Last month was my birthday and saw the completion of another year on this green and blue planet that we call home. As a present to myself, I purchased a Blackmagic MultiDock 10g, which is something that I have wanted to get hold for many a year. In this short blog post, I give you a quick overview of what it is and provide some interesting speed test results.

Expanding the storage

There is one thing I think all fellow musicians will agree on, you can never have enough storage. Those sample libraries all sound very nice, but they consume a lot of disk space. Even some of the least hungry ones can consume anywhere from 10 - 40 gigabytes of disk space. For speedy access to these libraries, you will be wanting to run them from an SSD and these currently have limited capacity when compared to their mechanical HDD brethren. I briefly cover the reasons why you would want to run your sample libraries off an SSD in this article here.

When you start running out of space inside your PC to add drives, the only way to expand is by utilizing external storage. To maintain the speed you are looking at using USB3 or USB-C connections, unfortunately, USB2 just doesn't cut it and is not really a viable option. After much research, I decided to purchase a Blackmagic MultiDock 10g rackmount interface. This uses the USB-C connection and promises up to 10gb/sec read speed, which is way above what most SSD storage drives can provide and you should not run out of bandwidth any time soon.

The need for speed

Okay, enough of the overview time for some speed tests. To give you a comparison I have provided four-speed tests below. The first is from my internal M.2 drive and as expected this provides blindingly fast performance. The next internal test is from the SSD PCI-e card that houses two 1TB Crucial MX-500 drives and performs reasonably well. I should add here that due to the design of my PC case I am unable to house these drives in a conventional manner and attach them to the motherboard by SATA cables.

Speed Test Part One

main-drive-speedtest

Internal Drive

Samsung Evo 970 Plus m.2

crucial-mx500-speedtest

Internal PCI-E

Crucial MX-500

The next two tests are the interesting ones as these are from the Blackmagic unit. You can see that running 4 drives or 2 drives on one cable does not provide much difference in terms of speed. The drives currently housed in this unit are 3 x Samsung 840evo drives and 1 x Samsung 850evo. The tests show that I am getting the same rated performance from these drives as though they were internal SATA connected drives.

Speed Test Part Two

Blackmagic MultiDock 10g 1

Blackmagic Dock

Samsung 850 Evo with Two Bay switch engaged

Blackmagic MultiDock 10g 2

Blackmagic Dock

Samsung 850 Evo with Four Bay switch engaged

For a more detailed overview of this dock I produced a brief video on my YouTube channel.

A little warning

If you decide to follow my path and purchase one of these docks, there are a couple of things to be aware of. The first is that there are no connection leads within the box. All you get is the unit, no power lead and certainly, no USB-C leads. This is a shame considering the price you are paying for this unit and that not all USB-C leads are the same.

Yes, a USB-C cable is not necessarily going to provide you with USB-C type speeds so you will want to be careful when you make that purchase. I can recommend the following USB-C lead by Fasgear available from ye olde Amazon at a reasonable price. This is the lead I used to provide the speed tests that you can see in this post.

Conclusion

The question then remains, should you buy one. If you have a spare 19-inch rack space in your studio and wonder what to fill it with and you require more drive storage space, then go for it. Despite the initial issues regarding sourcing the right USB-C cable, I cannot recommend this unit enough. It runs whisper quiet and provides hot-swapping storage for your libraries. The problem you may have is finding somewhere that stocks these units as they do sell pretty quick.

If you enjoyed this article and have any questions about the Blackmagic MultiDock please leave a comment below. Also consider signing up to the newsletter for all the latest news, tips, tech and reviews.

This is something that I wish I had learned right at the beginning of my music-making career. Do you, or should you, bounce midi to audio? A project is not truly finished until you have bounced all the parts to audio, backed those audio files up and stored them in a safe place. You can read about my backup strategy here

The reason to bounce all those MIDI parts to audio is for the purposes of redundancy. What happens if you wish to revisit the project only to find that one of the synthesizers you used no longer works or the latest operating system update has made it unusable. Remember the latest Apple Catalina update that made many software synthesizers unusable for a period of time?

"A project is not truly finished until you have bounced all the parts to audio, backed those audio files up and stored them in a safe place."

History Lesson

This post is a short lesson on reality and ensuring you have properly future-proofed your project. If we rewind back to the 90's I had just created my first ever electronic music track. I called it 'Vocal Strings of Mars' and it was created using my Korg Triton Rack, which I still have to this day. I created the whole track in MIDI, mixed it and exported the completed track as an mp3 file.

The track was very basic but I was thrilled, as it was the first-ever electronic music track I had written.

Let us fast forward 20 years and I wanted to revisit the track and rework it into a more modern-day piece. The problem was, the piece of software I used to create it no longer existed, hadn't been updated in years and would no longer load using modern-day operating systems.

As I had no audio stems, I could not edit the track without recording each part over again. Although the melody was simple enough to recreate, the actual vibe and sound were missing as I had tweaked some of the patches. If only I had bounced each track to audio and created stems (facepalm moment).

Light Bulb Moment

It was from this moment that I started to bounce all my projects to individual stems before mixing. My process is now to write the track, bounce any midi tracks to audio.

Only once I have committed my stems to audio do I start mixing and mastering and adding the fairy dust. I would recommend that you look at following a similar process if only to preserve your sanity when, in years to come, the software you used to create your track no longer works.

What was your light bulb moment, post in the comments below so we can learn from each other's mistakes and discoveries?

I remember my younger days when I first started out playing the piano and keyboards. The last thing I wanted to do was learn music theory, the theory was boring and reminded you of stuffy professors pouring over their manuscript.

As time went on I got curious about why I was playing the exact notes in front of me, what held them together and more importantly, why did it all just work. This is when I turned to those once hated books and it opened my eyes. It helped me write music quicker and understand chord structures.

Fast forward a number of years and I was writing 4 part harmony (SATB) for my choir to perform. Hearing my first pieces performed gave a feeling of elation that is hard to describe.

The following are just a small selection of books that I used on my musical journey to get me to point I am at now.

1. Elementary Harmony by C.H.Kitson

kitson-elementary-harmony

If you only purchase one book on theory then this is it. It was the one book that I understood and gave me that lightbulb moment. Although it is of a dry academic tone the exercises this book provides takes you through the dos and don’ts of classical harmony.

There is an emphasis on ear practice and to get the most out of the book you will need access to a keyboard instrument or piano. Do not underestimate the slimness of this book compared to others as what it provides are the essentials to get you started on four-part harmony.

I always find myself returning to this tome from time to time just so that I can brush up my skills. 

2. The AB Guide to Music Theory by Eric Taylor

eric-taylor-ab-guide-music-theory

If you have taken any grade exams in the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music line then you may well be familiar with this series. It is split over two volumes and provides the basic building blocks of being able to read and write music. If you ever want to learn to read music then this series is for you.

The first volume of this series takes you through the basics that you will find in grade 1 - 5. Whereas the second volume of the series takes you all the way up to what you would find in a grade 8 music theory test.

Some may find it a dreary little book but I found it an essential volume to read in understanding the dots that I was reading, writing and performing.

3. The Musician’s Guide to Reading and Writing Music by Dave Stewart

dave-stewart-reading-and-writing-music

Some of you may recognise the name of the author of the keyboardist for Eurythmics. This book is written in a fun style and provides the basics to help you start putting things together musically. Interestingly Dave shows the differences between chord voicings on keyboards compared to guitars, so you get a two for one deal. It also shows what chords would have guitarists wanting to throw things at you due to their impossible nature of voicing.

The book provides a lot of encouraging quips along the way and helps break up what is technically a dry subject. Another thoroughly recommended book to add to your arsenal.

4. Music Composition 1 & 2 by Jonathan E. Peters

Music-composition-book

Being written in 2014, this is a more modern take on the compositional technique. You can also use the two books to follow along with the tutorial video series the author has made on Udemy. The books show how you can take a simple phrase of music and turn it into a full piece by twisting the notes every which way.

Following these books through coupled with what I have already learnt gave me another light bulb moment in my musical journey. The techniques provided in this series are not just helpful in writing for orchestras and choirs but translate to all styles of music.

5. The Study of Orchestration by Samuel Adler

samuel-adler-orchestration

Now for the big hitter in this short series of recommended books and, also,  by far the most expensive. This book is weighty, coming in at over 1000 pages, but the knowledge contained in these pages is priceless. The aim of the book is to teach the reader the basics of orchestration taking you through each instrument within a typical orchestra.

It provides information on how to combine the individual instruments, how to choose the most appropriate instruments for your pieces and provides a set of CDs to accompany the book with material to demonstrate the techniques presented.

If you are looking at getting into writing for strings, woodwinds, brass and orchestras in general then this is the book you need.

Conclusion

This is a small selection of music theory books that I have personally used to help me understand the art of music. In the coming New Year, I would recommend you give some of these a try, you will be amazed at the results.

What books have you read that influenced you in your music creating journey? Let's share them in the comments below and make the coming New Year on for productivity and learning.

Wishing all my followers and friends the very best that this universe can offer you in 2020.

To demonstrate this powerful feature I put together a little video that takes you on a tour of the stack mode within Omnisphere. I explore what it is, the different modes available and finish off with a little sound design using CC messages.

This video demonstrates the hidden depth, and oft-overlooked area, of Omnisphere. Whether you want to stack patches in the way I set out in this article or as a method of sound design, it is all at your fingertips.

"I explore what it is, take you on a tour of the different modes and finish off with a little sound design using CC messages"

Stack Mode Setup

There are various performance parts in Omnisphere and to access these you just click on multi and you've got a choice of either live and stack mode. We will come to the live mode in another video post at a later stage.

Today we're just going to look at the stack mode. To get stack mode up and running by going to the mixer page. We then need to load sounds into each of these little segments called channels. To keep it simple we'll just look at using two channels, channel one and channel two.

We may go a bit further later on but first of all, we need to choose a pad sound. For the second channel, we go for a more of a synth lead. What I show in the video is a quick way of actually loading the patch into another part. Where it says part one, part two, that pertains to part, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, in the mixer page.

This method saves you having to go to the mix page menu every time. Once we've loaded a patch into channel one and two, let's click on stack mode.

You are greeted with a display of four lines and each line represents the channel that the patch is loaded on. As we have nothing loaded into channel three and four, it'll show us default settings. We currently have a pad sound on channel one and a lead sound on channel two. So to engage stack mode click the button to switch it on.

stack-mode-omnisphere

Blending the Sound

These two sounds will now play together as a stacked sound. If you want to split the keyboard, so you have the pad in the left hand and the lead in the right hand, all you need to do is click and hold a corner of the channel graph and drag it across. This is demonstrated better in the video rather than pictures.

What could have been helpful, and I don't know if Spectrasonics will pick this up at some point, is to have a little indicator to see that you've actually got the corner of the channel. Once you have managed to get the corner of the slide, move it into middle C. Now select the second channel and move the slide so that it only the notes above middle C play. This is one way of splitting the sound across the keyboard.

This is a great way of a bit of difference to your sound palette, depending on how heavy you hit the keys.

More Control

One final way to control the stacked sounds is to use the CC mode. This allows the use of a Continuous Controller message to control how the stacked sound is blended.

gradient-omnisphere

Omnisphere defaults to using the mod-wheel as the CC message and I have got mine linked to a pedal. When I push the pedal forward, the mod-wheel goes forward and if I pull it back it goes back to zero. This is represented nicely on the little graph at the bottom of the stack view. It also gives you an indication of where the mod-wheel is sitting.

The thing is, sometimes the movement can be quite jerky on the transition from one sound to the other. What you can do is overlap the patches slightly by clicking and dragging at the bottom of each line. To make the patches overlap better you need to use a gradient by clicking and dragging from the top left-hand corners.

CC-omnisphere

This is a great way to design your sounds, whether you want to split them over the keyboard or just make a massive layered pad sound. Omnisphere stack mode is powerful and I urge you to spend some time experimenting with this feature. It is particularly useful for those that play live either through YouTube streaming or in an arena/club environment.

For more tips, tricks and music head on over to my YouTube channel by clicking this link 

There will be times when you have finished writing your latest masterpiece but the overall sound feels one dimensional. In this blog post, I will briefly share with you 5 tips on how to add a little spice to your sounds to make your track sound more rounded by layering. Although I use Steinberg Cubase these tips require no specific DAW or synthesizer. So without further ado, tip 1 is on its way below.

1. Similar Sounding Synthesizer Patches

Okay, this one may sound very obvious, but it is surprising to forget this in the heat of composition. Layering two similar-sounding patches together can help thicken up the sound, however, caution is required.

If the patches sound too similar a buildup of frequencies will occur thus making the whole synth line sound perceptually louder. Naturally, this may lead to problems when it comes to balancing the mix. 

When choosing your complementary sound you may want to go for something similar but with slightly different characteristics. You can then EQ out the unwanted frequencies.

As an example, if the sound has a nice high-end sheen that you like, you may want to EQ out the bass end below between 40hz – 80hz. This would give your other sound room to breathe without sounding muddy.

"If the patches sound too similar a buildup of frequencies will occur thus making the whole synth line sound perceptually louder."

2. Opposite Sounding Synth Patches

Just as we use similar-sounding synth patches, how about using ones that do not share sound qualities in common. What do I mean by this?

As an example, you have a nice blade runner synth type lead but it just lacks bite at the beginning, the attack stage of the sound. You could shorten the attack but this may destroy the vibe you are after on that patch. Why not find a more percussive sound and layer it?

You will then get the percussive attack from one sound leading into the slow release of the main synth patch. This little trick can work in reverse as well. You may have a nice percussive sound but want a longer release stage with a tonal difference. Design or locate a single patch that fits those characteristics and layer the two sounds together.

In the mixing stage, you can then easily EQ out the irrelevant frequencies so that the two patches are not competing for the same sound stage.

3. Layering Ambient Sounds

Yep, good old nature can provide some interesting twists to spice up your sounds. You may want some gentle running water or background city murmurings on your recording. Layer these up with your synth patch to provide a whole new soundscape. 

The time-honoured classic is that of vinyl static, the sound of an old record being played. This type of backing can give your track an old-style recording feel but don't overdo it as it can get annoying if kept running for the whole 3 minutes 30 seconds of your track.

To add a different take to your ambient sound you could mangle it by using a resonator plugin or something like Soundtoys Crystallizer plugin.

4. Avoid Repetition

As the saying goes 'You can have too much of a good thing'. Using one type of sound throughout the whole track can get boring very quickly, no matter how unique it sounds. Try to mix things up and have a palette of sound for the track and bring them in out. 

It is, however, a good idea to keep at least one of the synth sounds common throughout the track. This helps make the track not sound too disjointed and provides a connection through the whole piece. It also provides the listener with a continuous reference point to return to.

What I mean by this is if you have a percussive sound layered with your main synth lead, when you reach the chorus or move to another section change one of them. To make all the previous tips add width to your track we move to the final tip.

5. Pan, Pan and Pan Some More

Now we have layered our synth patches to make something new, it is easy to add width and dimension by panning the sounds. How, you do this depends on the number of synth sounds you have layered.

One word of warning though, do not layer too many sounds together. I would suggest no more than two or three different synth patches. Done right you won't have too many competing frequencies. All this will help you avoid muddying the sound stage.

If you have similar-sounding patches layered you may consider panning them 30% left and the other 30% right. Where you have layered three sounds together you can get a nice soundscape by panning two sounds opposite each other but keeping the stronger sound out of the three in the centre.

Conclusion

I hope this little insight into how I go about creating layered sounds for my tracks is useful. If you have any questions or ideas of your own please feel free to leave them in the comments below. You can always drop me a message using the form on the contact page. 

You never know it could inspire another article in which you will have a personal mention. I will also use the post to promote your music.

There are some fantastic libraries out there for Kontakt both commercial and free. However, there are times when you load the library up in Kontakt only for it to take an age to fully load. In this short blog post, I will give you some tips on making those libraries load faster by using Batch Resave.

Storage Choice

Before I get into the main focus of this topic, Batch Resave, I want to explore other ways of making sure you get the maximum loading speed. The storage medium you use can make a huge difference in loading times. One time over there was only the mechanical hard disk that ran at either 5400rpm or 7200rpm. Later we were introduced to 10,000rpm drives. All these were once over viable solutions.

Nowadays I would only recommend that you use SSD drives for your Kontakt Libraries. The speeds achievable by these small offerings far outpace those of their mechanical counterparts.

If you can afford it, I would look at purchasing an M.2 NVME drive as these are even faster than a normal SSD.

To achieve maximum usage from your SSD you should dedicate one drive to your Kontakt Libraries. Call it your sample library drive. 

External Choices

What about those of us who have limited internal upgrade paths. Well, all is not lost as you can run your libraries from external sources. The only three choices I would, however, recommend are USB 3.1, USB-C and Thunderbolt. Any of these connections should provide enough bandwidth for your libraries to load reasonably quickly.

If you are using Thunderbolt an SSD drive is the optimal choice and will utilise the speed these drives provide. You can even by multi-drive enclosures that will allow you to store a large number of libraries.

Batch Resave

We now move to the method that will universally speed up your loading times. They say a picture is worth more than a thousand words, well a video in this case. So without further delay, this short 4-minute video shows you how to perform this task. If you enjoyed the video and found it helpful please open the video on YouTube itself and give it a like. This will help my channel immensely and your support is appreciated.

I cannot, however, stress enough that you should always perform the batch resave on an individual library. Don't try and take the lazy way and select your sample drive and let Kontakt do its work as this could scramble the referenced samples for a library. I am talking from experience as this happened to me.

You can, and should, apply this technique of batch resave to those libraries that can only be accessed using the internal browser of Kontakt. The method of batch resaving those libraries is exactly the same. Select batch resave, point to the relevant folder and let Kontakt do its thing. Your library should then load much faster than it did previously.

I trust that this short post provided some tips and tricks on speeding up your loading times within Kontakt. If you would like to know when the next blog post is up, please subscribe to the newsletter by filling out the form at the bottom of this page.

If you found the video helpful, pop on over to my YouTube channel and subscribe. There are some interesting things coming up on there shortly including more tutorials and music compositions.

You can also listen to my music on the front page of this site.

If there are any topics about Native Instruments Kontakt that you would like me to cover, please leave a comment below.

Copyright © 2020 Adrian Earnshaw

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