Saturday, November 11, 2017

A New Way To Compose Songs

Traditional multi-track recording.  It can be easier!
Traditional recording is one track at a time.   You record your drums on a track, then your bass on a track, then another track and you layer.  Once the song is laid down, its rather difficult to rearrange.  If your song was a book and you were an author, it'd be like writing 12 chapters and filling in the details of every character for every chapter....then moving on to the next character and filling in the details for every chapter.

This is how you'd write books if you wrote it like a traditional multi-track song.
But when I compose, I like to develop themes and let the song ideas ferment and compile over time.  If the ideas aren't set in stone and laid out in tracks, its very easy to rearrange them later.  When I compose on the piano, I am creating patterns.  I develop these patterns over time and mix and match them with other patterns.  They are glued together with transitions and tempo changes.  This is how I build music. Using Mixcraft, you can use the Performance Panel to build patterns and combine them with other patterns.  Once you start, it is highly addictive and guaranteed to be satisfying.  I like to think of it as musical building blocks.

Pros to composing with patterns.
  • Highly creative
  • Easy
  • Organized
Cons to composing with patterns.
  • Perfectly in time.  Everything is in perfect bar lengths.
  • Hard to see the value unless you try it. (You have to be open to it)
Why go to a 4 track tape metaphor just because that was the first way to record modern multi-track music?  Watch me play around with the performance panel in the video below.  (This video just shows playback - not recording, which is shown later down in the tutorial.)

A brief intro to what the Performance Panel does.
The main video that shows how to record is below.

How Do I Start Recording With Patterns?

Step 1.  Download Mixcraft 8 or greater

This tutorial requires Mixcraft, which you can download for free at  It requires Windows and speakers or headphones.  For this tutorial, I will be using an external MIDI keyboard, as well.  After the download, run the installer and then double click the Mixcraft icon on the desktop to start it.
Download Mixcraft 8

Step 2.  Show the Performance Panel

Click the Performance Panel button at the top of the tracks area.  This will open the Performance Panel and you will see a grid of squares.  Each square is called a Slot.  This is where audio or MIDI clips go.  The rows from left to right are tracks and the columns from top to bottom are called "Sets".  There are seven sets showing in this image.  There are a total of 7 x 4 or 28 slots.  At the top, we have a cue and record control.  The cue time period tells Mixcraft when to start a new slot and the record control tells Mixcraft how long to record new slots.

Step 3. Put Some Sound In The Slot

As you are just learning how to do this and what is possible, let's drag a sound from the library into a slot.  Go to the Library at the bottom of Mixcraft and drag in a clip called 'Drums Ride 1' from the Song Kit '12-8 Blues'.  Drop it on track 2, set 1.
After dropping the clip onto the slot, Mixcraft will ask if you want to change the tempo to 86 BPM.  This is normal as it is reading the tempo from the clip and deciding that you may want to play the clip at the tempo it was designed for.

Look at the top of the performance panel and make sure the 'cue' is set to 1 bar.  You can change it later.  Now drag 'Drums Trouble' to track 2, set 2.

Push the play button on 'Drums Ride 1'.  Then push the play button on 'Drums Trouble'.  Feel free to go back and forth.  Now change the cue to 1/4 beat by selecting '1/4' from the Cue drop-down.  Now play between the two clips.

Let's add some bass.  From the Library, drag in 'Bass 12 Bars' to track 3, set 1.  And drag 'Bass Trouble' to track 3, set 2.

Hit the play button on the set header 'Set 1'.  Both the drums and bass now play.  Now hit the play button on the set header 'Set 2'.

Pretty Cool!  Change it to cue to every 4 bars and it'll always be in time.  This is fun to noodle around with your guitar or keyboard.  But this is just for playing loops...the real fun starts when recording your own clips and composing songs.

Step 4. Record A Clip

Now the fun begins.  You can record either audio or MIDI.  For the purposes of this video, I will be recording MIDI with my USB MIDI Keyboard.

A. First let's add a beat.  You don't have to start that way, but I am for this tutorial.  I'll just grab a drum loop from the thousands available in the library.  In my case, I chose 'Drum Beat 1' from the Song Kit "70's Funk".  Place it on track 2, set 2.

B. Prepare a track to record a bass pattern to the beat.  We'll need to choose a good bass instrument.  (It defaults to a piano.) Click the 'Change Instrument..." button on track 1.  This brings up a window that allows you to search for and pick a new bass instrument.  (We won't go into that now..but pick a sound and close the window.)  It can be helpful to have the drum loop playing while you pick your sound.

If you don't have a MIDI keyboard you can use the built in Musical Typing keyboard.
Bring it by clicking the View menu and choosing Musical Typing

C. Arm the track by clicking the arm button.

D. Arm the performance panel track by clicking the red square on the track as seen below.

E. When you are ready to record you will press the red circle on a slot.

F. Make sure that the record and cue controls are to your liking.  I am going to record with 4 bars and cue with 4 bars.

Also, I am going to turn on the metronome by clicking the metronome on the transport.  

G. Play back the drum loop first and then press the red circle to record to a slot.

Once you press the slot's  recording button, you will see a red clip being recorded into the slot.  When its done recording the 4 bars, it will immediately start playing back.  You can go to Set 2 and record the next slot if you messed up or want to try again.  If you don't like a take or recording, simply delete it and try again.  Before a clip will start to record, a red progress bar will draw to show you how long until recording will start.

H. Once you've recorded your bass part, feel free to edit it in the sound editor. (All edits will be heard once the sound has looped around and started playing back again.)  At this point, you'll be wanting to add some keys or string pads, etc.  Feel free to do what you want.  Add new tracks, choose new instruments and record various parts.  

Watch the video to get a feel of the flow of this composition technique.

Step 5. Making The Final Song.

Making the song is the final step.  Once you are happy with your patterns and clips, it's time to put it down to tracks in the traditional sense.  From there you can mix it down to MP3 and all the other stuff I'm not covering in this tutorial. Click the red arm button on the Performance Panel's header.  This tells Mixcraft that you want to record your performance .  Now simply press the RECORD button on the transport and play the slots.  Your performance is recorded and ready for editing and mixing.

(This is the project from the video)

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial.  And I hope you find this method of composing interesting!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

What Do You Need To Record Music?

To record with Mixcraft, you'll need some of the following:

  1. Window's Computer (Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 or 10) REQ'D
  2. Mixcraft REQ'D
  3. Audio Interface REQ'D
  4. (USB) MIDI Keyboard
  5. Microphones.
  6. Headphones
  7. Studio Monitors 
  8. Cables

Windows Computer

Most people already have the computer. Mixcraft works on Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, or 10.  It should be relatively recent.  If your computer is older than 6 years old, you might consider purchasing a new one.  Mixcraft works pretty well on slower equipment, depending on what features you decide to use. You'll need at least 8 GB of RAM and a fairly decent hard drive.  If you are using a laptop, make sure to keep it plugged in during recording as laptops tend to try and save energy and will sacrifice on performance to save energy.  


Mixcraft - the champion of musicians in its native setting.
The current version of Mixcraft is version 8.  With Mixcraft, you can record multi-track compositions, add effects, do non-linear edits, record virtual musical instruments and publish directly to Youtube.  Mixcraft has a ton of built in synthesizers.  From old emulations of vintage analog synths to bass synthesizers and realistic analog modeled sounds, there is a lot there to keep most people satisfied for a very, very long time.  Check out all the included and bundled Mixcraft virtual synths and effects.  Download a two week trial of Mixcraft here.

Audio Interface

Shows a variety of audio interfaces (more high end)
Audio interfaces are the glue between the computer and your microphones and guitars.  Computers normally only have a few mini stereo plugs to connect audio equipment.  Usually, these are not adequate enough for recording.  Audio interfaces are also important for good audio overdubbing and recording.  If possible, use ASIO when recording with an audio device.  (Although, do not use ASIO4All - that is a hack to allow some programs that only support ASIO to use different audio devices.)  Make sure your audio interface has support for ASIO.  Mixcraft supports Core Audio (WaveRT) as well, which is pretty good but not as tight as ASIO.
Here are some links for audio interfaces.

 Audio interfaces will have microphone inputs, line inputs, phantom power and MIDI connections.  It just depends on how much $moola$ you want to plunk down.  Some are $50 and some are $1000.  Some audio interfaces look like the old mixers with tracks and automated faders that follow your track levels in Mixcraft.

(USB) MIDI Keyboard

MIDI is the way synthesizers or keyboards communicate to each other.  Think of it as the hi-tech equivalent to the player piano.  You'll need a MIDI keyboard or controller if you want to play music into Mixcraft.  The kind of keyboard depends on your needs.

If your audio interface (above) has a MIDI input, then you do not need a USB keyboard.  (You'd get a MIDI cable and connect the keyboard to the audio interface in that case.)  Other factors are - do you want a small desktop keyboard for quick noodling or do you want a full 88 key weighted keyboard for the right feel.   Some keyboards have more knobs, buttons and sliders which can be useful for controlling various track volumes.
Some MIDI keyboards to check out.


There are two types of microphones that can be used with Mixcraft
  • USB Microphones
  • Traditional XLR dynamic or condenser mics.
If you are intending to be recording vocals with music, you probably should get traditional XLR mics to hook up to your audio interface.  The recommended method is to use ASIO with your audio interface.  Here is a whole blog on recording vocals in Mixcraft .  If you are recording pod casts or casual performances, a USB microphone will do just fine in CoreAudio (WaveRT) mode.  Links for microphones.


All headphones are not created equally.  Some of the new ones emphasize the bass.  You'll need a
decent set of headphones if you are going to be recording and you don't want your old tracks to 'bleed' into the new tracks.  When recording, if your speakers are playing back your tracks, the microphone will pick this up and will be part of the new track.  You want quite and clean vocals, so you'll need headphones for this.  (They even use headphones in the high end studios.)

Studio Monitors

The speakers that came with your computer are most likely for gaming.  You'll need studio monitors that more accurately reflect the sound and do not eq or boost any frequencies.  Aka: Flat Response Speakers. Also, when testing out your mixes, you'll want to listen to your song at a variety of locations, such as in your car and on your phone.  Of course, you can just use headphones, but everyone says to not use headphones for mixing.  (If you insist on using headphones for mixing, check this article out.)


You'll need the following types of cables depending on what you are doing
  • Audio cables (1/4" to connect your line instruments like guitars)
  • XLR cables (If you are using an XLR mic)
  • USB cables (for your USB devices)

Want something easy to use to record music on a computer?
Watch the video.

Want to learn more?  Learn about the various types of recording setups that you might be thinking of doing from Eric Vanlandingham.

I Was Going To Be A Music Major 30 Years Ago

Thirty-five years ago, Mark was growing up in the late seventies and early eighties.  He had his eyes set for launching a music career, maybe getting signed and making it big.  Music was his life.  His back up plan would be to become a music teacher.  He decided to become a music major in college.  Unfortunately, his dad had shot down this dream with word attacks.  "Its not practical.  You need to get a real job." The pressure was intense and Mark wanted to make his dad proud.  Maybe he could do both - become successful at business and do music?  So he became a business major and then became a plumber.  And, as everyone knows, plumbers do well financially.  Fast forward fourty years to 2017.  Mark was doing work for a client installing a new water heater and piping and saw a sweet MIDI controlled Yamaha upright in the living room.  He'd been working at this house for four days and had just finished the job.  While the customer was looking at the $5,500 bill, Mark asked if he could play the piano.  The owner said 'no problem - go for it'.  He sat down and started playing.   Music started streaming out and not only did everyone in the house turn to listen, but Mark himself started remembering that old Mark that had such a love for music.  If he could just get back into recording.  The house owner stopped in mid-check write and said 'Wow - YOU have talent - what's the story?' Mark said he'd always loved music and described how he had almost been a music major.  Then Mark asked what the home owner did for a living.

Mixcraft 8
The home owner was Joseph Clarke and happened to be a programmer for Mixcraft - the multi-track recording studio for musicians.  Joseph replied "Well, I happen to write music software for musicians.  We specialize in easy to use music software designed for every day people -rather than studio engineers.  Its not hard.  But its powerful too." Mark was wondering what that was like.  He had only seen a few videos on the Internet - but didn't know where to start.  He asked "Can you record and then have another track playing in the background?"  "Well - yeah - that's easy - it can do that and much more.  Imagine if the Beatles had 1/100th of what this studio software can do. Some studio software is very complicated and difficult to use - but Mixcraft is the one studio that people go to get the job done without fussing with all those technical details.  Here let me give you a demo".  So Joseph took him to his home computer and showed Mark how all you really need is an audio interface and a Window's computer.  And audio interfaces are cheap, especially for plumbers.  Mark needed a MIDI keyboard as well. "No problem - just get a USB connected MIDI keyboard and hook it up to your computer".

At the end of the day and personal demonstration, Mark was so excited to get started that he went home and bought Mixcraft online that night.  He could have gotten a free two week trial to test it out...but he couldn't wait to get back into writing music.

Mixcraft Pro Studio $179
Mixcraft Recording Studio $89
Learn about the differences between Pro and Recording versions.

Bypass the BS - you just want to record music, right?
Watch the video.