Recording Workflow

Discussions about recording, including software, hardware, plugins, and techniques.

Recording Workflow

Postby chysn » Sun Nov 16, 2014 3:29 am

I've been wanting to get a topic like this going for a while. The question is simple: What is your recording and/or composition workflow with your synths? By "workflow," I mean the process for taking a musical idea and putting it into a useful format (whatever that might be).

I have several workflows myself, but I'm interested in what other people do, because there are surely things I haven't though of. Mine are as follows:

Alesis MMT-8 Based Recording:

Each synth stays semi-permanently assigned to a specific MIDI channel. The MicroBrute and Minitaur can only be changed via computer, so I'm not interested in changing their MIDI channels.

I use a single controller keyboard (currently Mopho Keyboard) and play the parts one at a time into the MMT-8. The MMT-8 has a way to assign a channel to a specific track, and this re-channelized output is sent to the MIDI out. The MMT-8's MIDI out goes to a MIDI Solutions Quadra Thru, where the output gets sent to each synth.

Synths go into the Mackie 802, with my NanoVerb on the effects return. Once everything is done, I record stereo output into Audacity via my Mac's stereo input minijack.

2014 is my 25th year of recording with an MMT-8. I've owned four of them. So obviously, every hardware, software, tablet, and workstation sequencer I've ever used gets compared to the MMT-8. And I've frankly never found anything that measures up very well.

Tascam DP-004 Based Recording:

The DP-004 is a tiny digital four-track. Sometimes, when I want to keep things simple, I'll create a drum track in the Volca Beats, a sequence in the MicroBrute, and sync them up, and record parts into the DP-004. A tiny studio!

Part of me wants to upgrade to the DP-008EX. Another part of me wants to find a DAW that I like and use that for everything. Thus this thread.

Finale Composition

I use Finale for getting piano compositions to paper. I've often thought it would be nice to integrate notation software with my synths. The problem is, synth parts played via MIDI from Finale are pretty sterile. I don't typically quantize on the MMT-8, and things are strictly quantized by nature in notation software.

Anyway, I'm interested in hearing about people's processes, whether it's live recording, DAW studio sessions, or highly-quantized.
DSI: Evolver #1431
Other Synths: Moog Little Phatty Stage II (Red), Arturia MicroBrute
Other Hardware: Alesis MMT-8, Korg Volca Beats
DAW: Reaper for OSX through PreSonus AudioBox USB
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby Paul Dither » Sun Nov 16, 2014 9:51 pm

Good topic, chysn.

My setup is built around a simple core: a MacBook Pro, a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40, and a Mackie 1202VLZ4.
The hardware synths I'm currently using are the Evolver Desktop, a MEK, a Prophet '08, a Volca Beats, a Minitaur, and a Sub 37, plus a Kaoss Pad and a Boss RE-20 as hardware effects.

The Evolvers and the Prophet are mixed with the Mackie that's connected to the Focusrite. Everything else is directly connected to the Focusrite. The Kaoss Pad and the RE-20 are set up in a send/return manner with the Focusrite. The Prophet's MIDI is connected to the Focusrite, everything else is controlled via a USB hub. I use a Roland UM-ONE USB MIDI interface for the polychained Evolvers.

My main DAW has become Ableton Live Suite. I was a ProTools user for years, but was experiencing some compatibility and MIDI issues at some point. As AVID's upgrade options that may have solved my issue were fairly expensive when compared to other manufacturers, I eventually switched to Ableton (and Studio One for a more traditional approach).
I first used Ableton for live purposes only. I wanted something that I could control and manipulate clips with while playing Bass at the same time. Ableton and a Guitar Rig Controller - misused as a MIDI foot controller only - enabled me to do that in a fairly easy way. When the time felt right for a DAW change, Ableton was already familiar to me. It suits my writing and production process well as I'm usually recording lots of improvised stuff, segments, ideas, which I then try to arrange with a rather combinatorial approach.
In order to be ready to record from scratch at any point, I've set up a template in Ableton that contains tracks for all the hardware I'm using as well as a couple of inserts for additional effects/plug-ins. Being able to assign your external instruments in Ableton so that they become selectable via its browser, makes this pretty easy. I like this fluid aspect between hard and software.

The only thing I'm keen to add to my current setup (apart from a Pro 2), would be Ableton's Push controller - mainly because it helps taking the philosophy of using the studio as an instrument amongst others to a convenient level.
Last edited by Paul Dither on Tue Nov 18, 2014 9:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Ableton Live 9 Suite | Ableton Push | DSI Evolver Desktop | DSI Pro 2 | KMI QuNexus | Korg Volca Beats | Moog MF-104M Analog Delay | Moog Minitaur | Moog Sub 37 Tribute Edition

https://soundcloud.com/pauldither/prophet-08-patches
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby Razmo » Tue Nov 18, 2014 9:42 pm

My setup is centered around a Mackie LM-3204 mixer which has 16 stereo analog channels.

I have the main outputs connected from my synths to this mixer... one stereo pair for every synth I've got. I never use my synths in multi mode, as I want full polyphony on every track I do. So currently I've got space for 16 stereo synths, but I'm thinking about getting an LM.3204E expander to raise this channel count to 32 stereo channels.

The mixer has four AUX sends per channel that can be switched in pairs. The pair is configured as one stereo AUX send and one mono AUX send. The stereo send is connected to a Lexicon MX400 in stereo, the other is connected to a Lexicon MX200 in Dual Stereo mode. The second set of AUX sends (switchable) is connected to yet another Lexicon MX400 in stereo, and the mono AUX send is connected to the second input of the Lexicon MX200... so in all I've got three Lexicon multi effects connected, two in stereo, and one in Dual stereo mode. Usualy, one set does the reverbs, the other the delays (the stereo MX400s)... The Lexicon MX200 does stereo width algorithms usualy, like chorus, vibrato, detune etc... This is all the FX I ever use, and is more than enough for my usage.

Each stereo channel on the mixer allow me to adjust a bit of high/low frequency with the channel EQ, as well as panning. There is also a single stereo routing option of any channel to a bus output that I've connected directly to my E-MU sampler for recording individual tracks if I need to. Levels of instruments are set on the Mixer, not via MIDI to get the best signal to noise ratio. The main outs of the mixer are connected to my computer using an E-MU 1616m soundcard with breakout box. I only use this soundcard for recording the final output of a mix, and for playing back from the computer.

The first four stereo channels on the mixer has stereo insert jacks, so I put the synths that need outpboard FX most there... currently I've got two analog FX units connected to these... A Synthoma Elkorus V2 ensemble, and a Vermona PH-16 stereo phaser... space for two more, when I find some analog effect boxes that I like.

The synths I've currently got and have connected to the mixer are:

Waldorf Microwave 1
Waldorf Pulse
Waldorf Pulse 2
DSI Poly Evolver Rack
DSI Prophet '08 Module
DSI Prophet 12 Module
MOOG Slim Phatty
ORLA DSE-24
E-MU E6400 Ultra

I also have a Yamaha EX5 keyboard, but I only use it as master controller at the moment, it's not connected to the mixer.

All the synths are connected to my PC computer via four Roland UM-3G MIDI interfaces. Each synth has it's own in/out port for fastest MIDI response.. nothing daisy chained here.

I use SONAR X3 as sequencer, and I only record using MIDI directly... no harddisk recording, since I've never really coped with this style of recording.

That's about it... I'm a bit oldschool studio like... that's just how it is :)

I'm planning on getting some more synths soon... a MOOG Minitaur, and Jomox MBase11 and MBrane11... hopefuly a Pro2 module in the future, but that'll have to be up to Dave and the gang if this'll ever see the light of day :)
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby chysn » Wed Nov 19, 2014 3:00 am

When you use Sonar X3 for MIDI sequencing, do you play pieces straight through, or do you record parts and assemble them into complete pieces?

And how do you digitally record your music for distribution?
DSI: Evolver #1431
Other Synths: Moog Little Phatty Stage II (Red), Arturia MicroBrute
Other Hardware: Alesis MMT-8, Korg Volca Beats
DAW: Reaper for OSX through PreSonus AudioBox USB
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby chysn » Wed Nov 19, 2014 3:17 am

The thing that I want to do with a DAW is this:

(1) Record a part to a MIDI track on a monosynth.
(2) Feed the monosynth into the audio input, and record its audio part to a new track while playing back the MIDI.
(3) Repeat steps (1) and (2), but mute any previously-recorded MIDI tracks.

This would make the DAW workflow very similar to my pure MIDI MMT-8 workflow, so it would be comfortable, but I'd be able to get lots of recording mileage out of monosynths. Has anyone tried that sort of thing?
DSI: Evolver #1431
Other Synths: Moog Little Phatty Stage II (Red), Arturia MicroBrute
Other Hardware: Alesis MMT-8, Korg Volca Beats
DAW: Reaper for OSX through PreSonus AudioBox USB
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby Razmo » Wed Nov 19, 2014 10:40 am

chysn wrote:When you use Sonar X3 for MIDI sequencing, do you play pieces straight through, or do you record parts and assemble them into complete pieces?

And how do you digitally record your music for distribution?


I usualy record straight from live playing... I usualy record the first 3-4 layers in a short loop... usualy bass and accompagnement... when I'm satisfied with this, I copy this loop a lot of times, and then record melody lines into further layers... again live. Sometimes I quantize the layers, especialy drums and bass, but other sounds like pads, melodies and such, usualy go unquantized. The arrangement process is the one that bores me the most, since there is no direct live performance parts... just copy/paste etc.

The way I record is as I wrote... I sample the final stereo track directly via an E-MY 1616m soundcard, into my computer... in 24bit 44.1Khz normaly. n the past I've used some limiting to boost the overall volume, but I've started to not do this, as I find it destroys the dynamics of the type of music usualy do.

That's about it... I convert into 320kbit mp3 in the end, if needed.
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby Razmo » Wed Nov 19, 2014 10:53 am

chysn wrote:The thing that I want to do with a DAW is this:

(1) Record a part to a MIDI track on a monosynth.
(2) Feed the monosynth into the audio input, and record its audio part to a new track while playing back the MIDI.
(3) Repeat steps (1) and (2), but mute any previously-recorded MIDI tracks.

This would make the DAW workflow very similar to my pure MIDI MMT-8 workflow, so it would be comfortable, but I'd be able to get lots of recording mileage out of monosynths. Has anyone tried that sort of thing?


Yes... actualy that's what I've been trying to get commfortable with for years. It gives that nice advantage of reusing a single synth any number of times, and it's very intuitive... unfortunately this technique does not allow you much in the department of editing... if you want to change something, you have to re-record a take again... but there are so many advantages as well, that for some it may be "the way to do it"... and you can save all you've made into one file for total recall, which is not as easy with MIDI and hardware synths.

You really do not need to shut off the tracks you've allready recorded... in fact that's bad in my opinion because you should be able to play along to what you already recorded... when I'm using this recording technique, I simply route the audio card's main output into a channel on my mixer, that will allow being switched to the control room monitors only, and not the main bus (which is the bus I'm recording from)... this way you can record whatever you're playing on a mixer channel, while the playback of anything on the soundcard will be heard, but not re-recorded.

I'd say, that with time, this recording technique can become a really good way to record music, as it offers a lot of intuitive advantages... it depends on your live skills for fast workflow... recording MIDI first is of course an option, and I do this as well for timing critical layers, but it slow down the intuitive feel I think.

The things I don't like about this technique is that editing is rather restricted... I like changing sound parameters in the whole process of composing (using SoundDiver), but just one chance will require re-recording the layer. Also editing the melodies in the note-panes is problematic... anything you recorded via MIDI will have to be kept if you want to make changes, because you'll need to re-record the layer if you change anything... you cannot just "freeze" a track, like you can with a softsynth... hardware don't let you do this fast.

So for me, the choice has been to use MIDI only, but instead make sure I've got a hell of a lot of synthesizers to be able to have all of the sounds that I need.
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby Benzebub » Wed Nov 19, 2014 8:59 pm

Interresting read.
My setup is based on a MOTU 828x connected to a MacBook Pro running either Reason or Logic. I have had the MOTU for about 6 months now. Previously I used a Komplete Audio 6 with a 4 channel mixer but found it limiting to only being able to record two stereo synths at once so I purchased the MOTU and connects all synths directly to it.

MIDI-wise, all my synths are connected via USB for sequencing and I use my Analog Four as clock (it can sync well to the DAW but also use it's own clock when none is available without changing any settings).
From the A4 I connect a MIDI-DIN to my Tempest and from the Tempest thru I connect a MIDI-DIN to my Mopho X4 so they all share the same clock.

I have yet to purchase an extra DIN cable to connect the Pro 2 to the chain so that one is USB only at the moment, along with my Sub Phatty which and do not need MIDI-clock for since I only sequence notes on it.
This setup has worked well for me with no sync issues and allows me to play these units without my computer connected.
The MOTU is always on and is basically acting as mixer for me.

Process-wise I have no method for composing, it differs from song to song. Sometimes I start with a sound I like and build up patterns around it and sometimes I start with a melodic pattern and create the sound for that. Usually the latter involves a 4 or 8 bar loop running for a long time while I tweak the sound. :)

@chysn
I often have multiple MIDI tracks per instrument and then unmute the one I want to record at the moment. I save all patches so I can easily recall and edit if I want to change a sound (SysEx for everything apart from MS-20 Mini where I use the camera in my phone :P). When I only had the Mopho X4 I would build up songs with several layers of it multi tracked.
This works well in both Logic and Reason but I suppose any DAW with good MIDI capabilities can handle it.
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby chysn » Sat Dec 06, 2014 2:58 am

I think I've selected my DAW. I really enjoy working with Reaper. In the tradition of getting home studio stuff for my wedding anniversary (last year was a MicroBrute), my wife gave me an audio interface this year, to replace my horrid and aging M-Audio Transit. So I'm going to wean myself off the ancient MMT-8.

Reaper does everything I need. What really sealed it for me is that I can export a MIDI file from Finale, and then simply drag that MIDI file into the Reaper window, where Reaper will split it up onto multiple tracks. I'm sure other DAWs do this, but it totally wowed me. It's like the best of both worlds. My first piece was a four-voice all-Minitaur piece, composed in Finale. Reaper made it really easy to get everything tracked.

I'm pretty excited about the Finale/Reaper one-two punch.

Okay, here is my first thing with Reaper. It's music for a video game that my son is working on.

https://soundcloud.com/beige-maze/desert
DSI: Evolver #1431
Other Synths: Moog Little Phatty Stage II (Red), Arturia MicroBrute
Other Hardware: Alesis MMT-8, Korg Volca Beats
DAW: Reaper for OSX through PreSonus AudioBox USB
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby Paul Dither » Sun Dec 07, 2014 2:29 am

Good to hear that you've found what you were looking for.

Nice Minitaur work you've uploaded! I like it a lot. What kind of game is your son working on?
Ableton Live 9 Suite | Ableton Push | DSI Evolver Desktop | DSI Pro 2 | KMI QuNexus | Korg Volca Beats | Moog MF-104M Analog Delay | Moog Minitaur | Moog Sub 37 Tribute Edition

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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby chysn » Sun Dec 07, 2014 4:34 am

Poptones wrote:What kind of game is your son working on?


It's sort of a retro platform/puzzle game. When he asked me to do some music, I think he was hoping I'd do 8-bit chiptunes. When I started, I hadn't recorded anything for almost 20 years, so this project has been a way to sort of develop a workflow again. I've been reluctant to get involved with DAW because working on a computer is my job, and I didn't really want to do it recreationally.

But that ship has sailed. Now that I'm getting comfortable with my new audio interface and Reaper, I see that it's way more flexible than what I was doing before. I need analog synths, but I don't need outboard effects or a hardware sequencer or a hardware recorder. I'll probably keep my Tascam digital four-track, but everything else is probably going to go.

My next question for you guys is this: With hardware recording, I could grab a couple knobs at the same time, one in each hand, to control levels and panning. With a DAW, you can only move one thing at a time with the trackpad. Do you use control surfaces to simulate hardware transport controls and knobs? If so, what do you like?
DSI: Evolver #1431
Other Synths: Moog Little Phatty Stage II (Red), Arturia MicroBrute
Other Hardware: Alesis MMT-8, Korg Volca Beats
DAW: Reaper for OSX through PreSonus AudioBox USB
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby namnibor » Sat Feb 28, 2015 1:19 pm

In case people were not aware of this, a company called Groove3 has many professional tutorials that once you purchase them you can download to however many devices you want and also live stream anytime your purchased tutorials. I mention this because although I have a ways to go before mastering Reaper, my DAW of choice, I have found Kenny Gioia's Reaper Tutorials immensely helpful and through midnight tonight they are 50% off.
The titles that I have are "Reaper 4 Explained", which is over 7.5 hours of in-depth info, and the tutorial on using the powerful SWS Extensions For Reaper, which are entirely free to download those extensions (the tutorial is 50% off as well).

Here's a brief description of them and direct link to aforementioned tutorial site: http://www.groove3.com/str/reaper-4-explained.html
"[THE REAPER IS BACK!

Kenny Gioia is back covering Cockos latest revision of Reaper! Reaper 4 has many new features and functions, as well as workflows. Don't worry though, "Reaper 4 Explained" covers it all from top to bottom, teaching you what you need to know to use Reaper 4 like a pro.

Kenny starts his in-depth coverage off with an introduction, project creation, templates, track management and window overviews. He then goes deeper covering recording, routing, editing, using folders, plug-ins, automation, rendering and exporting, MIDI, markers, mixing down and much, much more.

Reaper is now a full featured DAW being used by more and more people everyday. If you use Reaper 4 or want to start using it, this is the series to watch... Get "Reaper 4 Explained" today!

Product Hightlights
•31 Tutorials / Over 7.5 Hours Total Runtime
•For all beginner to intermediate Cockos Reaper 4 users
•Tutorials written by multi-platinum selling producer Kenny Gioia
•Simple to use video control interface for Mac & PC
•Watch Online, Download, Stream to iPad, iPhone & iPod]"

"[REAPER JUST GOT MORE POWERFUL

Do you want to supercharge Reaper? Well, Reaper master Kenny Gioia shows you how in this awesome series on adding and using the powerful and free, SWS Extension set. You'll be able to do things faster and more efficient as well as things you could never do before!

Kenny begins by demystifying this sometimes hard to understand and setup feature set. He then shows you the enhancements such as SWS Zooming, the Command Parameters dialog box and the ReaConsole feature. Then he moves onto cool Color Management options, the powerful Snapshots feature and Cue Buss Generator. He wraps up the series with Multiple Project Management options, the "Fill Gaps" drum editing feature and finally the new LFO Generator & Envelope Processor features.

If you use Reaper, this excellent extension set by Standing Water Studios is a no brainer. Install it today and then watch Kenny explain it all to you so you get the most from it... Checkout "Reaper Advanced-SWS Extensions" today! http://www.groove3.com/str/reaper-sws-extensions.html

Product Highlights
•12 Tutorials / Over 3 Hours Total Runtime
•For all intermediate to advanced Cockos Reaper users
•Tutorials written by multi-platinum selling producer Kenny Gioia
•Simple to use video control interface for Mac & PC
•Watch Online, Download, Stream to iPad, iPhone & iPod]"

This website also has many other titles on other DAW's and even specific software synths and the varied professionals also have tutorials on in-depth MIDI and Music Theory, to name a few and actually really wished companies like DSI would have some pro tutorials for their hardware instruments as far as advanced synthesis and CV, since they are clearly in the game now.

If this post helps but only one other soul learning a DAW on your own, then it was definitely worth posting all this here. :ugeek:
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby chysn » Sat Feb 28, 2015 1:56 pm

Thank you for that info. I also use Reaper. Though I've found a workflow that works well for me, my knowledge of Reaper's capabilities is still probably pretty surface-level, and it would be nice to know more.
DSI: Evolver #1431
Other Synths: Moog Little Phatty Stage II (Red), Arturia MicroBrute
Other Hardware: Alesis MMT-8, Korg Volca Beats
DAW: Reaper for OSX through PreSonus AudioBox USB
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby namnibor » Sat May 09, 2015 9:35 am

Did not know if you were aware of some FREE add-ons for Reaper from "Standing Water Studios" called SWS Extensions, which I have not really tapped their potential as yet but they add A LOT of extra functionality AND various "SKINS" you can apply to further customize Reaper to your liking. Here's the link to it: http://sws.mj-s.com/

Those extensions to Reaper are completely free but as with any open source, donations are certainly welcome. Hope this helps, if you did not already know about them, others my benefit from it. I am always amazed at how many people I meet that have never heard of Reaper and when they try it out, most make the love unless they are die hard LIVE users. (seems to be a large DJ fan/userbase with LIVE).
I like your idea to extend the functionalities of this forum to be perhaps more on an 'educational level of resources'. Take care.
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Re: Recording Workflow

Postby chysn » Sat May 09, 2015 1:19 pm

Thanks for the info about SWS Extensions. I'll probably download them at some point, although I'd like to get a bit more experience with Reaper itself first.

If I had one wish for Reaper, it would be a staff view for MIDI tracks. I prefer to compose with standard music notation, which means that I usually work first in Finale. If Reaper had even a simple staff view, it would be really nice.
DSI: Evolver #1431
Other Synths: Moog Little Phatty Stage II (Red), Arturia MicroBrute
Other Hardware: Alesis MMT-8, Korg Volca Beats
DAW: Reaper for OSX through PreSonus AudioBox USB
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