A first attempt at an automatic VJ mix on stage

For some time now I am looking for a way to add video to my Ableton Live performance. In this article I am experimenting with VideoRemix Pro from MixVibes. There are many people with a similar quest so it seems and equally as many solutions. Most solutions (Resolume, Modul8) revolve around the Apple MacOS. Since I am not in the Apple ecosystem, these are not available to me. Some quite elaborate solutions use many components that all are glued together. Sometimes with MIDI, sometimes with plugins.

As a first attempt am looking for a simple single piece of software that can run inside Ableton Live for a PC. Enter VideoRemix Pro. You need to have the Pro version to run it inside Ableton Live as a plugin. When you look at the instruction video, you can see that it runs in Session mode. Which is how I use Ableton Live live. Looking at this it seems simple enough, but there is a learning curve.

This learning curve is not helped by obvious glitches and problems when using the software. I had quite a battle installing it and getting it to run as a plugin inside Live. The first problem was Live crashing when dropping the plugin on a MIDI track. Which is how you are supposed to use it. My first reaction was to ask for a refund, but after a reboot and some experimenting I got it to work. The secret for me was to make sure that VideoRemix does not use the Windows Default audio. Once I switched to the ASIO audio option that Live also uses, the plugin stopped crashing.

VideoRemix Pro runs in desktop mode as well as plugin mode, but not at the same time. The desktop mode seems solid enough, but even there I have run into glitches. This had to do mostly with customizing the Novation LaunchPad Mini that I wanted to use to control the video. The LaunchPad Mini had been just lying around as a backup for the Ableton Push that I mainly use. It is however not supported by default. The makers of the software prefer you using the full Launchpad Mk2, which has more control options of course.

This means that in order to use it, you have to define a custom control mapping for the software. This seems easy enough, since you have a MIDI learn mode in the software. It took some learning for me to use it. In short, hover over the element in VideoRemix you want to control. Then click or turn the midi knob to link it. Press it again to see if the mapping worked. After this you will see a custom mapping in the list of midi devices in the preferences, which you could then rename.

A new custom MIDI mapping in the VideoRemix Midi Preferences
A new custom MIDI mapping in the VideoRemix Midi Preferences

Then moving over to Ableton Live and running it as a plugin (remember: not at the same time), you will find this same list. Confusing enough there is a VST MIDI device there, but in my case that did not respond to any attempt to control the video. If you switch over to your custom mapping that you created in the desktop mode, things start moving. Now you can record your video sequence.

Creating or recording a video sequence is based on the 6×6 grid of buttons in VideoRemix. This means that you are limited to 36 clips that you can launch. One clip can run for 100 seconds. Hit a clip to start it. Hit it again to stop it. By default running clips is column oriented. You cannot start more clips running on the same column. One clip on the same column will stop a clip on another row. You can start an entire row with a single command. You can start an entire column, but only if you enable all clips playing in a grid of course.

If you want a more complex mix of clips with more than a few clips per song and more then a dozen of songs, you’re probably out of luck with 36 slots. It seems you have to simplify your VJ mix if you are using this software standalone. For now it will have to do for me.

The VideoRemix Clip Grid
The VideoRemix Clip Grid

The effects (FX) section is quite elaborate. You can control it as well as all the faders, through MIDI. The moment you hit full screen on the top right you will see your VJ mix full screen. Hopefully on the right video output, but I will have to look into that yet. The default set of clips also loops sound and this sound can be mixed, so you can also have sound effects playing as part of your performance.

This is my first attempt at working with video as part of a Live based performance. After quite a battle to get it working, it is now seems actually possible to have a video running as part of a Session mode sequence, like there is a real VJ at work. I am still quite worried about the overall stability of the setup and I need to get to grips with the quirks of the software.

If you have experience with this or other software setups, please comment below!

Why you should start using a 360 camera

Already four years ago I started using a 360 camera. At that time I wanted to create those videoclips where you are really in the set and I wanted viewers to experience the video. The video quality was then an issue and for me it still is, unless you have a solid budget to spend. At the 3.000 euro price point video quality is no longer a big issue. At the lower end however, things have improved slightly. I have now invested in an Insta360 ONE X at a fraction of that price, 400 euro. What has persuaded me to invest in this camera if the quality is only slightly better?

First off, it comes with software that allows you to take your full 360 degree recording and cut out a flat rectangle that looks like you recorded it with a normal camera. Where is the advantage in that? It is actually intended to allow you use it as an action camera and then in the video editing cut out, pan and zoom into any action around you. You can see samples of this in the product page. What use is that to me as a musician, you might ask. Well, how about filming a whole gig from several points and cutting, panning and zooming into all the action on stage and in the crowd? Also the software has some really captivating special effects like speeding up, turning the 360 view into a ball, fish eye etc.

Secondly, it has rock-solid stabilization, because it uses gyroscopes to record all movements. This also ensures that the recording is perfectly horizontal, even when recording at an angle. You will find that if there is too much movement in your recording, most viewers will become sea sick really fast. A smooth recording and stable recording makes the difference. I can now confidently record while walking. Also freaky is that if you use a selfie stick to hold the camera, the software will remove the stick. It will appear as if the camera is hovering above you.

Schemerstad
Schemerstad

Thirdly, it actually matters that the quality of the recordings is at least slightly better than that of the first generation of 360 cameras. The performance in low light is dramatically better and the 25% increase in pixels of camera’s in the same price range does make a difference. Am I completely happy? No of course not. I can really and wholeheartedly recommend the ONE X at the lower price tier. It has made some impossible recordings possible and I will keep using 360 as part of my video recording to capture the action and experiences.

So this is why you too (as a musician) should start using a 360 camera. Not because you want people to experience VR, but to capture everything and decide how to use the recording later. On stage and everywhere the action happens.

Komplete Kontrol A49, you’re not using it right

After a month of working on singing and performing. Everything but working in the studio, I wanted to get up and running again with making music. As always, I started with updating the studio software. When updating the Native Instruments (NI) suite I am using, the A49 was part of the updates. When playing around in Ableton Live after that it soon became obvious that things did not work quite right. So it was time to reserve some hours diving into this.

The NI Native Access manager was updated and the first step is then of course to check all the software installations inside it. It soon turned out that the VST installation path of Komplete Kontrol was not correct anymore. NI likes to think that it is the only source for plugins on your computer, so I needed tot tell it that VSTs are located elsewhere on the computer. The Komplete Kontrol installation was then fixed by reinstalling. Nice.

After checking if both the version of Komplete Kontrol inside Live and Komplete Kontrol as a standalone application were matching. Things started working again. A plugin rescan was needed to pick up all NI instruments in both versions, so a lot of instrument settings were not matching up apparently. Also a quick scan of the MIDI integration settings revealed that the integration was still correct.

I use the Komplete Kontrol Rack VST in Ableton Live, but when you update your NI software this is not automatically updated in Ableton Host Integration. Time to copy vst files (vst) all over again from C:\Program Files\Common Files\Native Instruments\Host Integration\Ableton Live to D:\Documents\Ableton\Library\Presets\Instruments\Instrument Rack. Or some equivalent on a Mac.

This Komplete Kontrol instrument rack can host any plug in instrument and map the A49 knobs to macros to controls in the instrument. Please note: Only use this for all instruments other than NI instruments! You must manually map any control to any control inside the instrument. Not very pretty, but once you’ve set it up it works.

And what if you do want to use a NI instrument? I also found out that instead of adding Kontakt to a track to start working with a NI instrument, as I always did, its better to use the Komplete Kontrol plugin. This immediately gives you full control with the A49 and allows you to quickly switch instruments on the fly. Oh well. Never too old to learn.

Versioning Ableton Live projects with large files

This is a follow-up of one of the first posts here keep-track-of-versions-of-your-song-with-Ableton. At first this was a bit tricky, because you could choose leave out large files, like .wav recordings and samples and even the .als project files. Or you could defy a warning from Git stating that it doesn’t handle large files well, performance-wise. This will hit you when you push and checkout your repository remotely. Now you can start using the new Large File Storage (LFS) feature, that handles versions of the large files as markers in the Git repository, improving the speed at which Git can handle these large files when getting the latest version remotely. Please note that these versioning tools might work for your DAW too.

But why Git versioning?

Lets go back to the beginning. Why should you consider using Git for versioning of your Ableton Live projects? Version 10 of Ableton Live keeps backups of your project files. If something goes wrong, you can go back 20 or more versions. The problem is, what version on which time and date contains which changes? There is no way to tell. With Git versioning you can attach a message to each set of changes (commit) and you can decide which part of which commit you want to keep. The thing that holds most people back from using Git is its complexity.

Git is even more powerful in combination with a shared remote repository like GitHub or Bitbucket. This will allow you to work together remotely on a shared project with more musicians, while at the same time giving you the liberty to work stand alone. Contact me if you want to hear more about this. Please note that some remote repositories are not free if you want to store private content and collaborate. Otherwise everything you put on it is public. GitHub now allows free private repositories.

Collaborative repository on GitHub
Collaborative repository on GitHub

With its power comes a set of command line instructions that scares the shit out of any musician. For daily use I turn to SourceTree for a more graphical and pleasant Git experience. SourceTree is free and hides most complex command line instructions behind a more useable interface. There will be a time however when you really will have to dive in to the nitty gritty and this post will also dive deep. Fortunately the latest version of SourceTree also understands the new LFS features.

Large File Storage

The first step will be to install Git LFS on top of Git. By the way SourceTree has embedded versions of Git and Git LFS that you can install alongside. I have no idea how powerful these embedded versions are compared to the stand alone versions. Then here the steps you need to take to activate the Large File Storage feature. Open a command line in the project folder where you created your Git repository and type (as marked in bold):

b2fab@STUDIO MINGW64 /d/Documents/Ableton/Goodbye Project (master)
$ git lfs install
Updated git hooks.
Git LFS initialized.

b2fab@STUDIO MINGW64 /d/Documents/Ableton/Goodbye Project (master)
$ git lfs track *.wav
Tracking "B2FAB - Goodbye ft Hanny (Mastered).wav"
Tracking "Goodbye (instrumental).wav"
Tracking "Goodbye ft Hanny (unmastered).wav"
Tracking "Goodbye ft Hanny.wav"
Tracking "Goodbye Hanny (FY).wav"
Tracking "Goodbye.concept.wav"

b2fab@STUDIO MINGW64 /d/Documents/Ableton/Goodbye Project (master)
$ git lfs track *.als
Tracking "Goodbye Hanny (Exp).als"
Tracking "Goodbye Hanny (FY).als"
Tracking "Goodbye Hanny (FYCD).als"
Tracking "Goodbye Hanny Beat.als"
Tracking "Goodbye.concept.als"
Tracking "Goodbye.Hanny.als"
Tracking "Goodbye.instrumental.als"
b2fab@STUDIO MINGW64 /d/Documents/Ableton/Goodbye Project (master)
$

As you can see the install statement just prepares the repository. The track statements marks large file types to be treated as LFS files. From that point you need to commit this change and its .gitattributes and you are good to go. If you want I can go live on Instagram or help you out.

Commit Git LFS in SourceTree
Commit Git LFS in SourceTree

A live setup for Ableton Live

It just does live gigs

I guess most musicians use Ableton Live live like I use it. Its kind of the standard way of building a live set. This article describes the details in the implementation as I use it.

So there is Session View with the track channels laid out with different instruments and the scene rows with the different songs. Within each song several scenes with the intro, verses, choruses, break and outro. Ableton will follow the bpm mentioned in the description and you can set the Launch Follow Action to let Ableton run the flow of each song. This way Ableton will back your song live with the right scenes with the push of a button. With effects automated or manual as you want it and in the correct tempo. Additionally I use MIDI Program Change commands to instruct the Nord and the Korg to switch to the right instruments for any scene of any song.

Ableton Live live set
Ableton Live live set

In my case I play solo, or with aid of other musicians. I can choose which track to leave out, the backing vocals, the bass or at least one or more keys. On the whole Ableton Live runs the show in my case, so I should be careful not to bore the audience with too much music out of the box. I should keep working on performance, video tracks and light effects all the time. I try to use only Ableton Push, avoiding the use of the laptop to start and stop.

What’s on the monitor?

Lets start cheating a little. Because not every track has drums, I rely on a click that gets routed to the monitor. In the above picture you can see the click track on the left. It just plays and plays and gets send to the Cue out Return Track C. Return Track C works pre-fader so it is in no way linked to the master mix. The cue out goes to a separate output on the audio interface and thus can be mixed to all monitors. For now this suffices.

All live instruments, vocals output and everything from Ableton Live gets mixed in by the audio interface. The audience hears the Master Out mixed and on stage you hear the Cue Out mixed with the click.

Prepare for the worst

My live set contains an instrument rack that is setup to be a playable, plug in based copy of the most important instruments I use live.  Should an instrument break down, I will then have the option to use any MIDI keyboard to replace it. The plug in sounds are not as nice as the Nord and Korg sounds, but I will have something to play instead of nothing.

Live Instrument Rack
Live Instrument Rack

To make sure that I will always have a way to recover in case of emergency the entire live set is stored in the Cloud. This way I can fine tune the Ableton Live live set from home and push it to the Cloud. The moment I open the laptop for a show and there is Internet it will sync up. I use OneDrive but any Cloud product is fine. Should the laptop break down, from any other laptop I should be able to recover the Ableton Live install, a few plugins and packs and any interface and sync the live set again. At the last moment a backup laptop should be ready to swap in on the spot if needed. Lets pray it will never come to this, but if it can happen it will.

 

Trying out the Spitfire eDNA Earth instrument

I will try to write about my impressions with the Earth instrument. However, I will not completely review it. For in-depth reviews please check MusicRadar or TheAudioSpotlight or others. For me, ever since Camel Audio was bought by Apple and its Alchemy synthesizer disappeared as a standalone virtual instrument, I felt lost. Alchemy had a granular synthesis engine and a unique way to parameterize its sounds. The unique sound of this instrument disappeared and there was nothing to replace it. Omnisphere apparently is capable of recreating some sounds, but that is mainly because it can synthesize anything and its priced accordingly. The moment I heard a demo for Earth, I heard back some of that Alchemy sound again.

Technically its a completely different beast, compared to Alchemy. The Earth sounds are based on an orchestral sample library, but are then processed by the Kontakt engine to sound, cinematic, outer worldly and sometimes electronic. Yes its a Kontakt instrument, so you need at least the Kontakt player. Inside Kontakt you will find the eDNA interface of this instrument. As an owner of a Komplete Kontrol A series keyboard, this is very convenient. It means I can use the Komplete Kontrol browser to quickly browse through the sounds and immediately tweak parameters of the sounds once loaded.

The Kontakt engine and the eDNA interface of Earth takes some getting used to. To make sure you fully understand its workings its a good idea to go through the walk through on the Spitfire Audio site. In short, every sound consists of two samples from the library. Which are mangled, then mixed, then chopped up and lastly processed by a set of effects. Very important is to see that you have sounds, but also full versions of the same sound. The full version contains the full range of orchestral samples. This allows you not only to start with a fixed set of samples, but eventually switch out one of the samples for another.

The result is that you get a sound that is usually cinematic. Sometimes a wash or a drone in the background and sometimes a sharp stab in the foreground. Because of the mangling and the chopping, sounds can really get that grainy Alchemy sound, or a dirty sound. None of the patches is really clean. I can only say: I love it. All sounds immediately inspire to let you build a soundscape. Even better, with a Komplete Kontrol Keyboard you can also immediately start changing the sound, bringing it even more to life.

If are looking for cinematic sounds, drones, or dirty stabs and you want an affordable synth then I invite you to take a look at this Kontakt library. In most reviews you will find some comments on eDNA interface of this instrument and I have to agree that it can be kind of hard to find your way in elements that are not inviting you to click or drag. After some getting used to it is not that bad. All in all: recommended!

Soundbrenner Pulse wearable metronome, the verdict

After diving into the basics and getting it to work it was time to really start using it. First off, the concept really works. I have songs without drums. Practicing these can be tough, so I tried working with a click track in the monitoring. That helps if you get in the flow. But after using the Pulse a few times it was completely natural and my mind “felt the beat” and leaned into it. It was important for me to tone the default “hard buzz” of the Pulse down to a more subtle vibration level. Now it really works for me. The battery life of the device is excellent for me, I have been practicing for hours now on end and its not even half empty. Charging it is a bit fiddly though.

There are however several problems with the product. If you look over the appearance, because it looks and feels very plastic and rough at the edges, what are the real problems? At this point and time, for me the Ableton Link feature does not work reliably. If in an Ableton Live session the tempo changes for a new song, I do not know when of if the metronome app will pick this up. This should be a simple bug to fix, or I have a unique setup in my WiFi network, Android version (latest version of Android Pie – 9), or something else is wrong. I am willing to try an iPad in the near future to see if it works better.

Then there is of course the problem that its three devices. Your laptop, a phone or tablet with the Metronome app and the Pulse all have to be fully charged and setup to make this work in a live situation. On several occasions I had to reconnect the phone to the Pulse to make or keep it working. Even if sync between laptop and the Metronome app does get fixed all devices need to be on a perfect working WiFi network on stage and how realistic is that? I think you can see that this device is probably at its best while practicing or in the rehearsal room. Only if you have a dedicated professional crew on stage to keep it working it might just work.

In short, I cannot do without anymore when practicing. I would never try to get this to work in a live situation. Maybe it all gets fixed in the next version, the Core. Lets wait and see.

SoundBrenner Pulse wearable metronome, first impressions

What people say

This product appears everywhere in timelines on social media when you’re interested in making music. I must say it immediately got my attention when I saw it. For me the appeal is that would solve the problems playing along with the computer when practicing or playing live. I don’t always have live musicians to play along with and the computer is unforgiving. Any metronome is welcome there and the SoundBrenner Metronome app is then already of great help.

But now the Pulse is there and it adds to this a haptic vibrating metronome you can feel. Now you don’t have to look at blinking lights while playing. Also, I use Ableton Live, also live, and there is even the possibility to use Ableton Link with Metronome app. If this all works together as one integrated haptic Metronome that allows me to feel the tempo while playing along with Ableton? Perfection! The ultimate gadget heaven!

Before buying I always look around for reviews and more info. One big complaint is that it is not an actual watch kind of thing. A lot of people hoped that it would also display the tempo. It doesn’t. You have to look at the screen of your phone (or tablet) to see settings and tempo. This also means that you have to keep the phone screen on. At the same time the Pulse is connected via Bluetooth. The phone is the brains, so you must at all times keep it charged and connected. A challenge, specially live.

Then there is some word going around on it not being accurate, but I think that is already fixed now through firmware updates. Another complaint is that it takes time to get used to ‘feeling’ the tempo. I guess that a lot of people send it back immediately, but I am more patient. Most new skills take time to get used to and I am quite convinced that this Pulse is a good idea. But now for first impressions.

What I say now

When you first start using the Pulse you will find that it is a bit fiddly to operate. You have to tap the watch face to start using it, but its not really touch sensitive. You have to really press it to pick up the taps. Then, straight out of the box it is set to really buzz the rhythm very strongly. And audibly also. Fortunately you can immediately go back to the app to set it to a more friendly and short vibration. In the lightest mode it really feels okay, but I play keyboards, When playing a more physical instrument, like drums, I can imagine you need the stronger buzz.

Charging it is also fiddly. It is a small kind of dock that has to properly connect to the device. After popping the Pulse in the band it gets even harder to let it connect to the charging dock, because the band pushes it from the dock and the dock can easily slip away, because its so light. People complain about the time that the device can be used on a full charge, but I don’t have enough experience now to say if it is really a problem for me.

Then its time to start practicing and linking it up with Ableton Link. That’s where all starts to get a little bit flakey for now. Ableton Link somehow goes in and out of the connection with the app. Which is ok for practicing in my case, but I don’t think this is ready for playing live. Also my phone sometimes loses connection with the Pulse after several minutes of playing. My phone is an Android phone, running Oreo and I know it can be very aggressive in killing background processes, specifically if they draw power. Probably that is not helping here, so I want to try it with another iOS device also.

One other thing to mention: its quite a big device. Maybe better suited for male wrists. There is another bigger strap in the box for your leg or your upper arm, but this device will have a hard time looking elegant on fragile ladies arms.

First conclusions now:

  • Big. Don’t expect this device to be light to operate, you really have to tap hard
  • Dive in to the settings to tune it to your preferences
  • Great for practicing, but for playing live this is a really complex setup to get and keep running

I hope this helps you appreciating the device for what it is now. I will keep using it and I’ll keep you up to date. Please note that there is also a new Soundbrenner device on Kickstarter that is actually more like watch, the Core.

Editing a music video for IGTV

From lying down to upright

Instagram took everyone by surprise by introducing the new upright video format IGTV video channel for all users. Shooting a video was obviously a horizontally oriented wide screen experience, matching the orientation of TVs and cinema. Instagram stories however were always vertically oriented to match the way you naturally hold your phone. IGTV nicely cultivates that. Some people always record vertically and that footage is then hard to show on TV, YouTube and such. Now you have a new outlet for that, enter IGTV.

If you have your material for your music video already recorded in upright position then you are so ready to edit it for IGTV! What I can see however is that not many existing recordings were ready for IGTV, so many decided to just clip off some footage from the left and right to keep the middle bit. The worst ones cut off parts of the titling so you can clearly see that its not the right IGTV stuff. As a viewer you feel cheated, because obviously you’re missing parts of the video.

But what if you have already recorded a video clip to be shown on YouTube and its in the landscape format? How to reuse that recording to make something that looks right on IGTV? What are the technicalities of the new IGTV video format?

Tunnel vision

The first step for me with the landscape clip for the Just a Game video, was to render it without the titling. All titling that does not fit the vertical format. The format to go for is HD, but then with reversed horizontal and vertical resolutions. So 1080×1920. With lengthy music video clips, you will find that upright portrait HD results in files that are too big in size. There is a size limit for regular video uploads, a maximum 10 minutes length and 650MB. The error messages from IGTV are not at all revealing unfortunately. A clip of 4 minutes length or more however, can easily go over 650MB. Then you will have to consider HDReady 720×1280.

IGTV Pan and Zoom
IGTV Pan and Zoom

If you removed the titling because of the landscape format, now is the time to redo the titling for the vertical format to show the viewer that you have intended this clip to be in IGTV format. After that, all you will have to do is to use pan and zoom to cut out the upright sections of the clip that really show the user all the action in the clip. This way you don’t have to give away that the clip recording was not intended for IGTV. As always I am using Corel VideoStudio for the simple work and its capable of rendering the required output for IGTV. Now its time to upload! Tell me about your experiences!

Connecting the Logitech Craft knob to Ableton Live

Just in, the gadget of the month: the Logitech Craft. I was looking out for some more control over the mixing process and of course there are many controllers. When you already have an Ableton Push what more do you need? Well actually there is a thing about me and Push. I cannot use it blindly, so I always have to look at either the screen, or the controls, or the display. When mixing in the Ableton Live arrangement view it gets worse. Mouse, keyboard, screen, Push… It is at its best in Session View.

There were two things I was looking for. A high quality ‘chicklet’ keyboard like on my new Lenovo and it has an extra: A Knob. A dial that is touch sensitive and clickable to perform specific actions in any part of any program that has focus on your desktop. I am quite sure that your regular keyboard and a Microsoft Dial controller wil also make up good combo, but I chose the Craft to replace my old and clunky keyboard with media controls.

Unpacking and installing was the easy part. The previous keyboard was also a Logitech and it used the same Unified remote. Switch on and off and the keyboard was connected. Then a disappointment! No profile for Ableton Live. With a profile the keyboard recognizes the program its in and it immediately adds some shortcuts to the knob to control. For instance in a browser you can select a tab with the knob. In Photoshop you can zoom. In Lightroom you can change the exposure, or so I’m told. Standard functionality in other applications is controlling the volume of the PC and clicking it will pause/play music.

So there I was staring at Ableton, without being able to use the knob. I started diving into the settings, and there i found the Development Mode. Click it and you will need to also enable sending stats to Logitech. Tough but there is no escape.

From there you can select more programs to control with the knob and yes, Ableton Live is there!

And lo and behold, assigning up and down buttons allows you to control Ableton Live mixing with the knob. A new world opens up, where you can look at the screen. Listen to the mix and control a setting in Ableton Live with the knob. This was what I was looking for, more control and a better keyboard for the daily typing chores. Yay!