songwriting

Eleven Rack: The future of DAW Plugins?

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Digidesign recently released their new 899$ Eleven Rack hardware product. Eleven Rack provides DSP acceleration of the Eleven guitar amp simulation plugin for ProTools LE and ProTools HD. In a way, it’s a replacement for the Line6’s Pod Xt Pro or Fractal Audio’s AxeFX rack units, but with tighter ProTools integration. Digidesign is following the footsteps of Native Instruments and TC Electronics by releasing hardware racked versions of DSP-hungry plugins.

Market Pressures

It’s no secret that lower prices and powerful multi-core native solutions are threatening the premium 10,000$+ ProToolsHD hardware solutions. By releasing dedicated boxes, Digidesign gets to accommodate low-end ProTools LE users while preserving the high-end ProTools HD market. The boxes are mass-produced in China, so they are just a cheap yet sophisticated dongle for the software. Very much like an iPhone. Genius!

I fully expect to see dedicated rack units for synths, bass & drum plugins. Guitars are first because there’s already a thriving market for such dedicated units. Being able to play live with the same box running the same program used for recording is a definite plus. Amp simulators have started to go beyond trying to emulate real amps and have started to produce sounds of theirown. The Fractal Audio AxeFX is the leading example of such approach.

Automatic Documentation

One feature that got me excited is that Eleven Rack can now save the plugin parameters in the metadata of an audio track (WAV & MP3 files can contain text tags). This means that plugin parameters can be recalled on a region-by-region basis. This form of automatic documentation of rack gear setting is something I’ve been wanting for years. The following video shows you how this is done:

Bye-bye Piracy

A rack version also helps in fighting rampant software piracy, which has affected many plugin authors. Apple are not affected by this since their core business is selling Mac hardware. The more users the better. Therefore, they can afford to reduce prices for Logic and remove complicated software protection schemes such as dongles. Software-only vendors are not as fortunate.

Physical hardware is here to stay. Get used to it.

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songwriting

Nick Troop – The Song Doctor

Nick Troop is a British doctor in psychology doing research on the effect of songwriting on human emotions. How cool is that? In his latest project he constructs the ideal David Bowie song by analyzing hundreds of songs. Obviously, he has no pretension of out doing Bowie using science and technology but the result is quite pleasant.

On his web site, you’ll find interesting statistical facts about Bowie’s lyrics. For example, it turns out that the words Bowie uses also seem to be related to how long his albums stay in the charts. Mhhmm, OK.

For his next project, the good doctor is looking for volunteer songwriters. Visit his research page to learn what it’s all about and maybe do your bit in the name of science.

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songwriting

Google Map As a Cute Toy Robot

Japanese folks love their privacy, sushi and…cute little robots. So Google Japan came out with this super-cute stop-motion animation of wooden toy characters to explain how they collect data in the land of the rising sun. The robot (let’s call him Snoop-the-friendly-robot), is seen removing all private information from photographs and obediently removing specific details when asked through a colorful telephone. Awwwww.

The theme music is appropriate and not too different from what you may hear while listening to Thomas the steam engine. I wonder if someone composed that or if it was automatically generated with one of those arranger keyboard so popular in Italy and Asia. Either way, it must have been fun to play and record.

See Japan? There’s noting to worry about. Google is not Godzilla.

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songwriting

Writing On The Bass

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Usually, when we think songwriter, the image that comes to mind is one of an artist alone at the piano or playing an acoustic guitar. Yet interestingly, many bass players are the main songwriters for their band.

The best examples include:

  • Paul McCartney (Beatles)
  • Sting (The Police)
  • Nikki Sixx (Mothley Crue)
  • Tobin Esperance (Papa Roach)
  • Marcus Miller (Miles Davis)
  • Steve Harris (Iron Maiden)
  • Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy)
  • Geddy Lee (Rush)
  • Chris Squire (Yes)
  • Mark King (Level 42)
  • Trevor Horns (The Buggles, Seal, Art Of Noise, Franky Goes To Hollywood)

I think bassist have an advantage since they are the “glue” that keeps a song from falling apart. The role of a bassist is to support the chords played by the keyboard and guitar players, while following the drummer’s rhythms. As such they have a unique viewpoint of a song’s landscape. They have to keep the house standing while everyone else goes wild.

Switching instrument is a well-known way to explore new songwriting possibilities. Next time, try the bass and see what happens.

PS — Thanks to Sean for reminding me of Geddy Lee, Chris Squire and Mark King.

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songwriting

Tarja Turunen – Songwriting Transition

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Here’s an interesting scenario: you’ve just been fired as lead singer for popular operatic metal band Nightwish. You are signed to Warner Gernany who sees your undeniable crossover potential. I mean Celine Dion/Sarah Brightman kind of potential. Which stylistic direction do you take on your next album? Metal, opera or pop?

If you’re Finland’s Tarja Turunen, you slowly move your fan base from the niche metal to something more mainstream and hope for the best. Her latest album, My Winter Storm is clearly a transition album and the songwriting reflects that.

In a Vacuum
Most of the songs were written by Swedish A-Ha-esque songwriting team Vacuum (Mattias Lindblom and Anders Wollbeck). Their style is more understated and laid back. To my ears, the Vacuum songs are missing the big choruses necessary for a worldwide pop hit. Gone are the wild guitar solos and progressive rhythmic mayhem of Nightwish. The songs were conceived to focus on Turunen’s immense vocal abilities. Like Kate Bush, she uses her voice for both lead vocals and background atmospheric pads.

Compare the pop opera Metal of Nighwish’s “Nemo” against Turunen’s more serene “I Walk Alone“:

Go West Girl
I hope that Warner give her the same worldwide promotion they gave to Celine Dion in the early 90’s. I also hope she gains access to a wider pool of songwriting talent. Scandinavia has a great songwriting pedigree, but I’d like to see what she can do with some west coast Dianne Warren-esque pop pieces.

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