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Script for Finding the Best WiFi Channel

When running a wifi router in a public space, the least congested channel will offer the best performance. Use this script for Apple computers to help you find that channel fast.

For live sound events I often use wifi to interact with computers and digital devices that control audio, video, and lighting. Having dedicated, reliable wifi is critical for successful productions, so I bring my own router with me to live events. This is the model I own and recommend.

image of TP-Link router

All your [wifi] base belong to us.

WiFi is has become nearly ubiquitous. Networks are everywhere. The increasing number of public, private, commercial, and consumer grade broadcasts mean that the designated wifi spectrum is growing more crowded. Like lanes on a highway, there are a limited number of wifi channels to choose from. Car drivers try to avoid traffic and choose the least crowded lane on the road. Likewise, you will get the best wifi experience by “driving” in the least congested wifi channel.

icon for Wireless Diagnostics application

Also available by Option-clicking on the WiFi icon in the menu bar and choosing Open Wireless Diagnostics…

Apple computers have a built in Wireless Diagnostics service with a sub program that recommends the best wifi channel. It’s hidden away in the system folder and I have a hard time remembering the exact clicks and keystrokes to find it. So I wrote an AppleScript that runs inside an Automator Service to make the exact window pop up when I need it.

screenshot of Automator workflow

This is how I wrote the script in Automator. Can you make it better?

This is the easiest way to get it in the right place:

  1. Download this ZIP file: Find-Best-Wireless-Channel.workflow.zip
  2. Double-click the ZIP file to unzip it.
  3. While still in the Finder, click Go to Folder… under the Go menubar item. Alternatively, press the key combination ⇧⌘G (Shift-Command-G).
  4. In the little window that drops down, type the following: ~/Library/Services
  5. Hit the (Return) key. The Finder will navigate directly to that folder.
  6. Copy or move the Find-Best-Wireless-Channel.workflow file to that folder.
    screenshot of folder location in Finder window

    This is place the file should be put.

Once you’ve put the workflow file into that folder, look for it under Finder > Services > General.

screenshot of Finder Services menu items

Mine has a key command assigned to it. See the note at the bottom about how to set that up.

When you click on the “Find Best Wireless Channel” service item the workflow will run and a you should be left with a window named “Scan” opened. The wireless networks that your Mac has found will be listed on the right. Look at the panel on the left.

screenshot of Wireless Diagnostics Scan Summary panel

The red circle is provided to direct your eyeballs where to look.

The best wifi channels will be listed at the bottom. Use these numbers to set your router’s wifi channel. Good luck!

Notes

OS Compatibility

This Automator service works on macOS Sierra. Depending on your current OS and any future OS updates, YMMV.

No Library?

If you can’t see your Library folder, follow the directions found here to unhide your Library.

Roll Your Own

For those of you that like to DIY, here’s the raw script.

tell application "Wireless Diagnostics"
	activate
	# opens Scan Window
	tell application "System Events" to keystroke "4" using {command down, option down}
	# brings Assistant Window to the front and closes it
	tell application "System Events" to keystroke "1" using {command down, option down}
	tell application "System Events" to keystroke "w" using {command down}
end tell

Keystroke Combo Power-Ups!

If you want to assign a key command to this workflow service like I did, open up  > System Preferences… > Keyboard > Shortcuts. In the left panel select Services and scroll down to the bottom of the right panel. Next to “Find Best Wireless Channel” click the word “none” and then the “Add Shortcut” button that appears. Press the combination of keys you want to trigger the workflow. Voilà!

screenshot of Keyboard Shortcuts in System Preferences

Assign whatever key combination you like.

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GEQgen Creates StudioLive Graphic EQ Presets Offline

GEQgen is a web application for editing PreSonus StudioLive GEQ presets offline.

I made a web application called GEQgen (short for Graphic EQualizer generator, pronounced: “geek-jin”). It was designed for easy creation of GEQ presets that the first generation PreSonus StudioLive audio mixing consoles read/write/share within the original Universal Control software.

screenshot of GEQgen graph and input fields

GEQgen provides a visual graph for reference.

The older Universal Control software (not the newer UC AI version, which only works with StudioLive AI devices) permits editing only when a StudioLive device is connected. The dB values of the 31-band EQ can only be adjusted by clicking and dragging the sliders, which is kind of tedious.

screenshot of original Universal Control software splash screen

Universal Control requires a StudioLive console to be connected to the computer in order to function properly.

GEQgen allows offline creation of GEQ presets (convenience!) and for the dB values to be typed in or incremented up and down with the arrow keys. The result is plain text formatted in valid XML that can be saved as a preset and uploaded to first generation StudioLive mixing consoles.

screenshot of XML code

GEQgen outputs valid XML which can be saved as a GEQ preset.

Why does this matter? Well, sometimes I like to create “flattened” GEQ presets based on the frequency response graph that manufacturers provide with their products. Having a flatter EQ response means that the output of various mains speakers, monitor wedges, and headphones are more consistent with each other. Doing this task was tough in the old Universal Control software. With this new GEQgen tool I can simply look at the graphs, guesstimate the values, and type in what I want. It’s much faster and easier.

screenshot of many frequency response graphs

Graphs like these can be used as reference to create GEQ presets which can flatten the response of loudspeaker output.

Maybe you will find this tool useful. I’ve posted it on a new Tools page here on my site. I suspect I will be making more things like this in the future. Let me know what you think.

Also, if you like coding for the web, maybe check out GEQgen on Github. Thanks!

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How to Wire or Choose the Correct Audio Cable

This isn’t as easy as it seems.

December 10th, 2015 | Technology | , , , , , , , | Comments: 0
the joke is in the image

Do you know The Secret? It’s not really a secret, just science.

Nearly every audio problem can be traced back to bad practice. Whether that’s a musician not being prepared or an engineer not using gear correctly, almost every problem encountered in the making of music can be attributed to one of these two camps. For the musician, the answer is simply more (and better) practice. For the engineer, it’s more (and better) knowledge.

A pair open letters:

Dear Musician,

Practice, so that we might enjoy your performance.

With gratitude,

Everyone in the Entire World

Dear Engineer,

Know thy shtuff. Don’t assume that you do.

Hesitantly,

Everyone Who Has Had to Endure a Show

With that in mind, musicians, please excuse yourselves to go practice. Engineers, let’s talk.

Topic: Cables.

Cables are crucial to everything you do. They connect every piece of equipment you use. But do you know—and I mean really know—how to hook all of them up correctly? Even if you think you do, chances are that you could be reminded of a few things. I could.

An audio engineer is a technical professional that manipulates electrical signals under the pretense that we are ultimately providing auditory pleasure (or at bare minimum, tolerability) for an audience, whomever they shall be.

Good sound doesn’t happen by accident. It is the engineer’s duty to use audio equipment properly. Connecting the many pieces of gear together to make a show happen arguably is the engineer’s most basic of tasks and yet the most often screwed up.

I’ve found no better resource for how cables should be wired for the various scenarios than this article from the folks at Rane called Sound System Interconnection. Bookmark it, study it, refer to it every time you think you know the answer. They provide a way to connect anything to anything else an engineer might need to connect.

screenshot of image from Rane

Click for knowledge.

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What is Neuron Plugin Scanner?

Do you want the application “Neuron Plugin Scanner.app” to accept incoming network connections?

The Problem

If you’re on a Mac running a contemporary1 version of OS X with the Firewall engaged and trying to fire up RX 5, you might encounter the following error.

screen capture of the alert dialog box

Do you want the application “Neuron Plugin Scanner.app” to accept incoming network connections?

What is Neuron Plugin Scanner? The alert dialog box warns: “Clicking Deny may limit the application’s behavior. This setting can be changed in the Firewall pane of Security & Privacy preferences.”

The only solid reference to this app that I could find is a tiny thread on this forum. A guy named Jonah (possibly this guy?), who claims to work for iZotope Inc. (software developers of the amazing RX 5, Ozone, Iris, etc.), states that Neuron Plugin Scanner is a “helper application to scan your host for plugins to use” and that “it never connects to any other computer, iZotope, the internet, or anything else!”

That seems harmless, but I wanted better proof that Jonah was legit and the app wasn’t something more malicious. I contacted iZotope customer service and got this reply:

Hello Scott,

Thank you for reaching out! Yes the Neuron Plugin Scanner is related to RX 5. RX 5 has the ability to host 3rd party plugins. Those plugins have to be scanned by the Neuron Scanner before they are instantiated. Allowing this functionality is recommended.

Thank you for your time!

Sincerely,
Matt

iZotope Customer Care

Verdict: Neuron Plugin Scanner is safe. Simply click Allow and keep making music.

The Solution

It turns out the app is harmless. But clicking Allow every time you open RX 5 is a pain. Shutting off the Firewall is not wise. So if you want to make this dialog box go away forever, here is what to do.

1. Open Security & Privacy panel in System Preferences

You can find System Preferences under the Apple logo () on the far left of the menubar. Click on the Security & Privacy icon.

screenshot of System Preferences

Click the Security & Privacy icon

2. Unlock System Preferences

If your System Preferences are locked, unlock them. Enter your system account password when prompted.

screenshot of lock

Unlock to enable changes to the Firewall

3. Open Firewall Options

Once you enter your password, the Firewall Options button will no longer be grayed out. Click it.

screenshot of Firewall Options button

Click on Firewall Options

4. Find the app Neuron Plugin Scanner in the list

Scroll down until you see Neuron Plugin Scanner. It will have a red dot and the words “Block incoming connections” beside it.

screenshot of firewall settings for various applications

Find the Neuron Plugin Scanner.app

5. Allow Incoming Connections

Toggle the setting for the Neuron Plugin Scanner app to read “Allow incoming connections” and exit out by pressing the OK button.

screenshot of Firewall settings being changed from block to allow

Set the Neuron Plugin Scanner to “Allow incoming connections”

That should fix the problem. The alert dialog for Neuron Plugin Scanner will no longer pop up…at least until iZotope updates their software or Apple changes their operating system. This is what worked for me with RX 5.00.135 running on OS X 10.10.5. Not all systems are the same. YMMV.

1Contemporary = a version released within the last few years prior to this article being publish. If these issues still exist at some point years from the publish date, I would be surprised. If so, well hello dear reader from the future. Do we have flying cars in the time you are from?

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iPad/iPhone Live Video Streaming

Need to stream video over a network using iOS devices? Transmitting video over wifi or Cat5e using an Apple tablet or phone can be really easy. This is how to do it.

A recent gig required live video and audio streamed from one building to a projection screen in another building some distance away. The gig came as a last minute request (the night before a morning event). I had little time to prepare. They were in a bind and didn’t have anyone else they could count on. Though I did not own very much video equipment, I knew I had to help. I had to be creative in order to accomplish the task. Here is what I did.

First, I broke the problem into 2 parts: audio and video. Figuring out an audio solution was easy, since I’m primarily experienced in audio and had all the gear for that portion. So the tough part was figuring out video. Another factor to consider was that the signals needed to be fairly secure (to prevent easy hacking), so wired was preferred over wireless options. My plan was to send audio over balanced audio cables and video over ethernet/Cat5e cable to reassemble on them together on the other end.

Second, I scoped out the location. The buildings were two small structures set on opposite sides of a small parking lot. A quick reading with my super handy laser distance measurer revealed the buildings sat about 100 feet apart. This measurement was helpful for figuring out how much cabling I need to run between the two locations. In addition to the distance between the two, there was also a height factor (the receiving location was on the second floor), plus there were interior distances that needed to be run. Altogether the total distance from the source to the destination required enough cable to reach somewhere in the ballpark of 200 feet.

Third, I needed to inventory my equipment list to figure what I needed to buy, if anything. Luckily, I found a nice iOS app that streams video quite reliably.

Video Signal Flow

This is the basic routing I came up with:

iOS Device with Video Source App > Wifi Router > Ethernet Cable > Computer with Video Destination App > HDMI Cable > Output Device (Display or Projector)

And here are the specific details of my setup:

  1. a newer iOS Device (iPad/iPhone/iPod touch) with good camera (I used an iPad Mini 2.)
  2. a video streaming iOS app (I used AirBeam by Appologics UG with its companion desktop app AirBeam Pro.)
  3. a wifi router (I used an older AirPort Extreme Base Station A1354. For increased security, I also made sure the SSID was not broadcast, the network required a WPA2 password, and the password was fairly long and complicated. Not a perfect solution, but much better than an open wide, password-free network.)
  4. Cat5e cable (I used cable rated for outdoor use since it was kind of rainy and wet outside.)
  5. an Apple computer with ethernet jack (I used an aged Mid-2010 MacBook Pro.)
  6. a video adapter for connection to video cable (I used one of these AmazonBasics Mini DisplayPort (Thunderbolt) to HDMI adapters.)
  7. a video cable (I used an HDMI to HDMI cable.)
  8. an output device (I used a projector.)

Here is a sketch of my set up:

diagram of iOS live video streaming  gear connections

Not shown: MiniDisplay Port to HDMI adapter

I didn’t describe or diagram my audio setup as it was a little more traditional in approach. I may or may not write about that in another article.

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Cheap RGB LED Par Can Light Fix

Sometimes the solution is easy. Maybe the wires are just crossed.

A while ago I picked up a set of RGB LED par can lights from a friend. They are unbranded, but I did a little searching online. Turns out they are sold under the brand TMS, which I think stands for T-Motorsports, but can’t be certain.

They are just generic, low-cost lights that you can buy in packs of 20, 10, 8, 4, 2, and even 1. They’re super-affordable, small, and get the job done.

I haven’t really used them yet. In some recent tests I noticed one of the fixtures did not seem to be addressed the same as all of the others.

picture showing the lights not working properly

BEFORE: The can lit green should be lit red like the rest of them.

After confirming that the problem was that the red and green channels were flipped, I figured it was a problem that could be fixed easily. I opened up a good light and a bad light to compare the wiring.

side by side comparison of good and bad can lights

On the left is a properly functioning can light. On the right is the can light with the red and green channels switched.

It might be hard to see in the picture above, but the blue and black wires coming from the control PCB were soldered to the LED PCB backwards at the factory. I fired up the soldering iron and swapped the connections.

interior shot of wires before and after modification

Shown above are the black and blue wires before and after the switch.

Here are the all the lights functioning as expected after switching the wires.

picture of the 10 lights working correctly

AFTER: All 10 cans working properly.

So, yes, you get what you pay for. Cheap, unbranded lights might not be wired correctly at the factory. But sometimes good enough is good enough and a little know-how can keep the show on the road.

WARNING: Always be careful working on electronics. Unplug the power before opening things up. Don’t touch stuff on the inside. Be very cautious. You can be killed or seriously injured if you don’t know what you are doing. Prior to any electrical work consult with your local electrician, doctor, lawyer, and priest.

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TC Electronic Flashback X4 Delay DIP Switch Settings & Simple Case Mod

Which DIP switch does what? Plus a simple case mod to make the switches more accessible.

November 7th, 2015 | Technology | , , , , | Comments: 0
Photo of top panel of the pedal.

The TC Electronic Flashback X4 Delay/Looper effects pedal.

The Flashback X4 is one of the delay effects pedals in the Flashback series by TC Electronic. It features their famous 2290 delay along with quite a few other delay modes and a looping function. In addition to the X4, the Flashbacks come in several different packages: Flashback Triple, Flashback, and Flashback Mini.

I own both the X4 and Mini. The pedals sound great, have lots of features, and are generally really easy to use. I also like the TonePrint stuff that TC Electronic is putting into all of their newer effects. The pedals can be customized for the exact sound you are looking for.

The Flashback X4 has the ability to change some settings on the pedal using internal DIP switches. By flipping these tiny switches hidden inside the pedal, users can adjust the bypass mode to either True Bypass or Buffered Bypass (terms which really only make sense to guitar junkies and audio engineers) and turn the “dry” signal on or off (which can be useful if the pedal is used in an effect send/return scenario).

While I love the X4, there are a few issues with these DIP switches.

  1. They are inside the case. Removing 7 screws takes time. It makes it hard to quickly A/B test the bypass modes or toggle the Kill Dry.
  2. The screws are Torx star drive, not standard or phillips. Good luck finding the right bit when you need it.
  3. The switches are not labeled. The manual tries to explain them, but it’s still confusing.

The DIP Switch Settings

Here is the explanation of the switches from the user manual.

Screenshot of the manual showing DIP switch settings.

These are the cryptic instructions found on page 32 of the user manual.

It kind of seems like that section was written during the prototyping stage of the pedal development because it doesn’t make it any clearer which switch controls what or which direction they should be flipped to. Even after re-reading it several times I still couldn’t make sense of it. Using the power jack as a orienteering guide isn’t very helpful. I figured out what was what by just flipping the switches. Here’s what you need to know:

Interior photo of the Flashback X4's PCB.

The green circle shows the location of the DIP switches on the main PCB.

Here is a close up of the switches with labels for what each switch controls.

Close up shot of the DIP switches.

DIP switch 1 controls the Bypass Mode and switch 2 controls the Kill Dry On/Off. The numbers might vary from unit to unit, so go by the location and direction, not the labels on the switch.

Be careful when flipping those little switches. They are delicate plastic components.

The DIP Switch Hole Mod

Instead of fiddling with the back panel every time I want to adjust these settings, I figured I would modify the pedal to make it easier.

I could’ve gone the route of desoldering the DIP switch and wiring in a pair of new switches mounted externally. But that seemed like a lot of work.

Instead I simply drilled a hole in the bottom panel.

How to drill the case

  1. Flip the pedal over with the jack panel away from you.
  2. Once you find the right T10 Torx star bit, you can take the 7 screws out. Be careful not to mess up these screws. They are made from a soft metal and are easily damaged if roughly driven or over tightened.
  3. Remove the bottom panel.
  4. Measure where the center of the DIP switches are located. Mine was 41mm (~1 5/8″) from the right edge and 72mm (~2 13/16″) up from the bottom edge. This location may vary from pedal to pedal, so make sure to take your own measurements on your specific pedal.
  5. Mark the location on the bottom panel. It should be somewhere in the area where the label is.
  6. Drilled the hole. I used a 5/32″ drill bit because that was the only size bit that I had on hand that was not too big and not too small. You might want to go for a little larger diameter drill bit to give yourself more room to toggle the switches. The metal is fairly soft, so you shouldn’t need any drilling oil.
  7. Clean away the metal shavings. Make sure you didn’t get any into the pedal. Metal shavings could cause electrical shorts in the circuit.
  8. Test fit the bottom panel, adjust if necessary, and replace it.

The result should look something like this.

Hole drilled through case and label.

This is the 5/32″ hole drilled into the bottom panel.

As you can see, the hole is nearly invisible with that label there. To adjust the switches, use a small screwdriver or paperclip. Again, be careful when toggling the delicate DIP switches!

Back panel of the Flashback X4 with the DIP switch hole modification.

The hole is barely visible, but the DIP switches are easily accessible with a small screwdriver, paperclip, etc.

I might print up some labels to put on the bottom panel so I can remember which switch is which.

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Hot Linking Can Be Fun

Copy, Cut, Paste — Egg on Face.

March 25th, 2015 | Technology | , | Comments: 0

The Internet. The World Wide Wow. It’s a digital jungle out there, kids. But it sometimes brings fortune.

My first personal experience with hot linking ended with some free stuff and a funny story. Read all about it via the updates at the bottom of my article called iLok “The session you were using is no longer valid.”

Happy reading! And be safe out there! 😉

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5 Tips for Audio Recording Hard Drives

Hard drives are hard.

hard disk drive with Pro Tools logo as the platter

You want to record audio in the modern age? You don’t have a Zildjillion dollars to be able to record to tape? Even so, it all ends up digital. You need some hard drives.

Five Audio Recording Hard Disk Drive Tips

Hard disk drives aren’t all the same. Picking out the right one can be tough. Here are some things I’ve learned — sometimes the hard way.

1. Heed the DAW makers’ suggestions.

If AVID says that Pro Tools doesn’t support it, don’t expect it to work. Legit DAW makers will post the system requirements for their software/hardware. Look them up. Follow their recommendations and instructions. Spoiler: You’re probably going to have to spend more than you had planned for.

2. Faster is better.

A faster drive means it read/writes faster. And faster read/writes means more tracks and/or higher quality.

Traditional hard disk drives have platters that spin. A hard disk drive that spins at 5200 rpm really isn’t fast enough — it’s like red-lining a Geo Metro. 7200 rpm is better. 10,000 rpm better still.

And then there’s flash drives, which are way faster than hard disk drives.

There are also seek times to consider, for which lower numbers are better. Seek time is the baseline amount of time in milliseconds that it takes for a drive to fetch data.

I have found that drive manufacturers don’t always make these stats readily available. When in doubt, assume the drive doesn’t meet spec (because it likely doesn’t).

3. Data interfaces matter.

Hard drives have come with lots of data interface flavors: PATA, SATA, USB (1, 2, 3), FireWire (400, 800), Thunderbolt, Ethernet, and some are even wireless. The data interface dictates bandwidth, which roughly translates to how many tracks you can record at once and how much latency your playback will suffer. More bandwidth is better, which translates into better recording and mixing experiences. Again, check your DAW maker’s system requirements and choose the drive with the fastest and most forward-compatible data interface.

Also make sure your computer can handle the data interface type you’re choosing. And find out if the data port you intend to use on your computer is sharing a bus with any other peripherals in your computer. That can adversely affect your bandwidth, causing a data bottleneck.

4. Bigger isn’t better.

For tracking and mixing, you don’t necessarily need a 3 TB drive. (Unless, of course, you’re recording a 10-piece prog-rock group with 40 minute “works” at 32-bit 192kHz.) Save the big, slow drives for backups and archiving. Use smaller, faster drives for works in progress. If you have more than one project going at a time, consider using a small drive for each project, so the different project files are not interleaved with each other on the drive. This will speed up read/write times, as the drive will not be jumping around on the platters trying to find the files for the current session. This also saves money, since really fast and really big drives are expensive.

5. Always have a backup.

Have a backup plan, because hard drives fail. All the time. More so than any other part of a computer. Make sure to always backup your work after every session, whether recording, editing, or mixing. And make sure you have an extra drive ready in case one goes down during a session. I can’t stress this enough. Millions of ones and zeros (i.e. your priceless recordings) can go poof at any time — and there’s never a right time for that. Buy more hard drives. Make backups like a chronic. Sleep well.

Coda

So there you have it: my top five hard drive tips. Comment below to let me know what you would add to the list.

And enjoy some “Tainted Love” made with old hard disk and floppy disk drives…

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FIX: Waves Preferences “Don’t ask me again”

Make that Waves Preferences pop up dialog window go away forever WITHOUT having to uninstall and reinstall your plugins.

The Problem

After doing a fresh install of Pro Tools and my Waves plugins, this Waves 9.2.100 Preferences dialog window (pictured below) kept popping up every time I fired up Pro Tools.

screen grab of Waves 9.2.100 Preferences dialog window

Checking the “Don’t ask me again” checkbox didn’t seem to be working.

I searched for some solutions on the Google machine and found some forums were recommending a complete uninstall and reinstall of all Waves plugins. This didn’t seem necessary. Here’s the fix I used:

The Fix

  1. Quit Pro Tools.
  2. Trash the entire Waves Preferences folder. The folder is located in the Preferences folder in your user Library folder, not your system Library folder. A quick way to locate the folder is to switch to the Finder and hit Shift+Command+G. A Go to Folder dialog window will pop up. Copy and paste the following line in that field and hit enter.
    ~/Library/Preferences/Waves Preferences

    Put that folder in the trash and empty the trash.

  3. Start Pro Tools.
  4. A window should pop up asking you to select the Waves 9.2 Plug-Ins folder. By default, it should be located in the Waves folder in your Applications folder.
    /Applications/Waves/Waves Plug-Ins

    Once you’ve located the folder, click Open.

  5. The Waves 9.2.100 Preferences dialog window should pop up again. The “Don’t ask me again” box should be checked. If not, check it and hit OK.
  6. To test if everything worked, quit Pro Tools and start it again. The Waves dialog window shouldn’t reappear.

About the Fix

I adapted this solution from a somewhat unrelated problem I found on Sweetwater Sound’s SweetCare Knowledge Base. The fix definitely works for the following system set up. YMMV

  • OS X Mavericks 10.9.3
  • Pro Tools 9.0.6
  • Waves 9.2.100 plugins

Please leave a comment below if this helped you or not.

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FIX: You are opening the application “Pro Tools” for the first time.

There’s a first time for everything. This is not one of those times.

Blame it on entropy or whatever. Things get messed up. Apple’s OS X is no exception.

In the last few months, I started getting this error a lot:

screen grab of an OS X alert dialog box

You are opening the application ”Pro Tools” for the first time. Are you sure you want to open this application?

Except, it’s not true. I open Pro Tools nearly every day. The alert isn’t very important, but it was beginning to get annoying seeing this pop up every time I wanted to record.

So, a little googling and I found an answer on StackExchange. It involves using the command line on your Mac, which can be a bit scary if you’ve never done that before. But it’s a single command, so you should do just fine. Here’s the quick and dirty summary…

Terminal application icon

This is where the Matrix is on your Mac. There’s no green falling code or woman in the red dress. There may Agent Smiths lurking though.

The Fix

  1. Open the Terminal application (found in /Applications/Utilities/).
  2. Copy the following command (all of it… the whole long line) and paste it after the prompt.
  3. /System/Library/Frameworks/CoreServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/LaunchServices.framework/Versions/A/Support/lsregister -kill -r -all local,system,user
  4. Hit the Enter/Return key.
  5. The process will begin. It may take a minute or two to finish. Do not quit the Terminal application while the command is running.
  6. Eventually the process will complete and another prompt will appear. Now you can quit the Terminal app.

This command resets all of the first run warnings. So any application that requires that will be reset. So you should see the alert one more time for each of those applications and then it will go away for good.

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Export MIDI from GarageBand

GarageBand likes to keep MIDI data hidden and inaccessible. Here’s how to extract it anyway.

GarageBand icon with MIDI cable superimposed

Apple’s GarageBand makes it relatively easy to sketch out an audio demo, but it does have some severe, intentionally-crippled limitations.

One of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of built-in support for exporting MIDI data.

Performances are stored inside the session file in some sort of MIDI fashion, but Apple doesn’t give users an easy way to get that information out. Major bummer. *looks west towards Cupertino, squints eyes, shakes fist in air, mutters under breath*

However, a nice guy named Lars Kobbe has put together a workaround/hack that extracts MIDI data from the reluctant clutches of GarageBand. You can download his GB2MIDI Apple droplet script from his site: MIDI-Export in Apples Garageband. Here’s the direct download: GB2MIDI.ZIP

The article is in German, but instructions in English are found near the bottom of the article (just before the comments section). Getting the MIDI data out involves several steps. Here’s my summary of the process.

How to Extract MIDI Data from GarageBand

  1. Join (Command-J) regions of a track you want to export
  2. Convert that region to a loop via Edit > Add to Loop Library (NOTE: In GarageBand 10.1.0 this menu item is now located under File > Add Region to Loop Library )
  3. Find the newly created loop file (an .AIF with MIDI data hidden inside it) in the folder: Macintosh HD (or whatever your system drive is named)/Users/(your home folder)/Library/Audio/Apple Loops/User Loops/SingleFiles/
    or the abbreviated: ~/Library/Audio/Apple Loops/User Loops/SingleFiles/
  4. Drop that .AIF file on Lars’ GB2MIDI droplet
  5. Grab the freshly extracted .MID file, which should appear in the same folder where the .AIF loop was. If not, see the comment section below.
  6. Import the .MID file into a respectable DAW (basically almost anything other than GarageBand).
  7. Make next hit record.

That last step is optional, but I say go for it. 😉 Let me know if this helped you.

Locating The Files

UPDATE 2014-08-10

If you’re having trouble locating the loop file, it may be because your Library and/or Users folders are hidden, as later OS X versions have been wont to do.

To unhide the Library folder, open the Terminal application, which is found in the /Applications/Utilities/ folder. At the prompt type the following:
chflags nohidden ~/Library/

To unhide the Users folder, type this into Terminal:
sudo chflags nohidden /Users
Then enter your administrator password.

Look for the newly unhidden Users folder in your hard drive’s root folder. It should look something like this:

screenshot highlighting location of User folder

After running “sudo chflags no hidden /Users” you should see the Users folder (highlighted in red in the image above) appear under the root folder of your hard drive (often named “Macintosh HD” by default).

For more on the hidden Users folder issue check this article from The Mac Observer. It seems the problem was introduced with iTunes 11.2 when Find My Mac is enabled. Another blog suggests that updating to iTunes 11.2.1 fixes the issue.

GarageBand Alternatives

UPDATE 2016-02-04

This GarageBand MIDI article has regularly been one of the most popular posts on my site. That means there are a lot of people using GarageBand and discovering its unfortunate MIDI limitations. The best bit of advice I can give to any musician or audio engineer still using GarageBand is STOP. I know that may sound harsh, but GarageBand is intentionally made to be consumer-grade software. If you’re serious about recording, take the time to investigate other DAWs. Find an alternative solution. There are many to choose from and nearly every one of them is less limited than GarageBand. They range from super affordable to “professionally priced.” Here’s a list to get you started. (Some links are affiliated.)

Pick any of the DAWs above (or find another — this list is by no means exhaustive) and you’ll find it much easier to work with MIDI. Let me know what software you chose.

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Custom Cell Formats in Numbers Spreadsheets

How to create custom cell formats in Apple Numbers.

graphic of Numbers logo

I really like spreadsheets. Lately, I’ve been building spreadsheets about electronics stuff in Numbers, which is Apple’s version of Excel. I was curious about how to use custom cell formatting to display the correct unit abbreviations on values. Here’s how I did it for Ohms, the SI derived unit for electrical resistance.

  1. Click in the cell you want to format.
  2. Hitting Option (⌥) + Command (⌘) + I opens the Inspector window. It’s also available in the menu bar under View > Show Inspector.
    screen grab of Inspector window in Numbers
  3. Click the Cells tab (it looks like a little 42 in a box).
  4. Under Cell Format heading choose Custom… from the drop down menu.
    screen grab of Ohms listed in Cell Format drop down menu
  5. In the Name field type “Ohms” (without the quotes).
  6. Make sure “Number & Text” is selected in the Type drop down menu.
  7. From the Number & Text Elements field drag the Decimals (.##) element into the field with the existing Integers (#,###) element in it.
  8. Add a space after the Decimals element, then type the symbol for Ohms, which is the omega character (Ω). The keyboard shortcut for this is Option (⌥) + Z.
  9. Click the plus (+) button on the right twice to add two more conditions.
  10. In the first added condition, select “If greater than or equal to …” from the drop down menu.
  11. In the field to the right of that drop down type “1000000” (one million without the quotes).
  12. In the element field below that, make sure there’s an Integers element, a Decimals element, a space, a Scale element set to Millions (M), and finally an omega.
  13. For the second condition you added do the exact same thing as above, but enter “1000” (one thousand without quotes) and set the Scale element to Thousands (K).
  14. If everything looks like the screenshot below, hit OK.

screen grab of Cell Format window

Now when you type a value into that field, it should automatically format into Ω, KΩ, and MΩ. If not, go to step 4 and double check that everything was entered correctly.

Your newly created formatting will be added to the Cell Format drop down. You can now select other cells and apply this custom formatting to them. The custom format will be saved in this Numbers file.

screen grab of Cell Format drop down menu

Try creating custom cell formats for other SI Units too.

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Bluetooth Pairing Unsuccessful

An alternate method that might make your Bluetooth device connect with your iOS device.

January 11th, 2014 | Technology | , , , , , , , | Comments: 5

Can’t get your Apple Bluetooth keyboard to pair with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch? I couldn’t either. My A1255 keyboard wouldn’t connect at all. The iPhone would find the keyboard, but wouldn’t update the name of it, nor ever present the four digit code for pairing. I could only get this error:

Bluetooth Pairing Unsuccessful alert screengrab

Pairing Unsuccessful
Make sure “Keyboard” is turned on, in range, and is ready to pair.

I tried a bunch of fixes I read about online and none of these worked in any combination nor configuration:

  1. turning Bluetooth off and on
  2. rebooting the iPhone
  3. holding the power button on the keyboard
  4. deleting other Bluetooth device pairing from the iPhone
  5. clicking ‘Forget This Device’
  6. connecting to another device and then my iPhone
  7. replacing the batteries
  8. holding the V, A, and R keys while powering on the keyboard
  9. turning off Bluetooth on any other nearby devices

It seems Bluetooth under iOS 7 is broken. Lots of people are having issues with Bluetooth on iOS 7 that weren’t there in older iOS versions. Unfortunately, Apple is apparently ignoring this problem.

The Fix

Here’s how I finally connected my keyboard to my iPhone.

  1. Switch off Bluetooth on iOS device under Settings > Bluetooth.
  2. Shut off the keyboard by pressing and holding the power button for 3 seconds.
  3. Switch on Bluetooth on iOS device.
  4. Turn on the keyboard by pressing and holding the power button until it green light blinks.
  5. The keyboard should appear listed under the DEVICES heading in the iPhone Bluetooth settings screen with “Not Paired” in gray next to it. Bluetooth settings screengrab
  6. Now at this point you’re supposed to just tap on the listed device on the iPhone to begin the pairing process, but when I would do that it would time out with the “Pairing Unsuccessful” alert. Here’s the trick: repeatedly tap on the listing (maybe 5-6 times) and hopefully the “Bluetooth Pairing Request” alert will appear with the four digit code you’ll need to enter. Bluetooth Pairing Request alert screengrab
  7. The pairing may fail the first time. Try again.
  8. I also found that subsequent attempts to connect after forgetting the device worked much better after that initial connection.

I hope this fix works for you. Let me know if it does.

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FIX: Pro Tools “You do not have appropriate access privileges (-5000)”

Oh, yes, you do!

A friend gave me a Pro Tools session on a thumb drive. I copied the entire session folder to my external hard drive and opened it. After changing the routing to work on my system, everything played back fine. Then I tried to clean up the session.

Every time I attempted to cross fade or consolidate an audio or MIDI region, I would get an error like this:

screen shot of a Pro Tools error dialog

“Could not complete your request because You do not have appropriate access privileges (-5000)…” Why do you build me up, Buttercup? Capitalize ‘You,’ then award me negative five thousand points…pssh.

The Fix

Seeing the “access privileges” bit, I figured the problem was probably an operating system issue, not a Pro Tools thing. The session files were indeed set to ‘Read Only,’ which is why I could play back the session, but couldn’t do anything to the regions or fades.

Here’s how to fix the issue.

  1. Close the session. You shouldn’t have your Pro Tools session open while changing its permissions.
  2. Select the session folder in Finder. Make sure the session folder is highlighted, not the files inside the session.
  3. Get Info. Hit Command-I (capital i) or from the Finder menu select File > Get Info. An Info window will pop open.
  4. Change all privileges to ‘Read & Write.’ At the very bottom of the Info window is a box with a list of users and their privileges. They should all be set to ‘Read & Write.’ You may be asked for user password to unlock and verify the change.
    screen shot of Sharing & Permissions file metadata

    Not listed are NSA permissions, which by default are set to ‘Collect All,’ but, like, totally isn’t a violation of your privacy.

  5. Close the Info window. After making the privilege changes, try reopening your Pro Tools session and editing some regions. If you can, this fix worked for you.

Why does this error occur?

Many common problems that Macs develop are related to file permissions errors. Files are given various permissions to maintain privacy between computer users and prevent users from easily messing up the operating system.

Permissions can get wrecked when disks are removed without being ejected and during unexpected shut downs. That’s why it is important always to try to eject disks and shut down your Mac properly.

Permissions can also get messed up during copying and moving of files or while installing software. That appears to be why I experienced this error. During the copying of the files, the permissions were never changed to grant me access. Simple problem, simple fix.

UPDATE 2013-10-30

After encountering this problem on several other sessions, I tried another method and found a better (and probably more proper) solution. Try this in addition to or instead of the above fix:

In the problematic Pro Tools session, pop open the Disk Allocation dialog (Setup > Disk Allocation…).

screenshot of the Setup menubar item in Pro Tools 9

When the dialog window opens, you’ll be presented with a list of all the tracks in your session and the location where that track should be located. If you’re having problems creating fade files and getting the sort of error that brought you to this page, then you’ll probably see something like the picture below.

screenshot of the Disk Allocation dialog window in Pro Tools 9

As you can see, not all of the tracks had their disk allocation pointing to the right place. To fix them, select all of the incorrectly allocated tracks, then click and hold the little up/down arrows on the right hand side. A little window will appear and ask you to select a folder. In my case, the session file was looking on my internal system drive instead of my external audio drive. Choose the correct location of your session files and click OK. That should solve the issue. Let me know if this worked for you.

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FIX: Sibelius “There are fonts missing.”

Those fonts probably aren’t missing.

Error dialog windows can be really frustrating. They pop up and demand your attention, when you just want to get to work on something. Sibelius 7 has thrown this missing font error for me a few times:

Sibelius 7 error dialog window

There are fonts missing. Sibelius 7 will still work without these fonts, but some scores may not display properly. The missing fonts are: Reprise Std, Reprise Special Std, Reprise Title Std, Reprise Stamp Std, Reprise Rehearsal Std, Reprise Script Std, Reprise Text Std

The Fix

Most likely the fonts aren’t missing, but simply disabled, which makes the fix really easy. Here’s how to re-enable the “missing” fonts.

First, open the application Font Book. This native OS X font manager should be located in your Mac’s Applications folder.

Second, search for the missing fonts. Font Book has a search field in the upright corner. Type in the names of the missing fonts.

Enabled fonts are shown in black text. Disabled fonts are grayed out and are labeled “Off” on the right hand side.

screen shot of Font Book OS X application

In my case, all of my “missing” fonts were part of the Reprise family, I typed in “reprise” and all of the fonts in question appeared in the filtered list.

Third, enable the fonts. Select the fonts you want to re-enable. Then hit Shift-Command-D. You can also enable fonts by using the menu bar by selecting Edit > Enable Fonts. The fonts should turn black and the “Off” label will disappear.

screen shot of Font Book drop down menu for enabling fonts

I see you checking out my wallpaper.

Lastly, close Font Book and reopen Sibelius. If you enabled all the “missing” fonts, you should be good to go. The error shouldn’t pop up this time, however, it may happen again in the future.

Why does this error occur?

I’ve had to run the fix a couple times now. I don’t know why this error seems to reoccur. If you know why those Reprise fonts sometimes disable themselves, please send me an email or comment below.

Being a graphic artist as well, I know that fonts are notorious for becoming corrupt, conflicting with other fonts, and generally being a hassle to manage. You might think being a musician is a good way to get away from graphic design problems, but unfortunately software like Sibelius relies on fonts to display notation. At least the fix for this error is easy to do and only takes a minute.

UPDATE 2013-10-30

The fix I posted above seemed to only work for a while. Occasionally, I would have to run the fix again, which is to say, it wasn’t much of a fix. So, I dug in further and found a real, permanent fix.

The issue was with duplicate fonts. The strange bit was that it wasn’t duplicates of the Reprise family, which was the family of fonts that Sibelius said were missing. Instead it was duplicates of various other fonts that Sibelius uses.

By referencing this forum post and this forum post, I figured out which fonts Sibelius requires and, thus, which ones might be causing problems. Then, for clarity’s sake, in the Font Book application I created a new Collection (File > New Collection or ⌘N). After that I did a search for duplicate fonts (Edit > Look for Enabled Duplicates… or ⌘L) and looked in the Sibelius font collection for any that were flagged. Sure enough, about a third of the fonts that Sibelius uses had duplicate copies. One by one, I “resolved” (deleted) the duplicate fonts, then rebooted. Problem solved.

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Dummy Head

How to Make a DIY Binaural Baffle

I made a dummy head baffle to test out binaural recording techniques on an upcoming session. The baffle was super simple to make, looks sleek, and works quite well, so I thought I’d share how I made it.

animated GIF of the binaural baffle mounted on a stand with microphones

Note: The microphones shown here are not the same brand or model. I recommend using a matched pair of omni mics for the best stereo imaging results.

Before we get into the nitty gritty details, let’s get some questions out of the way first.

What’s a dummy head?
Dummy head is either an insult you used in third grade while playing kickball at recess or the term you use for the baffle placed between two microphones while making a binaural recording.
What’s binaural recording?
Binaural recording is a technique that attempts to record audio in a way that replicates the way our human ears encode three-dimensional audio information. This is done by simulating a human head by arranging two microphones (the ears) in relationship to an acoustic baffle (the head). The result is recorded audio with a stereo image that when played back through good headphones is supposed to sound exactly like “being there.” The dummy head acts like a proxy for your own head in whatever environment it is placed in. You get to hear whatever the dummy head heard.

One of the best known binaural recordings is the inconspicuously named album Binaural by Pearl Jam. Note: If you click that link and buy the album, Amazon will give me a little kickback, which I would totally appreciate. I’m sure Amazon and Pearl Jam’s label would appreciate it too.

What’s a baffle?
In audio jargon, a baffle is an object made of sound absorbing and/or acoustic dampening materials used to block or reduce transmission, reflection, or propagation of sound waves. Baffles are like shields that can prevent or impede sounds. They can be used to isolate a particular sound source from other sound sources in the same room. Baffles are often placed around loud things like drums or guitar amps. Sometimes engineers will place small baffles on the back side of microphones to reduce early reflections and room sounds or give more directionality to an omni microphone.
Shouldn’t a dummy head look like a head?
Binaural purists say that a binaural dummy head baffle must closely resemble a human head to capture all the nuances of how sound reflects off our faces, is absorbed by the mass of our heads, tickles our nose hairs, and gets caught by those biologically amazing curvatures of our outer ears.

The purists might be right, but if we’re going to replicate a human head down to the smallest details, whose head should we use as the model specimen? When I last checked, human heads still come in all kinds of neat shapes and sizes. Sure, we could build something will all sorts of exacting specifications, but I say a board roughly 20 cm by 25 cm that’s covered in felt is Good Enough™.

If you build one and test it out, I think you’ll agree. All we really need to get a decent binaural recording is something roughly head-sized that blocks reflections between two quality microphones.

How to Make a DIY Dummy Head Binaural Baffle

Materials Needed for This Project

  1. Wood Board – Solid or plywood, roughly 20 cm x 25 cm, whatever thickness you want. I happened to have a piece of solid oak lying around. Good enough!
  2. Thick Felt – Enough to cover the board on both sides. You can use multiple layers to get the thickness you want. I had enough thick black felt left over from another project to do three layers on each side. I suppose you can buy this stuff at a fabric store or directly from your local feltsmith.
  3. Microphone Mounting Bar – I used this On-Stage stereo bar from Sweetwater Sound. You could probably make something instead of buying something, but you will need a way to mount the baffle and two microphones on a microphone stand.
  4. Short Screws – Pan head wood screws, quantity 8, long enough to secure the felt to the wood without poking out the other side.
  5. Longer Screws – Pan head wood screws, quantity 3-4, for securing the mounting bar to the bottom of the wood.

Before Getting Started

You’ll need a few other things to build this baffle. I used a circular saw to cut the wood, razor blade to cut the felt, power drill/driver with drill bits to pre-drill and drive screws, clamps to hold things together, and a bandage to put on my finger.

This is probably a good time to give the obligatory reminder to be careful when you use power tools. Really that applies to any time you do anything in life. I find it silly that from a legal stand point it’s necessary to post a disclaimer about the dangers of power tools when writing about them. Cars kill people all the time, but to my knowledge articles about using cars don’t require disclaimers. Anyway…you should probably wear gloves, eye protection, ear plugs, and a respiratory mask. Maybe put on some pants too.

Putting it Together

  1. Measure and cut the board. It should measure about 20 cm x 25 cm. That’s the approximate size of a human head when looking at one from the side. Yes, I used the metric system, because it’s way better than imperial. And no, that does not make me an anti-American, unpatriotic traitor. If you want to use imperial dimensions for human head size, may I suggest starting here?
  2. Cut the felt. The felt should be the exact same dimensions as the board. A razor blade works well for making nice clean cuts. A sharp knife or strong scissors could probably work too.
  3. Make a sandwich. Stack up the layers of felt with the wood sandwiched in the middle. I clamped this together to keep everything in place for the next step.
  4. Attach the felt. Pre-drill through the felt into the wood approximately 2-3 cm in from each of the four corners. Try not to let the wood dust get embedded into the felt, which would look bad. Do this on both sides, but offset the location slightly on each side so the screws from the back side don’t end up hitting the screws from the front side. Drive the short wood screws in deep enough to hold the felt taut, but not too tight. Puckered felt looks unprofessional.
  5. Drill holes in the Microphone Bar. Figure out where you want the long screws to be. Mark those spots on metal bar and drill holes just slightly larger in diameter than the long wood screws. When drilling metal, a little oil helps to cool the drill bit, making the drilling process easier. You can use cooking oil from the kitchen; it works just as well as anything else. Also, be careful with the metal shavings this produces, which can cause trouble if they get into electronics and/or your body.
  6. Attach the Microphone Bar. Once the holes are drilled in the microphone bar, align the bar to the bottom of the baffle. Mark where the holes are and pre-drill the wood deep enough for the long wood screws. Again, avoid getting the wood dust on the felt. Screw the microphone bar to the baffle.
  7. Ready to Use. Mount the baffle on a microphone stand using the center mounting hole. Use the shorter adjustable arms to place the microphone shockmounts or clips so the microphones’ capsules are approximately in the center of the baffle vertically and horizontally. The microphones should be about 20 cm apart from each other, which is about an average distance between most human ear pairs.

Final Notes

So does it work? In testing the dummy head I made, I was really surprised at how accurately the stereo field mapped sounds to the real world. I was kind of expecting it not to work very well. I had two different brands and models of microphones for my test. For the record the microphones you use to make binaural recording should be a matched pair with an omni pattern. Other patterns can sort of work too, just not as well.

I’m not posting audio samples here just yet, as I didn’t have the rights microphones on hand. But I did build this for an upcoming session, so once that session is done, I’ll post some clips for you to hear just how well a DIY dummy head can work.

Update (2013-08-18)

I somewhat coincidentally stumbled across an article about a thing called a Jecklin Disk, which is a lot like this dummy head baffle only larger. Check out this Wikipedia article for more about it.

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Angie’s List iOS App Sounds

I made some noises and you can hear them in the Angie’s List app.

My brother Eric Troyer is the Mobile Design Manager at Angie’s List, a service provider ratings and review site for consumers. He has been redesigning the iOS app and it looks really nice.

iPhone running the Angie's List app

Eric asked me for some sound effects to add to the ratings UI. I created a variety of blips and ticks and Eric chose the ones he liked. If you’re an Angie’s List member and have the free app, you can hear the sounds in the latest version. For non-members and non-iOS users, here’s a video of the ‘Write a Review’ process.

Video

Angie’s List iOS App (2.9.1) – Write a Review! from Eric Troyer on Vimeo.

About Angie’s List

If you’re a homeowner, check out Angie’s List. The site requires paid membership, but can prove to be really helpful for finding a great service provider (like my brother Matt’s company Emergent Investments) when your kitchen needs remodeling or the furnace goes out. Get the Angie’s List app free on the iTunes App Store. If you want to make an app or improve your current app, consider hiring Eric to design your app. He’s really good.

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FIX: Pro Tools An unexpected authorization error 14051 occurred.

This might be the solution.

Screen shot of Pro Tools error dialog

Error
An unexpected authorization error 14051 occurred.
ID: ePAY : 14051 / Dngl : 1595

I got this error a few days ago. It’s a new one for me. What caused this? Good question. I have no idea. Pro Tools wouldn’t really start after this.

As usual the Avid forums weren’t very helpful. Which led to this tweet…

For the record, at the time the error occurred I was running OS 10.8.4 and Pro Tools 9.0.6 on a Mac Book Pro with an iLok 2.

The Fix

I had to force quit Pro Tools. Then I unplugged my iLok 2 and plugged it into a different USB jack. Presto. Working again. Not sure what caused it, nor if switching USB jacks was actually the fix, but I did get it working again after doing so. Hope this helps somebody.

UPDATE

I confirmed again that switching which USB jack the iLok 2 was plugged into made the difference. I would think that this is a problem with that particular USB jack, but all other USB devices work just fine plugged in there. Hmm…

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iLok “The session you were using is no longer valid.”

or… How to release a new version of your product/service and bring an entire industry to a screeching halt.

picture of old and new iLoks

Shown: original iLok on top, iLok 2 on bottom

PACE has changed how their customers interface with their infamous iLok. The iLok is a DRM dongle, that many software manufacturers use to manage licensing. Formerly, all licenses were managed (mostly just fine) through the ilok.com website, which is now an insufferable “support” site. The new, prematurely launched system PACE requires users to install the iLok License Manager application on their computer.

Ok, no big deal, right?

I recently purchased several plugins to use in my audio production. I’d love to use these great new plugins, but I can’t because the PACE application is horrible.

In order to use the plugins, I need an iLok 2, which has to have the licenses on it, which must be loaded onto the iLok only by using the iLok License Manager, which won’t even allow me to sign in. This is the error I get.

error dialog box

The session you were using is no longer valid. Press OK to establish a new session.

Pressing OK makes the error go away, but it comes right back when I click “Sign In.” The iLok support site doesn’t list this problem as a issue I can submit a support ticket for. So that’s it. I can’t sign in.

Maybe it is just as well. Even if I could sign in, the advice on the the “street” is don’t try to sync your licenses, ’cause you might lose them.

PACE has acknowledged there are issues, but has been otherwise silent.

If this were a football game, PACE fumbled at kickoff, bungled the whole first half, refuse to answer any questions at half time, and amazingly the fumbled ball is still loose in the second half.

I think this screen grab from the iLok.com website says perfectly what many digital audio workers are thinking.

"iLok How does it work and why do I need it?"

UPDATE: 2015-02-26

A funny thing happened with some of the content on this page. I can’t tell the story just yet, but I bet it’s going to be a good laugh when it’s all over. Interweb lulz.

UPDATE: 2015-03-25

As promised…a funny story. After poking around my site stats and hits, I discovered someone was hot linking me.

If you’re not familiar with hot linking, it’s like stealing cable TV from a neighbor, except it hurts the neighbor instead of the cable company. I had a bandwidth leech!

Anyway, a very popular, well-respected pro audio plug-in development company (who will remain unnamed, because it ended well) was using an image from my site on their support page. It was the photograph I took of two iLoks, which is featured at the top of this very blog post.

I knew I could do something funny with the hot link and maybe get a free plug-in out of it. So I created this new image to replace the one they were linking to on my server.

The names of people and plug-ins are blurred out to protect both the guilty and the innocent.

The names of people and plug-ins are blurred out to protect both the guilty and the innocent.

This meant that the above image would now show up on their site. Zing!

I had formatted it to look nearly identical to their artist endorsements in hopes that it might ride under the radar, remaining visible on their support page for as long as possible. For a short while this unofficial endorsement was live on their site.

Long story short…I uploaded the image and went to bed.

Surprisingly, less than 12 hours later I received an email from one of the company’s developers. He basically said, “well played,” thanked me for not goatse-ing them (If you don’t know what that is, don’t Google it.), and let me pick out a free plug-in. Woohoo!

Moral of the story: Hot linking costs everyone something.

Side note: The very same iLok 2 that’s in the picture featured in this debacle must have a desire to make me famous/infamous. It is the very same iLok I photographed to use in the satirical movie poster THE SNOWDEN ULTIMATUM, which was featured in Forbes and lots of other places. There’s something strange about that iLok.

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Haas Effect Panning

A little history plus a free download of plug-in settings for Haas Effect panning.

History

A smart guy named Helmut Haas discovered a bunch of cool things about the way our human brains decode the sounds we hear to determine the direction of where those sounds originate.

Back in 1949, Mr. Haas found that early reflections of sounds help our brains decipher where the sounds came from. We can tell a noise came from the left not simply because we hear it in our left ear, but also because the sound bounces off a wall to our right and hits our right ear a very short time after it hit our left ear. Almost instantaneously, the brain detects the short time between the two signals and tells us, “Hey, that sound you just heard came from your left. Better turn your head to see what it was!” This happens so quickly that we don’t really even think about it. We just “know” it came from the left.

Haas also recognized that early reflections are basically copies of the initial sound that are delayed slightly. He started messing with people’s heads. He pointed speakers at them and firing sounds with very short delay differences. Then he asked the test subjects which direction the sound seemed to come from.

His conclusion: Not only is it fun to play with sounds, but also 40 ms (milliseconds) is some kind of magic point for our brains. If an echo is more than 40 ms after the initial sound, then we hear the sounds as separate instances. But if the delays happen within 40 ms or less of each other, then we perceive them together as merely directionality cues of a single sound.

For example, if a sound hits our right ear and the same sound hits our left ear 0.3 ms later, we don’t hear two sounds, we only hear one sound coming from approximately our 1 o’clock position.

And so the Haas effect was named after him.

Panning

Engineers have implemented the Haas effect as an alternative to panning. Most of the time panning works just fine, but it does have limits.

Sometimes panning leaves the location of the audio feeling indeterminate, smeared, mono, or one dimensional. This is why a lot of engineers skip the pan knob altogether and mix LCR.

To effectively localize a track in a stereo field using the Haas effect, engineers have to do a couple things. They duplicate the track, pan the two tracks hard left and right, and then apply a delay to only one of the sides. The delay is applied to the side opposite of the side from which the sound is intended to perceived as originating.

Typical delay times for this technique are increments of 0.1 ms from 0.1 to 0.7 ms. This yields linear movement across the stereo field. You can think of it like this chart shows.

diagram of pan knob and delay times in ms

Example: Want the sound to come from 9 o’clock on the left? Delay the right side by about 0.4 or 0.5 ms.

Download

After researching the Haas Effect, I decided I wanted to try it out in a mix. Since the settings must be very exact, setting it up correctly can be a bit confusing. Presets to the rescue!

I made these presets for the stock Digidesign Mod Delay II plug-in. These presets only work for this specific plug-in and Pro Tools. If there’s interest, maybe I’ll make more presets for other DAWs in the future.

Installation

Download this ZIP file, unzip it, and drop the folder and included presets in the Mod Delay II folder in the Plug-in Settings folder. On a Mac it’s probably located at Library / Application Support / Digidesign / Plug-In Settings / Mod Delay II, but may be in a different location on your system.

Setting up the tracks

Insert an instance of the Mod Delay II (mono/stereo) plug-in on the mono track you want to Haas-ify. Select the preset you want. No need to duplicate tracks. Bingo.

Haas Effect Panning

screenshot of Pro Tools session

Digging Deeper

Understanding how to use the Haas effect properly means you need to understand and pay attention to things like stereo-to-mono compatibility and comb filtering, as well as other stereo field mixing techniques. As with all effects, have fun but be careful not to over do it. Experiment and do your homework. Then let me know if you find learn or discover anything cool. Here’s a cool video that got me thinking about the Haas effect. This video no longer available.

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FIX: Could not complete your request because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..

Here is how I fix this Pro Tools error.

The Error

Really? A typo in the error? Grrrrr...

Really? A typo in the error? Grrrrr…

Ever get this error? Can’t open your session, right? Not only is it a major workflow stopper, but the double punctuation typo at the end is annoying as well.

Luckily, the solution is quite simple.

The Fix

This is the quick fix that works for me and my particular setup of hardware/software. Your mileage may vary.

  1. Quit Pro Tools
  2. Restart Pro Tools
  3. Open the session that wouldn’t open before
  4. Get back to work

But why?

The IT mantra “Have you tried turning if off and on again?” waves the problem away like a magic wand, but why is this problem happening in the first place?

The last time this error occurred for me, I noticed that it was after I had ejected my audio hard drive, removed my iLok, and left Pro Tools open, but put my machine to sleep before Pro Tools could issue the panic message: “Hey! Where’s your iLok, buddy?! That’s it! We’re shutting this whole thing down.” Then when I went to reopen the last session I was working on, boom, the error in question occured.

I’m guessing that between the time I ejected everything and the time I plugged it all back in and tried to fire it up again, Pro Tools had switched its default sample rate from whatever my Mbox 2 Pro says it was to whatever my MacBook Pro thinks it should be. Then when I try to open a session with a particular sample rate that doesn’t jive with what the current rate is, Pro Tools freaks out because it thought it knew what was right, but doesn’t even know anymore, man.

Disclaimer: I don’t actually know how or why the error is occurring. These are just my slightly educated stabs in the dark. If you know anything more about this error, why it happens, and, most importantly, why there’s a typo in it, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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The Inception of Keyboard Instruments

Is every new technological development just a deeper dream state?

Sound is basically waves of pressure changes. The exact definition is more complicated, but essentially we perceive sound because our ears decode the frequencies of oscillating movement of particles in gases, liquids, and solids. There are many ways to generate sound waves, such as plucking guitar strings so they vibrate, or hitting a membrane like a drum head.

Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church pipe organ. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Pipe Organs

A long time ago, people discovered that sound could also be made by blowing air through a pipe with a opening on the side, thus inventing the whistle. They also found that a range of tones could be produced by assembling a group of whistles with varying lengths and diameters. Then they attached a controller (called a keyboard or manual) so that one person could “play” this collection of pipes. Their invention is what we now know as the pipe organ.

At the start, pipe organs had only one timbre – a basic whistle sound, but over the next several hundred years, smart inventors and musicians made improvements in the technology. They found ways to emulate lots of other instruments, like brass, woodwinds, percussion, and even human voices. Their hope was to fully replicate those real life instruments.

a pipe organ console

Organ console at the United States Naval Academy chapel. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As features were added, pipe organs evolved into enormous, elaborate, and expensive installations, increasingly more complicated to play and maintain. While these pipe organs were truly amazing inventions, capable of creating complex and beautiful music, they were actually quite poor emulations of the real life instruments they were intended to replace.

Still, we humans are adaptable and we fell in love with the sound of pipe organs, learning to appreciate the instrument for what it was, not what it wasn’t.

Electric Organs

a Wurlitzer organ

Wurlitzer 4100 BW Electronic Spinet Organ (1959-1963). Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Eventually, we discovered electricity and began to harness its power to create electromechanical instruments. Creative minds developed things like vacuum tubes, tone wheels, and transistors. Companies like Hammond and Wurlitzer implemented tone wheels to generate sounds approximating a pipe organ.

However, similar to the pipe organ, this new technology was a brilliant invention that poorly emulated its predecessor. These new organs were affordable alternatives to pipe organs, so in spite of being a bad imitation they became popular with smaller houses of worship. Traveling musicians took advantage of the portability of these smaller organs too, making their sound common in popular jazz, blues, and rock music.

Once again, our ears grew accustomed to the sound of the imitation, developing an affinity for the quirks of its particular aesthetic.

Keyboards

keyboard on table

Yamaha DX7. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As the march of progress continued, electronics became smaller and more powerful. Engineers found ways to replace the delicate mechanical parts in electric organs, which were subject to wear and tear, with completely electronic sound generators. Lightweight, all electronic keyboard synthesizers used a variety of methods in attempts to replicate the sounds of their heavier electromechanical ancestors.

But just like before, history would repeat itself. The new emulators were incredible technological achievements that fell short of their goal of replacing the old technology. Though they lacked the ability to fully replicate the previous generation, they possessed attributes that eventually found an audience of connoisseurs that valued them not just in spite of their glitches, but because of their unique properties.

Software

Today, we synthesize the sounds of the old technologies with computers and keyboard MIDI controllers. While initially computers could only crudely imitate the old masters, DSP technology is progressing rapidly. CPU speed and available RAM are no longer the main limitation factors. As the computational power ceiling continues to rise higher and higher, software programmers are able to provide increasingly nuanced emulators that can easily fool the listener into believing that the software is actually the real thing.

The Inception

official Inception film poster

Inception poster from IMDB.com

At this point, if you’re still reading, then you probably can see how this history correlates to the plot of the film Inception. Each new technological breakthrough has been like a deeper dream state, where the simulation moves further and further away from reality.

Real instruments
→ Pipe organs
→ → Electric organs
→ → → Keyboards
→ → → → Software

However, just like in the film, while each level becomes more strange and abstract, the deepest level — Limbo — actually approaches something most like the real thing or maybe even better. Today’s emulators delve into such detail and are able to control even the most minute aspects of the sound, that it won’t be long before they easily eclipse the believability of the old technology. In fact, we may already be there.

A few years ago (when the emulators weren’t half as good as they are now), a friend of mine (who has very good ears) dropped by the studio to hear a song I was working on. When the B3 organ kicked in during the chorus, he declared, “That organ sounds great. There’s nothing like the real thing!” Muwhahaha! The smoke and mirrors of software emulation had worked.

Inspiration for This Article

This idea of how keyboard technology relates to Inception came about through a discussion with my friend Hoss. Over the weekend we were working on the keyboard parts for our band Rudisill’s next album Take To Flight. In between takes of an organ part we marveled at the realization that the software he was using was an emulation of an emulation of an emulation — a truly strange scenario.

Follow Rudisill to hear about the new album when it is released later.

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Overcoming Musical Gear Ignorance – Part 2: Excuses

Are we making excuses for why we aren’t better musicians?

Overcoming Musical Gear Ignorance” is an article I wrote that was published as a guest blog on my friend David Santistevan’s site. If you haven’t read it yet, go read it now.

In that article, I gave 50 technical questions as “homework” for the musician that wants to get better at being a musician. The broad list covers a lot of little things that musicians really ought to know, but think they don’t need to know.

While we could easily get sidetracked judging ourselves based on whether we can answer those specific questions or not, the real issue I’m hoping to address is our attitudes about learning.

Learning is tough. Really tough. It takes dedication, willingness, and humility to learn new things. It’s not surprising that we make a lot of excuses to avoid it.

Excuses, excuses, excuses

Over the years, I have cited lots of reasons for why I wasn’t progressing as a musician, but they were simply excuses. Here are a few of my mental blocks.

1. My fingers are too fat.

Back in high school I picked up the guitar because I wanted to write songs. After a year or two of trying to learn how to play, I told Nathan Hamlin, my trusted friend and songwriting partner, that my fingers were too fat to play guitar well. His response?

bratwurstsScott, my dad Vance has huge sausage fingers and he can play guitar better than I can. You have no excuse.

Nathan was right. I stopped making excuses and learned how to play guitar. Now people ask me to play guitar for them.

Still want to make excuses? Phil Keaggy has only 9 digits, Chad James has only one hand, and Mark Goffeney has no hands, but it hasn’t stopped any of them from playing guitar.

2. I need a better guitar.

For years I was convinced that if I just had a more expensive guitar, I too could play like a pro. Wrong.

In college I met Ben Albright, a guy who was known for his guitar prowess. Time and time again, I watched as he would pick up the same crappy instrument I had just laid down and play something inspiring. Clearly the guitar was not the problem.

The roadblock was in my mind. There was a reason I couldn’t make a guitar sing like Ben could. Besides not putting in the many hours of practice that he had, I had already decided that I couldn’t make great music without great instruments.

screen capture from It Might Get LoudIn a previous post called “How to Get Perfect Guitar Tone,” I included a video clip from It Might Get Loud of Jack White building and then playing a makeshift guitar on his front porch. The improvised “guitar” he makes proves his point that great music is possible even if the instrument is not very good.

I can’t blame my guitar.

3. I need better recording equipment.

We live in such a wonderful time. Recording has never been more accessible, affordable, or high quality.

My soon-to-be released album All Is Sideways was recorded in locations all over the U.S. over the past 3 years. Some of the songs have more than 50 layered tracks. I was privileged to be able to record with talented players on great instruments with really nice microphones and preamps into a sweet computer.

cover of Sgt. PeppersThe funny thing I have to remind myself is that some of the greatest albums of all time have been made with much less. The Beatles recorded their highly complex Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with a pair of 4-track tape machines.

Compared to the tools we have available to us today, musicians and engineers of the past worked with sticks and stones. Men have flown to outer space and back in rocket ships with computers on board that pale in comparison to the iPods in our pockets. Yet somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that to make an album like Led Zeppelin’s IV today, we need million dollar systems with all the latest technology.

Sorry, kids. Your gear can’t be the scapegoat here. Garageband is more than adequate.

Who’s left to blame?

Excuses don’t make me a better player. Better gear doesn’t make me a better player. Only my determination to learn, practice, and actively become a better player makes me a better player.

In my signal chain, sadly, I am the weakest link.

I want to fix that and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there.

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Rating Songs in iTunes

Rating songs isn’t easy. How do you rate the songs in your library?

Our best efforts to judge objectively are often ruined by our subjectivity when rating works of art. iTunes gives us the ability to assign stars to every song in our libraries, but, man, is it hard to know how to use them well. There is great irony in the fact that recorded audio files are simply zeroes and ones, yet it is very difficult to rate those songs on a simple scale of zero to five stars.

Below is a breakdown of how I rate the songs in my iTunes Library. I’m approaching this from the viewpoint of a songwriter and producer, so I’m interested to hear how you rate your library.

☆☆☆☆☆

Songs in my iTunes Library that have zero stars are tunes I have yet to rate. Unless I’m focusing on the task, I find it easy to get lost in the music and forget to click on those little stars. Sadly, a large percentage of my library is still unrated. I’ll get to it… someday.

★☆☆☆☆

A one star song merely proves that it is possible to record audio, but beyond that I find almost no redeeming quality. If I rate a song with one star, it has very little value to me. I hate these songs. Why do I keep them in my library? Different reasons, I guess. If a song is part of album, I don’t get rid of it because I hate incomplete sets. Sometimes I keep terrible songs around as a reminder of what not to do.

★★☆☆☆

Songs I don’t like but that still have some redeeming value to them get two stars. It might be the crappiest song ever, but was recorded well. Or it might be a great song that was recorded terribly. Maybe it is an entirely mediocre song, but I can’t honestly say that I hate it. Whatever reason, I rarely listen to 2-star songs.

★★★☆☆

Three-stars are good songs that meet all my requirements for acceptable music. These are listenable and usually enjoyable, but they are not the first songs I run to when I need to listen to music. These are songs by artists I appreciate, but don’t consider my favorites. They might also be the rare less-likable songs of my favorite artists.

★★★★☆

Four-star songs are great. They are above average and I consider them more enjoyable than most songs. However, I wouldn’t die for them. If the house is burning and I can take only the best with me, these songs would sadly be left behind. I’d miss them too. If you are an artist that makes a lot of 4-star songs and the occasional 5-star keeper, then you’re probably one of my favorite artists.

★★★★★

These five-star beauties make up my “deserted island” playlist. These are the rare audio gems that I could listen to over and over and never get tired of them. They are songs that define me. To get five stars a song has to score well in nearly all of these areas: songwriting, musicianship, philosophy, story, timelessness, inspiration, intellectualism, and enjoyability.

Some Examples of 5-star Songs in My iTunes Library

  • “Oh King” – Mark Mathis
  • “When It Don’t Come Easy” – Patty Griffin
  • “Since I’ve Been Loving You (Live)” – Led Zeppelin
  • “Hurt” – Johnny Cash
  • “God Willin’ And The Creek Don’t Rise” – Ray LaMontagne
  • “None Of Us Are Free” – Solomon Burke
  • “Nude” – Radiohead
  • “Only A Man” – Jonny Lang
  • “Come All You Weary” – Thrice
  • “Been Here Before” – Jeremy Enigk
  • “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us” – Sufjan Stevens
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Future Music Debate: Beyond Analog vs. Digital

A response to the question “After Analog vs. Digital, what will we fight about in the future?”

As part of their “#DJChat,” German audio equipment manufacturer Behringer asked this question on Twitter:

…Analog vs. Digital is a debate that will always continue. But in the future, what technology will we move on to AFTER digital? 😀 #DJChat

It’s an interesting concept. The wars between analog and digital rage on because they are systems separated by technologies that both have pros and cons. As technology progresses, what new pros and cons will we have to debate against older systems? Initially I answered with the following:

@BEHRINGER future: Cerebral vs. Digital. Was it made entirely “in the box (aka your head)” or did you collab with other humans and devices?

Realizing there’s much more to this debate than just a tweet, I thought I’d talk more about it here.

We Need Better Words to Describe How We’ll Make Music in the Future

In my original tweet, I used the phrase “Cerebral vs. Digital” to describe the future debate I imagine will happen. Maybe my choice of opposites wasn’t perfect. Better words can probably be found. This concept of diametrics I have in mind could be expressed in a variety of ways.

  1. Cerebral vs. Physical
  2. Solitary vs. Collaborative
  3. Internal vs. External

Each of those word combinations is describing the same contrast of ideas. But how to best describe it?

Composite image of music flowing from a girls mind.

The New System of Mind Music

In the (maybe not so distant) future, musicians will have the ability to directly output music from their heads. Technology will be developed that will allow artists to simply think/imagine/hear the music in his/her head and output this as audio and/or notation. This cerebrally generated “audio feed” could be routed (maybe even wirelessly) to a recording device to be documented, distributed, and sold. Theoretically, this process could happen as a live performance. The signal could be routed to a sound system for a concert, to an internet connection for worldwide streaming, or even directly injected (almost telepathically) into the head of a “listener” outfitted with the proper “receiver” device.

The possibilities are fantastic. Composers could direct an entire imaginary orchestra as they hear it in their minds. Dancers could dance to their own music in real time. Musicians could play exactly what they intend to play. Singers could sing in whatever voices they can imagine. Handicapped artists suddenly would be unrestricted by their handicaps.

This is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. If we already can control toy helicopters with our thoughts, then it’s only a matter of time before we can output music directly from our minds. UPDATE (2011-09-23): This just in… UC Berkeley neuroscientist Professor Jack Gallant announced today that it’s possible to recreate the video from brain activity.

This technological breakthrough in music will follow a path familiar to video games. With the Wii, Nintendo brought wireless motion-sensing accelerometer action to everyday people. The developers of Guitar Hero and Rock Band banked a lot of cash by making it really easy to “play” popular music without having to learn an instrument. Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox removed the need for a controller, allowing the person to become the controller. I don’t know who will create the first mind-controlled music technology, but somebody’s going to do it.

Brace Yourselves

Cool meant something totally different back then. Don’t judge.

As with any change, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Unfortunately, music will experience yet another Regrettable Period in which we have to learn how to use this new technology properly. I predict some gross and unsavory abuse of the technology, much like the ubiquity of terrible synthesizers in the 1980s or prevalence of auto-tuned vocals since Cher started believing in life after love. But some lucky artist is going to enjoy the honor of being known as the one that mastered this wonderful new system, thus becoming the “Grand Master Flash of whatever-this-thing-may-become-known-as.” Someone will figure out how to use it right, but it might take some time. In the meantime, wear earplugs.

Why We’ll Argue About This

At first, this newfangled gadgetry will be heralded as the end of “real” music and musicianship. The critics will say it’s too easy and not authentic music. Traditional composers and invested players will complain that no one has to learn how to write or play anymore. And much in the same way that digital was derided as a poor substitute for analog, purists will say that this cerebral form loses something in the process. Those arguments all might be right, but there may be a bigger issue lurking.

Trapped “In The Box”

When the process of making music becomes entirely internalized it will be really great because of it’s purity and singularity of thought, but will it simultaneously suffer from lack of external influences? When digital recording became popular, the question was often asked by one artist or engineer to another: “Was this all done ‘in the box?’” – meaning: was the audio signal created, mixed, and mastered on the same computer? Early on, music created entirely in this fashion lacked the beneficial effects that analog systems inherently imparted upon the audio signal. Today, the line has been blurred by better technology, so it’s harder to tell if something was recorded analog or digital. Only engineers with “golden ears” can hear the difference (even then I suspect shenanigans). At any rate, the question still remains: What benefits will be lost due to the signal remaining “in the box” of your head?

Potential Musical Influences

  1. People – The comradery, inspiration, ideas, criticism, differing views, and friction found when people work together often makes for better music. Being alone can lead to dead ends and boring or bad music. Collaboration can make beautiful things.
  2. Hardware – Though they are inanimate objects, the instruments and devices used to make music come with their own inspirations, challenges, rewards, frustrations to overcome, and occasional good glitches. Sometimes a piece of gear has to be conquered and relinquishes its magic upon defeat.
  3. Criticism – The critic is the archenemy of the artist, but every good story needs a villain. Without judgement, no work is ever as best as it can be. Words are often revealed for their folly only after they’ve left the head.
  4. Movement – Music and movement are very strongly related. When making music, movement is both part of the instigation of sound, but also a reaction to the sound being created. Performance and dance are like cousins. So if movement is not necessary for the creation of music, what effect will that have on the final product?

Good Things Will Happen

A lot of things can go wrong in this new system, but a lot of things can go right too. Eventually we’ll work out the kinks. We’ll figure out the typical pitfalls. We’ll master this medium like we have with all the others. One day amazing music will be generated using nothing but musicians’ brains. I’m hedging a bet it will be the direct output of some ridiculously young Mozart’s mind that will blow us all away. Perhaps this new interface will teach us something about how our brains work. Maybe it will allow us to communicate more precisely on ever deeper levels. What if it develops into a new universal language? Hmm.

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FIX: Pro Tools Audio Device Buffer Underflowed

How to get a Pro Tools rig up and running when the error message “The audio device buffer underflowed…” won’t go away.

The Error Message

Screen captured image of Pro Tools error

The audio device buffer underflowed. If this occurs frequently, try decreasing the “H/W Buffer Size” in the Playback Engine panel or remove other devices from the audio firewire bus. (-6085)

Occasionally this error pops up in Pro Tools, usually after I return from a meal in the middle of a long recording or mixing session. The session file will only playback audio for 1 second or less and then the error message pops up. Apparently, Pro Tools 9 is a workaholic and doesn’t like taking lunch breaks, at least when running on the particular combination of MacBook Pro, Mbox 2 Pro, and Western Digital hard drive that I’m using.

Following the directions to decrease the “H/W Buffer Size” in the Playback Engine panel doesn’t seem to help. In fact, not only does decreasing the buffer size seems contrary to the suggested way to solve a buffer underrun, but it then sometimes throws this error message:

Screen captured image of Pro Tools error

A CPU overload occured. If this happens often, try increasing the “H/W Buffer Size” in the Playback Engine Dialog, or removing some plug-ins. (-6101)

The Fix

I’ve tried a lot of things and the problem seems to be related to the hard drive and firewire ports. Here’s how I fix it.

  1. Save and Close the session.
  2. Quit Pro Tools.
  3. Eject the hard drive used for recording audio.
  4. Unplug the audio hard drive and Mbox 2 Pro (or the audio interface you’re using).
  5. Wait 10 seconds.
  6. Reconnect the audio hard drive and audio interface.
  7. Restart Pro Tools.
  8. Reopen the session and press Play.

If the session plays back without stopping, then it worked. If not, then I don’t know what to tell you, which reminds me of a “Deep Thought” by Jack Handey.

If you ever crawl inside an old hollow log and go to sleep, and while you’re in there some guys come and seal up both ends and then put it on a truck and take it to another city, boy, I don’t know what to tell you.

Hopefully this solution worked for you. Let me know if you’ve had the same problem, what hardware you are running and if this solved the problem.

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iPhone Rolling Shutter Captures Guitar String Oscillations

This is cool. My inner nerd had to come out and dance for bit. This is video by Kyle Jones, a designer, animator and illustrator from Nashville. Check out his website here and follow him on Twitter. He decided to record himself playing guitar using his iPhone from inside the guitar. Genius. Rejoice with me, […]

This is cool. My inner nerd had to come out and dance for bit. This is video by Kyle Jones, a designer, animator and illustrator from Nashville. Check out his website here and follow him on Twitter. He decided to record himself playing guitar using his iPhone from inside the guitar. Genius. Rejoice with me, all you audio and science loving geeks.

If you want to know why this strange wiggly string phenomenon happened, ask my cousin Chris Whonsetler, the photographer behind the beautiful images found on WhonPhoto.com. Here’s his blog entry about rolling shutters.

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Available on iTunes: Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York EP

Download the Album Now My EP Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York is now available on iTunes. Sweet. Click this little button. Rate the Album and Write a Review Below this list of tracks is a convenient little spot where you can give my album some stars and write a little bit about the songs. […]

Download the Album Now

My EP Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York is now available on iTunes. Sweet. Click this little button.

Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York - EP - Scott Troyer

Rate the Album and Write a Review

Below this list of tracks is a convenient little spot where you can give my album some stars and write a little bit about the songs. If you have a little time, please give the album 5 stars and leave your kindest words. Thanks!

Alert Me

Down of the left hand side of the page, there’s a little link that says “Alert Me.” Click that and iTunes will notify you of any new tracks I upload as soon as they become available on iTunes.

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FIX: Pro Tools hardware is either not installed or used by another program.

Pro Tools hardware is either not installed or used by another program. If you thought that having Pro Tools 9 installed meant no more “Hey, Mr. Engineer Genius, where’s your fancy hardware?” errors, then this nagging error probably came as a surprise. It did for me. Since installing Pro Tools 9, my workflow has allowed […]

Pro Tools hardware is either not installed or used by another program.

If you thought that having Pro Tools 9 installed meant no more “Hey, Mr. Engineer Genius, where’s your fancy hardware?” errors, then this nagging error probably came as a surprise. It did for me. Since installing Pro Tools 9, my workflow has allowed me to jump around from my Mbox 2 Pro, Mbox 2 Micro, and MacBook Pro’s built-in sound card. This has been really handy while trying to finish up my album on the road. But, apparently, all that hardware hopping can cause the playback engine to get stuck in some funky states that don’t so work –if at all. See my previous post “FIX: Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value” for a similar issue.

Obviously, the problem has something to do with the playback engine. Since the error dialog only offers an ‘OK’ button, which closes Pro Tools, there doesn’t seem to be a way to work around the problem. There is not even a way to know what hardware Pro Tools is expecting.

Until now.

The Fix

I found a simple solution via this Sweetwater forum. The answer given there details how to get Pro Tools running on a PC, but I found that it worked for Macs too and without having to install any drivers. The fix is kind of like booting Pro Tools in safe mode. Simply hold the ‘N’ key while starting up Pro Tools. This will bypass the normal start up sequence and open up the Playback Engine window. Now you can select the correct playback engine and continue using Pro Tools.

In my situation, Pro Tools was looking for the last connected device (my Mbox 2 Pro), but since it wasn’t available it opted for the next available option: my MacBook Pro’s line input, which doesn’t make a very good playback engine.

Let me know if this fix worked for you.

Note

This problem may have been fixed in the Pro Tools 9.0.2 update that came out yesterday, though I’ve not been able look through the 9.0.2 Readme file in detail or to test this out on the updated software. I’ll update this page when I find out more. Since I still receive regular hits on this post, I’m assuming this problem is not solved yet. Maybe in a future update…

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Hard Drives for Digital Recording

A couple of weeks ago, my friend David, a young and very talented musician/singer/songwriter, asked me the following question. Hi Scott! Hey, how many GB of hard drive space do you recommend for recording on a laptop? Thanks, David To which I responded: Hey David, The recommended practice for digital recording is to record to […]

Image: Hard disk drive with vinyl platter

A couple of weeks ago, my friend David, a young and very talented musician/singer/songwriter, asked me the following question.

Hi Scott!
Hey, how many GB of hard drive space do you recommend for recording on a laptop?
Thanks,
David

To which I responded:

Hey David,

The recommended practice for digital recording is to record to an external hard drive instead of the internal drive. This is done for performance reasons. Recording to an external drive keeps your data separate from the rest of your computer data, allowing the computer to use the internal drive for the dedicated purpose of running the operating system. This also makes your recording data more portable for taking it to a studio and prevents trouble if you ever need to send your computer in for service (the recording data stays with you).

It is also recommended to use an additional external drive that serves as a backup so if anything goes wrong with a drive you won’t lose everything. So ideally, you would have two identical drives. They can be any size, but should be the same size. A typical song (2-5 min with 4-5 instruments with multiple takes for each instrument/voice) at 24 bit resolution and 48k sample rate will take up approximately 1-3 GB. If you’re lacking hard drive space, after the tracks are finalized the unused takes can be deleted, which reduces the file size of the song, thus giving you more room for additional songs. But as cheap as hard drives are these days, getting a decent sized drive shouldn’t be a problem.

The cost of external drives for computer-based recording is much cheaper than the cost of memory cards for hard disk recorders.

With all that in mind, I recommend buying 2 of the largest hard drives you can get within the budget you have. Remember, these drives should be the same size and used ONLY for your recordings.

Western Digital has good drives for reasonable prices.*

—Scott

*Though I recommend WD drives for data storage, see my post The Western Digital (WD) SmartWare Problem for more about them.

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The Western Digital (WD) SmartWare Problem

Modern recording takes lots of hard drive space. It’s easy to eat up several GB on a song of average length and track depth. I’ve filled a drive or two already with various recording sessions, Photoshop files, and media. Over the weekend I had to pick up another drive just so I can finish my […]

Image of the WD 2 TB My Book Studio LXModern recording takes lots of hard drive space. It’s easy to eat up several GB on a song of average length and track depth. I’ve filled a drive or two already with various recording sessions, Photoshop files, and media. Over the weekend I had to pick up another drive just so I can finish my upcoming album. I went to the nearest big box electronics shop and picked up the the biggest drive with the best price. What I found was the Western Digital 2 TB My Book Studio LX. The size should be enough for the next year or so (let’s hope!) and the simple grey metal design suits my preference for the minimalist Mac aesthetic. Surprisingly, this is the first drive I’ve purchased that came preformatted for Mac OS. I know that some drives come advertised as such, but this was just a standard off-the-shelf one-kind-fits-all drive. Maybe this indicates a shift in the Apple/PC market share?

Western Digital enjoys the largest market share of consumer hard drive sales and is probably the most visible hard drive manufacturer in retail stores. They make affordable drives that work well. I’ve not had any issues with the WD drives I’ve owned (five and counting), so I feel good about purchasing from them.

The only thing that bothers me about WD is their pre-installed SmartWare software. It’s a huge can of donkey sauce. This multi-function bloatware takes up over half a GB of space, is loaded into the drive firmware (so it cannot just be formatted away), appears as a separate VCD that pops up everytime you connect to the drive, and cannot be completely removed without voiding the warranty. The only option WD gives the user is to download two more software packages, one that updates the firmware so you can run the second package that allows you to hide the VCD. Blehhhh…

The whole point I want to make is this:

Dear Western Digital,

I like you and your drives. I like the design, reliability, and affordability of your drives. I can’t stand your SmartWare. Please stop making it. If you can’t do that, then please make it an opt-in thing. If you feel you really, truly, just absolutely must preinstall it (instead of offering it available as a free download), then at least make it easy to permanently remove with just one or two clicks. I do not want to download more software to remove software I already don’t want. Thank you.

A regular and loyal customer,

Scott

Removing SmartWare

While removing the the VCD completely is possible and would be my preferred solution, doing so voids the warranty, which is extremely valuable should the drive ever fail. So in my opinion, doing something to void the warranty on the device that stores my invaluable data is a bad idea. Until WD decides that such action no longer voids the warranty, I cannot recommend this.

How to Hide SmartWare

WD doesn’t make it easy to hide the VCD. There are two major steps. You’ll need to download the firmware update for your particular drive and the VCD Manager. Visit the WD Product Updates page to find out how to hide the VCD for your specific device and OS.

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How To Get Perfect Guitar Tone

Ain’t no such thing as the one perfect tone, son. Stop chasing that non-existent guitar holy grail.

Picture of a photoshopped guitar made from the Holy Grail

Can I get it in tobacco sunburst?

Bad News First

Perfect guitar tone does not exist.

…at least not in a permanently defined state. It is always changing depending on context. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for guitar tone and the guy who is showing you exactly how to get “perfect” tone is either demonstrating his idea of a good sound for a very particular context or selling you something. Let the buyer beware!

I’ve seen a zildjillion YouTube videos and magazine articles in which an “expert” outlines in very fine detail the “preferred” gear or “professional” way to play/mic/mix. They have shown me how to dial in that Clapton tone, place ribbon mics like Eno, mix a hit song like the Lord-Alge brothers, mod my guitar and amp like SRV, and even dress like a rockstar. In each circumstance I think, “Yes, that might just work. I could sound like that, if I do everything else exactly the same way as Mr. Famous Rockstarpants.”

They have it right. It truly is the small stuff that matters. In fact, all these tiny details matter so much and there is such a vast quantity of them, that replicating such performances is nearly inconceivable. Every part of the signal chain plays a role – from player to instrument to amp to room to microphone to preamp and all the cables, power supplies, recording/storage media, surfaces, and recording/mixing/mastering engineers in between. Even weather, location, and moods can make a difference.

Needless to say, it’s nearly impossible to replicate that one sound by that one artist on that one record. So many factors are involved in the making of a sound, that in many cases the original artist that recorded it might not be able to make that precise sound again, even when given identical circumstances. (I’d like to point out that perhaps the very reason we enjoy certain sounds is because a beautiful moment was captured – something unique that will never happen again – and trying to recreate it verbatim would somehow make it less amazing. Frankenstein’s monster wasn’t very pretty, was he? I digress.)

“We all have idols. Play like anyone you care about, but try to be yourself while you’re doing so.” – quote attributed to B. B. King[citation needed]

And The Good News

Proper tone (the right tone at the right time) can be bought. You can pay for it with practice and critical listening. Good equipment is nice, but not necessary, as Jack White demonstrates so well in It Might Get Loud.

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FIX: Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value

After upgrading to the newly released Pro Tools 9, I couldn’t open sessions or create new ones. I got this error: “Could not complete the Open Session… command because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..” I hunted around on the web and various forums, but couldn’t find a solution that fit. […]

Pro Tools error

After upgrading to the newly released Pro Tools 9, I couldn’t open sessions or create new ones. I got this error: “Could not complete the Open Session… command because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..” I hunted around on the web and various forums, but couldn’t find a solution that fit. I found several items relating to Windows and Pro Tools 8, but nothing for a Mac running Pro Tools 9. After messing around a bit I figured out the problem was with my playback engine. Here’s how I solved it. Let me know if it works for you too.

Open the Playback Engine dialog under the Setup menu item.

From the menu bar select Setup > Playback Engine… to open the Playback Engine dialog window.

Playback Engine menu item

The problem is with the Pro Tools Aggregate I/O.

By default, my current engine was set to “Pro Tools Aggregate I/O.” It’s odd that this Pro Tools would leave it that way after an installation since AVID states that it is not supported in OS X.

Select another engine

Select your current playback engine.

The fix is easy. Simply select the right playback engine. Your options may differ based on your setup.

Select your current playback engine

In my case, I usually would edit with my Mbox 2 Micro, but since Pro Tools 9 gives us so many more options for hardware compatibility, I selected Built-in Output. I was able to edit some vocal takes using my Macbook Pro’s speakers instead of pulling out my headphones. Nice!

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FIX: Mac Trash Won’t Empty

The Problem Today, I had a problem emptying the trash on my MacBook Pro. The trash would begin to empty, but would hang shortly after starting the deletion process. I made several attempts to empty the trash (all ending in a force quit of the Finder) before deciding to pull all the files out and […]

The Problem

Today, I had a problem emptying the trash on my MacBook Pro. The trash would begin to empty, but would hang shortly after starting the deletion process. I made several attempts to empty the trash (all ending in a force quit of the Finder) before deciding to pull all the files out and move them back into the trash one by one to delete them. After several rounds of trashing, I was able to eliminate all but the single offending file, a partial dmg from a failed download of Adobe’s CS5 Design Premium. Holding ‘Option’ while clicking Empty Trash didn’t work. Renaming the file and then deleting didn’t work either. No matter what I did, just I couldn’t trash the file. So I began an online search.

The Fix

After scouring a bunch of forums with various non-helpful solutions and scary Terminal command line code that “might ruin everything if you’re not careful,” I finally found the safe and easy solution in a free trial download of Cocktail, a shareware maintenance utility for Mac OS 10.4 and above.

Cocktail is an award winning general purpose utility for Mac OS X. It is a smooth and powerful digital toolset with a variety of practical features that simplifies the use of advanced UNIX functions and helps Mac users around the world to get the most out of their computers. Cocktail is installed at more than 200,000 computers world wide. The largest part being private individuals, but Cocktail can also be found at large international companies (Puma, Sony), educational institutions (Harvard University, University of Texas) or newspapers (The New York Times, Business Week).

Cocktail can empty the trash!

Cocktail can empty the trash!

Fixing the problem was as easy as clicking the ‘Empty’ button found under the ‘Misc’ subgroup in the ‘System’ tab. Trash empty. Computer nice and tidy again.

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

I found some MP3s of sine waves at various frequencies at www.freemosquitoringtone.org. As we age, we lose our ability to hear higher frequencies and so these MP3s are offered as discreet ringtones for teens. Try out these tones and let me know how high you can hear. Audio Frequency Test Tones Don’t worry if you […]

I found some MP3s of sine waves at various frequencies at www.freemosquitoringtone.org. As we age, we lose our ability to hear higher frequencies and so these MP3s are offered as discreet ringtones for teens. Try out these tones and let me know how high you can hear.

Audio Frequency Test Tones

Don’t worry if you can’t hear some of the higher pitched test tones. The problem may not be your failing ears. It could be the inability of your speakers, headphones, or soundcard to reproduce the higher tones.
Frequency Age Range Audio File
08.0khz Everyone [audio:8000.mp3]
10.0khz 60 & Younger [audio:10000.mp3]
12.0khz 50 & Younger [audio:12000.mp3]
14.1khz 49 & Younger [audio:14080.mp3]
14.9khz 39 & Younger [audio:14918.mp3]
15.8khz 30 & Younger [audio:15805.mp3]
16.7khz 24 & Younger [audio:16746.mp3]
17.7khz 24 & Younger [audio:17742.mp3]
18.8khz 24 & Younger [audio:18798.mp3]
19.9khz 24 & Younger [audio:19916.mp3]
21.1khz 24 & Younger [audio:21101.mp3]
22.4khz 24 & Younger [audio:22357.mp3]
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Disable Photobooth Flash

So it’s a ton of fun to mess around with Mac OS X’s picture taking application Photobooth, isn’t it? Probably one of the first things you did when you got your new MacBook or MacBook Pro, was to open up that little app and try out all the nifty features. Since then, you’ve snapped hundreds […]

So it’s a ton of fun to mess around with Mac OS X’s picture taking application Photobooth, isn’t it? Probably one of the first things you did when you got your new MacBook or MacBook Pro, was to open up that little app and try out all the nifty features. Since then, you’ve snapped hundreds of photos of yourself, family, and friends using all the warping and color effects. And sometimes those pics have turned out funny or cool enough to upload as your Facebook profile. Everything is great, right? Well, no. At some point you realized that sometimes your photos look a lot better in the preview. Apple was kind enough to give us a simulated “flash” to help light those dim homes we live in, but the flash doesn’t always give us great looking photos. If you’ve tried adjusting your screen brightness all the way down to black, you’ve discovered it still doesn’t stop the flash. Today, you suffer no more. I present a solution. Simply hold ‘Shift’ while clicking the camera button. Photobooth will count down from 3 and make the usual beep, but your photo won’t be tainted by that garish blue cast of an Apple simulated flash. Before (with flash)
After (without flash)

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FIX: Mac DVD Player Volume Problems

The Problem When I watch DVDs on my MacBook, I have noticed that the volume increases and decreases based on the loudness of the movie’s audio. This automatic feature is called “dynamic range compression” and is provided by our dear friends at Dolby Laboratories. Sometimes having this compression applied is nice; it can help to […]

The Problem

When I watch DVDs on my MacBook, I have noticed that the volume increases and decreases based on the loudness of the movie’s audio. This automatic feature is called “dynamic range compression” and is provided by our dear friends at Dolby Laboratories. Sometimes having this compression applied is nice; it can help to even out loud and soft sections. When working ideally, you shouldn’t hear the effect at all, the volume will just be more even.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that the built-in one-size-fits-all setting doesn’t always work the greatest for the many different audio tracks found in modern movies. Often, you can hear the audio “pumping” as the compression kicks in and out. Sometimes the volume will be nicely audible for onscreen dialogue, but suddenly gets squashed by a loud noise like a gunshot or explosion. If you’re like me, you want to shut this off. Why even watch an action flick if all the combustion is suppressed?

The Fix

Disable automatic audio compression on the Mac DVD Player application.

Open the DVD Player (Applications > DVD Player) and open up the ‘Preferences’ panel (DVD Player > Preferences). If you have a DVD playing, you’ll have to stop playback (not just pause) before you can change output settings. In the ‘Preferences’ panel, click the ‘Disc Setup’ tab. Under ‘Audio’ make sure the ‘Disable Dolby dynamic range compression’ is checked. This will shut off the automatic volume changes and pass your audio program on through unaffected. Now you can enjoy those explosions in their full dynamic glory!

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How to Fix a JBL EON10 G2

So your JBL’s are rattling when you pick them up, eh? Getting that uneasy feeling about that clunky noise when you move them? If it’s the same unsettling noise I heard, then I have an easy fix for you. 1. Disconnect the speaker from all power sources.* 2. Place the speaker face down and open […]

March 28th, 2008 | Friends, Technology | , | Comments: 0

So your JBL’s are rattling when you pick them up, eh? Getting that uneasy feeling about that clunky noise when you move them? If it’s the same unsettling noise I heard, then I have an easy fix for you. 1. Disconnect the speaker from all power sources.* 2. Place the speaker face down and open up the shell by unscrewing all the screws around the outside edge. There’s like a million of them, so use a power drill with a long #2 phillips driver bit. 3. Lift the shell off and set it aside. Be careful not to lose any of the screws. 4. Locate the magnet coil and tighten the bolt that runs through the center.
5. Replace the shell. 6. Tighten all screws. 7. Enjoy your clunkless speakers. NOTE: I am NOT a licensed repairman, electrician, or lawyer. I have no idea if fixing this problem will void your warranty, so don’t blame me if/when JBL won’t service your speakers. Nor will I assume responsibility for you doing something stupid while dinking around with dangerous electronics. Make sure you unplug the speaker first and don’t touch anything inside. If you kill the speaker or yourself, I am not liable.

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