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Offline Dracula9

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Music Programs and DAWs - Links and Guides
« on: January 31, 2015, 07:23:22 AM »
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Alrighty, with an increase in music contests, it's in the best interest of potential contestants that there be some sort of how-to guide to getting started, or to change gears for those with musical skills but lack of know-how in a particular area.

I'll start off with what I know. May the other Abbadons put their own locusts here as well.

The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) I use is Image-Line's FL Studio. I use version 10, but they're now up to 11.

Download page for FL Studio

Now, the question remains, how does one use it?

Well, depending on what one needs accomplished, there are a variety of ways. I'll be explaining my own methods, but those are by no means the only way. Experiment for yourself, tinker and toy around with the program, and find what method best suits you. :)

-----

Now, when I'm doing arrangements or remasterings, there are quite a few tools at my disposal. The first and possibly the most well-known is the use of soundfonts.

What is a soundfont?

Well, a soundfont (.sf2 file extension) is a compressed file containing a multitude of waveform samples, assigned to notes on a digital keyboard or pitch range. In the case of instruments (strings, horns, woodwinds, etc.), this is normally done in a simple X-X range. Since the samples will change pitch automatically with each different digital note, usually an entire range can be contained in one Patch (Patches in soundfonts are subfiles of-sorts, in which you would see the name of the instrument in the list, with that entire pitch range contained within it). Sometimes you will find a soundfont which has different Patches for different pitches, or uses multiple waveform pitches in one Patch. However, these aren't terribly common from what I've seen, and in my experience tend to be most frequent when ripping soundfonts from, say, a Playstation PSF file. It all depends on the source, typically hand-compiled soundfonts tend to be in better organizational shape than a ripped one.

Percussion and drumkits in soundfonts are handled a little differently. Rather than have a Patch for each piece (low tom, closed hihat, bass drum, ride cymbal, etc.), each waveform sample is loaded onto a single note, with this process repeated until every necessary note is organized in a way for the drumkit to efficiently play on a single channel (this same process is also used in General MIDI files and output). It's a really handy way of having a ton of sounds in one place.

Using a soundfont is quite easy. One merely has to load it onto a new channel in FL or replace an existing one (right-click, New or Replace Channel). From there, it's simply a matter of selecting the Patch you want from the soundfont menu. Some soundfonts will contain multiple Banks (which are essentially the "orchestra" in which all the sounds are contained. A single soundfont file might have, for example, three full Banks. This means that there are three full an/or different sets of that soundfont's samples.), which in this context means one has more to choose from.

Once the soundfont is loaded, one can freely create notes using FL's Piano Roll (the long rectangles in the main area. If loading a MIDI, the notes will already be present and clearly visible; if composing from scratch, they will be empty.), and from there change the Patch as they choose until the ideal sound is discovered.

-----

There are other extensions within FL that can provide sounds of their own, and these mini-programs are known as VSTs (Virtual Studio Technology). VSTs are fucking awesome. Unlike soundfonts, they load their data in realtime, and don't have to preload their entire bank of resources. This means they use (usually) up less memory and therefore the project's export time is considerably less than if it used a bunch of soundfont channels.

There are so many VST types, I can't even begin to detail or list them all. However, there are a bunch of "brands" that are of good quality and popularity.

*There's KVR Audio, a well-known group with a wide variety of VSTs. http://www.kvraudio.com/

*There's also DSK Music, which is equally varied and of good quality. http://www.dskmusic.com/

*There's a particular favorite of mine, reFX Nexus, a massive databank of any type of sound you can probably think of. This one, unfortunately, is not free. However, if one has the money, and wants to seriously pursue music, then I would highly recommend it. It's a phenomenal VST and easily the best one I've ever worked with on the whole. It's awesome.

*There are also a few synth-based VSTs that come built in with FL itself! There's Harmless and Harmor, Sakura and Toxic Biohazard, Wasp(a REALLY good one for generating pseudo-8bit waveforms IMO), Ogun, and Sytrus, to name a few.

And you can Google VSTs of almost any type of instrument you can think of - it's probably out there somewhere!

VSTs aren't just instruments banks, either. There are plenty and plenty of VSTs solely for audio effects, too! There are ones for distortion, flangers, wah-wah pedals, overdrive, compression, chorus, gain, delay, reverb, damn near anything you'd find on a conventional concert or studio amplifier and probably a whole lot more. FL Studio has a large deal of these effects VSTs already in it, but that's no reason to build one's collection up!

I've found Blue Cat Audio to be one of the best outside effects groups, and my personal favorite in a lot of them (especially their chorus one, with thanks to Jorge for first introducing me to them). http://www.bluecataudio.com/Main/Home/

There's definitely plenty of others, though Blue Cat's been my go-to for a while. KVR and DSK have their own sets of effects plugins as well.

So, bottom line, VSTs are amazing. The variety one can find with them is stellar. Hell, I've got multiple instances of the same effect type in different brands! I've got Blue Cat for my chorus, FL's included Fruity Reeverb, Image-Line's external Hardcore for distortion and most general guitar effects, etc., etc. The mix-and-matching one can do is nearly limitless, and can be tweaked and modified to suit the individual needs of each musician, be they an old dog or a new pup.

-----

I'll talk now about chiptunes. Chiptunes are a tricky thing. There are a lot of ways to emulate a soundchip, some of which are indeed more accurate than others. However, that shouldn't discourage from trying a particular method just because it's deemed "wrong" or "inaccurate." Yes, there are programs that run an emulated soundchip and are about as accurate as one can get without making some serious hardware modifications to their console. Those programs are called trackers, and they're very, very nice-sounding. Their interface is vastly different from a conventional DAW like FL Studio or Mixcraft or Noteworthy, but they're extremely respectable in their own right.

For one, trackers come hard-coded to adhere to the physical limitations of whatever console chip they emulate. For example, an NES tracker will not be able to go beyond an actual NES's channel limits. I myself am not too versed in tracker know-how, but I know a good deal of folks who are, and despite my lack of the programs' technical knowledge, I still know enough to point newcomers in the right direction for trackers.

*The most popular NES one is FamiTracker, used by a wide many people, some of whom have pulled off some downright insane stuff on it. Hertzdevil is the man to look into on this one, as crazy good and oftentimes chaotic as his stuff is, it can actually play on an NES. http://famitracker.com/

*There's also MilkyTracker, which I admittedly don't know too much about. But from what I do know, it's another NES tracker and appears to run similarly to FamiTracker. http://milkytracker.org/

*There's a popular SNES tracker known as ModPlug. I do all my chiptunes in FL, so this one I know very little about. I have, however seen some amazing stuff made in it. http://www.modplug.com/

*DefleMask is an excellent multi-console tracker. Currently it emulates the Genesis' YM2612, a Texas Instruments PSG chip, a GameBoy chip, and many others. Its multi-support system also allows it to emulate the NES, the Commodore 64, the TurboGrafx-16 and NEC PC-Engine, as well as the Master System. In sum, it's an extremely flexible program, one that even this non-tracker user recommends. http://www.delek.com.ar/deflemask

There are many other trackers out there, so by all means do a little digging! The ones I've posted are solid ones to get started on, but definitely get out into the tracker communities and find which one best suits you.

Now I'll mention GXSCC for new-new people. It gets a lot (and I mean a LOT) of flack for basically just being a MIDI player people "remix" songs with. It only requires loading up a MIDI and does the rest of the work itself. It's by no means truly accurate 8-bit (if my memory serves it actually emulates the MSX rather than the NES, but don't hold me to that), but for someone really just starting out with chiptunes it does provide a basic look at how some programs do it. In some regards GXSCC is similar to tracker interfaces. Feel free to dabble with it! It might not be accurate whatsoever to any real soundchip, or require any work for arrangements or remixes, but at the very least it's certainly an interesting alternate MIDI player.

http://www.geocities.co.jp/SiliconValley-SanJose/8700/P/GsorigE.htm

« Last Edit: January 31, 2015, 07:25:03 AM by Dracula9 »


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Re: Music Pro I don'grams and DAWs - Links and Guides for the New Guy
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2015, 07:25:21 AM »
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Awesome, now maybe next month I can actually do something for one these contests!

Much thanks!

Oh yeah, so next month is romance month right for the music contest?
« Last Edit: January 31, 2015, 07:31:21 AM by darkmanx_429 »

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Re: Music Programs and DAWs - Links and Guides
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2015, 07:26:05 AM »
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WHY DOES THE FORUM HAVE A CHARACTER LIMIT

I'm now going to detail how I do chiptunes in FL Studio, which after a fashion is a gateway of-sorts to chiptunes in FL as well as any other DAW that supports waveform samples, soundfonts, or VSTs.

First off, I use a VST called DirectWave. I believe it requires a licensed version of FL to use it, but they could have changed that in the last several years. Should that be true, anyone using a non-licensed version will still be able to achieve the same end using the built-in plugin simply called Sampler. It's listed permanently above all other VSTs in the dropdown menu (right-click, Add/Replace Channels, and the list of installed/active VSTs will appear). The major difference is that DirectWave allows for editing of ADSR levels (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) with a simple slider, while Sampler has a visual diagram which shows the levels as a line graph which are controlled with digital knobs. DirectWave also allows for delay/reverb/chorus within the VST itself, while Sampler requires an external effect plugin to be loaded onto it. For my method, both serve the same basic purpose, and I handle all my reverb and the like externally anyway.

But what to do; after adding a channel (for this I'll say DirectWave, but the same can be applied to Sampler), one would load the sample they want that channel to play on. In DirectWave it's a right-click and "Add/Replace Sample" and then "Find Pitch Root" to get the sample on the same pitch as the notes (if it wasn't rooted in a C note already,usually C3-C5 in my experience). Sampler will play the sample as-is, and if it's out of tune one would need to either adjust the Pitch knob accordingly or shift the octave of the notes themselves.

Once the sample is loaded and pitched properly, as well as looped (DirectWave can also do this in-plugin) if necessary,
 it may be necessary to adjust the length of certain notes depending on what one is trying to do. For instance, when I did my MMX2 conversion of Big Bad Baby Bowser, it became necessary to shorten a lot of the notes so that the guitar and synth samples I used played the same way they did in the original SPC version of the song. This is not [i[always[/i] necessary, but if one is trying to emulate a specific sound, it can go a long way in reproducing that style of sound more authentically.

This can be done as many times as needed for the melodies, rhythms, and basses. Note channels can be split to change instruments (there's probably a way to change the sample in real-time, but I've never bothered to find it if there is, I've done my method for so long splitting channels is second nature), effects can be added at will, etc. etc.

Drums are a bit trickier (again, there's probably also a way to isolate a sample to a single note line, but I've never found it or tried to figure it out. If there is one and it suits an individual better, by all means do that), as they require duplication of the drum channel as many times as is needed. For instance, if a drum channel has a bass drum, a snare, a closed hihat, and open hihat, toms, and a crash cymbal, then that channel will need to be duplicated six times, with each channel only having the note line of one of those instruments, so that a corresponding sample can be loaded to each one. Afterwards you'd have a bass drum sample, a snare sample, etc.

If one exists or if one compiles it themselves, drumkits can be done in soundfonts only containing the drumset samples necessary. I do this when I'm feeling lazy, and while there's nothing inherently wrong with it, do remember that the soundfont's presence will slow down export time depending on how many notes are in the channel (a soundfont channel only containing a slower kick and snare will take much less time to write than one containing dozens of instruments played rapidly). A project in FL Studio done entirely in DirectWave will export completely in a matter of seconds. I think the longest I've ever seen it do was about two or three minutes, and that was on a seventeen-minute-long song (an old MMX-styled [i[Dancing Mad[/i] I did a while back). Sample-loading takes up very little memory compared to soundfonts, due to there only being one or a few samples loaded as opposed to a (full-bank) soundfont's dozens.

Now, this is where I split off. If doing an 8-bit chiptune in this method, one must remember that most 8-bit soundchips could not support stereo output. Many output monaural sound instead. So if emulating the NES, or Famicom, or any monaural chip, one should take note of this depending on how accurate they want to be. If they don't mind limitation inaccuracies and only want the sound style, that's okay. However, if they want accurate replication, then they should negate any stereo panning (in the Pan knob in the top-left corner of any plugin's basic window, right-click and Edit, and then delete all of what's there and knock it all onto one side, as the range is on an up-down style with the center being without panning) and push every channel either to the center or to one side entirely (if you rip samples yourself from the actual NSFs like I do, I find it easier to push everything to either the left or right). Once exporting is finished, one can import the .mp3 file into any basic waveform audio editor (I always recommend Audacity. It's free, it's user-friendly, and it's pretty useful on the whole), split the file if it's stereo (if the panning worked correctly, one of the stereo channels will be completely empty), and then make the now-singular channel monaural. In Audacity, this is simply right-clicking the grey part of the waveform box with the title, selecting "Split Stereo Channel," and then "Make Mono" after it's been split. Easy peasy!

It may not seem very obvious to the untrained ear, but the difference between a monaural chiptune and the same chiptune in stereo is subtle, but very noticeable. It's not as much of a problem if one isn't going for total accuracy, but if they are it's a thing to note.

-----

A good deal of my sample and soundfont collection I've ripped myself. This proves really useful once you know the hang of it, as it allows for only the stuff you need, as well as stuff you might not find by Googling. For instance, there's a Final Fantasy VIII soundfont floating around, but it doesn't contain a LOT of the stuff actually used in-game. It's built on - I believe - the SGM soundfont, and many of the original's stock GM Patches remain. I, however, have ripped a good lot of various samples from the game's PSF files, allowing me to have more access to sounds used that would otherwise be difficult to find. The same can be said for ripping from SPCs, NSFs, KSSs, just about any game music format that is able to be successfully ripped.

Since the ripping process can vary with each other program, I won't divulge much on the exact ripping process for each program listed. I will, however, explain a method of ripping without actually directly ripping. All one must do is open up the song's console file (and by that I mean, say, and SPC of a Chrono Trigger song rather than an MP3) in a player made for that format (SPCPlay is my go-to for SPC files), isolate the channel of the sample you want, and either export as MP3 or record your desktop audio in Audacity or another program. Then just trim down to the file, and if necessary (usually necessary) get the sample rooted in a proper pitch via FL, or Vienna(a great soundfont maker, but also allows for re-export of .wav files), or whatever program suits your fancy.

Usually hard-ripping the samples gets you better-sounding and/or better-rooted samples, since you're ripping the actual sample and not an isolated note from a song it's playing in, but both have their pros and cons. I use both interchangeably depending on what I need.

-----

Well, that about sums up my methods as best as I can put into text. Below I will link to various how-tos in FL Studio, as well as links to alternate DAWs, even if I know nothing about them. I'll also be linking to various audio ripping/converting utilities for console ripping, and pages with already-ripped and compiled soundfonts from various games too.

DAWs
http://www.image-line.com/downloads/flstudiodownload.html
http://www.acoustica.com/mixcraft/
https://www.noteworthysoftware.com/composer/

Riptools
http://www.zophar.net/utilities/converters.html
https://github.com/vgmtrans/vgmtrans
http://sourceforge.net/projects/vgmtoolbox/files/vgmtoolbox/
http://filetrip.net/nds-downloads/utilities/download-nds-sound-extractor-04-f28818.html

Game Music files
http://www.zophar.net/music.html
http://www.caitsith2.com/psf/
Any site which has anything to do with Neill Corlett at all. Seriously. Guy's an emulation god.

Game soundfont/sample links
http://woolyss.com/chipmusic-soundfonts.php
http://www.zophar.net/utilities/soundfont.html (Zohpar's basically the go-to dude for this kind of stuff, his site's got so much stockpiled on it it's a hell of a great resource pool for oldies and newbies alike)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPVj2ua6-cc (a video of mine which contains download links to a good deal of samples, most of which I'd ripped myself)

-----

So, that's about all of what I can manage after being up all night working. I'm sure I'll think of more to put up, but in the meantime, I ask that other musicians on the site to post their methods and processes and what programs and whatnot they use. I'm only one small part of a much bigger beast, after all. The more's here, the better off folks are gonna be in the long-term.

Hope this stuff helps!
« Last Edit: February 08, 2015, 08:34:34 PM by Dracula9 »


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Offline Dracula9

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Re: Music Programs and DAWs - Links and Guides
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2015, 10:28:21 AM »
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Following up is a very helpful post from the duplicate thread on SI (bunch of different musicians there too, and there's been an influx of new members, figured it'd serve just as good a purpose there, too), courtesy of fellow member Threxx.

-----

Well, Lamda asked me to write a thing... so I'm going to write a thing.

My area of expertise (if you even want to think of me as an expert) is Famitracker. The program is open source, so there are multiple builds by different people with different features. My recommended build is HertzDevil's, known as 0CC-Famitracker, which you can download below, but for the sake of what I'm covering here, the official build should be sufficient.

0CC-Famitracker Download (0.3.7)
Official Famitracker Download (0.4.5)

Alright, now that you have it downloaded, you see a bunch of funky shit. You're scared. You want to close it. DO NOT FEAR! It's all very understandable and learn-able, and I promise you can get the hang of it.

For the sake of this, I'm going to only discuss the 2A03 chip and it's features. I might go to the others at a later date.

The area at the upper right is the Instrument Editor. Instruments are the things which actually get sound going. Upon creating a new instrument and selecting it in the list, you'll get a new dialogue window.

Each setting affects a different part of the instrument's envelope, which in layman's terms is just a set of parameters that tells the chip how to produce the sound at that given time.

First, on every setting, you can set a loop function and a release. Loop functions loop that selected section of an envelope, and release functions are activated when you add a release effect in the tracker. To add a loop, left click on the beginning of the section you want to loop, or add a "|" in that section of the text box. To add a release, right click the section where you want the release to activate, or add a "/" in that section of the text box. NOTE that when adding a release, the envelope will play to the FIRST value contained in the release section. (i.e, if you have 15 / 12 4 in your text box, the tracker will play 15 12 without you activating the release)

Volume controls the volume. You can have any setting from 0-15 on the pulse channels and the noise channel, and you can have as many columns in the window as you like. You can draw patterns with your mouse, or type values in the box below. The triangle channel functions differently; it will always be ON unless you cut the note in the tracker or set a volume value of 0 in the tracker. i.e. there is no volume control for this channel.

Arpeggio is an interesting setting. In normal Famitracker, there are 3 settings, absolute, relative, and fixed, and 0CC-FT has a fourth called scheme. In short, arpeggio allows you to play multiple notes in very fast succession to simulate the illusion of a chord playing. Playing chords naturally with multiple channels often is not optimal since you are limited, so arps are your next best option.

The full nuances of arps are very complex, so for now I'd recommend leaving this setting alone. I may dedicate a whole post to this topic, because you can do many different things using arps, especially with 0CC-FT's scheme option.

Pitch and Hi-Pitch control pitch bends. You can enter values from -127 to 128. Negative values bend the pitch UP, and positive values bend the pitch DOWN. (Confusing, I know.) This effect is best used on the triangle channel to achieve percussion embellishment, like the toms we probably know from Mega Man music. To achieve this, you'll want to use loops (ex. anything from | 10 to | 38 will get you a MM-like tom).

Hi-Pitch is functionally identical, except that each increment is equal to 16 increments in Pitch (allowing you to get faster/deeper bends.) This is useful for kick drums on the triangle channel.

Finally, the Duty/Noise setting. On the pulse channels, this will set the duty cycle of the envelope, which alters the way the note sounds by adjusting the space in between the peaks of the wave. You can have up to 3 settings, 0-3. 1 and 3 are simply the same wave, reversed, so there is very little difference in sound between these. You can use envelopes on this channel to create different sound effects by rapidly changing the duty cycle.

On the NOISE channel, only two parameters do anything (0 and 1). 0 sets the noise channel to play normal white noise, and 1 sets the noise channel to play periodic noise, which can be used to achieve electric like sounds at certain pitches, that you may have heard in MM music before (see Plug Man or Fire Man for examples).

This setting does nothing on the triangle channel.

Well, now that we've covered the instrument editor, let's talk pattern editor!

The first column of the pattern editor is where you insert notes, note cut, and note release effects. Play around with your keyboard to figure out how the notes are mapped. You can increase and decrease the octaves by hitting NUM-/ and NUM-*, by default. (Everything can be changed in the settings.)

The second column controls the volume, which is INDEPENDENT of your instruments volume. This column is in hex, so upon reaching 10, you will enter A, 11 = B, 12 = C, and so on until 15 (which is F.) The way this works with your instrument's volume envelope is that it will decrements ALL of the instrument's parameters in relationship with the volume in the editor. (Ex, if you have a 15 12, and you enter D in the pattern editor, you'll get 13 11 instead.) You CANNOT use the pattern editor's volume column to INCREASE the volume of an envelope however.

The final column (and more after that if you choose to open more) is the effect column. To cover all the effects in this post would inflate it far too much, so I recommend reading the help files, FT Wiki, and the 0CC-FT readme for more information about all of the effects available. Many of them are fairly straightforward.

You'll notice I didn't cover the DPCM channel at all in this post. It has it's own parameters and things to cover, which I'll talk about in another post. If you want to learn more, I recommend studying other people's modules to see some techniques (check out the FT Forums for a huge informal database of other modules) and you can watch Danooct1's tutorial, where he takes you through covering Kraid's theme from the first Metroid.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2015, 03:47:44 AM by Dracula9 »


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Re: Music Programs and DAWs - Links and Guides
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2015, 01:13:17 PM »
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The board has a post character limit in order to stop spammers who, in the past, have put literal walls of text.
However, since that hasn't happened in quite some time, I have increased the post character limit to x5 what it was before.  That's 100,000 characters.
You're welcome.
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Re: Music Programs and DAWs - Links and Guides
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2015, 06:32:46 PM »
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Oh Captain, my Captain!


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Re: Music Programs and DAWs - Links and Guides
« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2015, 11:15:47 PM »
+1
Topic is staked. I hope this brings more people to join the music contests.

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Re: Music Programs and DAWs - Links and Guides
« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2015, 06:21:52 PM »
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Great stuff Drac9 8) I meant to put this up on here a few days ago but i've been trying to kick a sickness so a majority of my time has went to sleeping lol.  Here is a quick tutorial on using MIDI with DAW's (REAPER is used in the vid, but the general idea should work no matter what DAW you are using)

Midi Tutorial

Note that the vid goes quickly so i could squeeze as much in as i could, so if there is something you missed or its going to fast, just pause it when necessary and make sure to put any questions you may have up on here!  ;D
But enough talk, HAVE AT YOU!!!!!!!!

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