When creating electronic music, it's a good idea to take some extra time to choose your gear carefully for the task at hand. You should also be mindful of the environment you are working in. A studio can theoretically be just about anywhere these days, from a hotel room to a well-tuned control room. It's important to choose the right tools for the right circumstances.
- Check our system requirements
- Show how to install LMMS on various operating systems
- Get familiar with the location of LMMS resources
- Control our project assets
- Configuring MIDI devices for use with LMMS
- Configuring audio devices for use with LMMS
- Setting up your sample library—how not to get sued
- The art of listening: how to help a room sound better
- Ergonomics: make music! Continue to have feeling in your hands!
Your computer is the control center of your studio. A computer will impact not only how music is made but also how it is performed. This means major decisions like desktop or laptop, to minor decisions such as deciding which audio effects will save your computer's processor from working too hard.
If you are using a desktop or laptop, you need a Windows or Linux compatible PC. An Apple Mac will also work for LMMS. LMMS is efficient and can run on all kinds of computers. The basic specifications are: 1 GHz processor with at least 512 megabyte of RAM
LMMS plays nicely with older CPUs and is very efficient. But it's still ambitious to think that you are going to rock the house with a single core processor and roughly half a gigabyte of RAM. You'll hit the wall pretty quickly when using software instruments and effects.
A better bet would be a multi-core computer with at least 2 gigabytes of RAM. Multiple processors means more plugins and tracks. You also need enough RAM for the operating system as well as the application you are running. In the electronic music world, more CPU power and RAM means more tracks, more instruments, and speedier handling inside LMMS, as well as your other applications.
Stability is key when making electronic music. The more stable your system is, the more work you'll get done. If you don't plan to perform with LMMS, get yourself a desktop. If you need portability for performance or creating music on the go, a laptop would be the better fit. Windows and Linux seem to be the most stable operating systems to run LMMS on as far as operating systems are concerned. The OS X version is a port of 4.1.0, at the time of writing this book and is slightly less stable.
Now this could be considered 'optional', but as a general rule, you should always have an external drive for music projects. Hard drives are inexpensive these days and will ensure that your internal hard drive, whose responsibility is to run your operating system, remains less cluttered and fragmented from electronic music production.
Your external hard drive needs to spin fast so that it can play many samples and audio files concurrently. Having an external drive also means easier transport if you'd like to take your sessions to other studios.
If you would like to use a piano keyboard controller to enter notes into LMMS, there are many manufacturers that have products on the market. Simply install the appropriate driver that comes with the MIDI controller and LMMS will be able to see the device.
Windows is installed from a factory CD. Windows versions come in both 32 and 64 bit. 64-bit applications have a lot more power than 32-bit applications. This is essentially because the application can access more RAM more efficiently. 64-bit operating systems give applications the ability to access more than 4 GB of RAM. If your operating system has 64-bit capability, I highly recommend it. LMMS runs beautifully in 32-bit as well, so if you are currently working in 32-bit, you'll still have a lot of power.
Windows 7 can be installed as either a 64 or 32 bit platform. To find out which you are running, click the Start button in the lower-left of the screen. Then go to Control Panel | System Maintenance, and click System. You can view the system type here.
LMMS was born on Linux! Linux is a free operating system that is very popular as an alternative to Apple and Windows platforms. Linux also comes in many flavors. I would suggest checking out Ubuntu. The download for Ubuntu can be found here:
You will need to burn this installer to CD, run it from a memory stick, or you can even run Linux inside Windows. Nothing like having your cake and eating it too!
Installing LMMS on the Linux platform is detailed here:
The OS X version is currently 4.1.0 and is fairly stable. It is a port, however, and is not available directly from the folks at
lmms.sourceforge.net. Use at your own risk!
To install LMMS, simply drag the downloaded application to your applications folder.
When we open up LMMS for the first time, we can see where LMMS is looking for its resources by opening the Edit menu and selecting Settings, followed by clicking on the folder icon on the left-hand side of the menu:
- The WORKING directory is where our projects and presets for software instruments are stored.
- The VST PLUGIN directory is where our installed third-party VST plugins are stored.
- The ARTWORK and BACKGROUND ARTWORK directories are where we can put custom artwork for changing LMMS' appearance. There are several users on the Internet who have developed custom skins to make LMMS more attractive to the eye.
- The FL STUDIO INSTALLATION directory is only for Windows users who already have the Fruity Loops application installed on their computer. If it's on the computer, LMMS can access its FLP files for importing into an LMMS session.
- The LADSPA PLUGIN PATHS directory is where LADSPA plugins are located. LADSPA stands for Linux Audio Developers Simple Plugin API. Yeah, it's a mouthful, but there are a lot of LADSPA plugins that we can get from the Internet and incorporate them into our studio. They're made by a loving community of developers.
- The STK RAWWAVE directory contains raw wave files and samples.
- The SOUNDFONT directory can use soundfont files for sampled instruments. Soundfont files are single documents that are a container of sound files used in simple sampler architectures.
We need to be diligent, almost religious, about file management. File management is what allows us to work on projects over time and not have them suddenly stop playing back right. We aren't all going to be able to write the hit dance song of the century in one night, so we need to be sure that files are named properly and are headed in the right direction when we save. The WORKING directory is a nice start, but we need to start thinking about projects that might have several revisions.
It's a good idea, when starting a song, to immediately go to the file menu and choose Save As. Here's what will happen if we don't: we work on the best song we've ever created and suddenly, inexplicably the program crashes and our work will be destroyed never to be recovered. It's happened to the best of us. If you do not save immediately, your song is only an 'I-forgot-to-plug-the-power-supply-into-my-laptop' away from oblivion.
These are three very important folders. When we have instruments or effects that have been custom-tweaked, their settings are saved in the presets directory. These settings will then be available to you in all future projects. This is how to build a palate of sounds that give our songs a specific and unique signature.
The path shown in the previous image shows the default directory on the internal drive. To use a folder on an external drive, simply create the folder on the external drive and drag the folder into the left panel of the File Save dialog box.
The projects directory is where our projects will live. LMMS projects contain a lot of information. They reference presets, samples, MIDI sequences, and all kinds of other important assets. As we create new projects, though, this folder is going to get really messy. The way to handle file management is to create subdirectories within the projects directory and concentrate on version management.
When working on a project, we get inspired. We try new things. We can sometimes destroy old work when we're in that mode, so it's important when working on electronic music to save versions of your project along the way, so that the perfectly good work we did yesterday does not get ruined by the inspired work we do today.
- When we do this, we should be presented with a menu that looks something like the following:
- Now we need to add a new directory by hitting the following button:
- This creates our new directory, which I'll name First_Time_Out:
It's important to note that we're using underscores. This is a method of substituting spaces so that there's no issue with the way the computer sees this file. It's a holdover from the days when having a space in the name of your file could mean bad news.
- We're now going to save into this folder. Use the name First_Time_Out_v1:
Now we have our first version of the song. So let's say we work for a night on this project and put it away. The next night we create a new project with a new subdirectory and go to town. When we revisit First_Time_Out_v1, we should save First_Time_Out_v2 and continue working. If we decide to change direction on the piece, we can save a new version mid-stream. When we do this, we should indicate what the new version has that is different from the first. We should be descriptive. Something like First_Time_Out_v3_DubstepAttempt. If our new direction doesn't work, no problem! Just revert back to the previous version and save it as First_Time_Out_v4. Always be working on the latest version. Even if you backtrack, create a new version. This way you'll be able to take a trip, come back, and know exactly where you have been with your current song.
Many people wonder why version management is so important. It's really just about making sure that at every step of the way we are giving ourselves a chance to see the progress that we've made on a project. Some people will not follow these rules and end up saying things like, 'LMMS lost my file!' or 'My Computer put my file somewhere!!'
LMMS projects will save preset data in them for a specific project, but our samples that we usually have access to will not necessarily be there. There are a couple of easy fixes for the samples and presets, but the VST plugins may be a bit more difficult.
Make sure that when leaving, the old settings are restored. It can freak a studio owner out if all of a sudden their computer is trying to find another drive for their resources. Jot a note down or take a screenshot of where their WORKING directory is located before pointing to another drive. Change the settings back before leaving. Unless playing a practical joke, in which case you are on your own.
VSTi and VST plugins are usually third-party plugins that aren't necessarily free. We may not be able to copy the VST plugins to the other studio's drive and use them. If they are freeware, we're ok. If not, the plugins may not open at all and cause havoc at the other studio. Be sure to check and see which plugins are freeware and which ones aren't. We can always write the effect to the audio of the tracks that have VST plugins on them. This way the audio will play back with the effect on someone else's LMMS application. To accomplish this, hit the red button on the track you need to export, as you can see in the following image:
Now that the track alone will be saved as an audio file, we can bring this file back into our project and play it on a sample track. That should solve any compatibility issues between studios (we should also save a version of this called First_Time_Out_v5_StudioVisit to keep our versions straight).
MIDI controllers come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Most virtual studio applications are based around the MIDI keyboard as a primary source of MIDI input. In LMMS we don't necessarily need a keyboard to write electronic music. We can write MIDI data in one of LMMS' many editors. Sometimes entering MIDI data from a keyboard is faster, though. Here are some examples of MIDI controllers:
Some MIDI keyboards are built solely for the purpose of entering MIDI notes into your music program, but others have a bit more going on than that. Here are some MIDI keyboard controllers that pack in some additional hardware such as knobs and sliders to allow us to control LMMS' parameters:
MIDI control language allows us to automate knobs and sliders in LMMS using real physical knobs and sliders out here in the real world. Some control surfaces these days don't even have a keyboard, since many of us want just the knobs and sliders. A lot of electronic music artists prefer to write note information rather than play the notes from a keyboard. Here are some controllers without piano keys. We call them control surfaces:
- Go to the manufacturer's website and look under their downloads section to get the current driver. Be sure to download the 32-bit or 64-bit driver depending on which OS is running. After downloading the driver, we need to install it. If you are running Windows 2000 or XP, you should go to Start | Control Panel | Add Hardware and Devices.
- When adding a new hardware device, Windows will ask for the new driver. Simply point to the directory that contains the new driver and we're good.
In Windows 7, there may be issues with drivers that are slightly older. Some drivers made for Vista need to be set to Compatability Mode to get them to work in Windows 7. To get to Compatability Mode, simply right-click the driver and select Properties. The Properties tab will have a checkbox for Compatability Mode. Try this out. If it doesn't work, you'll need to ask the manufacturer if they'd please get Windows 7 drivers up, as soon as possible. Most manufacturers have made the move to Windows 7 drivers, but it's good to have this technique if something goes awry.
Most Linux hosts will automatically install ALSA and all of the appropriate drivers, so usually your audio interface or MIDI interface is automatically detected.
Just choose ALSA and hopefully your devices will be shown in the dropdown menu underneath 'MIDI INTERFACE'. Most soundcards, casual or professional should be detected by the operating system making the setup in ALSA a breeze.
LMMS should automatically see any OS X ready MIDI devices that you have connected to LMMS. The current build of LMMS is CoreMIDI compliant, so you should be able to use a controller immediately. Most modern MIDI devices use CoreMIDI, so set up should be painless and simple.
In the Windows version, you can choose SDL and PortAudio. SDL is the traditional backend audio interface, and works quite well. PortAudio is more modern and allows for many different backend audio systems, and offers more latency control:
The light grey area is where we select how the system is accessing the audio card(s) and the area below that is where we select the specific card we wish to use. This window is similar on OS X and Linux as well.
Microphones come in all shapes and sizes as well as price points. A microphone is essentially the opposite of a speaker. A speaker pushes and pulls on air, making waves that tickle our ears. A microphone receives sound and converts it to an electrical wave that can be amplified and can be sent into a computer, audio mixer, or public address system.
Dynamic microphones are the tough guys of microphones. They aren't usually delicate, due to the fact that they have very simple electronics. Dynamic microphones use a membrane to vibrate along with sound waves, moving a coil that is between two magnets. The vibration of the coil creates an electrical current that flows down a cable to be amplified. The amplifier used to boost the signal before sending that signal along to be used in recording is called a microphone pre-amp. The volume knob at the pre-amp is called a trim knob. This is what a dynamic mic looks like from inside:
Condenser microphones are the sensitive type. The main difference between a condenser mic and a dynamic mic is that a condenser needs a little electricity to get the job done. It's less rugged than the dynamic mic and way more sensitive, so it usually lives in the studio instead of going out on stage.
Condenser microphones have a very thin, flat conductive sheet called a diaphram that is suspended in front of an electrified backplate. Any movement of the diaphragm disturbs the electrical field between them, making a signal. Condensers then take this information and have a bunch of circuitry that convert the signal into something our audio interface would like. It still needs a pre-amp. The signal is usually very detailed compared to the dynamic mic. If you plan on screaming a bunch, the dynamic may be a better choice. If you are a crooner, you should think about getting a condenser mic (although they tend to be more expensive). Here's what the inside of a condenser mic looks like:
If you are just starting to record things, I would suggest investing in a dynamic mic from a company like Shure, AKG, or Electro-Voice. They are well established and you can find them online for pretty reasonable prices.
All computers these days have audio interfaces built into them. They are usually enough to get the job done for most music-making endeavors. To reduce noise, get a clearer sound, and get recorded music to sound nice and open and clear, an external audio interface is usually a good idea. Audio interfaces connect to a computer via USB, Firewire, or have a card in the computer with a cable that hooks into an external box. Here's an example of an external USB/Firewire interface:
On the right, there are indicator lights that show us the audio's volume coming in and out of the device. This interface has a pretty nice meter. It has a green area lit up where the audio is at a comfy volume. The yellow area tells us the volume is getting close to peaking and the red area is the audio peak. We don't want audio to peak on input because it will distort. We also don't want it to peak the output, because it will distort as well.
An external audio interface like this gives us a lot of information. If you are using an internal soundcard that came with your computer, you are going to have to rely on the meters in the software you are using and your ears to tell you whether your volume is too loud or not.
When setting up our system, we'll want to start populating our hard drive with samples, loops, and other audio files to use in songs. Many electronic artists still get caught using samples that haven't been cleared. By cleared, I mean that when you sample a CD, record, mp3, or any other audio file from an artist, you need to ask permission to use it.
Heck, just the act of asking may get you noticed by the artists you are pulling from, right? It's worth a try, I guess. Most of the time you get a cold shoulder, though, so I generally advise against it.
There are many, many artists out there that are trying to get their music remixed. I suggest using Google to look up current remixing competitions on the web. I've seen remix contests of everyone from Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and Sasha, to Peter Gabriel, Ok GO, and Radiohead. Here are some links to get you started:
Radiohead is one of the most well-known bands in the world, and they just love having their music remixed. Check out their site (http://www.radioheadremix.com/) regularly for tweaky strange sounds and lilting English voices:
Indaba music (http://www.indabamusic.com/home) is relatively new on the scene, but has a regularly awesome set of artists who are willing to let other artists take a crack at their work. They also provide a networking solution for artists who are looking for producers, remixers, and so on. Their roster of talent is impressive and they also have sample packs available for download:
Remix comps (http://www.remixcomps.com/) is a site that is always on the lookout for who is putting a remix contest out in the world. It's certainly more of an aggregate site, but one that has found remix contests for everyone from Alicia Keys to Kaskade:
CCmixter (http://ccmixter.org/) is another great site that actually has public domain sample packs for downloading and using. They are using a different type of copyright, creative commons that allows for other artists to use the sampled works free of litigiousness. They also have a community of remixers and artists, so it can be a great place to find other like minds in the electronic music field:
Remixing is a fantastic way to hear the sub mixes of elements from great artists. After digesting them, remixing is a way to get started by pushing the envelope of what can be done in LMMS. We'll be exploring techniques in remixing in Chapters 6 through 9, that will show how to integrate samples from other artists into our own remix. If a remix is good enough, it may even be chosen to be featured on the artists' next album, which is a cool way to get exposure.
Audacity is an excellent multi-track open source audio recording and editing platform for Windows, Linux, and OS X. It's easy to use and ridiculously powerful. Here are the best links for the manual, Wiki, and other goodies related to Audacity:
After downloading, Audacity can access the audio input and output of the computer from its Preferences page, which is under the Audacity Menu. Windows and OS X will use their own system based drivers and you can choose your device in the Preferences menu. If using Linux, ALSA will be available through your Preferences menu, and Audacity should have access to the current sound device.
When a microphone is hearing itself play through speakers, a feedback loop occurs that can severely hurt yourself and your neighbors. Ear-splitting feedback is never fun, so follow this simple rule first:
- Under Preferences, choose Devices, and make sure the device is set to record only one channel or Mono.
- Get something to sample. Maybe a cat, dog, or loud sibling.
- Grab a mic.
- The microphone will need to be plugged into an audio interface that has the ability to boost the microphone's audio signal properly. Also, check to see if the microphone requires Phantom Power. Phantom Power is not some strange mutation. It's a 48-volt power signal that a condenser mic requires to power its capsule properly.
- Once the microphone is plugged in, turn up the trim (audio input volume) on the audio interface. Most audio interfaces have a bright red light that flashes when the audio interface is getting too much signal. Don't let the signal get so loud that red lights begin to flash. We want plenty of room to be able to scream or whisper. If we don't have that room, we get clicks, pops, and distortion.
- There is a transport bar in Audacity that looks like the following:
- This is where you can pause, loop, stop, rewind, fast-forward, and record in Audacity.
- Grab the thing you are about to record (be careful if it is ) and hit the red 'record' button in the Audacity transport bar.
- Audacity will automatically create a new track according to your preferences and start recording. Once the recording is done, you can either mouse over the stop button and hit stop or you can use your space bar to stop. The audio file will then appear in the editing window of Audacity as follows:
- Samples should never have a lot of space at the top (beginning) of the file. If we want to trigger this sample in a song, then we need to crop the file. Audacity makes this kind of editing very simple.
- To zoom in a bit, we need the zoom tool. It looks like a magnifying glass in the upper-left corner of the screen, where our toolbox is located. The toolbox looks like the following:
- The zoom tool is just underneath the selector tool, which is what we are using right now. Click the zoom tool and select all that dead space before the audio starts. You will get a screen that looks like this:
- Now use your selector tool to select that area of dead space. You can adjust either side of the selection by holding down the Shift key.
- Now hit Delete! We now have a sample that starts right at the first sign of audio:
- You can also delete dead space from the middle of the file with the same technique.
- Ok, we can let go of that poor creature we just sampled and start using this recording. Samples need to be saved to the samples folder in our WORKING directory.
- In Audacity, go to File | Export.... We'll choose the 16-bit PCM for the audio file settings to give us a standard wave file. Make sure to save to the WORKING directory on that nice, spacious external drive.
- It's recommended to create subdirectories in the samples folder to keep yourself organized. Let's call this sample poor_creature.wav and put it in a subdirectory called Animals.
- When that's done, open LMMS, and we will see the sample show up in our handy sidebar!
- In LMMS, this is where you'll find your samples:
- When the sidebar opens up, you'll see the new folder called Animals:
- And here's our poor creature!
This is how we can start building our library of custom sounds for LMMS. We can also simply drag audio files into Audacity's edit window or record multiple tracks at once. Audacity also has the ability to write effects to audio files, create volume envelopes, and mix several files together. Layering samples can be a lot of fun and Audacity is one of the easiest multi-track recorder/editors out there.
A studio can be anywhere these days. Some people produce great albums from their bedroom. Some folks write dance music on planes. We've heard this a lot lately, due to the simple fact that studios are so affordable, compact, and powerful, people are making all kinds of claims.
Experience tells me that humans are infinitely adaptable. Someone who flies a lot will discover the pros and cons of creating in that environment. People who record in their bedroom will become accustomed to the limitations of their space as well.
When you are composing on a laptop and you aren't at home, it's a good idea to have some options in the headphones department. It's also not a bad idea to find a bus-powered audio interface that gives you nice, clear sound. A portable interface means that you can also potentially have a microphone on you to record the occasional vocal or street lunatic.
When choosing a drive for a laptop, I suggest going for a pocket drive that is bus-powered. The trick with being mobile is to travel light, and 'bus powered' means that the drive doesn't have to be plugged into a wall to make it work. When you plug the drive into a USB or Firewire-type port, it gets its power from that port as well!
Even though the drive is bus-powered, it can still be 7200rpm. It needs to be fast and have a fast bus speed. I personally am a fan of the G-drive, and the FreeAgent drives from Glyph have been nice to me.
The audio interface can also be bus-powered. The PreSonus AudioBox is quite inexpensive and gives you nice, clean headphone output and mic preamps for recording in the outside world. I find this device to be the best bang for the buck, but would highly recommend checking some of the other contenders out there. It's a great template for everything you need in a mobile device, though. That is, small, light, bus-powered, and nice preamps.
I am a huge fan of in-ear buds for when I am out in the world. I would suggest anything by Ultimate Ears or M-Audio. If you think you're getting good quality from Skullcandy or Apple earbuds, you are gravely mistaken. Be picky about your earbuds and try to research where they come from. Most earbuds come from the same manufacturer and are simply renamed and repackaged. Avoid these at all costs.
When looking for earbuds, I suggest you look first for isolation. How well do they cut the background noise down? When on a plane, train, or automobile, you'll want earbuds that attenuate the outside world at least 30 db. You don't want to be turning your earbuds up to compensate for outside noise. Doing this could damage your hearing.
If you are in a more controlled environment, I would suggest a set of open-ear headphones for referencing your mixes. My favorite low-cost high-performance headphones are the Grado SR80 headphones. These were suggested to me by audiophiles and mastering engineers. They are under $100 and sound wonderful. I've actually mixed on them and been happy with the result. The other thing about these headphones is that you can actually talk to people in the room while you have them on. They are an open-ear design, which means that you can be aware of your surroundings if you have someone over that's asking you how the mix is coming along. I don't know how many times I've been mixing on closed-ear headphones and hit the ceiling when someone tapped my shoulder to get my attention.
It should be said that you need to be very, very mindful of your headphone volumes. Don't blow your ears out listening to mixes. Try to find a comfortable listening volume and stick with it so you get some consistency to your mix. Listening loud means that you could be distorting the mix or getting an inaccurate read on what's happening.
So that's about it for the laptop! You don't need much to get by in that configuration. It's somewhat important that when you are writing on a laptop, try to sit with good posture in a comfortable chair if you can. Sitting in a cafe is cool, so long as you aren't hunched over the laptop with your arms cramped up. This is how you get bad tendonitis of several kinds. I had bicep tendonitis, and I have to say that it really sucks.
Well, rooms come in all shapes and sizes. If the room is bigger, it can be good to have your speakers away from the wall a bit with some kind of dense materials behind them. If we are in a small space, it's good to have our speakers closer to the wall so that the waves coming from the speakers can develop properly, and we aren't sitting in the middle of the room.
Keep in mind that computers are noisy and sometimes even the power in your room can cause noisy recordings. In a perfect world, your computer should live in a climate-controlled box, or if you have a large, airy closet it can live there. As for hum and buzz, try separating your audio cables from your power cables. Many times hum is introduced into audio because the electricity flowing through a power cable will jump into an audio cable.
Try to minimize corners in your room. Put something dense in them to take the corner out. A popular material for taking out corners is Owens Corning 703 Insulation. It's very sturdy, doesn't shed much, and if you cover it with cloth like burlap (usually used to make potato sacks), or other simple heavy-duty fabric, it makes a great bass trap. We don't need to be fancy. Just put the 48x24" panel in the corner and see what happens. The results are pretty great. If you can't find any Owens Corning 703 nearby or on the Internet, there are alternatives out there that are still very good. Most insulation will work fairly well as long as it is dense and is well covered, so that you aren't breathing fiberglass. If you find it hard to find fiberglass or it's cost-prohibitive, try packing old clothing into the corners tightly. If you can get it to stay in place, you will still get the advantages of bass absorption.
You see, corners in your room amplify bass frequencies. This means that when we listen to mixes, we hear more bass than what's actually there. This may sound cool when we're listening, but when mixing, accuracy is key. We want our mixes to be accurate so that when we go play our mix in the car it translates.
If we are living in an older building, we might have hardwood floors. Hardwood floors look really nice, but they are very reflective. This can cause sound waves to bounce between the floor and ceiling. Putting a rug down makes a world of difference on hardwood floors.
Like our floors and ceilings, we need to try and minimize parallel surfaces whenever possible. Sound waves will bounce from these walls and sum together in the center of the room, giving us a boost in certain frequencies. Creating uneven surfaces will minimize this effect. Even having a curved piece of wood on the wall will help keep the negatives of this effect down.
Many folks talk about sound-proofing a room. They usually mean making a room silent to the outside world and vice versa. In our studio, we're going to focus less on sound-proofing and think more about treatment.
Taking out the corners of the room and laying a rug down will help control the over-hyping of certain frequencies in a room. What we don't want to do is cover every surface of our room with sound absorption material. This can actually affect the way we hear a mix and will make the room sound lifeless. A good rule of thumb is to use absorption in the corners, floor, and ceiling, and on the back wall to use diffusion.
Diffusion is a way of scattering sound waves so that they lose their energy. The larger waves get broken into smaller ones that don't sum together very well. Absorption takes that same audio energy and simply converts it into heat and absorbs most of the heat energy. Absorption is generally used to control low frequency sound, and diffusion scatters the high frequency reflections in the room.
Using diffusion on reflective surfaces means we get to keep a bit of life to the room and our mixes will sound more open and clear. Diffusion panels are kind of pricey, but they are out there. It's good to do research on diffuser panels rather than try to make some of your own. Homemade diffusers can often do more harm than good. Good diffusion requires good math.
That said, let's say we need to save up for some diffusion. In the meantime, put a lot of stuff in your room on the walls. Books can be good because they have both mass and uneven surfaces. Load up the walls so that you have very uneven surfaces all over the place. As long as you aren't listening at insane volumes, you should notice a difference.
A good way to see how well our room is doing is to play a mix and stop it quickly. We may hear a bit of a tail. Did it sound low frequency? High frequency? Did it last long? If we hear a low tone after stopping, more absorption would be a good idea. If we hear fluttering echoes, diffusion is the answer.
The speakers we use in our studio are extremely important. When choosing your first pair of studio monitors, you should never pick a set of monitors simply because they sound 'good'. Sometimes speakers that sound good have less in the midrange, where our ears are very sensitive, or some other bias. We want monitors that are accurate. Accuracy is the king when we are creating music for the masses. Whether our audience is on a laptop or a high-fidelity system, we want our mix to sound good on just about anything, and our monitors are the key to giving us the truth about what's going on.
Monitor choice is very personal, but it can be expensive. In my studio I use Mackie HR824 powered monitors for my speakers. Since I do this stuff for a living, I spent a pretty large amount on them, because they are ruthlessly accurate. Speakers can be very expensive, but there are some manufacturers such as M-Audio, Logitech, and Bose that are trying to create smaller speaker systems for computers that still sound very good. I've been known to write music for advertisements from a tent using headphones, but if you can afford it, try to get the best speakers you can.
Speaker placement should be roughly an equilateral triangle with our head as one point and the speakers' cones as the other two points. This setup will give us the most accurate stereo image and center. Don't put a bunch of stuff over or between the speakers if you can get away with it. Also, we need to try not to have our speakers sitting on our desk or any large surface. Buy some inexpensive monitor stands to de-couple them. Anything a speaker touches will vibrate. The smaller and more isolated the surface, the better!
We are about to embark upon a long journey that is absorbing and intense. Time tends to fly by in the studio and before you know it, the sun is coming up and we're looking happy but bleary-eyed at the clock. It's ok to do this and it's invigorating to have one of those all-night sessions making music. The trick is to be able to do it again after a short recovery period.
If you don't make your studio ergonomic, you will suffer the same fate as those who get carpal-tunnel syndrome from writing too much code or crunching too many numbers. If you work in an office during the day or have a job that requires you to use the computer for more than just music making, you MUST make this a priority. Nothing sucks more than not being able to make music because your arm hurts too much. I've been through this kind of thing and it kept me from working for a couple of weeks.
If you have a good chair, don't hunch over and have your screen at least 3 feet away from your face, you can work longer and healthier. If you have a good chair, you can save your back as well. Hey, isn't that what Craigslist was made for? Get a good chair for cheap. We found mine hardly used on Craigslist for about $200 and it's an $800 chair. My health is worth it.
What we've done in this chapter is lay the foundation for our journey making music in LMMS. Making electronic music is a blast, and we tend to let the basic disciplines of organization, preparation, and health go out the window when we want to get started RIGHT NOW.
The thing is, when we have the right gear for the job, LMMS is more stable. When we understand where our resources are, we are never more than a couple of clicks from our presets and sample libraries. When we make bad choices in a project, we can go back to an earlier version. If we understand how sound and MIDI are used by our operating system, we can troubleshoot problems. If we want to remix or sample other artists, there are many places to do so legally. When we have a room and headphones we can trust to tell us what's going on in our mix, our music sounds better.
This chapter was installing more than just applications, hard drives, and samples. We're installing confidence in our studio. That confidence helps creativity flow from us, knowing that we can trust our system, our ethics, our ears, and our personal style of production, be it on the run or rooted in the lab at home.