A while ago I worked through what I think was a path to make better recordings easier for myself.  If you look back at my requirements list I created, I checked off the interface by going with the Focusrite Scarlett 6i6.  I’ll be releasing a video that outlines my impressions of that but it boiled down to bang for the buck. It has two hi-z, xlr input combinations (also takes line in) on the front with more on the back.  Add in MIDI, SPDIF, and multiple headphone outputs and I’ve got a compact device that can grow with me.


After that choice it was easy to pull the trigger on the Positive Grid software.  I still want a Bias Rack at some point, but I found that Bias FX has enough amps in it as I sprung for the Pro version.  This has gotten me a good chunk of tone for not a lot of money.  This has been quite useful for the writing of my second EP, which I am in process of slowly tracking, though I am releasing as I finish each song.  This one will be interesting as three of the songs were composed using Music Score as opposed to me goofing around until I find something I like. You can hear the first track on my Bandcamp site.

In addition, I’m expanding my “studio” to include my garage.  Why? While I enjoy and want to continue to get better at creating/recording/releasing music, the music I really enjoy and write is very niche.  I know money shouldn’t be the reason to do things you enjoy, but I had hoped that I might be able to at least find enough interest to get some strings, but that hasn’t even hinted at materializing.  One EP does not a “career” make or break, but the time I have to spend on it probably means this is what it will look like in the future.


So I’m expanding more into my moniker of “Music, Make, Tech”.  That has me researching more into woodworking, but I hope to also get into electronics, CNC, 3D printing, and metalworking.   While this probably doesn’t mean side income either, it does give me more options and of course it sets me up for being able to build things for my music production.  For instance, a desk that integrates a rack to better suit my needs.

As part of this I have created a new YouTube channel under EmptyLabs, so part of my thought is that it will give me another outlet to create music, but also allow me to explore and experiment with other mediums.  If any of that sparks your interest come check it out and let me know your thoughts.  I know there is a large, incredible community of makers out there and I’m trying to document my journey into how I might fit into that world.


It has been nearly a year since my post on what I want for a studio upgrade because there have been a couple of new products that I think get me everything I need for nearly my original $300 price point. In addition it has been surprisingly difficult to find an Eleven Rack under $300. As a quick review my requirements were as follows:

  • Can I quickly capture an idea?
  • Am I able to get the sound I hear in my head?
  • Can I get a dry track at the same time?
  • Can I get the dynamics I want?
  • Can I get back to previous settings quickly?
  • Does it limit noise from my home studio environment (computer, family, dogs)?
  • Can I record whenever I want (in other words do I need a mic to capture and wake people up at 2am)?
  • Can I use that tone away from my studio?
  • Does a device need to be attached to run the software?

I had originally focused on the Eleven Rack or Bias Amp with an interface, both of which were just under the $300 budget.  A couple of changes this year have me now focused on Bias Amp and the interface, although I would be going over my initial budget a bit.

The first change was with Positive Grid.  They released a stand-alone version of the Bias Amp software so that you can now use it with or without the DAW.  The tones are killer and this ability puts that over the top, especially with the Eleven Rack now aging significantly (USB 1.0 and still not really coming under $300 even used).  The second is that Behringer (yes, I know) has come out with the UMC1820 at $300.  This is a rack mounted interface (which would work great with my desk mounted racks) that has 18 inputs, including 8 pre-amps that can be XLR, instrument, or line.  My hope is that since this interface would not be leaving my studio, that it will last.  With Bias Amp Desktop (not looking for professional at this time) at between $70 and $100 (depending on sales) it would complete the upgrade at $400 and the expansion of inputs is worth that extra money.

The other piece of equipment set to come out later this year that helps confirm this direction is the Bias Rack from Positive Grid (edit 11/02/16: there is now a pre-amp version as well at $999).  At $1200 it certainly isn’t “budget”, but looking down the road a bit it would fit in with playing live, allowing me to take the tones I will have spent time creating and push them to my power amp on stage.  In addition it appears I would get the upgraded version of Bias Amp Professional as well.  It would definitely be a tough call between that and the Mesa Boogie 5:25 but since this isn’t eminent it is just a mental exercise at this point.

To finish up then, a UMC1820 plus Bias Amp Desktop will allow me to quickly capture an idea with ample tone crafting all while keeping things quiet without having to have a specific interface attached.  Getting the tone away from my studio would still be difficult but would have a path forward with at least two devices.  I’ll be setting aside $35 a paycheck with the goal of being able to get these two things in January.  Since I hope to be done writing my EP and start tracking in January this lines up perfectly.  I would love to hear people’s thoughts on that setup.  Am I crazy?  Did I miss something?

Thought vomit

Posted: April 26, 2016 in B2B, Family, music
Tags: , , ,

The last couple of months have been a bit chaotic.  From work to home projects to music it seems that while there has been forward motion, there just continues to be an unending number of tasks popping up.  I’m moving forward but the sidewalk is moving the opposite direction under me and keeping pace!  In addition my wife got a new job after 10+ years at her last one.  So my plan is just to puke it all out here quickly as an update.  Hold on, here we go.

Work – If anyone has any experience with manifesting in Oracle, I’m all ears.  It seems like it should be straight forward, but apparently nobody has actually done it before.  Or at least they aren’t talking. 🙂  Between that and XML Gateway I have found a lot of what it is, but not a whole lot of actual practical knowledge of how to make it actually function.

Music – I’ve been taking lessons and that has been great to talk through and learn more about the instrument.  I feel like I am starting to take strides again and move off the plateau I seem to have found myself upon.  So while I have ideas in place for a new EP, I have not spent a ton of time fleshing them out as I try to incorporate what I am learning.  I am looking to get more serious about writing again very soon. If you are on the mailing list you heard a bit of one of the songs.  I went out and saw the Intervals show, which included a ton of artists (Rest Repose, Save us From the Archon, Angel Vivaldi, and Plini).  It was amazing to see such talented artists up close and to feel the music.  I can definitely see a gap between them and where I am, but not so much that is wasn’t also inspiring.  Here is a shot from where I saw the show.


Home – This winter was not kind to the house.  We had a 25 foot tree blow down, the fence continuously try to fall over, and the usual assortment of yard work that spring brings.  Plus the carpet on our 15+ year old carpet (4 kids & 2 dogs) had to go.  So we got to learn all about the parts of the stairs and how to add skirting so that we didn’t have to pay for 48″ (they come in two sizes, 48″ and 36″) worth of board for 38″ of tread.  Though I have to admit I think it will look pretty good, it is taking awhile so I don’t ruin anything.  Each tread is $30 and that was inexpensive!  Here is a peek (not sure why it went sideways, it isn’t like that on my PC).


Office/Studio – I had last posted about the studio retrospective and course as soon as I posted that I ended up changing a ton of stuff, including building out rack space on my desktop.  Between this and the house project I find myself doing more woodwork than I ever thought possible, but I am finally getting better at it.  It of course started with a Youtube video of a desk I didn’t know existed and another Youtube video of an alternate monitor arrangement.  I just finished the left rack, so now you can get an idea of what it will look like (picture them painted black).  Switching to two SSD drives and an upgrade to Windows 10 meant a total rebuild of the PC software.  Changes everywhere!  Here is what it looks like from my perspective.


There you go.  3 1/2 months of life in 5 paragraphs!  Now maybe I will be able to finish off some of these projects…

A YouTube channel I’m subscribed to is doing what I think is an interesting take on showing off your setup; change over time.  I just did a setup tour and had found some old photos of what I started with back in 2009.  So I went ahead and submitted it and maybe it will show up on the channel sometime.  However, it worked out well as a kind of end of year review so I thought I would show that here as well.  Hope you enjoy!

1) This started when my oldest kids moved out (2009) and my wife and I got our own offices.  The most difficult part was finding a desk that I liked, since I am not a fan of desks with drawers on either side.  I keep hitting my legs on them.  But I finally found an Ikea desk that was simple and inexpensive and I started with it in middle of the office.  I had started playing guitar just before I got the space, so a big theme for me was to have a studio space.  Keep in mind I was learning about what would work best.  The PC I had was an HP Pavilion (AMD FX6300) with 10 GB ram. Dual Samsung SyncMaster 205BW panels finished it out along with a Razer Lachesis mouse.
2) The second step wasn’t huge, but involved painting the office/studio, getting my first simple LED lighting rope, and a window covering.  Cable management wasn’t a real consideration at this point but you can see a bit.  I did get the M-Audio studio monitors separated from the desk and roughly pointed in the right direction.
3) Next was some inspirational art work and here you can see a better shot of my lack of cable management.  It makes me cringe now.  You can see some of the studio peripherals as well.  The blue fabric (and some batting) was the beginning of my attempt to get some sound dampening on the cheap.
4) You can see a view from the “front”, check out the flip phone and Zune.  Don’t knock it, that was 80 gigs of music on the go at a much cheaper price than that other brand. You can also see my M-Audio M-Box mini and Line6 Toneport UX1 audio interfaces.
5) I was able to get my hands on a control surface and the desk went against the wall as I tried to get better spacing in the office.  It also made me start thinking about getting my panels off the desk and into a better viewing position.  Turns out beer cans are a great spacer.  I also was still experimenting with sound dampening and  trying to find a comfortable spot for my audio interfaces.  The cables are at least in a clump now.  One of my studio monitors died, so I switched to Alesis Elevate.
6) I was able to get some real acoustic treatment so I got serious about placement of my desk, setting up a real listening station measured out so I was cutting out first reflections and getting bass traps in place.  Here I made a much more concerted effort on cable management.  I also got tired of the Pavilion case, so I ripped out the guts and put it into my Antec NSK 6580 case and was able to get more fans to get positive air pressure (and a start on LED in the case).
7) I had some extra plywood and so built a custom stand for my panels and also created stands for my studio monitors to get them at ear level.  I almost got cable management under control, and also getting more studio equipment in a better position for use.  A Corsair mouse pad helps with a bit of gaming and generally makes the mouse smoother.
8) I finally got rid of the beer cans and built real stands.  I also got an RGB strip to go under the stand as well as behind the panels to get some nice lighting.  I got cables down to just the main power strip and my phone charger (out of space on the power strip). In addition I moved the guitars as it was very awkward to get to them.
9) Lastly (2015), I got a Fractal Design Define S and an MSI motherboard (still with the AMD FX6300) so I could use an EVGA 760 GPU I was given as the HP Pavilion OEM board would not support it.  I also got a hold of two Acer S230HL panels to move to 1080.  I now have a handle on my PC cable management, but not quite with my music gear.
Future wise I am looking to move back to Intel, upgrading the motherboard and processor to get better performance for both gaming and running plug-ins for my recording software.  I also want to upgrade my audio interface to something better than USB 1.0 and to clean up the studio rack so the cable management matches the desk.  I want to continue to be able to just sit and record with less than a minute setup time.  I want creation as easy as possible as well as a space to be inspired.

I have had my current guitar recording setup for a number of years now and while it has worked great (It is how I recorded my first EP), it is starting to show its age and is missing some features I now realize I want.  What I want to do here is use a bit of my programming/analyst skills to create a requirements list to describe what I want in a replacement and see what current gear might fit the bill.  Hopefully, my research will help others too.  I am setting an arbitrary $300 budget because if I had the $1500 for a Mesa Boogie Mark 5:25, I would be buying that and running it into an interface! On to my requirements.

Keep in mind I am not looking to do a complete studio setup.  This does not factor in the cost for guitar(s), MIDI instruments, studio monitors, or DAW software (I am using Reaper).  I already have that and am not looking to replace for this exercise.  It boils down to these factors:

  • Can I quickly capture an idea?
  • Am I able to get the sound I hear in my head?
  • Can I get a dry track at the same time?
  • Can I get the dynamics I want?
  • Can I get back to previous settings quickly?
  • Does it limit noise from my home studio environment (computer, family, dogs)?
  • Can I record whenever I want (in other words do I need a mic to capture and wake people up at 2am)?
  • Can I use that tone away from my studio?
  • Does a device need to be attached to run the software?

I currently use a Line 6 Toneport UX1  with the “live” Gear Box software and then just record that wet sound directly, changing tones manually for each track I want.  Unfortunately, the interface has to be plugged in for either of those to authorize making it difficult to use other plug-ins for guitar tone.  The interface provides an instrument jack and a pre-amp for a dynamic mic (no phantom power).  It also has two line inputs so I can use a stand alone pre-amp, which is what I do when I do want to use a condenser mic.  Together this cost me about $200, $90 for the interface and another $99 to get the PODFarm plug-in which also got me a few more amp models. So how does my current setup fit with my requirements?  One and two are great.  The interface is my sound card so it is always plugged into the PC and my guitar is pretty much always plugged into the interface.  The Gear Box/POD Farm software is great and gets me a ton of different tones that I can do a fair amount of tweaking with, including a number of pedals.  It also ticks the boxes for five, six, and seven. But it does fall short on three, four, and eight.  It does features a USB 1.0 connection so for me that is something I would like to upgrade.

The question then becomes what would be some possible replacements, ideally staying around that price point?  Unfortunately, it seems that there is not a lot of choice. Either the hardware is expensive, or it is necessary to get many software add-ons.  But here is what I found to meet my requirements.

Eleven Rack – $250 used

With this setup I would use the Eleven Rack as my audio interface as well as the amp.  I’ve seen these used on Craigslist for between $200-$300 some coming with the expansion pack (a $100 value).  Connected to my PC this gets me everything on my list, including the ability to not have the interface connected since I am using Reaper as my DAW.  Though obviously I have to have it attached to record, it isn’t necessary during the mixing process.  I already have a Tech21 Power Engine 60 (which is a small cheat for being mobile) that would connect straight in for playing live.

Positive Grid BIAS FX with Interface $200/$40

Positive Grid has been making waves with their plug-ins and and BIAS FX looks promising.  At $200 (on sale at time of writing for $180) this would give me access to a bunch of amps and pedals.    I could then spring for a USB 2.0 interface like a Behringer  U-Phoria UMC22 which  would get me a mic pre-amp and instrument in for $40.  Roughly the same as the Eleven Rack.  This setup gets me almost everything on my list, with the one glaring exception of being able to use the tone away from my studio.  Based on my non-ability to find anyone to jam with, this may not be that big of a showstopper.  They are teasing BIAS Head, which appears to be some type of amp, but whether or not I would be able to use my tones with that remain to be seen.  If it wasn’t too expensive it could tick of that live mode.

I did find a several very cool items that did also meet the requirements, but bust the budget by a wide margin.  Again, at those prices I would just by a real amp!  But I will list them so I can keep an eye on them and you can check out the information.  At some point one would think the prices will be begin to come down.

Line6 Helix – $1,500

Fractal Audio Axe-FX -$ 2,250

Kemper Profiling Amp – $1,900

Let me know if I have missed anything that would be a good match.  I have a feeling many people would be interested in the information and the marketing materials do not help make this easy.

EP Retrospective

Posted: September 28, 2015 in music
Tags: ,

Now that there has been some time to look back on my first release, I wanted to put down some notes about what I think went well, and what did not.  Basically, do a post-mortem and look forward to my next project and try to avoid some of the pitfalls in the future.  From an overall perspective the main feeling is one of relief.  The thing really took me 4 years to complete, so it feels good to just be done.  I also am a bit in awe that I can see this on sites like Spotify and Google music.  When I first picked up a bass and got involved in a band some 20 years ago, it just wouldn’t even be possible.  Now that does not mean it will be a hit or anything, but that is amazing that it is possible to have my music, created in my own studio, available world wide.

What Did Not Go Well

I want to start with the bad and get it out of the way.  The first one that I hit on earlier is that it took way too long.  Between figuring out equipment, procrastinating for gear I might or might not buy, and questioning how good the songs were, I just never got around to seriously putting it down on “tape”.  I am not saying that the songs are earth shattering in any sense, but I liked them and three of them were done this year anyway.  I need to go with my gut instinct on what I want to add, or maybe figure out a way to find someone for an outside perspective or a producer.  I also did not do a good job of getting my initial levels when doing the initial tracking.  A couple of the mixes had to be pulled way down in order not to clip.  Lastly, was my inexperience in getting art work, attempting digital distribution and really how I can market it overall.  My brother was a big help with the cover and Routenote made it easy to get it to distribution, but I am still really not sure how to begin marketing my own work.  Again, I am not looking for this to be a hit, but after a month it has under 100 listens with the last track under 10.  So I will need to continue to figure that out for the future.  Kind of hard to scrape together some gear money if I cannot even find people to listen for free! 🙂

What Did Go Well

The best part is that I eventually got down what I heard in my head.  I put together five tracks that are reasonably coherent, show a moderate level of skill, and sound in the ballpark to those musicians who release music at a level that I can only dream.  I did it using an $80 interface, a $60 DAW, and a $400 guitar.  I did get to borrow a Mackie control surface and a bass guitar which made the finished product easier and sound better.  I used Routenote to sucessfully get digital distribution to a bunch of platforms.  Finally, I have to say finishing felt awesome!  In the end I am proud of what I created and I since I’ve worked one of the song from the beginning it is pretty crazy to hear how I first recorded and how I can do now.  Now I can say I’m not working on my EP, I have finished my EP!  It makes me want to find more amateurs releasing music.

Music to listen to: Echolapse.  Check them out on their Soundcloud account.   I do not know much about them yet, but I love the tracks they have posted.

I hope this sparks some inspiration for you!

Creating new music

Posted: September 11, 2015 in music
Tags: ,

Now that I have released my first EP, I’m looking to start working on new material again.  Ideally, I’m looking for guitar (me), bass, drums, keys, and a singer to create and play original tunes.   I’m looking for it to be more hard rock or progressive metal but I’d rather see what comes out of collaboration than set a specific genre.  Since I have not had much luck in the past trying to get responses, I think this time I will propose a new way to start the interaction.  If you are interested, let’s do just one song remotely.  It does not have to be a good song, but we can get it to a demo state by trading tracks through email.  If we think it works, great, let’s do another one.  If not we go our separate ways, no hard feelings.  There seems to be a fear of commitment to a “band” so I want to put those fears aside and get to the music.

This does mean though that you will need to have the necessary skills/equipment to record whatever it is you bring to the table in a reasonable fashion.  It doesn’t have to be studio quality but enough that it can be put into a mix.  Singing/playing into a phone should be good enough.  That is the only requirement.  I don’t really even care that much about the genre, but below are my influences, so you can get a feel for what I might bring with my guitar and/or bass playing.

My main influences are bands like Dream Theater, Rush, Kamelot, Megadeth, Coheed and Cambria and solo artists like Joe Satriani, Steve Morse and Marco Sfogli. But if you were to look at my Spotify or last.fm favorites you will see all kinds of stuff like Royal Hunt, Porcupine Tree, Andy James, Flying Colors, Tom Petty, The Vanden Plas and gasp Styx, Toto, and Firehouse.   I also enjoy harder instrumental stuff like Chimp Spanner and Scale the Summit so I’m open to something like that as well.

If none of that works out, I will apparently have time to work on my next solo EP. 🙂