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Beginner Questions about DAW

Discussion in 'Recording' started by DreamEyes, Jan 15, 2013.

  1. DreamEyes

    DreamEyes Guest

    Greetings everyone,

    I've been playing and recording piano improvisations for a while (available here if you're curious) but it's always been amateurish. However, I would like to learn more about DAW and study how to compose structured piece using orchestral instruments (from libraries such as Garritan or EWQL). I first thought about starting with the software Finale 2011 but I play by ear only and I can't read sheet music (I never studied music theory).

    Therefore, I'd like to know if anyone could please share advice about what MIDI software may be best to use for a beginner with no music theory knowledge (that's a bad start, I know...).
    Also, I am currently using a Yamaha DGX-630 (with MIDI connection, but I still have to test it once I receive the appropriate USB cable), but I am also interested in looking for a better keyboard controller that would be compatible with DAW. If you have any recommendation, I'm all ears.

    If I forgot to include any details or information in my description, please don't hesitate to ask and I'll reply as soon as possible.

    Thanks in advance for your help.
     
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Garritan is a good place to look. The samples are very nice, and for someone new to "pure" orchestral arrangement, if that is part of your criteria, it also only lets you play notes within a given instrument's natural range, which helps with realism, if that is what you are after. So, no "fake" cello at the C 1 key...LOL

    I've used it for years and find it to be a great library, and my version is probably 5 years old now, so I can only assume that they've improved it since, and it was pretty nice to begin with.

    I can't speak for the newest versions, but the version I have is also not a memory hog. Put it this way. I'm using a 6 year old dual core athlon with 4 megs of ram and it runs just fine. ;)

    Now... you may want to look at hardware requirements from a controller point of view, because my version requires my midi controller to have a mod wheel as well as the standard pitch wheel.

    GPO uses - or at least used to - the mod wheel for volume swells, vibrato, and other nuances that make the instruments sound natural. So, if your current midi controller doesn't have a mod wheel, you may want to visit Garritan's website and check on what the latest version needs in terms of that.

    Good luck. :)

    -donny
     
  3. DreamEyes

    DreamEyes Guest

    Thank you for your reply.
    Then, I'll definitely look into Garritan. However, as far as I understand, any sample library (such as Garritan or EWQL) requires a MIDI software (not sure about the correct term) to record with, such as Pro Tool, Finale, Cubase etc.

    It seems that Cubase and Pro Tool are quite famous and powerful. However, for someone with no knowledge in music theory, would these tools be appropriate?
    Also, once I find what software is best for me, are libraries such as Garritan compatible with most softwares? If yes, may I ask if you could briefly explain how it works?

    As for the mod wheel, I noticed that this is something I will need and I don't have this on the Yamaha DGX-630 (there is only a pitch wheel). For now and for obvious reasons, I don't want to spend a lot of money in new hardware/software without being sure that I'll be able to use them, hence why I'm taking as much information as I need to determine what is best for me and then spend any necessary money for something I'll use for sure.

    Sorry for the hassle and the noob questions, and thanks again for your help.
     
  4. DreamEyes

    DreamEyes Active Member

    Thank you for your reply.
    Then, I'll definitely look into Garritan. However, as far as I understand, any sample library (such as Garritan or EWQL) requires a MIDI software (not sure about the correct term) to record with, such as Pro Tool, Finale, Cubase etc.


    It seems that Cubase and Pro Tool are quite famous and powerful. However, for someone with no knowledge in music theory, would these tools be appropriate?
    Also, once I find what software is best for me, are libraries such as Garritan compatible with most softwares? If yes, may I ask if you could briefly explain how it works?


    As for the mod wheel, I noticed that this is something I will need and I don't have this on the Yamaha DGX-630 (there is only a pitch wheel). For now and for obvious reasons, I don't want to spend a lot of money in new hardware/software without being sure that I'll be able to use them, hence why I'm taking as much information as I need to determine what is best for me and then spend any necessary money for something I'll use for sure.


    Sorry for the hassle and the noob questions, and thanks again for your help.
     
  5. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    pretty much all DAWS do the same thing. i wouldn't reccomend pro tools unless you have deep pockets, as the software is very picky about it's computer and hardware. i'd say just download some trials and pick whatever one you like. Reaper is a good one on the cheap, and just as functional as any other one.

    midi edititing is gonna be the same. you don't need to know theory. midi is a standardized format, so it is extremely similar in all programs.
     
  6. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Some libraries will offer stand alone programs, but... for what you want to do, if I'm understanding you correctly, you are going to want to get into a dedicated DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) which is a fancy term for a PC or Mac running a recording program like Pro Tools, Sonar, Cubase, Reaper, etc.

    You will need to choose a program that will allow you to record both audio and midi information, and as Kmetal pointed out, most of them essentially do the same thing, and I also agree with him that Pro Tools isn't what I would consider to be "entry level". It's not cheap, and many of the processing plug ins available for it (things like EQ's, Gates, Compressors, Spatial Enhancers, Reverb, Delay, etc.,) aren't all that cheap, either, and many also require thinks like dongles and iLok's to allow you to access these processors.

    While it's most certainly a powerful program, and has certainly become an "industry standard", in my opinion, at this point, I think it would pretty much be massive overkill for you, and not cheap at that.

    You may want to look into something more basic to start with, perhaps Reaper, to get your feet wet and to become acclimated as to how these programs work, in terms of audio recording and editing, midi recording and editing, use of processors, etc.

    Depending on what PC or Mac you are using, and what controller you end up with, you'll need a MIDI box. These days, most - if not all - connect to your computer via USB. This is the interface which will allow you to record your midi information from your controller into the computer and recording program. You will also need an Audio I/O to allow you to record or playback audio data.

    Now, here's the good news... there many, many, many affordable models available that have both midi and audio I/O, and hooks up to your computer via simple USB.

    This next question gets asked a lot, and I don't know if it would be one of your questions, but I'll head it off at the pass just in case: I would not trust any built in sound card that came resident with your PC.

    These built in factory installed audio devices aren't really designed to do dense production, they are designed more towards system sounds, playing back MP3's, gaming, watching videos, etc.

    The analog to digital converters in them are usually the lowest possible quality available, and, in many cases, the program you end up using may not even recognize the built in audio as a useable interface.

    Look at some devices from companies like Presonus, Tascam, M-Audio.... you'll find the prices all over the place; much of the cost is determined by how many mic/line inputs the unit offers.
    By and large, you'll pay much less for a basic two channel mic/line audio input with midi than you would a unit that would allow you to record 16 mic/line input channels at once.

    There's a lot more involved, but this is your starting place. It would help us to help you more if you included your current computer's system specs; CPU, RAM, processor speed, etc.

    -d.
     
  7. DreamEyes

    DreamEyes Active Member

    Here is my laptop specs:

    Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Edition Service Pack 1 64bit (build 7601)
    Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Quad CPU Q9000 @ 2.00GHz
    Number of Processors: Logical Core Count 4 Physical Core Count 4
    Physical Memory: 4090.887MB
    Virtual Memory: 2047.875MB
    Graphic Device: NVIDIA GeForce 9800M GTS
    Audio: High Definition Audio Device
    External Audio: HDE 6 Channel 5.1 Surround Sound USB 2.0 External Optical Audio Sound Card Adapter for PC Laptop (cheap one from Amazon)
    Additional Note: At the moment, I have the digital piano plugged in to the Line-in of the external soundcard, which is connected to the laptop via USB. Then, I use Audacity (or Sound Forge) to record live.


    So connecting directly the digital piano (or MIDI controller) onto my laptop via USB cable won't work? Is the MIDI Box/AudioI/O mandatory to make it work? Also, if a direct connection between the PC and the keyboard is not enough, may I ask why?

    As for the software, I've watched few tutorials video on Reaper and will try this one tonight or very soon.
    Again, thanks a lot for your answers, this helps to understand how it works and where to start.
     
  8. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    If your laptop - and more importantly your recording program- recognizes the USB midi, you're fine. You won't need an external midi box, because essentially, most external midi boxes are USB anyway.

    Your problem may lie in the fact that the audio I/O is either not recognized by the recording program, or that it won't perform up to optimum even if it is recognized.

    All you can do is try. Pick up a digital audio/midi recording platform - like reaper - and see how it performs with all the stuff you have now. It may be fine. But most will tell you that, if you are planning on tracking any digital audio at all, or if you are planning on triggering internal sounds, like those from Garritan, that those low grade audio I/O's won't handle the job well. Either the latency will be too high, or the converters will be very cheap and degrade your sonics, or, both.

    As a final suggestion, if you do end up using your external USB audio device, You may also need to disable the internal sound device - the "high definition audio" you mentioned....which is usually something like a soundblaster or a realtek, because many audio production platforms don't like working with two active drivers at the same time.

    But by all means, work with what you have now and see. It may be enough for what you want to do.

    -d.
     
  9. DreamEyes

    DreamEyes Active Member

    I've just received the USB cable so I proceeded with some test with the piano, Garritan and my digital piano. The good news is that it actually works. I can play with the piano using Garritan libraries and I can record with Reaper.

    However, there are few issues:

    - There is a 0.5s latency between the time I push a key and the time I hear the sound. Needless to say it really doesn't help to play.
    So as you said, I will probably need to invest in a MIDI box. If you have any model you'd recommend at a decent price, I'm all ears (I'll look into the link you provided regarding MIDI Box).

    - My piano doesn't have a MOD Wheel and I feel like it would be very convenient for strings and wind instruments. Plus, the hammer on my piano is kind of nice for piano but I have to smash them if I want to play drums or strings (otherwise, the sound coming out of it is weak) and with the noise it makes, my neighbour won't be happy...
    Therefore, I'm thinking about investing into a MIDI keyboard. Again, if you have any advice as for the choice, I'll be happy to listen.

    As said previously, DAW is all new to me so I can't invest a lot of money as long as I am not 100% sure this is something I'll do (however, composing is definitely something I want to learn and I enjoyed it so far on piano).

    Again, I thank you very much for all your help and advice.
     
  10. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    No, Dream... it's not your midi interface that is causing the latency/delay. It's your audio device. There is no "latency" per se' in midi information alone... midi is nothing other than note on/note off data.

    It's what that data is being sent to that matters, and in your case, you are using it to trigger internal samples. The midi information being sent from your controller is getting there in the time it's supposed to.

    It's the response of the samples that are being delayed, and this is a combination between your current audio device's playback settings and your CPU's ability to handle that audio.

    You need an audio I/O that has low latency, and I suspect, and as I mentioned previously, that your current audio device isn't up to the task.

    My recommendation is that you look at something like the Presonus AudioBox, which is a very basic two channel I/O USB audio device. This model boasts little to no latency, and also has a "mix" function on the front panel which allows the user to mix the signal between the input and the playback. It also happens to have built in midi ports as well.

    You'll probably still need to tweak some internal settings in regard to the audio; changing your playback buffers to find the right balance between input and playback in terms of latency and what your computer's CPU and RAM will allow. Who knows? It might work right out of the box. Just don't be discouraged if you have to adjust a few settings, is what I'm saying. And as I mentioned before, you are probably going to be better off if you disable that internal "high definition" audio device which comes resident with all current PC's. Many audio drivers, programs and devices for production don't play nice with those "built in" devices and drivers, which are designed mostly for gaming and MP3 or DVD playback.

    FWIW, the price on the Presonus is around $150 or so, give or take. BTW, I don't work for Presonus - LOL- so I'm not trying to sell you anything here. I just mentioned it as an example of affordable audio I/O's that are available.

    Presonus Audiobox Usb 2X2 Usb Interface | Spectrum Audio

    And, as mentioned previously, I would encourage you to also upgrade your controller/keyboard to a model with a mod wheel. As I suspected, Garritan obviously still uses this controller function quite a bit to handle the different nuances of different instruments.


    -donny
     
  11. DreamEyes

    DreamEyes Active Member

    Just to confirm, the Audiobox does not act as an external soundcard, correct? It is only handling the MIDI data to the audio device?
    So if I get an Audiobox such as the one you suggested, I would also require a decent external soundcard, right?
    Sorry if I'm a bit slow, I just want to make sure I understand what I need exactly.

    As for the in-built soundcard, I wouldn't mind deactivating it but I'm using it so the sound comes out of the laptop speaker (weaker sound means no angry neighbourhood). However, I'd rather use the external soundcard when using the headphone so maybe I can work something out.
     
  12. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    No, Dream... you're not getting it...

    The Audiobox I mentioned as an example is both external sound device and midi interface. You will not need anything other than this unit to do the recording you want to do right now.

    And, you should use the Audiobox for all your PC audio uses. Disable the internal junk, and go with the new external... the internal card isn't meant for anything close to professional results and will just very likely cause the other audio device/drivers to perform poorly.

    As far as volume goes, this won't matter because the Audiobox also has a headphone jack on the back, perfect for late night tracking.

    I wouldn't use headphones to do final mixes with, but for tracking, that would be your best bet if you are concerned about pissing off neighbors.
     
  13. DreamEyes

    DreamEyes Active Member

    Thank you very much for explaining.
    For now, I'm thinking about getting a Roland Duo Capture EX as my audio interface (or maybe this if I want to go cheap, but this is MIDI interface only).


    As for the keyboard, I'm actually interested in the Alesis QX49 to play any instruments but piano (I can use my digital piano for that).


    If I get any additional questions, I hope it's OK if I just post them here.


    Thanks again for your help.
     
  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member


    That's what we're here for. Just try to be as specific as you can, it helps us to help you better.

    Good luck!

    -donny
     
  15. DreamEyes

    DreamEyes Active Member

    Hello everyone,

    This will probably be my last reply in that thread.
    I just wanted to share that I went for the Tascam US122 mk2 (~80$) and the MIDI Controler Alesis QX49.

    Everything works just fine and I do not have any latency with the MIDI controler or my digital piano.
    For someone who would rather not spend too much money, the TASCAM Audio Interface seems to be good enough (at least for me).
    As for the keyboard, it's OK to play anything but piano (which was to be expected).

    I wanted to leave that comment in case someone finds this thread one day and is asking the same questions as I had.
    Thanks again everyone for your help. After doing some test, I ended up composing
    this
    with my new gear and I enjoyed it, so it's a good sign.
     
  16. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Sounds like you're off to a good start.

    Glad we could help.

    -d.
     

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