Archive for June, 2011
Pro Tools version 9.0.3 is out as a free download. It fixes a long list of bugs (30 pages) including:
1. Pro Tools cannot record to Mac OS X drives that have been formatted as “Case-Sensitive.”
2. Spotlight indexing can interfere with long record passes.
3. Because of Spaces, Pro Tools can appear unresponsive at launch, with the Menus grayed out and browsers inoperable.
4. Pro Tools could alter I/O routing in the session when using Import Session Data command and selecting the Match Tracks option.
And the hits keep on coming. See a complete list of fixes here.
Manufacturer: Vir2 Instruments
To trap Eric Clapton, John Mayer, that guy from The Ventures, and Dave Mustaine inside your computer and be able to summon this or that one whenever you- keyboardist and arranger extraordinaire- need a kick ass guitar part, wouldn’t that be a dream come true? Of course, high quality sampled guitar libraries have been on the market for several years and you do have to supply the parts yourself. Still, the hunger to own a bunch of classic electric guitars and all the articulations you need to create convincing performances is an itch waiting to be scratched. Vir2 claims that Electri6ity sports a feature set and interface that set this plug-in apart from its competitors. Are they right?
Before we take a look at the surfeit of samples and the multitude of controllers that are the heart of Electri6ity, let’s discuss the first major decision that Vir2 had to make- which guitars to sample. A thankless task, for sure, since no one, including me, is ever going to be 100% satisfied with the choices. Strat, Tele? No brainers; we can all agree that these two classics had to be included. Same for the Les Paul, though featuring two of them (a Les Paul P90 along with the standard), while justifiable, did come at the expense of other worthy contenders.
The line of Gibson ES335 champions stretches all the way back to B.B. King. Equally at home in jazz, blues and pop settings, the ES335 was a logical choice. Another Gibson guitar, the L4, awaits you. A great guitar, but if asked to choose between the L4 and say, the Gibson SG, what would your call be?
The Danelectro Lipstick was an inspired choice. You’ll use this baby to take your listeners to the beach the next time you need to invoke the classic surf sound of the ‘60’s. Selecting a Rickenbacker was also a good idea- you’ll note that these instruments were associated with the Beatles back in the day. I might have chosen a Rickenbacker 12 string model, however, to expand the overall sound set. My wish list would also include a Gibson Flying V… and that reminds me of the V’s greatest exponent, Albert King. Wouldn’t it be cool to sample a left-handed guitarist playing a right-handed instrument the way Albert and Jimi did?
Electri6ity is a Kontakt format library; the Kontakt player is free and can be downloaded from the Native Instruments website. I own Kontakt 4, and all the demos I created were performed using it and Cubase 5. Standard operating procedures apply regarding setting up Electri6ity with your DAW, or as a standalone application.
Although tons of functionality lies under the hood, the Electri6ity interface itself is straightforward and easy to work with. Notice the three tabs at the bottom. We’ll get to the Fretboard in a few minutes. It’s important that you understand that the Performance and Settings pages are interactive. Using your mouse, play around with the three Vibrato settings (Type, Strength, Speed) on the Performance page.
Hit the Settings tab and select “Vibrato” from the Settings menu. Adjust the Maximum Strength setting to 4 semi-tones and strike any key within the guitar’s playable range. Hear that whacky sound? Roll back the vibrato range to 2 semi-tones and notice the difference.
Now go back to the Performance page. Altering some parameters on this page bring obvious changes- the pickup selection, for example. Manipulate other parameters and the effect on the sound ranges from subtle to negligible; give them all a spin and you’ve begun personalizing the instrument you’re working with.
Do you see the first two columns on the left, the ones labeled Morph AMT and Morph VMT? Articulation and Velocity Morphing Technology are at the root of what separates Electri6ity from other similar products. Vir2 tapped into Kontakt’s AET feature, which lets developers morph their products seamlessly between velocity layers. I don’t know the science, but my guess is that some algorithmic fudging around is taking place that blurs the gap between velocity layers. Other companies are working with the same concept but to my knowledge Electri6ity is the first guitar library to implement it and the result is a heightened sense of realism. If you’re playing a patch that’s tagged AMT velocity lets you morph between different attacks, mute to sustain for example. All you have to do is strike the B0 key between phrases, with a hard attack to play the notes that follow with sustain, or a soft attack for half-mute attacks. You can set the velocity cross point to suit your individual playing style.
The keyswitch/velocity concept is carried over to other playing techniques, including full mutes to sustain, muted to half-muted, and sustain to harmonics. This will be a staple in your Electri6ity technique.
Electri6ity defaults to a polyphonic state, but you can also place the plug-in in Solo mode by depressing the G#0 key, or Legato mode (a variant) by hitting the A#0 key. Legato mode actually comes in two flavors: hit A#0 softly and you’ll be playing in Legato Muted mode. To return to full polyphony, strike the F#0 key. Not surprisingly, Electri6ity’s multitude of articulations can eat up CPU cycles. My quad core i7 computer had no problem, but watch out- latency and clicks and pops can creep in, particularly on older computers.
For non-players, voicing guitar chords in ways that are characteristic to the instrument is often a mystery. MusicLab’s RealGuitar was, to the best of my knowledge, the first guitar plug-in to offer chord detection, and Electri6ity has this capability as well. Play a chord as you’re used to doing on the keyboard, and when you’re in detection mode Electri6ity will voice it as a guitarist would; the plug-in will also give you multiple voicings depending on the register you’re in. Once again, be advised that it takes time for Electri6ity to make these calculations and latency may be an issue to consider.
You can load up individual instruments, or multis that contain pairs of the same instrument. If you’ve called up two Strats, for example, you can set one of them to voice chords in first position and another in an upper position. The effect is that you have two guitarists playing harmonies in different ranges. Vir2 also utilized a facet of Kontakt 4’s scripting capability that allows for different samples to be called up randomly by each instance, which further enhances the sense that two different players are at work.
You can apply lots of changes to the basic Electri6ity settings- the speed of trills, the sympathetic resonance of strings other than the one you just played, and even the angle at which the plectrum strikes the strings. Yeah, I know: most of you will just load up a preset and get down to business, but Electri6ity really is an instrument, and taking the time to tweak the presets is an investment you should consider making if you want to fully reap its benefits.
Some of Electri6ity’s key switches- the aforementioned F#0, G#0 and A#0, for example- remain active until another is selected. Others- single keys in some cases, or combinations of pairs- are inline only as long as they’re held down.
You keyboard players can play block chords; guitarists who play with a plectrum (pick) can’t. But every guitarist varies the speed of his strum so that it relates to the tempo of the song he or she is playing. Vir2 understood this and gave you the ability to use a controller to affect the strum speed in real time, or as an afterthought by drawing speed changes into your MIDI editor. Using the strum settings on Electri6ity to match the tempo of your song and the effect you want simply sounds more “guitaristic” than rolling chords on a midi controller.
Electri6ity comes with a serviceable set of effects, but most users will rely on one of the outstanding guitar effects packages currently on the market. All of the effects in my demos were built using Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 4.
As I said, there are many more aspects of this plug-in worth checking out (I’ve still got a ways to go). It’s also true that many, if not most Electri6ity owners will simply fire up a multi, add a screaming guitar cabinet and some blistering effects, and howl the night away. This is fine, but at the end of the day your best Yngwie Malmsteen solo may end up sounding alarmingly like everyone else’s. Electri6ity users, who understand the guitar and know that the best players, from Buddy Guy to Julian Bream, explore its tones and techniques, will be most inclined to get the most interesting results.
I’m hoping that the market supports this outstanding product to a degree that will allow for its continued development. Along with an expansion of the instruments offered, it would be great- given the number of players who rely on them (think Jack Johnson)- to include a script that produces open tuning chords.
But that’s just a thought. Electri6ity is a brilliantly conceived and well- executed product. Highest recommendations!
On Day-2 of my new blog David Prentice made this comment about LEVELS and this is coincidentally followed by a reader question…
Setting up a ‘direct line’ for questions sounds like a wonderful idea!
These days engineers are often application wise and audio signal path ignorant. Old dog concepts like gain-staging, level-matching and finding the control pot’s sweet-spot were essential to negotiating the limited dynamic range between noise-floor and distortion. Young engineers need “mentors,” more experienced engineers that can explain how things work and show how a little Knowledge can make things sound better.
Good luck on the new enterprise. (DP)
What a great setup for today’s question (ec).
I have a decent home studio setup and would like to get the most from it. I have a Tascam DM-4800 mixer that interfaces to PC via an RME 9652. (The self-rolled PC is running Cubase 4.5.2 on XP64, with plans to upgrade to cubase 6 and win7.)
The RME has 24 channels (3 ports) of lightpipe but the DM-4800 only comes with 8 channels (1 port) of adat stock. You can get more but you have to buy adat expansion cards for it. To overcome this limitation I use another audio interface, the EMU 1820m, as a converter to get 8 more channels out of the RME/Cubase rig to the DM so that I am able to mix 16 channels from the DAW – basically 8 stems. Everything is slaved to the RME clock. I have a UA LA-610 mkII for vocals and guitars, a UAD-2 and various other plug-ins as well.
Q-1: how do I need to set gain structure based upon my signal chain? I’m starting to have some success with placements on the MTV networks for shows like “Real World/Road Rules,” “Married to Rock”, and several others and would like to make my music as professional sounding as possible.
Q-2: How hot would a seasoned engineer record the signal of a sound source using my setup? Should I be recording a synth part at -0.3 dbfs or more in the -12 to -16 dbfs range so that I have more room to use eq, compression and fx?
Q-3: How does recording at full scale affect the mixing process? What I notice, and what concerns me, is that if I have a synth going and then add rhythm guitar the mix bus clip indicators immediately go red on me. Is this the product of recording too hot? Thanks for the help and super-fast reply.
Prophet Speaks Music
A-1: The most important detail is that 0dBFS = full scale = max, it’s the maximum recordable level AND the level at which the analog converters clip. To test both the AD and the DA converters (both in the Tascam DM-4800), plug a test tone into a line input and confirm that the Tascam’s metering is in agreement with Cubase’s metering. (The RME 9652 is ‘just’ the digital interface between the Tascam and Cubase and can not be calibrated.) Record this tone at 0dBFS, then -6dBFS, the -12dBFS and -18dBFS. Then play back and see what happens on the other side. You can copy the recorded track to simulate a session and confirm signal flow and headroom.
A-2: One ‘concern’ is that analog gear can have a max output that exceeds the Tascam’s input capabilities. To test / confirm, you’d want to inject a test tone into the analog gear, get the level to zero VU (0VU) on the analog meter and then see what level that shows up as on the DM’s meters. I’d expect that level to be anywhere from -16dbFS to -20dBFS. This is called NOMINAL level, which on a VU meter / Analog gear is +4dBu.
A-3: Analog gear has a minimum of 14dB to 18dB of headroom above Nominal and often more. The last thing you want to do is overdrive the converters, but IF you wanted to drive the analog gear a little harder, you’d need to insert a pad between the analog gear and the front end of the DM-4800.
I think there are rules being developed for mixing TV commercial audio, and as I understand it, TV programs and Films use -20dBFS as their dialogue reference level – this reserves headroom for the ‘suprise’ of sound effects.
A-4: It sounds like you are recording very hot, ‘across the board’ considering that you say it’s so easy to overload the mix buss. Recording level is program dependent, so you might try recording drums at -6dBFS max and other instruments an additional 6dB lower at -12dBFS.
A-5: If you need more headroom, try looking for a level trim option. EQ plugs on Protools and Adobe Audition have an additional GAIN control that allows overall LEVEL to be reduced to compensate for drastic EQ boosting. Surely Cubase EQ plugs have such an option. PT also has a Level TRIM plug, which, if you have one, can be placed BEFORE the EQ plug. The LEVEL TRIM PLUG can also be used as a “Line Attenuator, or PAD,’ reducing the overall level as a way to keep the faders up in a range where they have more ‘physical’ resolution.
A-6: When mixing, you should avoid overloading the mix buss at all costs. Try this: allow at least 6dB of headroom for the drums – peaks that are no higher than -6dBFS – and 12dB of headroom for instruments and vocals. I submix drums, bass and drum verb / ambience in both the digital and the analog domain. Doing that with other groups – instruments, vocals, etc – allows more overall level control. Please know that pulling the master fader down will not solve an overloaded mix buss.
Let me know if this helps and feel free to provide screen shots.
PS: I wrote this article on AUDIO LEVELS many years ago – It’s due for a rewrite (hopefully soon).
Ellis and I wrote back and forth a few times to clarify details. That dialogue was integrated into this correspondence. Ellis’s first response was “Wow,” and ‘thanks for the quick and awesome response!’
Garth Hjelte, President of Chicken Systems, Inc, Rubber Chicken Software Co. (http://www.chickensys.com) was living in Seattle in the1980′s, playing in in a band called Advent and rubbing shoulders with several other bands who were destined to achieve superstar status. Today he’s known throughout the industry as an expert in inter file format conversion. We spoke with Garth recently about his own history, the state of computer based music production, and the developments he foresees in this area of the industry.
Gary Eskow: “Garth, your products- particular Translator- have helped computer based musicians move between platforms for almost two decades. How did you get into this line of work?”
Garth Hjelte: “Back in the days when I was playing in bands part of the way we defined success was being able to cut yourself off from your day job. I programmed sounds for my band and had some ability as a programmer, so I was able to sell sampled sounds for the Ensoniq EPS. Bands come and go, but during the 80′s and 90′s the company- known as Rubber Chicken Software- became expert in all things Ensoniq.
“In the mid-90′s it became increasingly evident that the computer was going to become increasingly involved in music production, so the company focused on software that could port a variety of formats over to the Ensoniq platform. That work eventually evolved into the Chicken Systems Translator product. [editor’s note: Ensoniq was one of the first low cost alternatives to the Synclavier and Fairlight systems that only the super rich could afford.]
“At the same time, Gigasampler broke into the industry and Translator became very popular because it could convert into the Giga format as well. Chicken Systems changed from being a ‘one product, one manufacturer’ company to one that served the whole musical spectrum.”
GE: “How has the company grown over the years?”
GH: “Chicken Systems now licenses the conversion engine that powers Translator to various other companies, including Native Instruments. We also leverage that technology in new products – Constructor (an Instrument builder), Instrument Manager (a database/manager for software/hardware Instruments), and the Creation series for Motif, Fantom, Fusion, Triton/M3 (creates sample-based Porgrams/Voices for workstations).
GE: “Has a degree of uniformity come into the sample format industry, or are there at least fewer formats to translate? How has the industry changed in the 20 years you’ve been in business?”
GH: “In the beginning Akai was the uniform format. Giga then took that spot over. Giga was “de facto” for years. When Giga broke into the industry, it stirred up many new innovative sample developers and there were .gig files all over the place. As the Giga sun set during the last decade, there were less and less .gig files being made, and currently people have successfully completed the task of, or are working on, getting their sounds out of Giga format and into one that is usable.
“Currently there is no ‘uniform format’, but there are a couple that people naturally turn to. Kontakt’s .nki is the dominant format in the industry, and most people use it. SFZ has become popular for people wanting to write their own files simply in text format. SoundFont still hangs on, as many minor sample-playback engines simply choose to load SoundFonts because the format is public and they can design their playback engine around it.
“What’s important to people is the ability to download free sounds from the Internet and be able to use them. Translator is still critical because there are many sample playback engines that do not load all of the required formats. We project that this will be the case for some time.
“The other end of it (and the big change in the business) is the amount of libraries that are not part of a “player” package, where the sounds are copy-protected. Many top libraries are released in that form, and fortunately Kontakt is so good that not many people complain about using the sounds elsewhere. Some want to integrate those libraries into EXS24 just for organizational purposes, but using Kontakt in Logic is transparent enough.
“Of all the changes that the industry has seen over the last decade or so I’d say the “player” concept is perhaps the major one. Software has trumped hardware, but people still feel more comfortable with hardware workstations (Motif, et al.) when playing live. Even that’s changing with Mainstage and MacBook Pro innovations. And, the trend of downloading sould libraries has begun to eliminate the bunches of CD/DVD’s that companies have had to deliver. People are realy used to getting a two to four GB download, whereas five years ago people would choke at the idea.
“Lastly, there’s a sound glut. But that’s in the eyes of the developers, not the users. Users should feel very happy that they can do and afford just about anything. I hope developers continue to innovate; those who don’t will be weeded out.”
GE: “Has Kontakt established itself as the de facto sample playback platform?”
GH: “It really has. In the old days the cheap hardware samplers cost $1,500 and the expensive ones about $6,000. Now, Kontakt hangs around the $300-$400 range, and inexpensive playback engines are either free or obtainable for $100 or so. Kontakt can do what any other playback engine does, so I think what people think is ‘it’s within my reach, might as well get the best’.
“But things aren’t so cut and dry. Many other playback engines have their own niche appeal; for example Reason integrates their NN-XT sampler very well into their platform. Same with EXS24 and Logic. Some users have light needs, so they use a free player like the Alchemy Player and compose their own SFZ files. Others are company-loyal, so MOTU Digital Performer users use MachFive, and ProTools adherents use Structure.
“Touring bands (pro or semi-pro) still aren’t completely sold on bringing a computer along. I just consulted with a very well-known rock band and their hardware samplers are so rock-solid that even though they want to take a step forward in technology, they aren’t sold on the robustness of a computer system, whether it be Receptor or OpenLabs or even a MacBookPro laptop. So many use hardware, and even the new workstations like the Motif or Fantom have multisample-playback ability that lets them convert their studio stuff into
workstation format (using Translator!) and tour with that.
“So there’s always a place for a wide range of sample-playback engines. Still, Native Instruments continuous development of Kontakt over the years, with broad and unique features (such as scripting), has clearly paid off because it is clearly now the dominant player in this market.”
GE: “What are the main challenges you face these days?”
GH: “A lack of time! Sometimes I wish time could stand still so my partners and I could finish everything we conceptualize.
“Another challenge as a business is the fact that M.I. computer technology is starting to plateau. Maybe it already has. If, hypothetically, all innovation stopped today for 10 years, people would have plenty to work through to make
fantastic music with very little financial outlay. The revolution that started about15 years ago has been wildly successful. The sequencer/sample developer and virtual instrument plugins interface and features have expanded significantly over the years. Although there’s plenty to innovate on, the problem is that all the innovative features are not essential for many musician out there. They really need much less then they used to, so all companies are taking a hit, not just because of the economy, but because many end users don’t need the latest version.
“For the soundware and software developers this is a challenge because without funding the incentive to continue to design and create software decreases. Now, I’m not saying this is a unjust thing, because that’s just how markets work. It seems like more of a challenge, because perhaps 10 years ago you could put out ANY product and you’d get a respectable amount of sales. Not anymore.”
GE: “What developments in computer technology do you see coming down the pipeline in the next several years, and how will they affect sample based music production.”
GH: “I want to be frank and honest here, because the rage right now is iOS apps for iPad things etc., and I want to be the first to say that I just want to puke about it all! I really do think all the iOS stuff that’s being put out there now is a fad conspiracy and only a few things will really catch on long-term… there, I said it!
“That being said, clearly portability is becoming very important to people. I suspect that the appeal of these devices is the interactive interfaces that do not require a mouse to function. The industry will find a way to integrate this properly.
“Portability also tells us that people have contracting needs, not expanding ones. In other words, they are NOT looking for power – they’ve already got it. They are looking for usability improvements, better workflow design. I was talking to some very high-level LA industry pros the other day, and they still think the software programs generally ‘speak geek’ and do not really line up to how musicians think and relate. Maybe this is the avenue that iOS/Android things will take.”
GE: “And the name…”
GH: “In the ‘day job’ I mentioned earlier I was a mail clerk for the phone company. I would walk around aimlessly all day and drop company envelopes in small cubbyholes. Your mind wanders… I remember when I thought of it – ‘Rubber Chicken Software, featuring No Joke Samples!’ Well, as they say, all you need is a name, so really that’s what started it all. I even remember where I was when I thought of it. In those days, that was the thing; call your company something informal and casual because who in the heck really cares. One company I remember at the time was Starfish Software. I mean, what do starfish have to do with software? And remember, I grew up in Redmond, WA and half my graduating class went to work for Microsoft, where all pop is free and complimentary on campus (and still is, I think, though for health reasons that seems awfully ‘non-PC’ (pardon the pun!).
“When Translator was conceived and ready to launch, my current business partner and I knew it was going to be big and needed to be attractive to high-end clients, so we unanimously ‘chickened out’ and changed the name to something a little more palatable; hence, the current company name ‘Chicken Systems’.”
For years, I have been helping people solve problems by remote control. When it’s stuff I don’t know intimately, my clients and I learn together. From there it seems a natural progression to bring this private interaction into the light of a public forum – a.k.a. this new blog, Ask Eddie – the essence of which will be distilled into my new monthly column of the same name.
Now it’s your turn to ask a question…
“What do you wanna know more about?” You provide links, schematics and images in advance and I’ll do my best to fill in the gaps by hunting, gathering, annotating and hopefully answering your question. When depth is required, a link to Geek-speak articles will be provided. Deal?
You can comment below the strawberry pic OR email email@example.com
MSRP: 50 pounds
I’d heard a lot of good things about sonokinetic, and saw that H.I.P.P. (Highly Intuitive Performance Percussion), their new tom tom library, was getting a favorable response, so I decided to check it out. A download from the company site, this is yet another example of a sample library designed to fit into a specific corner. What is H.I.P.P. and how well does it do its job?
The folks at sonokinetic camped out in a studio for about two weeks with a drummer and had him perform a ton of grooves on a dozen toms in various time signatures. For good measure, they sampled a number of fills.
H.I.P.P. uses the free version of NI’s Kontakt 4. You’ll see two possible instrument choices. The BRG (Basic rhythm groupings) and PRF (Performance) presets are similar; the Performance preset has a number of layers pre-loaded.
Anyone familiar with laying samples across a keyboard will easily understand that when you choose a pattern- 16th note triplets in 4/4, for example, using tom 5- the software spreads out a series of patterns that fit this description across the next available octave range on the included virtual keyboard. The manual says that 12 toms were recorded so I was surprised to see as many as 15 possible tom choices in some rhythms.
The performances are very musical, with lots of ghost notes that are hard to program into a drum module. You can also “quantise” (their spelling) patterns, which in this case means stringing them together to create sequences up to a maximum length of 12 patterns synced to your host’s tempo.
The recordings were conducted with both close and overhead microphones, and you can adjust their volumes to suit your preference. A quite serviceable convolution reverb is also included, and the effects package (eq, compressor, delay, limiter and stereo imager) allows you to tailor your settings and save them as presets. If you want to use the patterns to create sound design effects you can easily load a sample into an open K4 slot and use Kontakt’s own effects and others you may have to mangle the sample.
Film scorers looking to lay down rhythm beds will find H.I.P.P. quite attractive. Song writers looking for authentic fills and rolls will also find this product useful.
Bottom line: Excellent value.
It’s been a busy week at Blade Studios this week. We’ve been hard at work with Happy Muffin Top producing music for their video game “Fallen Shadows 2″. Brady Blade has been producing all the music bringing in all stars like his brother Brian Blade to help out on the drums. When Rob Atkins and Adrian Carmack were searching for a producer and studio to work on their sequel to “Fallen Shadows” it was an obvious choice to make the trip back to their home town of Shreveport, La to work with the talented Brady Blade in the newly constructed Blade Studios. The game takes place in the setting of New Orleans so what better way to capture the essence of the game using players from Louisiana. All the scenes are constructed using all live players watching the video game live and coming up with music that fits the scene in real time. Be on the lookout for “Fallen Shadows 2″ and while you play the game you might even find a recording studio to hang out in while you’re on your journey.
Ilio (http://www.ilio.com/) has long been considered one of the premium sample library distributors in the business. Founded in the mid 1990’s by Mark and Shelley Hiskey, the California based company represents Spectrasonics, Vienna Symphonic Library, Synthogy and several other highly regarded sample library developers. Mark and I sat down recently and discussed the company and the continuing evolution of sampled instruments.
Gary Eskow: “Mark, what early training did you have as a musician?”
Mark Hiskey: “As a young kid I remember sitting in front of anything with black and white keys and playing lots of really badly out of tune pianos at old relatives homes. One great aunt who used to babysit me had a huge theater organ that probably made her job pretty easy; that’s where I discovered my love for making music. My parents finally got a piano and I started taking lessons at 11.”
GE: “When did you become interested in sampled instruments, and how?”
MH: “In college. My first memory of the existence of samplers was when I listened to Kate Bush’s “Never For Ever” in a friend’s car, and he told me about this thing called a Fairlight she used. I was blown away with the idea of being able to capture recordings and manipulate them on a keyboard to make new music- what a wild concept! That really got me interested in music technology. This was also the time when CDs first hit the market and MIDI was invented. So that was an exciting, formative time for me.”
GE: “How and when did Ilio come into existance, and what’s up with the name?”
MH: “After college I worked for several years writing music for a production company, where I used a lot of samplers and synths. Then after a short stint at another sample company my wife and I started ILIO in 1994. We were able to license all the sounds that came bundled with Synclavier systems and reprogrammed them for use in Akai, Roland, Kurzweil and other samplers. That was our first series of products and they did pretty well because a lot of musicians wanted access to the Synclavier sounds but were unable to afford the six-figure price tag it took to get a Synclavier. This way they could purchase those sounds and load them into their $2,000 samplers. Shortly after we set up shop several other new sampling companies, most notably Spectrasonics, asked us to distribute their products. We’ve been working together ever since.
“By the way, the name story isn’t that interesting… ILIO was chosen at random from looking at a map of Hawaii.”
GE: “Is there a philosophy behind the company?”
MH: “Internally we abide by the mantra that we’ll never waste a musician’s time or money. Every aspect of every product we represent has to have that “it” quality, where as soon as the musician lays his hands on a sound, it’s like, wow, that was money well spent. We’re also big on picking up the phone when customers call in. It’s all about interaction and making sure we don’t alienate or ignore people, which makes the whole experience of using our products that much better.”
GE: “What criteria do you use when choosing the libraries that you represent?”
MH: “It’s not too complicated. I’ve always used this little acronym (NEED) to guide myself when an opportunity comes up, which stands for new, extraordinary, exclusive, and different. Our products should be new to market, extraordinarily good, exclusive to us, and different from other products in our catalog. That’s the formula that has worked for us all these years, and we do everything we can to stick to it. It also means we don’t sign up a lot of new producers, which is fine since our emphasis is on delivering the best-in-class.”
GE: “Do you get involved with production? If so, under what circumstances?”
MH: “We used to be much more involved with production than we are now. At this point our producer partners have such highly developed production processes that we’re rarely involved at all in creating products. Our job is to take what they do and present it to the market in a way that befits all their amazing efforts.”
GE: “How has the industry evolved since Ilio has been a player in it?”
MH: “The only constant is change. The good thing is that our little industry is much more grown up than it use to be, in that the level of technology imbedded in the products is now much more developed and sophisticated. Since our main producers- Spectrasonics, Vienna Symphonic Library, and Synthogy- all have their own synth and sampling technologies, they have much more control over the whole experience of making music with their products. They can integrate samples into their instruments in a much more holistic way so that musicians don’t have to wrestle with the limitations of traditional sampling to make something musical. They can use these products like real instruments that have character and life and breath—they can just be more musical, which is the whole point. That’s what’s really exciting about where we are now. Our customers talk more about ways to contour a phrase or lay back on a groove now, whereas before it was always about RAM and latency and such things.”
GE: “Where do you see the music production business going in the next five or ten years?”
MH: “I think that trend will continue. The producers who succeed will be the ones focused on improving the experience of making music, which means developing their technologies to the point where the technology becomes more and more invisible, and the instruments become more tangible. There’s a lot of potential in developing more evolved controllers, and of course the iPad is a game changer, both as a controller and an instrument. That’s going to be really interesting to follow over the next few years.”
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