SodaSynth and Analog Extracts Updated (Windows)

Hot off the heels of the SongStarter beta release, we’ve got new bugfix releases available for both our SodaSynth and Analog Extracts VST plugins on Windows.

SodaSynth 1.1.1 fixes a crash with the plugin GUI in certain VST hosts. This bug was introduced in the 1.1 update, when we did some work to upgrade it to a native 64-bit plugin. This is a recommended update for all Windows users.

Analog Extracts 1.0.1 fixes a bug causing the VST plugin in 32-bit hosts on 64-bit Windows to not make any sound (the samples weren’t being detected correctly).

These updates are available immediately for all registered users, and can be obtained via the link in your registration email or from our downloads page.

SongStarter Beta Updated – Bugfixes, REAPER, and more…

Though it’s only been a few days since the SongStarter free public beta release, we’ve already started getting good feedback and have some bugfixes to push out.

The biggest problem reported so far was that the beta version appeared expired for many Windows users. I’ve done a bit of tinkering and I think I’ve managed to fix this one, so if you couldn’t get SongStarter to run before, try hitting the SongStarter page again and download the new version for Windows (songstarter-1.0-beta-082312-win32.exe). The Mac version has been updated with these fixes too.

Other changes in this version (1.0-beta-082312) include:

  • Drag and drop MIDI export for REAPER added
  • I quietly fixed the OS X package having some broken artwork and instruments earlier in the week.

That’s actually it, it’s been a slow week. I spent one day tackling some bugs lurking in Analog Extracts and SodaSynth (updating coming for those tomorrow), and I’ve been working on gathering feedback on SongStarter. There are a handful of high-priority features I have on my TODO list, but I want to make sure my priorities are right, so if you dig SongStarter, your feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks for reading, and I’ll keep you posted on SongStarter as it develops!

Introducing SongStarter, Free Public Beta

Live Looping, Music Brainstorming Environment

Available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Google Chrome

It’s with great excitement that I get to unveil the newest creation from Oscillicious, SongStarter!

SongStarter is a “music brainstorming environment”, built around a live looping workflow. It’s designed to help you jam out ideas as quickly as possible and build them into up into melodies. When you’re done layering up the heart of a great song, you can drag and drop MIDI export your tune into your DAW and continue producing it with the workflow you’ve already mastered.

SongStarter is FREE during beta, so download it now!

You begin in SongStarter by picking a beat and a tempo, and then can rapidly build up a melody using the collection of 21 built-in instruments. The instruments we’ve got fall into three categories:

  • Jam Essentials: A collection of sampled instruments with character, covering a range of sounds, from the Dusty Piano to the old school Cruise synth.
  • SodaSynth: Seven of our favorite SodaSynth presets for your jamming pleasure, providing classic, clean synth sounds.
  • Analog Extracts: Rounding out the collection is 5 sampled instruments created from our analog synth sample pack, providing quirky synth sounds taken from a legendary analog modular synthesizer.

We’ve tried to make SongStarter as easy as possible jam with, and we think you’ll have a lot of fun with it. With any luck, it might just help you come up with your next big hit.

Check it out, here’s an unscripted jam session I had from earlier today with SongStarter:

Lastly, in addition to the live looping jam workflow, SongStarter includes the Freestyle Recorder that we teased last week. The Freestyle Recorder is a different approach to starting a jam, which works by always recording what you’re playing, and then automatically chopping it up into segments when you stop playing. You never have to take your hands off your MIDI keyboard.

Once you’ve created some segments with the Freestyle Recorder, you can then create a seamless loop from one, just by tapping along with it. At the end, SongStarter can drop a beat right over your loop, and then throw it all over to the live looping jam workflow. (I find the Freestyle Recorder is really great for capturing ideas with huge amounts of swing or weird grooves.)

We’re excited to finally get SongStarter into the hands of more musicians, and that’s really what the free public beta is about. Oscillicious is fuelled by the feedback of musicians like yourself, and so we’d love to hear what you think about SongStarter.

Have you downloaded SongStarter or tried it in Chrome yet? What’s your impression? Leave a comment below or email us directly! We’d love to hear from you.

Introducing the Freestyle Recorder

In my last few posts, I’ve been trying to deconstruct recording workflows (and doing so a bit too brashly), to ask an open question:

Can we improve the way recording works, for your average musician?

Let’s focus on recording at home for now, and acknowledge that professional studio recording and power users might have different requirements . Let’s also assume that I’m starting fresh on a new song.

The two scenarios we’ll consider are 1) that I’ve got an idea that I’d like to record, or that I’d like to play my instrument and see if I stumble on something that sounds nice while being recorded.

You can record an idea into a DAW or a wave editor, but before you move forward and use that recording to start a new song, you need to do some things like:

  1. Chopping up the recording.
  2. Picking a tempo for the song that matches your recording, in case you didn’t already pick a tempo beforehand.

These might seem obvious and completely necessary. How could you use a recording in a song without manually trimming it? How could you use a recording without having picked a tempo?

But when you think of a catchy melody in your head, did you start by picking a numerical tempo in your mind? Or did you just think of the melody? Is there a way to communicate a catchy melody to the computer without explicitly expressing the tempo, yet still allowing you to build on it (in a quantized environment like a DAW)? [1]

Now, what if we re-imagine the role of the computer in this. Instead of thinking about the computer as a workstation, which we sit down and operate, let’s think of it as something more passive. Could we change this workflow so that the computer instead passively supports you when you want to record, and maybe even eliminates the chopping and tempo picking you need to do before turning your recording into a song?

Sounds like a interesting challenge to me. So here’s my attempt at changing this recording workflow to eliminate these steps, in order to help you go from having an idea in your head to building a song around it, faster. It’s by no means perfect, and is not necessarily better, but it’s different, and I hope that it’s a good starting point from which we can build on.

The Freestyle Recorder is a completely hands-off MIDI recorder. I started by removing the record button. There’s no stopping it, it’s always recording into a 3 minute long buffer.  Next, it listens to what you play, and when it hears you stop playing, it automatically chops the thing you just played into a segment.

You can sit down and jam until you play something nice, and the Freestyle Recorder tries to cut up your takes automatically. You can just focus on playing.

Next, because the Freestyle Recorder is just listening for silence when it’s detecting takes, we need a way to tell it how to chop a recording more tightly. Remember, we want to avoid manual chopping. Next, let’s assume we want to produce a loop out of our recording.

But maybe we can kill two birds with one stone here. We still need to tell the computer some information about the tempo of our song, but BPM detection might not be accurate enough, and I didn’t play along with a metronome. I just played. How about if the recording were played back, and we just tapped along with it? This would tell us both the tempo of the recording, and give us a hint about how many beats were in the recording, so we can chop it tighter.

This is exactly what I programmed, and it works… OK. You need to play in 4/4 time, at a fairly constant tempo, and when you tap along with your recording, it has to be pretty tight. But if you get those things close enough, the Freestyle Recorder produces a seamless loop of your recording, without you ever having to hit record or entering a tempo. Above all, it’s different, and I hope this approach helps generate some new ideas to take it even further.

Did I mention that because it knows the loop length and tempo, the Freestyle Recorder can automatically snap a beat perfectly over your recording? When it works, it’s pure magic:

What’s your impression of the Freestyle Recorder? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!

[1] BPM detection is one way to have a computer extract this information. My experience has been that some algorithms struggle with very short pieces. The algorithm I tested really struggled with jingles that were just a few bars long and played naturally.

Follow-up: Recording in DAWs

In my last post, I wrote about how I think the typical DAW recording workflow is a bit lacking. As a result, I managed to turn the entire /r/edmproduction subreddit against me, where most of the readers don’t share my view. However, some insightful discourse followed, and I’d like to respond to a few points directly.

Warrior Bob makes a good point when he says that some DAWs offer some form of loop recording mode (which records linearly while looping playback) or multiple-take recording mode. Both of these modes help reduce the type of distracting transport juggling that I’m trying to avoid. But he also notes that my frustration might come from the lack of discoverability of these features – They’re too hard to figure out, often buried in a myriad of menu options, and that’s prevented me from stumbling across them earlier.

Canoo thinks we should be happy with DAWs and just be grateful we don’t have to book time in a studio to do this type of recording. I like this modest attitude – The way we produce music on computers these days is incredibly powerful, flexible, and accessible. However, you could have said the same thing about the telephone in 1985. Why would you want to carry a phone around in your pocket? Fortunately, someone inventive at Motorola wasn’t so modest.

On the other hand, bandersong more or less agrees with me, and suggests an idea for an alternative workflow where you could jam out a bunch of different melodies over your existing tracks, and then sort through them later. You could do this sort of thing with the loop recording feature I mentioned at the start of this post, though you’d still have to chop up the MIDI sequence. The point is, maybe there’s some new ways to implement recording  that nobody’s thought of yet. I think bandersong’s constructive comment is a step in the right direction.

In these blog posts, I’ve intentionally taken a very critical approach to the design of DAWs in order to stress that they haven’t always been designed with workflow in mind. In response, the comments on Reddit and here on this blog (especially from people who disagree) have been pretty insightful and shown how different producers use these applications. One universal recommendation that’s been shared is to always read the manual. That’s one of the best ways to improve your workflow.

However, tearing apart the design of the DAW is the first step towards creating something better. By sharing my experiences making music, I hope to generate some discussion about common workflows and find out if anyone else has the same problems as I do. Maybe I just suck. Or maybe other people struggle with the same problems as I do. But without a critical discussion, there can’t be any progress, and developers will just continue building DAWs that get more complicated and more difficult to use.

Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and rethink things. And by sharing your workflow, maybe we can all learn a thing or two.

Thanks for reading, and leave a comment with your thoughts!

The Trouble with DAWs: Recording

Before I do a real follow-up to my last post about the traditional DAW workflow, I wanted to take another stab at the workflow diagram (below).

This time, I’ve outlined what I’ll call the “recording workflow”. You start with the same boring setup procedure that you have with the regular “mostly MIDI” workflow, and then you need to hook up your instrument or MIDI keyboard for recording. (“Where’s my USB cable?”, “Did I plug my guitar into the right jack?”….)

After that, you end up in this new songwriting cycle where jam out an idea on your keyboard or instrument, and try to record it. This is usually pretty fun, but I don’t think it’s nearly as fun as it could be. There’s a lot of micromanagement going on when you do this, which I’ve tried to emphasize in the diagram.

When I try to play something that I want to record, it usually takes me a few tries to get it right. In a DAW, this means a lot of jogging back and forth with the transport, arming recording, waiting for the down beat, and trying to play the melody again. Did I mess it up? Darn, I have to switch back to my mouse and keyboard, delete the bad MIDI part, and try again.

It’s a lot of back and forth, and to be honest, I think half the reason it takes me 5 tries to record something is because I have to put down my synth every time I make a mistake, and it’s sort of difficult to really get a good groove going because of that. I lose my rhythm and timing, and have to frantically try to get it back within those next 4 count-in beats, otherwise… I have to repeat the cycle yet again.

This entire workflow is modelled after recording on magnetic tapes. Except if you were recording on tape, you probably had a dude in a studio hitting record and rewinding for you. It’s 2012. Does this recording workflow even make sense anymore?

What do you think about recording in DAWs? Is it just me?
Leave a comment and let me know how you think recording should work.

How the Recording Workflow Goes with a DAW

So easy, right?

The Traditional DAW Workflow

I’ve been thinking a lot about music production workflows lately. Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) can be incredible tools. They combine MIDI sequencers, audio editors, pattern editing, and allow you to drop plugins like SodaSynth into them as extra instruments or effects. With all of these features, most DAWs provide an all-in-one solution for music making, and are used by everyone from complete beginners to the best producers in the world.

But all of these features come at a price, both in dollars and time. High-end DAWs can be priced toward professionals and studios. The competition between DAWs has lead to feature creep, which has directly resulted in very complicated user interfaces, and incredibly steep learning curves. Adam and I like to joke that DAWs should brag about how many knobs per square cm they pack into their user interface. It’s almost ridiculous.

DAWs are powerful, but as many musicians will attest, they’re also difficult to learn. However, once you get a hang of how to use a DAW, get used to the workflow, and master the technical aspects of producing, you’re set.

Or are you?

In my next blog post, I’ll take a crack at answering that question. I’ve mocked up a diagram (below) exploring one of the main workflows for writing music in a DAW.

In the meantime, leave a comment and let me know what you think of the diagram! Does this fit your workflow?

DAW Workflow

SodaSynth 1.1 Released!

Oscillicious is pleased to announce the release of SodaSynth 1.1!

This new update includes 4 new presets (Sleep Walker, Sleep Walker Remix, Squish, and Crystal Strings) and brings full compatibility with 64-bit AU and VST hosts on Windows and Mac OS X 10.6+.

Here’s a new video that starts off with a brief demo of two of the new presets (Sleep Walker and Crystal Strings), and then goes on to show some sound design possibilities by taking Sleep Walker and tweaking a bunch of the knobs.

The SodaSynth VST and AU plugin is also fully compatible with Mac OS X Mountain Lion and Windows 8.

Grab your copy of SodaSynth from the Oscillicious Shop via instant download, or save nearly 20% by purchasing SodaSynth and Analog Extracts together in the Oscillicious Plug-in Bundle!

Existing users can upgrade for free using the download link in their original registration email, or by hitting up our downloads page.

Analog Extracts Released!

We’re pleased to announce the release of Analog Extracts, the first sample pack from Oscillicious!

This sample pack contains a fantastic collection of over 200 brand new sounds designed with a scary-expensive Buchla analog modular synthesizer. The pack includes synth leads, basses, and some grimy pad sounds from outer space, along with a selection of analog drums and laser sounds.

What makes Analog Extracts special?

First, these sounds are something else. Our sound designers Thor Kell and Dan Godlovitch did a stellar job at creating a collection of new analog sounds that at times grimy and robotic, yet alive and energetic. Here’s a set of demo songs showcasing some of the samples:

Oscillicious Analog Extracts Demos by Oscillicious

Second, the sample pack comes with a bonus VST and Audio Units plugin that puts all the samples right at your fingertips so you don’t have to fumble around mapping them into your DAW’s sampler, and it doesn’t matter which host you’re using.

Check out the Analog Extracts product page for more information or head over to the Oscillicious Online Shop to pick up a copy instantly by digital download.

Coming Soon: Analog Extracts

Here’s a quick sneak peak at our next product: Analog Extracts.

Analog Extracts is a sample pack consisting of over 200 analog modular synth sounds. Our sound designers were lucky enough to get their hands on a very expensive analog modular synth, and managed to squeeze some incredibly unique and original sounds out of it.

The sounds we captured are pure analog waveforms, each with its own unique character. They’re different. The laser sounds are especially unlike anything you’ve heard before, and we think these’ll work great as accents and buildups in a range of electronic music.

Also included in the sample pack will be a number of synth leads, bass samples, and pads, along with an assortment of original analog drum sounds.

Analog Extracts Demo 1 by Oscillicious

It gets even better…

To take things even further, we wanted to make it as easy as possible to use these samples. This collection of analog modular synth samples could stand on its own as a product, but as musicians ourselves, we think digging through folders full of samples when you’re trying to write a track can be a bit of a chore.

To solve that, many other companies bundle presets for certain samplers like EXS-24 or Kontakt with their sample packs, so you can load up different banks quickly. The problem with this approach is that they assume you own one of these other (expensive) products. This only really benefits some users. As an alternative, other companies choose to license a sampler like the Kontakt Player to bundle with their sample packs, but it costs big bucks to do so and dramatically increases the cost to you, the musician.

Both of these approaches have big downsides, so we decided to do it our own way. To make Analog Extracts even better, we wanted to provide something extra for all users without breaking the bank.

The Analog Extracts VST and AU Plug-In

To make it as convient and easy as possible to use these analog samples in your music, we’ve created our own custom mini-sampler plug-in specifically for Analog Extracts. This bonus plug-in contains a curated selection of drum kits for easy access, as well as presets that map each sample to the entire keyboard. The plug-in will be available in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavours for Windows and Mac OS X, and is even compatible with Windows 8 and Mountain Lion already!

We’re wrapping up beta testing and we hope to make Analog Extracts available in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!