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


And the Angels Sing (Chapter 4 of Setting Up a Linux-based Recording Studio)

Late this afternoon, my husband and I sat down with the intent to figure out this buzzing issue, and he had an additional computer-nerdy agenda item that was not explained to me beyond “I am trying to fix the problem.”

So I read several articles about the Casey Anthony trial verdict while he worked his programmer angle, accomplished what he intended to do, and we got started on our scientific study. We systematically ran through the variables.

We recorded as it was currently set up in Ardour and Jack (QjackCtl) and there was in fact a buzz.

This evening we adjusted two factors in Jack: the sample rate and the periods/buffer*, and also the gain on my Layla (my digital audio recorder.**) The gain was an afterthought as the levels were rather low in the mixer in Ardour. I took down notes to keep straight what we tried, and it is all a jumble now. That makes no difference because the weirdest thing happened: after we adjusted the gain the first time, we were unable to to replicate the buzz – not even when we set the parameters back to what they were at the start of the night. We tried to get the gain back to where it was when we had buzzing, but it is a dial with no numbers, so it would not/could not be exact. We wonder if there was some quirk about the dial.

No combination of 44000 vs 96000 sample rate, and/or 2 vs 3 periods/buffer could make it buzz again. So we are guessing it was the gain. Or a tricksy gain nob.

What ever the reason, Hallelujah the BUZZ IS GONE!

* We have yet to learn what this periods/buffer thing does. It’s on the to-do list. We decided to adjust it because we saw it mentioned in various problem-solving threads on forums.

** reference my entry called “My New Toy (in 3-5 business┬ádays)” to learn more about the Layla.