TEKGUIDE: COMPUTER MUSIC
Since the dawn of time mankind has been obsessed with making all manner of rhythmic sounds, starting with primitive, improvised percussive instruments and eventually progressing to the stuff of symphonies followed by the modern music makers we know and love today. But in the past couple of decades we’ve seen yet further innovation, this time on the digital side of things, as processors began to play a much more active role in music
creation - and I’m not just talking about electronic dance music. These days there’s not much music around that doesn’t involve software somewhere along the line, and it’s now easier than ever to get into harnessing the
power of your computer to create your own sonic works of art… This month we’re taking a slightly different approach with our TekGuide. Rather than walking you through a step by step process, we’re instead going to take a look at how you can get yourself into the wonderful world of making music on your computer. Whether you’re a guitarist extraordinaire, a violin virtuoso, a piano perfectionist or someone who has never dabbled in anything other than turning on the radio or loading up an album on your iPod, there’s a solution out there for you.
Before we start, there are a few things that it’s important to know about making music on your computer - and, sadly, they going to cost you some money. If you’re planning on recording an instrument with any great clarity, you’re going to want to get yourself a decent audio interface. You needn’t break the bank initially, but it’s advisable to spend as much as you can afford here, because it’s one area where price most definitely correlates with quality. The kind of audio interface you’ll want will depend on what exactly you’re trying to do. If you’re a singer songwriter, for example, you’ll probably want a device with at least 2 inputs that can be recorded simultaneously. One for your guitar, and one for your vocals ( if you’ve got a microphone, of course). For the time being there are workarounds that you can use to record rough takes into your computer, such as picking up an adapter that’ll allow you to plug your mic or guitar into your computer’s built in microphone port, but the results are going to be far from professional sounding. If you’re unsure as to what exactly you’re looking for, pop into your local music store and ask, they’ll be glad to help. Next up, and one area you’re not going to be able to skimp on for too long, even if you’re not planning on recording any instruments, you’ll need what’s known as a digital audio workstation ( DAW). A DAW is essentially the core of your digital studio. It’s your mixing desk, your sampler, your editor and the host for the plugins
you’ll use to make and mangle all kinds of sounds. If you’re a Mac user, you can pick up Garage Band for $ 5.79 at the Mac App Store and that’ll give you a very basic introduction into some of the possibilities available to you as you embark on your journey of audio exploration. PC users can check out Presonus Studio One Free which is a heavily stripped down version of the retail Studio One software. Once you’re ready to spend on your new passion, I strongly recommend Mac users take a look at Logic Pro X for $ 229.99 and PC users consider either Steinberg Cubase Pro 8 for $ 549.99 or Propellerhead Reason 8 for $ 399.99. Both of which are very different pieces of software, with the former more geared towards traditional recording, and the latter more at home with electronic music - but both are awesome for pretty much anything, once you get past the learning curves. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little more affordable, Ableton’s Live 9 Intro can be had for just $ 99. Each of these options come with everything you need to get started, and are able to record and edit ( crudely in the cases of Reason and Live) audio, sequence and arrange your recordings, layer tracks and create new sounds via VST instruments and MIDI channels, which are essentially internal instruments on your computer as plugins for the DAW of your choice. Each DAW will come bundled with its own VSTs, but you can purchase additional ones from third parties to expand your sonic arsenal should you choose ( while they’re typically in the form of virtual synthesizers, there are plenty of offerings that aren’t that are worth checking out - some are even built to mimic guitars, and they can sound great. In addition to VST instruments, there are also VST effects, and just like with the instruments there’s plenty of variety available here, from basic EQ or filter units to more abstract offerings that’ll completely mangle your sound into unrecognizable forms. As with pretty much anything in the realm of computer based, or recorded, music though, you can get incredibly creative and make your plugins do all kinds of things they weren’t necessarily intended for. One last thing you might want to look into, if you’re planning on creating exclusively electronic music or supplementing your traditional instruments with digital piano, synthesizers or pads, is a MIDI controller. Essentially keyboards that don’t actually generate any sound without a computer, these are a huge time saver and are superior in literally every way to trying to program individual notes using a mouse. Just assign your controller to a VST, arm your track, hit record MIDI and away you go. Making the jump to creating music with the help of, or exclusively on, computer can be a whole bunch of fun, but it can also get quite expensive, so try to avoid the temptation to buy the first thing you see and remember to do plenty of research. Speaking to your local music store is a great way to figure out exactly what you need and don’t need, so make sure to avail of their expertise if necessary!