Britain in the Snow

It’s become a popular pastime to kick sand in the faces of the Brits over our apparent inability to deal with bad weather.

Here’s my take on the matter:

Although the entire British Isles would fit into just one US state, there’s an extraordinary variety in geographic and climactic types in Britain. Parts of the country – Dartmoor and Exmoor, the Pennines and the Scottish Highlands – get winters that are bad even by North American standards and they deal with it very well but, where I live, we haven’t had any snow to speak of for a few years. This means that hard-pressed local authorities (and airports) won’t spend precious resources planning for something that might never happen. To be fair, no one would.

Added to this, whereas, in many countries, you can guarantee a certain type of weather at a given time of year, in Britain it just doesn’t work like that. There’s an old saying that, if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes.

It must seem comical to see news reporters standing in an inch of snow as if predicting doomsday but the fact is that small amounts of snow really can cause chaos.

We had an inch of snow last week – which had gone by mid-afternoon – with the result that a 30 mile trip to my in-laws, which normally takes around 50 minutes, took two and a half hours! This is why the news agencies warn us in advance.

All this happens because of a combination of factors. Many roads in towns and cities in Britain were laid out when horse-drawn vehicles ruled. If a car pulls into the centre of the road to turn into a side road a long queue will soon form because following traffic can’t get by. Traffic density is also a big problem. When I see reports of congestion in Los Angeles I can’t help wondering how drivers would cope with conditions over here in the rush hour. People have been known to abandon their cars in the middle of the road in disgust.

Another factor is the lack of experience of snow and ice among young drivers. When I began driving we had bad weather every winter, guaranteed.

The main problem is that, although it has become fashionable (especially in Hollywood) to portray Britain in an unfavourable light, in their heart-of-hearts even our detractors secretly expect us to excel. It goes with the badge if you’re British. Compare our medals tally in the Olympics with our population figure, one fifth of the US population, and a picture emerges of a country that punches way, way above its weight.

Logic Pro X: one year on

With twelve months under my belt on Logic I decided to share experiences.

By way of introducing myself, I spent my working life (since 1958) as a pencil score and manuscript band parts kind of guy, switching to notation software in 1993. As we all know, youngsters come out of college nowadays with all these DAW skills at their fingertips.

It’s difficult to criticise something that offers such incredible value for money. Pro Tools costs around three times as much and the hugely capable Alchemy synth bundled with Logic is worth the money on its own. You get the ES2 synth as well, which is as good as they get.

The downside is that DAW programs aren’t merely difficult, they’re insanely, despairingly complex.  Printing out the Logic help guide (I don’t like studying at the computer) produces a pile of paper a foot high.

Here’s an extract:

“For Track Stacks, you can choose a layout for the main track of a summing stack, but not for the main track of a folder stack. Subtracks for both folder stacks and summing stacks can have their own Smart Control layout. When a subtrack of a summing stack is selected, an additional Main Track Smart Controls item appears in the Layout menu. Choosing this item shows the layout for the main track of the summing stack, rather than a separate layout for the subtrack. Adjusting any screen controls switches focus to the main track of the summing stack.”

Reading this kind of stuff through hundreds of pages does cause your brain to melt after a while. This is where you’ll turn to YouTube.

There are one or two minor bugs. Choosing ‘select all following’ in the piano roll editor sometimes needs two or three attempts and if you have a synth open when you close the program you have to manually open the main editor window next time around. Ditto an open floating edit window.

The orchestral software instruments included are kind of OK and with careful editing and mastering will produce tolerable results. As we all know, superior third party instruments are a second-mortgage job if you need the whole kaboodle.

It’s a bit early for me to start dishing out advice but be careful what you touch in Logic. You only have to glance at a track to knock it out of position and accidentally right-clicking something causes problems that can take all morning the sort out. Still, that’s just familiarity, I suppose.

My biggest gripe involves a swipe at the whole industry, not at Logic alone, and that’s with regard to the total mindset on rock music. There are tons of keyboard, guitar, bass and drums sounds in Logic and they sound great. But the way the saxophones are stored is a giveaway to the problem. The saxes form a section, right? but you’ll find the alto and tenor under Garageband > Woodwind and the soprano and baritone under Jampack 1 > Woodwind. The easiest way to ascribe them is via the EXS24 sampler/synth, where they all come up in a long alphabetic list found from the top of the window. You can add third party sound fonts in Logic, too. I’ve installed the Sf2 fonts. They’re not industry standard but some of the instruments are OK (and rare).

More evidence of this obsession with rock is found in the online tutorials. By far and away the best tutorials are produced by Joshua Carney who calls himself ‘MusicTechHelpGuy’. This is a monumental series of lectures representing a huge amount of work by Joshua. It’s clear from the screen capture that he often records them late in the evening, presumably after a hard day’s work.

His voice and presentation are also easy to cope with over long periods.

Here’s the link, if you don’t already know it (which means you’ve been marooned on Mars for a while):

Unfortunately, and this isn’t a criticism, Josh is also totally absorbed into rock. There are over 70 lectures, culminating in comprehensive coverage of the art of mastering.

When writing this stuff people often say ‘Let’s add an instrument’. I’m hoping they’ll add a sax or trombone but, no. It’ll be a guitar, drums, bass or keyboard, again.

There are one or two tutorials on orchestral stuff but, so far, I haven’t found anything that goes into mixing and mastering for bands and orchestras with the same amount of detailed attention that the rockers enjoy. There are important differences. With software instruments you’re not concerned with mike spill or the acoustical oddities of recording studios, for example and the combination of like-instruments into orchestral sections has no comparable process in rock.

Incidentally, Mike Senior’s excellent work  ‘Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio’ published by Focal Press, is a must-read book. Unfortunately, here again, it’s rock all the way.

Creating new Logic files

My working method is to produce a score in my favourite notation program ‘MuseScore’, which is also a freebie. This is saved as a Midi file which I right-click on to open with Logic. Most of the instruments go straight in but two of the trombones and the guitar will regularly appear as saxes. This is easily fixed and it’s unfair to blame Apple because notation programs can inflict their own take on the matter. It’s always necessary to go into the list editor and manually delete all imported references to volume and pan (etc.) otherwise you’ll find the faders have a mind of their own. Keyswitch instruments will have more than one instance of each because there are mute, staccato, pizza, tremolo etc. versions of the file.

In this respect, you can help yourself by leaving out all dynamics and other markings in the notation program score. It’s a whole new ball game. Staccato is OK and will save loads of time in the piano roll.

If I double-click on a MuseScore midi file Finale appoints itself as the default program, even though I never use it. It also prevents the Aria instruments from sounding in Logic, even though they’re bundled with Finale! I might remove Finale from my computer. It isn’t really worth the space it’s taking up.

So that’s all folks. I haven’t spent a huge amount of time sourcing advice on orchestral mixing so any advice will be welcome.