Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Setup as of 06/2010

I am running Windows Vista 32bit home premium on a T7200 based HP 17" notebook with 2GB of RAM and 250 GB of 7200RPM disk space.

My primary music application (DAW) is Ableton Live 8.1.3.

My audio/midi interface is a MOTU Ultralite "mkII" (I quote this because the most recent is a mk3, and it was the one before that), this is a Firewire only interface.

I have several MIDI controllers that I can use, and some of those I typically use.

The one I typically use most all the time is the MIDI Guitron shown here in very poor quality video with subtitles that I think made some people believe I was deaf. In fact, I was recording directly into the camera with inadequate impedance matching, which results in a horrible buzz if there is not any input to mask the sound, and I thought it would just be easier for people to read the words anyway. People either think it is great and say nice things, or they think it is ridiculous and ridicule me.

Then, I use a Frontier Transport. This gives me "navigational" control over Live, scrolling, scene triggering and track selection.

I also have a nanoPad, nanoKontrol, nano Key to use when i want to use something USB for a quick setup. Also, an FCB 1010, and an old MPD drumpad to use as a footswitch.

Lots of people want to know what sort of setup to buy, type of computer, interface, software, etc..

My advice is always this (and I am writing this blog post so I can link to it from now on when people ask):

The first thing you should ask is, do I ever want to play out using a computer? That includes "laptop battles", mobile DJ, etc.. If the answer is yes, then you will need a notebook or laptop. If the answer is no, then you can save a lot of money by getting a desktop. A very powerful desktop setup include an adequate video monitor can be had for the price of a less powerful notebook. Plus, if you decide you want to play out, you can get a notebook to play the productions you do on your desktop (although that is less "live improvisational computer-based electronic performance", and more on that later).

Then, they might ask "how much should I spend"?  I remember reading somewhere that the closer you spend to $US 3000 for a system, the less long term value you get for the money. Three grand is a lot, especially for a notebook, and it likely means you are buying a system with the highest-end CPU available.

But the highest-end processor available is the one that will drop the furthest in purchase price with the advent of the next year's CPU offerings, so a system with a set of specs that runs you $3000 one year will run you considerably less for the same set of specs the next year.

However, if you skimp on processor, you will have problems if you are using music production tools. You want as high end a system as you can afford, without going overboard.

I've been using Ableton Live software since 2004. They come out with a new version each year that adds more new features and more creative flexibility each time. In addition, I have amassed a collection of VSTs that I have purchased, downloaded for free, and made myself that I continually consider pruning and continually convince myself it wouldn't be worth it.

Because I like to play live, during that time I have bought 2 notebook computers specifically for music, and one for visuals projection. Each time I have put together specs "one or two notches down" from the fastest processor, and gotten the fastest discs and additional RAM. Also, these are 17" notebooks for the music systems, because I like the ability to put a large number of tracks onto the screen.

Then there is "Mac or PC"? And of course the Mac is a "personal computer" but of course there has been some morphing of the terminology so now it is Mac or PC.

What I'd say is, choose the one you are most familiar and comfortable with. They both have advantages and disadvantages, and they will be more and more competitive as time goes on.

The oldest notebook now runs Live 6 perfectly (under XP), and the newest notebook runs Live 8 perfectly (Vista 32bit). If I upgrade the newest one to Windows 7, then I expect to be able to do more with the same system.

And when i say "runs perfectly", I mean this:

I am able to drop instruments and clips onto tracks, on the fly, without clicking/popping artifacts.I am able to mute/unmute and arm/disarm tracks on the fly, change patches on the fly use the midi controllers I chose, trugger clip, basically to do the things I want and to route midi with "midi yoke" add on software however I want *AS LONG AS I KEEP AN EYE ON THE CPU*

You have to keep an eye on the CPU, to make sure you are not pushing into a "lockup" scenario. Think of it as having a limited stage on which you can fit performers. Improvising on the fly with a computer is like having a limitless cast of instrumentalists that you can bring on stage, where you can magically toss a musical phrase to play to each one and they play it, and then you can modify what each one plays however you like, by changing the phrases and/or by adding more effects.

This is what I mean by "live improvisational computer-based electronic performance", you are building a track from an empty or limited set of elements, choosing rhythms, instruments and musical elements before an audience's very ears on the fly.

But there is always only so much space on the stage (or in your recording studio). So what you are buying when you spend more on CPU is more space on the stage, or more tracks on your board, and more capacity in your effects racks.

Having said all of that, there is really only so much that you can do at once. If you are looking to create soundtrack type orchestral pieces, or intricate layered rhythms and other patterns, then you need a fair number of tracks.

So I think you don't want to be "on the bleeding edge" when you buy your initial technology, but a safe step behind it. Look at the *fastest CPU* that is available on your build and buy, then look at the ones a little less racy. There is a definite "fall off" in price, a couple few hundred bucks, very often, but the difference in actual speed might be only 0.0x GHz.

The above advice is meant to be "timeless"-- as things progress, it should be as valid. However, as of this writing right now, the advent of USB 3.0 is a really big deal. Also of this writing, there are not any audio interfaces that are offering USB 3.0 speeds. But, when there are, having a USB 3.0 port will be important.


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