I’ve been busy upgrading my little recording studio lately, hitting the learning curve trying to get up to speed and learn their features. Here’s what I’ve added recently
Cakewalk Sonar 7 Producer Edition
I’ve been using Cakewalk‘s Sonar 5 Producer Edition all this time since 2005. I skipped 6 so I’ve been pressured to go to 7, because it’s a lucky number. J/k (sort of) but after going to the NAMM show I felt sort of left behind. As a paying Cakewalk customer since 1995, I bought the upgrade from the Cakewalk site. I was reluctant to upgrade since I wanted to finish my album project first, and also though this program would eat up more CPU resources, but it wasn’t that bad. In fact, I’m able to take full advantage of dual processors now as version 5 somehow would give me problems when I did (it worked fine in single-processor mode). I’ve been spending tons of time reading the manual and learning all of its bells and whistles. So far, so good! Sonar has always been a reliable program for me and this time’s no exception. So the upcoming album will be mixed down on Sonar 7.
Propellerheads Reason 4
My second favorite software program was also due for an upgrade. Having been on Reason 3 forever, it was high time to go for version 4, especially since I’ve been using Reason for more than just a “tinkering around” tool lately and doing video soundtracks/scores with it. The new version has all sorts of stuff I’ve always wanted, like a metronome count-off (one of the things that kept me from making serious music with Reason), a song time length display, a new synthesizer (Thor) and some other goodies.
I had a (mis)adventure ordering it though, initially purchasing it from the Propellerhead PropShop site but having my card declined (even though it’s not maxed out). The error message mentioned it could be a bad communication with my bank so I just kept trying and trying…no luck. Finally I reached Propellerheads tech support who told me my bank might reject the order because it’s in another country (Sweden). They did say I could buy the upgrade from a domestic store or website, so I went on over to Sweetwater.com and found it for the same price ($129) — minus the $20 shipping fee that P’heads charged! Serendipity, baby! But after making my order with Sweetwater, the card got declined again, so I called the bank and they indeed put a fraud hold on it, and explained that the orders to Sweden were in fact mine. Anyway, after that was cleared up I finally ordered it and it arrived this past Wednesday. Looks great (well some of the graphics and labels are a bit too tiny for me eyes) and sounds great. Can’t wait to use this for more projects!
M-Audio Axiom 61 USB Keyboard Controller
After falling in lurve with this thing at last year’s NAMM show, I finally had to have it, especially since it has onboard transport (Rec, Play, Rewing, etc) controls and a nice semi-weighted waterfal keyboardl. I’ve been using its predecessor, the M-Audio Radium 61 USB controller since it came out in 2003 (damn, five years…) which was originally intended to be part of my e:trinity laptop setup back in the day. Well, all these years, I never got the laptop (I’m just as picky with laptops as I am with women, lol) and I put e:trinity to rest in 2004, so the Radium took up the empty space on my computer desk between me and the monitor to remind me I should be using the computer for making music, rather than just surfing the web or writing blogs (ahem…). But the thing I disliked most about the Radium was…the thing felt like a toy, making all sorts of cheapo sproingy noises everytime I played the keyboard. And as a keyboardist, feel and action are everything.
Anyway, I was lured by a local music store’s (West LA Music) clearance sale but though this wasn’t a sale item, they gave me a sweet deal on it $245) that was even lower than the best Internet price I found ($275). And even with tax ($265) it was still lower! So yes, West LA Music is my favorite brick & mortar music store (suck it, Guitard Center!). Another interesting thing to note was that after looking at some old receipts for my gear, I bought the M-Audio Axiom 61 exactly six years to the day (February 19) as I bought my other M-Audio USB interface, the MIDISPORT 4×4, which is the heart of my MIDI system and has been blinking away faithfully all this time since 2002.
Okay, I bought this on Tuesday and I gotta say thing thing was kicking my ass for the next two days, as I was trying to get it (especially the transport controls) working with Sonar and Reason.
Using the Axiom with Reason was a breeze, at least it was supposed to be. I got this a day before Reason 4 arrived, so I tried it out on my Reason 3. After downloading an Axiom controller update, I was able to use it with little effort after setting up the Axiom 61 profile as the main controller. But after futzing around with the keyboard, especially using the aptly-titled Enigma software application to program its various parameters as well as using the onboard buttons to program it, I discovered the keyboard was freaking out, not responding to certain controllers even though it should be. I eventually (after a few long nights with little sleep, argh) learned how to reset the keyboard to factory defaults (Axiom users, here’s how: Power off, then hold down the “-” and “+” keys on the left-hand keypad when you power back on). After using Enigma again, and leaving the onboard parameter programming alone, it finally worked well, and because of the default Reason controller setup, the thing responds more like hardware! It’s just too awesome to scroll through patches via one of the knobs rather than the computer-style File Open dialog menu.
Sonar with Axiom was yet another adventure, as it was nearly pure hell trying to get the transport controls to work, despite the supposed Axiom 49 (same as the 61, just less keys) profile in Sonar 7. I eventually learned via the Cakewalk Sonar online forums how to set it up, using MIDI Machine Control. But it seemed like too much controllers set up in the system and eventually I used the ACT Controller profile and double-clicked on the parameter cells to get it to work. It’s not 100% there, but the transport and faders work just fine now.
I had another upgrade tonight, a very small one. I bought another keyboard — er, a computer keyboard (QWERTY) as my old keyboard, though functionally fine, has a few screenprinted character labels worn away (yeah, it’s REAL fun guessing where the “,” and “.” keys are…) My only criteria: PS2, black, a straight (none of that contoured stuff – won’t fit in my keyboard drawer) bottom edge and a power switch. I saw some online, but the shipping cost almost as much as the keyboard itself! I even stopped by a couple of local computer shops, none had any that fit my criteria, until I went to my (literally) local computer shop (Loco Computer in East Hollywood), just a block from home. Fit all the above criteria to a T and has a nice solid clicky action (I hate spongy keyboards), and was only $7.50!
Okay okay okay, now time to make some music…