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Nicholas Toone

"I seem to have an audience of two."

Opium Winter: Making the First EP, Part 3

This entry is going to cover the editing/mixing portion of the recording process and my thoughts along each step of the way. This not going to be a step by step entry; I’m not going to cover every EQ setting and compression ratio on each track. 


 

The recording process began in early April 2018. All instruments and vocals were tracked by the end of the month. The plan was to release the debut Opium Winter EP by the beginning of the summer. Instead it was officially released April 1, 2019… almost exactly one year later.

What happened? The answer is simple: Mixing.

We had learned a lot about tracking instruments. Thanks to past projects, and all of the mistakes we made, we took our time and managed to get some good sounding tracks to work with. This recording was the first time I had a complete set of drum tracks to work with. As well, per song, there was three bass tracks, 6 to 8 guitar tracks (plus the guitar and bass direct tracks), four tracks of vocals, and two tracks of synth. More than enough to put together a set of decent sounding compositions. I figured with lessons learned, good tracks and some assistance from online tutorials, the mixing process would be relatively easy.

Boy was I wrong.

 

Fix It In The Mix

I found three channels on YouTube that seemed to cater to what I wanted to learn: Spectre Sound, Produce Like A Pro, and The Recording Revolution.

Spectre Sound is a bit of a challenge. Glenn Fricker is a crusty Metalhead who has been slogging though producing bands in the underground Metal scene for over 20 years. He “jokes” about how bass players are useless, rails about singers cupping the mic, and has a general disdain for what he perceives as political correctness. I’m sure some of this comes from real world experiences dealing with lazy, egotistical musicians, but it grates after awhile. It’s like like he never quite got past his rebellious, teenage Metalhead phase and doesn’t understand that the world has moved on. To be honest, I have very little patience for meanness masked as humour. Now that his channel has become popular, Glen seems to be stuck in that “this is what the people want” mode where all of his new episodes are pretty much by paint by number and, to be honest, somewhat dull*.

That being said, Glen has managed to release a handful of excellent how to videos. He has tips on recording and mixing guitars, bass, and vocals, and has an excellent mini series on how to record heavy drums. I’ve managed to glean quite a bit from his mini-lessons and I wish he’d spend more time doing these than ranting and raving about bass players and Line 6. Then again, he knows who clicks that Subscribe button and he’s obviously aiming at keeping them pleased.

Produce Like A Pro is quite excellent. Warren Huart has been around the track a few times and knows what he’s talking about. He’s humble, has worked with big names from all kinds of genres, and genuinely loves music (and he REALLY LOVES Queen). His tutorials can be quite long, and are mostly him talking through the details of EQ, compression and the like. There’s good stuff to be found here if you’re patient. As a bonus, he also offers free multitrack downloads so you can practice mixing along with him or just go nuts on your own.

Where Warren’s channel really shines, though, is his “Inside the Song” series. He sits down with producers and talks about how they created some of their songs. If you pay attention, you can pick up some great ideas. My recent favourites are the interviews he’s done with Michael Beinhorn (Marilyn Manson, Soundgarden) and Bradley Cook (Foo Fighters).

The Recording Revolution is fantastic for one reason: Graham Cochrane focuses on home studios and constantly reminds people that you don’t need to break the bank to achieve decent results. He has videos devoted to small budgets including the $350 studio, the $300 studio and, my favourite, recording and mixing a song for under $150US. His channel is also populated with some very decent tutorials on EQ and compression and, best of all, he’s big on “go out and just try it”.

 

This’ll Be Easy, Right?

Starting the mix was easy. I was super stoked to get going and, starting with The Dark Tigress, I wanted the drums big, with the guitars panned wide, the vocals up front and cutting through, and the bass rumbling underneath the whole song. I began layering on stock and free plugins; EQ, compression, more EQ, more compression, reverb.

What I wound up with was something moderately better than the White Lake Mountain demo. The drums were a little muddy with the kick and snare dropping in and out randomly. The guitars were super thin. The bass was non-existent. So I started over, and over, and over. I tried plugins that are advertised to to do it all (more on these in a bit), tried preset after preset, and tweaked and tweaked and tweaked.

For some reason I just couldn’t translate the lessons I was watching into real world results. So I decided to start from scratch

Going back to Glen Fricker’s heavy drum series, he kept mentioning Slate Digital, so I decided to give them a try. I ponied up the cash for a 12 month subscription and…. waited nearly two weeks for an iLok to arrive. If you’ve never heard of iLok I envy you. It’s a horrible, draconian form of DRM that just sucks.

Once the stupid iLok dongle showed up, I started using the Slate plugins and started getting some good results. I started with the settings suggested in the videos, then started playing with presets, and finally began dialling in my own sounds and saving my own presets to use across the other songs. **

Slowly but surely the songs started sound good. The more I worked on them, the more I stated to really listen what was happening with each track and how they related to the over all sound of the songs.

 

Editing and Samples

I’m not going to spend any time detailing what plugin was used on each track because that’s boring. (I also cancelled my Slate subscription so I really couldn’t say as I’ve removed them all from the tracks). I do, however, want to talk about editing and samples.

I’m a believer in performance. If you’re recording, you should be able to play your part from beginning to end. Cutting, pasting,  and looping parts should be left solely for the writing phase. If you’re working on your final song, then you should be able to play your song. All of it. From beginning to end.

That being said, I do understand that some minor editing will be required. I’m not talking about time aligning every single drum hit. I’m talking about fixing up little things like, for example, a bit of lyric that doesn’t quite sound right. In Aletta, there is a line “watching you move, hearing you gasp”. For some reason the “gasp” sounded like “gap”. Turns out, it was the doubled vocal that was the cause. On the second take, Josh had sung the word gasp a little louder, but didn’t emphasize the S as much. Played together, one take cancelled the other out. As this was an EP being produced on a sub $500 budget, I wasn’t about to ask Josh to come back over and redo a line. I’m going to edit.

I ended up cutting “gasp” out of the double take, copying “gasp” from the first take, pasting it in the doubled track and then nudging it slightly off time giving the whole thing a chorus effect. Playing it all back, you now hear the word “gasp”.

There were also some instances where I used the dry guitar tracks with some amp sims to fill out a chorus here and there. Other than these touchups, there was no major slicing and dicing done in any of the songs. What you hear is what we played from beginning to end.

Samples are a sticky topic. Some people loath them (and those that do really loath them) and some people can’t live without them. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I’ll admit that I did use samples for kick and snare, but my reasons were just and the samples were used judiciously.

As mentioned in Part 1, we discovered an issue where the kick mic had moved and was touching the edge of the sound hole. which caused a rattle. While I managed to clean some of this up using a gate, between the rattle and the mic (designed for live, not studio) the kick track was inconsistent and hard to dial in a good sound, especially on double kick runs. I sent quite a few mixes through to the band and the lack of kick kept getting mentioned. So I decided to augment it with a sample.

Sampling the snare came shortly after. I found that the volume of the snare hits were off in places. I messed around with compression and even tried automating the volume on the snare track both of which made it worse. Again, I wasn’t about to ask Mez to re-record his drum tracks, so I slipped a sample in to augment the live snare.

The samples I used were from Warren Huart’s Produce Like a Pro website and they did the trick. Next time though, I’m going to make sure that the first thing we record are single hits from Mez’s kit so that if samples are needed, we can use hits from the kit we’re recording rather than try and blend in sounds from another kit which has been pre-processed before being made available for use.

 

Lessons Learned: Overthinking Is Your Enemy

On April 1, 2019 the Opium Winter EP was released.

In the end, the band was happy with the EP and we’ve gotten some positive feedback from people who’ve listened to it. I still hear things that could have been tightened up, of course, but what’s done is done. The EP is out there and there is no reason to kick a dead horse.

The biggest lesson I learned was that I have to stop overthinking. Get back to basics. Just because there are a billion different EQ plugins out there, doesn’t mean you have to use all of them. I wish I could find the Produce Like a Pro video where the guest producer stated that he’d only ever uses an SSL channel (hardware or software) on each track and that’s it.

I’ve also learned that the reliance on plug-ins can be detrimental. With this recording I spent my time learning the basics of mic setup and then poured over learning how to mix. I now realize that I could have cut back on the headaches had I spent more time getting really good tracks as opposed to just ok tracks. I know that this can be difficult based on your situation, but it is possible to get good tracks if you’re patient and learn to work with what you have. While plug-ins do good things, they’re not magic.

“You cannot make a dehydrated steak taste like real steak by adding water. You cannot do it with vintage water or all-tube water or water with ceramic capacitors or water salvaged from an early session at Sun studios, because the dehydration process changes the chemistry and texture of the steak and alters more than just the water content.“

– Reaper forums; on the use of digital reverb plugins to replicate those old school sounds.****

At this moment the band is in writing mode and, in preparation for the next recording, I’m working on mic placement using my cheap drum set and the mics I have available. I’m also using the raw tracks from this recording to learn the ins and outs of Harrison Mixbus, and get myself into the mindset of cutting back on a reliance on plug-ins.

I’m getting some decent results and as I learned from the White Lake Mountain recording, I’ve learned from the first Opium Winter recording, and I’ll learn from whatever comes next.


* You can set a clock based on what Glen’s Friday Viewers Comment videos will cover: Basic question that he’s already answered a few times before but will answer again, colour commentary on a viewer comment about their lazy bass player, agreeable response to a comment on “people are too sensitive these days”, snarky reply to someone who disagreed with something he said.

** Slate plugins eat up CPU and RAM very quickly. Sure, my Mac Mini is not exactly high end, but the severe latency playing back the fully mixed tracks was mind boggling. Between the iLok and the crap system performance I cancelled my Slate subscription.

*** While I’ve ditched Slate for Waves, I really don’t like the endorsed plugins they offer. I don’t mean “Licensed by Solid State Logic”. That’s software emulating hardware which is for those of us that can’t afford a bank of SSL channel strips. I’m talking about the Chris Lord Alge plugin pack or the Butch Vig Vocals plugin. Anything that is supposed to make what you’re doing sound like what the famous people are doing. Guess what? They may have worked with Waves to come up with something they’d put their name on, but you know that they created their signature sounds and styles with the same hardware channel strips and outboard effects that everyone else did. They just came up with something new by fucking around. So why don’t you just fuck around and come up with your own thing?

**** This thread on the Reaper forums is amazing. Start at the beginning, it’s long and there are breaks in the narrative, but stick with it. You can also download them as PDF’s from the Reaper Stash site.

Sellout

“I’ve done football commercials; I’ve done everything; commercial and noncommercial: My attitude has been that they’re both the same. Why is it better to get a check every week from a university than to get royalties? Of course I’m a sellout. What else would I be?”

– Phil Glass; New York Times.

Opium Winter: Making the First EP, Part 2

With equipment rented and drum tracks completed, it was time to move on to guitars, bass, vocals, and synth.

This was going to be a little easier as the basement in our house came with pretty excellent sound treatment. The previous owner had a home theatre setup down there and added decent insulation in the walls and installed a dropped ceiling complete with acoustic insulation tiles. Both the main room and the back room, which has become my home office, has that slightly “dead” feeling you get when walking into a pro studio. Don’t get me wrong, It’s not pro level perfect, but it’s more than I could ever ask for and I’ve been making good use of it.

My home office has a small closet that I’ve converted into a makeshift isolation booth. I stuffed a small Ikea mattress against the back wall and hung up some fabric to help cut back on reflections.

 

Guitar

In the week between tracking drums and tracking guitar, I did some prep which included running a quick mix of the drums to see where we were and backing everything up to an external drive. I put H’s cab, a beat up Marshall (we think?) 4×14, in the isolation booth and plugged it into my Marshal MG100 DFX. I stuck an SM-57 on a mic stand and left it.

The day H came over to begin tracking his guitars began with us recording sound samples of each speaker in the cab and deciding which one was to his liking (bottom right, just to the right of the cones’ centre was the winner).

While we only had my Marshall to work with (H’s Kustom tube amp was in the shop), we did use two guitars and a combination of stomp boxes and the amps settings to record the parts. As well, the Aphex was used as a DI so we had clean tracks to work with as well.

H doubled all of his guitar parts: one using his ESP LTD V-500 and one using my ESP LTD EC200QM. The main difference is that his V has a set of EMG 81 active pickups and my EC has passive; neck is the ESP stock, the bridge pickup is a Seymore Duncan Invader neck pickup (yes, you read that right) that’s as gritty and noisy as it gets. For distortion, we switched between a BOSS DS-1 and the gain on the Marshall. Sure we could have played around with more sounds than we did but why?

As a note, there was a small part in Alleta that I added last minute and H had me play it. He said the way I showed it to him sounded better than the way he was playing it. “So fuck it,” he said, “you play it!”

 

Vocals

The vocal setup was pretty simple. I ran my Behringer C-1 into the Presonus unit. I had a shock mount with a metal pop screen that I setup in the booth. I gave Josh the skinny on the tried and true “hand distance” from the mic, closed the door and away we went.

I have no pictures of Josh recording his vocals. He was too quick. Dude laid everything down in two takes: main and double. For someone who had never sung or recorded before, his vocal double tracking was on point. At this point we had all only heard the vocal temp tracks. Needless to say Josh’s actual vocal performance blew us all away.

As a note, I used the old trick of doubling up the vocals in order to add more weight to the overall performance. Like the “hand distance” from the mic trick, vocal doubling is tried and true. Even if you don’t end up using both tracks, it’s good to have more than one performance to work with during the mixing phase. Turns out I needed this; besides the boost in the vocal performance itself, there was a mall part in Aletta that I had to doctor a bit during mixing. If I didn’t have the extra take to work with I don’t know how I would have managed to fix it other than re-recording (I’ll talk about this in the next part).

Once Josh was done, he manned the computer while I stepped into the vocal booth and laid down my backing tracks. I think the whole vocal process from beginning to end took two hours.

 

Bass

My setup is a little off-kilter. I have an Ampeg Portaflex PF-350 paired with the PF-210. I also have a TC Electronics BC210 which, to be quite honest, pairs with the Portaflex amp better than the PF-210 does.

I decided to do three tracks of bass: PF-350 into both the PF-210 and the BC210 – both miced with SM-57’s, and a direct in.

The signal going into the amps was via the Behringer BDI21 and I setup the Aphex as a DI sending the clean bass into its own track.

I spent the better part of the two weeks between vocals and guitar laying down my bass. There were a few reasons. One was time. I was squeezing recording in between work and family activities. The second reason was now that I could clearly hear, and isolate, the different guitar parts I realized that some of my parts didn’t quite gel so I hunkered down and did some re-writing. Lastly, I this was the time I decided to switch from a pick to using my fingers. This, of course, caused some mild frustration as I worked to (a) play all the parts correctly and (b) make the attack as sharp as it was with a pick without actually using a pick.

 

Synth

Not much to talk about here. For my main setup, see my post on the 12-Step. The only change was I used a cheap, USB keyboard instead of the foot controller. Audio output was handled by the M-Audio USB unit plugged straight into the Presonus.

Other than some very mild tweaking of the synth sounds themselves, these tracks were a breeze. All the parts are written to be played live with my feet so, needless to say, they’re super basic.

 

Onwards

I was a little surprised how little time it took to get tracking done. While the drum tracking took a full day, the majority of that was setup and teardown. Guitars took maybe 5-6 hours total. Vocals were done in about 90 minutes. All told the bass tracks took the same amount of time as the guitars. Keyboards, 30 minutes, tops. All of this was spread out over three weeks.

All that was left was mixing. Should be easy. Right? Right?

DL&D Addendum

In my last post about cutting back/giving up on Social Media and the Internet in order to get back to being creative, I mentioned that I’ve been learning music production on my own. My reasoning was “there are no audio engineering teachers that offer lessons for like a guitar or piano teacher would; I’d have to enrol in an audio engineering course at a college somewhere. I’m simply not going to put that kind of time or sink that kind of money into something that is merely a hobby.”

I thought I’d expand a little on how I’ve been tackling learning something like music production using the Internet.

1: Download and print any user guides that are offered by whoever makes the digital tools you use. If they have an online how-to video repository, bookmark it and use it for reference when you get stuck.

2: On YouTube, figure out who has good advice and continue to watch their videos. Then figure out who is simply blowing smoke for sake of getting more clicks and forget about them. You’ll be able to tell pretty quick which is which.

3: Glean the basics from those channels you do end up watching. Don’t take what they say as gospel! Try their instructions, shitcan what doesn’t work and keep what does.

4: Watch interviews with well known producers and listen to them talk about their careers and how they worked on certain songs and/or albums. If you really listen to what they’re saying, you can pick up little tidbits here and there and incorporate them into your workflow.

5: Keep a burner email handy because If you find a site that offers multi-tracks for download, grab them and practice with them. The same goes for free plugins; download them and play with them. Sure some are crap, but there are some decent ones out there if you look.

6: Just do it. Set up and record, even if it’s just you playing an acoustic while recording with one microphone. Mix and remix over and over. Try things. Break things. Try things again. There is no right or wrong. Find your own voice.

7: Don’t overly focus on what gear is being used or suggested in the videos you watch. Not everyone can afford a U-47. Learn how to use what you have access to.

8: Don’t overthink. Keep it simple and always serve the song.

 

 

 

Drum Lessons & Disruption

Im not going to start this post by saying “I’m not knocking Social Media but…” because, as we all know everything you say before the “but” is bullshit. So I’m just going to say it: In this post I am knocking Social Media.

While there are a huge number of items to complain about <cough>data and privacy concerns</cough>, the main thing that bothers me is how easily Social Media has disrupted our lives and our way of thinking in such a short amount of time. It really is amazing to me how much Social Media has taken over pretty much everything. We’re no longer really allowed to be bored anymore. The second there is a lull in our lives, we pull out our phone and start scrolling though Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter looking for the latest sound bites. There are not a whole lot of long format sites around anymore. Live Journal is still around, but no one really cares; its user base was eaten by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

People tell their “stories” in 280 characters or less. If they have more to say, they do it in a thread of 240 character posts… rather than one long piece. Medium.com, while not really Social Media, and which is little more than a platform for privileged people to complain about things, shows you, in minutes, how long it’s going to take to read an article. Why? So you can optimize your busy life I guess. How did this become a thing?

I used to joke that all my friends were becoming dyslexic avatars. Now I honestly wonder if that’s really a joke. The lock-in is pretty much complete.

I place the blame squarely at the feet of the Tech Bros over in Silicon Valley. I feel we’ve reached peak, well, everything. Everything is “ripe for disruption”. Everyone is touting the “latest innovation”. And most all of it is presented to us via Social Media which has been designed to keep us scrolling and clicking and posting so they can harvest our data and put it up for sale in order and serve us ads.

And I was pulled in just like everyone else.

 

Paraddidle, Paradiddle, Flam, Flam, Flam

“Anyone who has ever painted or drawn knows the experience of dropping out of the world of words and time. A state of reverie takes over; there is no sensation of the passing of hours. The voice inside our head that allows us to talk to ourselves falls silent, and there is only color, form, texture and the way things flow together.”

Roger Ebert; Review of “Basquiat”

So what does this have to do with drumming? Quite a lot actually. Ive been working on a few hobbies for some time now. I’ve taken tentative steps back into visual art. I’ve been learning how to record music*. I’ve been working on writing songs for both Opium Winter and myself and, for the past year or so, I’d been toying with the idea of getting a cheap beginners drum kit and maybe taking lessons.

The problem was that I found myself with little time to really sit down and sink my teeth into any of my hobbies. What happened? I used to draw and paint and write songs and stories for hours on end. I used to find the time, all the time; putting aside school work and whatever responsibilities I had just so I could create. I remember the wonderful feeling of just zoning out and creating.

Now? well, not so much.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months discussing this with Mrs. Tucker. We were both amazed how any free time we had was sucked up by constantly scrolling through the Facebook news feed, even though we understood that the ridiculous algorithms were specifically designed to keep us scrolling. It was annoying, yet we keep at it. At the end of the day we had accomplished nothing of any substance. Books we were meaning to read sat unopened. My guitar sat unplayed. Sketch books full of bright white, blank pages sat untouched by pencil or pen. Stories and thoughts stayed in our heads.

I thought it was my job that ate my time and spent an unhealthy amount of time both worrying that I wasn’t doing enough at work and worrying that I did too much and that it was taking up too much of my time. Then I’d get a free minute, any free minute, I’d open Instagram and scroll scroll scroll.

I finally decided I was going to download all my photos and data from both Facebook and Instagram and delete my accounts. I needed to get away from the platforms and go back to being bored. I needed to get back to that zone as I remembered it before every free second of my life was taken up by scrolling scrolling scrolling.

As it happens, shortly before I clicked through all the “Are you really, really, REALLY sure you want to delete your account” pages, Mrs. Tucker informed me that there was a person in the neighbourhood giving away a free drum set to a “brave household”. It was nothing special; a five piece Intex kit with a broken snare and a set of cymbals that looked to have been made out of tinfoil, but it makes drum sounds when you hit it and that’s all that really matters in the end.

I took advantage and grabbed the kit. The following weekend I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts. The week after that I found a drum teacher.

 

Of Pataflafla’s and Dragadiddle’s

“Teachers are the key to analog education’s past, present, and future, and no technology can or should, replace them. Not because they have the most knowledge, but because without them, education is no more than facts passed back and forth. If you want facts, go read a book. If you want to learn, find a teacher.”

– David Sax; The Revenge of Analog.

The decision to go with an actual drum teacher fits together like this:

First, I could have found drum tutorials on YouTube, and there are tons of interesting ones, but then they hit you with Suggested Videos; I’ll start on a drum tutorial and an hour later I’d be watching the top ten reasons why Lars is a shitty drummer and, well, you get the idea.

Second, any video or book can show you rudiments and patterns and independence but they don’t show you how to actually play.  There’s more to playing than memorizing rudiments.

An actual teacher offers things that YouTube, or books for that matter, simply cannot. A teacher can, and will, adjust the lesson based on the the individual. While the basic rudiments are the same from student to student, a teacher can observe, for example, posture and suggest corrections on the spot. I used to hunch myself right up on the kit. My teacher noticed this and said “You’re a tall guy, sit back farther. You’ll have better control over the kit and won’t tire out as quickly”. If all I did was watch online tutorials, I’d still be hunched up and wondering why my legs were sore all the time. After I’m shown, for example, a basic beat that includes some tricky kick drum patterns, my teacher will sit there and watch me play it. He’ll make sure I’m gripping my sticks properly. He’ll let me know that even though it’s a boring beat, resting my left arm on my leg between snare hit’s is not good form.

“Slow down, speed will come in time, don’t try and rush it,” he’ll say.

And this is most important bit, a teacher allows for human interaction. You can’t talk to the people in YouTube videos (and don’t get me started on the weekly Q&A videos). Just as it’s amazing to have someone there who can work with you in realtime, it’s doubly amazing when you think you’re running in circles and then your teacher shows you how everything you’ve been working fits together. That lightbulb goes off over your head and you feel like you’re actually getting somewhere. The dude in the drumming video doesn’t give a shit. He just wants you to hit the subscribe button and click on ads.

All of this combined makes me actually want to work at drumming. Yes I’m paying the teacher and, yes he could take my money and not care if I learn a damn thing, but if there is one thing I know it’s that teachers don’t work like that. They have knowledge to pass on and they’d much rather be teaching someone who actually wants to learn what they have to teach.I don’t want to waste his time by not practicing and showing up unprepared.

 

Still Working on Those Swiss Army Triplets

In the end, ditching the time suck that is Social Media was a good decision on my part. While I’m still not 100% cured of Internet time wasting (I mean, here I am on the computer talking about staying off the computer), I’m way better than I used to be. Besides drum lessons and practicing, I’ve been writing and arranging new material for the band, making use of my sketch books and art supplies, and have even found time to dust off a book I’ve been writing for what feels like forever.

Added to all of this, the mostly forgoing Internet tutorials and learning from an actual person has shown me that while technology has given us many amazing tools, it’s still has a long, long, LONG way to go when it comes to actual social interaction and it has introduced more problems that it’s solved. We simply can’t code out way out of everything no matter what Silicone Valley tells us.

Thanks to cutting out the big online distractions and limiting the rest, I’ve rediscovered the zone and am finding it easier and easier to get back into it.


* I know this makes me sound like a complete hypocrite, but I’m learning how to record music by watching online videos and reading user guides. The reason for this is simple: there are no audio engineering teachers that offer lessons for like a guitar or piano teacher would; I’d have to enrol in an audio engineering course at a college somewhere. I’m simply not going to put that kind of time or sink that kind of money into something that is merely a hobby.

Favourite Gear: 12 Step.

While working on the forthcoming second part of the Opium Winter EP post, I decided to pause and do a quick entry on what is one of my favourite pieces of equipment.

The Keith McMillen 12 Step.

After White Lake Mountain broke up, Mesner, H and I continued jamming and were deciding on which direction we were going to take the music. One of the things I’d always wanted to have is a keyboard player or, at least, someone who could run a synth of some kind mixed in with whatever we came up with.

I brought this up with the band and, while they were receptive, one of the problems was that we believed a true keyboard player would most likely not be into in what we were doing. We didn’t want anything big and fancy; we’re not a prog metal band and we’re definitely not advanced enough at our instruments to come up with anything interesting enough for a keyboard player to work with. We’re more into pads and atmosphere. We thought it would be cool to have just a little something behind the guitars and drums to fill out the overall sound; think a less complex Faith No More.

So I thought about it some more…

Rush did this. I don’t mean Geddy Lee actually playing the keyboard, but Alex Lifeson playing guitar and also adding synth via a set of Moog Taurus bass pedals.

Tool does this. Guitarist Adam Jones uses the same Moog Taurus pedals as Lifeson.

So I thought to myself, “I’m going to get me a set of those!” and quickly ran into a very large problem: Moog bass pedals (or rather, all old school bass pedals) are “holy shit there is no way I’m ever going to buy oneexpensive. I didn’t even have a chance to think about all the extra midi gear I’d have to get in order to get any real sounds out of them. The cost put me off them right away.

I started searching online because someone has to have come up with something similar? This is the age of technological advancement, is it not? Everyone has a solution to something whether there’s a problem to be solved or not and then others copy them. So there has to be at least fifty options out there. Right?

Wrong. Go looking for USB midi foot controllers and you’ll see lists like this. They’re all controllers which means you can control your devices you can’t really play anything.

In the end a single company had a single product which that solved my particular problem, and that was the 12 Step. It was $259 when I ordered one about four years ago so the price hasn’t gone up all that much. It’s still working today due to the fact it was designed to take abuse. While I haven’t run over it with a truck, I have spilled liquid on it; and it’s purpose is basically to be stood on.

As for ease of use, I plug it into my Mac, MainStage picks it up as a controller and when I step on it, it plays whatever sounds are loaded into MainStage. What more could one ask for?

I did end up testing out a few configurations as far as the audio out from the Mac went and here is what ended up working:

12 Step > base model MacBook Air 11-inch > M-Audio Fast Track USB > Amp or whatever DI is available at whatever club we’re playing via an RCA to 1/4″ mono cable.

I shit you not.

The 12 Step comes with a super long USB cable that I run to my trusty 11″ MacBook Air. Laugh all you want about the MacBook, but this ‘lil fucker has been going strong for 7 years and runs MainStage, as I need it, like a champ. Keep in mind that I don’t even scratch the surface of MainStage: I add a few channels, tweak some synths, maybe map a sample and then save it.

The RCA to 1/4″ mono cable is something like this I picked up at a local A/V store for six bucks. Then, as mentioned, this can all be run through an amp or a DI. There is, as they say, no muss and no fuss.

Current pedal board setup.

It did take a while to lean how to play bass and play keyboards with my feet at the same time. While I’m not busting out Rachmaninoff, it does take some time to get the hands and feet doing what you need them to. Once I got it, I got it. I can play simple pads and trigger samples. Pretty much all of what we recorded can be played live. Opium Winter’s music now has that extra ambiance it needed.

The 12 Step is a kick ass, super economical piece of equipment. It’s built like a tank, works exactly as advertised, and doesn’t cost a fortune. It will definitely be staying in my setup, quite possibly, forever.

Minimal

… build things to suit your taste. There’s endless options out there; start with minimal pieces of gear and learn it. Give yourself time. If you start off in an endless search for newer pieces of gear, better pieces of gear, things to add, “this is cool”, you lose the focus you have when you’re working with a minimalistic setup. Once you learn that, and you work very hard to get variety in your work using a limited source of options, that’s when you really refine your skill.

– Kim Rosen – PLAP Interview, 2019.

Unicorn

It’s quite easy to be super artistic and it’s relatively easy to be really, really pop. There’s this tiny space in the middle that meets that very few ever get to where their song speaks to millions both on the pop side and the artistic side.

 

It’s difficult to be an artist in the sense that people often confuse self indulgence with artistry. There are a great many people out there who are behaving with immense self indulgence beleiving that it’s art when in fact it’s something that’s highly forgettable and will only resonate for a short time with those who confuse self indulgence with art … where the people who are capable of expressing themselves through a medium and are legitimately artists are few and far between.

 

Those who are able to marry art with commerce in a way where they’re able to touch people, to resonate with them, and make something that’s enduring? That’s a unicorn.

– Michael Beinhorn – PLAP Interview, 2019.

Opium Winter: Making The First EP, Part 1

Opium Winter released our first EP on April 1. You can grab it on Bandcamp or stream it via the usual suspects (Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, etc). We’re pretty proud of this work and hope everyone out there enjoys it as  much as we enjoyed making it.

I’d like to take some time, over a couple of posts, to go over how this EP came to its final form.

 

In The Beginning…

Opium Winter has been around since 2015 or so. We’ve written songs, played a few shows but we’d not seriously recorded anything. We did get the soundboard tracks from a show we played and put together a super rough mix of a song, but in early 2018 we decided it was time to get an EP done.

After some discussion between going to a studio and trying to do it ourselves, we chose the latter.

Most of us in the band have recorded in studios in the past so we knew the drill. Studios could be expensive but you usually were guaranteed a decent result. This time, bang for the buck was the big thing as we didn’t have a huge pile of cash to spend. The best studio deal we could find with the money we had would have only gotten us two songs. We have a band fund and the main idea was to not spend anything outside of this. Being greedy and wanting a couple more tunes we understood that this would have been pretty much impossible. We decided to put what we learned from past DIY projects and record the EP ourselves.

Those past projects, The Unavowed’s first EP in 2007 and the White Lake Mountain demo in 2013, resulted in various degrees of success.

The Unavowed EP was recorded on a standalone 8 track digital unit which you could only record two tracks at a time. We tried to mic up the entire drum kit via a 16 channel outboard mixer which we squeezed down on to two tracks. The guitars and vocals were recorded separately and the whole thing was exported from the recording unit hard drive onto a USB stick, imported into a PC, and mixed in Adobe Audition using hardly any plugins.

It turned out ok for what it was: a little lacking in low end, a little shimmery, the playing sloppy but listenable. (You can grab a zip of the EP here if you’re interested.)

For the White Lake Mountain demo, we used an 8 channel PreSonus firewire unit going straight into a Mac recording into Reaper. We setup in a small space and recorded the instruments off the floor (4 mics on the drums and a mic on each of the guitar amps, each going into its own track). The problem was, thanks to what became an ex-guitarist that insisted on constantly cranking up his volume knob, we played LOUD. Feedback inducing, ear splittingly LOUD. The instrument tracks all bled into one another so a coherent mix was simply out of the question. The vocals were recorded separately but it didn’t matter in the end.

That same ex-guitarist and I split mixing duties. After I had added some EQ and compression to each track (not perfectly mind you; I used the stock Reaper plugins and presets) he took what I did and slapped a pile of Waves plugins on top and …. well….

The finished product sounded like muddy shit.

So while we were a little skeptical in our abilities to do the Opium Winter recording ourselves, we decided to forge ahead anyway. And in order for this recording to not sound like shit, we needed to deal with a couple of things:

  • The best bang for the buck recording interface available locally.
  • Types of microphones and what they work best for.
  • Proper microphone placement.
  • How to use the rooms we have access to.
  • How to properly mix.

I started researching.

 

Pompousness & Pretentiousness: Equipment.

I’m not going to spend time going over what I learned as far as what equipment I researched. That information can be found online. Need to know what mics work best for recording snare drums? Search online. Need to know how to position mics when recording guitar amps? Search online. Don’t want to record amps in favour of using software emulators? Seach online. It’s all there.

However, watching YouTube music production channels, and reading gear forums you’d think the only way to get gear is to go out and buy it (or “win” it in contests where you provide your email, Facebook name, Twitter handle, and firstborn child). Every single thread or video and, especially, the comments to the video, seems to be little more than dick swinging competitions. Everyone has an opinion on what to buy and the suggestions are usually on the expensive side. I mean, you have to have a top of the line thing to do the thing, right?

What’s odd is that no one, it seems, wants to talk about renting equipment.

When you rent, you get the chance to use equipment that you may not ever get the chance to own. Renting allows you to try out, for example, various mid to high range mics for a few days or a few weeks for a fraction of what it would cost to purchase them. Want to record with a real Gibson Les Paul rather than the Chinese knock off you currently have? Rent one for a few days. And if you rent a piece of equipment and end up not liking it, you’re not stuck with it. Take it back and rent something else for a week. An added bonus is that most places will let you keep renting indefinitely and then let you purchase the item(s) and the store will discount what you’ve paid in rental fees.

I’ve rented in the past and love it. I’ve purchased a couple of items this way as well.

For the Opium Winter recording session we rented the following for a month:

All this cost us a little under $300.

To round out the list, Mesner, our drummer, has a set of drum mics. I have a three decent Behringer dynamic mics, an SM58, and the kick ass Behringer C-1 large diaphram condenser so we were good to go equipment wise.

The last thing that was required, for me anyway, was to keep in mind that this was not going to sound anywhere near professional. Yes, I said above that you can find tutorials on pretty much anything online but tutorials do not an expert make. While you can watch steps on how to place a mic on a guitar amp, you have to realize that the people showing you the steps have been recording guitars for decades. They know their work. You simply cannot expect that your first recordings are going to sound like The Back Album.

The main goal is to make the recording not suck. Be patient, keep at it and, above all else, don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

 

Drums. Big, Fat Drums.

Mesner’s drum sound was the big thing. He’d done three recordings before this and in all of them the drums were always the weakest part of the final product. This time around he wanted a nice, big, fat drum sound. To achieve this we decided to record the drums on their own. Of course, this is a proven technique. We just never had the means, or the smarts, to do this in the past.

For the drum tracks, we rented out an empty practice at CRS, the place we jam at. The reason for renting a separate room and not recording in our normal one is that we share a lockout room with three other bands. With all the gear stored there, there is very little space to jam in, let alone setting up a recording station and micing a large drum kit.

We set everything up; In one corner was a table with my Mac Mini and the PreSonus unit.

The drums were setup just off centre of the room and we used a few office cubicle dividers that the space on hand; one off to the side for Josh (singer) to stand behind for scratch vocals – two behind the kit to cut back on reflections.

We mic’d up the drums:

  • NT5’s as overheads as a spaced pair.
  • Drum mics on toms and kick (halfway through we swapped out the drum mic on the 16″ floor tom for an SM57 as we found the drum mic was a little hollow sounding on that particular drum).
  • SM57 on the snare.
  • C-1 about four feet out from the kit at my head hight; not so much a room mic, but a “full sound” mic as if you were standing in front of the kit while Mesner was playing.

For scratch tracks, the guitar and bass were run through DI’s* plugged straight into the PreSonus unit and the vocal mic was straight in.

I set up the tracks in Reaper, hit record, Mesner counted us in, and we were off.

 

Lessons Learned

1: My god the Rhodes NT5’s are amazing. The raw sound for the overhead tracks these things produced were simply killer. In a pinch I probably could have come up with a decent drum sound just using these mics.

2: Next time, I need to ensure that we have a proper kick drum mic stand. I forgot to add this to the rental list so we ended up using a standard boom (you can see it in the picture above). This lead to a problem as the kick mic is heavy and the boom stand tended to move around a little. This led to some rattle in the kick tracks due to the mic touching the sound hole. While we managed to fix this for the most part, the rattle did show up here and there during mixing.

3: Have made a note to get samples of the individual drums before we start recording the songs. They could come in handy later.

4: If you’re listening back in the same room you’re recording in, don’t trust the monitors and be prepared for the tracks to sound completely different when you listen back in the room you’re going to mix in. The drum tracks sounded big and boomy when we gave them a listen at CRS. When i got everything back to my place all of a sudden the kick mic rattle was very noticeable in places. I could hear that the drum mic set was more for live than recording as those mics were more “dead” sounding than the Rhodes or the SM57s. I know it can be next to impossible to have a separate control room outside of a studio setup, so I just want to add this to the list of things to keep in mind.

All in all it was a great day. We managed to get multiple takes for the four songs we were planning to have on the EP as well a take each of three other songs. We had rented the room at CRS from 10am – 10pm and this was just enough time to setup (including tearing down the drum kit in one room and setting it up in the other), record, take breaks, eat lunch, listen back, and pack up.

We now had decent, workable drum tracks and it was time to start planning guitars.


For DI’s I used two guitar pedals:

The Aphex is a neat pedal for tightening up your bass sound but I rarely use it in my current setup. That being said, it has an XLR direct out and it works perfectly as a guitar DI. They don’t make the Bass Xciter pedals anymore so you’d have to hit up second hand shops or search online.

The Behringer pedal is a goddamned gem. I can’t say enough about the BDI21 especially considering it costs around $39 CDN. If I were to pick only one pedal in my chain to use this would be it. Not only is the amp modelling simply stellar, it also features a dual DI mode that is kick ass for recording. I’ll be gushing about this pedal more once I get to recording the bass tracks.

The Perfect Audio Interface.

Un peu d’histoire

Like pretty much everyone who has dabbled in digital audio production, I started out with very basic, inexpensive equipment. My first audio interface was an M-Audio Fast Track USB. I’ve had it for over ten years and I still use it today. Mostly it acts as an audio out for my MacBook when I’m playing live but it does come in handy when I need a quick mic input for recording jams.

My next unit was an FCA202 unit that was part of the Behringer Podcastudio Bundle. The bundle was pretty sweet, especially considering it came with a C-1 condenser mic. People love to give Behringer shit for being “cheap” but I find this completely unfounded. Holy hell, the C-1 is a very decent mic for the price. The FCA202 unit is good as well, but it’s only really useful when attached to a small mixer. There are no preamps on it and it’s simply a one channel unit (either stereo or mono). Still, I managed to do some neat things with the this interface and I still use it from time to time. I also have a couple of Behringer 802 Mixers (one from the Podcastudio bundle and another I picked up free from someone in the area who was looking to get rid of some basic recording equipment) which I’ll get to in a little bit.

Over time, I started getting more serious and recently engineered, and mixed a full EP of songs using rented equipment. I used a Presonus Firewire unit. It had 16 preamps, a super, kickass mixing interface and just enough bobs and whistles to confuse you. I had so much fun with this project that I decided that I wanted to buy a proper audio interface. Maybe even one like the Presonus; Firewire. Fancy. Everything needed in one unit.

However the time spent learning how to more properly record and mix music, and the research I put into audio interfaces allowed me to dispel a couple of myths I once thought were truths.

The first myth was that I believed you needed a Firewire, or Thunderbolt, interface in order to record multiple tracks at once. I don’t know why I believed this. I was under the impression that USB simply didn’t have the bandwidth to allow multitrack recording. Everything I read on the manufacturers websites (and online music store descriptions) seemed to say that USB was limited to a single channel input to the computer no matter how many channels were on the interface. Maybe they once were but, after talking to people at local music stores, and doing research online, it seems that this is no longer a thing. USB seems to be just fine bandwidth wise. I’ve yet to try USB-C but from what I’ve read it’s just as fine, if not more so. Some smaller units may have two preamps and only allow you to record to a single track, but for the most part, USB is fine for multi tracking when you start moving up the price ladder.

Second, I found that you don’t need a super combo interface like the StudioLive to do great recordings. With most mixing, outside of professional studios, being done in the box (that means it’s all done on a computer in a Digital Audio Workstation – DAW) there is little to no reason to own a super fancy digital mixing/recording unit. Besides that, these things are expensive and if something on the board breaks, say a volume fader, then you have to haul the entire thing in for repair.

The Search

Armed with this new knowledge, I started researching audio interfaces in what I’d consider to be a reasonable price range: $350-$600 CDN.

In that price range you have to be careful and really look at what the manufacturer descriptions are telling you. They say things like 18 inputs/20 outputs and you think “wow, that’s a lot!” … but is it? The 18 advertised inputs turns out to be 8 mic preamp/line in combos, an optical input and an SPDF input. In reality, the 8 combo inputs means you can run either 8 mics or 8 1/4″ lines in, or a combination of the two. But instead of saying “8 combo inputs” they say “16 inputs”. So if you want to run 8 mics on a drumset, and then run a guitar on a line in, you’re of out luck. Others will only give you 2 preamps with 2 preamp/line in combos with no other line in options. And so on and so forth. The outputs normally include the headphone jack, a couple of 1/4″ for monitors and the aforementioned optical and SPDF.

In other words, read the fine print, look at pictures of the front and back of the unit you’re considering, and count the actual physical inputs/outputs.

Looking for a good audio interface can be a super frustrating experience (and asking for advice on a music production board is downright masochistic). Like with anything digital, each option seemed to have a handful of really awesome features but then were lacking in other areas. I wished I could take the features off a few of them and mash them together into one, simple to use unit.

I was about to just bite the bullet and save some more cash to get something in the plus $600 range when I came across the Tascam US-16×08.

Perfection That No One Talks About

I can’t believe that there aren’t more people talking about this interface. Did I miss something? All I seem to hear about is Audient or Focusrite. When people ask “what interface should I get” the response is either the Audient ID44 or the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20. Not only are both of these units pricey, they also follow that ideal that lots of inputs/outputs in the name makes it good even if the actual number is not really relevant to most people. The Focusrite is what I was referencing above with its “18 inputs”. The Audient is no better; it states that it has 20 inputs but if you look at it, the only ones I can see as really useful are the 4 mic pre/line in combos.

Or maybe I’m just a crazy n00b who doesn’t know shit.

Crazy or not, here is what I do know:

  1. The Tascam US-16×08 has exactly what the name states: 16 individual inputs and 8 individual outputs
  2. There are 8 mic preamps and 8 Lines In. They are not combos, they are separate from each other.
  3. There are 8 outputs. You can connect your monitors, or send out to your outboard effects, etc. No muss no fuss, nothing super fancy.
  4. There is a headphone input, but it’s not included in the 8 outs so really, there are 9 outputs on this unit.
  5. The unit has separate phantom power switches for ins 1-4 and 5-8.
  6. The two 1/4″ lines In on the front can be flipped from instrument to line depending on what/how you’re recording.
  7. The front has gain knobs for inputs 1-10.
  8. The lines In on the back can be switched between −10 dBV or +4 dBu.
  9. The lines in on the back are straight up inputs with no gain control. Not a big worry as you can control the gain on whatever external preamp/mixer/whatever you happen to be using.
  10. There is a midi in/out.
  11. There are separate volume controls for headphone and main sound.

Most importantly, to me anyway, is there there are no bobs and whistles and “extras” on this unit. You get your ins and you get your outs and that, as they say, is that.

And it’s only $399 CDN.

Real World Use Case

Before I get into the details, I have one caveat: my experience is with a Mac. No it’s not a super fancy Mac, it’s an aging Mac mini I bought in mid 2013. Over the years I did upgrade the hard drive to an SSD and maxed the ram. While it is starting to show its age, it’s still chugging along and doing its thing. I have no experience with the Tascam US-16×08 on a Windows computer.

Software

On the Mac you do not need to install the drivers and software. I mean you can if you want. I did try the software on the Mac, but it added so much latency that it made recording impossible. I uninstalled it and everything is fine. From what I know, you do need to use the software on a Windows computer and I’ve seen it recommended that you should also install ASIO4ALL.

Hardware

This is where the Tascam unit shines. You plug it in, turn it on and away you go. The Tascam Ultra-HDDA mic preamps are clean and warm… nah, I’m just shitting you. I have no idea what clean and warm means, those are audiophile terms (and, in my opinion, total bullshit). To me they simply sound good. There is no noise or feedback unless you crank up the gain with a hot mic attached. The two 1/4″ inputs on the front do the job just fine for direct connection of instruments. I’ve recorded bass and guitar directly through them and they both sounded great.

For me, the best part of the US-16×08 are the 6 inputs on the back. The gold here is that you can hook up whatever outboard preamps, mixers, etc you want. And it works flawlessly. In short, you can use whatever mic preamps you have lying around, including your old audio units. I have both Behringer 802’s hooked into the Tascam as well as an old Berhinger Untragain MIC2000 I found on Kijiji. So my setup has a combination of various mic preamps allowing me to mix and match sounds and there is still enough room too hook up a couple of more preamps if I wanted. With the combo of inputs and outputs you can hook up whatever effects chain you want and it’ll just work.

Found a good deal on a nice tube preamp? No problem. No need to buy another interface. Just hook it up to a line in, select that input in your DAW, and and away you go.


Not aesthetically pleasing, but it does the job.

The only addition you may want to look into is a patch bay depending on how much gear you want to work with and how much you’ll be redirecting the sound through various outboard effects.

I use Reaper as my main DAW, GarageBand for quick demo recording, and have been experimenting with Harrison MixBus and I’ve run into no issues at all with any of them. As mentioned, the only problem I had was when I tried Tascam’s shitty drivers and software*. I found the latency unbearable when the software was running. Once I removed it from my system, the latency became unnoticeable and I still have access to all 16 inputs in all three DAWs.

*To be honest, I fond that the software for any audio interface I’ve tried to be half baked and rather useless. A lot of it comes with EQ and compression that works half the time and just causes issues the other half. If you can, skip the included software. You have a plethora of plugins available to you in your DAW and that’s all you really need.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a great audio interface, you cannot go wrong with the US-16×08. It has the advertised amount of inputs and outputs, it’s super easy to setup and use, offers great expandability, and it looks pretty great (if you like that clean, black aesthetic).

For $399 CDN, it’s an absolute no brainer.

Hi There, iPad, and Art Apps

So here I am. I haven’t posted anything at all on this site in over a year, and the first thing I’m going to do is babble on about iPad apps.

It has been a pretty long and interesting year to say the least and I have a pile of stuff to write about but I decided to start with this one because it was pretty easy to put together. So here we go.


 

Back in 2010, I bought one of the original iPads, mostly because I was sold on the Brushes demo during the keynote. By that time, I’d done some small paintings on my iPhone so the idea of having a 9.7″ screen to draw on appealed to me. Brushes was the first iPad app I bought.

Needless to say, while I loved the original iPad for its form factor, it quickly became something to only watch videos or play games on. We do have an iPad Mini belonging to Mrs. Tucker in the house that is mostly used for video, music listening, and kids games. I have had some success with Pixlemator on the Mini but I prefer larger screen sizes (yes I’m an iPhone Plus user).

Recently, I purchased one of new iPads and an Apple Pencil. I’ve been playing with a few drawing/painting apps over the past little while. I can say that the iPad as come a long, long way in terms of usability and the art apps that are available these days are a reflection of that.

Here are three that I’ve tried out:

MediBang Paint

While MediBang Paint is geared towards manga, digging into the app you find everything you need to create pretty much whatever you want. If there is a Photoshop on the iPad right now, this app is it.

The app offers a good selection of brushes, pencils and pens (all customizable), layers, shapes and transform and much more. Learning how to use the features is super easy for anyone who’s ever used a program like Photoshop. I think I’ve hit up the help section only a couple of times. Everything is easily discoverable.

The only qualm I have is that there is no paid version; it’s all ad based. I’d happily hand over some money to get rid of the ads, but there is no option at all to do this. That being said, the ads are not super intrusive and do no appear when you’re actually working.

UPDATE: There is now an in-app purchase option to remove the ads. So for $10.99 CDN I now have an ad free version of MediBang Paint.

Besides, I was introduced to Adobe Photoshop back in 1999. It was running on a computer that was the size of a doghouse and I was absolutely blown away with Photoshop. If you’d have told me then that, in the near future, I’d have an application that did pretty much everything Photoshop did, was free, and ran on a computer that was basically just a small screen I could hold like a book, I’d have told you that you were nuts.

 

Adobe Photoshop Sketch

Terrible. Godawful. Horrendous. I mean, it’s like Adobe did the impossible: They managed to create a drawing app that has 1/16 of the features of MediBang Paint and yet it is soooooooo fucking slow. Adobe Sketch behaves like it’s running on a first gen iPad and your Apple Pencil feels like one of those old, crappy styluses with the rubber nibs that you can buy in dollar stores.

Adobe has since announced Photoshop for the iPad. To be honest though, other companies have already beat Adobe to the punch with their offerings (MediBang Paint, Pixelmator, et all). I think I’ll take a pass. Too little too late and all that for me. Although I’m sure that some people will be excited.


ProCreate

When I searched for “top art apps for Apple Pencil”, ProCreate came out on, or near the top of every list. For $14 CAD it’s pretty awesome.

It has most all of the features you’d expect and it’s brush engine is simply the best I’ve ever used on any platform. And it’s fast. I’ve not run into slowness of any kind.

I do have a few complaints:

  • ProCreate has no text support of any kind. This seems to be in consideration mode, and has been for some time, with some users on the support forums saying “well, it IS a drawing app”. I don’t agree with this stance. Why offer everything but the kitchen sink?
  • No proper shape tools. You have to import custom brushes (which you either create yourself using a series of ridiculous steps, or dig up some prefabs from the support forum) and then rely on the transformation tools. While I’ve had some limited success with this, I found it frustrating that it took me nearly 45 minutes of draw a simple rectangle. Sure, I don’t have to go through all the steps again now that I have a custom brush imported, but come on.

The interface is not overly intuitive. It seems that a lot of the normal design language for touch was ignored to create a non invasive interface. This works sometimes; I do like that most of the tools can be found via a few small icons, but I spent far too long, for example, trying to figure out how to move layers. In the end, you just tap and hold until they float, but there was no visual cue and there is a slight delay from when you tap and hold until the layer starts to float. (That being said, I love the pinch to combine layers feature.)

Note: Background text imported from MediBang Paint.

As for the Apple Pencil, I love it 100% more than any other stylus I’ve tried mostly because they were just sticks with rubber nubbins on the end that mimicked a finger. I’m still playing around with the sensitivity and angle settings and, to be honest, I haven’t had the greatest success. When ti works, it’s awesome. When it only kinda, sorta works it makes me wonder what all the fuss is about. Maybe I’m doing it wrong? I don’t know. At this point I don’t think it’s worth a trip to the Apple Store to see what’s up there.

(Update: The Apple Pencil simply does not do pressure or tilt anymore. Seems like I have to go back to the Apple Store to see what’s up. The last time I was at one, I tried one of the demo iPads with the Pencil and pressure/tilt worked just fine… even in the stock Notes app. I hope they can do something because I loved it when it was working.)

As mentioned at the beginning, this new iPad is heads and tails above that first gen slab of glass and aluminum (obviously) and I enjoy it more than the Mini. Given my love of the large screens, I’m still not sold on the iPad Pros*. While I can see where having a 10.5″ or 12.9″ screen would be awesome for drawing/painting, they’re just bigger, faster iPads and, for now anyway, I’m still too stuck in my computing ways** to make the leap.

 

For me, a Mac still rules supreme because of MainStage and Reaper.

** Computing ways = Laptops/Desktops for “work” stuff. Phones for everything else.

I’m Canadian, somewhere in my forties, married to my soulmate, have three kids, live in the ‘burbs, and work from home for a US tech company.

I mainly play guitar and bass, I mess around with keyboards, and I’ve recently begun drum lessons . I love to compose, perform, and record music. In the recent past I’ve played guitar in The Unavowed, bass and vocals in White Lake Mountain, and am now playing bass and synths for Opium Winter. I also mess around with visual art, video editing, and writing.

I love food. I love cooking. I love beer and wine. I love travel.

I dream a lot.

I do all the above when time permits, and time doesn’t give me a lot of permission these days.

Although it may seem otherwise, I have very little complaints about life in general.