Tuesday, 2 October 2012

ghostly's home studio, a selected history

I have owned a QY70 (twice) and a QY10. Why? Read on...

My "home studio" is a bit of a misnomer as apart from a short spell in a cupboard at the top of the stairs and an even shorter period of time in a cupboard in the bedroom, I tend to have had more of a "mobile studio" set-up. Having said that even the term "studio" seems to be exaggerating what is essentially a means to produce music for fun.

Following is a brief summary of how my "studio" has developed over the years since I first started recording demos in 2005 / 2006. If you're interested to hear my music then check out my tunes on www.alonetone.com/ghostly.

V1 - "Starting out"
Digital audio recorder (very lo-fi live demos)

I had been playing guitar on and off since the early nineties, never progressing beyond recreating basic Beatles / nineties indie riffs. One night, a couple of mates and I had a bit of a drunken jam in my lounge which was recorded for posterity on my audio recorder (me on guitar, all of us on vocal harmony duties). I had enjoyed that night so much that for a few weeks thereafter I had written a few songs and started to record them and post the lo-fi results online. I was hooked!

V2 - "First Digital Audio Workstation"
Boss BR600 digital multitracker
+Korg microKORG
+Yamaha QY70
+Waldorf micro-Q (sold microKORG)

I knew I wanted to overdub vocal harmonies and basic guitar parts and with only a very basic knowledge of multitrack recorders I visited my local music shop (Sound Control in Dundee, Scotland). I was faced with two options, one was a mains only 16 track recorder (from memory) with a number of inputs and features such as MIDI input (not that I knew what half that stuff meant) or a slim, battery operated unit with built in condenser mics and I made my decision and became the proud owner of a Boss BR600 (great device if you're interested!).

Inspired by bands that blended guitars and synths such as Grandaddy I was keen to expand on my guitar only sound and invested in a microKORG. My sound design knowledge was also limited and therefore I tended to surf the presets and although there is a wealthy of cheesy patches the microKORG also comes loaded with quite a few useable synth strings and pads. By this time I was reading up on how MIDI worked and wanted to try some orchestral and piano arrangements and started looking for a sound module whilst using the microKORG as a controller keyboard (although I soon upgraded to a 49 key full size controller keyboard). Considering my need for a mobile solution I plumped for the QY70.

Once I had the controller keyboard and now I had a full time "studio" space (cupboard at the top of the stairs wayhay!) I found myself using the mini-keys less and less and soon found the microKORG wanting, especially in terms of it's mono-timbrality and low polyphony. After doing a bit of research I bought a Waldorf micro-Q and started dreaming up Brian Eno style ambient soundscapes which I would sequence on the QY70.

V3 - "Sampler rig" (sold BR600)
Akai MPC500

Because the BR600 didn't have a MIDI input I had difficulty synching my audio tracks with my sequenced tracks on my QY70. Although I knew that audio samples were not quite the same as audio tracks, I decided to move over to using a sampler / sequencer and I bought the battery powered AKAI MPC500 (also inspired by the knowledge that one of my favourite albums, DJ Shadow's Endtroducing was produced on an MPC). I kept the QY70 on as a sound module but used the MPC for sequencing and triggering samples.

V4 - "Hardware sequencing" (sold MPC)
Waldorf micro-Q
Yamaha A4000
+Bhajis Loops on Palm PDA
+Nanoloop on Gameboy
+LSDj on Gameboy
+Tascam Portastudio (tape 4 track) (then sold)

Although I had a lot of fun with the MPC I found the display on the MPC500 to be very limiting and after spotting a rack mounted YAMAHA A4000 sampler on ebay for next to nothing I decided to go back to using the QY70 as my main sequencer, driving the A400, the micro-Q and the QY70 itself. The A4000 was a fantastic sampler and as an added bonus came with a number of sample CDs including a multisampled piano which sounded terrific.  Unfortunately however the pots were a bit suspect (a common problem on the Yamaha samplers it turned out) and I didn't get on with it as well as I should have. 

Around this time I had also tried adding guitar parts over my sequenced tracks on an old tape 4 track tape machine but soon found this very tiresome after using a digital multitracker so soon sold it on.

Meanwhile I was now commuting to work and was looking out for a portable music making machine. The QY70 fitted the bill but as it was also the backbone of my home studio by this time I didn't want to keep on plugging and unplugging the device and after reading an interesting article in Computer Music magazine decided to give Bhajis Loops a try on a PDA. What a fantastic little application which was a small but perfectly formed sampler / sequencer! Very soon I found myself using this more and more to the point that I was hardly using my home studio set-up at all. Spurred on by my experiences of Bhajis Loops I turned to other portable music applications such as Nanoloop and Little Sound DJ (LSDj), both on the Nintendo Gameboy.

V5 - "Software studio" (sold QY70, micro-Q, A4000, Nanoloop, LSDj)
Apple Powerbook, audio / MIDI interface
Apple Logic Pro 8
Propellerhead Reason
+Alesis Micron (then sold)
+Novation A Station (then sold)
+Nanoloop (on Android smartphone)
+Zoom Sampletrakk
+Tascam Pocketstudio 5
+Zoom H2 digital recorder
+Yamaha QY10 (then sold)
+Suzuki Omnichord

Although I had resisted the temptation for a number of years, after my unanimously positive experience of building tracks almost visually with Bhajis Loops I was finally tempted by moving into the realm of DAW software. Another reason was that my studio space had to make way for a little baby! As I didn't have a powerful enough computer I decided to start from scratch and invested in a Mac laptop running Logic Pro and Propellerhead Software's Reason (and also later a demo version of Renoise, an old skool tracker). I ran my guitar and mic through an audio interface which also had a MIDI input for my controller keyboard. To fund this I had to sell all the hardware I had accumulated up to this point including my QY70.

This set-up proved to be my most productive since V2 and the samples and synths included in both Logic Pro and Reason added a polish to my tracks that nothing up to that point had managed to achieve. This wasn't to say that everything about working with software was positive however. Firstly, I missed the immediacy of turning on a hardware synth or my QY70 and laying ideas down straight away. Call it laziness (or having a young family!) but I also struggled to motivate myself into setting up my laptop / audio interface / controller keyboard / microphone anytime I wanted to work on my music unless I had a particular deadline to achieve. I therefore scoured the internet for music making challenges such as RPM to almost force me into making music! And finally, there is just too many distractions on the computer!

I therefore started adding back hardware into my set-up, first a couple of hardware synths (the Alesis Micron and Novation A Station, both great units) and then a hardware sampler again (the Zoom Sampletrakk, a fantastically underrated piece of kit, if only it could sequence other devices through MIDI it would be a classic). For a number of reasons I finally settled on a return to the microKORG, selling both the Micron and the A Station. I bought a QY10 (for cheap on ebay) to run sequences on my microKORG and as a source of piano sounds. Unfortunately I soon found out that it does neither job particularly well and was soon sold on. Finally I got myself a Suzuki Omnichord which I don't think I will ever sell!

I now produced tracks in three ways:

- completely in software, mixing audio and midi tracks in Logic Pro / Reason
- building up an instrumental track in the Sampletrakk and then laying down a vocal in a single take recording the mix directly into the Zoom H2, a digital recorder I had picked up. I also picked up a Tascam Pocketstudio 5 for the sole purpose of adding effects to my guitar & voice as it was sampled into the Sampletrakk
- minimalistic sequencing using Nanoloop on my Android smartphone

It was clear which of these three processes I found to be the least enjoyable / practical and I therefore made the decision to go back to basics...

V6 - "Back to Basics"
BR600 digital multitracker
Propellerhead Reason
Nanoloop (on Android smartphone)
Zoom Sampletrakk
Zoom H2
+Yamaha QY70
(Apple Waveburner for mastering)

This is where I am now, with my BR600, supplemented by the QY70, microKORG and the Sampletrakk replacing Logic Pro as my audio workstation / sequencer / synth / sampler. Although I had previously sold the BR600 primarily because of its lack of synching capabilities (as well as the limited effects) as I still don't have a permanent studio space I have given up on the idea of running multiple devices at once. So now my options are as follows:

1. Run everything into the Sampletrakk, bounce instrumental track to the BR600 and lay down vocals at the end
2. Record live instrumentation into the BR600 a track at a time
3. Sequence instrumentation in the QY70 and bounce the instrumental track to the BR600 and lay down vocals at the end
4. Same as 3 but at some stage in the process bounce down sequenced microKORG synth tracks one at a time into the BR600 prior to laying down vocals
5. Create track wholly in Nanoloop (or bounce to BR600 for overdubbing)

And I could go on and on! I still have my laptop and therefore can still use Reason somewhere in the chain and still use Apple's Waveburner software to sequence and do some basic mastering of my tracks.

So there we have it, a brief history of ghostly's home studios. The QY70, together with the BR600, is at the heart of this set-up and I have therefore decided to dedicate this blog to this fantastic little box of tricks. I plan on using this blog to share music created on the QY70, links, videos and much much more so watch this space!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting history! And nice to see someone else sticking to their QY70! I'm looking forward to seeing/hearing what you do with this little marvel.