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!

Fixing phase problems in a mix

Please note: If you are experienced in mixing this article will probably state the obvious. This blog is mostly intended as a “note to self” and everybody else that cares to take interest.

Recently one of my music friends Hanny told me that she had performed at a gig with her new band HannaH (check it out) that was broadcast live on local radio. Of course, she had asked for a recording that could be used for promotional purposes. There seemed to be no problems with the actual broadcast, but the recording behaved very strangely. When listening on a phone, the guitar disappeared. When you listened with headphones, your head would explode. The whole mix seemed strangely unbalanced. Phase problems… But we got out of it with a result that was even better than the original!

How did we get here?

These kind of phase problems probably have a very simple reason. In a stereo mix, somehow two wires in one channel were wired the wrong way. One bad cable can do the trick. What happens if some or left or right channel wires are wired the wrong way? The signals cancel each other out. Simple math shows it:

But the top signal seems ok, right? Well its drawn maybe a little incorrectly. The top signal actually has a little more richness of the waveforms to it and a little of cancellation. When used right, you will have a Phaser effect. Something you can find in any DAW and set of guitar effects as an effect that also wobbles the phase to add a little excitement and widening to a otherwise boring signal. Overdo it, or mistreat a stereo signal and you get cancellations and left and right stretched to far. It can result in headaches while listening.

How to get out of here?

So you now you have a mix with phase problems and its not your mix, just a stereo sound file. Aside from plugins with the purpose of fixing phase problems, is there a way to get out with just the tools you have? Fortunately for me there is. Ableton has a utility effect section that centers around treating left, right and mono signals from a track. I am quite sure that your DAW has similar built in effects.

The trick here was to duplicate the signal and create one track with the phase difference signal and one track where left and right were mixed into a mono signal.


Now one track only featured the guitar. Proof that there was a phase problem with just the guitar in the stereo mix. The other track featured everything except the guitar. When mixing both in mono suddenly I as able to remix the recording! Do you want more or less guitar in this song? No problem? All problems solved for HannaH. Good enough in mono, because the audio was for promotional purposes. Once again like in a Dutch football proverb: Every downside has its upside. Happy mixing!

Editing VR 360 video

In the previous post showed you how i currently currently record VR 360 video. The Gear 360 does not output large video files (typically 100 MB). On the whole these files can be processed on any laptop or PC easily. The bit rate is not as extreme as the 4K output of professional camera’s. The GB files from these camera’s can bring a lower spec PC to its knees immediately. Expect this also with balls of GoPro camera’s. You shouldn’t have problems with Gear 360 video.
You can process these files with any video editing software, as long as you only use cross fades or other basic transitions. Slow motion or any speed effects will be ok. Even some special effects will apply, like vignette effects. These will blur or darken parts of the 360 video and that can work out quite ok. Coloring effects are also fine of course. One of the effects that does not apply is anti shake, because that will snip the edges of the video and thereby breaks the stitching of full 360 video. Actually technically anti shake could be done by rolling in and out parts of the video on opposing sides. I didn’t find any effect that can do that yet.
Now, titling and logos. If you want any titling you will either have to accept that it will be curved in strange ways, or you will need software that can apply the necessary curving to mix in the titling at the right viewing distance and angle. You can try to do this using Hugin. You can find instructions on how to create images that can be blended into your VR 360 video for logo’s and titling.

Hugin 360 title
Hugin 360 title

So now you’ve got mixing of different shots covered and titling and thus your basic needs. But is this enough for you? The remaining problem is that you can only see the final result after finishing editing, rendering and outputting to your VR device. This makes editing a chore. Fortunately, VR 360 is catching on and there is software that allows you to edit in a real 360 way. Even on a classic flat PC monitor.
Enter Pinnacle Systems Studio 20 Ultimate. The first affordable editing software for VR 360 movies. Now you get a 360 preview window and a way to place 2D content, like logo’s and titling, in the 360 space and preview the result immediately. This also means that you can mix in flat 2D video as part of your 360 video. You still need to be aware which effects and transitions apply in the VR world, but at least you can see the results without first rendering it and move it to the viewer. I am quite sure that more video editors will support VR 360 video. For now your starting point can be Studio 20 Ultimate, or just keep it basic and simple. The end result is worth the effort!

Filming VR 360 video clips

This year i started filming with the latest and greatest gadget of this year, the Samsung Gear 360. Not bigger than a cricket ball and outfitted with two 190 degree lenses it can capture full 360 VR video in one take. Its small enough to carry on your holiday and its a snap to use. Getting the captured video from the Gear 360 to your editing software to make full video clips is quite another matter. Once you get the hang of it its ok, but you’ll have to keep aware of some limitations.

Samsung Gear 360
Samsung Gear 360

Obviously you will not capture the same quality video as a ball of 6 or more GoPro Hero camera’s. The Gear 360 only has 2 camera’s. Count on UHD (2560×1280) movies and 4K (7776×3998) pictures. If you are filming in bright light on the side of one camera and at the same time shadow rich environments on the other side, often the two images cannot be stitched seamlessly. Specifically not if one camera picks up a lens flare.
Another limitation is the handle and tripod that you can attach to the camera. If you hold the camera in your hand with the handle you will find that the two sides of your hand will be stitched in a freaky way. Once i got hold of simple extension sticks for the camera mount it changed everything. With a thin stick as a handle the stitched result ‘floats’ in the air. Just like you want it.
Camera mount extenders
Camera mount extenders

Once you’ve captured photo’s or video, you will find that the camera actually captured two fish eye images side by side. This is the raw picture format and you have to convert this to an ‘equirectangular’ form first in order to be able to upload this to Facebook or YouTube. This is where it starts to get tricky here you can see a raw picture and the stitched equirectangular image:
Fish Eye Avignon Soap Shop
Fish Eye Avignon Soap Shop

Stitched Avignon Soap Shop
Stitched Avignon Soap Shop

As you can see the stitching can be hit and miss. Samsung gives you two options. Stitching by the Samsung Galaxy S7(Edge) Gear 360 app or stitching on your PC with Gear ActionDirector software. The last one gives the best image quality results in good lighting situations. The phone gives you the most reliable overall stitching of images. Even with low light images or less than optimal captures. You will only know after capturing and stitching if your capture is ok. That’s the catch. Of course the app also allows you to remotely record and view the camera image. Vitally important if you don’t want to be in the movie yourself.
The Gear 360 ActionDirector software also offers very limited editing of your video, but that is not enough by far to make video clips. No titling, no effects, just mixing. In the next upcoming article i will focus on editing more.
The sound that the camera can record is acceptable, but susceptible to wind fluttering in. Don’t expect the quality to be adequate to record live music. Make sure you have separate sound recording and mix that in later. For me its quite ok, because in a clip you usually replace the sound with the song.
For now i think this is great for capturing more than just a video clip. Just pop your phone in a VR viewer and you and your viewers can really step into the clip and start experiencing it. How great is that? Of course, the resolution is limited, UHD quality and then divided by the screen resolution size of half your phone. The effect however, can already be very convincing. Stay tuned for the next episode!
Here you can checkout Stone (feat. Evelien) in glorious VR:

Keep track of versions of your Ableton projects with Git

This is by no means very new, but it might give you some practical hands-on for working with Git and Ableton. I am also aware that you can really integrate more with filters and helpers and all other kinds of tricks, but this article shows you that you can start with versioning your musical work by simple means.

What is Git

Git is about versioning. Keeping versions of your song while it is progressing to its final state. One of the most annoying things that can happen is losing the last best version of your song because of some mishap. DAWs can crash and then when you recover, what if you end up with crap? Aargh! You can accidentally delete stuff and later notice that some vital sound or effect got lost. How to get it back? Is Undo failing you? You did make backups or…?

A backup will bring you one version back, unless you are the kind of person that saves every version with a date/time stamp. And then what do these dates say? Is the Friday version better than the Saturday version?

My solution is to use Git. Git is software that allows versioning at a file level. It saves every file change in a specific folder, or sub folder, in a special internal store, together with a comment that explains what the purpose of the file changes was. Git is at its best with text files, but it can also handle binary files out of the box. Its purpose is grander than just versioning files in folders. It supports team collaboration on versions and its functionality goes well beyond my daily use for music.

How to use Git

The way i use Git is fairly basic. At the end of a session working with Ableton on one song or a set of songs i close down Ableton. Then i let Git take a snapshot of the folder that holds the project. Git can be instructed very specifically on the files to include in this snapshot and which files to leave out. Git calls this snapshot a commit. More or that later. Then i add a comment to this commit, like “Frozen Epica for better performance in the mix”. Ever since i started using this versioning of songs it has saved me many times from losing the “latest greatest” mix.

Git versioning

If you dive in to articles about Git, you will find that working with it is actually very technical, daunting even. For that purpose i use a shell around Git that makes it graphical and easy to use, SourceTree. It is free and can be installed in its most basic form with Git embedded. You do need to register.

Committing projects to your repositories

If you have it up and running you can start adding your projects to Git by creating new repositories for them. Click Clone/New and Create new Repository. Add the folder where your files are, give your repository a name and you are in business. Scanning the folder for files can take time and you might find that a list shows up with lots and lots of files. Maybe you only want to keep track of your “.als” file?

If you want to filter only essential files in the Ableton folders it is best to add a text file named “.gitignore” file in the root folder. My .gitignore file contains the following text:

# Rendered music #
##################
/*.wav
*.asd
*.sfk
/*.mp3
AbletonTmp-*

This leaves out temporary Ableton files and all rendered music files in the root of the folder. At this point Git will only check which files should be committed as part of the snapshot of your song. These files will be marked unstaged, at the bottom of the screen.

Git staging

Click the checkbox left to “Unstaged files” and the files will be moved to the box with staged files. This can also be reversed and set up to stage only individual files. Every staged set of files can then be committed with a comment in the “File Status” tab.

Git commit

If you made it to here, then you have made your first steps in to versioning. Congratulations! You can now go a version back by double clicking any commit in the list. Like what you hear, but not sure if this is going to be final? Make a branch and work on that branch to see if it gets you there. Or you go back to the original version and explore that. The main version is always on a branch named “master”.

Backup your versions

But does this also make a backup of your files? Yes and no. You will find that files will be stored into a special hidden file structure in the same folder (named .git). Are you happy with this as a backup? Well i’m not. If you lose your PC or entire drive you lose it all. Git or no Git. What i do is that i make a backup of all project folders, this also nicely saves the hidden .git file structure and also all versions of all songs. Nice eh?

If you want you can even commit your project changes to a cloud service that supports Git. One option is Github, this is only free if you publish your projects to the whole world. There are cloud storage options that understand Git and allow free and private service, but then you put your trust in a cloud service like Bitbucket. Its up to you. I keep a simple backup with copies of the files in my projects folder on separate disks.

Ups and downs

There is one downside. Ableton does not play nice and needs to be closed, every time you want to commit the latest changes. Also if you want to go back to another version of the song. Tough, but it still works for me. Want to give it a try? Keep me posted!

Starting the making music blog

Why start a blog about making music when there are so many blogs? When there is youtube where you can learn anything about everything in 10 minutes? This blog is more a reminder to myself. Making music is about inventing something new for every song.

Of course i hope that you can also find something here that inspires you, or helps you when you get stuck. This blog is about working in a small home studio and performing on stage. Also probably some words about publishing your music and having fun or frustrations doing so. Enjoy!