Clastic Monolith

Typically, I write these posts the day after posting a song, typically just before starting the next one. This entry, however, is being written on the sixth. Over the years, I’ve certainly had plenty of late Song-A-Day nights. Heck, I wrote a song about it on day 5 of my first year: I Get No Sleep. This year, however, has been bad from the beginning, with no song being posted before about 3 am.

It’s all self-inflicted, of course, but there’s just something weird going on. In the past, my distractions were things like work or typical procrastination. One year, I was actually wiring in new equpment every day as I rebuilt my studio after a move across the country, and I still got to bed at a reasonable hour at least half the time.

  1. Clastic Monolith Ray Toler 4:20

The most obvious variable is that I migrated my studio computer to MacOS 10.14 Mojave. This is in preparation for getting a new M1 laptop later this year, but I’m freezing the current machine on the last MacOS to provide support for 32 bit applications. I did a similar thing when Apple migrated from OS 9 to OSX to keep access to software that didn’t make the jump from PowerPC to Intel.

The migration has definitely reminded me how reliant I am on the computer for music production. In 2017 when I was rebuilding the studio, the computer hadn’t really changed – it was just getting the hardware wired in. But most of my production tools (and crutches) were largely in place.

The best approach to upgrading an OS is to start with a completely blank system drive and install a fresh system image, then manually load each application you need. I don’t always do this, but since I’m building a time capsule, it was the right choice. It has also been a really helpful way to identify which software developers I want to keep supporting and which will no longer have me as a customer. 

There will probably be more ranting on this over the course of the month, but software that’s going/gone subscription-only and software that can’t function without constantly trying to phone home is getting the axe. If you’re on a Mac, get Little Snitch and put it in Alert mode. It’s pretty eye opening.

But even the OS migration doesn’t really explain my time management issues this time around. The computer was probably 95% functional, and I’ve only had to install a couple of things that I thought I didn’t need but missed. Ozone, my main mastering plugin for the last few years, is an example of that, though as I’ve been doing some A/B testing on Ozone mixes vs my own, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to hold my own. Not that Ozone is great mastering, but it’s close enough.

Are You Going to Talk about the Music?

Ok. I’m also going to be trying to focus more on writing about the tracks from here on out. My storytelling is often out in the weeds a lot, but I keep working on it. Welcome to my brain.

I’d enjoyed my return to hardware synths on yesterday’s track, so I decided to play around some more. Mid-afternoon I fired up the synths and started noodling around. Recording started around 6:30.

Well… more accurately, I created the project file around 6:30. I probably jammed for a few hours before actually recording anything. This is the type of track that I might not have recorded if it weren’t for Song-A-Day.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the process… I layered the six synths I’d been playing on for hours (which is when the patch choices were getting made), bounced back and forth in the sequence to add a texture here or there, then started looking for drums. Stylus is still my go-to, but I’m starting to feel a little stale with it. I may do some deeper configuration – it’s way more powerful than most people think, but I largely just use it as a loop library. I have some other drum options as well, but Stylus is that cozy place.

There are a couple of fun little tricks in this one. The booo-WEEEE sound that happens a few times was cool, but moving the pan from one side to the other gave it just a little extra presence. My first draft ended with just a bass note, but I decided to end it on a booo-WEEE instead, but without any reverb to give it a more defined finish.

Is it Too Loud, or Not Loud Enough?

Because I wasn’t confident in my mastering with Gullfoss, FabFilter and some other nice products, I installed Ozone – the first of the iZotope products along with RX to make it back onto the archival machine. I really shouldn’t tie my hands behind my back over a philisophical thing (they’re one of the companies going subscription-only) but since I know I’ll never get updates to these products, I’ve been looking for replacement tools that will move forward with me.

Part of mastering audio is getting things balanced and sounding nice. It’s that last glossy polish before hitting the showroom floor. The other part is raising the overall level. Back in the album days, there were some standard targets, but the main thing was making every track appropriately loud in context with all of the other songs. 

The loudness wars started in the 90s in a misguided attempt to be louder than other songs on the radio. Even though mastering engineers didn’t like it, it was what the labels and artists wanted, primarily because they heard that other labels and artists wanted it, when in fact, nobody really wanted it. And it didn’t matter anyway because radio was already compressing the hell out of everything so nothing was louder than anything else. It’s a great example of why it’s important to be skeptical of popular trends. This article from 2008 about Metallica’s Death Magnetic is a great example if you care about the background.

Suffice to say that I generally target an overall loudness value of -16 to -14. Ozone makes this easy: set the number, tell it to listen, and it makes a reasonably good attempt at getting everything there. After going back and creating Ozone mixes of days one and two, however, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my manual mastering sounds at least as good as Ozone. A great example of self-confidence getting in the way of progress for me, I suppose.

The good news is that I can now choose the right tool for the job. Sometimes that will be Ozone, sometimes it will be other tools. One thing Ozone did do for me over the years is teach me some general things about what makes audio sound better. After 30 years, I’m finally starting to wrap my head around compression at a deeper level than my book-learnin’ has provided.

I guess I haven’t really talked about this track all that much, and maybe that’s a clue as to what’s keeping me up until 3 am every night. I suspect I’ll talk about that in my entry for the track I wrote on February 5.


  • Drums: Stylus RMX
  • Bass: Andromeda A6, Kawai K5000S, System-8
  • Pads: Fizmo, Pigments
  • Lead sounds: DSI Prophet 12, Moog Sub37

Image Credit: Patrick A. Mackie

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