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Tips and curiosities from computer games music, part 2

Tips and curiosities from computer games music, part 2

By: Piotr Koczewski


Polish – Lithuanian Connection

Now I would like to share some of my personal experience, summarizing in a few paragraphs my achievements as the composer (hope it may serve as an inspiration for some of you). In May I had the pleasure of giving a presentation on music making and on sound to the Lithuanian students. I started by playing live some of the music from a Modern Warfare 2 trailer. Then I showed the notation for the winds section of my own piece “Dust of War”. Having finished the piece, I was astounded to get an applause from the audience. It was quite a surprise. Well, I was so tired that I seriously considered the possibility that it was merely a hallucination. Apart from that, I did not really expect the piece I presented to be inspiring for people of my generation. Then I created a 30-second tune from scratch in about 5 minutes, explaining all the time what instruments I was playing. I got another round of applause when I saved the music as an mp3 file and replayed it. I also answered some questions, for example about how long I had been composing, or if I had had any formal training (I said I had had not, which got me another round of applause). I finished with an animation by Aleksander Wasilewski with my music (which was received with laughter rather than fear).

Piotr Koczewski and Latvian Translator

My Polish connection came during a business trip to Wroclaw (I was negotiating with an investor about an MMORPG), which I used as an occasion to meet my fellow composer Piotr Szwach. We spent time until 5 am composing war game music, discussing about equipment, music, computers and exchanging experience. I think both of us learned something new.

From Independent projects to AAA games

If you ever get an e-mail asking you to make a sample of music for an “AAA” game teaser, enjoy the very fact that you were contacted (even if they have to postpone publishing the teaser trailer for technical reasons), because a lot of musicians dream of cooperating with big companies that work on large-scale projects.

At the beginning, I’ve treated my adventure with music as a hobby, something like Sunday fishing at my favourite lake. After some time of distributing my tracks to friends, I’ve noticed that they like my work, what’s more – one of them persuaded me to create my own album (to my own surprise it got high rates and good reviews). The initial problem with creating music was: Who will listen to it? And at some point you realise that someone is actually listening to your music – and what is even more – he is willing to pay for it!

Take advantage of every day to learn something new. After finishing work recall your music. If you can do it and you remember it – congratulations! It’s one of major keys to success in video game music creation.

However, before you decide that your work is hundred percent finished and ready, listen to it a few more times. If you don’t have any objections after that, you can send it to your publisher or boss. Usually, the next day after recording you can hear your shortcomings – it’s a normal sign of creativity, all it means that you strive for perfection!

Learn what ASAP is!

If your employer expects you to do a music track, and in the conversation, or an e-mail, he uses an acronym of ASAP (as soon as possible, in case you did not know), then focus on the recording (even if the mess in your kitchen resembles that from the movie “7” and there is a family meeting tomorrow). By sending even a sample of the tune (1 minute) you will calm the nerves of your boss, who wants nothing more than to yell “Jetson, you`re Fired!”.

The Power of Marketing

It is a good idea to appear on expos, conferences and meetings related to Game Development and presenting yourself, spreading your business card or demo CDs (in my case, several free singles from my Wasteland Theme album increased the interest in me). Therefore you should stay in touch with your old team, employers and companies, because someday you may receive a call / an e-mail with a job offer. In game development, as a rule, clients are working with people they remember, and with whom they had no problems during the cooperation (the more contacts you establish, the greater chances of employment you have). It’s highly probable that some past occupation will result in a contract for another game in the future. Even if you had submitted an application, and you didn’t get a job because they took someone else, it does not mean that they will not call you again in a few months, because they remembered you and your savoir-vivre). Be open to constructive criticism (and be critical of yourself). Never be afraid to alter or add some instruments to your track, even if you’ve been working on it for three days. Learn something new every day. Experiment with instruments. Creating the “Little Boy” track, related to the 6th of August 1945 (nuclear attack on Hiroshima), I was wondering how to capture the character of that event using only orchestra. When I was choosing suitable instruments, Bass Wagner’s Drum caught my attention (I used the sound of scraping and light, long beats for the sound of the shockwave).

There is another thing that I discovered creating the WWII music. French horns played long, depending on the velocity, can imitate an Air Raid Siren Sound. A few months ago I racked my brains on how James Hannigan created the electronic background effect in “Yoriko Theme”. After an hour of experimenting with effects and rhythm of the instrument called shaker, I finally found out how to record something closely resembling the original song. Not only did I find a good way to create background music, but also discovered how to make the sounds of futuristic computers.

For about five years I have been devoting myself to an ongoing effort of boosting my keyboard skills, expanding my knowledge of orchestra articulation, and continuously developing information technology. After so many years of working with music, I finally became a recognizable person in the game industry (but before I achieved my present status, I had gathered experience in amateur projects). Professionals from all around the world write to me and invite me to music expos. One very motivating thing for me was the positive opinion about my music, which came from a western musician who creates music for commercials and AAA games. As I already mentioned, I once had the chance to create the music for a teaser trailer of an AAA game. Then, after a few months, I got one more such offer – for the E3 expo too! By the end of May, I was to create the soundtrack for a teaser trailer for Afterfall Insanity, which meant I had to meet the team in a studio to discuss the music. E3 – this acronym left me sleepless for days. Even though I did not make it in time for the presentation (someone else had to fill in for me), I created a few versions of the music for the teaser trailer, which served as my demo reel.

The making of Afterfall Insanity Trailer Music

It is also a very pleasant feeling to receive good reviews of your work from the project manager. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from the head of the Russian game project PostWorld that after their last meeting they decided that they had to have my music at any cost. For an unbelievable moment I felt like I was the new Hans Zimmer. When strangers ask me what I do for living, I proudly answer: “I create music for computer games” (so far I have not discovered why there is always a slight expression of surprise on their faces).

 Post-World Unity Engine and Gameplay Screenshot

Piotr Koczewski`s Home Studio

When I play games I sometimes add my own music in my head. Some ideas I write down as notes, for the future use. A few years ago I was supposed to create music for a Space Opera comic. Unfortunately, the piece, which I thought was perfect for it, was rejected. However, a few years later it found its place in another project.

Finally, a few pieces of advice from me: listen to music as much as you can. After some time you will start recognizing instruments and be able to place them on the world map. As for the most important advice, which served me well in the music design (changed the way I work) and life in general – spend money to develop, not to impress (Michael Dell). After a few years of work I try to overcome my own limitations. For example, I created a 13-minute piece (inspired by Modern Warfare 2) for my second Wasteland Theme album. Remember to sign up on portals like Linkedin, Myspace, Reverbnation and to create your own homepage and keep it up to date. In the future, in order to protect your music copyrights, you should register a copyright for your tracks in organizations such as PRS (Europe) or similar. Remember to create your web page portfolio and keep it updated.

I hope that my tips will be helpful, and we will meet at the Video Games Live concert this year.

You may also want to read part 1 of this article.

About the author: Piotr Koczewski started
working in game development in 2006 as a Musician and Sound Designer. In
2008 he released an ambient music album inspired by post-nuclear SF, called
“Wasteland Theme”. He co-organized in 2009 the Video Games Live
concert in Poland. You can listen Piotr`s music at his website www.piotrkoczewski.com

Tips and curiosities from computer games music, part 1

Tips and curiosities from computer games music, part 1


By: Piotr Koczewski

I would like to introduce you to some curiosities from the world of game music, but before we start, just a few words about the beginnings of game music.

The first composers started by creating partitures using Midi sequencers, like Protracker. Probably the most famous composer, and also the pioneer of game music is Tommy Tallarico. He created his first MIDI soundtrack (completely free) for Prince of Persia when he was 21 (in 1991, shortly after moving to California).

It’s hard to believe, that Tommy Tallarico would start from such a small project and finish in the Guiness Book of Records in 2009 as the creator of soundtracks for 266 games. Tommy Tallarico is also a founder of the worldwide festival Video Games Live (you can find more of his work on Video Games Live Official Web Site and also on his own homepage).

All your Score are Belong to us

There is a Polish accent featured in Command & Conquer: Red Alert. It’s a sample voice – “Nie, Nie, Nie” (which means “No, no, no”) included in “The Mud Remix” tune. This was Frank Klepacki alluding to his origins – he has Polish roots. Frank Klepacki is a pioneer of interspersing movie quotes into game music.

Another example is a quote from the movie “Broken Arrow”-“Real nightmare”, appearing in the “Blow it up” track from Red Alert 2. In “Hell March 3” you can hear a German soldier saying “Die Waffen – liegt an” which means “The weapons, at ready”.

From the Home Studio…

You can hear a lot of japanese instruments while playing Red Alert 3. My first impression, when I was listening to these pieces which invoke the images of the Land of the Rising Sun, was fantastic. I was convinced that James Hannigan had had to employ a japanese choir of several dozen voices. Yet, the vocals used in “The might of the Empire” were recorded by only one person, but multiplied to create the impression of a female choir. Japanese phrases were sung by Miriam Stockley, better known for the song “Adiemus”

…and the Score

Creating the soundtrack for Red Alert 3 was divided into symphonic records (including sinthesizer tracks) and recordings of virtual instruments. However, before the pieces were put together as a soundtrack the musicians had to prepare samples of the music using notation or virtual instruments’ audio tracks. Than the notation was checked by a conductor working for Skywalker Studio, which then takes us to…

The Recording Studio

Mixing Audio with Orchestra for Red Alert 3

Sampling… Sampling Never Changes

Mark Morgan, when he created the soundtrack for Fallout 1, used voices
from the movie “Dr Strangelove”.

In “Second Chance” you can hear a quote of Major Mandrake
a few times – “Certainly, General.Why do you ask, sir?”

What’s even more interesting, you can hear the influence of Aphex Twin (Richard David James) all over the soundtrack. In one of the interviews, Mark revealed that he received an Aphex Twin CD from Black Isle as a guideline.

Tips and Hints from Computer Games Music

To be honest, it’s hard for me to start recording a new tune when silence surrounds me, so first, before I start inventing a new melody, I listen to one of my earlier records, which I personally consider a good track. It puts me in an appropriate state of mind. Then I make a choice from a wide selection of instruments, that will be fundamental in my music, and of course I decide about the melody itself (you can even record solo tracks, then mix instrument by instrument). I’ve even created a whole piece beginning the recording from the end.

Writing the music for an image or story

A good musician should be able to create the main theme for a game knowing only its title and genre (knowing the story and concept arts is helpful, but one can do without them). While working on a strategy game about War on the Pacific, I would draw inspiration from movie shots and photos of battles (Russians fighting Japanese, Chinese – Japanese, Japanese – American and so on). Creating the music for “Storm over the Pacific” took me a few months, during which I learned a lot, because until then I had never recorded an entire soundtrack for a WWII game (Creating something brand new is a challenge).

When listening to a song with false notes, you can feel uncomfortable. Hans Zimmer called it sumbliminal messaging that appears in one’s throat. On the other hand, I call it a signal received by the ears and brain as an in-balance in the envirnoment (hence the unpleasant feeling in my mind while listening to discordant tune).

Sometimes, when I’m having doubts about the selection of a new instrument for my song or after finishing a compliation, it is time for some mastering. I save the song as a new file with a number documenting the progress of my work.

Let`s get back to the past for a while. One of the most popular MIDI synthesizers in the 90’s were Edirol Orchestral made by Roland. You could hear it’s sound in the following games: Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Planescape Torment, Turok 2 and Heroes 3.

At one time PC’s had a quite constant computing power and only a limited number of MIDI instruments could be implemented. Now the quality of music depends on the budget of the company creating the game, or its investor.

A higher budget is a requirement when it comes to recording music with the orchestra, but working on your partitures with live musicians gives you a quality incomparable with any synthesizer or orchestra sample libraries. Working on music may be fun, but it’s also time-consuming. The amount of the time spent by a musician ranges from 8 to 16 hours per day (including mixing and mastering). In my opinion, it’s appropriate to reward yourself for all the effort put in the work, for example with a nice meal and a brew (after work only, of course). Remember to constantly save the corrections and remember to use the autosave option. Many a time this option saved me from a serious nervous breakdown.

Knowing the setup of an orchestra is a minimum necessary musical knowledge. A good understanding of it will be necessary for you to “seriously” engage in recording (knowledge of instrument articulation will be a must soon). The setup of the orchestra plays a role in routing instrument channels (left, center and right). The only exception is the position of the piano.

Second Strings?

The first violins play legato (slow) and second violins play staccato (fast). This also applies to the sections of contrabasses, cellos, and wind and percussion instruments.

Do not be afraid to delete already recorded notes that do not fit. If you are worried about your creativity, just move them to the end of your track as backups. I once extracted 3 songs from one project. Why so much? It was simply because I moved unused melodies beyond my track, to use them subsequently in other recordings (when working on a 60 minute soundtrack, every good idea lost means delays in your work, and you can’t let that happen). After an hour or so, save your project and take a break, then listen to it once again. A good method is to write it to your mp3 player, phone or external drive and play it outside the studio (or wherever you are working).

Reset Your Ears

While recording, avoid music of the type you create. If you’re working on a symphonic tune, it is better for you to listen to fast Dance or Disco, rather then symphonic music. Immerse yourself in imagination, let yourself be creative. If you take too much inspiration from some track, you can be accused of plagiarism.

Another method is recording the track on the fly, with nobreaks for silence. Revising notes, mixing or mastering while listening to the track will help you finish the project quicker. So do not waste your own time for making breaks, turn it on and fix it. It is natural to take notes when you create or enhance the mastering. Personally I use special laminated paper (some sort of whiteboard), since searching for a particular piece of content and throwing away A4 pages takes too much time. You can also color-code good notes or fragments.

If you have no inspiration for finishing the current track, work on another one (within a week of work you can create a few recordings without getting bored and losing the energy to complete the tune).

Do not send samples of your work to anyone before finishing it, and never rely on opinions of other people – it is You who started the base of it in your mind. Also, do not ask “what to do” – just use your imagination! If you are away from your instrument, for example at work or school, go further even in thoughts – think it over, what to change, what sounds are needed to be added, what emotions the next track should evoke. Try to put as many different sounds as you can into your track. To be honest, that is one of the things which make professional Hollywood composers special.

And Now Some Tips from Mix and Mastering

Work on studio speakers only, because they sound best (even compared to headphones). Listen to your music in Wavelab looking at a working Spectrum Analyzer and Level Meters. Remember, that the volume of the track and frequencies can’t exceed 0 db. Do not listen to the radio! It usually emits high trebles (this makes the songs more catchy). There is nothing worse than to start mastering a track, with a distracting Macarena or Chiuhuahua song in your mind. It’s best to listen to your music at low volume because then you can catch the most mistakes. You can catch more bad sounds when the music isn’t too loud.

You may also want to read part 2 of this article.

About the author: Piotr Koczewski started
working in game development in 2006 as a Musician and Sound Designer. In
2008 he released an ambient music album inspired by post-nuclear SF, called
“Wasteland Theme”. He co-organized in 2009 the Video Games Live
concert in Poland. You can listen Piotr`s music at his website www.piotrkoczewski.com

Music Production hardware and software tips, Part 2

Music Production hardware and software tips, Part 2

By Piotr Koczewski

< Back to Part 1

Hardware continued

Selection of monitors (video) – First of all, you have to pay attention to the same contrast of a monitor, when purchasing a few HD monitors. Once I worked at two different monitors of the same company and I had to set contrast manually, which didn’t solve the problem in 100% and I had to get used to two different colours of the same workspace. The larger the screen resolution on a monitor, the more tracks are visible, and the more time can be spent on composing and listening, not on scrolling windows. In 2011 Spectrasonics released one of the first music applications Omni TR for an iPad. Although the application is used only to control the creation of Dubstep sounds, it can be used instead of modulation controller in steering keyboards. If you have problems with delays during your work on music for a video, you can use the method from the 90s, i.e. playing the video on a separate TV, laptop of smartphone screen. As far as the best multi-screen display division is concerned, the correct order is as follows: the first screen is the main display; the second is for piano roll, the third for VST, the fourth for a mixer, the fifth for a video (it can be also substituted with a projector or a TV). If we have more than 3 screens, we can make one big display instead of 4 separate ones; however, to do so, we will need screen outriggers (a trick, which will enhance the visibility of the screen, is auto-hiding the taskbar). Probably the only disadvantage of working on many screens is moving the cursor using a mouse – it is both very tiring and time consuming. The solution to this problem is purchasing a tablet, commonly used by many kinds of graphic artists. The next opportunity is LCD touch screens, which can turn into music paper or even a mixer thanks to a pointing device (a special pen). If we have an ordinary LCD screen and an LCD touch screen, we can clone the image of the main screen, and we can place or lay the touch screen close to us in order to correct notes with a pen.

Choosing a steering keyboard – It is best to choose a keyboard with 88 fully weighted keys, with a mini mixer and CC (Continuous Controller) keys and pans. Cutting a long story short, we can assign CC controllers for changing the instrument key switches without searching and hitting the keyboard notes, turning the effects on and off, and many more. Keyboards differ from steering keys with the number of inbuilt sounds (there are certain external versions of some of the keyboards, e.g. sound banks, such as Yamaha Motif and Korg Triton). In addition you can purchase steering pedals (expression and sustain) to the keyboard, which simulate playing on a real piano. In contrary to most of the steering keys, keyboards give an opportunity to choose the midi channel without using a mouse, which proves helpful when you are behind the schedule. A keyboard with a small number of keys, but with an octave switch is helpful when you work on a laptop.

Now time has come for some curiosities. If we need a larger mixer, than the one on a steering keyboard, then the External Mixer has to be MIDI USB compatible (optionally we may need a phantom power amplifier or a microphone input, if we record sound apart from music). USB mixers can be combined into one mixer, if we don’t have enough cash for a large mixer. If our loudspeakers don’t have any knobs, then we may need a loudspeaker amplifier with a remote control (instead of an amplifier, we can use special keys on a wireless keyboard). A wireless mouse, wireless keyboard and trackball can facilitate the creation of music as well.

Another thing is SSD external hard drives with installed VST, which can be used as means of quick access to data or as a backup. However, before instrument files reach RAM, they have to be entered and uploaded from a drive, which takes some time, depending on their number. However, when we work on something important, every minute matters.

If we don’t have a powerful computer, it gets overloaded when we check the real time panorama using an iZotope Ozone plug. We can save this problem by checking the panorama during breaks, using e.g. the Wavelab program, after saving the work in progress version as mp3.

Plugins for MAC’s

Recent studies have revealed that the more efficient employees work on Macintosh computers. It is nothing new, because Apple has always been producing the least fallible computers in the world.

However, as far as the cooperation of a few Apple computers is concerned, they operate on the basis of the Midi Network Setup. In order to connect a few computers, they should be joined with Firewire cables (which transmit CPU clock and audio) and ethernet cables (which transmit Midi). It works in the same way as FX Teleport, and the only difference is that you need more cables. In addition Teleport programme could be useful, which is used to control the mouse and keyboard when working on a few Macs simultaneously.

The Native Instruments Kontakt Memory Server is an opposite of the FX Teleport program. The former was issued only for MAC computers and is built in the Kontact Player. The Kontakt Memory Server loads instruments to RAM memory for a longer time and enables to ‘freeze’ the free memory resources to an unused instrument. A similar method is purge samples, but it is more time-consuming and requires switching instruments off manually. Purge samples acts in the same way as mono function on every instrument, except for the fact that it switches off sounds from memory for good, releasing its resources (it doesn’t mean that we cannot upload data back quickly in the same way). We can do it in a state of emergency, when we know that these elements are ready in the current project and we won’t have to correct them.

Working on a laptop could be an option for people creating Dance or Dubstep music, because they do not need a very “powerful” working station. Working on a laptop is advantageous in all kinds of ways.

Don’t fear the Windows system

Virtual memory acts in the same way as ‘freezing’ notes in .wav files, but it is not so perfect. A disadvantage of using virtual memory is the fact that we have to have a plugged-in hard drive, where we arranged some capacity for virtual memory. We also have to take into consideration the fact that our computer will work slower, because virtual memory is not as fast as RAM (with the exception of SSD hard drives, where virtual memory was set up).

The program for Windows system – FX Teleport – which I wrote about in the previous part is divided into a few versions serving one host computer and one, two, three, four or even more servers. It is worth remembering that you have to install such virtual instruments on the server computer, not to put the load on the host computer. In my opinion, it is worth investing in this program and a few computers, in order to develop your own scheme for quick work, even, if you work on an antique equipment. In addition, the Giga Teleport program works similarly, but only for the Giga Sampler plugin.

The only errors I encountered when working with Windows 7 operating system were related to the music software, such as Kontakt (in order to avoid the errors, you should purchase Kontakt sampler update from time to time) and notifications about the graphic card overload due to keeping the computer in a locked cabinet without ventilation. It is worth remembering that a graphic card which is plug into many displays consumes more electric energy and hence heats to a higher extent. Hans Zimmer was the one who implemented the idea for “cooling” the equipment a long time ago, but it was Brian Tyler who was the first composer to speak about it during an interview in a studio.

Below you will find a summary of all computer working stations.

Hardware Summary

PC

Strengths

  • Main Boards with 16 AMD Processor and Up to 130 GB of RAM
  • Subassemblies development price

Weaknesses

  • Only 6-core processor on Intel Main Boards
  • Potential problems with the system

Mac

Strengths

  • 12-core processor
  • The least fallible operating system in history

Weaknesses

  • Only 32 GB of RAM the maximum
  • Computer development is not cheap
  • In case of a breakdown, the whole computer is taken to the service (refers to the iMac)

Laptop

 

Strengths

  • You can create music anywhere and anytime.
  • Easy and quick configuration

Weaknesses

  • No possibility to change sub assemblies (may not refer to RAM in certain models)
  • Only RAM memory may be developed but not very much.Very hard to repair or roll back

Hardware Summary Addendum


My IT knowledge gained during computer studies combined with musical knowledge allowed me to save time by not searching for answers about errors on software manufacturers’ websites and not spending too much money on employing helpdesk to choose equipment and install software.

Such things, as cold solders and equipment failures are symptoms of workstation overheating, since a computer works on its top capacity, when it records a file with several dozen layers and saves to .mp3 or .wav formats. Therefore it is extremely important to cool the computer and keep it in a cupboard (if possible, a glass one, since it gives heat away the quickest) and placing two fans inside of it – one for letting hot air out and the other for blowing cold air in. The equipment has to be cooled down in order to function longer; it doesn’t matter, whether it is cooled using liquid nitrogen, mineral oil or cooled air. The more screens are plugged to an internal graphic card, the faster it will heat up. Some graphic cards are equipped with temperature indicator, which is very helpful. Many devices, e.g. hard drives, can switch off due to a feeder’s low power supply. Therefore, before we purchase a few drives and a triple head graphic card, we have to remember about choosing the right feeder to our computer.

There are times when notes are playing in our heads and we have to make use of a piece of paper, which is however more and more often substituted with Garage Band software on an iPhone.

What’s funny, we still use the old, small, high-tone Genius loudspeakers from the 90s, which have a ‘3D sound’ button; when I press it, I don’t need headphones to ‘discover’ all high-tone sounds.

Another curiosity is a parody of the song ‘I’m on a boat’, entitled ‘I’m on a Mac’, sung by comedians Pantless Knights. They show in a satirical way the differences between PC and Mac computer. The funny thing is that after the release of Windows 7, jokes about the Windows system started to be meaningless.

About the author: Piotr Koczewski started
working in game development in 2006 as a Musician and Sound Designer. In
2008 he released an ambient music album inspired by post-nuclear SF, called
“Wasteland Theme”. He co-organized in 2009 the Video Games Live
concert in Poland. You can listen Piotr`s music at his website www.piotrkoczewski.com
Music Production hardware and software tips, Part 1

Music Production hardware and software tips, Part 1

By Piotr Koczewski

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 sub-assemblies. 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 main board – 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.

Up next…

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.

Continue to Part 2 >

About the author: Piotr Koczewski started
working in game development in 2006 as a Musician and Sound Designer. In
2008 he released an ambient music album inspired by post-nuclear SF, called
“Wasteland Theme”. He co-organized in 2009 the Video Games Live
concert in Poland. You can listen Piotr`s music at his website www.piotrkoczewski.com