Category Archives: Music Production

Apple updates GarageBand, including new instruments & Smart Strings

The new Apple GarageBand 1.2 was released today, along with the new iPad 3/HD (or The New iPad, as they called it). With the Retina Display and the faster Dual-core A5X processor, GarageBand will surely be much smoother and more technically consistent, with less hiccups and loading issues. I like using GarageBand on the iPhone 4 while being on the run, but the A4 processor has not been keeping up with the application, mostly feeling sluggish and not responsive. Same issue has been noticed on the original iPad. Heck, I am a power user, so perhaps I am exaggerating, but every Mac user know that Logic Pro 9, with dozens of tracks running simultaneously on a Macbook Pro is more stable than a simple DAW like GarageBand. It always seem to be panting for more CPU power. But hopefully, the processing power of A5X will keep up with the work load.

So what’s new in the new version of GarageBand 1.2 for iPhone and iPad?

  • Start a Jam Session to play or record live with up to three of your friends using iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch*
  • Conduct an entire string orchestra using Smart Strings
  • Use the Note Editor to adjust or fine-tune any Touch Instrument recording
  • Combine recordings to free up additional tracks using Track Merge
  • Keep your GarageBand songs up to date across all your iOS devices with iCloud*
  • Share your songs directly to Facebook, YouTube, and SoundCloud
  • Perform retro and modern synth bass lines and grooves with new Smart Bass instruments
  • Play synth melodies and arpeggios with new Smart Keyboard instruments
  • *Jam Session and iCloud are available on iPhone 4 or later, 4th generation iPod touch, and all iPad models.

The update weighs in at 801 MB and cost $4.99 (free if you already own it).

One of my favorite improvements was seen in the sampler. It makes the process very easy and it is actually fun to work with the feature now, as opposed to its predecessor. Here, I have recorded a sample with the built-in microphone, and I used the trim function to cut unwanted parts of my sample. The sample can be saved and retrieved at a later point from the sampling library.

Now, the interesting part is that you can adjust the ADSR (under shape), which stands for Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. I wrote about this feature in my project back in 2005, and I also made an animation to explain how it works (see below). Any user of a synthesizer or keyboard as well as all studio producers know about this essential feature when it comes to sound modeling and sampling. And I am really glad that the it has been integrated into GarageBand!
There is another function that I believe will be very useful, and that is the tuner. It is basically a pitch control (ranging ±36 units), with the possibility of making very fine adjustments to the tune by going ±50 units.

The keyboard buttons work as a trigger, so its works exactly like any other (synthesizer) sampler that you would have worked with, both as a standalone device, or on digital audio workstation. These are pretty amazing features, and it will surely increase the productivity and simplify the process of making music on both iPhone and now the new iPad with the increased processing power.

This is an animation of the functionality of ADSR envelope that I made. The Attack starts once the key is held down, and the envelope is sustained until key is released. Other new features that have been announced, is the Smart Strings which now will join the Smart family, including Smart Drums, Smart Bass, Smart Keyboard and Smart Guitar. Apple is really trying to make it easy to make music, and the smart feature definitely allow beginners to make music by a few screen taps without going through the hassle of learning musical notes. Simple is that. And the Smart Instruments is certainly the gateway to music production on iOS, apart from their native Mac application Logic Pro, which is the standard DAW for semi-pro and pro musicians.

How to use the Note Editor

The Note Editor is probably one of the most wanted features, and can now be used on tracks that you have either played manually (on the standalone instruments) or on the smart instruments. Once you are done with the recording, go back to the overview for all channels and select the track, followed by a tap on the track pattern (the green bar). There is an edit option in the menu bar, click on it. This will open the Note Editor. You can pinch the screen to zoom in, and from there it is possible to select individual notes that appear in the selected region for that track. If you click on a specific note, a small option screen will show up, and from here you can choose to either cut, copy or delete – and now also adjust the velocity (volume) of the note. You can do this to every individual note in the designated track, on any of its octaves (from C-2 all the way up to C8), and there are many variations on how to use the velocity to create a swing effect, often seen on drum machines and in music software.

One issue with the Note Editor is the lack of visual overview on the velocity of each note that has been edited. So it makes it very difficult to do multiple velocity edits, and keeping track (no pun intended) of the setting for each note. It could be resolved by adding a color fade to the velocity; the lower number, the lighter color of the note, and so on. But in general, the user interface in the application is very consistent and straightforward, thus making the trial and error process short so you can get started with the music production right away.

Also, another feature that would be nifty is L/R panning and effect designation for each percussive instrument for the drums (both for Smart Drums and manual drums). But these features would rapidly increase the workload on the processor, so I don’t foresee any of theses additions in the near future. The next step would be VSTi and VST plugins. As to date, GarageBand on the Mac only support AU plugins (Audio Unit), which is not technically comparable to the aforementioned VST (Virtual Studio Technology) that is the widespread technology used in modern DAW’s.

Connect your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch to MIDI

The IK Multimedia iRig will do the job. It is an ultra-compact standard MIDI interface for iOS that connects any MIDI compatible device to the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. The company also have Amplitube iRig for iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad that combines an easy-to-use instrument interface adapter with guitar and bass tone software for your Apple device, whether it is an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.

Top 11 CD Decks: Pro DJ to Bedroom DJ

What are the top CD Players on the market? Well, there is no doubt that Pioneer is the leading brand for high-end audio and DJ products, and their products are widely used in DJ booths around the world. Pioneer CDJ and DJM (mixer) has become standard setup at nightclubs, so I would suggest that you look into them first, and if you can finance them, then great. If not, look at the other options.

Let’s narrow down the list of DJ equipment, and start from high-end equipment all the way down to beginners’ models. Prices range from $1600 (non-MSRP) down to $140 at the time of publishing this post. However, the guide will give you a sense for the “order” of the products in which I believe would be industry standard. In other words, you will never see a pair of Stanton or KAM players in a professional DJ setup. Nevertheless, they are a good substitute for the Pioneer and will work fine for a beginner, especially if you want to learn beatmatching and transition techniques. They will allow the flexibility of practicing various skills that can easily be “transferred” and adapted to any high-end disc jockey gear, such as the Pioneer CDJ Multiplayers.

Yes, it’s the mothership. The all singing, all dancing top of the range model from Pioneer. Key features include the illuminated tension adjustable jog wheel, the needle search function (which allows you to select any part of the tracks waveform in a matter of seconds, eliminating the need for time consuming search manoeuvres) and a 6.1 inch full colour screen. You can prepare your sets adding cue points in RekordBox, then activate them from any of the hot cue functions on up to four connected CDJs via one single USB or SM card input through the Link setup. Another nifty feature is that the CDJ-2000 allows you to save the history of any DJ set loading it back into Rekordbox as a playlist. Combine this with the awe inspiring effects capabilities of the DJM-2000 and you really do have the most powerful DJ set up in history. The ability to use the CDJ-2000 as a MIDI controller for use with pretty much any DJ software, makes Pioneer’s flagship player virtually futureproof, and it won’t be long before all nightclubs and serious DJ’s will don a pair of these as part of their setup.

The Pioneer CDJ-900 multi player has many range-topping features, including playback from various different music sources, such as CD and USB storage devices. Pioneer’s music database management software Rekordbox is also included, which allows DJs to prepare more trickery before their performance and opening the door to tools such as Quantize for perfect loops every time. DJs can then export data to a USB device to access vast libraries of music files and perform live without the need for extra equipment or any inconvenient rewiring in the club. The CDJ-900 player features 4-beat loop. When a 1, 2, 4 or 8 Auto Beat Loop button is pressed, the function automatically finds the beat segments from that point in time, making it simple to play a precisely timed loop. To expand the creative looping options available to DJs, the Pioneer CDJ-900 multi player is capable of 10 different variations of loop, right down to 1/16th of a beat. By holding down the Beat Select button, a 1/3 off-beat looping mode is activated which creates new effect possibilities when used in conjunction with Slip mode. The new Slip button lets DJs perform such tricks as looping, reversing or scratching of music without losing the flow or even a beat. The music continues to play, muted and returns when the hand leaves the platter.

This is Pioneer’s mid-price range model. It’s probably best to label this the Technics 1200 of its range, due to the fact that it’s extremely stable, will seldom let you down, has only the bare essential features and boasts a fantastic classic silver design. The negative points are that it has no quantised looping, the jog wheel tension cannot be adjusted, there’s no LINK function (as with the other next generation CDJs) and in order to gain access to a track’s waveform it must be imported first from Rekordbox. Having said this, the MIDI implementation works very well, the soundcard is spot on and if you want no-nonsense everyday hardware performance with the magic P word written down the side, then these are the decks for you. For an extra £300 or so the CDJ-900 has all the previously mentioned features plus “Slip Mode” which, when activated, silently continues song playback during a loop, reverse or scratch and continues audible playback at the exact time when the user ends the loop, reverse or scratch. Very nice.

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DJ Transition & Beatmatch Techniques: Tutorial (including samples)

Beatmatching is an art of beat recognition and sense for rhythms. There are numerous techniques that DJ’s use, depending on equipment and musical genre. But generally, it doesn’t matter if you’re using a Numark CD player, virtual DJ gear, or a professional Pioneer CDJ with automated beat signatures, BPM detection and superb master tempo. It all comes down to the basic disc jockey skills. However, this tutorial is mainly aimed towards electronic music where you most likely will have a 4/4 time signature, but it will surely apply to any genre that has a steady beat flow and long sound tail (the end part in electronic music that includes a beat only, without the bass or other accompanying instruments). You don’t need to be a professional musician to understand the quadruple beat signature. I spent years and a lot of money to learn the time signatures in a proper manner. But in layman’s terms, it is all about the amount of beats in a measure, and the note value of a single beat. I am going to simplify it even more, by applying a rather unique confrontation to the problem of timing in music.

The Mexican standoff in musical time signatures: The 4/4

Imagine a synchronous gait. STEP STEP STEP STEP. Left Right Left Right. You have moved four steps forward. And you continue with this pattern. The rhythmic behavior in these four steps translates into a steady beat of four beats. Now imagine if you would run the same distance you just walked. Each step during the run would move you faster (higher BPM), but you would also use less steps because each step is longer. Imagine if each running step would be worth two walking steps. Note, the time (BPM), in which you run the distance is not to be mixed with the time signature (run time≠time signature). The time signature is the same, no matter how fast you run. It only shows how many rhythmic steps (note values) you can take within the distance you have in front you. The 4/4 is therefor the standard in western music, and you hear it all the time.

NOTE: There are plenty of different ways of perceiving the music in terms of time signature and notational variation such as alla breve which takes us deep into the science of rhythmic modes and mensural notation from the 12th century or so. Pretty hardcore science, and definitely overkill for this tutorial. But feel free to dig deeper into the the subject. It is fascinating.

Case study: Simple Beatmatching

Below, I have mixed six different audio files for the purpose of illustrating common mistakes and techniques, each representing a different technique for transition between one song into another. I recommend that you start listening through the six tracks first before continuing to read the case solutions and issues below. Each transition is approximately 30 seconds long, and I used the same segment for all examples, and the start- and end points are exactly the same. Basically, the main focus in this tutorial will be on the phrasing, tempo synchronization, and different fading techniques to make a smooth transition. There are several other factors as part of a good DJ mix transition such as harmonic mixing, and the usage of on-the-fly jog wheel adjustments on the CD player, with the corresponding technique on a vinyl turntable. Same, but different.

Visit the following SoundCloud page if you can’t see the embedded music widget below

The first example is a typical mistake when trying to beatmatch. The track is completely out of sync. The beat is all over the place and there is no sign of any transition technique whatsoever.

In the second example, the tracks match much better than our first example, but soon become out of sync at the end of the transition. There is a slight overall shift in our synchronization, even though the BPM’s are the same. The bass is very saturated and the “layering” of the combined tracks peak well over what would be the normalized limit. We hear a very clear distortion on the low frequencies.

A standard 50-50 beat transition with linear crossfade

In the third example, the transition ratio has been changed to make a smoother overlap, and the low frequency distortion is more distinct as the second track overlaps. Noticeable is also the adjusted time stretch of our post-loop to match the underlying primary track. This technique involves adjustment of the jog wheel that has been discussed in How to DJ 101: Learn to Master the Art of Beats.

The fourth example has an increased fader ratio for the post-loop, hence giving a better overlap with the primary track. However, it mainly use the volume to adjust the transition, which makes it sound a bit generic and unprofessional. Both channels are slightly equalized in their low frequencies (the bass), which helps us get rid of the hideous distortion.

Variation of beat transitions. The 50/50 transition is marked with a dot.

Fifth example: Our previous attempt (fourth example) of making a smooth transition with the volume is combined with the equalizer on our three main frequency bands (low range, mid range, high range). The low range (bass) is lowered to -10 dB and the mid- and high frequencies are slightly lowered (-4–5 dB) just to make sure that they don’t cause any high volume peaks with our primary track.

The sixth (and final) example is basically the same as our fifth example, but has a stretched non-linear transition meaning that the crossing loop has a prolonged sound tail (the middle section, between pre-loop and post-loop). It sounds fairly good, but there is more work required to improve the beatmatching and transition.


These are some of the Pro equipment that I recommend and have been using myself throughout the years. The Pioneer DJM series have been around for years, but they have recently (since 2010) started making DDJ controllers, which are strictly software based.

If you’re interested to know more about equipment, check out How to DJ 101: The Professional DJ Equipment.

How to DJ 101: Learn to Master the Art of Beats

Technics TurntableMusicians as a group, and especially DJs, are true multitaskers. You see, while a DJ drops a beat or a track, he is cueing up a new segment to transition into. The seamless transition doesn’t happen by a simple X-fader (cross fader). There are several tricks involved to make a good mix, not to mention all the practice hours to tune up these mixing skills. Let’s narrow down the mixing process:

1) Listen to the beat, count the beats

The old schoolers know that I am talking about the BPM (beats per minute) that we once had to calculate by ear, on the fly. The beat is your best friend, but can also be your worst enemy if you don’t obey the rules of beat matching (please read further where I explain why). The BPM “detection” feature has been added to most modern mixers and CD players where the count simply shows up on a display – automatically. Industry standard (since 2001) is typically a pair of Pioneer CDJs such as a CDJ-900 coupled with any of their DJM-serie DJ Mixers, such as the DJM-400 Pro DJ Mixer. You want both songs to have the same BPM (well, there are ways to do it otherwise, but I am not going to cover that right now). There are many ways to achieve this step, but usually it requires a combination of decreases/increase of the BPM. Most house music songs range between 120-126 BPM; anything above 130 BPM is in my opinion not house music. Remember that house music in its early days (back in the 80’s) was produced under 120 BPM.

2) Prepare appropriate effects for your track

You might want to add some Pitch Echo and filter the resonance. An effects box will do the job. Once again, Pioneer is dominant with their EFX-series, followed by KORG and their KAOSS Pads such as the Kaossilator Dynamic Phrase Synthesizer. Pioneer hasn’t made noteworthy improvements on the EFX-500 and EFX-1000 DJ Effector over the years, while KORG has been showing more innovation with X-Y touchpads combined with powerful sound generators. Nevertheless… phaser, delay, echo, ring pitch, resonance, cutoff and filter are effects that DJs commonly use, and so should you.

3) Estimate where the transition will be played, and cue the track

The CUE is the most important part of the transition process. It initiates the mix by the beat you choose. Usually, you want to cue the song on the first beat of the playing track. If you mess this up and the track plays out of time, you have two choices, and both depend on whether you were doing the cue as a preview in your headphones, or if it was played through the master output. If your track was played…

…as a preview in your headphones, then fear not…

You will simply just punch in the cue one more time by first stopping the track and starting over. Using the cue will become second nature. It is the most used button on your CD player! This procedure is usually what you will do when you start learning, and it’s simply a part of the learning process. You WILL mess this up many many times. Needless to say, but as a beginner, you will spend a lot of time practicing with headphones, so this will be the only option if your beat match didn’t sound right, unless you listen in your headphones and play the master output through a pair of monitors, which leads us to…

…if it was played through the main (master) output…

…your audience will most likely hear both tracks, unless the volume of the new track is low enough for them to not distinguish the beats. The trick is to beat match while the track is playing. On the CDJ CD player, there is an emulated vinyl platform called jog wheel, and it has an outer part similar to a rim, that you can rotate. You will need to adjust this along with the music, and this will slow or speed up the tempo depending on the direction of the rotation. Of course, this step applies to the bedroom DJ that has taken the big leap to spin some tunes on their friends’ house warming party and want to remain their cool by coping with the situation like a Pro…

4) Adjust the volumes

So far, your new track is beat matched, and it is ready to be transitioned. (I am going to skip the techniques involving low-, mid- and high-frequency cutoff). Let’s say that the volume of your primary track is 100%, and the secondary (new) track is set to 20%. Common sense says that you would start decreasing the primary track while you increase the new track. Here come the essential DJ skills, where things are not as simple as they appear. Your skill and decision from the 1st and 3rd bullet points (beat count and transition timing, respectively) will be crucial on the outcome of this step. Those steps were the preparation for this step. So doing a bad job there will result in a bad result here. Input equals output.

Q: I followed all your steps; the BPM on my tracks are matching and the end-point for the transition is good. But why doesn’t the transition sound good?

So what is the trick for a smooth DJ transition that sounds good?

Read my article about DJ Transition Techniques that includes a tutorial with free case study samples and a little explanation of musical time signatures such as the quadruple (4/4 beat).