Thursday, 31 December 2009

Building a New PC for Music - Part 4: Benchmarking

I wanted to test how fast this new MAESTRO-2 PC is. Found an interesting benchmark site: PassMark. They offer a software for benchmarking your own PC; unfortunately this is only free for 30 days, then one has to pay $24 to activate the software. I tried the free version (fortunately there is a Windows 7 64bit version available) and ran the benchmarking: the overall PC system score is not at the top: it is at 1553, out of the current best one which is currently at 6258. My CPU benchmark is at 5931, which is not bad compared to the current top at 7298, especially since I run the CPU without any tuning: no overclocking, no higher voltage. In terms of HD the ranking of my system is at 1631 - the RAID really shows off here, compared to the overall top scores of 1724 and 1639. In the web page, only scores are shown which come from a minimum number of sampled systems; since my system appears to be unique, it is not shown there - but it would be overall on #3! There is no web comparison of the memory, but one can download individual benchmark reports uploaded by other users. The memory score of MAESTRO-2 is 2533, which is close to the upper end of a few selected systems with which I compared the data. The graphics data are as expected in the mid ranges, as well as the CD date. But I do not need any of those scores to be high - important are CPU, HD, and memory.

Building a New PC for Music - Part 3: Windows 7

After 3 1/2 hours of getting the hardware ready (I took it easy, without rushing), it is now time to install the OS: Windows 7, 64 bit.
  1. I insert the DVD into the DVD tray. "Windows is loading files". ... Done after 20 minutes. Went well without any problems.
  2. Now installing all the software from those disks that came with the hardware. First from the CD that came with the motherboard: but just running the autorun did not work, "incorrect OS version". I begin to realise that this PC will be quite lonely: none of my software will work on the 64 bit OS, only the software which has specifically been built for 64 bit will run. I explore the disk and find a few 64bit drivers. Install first the audio driver, SoundMax from Analog Devices. Then reboot: error message: "ADI driver is not intended for this OS". Well, the problems start to creep up... I realise that the date of the files on the driver disk is 26.12.2008 – this is too early for any Windows 7 driver. I will have to go online to download the native Windows 7 versions. So I uninstall the SoundMax software. Fortunately the uninstall works proper, despite of components of the software not being the correct version.
  3. First overall impression: the PC runs very quiet. Windows 7 runs smoothly. But so far there is nothing yet installed that could cause any problems – I will have to see later when the "real" software is to be installed, all the audio processing etc. The HD speed appears to be ok, but not too exciting; in fact it appears to be disappointingly slow. I had copied a few files from the DVD drive to the HD, and it appeared to be not really blazing... I will have to do some exact benchmarking test later.
  4. Next step: to get internet. Got a cheap Wifi USB adapter, plug it in – it installs automatically, drivers appear already present. No problem at all.
  5. Windows 7 has "one open issue": I do not have any antivirus protection. I will cover this later, will try to install AVG, if that exists as a 64 bit version.
  6. Last hardware installation: the ASUS Xonar Essence STX soundcard. This is to be the main component for the creation of the music later, when the right software is there. For now I just want to make sure that there are no conflicts in the system, and that it runs ok. I place it into the small PCIe slot, then reboot - no issues.
  7. Tried to install ASUS Xonar soundcard drivers from the disk. Went to the directory /Vista, but the setup did not work – gave a cryptic message that "//XP/Setup" (or similar) was not present... so I went one level deeper into another "Vista" folder and ran the setup from there. A screen with the Xonar logo comes up, but nothing else. The mouse cursor can still be moved, but nowhere to click or to install anything. Will have to wait until proper drivers are available. When going into the task manager, I realise that a window is just waiting for my input... so I continue the installation. This is strange that this input window did not put itself into the foreground automatically.
  8. After a restart, the PC appears fine, except that the Wifi has no network access... only after a few minutes it comes back. But clicking on the Internet Explorer icon now does not result in IE starting up... What have I done wrong now? After uninstalling the ASUS Xonar software and uninstalling a strange software that I had not even been aware that was installed (OpenAL), the MS IE runs again as it should. Very strange... Finally the Wifi login works (the long delay is an unrelated problem with the BTfon setup to which I am subscribing). First I download the Windows updates. 13 files, 17.8 MB. In parallel I do the activation – works ok.
  9. I visit the ASUS website, begin to download the Win7 64bit drivers. This goes through a P2P software "DNA" using a torrent; DNA is installed. In parallel I install Google Chrome and Firefox 3.5, all ok as 64 bit versions. Suddenly I realise that I have not yet installed any virus checker. The firewall warns that the DNA accesses the PC – I allow the access. Visit the Microsoft website for suggestions re. virus software, and decide again to use the well proven AVG: is free, and is less annoying than the Norton software (which has those installers which never can be removed) and is less performance-killing than the McAfee (this is just a heuristic statement, based on my experience at work where the background virus check seems to interfere with software running): I never had any bad experience with the AVG antivirus software, and I have used the free version already since several years. Maybe it is time to reward AVG and buy their full version, since they do such a great job.
  10. Installed AVG ok. Found the proper version through Google which led me to x64bitdownload.com. The direct download from their site (which would choose automatically the proper version for Windows7 64-bit) was quite slow through my WiFi, so I got the 70 MB installation file through a Ethernet-connected internet line at work. Installed it, did a scan, no problems.
  11. I also downloaded a few of the ASUS motherboard files for Windows 7. Among them a program “EPU-6 Engine”. After installation I rebooted, and to my dismay the message appeared “Location not bootable”… I was quite shocked, feared already that I had to redo the whole Windows 7 installation, until I realised that I had forgotten to remove that USB memory stick which I had used for the file transfer, and which was now assumed to be the first boot device. What a relief when Windows 7 booted fine after I had removed that USB stick.
  12. The next steps will be installing a few free Windows 7 64 bit software bits, for various system purposes. And the last major step is to install the audio software (Sonar 8.5 and Personal Orchestra 4) and the MIDI interface. Unfortunately CCL did not have any of the software upgrades available, and the music retailer in town did not have anything either in stock, so I went online to Dolphinmusic. I already had ordered in the past from them and had good experience. The software is available, but the MIDI interface not yet – there will be a delay of 2 weeks. Why would I need a new MIDI interface anyway? Well, the reliable MIDISPORT 4x4 from M-Audio which I have used for many years, does not have a Windows7 64bit driver available, so I have to purchase a new interface. The successor of this device, the MIDISPORT 4x4 Anniversary, does have these drivers. I read in some discussion forums that the drivers for this device do not work for the legacy device, so I do not have any other choice than to buy this too. In about two weeks I will then be ready to make some music on this 64 bit system – I am really looking forward to it!


Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Building a New PC for Music - Part 2: Assembly


At home the big unpacking started. The case makes a nice impression, although it is quite budget-priced: £ 30. Had to get a power supply separately, as no one is included. I was told that a steel case is quieter than aluminum, but that aluminum conducts heat better. Since my emphasis was not on overclocking-gaming but on music, I was fine to go with a steel case. The case has two thick screws in the back for removing the side wall, so this can be done by hand without the need of a screw driver.

  1. Affix the power supply into the case. 4 screws were provided with the power supply, no problem attaching it in the upper rear corner. I am surprised to see so many power leads coming from the power supply. 6 years ago there basically was just the connector for the main board and the usual 12/5V connectors for the disk drives, but now there are a lot of connectors which are yet unknown to me. I guess I will find out what they are for.

  2. Unpack motherboard and processor.


    Mount processor in slot. Affix gigantic cooling fan on top of it. Is simply done by clicking the 4 corner connectors in the 4 holes around the processor. The cable from the fan to the connector on the mainboard is quite short, but just fits exactly. The thick fan provides a convenient handle to lift the whole board.


  3. Identify the 8 locations where the motherboard needs to be screwed into the case. Put those 8 brass socket screws in place into the case.


    Affix cover plate for external connectors in the back. It just clicks into the cut-out, no further affixment necessary.


    Then I mount the motherboard onto these 8 base socket screws into the case.


  4. Connect power supply to mainboard: 24-pin, and 8-pin EATX12V (no idea what the latter one is for; the old boards 6 years ago did not need that).
  5. Connect the rear fan to mainboard CHA_FAN1; this meant I had to remove the standard power cable that was plugged into the fan cable, and connect the fan cable directly to the motherboard.
  6. Plug the graphics card into the first PCIe slot. I then realised that the huge cooling metal of that graphics card blocks the adjacent small PCIe slot, which I had reserved for the audio card... so I move the video card into the PCIe2 slot. The manual states that for performance reason one should put the video card into the first slot... maybe I should get a card with a smaller cooling metal.


  7. Install the memory. I ensure that each of the two triplets in which the memory was sold is installed in the same colored slot, although I think it does not really matter.
  8. Now I want to see if the system works in principle. Connecting the power and the display: the fans begin to rotate. First nothing, then I realise that I need to press the illuminated "start" button on the board. Text on the monitor appears. No keyboard connected, no boot device, so is waiting for input. Pressing "reset" on the board results in the screen getting black, but no continuation; also pressing "start" again does not help, I need to switch off and on at the power supply switch. Screen comes on after about 10 seconds. Text stays there very short only, I can read that the setup can be reached by pressing the "DEL" key. This is what I will do when I start up the system next time.
  9. Connect front USB of case with USB78. Connect front panel audio (audio HD) with AAFP on board. Put the cable connectors from the case (power, LED, reset, etc.) into the one loose white labeled connector, which then can be plugged onto the board. Only the connector labeled "AC’97" is not plugged in anywhere.
  10. Install 2 SATA HDs. For being able to connect both sides mechanically, the 2nd wall of the case needs to be removed, giving access to the screw-less attachment mechanism. Connect power from case and SATA cables from mainboard (use SATA1 and SATA2).
  11. Remove front panel of case. Is just clicked into the case. Remove upper front grill of uppermost 5.25 slot from front panel. Install DVD drive in uppermost slot. Connect power from case and IDE cable from mainboard. Instead of using the screwless attachment mechanism, I use the screws, to be able to adjust how much the drive protrudes, in order to show a matched front face.


  12. Now the first "real" Power up: in BIOS only SATA2 appears to be installed. Is a problem with cable connector; I swap the connectors, seems to work now, both SATA drives are recognised. I am not sure when to set the HDs to RAID: now or after the OS install. I try to set it now, because I figure that this should be done before Windows is installed; otherwise, all installed files would need to have to be moved or rearranged, and I want to avoid that. A message on the screen appears after reboot, that disks are not RAID drives. Neither disk is yet formatted. After bootup, press Ctrl-I to setup RAID volume, and the Intel Matrix Storage Manager shows up. I choose RAID-0 (stripe), because I want the fast disk access. Create a RAID volume with these two disks. Seems to work ok.
  13. The final piece of hardware to be installed is the LCD display. Would have been better to install it earlier, when the back panel for the connections was not yet installed; now the whole interior is quite cramped, and it is very difficult to put the connector into the plug on the motherboard, between the wall and the 8pin power connector. But it eventually works, and now the LCD shows text messages during boot-up, and afterwards it shows the time. The complete hardware installation is done after 3 1/2 hours.


Building a New PC for Music - Part 1: Purchase

The last time I "built" a PC was sometime 2002/2003, I do not remember exactly when that was, because at that time I experimented a lot and had started a couple of PC projects which were never really completed and finished, with cables hanging from the case, open side for constantly changing configurations. I think the last really completed PC project was when I put that Shuttle PC together (the computer "MAESTRO"), which since then served as my main music computer for sequencing, sampling, and recording. It had fine components in it: a Delta Audiophile 2496 sound card for recording from the external synth, the Gigastrings and the Garritan Personal Orchestra sample libraries, all controlled by good old Sonar 4 Producer. A nice workhorse with the very stable Windows 2000, which did its job very well for many years. But recently a few problems emerged: the audio recordings became choppy, and despite me trying all kinds of settings regarding buffer size, I could not remove this problem. It especially occurred when many instruments in parallel would be played; so I had to resort to recording them individually one by one. Eventually also this did not help, and I considered replacing the computer with a new system. One very strange problem had also occurred: when I had tried to install an upgrade of the Personal Orchestra Samples and the Kontakt Player, nothing happened – the old files just were not overwritten at all, and I could not find anywhere the location of the new files. Something very mysterious – I tried several times, the progress indicator showing a proper install, but then there was nothing... well, this would seem to confirm the concerns which some people in the music community have against using Windows for any music production activity...

When browsing options for the replacement, I considered buying one off-the-shelf system that appeared to be reasonable. But then I encountered that the bre-built systems did not satisfy my requirement for fast (and lots) of memory and fast disk drives. I considered building one at Dell. I remembered that a few years ago the options for all the components seemed endless. Now, however, there many more pre-configurations, and one has less choice in creating an individual custom configuration. In some cases there was no option to choose custom components at all. I found the XPS Studio line quite appealing, but then the resulting system still was somewhat sub-optimal: no full use of the 12GB tri-channel memory, only Vista was offered, not Windows 7 (although on some other pages there was a note that one could upgrade to Windows 7, but I wanted Windows 7 right from the start, without the uncertainty and possible instability of the upgrade). There was the other line of Alienware, suited to the extreme gamer. Great components, but my dream machine ended up to cost over 4000 pounds – definitely too much for me now.

So I explored CCL, a computer online shop nearby in Bradford, which also has a store outlet. They do have good prices, and there is the option of either ordering everything online, or just going there and buying things right there. Even in case of an online purchase, I could just go and pick it up, without charge for the shipping.

I looked at their online offerings, selected the components without ordering, and drove out there to buy them. The store is a bit strange: very little displays, more like a warehouse counter. One gets into queue to talk to a service person and orders the parts which one needs. There are PCs setup for browsing their web site (and others) and for selecting what one needs. I hesitated for a while – should I really plunge into this and buy a new PC, built from parts? Maybe I should wait a little until things became cheaper? Until the end of the depression? But then I decided that this is an investment, I really needed this new PC for making music again, and so I went ahead and lined up in the queue. The sales person was quite knowledgeable, could give advice on different items. With regard to some items I was determined to get something near the high end (processor, motherboard, memory, HD, audio), for other items it did not matter (graphics, keyboard, case), so I got whatever was cheapest. When the order was done, I still had to wait about 15 minutes until everything was brought from storage. I realised that I had forgotten to add a DVD drive – quite essential for installing OS and other software. But at the point of order receipt it was not possible to order again – I would have again to go into the queue, and I was too lazy for that. So on my way home I stopped at PC World and got a reasonably priced internal DVD drive.

These are the items I got:
  • CoolerMaster Elite 330/331 case
  • SilverPower SP-55500 500W power supply
  • CPU: Intel i7-920 processor
  • Motherboard: ASUS Rampage II Gene
  • Graphics card: PEAK ATI Radeon HD4350, 512 MB
  • Memory: 2 x 6 GB (3x2GB) DDR3, Corsair XMS3
  • Hard disc: 2 x HD Seagate Barracuda, 7200 rpm, 250GB
  • DVD/CD drive: LG 22x DVD+-RW
  • WiFi: Edimax wireless nLite USB WIFI adaptor
  • Soundcard: ASUS Sonar Excellence STX Asio

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Very First Public Performance of my Music: "Nostalgia"

On Saturday I attended the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Guild of St. George in Sheffield. This organisation is devoted to the heritage of John Ruskin. Brian Lewis as the initiator of the "Rivers Movement Project" had received a £ 500 grant from them, and so he had been invited to give a presentation about this project. Because I had been involved in the project since summer 2008, Brian asked me to do a joint presentation. Last Monday we outlined the powerpoint slides and selected the pictures to show. Then he asked me if I could play some of my music in the background, to demonstrate how in this project various art forms are represented. I decided it would be best to create a new music instead of taking some of my old recording.

So this Thursday evening I spent a night on improvising and sequencing. I started with the Yamaha MU-80 strings. They do not really sound great, but they allow me to give the harmonic orchestral background carpet. And since they run on an external synth, there is no worry about the audio engine in the PC sequencer. I made some experiments with the Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) strings, which sound much better, but the lack of velocity-related sound volume in this sample set prevented me from directly getting the desired sound levels by intuitive playing - I would have to use the post-production only modulation to get the right dynamics.

After having recorded a 2 minute live improvised background piece (in MIDI of course), I added voices from the GPO samples: solo violine, cello, English horn. I also wanted to use one of the marvellous harps from the GPO collection, but my PC appeared to be overloaded: sound dropouts and a stuttering play was the consequence of too many voices. So I had to use the MU-80 harp.

After much trouble adjusting the settings I eventually lost the capability of creating the actual audio recording directly on the PC, so I had to resort to using an external digital HD recorder for capturing the final audio mix. Afterwards I used Audacity with the LAME encoder to get the MP3 file.

This all was done from 23:00 until about 4:00 in the morning.

When I listed to the piece then on Friday I was not satisfied: the live improvisation had resulted in some harmonic murkiness in some parts, and the end also was sort of open - a listener would expect the piece to continue.

So on Friday evening I did another session, revising the music. I added one track with a beat-only and used Sonar 4's feature of improvisation fit, to get the music properly set into the meter and bars. From there on I was able to properly align the notes with the bar boundaries and to edit out some of the disambiguities in the harmonies. I also cut down the ending, but I noticed something interesting in the music perception: as it got late in the evening, the ending actually did not sound that bad, whereas when listening to it in the morning I thought that it did not fit well to the beginning. It seems that late at night my music perception has had a shorter attention time span, and I was listening to the music more related to the immediate effect rather then to the overarching structure. However, when I had listened to the piece in the morning, it had appeared to me that the overall structure of the piece was somewhat broken by the end, and that it ended in a harmony which was not consistent with the beginning.

I did only some slight editing of the end, and I left the harmonic context of that end, only cutting out some solo voices which appeared to make the music go further.
And so the music recording was ready after two evening/night shifts.

Next day, on Saturday, I drove with Brian to Sheffield where we gave our talk. Unfortunately they did not have the right audio cable to get the audio from my laptop to their speaker set (note to yourself: next time bring complete set of various cables), so I had to play the music through that small tinny-sounding laptop speaker and place the microphone close to it. Still it sounded ok, as this whole audio chain probably took some of the sharp higher harmonics off. I had recorded originally with headphones on, and listening to the music through headphones usually results in a much higher dynamic range than would be suitable for listening through speakers. So in the second recording session I had listened more often through the speakers of my consumer audio system, and I set the volumes and instrumental balances so that the music would sound appropriate on those speakers.

I placed the music in my presentation while showing the poster about my work on Music Morphology, to give some background of my work.

Well, everybody was listening intensely. They (about 80 people) did not seem to know what to make of it. Afterwards one lady asked me if my music had been on the radio in the past week. No, it had not, but it appears that there was someone with a similar style, using electronics, samples, and computer to create music.

Well, this piece is not the greatest. I see several flaws in it, and I would redo it if I had time. The strings need to be reduces in volume in some instances, and it would be better if I could replace them completely with more appropriate samples from the GPO.

But since this was the very first time any music by me had been listened to by a group of people in a public performance, this is kind of a special event. I devoted this music to the Guild of St. George, and if anyone of you wants to listen to it: here is the MP3 file.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Upcoming: first public play of my music: "Nostalgia"

It is late at night, after 4am. I just finished composing and recording a little piece of music. I call it "Nostalgia". The usual slow sentimental lush string orchestral piece, quite tonal, with a few adventurous modulations. Just a bit over 2 minutes long.

Writing it went smooth, although I could have added a few more instruments and worked more on the theme and the structure. But the trouble came with the recording: Sonar 4 and Personal Orchestra did not want to work together well anymore... The audio, apparently in the reverb / ambience processing, got some hickups. I tried to change the audio settings in Sonar, but that made things only worse. In the end I could not even replay anymore, stopped by dropouts.

The only thing that worked was setting Sonra4 to ASIO. But that removed all the audio recording... Solution: I had to take my external digital mini recorder and record the audio on there.

This Saturday will be the Anual General Meeting (AGM) of the Guild of St. George in Sheffield. Brian Lewis and myself will talk about the Rivers Movement. Since this organisation is devoted to linking art with life, Brian asked me if I could write a piece of music, to demonstrate that there was also this link in our project. And so I sat down a few hours ago, around 23:00, and began to improvise on the Yamaha MU-80 soft strings, and then to fill in the other instruments.

And now I am tired and sleepy.

Friday, 10 July 2009

My first Film Music: "The Spooky House" (2003)

A few years ago I had been asked if my MIDI rendition of Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" could be used in a Short Film - and I granted a license. The film was "The Spooky House", by Dennis Miller (Monkey Ltd Films).

Today I found out that it is on YouTube:


My MIDI rendition is from 2:43 until 5:02. This is my first (and so far only) time that my music had been used in a film.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

At Conference "Mathematics and Computation in Music"

Since Thursday evening I am in the US, attending the MCM 2009 conference (Mathematics and Gomputation in Music) in New Haven, at Yale University. Travel details are described in my personal blog. A very interesting conference, with about 60 participants from mathematical and/or musical background. My own expertise in either of these areas is quite limited, but I was glad to understand at least around 50% of each talk.

Was very glad to meet Donya Quick, whom I knew from about 8 years ago through sharing and composing MIDI files at Lavio Pareschi's web site. I also knew Elaine Chew from the MusicNetwork Conference in 2005 in Vienna - and I was glad to explain to her my work on determining Tonnetz parameters, which is closely related to her spiral array. Also made new friends in this community, went out yesterday evening into the rain-soaked town. The conference is half-way through, Sunday and Monday are still presentation of papers. Yesterday, Saturday afternoon was the poster session, where I explained over and over my approach of determining the distance of the lines-of-Fifth in the Tonnetz. I was able to quickly hack together an MScape applications for the Yale Uni Campus, allowing a walk-through of the Tonnetz and experiencing the creation of consonant tri-chords. Unfortunately, it began to rain around 18:00, and since my mobile phone is not waterproof, I could not demonstrate the application to anyone.

Now this morning will be tutorials - I will attend the one for OpenMusic - maybe there is some support on getting this running on Windows.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

My Music on iTunes - thanks to WaTunes!

Just got an email from WaTunes, informing me that my two albums which I had recently uploaded to WaTunes, are now on iTunes. This is FANTASTIC! Just took about one week, not as expected until mid August. The music I have on TuneCore and had uploaded a few days earlier is still not on iTunes... which gives WaTunes clearly an edge. These two albums which are now in iTunes are: "Digital Mahler" with recordings of my three pieces from Gustav Mahler's Symphonies, and the "Romantic Suite". I will soon upload more music through WaTunes, since this appears to work great.

This afternoon, the CEO of WaTunes, Kevin Rivers, called me on my mobile phone and guided me for about 30 minutes through a pre-release of their new interface software, which allows artists to customise their music into releasing it onto different online music stores. It is a software that the user downloads and runs on their own computer, offline. It basically creates the meta data for each store, allowing the user to control all aspects which go into the store. There is even a version tag, so that different versions of the release can be managed. The principle is that the artists manage their uploads offline and create the proper set of files. These files are then uploaded to WaTunes. This upload will be integrated into the final version of this management software; right now the user would upload the files through ftp.

I will try this out for my next albums.

Way to go, Watunes!

Installing OpenMusic...first try

I read a lot about Open Music (OM) as a tool for creating music composition with algorithmic procedures, and I was curious on trying it out. However, there are quite a few hurdles:

Open Music has been developed for the Mac. Which means that the latest version, 6.x, is only available for Macs. Since I am a Windows guy (no, I am not a PC), this puts me immediately in a disadvantaged position. But I am not going to buy a Mac just for trying out some cool software, so I have to find a way to make Open Music work on my Windows laptop.

There are a few versions of the earlier OM releases available as downloads for Windows, for example a 4.7.2 and a 5.2.1. However, these appear to be source code files, for somewhat obscure compilers, and I figured I should just to get the very latest version 6.0.6 to work on my system.

There is a scary statement on the portal for the OpenMusic software:

The current OM sources allow to compile and run OM on MacOS X PPC/Intel with LispWorks 5.1 compiler.

Nevertheless, there is Windows support available, when following the instructions for setting up OM 6.

First one needs to install MidiShare. I get the zipped version with the executables and dump all ini, exe, dll files in /Windows/System32.

Next is the LibAudioStream: I also dump these two dlls from there into /Windows/System32.

Finally trying the same procedure withSDIF: however, this is only available as source... Fortunately there is a .dsw file for Visual Studio 6, so the compilation should be no problem... Well, several of the included .dsp files appear to be corrupt - at least this is what my Visual Studio 8 converter tells me. And when trying to compile the other intact projects within this solution, then I get the following error: "Command line error D8038 : invalid argument '_SdifTypesFileName %SDIFTYPES%'"... what the hell is that?

I see that this installation of Open Music on Windows would be quite a hazzle... why is that? Windows has 88 - 93 % market share, so why is this large community being excluded by an elitist approach which only takes Mac and Linux seriously?

I will have to dig deeper in this... this quest will be continued.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Online Music Distribution Experience

Here I want to share some of my first experiences with online music distribution services. So far I have uploaded through TuneCore and WaTunes. For checking if my music is online available, I did a search for "reinhold behringer" on each of the sites.

As a summary, from TuneCore the music seems to be fastest uploaded to Amazon. iTunes and AmieStreet seem to be the slowest - they did not yet have any music available after 6 days.

Here is my experience with TuneCore:

DateServiceIssues and Comments
Day 1Uploading Music to TuneCoreFiles had to be in wave or MP3 > 300 bps - I uploaded wave.
8 hoursFirst of the uploaded music is on Amazon.Because TuneCore does have no classical category, I put my music in "Electronic" and "Inspirational". That translated on Amazon to "Dance/Electronic" and "Christian/Gospel".
Day 3Music is on Lala.Listen only possible in US.
Provides number of listens.
Fortunately category stays as "Electronic" instead of something weird.
Day 5Music is on ShockHound.Uses "Piggy Bank" for payment.
Puts my music into genre: Spiritual
Day 6Music is on Rhapsody.Cateogory: Electronica/Dance.
Artwork is only partially there (is missing for Tristan, is not showing in enlarged icon view).
Listen is only available in US.
Day 6Music is on Napster (UK, cannot access US).But need to be a member of Napster to see the tracks.
Emusic:No way of checking, because even the search requires a registration.


And here is my experience with WaTunes:

DateServiceIssues and Comments
Day 1Creating Album on WaTunes.In its current form the GUI and upload interface are not very intuitive to use. One has only one attempt in setting up the album, later changes are through (the very responsive) tech support.
Day 2Uploaded music content to WaTunes.Track files are packed into one zip file which is then uploaded via web interface. I wondered how the track order in the album would be determined. WaTunes responded that one adds a number as the first characters in the track file name. Also when creating the album one should add the track titles in the form - I had forgotten to do that.
Day 3Music is "In Review".


In summary:

TuneCore has a professional service, at a price of $9.99 per single. The uploaded music was fast online on Amazon. But the limited genre classifications that are offered by TuneCore, are a real bummmer. After uploading 5 singles, I have halted all further uploads indefinitely, until they fix their genre classification and add at least a "classical" category.

WaTunes offers free upload to iTunes, eMusic, and ShockHound. Their service is good value, but it appears not yet mature and really functioning. But they do have a large variety of genres. However, my music uploaded through them is not yet online anywhere, I got told it would be online by mid August. There are several issues with the web interface, which currently only allows a very limited management by the artist. One has to wait until the "New Experience" is implemented on their site, and until the VIP service is activated (expected by mid July, with large number of additional stores).

A note regarding iTunes: they really appear not to be artist-friendly at all. They are not interested in independent artist signing on, but recommend that they go through one of those intermediaries like TuneCore or WaTunes. And even through those, they take a long time until the music appears there in their store.

Amazon appears to be the winner - with the most rapid online publication of the music and with a well established and accessible brand. I have not yet found out if artists can sign on directly to Amazon...

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra online again

After having neglected my Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra (VPO) for a few years and having lapsed the original domain name registration, I have now resumed the online presence of this music entity. I had founded the VPO back in 1998, when I was looking for a way of putting my MIDI music online. In 1999, the MP3.COM community gave this venture a boost, and I began posting my recordings.

I have now reinstated the old VPO site, now here at www.virtualphilharmonic.co.uk. Aliases for this site are virtualphilharmonic.net and www.virtualphilharmonicorchestra.com.

Music on Rhapsody

There are now a few of my recordings on Rhapsody: "Elegia", "Tristan...", and "Arie des Tenor". Unfortunately they are in the wrong category, but since TuneCore still has no classical category, there is nothing I can do about it.

The files also do not have any artwork: the graphics which I also uploaded on TuneCore do not appear on Rhapsody...

I think I will create a separate post here, with a table about all these little quirks.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Tristan, Siegfried, and Isolde: Rank 6 (of 9) on Amazon

Trying out the search "tristan siegfried isolde", between 9 and 11 items come up on Amazon. When sorting them by "Bestselling", my "Tristan and Siegfried meet Isolde" appears on rank 6 - one above the Vienna Philharmonic (who have a compilation of the Siegfried Idyll and the Tristan and Isolde overture). But they are also on rank 5, one above me: with their Tannhaeuser Ouverture from the same album.

Now that I look a bit closer, in that list, I realise that it is sorted by alphabet of the title... which means all MP3 files in this list have probably the same statistics (my guess: 0).

Moldau on Amazon: Rank 209 out of 251

Just checked on Amazon: my recording of Smetana's Moldau is on rank 209, when searching for the term "Moldau" and sorting by "Bestselling". Nice - means I might have made one sale! :)

When searching Amazon for "Vltava", my recording comes even up on rank 60, out of 75. This is even better then Celibidache's version (rank 70)! Good that I put both name versions in the title.

For information: "Vltava" top-selling is the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and "Moldau" top-selling is Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Music in More Online Stores

The music which I had uploaded to TuneCore is now available in two more stores:
Lala and Shockhound.

I have now also uploaded an album to WaTunes: My "Romantic Suite" (2000) with the three files "Mirage", "Daring", and "Never Ending". Am in the process of uploading "Digital Mahler": "Adagietto" (Symphony #5,3rd mvmnt, Symphony #1, 3rd movement, and Symphony #4, 3rd movement (all recorded in 1999 and 2000).

Thursday, 4 June 2009

iTunes does prefer Digital Service Providers over Independent Artists

After a few weeks of trying to sign up on iTunes (which was my first attempt at reviving my online distribution of music), I got today an email from them:


Thank you for your interest in iTunes.

After careful consideration of your application, we believe that the most efficient way to get your content up on iTunes in a timely fashion would be for you to deliver the content through one of the several digital service providers with whom we currently work.

For your information, below is a list of several companies that can encode and deliver your music content to iTunes. Should you be interested, please determine which digital service provider is appropriate for your particular content.


This is a clear indication that iTunes prefers to deal with established artists / labels and with those online music distributors like WaTunes. They appended a list of those providers which does not appear to be complete - the latest additions of online music distributors are not included. I am still posting their list here, for reference (just Google the names):


Based in North America

Avatar*
Catapult*
CD Baby*
IDEA
Ingrooves
IODA
IRIS Distribution
Redeye Distribution
The Orchard*
Tunecore*
Virtual Label
* known to accept independent artists


Based in Europe (and where located)

AWAL (UK)
Artspages (NO)
Basepoint Media (DK)
Believe (FR)
Broad Street Digital (UK)
DiGiDi (DK)
IC records (IS & UK)
Kiver (IT)
Kontor New Media (DE, IT, PT)
Kudos (UK)
La C├║pula [House of Music] (ES)
N.E.W.S (BE)
Portal Latino (ES)
Ordis (AT)
State 51 (UK)
The Music Business Organisation AS (DK)
Uploader/IODA (UK)
Zebralution (DE)


Based in Australia & New Zealand

AmpHead Entertainment (The Orchard AU)
Musicadium
Show Off Recordings
Digital Rights Management NZ/Amplifiger Digital


Based in Japan

Rightsscale
BounDEE

Spotify

In my quest to find the best online music distributor, I tried now also to sign onto spotify. But these guys put the bar high: the site only gives the possibility to enter the artist email address, then one has to wait until someone reads it and establishes the contact individually... no automatic web form etc... So I will have to wait. Spotify appears to be more for listeners than for artists. So I might pass on that one.

ReverbNation

Found another online distributor: ReverbNation - looks quite good so far. They have the following online stores: iTunes (all countries), Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster, eMusic. These are the standard stores which also TuneCore and WaTunes.
This costs $34.95 per release, which means it is not feasible for singles but only for albums. But their selection of tools for artists is quite amazing: Twitter, MySpace, links to RSS feeds, widgets - everything that the Web2.0-savvy artist would want! Clearly, ReverbNation has very capable and pro-active web developers.

WaTunes vs. TuneCore

While searching for an alternative to TuneCore which would be able to add the "Classical" tag to my music, I came across watunes. Not quite clear how the costing is: on one blog entry a monthly fee of $10 is mentioned, but when I signed on, there was no mention of a fee at all - indeed, their service is FREE!

And WaTunes has the "classical" category - which is absolutely essential for my music. Also, they do have a great array of sub-cagetories, something that TuneCore does not have at all. They require only MP3 files (320 bps), no wave files. And they need the artwork only at resolution 600x600, not like TuneCore which requires 1600x1600.

So I think I will give it a try and upload there. Pity for you, TuneCore, that you guys were not able to fix the genre classification... but if I would publish all my music under those incorrect tags, nobody would ever find the files.

Some of the WaTunes interface is not yet stable. I tried to edit my account information, and while it had accepted everything when I signed on, it complained that my username was too long when I wanted to edit my account info. Also the system had forgotten that I wanted to sign on as artist, not as listener... and after I had created an yet empty album, I should have written down the UPC code - because that one is needed when preparing uploading the content. In order to see the UPC code, one has to go back to the main page and go to "My Discography".

It seems that the web developers for those online music distribution sites are a bit overworked, not being able to address simple issues such as classical music tagging or managing correctly the database access, but I guess this will change in the future.

WaTunes: cover art costs $20. TuneCore: cover art is free.

Stores for WaTunes (free): iTunes (no country specified), eMusic, ShockHound. For an additional $29.99 VIP charge per year, more stores are offered: Napster, Amazon, AmieStreet, zune, masterbeat, beatsdigital, and others, including mobile phone stores.

Stores for TuneCore: iTunes, Napster, Amazon, eMusic, ShockHound, AmieStreet, rhapsody, IMVU, Lala.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

TuneCore Customer Support

Yesterday I had posted my questions to the TuneCore customer support, and today came my reply, answering all my questions. Unfortunately, there will be no Classical category for a while: the meta-tagging for classical is more complicated, as one needs also other sub-tags (arranger etc.). Well, this is annoying - I cannot have my music categorised as Dance/DJ... so I will wait for a while before posting more music.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

All files now online on Amazon

All of the recently uploaded files are now available on Amazon, less then 24 hours after submitting them through TuneCore. This is great!

But as noted in an earlier post: all the categories are wrong... because Tunecore does not have a classical category.

It seems that the discussion forum on Tunecore is a bit sleepy... not much activity, there seems to be one post per day. And nobody has yet answered my posts, in which I pointed out this problem and a few other minor issues...

Possible Problem with Music Preview

As I went to Amazon and did a "preview", the Tristan sounded ok. However, the "Snow is Dancing" was at double the speed, double the pitch. Immediately I checked the original wave file that I had uploaded - that sounded ok. Tried the web preview on another PC, and there it was ok...

Not sure what this is all about. Since the Tristan preview sounds ok and only the Debussy preview had a problem, I thought that this would be an issue with the file on Amazon. But when I checked on another PC, going to the Amazon site (through both MS IE8 and Google Chrome), both file previews sounded right.

Must be something in that file, that makes my other PC replay it incorrectly. This could then happen to other listeners as well - and they may be put off by the robot who races through the notes of that wonderful piano piece and takes out any emotion, just playing it like a machine gun... (there might be a certain aestetics in that too, but that is not what I intended).

Search results on Amazon...

There appears to be a discrepancy between browsers when it comes to search results on Amazon. I accidentally found this out when searching what other music from my uploads has made it onto Amazon:
First I had worked in the Google Chrome browser. When searching on Amazon under "All Departments" for "reinhold behringer", then only my music shows up.
When, however, I do the same search on the Microsoft Internet Explorer 8, all my stuff comes up (the AR book which I edited more than 10 years ago, a few of my conference articles, and conference proceedings where I had been in the committee).

To compare, here are the actual URLs sent by each browser:
Chhome: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=reinhold+behringer&x=0&y=0
MS IE8: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=reinhold+behringer
The only difference is that Chrome appends seemingly meaningless coordinates. I added them to the URL in MS IE8 - the same result as before, each browser delivers different results.

This is quite astonishing! Does Amazon somehow discrinate against the Google Chrome browser? Or does Google Chrome send a hidden preference for showing only music results?

I have no idea why this is happening...

Strange Genre Categories...

The fact that TuneCore does not provide a "Classical" genre (yet), has forced me to select as the main category "Electronic". For the 2nd category I chose "Inspirational", because I think that my music has a certain inspirational quality. This categorisation results now on Amazon in a very weird result: My music is labelled Christian&Gospel/General, and Dance & DJ/Electronica.
While under these categories, nobody will ever find my music... I have to ask TuneCore to change this.

Tristan is already online on Amazon!

My music "Tristan and Siegfried meet Isolde" is already online on Amazon! This means it took only a few hours, less than 8 hours to be precise!

The other 3 pieces which I uploaded simultaneously with the Tristan are not there yet. I wonder if someone is actually listening to give the approval for publishing, of if just an automated test checks the integrity of the wave file.

I am tempted to just do a purchase of these files, to see how they are, and to start the run onto my music :)

Debussy also on Lala

Besides on Amazon.com, "The Snow is Dancing" is also online on lala.com. All other online stores, including iTunes, do not yet return any result for the search term "reinhold behringer".

Let's wait and see.

Finalized latest TuneCore uploads

I just finished getting those latest four music recordings up on TuneCore. For the Elegia and the Tristan I selected graphics from the TuneCore cover art collection. For the Smetana Moldau, I dug a picture of a twirling river (is actually not the Vltava/Moldau, but the river Sligachan on the Isle of Skye in Scotland - psst, don't tell anyone). But that was the only twirling river water photo that I had in my possession. I did not want to take someone else's photo from the real Vltava - I could have asked on Flickr, but there was no time. Maybe with the next release - there are quite a few nice pictures from the actual river there. And finally for the Strauss aria, I dug out some of the old "Virtual Opera House" graphics. Need to do something else with them at some point, but for now this is sufficient.

I am curious how fast it takes until these are on Amazon.

Monday, 1 June 2009

More uploads onto TuneCore

This quick success of the TuneCore process has encouraged me to upload more music: I am right now uploading:
  • My own "Elegia" from 2002
  • The Richard Strauss Aria "Arie des Tenor" with singer George Everett
  • My old classic "Smetana: Vltava/Moldau"
  • My very first published composition "Tristan and Siegfried meet Isolde".
This should make a nice initial repertoire.

My first music on AMAZON!


That was fast! I thought I would have to wait until July... but I was just curious and searched on Amazon for "reinhold behringer" - and the Debussy "The Snow is Dancing" came up already! (not sure why it came up twice...).

Of course it has only my plain blue "artwork" which is from the Tunecore template - but I did not have time to create a better one. I will, once I make a new version of it.

But I can also make the best of it - and create later an album called "The Blue Series", which only will have my very first recordings of music on it.

This Debussy is a first for me also in different ways: it is the first piano piece that I uploaded. In the past years I only had worked on those lush orchestral renditions and had never dared to create a plain piano recording...

Well, I believe that I would have to do more work on this one, to make it a bit more "rubato" and human in parts... but for now I am awaiting comments - and of course purchases!

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Site for Free Music Scores: IMSLP

While browsing on the web for info about composers, I found a site which provides free music scores: http://imslp.org. Is hosted in Canada. Not sure if this is actually legal - the score sheets are scanned from printed versions, and the pages state "copying prohibited" (which should be a clear instruction to the ones who scanned that page...).

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Maintenance of existing music account: TopTempo and IAPLA

Since 2005 I had a music account as "Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra" with "TopTempo": at http://www.virtualphilharmonic.toptempo.com. Most of my music which recorded from 1999 - 2003 is there.

Some time ago, this site merged with IAPLA.COM. I had not taken care of going through all the details on that site, but it also seems to have links to music publishers and allows to collect royalties. So far, I had given away all my music recordings for free - which resulted in me being now #2 in the weekly classical charts. Overall, more than 34000 times had some of my music been downloaded/played - quite something! My statistics there are only topped by my friend David Solomons, who had taken much better care of his repertoire and had been very active in his promotions. I also noticed that he actually had put a price tag on most of his music pieces...

Since I am planning to revive my old VPO activities, I will probably also have to close the free downloads on that site and make everything available only for a fee. Since the TuneCore music will be live around 10.July, I will give this some time, so that people who would not want to pay, have the opportunity to still get the music.

I also plan to make once in a while music freely available on that site, on special occasions, or just as a feature of the month/week or something like that.

But if I want to take my music pursuit seriously, I have no other choice than to put a price on it. Otherwise, none of the promoters would be interested in working with me, as they may want to see some benefit in this for themselves too.

The IAPLA site offers a variety of licenses for each uploaded music. I will check and select appropriate license schemes. It appears that the IAPLA site addresses more the conventional outlets of music, e.g. publishers, labels, producers etc. Interesting is also the link to film producers.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Trying out DittoMusic

It appears that the Dittomusic website is not as robust as the one at TuneCore: I get often a 404 - page does not exist, or just an empty image placeholder, with no text instructions on what to do... might be firewall and proxy, I have to try later from a different location.

It seems that DittoMusic is a bit less flexible than TuneCore: DittoMusic has a higher upfront cost, with setting up a label, a chartered release, and a few options for release options. I have not yet understood what a "release" actually means: it is indicated that a release can contain unlimited tracks... but what would then be the point of having several releases? Is a release the same as an album? The Dittomusic website is not very clear on this... the cost could go into £100, if I would choose the "Premium Unlimited Distribution" which has many 100 of "stores" and also mobile phone outlets. An additional £2 per month is required to keep the royalties coming in.

Yes, a release appears to be something like an album, I just checked. Unlimited tracks per release is fine, but it means that I have to have everything ready by a certain date... but I work more gradually, with single pieces. And then the fees would be to high, if I would choose to release just a single track as a release. So I guess I will stick with TuneCore for now, releasing one track after another. Maybe I will give DittoMusic another try some time later, when I have a whole "release" ready, something like a whole symphony.

My First TuneCore Upload complete!

For the very first time I uploaded now a piece to TuneCore. I choose my most recent MIDI rendition: "The Snow is Dancing" by Claude Debussy, which I had created in February 2009 after the "heavy" snowfall here in UK.

For iTunes, TuneCore required the uncompressed wave file. This should result in a very good sound quality, better than in the video on YouTube where the MP3 version is embedded:



I am aware that by providing the video for free and putting the music itself out there for sale, but when downloading (and paying) the music from the TuneCore stores, the quality will just be superior to any standard MP3 file.

I have not yet heard back from iTunes - is already almost 2 weeks ago that I signed on to iTunes, but these music companies take a long time... TuneCore mentioned 3-4 weeks.

The single piece "The Snow is Dancing" will then appear in the following stores:
Amazon, iTunes, Napster, emusic, Rhapsody, IMVU, Lala, Shockbound, Amie Street.

The fee for one single is $9.99 for one year is. So in order for this to be viable, I need to generate at least this amount.

I am looking forward to put more music online!
Now I may give DittoMusic a try...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Uploading Debussy's "The Snow is Dancing"

Just tried to upload the MP3 file of Debussy's piano music "The Snow is Dancing" to TuneCore. Choose a very generic "artwork", had no time to work on any other more sophisticated version.

But there was "a problem with the MP3 file": the bitrate is too low. Turns out Tunecore wants MP3 with at least 300 bps. I thought that I had used a variable bitrate, but it seems that the file was at 128 bps.

Not sure if my MP3 encoder supports 300 bps...

Anyway, for iTunes the file must NOT be MP3 or any other compressed version, but pure Wave... that will take a while to upload.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Designing of Cover in TuneCore - Problem

Ran into a few problems: Could not get an image snap shot from my own video - need to use the original capture software to do this. I want to have a snow-fall background, as it is on the YouTube video of my version of "The Snow is Dancing".

Ok, so I decide to use one of the predefined templates on TuneCore. Scroll ahead until page 6 - no page with a snow background. I choose any that does not look too weird. Then: the template shows up again, centered on the page, enlarged. But top and bottom are cut off. I try to use the window slider - the template display keeps flickering, and remains "centred", which means that top and bottomn are cut off, because my XGA screen is too small.

People at TuneCore, have you ever tried your web interface with reaal people? Who came up with the idea to keep the design template always centred, and then have the bottom cut off? Especially because there at the bottom there is a button to press, something "I take this template". But since it keeps just flickering out of view when I scroll, I have no chance of clicking it.

I guess I give up for today... uploading a single does not really work fast.

And anyway, why am I prompted for album artwork, when I just wanted to upload a single track?

TuneCore has no Classical category!

Just as I got ready to try out TuneCore and wanted to upload a file, I noticed that their category system does not have any classical category listed. They have "opera" and "electronic"... so since my music is created with synthesizers, I will choose "Electronic" for Debussy's "The Snow is Dancing"... quite annoying, this lack of an appropriate genre. I may contact them.

Joining iTunes and TuneCore

I realise that I have not done anything to promote my music or get it out into the market. There appears to be a market for music on MP3 players - that is no secred. People are paying in the iTunes store. So why did I not yet pursue this?

No good explanation for this, but I have just neglected the wnole music activities. This will change from now on: a few days ago I filled out a form on iTunes, to become a registered artist. iTunes is a bit strange: they provide a form, but then one has to wait for them to reply back. Have not heard yet anything from them...

In the meantime I did some more search and found TuneCore, where an artist can market music on a whole set of sites. So I signed up! Have no content there yet, but I plan to give it a try. Will probably test also DittoMusic which seems to offer a similar deal. I may compare the various sites - will post the results back here.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Reworking Janacek's Sinfonietta

In 1995 I created a MIDI file of the first movement of Leos Janacek's "Sinfonietta", one of my all-time favorite music pieces. However, I never made an acoustic recording of it, as the MIDI synthesizers which I had available at that time, were not adequate. Also when MP3 became popular a few years later, I did not try to distribute an acoustic recording but rather gave away the MIDI file only, on my web site of the "Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra".

A few days ago, however, I decided that it would now time to get this piece into shape. I used the Garittan Personal Orchestra samples and the old MIDI file (which I had revised around 1999) and did a new recording. The first draft of it is now ready - sounds quite reasonable. This is at a stage where the instruments are played exactly as noted, no addition or changes from the original score. I do, however, believe that the recording could benefit from a bit of additional layering, adding and duplicating some voices to get a fuller sound.

The file is currently not published - I want to get the complete Sinfonietta done before I release parts of it.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

About "My Music"

Another addition to my blog universe: I decided that I should get my music out again. Since 1993 I have created MIDI files from orchestral music scores. I had a site on the old MP3.COM, had "founded" the "Virtual Philharmonic Orchestra". Due to some negligence on my part, the maintenance of this repertoire has been very bad, and right now I do not yet have one repository for the music recording which I have created in the past 15 years.

But that is going to change: recently I have created two new "renditions", that is recordings using the MIDI format, and I have posted them onto YouTube. Will report about it here in this blog.

And, I plan to make a repository of my music files, linked to my web site. Will be together with the publications repository that I am working on for the Centre of Creative Technology. This will also have the opportunity to store music made by my colleagues.

Stay tuned - I will provide updates on this blog about all my music-related activities.