OUT OF THE VOID

Over the years I’ve spent in online music communities, I’ve always enjoyed the large variety of people that tend to inhabit them and I’ve always been interested to find that behind all of these online identities, are some really regular people. That may seem a bit obvious on the surface, but what I mean by that is regardless of our level of passion for our chosen hobby or profession, life just seems to find a way to happen to us all. Over the years, I’ve watched people grow and change through life’s ups and downs and I’ve also seen that reflected in the amount of time people have to spend with their gear and also by extension, the amount of space they dedicate to it.

Indeed, I’ve already previously blogged about my ten year journey through college life to marriage and middle age and how I coped with it in regards to the evoloution of my studio. But what I wanted to know is, from the synth community at large, what happens to you when you have to downsize for a life change?

I don’t want this to be a hardware vs. software debate, but rather a serious question for those of you that have had to downsize based upon life changing circumstances: moving to smaller house, giving up a spare bedroom to a new member of the family or perhaps going away to college. What choices did you make and why? How did you replace essential pieces of gear with smaller equivalents? And most importantly, how did you manage to continue doing what you love to do in spite of the changes that life had brought to your doorstep?

And recently I posed this question to to a few of the synth and keyboard forums I am on and I’ve posted some of their responses below. I hope perhaps that you can pick up an insight or two from some of them and I encourage you to carry on and add to the discussion in our comments section below.

But I digress. I would like to say at this point that the two photos above were posted by me, on behalf of good buddy and fellow forumite ElectricPuppy, who was inconsiderate enough to be away and having a great time in Hawaii while ultimately leaving it up me to fill in for him, even though its my blog.

Anyway, what I do know is that due to a recent uptick in his local housing market, Mr. Puppy has seen to fit to sell his current house, while the getting was good, and to temporarily set up shop in an apartment until the new house is ready to be moved into. The top photo displays the previous state of Mr. Puppy’s studio and the bottom, his current.

Now how exactly would Mr. Puppy feel about the switch? While I’m not 100% sure what software he is using, I do know that he has a latent envy for the ITB setups; if only for an appreciation of the lack of clutter. But on the whole, I think he would think he would find it quite comparable to an OTB setup and also easier / faster to use. But sadly, he would still suffer a lack of time as I know he’s often quite busy with work and various home improvement projects.

I at first opened the discussions on the forums with the hopes that people would accompany their comments with pictures that depicted their transition, when it quickly became obvious that not everyone had them. Naturally, I didn’t want anyone not to participate, so I quickly rescinded the requirement and am instead, just going to use these two photos, courtesy of Mr. Electric Puppy, as place holders since I already had them on hand.

I would like to thank all of the participants in the discussions, as I feel we really got into some really good and positive dialogue that transcended the normal VS. arguments. And the one gem I think that really stood out from the dialogue was that most of the participants seemed to agree that using software was just different. That is to say, that’s it’s just different from using hardware; not better, not worse, just different. And if you could approach it with that mindset and leave your comparisons at the door, you can be more productive and you can truly open yourself up to what amounts to being just a different way of doing things.

So with out further ado, below the break you can find some of the more choice comments that came out of the discussions along with links back to the original threads. Once more, please feel free to post your comments; we’d love to hear from you too!

Original thread at Harmony Central KSS

Original thread at Gear Slutz Electronic Music Production

Crufty –

HW, at height, what i would call ghetto fabulous:
Mac pro, logic, 2 x motu midi, apogee duet in
2 bus compressor: rnc “nice”
console: ramsa 820b (24×8 chan w/3 band api style eq)
fx: dm-100 delay, ce300 chorus, lexicon mx200 x 2
Drums: tr 909, jomox 999, drum station
va: vsynth, jp8080, virus ti
vco: fr 777, fr revolution, fr xs, moog voyager rack
DCO: bass station rack, mks-7, mks-50, dsi per
keys: a6 andromeda
romplers: korg M1/M3, yam SY77, EMU proteus 2500, roland d550, mdc1, vs1
groovebox: emu xl7 command station, electribe mx

Today: NONE.

After dallying w/reaper briefly on a pc laptop, picked up mbp and as of today:

OS 10.7
Ableton Live (x86)
NI Komplete w/Goldbaby / driven drum / zero-g sample packs
VA: Diva, ImpOscar 2, PPG Wave v3, D16 *, AudioRealism *, Dcam, fabfilter twin
Rompler: Korg Legacy, Omnisphere
channel setup: VCC -> eq -> TB Reel
Compressor: IK Vintage Racks, Sonnox, Glue, Horizon, Rocket, Dada Sausage
EQ: Equick & Equality, Sonnox, IK Vintage Racks
fx: Eventide *, fab filter *, D16*

i switched because the hw setup wasn’t working for me anymore. I loved the sound. My wife was unhappy with the space the studio took and that was the real killer.

To be honest, burying myself alone in a room wasn’t practical. It’s a hobby, and it took me away from my family. My kids loved interacting with the synths, but how often was i making music? At first every week, then every month, then every couple of months..then i think one year, i turned it on a grand total of three times.

Meanwhile I had this pc laptop , and I slapped on reaper and a bunch of free vsts. A new world opened up to me. I installed the old plugs from the mac pro and hey…it was ok. I didn’t like the sound but it was close enough to explore…and I could save and revisit things.

On the mac pro setup, if I fumbled a key or got carried away w/knob spinning, w/no multi-track a/d conversion, that fumble was permanent. I used to take pictures of patches, but the reality was I was never going to go back and do over a part.

A few years went buy and now my kids are older. I ditched the hw because the space could be better utilized by things that actually would get used on a daily / weekly basis, like tinkertoys.

At first, I was trying to recreate the 909/777/a6 sound itb. Once I changed my mindset that I wasn’t replacing, I was doing something totally different…my composition freed up. I spent less time worrying about how analog something sounded, or how disappointed I was that none of the plugins sounded like my 909/777/voyager/a6 combo.

I also have tried, tried tried TRIED to give up on drums. A drum line is a crutch–say a bar is boring. 808 kick + 606 hats and yay! that bar is now exciting.

Plus, I have conditioned myself to think that all electronic music is DANCE music, and must have 115 – 133 bpm, 4/4 etc etc.

But the realitiy is…all I did when I slap down what I call the ‘rock’ 4-4 was something lazy. so recently I have spent a lot of time critically listening to classical music. I am thinking that electronic music has yet to reach its zenith. and not that I will be a part of that wave, but at least I can try. I think this has helped me itb.

and part of that try is that the masters, had the virtue of having the instruments naturally arrange themselves. that when the violins attack dies down, the pianist naturally plays their notes a little louder. and all these interactions between composer, conductor, and player, that i never tried before becaue my otb setup was very noisy.

so itb, i have really tried to focus on space, and arrange based on attack and release. the clarity one can get itb is unmatched for the $ spent, and just recently–the last 6 months even–plugins have really started to sound good. Not good for what they are…but good on their own.

if space has been my focus…my take…itb still doesn’t do well with 3d sounds. i have given up on that, getting that MASSIVELY wide sound. ‘wide enough’ will have to do for now.

the other thing is that itb really has a problem with density. i felt like with the ramsa, i could pan, eq, and the analog sounds all just melded together w/only small amount of attention to arrangement. i spent a lot of time on the patches.

itb, for some reason, sounds thicken up a track a lot quicker. so arrangement and composition is really a focus, especially since patch creation takes a lot longer. and i have to constantly delete and trim, since what sounded good in the moment, with my ear trained to hear the new part, will sound like ass a few days later, when my ear has forgotten what was going on and its just mush.

i am no great musician, just a dude who has fun. I am always in awe at the creativity and musicality of fellow gs.

Dj Sharaz –

Hey man. I’ve been doing this for a long time and have slowly moved away from hardware to the point where it’s all “in the box” now.

It was more of a practical decision for me than anything. Several years ago I moved into my current studio – a space half the size of what I had before. Aside from the heat issues created with a lot of equipment running in a small space, I was constantly dealing with cabling issues and line noise. Software VSTs were getting better and better so the leap wasn’t that difficult for me considering the trade-off in space. The other issue is I compose on the road a lot and my laptop is a near clone of my studio tower – all the instruments I need are in that thing. I can translate compositions more efficiently between rigs being almost entirely in the box.

I would consider some of the things I’m using now more as indirect replacements, rather than an apples to apples replacements, for my outboard gear. Sure, there are Jupiter 8 emulators out there but they don’t sound as good as the real thing in my opinion. Ask me eight years ago and what I would have told you was my JP-8, Virus B and Korg Triton were mainstays – I used those instruments in every track. Now it’s FM8, Reaktor and Massive. I also used to rely on a Roland JV1080 for bread and butter sounds – I’ve replaced that piece pretty directly with a ReFX Nexus. I find I use Nexus for exactly the same reasons I used the JV. Some things I haven’t been able to duplicate – the chorus in my Juno 60 for instance. There’s little in VSTland that can emulate that huge chorus. I will still pull that keyboard out of storage and sample it if I need a particular sound. But then I pack it up and it goes right back in storage. For me it’s the best of both worlds and I can maintain a minimalist approach with the benefit of access to outboard gear.

My list of equipment is here along with new studio photos: http://www.dropthatbass.com/studio/

I’ve actually taken to using a program called Sample Robot to auto sample entire banks of my old outboard gear and turn them into Kontakt instruments. It’s a good compromise.

What am I using now (what have I replaced all of that with)?

Custom built i7 2600k PC with 32GB of RAM
Ableton Live w Max For Live
Akai APC 40
Axiom 49 controller
iPad 3 with Animoog running MIDI
Synths: Komplete 8 (Massive, FM 8), Sylenth1, QuadraSID, Arturia Minimoog
FX: Ohmicide, Valhalla Room, Rob Papen delay

I have an almost identical setup in my travel laptop…I tour as a DJ and perform live with Ableton and an APC40. I have also stored away my Technics 1200 turntables.

Here’s my bio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DJ_Sharaz
Here’s my fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/Djsharaz
Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/dj-sharaz

Gregwar –

n the 90s i had a ‘hybrid’ setup with an analog cs-20m and korg O1w/fd and logic on pc and softsynths. my collaborator was wicked at chopping drums and he had some drum machines.

our old dell laptop was underpowered so we would bring a pc tower to shows and sequence/loop things live (kinda like ableton live, which wasn’t out yet) and play ish on hardware synths.

list:
mackie 32.8, apogee ensemble, korg O1w/fd & minikorg, yamaha cs-40m & tx7 & dx7 IIfd w/E! & tg77, access virus c, roland super jupiter & d550, moog voyager rme, casio vz-10m, ensoniq dp4, reel to reel, etc

at the time i enjoyed making music totally analog or with a couple digital synths thrown in. but i still had my macbook pro and everything

the biggest problem was good softsynths it really demanded a lot out of the laptop but hardware sounded so great and you could run as many synths as you wanted into the mixer.

now that laptops are a lot faster the softsynths are getting a lot better and the need for moog voyagers, super jupiters, virus c, tg77, etc type synths becomes more of a preference than anything.

there is nothing really special or boutique about the above gear. diva, ace, synthix, poly kb II, zebra, sylenth, tg66, trillian, omnisphere, alchemy, iris, etc there are so many great ones to choose from and they can cover all of your needs imho.

making patches on hardware synths was much better and good results came a lot faster. the problems were with things like the d550’s cryptic handshake with my midi editor, patching things like guitar pedals and external processors into the mix, etc

now with softsynths its much easier. everything works right away and i’ve recently purchased a novation controller to make tweaking and automation really easy. it doesn’t matter what gear you use as long as it doesn’t take away from your productivity

as for playing live i’d like a knobby synth or two to compliment a tracktor set or something but mostly when i play live i play bass guitar in metal bands.

last comment, one thing that drove my gear lust was thinking i’d find the holy grail but i never did. after tracking my minimoog through my mixer to tape i thought there would be a major breakthrough

it never came. i have tape emulators, poly analog emulators, guitar pedal emulators, etc because even with synths that are twice as good like jupiter 8s, arp 2600s, etc and better mixers and reel to reels, i still don’t think i’d ever find the holy grail and had to stop chasing the dragon.

Aymat –

NI Kontakt – Replaced Yahama A4000
NI FM8 – Replaced Yamaha FS1R
NI Reaktor – Replaced Roland JD990, Waldorf Blofeld, Yamaha TG500
Spectrasonics Omnisphere, Halion One – Replaced Yamaha Motif ES Rack, Yamaha CS6R, Roland XV5080
U-he Diva – Replaced Nord Wave
Sonic Projects OPXII – Replaced Oberheim Matrix 1000
XLN Audio Addictive Drums, Groove Agent One – Replaced Akai XR20
UAD2 Solo Laptop Card – Replaced aux fx, eq from my Mackie Onyx mixer

I made the switch from hardware to software in the early 2000’s, back to hardware in 2004, and then back again to software in 2010. The only exception is the VirusTI which I intend to keep because I have way too many projects tied into it and I mainly use it as a plugin instrument anyway. I switched to an all software set up out of convenience because I moved out of the country in 2010.

If I were to say what works, well, all of it really. Most of the software I own I had already been using along side my hardware and I found that I generally used software more out of convenience. If I were to say what doesn’t work (for me), is the cost of hardware. Its hard to justify now spending the kind of money I used to spend on hardware when I can create the same music Ive always made at a fraction of the cost with software.

Learjeff –

I went from hardware to software and back to hardware. I went back only for two reasons, to have two tiers, and convenience. The sound was better with software (NIB4 vs. Nord Electro 2).

I used my own Rhodes soundfont in software (http://learjeff.net/sf/sf.html) and preferred that to any Rhodes on the NE2, but YMMV, and my Rhodes does have its flaws.

I used Scarbee Wurly and Clav. I’m just as happy with the NE2’s. However, I had tricked out the Scarbee Clav to play different presets on left and right, for a really cool stereo effect and ballsy tone.

In both cases, I used my old Ensoniq MR76 for piano, also it’s suitcase Rhodes, and the occasional moog lead just for fun (I play mostly blues and soul, so didn’t need a lot of polysynth or pads, which the MR is great at. That seems to be changing, though.)

So, I don’t use software now, with the NE2; it would be another thing to schlep and set up (in addition to guitar and guitar modeler). The sound would be a bit better, but it’s not worth the extra hassle to me. I still haven’t tried it, but one of these days I want to run NE2 and NIB4 in parallel; see what that sounds like.

ScottDavidson –

Ive been through that transition several times, from all hardware to all software , back again…now hybrid.

Reasons for swithching have been varied, sometimes economic ,sometimes space related.

The last time I went to an all software setup was for a film scoring project and I had to make a grown up desicion when I realized that a room full of synths and sequencers wasnt going to get me the kind of results I could achieve with a couple of fast computers and extensive kontakt libraries.

Hogger –

Like learjeff, I too went from HW to SW to HW. I’m sure I’ll be back to SW some day, and then back to HW. The main reason I went to SW was VB3 and Scarbee Rhodes. The main reason I went back to HW was latency and the complexity and time involved in setting up for live gigs.
SW has the ability to sound better because it allows for so much more RAM than most HW keyboards.
SW opens the sound generation up to anyone with sufficient coding skills, whereas a HW synth’s capabilities are generally reserved to its manufacturer.
SW usually depends upon a generic OS that wasn’t designed with live gigging in mind. The OS is susceptible to virii and whatever bugs get introduced by web browsers, wifi drivers, and whatever else finds its way onto the machine.
SW latency is a big issue. Keystrike -> MIDI (USB or 5pin serial) -> interface -> PC -> synth app -> audio interface, making that entire trip in <5ms is a tall order. When the latency gets higher than that it becomes very annoying, and distracts the musicians mind from creating music. HW is generally much more reliable. You plug it in, turn it on, wait a bit, and it's ready. It's designed to be powered off at any time. PCs generally don't deal well with power getting yanked prior to a safe shutdown of all apps and the OS. SW can be setup to handle it, but it's not very common. HW latency is generally not an issue at all. If the processor can't handle the demands of needing to send audio out within 2-3 ms of the keystrike, the HW synth would likely never make it into the marketplace. Once an affordable synth that supports VST is available, the line between HW and SW will blur. The kronos is close, but it's still a very closed platform, and it's not all that affordable - it's a minimum of around $2800, I still can't put VB3 on it, it has no drawbars, and it won't let me load up effect VSTs to process external XLR inputs. If I were dictator of the world, I'd tell a team to round up the following, and make it work: 76 key synth action keybed, plenty of sliders (for drawbars) and knobs (surely can be done for $500 or so) touch screen (mimo monitors are $300) computer fast enough to run three or four VST synths (can be done for $600 or so) setup an OS that can have the power yanked, yet come back up just fine every time (windows XP embedded perhaps, $100 or so max) That's around $1500, cost. Tack a couple hundred profit on it, and you've got yourself a $1699 synth that will run VB3, Ivory, soundfont players, virtual analogs, tons of polyphony, open to pretty much any VST that can be rounded up. It could even process external audio with effect VSTs, perhaps stick something like a presonus audiobox 44VSL on it for an added cost. 4 combo XLR/1/4" inputs capable of being processed through VST and mixed via 4 knobs on top of the keyboard. Make this model $1999. Make an SSD option that's even a little more, or let the end user round up their own SSD and install the OS themselves. This synth would kill, and it's $1000 cheaper than the only thing close that I know of (Kronos). Seems like I've seen something close, but I'm not sure it wasn't vaporware. liliththekitten –

I went from:

TR-505, 707, SH-101, MC-202, DW8000, Korg 707, MS2000r, Korg Electribes, Yamaha RS7000, DX200, AN200

to:

Mac (now PC) running Live, Korg Legacy Collection, Kontakt and Kore (mainly for Massive Threat) with various midi controllers.

Mainly for size and convenience, I also sold off everything but the TR-707 and DW8000 and I miss the 101/202 but thats about it.

I got into hardware just as stuff like grooveboxes had peaked and software was about to take over but before old analog prices went crazy. Though nothing I had has gotten that much more expensive.

It is much easier to concentrate on making music with a software setup – provided I limit the number of VSTs. With hardware, there was too much focus on acquiring stuff and too much time hooking it up. The RS7000 is a pretty decent sequencer though, wouldnt mind having that again. But if I always have my computer with me, I have no reason not to make music. I’ve been buying hardware again though but mainly as a way of adding sounds to what I already have. Also if I think of Live as more of a multi-track recorder and looper, it integrates well with outboard gear.

Shambler –

I went from hardware to software completely, even using a Roland a-800 pro as my main keyboard.

I had used V-Synth XT then GT, Access Virus Ti Rack, Motif XS6, FantomX6,Korg Triton Blue…I had a bit of an adventure jumping from one rompler synth to another.

I don’t gig, my use is purely home studio ( more like alcove studio!) and I wanted the best sound in the smallest possible space.

Today I have finally settled on one setup, namely a Kurzweil PC361 as my main board for stock sounds and great keyboard/controller action…(I think you need something for these sounds where the voice selection is instant unlike software)…and everything else in software.

Alchemy replaces a V-Synth, Zebra2 replaces Access Virus…they sound just as good but different, they don’t take up room, they don’t break like a hardware synth might.

My setup is not something I would advise if you gigged, although Alchemy and Zebra2 are rock solid I wouldn’t be prepared to trust a PC in a live enviroment =)

chevybusa –

Hey dude. I don’t have a camera so I can’t snap any pics, but I can say that I switched from all hardware to being 100% ITB (see sig)…I started with a 5 octave KORG Triton LE with the EXB-SMPL board way way back, used that for years exclusively…I then got all kinds of other hardware synths to mess with and use, but once I got turned onto Reason (2.0 at the time) I was hooked and never looked back…I sold all my hardware stuff except for my Yammy S80 cuz that was the best controller for Reason for me (88 weighted keys, channel AT, can route an FC7 trough the MW, can use one as a dedicated EXP pedal, alos has a BC input and dedicated sustain pedal jack and FS jack…I also use a Behringer BCR2000 to control all the knobs on the synths…I upgraded to 4.0 and used that exclusively for a while, then I got Logic Pro 9 so I could use other softies and plug-ins, primarily Komplete 5 at the time. Since then I’ve gotten quite a few more and couldn’t be happier and haven’t looked back, for me personally being 100% ITB with the gear in my sig really is the perfect set up for playing writing recording mixing and mastering, and it’s also perfect for me cuz I don’t play live or gig at all or with a band at all.

subby33 –

Hardware Gearlist

Emu Sampler ESI 2000
Roland Juno 60
Roland JX3P
Roland SH-2
Kawai K5000s
Kawai K3m
Korg MS2000
Waldorf Pulse
Yamaha CS1x
Mackie Mixer (12 channel I think, cant remember what its called)
Various rack mount effects and effects pedals.
Various rack mount romplers, cant remember them.

Software

Presonus Studio One
Cubase 5
Sylenth 1
Omnisphere
Native Instruments FM8 / Absynth / Massive (Komplete)
Native Instruments Kontakt Sampler
EOS Reverb

I started using synthesizers around 1995 or 96. I made a hardware setup that had quite the flux in gear, until around 2009 I finally decided to go software. The moment it changed for me was me simply being tired of routing instruments to mixers and effects chains, and things of that nature. It’s simply too easy to do it ITB. Around late 2000s is when I also felt that software had FINALLY caught up.

It also just took me realizing that software would not do exactly what my analogs would do, and coming to terms with that. One I let that go, then using software become so much better. I dont really miss my analog gear, but I do miss some of the sounds. I found that buying analog/hardware gear is a vicious cycle. To get the best out of it, you end up needing to buy more expensive gear to make it all work. It just simply became too pricey. I heard what current dance artists are doing w/ a laptop and bringing into a studio to mix . . . and it became silly for me to think I had to do otherwise.

I will always have a love for hardware and analog gear, but I just find living in apartments and never having enough space, a powerful computer is the way to go.

And finally! Electric Puppy chimes in –

I won’t list all the pieces, I’m sure you can do some synth spotting.

The only constant in these two setups are the chair (ha!) and the DAW; Sonar on an HP tower. Now you may well be saying, “Gosh, EP, that’s a serious change, how do you like it?” How do I like it?

I hate it.

But to keep with the OP’s questions:

Why did I switch? Because I’m in the process of moving to a new house, and the temporary apartment doesn’t have near enough space for me to spread out all of my stuff. And I thought, “gee, maybe I should try this all-software thing, other people seem to get along well enough this way.” Feh! These other people clearly haven’t experienced the joy have having dedicated machines and don’t know any better!

What did I replace? Pretty much everything. I didn’t have any intention of explicitly duplicating any particular synth that I have, though. In fact, I’m (presently) only using the synths that came with Sonar, plus Spectrasonic’s Stylus RMX. I’m finding that in terms of sound, I like Z3ta, but many of its presets are too ravey/trancey/firepantsy for my tastes.

What works? Meh. It all WORKS, in the strictist sense. The A-800 PRO is plug-n-play with Sonar, so that was easy. The Focusrite VRM headphone amp is just a standard class USB audio device, so that works, mostly. That lamp works if I can keep the plug from falling out of the outlet (worn-out apartment outlet is worn-out.) I really, really like my new giant-size monitor, at least I don’t have to squint to see the synth controls and whatnot.

What doesn’t work? Let’s see:

Doing everything via a mouse and a screen is like painting a mural through a keyhole and I hate it. If I get a good groove going live, I have to STOP what I’m playing, fuss with the mouse, find thing I need to click on, bring the right things to the foreground, click some more, then hit record and… I lost my groove. FEH, I say!

The best latency I’m getting is 10ms. This is crap. I had 5ms with the RME Fireface, and that was acceptable. For me, 10ms is just barely in the realm of playable. I’m not the kind of guy that finds pre-made loops and cuts and pastes pieces together and draws automation curves, etc. I play live, so latency to me a is a BIG DEAL. I don’t like having to consiously think about having to play slightly ahead of the beat to keep things tight. If not for the latency, though, the VRM sounds nice and the volume knob is nice.

While the A-800 PRO plugs seamlessly into Sonar, as a keyboard it’s subpar. The keys are too short and the pivot point is too far forward. If you play “deep” in the keys, it’s annoying. Otherwise, the controls feel nice, and it feels sturdy enough. The thing about these control surfaces, though, is that you have to remember what mode you’re in and what the controls do in that mode. This distracts from what I’m really trying to do which is to PLAY. I don’t want to have to go “shift-right, bank B, which knob was it…?” to change the volume on a synth while I’m playing. Right-hemisphere brain does NOT like being interrupted by left-hemisphere brain, if you know what I mean.

In conclusion: When I finally get settled in the new house, I’m going to spread out all my harware again and bask in the glory. This ITB stuff sucks. :grin: