Sunday, January 11, 2015

Jamstix Software - Part 2 of 4 - Covering All the Basic Operations

This is the second in a series of four tutorials about the Jamstix drum track creation software.  I'll start to cover basic operations in this part.

If you're looking for other blog posts in this series, here are the links.  Each one has it's own tutorial video:



Jamstix is pretty amazing, as I have already said in the first video in this series.  After I'm done this series, I'll do a set of videos where I create two complete songs from scratch.  If you want to see the way I work, you'll be able to watch just as if you were sitting beside me at the computer.  But first, let's start to go into more depth with the software now that you know what it's all about.  We'll begin by taking a closer look at the Song Wizard.

In case you'd rather just watch the full video that matches this blog post, here it is.  I used Cubase as the host in this part of the tutorial:




The Song Builder

Ok, so when you first open Jamstix within your host, you'll see the "Song" section of the upper right side main menu.  On the left side, you'll see a ton of choices of "Quick Start" songs.  There's a lot of variety there, based on different music styles mixed with various drummer personalities.  Some examples:
- Twelve bar blues
- Disco track using "Chad" (probably Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers?)
- Generic jam sessions
- Jamcussion songs
- Motown using "Phil" (probably Phil Collins of Genesis)
- Reggae with Stewart (probably Stewart Copeland of The Police)
- Standard song
- Lots of others

Let me just interrupt my own train of thought for a second to mention Jamcussion.  It's not available in the most basic version of Jamstix, but it's in a lot of the other more comprehensive versions.  Basically, it's a percussion add-on.  Think of latin instruments, hand drums, etc., all the sort of rhythm section instruments that aren't part of a normal drum kit.  If you are using Jamcussion, it runs in conjunction with (but sort of as a separate unique identity to) the main drum kit.

On the right side of the Main Menu you'll see the Song Builder.  This lets you set the rules.  Start with laying out the structure in terms of parts.  Each part has a unique initial.  Here's a list:
- I = Intro
- V = Verse
- P = Prechorus
- C = Chorus
- B = Bridge
- D = Drum Solo
- S = Solo
- E = Ending

I'm hoping that the next version of Jamstix adds some extra choices, such as a Silent section, Breakdown, and Refrain.  But those aren't critical, there are ways to emulate all of those concepts.  As it stands now, you can easily make anything work.  You might have to get a bit creative, ie. for a Verse/Refrain song, you might want to build it as Verse/Chorus.  That doesn't matter.  You can adjust the lengths of each part no matter what you call them.  As Shakespeare once said, "What's in a name?"

Next comes the Style.  It may say "8th Rock" as a default.  Go in and explore some of your own choices.  I have the full "Studio" version of Jamstix, so I have a lot of extra styls and drummers and expansion paks.  In total, I currently have 510 different styles in 28 different groups.  Some of the 28 groups include:  Afro-Cuban, blues, funk, breakbeat, electronic, gospel, drum & bass, metal, march, Motown, country, R&B, surf, and others.

Click on the little black triangle that appears to the left of some of the styles, and you will see a bunch of sub-categories.  For example, under "rock" I have eleven different sub-categories.  Under "country," I have eight.  Under "other world rhythms," I have Beguine, Bolero, Middle Eastern, and Tango.  And finally, under Jamstix 1 (the legacy styles) I have what looks like a couple hundred different styles.  After you choose a style, you can click on the default button to the right to set it as your default, if you want.  Once you've picked a style, don't forget to press "Load" to load the samples into the player.

Next, you can pick your drummer.  The default is probably "James Stix," the usual Jamstix default.  I have a couple dozen other drummers who, as I alluded to in the last video, have first names that match a lot of famous drummers.  I'm pretty sure that I know who over half of them are, and I'll put my list of guesses at the bottom of this blog post.  There's probably a full list online somewhere.

In addition to the named drummers, there are a couple of special presets.  For example, "Latino" specializes in Latin flavours.  "Machine" is used in electronic styles where a more "drum machine like" behavior is desired, by disabling the limb transition time logic and avoiding timing or power variations.  There's also  a "Silent" drummer who doesn't create or modify any notes (this is good when you're hand editing a part that's already laid down).  There's a player description on the right side of the drummer panel to give you some feedback about the style of each drummer.  Again, once you've picked your drummer, don't forget to click on the "Load" button.

The next item you can pick is the kit.  When I did the demo song for the previous video, I stuck with the default, the Standard Rock Kit.  However, since I have the Studio version of Jamstix 3, I actually have 146 different kits to pick from.  Again, there are broad categories on the left side, including kits to match a lot of the "Style" choices we've already covered.  But you don't have to match a kit to its style.  You could pair a New Orleans Jazz kit with a Drum and Bass style if you want.  And of course, many of the styles have a black triangle beside them which you can click to see a list of sub-styles.  If you're looking at using a kit style that has sub-styles, you must actually pick which sub-style you're going to use.  For example, you can't just pick "drum and bass" as a generic kit style, without deciding on which particular sub-style you'll use.

A couple of the kits are special.  You'll see kit categories for Additive Drums, BFD, and Toontrack (EZDrummer).  If you look at the kit contents on the right side of the window, you'll notice that these say "MIDI output only," whereas all the other kits listed info to show where the audio samples will come from, and perhaps some description of the piece of kit.  The reason these say "MIDI output only" is because they are default routings.  You don't get the sound of BFD, etc., unless you happen to own that particular third-party drum module software or sound bank.  However, they're good to have, because if you do own Addictive or BFD or EZDrummer, this is a perfect quick way to route the Jamstix MIDI out to your other drum module and take advantage of the high quality samples.

Once you've picked the kit you want to use, make sure you click on the "Load" button on the lower right, to load it into the player and return you to the Song Builder menu.

If you have a version of Jamstix that includes the Jamcussion expansion, you'll also need to pick a Style, Drummer, and Kit for your Jamcussion sounds.  Remember that Jamcussion, if you have it, is a hand percussion based rhythm section that can accompany your main kit, or even play alone without a kit.  Picking the Style, Drummer, and Kit of the Jamcussion section is done exactly the same way as picking the Style, Drummer, and Kit of the main drum kit, although of course this is hand percussion based, so all the styles and drummers and kits are different.  You may want to experiment a lot here to find a Jamcussion kit that sounds appropriate with the main kit you picked.  Or then again, you may not.

I know that I said earlier that it's easy to put together a song really quickly, but I just showed you a lot of complicated choices.  Don't worry, you'll quickly start getting used to the choices of Styles, Drummers, and Kits available, and it won't feel like you're dealing with much.  And worse case, if you're confused at the start, you can just ignore it all and use the defaults.

We're just about finished creating your first song.  You just need to pick how many bars you'll have in a standard verse in your song, and how many in a standard chorus.  After you do that, click on the "Create A Song" button, and look over at your Song Sheet editor window on the left.  Your song should now be all laid out for you.


Song Sheet

At this point, you might want to make some minor tweaks in your song.  Do you need to change the number of bars in any of your parts?  You can double-click on the part's name (or anywhere else on the line) and it comes up with a list of things you can edit.  You can rename the part, change the number of bars in the part, or change the number of repetitions.  You can also change the time signature if you enable this in Options, but remember that Jamstix still syncs to the tempo of your host.

There are a couple other columns on your song sheet that you can play with if you want.  The RF column stands for Repeating Fill.  If this is checked, Jamstix plays a fill whenever the part is repeated.  The TF is Transition Fill, and if checked, a fill gets played on the last bar of the part.  The TRG column deals with trigger keys for Live Loop mode.  I'll talk about that in one of the other videos, it isn't important for most users.


Drum Kit

Ok, so now that we've gone through the Song Sheet, let's take a closer look at the kit we've picked.  Click on the kit tab up to the right in the Main Menu area.  I already demonstrated in the last video that you can click on different parts of the kit to preview different drums.  Also, because most of them have multiple articulations (sounds), you can hear different sounds depending on exactly where on the graphic you clicked.  This is slightly tied to a way of letting you preview MIDI velocity variations.  I'm going to try to avoid getting deeply into MIDI here, but the short version, if you don't understand MIDI, is that as you have higher "velocities" for notes or hits, the audio volume will probably also increase, and the type of sound of the hit can also change.  For example, a low velocity hit on a ride cymbal might be fairly quiet and sound like a light pinging sound with reverb, whereas a heavy velocity will probably be louder and might sound more like a "clunk" when it hits.

Depending on your kit, you may see other things like jam blocks, shakers, eggs, cowbell, tambourine, chimes, etc., spread out on the visual display around your kit.  Try clicking on some of them to preview them (this only works if the song is playing in the host).

If your song is playing, parts of the kit will light up as they're hit.  Watching a performance from overhead as your song plays is a good education in itself.  If you want to single out a specific part of your kit to see its effect on the performance in progress, you have two useful options.  You can hold Ctrl and left-click on that piece and it will be solo'd, while the rest of the kit is muted.  If you do a Shift-click, the piece is muted while the rest is solo'd.  These key commands are presumably different in the Mac version.

If you turn off the lock button, you can move pieces of the kit around.  I mentioned this in the first video.  If you pull a piece of the kit away slightly, the drummer will be less inclined to use it.  Pull it too far out of his reach and he will stop using it completely.  Rearranging the layout of the kit can affect the drummer's performance.

The dice icon is also interesting.  Click on it and the main kit will be rearranged somewhat, both in terms of layout and exact drums present, depending on what's available.  Go ahead and try it.  It can't hurt.

Up to the top left of the graphic of the kit, you'll see a drop-down tab beside the kit name.  Check it out.  Here's where you can adjust output routings if your host allows it.  Many hosts allow for up to eight separate outputs, although right now, Pro Tools is limited to a single stereo master out.  Be aware, as the manual states, you might have to configure your host to support multiple audio outputs or else you'll only hear the sounds going to the first output.  This depends on which host you're using.  If this all sounds like Greek to you, don't worry – the default value is for it to just work without any adjustments.

There are also a number of options in this menu for sending audio or MIDI output.  Hopefully they're fairly self-explanatory.

The closed hi-hat variations menu lets you affect how much variety you'll get in the high hats, which can impact the realism of the performance.  Directly underneath that, you can turn position based dampening on or off.

Resetting the visual kit arrangement doesn't seem to affect a kit generated from the dice, but if you pulled an individual piece of the kit away manually, this returns everything to an optimal placement.

Finally, the Key Map options are related to MIDI, which a lot of people won't worry about.  I'll skip those for now, but if you're really experienced with MIDI, the Key Map is the assignment list as a tabbed text file.

Next, try to right-click on part of the kit.  Now you have the option to remove the piece you clicked on, change its sound, or add another piece to the kit.  Try playing with some changes to your kit.  There are tons of options.  Remove a piece, change a couple, and add something else.  You'll find that there are tons of choices and its fun and easy to make big changes.  If you like what you've created, there's a save button in the upper right.  If you don't like what you've created, click on the "Load" button (or double-click the kit name over to the left) to bring up a new kit on screen.

Open the kit list again by clicking Load.  You'll see a couple of options under the list of kit contents:

- Lock Outputs locks the current output assignments so they won't be changed if you load a new kit.

- Lock Mixer locks the mixer settings from being changed by a new kit.

- Keys Only will mean that Jamstix only loads key assignments and not sounds or mixer settings.  This is for advanced users.

Finally, there is a "Filter" box at the bottom of the window.  This box lets you control what gets loaded when you load a new kit.  This is handy for lots of creative kit composition.  Maybe you like most of your current kit except for the cymbals.  Click on "Cymbals Only" to load cymbals from another kit while leaving the rest untouched.


Editing The Kit

To edit part of your kit, click on one of the pieces.  That piece can be changed with the kit editor down below.  You can click on the name to load a different sound.  You can change the volume, pan, ambiance, dampening, or tuning of that piece of the kit.  You can change MIDI parameters, if you're comfortable with advanced MIDI use and routing. 

On the right side is a velocity scaling graph.  Again, this section is only going to be useful for advanced users.  If you're being fed external MIDI that's playing through your kit and it's all at lower velocities than you'd prefer, you can use this to raise velocity levels in a linear scale or some sort of compressed or expanded curve.  You can also scale velocities down this way.  There's a lot of flexibility to get your MIDI data in to a useful band/range.  The Min and Max buttons are similar here, you can set Min and Max levels and incoming data will scale in that range.


Mixer

Next, let's jump over to the Mixer tab of the Main Menu.  You'll see that it's an eight channel mixer.  If you change the number of outputs you're using, you'll have to totally shut down then re-load your host, since audio outputs are set during the opening of your host when VST plug-ins are loaded. Also, remember that in the current version with AAX compatibility, Pro Tools is limited to a single master out.

Let me cover the features of the mixer in point form:

- The drop-down tab at the upper left lets you load or save mixer settings.

- When you start out, the EQ button is depressed and you have low/mid/high EQ knobs beside each channel slider.

- Click on the Comp knob and the EQ knobs will get switched out for four knobs controlling compressor settings.  If you know how a compressor works, they'll make sense.  From top to bottom, they control your threshold, attack, release, and wet/dry mix.  The blue button turns the compressor on and off.

- Click on the Echo knob and your compressor controls will be replaced by delay controls.  Top to bottom, the three knobs control feedback, low pass filter, and wet/dry mix.  The delay is also synchronized to the host's tempo.  So the 8th means eight note delay.  Click on it to see a list of choices, down to 48th note.  The –C- below it means that the delay is centered, but it can be changed to a slow or fast pan if you want.

- The Flip Stereo toggle changes audio from drummer's to audience perspective.

- Downmix puts all outputs to channel 1.

- The AMB To Last toggle will direct all ambient effects to the highest output channel.

- If MIDI Only is enabled, audio samples are unloaded and MIDI just routes to the host or to a drum module.

- The AMB knob controls the overall ambiance level for the currently selected drum or Jamcussion kit.

- DMP controls the dampening of the room's simulated ambient sound.

- WID adjusts the stereo panning of the kit.  All the way left is mono, all the way right is full width stereo.


MIDI Remote Control

I've tried to avoid getting into MIDI in this video, to keep it simple for people who don't need to play with MIDI.  But some of you may know that separate from MIDI note data, you can use what's called a MIDI controller to adjust controls in your software more easily than doing everything with a mouse.

If you don't understand what a MIDI controller does, you should.  You don't need an indepth knowledge of MIDI to understand or use one!  First, remember that it's called a MIDI controller primarily because it's using MIDI in the background as a communications system to control stuff.  So it's less technical than you might have expected.  It did a comprehensive video about MIDI controllers not long ago.  I really recommend that you check it out to understand exactly what a MIDI controller is capable of.



Anyway, the point of this is that you can control all of the mixer controls simultaneously using a MIDI controller.  This is so much easier and more powerful than trying to use a mouse!  Of course, if you're comfortable with automation, you can also automate controls by drawing or recording envelopes.  So much power.  Strap yourself in and feel the G's.


Conclusion

You may have questions about the software.  Rayzoon has an active and useful online support forum.


Go to their website and click on the forums link.  I can also try to answer questions on YouTube, but remember that I spend nine months of each year living in a remote forestry work camp with practically no internet.  I'll answer eventually, but you'll get a MUCH faster response on Rayzoon's forums.


PS – the Drummers

I promised a list of my guesses about who some of the drummers are modeled upon …

Animal, from The Muppets
Carter Beauford – Dave Matthews Band
Charlie Watts – Rolling Stones
John Bonham – Led Zeppelin
Phil Collins – Genesis
Roger Taylor – Queen
Stewart Copeland – The Police
Mark Brzezicki – The Cult
Danny Carey – Tool
Lars Ulrich – Metallica
Chad Smith – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Keith Moon – The Whoe
Tony Thompson – Power Station
Will Champion – Coldplay

However, as Jamstix points out, "Drummer models are fictional and not endorsed by actual drummers with the same first name."


By the way, I've created a clickable index for the whole series, so if you've watched everything but you want to review a certain section, this might come in useful. CLICK HERE to go to that index.



 My YouTube channel has quite a few tutorial videos relating to DJ'ing, audio editing software, music production, and studio equipment. I have an organized list of those videos in the index of my "videos" page on my main website. If you're interested in any of those topics, you should bookmark this page right now:

www.djbolivia.ca/videos


Thanks for your interest in my blog and videos, and thanks for sharing this post or links to any of the videos.




Follow Jonathan Clark on other sites:
        Twitter:  twitter.com/djbolivia
        SoundCloud:  soundcloud.com/djbolivia
        YouTube:  youtube.com/djbolivia
        Facebook:  facebook.com/djbolivia
        Main Site:  www.djbolivia.ca
        About.Me:  about.me/djbolivia
        Music Blog:  djbolivia.blogspot.ca