A Note of Appreciation

It’s not every day that we get a heartfelt and personal reminder of why the work we’re doing here at UJAM makes an impact to creators everywhere.
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We’re not just another music technology company, making expensive software that’s inaccessible or hard to get. We’re making music creation possible for everyone, regardless of musical background, for free, so that people can share their feelings and their creativity with people they love.
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That’s what it’s all about, right? Personal expression, artistic creativity, and sharing with the people you care about.
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Here’s a story that tells it better than we can:
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Hello.  I just wanted to send this note of appreciation your way.  Last weekend, a song I wrote and recorded on UJAM for my daughter and her fiancé was played during their wedding ceremony.  Without UJAM, this special moment, that brought tears to my daughter’s eyes, would not have been possible.  In times when we are not always aware of how  far-reaching and significant our creations can be, I want you to know how much the use of your technology has meant to me.
- Sandra
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We want to send a note of appreciation right back to you, Sandra. You are what makes UJAM possible. That’s right – every one of you who has joined our community since we started UJAM – has made it possible for people around the world to create music, for free. So thank you, Sandra. Thank you to everyone who is part of the UJAM community, new and old.
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We’re here for you, to let you make your music. As long as you’re here to make music, we’re here to make it possible.
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www.ujam.com.

How Robert Moog Changed Music Forever

If you visit Google today, you’ll see a musically-themed homepage with a classic synthesizer image. (You can even play it, record something, and hear it played back to you – try it out!)

Robert Moog, founder of Moog Music and creator of the famous synthesizer with the same name, is given well-earned credit today with Google’s shout-out. The world of synthesizer users has expanded dramatically in the decades since the 1950s, and we’ve got people like Robert Moog to thank for that.

Since the ’50s, we’ve seen explosive growth of synthesizers – not only in size and technical specs, but also in the amount and quality of music that can be produced. Two of UJAM’s very own founders – Hans Zimmer and Peter Gorges – are avid MOOG users themselves. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that they’re two of the best synthesizer pros out there today.

Here’s what Peter has to say about Robert Moog:

“Bob has truly changed music forever. UJAM would not be if not for him. Heck, my co-founder Hans Zimmer and I would probably have to get a real job!”

Although Robert Moog didn’t create the first-ever synthesizer, he was a pioneer in the field. After recognizing the need for simpler electronic instruments, Robert Moog mastered the synthesizer art and introduced the first “Moog modular synthesizer” at the 1964 Audio Engineering Society Conference.

And here’s some more synthesizer history: Some of the first-ever synthesizers were built by RCA – they used vacuum tube technology, magnetic tape, had no keyboard, and were so large they took up an entire room! Read more about synthesizer history here.

Here’s Robert Moog in an excerpt from a BBC documentary on electronic music; here, Robert demonstrates the use of the “Minimoog”:

We’ve come a long way in electronic music, and we’ve got people like Robert Moog to thank for helping us get there. Thanks to Google for a worthy shout-out, and here’s to all our synthesizer users out there!

P.S. Check out more on the Moog legacy here.

Choosing the Right Recording Level: Matt’s Mixing Advice, Part III

We’re back with the third and final tip from Matt in his series on mixing. If you missed his previous posts, check them out (Part I and Part II).

Tip #3: Level Up: How To Choose Good Levels For Recording

“Turn up the gain!” … “Turn up the volume!”  Many people think these are the same requests, but they are very different.  Let’s look at what they both mean and how to use our understanding of gain and volume to get good recording levels.  First we will look at gain.

Gain is the amount of amplitude you are allowing to enter in to your audio circuit or microphone.

Picture a very nice studio microphone in your room with a large clear red ball around it.  Let’s pretend that ball represents everything your microphone is actually recording.  Anything outside of that ball will not be recorded.  In this example, let us say that you are currently sitting outside of that ball.  If you were to speak it would be heard, but very faintly.

Now, picture yourself turning up a knob that says, “gain” on it.  As you do this, the red ball increases in size, while remaining centered around the microphone.  Since you turned it up and the ball grew, you are now inside of the circle.  Picture yourself turning that “Gain” knob back down.  As you do this, that ball gets smaller and you are no longer in the circle.  Lastly, picture that you turn the “gain” knob all the way up and the ball fills the entire room!

This is exactly how gain worksAs you turn your gain up or down, you are choosing how much space and sound around the microphone you will record. If you turn the gain down too low, you will not be able to hear anything that is not close to the microphone.  If you turn the gain too high, you will be letting too much signal in to the circuit and will begin to hear a lot of “room sound” and introducing possible noise and distortion in to your recording.

Now that we know gain lets us choose what we record around the microphone, let us look at what volume does.

Volume controls how loud your recording is.  Volume does not in any way choose what is recorded, just how loud it is.  For example, you could have your volume all the way down on your software, but if your gain knob is still up you are still allowing audio in to your recording circuit.  You will simply not be able to hear it.  As you bring this volume up, you will be able to hear what you recorded.

Again, gain chooses what you record.  Volume controls how loud it sounds to the listener.  Now that we have an understanding of that, let’s look at the biggest issue people seem to have with home studio recording: distortion.

Distortion happens when too much sound is going in to a recording channel.  When there is too much signal it causes the gear to cut off the unusable data and thus your sound is clipped and harsh.  You can tell this is happening when the clarity is gone and it sounds like your speakers are overloaded.  You will also see your audio appear maxed out in your DAW software.  You will need to monitor your signal so you can turn your gain up or down before you record.

One way to monitor your signal input is to buy gear with signal indicators on it.  You can find audio input devices that have small meters or even just one green light that turns red when the signal is clipping and distorting.  When using these indicator lights, it is best to try playing or singing at the loudest volume you intend to perform.  If the lights are constantly in the red, then your signal is probably clipping a lot.  You will need to turn down the gain.  It is ideal to adjust your gain knob so that your indicator is consistently just below the orange and almost never in the red.  This will give you maximum signal without distorting your track and allow you to have a powerful clear track to work with.

In the end, you need good gear set up in the proper position running over high quality cables.  Your audio sources need to be recorded at the proper levels in to a transparent and reliable piece of software.  That is how to get a good mix before you begin recording.  You need well-recorded source material so you can have a quality final product.

Well, that’s it for this series from Matt. Matt’s advice for all of us: Continue improving your skills.  Continue learning new audio production concepts.  Most importantly, continue to love music and keep jamming!

Couldn’t have said it better. Got comments or questions? Leave them here!

Microphone Positioning is Crucial: Matt’s Mixing Advice, Part II

We’re back with the second post in a series by Matt, a fellow UJAM user and mixer extraordinaire. If you missed Matt’s first post, check it out. Now, where were we:

Tip #2: Location, Location, Location: Why Microphone Positioning Is Crucial To A Good Recording.

Think on this.  If you wanted to tell someone a secret, you would probably get close to them and whisper in to their ear. Your voice and their ear would be pointed directly towards one another.  You would not be on the opposite side of the room facing the corner and whispering.  That would make no sense!  You wouldn’t be able to hear them clearly.

In the same way, when you are recording, your microphone should be close to the source of sound and pointed towards it.  Think of your microphone as an ear listening for the sound of your instrument (whether a voice, drum, or piano). 

Here are some practical tips for microphone positioning.

Place the microphone at proper distance from your sound source.  Every sound is different in how loud it is and what sort of tone it has.  A string pluck is softer and more melodic than a snare drum hit.  A drum is more abrupt than a person singing a smooth, silky melody.   Despite this, as a general rule of thumb when recording in your home studio, you will want the microphone to be 6-12 inches away from the sound source.  This allows for the microphone to be close enough to pick up all of the rich tones of whatever you are recording.  You will not want the microphone much closer than that as you will begin to hear what is called the proximity effect. 

Proximity effect is when a microphone picks up low-end bass frequencies because it is close to the source of a sound.  These low-end frequencies often distort and cause a track to be “muddy” if you are not carefully looking for them and removing them.  In the same way, if a sound source is too far from a microphone, the microphone will not pick up the low end frequencies in the sound you are trying to record.  For example, if a singer is 6 feet away from a microphone, their voice may lack certain “richness” in the low-end frequency range.  This is why 6-12 inches is a good measurement for distance between a microphone and source sound.

Point the microphone towards the source and the source towards the microphone.  Microphones capture audio vibrations through what’s called their diaphragm.  The diaphragm then turns those vibrations in to electrical signals.  Those signals are then digitized through your computer’s audio card and then show up in your recording software.

In order to get the best possible signal to your DAW software, you must capture the vibrations well.  Ensure that the microphone you are using is pointed directly at what you’re recording.  This will allow the vibrations to go directly through the air in to the microphone.

For example, if you are recording a vocal, it is very beneficial to point the microphone towards the person’s mouth.  This will allow all of the rich low ends and crisp high frequencies to reach your microphone.  Have the singer facing the microphone directly on.  To test this, try recording once with the microphone pointed directly at the singer and the singer directly at the microphone.  Then, try having the singer turn and face a little to the left or right and record.  You will hear a major difference in the richness of their voice.

Use a stand and a pop filter.  Ever notice when you go to record that the sound distorts when you go to say the letter’s “P” or “B”?  That is because these sounds require extra pressure to be generated by your mouth.  This pressure is sent beyond your lips to the microphone.  Seeing as recordings are simply vibrations (sound pressure) being converted to digital signal, we must compensate for the extra pressure on the letters “P” and “B”.  To do this we place a small windscreen between the singer and the microphone.  These are not very expensive and can save your recordings from overloading.  This will help clean up your mix and give your vocals a little more consistent volume.

In the same way, vibrations from your hand or table can affect a recording.  To minimize extra sound pressure from being recorded, place your microphone on a proper stand using a suspended clip.  This suspended clip will hold the microphone using elastic bands, which will greatly stabilize the microphone allowing you to record the sounds you actually want.

Now that we have a good understanding of what gear to use, and where to set it up, we can start talking about the volume settings that will help us achieve the best mix. We’ll pick up with this in the next post, so stay tuned!

Got questions or comments for Matt? Leave them here.

UJAM User, Song Whiz: Matt’s Mixing Advice, Part I

You’ve seen by now that this blog hosts an array of talented writers and thinkers about all things music. Gary Ewer recently gave us a fantastic introductory series on creating songs that work (Missed that column? Check it out.) Now, we’re here to share another expert’s advice: this time, from one of our very own UJAM users.

You may recognize him: Matt was a finalist in the Assassin’s Creed: Revelations contest last year, and he’s continued to make great music since. (See our first post on Matt in the ACR series here.) Without further ado, Matt’s here to share his thoughts on mixing great music in UJAM.

Producing a Great Mix in UJAM

Today we’re going to be highlighting some tips that will help you create high quality recordings and produce a great final mix.  Whether you are a seasoned audio veteran or have never recorded before, these tips will help you create beautiful recordings so that your jams can shine.

Before we can learn cool post-production techniques and create tracks that excite and inspire people, we must first record something!  The main key to a quality mix actually begins before you record, not after.  There is saying when it comes to mixing that you must live by: “You can’t polish dirt”.  Your mix will always be limited to or enhanced by the quality of your recordings.

There are three principles to a good mix before you even begin recording:

#1) Cheap is Expensive: Why You Need Good Gear

Consider this.  You would never phone an airline to book a flight and say, “Give me the plane built with the cheapest parts possible, but make sure they look good.”  No.  You would want to get whatever works best.  Your life may depend on it.  So many times though, musicians seem to want the shiniest gear without considering the sound quality it produces.  You must spend money on good gearYour mix depends on it.  Here are some thoughts on good gear:

Save up for what you want, not what you can currently afford.  If you’re going to be a professional, you must do your work with professional tools.  Would you rather dig a ditch with a shovel or a bulldozer?  The shovel is cheaper and easier to lift.  The bulldozer requires money and time to learn how to use it, but you better believe it does a better job!

In the same way, if you would like to capture good quality music, you must have a well-made instrument with quality audio output.  It must then go over quality cables to a quality audio interface.  Having trouble picking your gear?  Find out what your musical influencers use and why they use that gear.  They probably have a reason.  Check recommendations on professional audio forums and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Lastly, yes, look at the price.  It can be a good indicator of how well the gear is made.

Use good cables.  Cables transmit sound through them.  If you’re using the cheapest brand of cables, you are probably picking up interference and maybe even something called crosstalk, where signal from another cable crosses over to the cable your using.  Good cables give you an opportunity for quality sound. Bad Cables will always equate to poor quality sound.   If at any point in your signal chain you have poorly made gear, it will affect the final sound you are trying to achieve.

Purchase reliable, transparent software.  Not all software is created equal.  The reliability of your software is crucial to your production process.  The more your software crashes, the less work you will have saved.  The more work lost, the more time you will waste.  This is illogical.  If you want to do things well, you must purchase software that does not crash and does not slow you down once you’ve learned how to use it.

Additionally, you must purchase software that is extremely transparent in the final output of your audio.  Despite the fact that you are recording digitally, not all of your output audio will sound the same.  In the same way two different digital cameras affect the color tones in a picture, your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software can affect your final sound.  There are many DAW programs, like Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton, and Cubase.  These all have different functions and uses.  It is recommended you research these in the same way as you would a physical piece of gear.  Some even have free fully-functioning demo’s you can download.

A good example of a reliable, transparent piece of software is Steinberg Cubase.  It performs well under a lot of pressure from your audio tracks and software plugins.  It will not crash every hour like some other software.  It also does not affect the tone of your recordings by muddying them up.  It comes in many different versions to help you get in to using it without having to spend a thousand dollars on it.  See more information on Steinberg’s website.

That’s it from Matt today. In his next post, Matt will pick up with tip #2 and tell us how we can use all that gear to create some great-sounding music. Stay tuned!

PS Be sure to check out Matt’s website. Your comments are welcome here.

Gary’s Column, Part III: Creating a Song That Really Works

We told you this was going to be good. Gary’s first column comes in three parts, and today we share the last of his 5 handy tips for creating a song that really works. Be sure to check out the first installment of Gary’s Column, and Part II if you missed them!

Now, back to Gary’s final post in this series:

5. Song energy needs to build throughout a song.

The end of a song should be more energetic than the beginning. That increase in song energy is not usually a “straight line”; energy normally ebbs and flows, but the general direction should be up. This will usually happen naturally, particularly if the chorus melody is higher than the verse.

Take some time to read through these 5 tips and think about how you can apply them to the songs you’re writing. Record yourself singing your song into an app like GarageBand or Audacity. When you’ve got it working well, load up UJAM and upload your melody, and then… let the fun begin!

Even though it’s a couple years old now, here’s one last song that still provides great energy and maybe even a little inspiration:

 

Share your songs, ideas, and questions here. Plus, this is your chance to tell us what you want to hear more about from Gary – add your comments here for Gary and you may just see a new post dedicated to those burning musical questions you have.

Gary’s Column, Part II: More Tips & Tricks on Creating a Song That Really Works

We’re back with more in Gary’s Column. Today we’re picking up with Gary’s insider tips on Creating a Song That Really Works. Be sure to check out the beginning of Gary’s Column if you missed it.

Now, where were we:

3. Chord progressions need to be strong, or progress from fragile to strong.

I often describe chord progressions as being either “strong” or “fragile”. A strong progression means that the chords strongly point to one chord as being the tonic, or I-chord. For example, this progression is strong: C Am Dm G C. It strongly points to C as being the key. Many of the chords in that progression have roots that are a 4th or 5th away from each other (A to D, D to G, and G to C), and that strengthens a progression.

A fragile progression means that the chords don’t necessarily point clearly to one chord as being the tonic chord, or may even avoid the tonic chord altogether. For example, this progression could be considered fragile: Em  F  Am  G. There’s no one chord there that seems to be acting as a tonic chord. The progression works well, however.

There’s nothing wrong with a fragile progression. But you have to know when to use a fragile progression, and when to use a strong one.

In general, a verse and a bridge can use fragile chord progressions quite easily. Choruses tend to use strong progressions. A verse can certainly use strong progressions, but if you use fragile ones, your chorus should follow up with some strong ones.

When you record your music on UJAM, it gives you the opportunity, if you’d like, to change the chords it has suggested. So it’s a great opportunity to experiment.

4. Verse melodies are usually pitched lower than chorus melodies.

Take a listen to most songs on the Billboard Hot 100, and you’ll notice this right away. The chorus melody is usually placed higher in pitch. This helps generate song energy.

Here’s an example from the Billboard Hot 100:

Most of the time, even the top producers, mixers, DJs, and songwriters conform to a set of basic rules, as you can see. And clearly, that doesn’t mean that pop music lacks interest or all sounds the same. The guidelines here show what the most common techniques are for making a song that works – from there, the possibilities are nearly endless.

There’s yet another tip coming your way from Gary’s Column on Creating a Song That Really Works, but you’ll have to stay tuned for it! In the meantime, play around with these tips and see how much better your tracks sound for it.

Introducing Gary’s Column: Creating a Song That Really Works

This blog is the place to learn about all things you + music. And what better way to do that than by getting insider tips from professionals in the music industry? We know you don’t just want to hear us blab all day, so we feel extra lucky to know a few pros that can give you handy tips & tricks.

Alison Lewis has given us tips on recording equipment, Peter Gorges has shown us the inner workings of UJAM styles and how to make great-sounding styles (see part II of Peter’s style posts, and more tips & tricks too). And we’ll continue to post blogs from other people that we think are just really cool (Remember Wendy’s blog?).

But we’re especially excited to introduce you to someone new today, and it’s a guy who’s got major experience in the music, songwriting and education world:

Meet Gary Ewer, and our first installment of Gary’s Column on the UJAM Blog.

Gary Ewer received his B.Mus degree in Music Composition from Dalhousie University in 1982 and is just finishing a senior instructorship at Dalhousie before devoting himself more fully to composition and trumpet playing. Plus, he says, he wants to do more writing, especially on his blog called “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” which offers incredible tips for songwriters and all those interested in learning practical music theory. His career has been mainly in the teaching of music at all levels of education from grade school through to university: music theory, ear training, composition, arranging and orchestration.

Gary’s main interest growing up was in pop music, although his university training was mostly classical. (He credits English rock bands like Genesis and Yes, and American rock band Chicago as his main influences.) Far from abandoning his interest in pop, he sees how pop songwriters and classical composers are all attempting to do the same thing: compose musical works that take listeners on a coherent musical journey. His interest in the relationship between the pop and classical worlds eventually led him to write a text for songwriters (“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” – it’s more than just a blog!) that analyzes hit songs in much the same way a classical musician would analyze a symphony: by showing  writers what works, why it works, and how to use those same kinds of ideas in their own music.

Despite being very busy, when we asked Gary to write some tips & tricks tailored to our UJAM community, he was excited to jump on board. So, without further ado, we’re handing it over to Gary, who’s already written an introductory post to get you started right away:

Creating a Song That Really Works

A few short years ago, the thought that you could bring up your web browser and create a high quality song within mere minutes, complete with a great band backing it up…  well, it was unheard of. Songwriters from a generation ago would have been blown away by the amazing songwriting opportunities UJAM gives us.

UJAM, however, can only work with the melody you give it. So to make your online experience on UJAM really successful, it’s important that you understand some of the basics of what makes great songs great.

The following tips and tricks will help you understand what most hit song composers have known for decades, things that have made their songs so successful.

1. Give your songs a strong sense of form.

Form is the word we use to describe how songwriters organize the various sections of a song. There are many forms can use, but by far the most common form is:

Verse 1 – Chorus – Verse 2 – Chorus – Bridge (Middle-8) – Chorus – Chorus…

2. Lyrics need to be properly organized.

You may not have noticed this before, but the kind of lyrics used in verses are not generally the kinds of lyrics used in choruses.

Here’s a quick summary: Verses are where the singer describes a situation, or a person, or tells the audience what’s going on. The chorus is where the singer tells the audience how they feel about it.

That’s a crucial difference. So you’ll see lots of emotion coming forward in a chorus, emotions based on what the verse describes. In a bridge or middle-8 (which is optional) a singer goes back and forth between describing situations and quickly expressing an emotion.

A great song that shows these different song sections, and shows those different characteristics of describing things and expressing emotions is Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.” Give it a listen.

You’ll notice that she describes the situation in the verse, then describes how she feels about things in the chorus. In the bridge, she goes back and forth between telling the story and expressing emotions. It’s a great example.

It’s amazing how much you can do with a song once you know what makes it work. We’ll give you some time to digest Gary’s first post here, and we’ll be back more of Gary’s column and his tips & tricks for creating a song that really works. Stay tuned!

PS: In the meantime, you can learn more about Gary’s teachings from his e-books and other resources, found on his second website in addition to his blog.

“I was mesmerized by this concept and technology that enables anyone to make music with a simple interface.”

Happy New Year! 2012 is upon us, and it’s going to be a great year. We hope you brought extra cheer to your friends and families during the holidays with those sweet tracks from the Be Our Christmas Star contest. As we ring in the new year, we’re thinking about all the ways creating music can make a difference in people’s lives. Let’s start with one person doing it in her own special way.

Meet Wendy, a pianist, composer, and piano teacher. On her blog, Wendy recently wrote about discovering UJAM and the unique ways it can contribute to music education and songwriting, as well as her own personal jam sessions. Sometimes it’s more useful to hear about what other people are doing with new technology to inspire your own creative ideas. So, when we found Wendy’s blog, we naturally wanted to share it with you first.

Wendy points out several of the features that make UJAM an awesome composing tool as well as a great educational tool:

A few thoughts came to my mind as I explore this tool and its potential to inspire students to compose and learn the different genres and chord progressions that give the music its distinct character and mood.
  • I’m excited that the little ones can now experience how they can make their little tune transform  with this tool.
  • Students can explore the different harmonies and chord progressions of selected styles. The chord names that accompany the playback are very helpful!
  • File sharing. Once a song is completed, users may save the file in mp3 format and even share it with friends and family on Facebook.
Wendy uses UJAM for her own music and for teaching others, too. She writes that “the fun begins when users have the ability to select styles and listen to the music come alive with a professional backtrack. Even the simplest melodies could sound great with a few clicks with UJAM!” Well, we could hardly have said it better ourselves.
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Wendy even shared one of her own tracks created with UJAM, based on a trip through a Mayan village in Mexico. (Check out her track on her blog.)
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Thanks to Wendy for a great blog post that will inspire not only our own jam sessions, but offer an engaging way to teach music to others, too!
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We want to hear what you think – leave your thoughts and comments here.

Christmas Stars, and Batman Calling

This year’s “Be Our Christmas Star” Contest is now over, and we’re proud to announce the winner: Congratulations to Clint Ybanez!

You can now download the whole Christmas Album for free, featuring all Top 10 songs. (For any last-minute gift givers, this makes a great stocking stuffer.)

And now, from the Hollywood studios and Hans Zimmer: The Dark Knight Rises Chant challenge is not over yet. So for all of you who haven’t recorded your chants yet: we need more. Watch the second official trailer, and add your voice to the choir of thousands. This time, be even more aggressive, and add your own unique flare to The Dark Knight legend. Listen to the chant, and record your own.

That’s all for now. Here’s to the holidays – and keep making great tracks!