Of course, a good mix starts with a good recording. Buzzes, clicks, mouth noise, pronunciation problems, phrasing, irritating transients can all spoil the core of your song. For me in the home studio it’s just a question of starting over again, but for you it might mean booking more studio hours. Always hoping to get the same setup as before and the same flow.
After many years of working in the studio I think I have all the tools ready to fix all of the problems I described above and more. I had one article before about Fixing phase problems in a mix. Another time I got to fix the audio of a precious video recording that was completely blown out and clipped. After having fixed maybe thousands of instrument and vocal recordings, I can now truly say:
I am happy to report that setting everything up now is a breeze. Looking back, everything started to work straight out of the box with version Ableton Live 10.0.5. More good news, it still works straight out of the box in Ableton Live versions 11+. Support has become integrated now. From the corner of my eye I did see that there might be problems with Komplete Kontrol S series and Ableton Live 11+ versions, but I am not able to verify that. So, what does the support mean? It means that you can immediately start working with your Komplete Kontrol A series keyboard by selecting it as a control surface in the Preferences > Midi > Control Surface section by selecting the Komplete Kontrol Surface and the corresponding DAW input and output.
This is just the start. If you downloaded and activated the Komplete Kontrol software from Native Instruments (through Native Access), you will find the Komplete Kontrol VST instrument as a Plug-ins intstrument. Drag it into a MIDI track and you will have instant Kontakt instrument browsing from your track. Now that takes some getting used to I must admit. Please note the following. Your A series keyboard display browse much more responsive then the Komplete Kontrol VST, so ignore the screen and focus on the tiny A series display when browsing. Click the Browse button on the A series keyboard to jump back to browsing at any point.
When browsing Kontakt instruments, nudge the browse button left or right to step deeper and back into the levels of browsing process. So at the top level you choose your either Kontakt instruments, loops or one shots. At the deepest level you choose your sounds. You will hear the selection audition a sound as you browse. If you push (don’t nudge) the browse button down as a button it will select the auditioned sound. This might take a while, so be patient. After that remember that you can click the Browser button again and nudge left several times to back to the top level. Keep your eye on the tiny display to see where you are browsing.
Once you inside the Plug-in MIDI button will light up and you will notice that the controls on your A series keyboard will automatically control the instrument macro’s. Again, touch the knob to see on the tiny display which parameter or macro is controlled and tweak and turn to get the perfect sound. This is how your keyboard should have worked from the start of course, but I’m happy to see how it has progressed. For all other plain MIDI control use you can still use the method of placing your instrument in a rack and MIDI mapping the controls to your instrument.
This is a glance in my kitchen where I will tell you my kitchen secret: the sauce. You will find it somewhere on almost every song I released, the Molekular effects inside a Reaktor FX chain. This is an effect powerhouse that I use to bring life to otherwise maybe repetitive or otherwise uninteresting sounds. It’s well hidden somewhere in the infinite sound and effect library of Native Instruments. However, if you use Reaktor as part of your workflow, you might already know it. It’s sound experimentation to the max.
It’s hard to dive into the features of Molekular, because its really overflowing with possibilities. Just a look at the interface can already make your brain explode. Imagine that underneath that interface all kinds of wires are running to connect everything with anything. Reaktor users will be used to it, because it will be just a set of modules like all other modules. Please check out all video’s explaining the Molekular effects chain on the Native Instruments site.
I will try to make a start though. It starts with putting a Reaktor FX plugin in your effects chain. Then inside the FX plugin you load Molekular. Then in essence it starts on the bottom row. There you will see a chain of effects, that you can start modulating. The chain connections are depicted in the top right section. Effects can be chained one after the other, or parallel, or a combination of serial and parallel mixed. Then in the top left and middle you can choose how to modulate all the effect parameters.
The effects are just plain awesome. Hard filters, delays, reverbs, pitch shifters. Everything you need to bring bland sounds to life. You can make a rhythmic track tonal, or vice versa. You can drown sounds in distorted delays or otherwise alienating effects, or bring subtle life to a sound.
On the left side there are LFO’s, Envelopes, a step sequencer and a complex form of logic modulation. The modulation methods kind of overlap here and there and can then be interconnected to multiply or randomize the modulation of the effect chain. Then in the middle is a center piece, an X-Y modulator that can be set in motion by logic or the step sequencer, or by you.
The greatest power of this all is that if you replay your song you will have all modulations, no matter how complex, take place exactly the same way. The modulation can have complexity, but also repeatability in time. If you are a fan of totally random every time, this is always an option. For me the magic is the repeatability.
It means that I can just try some alchemy in effect chains and mess around with the modulation. If I find something that sounds cool, I can let it sound as cool every time. Assuming that you, like me, start the render from the same point every render time, the modulation of the effects will be the same. I find it inviting for experimentation, because it is rewarding if I find something that works.
There is only one problem now. With my luck, now that I tell you about it, it will probably jinx everything and it will be discontinued or stop functioning soon. This will really mean that I will have to freeze a machine software wise to allow it to keep running Molekular. With this in mind I will just tell you about it, so you can do the same.
Since i started using the Soundbrenner Pulse and its Metronome app i’ve had serious problems connecting it to Ableton Live with Link. I read through the troubleshooting page forever. Added firewall rules everywhere. Checked the network traffic going from and to the laptop and the phone. Nothing. Almost nothing. The worst part was that somehow random suddenly the connection would work. Even more frustrating: i seemed to be the only one with these problems.
Suddenly it became obvious to me. If no one has these problems, it must be the network. Obviously the phone has to work from WiFi. My wireless network must be up to date and all should be fine, but it does work with these newfangled mesh repeaters. So my idea was: why not connect the laptop directly to the phone’s mobile hot spot and cut out the router and mesh network?
Suddenly everything connected flawlessly. If you ever want to use Ableton Live Link, make sure its a straight connection between devices. Any router or repeater can wreck the connection, or the reliability of the connection. Another problem finally solved.
You might already have seen this on my socials. A nice photo of a new box stacked alongside my MIDI patchbay. Lately studio life got more complicated. I have 2 mixing tables. One for working in the studio and one for practicing live gigs. I found myself plugging instruments in and out of these mixing tables. Also, the studio mixing table, a Yamaha 01v, is getting old and some switches now already noticeably start making noise. For me this was the sign to start saving the desk and considering a patch panel.
You can spend any amount on a good one, but for my modest home studio purposes I chose the Behringer Ultrapatch Pro PX3000. With 48 channels it is well beyond my need to patch 6 channels across 12 inputs. But hey, who knows what will happen in the future. And it doesn’t break the bank at around 80 euros.
Plugging the instruments across the inputs of two tables now won’t wear down the inputs on the more expensive mixing desks any more. There is even be an option to use the patchbay in half-normal mode. In this mode I can make a setup to send the instruments to both inputs at the same time. Then you have to factor in the impedance of both mixing desks against the line outs of the instruments, but to my calculations it might just work.
This maybe something that I had overlooked for too long: Loopcloud. For years the talk of the sampling library town, but I didn’t look at it until I got a demo of the new Loopmasters Loopcloud 5.0 version at the Amsterdam Dance Event this year. I also had looked at other sample managers like Algonaut Atlas, but that may be only drums oriented. Intriguing, because Atlas uses machine learning to recognize the types of samples. For me, up to now, a sample manager was simply a folder in Ableton Live to browse through. And I had always put Loopcloud away as simply a shop to buy samples with a subscription model.
How to work with the application
The Loopcloud application is a standalone application, but it integrates with your DAW through a Loopcloud plugin. You can only have it on one track in your DAW. All samples that you browse then play through that track. The idea is to start with a sample in the Loopcloud application. You can have random sorting to free your mind. Then use that to edit, slice, dice, sequence, mash up and add effects if you wish. You can drag the final result into your DAW as a sound file. Quite something different than finding a sample and then edit it in the DAW. All with the tune and tempo of your DAW. It nicely prevents you using kind of preset sounds over and over. Clever!
It means however, that you have to keep two applications open while working. For those of you with two monitors, maybe a no-brainer. But then again, it could just be that you already have a nice workflow with your two monitors and now you need to fit in yet another application. Anyway, there is an option to have the application dock to the sides of a window at about 20% of the width. Combined with scaling and other options, you might manage with one screen. The application sometimes forgets how you docked and scaled it.
Your library manager
Now about the library management. The moment you add your own samples to the Loopcloud application it starts scanning all the samples in it. It will try to find BPM and key information and it will try to read other information from the name of the sample or the loop. It will probably not correctly discover more complex information like the genre, loop or one-shot, or the exact instrument. All is then marked down as tags and you can start searching for things like key and BPM.
For this you need to click the button marked “Your Libary”. If you also want the detailed information of your scanned samples to be correct you will have to start tagging yourself. Its quite advanced, you can tag whole folders and batches of files. For a more in-depth dive into the tagging and searching you should dive into the tutorials.
But then when I found out Loopcloud as a sample manager, the tutorial also pointed me to Loopcloud Drum. A separate plugin that is actually a full sample drum instrument. It uses its own Loopcloud drumkit format and will open up a separate section in the Loopcloud manager. A strange find in a sample library manager. As a separate instrument it has its own format and its actually more of a pattern beatmaker with its own sequencer. A preset list of drum kits get activated that have been assembled from Loopcloud one shot samples of course.
I didn’t find any option to change the patterns in the beatmaker, other than with a mouse. You would also expect an option to edit drum kits and build your own. You can edit the mix of the kit and save that as a “user” drum kit, but I didn’t see any way to create a drum kit from your own set of one shots. Maybe this is in a future version, or in a Loopcloud subscription model that I didn’t explore. I was kind of on the lookout for tools to start making beats, other than with loops or Nerve, but this is not it yet.
And even more? The tutorial also points to the Loopcloud Play plugin. Yet another sample instrument, but this time melodic. As an instrument its quite basic, maybe so basic that you fall back into the preset trap again. There are about 7 knobs to turn and that’s it. Like the Drum instrument it has its own place in the library and again no way to choose the samples. You can save tweaks to the knob as “User” instruments. I think it needs work, as this is no match for Native Instrument’s Kontakt.
Loopcloud has a quite intricate subscription model and not all of the features are available in all tiers. Specifically on using multiple tracks and the sample editing. However, if you just want to use it as a sample library manager you can even use the free subscription model tier. If you already own Loopmasters stuff it will automatically appear in your library. Even though it could do with more advanced detection of the samples that you load in the library, for me this was a great find and it surely beats the user folders in Ableton Live.
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