Electric Rain Dance 2011: redux

Here’s an updated version of my June 2006 track:

ELECTRIC RAIN DANCE 2011

Listen/ Download at www.archive.org. The track is licensed under a CC-BY license. Feel free to reuse or remix this song (CC license applies).

Please credit the music as follows:

Music by Ivan Chew – MyRightBrain.wordpress.com

The original was composed at a time when I was still new to GarageBand. There wasn’t much of an original lead guitar. More of a tentative attempt at learning how to record an electric guitar “live instrument” into GarageBand. And it was composed after a 12-year break from playing the guitar.

Here’s the original (the volume is mastered too low and uneven; lack of any significant melody):

Four years on, and about four digital albums later, I’ve learned more about recording, mixing and mastering.

While I’m far, far from the likes of playing like Joe Satriani or Steve Vai, the lead guitar playing is considerable better. By my standards, at least. Definitely more thought to the lead guitar composition and musical phrasing.

Also have a better understanding of Compression settings, tricks like applying a Limiter to the final mix, stereo and panning effects. Had help from books like this, this and this.


Redstone Arsenal Army Concert Tour
Originally uploaded by familymwr

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Logic Express or GarageBand?

I’m in the process of transferring posts from the GarageBand Meetup Singapore blog to here. Decided not to maintain that blog, since the group is largely defunct.

The meetup group didn’t really take off. Few people I know are interested in remixing. Or those who play/ sing/ compose aren’t really into recording their own stuff. But the blog will still be there; it just won’t be updated. The GoogleGroup is still available for people to join, though the last time anyone posted messages was back in Oct’09.

Anyway, I’m reading this post about whether to get Logic Express or GarageBand and Jam Packs. The question from Jason, in Mar’08:

I’m currently deciding between Logic Express 8 or GarageBand 4 + 1 of the Jam Packs, and am leaning towards the latter because I think I will get more loops and software instruments at a cheaper price? Do you have any advice that might tip the scale to Logic’s side?

(Incidentally, its now Logic Express 9 and GarageBand is probably two versions up)

Out of curiosity, I decided to tackle Jason’s question. To see how I would respond, given what I know today.

I’ve been using GarageBand extensively since then. Not Apple-qualified, but confident enough to do show-and-tell with ease, plus share mixing and mastering tips and tricks. I’ve tried upgraded versions of GarageBand, and I’ve bought a World Music Jam Pack. Three days ago, I bought and installed Logic Express 9 (pictured on the right, below).
GarageBand & Logic Express

Jason asks for reasons to tip the scale towards Logic Express, so I’ll give it to him.

Get Logic Express, because the difference in cost is just under SGD$40 but you’ll get more from your money’s worth in terms of the Logic Express software instruments, effects and features.

First, let’s talk about cost.

  • Logic Express would cost you only SGD$39 more, compared to buying a GarageBand upgrade and a Jam Pack.
  • GarageBand comes with the Apple iLife suite, which means you have to buy an upgrade for iLife. That’ll set you back by SGD$78. Add the cost of one Jam Pack (I’ll take the high end price of $SGD201), your total cost is $SGD279.
  • Logic Express costs SGD$318.
  • Your price difference is SGD$39.
  • Even if you decide to get only the Jam Pack (in which case you can wait till you get a new Mac, with the latest OS and iLife suite), you’ll be forking out SGD$201 already. For SGD$100 more, you’ll be getting a heck of a lot more from Logic Express.

Which brings us to features. I’ll start with the loops/ instruments and features in Logic Express. You’re getting a lot more than the default list in GarageBand. Just consider the piano instruments. GarageBand ’11 has maybe 8 or 9 (the additional ones you see are from my extra Jam Pack):
GarageBand '11 - Pianos and Keyboards

Now let’s look at Logic Express’s default list: I count 22 piano instruments alone. There’s the “Acoustic Pianos” and “Keyboards” folder, with various sub-folders:
Logic Express 9 - software instruments library Logic Express 9 - Acoustic Pianos Logic Express 9 - Electric Pianos

That’s only the pianos. Here’s a screen shot of the Logic Express Software Instrument menu, with the right pane showing the expanded list of Logic Instruments:
Logic Express - Software Instrument Library

There’s more: here’s the EXS24 Sampler interface:
Logic Express - EXS24

Here’s a video that better illustrates how the EXS24 Sampler works:

OK, with that video you’re probably thinking, “Woah woah, feature-overload!”

That’s what I felt too. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Learning how to make the best use of Logic Express will take time too. That’s the point, right? Getting your money’s worth?

What I’ve discovered with Logic Express is that while I could get the same MIDI track editing features in GarageBand, it’s a lot more efficient in Logic Express (i.e. less repetition, get the same work done faster). Believe me, it makes a lot of difference. Plus, Logic Express has a better set of Mastering tools (I’ll save that for another post).

In summary, Jason’s question suggested that he’s looking for value-for-money. Seems to me Logic Express is a good choice in this case.

If Jason is reading this, would he be convinced? 🙂

Remixing Lunarin: “No Sun Under The Sky”

I’ve not done a detailed GarageBand “How To” post for a while. Since I’ve just completed a remix of Singapore rock band Lunarin‘s CC-BY-NC-SA track, now’s as good a time as any.

Here’s my completed remix, titled “No Sun Under The Sky” (an obvious reference to Lunarin’s original title):

Creative Commons License
No Sun Under The Sky by Ivan Chew is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Singapore License.

CREDITS:

You can listen to the original version of “The Sky (Algiers)” in this YouTube vid from Lunarin’s live concert on 1 Oct 2010.

In my remix, I’ve used Linda’s vocals and sampled a bit of the track’s piano, bass and clean guitar.

TOOLS USED
GarageBand ’08.
Audacity for Mac.
Macbook Pro.

REMIXING PROCESS
It took me about 5 evenings to produce the remix. Spent about 3 to 5 hours each session, at home after work (I watch a bit of TV, more to accompany my wife — and then sneak off to work on the music!)

EVENING #1:
After downloading their GarageBand zip file (68 MB), I opened it up and saw 16 individual tracks are in AIFF format. Properly labeled too. I suspect that Lunarin was using Leopard, which was a later version of my Tiger OS X. Still, it seems that the GarageBand file is backwards compatible.
Lunarin - The Sky (Algiers)

At this stage, I wasn’t too sure how to approach the remix. The problem was that I was familiar with the original version of “The Sky”. The original tune was stuck in my head.

EVENING #2:
Coincidentally, I came across Admiral Bob’s (a fellow community member at ccMixter) pensive and sensitively played piano sample. I toyed with Lunarin’s vocal sample over that. And thought I heard magic.
ccMixter - Nobody Left to Save

It’s my habit to note the source files/ URL, credits, licenses, and other details of the song (like the Beat Per Minute, Key, and time signature). Such notes come in very handy when it comes to crediting the sources (a requirement for using CC-licensed works), as well as during the remixing process (i.e. what were the original time signatures).
credits - Lunarin & Admiral Bob

EVENING #3:
Once I decided to use AdmiralBob’s stem, I also adopted his BPM, key and time signature. I created a new GarageBand project with those settings.
Remixing Lunarin

From the Lunarin’s GarageBand file, I exported the individual track layers as I needed (used the Solo button to isolate the individual track). Then I opened them up in Audacity and made the necessary tempo conversions. This was because AdmiralBob’s piano track, which would be the backbone of the remix, was in 153 bpm (Key of Em, 3/4 signature) while Lunarin’s was 147 bpm (C Major, 5/4 signature).

For Linda’s vocals, I used a combination of the original BPM as well as the converted one (depending on the mood/ effect I was aiming for in the remix).
Change Tempo using Audacity

Put all the original and converted stems into a separate folder. BTW, the export-convert process tends to be iterative at this stage. As I explore possible musical ideas and arrangement for the remix, I’m going back and forth to get what I think would finally work.
Stems - Remixing Lunarin

Once the foundation (i.e. the arrangement) of the remix was more or less set, it was time to get down to the nitty-gritty, cutting-splicing-dicing work. Mainly on the vocals, to get the best fit to the backing piano track.
Remixing Lunarin

I’m also applying effects to individual tracks as I go along. My preference is to work in the effects along the way, rather than leave it all till the end. Yes, I know some pros advocate the latter approach but I guess my remixing method is like painting — building up the layers gradually.
Remixing Lunarin - effects

EVENING #4:
For this remix, the hardest part was getting the sound level adjustments correct, so that Linda’s vocals stand out at the right level — yet not drowning out the various backing tracks. In this case, I created three layers for the vocals — a middle stereo layer, and a Left and Right pan.

From experience, this method gives the vocals more “body”. Also, in building up the Linda’s vocal recording, there’s a very audible intact of breath. It came to be a distraction, so I slowly and carefully lowered the volume at certain points. This part of the remixing sucks up a lot of time; it’s more process-oriented and repetitive. Not exactly fun, but critical.
Sound level adjustments

When I think the track is ready, I export it as an MP3 file: stereo, at 128kbps, highest Variable Bit Rate (VBR) setting.
Exporting a GB track

It would be unusual to get the first version right. As I listen to the track as an MP3, I spot areas for improvements, e.g. parts that are too loud, too soft, vocal parts sounding a bit off in timing… and so on. It’s an iterative process of making adjustments in GarageBand, exporting the track, listening to it (and repeat). I ended up with about 9 or 10 versions before I was satisfied decided I’ve to stop!
Remixing Lunarin

At one point during the final sound/ remix check, I decided there needed to be an orchestral string part near the end. To create that grand concert hall mood. So I recorded a software instrument track. This was the only original part I created for this remix. You can listen/ download the string sample, here.
Software instrument - GarageBand

EVENING #5:
When I’ve listened to my remix for, oh I don’t know… the 10,000th time! I get to a point where I’m satisfied (but never fully happy though). I make the final sound adjustments and export as an MP3 file.

The proverbial icing on the cake is to key in the metadata (e.g. title, artist name, credits, album cover). I use iTunes for this (there’s also Windows Media Player, if you’re using a Windows-based computer). I’ll make it a point to indicate the CC-licensed sources in the Comments metadata section (that’s where the earlier notes come in).
No Sun Under the Sky (ft. Lunarin & AdmiralBob)

That’s it. Phew!

You can check out the upload and page details at this ccMixter page. I’ve provided the dry stems for the orchestral strings at that site.

Hope you liked this remix. I know I had fun remixing this. From my favourite S’porean band, no less.

Feel free to leave a comment.

Lunarin is Linda Ong (Bass, Vocals), Ho Kah Wye (Guitars), and Loo Eng Teck (Drums, Vocals). Among them, two of them are practicing lawyers and one is an engineer 🙂
Lunarin | Home