The Bass Geek - Words about Music, Circuitry, and New Orleans
The Bass Geek

Thoughts on Apple’s Podcast App

Sure, other apps like Stitcher Radio provide the functionality that Apple's Podcast app does (pulling together different progranms into a single feed), but I bit on the Podcast app because I already had my podcast subscriptions set up inside iTunes. The subscriptions themselves synced fine, but I decided to unsubscribe in iTunes and just stream the episodes. Two drawbacks:

  • Had to resubscribe to all podcasts inside the app - it didn't carry over
  • Got a nice warning that I was going over 3GB on streaming - time to turn on the WiFi

I also had a full crash where I had to delete, reinstall, and resubscribe all podcasts. Feh.

That said, I'm saving a ton of space by not actually downloading the episodes anymore (LOT of music on my iPhone), and the unplayed podcast list works dandy. Needs some improvement, but overall a keeper.

And yes, I still listen to podcasts like it's 2009 and stuff.

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The stuttering audio problems returned late last night, even despite the UC-33 being off and unplugged. Heck, they continued even after I removed ALL of the MIDI gear. So that's a problem. - until I noticed some nasty red flags on my user folders when I tried to save a track within Reason. Out of curiosity, I rebooted from the Lion Recovery disk and reset the user permissions of my recording account. The results? Not only did the audio NOT continue stuttering, but I was able to get my devices working. Via USB. Even the "officially" legacy Roland GI-20. Just a quick device creation in the Audio MIDI Setup utility, and it's performing as expected. The problem traces back to when I was messing about and moving my user profile as part of an attempt to Boot Camp Windows 8 on my new dual-drive Mac Mini (again, don't try it - doesn't work all that well in theory and not at all for me). So I'm up and running at full strength again and . . . recording a track my wife says sounds like Katy Perry. Perhaps I should not have been so effective in my troubleshooting efforts.


New Music Computer Unsure About My Old Devices

Another fun part of upgrading is seeing what devices still work with your new system. So far, my GI-20's USB capabilities are gone (it's officially not supported in Lion), and my UC-33 is stalling audio on my machine right now for some reason (tonight's troubleshooting includes testing USB cords, USB hubs, and working with the Mac's audio and MIDI settings to try and correct the situation). The device itself is class-compliant (i.e., the Mac should just accept it and move on), and I'm hoping to run the MIDI out on the GI-20 to the UC-33 MIDI in for usage that way. Did I think I'd have to ever daisy-chain MIDI devices together again? Nothing like new technology taking me back to the 90s! The M-Audio Duo seems to be working splendidly, though, so no need to work there. Thank goodness for small favors.


New Music Computer Doesn’t Like Windows

If anything, just let this be a warning to never try and install Windows 8 on a dual-drive Mac Mini system. It doesn't work. Trust me - I have many days of effort to attest to it. I encountered several warnings that it was difficult, but I tried every possible configuration short of voiding the warranty and disconnecting one of the drives. Just doesn't work - gets through two reboots and hangs on a black screen. And throws up occasional errors, just to taunt you.

On a lark, I tried the 32-bit version on my 6-year-old laptop - took about half-an-hour to a full boot. Amazing.

That said, the dual-drive Mac Mini makes a great machine for Reason and the RAID array means the data is always backed up. Which is nice. But it definitely doesn't like Windows. At all. Even when given its own drive and no Boot Camp. What a prima donna.

So now I'm going to revisit Ableton Live Lite (free, courtesy of Soundcloud) and see how it plays with Reason. And we'll never talk about Windows again.


Beware of Upgrades!

Most studios know enough to test their systems and read up on issues before upgrading the OS on their recording computers, but it's important to remember that applies to all devices in this post-PC world - even your phone. Such as the tuning app that suddenly displayed everything a half-step sharp last night after the iPhone iOS 5.1 upgrade. And I was wondering why everything seemed a little off during the warm-ups. Luckily, there's always a backup:

  • Another tuning app
  • A hardware tuner

Gotta be prepared . . . test and backup. It applies to every digital device.

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Cloud Music

So now that the major players are represented with Apple's announcement today, it's clear that cloud music has yet to intersect with streaming music. All three (Amazon, Google, and Apple) require some form of ownership, either via music services or download, before you can listen to the music. True streaming services like Mog, Spotify, or Rdio don't require file ownership and do provide some downloadable content, although it goes away when you unsubscribe.

What cloud music does provide is backup offsite - it's not going to replace my RAID NAS drive at home as far as storage and redundancy, but it does mean you're not going to lose what you buy (theoretically, depending on the service). And Apple's match service does save a ton of time, although it doesn't back up files that are on iTunes. The $25/year charge theoretically helps compensate artists for stolen tracks, too. I'd want to see the accounting on that, though. Something tells me the money won't make it all the way back through some pipes.

To be fair, the only service I've used to this point is the Google music beta, and it's serviceable. For now. They did put a free Warrant track on my account when I asked for the free metal song pack, though, and that's just wrong.

Shorter me - I like the way this is going, and Apple's iCloud product has a lot to offer. But it's not all there yet.


New IMN Podcast and PocketGK Notes

The new IMN podcast is up - download it here or listen at the site or on WFYI HD2, Thursdays at 4pm and 10pm.

The PocketGK amp simulator for the iPhone/iPad does a few things the Amplitube simulator I purchased earlier does as well, then has some much better and somewhat lacking features. First, both programs take input from the iRig and deliver the signal through the apps into headphones without issue. Both provide the opportunity to mix and match cabinets - the Amplitube also simulates a mic choice, but it only has one bass amp and one cabinet. PocketGK offers a more fully-featured bass amp (contour, boost, better EQ, etc.) and two cabinets. It does not offer, however, recording and additional effects.

What wins me over in this contest is the better sound for the PocketGK (which models the Gallien-Krueger amp line faithfully, while Amplitube seems to loosely attempt an Ampeg sound) and the ability to play directly over songs from your iPod. It's really only helpful for practice sessions (or bass kareoke - a woefully underserved market, if you ask me), but I've spent far more time at this point with PocketGK just playing. The more customizable amp and better overall tone helps, too - I've never given GK amps a shot, but this kinda lures me in.


Some Quick Thoughts on Garageband for iPad

Folks used to working with the Mac version of Garageband will probably notice a little loss in functionality - only 8 tracks, and the audio recording process isn't entirely intuitive. Monitoring of the audio signal being recorded isn't on by default, and you have to record in the instrument section and not the track view. Editing in the track view is relatively simple, though, and moving and deleting audio is quite easy. The recording process also involves recording in sections (A, B - think pop song structure) of variable number of measures (4, 8, 16, etc.). Record your A section with all instruments, then move on. Good for songwriting, but not necessarily for free-form idea recording.

The virtual instruments are unusually effective here - the virtual guitars and basses have virtual frets you can touch to get the note. The virtual basses also allow for sliding notes along strings and bending strings. The virtual guitars allow the same on a regular fretboard, and you can also set up sections of chords where you can strum or "fingerpick" without having to worry if your left hand has fretted the chords correctly.

The drums are interesting - you have your choice of a drumkit you can tap beats out on, or you can use "smart drums." These drums function on an X-Y axis of simple to complex and soft to loud. Pick your drumset, then drop the bass drum on the X-Y axis. The application "plays" the drum in accordance to where you dropped it. This means you can have a steady, loud bass drum with a more complex snare and hi-hat above that. Move them around to tweak the beat to your liking and add more percussion instruments, if you wish. It's not a standard drum grid, but it might act well if you want a thought-started for songs.

At a price of $5 (plus whatever hardware you buy for getting audio into your iPad), there's a ton of functionality for both sketching and field recording for the price. It doesn't replace the software I use for recording or podcasting, but it does make for easy recording of ideas and allows me to get decent audio away from my home rig.

EDIT: How could I forget the most egregious omission?! THERE'S NO VIRTUAL BASS AMP?! Amplitube takes care of live performance needs, but it doesn't feed audio in GB. Please, Apple - could this be an upgrade for the next version?


Music-making on the iPad

A fellow bassist recently told me he's getting back into recording because it's so easy on the iPad (he's using the Amplitube app I reviewed earlier), which makes a ton of sense to those raised on dealing with the infamous 4-track cassette recorder. This device performs the same function as the 4-track with none of the same quality issues or temperamental nature. And those wanting to expand on what's possible get apps as well (like the Moog Filtatron, Bloom, or any number of synths). Add in the announcement of Garageband for iPad 2 (and just that device, more than likely) and FruityLoops for iOS (coming soon), and the iPad becomes a viable musical recording device (just ask the Gorillaz).

What I want to see next is giving these devices a coherent workflow. I'm not demanding the use of plug-ins or anything (maybe my use of Record and Reason has beat that notion out of me), but the ability to route audio cleanly between apps without having to import and export would be handy. Not sure if that violates API rules or if it's even possible, but it's a direction I'd like to see explored.

And, of course, I want a good music notation system and ever-expanding live music apps, but I've written about that before. Some dreams never die.

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New IMN Podcast and the iRig Review

The new IMN podcast is up - download it or listen at the site or on WFYI HD2, Thursdays at 4pm and 10pm.

Bassists are used to relying on big boxes to get their sound - at least when it comes to amplifiers. Therefore, I wasn't really expecting much when I purchased the iRig. It was just a lark to test out what's available in the software and see what I could do. At the very least, I'd have something to connect the bass to my iPhone or iPad for the tuner apps I have.

The iRig connection wasn't hard at all - plug in the bass and the headphones to the iRig, plug the iRig into the iDevice, and you're good to go. The tuner programs work just fine with it, so mission accomplished there. I went ahead and purchased the full version of Amplitube, even though it only has the one bass amp model. Which, by the way, works perfectly adequately for an Ampeg-style emulator. The effects interact with the bass acceptably as well, although the overdrive and distortion effects sometimes caused large amounts of feedback. A few quick volume adjustments in the setup section of the program as well as the iPad solved the problem. It probably won't replace the Line 6 software integration I use with Record, and I'll stick with my DI boxes and amps for recording and live performances. But for sketchpad playing or silent practice, it's a tool well worth the purchase. And you will have to purchase - the free version doesn't include the bass amp, and you'd have to purchase the software separately for each device if you own both an iPhone and an iPad.

The real revelation was using the bass with the Moog Filterator. You can mix in a sample and a VCO signal from the Moog synth emulator with a line signal, and the available effects make radical signal manipulation quite easy. I went from near-NIN tones to ambient explorations with a few tweaks, and Moog's sound holds up to the name's reputation. This is where the iRig and software shines - making new things that wouldn't ordinarily be possible using physical tools. The X-Y pads Moog makes available lets you affect sound and effects with a quick touch, and you'd need a ton of programmable effects to accomplish this otherwise. Not bad for a $40 equipment purchase and a $5 app.