From the Blog

Posted by Jake DiMare at 8:28 am

My brother Max sent me a gift certificate to Guitar Center for my birthday. Yesterday I picked up the next (and last…for a while) addition to the home studio…An Ibanez RG350. It’s black on black with a maple next…Absolutely stunning. And it shreds. I have wanted one ever since I was a teenager, which may sound silly since there are much better guitars out there. But, the guitar player in my band had an Ibanez and he wouldn’t let me touch it. Compared to the squire or whatever it was my brother and I learned on…It may have as well been the best guitar in the world. Nevertheless, for the money, Ibanez guitars might be the best value in the world.

I also spent some more time getting comfortable with the Rosegarden midi sequencer after accidentally discovering it will play back on the piano I use to input the sequences! I recorded a melody and then created chords and passing tones with the matrix editor. It was a little tedious at first but as I got more comfortable with the interface I realized how much power this tool is going to give me in my quest to create a complete piece of music.



The Space

Much to the chagrin of anyone who may have wanted my attention this past weekend, I was able to make some serious progress with my most recent endeavor to set up a DIY audio production studio in my spare bedroom. I may have to set up a separate blog dedicated to this topic….So much to say!

It was a long, long weekend but in the last hours before passing out last night I was finally able to create the introduction to a first attempt piece of music with multiple, recorded tracks. But before I ever got to the point where I could lay down a single track there were many interesting challenges. Getting everything to communicate seamlessly required a lot of patience and a desire to keep troubleshooting no matter how long it took in order to solve each issue. I am also going to need to figure out how to keep my cats off the hardware. They love sleeping on electronics that generate heat.

On a side note, although small I am really happy with the space overall. It’s comfortable and everything is well within reach. The room has a couple of windows to let in some natural light and fresh air. It’s kind of a Zen space for me. I’ve got to remember to make sure Jackie knows how much I appreciate the fact she let me take it over when we moved in together.

Friday night after work I went to the local Guitar Center and picked up a few things. I thought it might be interesting to keep a tally of my costs for prosperity…And taxes…Because of my profession a production studio is a legitimate business expense.  My memory is hazy so these figures might be off as much as +- 5%. Also, some of these hardware items are used and came from me…their cost is $0 and I am not going to estimate the actual value.

Item Cost
Roland TD-K Drums $1100
Yamaha P85 (on sale!) $550
Used Acoustic 6-String $0
Alesis 4 Channel Mixer w/USB $79
M Audio 2 Channel USB/Midi Interface $79
Samson Servo 300 Power Amp $300
Used Studio Monitors (Discovered at a Goodwill store) $20
Dell 18.5″ Computer Monitor $100
Keyboard Stand $50
Drum Throne $50
DW7000 Bass Drum Pedal $100
Drum Sticks $50
Assorted New Cables $100
Assorted Used Cables $0
Dell Latitude D800 (Circa 2002) $0
Ubuntu Linux Studio Version $0
Ardour Digital Audio Workstation $0
ZynAddSubFX Software Synthesizer $0
Suite of JACK Utilities $0
TOTAL: $2578

This is my first time seeing this total number but it is about what I expected. Music is certainly an expensive hobby but given what capabilities I now have I feel this price…Combined with 48 hours of effort to get everything set up and working together…Is pretty reasonable. If I was talented enough I could certainly compose, record, edit and digitally master a piece of music today.

Linux Workstation

Linux Workstation

The biggest challenge over the weekend was getting the various Linux software components to work with the MIDI instruments and each other. All the software was free but patience, diligence and the ability to understand computers is absolutely necessary. A little UNIX experience is also very helpful. In the end some interesting lessons were learned. For instance, I discovered I must turn things on and connect them in a specific order. The following sequence is to connect the keyboard to the software synthesizer:

  1. Power up the computer
  2. Run JACK control
  3. Start JACK server
  4. Run JACK Rack
  5. Start ZynAddSubFX
  6. Open JACK connctions
  7. Link Zyn Out to Rack in
  8. Link Rack out to System In
  9. Plug in MIDI USB
  10. Turn on Keys
  11. Open Jack Connections
  12. Link MIDI interface Out to MIDI through IN
  13. Link MIDI through Out to ZynSub IN
  14. Push MIDI pass through button.
  15. Voila!

Although this probably seems like a lot of steps it only takes about a minute. Ubuntu Linux runs very fast, even on an eight year old Dell with 512 Megs of RAM. I am ordering additional RAM very soon, this is one limitation that must be dealt with very soon. The system was getting pretty unstable as the length of the first project grew. One attempt to copy, multiply and paste 5 seconds of two tracks overshot the RAM, spiked the processor and locked the machine up tight. I had to kill everything in order to drop the CPU’s down and allow the fan to cool the processor before I restarted the machine.

Although I am really happy with the $20 studio monitors I found at Goodwill I am also certain I want to upgrade the sound. Producing music, even as a total amateur, demands high fidelity playback.

Posted by Jake DiMare at 9:49 am

I’ve played the drums since I was 8 or 9 years old. Over the years I have also picked up some piano, guitar and bass…Plus a lot of music theory. I am back to practicing the drums regularly with the recent purchase of a professional Roland electrical kit. Playing acoustic drums in an apartment in the city is really not something I would like my neighbor to do…regardless of how talented he or she may be. My upstairs neighbor is a professional cellist and I can hear every note of his four hour practice sessions every day. Fortunately it is a very pleasant background score for life at home.

Anyhow, it’s been a life long dream to set up a little studio with more instruments I can play with and maybe even put an original piece of music together from beginning to end. Just for me…no ambitions other than a hobby. Unfortunately, this could be a pretty expensive hobby. For starters, I have plenty of experience playing with bands…even professionally at different times in my life. I know the difference between pro gear and consumer gear and I am not willing to mess around with the latter group. It took me a long time to save up for the drum set I wanted. Fortunately, all the research and experimenting involved in looking for ways to cut cost but get the quality I am looking for has turned out to be an enjoyable aspect of the experience.

My next purchase is an electric piano I can connect to a computer for sequencing, synthesis, mixing, etc. The piano isn’t going to be that bad…my requirements are professional quality, weighted keys, touch sensitivity, and a quality piano voice. I would like USB but I can live with a MIDI connection. I don’t need a thousand voices, built in synthesizer, sequencer or speakers. I am already putting together the studio monitor system so I can plug it in or use headphones.

I’m already experimenting with Linux for the computer. There are lots of powerful, free applications out there for Linux but installation and software conflicts are a challenge. On the plus side the experience of setting up and maintaining a Linux environment is beneficial for my day job too.