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  • Scrolling with a Kensington Expert Mouse (Trackball)

    So, my Kensington Expert Mouse just came in the mail today! Despite it's name, this device is a trackball. I decided to adopt a trackball for ergonomics, as your wrist can remain stationary while the trackball is in use. I also considered a trackpad, but I find the trackball is both more confortable to use, and more precise. 

    Now, there is however one VERY big draw for trackpads: SCROLLING. Scrolling, both vertical and horizontal are very important for getting around your DAW. The magic trackpad is undoubtedly the best scrolling device in the universe, no contest. It's ridiculously smooth, and can scroll in very small and precise increments, without stuttering. 

    Let's be real, the scrolling mechanism on the Kensington Expert Mouse is trash. Seriously, don't even bother trying to tell me that it's any good. Sure, it's fine here and there, but the lack of precision is something that bothers me even in something like Facebook. I even took apart the Kensington and removed the magnet, as many others have done, and it's still trash lol. 

    So what did I come up with? After some digging, I discovered that most keyboard customizing software can modify any mouse or cursor movement to become a scroll. DUDE. I just found a goldmine, like seriously. Would I ever use this feature for a regular mouse? Hell no. But for a trackball? That's brilliant. So for OS X, all you do is download and install software called Karabiner, and go to town. It's free, and easy to use. So right now I have it set up that when I hold down the command key, my trackball turns into a beautiful, 2D scrolling device. It's amazeballs (HA). 

    I still use the scroll ring on the Kensington here and there, when I just wanna scroll through stuff one handed, but with the modifier key, the trackball scrolls nearly just as smooth as a trackpad. I was amazed. 

    Problem solved. You're welcome trackball world. 

    Here's the software:

    https://pqrs.org/osx/karabiner/

  • Pay Per View

    Pay Per View

    Recently I had the pleasure of composing the score for the short film "Pay Per View" directed by the awesome James Heiner. James and I worked together on the short "Figure 2.1", so it was nice to get called in to do "Pay Per View" as well. James is a great director, and really knows how to communicate his vision to me as a composer. It's just a pleasure to work with a director who knows what he wants, and knows how to ask for it. It really makes you fall in love with the collaborative process.

    This score was really fun to write, as it acted more like a dreamy soundscape, wallpapering over the scene. Similar to the way Cliff Martinez often writes, which can be seen clearly in a film such as "Spring Breakers".

    All the cues I got to write did not have any dialogue, so I was given plenty of room for sonic expression. The score consists mainly of delayed synth bells, a celeste, synth bass, electric guitars, piano, and a bunch of ambient pads weaving in and out. 

    For the first cue, Dermot, my main focus was making the music as dreamy, dark, and sexy as possible. The whole tone of the scene is sexy as hell - the lighting, the girl's skinny jeans and black heels, the way Dermot lights his cigarette and winks. This is about as sensual as you can get. But it's also very dark, and almost troublesome. We know Harold wants it, but probably shouldn't. 

    The second cue, At The Bar, is a little lighter. It's a complete fantasy, and is more amicable. Not quite as overtly sexual, but definitely dreamy. I chose harmony that was a little more open and positive, and opened up the ambient pads to sound more airy. 

    For the end credits, I decided to take the sonic pallet I created and just run with it, ending up with a chill, dark, electronic track with nice impact. Here I introduced some muted electric guitar, and some guitar harmonics. It all maintains that dreamy soundscape, but it really just drops you in and gets things moving.  

    All in all, "Pay Per View" was an amazing project to work on. Like I said before, I got to wallpaper over the scenes, so I had tons of flexibility, and had lots of room and opportunity to breathe into the film. 

    Click here to hear the soundtrack!

    Also, for anyone in the Chicago area, "Pay Per View" will be screening on November 6th, 2015. Check out the Facebook page for more details:

    https://www.facebook.com/payperviewfilm

  • Hard Drive Set-Up for Media Composers

    Alright composers, let's talk about hard drives and data management, yay! This might sound boring, or unnecesarry, but trust me, this is important. This information is crucial for optimizing your system, organization, and loss prevention (backup). I have a total of 6 hard drives in my studio:

    1. System Drive
    2. Audio Projects
    3. Sample Libraries
    4. System Clone
    5. Audio Projects Backup
    6. Sample Libraries Clone

    Let's start with the main 3: System Drive, Audio Projects, and Sample Libraries.

    System Drive:

    Your system drive is the internal drive that comes with your computer. It is the default start-up disk. This is where your operating system (ie. OS X or Windows) is installed. This system drive should primarily be used for the operating system and applications ONLY. It's ok to have basic documents on there too. Therefore, this drive does not need to be very large. 256 GB will suffice in most cases. I also recommend a solid-state drive; you'll really notice the speed increase in boot time, and application start-up time. 

    Audio Projects:

    On a separate drive, this is where you will save your project folders, whether that be Logic, Cubase, Pro Tools, or whatever. A project folder saved out of Logic will typically include the Logic file, an Audio Files folder, Movie Files folder, Bounces, Fade Files, and even sampler instruments. 

    Sample Libraries:

    On another drive, you will store all of your sample libraries. So for example, when you buy Cinematic Strings 2, you will be installing it and storing all the files on the Sample Library drive. It's not necessary, but I would also recommend a solid-state drive here, because it speeds up the time taken to load the samples. 

    So why these 3 main drives? Why not just have it all on a large system drive? 

    The reason you want to split this information into 3 separate drives is for efficiency and power. The main thing to remember is that these 3 drives are performing very distinct tasks. Let me briefly explain how a traditional hard drive works:

    Data is stored on a magnetic platter. Data is read from, and written to the drive with a magnetic head, attached to an arm. It actually looks very similar to a record player:

    *picture source: operationalportal.com

    So any time you need to read or write to the drive, that arm comes down, and makes contact with the platter. Just like the needle comes down on the vinyl on a record player. Now here's the important part: 

    Hard drives traditionally read and write in small bursts. 

    Think about that for a second. The arm usually goes down for about a second to save a word document. Or a second to open up a folder.

    Now let's say you're recording a 3 minute guitar track. This means that the drive is in write mode for 3 minutes straight. 

    Now imagine that while your hard drive is writing audio data over those 3 minutes, that it's also streaming some samples, AND acccessing data to run your DAW (ie. Logic, Cubase, etc). I don't know about you, but that sounds like a lot of work for one hard drive. 

    By using a 3 drive system, you are decreasing the wear of your drives, and increasing performance for audio tasks. 

    Not only that, but everything will be more organized, and organization is incredibly important for any audio professional. And realistically, you're going to run out of room on your system drive at some point anyways. Sample libraries take hundreds and hundreds of GB. 

    So what are the other 3 drives for then? 

    The other 3 drives are for crisis management. One important thing to always remember:

    EVERY HARD DRIVE WILL FAIL. 

    It's not a matter of IF. Every single hard drive will fail on you eventually, it is only a matter of time. So there are certain precautions that you can take to save yourself and your work. 

    System Clone:

    A system clone is an exact copy of your internal system drive. That means that it is identical, containing every single file (even hidden files) of your system drive. Thus, this clone will also have your operating system and will be bootable. What this means is that you can plug in your clone, restart your computer, and right after you hear that cute Apple dinger, you hold down the option key, and you can choose to boot your computer from the clone. 

    What does this mean practically? This means that when your system drive fails you, you boot from the clone, and resume work as usual. It's like having an identical backup computer. I shouldn't really have to explain why this is useful, especially if you're in the middle of a big project with a deadline. 

    The drive you choose for your system clone has to be the same size or bigger than your system drive. That should be obvious, but I'm saying it just in case. 

    Your clone should be an external drive, kept hidden somewhere safe. Now keep in mind that while booting from an external drive, everything will run slower because of the connection (USB 3.0 in my case). It is intended as a temporary work solution until you fix or replace the main system drive. If you wanted to make this clone as fast as possible, clone your system onto a solid-state thunderbolt drive. 

    *Important Note: not all external hard drives are bootable! Make sure to research this before hand. I personally use a WD My Passport Ultra for my clone, and it is indeed bootable. 

    Audio Projects Backup:

    This is simply a backup of your audio project folders. It doesn't have to be a bootable clone. If you're in the middle of a project, and your audio drive fails, then you have a backup and can resume like nothing happened. 

    Sample Libraries Clone:

    This is just a clone of your sample library drive. Obviously not a bootable clone, cause there's no operating system on it, nor should there be. If something weird happens to your samples, then you plug in your sample library clone, and you open your Logic project, and look at that: all your kontakt instruments load no problem. (you might have to point kontakt to the new drive, but that takes 1 second) 

    So how do I clone or backup a drive?

    There are many software solutions that will do this for you. I personally use software called Carbon Copy Cloner:

    https://bombich.com

    Carbon Copy Cloner is very simple to use, beautiful interface, and offers a 25% academic discount. 

    Super Duper is also widely used, but I personally prefer Carbon Copy Cloner. 

    So there you have it! I don't take credit for this information: this has all been passed to me through professors, mentors, and audio professionals. Most succesful composers for media operate in this fashion. 

    If you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment below, and I'll try to anwer it the best I can. 

    *Note: Consider keeping your drives no larger than 1 TB. It's simply much easier to manage 1 TB at a time. And if your drive fails, losing 1 TB is not the end of the world (losing 4 TB might be). But of course, if you followed the set-up in this blog, you'd have that big 4 TB drive backed up anyways. 

    - John Hagley

  • Mac Mini for Audio Production

    With the release of Logic Pro X, I decided it was time to upgrade my computer. I was originally running Logic Pro 9 off of a 2009 Macbook Pro, with Snow Leopard installed. It had an Intel Core 2 Duo, 500gb drive @5400rpm, and 4gb of ram. I couldn't justify investing money and upgrading to Mountain Lion and Logic Pro X on an outdated machine. 

    I was really only considering either an iMac or a Mac Mini, as the Macbook Pro and Mac Pro were beyond my budget. The two main reasons that I went with the Mac Mini are that it still had firewire, and you could open it up and upgrade the ram yourself.

    Mac Mini specs:

    2.3 Ghz Intel Quad Core i7

    256 gb solid state drive

    4 gb of ram

    Intel 4000 graphics

    Firewire, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, and HDMI

    This Mac mini cost me $1,200 from the Apple Store. I then bought 16 gb of ram from Crucial for $150 and installed it myself. To get 16 gb of ram from the Apple Store would have been $300. Installing the ram is very easy, and there are plenty of videos on YouTube showing you how. 

    For a monitor I bought an ASUS VS238H. 23" matte display, 1080p HD, 2ms response time, 50mil:1 contrast ratio. It cost me $160 and it is absolutely gorgeous. 

    Add this all together with a $60 keyboard, and we have an awesome audio production computer for $1,570. To get an iMac with the same specs would have cost $2,149. Of course with an iMac you'd get that gorgeous all-in-one display, a faster processor clock speed, and a dedicated graphics card, but is that worth $579? Maybe. For me it wasn't. What's also cool about the Mac Mini is that it's still completely portable. Just plug it into your friend's monitor, and you're good to go. 

    Anyways, this Mac Mini is hella fast! The solid state drive is amazing. I'll be keeping this drive entirely for the OS and software. I picked up two 1 tb Seagate USB 3.0 drives for $69 each. One for my sample libraries, and one for my audio data:

    The Intel 4000 graphics are pretty good too. I don't play that many games, but I was rocking 60 fps on League of Legends with everything set high. Really smooth. 

    Can't wait to write some film cues on this thing!