My Experience Recording Vocals and MIDI Keys with Ardour 3 Beta

I spent the weekend getting all my packages up-to-date and trying to familiarize myself with Ardour 3 beta 5*. I then spent the last three days recording MIDI keyboard parts and vocals for my upcoming EP.

I got a lot of my information from a video tutorial I found on Ardour’s website. It was made back when Ardour 3 was still in alpha, but I did find it useful as far as getting proper signal flow between various programs using JACK. Upon opening Ardour 3 beta, I did notice that there were quite a few changes to the program since the video was made, but I would still recommend the tutorial, especially if this is your first time recording using MIDI. Unfortunately, the demonstrator is using a USB connection for his MIDI keyboard (guess he did not have a MIDI cable?) but I was able to translate that into what I would need to do to use a MIDI connection with a little thought.

I found that constantly opening a new session and forcing myself to establish those connections again and again was the best way to solidify the process. Sure, I was slow at first, but now I just open all my programs and connect them with out thinking. In the end I used Ardour 3, JACK, QjackCtl (a JACK GUI) and Qsampler (a Linux Sampler GUI) to record my keyboard parts and vocals.

I was pleasantly surprised by a few of the changes to the newest version of Ardour. Here are a few of the things that I loved:

  • Having just come from several months of using ProTools 9, then 10, I see that some of my favorite little details from ProTools are now integrated. I love that there is now a “smart tool” that changes your mouse icon into a different tool depending on where you are in the track. It really saves time when you do not have to keep going to the tool bar to change to the select/move object tool or the select/move range tool.
  • If the way QjackCtl is presented is difficult for you to visualize, I really like having the alternate, more graphic interface that is available right in Ardour. Click on the “Window” tab, check the boxes for “Audio Connection Manager” and for “MIDI Connection Manager” and it shows those same JACK connections between hardware and software, but in a different way. In the beginning, I referred to both just to double check that I had everything set up correctly. In the end, I used the QjackCtl interface more, but I like them both.
  • The dialogue window for exporting makes it a no-brainer for those who might not know about sample rates etc. Want to make a CD-ready track? Select the option for CD in the edit window and it automatically sets your parameters to a 44.1kHz, 16bit WAV file. Want to amend that? All the other options are clearly marked and easy to see. You can even add dither at this point. I think it is nice to be able to just click one button and go if you are not trying to do something unusual.
  • One of my favorite little surprises was something so small and yet it is one of the things I was the most excited about. I was trying to edit one of my vocal tracks. I didn’t like how I sang a phrase, so I wanted to replace it with another take. When I went to line up the preferred version in my working track, I placed the new take on top of the old one and it was translucent. It was SO EASY to line up the takes because I could see one wave form through the other. If you are zoomed in, lining them up takes literally a second or two. I love this feature. So simple! So intuitive!

I will be sure to post more of my thoughts as I continue to record additional songs and play more with my MIDI options. I plan to try to program a very simple drum part for one song that will not have a live drummer, and I will mess around with some ambient sounds as well.

*I am currently running Ardour 3.0.0 svn13084 on 64 bit Ubuntu Studio 12.04

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The ProTools Proficiency Test (PTPT)

This past week was quite a stressful one for me. In addition to all the tests and projects that come with the end of a school term, I had to complete the ProTools Proficiency Test.

This test is designed to make sure students are competent with the DAW software and know signal flow before they are allowed into the school’s studios. It is timed (10 minutes) and in front of a panel of faculty.

I am proud to say that I finished in 9 minutes, completed all the tasks, and passed with a 92% The faculty graded each task on a points-based system evaluating several things including the use of short-cut keys, organization, and the ability to comprehensively answer questions while keeping on task.

If you are interested, here is a summary of the exam from the syllabus:

Pro Tools Proficiency Test (PTPT)

This exam is the Mid-Program Assessment for the Bachelor’s Degree in Audio Production.  All students must pass this exam before they can take any advanced courses beyond AU200.  Failure to pass the PTPT will result in a failing grade in AU200 regardless of other assignments, quizzes, and/or projects.

In front of a jury of at least three Audio Production Instructors each student must complete the following tasks within ten minutes.

  1. Set up a new Pro Tools session in the correct format and in the correct place on the Hard Drive.
  2. Import the track provided using the workspace window.
  3. Program a drum beat using Reason that is appropriate for the track provided.
  4. Record two vocal takes into a playlist and edit the two takes together on a compilation playlist.
  5. Insert 1 type of dynamic processing and apply appropriately.
  6. Set up a time based effect and apply appropriately.
  7. Write appropriate automation.
  8. Perform all the necessary steps to create a Redbook CD.

[also: proper breakdown of equipment, though that part is not timed]**

 

** I added this part because it was on my evaluation sheet, but not listed in the syllabus.

 

Now that the PTPT is behind me, and I am no longer focused on knowing all the ProTools short-cuts, I am free to play around with Ardour. Already, I have tried using ProTools short-cuts in Ardour and have made some really wacky things happen. For example I made my Ardour session completely disappear with no distinguishable way to recover it other than shutting down and restarting the computer.

Since one of the points of this blog was to document my experiences with Ardour, I hope to be able to post more often about it now that no longer have to worry about failing the PTPT due to incorrect short-cuts. Imagine if I made my session disappear during the exam!?!

Today, I am using Ardour to record the vocals for my final project in AU200 (the PTPT class) but the final project must be mixed in ProTools since that is the focus of the class. Still, it logs a few hours on my open source DAW and gets me that much more comfortable with it.


Ardour VS ProTools (…and My Professional Career)

I am now in my second quarter studying Audio Production at the Art Institute of Washington, and I am in two classes where we will be using ProTools rather heavily. As you know from previous blog posts, when my Mac died, my husband persuaded me to have the new set-up be Linux-based. (see “Setting Up a Linux-Based recording Studio (a Preface)” for the reasons why I agreed.)

Problems with the Ardour plug-ins aside (mystery!), the two look pretty similar at the start of things, but I have not really done any editing on Ardour yet to know if the two are parallel.

Here is my problem: next quarter, I have to pass a proficiency exam in order to move forward with my major. I will be seated in front of a computer with four professors standing over my shoulder as I load up ProTools and be told to do various tasks while I am being timed.

So I kinda sorta need to know ProTools inside and out. Hey guess what? There are about a billion forum entries on various websites and all the authors say they could not get Linux to run ProTools. I can’t tell if it is a software or hardware problem. Many laughed that Windows still cant get ProTools to run properly (some of these were a few years old though.)

One of my professsors stated that ProTools is the industry standard. He said that I need to know the lingo in order to communicate with other professionals and to get a job – that no one will follow me if I speak in Ardour terms.

Is this correct!?!?! Are they THAT different?

We are going to try to load it onto the desktop that is partitioned to run Linux and Windows Vista. I will not be able to record onto it (the room is too loud with various computers running in there – including our server) but I will be able to edit on it.  If it runs. I have some hope it will work because there was a comment on the forums that said ProTools actually seemed to like Vista over 7.

Any comments on this would be appreciated!