Many composers talk about creating music,
but few discuss the tools required to do it. What I mean is the IT side
of music creation. I will do my best to explore this broad topic providing
the most concrete information.
The choice of displays (audio) – the more displays with a different
bandwidth, the better, because the entire bandwidth consists of a low
(bass), medium (female voice) and high (drums) band. Therefore if we want
to hear all bands clearly, we have to gather as many displays or HI FI
loudspeakers, as possible.
Photo from the Green Street Studios 2011. In 2006 the
photo of the Green Street Studios presented two working stations and a
wide cabinet with a lot of external devices filling the entire room (at
that time there was the Matrix film code as the computer wallpaper).
The choice of headphones. – Headphones are a very useful thing,
especially when creating music at night. They might serve as an additional
tool when checking the bandwidth in ready songs. It is worth paying attention
to the softness of membrane surroundings and the comfort of wearing the
bow, because listening for a few hours and working on uncomfortable headphones
might result in earache.
The choice of sound card. – It is worth remembering that external
sound cards have to possess a processor in order to serve well when working
on music (it is similar to the difference experienced when using a processor
without additional cores). Sound cards without a processor enable only
recording the sound from the outside, because they do not have a large
ASIO latency, and therefore i.e. one cannot record sounds from a microphone
and sounds being played simultaneously. It refers to recording vocal for
background music (modern computers allow creating music using integrated
sound cards without ASIO support. In such case you should choose the ASIO
Full Duplex option in the music creation programme audio settings). The
power input is very significant, because we may lose time on setting appropriate
volume and changing it from quiet to loud. In 2010 the AVID sound cards
producer presented the cheapest and most efficient external sound cards,
which cooperate with every music programme. One of the technically advanced
devices intercepting audio channels in real time is MOTU, which was the
most popular equipment used in studios, before the external Pro Tools
HD set appeared. A lot of external devices may be plugged in to it (e.g.
the effects) without being concerned about the processor overload.
I have been asking myself one question for a very long time: why do we
need compressors, sound processors, effects, sound banks and other external
devices at all? The answer is: because they do not occupy the memory and
processor in the real time.
The choice of the graphic card. – In order to plug
in more than two HD displays, one has to possess a PCI dual/triple head
graphic card (graphic cards manufactured by Zotac are for those who want
to play and simultaneously create music on a few screens, or for those
who only want to work on their PC) or an external graphic card manufactured
by Matrox. Some composers use HD TVs apart from ordinary displays, alongside
a laptop screen and more and more frequently touchscreens manufactured
by Apple. Apple computers are equipped with ATI Radeon cards, which enable
to plug in many displays (and provide the opportunity of plugging in a
few graphic cards).
More Power Capitan !
Let`s count power for Macs with 1-core, 2-core, 4-core, 8-core and 12-core
processors (the maximum 12-core processor is available only on Mac Pro
2 computers). PC computers may handle a 16-core processor manufactured
by AMD, which has already been put on sales (Intel has produced so far
only a 6-core processor). When choosing a processor, pay attention to
the cache memory.
In 2009 there was a breakthrough in the computer development. The largest
obstacle in their expansion was the high price of the RAM memory. Now
the average amount of the RAM memory in the computers owned by composers
is 8 – 12 GB RAM, and the cutting edge PC mainboards operate with
as much as 130 GB RAM. When purchasing the RAM memory, bear in mind not
only the amount of memory, but also its speed (MHz frequency). I can tell
from my own experience about a situation when the servicing agent put
the wrong RAM memory into a computer I ordered – it was too slow
as for the given mainboard. In consequence I had to cope with the system
errors called “Blue Screen of Death” for a couple of days
(when the computer was freezing, it was making similar sounds as during
the “Neo awakening” in the Matrix movie). It was especially
annoying during a few-hour work on music. Of course the memory was exchanged,
which came as a huge surprise for the computer shop owner. Therefore for
the future I recommend choosing a more expensive mainboard, which will
“survive” a couple of years, because it will be possible to
purchase more and more RAM memory to it and change the processor without
the necessity to install a new PC operating system and music software.
However, if you have two left hands or don’t know, which computer
parts could be exchanged for the more modern ones, I recommend purchasing
ready computers of the “all in one” kind, e.g. manufactured
by HP, Asus or MSI, which are very similar to the Macintosh sets (some
models have a touchscreen, which will have a significant impact on the
quality of work when writing in the note processor).
If you have little RAM memory and constantly complain about the “buzzing”
of the computer not coping with a large number of switched on virtual
instruments, then I have a remedy for you. The Cubase programme has the
option of recoding ready notes from a virtual instrument onto WAV tracks
“on the run” (the process takes literally a few minutes and
can lighten the RAM memory’s load up to 90%). This function is called
Freeze VST and can also lighten your computer’s load in terms of
the effects switched on in a Mixer. Unfortunately, after “freezing”
the virtual instrument track it cannot be edited later (only notes may
be copied), unless it is “unfrozen” – this action takes
less than 5 seconds. You can also save and import ready WAV tracks manually
in other programmes not having this function, but it is very time-consuming.
Having a large amount of the RAM memory and a few-core processor makes
the work of every musician problem-free, which is related to the improvement
in the music quality and the performance speed.
Pc versus Mac versus Laptops
Windows 7 takes up 1 GB of RAM memory, which is related to the loss of
huge space otherwise used for recording virtual instruments (you can also
choose the 64 version of Windows XP, which takes up a smaller amount of
RAM - 500 MB. However, it is not supported by drivers and may operate
at 16 GB RAM memory the maximum. Windows 7 operating system does not have
as many mistakes as its previous versions and differs in terms of automated
installation of devices drivers in the online mode.
The Mac computer is more expensive than the PC computer, not mentioning
its subassemblies. The Leopard operating system update is expensive itself,
not mentioning the additional update of programmes for Mac. If we wanted
to install the same programmes on the newly purchased super computer MAC
OS, we would have to record everything from the scratch. Meanwhile on
the computer with the Windows operating system there are two ways of installing
the whole software and data as file images, using Norton Ghost or Acronis
True Image programmes, or as system settings backup (using Windows 7 mainboard
– this refers to systems older than Windows 7).
The best way to minimize the loading time of the Windows system is to
buy a few discs and assign different functions to them – office,
creative, entertainment, diagnostic or backup. Nobody clever will do a
few things simultaneously relying on the system operating speed and his
own efficiency during one day.
I was surprised to discover that there is an opportunity to work on many
PC computers at one time while creating music. Such an option existed
once only in Macintosh computers (until 2003). FX Teleport enables the
cooperation between computers via TCP/IP LAN (even remotely). It works
on the basis of a Host computer or Server computers. Another programme
which is similar to FX Teleport, but more advanced than it, is Jbridge.
Writing the first part of the article I decided to refute the thesis
(PC computer stereotype) about the proportional relation between the computing
power used in music production and the thickness of the composer’s
wallet. In the second part of the article I presented more informations
about Hardware and the efficiency and capabilities of different programmes
used to create music and sounds.
to part 2 --->