Saturday, November 26, 2016

Review: Toneforge Guilty Pleasure

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review a new plugin for the Toneforge serie, Guilty Pleasure!
This is the third guitar amp plugin from Joey Sturgis' Toneforge (the first one was the Ben Bruce, the second one was the Menace, click here for the review),  and it takes the same idea behind the other two plugins (a lightweight, good sounding, complete guitar amp simulator) and applies it to a different kind of sound, more Marshall/mid rangey oriented, which is both good for '80s hard rock and for modern metal.

Let's start by saying that I like the idea behind the Toneforge guitar plugins, an idea that differentiates them by most of the other amp simulators on the market: to create a small, single amp plugin instead of a huge and expensive suite that clogs your cpu, and that eventually you'll end up using only 1%.
Better to buy just the single module you need, and load just that in your guitar channel.

The plugin is pretty complete: it features the amp, an overdrive and a noise gate, a delay, a reverb, a wah, a cabinet simulator with two cabinets (Mesa and Orange) and 4 microphones, and an Ir Loader (making it the amp modeler of the company with more features so far); plus tuner, parametric eq and limiter.

One of the smartest and most pleasant addition to this plugin is the fact that it can be loaded on a stereo buss, in which are routed for example two guitar tracks, left and right, and it will process them independently, so that two tracks are controlled by one single plugin instance (also saving cpu resources).

Another thing that I like very much about Toneforge amp modelers, and this is no exception, is that they are designed by the gold record certified producer, Joey Sturgis (click here for an interview), therefore they are made with music production in mind: the plugin sounds good even without touching the eq (this is also thanks to a serie of tweaks made by Sturgis called "Magic" that can be enabled or disabled): it has a very musical mid range that helps the guitar to cut gracefully through the mix and less grit compared to the Menace, which has a more "5150" kind of vibe.
This is something that is impossible to find in the other most popular amp modeling bundles, like Amplitube or Guitar Rig: with those you have to spend a lot of time finding the right virtual gear and tweaking it, inside the suite and with external plugins to make it sound right, while with Toneforge products, and Guilty Pleasure in particular, it just sounds good enough right after you load it, and it leaves you more time to focus on the song.

For the future, I expect also a standalone version inside the Toneforge plugins, usable also outside the Daw, so that we can just plug the jack into the interface and rock out!
I would suggest also a bass amp modeler with the same philosophy, it would rock!
For the moment I can only suggest this plugin, because it's really good, one of the best guitar amp modelers I've tried so far.

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- High gain amp simulator with noise gate

- Two cabinet simulators (bypassable)

- Four microphones modeled

- Built in impulse loader

- Stompboxes: overdrive, delay, wah, reverb

- Rack: tuner, parametric eq, limiter

- Vst3 format with automations

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review: Rosen Digital Audio - Pulse

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to check out a new free Impulse Response loader from Rosen Digital Audio: Pulse!

Rosen Digital Audio is a studio that produces and sells Impulse responses and Kemper profiles created with their own professional equipment, in a studio environment, and the quality of their impulses is definitely high, among the best and most realistic ones offered today.
What the studio didn't have yet was a proprietary impulse loader, so they teamed up with Ignite amps (click here to read the interview),  the producers of the best Ir loader around, NadIR, and they came up with a modified version of their plugin with some additional feature and a pre-loaded Rosen Digital Ir, calling it Pulse.

Pulse therefore is very similar to Nadir and like its brother it is free, it's a very low latency plugin for real time playing, recording and mixing, it allows to load two separate impulse and to switch between them or blend them, and it has a real time sample rate conversion that is not very common in the other Impulse loaders.

The additional and unique feature of Pulse that makes me suggest it to everyone is the built in Impulse Response Pulse CAB, a very versatile Impulse response created for this plugin, that sounds pretty good in almost every genre.

The conclusion is that if you have loved NadIr you're going to love Pulse even more, since it packs the same quality and features, and an additional IR bundled, making it the best Impulse loader on the market today. And it's free!

Features taken from the website:

– Multi-platform

– A/B Control

– Real-time Sample Rate Conversion

– Compatible With All 3rd Party IR’s

– Blend Mode W/ Phase Control

– HP/LP Filters

– PULSE Cab IR Built Into The Plugin

– List View

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tips on how to arrange a song 2/2


Muse and White Stripes are two extremes, but they are also two manifestations of the freedom of arranging our songs any way we want; plus we must not forget that the type of arrangement of a song (especially in pop music) follows even more rules (as we have already seen for the song structure): every year more or less we can notice how radio songs follows similar arrangement, both in terms of sounds and melodies.
This is a wanted effect of psychoacoustics (the science that studies the physiological and psychological effect of sound on man): let's say that there is a pop song that has a certain success; once it is inside the head of the listener, it is much easier for the other similar songs to get catched from the casual listener, because he will feel like he already knows that song (even if it's the first time he hears it). A classic example could be Kesha's Tik Tok and Katy Perry's California Gurls, both aired in the same semester: they sound like two different arrangements of a same song.
This can sound like a casualty, but the truth is that producers want this effect to make the songs even more easy to listen.

Today? what are the tendencies in arrangement in 2016 pop music?
I have noticed a return in the use of old school samples of ethnic instruments like marimba, xylophone, pan's flute or certain ethnic percussions that were very popular in the early '90s and that today sounds quite unusual (therefore fresh), like in Sia's "the Greatest" or in Justin Bieber's "What do you Mean?". Who knows what will be the sounds of the next season?

Dynamics: another facet of arrangement is the management of dynamics inside a song.
A song can be all focused on low dynamics, almost whispered, to sound like a caress to the ears of the listener as in certain jazz songs of Diana Krall, or on the opposite the dynamics can be crushed to the max as in a brutal death metal song, in which the emotional tension is to the maximum.
There are also songs which alternate whispers to screams and loud parts to create a feeling of insecurity, like anything can happen, as in Nirvana's "Drain You".
The most natural way to play with dynamics and make a pop or a rock song euphonic is to consider the song like the waves moving in a shore: alternate moments of riptide to others in which the wave comes forward, without being extreme or unpleasant in any of these parts; the most common way to play with dynamics is usually to have a strong intro, then a verse quieter than the rest of the song, a bridge that creates a build up and a chorus that explodes, then the song implodes back in a quiet verse and starts all over (obviously nothing forbids to do exactly the opposite, what matters is the alternance that gives a sense of variety and emotional flow) and a great example is Foo Fighter's "These Days".

Additional awesomeness: an interesting example of arrangement that starts just with vocals and drums and keeps adding elements until it sounds full towards the end is Michael Jackson's "They don't care about us".

Another interesting element that we can find in some song by the king of pop but also in most of the most popular pop songs ever published is another psychoacoustic trick, which can be heard for example in the classic Black or White: some arrangement element (in this case a rattle that doubles the snare), that lasts for the lenght of the whole song and that doesn't add much to the song itself, used as a drill to get more easily into the head of the listener.
Some producer believe that this element is a typical example of sound put there to catch subconsciously the attention of the listener: it is particular, hidden and repeated for the whole song, and its job is to convoy furthermore the attention of the listener to the song without him even completely realizing the reason.

Someone consider this trick a cheap shot, other consider it fair game, but what is sure is that producers have often played with arrangements also to experiment unusual solutions, like the incredible verse of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven that can be listened also backwards resulting in a different song, or the ebm/black metal band Aborym with the song "Theta Paranoia", that uses certain synth generated waves to induce a particular state of mind.

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Tips on how to arrange a song 1/2

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today, moving on with our songwriting articles, we are going to give a general overview on how pop/rock songs are arranged.

Let's start by saying that this article doesn't want by any mean to be considered complete, it is just intended to give an overview of the various schools of thought that are applied when arranging a song.
The definition of arrangement is "the art of giving an existing melody (or base) musical variety".
This means all and nothing: in our case the meaning is that once we have decided the structure of a song and the basic chords, we can lay down (arrange) the layers of instruments that will be the content of the song.
Imagine the structure of a song like in its fundamental parts as a stage: the arrangement are the dancers that dance into that stage (for example a vocal verse, a guitar solo, a piano interlude).

What is essential when arranging is the Vision. If we don't have clear the direction of our song, there is no point in writing it, because it will come out unfocused: we need to know in advance for example the mood of the song: melancholic, triumphant, happy, angry, etc, then we need to have in mind the atmosphere and the feelings we want to transpose to the listener and with what and how many sounds, finally we need to lay down a list with the instruments we will need for our song.

Jack White of the White Stripes (and other bands) had a strict rule about songwriting, he "always centered the band around the number three. Everything was vocals, guitar and drums or vocals, piano and drums", meaning that for every element he wanted to add he had to take out another one from playing at the same time, because he knows that the less elements are there, the more they sound "big" and important in the arrangement.

On the other hand we have symphonic rock bands like Muse, which (like Queen) likes to stack up on some song a huge amount of vocal harmonizations and orchestrations, and the examples could be countless if we would go furthermore into the symphonic declinations of heavy metal such as Blind Guardian and Fleshgod Apocalypse: in these cases the number of tracks in the project can be even around 500 or 1000, and unavoidably the weight of each single track on the total would be hundreds of times smaller than one of the three elements of the White Stripes song.


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