Posts in software
Brad Sucks Digital Download Store v0.04

New version of the Brad Sucks Digital Download Store, most of these changes are thanks to Scott Andrew who's using the DDS on his new store. Changes:

+ variable pricing
+ default price (list in order)
+ can now add physical items
= fixed: spaces now allowed in filenames
= fixed: specifies product ids must be number in items.ini
= fixed: noted PAYPAL_EMAIL must be your sandbox business email

Very handy additions. You can grab it here.

Some people are reporting installation troubles with previous versions here in the forums. Still trying to figure out what's going on there.

Free software I use but am unhappy with

This is software I'm using but would be happy to ditch for something better:

Google Desktop - I run Google Desktop because I like the quick program launcher and docking my Google Talk & Calendar in the sidebar. But the sidebar overall feels bloated and slow, the email gadget sucks (slow to update, shows sent items, lacks Gmail integration), the quick launch often doesn't find things I want to launch and the desktop search keeps finding files I've deleted that don't exist anymore. The more I write about it here the more lame I think it is.

ToDoList - I've used this for a while and it works okay, but the options and UI are super complicated. I also can't get it to keep hiding my completed items and I'd like a view that shows me all my due tasks on one page. Having it online and integrated with my other software would be nice as well but I haven't found a better one to replace it.

KeyNote - KeyNote's development discontinued back in 2003 but I'm still been using it. It's done well for me as a notebook and scratch pad, but these days I want to ditch the note-tree paradigm for something that lets me tag my notes and ideally store them online.

Firefox - I love the awesome customization of Firefox, but it's slow, even without my gazillion extensions installed. It can't be denied that IE7 and Opera are both much faster. But I'm tied to Firefox because I can't live without Greasemonkey & Gmail Macros and NextPlease and Adblock and Firebug and Google Browser Sync and All-in-One Gestures and and and...

Free software I've been happy with

MediaMonkey - A while back I mentioned I was searching for a new music player, something that would let me shuffle through my library nicely. I tried nearly everything out there and 95% of it was awful. Media Monkey is awesome. Less bloated than iTunes, more feature-rich than Winamp, MediaMonkey has it all. I went from being bored with my massive music library to being entertained again.

Media Player Classic - Make no mistake, VLC should still be installed on every system. But Media Player Classic is a little bit more attractive and faster for jumping through certain video files.

RocketDock - This is a sexy lightweight little program launcher. I always used the built-in sidebars in XP but this is sexier.

Notepad++ - My favorite programming editor. I keep finding new features in it that make my life easier.

Pidgin - I replaced Trillian with this after being horrified by how bulky Trillian Astra looks. I still like the simplicity of Google Talk but this is cool for all the other protocols.

Ableton Dead

Setting up all this live show stuff is officially kicking my ass. I am angry and hurt and tired. I'm about ready to put together a live show of me configuring software for an hour and a half and call it "Working-on-a-Performance Art".

My mind is blown -- BLOWN -- by how annoying this all is with the tools currently available. I'm jealous of DJs. It's like nobody designing software wants anyone to change chords mid-song anymore. "You mean you have two SEPARATE chord sequences in a song? That's unsanity!"

I got some emails from musicians using Live who feel similarly and Peter Kirn from Create Digital Music listened to me cry on the phone. Matt from Flux Minor shared his live Ableton project with me. His approach was to render individual channels (drums, bass, etc) of the entire track instead of recreating it loop-based as I was.

It gives you less flexibility but he assured me they haven't felt the need to alter arrangements on the fly while performing. So I ran off in that direction as it sounded a lot easier. I was four songs into the rendering and recreating process when I realized Ableton Live can only send program changes to external gear (like my GT-6) at the launch of a new clip. So if you're not setting it up all crazy like I was before you're SOL for program changes.

Guess I'll go kick something.

live, softwareBrad Turcotterant, tech
Solo Singer/Songwriter Ableton Live Setup

I think I may be able to declare success in the singer/songwriter versus Ableton Live and the Behringer FCB1010 Midi pedal board. It took a lot of thinkin'. I can't say this is the best way, but I've got it working and boy will it be boring for you to read about! So here's what I wanted:

  1. My songs divided up into scenes (verse, chorus, etc) and for Live to automatically advance through them with no input from me.
  2. A pedal that repeats the current scene (for those extended solos or when I screw stuff up).
  3. A pedal that plays the previous scene.
  4. A pedal that advances to the next scene.
  5. For Live to control my Boss GT-6 guitar effects throughout the arrangement.
  6. For Live to automatically apply effects to my voice throughout the arrangement.

Here's the screenshot of my live Dirtbag set in Live for those who want to follow along at home:

Also used: Midi Yoke and two instances of Bome's MIDI Translator.

SCENE FOLLOWING

First thing was to set up automatic scene progression as Live retardedly does not have this functionality. For this I simply selected all the clips in the scene, entered how many bars I wanted it to play for and selected the Next action.

The problem with this method is that if you have gaps in your arrangement (say a section where the bass doesn't play), the missing clip will stop the progression dead in its tracks and nothing else will play on that track.

So you need to pad it out with dummy clips -- all the black clips in the arrangement in the first screenshot. I used a file with a couple seconds of silence and filled all the gaps in with them. That way you can assign follow actions to those clips and it works fine -- but is tedious to set up (and annoying when you're trying to modify your arrangement).

PEDAL TO RESTART THE CURRENT SCENE PART 1

So we're progressing through the scenes automagically now, should be easy to just restart the current scene, right? NO.

Since we're using the individual clip follow actions (as no scene actions exist), when the clips advance to the next scene, the master clip selection does not. Which means that from a remote triggering point of view, Ableton has no idea what scene you're playing. So there's no way to re-trigger what you're currently doing. Awesome!

My hacky solution was to install Midi Yoke and a copy of Bome's Midi Translator. I then made MIDI Track 9: "scene sync" and routed that out to MIDI Yoke's 1st virtual output. I filled the trick with clips playing note C2 at 100 velocity at the very beginning of the clip.

I set up an instance of Bome's Midi Translator to receive on MIDI Yoke's first input and set it to hit the Down cursor key every time it receives note C2 at 100 velocity.

What this means is that if you launch the first scene in the set, the clip in the scene sync track fires a C2 into Bome's Midi Translator which then simulates the user pressing the down cursor key, which moves the currently selected scene down one. So your scene selection will now advance with your song.

PEDAL TO HOLD THE CURRENT SCENE PART 2

Now that Ableton has an idea of what scene we're playing while we're advancing automatically through the scenes, what we want is actually possible.

First I switched the Select Next Scene on Launch preference off. Then I mapped my Midi pedals on the FCB to another instance of Bome's Midi Translator with the input set to my regular Midi port:

So these are set to the keypresses relative to where our follow scene puts our cursor (which is always one scene below the currently playing scene):

  • Repeat scene = Up + Enter
  • Next scene = Enter
  • Previous scene = Up + Up + Enter

CONTROLLING MY GUITAR EFFECTS AUTOMATICALLY

This one's easy enough. I created a "gt6" Midi track and set the output to my Midi controller going into my Boss GT-6. After that all you have to do is send program changes:

Look in the Notes section in the middle. Bank / Sub-Bank, Program. Program is set to 4, so this clip will jump my GT-6 to its fourth patch when it starts.

CONTROLLING MY VOCAL EFFECTS AUTOMATICALLY

This isn't so bad either. I made a vocals audio track, set the input to my microphone and switched Monitor - In on so that my vocals are always heard. Then I filled the channel with empty MIDI clips. I then can modify the clip automation where I want to add effect -- turn insert effects on or off, modify variables, modify sends, etc.

For now I chose to map my FCB expression pedals to the sends so that I can mess with my vocal effects if I want to, adding delay whenever I feel like it, etc. I'll think about this more during actual performances.

THE END

Well, it works. I can have the backing tracks going, play guitar and sing, have Ableton modify my guitar patches and vocal effects automatically and I can alter the arrangement on the fly as well as my vocal effects with my feet -- but holy lord.

Ableton Live is nice and all, but that was hard and I still haven't combined everything into one big set (because Live has no ability to switch between sets via Midi). I've made three sets for different songs of mine now and have tried to keep the track template the same so hopefully that will help.

I'm also not sure how I'll be able to jump between songs as I've started to dislike doing pre-planned sets when I play live. Possibly I'll wind up programming a bank on the FCB per song, so I can switch songs by switching banks.

I get the impression the folks at Ableton could use some more time around singer-songwriter types and full bands. They've got the DJs covered, time to see what the other lads need because while the features lacking are tremendously important, I can't imagine it's actually very much code-wise.

Adding scene follow actions would simplify this entire process a ton and seems easy. Also building in a MIDI->keyboard macro system like Bome's Midi Translator also seems trivial and would add a ton of flexibility to the program.

Now I'm pretty sick of saying the word "clip". That is all.

Things I've learned about Ableton Live
  • Live has no facility for quickly switching between songs (aka "sets") via MIDI so you have to pile them all together into one giant set (unless you want to use the mouse and keyboard to move to your next set). This means the order you perform your songs in will be fixed on whatever order you have queued up, which blows. (Unless I can think up a clever way to jump around via MIDI.)
  • After thinking about it I thought the easiest way to start using Live in a live setting would be to have a fixed sequence of scenes (verse, chorus, verse 2, chorus 2, etc) which would go off without any input from the user (me), but I could hit a pedal to stay in any given scene if I wanted to pad it out, solo more, improvise, etc. But there's no "scene follow action", so you have to rig up some crazy solution via MIDI.
  • By far the majority of tutorials out there are for "live looping", Kid Beyond style or DJing. I can't find much in the way of singer/songwriter tutorials or using Live inside a conventional band.
  • The most commonly used technique with a midi pedal board as far as I can see is instead of triggering specific scenes you set up pedals for "next scene" and "previous scene" so that you can advance (and backtrack if needed) through the scenes. No functionality for this exists inside of Live so you have to use Bome's Midi Translator or an equivalent to simulate keystrokes when triggered via MIDI.

I think what I want to do will be possible, just takes a lot of fussing around.

live, softwareBrad Turcottegear
Google Reader

Still so very impressed with Google Reader. It's changed the way I read the web and I thought I was pretty good at that already.

While I felt like I  was on information overload with Bloglines with 117 feeds, since switching to Google Reader a couple months ago my subscriptions have spiraled up to 243 in Google Reader in a short time and I still find myself looking for new stuff to add. With Bloglines I always kept an eye out for subscriptions I could drop. That's such a nice change.

Here's my obligatory braindump feedback:

  • They shold integrate Google bookmarks. I hit "share" on any item that I kind of like, which then creates this useless feed. It would be great if I could quickly Google bookmark this stuff, which Google could then do nice stuff for me with -- let me search, syndicate, personalize my search based off of it, remind me of it later. I also find myself wanting to "share" stuff when not inside of Reader, such as for sites that only offer excerpts in their feeds.
  • Integrate with Gmail. No brainer here. I'm using integrate with gmail greasemonkey script, but it lacks a level of awesome integration that could exist.
  • I wish "v" would open in new tabs in the background instead of focusing on them. Not sure if this is anything they can do much about, but I WANTS IT.
  • That "Loading..." screen gets old real fast and I've been using Google Reader for a while now. Could use some speed improvements.
  • Better blog search. Lately I find myself going to Bloglines to find feeds to subscribe to in Google Reader. How weird is that?
  • Everyone has complained about it, but the whole tags/folders/labels issue at Google is confusing. I can understand not wanting to use the word "tags" -- it's a little jarring for the moms of the world. But like, I tag a post and it makes a folder (with a different icon) on the left side. And the "tag" then shows up under "change folders" in the Feed actions pulldown. I don't get it.
  • Speaking of tagging entries, I don't get what the point of tagging entries is. Why would I do this? What is it for?
  • Also don't get starring versus sharing. Starring seems to just be sharing without an RSS feed. What's the point? (Full disclosure: I also don't really get starring things in Gmail, but having a share option makes it more obvious.)
  • It would be nice to prioritize my feeds a bit. Some (like friend's blogs, important news sites) I'd like to see first thing when I hit "all items". Others, like ebay searches I'm tracking can hang out near the bottom. Maybe just let me prioritize certain folders instead of individual blogs, that'd be good enough for me.
  • A few feeds like to show up as new all the time. Pitchfork and Technorati searches for two.

Also may I also say I'm tired of comics not offering their comic image in their feeds.

Cubase SX4 Screenshots

Music Thing has some first Cubase SX4 screenshots. Looks all right I guess, though I don't care much about what all the stock plugins are going to look like. My biggest wishes are 1) make it easier to import audio and then stretch/manipulate it, 2) some sort of sample (and maybe preset) organizer so I can tag my loops and find them easily and 3) make it easier to render VST instruments.

So from the shots available I'm mostly interested in the media bay:

And this SoundFrame Browser, which looks like a VST preset organizer:

My biggest problem in any sequencer is feeling all disorganized and not being able to get at what I want quickly enough, so these additions could be cool.

softwareBrad Turcottegear
The Shape of Song

Songs are pretty:

What does music look like? The Shape of Song is an attempt to answer this seemingly paradoxical question. The custom software in this work draws musical patterns in the form of translucent arches, allowing viewers to see--literally--the shape of any composition available on the Web.

Neat looking, but since it's limited to MIDI files it's not as much fun as it could be. (Though obviously getting musical information out of audio is super duper hard.)

Frets on Fire

Frets on FireMike wrote me a few nights ago telling me about Frets on Fire, a Guitar Hero clone for Windows and Linux and asked about doing some Brad Sucks tunes for it. I gave him the rendered guitar parts to Bad Attraction (the most guitar-y song I have, I think) and he went to work on it. Before he finished though, InfinityX showed up in the forums with, coincidentally, a completed Bad Attraction project for Frets on Fire. That's pretty cool. Anyway you can grab that in the forums here.

I've never played Guitar Hero, but Frets on Fire is fun and worth checking out. I'd love to see more of my songs in there.

softwareBrad Turcotte
REAPER 0.996

REAPER 0.996 is out and that means v1.0 should be just around the corner. The updates keep coming with amazing frequency. I spent some more time with it today to get in some last minute feedback and it's still a really impressive piece of software. Check out some of the features here. It's incredibly functional and customizable and the entire install is still only one meg in size. Once again it's free up until v1.0 and then according to Justin's post in the forums:

Should be something like $40 for noncommercial use and ~$200 for commercial use. Purchasing 1.0 will give you a license for all 1.x releases..

And after being asked how they'll define "commercial use" he posted this clarification:

as far as what constitutes commercial use, it's essentially if you are a) making money directly from what you're doing, or b) using it in a workplace.We will let you upgrade from the non-commercial license to a commercial license for the difference in price, as well. so if you go purchase the non-commercial version ,make some stuff, then end up making money on it, you can pay $160 or whatnot and be legit.

The important thing about all of this, too, is that we won't take any technological steps to enforce this-- it will be up to you to do the right thing. If you don't feel you're doing something commercially, then you're probably not, etc.

Nice.