Audio Book Vocal Processing Pt. 2

Well I just (hopefully) wrapped up the audio processing for my sister’s book. Since the last post, I probably could have done three other posts about the series of events that happened. Suffice it to say that there are some competing formats, tools, and audiobook sites that aren’t exactly in alignment.

So… I had gotten my sister’s book all processed, converted to .mp3 format, and she was quite happy with the sound. Unfortunately she doesn’t really understand audio processing or audio file formats, so this kicked off a chain of unfortunate re-exports. Each process and export job probably took me 60-90 minutes… and since I had only ever expected to do this twice, I never automated the job. Each time I ended up processing the files, it was “just one more change” which had me shrug, and go off and do a whole bunch of clicking to re-process the files again. After time five, you’d think I would have learned my lesson. Which I did, but maybe not the one you’d think.

I guess I will just dump a few thoughts and notes for somebody who might stumble upon this post, or to remind myself in the future in case I forget…

First, Amazon’s website for posting audio books is kind of a mess, and doesn’t exactly give the best information about some of the problems. The best example I will give is that I exported the audio files as mono 320kbps .mp3 files… Ableton Live can only export to 320kbps for .mp3, and Amazon requires a minimum of 192kbps anyways. However, Amazon threw an error for the upload that the file was only 160kbps. Guess what, Amazon sees a 320kbps mono file as a 160kbps file, because apparently it doesn’t know the difference between mono and stereo. The fix was simple, just export the file as stereo, but it was a mono recording… making it kind of a ‘dumb’ fix.

Second, RMS was a problem, as it is the average volume of a file, and not the peak. This is fine, and why I was doing mild compression on my sister’s voice, but Amazon also requires that you don’t peak over -3db, so you cannot just normalize your audio, and instead need to process a bit differently. I forget all the intermediate tweaks, but I ultimately ended up adding a Push limiter from Ableton Live, and set the max value to -3db, which remediated the problem quite nicely, but as I said, was another round of processing.

Third, my sister wanted to backing music to her intro and closing tracks, which was nice, but she wanted the music very quiet so that it wouldn’t disturb her reading, and she didn’t want the music to be ducked by her speaking, since this was bound to sound weird to the listener. Oh, and she wanted only about 1/3 of the file to be spoken word. This hit the hardest RMS issue, and while I could have raised the volume, this isn’t what she wanted. So instead, I basically just started trimming the track from the start and end a bit, until we were able to fit within the RMS parameters, while also keeping the maximum volume below -3db.

I guess the bad news is the entire investment of time was significantly higher than I had anticipated, but the good news is that I have a pretty good audio processing chain that I can use for my sister’s next audio book when she finishes her writing.

Akai MPC 500 Repair

So a few days back I posted about picking up an Akai MPC 500 on Reverb… and it was absolutely a mess inside. In case you didn’t see it, I’ll post a picture below, but it was all jacked up. I suspect something heavy was dropped on it, or some other excessive amount of force. Maybe you can help decide?

So yeah, it was busted enough to snap the PCB in several places, and you can see where the metal frame got bent as well. Yesterday I picked up some Krazy Glue in preparation for the attempt for a big fix. I figured that particular glue would likely be the best way to hope to put the PCB back together as it does a really solid job bonding plastics. On the negative side, I am always getting this stuff stuck to my fingers and all over the place… so I wasn’t exact thrilled to be working with it again.

To see if there was any hope, I ended up removing the PCB from the MPC, and a few parts kind of disintegrated, but it wasn’t too bad, the master volume and the record volume knobs where effectively the only two things holding the upper portion of the board together. This helped a bit because most of the parts stayed attached, but it was made a bit more difficult to get the glue where it needed to go because the knobs were either in the way or where holding parts of the PCB in awkward positions. I decided this was a more desirable situation than trying to desolder all of the knobs to get a better job holding everything together with the glue. Especially since the PCB was so warped already that I suspected it wouldn’t matter all that much.

Here you can see me getting some of the supplies ready including the glue, and just taking a good look at the board. There were four major fractures on the PCB, and the important thing for me was to preserve the board since I could not get another one through MPC Stuff unfortunately, and also because this would at least need to function as a base for me to solder everything to. One thing you cannot see from these pictures is that almost all of the solder joints have torn away from the PCB, and if you don’t know what that means, well it means there is going to be a lot of soldering to do, since I cannot trust any of the bridges from the PCB to function since many of them were torn, and it is next to impossible to reattach the copper traces back to the PCB.

Below you can see what the PCB board looks like with everything glued back together. It is a bit janky still, but it is actually far more solid than I had anticipated. Fortunately none of the resistors were broken, and the trances to the resisters were at least all preserved. On the sad news, now that I could get a better look, you can see just how absolutely filthy the PCB is. I suspect it may be from excessive humidity, though I am not entirely sure. One thing I do know though, is that the device itself stinks like food… possibly curry. I’m going to have to tear the MPC 500 apart and scrub there whole thing down. It’s not too much more work than I had intended anyways, since I was planning on stripping it down to replace the capacitors.

So I guess my take aways from the picture below, this thing is dirty as heck, and I had been hoping that I could bridge the PCB fractures with some small solder joints. At this point though, you can see what that huge gap, that is not going to happen. This is going to require running wire traces to replace all the broken joints, and unfortunately I don’t have a way to really test if any of the knobs are working… the risk is that this could be a lot of work, and it still might fail.

Below is a picture after running most of the traces. This was probably three hours of work for me. Please note, I have not done much soldering in years, and I didn’t have a good wire stripper so I was making due with the Swiss Army knife. Yeah, it took longer, but I just kept plowing through.

Below shows me just hooking it up to test, without mounting it. I figured I’d run on batteries so I don’t accidentally electrocute myself, and it was a quick way to see if it worked. Good news everybody… the left channel output worked, but strangely not the right channel. I also had a weird bug where I could hear the audio ins played directly through to the outputs. I’m not sure what path I had accidentally bridged, but I thought to take a mental note that it could be useful in the future depending on how much hacking I want to do on this device. The other problem I had was that the left audio channel was the only input that seemed to be working as well. Presumably I really messed up the paths on both of the knobs to some degree.

Overall I ended up having to pull it apart and I ended up testing all of the paths, and ended up finding out that about six of them were wrong… whoops. I guess I should have read the traces from the board better. Unfortunately with the break it made it a little harder to read. I probably should have searched for a service manual, but I figured I was close enough that it was worth it to plow through further. One other problem I accidentally caused myself was that I removed two bridges from the knobs. Another oops… and this made the knobs only work on one of the input and one of the output channels.

So after playing around a bit and getting everything to work it was time to screw it in and make sure that the case fit in properly and there weren’t any problems with my wires getting in the way. I had a few solder joints get loose and disconnect, probably cold joints, so I did have to redo the solder a few times.

Below you can see that the board is a little bit wiggly still, even though it is screwed into the case. I was concerned about screwing it in too tight, so I give it a tiny less than I would normally do when mounting one of these boards.

This last image shows that at least everything fits in properly… ‘ish. It does work though, and while it was a really big time sync so far (all in probably five hours), at least it is working.

Next up I think I’ll be recapping he audio related capacitors. It isn’t actually terribly noisy, but I know these tend to give out from previous experience, and I think while I have the time I will get the capacitors replaced. I’ve also got a few other fun goofy projects with the MPC 500, so I might try my hand at hacking and modifying it up a bit.

Stay tuned!

Step to This

I hit a 53 day move/stand/exercise streak, and I am not going to lie to you, mentally it has not gotten too much easier than it has been. Meaning, I am still doing my best to get up and move around, but there continue to be days where I do question how important this is to me. I guess it is more philosophical in some ways, because yeah, I know this is important for my health, but a big question that keeps coming up for me is why. Why do I want or need to be healthier? Do I need to loose weight? How much better shape do I need to be in? These questions are certainly all normal, and I do have the answers to them for myself, but I’m finding it important to remind myself more often.

One thing I think that has been important for my sanity has been to keep most of these goals and motivations to myself. I know some people look to their support system around them, but for me, other than blogging about this, I haven’t had anybody I have talked to about exercising beyond “want to go out for a walk” for the most part. I don’t have a desire to change anybody around me, and I don’t feel like I need that external affirmation of how or why this is good for me. I do feel like I am sleeping better, and while it is slow, I am seeing the pounds fall of here and there. Maybe that shouldn’t be plural though, it is more like… a pound every week or two, because honestly, I am not trying that hard to make big changes. Instead I am working on how I typically run my life, lots of little changes. It’s probably more boring to watch and observe, and can seem like not much has happened, but I guess it is also who I am.

I am also finding that Amy is a lot more in general happy to go for a mile walk, which is also good. I always had dogs growing up that loved walking, and Amy is just so interested to go out, but not interested in it enough to not want to turn around right away. I’ve been working on breaking both Amy and my wife’s habit of deciding to turn around, and sometimes this is working.

Track – STBB #695 – Running Forever

This track comes courtesy of STBB Forever BB #695, there were two tracks to chop up. The rules were effectively to chop whatever, use your own drums, no external instruments, and you needed to drop a change up in the track. I’m interested to see what others do this week.

Similar to the MPC BB this week, I was really crunched for time to work on this. This time however I decided I would just do the track in the PO-33, and make it a quick flip. So I loaded the tracks into the MPC, but didn’t even bother chopping on the MPC, I just shuffled the starting point around the tracks and sampled in what ever I wanted to start or stop, and was able to get four or five interesting chops pretty quickly from the first track. For the second track, I just sampled roughly a loop, and let the auto chopper do it’s magic, or horrible destruction.

From there, I did need some drums, and I sourced a pretty simple drum loop that had some movement in the sound just so I could change up the hits a little bit either over time or for the drops.

To build up the patterns, I mostly just built out 4 bar loops on the PO-33, copied them, and then made a version that had some effects. I did this for both sections of the song. Once I had this done, I really need to spend time working on the change up, because going from song one to song two was a bit of a mess. Sadly, I couldn’t really fix it up as much as I wanted, predominantly because of the limitations of the four note polyphony, I just could not have as many sounds playing at once as I wanted, which made it a bit awkward.

All into the song, I probably spent about 30-40 minutes. If I had more time, what I probably should have done was to create a drop track, and then a build up track. I did seriously consider this, but in the end, I figured what I had was good enough to put to use as a song. It’s not a winner, but hey, I’m still getting tracks together. No matter what though, I do have to say, you can get an amazing amount done on a PO-33, it definitely can function as a little sampling workhorse.

Track – MPC 283 – Road to Mama

This picture comes courtesy of Photoshop Camera on the iPhone with one of the goofy filters. I was out RV’ing with my family and my parents for a couple of days over the weekend… which held me up from having time to pull together more of a track. I was split on the track this week, and was messing around on Sunday afternoon on the MPC, and the yesterday I flipped to try to put a track together on the PO-33.

I actually had some really good stuff happening on the PO-33, but it is very easy to accidentally change, delete, or otherwise mess up your sounds on the PO-33. There is not really any easy way to backup the device, without dumping the entire memory rather frequently. You can probably imagine where this is going… but I accidentally deleted several of the sequences on the PO-33, and ended up just throwing my hands up last night. Today I figured I would just go back to what I had on the MPC and go from there.

Frequently for the Beat Battles I have been skipping the mixing and mastering steps, and this time I decided I would spend my free time on leveraging the YA Mastering on the Akai MPC that I picked up a while back. This took me some time to wrap my head around, but honestly the instructions are pretty well explained, I think they could just be broken down a bit better without so much “refer back to section <x>”. The sound was definitely punchier… more so than I have gotten from most of the tracks I have tried to complete on the MPC only. I’ll definitely at least give the template a few more shots, and see if I can drop some A/B comparisons on what was put together.

Overall to put this track together, I didn’t really do too much work sampling, I cut out what I thought sounded useful, did some EQ’ing, and really just focussed on one shots on the MPC. I had a few cool loops on the PO-33, but… well that ship sank. For the drums, I just grabbed sounds out of some expansion content that I had sitting around, so it wasn’t anything terribly fancy here either.

As per usual, I split the tracks out, and then made multiple sequences for sections of the song and used track mutes to build up the song. Something I haven’t done often, was convert the song back to a sequence, and then add some additional flourishes and sounds into the track to help add some more interest.

All in, I cannot recall how much time I put into this track, especially considering the PO-33 problems… maybe I got a four hours into it, 2-3 on the MPC and maybe an hour on the PO-33. I am pretty happy with how the track came out, but I still think it could have used a bit more time spent on the mixing elements to get it to pop a bit better. Better luck next time?

MPC 500 on Reverb

Well my first statement here is, if it says Non-Functioning… be prepared for the device to not function :D. I was interested in getting a repair project underway, and see if I could breath some new life into a busted device, and while I thought this was going to be a case of soldering work… well check this out… while I am pretty sure it is worth what I paid for it in parts, well I’m just saddened to see how beat up this really is.

The metal frame is bent, and the PC board is all broken to hell. While the device does power on, it is completely unusable in this current state. No problem I thought, I could go off to MPC Stuff and pick up a new board, and I ordered one yesterday. Unfortunately they wrote back that this is not the case, while the system let me order the Q-Link and volume/record knob board, they just wrote to inform me that they are all out of stock. Bummer.

So no board, and I’m not really interested in buying *another* MPC 500, as I’m not too interested in scrounging for parts. This leaves me with the decision, do I try and repair this, or do I just sell it for parts and move on? Not one to back down this early from a challenge, I think I’m going to take a stab at repairing it. I’ll post a “hey anybody have a spare board” on MPC Forums, and I’m also going to look into seeing if I can super glue the board together. This will likely require some soldering work to repair the traces or bypass the traces… but it is all for the sake of learning something new right?

Anyway, if somebody out there sees this and has some thoughts, feel free to reach out. I’d appreciate any advice I can get, thanks!

Gear I Have Sold Off The Last Six Months

I am now down to one listing on Reverb to sell off… which kind of feels insane to me, and got me thinking about what I have sold off over the years, and why I sold it off. I also have to say, I cannot believe just how much prices have gone up over the last three months for a lot of this used gear. Yeah, I know it is not manufactured any more, and I know a lot of the stuff I have sold off people are now collecting for “that sound”, but yikes are the prices crazy. Is that a weird way to say “never been a better time to sell off used gear”, maybe?

Before I go into it though, my last piece of gear to sell is the Akai MPC 1000BK. I am happy it is going to somebody who is going to use it, but this piece of gear will absolutely be missed. With JJOS it has been a solid box, and I have thought several times about taking the listing down. On the other hand, I have absolutely had no reason to have three (was going to be FOUR) MPCs. Nope, I am not sequencing that much. So, I’ll miss you MPC 1k, we made a lot of great beats together, but it is time for you to go to a new home.

What have I sold off recently?

  • Akai MPC 1000BK – The X/Live workflow really got me, and just function that much better as an all in one solution. JJOS still has tricks up it’s sleeve that the 1k could do much more simply though.
  • Power Conditioners – with selling off all of this gear, I don’t need quite so much power
  • Korg Wavedrum – I really enjoyed this drum, it was super tactile and expressive, but it was really just getting dusty
  • Korg Electribe 2 – While I enjoyed the sounds here, I am just too much into the MPC style of music production and the Electribe sounded great, but the sequencing felt limited
  • Korg Electribe 2S – Similar to the other Electribe, but the sampling time was just too restrictive for my tastes.
  • Moog FreqBox – I loved the sound FX here, but it just took up too much space for my needs…
  • Moog RingMod – Same as above, and I’ve replaced it to some extent with euro rack
  • Moog 12-Stage Phaser – Same as above, and also effectively replaced with euro rack
  • Critter & Guitari Organelle – Calm me a doofus, but I sold it to get the Organelle M.
  • Oto Biscuit – I have so many 8 bit FX, and a lot of things emulate the Biscuit today… I just couldn’t justify keeping it around… I also cannot believe how much I sold it for.
  • Akai S1000 8mb and 2x 2mb Memory Expansion – Upgraded my S1000 to 32mb on a single board, and was able to recoup *some* of the cost selling these boards off.
  • Akai MPD32 – I just had no need for it, when I bought it (already had MPC) and it was sitting in the closet boxed up. Probably one of the few purchases I really regret.
  • M-Audio Midisport 8×8 – As I have been simplifying the studio, I haven’t had as much a need for audio routing. Super happy to sell it to somebody who was using this as their studio centerpiece and it had imploded on them… so mine was able to bring their studio back online quickly.
  • Korg Kaossilator – a fun toy, but I just never got into it for making sounds.
  • Akai APC40 – When I was heavy into Ableton Live, this was great… I might consider getting a Push some day, but for now I’m not a heavy Ableton Live user.
  • Korg MicroKorg XL – Great memories playing around with this, especially the vocoder, with my daughter. I felt a little bit bad selling it, especially since my daughter was not so much of a fan that I sold it. She has since forgiven me.
  • Korg Kaoss Pad 2 – I really really liked this FX unit, but I don’t know… it hadn’t fit into my workflow for years, and I couldn’t bring myself to upgrading.
  • Devi Ever: Hymn Strangl Synth Mangler – Oddly, this had been purchased to be an FX unit thrown into the loop on my Moog Voyager. I never really used it, but it sounded great. Sold it for quite a bit, and I hope the new owner is shredding up epic guitar riffs.
  • Flame Midi Talking Synth – At one point in my life… I was going to write a program so that I could Speak n’ Spell synthesize computer voice generated lyrics… this project never happened, and while it was a fun little device to mess with, the amount I was able to sell it off for was insane.
  • Akai MPC Live – I was rocking an MPC X, and had the Live… and didn’t really need both. The X was a serious upgrade from the Live… both from the amount of quick buttons, but also the 16 Q-Links is just great. I didn’t really need the Live anymore.

Which currently leaves me with just the Moog Murf for sale. I have great memories tearing up loops with it, and will miss it when it goes, but it’s another one sitting in a box, just waiting to go out the door.

I have to say, not having so much around to maintain and think about is nice. Even with what I have left sometimes it feels like a burden to just keep it working. I’ll probably be selling off, donating, or otherwise getting rid of a few more things, but I also do feel like I am settling into what my core studio ought to be now. Once my last big piece of furniture comes in I’ll have to take a picture and start writing up more about what I am doing with it, what decisions and trade offs I’ve made, and figure out which few more pieces of gear go out the door.

Longest Move Streak

The picture is of my dog Amy, she loves sun bathing after long walks. She just had her sixth birthday, so she deserves a little downtime now and then.

Well, today I hit a longest move streak of 45 days. That is probably 40 more days than any of my previous move streaks. I will admit, there have been a few days in there where I just didn’t want to exercise. I had a late start, maybe got a mile into walking, and by the time I got home with the heat I just didn’t want to go out again.

Staying motivated has come up a few times for me. A lot of this is because it is just very easy to say “what is one day?” I suppose I could make up for it the next day, or the day after, and that is both the point, and the issue.

The reality is true, the streak really doesn’t matter because it is not the goal. The goal I have for myself is to get into better shape. Taking a day off is not an impediment to that goal directly, but I have also spent time thinking that perhaps it is the symbol. I have mentioned before and will say it again, it has been several years since I have done any physical activity regularly.

I used to hit the gym at work regularly, often three, but sometimes five days a week. That just about immediately ended when I decided to go back to school for my MBA about five years ago. Once I started my MBA, my life was consumed with getting everything out of it that I could, and as a result my personal life, my health, and my hobbies all took a back seat.

When I completed the MBA last year, it took me about a month to even be able to have a normal relationship with my wife again because we had drifted pretty far apart. We had expected this, and gotten used to about four years of me going to school, but I don’t think we were prepared for how weird it would be to reconnect. With my hobbies taking a back seat, I also spent a lot of the last year trying to figure out what I wanted to do, as I have had many hobbies over the years, and I figured it was time to consolidate my interests.

All this is a long way to say both that I am happy that I am getting myself physically active again, and I am still working on pacing myself. It has been a long time coming, and oddly the pandemic has really helped me see the kind of spiral I was going down, just sitting at home, taking meetings, and not really moving much.

I am going to keep ticking that move streak up, but I’m not going to let it control my behavior either. What does that mean exactly? I am not sure, but for the time being I’m going to keep on getting out for walks, and I will start considering what other alternative exercises I can add to my repertoire.

Stay healthy!

Moving from Ableton Live to an MPC

Here are some explanation I gave over at MPC Forums to help explain how an MPC works if you’re coming from and Ableton Live environment.

I came from Ableton myself… and it’s a much different environment.

The main things to get your head wrapped around on the MPC is sampling and sample management, programs (drums and key groups mostly), tracks and how to drop notes across various tracks to group things, and sequences to hold each section of your song.

Where you can do really cool things with samples in Ableton along the lines of warping and such, you don’t have this facility as much on the MPC. On the MPC you really want to be thinking about One Shots (or Note On) for a sample, and for loops you frequently want to chop it up so you can flip the sample. Learn how to do trimming and chopping… while similar on Ableton in Simpler and Sampler… if you get into it you’ll also get a sense for what makes it different and creates a different sound.

Ableton Drum Rack is pretty much equivalent to the MPC Drum Kit Program… and where I appreciate the MPC style more is in the space of leveraging 16 LEVEL and Q-Links… I don’t have a Ableton Push, but I imagine this feels similar in some ways. Ableton Sampler is pretty similar to MPC Key Group Programs… you can probably functionality think of them as similar as far as programming instruments and sounds go.

I would suggest considering Ableton Clips as comparable to MPC Tracks. Though I will caution you… where a lot of folks tend to make mistakes is that they’ll create a drum program with lots of cool sounds, one shots, chords, fx, Vox, and such… and then just record everything onto a single Track. For practicing and playing around this is fine, but if you are trying to build a song you really want to think of each MPC Track as an Ableton Clip. Just like you typically do not want an Ableton Clip to have a full combination of your drums, bass, instrumentals, etc… in one clip most of the time, similarly you generally do not want to do this in an MPC Track either. Just be warned… you’re best to get in the habit of making each track Kick/Snare/Hat/Bass/Piano, or at least Drums/Bass/Lead… trust me, it will help you keep your sanity later on from having to Track -> Copy and then Erase events from each track… or having to do a Track Explode and then join things back together that are related.

Finally… I’d highly suggest thinking of your Ableton Arrangement similarly to your MPC Sequence, in particular… consider that you want your MPC Tracks and Programs to be the same Sequence over Sequence (but maybe playing different patterns), because similar to Ableton Arrangement… it gets complicated to have Snares in your Hats Ableton lanes… and in particular on the MPC… things can get wonky.

All that said… these are all suggestions and gross over generalizations. Don’t feel like any of this is hard and fast, but just things to keep in mind when trying to learn how to think about the MPC with an Ableton mindset. None of this is set in stone, but there are things that are made easier to understand if you can grasp this.

Good Luck!

Track – STBB Forever 694

New Beat Battle up at STBB Forever #694. Was a fun one, and I pulled content from the four tracks. A lot of cool things to sample, and the rules were effectively no hats, and record your own percussion.

I pulled a lot of fun glass bell, horns, strings, piano, etc… all sounded really good. I just focussed on straight up one shot type sounds, and maybe a few hits with a bit of extra sound on them. I was able to put together quite a few tracks and sequences on the MPC, but honestly a lot of them just didn’t work together well, so I grabbed the sections I thought worked well enough and strung them together as best I could. So yeah, not exactly proud of this track, but I am trying to keep putting tracks together and retraining my ear for these things.

Anyways, enjoy the track for what it is, and have a great day! 😀