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Thread Starting from Ignorance: MIDI/Soft Synths/Sonar

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1 Starting from Ignorance: MIDI/Soft Synths/Sonar
This is a long post, for which I apologize in advance. It gives a lot of information and asks for a lot. I hope that if it gets good replies, it will be useful for lots of beginners.

I am a relative newcomer to computer-based music and recording, and a complete newcomer to Sonar 3, soft synths and Midi controller/keyboards. I have searched the web (and my product manuals!) in vain for a simple, practical, non-jargon-laden explanation of how to do what I want to do. (See below.) I would greatly appreciate (a) suggestions for books that deal with my questions (see below); (b) any advice about how to get started; and/or (c) answers to any of my specific questions.

Here is my basic setup:

Computer: Dell P4 w/HT technology @ 3.06GHz; 120-gig HD; 1 gig RAM; Win XP Home

DAW Software: Sonar 3 (I’m working with the demo; full version is on its way)

Audio Interface: Aardvark LX6, but I also have an SB Audigy 2 installed for MIDI applications, which I route from the Audigy to the LX6.

Mixer: Behringer UB1202

Monitors: Tapco S5 Active Studio Monitors

MIDI Controller/Keyboard: Edirol PCR-80

Here is what I want to do:

I am mainly an acoustic musician. I play guitar and banjo, some keyboards and bass. I’m in a bluegrass band. What I want to do is record myself overdubbed, using mainly acoustic instruments and occasionally an electric guitar plugged into the mixer. I also want to start working with synthesized instruments. For example, I’d like to be able to lay down an acoustic stand-up bass part using my keyboard/controller to govern a software synth that lives in my Sonar 3 program. At some point, I’ll want to add drums, percussion and other synthesized instruments. I want to actually be able to play this soft synth live in my home studio, not just record it. I want to hear it as I’m playing it and not record it.

Here’s what I don’t want to do:

I don’t want to become a MIDI nut. I’m not interested in plunging deeply into the intricacies of the MIDI world. I’m not going to make techno music or create loops for dance clubs. I only want to learn as much theory as I need to to make the right sounds come out of my speakers and go into my recording program when I hit the proper keys on my controller/keyboard.

Here are my problems/questions:

First, I have my PCR-80 keyboard plugged into a USB port on my computer. I have my Sonar 3 demo program up and running, and I have done everything the Sonar manual says to do to select the proper MIDI input and choose the proper channel. But nothing is getting from the keyboard to Sonar. In fact, though I have read through the Edirol manual carefully, it seems to be geared to people who are already experienced with MIDI keyboards (I am not). It tells you how to do what you are assumed to already know you want to do. In other words, it’s written at a level that’s over my head.

So, what I’d like to know is what I need to do (in layman’s terms) to get the instructions from the keyboard to Sonar. Do I have to assign instructions to particular controller knobs and pots? I’m hesitant to buy a book on, say, “MIDI for Beginners,” because it’s not really the intricate details of MIDI that I’m interested in. I’m just interested in knowing how I need to set up my controller/keyboard in order to have it control synth software in Sonar (or other DXi plug-ins I add later). The Edirol web site is useless. Any suggestions?

Second, my keyboard plugs straight into a USB port, instead of going into the MIDI in of my Aardvark LX6. In this case, where is the MIDI interface? I know the LX6 has a MIDI interface, but I’m bypassing that.

Third, can one play the soft synths in Sonar directly in real time or can they only be recorded?

And finally, what is the best way for a beginner to really get a handle on the various knobs, faders and switches on the Edirol keyboard? A set of step-by-step instructions would be great. As in, “The first thing you have to do is …”

I suspect I’ll probably get very few useful responses to this, but if I can get just one good one, that’d be great.

Thanks a lot.

Paul S.
Hi Paul

You might be a little annoyed with my reply because I don’t have any answers, it’s just that I’m in exactly the same situation as you. Perhaps we can source out answers together.

You seem to be a little more advanced in the computer and soundcard area and I might be a little more advanced in the peripherals.

This is what I have:
Computer: AMD 2.8 GHZ with 512 Meg of RAM
Sound Card: the one that came with my motherboard, this will be replaced this weekend with an M-Audio 2496
Software: Cubase SX, Reason 2.0, Cakewalk Sonar, Cool Edit (way too much too soon)
Mixer: Behringer 2222
Mic: 2 AKG 535’s , ART tube Pre-amp and a Lexicon MPX-100 routed as an ‘aux’ channel in the Mixer
Bass: Fender P, Bass Pod
Guitar: Various electric’s going through a guitar Pod, a couple of acoustics: Takamine direct through the Mixer, or a Guild mic’ed, Dobro with a lapel Mic
Drums: Groove Agent running as a VST plugin under Cubase SX
Keyboards: Korg x5d controlling various soft synth’s like Native Instruments B4 organ, Absynth, Melosofttron, cheese machine strings. And an Esoniq weighted Key ZR 76 for piano and Rhodes.
Monitors: 3 pairs of Audio Technica m40 Headphones and the sub woofer speaker system on my computer.

My immediate problem is the lack of a good enough sound card, I’m sure I’ll have a wonderful time getting my keyboards to control the soft synth’s as you have. I also can’t make Cubase record anything and decided to hold off on getting too frustrated until I get a new sound card. The trouble I have encountered with trying to figure out the software is I have no interest in creating electronic music nor triggering devices with midi. I want to make roots Americana music and do all my recording with Audio. It would be nice to be able to loop some of my acoustic and bass parts in the editing process. So I am interested in creating audio loops, just of very natural sounding acoustic instruments. I have been advised to get a stand alone recording unit to make things more simple and just use the computer for the drums and soft synth’s. I’m in a situation where my band has gone from a four piece in a rehearsal hall to a drummerless three piece in my condo with headphones, I’d like to be able to record bass, guitar and Dobro all at the same time on separate tracks.

I have a couple of friends who are far more experienced than I in these area’s. What I’m thinking of doing is once I get the new sound card, make a list of all my ‘beefs’ of what’s NOT working and invite one of them over for dinner to get it all set up….hell, even pay them. This may require a couple of trips to the music store for Midi or other cables.

I keep an eye on this post for replies from people who know what they’re doing and I’ll pass on any info from my friends’ visit

You know I had the same problem But with time and patience I got around my problems.

What I have ( Mind you I am just starting out too )

*** HARDWARE ***

Dell Dimension 4100 1Ghz, 256MB, 120GB, 45GB, and 20GB
Sound Blaster Live 5.1
Omega Recording Studio (Lexicon) MIDI, XLR, 4 IN's, 2 Outs, S/pdif, etc
Tascam Porta 02 4 Track Recorder MKII
Roland PR100 MIDI Controller
Casio MT640 Sysnthesizer
Casio MT104 ToneBox
Brother Disk Drive
M-Audio Audiophile 2496 PCI Card w/ RCA in and outs and S/pdif
Monsoon Flat panel Speakers w/ sub
Yamaha QY10 Sequencer
Samson Professional mic system w/ Boom mic stand
Takamine Acoustic guitar w/ Dean Markley Pickup
And last Samson Studio Headphones.

*** SOFTWARE ***

Steinberg Nuendo 2.0
Steinberg Cubase SX
Cakewalk Home Studio 2004 & Sonar Producer 3.0
ProTracks Plus w/ Omega Studio
Sound Forge 6.0
Acid 3.0 Pro
Steinberg Halion 2.0

How my Studio is set up.
Dell Dimension 4100...USB PORT out to my Omega Recording Studio box,
The Instrument In = Acoustiv Guitar w/ Dean Markley pickup, Omega headphones out = Samson Studio Headphones. The Omega Outs to to the Monsoon Flat panels w/ sub. (on the back of the sub I have a splitter wich goes from the sub IN to the Audio IN on the sound card on the PC)
The RCA's in's are going to the OUTS on the Tascam Porta 02. On the Porta Studio 02 The Mic/Line/In = Line out from the Yamaha Sequencer QY10 which the MIDI in is from the MIDI out from the Roland MIDI keyboard. The MIDI out on the Yamaha sequencer goes to the MIDI in on the Brother disk Drive. The Out from the Disk drive goes to the IN on the Audiophile 2496 So that way the recording from the MIDI disk drive can play back through the DELL. The out from the MIDI audiophile card to the IN on the Casio Tone box, then the MIDI out to the Casio MT640 then back to the tone box through the "THRU" port.

Of course when using Sonar I have to goto Midi, select Lexicon In 1, out 2
Then playback Lexicon out 3 in 4. I also have a plugin called Wingroove, I would leave the playback as wingroove for much better sound. Sonar wants to use the GV Synth I believe it is or the Midi Mapper to play back MIDI sounds. But since I the Omega Mixing box It works with it.
The Audiophile card is automatically selected within the audio properties within Soundforge 6.0 which is a good thing.

Just picked up the Antares Microphone Modeler yesturday. It is used to create sound emulations of over 250 microphones out on the market.

Well back to recording. Peace
Spillenger, I also use an Audigy 2 sound card, but with Steinberg software. I
looked up the Edirol controller and noticed it has both USB and MIDI outs.
[code]You can independently assign any of the 27 controls to different messages, different channels, and even choose whether a message is sent through USB, through the MIDI out jack, or both. - Musician's Friend Website.[/code]
It seems to me you may be making things a little too complicated (MIDI signals converted to USB then converted back to MIDI for Sonar).
Allow me to recommend a direct MIDI link from the controller to the Audigy card. Voyetra makes a simple MIDI interface that plugs directly into the game jack on the Audigy card. I got mine at Circuit City for $17. Make sure the Audigy mixer panel has the MIDI turned on, also. I believe going directly from your controller to the Audigy MIDI Port will solve your controller issue.
Hope this helps...