaser. it works fine and sounds real.

cracking reverb - smooth sound with filters so that you only put verb on the bits you want to. Very nice and very low CPU.

cracking reverb - smooth sound with filters so that you only put verb on the bits you want to. You would probably want something more 'special' for a vocal or standout effect, but for general usage this hits the spot.

This is a wonderful set of plugins.

Get it here. While you are there, check out their ‘tips’ pages for each effect.

Free Synthesisers

Synths listed here are very good. There are others of course, but I use these regularly and can recommend them.

Synth1

This little synth is more impressive than it looks. It’s based on the Nord Lead. It was created by Ichiro Toda.

It has two oscillators, two LFOs, a good arpeggiator, osc sync, effects, etc. It is usually the number one downloaded synth on the KVR download charts.

I use it for teaching as its clear interface helps to cut through the crap and get to the basics of synthesis.

If you are serious about learning synthesis, it’s much better to start with Synth1 than with Massive.

Get it here.

fab

fab

ElectroStudio Synths

Something of a mystery, these ten superb synthesisers are offered for free in a single, zipped, pack of ten. They have been created by Robert Krzywicki.

There have been some reports that they have a bug resulting in an annoying noise on some systems. All I can say is that I have never experienced any problems and I strongly recommend that give them a go. If you would like to read a thread about them, there’s one here.

Let’s take a look at them. Link is at bottom of page.

Micromoon is a very nice Micromoog emulation (the original is here). It’s a subtractive analogue monosynth with a surprisingly convincing Moog Bass preset.

it's not a moog

it's not a moog

The Octet is my personal favourite. It is a drum / percussion machine of the old school variety. It features an eight track step sequencer and the ability to tweak all the sounds. At first you might not ‘get it’ but once you have opened up the little box in the bottom right, all becomes (almost) clear. I own an old Formanta drum machine and this is a similar kind of beast. I love it.

the magic is behind that little box, bottom right

the magic is behind that little box, bottom right

Each track has a corresponding slot in the little box. Click the slot and then control the parameters for that track when this displays the box below. This really does sound like an analogue percussion synthesiser.

octet2

ODSAY is a very nice emulation of the Arp Odyssey (the real one is here).

not an arp

not an arp

Or2v is based on the Oberheim Two Voice (the real one is here).

It is very useable and features an eight stage CV sequencer – perfect for those retro basslines.

not an oberheim

not an oberheim

Rhythmus is based on classic, cheesy, lovely old rhythm boxes. If you open up the hood at the top, you can tune the drums, pan and level them. This one must have been a labour of love.

rhythmus1

SxMJune (Sixth Month June) is a very good emulation of a Roland Juno polysynth (the real one is here). It has a rich, warm buzzy kind of quality. Easy to program, too.

not a juno

not a juno

Tapeotronic is a nice emulation of a Mellotron. It only has three sounds: flute, strings and choir. They are classic sounds though, and you get to play ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ pretty convincingly.You can open up the hood and change the ‘bias’ on the tape loops, which makes for uncomfortable listening.

not a mellotron

not a mellotron

Moon Sono SX emulates the Moog Sonic Six (the real one is here) synth capable of being duophonic (that’s two notes at a time). Pretty peculiar, actually.

moon sono sx

eSLine String synth is an emulation of the Arp Solina String Machine (the real one is here). It’s good for synthetic string sounds and has an analoguish warmth to it. If you want that 1970s disco strings sound, look no further.

eSLine String: nice warm strings

eSLine String: nice warm strings

There is also the Davosynth – a weird little synth that you can best ignore for now. Or not.

The pack is available from the Elektrostudio website which I think is Polish. If you get the Polish webpage, just click on the Union Jack (yay!) at the top and it will suddenly seem less foreign. You need to click on the link marked Oryg 10 Analog Pack, and then follow the DOWNLOAD instructions. There are nice messages from the developer, to whom many people are feeling very grateful.

Get it here.

That’s enough synths for one post.

Free ‘Bread and Butter’ Sounds

‘Bread and butter sounds’ are the sounds that you will use in your ‘normal’ music production, such as acoustic drum kits, bass, guitar, keyboards, strings, etc.

Sounds like these will come pre-installed on every Windows soundcard – they are the sounds that your media player uses to play a MIDI file. The set of sounds is based on the General MIDI soundset (GM) and is provided by the Microsoft GS Wavetable SW Synth. These are, unfortunately, not much use. They generally sound weak, unrealistic and will probably cause you problems if you try to use them with your DAW along with VSTs. You need a good VST alternative to those GM sounds for you bread and butter needs.

Option One: Independence Free

There is a free download available from Yellow Tools called Independence. It comes with a 2.5GB sound library and it looks like this:

independence

The sounds are superb. It is a very good advert for them. Of course, there won’t be every sound your heart desires but there is enough to make music with and sound professional.

To download Independence Free you will need to agree to receive a newsletter, which seems fair enough. The download itself consists of the installer and eight content libraries. The download will take a while. Unzip everything and run the installer.

If you first run Independence Free and find no instruments in your browser, check that the content libraries (eight files with a .ytif extension) have copied into the correct directory (yellow tools root folder\image files). If not, copy them in and try again. It should look something like this:

yellow lib

When you are using Independence, note that you do not need a new instance of it for every instrument. You can have sixteen ‘layers’ each containing a different instrument, each on a separate MIDI channel. Just hit ‘add layer’ and then select another instrument. It might look like this:

yellow layers

In your Reaper tracks, set each new MIDI track to point at the same instance of Independence, but change the MIDI channel for the appropriate layer. Magic.

Get it here.

Option Two: SQ8L

Let’s say you are using Reaper off your USB, away from home. You just need some sounds to work with, nothing fancy. The SQ8L synthesiser will provide you with a perfectly usable palette of sounds to work with (except that it has no drums). It’s a tiny instrument that will fit on a USB. Also, I love its warm, slightly dirty sounds. It’s always useful to have some different textures in a mix and some of these are knockout. It looks a bit primitive but it’s a marvel of small engineering.

A lovely little synth for bread and butter

A lovely little synth for bread and butter

One top tip: to browse the presets, right click in the preset window (where it says VOYAGER).

It sits nicely in nearly any mix.

Get it here.

Option Three: Proteus

This is good, but I wouldn’t recommend it for rank beginners. The interface is a little clunky and slow, the install feels old fashioned, it doesn’t remember where it was when you last opened it and it doesn’t seem to organise its own presets at all, so you have a huge list to wade through (unless I’m missing a trick – please let me know).

On the other hand, considering it’s just for b&b sounds,  it sounds good and it has a huge collection of totally usable instruments including a (not too awful) piano, which is worth having. Its drums are a good starting point, too. It will never replace a serious sample based libary but it does the job. If you know what you are doing with your mixing then you could quite happily use this in tracks without anyone objecting.

It works roughly in the same way as Yellow Tools, with 16 tracks, etc. It looks like this:

proteus

If you are short on bread and butter sounds, it’s worth the effort, but don’t choose this first.

It’s only 65MB, but as it’s a full installation (rather than a nice little dll) it probably won’t go easily onto your USB key.

Get it here.

Option Four: there are bound to be more

If you know of a good VST bread and butter free download, please leave a comment and link.

Step 3: What do you need?

As a beginner, you will want to have a good basic suite of instruments and effects.

  1. you need bread and butter sounds, such as drums, bass, guitar, brass, strings, etc. In Cubase these are provided by the horrid Halion player. The source for these sounds can be synthesised but it is normal today to find these provided by sample libraries (such as Halion). The good thing about samples is that they can sound very good. The bad thing about them is that they are (or should be) very large. A decent sample library will be many GB in size. I suggest getting a sample library player for your rig at home and a little synthesised one for your USB key.
  2. you need some synthesisers. These are usually quite small as they do not require sample data.
  3. you need some good effects. Reaper already has nice effects, but you could always do with more. You will want a set of the ‘standard’ effects: reverb, delay, chorus, compressor, filter, etc. Effects are usually very small.
  4. you will also want some more sophisticated effects: transient modeller, spatial enhancer, exciter, side chain compressor, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t know what these are yet. You will want them once you know.
  5. you might need a sampler. Reaper ships with the badly titled but perfectly capable ReaSampleOmatic5000. This is a neat little sampler for everyday use, featuring the (excellent) ability to easily grab selected audio from a track and use it as sample instrument data. For more complex sampling duties, you will need something more.

The following posts will suggest likely downloads to fulfil these needs.

Step 2: How to install VSTs

Before we get going, how do you actually get them in there and working?

For your information, a VST usually means an effect (like a reverb or compressor) and a VSTi usually means an instrument (like a synthesiser).

  1. VSTs are usually downloadable in zip files. After downloading you need to right click on them and extract them somewhere.
  2. Create a VST Plugins folder somewhere on your computer. To keep things organised, you might like to create two folders within that, one for instruments and one for effects. Mine has a variety of folders. It looks like this:

    vst folder

  3. Most VSTs are just a small program with the extension .dll. If so, take that dll and put it in one of your VST Plugins folders. If it has extracted to a folder containing the dll and some other things, just copy the whole folder in there.
  4. Some VSTs need to be properly installed. Install them like a normal program, following the instructions on screen. The program will probably be installed in your normal Program Files folder, but at some point you will be asked where you want to install the VST. Choose one of your VST Plugins folders.
  5. Some VSTs offer you the chance to intall RTAS (for ProTools) or DXi (Cakewalk / Sonar) versions. Unless you are running these programs, you can safely say no thanks to these options.
  6. In Reaper, open up your Preferences (Control-P) and go to the Plug-ins/VST tab.
  7. Hit the Add button and navigate to your VST Plugins folder. Select it.
  8. Hit the Rescan button to add all the effects in that folder. From now on, you’ll only need to Rescan after you add another effect.

    reaper prefs

  9. You’re done. When you next choose Insert->Virtual Instrument on new track or click on the green fx button on a track, you’ll see your new VSTs listed.

Step 1: Why Reaper Rocks

A modern Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) needs to have a hefty number of features, but essentially you should view it as a shell in which to house your instruments and effects. The idea that the DAW should do everything from playing bass to making the tea is a common pitfall. Let the DAW do what it’s good at, and hand pick your instruments elsewhere.

With this in mind I have tried to assemble a “perfect’ DAW setup based around Reaper.

Reaper is a fantastic DAW these days. I have Logic and Samplitude and access to Cubase and ProTools but I use Reaper all the time.

It is very fast, stable, very light on CPU usage, nicely designed and incredibly small. The download is around 4MB. You can install it on a USB key and use it on any computer, anywhere. It is supported by a friendly and useful community and is constantly being updated. It has so many neat features and yet it has an elegant, unfussy interface. At the time of writing it costs £38.

It works very well indeed and I find it faster than any of the others, which now seem overweight and out of date.

Two potential pitfalls:

  1. Although Reaper comes with great processing effects, they are minimal in appearance and don’t excite new users who want sexy graphics. Sexy graphics are important to software.
  2. Reaper does not come with any real instruments, so you can’t start sequencing right away.

This all helps to keep Reaper portable and focused – I wouldn’t have it any other way. You can easily download sexy looking high quality free instruments and effects to complement Reaper: problem solved.

Download a free version of Reaper here (uncrippled for 30 days) and try it out. Then look at the other posts and get some quality free VSTs to run with it.