Hardware overwhelm: a girl’s guide to buying a new stage piano

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Hardware overwhelm: a girl's guide to buying a new stage piano • CharlotteBax.nl

Good morning my creative friends!

Last month I sold my monstrously heavy, ginormous Yamaha S90SE stage piano with a million features that I never used, to replace it with something simpler, and more importantly: lighter – a Yamaha P115B.

I don’t really know if it is because I am a woman, or just because I am “me”, but I always get a bit overwhelmed when I have to buy a new piece of hardware. Most equipment doesn’t come with practical, easy to use names but some kind of model number, what always seems to be a pretty random bunch of digits, but apparently makes perfect sense to the manufacturer.

This blog post is meant to be a guide to help you buy a new stage piano, but I guess you could use it for basically any piece of hardware you need!

1 – Why do you need something new?

First you want to make clear why you need a new piece of hardware. Is it because you don’t have this kind of gear yet, or does your old equipment need replacement? Are you dissatisfied with what you have now?

I really loved my Yamaha S90SE. It felt like a real piano and the piano samples that I used regularly sounded really good. The only problem was that the instrument was so incredibly heavy, that I couldn’t lift it on my own, let alone take it with me to play gigs! Plus it had a ton of features I never used, which was quite a waste.

2 – What specs are important to you?

Make a list of all the important characteristics of your instrument. Think of what you need based on the previous question (why you need something new) and what you need the instrument for.

For example, I needed it to be a light instrument for playing gigs, but I also wanted to use it at home for rehearsing AND as a MIDI controller for easy part recording. I needed it to have its own speakers, so I wouldn’t have to plug it into my audio interface to actually produce some sound, but it also needed to have L/R jack outputs, so I could rig it to whatever sound system available at a venue.

This is the list I came up with:

  • Light enough to handle on my own (max 15 kg)
  • Speakers
  • Jack outputs
  • 88 keys, weighted or hammer action
  • MIDI / USB
  • Input for sustain pedal
  • Needs to have a way to transpose by half steps

Don’t get scared by very detailed specs such as the wattage of the speakers (yeah it’s nice to know but I just need it to have its own speakers) or specs with difficult words that you weren’t specifically looking for. Usually if you don’t know a word, you weren’t looking for it 😉

3 – Ask around

Because different brands can have very different quality instruments, I recommend asking some piano-geeky friends what they would recommend based on your most important demands.

I asked a former teacher if he could recommend some stage piano that is light enough for me to handle, 88 keys, and with MIDI output. I also sent some links to instruments that were within my budget and that had the specs I needed.

This way I learned that Casio is more of a cheap brand for beginners with not really spectacular sounds and that Yamaha always has a great realistic piano sound. He sent me links to 2 instruments which might be right for me. TWO instruments. Much better than the overwhelming amount you find in webshops!

If you’re entirely on your own and don’t have geeky friends like this, don’t hesitate to email the customer service of some large webshop you will probably buy at! They are happy to help you.

4 – Check your specs

When you think you have collected some nice options, you just have to check the specs. Usually the specs ar listed in the webshop, but for some very specific things, just google for the instrument user manual and use the search function to look up what you need. For example the transposing function is not commonly listed in webshop specs, it’s not important to them. I had to look that one up in the user manual.

Sometimes really simple things such as audio outputs are not listed because they are so common, but it wise to always double check this in the manual! One of the two instruments I compared actually DIDN’T have two jack outputs for audio, only one jack for headphones. Of course I immediately crossed this one off the list! The other instrument had all the features I needed.

5 – Time to buy!

Well, at least you know what instrument you want now! Before buying, you could check if you can sell your old piece of gear online. It’s really great if selling your old instrument covers the costs of a new one.

Also make sure you are buying from a legit company, such as Thomann (or in The Netherlands Bax-Shop). This makes returning or repairing the instrument (if needed) so much easier.

Do you get overwhelmed by hardware specs and names? How do you deal with it?

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How I record and edit my piano parts

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How I record and edit my piano parts • CharlotteBax.nl

Hey guys,

Today I’d like to show you how I record my MIDI piano parts! Basically, this is one of the most important steps in my entire production process. If it’s not an all-piano song, then it will be a dynamic and expressive guide for the orchestration.

You ready?

1 – Prep your lead sheet

Print it and not down the intensity of each section from 1-10. Until quite recently I never used to to this, but the fun thing is that The Addiction Formula and my vocal teacher both say this is important.

And indeed, it helps so much with figuring out where your song comes from and where it goes! You can adapt your playing style to the intensity of the section, instead of just playing the same thing over and over just because it feels comfortable.

2 – Hook up your MIDI piano to your audio setup

Well, first things first: I actually never record piano audio. Virtual piano instruments are so advanced right now, you can make it sound like the real deal. So having some extra room to edit and perfect your takes is quite nice!

In my case, I just leave the cables on permanently because they all run pretty much along the wall. Perks of a small home studio 😉 I use a Yamaha S90ES, an Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56 and Logic Pro.

Don’t forget to choose the right External MIDI source in your DAW! When I was a beginner I totally didn’t get why I couldn’t record MIDI parts. I mean, the cabls were in the right ins and outs! Took me a while to understand I had to actually select the MIDI source. Ah well, you can’t be a pro in everything right from the beginning!

3 – Record all sections

Sometimes I record the whole thing at once, but most of the time I record all sections separately. Especially when it’s a totally new song and I haven’t practiced much, mistakes happen quite easily. It’s so much easier to just record sections in such a case!

When you turn on recording mode, don’t forget the clicktrack and TAKE YOUR TIME. You don’t have to start playing after one bar already. Especially when recording section by section, you can just glue them together afterwards. No stress!

After recording I put all the right takes in a track with East West’s Steinway piano (from Gold Symphony Orchestra).

4 – Timing

Check your timing and nudge everything that sounds off. Mind you, SOUNDS off. Sometimes stuff looks off, but it sounds perfectly fine. It’s natural to have slight tempo changes in every musical phrase.

Usually I move entire chords, to not damage the human element too much. Remember that nobody plays perfectly on time like a robot! Only on rare occasions I move a single note.

5 – Velocity

One of the things I love about recording MIDI parts, is that I can edit everything afterwards. Not only timing but also velocity is very important to fix before you start recording vocals. Usually I make the softer parts a bit softer and the louder parts a bit louder. This is very helpful for expression and dynamics in your vocal recordings. In music it’s hard to overdo it!

6 – Playback

Don’t forget to play back the whole thing to check if it’s exactly as you want it to be!

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My favourite books on music creation

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My favourite books on music creation • CharlotteBax.nl

As with every craftsman, I keep some professional literature on my bookshelf. Well… Some? A whole boat load actually! Books from basic music theory to songwriting to music in films and games – I have a whole shelf full of useful, impressive, (sometimes boring) and very interesting resources about writing and arranging music.

But which books on music creation are my favourites? Which ones are the most inspiring? Which are the must-have titles for you to buy?

1 – The Sound Effects Bible

By Ric Viers

This book is your complete guide when it comes to recording and creating sound effects. What kind of sounds effects are there, what are they used for, how do you synthesize them? How can you build your own foley stage, what do you need for field recording, and how do you pick the best place and time? All these questions will be answered very elaborately. Creating is sound effects is way more than just holding a microphone to a creaking door!

2 – The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films

By Doug Adams

When you buy this book, I feel you have to get the Complete Recordings too. This book is full of analyzed fragments of the score, cue by cue, riddled with sketch scores written by Shore himself.

When you listen to the LOTR soundtrack, it is unavoidable that you will recognize themes and link them to certain places or characters. The way Shore braided all these themes together is very impressive, to say at the least.

This book tells you all about how the themes are related, what sub-themes are derived from other themes, how every theme develops with the story and at last a chapter about recording the bunch. A great way to dive into the creation of my favourite soundtrack of all times. I get inspired every time I open this book.

Can’t wait until The Music of the Hobbit Films will hit the stores!

3 – On the Track

By Fred Karlin and Rayburn Wright

A very heavy and expensive book, but totally worth it. This is your complete guide to the world of film music. Who are in the production team, what function to these people have, what do you need to take into account when crating a film score, in which ways can you use melody and harmony, how to recordings and post-production work – literally EVERYTHING is written down in this book.

Cool bonus feature is that the book is riddled with interviews from the big guys such as Hans Zimmer and John Williams, and of course a lot of score fragments, so you can literally learn from the best!

Buy the books

Want these books on music creation for yourself? Get them through the links below!

The Sound Effects Bible - Ric Viers

The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films - Doug Adams

On the Track - Fred Karlin & Rayburn Wright

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Self-hosting your sounds or joining a stock music library?

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Self-hosting your sounds or joining a stock music library? • CharlotteBax.nl

So – tadaah! This is it! The brand spanking new website design!

Featuring: top bar icons, home page icons, multiple sidebars for different website areas (blog versus shop) an actual footer, the new theme is actually compatible with WooCommerce (hallelujah!) and of course the same old familiar helpful blogposts you know me for.

Of course, this website overhaul was not just for fun – it is part of a new business approach. When the old doesn’t work, you try something new!

When I started out as a musicpreneur, I wanted to do everything myself – I wanted full control. And in the beginning, that seems really smart. You can decide your own price for your products, you can decide on the quality, you decide what actual products you put in your shop.

But it’s not as smart as you think it is. You have to handle all the sales, you have to do all marketing and promotion, you have to generate all the web traffic. That takes up a lot of time and energy you’d rather put into something else. And even if you put in all that energy, you probably won’t get that many views and sales because nobody knows you as a newbie entrepreneur.

Time for a big change: hosting my sounds at Audiojungle. By submitting my sounds to a large stock music website, I increase my chances of getting seen (heard) by people who actually need my sounds! Sure, I’m bound to their rates and have to agree to their terms, but the chance is much greater that someone would actually buy my sounds.

The pros and cons of hosting your sounds at a large stock music library

Self hosted

  • Set your own price
  • Set your own quality standards
  • Set your own terms & conditions
  • Generate your own traffic
  • Do your own promo and marketing for 100%
  • Rely on your own judgement

Third party stock music library

  • Host decides on price ranges
  • Host sets quality standards
  • You have to agree to work with host’s terms & conditions
  • You can profit from host’s traffic and brand
  • Still have to do promo and marketing to a considerable extent
  • Get helpful feedback on your work

As mentioned, I am hosting my audio with Audiojungle from now on. Check out my items, and come back regularly for more!

   Go to Audiojungle

Are you self hosting your stock music and sound effects, or are you a contributor to a larger stock music library? Share your experiences in the comments!

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How to layer ambients and make them loop seamlessly in 6 steps

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How to layer ambient sounds and make them loop seamlessly all on 6 steps • CharlotteBax.nl

 

I love recording ambients. When I’m at a new place, I ALWAYS listen to how it sounds – preferably when it’s silent. Okay, it’s never *truly* silent – even when there are no noisy humans around (and even that could be an interesting ambient sound) there’s always some kind of sound.

For instance, when I started working at a bar, I noticed how it sounded when there wasn’t a party going on. No people. No music. Just the airconditioning, the fridges and some humming from appliances in the background when you turned them on.

Sometimes, you instantly have the perfect sound. Other times, it’s not really interesting on it’s own, or you need to layer some of your recordings for this or some other project.

It’s just like layering sandwich toppings, to be honest: cheese on it’s own is a bit boring, and neither does ham or ketchup. But when you combine all 3 flavours, you’re in for a nice lunch!

What do you need for ambient layering?

Seriously, there’s not much you need for layering sounds:

  • Ambient loops with parts you like. And then I’m not talking beginning/middle/end, but low/medium/high frequencies.
  • A sound editor that lets you cut sound files, and has a fade function and an equalizer. Audacity for example should work just fine. I use Logic Pro because I already have it.
  • The ability to distinguish low sounds from high sounds.

So how do you layer ambients?

1 – Choosing your basis

Chances are there is a sound that’s more or less what you’re looking for. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s almost there! Let’s use that sound as our base layer.

Always make sure you work with the best quality audio possible. You can always reduce file size (and thus quality), but you can never add it.

Also, in this tutorial, the sound files you start out with, don’t necessarily need to be looping sounds. Just mak sure they are lengthy enough to loop them in the end.

2 – Listen

Play the sound and listen carefully. What is it you love in the sound? Is it the rumbling bass, or the screechy high parts? And what is your sound lacking?

3 – Search for complementing sounds

When you have decided what your base sound is lacking, go search for sounds that precisely fill in that need. Drag them into your sound editor and line them up with the beginning of your first layer.

4 – Some basic EQ-ing

Of course there are parts of your complementing sound layers you don’t need, or that clash with your original sound, for example more or different low frequencies. Put an equalizer (EQ) on each channel and use the high and low shelf functions to reduce some of these frequencies.

Sometimes you can be quite rigid and really cut out the entire bass or treble section, but more often than not, you have to be a bit more careful and just make them less loud.

5 – Choose your length

How long should your ambient loop be? More than 2 minutes is often unnecessary. Sometimes one of the sounds is a bit shorter. That’s okay, you can make a shorter loop. Cut your layered tracks all on exactly the same length.

6 – Loop it!

How to layer ambients and make them loop seamlessly in 6 steps • tutorial by CharlotteBax.nl

Okay, now this is a bit difficult to explain, so I made a little drawing for you, which makes it easier to understand. You have to cut off a section at the end and drag it to the beginning. (And don’t worry, for multiple layers it works exactly the same.)

First add fade outs to the cut off sections: loud at the beginning, staying loud, still staying loud, and then quickly but smoothly turning silent.

Then add fade ins to the original longer sections. Don’t let them stay (visually) linear, but let them have a little downward curve in the middle. The end of the longer section will remain untouched.

Now play your creation on loop mode and check if the end loops seamlessly into the beginning. If the beginning sounds like it is raising or declining in volume, fiddle a bit with the “dip” of the fade in section.

 

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