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Topic: Please Suggest: MIDI composition requirements

  1. #1

    Please Suggest: MIDI composition requirements

    I\'ve been composing for a few years (using Finale and a roland hardware module) and am looking to switch to a software-based system. I also would like to implement the system in my school lab where I teach composition. Can I get some opinions on what works best for you.

    I will be using Finale and MIDI keyboards on Windows XP computers... probably with Hammerfall soundcards, as suggested by someone on this forum. I\'m also considering one of the comprehensive orchestra libraries (VSL or QLSO) for simplicity and quality sake.

    SOO..... what else will I need to create great rendered music? Also, and suggestions on:

    1) A good sound recording and editing program to record Finale\'s playback as well as edit my live recordings of student performances.

    2) A way to interface Finale and QLSO or VSL (do I need a special VST program... I read soemthing about Cubase or Logix somewhere)

    3) A program to create professional-sounding CDs of the MIDI music played by Finale and QLSO or VSL

    Thank you for any suggestions and feedback!



  2. #2
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Dallas, Texas

    Re: Please Suggest: MIDI composition requirements

    I would recommend a standalone GigaStudio machine and VSL if you plan to go strictly with the Finale route. Essentially, you\'re setting up from ground zero. I think a machine strictly dedicated to the playback of samples would give you the most options, since you could also leverage that machine in secondary roles as a sequencer, synthesizer, and mastering device.

    Something to consider, however, is the suitability, or rather the lack of suitability of Finale as a sequencer. If the intention is professional/commercial quality renderings, then that probably won\'t happen from a Finale score. You\'d need to perform the works, via keyboard, into a sequencing program in order to get a quality of musical performance which is viable.

    If you get into a sequencer (SONAR, Logic, Cubase, and Digital Performer are the \"big four\"), you open up more possibility, including a better front end for the EWQLSO package.

    My advice is that you **should** explore a sequencer. Lots of music schools get into this \"Finale rut\" where students learn to bang compositions into Finale, and become completely disillusioned when they realize the resulting files render very stiffly and unmusically. Part of educating students about producing commercially viable electronic music is teaching the tools highest use. Finale\'s highest use is the printed page, with only a secondary emphasis on crude MIDI output. A sequencer\'s highest use is the audio product, with secondary function as a basic music printing device.

    I personally have had excellent results with Echo Layla 24 as an audio interface. The Hammerfall products you mention have an excellent reputation.

    My MIDI sequencer of choice is SONAR. I like its combination of strengths, and admire Cakewalk\'s stability and quality control.

    I also love Sonic Foundry\'s Vegas for audio editing and mixing. Additionally, it is one of the finest video editing applications in existance. For full-bore DVD video and audio mastering, it is as good as it gets.

    For CD Mastering, I really like Sonic Foundry\'s CD Architect. It was off the market for a couple of years, and its much celebrated return was a true relief for me. It is probably the best application of its type.

    This will probably be the first of many different opinions. I can vouch that the products I mention are stable, and that they work well together for me in a high-pressure production environment. There are many great tools available, though, and I wish you luck.

  3. #3

    Re: Please Suggest: MIDI composition requirements

    I second Bruce\'s opinion.

    Get a Giga machine (at least one). VSL offers one stop shopping, but you can then add additional instruments and customize your samples, if you happen to find something lacking in VSL, or just want to add that certain touch.

    I\'ve got Sibelius, rather than Finale, but they\'re reasonably equivalent. And be assured Sibelius aint no sequencer. But it\'s great for notation, sketches and hearing a rough cut of your music. With Sibelius I can send simple midi messages like keyswitches and patch changes. And I can get the tempo and basic dynamics right.

    After I finish a score, I output it to a MIDI file, and bring it into my sequencer (an older version of Cakewalk - and yes, it\'s very stable). I can then control the continuous controls like the mod wheel and volume. I can tweak velocities and durations as well. Some will replace the scored tracks completely by playing and recording the track to MIDI in the sequencer.

    I\'ve also got an EchoAudio card. Mine\'s the MIA. Small and nice.

    And I own Sonic Foundry Vegas. It kicks @ss. There are two reasons you want such a mixer: First, you may run out of polyphony on one Giga machine. If this is the case you can render a few instruments at a time - but then you will need a mixer. And second, the effects in Giga 2.5 are limited. You can apply much better effects in Vegas, and do your final mixing. For small projects I\'ve done the same in ACID, and was able to apply loops, but it can only do so many long tracks at a time. For orchestral music you don\'t typically need loops. Go for Vegas.

    I haven\'t used SF\'s CD Architect, but then again, I\'ve never done a full production CD. I just burn the CDs with whatever falls to hand.

    Some other items: MidiOverLan is a nice way to connect your machines. You can use the LAN to move your rendered Giga tracks from the Giga machine to the Mixer/Sequencer machine. You may want a KVM to switch between the computers. Get enough hard drives to back things up. (Right Bruce? ;-) And you either want to build near-silent PCs, get long enough cables to get them out of the room, or some expensive muffler box, like Bruce has. Fans are not musical instruments.

    Anyway, those are my two cents. I hope some of that was helpful.

  4. #4

    Re: Please Suggest: MIDI composition requirements

    One other item: for editing your live recordings of your students, get Sonic Foundry\'s Sound Forge. You can use it to trim the dead air before and after the performance. You can also normalize, equilize, fix phasing problems, view the waveform, etc. You can also use it to burn your CDs. Not as powerful as CD Architect, but it\'s good enough for prints to pass around. It also comes with a batch processor, so if you need to do the same task over and over, use the batch processor to cut the required labor. Or assign one of your students to do it :-)

  5. #5

    Re: Please Suggest: MIDI composition requirements

    a little side note. You dont NEED a mixing app to run giga renders

    Direct wave can trigger a mix for you, in fact 128 of them if you so choose. (tho I haven\'t tried that)

  6. #6

    Re: Please Suggest: MIDI composition requirements

    Thank you for the great information, everyone. I have a couple more questions:

    1) What kinds of specific things can a sequencer do that Finale can\'t do? Finale does allow you do send midi commands (like velocity, pitch, instrument switches, etc)... What do the \"pros\" do after opening up the midi file in Sonar?

    2) If I can only render a few tracks at once, does Sonar or another sequencer allow you to automate the process... so you don\'t have to play every one and record in your recording program?

    3) If I\'m choosing between Vegas, SoundForge, CoolEdit, Samplitude, and WaveLab (any I\'m missing in my research?) - which will provide the best dual function: 1) recording midi files and adding reverb or other effects, and 2) editing and patching together recording session material to create CD\'s?

    Thanks Again!



  7. #7

    Re: Please Suggest: MIDI composition requirements

    Originally posted by Hammersmith:
    1) What kinds of specific things can a sequencer do that Finale can\'t do? Finale does allow you do send midi commands (like velocity, pitch, instrument switches, etc)... What do the \"pros\" do after opening up the midi file in Sonar?
    <font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">Well, for one the control over your tempo(s) is easier in a sequencer like SONAR. Finale can create envelopes based on a measure-measure basis, but SONAR can edit and create volume changes within the measure. Some people are put off by the \'lazy graphical drawings\' used to change tempos, velocites, or anything else. To me, if it\'s there and it\'s easy, why use something else that\'s more work and probably won\'t work as well (i.e. Finale\'s inability to properly handle tempo changes like accel. and rall. as well as cresc. and dim.).

    Personally, like you I write the scores in Finale but I export the .mid into SONAR for fine editing and making the sound file. You don\'t have to give it up -- Finale can communicate with Gigastudio with no problems just as long as you make sure the listing of the instruments in the Instrument Window in Giagstudio is exactly the same setup as your Finale score. Otherwise, every time you hit Play in Finale the instruments will switch around on you. You won\'t get the control offered by SONAR obviously, but for a composing bank it works great.

    The real clincher is that while I\'m not sure the exact number of channels SONAR can handle (128 maybe?), Finale can only handle 64. If your custom library consists of a lot of keyswitched programs then that number shouldn\'t be a problem. However, for some people that like to separate the articulations into separate tracks that\'s irritating and limiting to say the least.

    Now, if only Finale had a way to program the cresc. and decres. gator signs to accurately make that data (i.e. beginning and ending velocities or envelope numbers) and like \'dynamics\' then I\'d be happy.

    Honestly, the best advice is just to get away from Finale alone and get a sequencer, be it Cubase, SONAR, or whatever. You\'ll be amazed at how much easier it\'ll make editing, even though it seems much more \'work\' at first.

    Hope that helps.

  8. #8

    Re: Please Suggest: MIDI composition requirements

    Please count me in too!

  9. #9

    Re: Please Suggest: MIDI composition requirements

    Russ is exactly right. Finale (or in my case Sibelius) is fine for measure to measure changes (and maybe note to note changes -Sibelius is), the sequncer can make continuous adjustments to add swells, glissandos, expression control and other waveform-like changes. Sibelius allows some continuous controls, like a gliss, but you can\'t control the exact slope the way that you can by drawing it in the sequencer.

    Regarding the various tools, Vegas is a multitrack mixer (that happens to edit video *very* nicely), while Sound Forge is a waveform editor. They don\'t really compete with one another. They compliment. But here\'s some good news: when you buy Vegas, you get the lightweight version of Sound Forge as a bonus. (At least that used to be the case. Confirm before you buy.) And the lightweight version will likely do everything you need, like trim, normalize and view the waveform.

  10. #10

    Re: Please Suggest: MIDI composition requirements

    Okay, I\'m going to hijack this thread - or at least nudge it a bit...

    At some point I\'m going to replace my old Cakewalk Home 7 sequncer with something more modern (remember I use Sibelius primarily, and I mix with Vegas/ACID - I don\'t need all the bells and whistles of a modern sequencer.) So, what to buy?

    I\'ve crossed Logic and Digital Performer off my list. Rather than spend money on a Mac to run them, I\'d rather stick with the PC and spend the change on libraries. So, it\'s between Sonar and Cubase.

    With CWH7 I can edit in piano roll view and draw waveforms, but the UI is really lacking. Too many mouse context clicks to edit the roll, and I can only see one waveform at a time. Some time ago I downloaded the Sonar demo, and frankly it didn\'t seem much better. They added a bunch of features that I don\'t care about, but I can\'t think of one sequncer UI improvement off the top of my sieve-like head. So does Cubase offer a better sequncer UI? I tried to go to Steinberg.com today, but their site was dead.

    Here are some specific questions:

    * Which requires fewer mouse clicks when editing the piano roll? All keyboard shortcuts would be best.

    * Does either offer a multi-waveform view?

    * Can I see which waveforms I\'ve edited at a glance? (With CWH7 you can\'t tell which parameters have been touched, and which are virgins - unless you go through them one at a time.)

    * Does either one provide excellent accuracy for drawing the waveforms? CWH7 only allows limited magnification, and getting things exactly to zero or to a limit can take a few tries, and you\'re never sure that you really nailed it.

    * And then there\'s stability. CWH7 is rock solid. And Bruce claims that Sonar is reliable for him as well. Is Cubase more reliable than, say, their website?

    One thing for sure. I won\'t be thrilled to buy either. I\'d rather have a MIDI-only sequencer with a kick-butt UI for $99 than I would like to spend multiple hundreds on a slew of audio features that I could care less about.

    Sorry for the nudge, but Hammersmith will probably be interested in the same data for his decisions related to this thread.

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