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Tech Notes

By Jim Miller

My column last issue stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest among some readers. In case you missed it, I criticized the big record companies for overcharging for compact discs. Unfortunately, some readers thought I was also putting down independent artists who have to charge more for their discs to even begin recovering their expenses.

Point One: Within a week of my writing that column, the national newspaper, USA Today, carried a feature story that essentially said the same thing, that the big guys are making big bucks every time they sell a CD. I stand behind my comments.

Point Two: I wholeheartedly support every single musician who has the spirit and tenacity to forge ahead and release his or her own album. To these brave souls I say charge whatever you want. You will get what the market will bear. Charge too much and nobody buys your CD. In any case, please be aware that my comments last issue were not directed at you. We all know that a small, independent artist or group will probably never recoup expenses, no matter what they charge for a CD or cassette. Still, I'm hoping that the Internet will provide a much better vehicle for marketing these self-produced, self-financed albums.

Imagine: Music from your new project could be available on the Net to anyone who owns a computer capable of playing back audio (and that's most of them these days). It won't be easy, but enterprising artists with the energy and savvy to succeed will probably have the opportunity to do so in the years ahead. There's no doubt about it, the marketplace is changing rapidly. My hope is that one day soon music lovers will be buying the albums they want to hear, not what the record industry chooses to heavily promote.

Until that day, I say let's all keep making music. It's the best feeling in the world to create a song that comes from your heart.

While I'm still on this particular subject, I want to thank all of you who sent me your albums. Some were excellent, some were (how can I put this nicely?) less than polished, but every single one of them proved that the act of making music is truly its own reward.

On to another subject before I find myself in even more trouble than I usually am. I recently received evaluation copies of the new Pro Tools 4.0 software from Digidesign and Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Performer 2.11 (which was featured in our last issue of Sweet Notes). I'll be discussing them in a minute, but first, at the risk of getting into additional hot water with some readers (something I'm pleased to say I'm really good at), I want to briefly discuss copy protection and authorization disks.

We all understand that hundreds of thousands of dollars (sometimes millions of dollars) go into the creation of these programs, meaning that the programmers and software publishers absolutely deserve to get paid for their hard work. Unfortunately, some musicians don't share that view, which is a shame since it causes manufacturers to continue using copy protection. However, as software gets more and more complex (and more powerful), simply copying it is no longer enough. You need technical support to make it run at peak performance, as well as documentation you can refer to later when you become a true power user.

I know I'd never want any software on my Mac (particularly nothing that's as complex as Pro Tools or Digital Performer) that I couldn't get technical support for, and I don't know anyone who has the time and energy to photocopy somebody else's 650 page user's manual (just think about all those poor trees!).

If you have copied software onto your computer (or sampler) that you don't own, the ugly fact is you are breaking the law (though admittedly it's a rather unenforceable one). If you did so and then bought your own copy of the program or set of samples, you may feel justified because you are, in some small way, expanding a rather limited market. Of course nobody could duplicate any software without the consent of the person who actually owns the original program. That makes two guilty parties.

I'm sure software publishers would rather not spend the money and waste everyone's time with copy protection, but until the mindset of every musician on the planet changes, it's something we all have to live with. For now, let's all do our part and make sure nobody ever copies any software we happen to own.

Okay, I'm way off my subject, I know. Let's talk about some very cool software. Pro Tools 4.0 ($795 list/upgrades available at special prices to owners of Pro Tools 3.2) is a "must-have" for people who want to do hard disk
Digital Performer 2.11's eVerb plug-in interface
Actual Size Available ( kb)
recording on their Macs (sound like anyone you know?). Admittedly, some people get a little confused because Pro Tools is both a hardware system, as well as a software package. The newest Pro Tools hardware is the Pro Tools|24 system, while Pro Tools (actually version 4.1) is the software that supports it. To make things just a bit more confusing, Pro Tools 4.0 will also work with other sound cards (including Digi's Audiomedia III), as well as under native code on PCI and NuBus Power Macs. If you're still confused, your Sweetwater Sales Engineer can answer your questions and get you pointed in the right direction.

I have an Audiomedia III card in my Mac, and it runs great with this new software. Those of you who have been using Digidesign software for any length of time (including Sound Designer) will love Pro Tools 4.0 since you can now record from two to 16 audio tracks. You'll find its user interface quite comfortable and the Audio Suite Plug-In architecture (which takes full advantage of the host processor's CPU speed) is already being supported by all the major third party Plug-In manufacturers (upgrades are usually either free or at very affordable prices).

Pro Tools 4.0 has significantly faster screen redraws and vastly improved automation. I really liked the Pro Tools Dynamics plug-ins, in particular the Upward Expander, which worked flawlessly on the material I was processing. If hard disk recording is your thing and you own a Power Mac, you really need to check this software out. You know the drill by now: Call your Sales Engineer for more information and your special pricing.

MOTU's latest and greatest is Digital Performer 2.11 ($795 list/$295 for an upgrade) - which incidentally is also a Macworld World Class Award winner. This package is the logical step up for those who, like me, owned version 1.7. Of particular interest to me was the software's ability to send and receive samples from my K2500 (2.11 also works with the latest Akai, E-mu and Roland samplers), allowing me to use the various Digital Performer plug-ins (like the excellent pitch shifting) to process them. This is a truly awesome feature.

Using the PowerPC chip's 32-bit floating point calculations gives 2.11 owners a lot of DSP power, so effects can actually be applied in real time to your tracks and they sound as good (or in some cases better) than 16-bit outboard modules. I really liked the sound of the eVerb plug-in (see screen shot above) which is included with every copy of Digital Performer 2.11. If you are doing sequencing along with hard disk recording, you absolutely have to check out this software. So contact your friendly, knowledgeable Sales Engineer for additional information and pricing.

Both of these packages are outstanding examples of the awesome power we have at our fingertips these days and depending upon your specific applications, you absolutely cannot go wrong with either of them. Learning how to get the most out of them is the real challenge, but it's a task all of us will enjoy tackling.

Arrghh! I can see the bottom of the page coming up way too fast, so I'd like to once again thank all those Sweetwater customers who sent me their CDs and cassettes, as well as all of you who took the time to write - even if you happened to disagree with me. I love hearing from you, so keep those cards, letters and e-mail coming!

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