Welcome to the Crossroads

Woke up this morning, ordered the last bit for the Modular system because of a nice sale over at Perfect Circuit Audio, made some coffee, and found this waiting in my Tube of Yous feed…

And it makes for a perfect addendum to Dynamic Range Day yesterday. 🙂

Rick Beato is another Saint here in the APITE Pavilion of Greatness. My Saints are those who give up a lot of their time and experience for free to pass on the baton of enlightenment to those that want to stop by and listen. He’s worth watching and following if you’ve even remotely interested in making or listening to music.

One of these days I’ll do entire post on Saints.

But for now go watch the video. I’ll wait – it’s less than 10 minutes.

Did you catch the ‘Junk Food’ analogy? Kinda fitting, isn’t it?

I tell my students over at EduCorp® that you have two choices in today’s musical landscape: you can play the Pop game by its rules and its changing goalposts and maybe, just maybe, you’ll make it up the foodchain to ’stardom’ and ‘fame’. 

Or you can strike out on your own and donor art the way you want to.

Because there’s never been a better time to do just that. From creation to distribution to promotion, you have access to it all for next to nothing thanks to the power of technology and The Interwebz®. Just add your ideas.

But just like the proverbial Crossroads, you better make that choice wisely – AI is already figuring out how to duplicate what the ‘roomful of scientists’ are doing in Popland (and other Genres was well), and soon they’ll be able to flood the airwaves with sugar-coated addictive earworms targeted directly at the psychometrics of any given demographic market. This will be here sooner that you think, so if you want to ride out the rest of this train and try to collect some sweet, sweet cash before it comes to an abrupt stop, then you had better start yesterday. And good luck – you’ll need plenty of it.

Oh, and one more thing: don’t think you can play ‘both sides’ of the game. The chances of putting something out yourself and getting picked up by the machine for big dollas are ancient history. And even if you do manage that one-in-a-billion chance, you’re going to have to play by their rules anyway, so you might as well just play their game from the get-go.

Ian Shepherd started Dynamic Range Day to get the word out that even though digital recording and the the underlying technology behind it is a boon for musicians and engineers (higher quality recording, much less noise and artifacts, and can be easily mass-produced making it more affordable to the masses) it caused us to push the limits to the point where we were sacrificing dynamics for sheer loudness to be heard over the rest of the herd.

As humans, we like dynamics in our audio. And an ever-growing cadre or musicians and engineers is fighting to get that back.

Rick Beato is essentially saying the same thing with this video. It sounds great. It’s been recorded and produced to perfection using the same digital technology stated above. It’s catchy and addictive. It even has dynamics…

But it’s still Junk Food…

And just as the experts are telling us that too much of it is not good for our health, Rick cautiously warns that too much ‘overproduced’ pop can be hazardous to your creativity as well. Like Rick, I admire the production. The perfection. The absolute attention to detail. But ultimately it rings hollow to my ears – I know it’s going to be replaced by something else coming down the production line very soon. 

As humans, we like imperfections in our audio. And there are artists out there fighting to get that back too.

Surprisingly, Mabel McVey has an acoustic version of ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ that features just her voice and acoustic guitar. But unfortunately it’s not a demo or a live version performed in a small venue. It’s a textbook confection of Pro Tools and Melodyne and Autotune – professionally corrected and perfected to the Nth degree.

Same potato chips, slightly different flavor.

I loves me some technology, but I’m also playing for Team Human  and I know good and well that the tech is simply tools for people to use – for good or bad.

So we can either race towards perfection until the machinery does it for us better and cheaper and easier, or we can run in the other direction with all of its uncertainty and messiness and frailties and childishness.

Welcome to the Crossroads.

Happy Dynamic Range Day 2019!

Happy Dynamic Range Day everyone!

Ian Shepherd (forever referred to as Saint Ian on this humble Blog) has been doing this for like a decade now, and I consider it pretty much the only Holiday for those of us trying to make decent sounding audio for the Broadcast, Film, Pro Audio, or even Not-So-Pro Audio industries, like anyone who actually likes listening to music.

So if you fit in to any one of those genres (or just want to pretend like you are) head over to the DRD Website for info, memes, and an announcement of this years winner of the Grand Prize Award.

J Cole’s KOD nabbed it last year, FYI… 🙂

Oh, and there’s a bonus from Saint Ian himself over at The Mastering Show audiocast: his analogy and tips for creating a dynamic mix that competes on the Major Streamers. Great stuff.

Tube of Yous link (audio only)

Podcast link

Enjoy your Holiday fellow Audio Troublemakers!

Such a Shame…

Earlier this year I posted ‘Life’s What You Make It’ as a bit of inspiration for 2019.

Yesterday (although I did everything I could to not believe it) we found out that the composer of that song, Mark Hollis, had died.

Such a Shame.

Although it’s hard to bid farewell to those that have influenced and enlightened us, it’s worth remembering that it’s been over 20 years since he graced us with his music.

Mark lived pretty much by his own rules, and after his solo release in 1998 perhaps he was tired of the chaos and uncertainty of our Industry.

Or he just wanted to spend his time with family and friends.

Maybe he had said all he wanted to say.

Honestly we will never know, and that’s okay. 

Because his legacy lives on through the art he produced, and will continue to influence those still with us and countless more yet to come.

We should all strive to have this as a part of our Curriculum Vitae.

Thank you Mr. Hollis.

The 2018 Macintosh Audio Kerfuffle

So I’ve caught little bits and bobs of this over The Interwebz® for the past few months, but Peter Kirn over at CDM brought it to the forefront earlier this week.

Some additional info I hadn’t seen, but unfortunately certainly full of questionable advice IMO.

As usual, the Commentariat is jam-packed with FUD, so tread cautiously if you decide to peruse them…

So I read this with a healthy dose of ‘yeah, probably an issue for a few people but this can’t be worth all the garbage people are saying here’ as is usual with most of these reports of chaos, gloom, doom, and throngs of Internetizens sharpening pitchforks and lighting torches. Never content to just follow the herd, I decided to find out as best I could for myself.

As a reminder, I work at EduCorp® and we send thousands of MacBook Pros out every year.  An issue like this would certainly show up by now, since these models were released in Fall of last year. Since I teach in an audio program and am also one of the resident Neighborhood Mac Gurus®, I would certainly be one of the first to know. So far – nothing. I will also mention that we just tested a room full of audio gear returns from students, and there were quite a few defective products (although it’s a small fraction of what what is sent out) and a surprisingly large number that still functioned properly. Which is a gentle reminder that just because you can’t figure out why it’s not working doesn’t mean it’s defective. But they are students, and still novices, so we can overlook such things. For people who consider themselves ‘Professionals’ the bar is much higher. Just repeating the echo in the chamber doesn’t cut it.

So it it BS? Actually, no. But there are caveats as usual with stories like these.

Is it worth looking into and reporting about? Most certainly, but within reason and sanity and freakin’ common sense please.

Is it worth all the vitriol being hurled at Apple? If you want Web Traffic, yes.

It is panic time? Are you serious?

With that, on to the testing.

Since my computers are several years old and aren’t affected by this issue (I tested them with the procedure below) and no one in my office has the latest MBP, we contacted our Tech Department to get one. They were super helpful as always, and big thanks to everyone involved.

I grabbed every USB audio interface I could find laying around – a Focusrite 2i4 (2nd Gen model), a Yamaha AG-06, and my cheapo-backup Behringer UCA222. All are Class Compliant USB 2 audio interfaces in line with the ones causing issues in the reports. Thunderbolt audio interfaces seem to be working fine according to reports, so it wasn’t tested here. USB-C connected interfaces were also not mentioned as a culprit in my research, but I don’t have one to test anyway so it was also skipped.

We found one of the USB-C hubs that our students get. I brought my Apple USB-C to USB adapter and an Anker USB-C to USB cable I recently purchased to cover multiple cable and connection types. With all that assembled, we headed over to Techland to run everything through its paces.

The MacBook Pro was a 15” 2018 model (Macintosh 15,1) with 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD. It had the latest T2  chip that many thing might be the crux of the issue. It was a ‘clean install’ with the latest officially released OS (10.14.3) and had Logic Pro and Pro Tools installed. Opening Logic confirmed it has never been launched before, and the Apple Loop library had yet to be indexed (yet another sign of a fresh installation). It was pretty much one you would walk out of an Apple Store with or have shipped from The Mothership®. Excellent. 🙂

We tested all three USB audio interfaces using the USB hub (a Belkin USB-C 4-port), the Apple USB-C to USB adapter, and the Anker USB-C cable. The only exception was the Behringer. Since it has a non-removable USB cable attached, we could only test it with the Belkin hub and Apple adaptor. All three interfaces are Bus-powered, so no external power supply was needed.

We started by playing back audio from Logic Pro. As an Apple Product it might be the least susceptible to this, so we tried it first. 

In my research, it was recommended to play back audio while toggling the ‘Set date and time automatically’ checkbox (In the Date and Time panel of System Preferences) repeatedly to demonstrate the audio issues. We also ensured that the machine was connected to the Internet, both wired (via an Apple USB-C to Ethernet adapter) and wireless via the company network, so the Network Time Server (time.apple.com) could connect properly.

Once we started playback and toggled the checkbox, there was indeed audio crackling and glitching from all of the audio interfaces every time it was turned on and back off again. It was easily heard by everyone and repeatable regardless of audio interface, connection type, or Thunderbolt port used on the Mac.

The Behringer was (surprisingly) the only one that didn’t glitch as much, or even at all when used with the Apple adapter when I listened to it. Odd.

We stopped there. I debated actually recording something into the Mac for a long period of time, but I didn’t bring a mic, XLR cable, or any interconnects to record from another source. Besides, we had proved it was happening and my boss said he had an upcoming meeting with Focusrite – they have the resources to check even more thoroughly than we did and move this up the food chain with better data if they find what we did.

Everyone that did the test yesterday is an audio engineer and educator – not a programmer or a systems engineer. We discussed our opinions on what it might be, but don’t have a definitive answer why or a solution to offer to resolve the problem(s). All we can tell you is that in our professional opinions is that it exists, it’s reproducible, it’s been reported as an issue, and will also be brought up to a manufacturer with much more experience with this than we have. We also agreed that it will get fixed.

And that’s about it – which is why I find CDM’s ‘advice’ in their article rather unnerving, because I was not aware they are computer programmers or systems engineers – I just thought they were musicians and bloggers…

Their take:

 

 

 

1. Mac users on older machines should postpone upgrading.
2. Mac users in the market purchasing a new machine right now should consider a comparable Windows machine.
3. Users stuck with these models should use a Thunderbolt 3 audio interface, adapter, or hub, or attempt to return the computer in favor of an older Mac or new PC.

 

 

 

The first is a valid option, and the only one as far as I’m concerned. If you are using a machine that is doing what you need, there is absolutely no reason to upgrade – period. This is why my computers are older models – they still do what I need them to do.

Number two is an overreactive ‘burn everything down and start over’ analogy. Learning a new computing system, new operating system, and quite possibly a new audio paradigm (DAW, plugins, etc.) is probably going to stop your workflow dead in its tracks while you ramp up your skillset. Let’s also not forget that Windows is hardly bug-free, and the hardware it runs on can be a Pandora’s Box of technical issues too. Nothing invented by humans is perfect.

 

The third ‘solution’ is just a mess. What if you dropped all your cash on the computer and don’t have any left for an upgraded interface? Adaptors or hubs might not make any difference – as our little test showed. Buying older computers has its own pitfalls and issues too you know… 

(JPEG of Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard facepalming here please)

And then there’s this: CDM reports that iPad Pros are affected in the article too.

In my tests yesterday I’m pretty damn certain that it is not.

To be absolutely clear, when I first got the iPad Pro late last year, I did have some issues with the USB-C headphone adaptor killing the Wi-Fi signal (although the audio continued to work perfectly). This was fixed in a Software Update around December. I have had zero issues with it ever since – audio or otherwise – and it use it every single day.

 

So yesterday I fired up AUM on the iPad and recorded audio from a AKG condenser mic (so phantom power is used on the interface – extra current draw) though a bus-powered Focusrite 2i4 audio interface for just over 20 minutes with no glitches or audio issues. I then loaded AUM with multiple AUv3 and IAA instruments, MIDI plugins and FX (getting the CPU usage up to around 80%) and let it run for over two hours – again, no glitches or artifacts whatsoever. I recorded more audio from the mic after that just to see if pushing the CPU might affect things. Again, it recorded and played back perfectly. So if there’s an issue with audio on the iPad Pro I’m not hearing it at all.

I might have a ‘good one’, but more likely it got fixed in a Software Update and I just didn’t notice it. 

This latest ‘kerfuffle’ will get fixed too.

In the mean time, avoid the Dogpile of ‘Apple is Doomed’ nonsense. Don’t think Apple cares about the Music Makers? Open the App Store and check the Top Paid Music Apps:

App store LPX

Logic Pro X, djay Pro, MainStage…

This is a big part of Apple’s Ecosystem, and I can tell you firsthand it means a lot to them

And if you have issues they want to know about them, so they can be remedied.

Document your problems, report them, and keep doing it until they fix them.

Lastly, If you are ‘stuck’ with a 2018 MBP, MBA, or Mini that has this problem, I hope you find a workaround until then. We’ve found workarounds for countless audio problems up to this point, and guarantee we will in the future – regardless of platform. It’s what we do. 🙂

If you decide to jump ship and move to another platform, then I bid you good luck. But remember, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.

Permission to Play

I’ve been digging through the gadgets and gizmos show at the Winter NAMM Show (or as I usually call it HotNAMM) trying to show all of you some cool new toys that were announced, and came up with a whole bunch of nothing. 

The was nothing really new. I didn’t find anything moving the needle forward. 

It’s honestly been like this for years.

The MIDI 2 Spec (if it takes hold) might push makers and manufacturers to change things, but that could be many years down the road.

It seems the idea well has run dry, and we might as well just pack it up and become Accountants or something, right?

Wrong.

Nobody knows what’s going on right now.

Styles and Genres are Decadal Influences are being rapidly sucked up in a vain attempt to create something that resonates with listeners. Spotify and Apple Music have opened up the entire catalog of recorded music for the kids to explore and plunder.

Gear I lusted over 35 years ago is being rehashed as the panacea for all our musical woes. Nostalgia is winning over futurism.

To that above statement let’s not forget about the return to vinyl and various tape formats…

And anything popular might as well be created by AI, because certainly sounds like it is.

The great ‘powers that be’ in our Industry have recovered from their digital desert and returned to actually profitability.

Are they investing in new talent?

Hell no.

They have no idea what’s going on right now either.

So we have a couple of ways of looking at this:

1) Everything stinks and we should just become Accountants or something.

2) This is a golden opportunity.

(Spoiler: it’s number two.)

Why?

Because when everything sounds the same, or looks the same, or just seems the same, doing something – anything –  off the beaten track perks up our eyes and ears.

And our imaginations.

Do something bizarre. Make something you know isn’t even close to popular. Run in the other direction.

You have Permission to Play – because nobody really knows what’s going on anyway. 🙂

 

MIDI 2.0™?

MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is one of the biggest advances in music technology of the past several decades. It’s approaching 40 years old!

As a standard, it’s held up surprisingly well over those (almost) four decades.

But about a decade ago, the MIDI Manufacturers Association (or MMA as they are called by us nerds) started thinking about how to update the standard for the modern musical and media landscape.

They named the concept ‘HD MIDI’. Yes, the ‘HD’ is exactly what you think it is, and yes, it’s a stupid name.

I railed against the idea at the time, and was even surprised to find its creator Dave Smith (of Sequential) was also not so thrilled about it. 

His reasoning was the same as mine – if it still works, why fix it?

Today, just in time for HotNAMM®, the MMA has announced MIDI 2.0™. Yes, it’s now a Trademark too.

You can read the preliminary here.

So do I feel the same way about it 10 years later?

No.

MIDI needs updating.

DAW’s as well as Music Hardware and Software have exploded in functionality and power along with computational technology, and I’m not sure that continuing to put ‘Band-Aids®’ on the original spec is going to cut it anymore. Some of the new tech like MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) needs more than just an 8-bit Data stream, and faster communication and new control capabilities will most certainly lead to more innovation – which we sorely need in the Industry.

And the MIDI 2.0™ spec calls for total backwards compatibility, which ‘HD MIDI’ was not really certain about…

So hopefully these ‘tests’ go well and we’ll be incorporating the results into better bloops and bleeps very soon.

Now, what I do find very interesting is that Roland (who worked with Dave Smith to create MIDI) is on this upcoming ‘Prototyping Team’.

Sequential is not.

Maybe Dave still feels the same after all these years… 🙂