By Andy Capp
It was time again for that yearly ritual. The “Wish Book” came in the mail. He saw it the moment he walked into the house. With an excited squeal he plopped on the couch and began to page though the colorful catalog, filled with pictures and enticing descriptions of the latest treasures that he might just find under the tree this year. With a passion bordering on lust, he began to greedily circle every new toy he HAD to have, his Sharpie marker quickly drying out from the abuse. He hadn’t even noticed that someone had walked into the room until he heard the chuckle. He looked up to see his 7-year-old son shaking his head. “Dad, you know Santa isn’t going to bring you all of those computer programs! You haven’t been THAT good!”
It’s amazing how quickly computers have taken over the production duties in most studios, even more amazing how the bottom has fallen out the prices for a computer audio system. I remember not so many years ago when KELO’s sister TV station bought the then top of the line Mac system, with very few bells and whistles and a price tag somewhere in the five figures. These days, depending on the software, a fully tricked out system can find its way into the most humble home studio for well under 3 grand. Still, many Producers are getting along with less, and their wish list keeps growing. Let’s be honest; the digital editing software that comes with some of the “all in one” hard drive radio station systems seems like an afterthought, cumbersome to use, with very few ways to massage the audio. Plus, I don’t know one computer user that doesn’t want to be able to do more sonically with the computer they have, and even with software wars driving down prices, your computer can still turn into a money pit.
Whether you are making do with the pitiful computer tools the station got as “part of the deal,” or are trying to put together a serious studio in your basement, or are simply a Gearhead that wants to make bigger and better noise, there is an answer that can make your productions sound every bit as good (sometimes better) as those done on the high end systems with tons of plug-in software. Out on the Internet are audio shareware programs ready for you to download that can multi-track, process, zap, zing and pow with the best of the big guys, all at a cost that even the most Scrooge-like Santa would approve of.
SOMETHING FOR NOTHING?
There is some confusion about shareware. There is a belief that since you can download the program and use it to your heart’s content, that it’s free, and that’s not true (although one program we’ll talk about here is freeware, but that’s another story). Most of the programmers putting out shareware are a lot like the production people that want to make it big in freelance—they have real, full-time day jobs, and create software with what little spare time they have. The often laughably small registration fees that they ask for enable them to continue to create newer and better programs. In a perfect world, anyone who uses shareware would understand that and fork out the cash—if for anything, to have access to updates. Since we don’t live in a perfect world, most shareware comes downloaded with some limitations of use, which can be disabled when the shareware is registered. The moral? If you do use shareware, pay the fees. You’ll be rewarding a fellow creative visionary who’s helping you live your dreams as well.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the gold available for a little copper out there.
SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND!
Finding audio shareware is easy. Just type “audio shareware” into any search engine. Weeding through the possible choices is harder. There are a mind-numbing amount of choices, each with its own appeal and options. A person could easily make a career of downloading these programs and playing around with them. The few I’m about to share with you are ones I’ve worked with and like. Goodness knows that you may find something better out there for your applications. There really is something for everybody, for every computer. As I am currently a PC guy, I only have PC shareware to offer you in this article, but the same search I mentioned above can direct Mac users to all sorts of interesting programs as well.
For multitracking, I found a program called Multiquence (www.goldwave.com/multiquence/). With Multiquence and a full duplex sound card (and very few AREN’T full duplex these days), you can put together a multitrack audio session, called a “Project.” You can also import video, MIDI files, and CD audio from your CD ROM player, a real all-in-one package for your multimedia projects, although it’s obvious that audio is the major thrust. All the usual editing tools are here: copy, trim, crossfade, automated volume, and so on. Multiquence also comes with a small but useful effects package, including Flange, EQ, Speed and Pan (yes, panning is considered an effect in this program). The Flange gives you control over depth, frequency and fixed delay, as well as the amount of wet/dry signal you are mixing. Flange also comes with several pre-sets ranging from one echo to some very strange effects—some nice starting points for the effect you might be looking for. You can also store any pre-sets you come up with. The EQ is a five-band parametric, again with pre-sets available, and the ability to store your own. Speed is what it sounds like. You can turn your audio up to chipmunk speed and sound, or slow it down to a turtle-like pace. If you are looking for a way to time compress/expand, this is not the feature for you!
Track limit? Didn’t find one. I ran 24 tracks of simultaneous audio on my Pentium 133 without a glitch, although to be fair, I haven’t tried record and playback at the same time at these extremes. The editing of wav files could be more flexible, but one of the great features in Multiquence is the ability to open the editing program of your choice from the edit drop-down box. Just click on the file you want to do some critical editing on, open your editing program… boom! The file is there, ready to be tweaked. When you close the editing program, the file goes back into your Multiquence Project, all nicely edited.
You say you don’t have an editing program? No problem! Go back to www.goldwave.com, and you’ll find Goldwave. Goldwave is an impressive WAV editor that can mess up audio in all sorts of interesting ways. Here you will find real-time compression/expansion, as well as Echo, Dynamics, Filter, Flange, Mechanize (for those weird robot voices), Pitch, Stereo, Playback Rate, Doppler, Reverse, File Conversion, etc.. The processing is simple and quite fast, and most of the effects come with their own pre-sets to get you started. I was disappointed that the program didn’t include a reverb effect, but the quality and speed of the effects that are included will keep most producers happy for some time (besides, I still haven’t found a shareware substitute for a Lexicon reverb). You can also use Goldwave as a stand-alone program, with the ability to record stereo or mono files.
As shareware, author Chris Craig does ask for a registration fee for both Multiquence and Goldwave, but at a package price of $65.00 for registration of both, which includes a lifetime of up-dates, you really can’t beat the recording/editing value and power of the two programs.
Another nice shareware editing program is called Acid WAV (www. polyhedric.com/software), not to be confused with ACID from the Sound Forge people, although it does remind me a bit of the Sound Forge program. With Acid WAV you can record and edit stereo or mono files and also generate and edit some simple synth sounds. Acid WAV has its editing functions broken down into different groups. The BASIC editing group includes Trim, Copy, Cut, Delete, Paste, Mix, Convert to Mono/Stereo, Convert 8/16 Bits, Insert Silence, Swap Channels, Duplicate Channels…you get the idea. The TIME editing group features Echo, Hall Reverb, Chapel Reverb, Chamber Reverb, Custom Reverb, Virtual Room, Reverse, Stretch, Tremolo, Vibrato, Chorus, Flange, and Ring Modulate. The FREQUENCY group contains all the EQ you could want, as well as Vocode, Convolve, Resample, Modulate, Pitch Shift (why this isn’t in the Time category was beyond me), and reduce noise. Then there is the AMPLITUDE group including Compression/Expansion, Distortion, Gates and the like. For you noise makers, there is even a SYNTHESIS group, where you can make all sorts of interesting bleeps and plucks and rings with FM synthesis, additive synthesis, analog synthesis, the Karplus-Strong algorithm, or simply by drawing your own waveforms. If this program sounds huge, it is, but using it is quite simple. A right mouse click on any of the functions brings up a box that lets you tweak the processing to your heart’s content, and when you’re happy with the results, you can store your custom patches. It would be nice to be able to preview the processing as you twiddle around with the parameters, but even so, the processing is VERY fast (even on the usual long wait time-based effects), and you can quickly undo and redo the processing.
You can download and test run the program, but the trick until you pay the $45.00 registration fee is that only a few of the effects will work each time you open the program, although you do get your choice each time of which ones, so you get to hear how all of them sound. This is a very strong editing/processing program—sounds good, works fast.
MAKING SOME NOISE
Let’s face it; no matter how many POWS and ZAPS and ZOOMS you have on all of those CDs you’ve collected, you can always use a few more. The following programs turn your computer into a synth, capable of turning out all sorts of insane new effects.
Stomper is somewhat different than the other programs we’ve talked about in that it’s freeware…well, sort of. Programmer Hakan ‘Zap’ Andersson of Sweden will allow you to download Stomper and use it as much as you like, provided that you agree to send him a tape of any finished work that uses the sounds you produce with it. The idea behind Stomper is to create the sounds made by vintage drum machines, which it does quite faithfully. But with up to 512 oscillators and filters, you can also make some sounds that the old beat boxes couldn’t come close to making. Stomper can even use WAV files as a filter or oscillator, so things can get very interesting and strange. Stomper has total control over the start and end time of the oscillator, as well as start and end frequency, amplitude, waveform, noise bandwidth, noise type…well, let’s just say you have total control if you know what you’re doing with synthesis. And if you’re a goof like me that just likes to hit the buttons to see what strange things will come out, Stomper is for you, too. Calculating the sounds can take time, especially with a long sound, and the program must re-calculate after each change, and this can get tedious. Still, it’s a cool noise-making program that allows you to turn your creation into a WAV file when you’re done, for exporting to your next multitrack masterpiece. Add to that a copy of a Tetris-like game to play when you get tired of waiting for re-calculations, and Stomper is an amazing value at the low cost of...free! Find the latest version at: http://stomper/base.org
Another “noisemaker” is called SmoRPhi. This program creates waveforms with additive synthesis or by drawing your own waveforms, and can also mess up perfectly good WAV presets and imported WAV files. What SmoRPhi does so well is to allow you to smoothly make the transition from one sound to another, kind of like audio morphing. There is a 10-band EQ to further color the finished product, as well as distortion, normalization, fades, and volume control, among others. You can make some unworldly sounds with this program. The included sample instruments will give you a good idea, and you can further mutilate them as well. SmoRPhi also gets the award as the most colorful and visually entertaining program of the group, flashing its colors as it processes the sound. This is a good idea, because you’ll need something to take your mind off how long it’s taking to re-calculate the sound each time you make a change. For a real synth master, who has a musical frequency calculator hardwired into his brain, the fact that parameters aren’t calculated in real world units might drive him crazy. But for sheer creative tweaking, this is a great program! The biggest problem I had personally with the program was that it seemed to live on the edge in my computer, crashing when I asked it to do more than a few changes. It was the only program of the bunch to act “buggy,” but it could be the new sound card I was working with at the time. SMoRPhi is another shareware program with a $20.00 fee to register for a lifetime of free updates. Download it at: www.tu-chemnitz.de/~aka/
ISN’T SHARING WONDERFUL?
There are hundreds or other programs out there on the Internet for making and processing sound, all either freeware or shareware. One warning: not everybody out there is looking to forward your audio production career! Some morons get their kicks from offering a Golden Fleece and infecting it with viruses to destroy your computer. The old battle cry deserves repeating: a good anti-virus program is a must if you go shareware shopping on the Internet.
Most programmers are on the level, however, and shareware can certainly give you some options that might otherwise cost thousands on the mainstream market. It also gives fledgling programmers a chance to create programs today that could revolutionize how we deal with sound tomorrow (Cool Edit Pro began as a shareware program, and continues to be offered in its non-multitrack form as shareware). Most are very receptive to any comments you have about improvements you’d like to see in updates, probably even more receptive than the big guys.
The next time you get one of those glossy catalogs in the mail advertising all the fancy programs out there, put it down and take a look at what’s out there on the Internet. Your Kindergarten teacher was right; it is better to share!