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Adding more voices...

I've been finding that I'm not satisfied with the way that my music was coming out. I've been sitting down with the same software that I've used for years, the same basic instruments and samples as before, etc. I even found that with my guitar, all of the muscle memory is still there, except for the lack of calluses on my left hand and a little bit of playing speed.

I've been acquiring samples over the years. I've got a decent set of the old ST-xx samples that I'm still fond of. Some weird noises I made synthetically. Some free downloads. And I took apart some SoundFonts and extracted samples. I've got a few samples I absolutely love... and a lot that I kinda tolerate. I've also got some Buzz machines that I've used that sound kinda interesting.

My big problem is that I'm happy with certain sounds that I can get and very much unhappy with others and not really sure about the best way to fix this. I listened to some of my composition efforts where I'd tried to avoid the old favorites and things I tolerate... and they all sound muddy and not especially well textured.

There's a few things where it's likely just a matter of spending some dedicated time working with analog emulators. I've got a decent understanding of the ways and means of digital synthesis and effects processing so all of the jargon means something to me. But I've not spent nearly enough time diving into sound generation to get sounds I like.

I've never been happy with my collection of cymbal samples. Pretty much, if the drum kit sounds vaguely like a 909, everything but the cymbals is fine with me. But I love the sound of cymbals when used properly, but I can never seem to get them sounding right. Furthermore, I'd love a good set of real physical instruments... things like violins and pianos and organs and such.

I had a conversation about this with my friend Scott at least a year or three ago and we talked about what the cool kids use these days. He pointed me at his favorite disks, which gave me a massive case of sticker shock.

The problem I'm seeing is that, regardless of if I get a sample disk in a neutral format or a dedicated loadable instrument, everything is either extremely expensive or not oriented towards serious usage. Loop collections being a big example of this. I suspect that piracy has something to do with this -- people are either quite content to plunk down hundreds of dollars or they will just pirate the hundreds-of-dollars disks. Thus, there is no market for the equivalent of a general-purpose workstation synth in software form.

A few options have occurred to myself. I will probably act on at least some of them.

Most notably a bass guitar. Of all instruments, I am most proficient at playing the electric guitar. But if you put a bass guitar in my hands, I can play it. And, you know what? I really like playing the bass. I've been browsing basses and trying them in the store and found that, while I'm completely un-thrilled by many of them, there are some decently priced basses that would be perfect for my needs.

My existing composition environment (Buzz) is unsuited to controlling MIDI devices. Thus, while I can pick up a decent variety of rackmount MIDI synth modules, I cannot necessarily integrate them into my environment.

On the other hand, I've been wanting to get my keyboard chops back one of these days. The thing I've found is that, while you can get a rackmount synth for cheap, the supply of fully functional keyboard synths is not quite as good. The keyboards get worn out or the LCDs stop working. So the cost vs. reliability situation is actually a little questionable.

They do make MIDI controller keyboards. Back when I'd previously thought of getting one, it was not a great option; everybody got one with a synth attatched. These days, there seems to be much less demand for synth-keyboards, just input-keyboards and synth-software.

Alternatively, I can just get some new software for a new composition environment, except that many of those are really designed around having a MIDI keyboard handy. And most of them actually come with a decent built-in set of samples and instruments. Except that then I've got to learn and understand that new environment... and that's going to be a big change. I did read some online manuals and think that I'd likely either want something like Finale, so I can write directly in score format, or I need a real keyboard to feed things in with.

On the other hand, it looks like most everything is available in VST format these days. I did look and found that there's a decent VST loader for Buzz. So I've been experimenting with that. I found that sfz, which is a free download from Cakewalk, works better than the buzz-centric SoundFont loader, so that at least gives me vague approximations of a decent General MIDI synth to start off with. I'm still not impressed. The cymbal samples are lacking.

I don't really know what the end result is going to be. I figure I'll just write a blog entry on the subject and it'll be interesting to read in retrospect. I'm trying to avoid anything that involves too much cash outlay because I'm basically stingy.