Windows 8 Support for our VSTs and Apps

With the Windows 8 launch coming on Friday, now is a good time to remind our users that all Oscillicious VST plugins and stand-alone apps are fully compatible with Windows 8, and have been thoroughly tested in this environment.

If you’re new to our site and are looking for Windows 8 compatible audio software and VST plugins, please check out our products:

I’ve been running Windows 8 on my main desktop machine for a few months now, and although the user interface is weird at first, I’ve ended up getting used to it and really like Windows 8 now. Performance has been good with the DAWs and other music apps that I’ve been testing our VSTs with too (mostly Ableton Live and Renoise).

If anyone has any questions about Windows 8 support or discovers any issues that we might have missed, please send us an email and let us know!

SongStarter 1.0.2 Released!

We’re pleased to announce a new update to SongStarter, the organic music production app for instant jamming.

This update brings general improvements to two key areas, and is a recommended update for all users:

1. A realtime mastering bus now automatically applies some dynamic range compression and excitation to enhance the overall sound quality of your jams. In other words, everything just sounds better.

2. There should be improved compatibility with soundcards using the default Windows Vista/7/8 WASAPI audio API. We’ve made adjustments to provide a better out-of-the-box experience on Windows so you hopefully won’t have to mess around in the preferences before your soundcard works. We tested this on a range of hardware, but if you run into any audio issues on Windows with SongStarter, we’d appreciate it if you got in touch so we can fix them for good.

Also included in this update are a handful of other bugfixes, including:

  • Fixed pops when switching drum beats
  • Updated help screen now points to our SongStarter help page.
  • External audio input latency has been slightly reduced.
  • Improved compatibility with certain Windows recording devices.
  • Turned it to 11 – the overall volume is louder, should be closer to other applications.
  • Fixed a bug in which loops of certain lengths would get rounded incorrectly in the Freestyle Recorder’s tap tempo screen.
  • Switching drum beats now sets the project tempo to the original tempo of the drum beats. No more chipmunk DNB drums when you’re trying them out.

As usual, SongStarter owners can update their full version using the links in their original registration email or by visiting our downloads page.

For those just passing by, an updated SongStarter trial is available for download for Windows and Mac OS X. Check it out!

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.

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

A Word on Mac OS X Mountain Lion Compatibility

Back in March, we released a small update to SodaSynth in advance of Apple’s new Mac OS X 10.8 release, Mountain Lion.

SodaSynth has an installer which is signed so that Gatekeeper identifies it as originating from Oscillicious, and lets it run. This is important because OS X Mountain Lion will only run signed code by default. This new code signing policy will give Apple another tool to help keep OS X safe and secure, and it gives you the assurance that our products are genuine. We’re pleased to offer SodaSynth as one of the first VST and AU plugins that is fully compatible with Mac OS X Mountain Lion.

Additionally, BeatCleaver 1.2 should be compatible with Mountain Lion, as I also made sure it was signed before releasing it back in April. If anyone’s running it on Mountain Lion, please let me know how it’s working for you!

Registered users can snag the latest version of SodaSynth from their original registration email or from our downloads page. Enjoy!

Blog Moved to WordPress

I used to be one of those people that installed a new Linux distribution every other week, searching for the One True Desktop Linux which had the winning combination of, well, just working.

Now I’m one of those people who’s never satisfied with their blogging platform. Blogger’s lacking in style and modern features. Tumblr is better and has nice social integration features, but it doesn’t quite feel right for a company blog in the sense that it’s main focus is tumblogging – sharing little bits, not writing full articles. Because of that, I’ve just moved the Oscillicious blog over to WordPress, so that I’ve got a better platform to write with.

I’m really excited about what I’ve been working on recently, and I’m going to start writing about it in one way or another, so stay tuned. August is going to be an interesting month.

For reference, the old Tumblr blog is still online here.

Update: I managed to customize a WordPress theme and integrate it so it matches the rest of the site more or less. Sweet!