Music technology reviewers have a fascinating job, and it's become even more fun since audio hit the web. I was thinking about that the other night as I composed some demo tunes for an upcoming article. All I needed to do was record a couple examples of the instrument's standout features, but exploring the new sonic territory was so inspiring that by the time I looked up, it was 4 a.m. That state of flow is what got me into this field, and it still drives me.

In this episode, I share some of my favorite music hardware and software demo songs, prepared for magazines, websites, and CD-ROMs. I also talk with two reviewers who've inspired me, Jim Aikin and Mark Nelson, about their experiences creating musical demos. (DMI 08-23-2007: 16 minutes 14 seconds)

Production Notes

I reached Aikin and Nelson by Skype, connecting to their land-line phones through the SkypeOut service and recording the call with Ecamm Call Recorder. I recorded through my Logitech 250 headset, a $30 USB contraption that sounds surprisingly good and saves me from having to hover over a full-size mic.

In previous Skype interviews with audio experts, I'd used the "two-ender" broadcast technique, having the interviewee record an additional track with a studio mic and a higher resolution and send me the file. I'd then replace his Skype track with the high-res one. In this case, though, I was just going for some quotes, not an extended interview, so I kept it simple. The quality came out fine, and I then enhanced the audio more with Izotope Ozone.

Korg KP3

When I reviewed the Korg KP3 Kaoss Pad effect processor, one of my favorite features turned out to be the touchpad-controlled synthesizer, which had initially seemed like a showy add-on.

I recorded my voiceover directly into BIAS Peak using an SE Electronics USB2200a mic, which I've been comparing with the Rode Podcaster I used in earlier episodes. Both mics plug directly into a computer via USB. I like the clear, natural sound the SE gives my voice; the Rode has a strong proximity effect, so tiny changes in mouth position alter the sound. I continue to be annoyed by the SE's miniature USB connector, though. The Rode has a full-size USB connector so it's easier to use longer cables and put some distance between the mic and my noisy Mac. The Rode also has a better pop filter.

Editing and Assembly

Jim Aikin

Jim Aikin is best known for his 25-plus years at Keyboard magazine, but he also gigs on this five-string electric cello. (photo: Christine Thompson)

Mark Nelson

Mark Nelson is one of the top slack-key guitarists in Oregon. He has recorded several acclaimed solo CDs.

Call Recorder produces a strange QuickTime file with a mono track for the caller's voice and a dual-mono track for the recipient's. Using QuickTime Pro, I panned my voice left and disabled the left output on the interviewee's track (panning it right), and then exported the recording as a stereo AIFF file.

I imported the file into Peak to chop out the chitchat and remove false starts, "ums," and Skype clicks. This time I used a new technique to pan the two sides of the conversation to the center so I could listen on headphones without getting dizzy.

After cleanup, I exported the two sides of the conversation as mono WAV files and imported them and the voiceover into Ableton Live 6. I then arranged them around the music examples and the theme music. I enhanced the voices with Izotope Ozone and (for the Skype tracks) BIAS SoundSoap.

Finally, I rendered the mix to an AIFF file and converted it to an MP3 in iTunes using a drag-and-drop AppleScript from Doug Adams. (I found that iTunes was much faster at encoding MP3s than Peak, with no significant quality difference—at least at 128kbps, the rate we use for Digital Media Insider.)

The Digital Media Insider theme music came together in Live as well. The opening sound effect is a compressed mouth noise spliced onto a tone cluster I generated in Native Instruments Reaktor. The main groove is from Steinberg Xphraze. (Jim Aikin turned me on to both virtual instruments in his article "My Five Favorite Soft Synths.") The piano is from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, which I discovered when we interviewed Gary Garritan.

The theme also features a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, it took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.

Related O’Reilly Articles and Blogs

Articles by Jim Aikin

Aikin covers arpeggiators, FM synthesis, Propellerhead Reason, software synthesizers, FL Studio, MIDI, and much more in these deep yet clear tutorials.

Articles by Mark Nelson

Nelson's series of digital recorder reviews are top-10 Google hits, but he's also plumbed high-tech guitar and MIDI gear for O’Reilly. Check out our previous podcast as well.

The Secret Life of a Product Reviewer

What do musical instrument reviewers really do? Read my exposé and another music journalist's follow-up.

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