For those of you who are not familiar with Nikola (Nik) Jeremić’s work on the previous iteration of the Starpoint Gemini videogame soundtrack, you can find out about that here.
This will be a “deep dive” into how Nik used Studio One Professional along with the ATOM and our Studio 1824c interface to route audio and MIDI data to and from external hardware synths… his own words!
The most important thing about ATOM in this production is that it is used both as a playable instrument, as well as editing and mixing controller.
The layout was very simple in terms that it already integrates itself perfectly with Studio One, and I didn’t have to do much with tweaking it.
So far it completely replaced my old Classic FaderPort (which I still own and use it from time to time) in regards to transport commands, writing automation for track levels, panning, and the amount of signal being sent to FX tracks. I will surely upgrade myself with the current FaderPort pretty soon because I have worn out the buttons on the old one from years of usage.
After the transport tab buttons, the ones I used the most are Song Setup, Editor and instrument Show/Hide. It really speeds up my workflow, and it was especially helpful on this game. Since 80% of the game’s soundtrack was done in the box, browsing through instruments and editing their MIDI data was really easy and fast.
One of the things that really amazed me regarding ATOM was the fact that every pad is labeled with the corresponding default control in Studio One Editor. I rarely touched my computer keyboard for editing.
Whenever I wanted to make a quick edit of my parameters in Impact, or any other instrument that matter, I just hit that Show/Hide instrument button, and… voila! Everything is right there at my fingertips! I will talk more about ATOM and Impact XT later.
Studio 1824c Interface
I used FireStudio Project for over eight years, and it has been a solid workhorse of an interface for me throughout my career. It worked flawlessly until I had a power surge at my home, which fried some of my gear, including the interface, so THAT was the only reason I had to replace it.
It actually happened in the middle of my work on Starpoint Gemini 3, so I researched a little and decided to go with Studio 1824c as an upgrade. To be honest, it’s as if I never replaced my old interface, because PreSonus hardware is really great when it comes to communication with Studio One, so the only thing I had to do was to plug it in my PC and install the latest drivers, and that was it. My production of this soundtrack hasn’t stopped at all, because everything was so compatible, so I just had to re-connect a few audio cables. It took me only minutes and I was back on track.
Since 20% of the soundtrack to Starpoint Gemini 3 is done on hardware synths and instruments, Studio 1824C is a Godsend for connecting all four of my hardware synths:
My Yamaha DX7 was connected via splitter cable as a stereo unit to my inputs 5 and 6.
I also used my three analogue KORG synths: (Volca Bass, Volca Keys, Volca Kick) in stereo via another splitter cable which was connected to inputs 1 and 2, because these Volcas were used the most for this soundtrack.
All of the synths received their MIDI data via MIDI In/Out from Studio 1824c, and I am really happy I didn’t have to buy an external MIDI interface for this. The only thing I had to do was to plug and unplug the midi cables from one synth to another, depending which one I was using at that time, but it’s not a mood killer.
My inputs 3 and 4 were set up as mono. Input 3 has an external 1073 clone mic preamp attached to it, and Input 4 has an external DI for recording and re-amping guitars and bass.
Inputs 7&8 together with Outputs 7&8 were used as stereo FX loop send/return for my FX pedal chain with Pipeline Stereo plugin:
I also used sticky tags to label my front panel of Studio 1824C, and I mapped out my ins and outs inside song setup window, so I could save it as a default setting for all of my tracks for this game.
Regarding my FX chain loop, I used delay, chorus and shimmer reverb pedals in series, and I set them up to be used with Pipeline XT stereo plugin (which comes bundled with Studio One Pro) on an FX track. The reason I opted for this approach instead of connecting my synth output directly to pedals, is because I wanted to have an overall control of the amount of synth signal I am sending to any FX chain. Sometimes I wanted to automate the amount of signal being sent, and that is where those mapped knobs from ATOM came in handy.
I am pretty amazed by the build quality of Studio 1824c, having in mind the price of the unit. I absolutely love the front panel metering and big level knob for main out. Having two headphone outputs is really handy when I invite a session musician to record, because I don’t have a booth, then we both use headphones in the same room. Studio 1824c is a workhorse of an interface and it has improved my workflow ten times better than before.
I amhave yet to build my own Eurorack modular synth, so I can send CV signals via Studio 1824c outs to my synth. That is an AMAZING feature, and I am really looking forward to using it in the future.
Impact XT was an essential part of my beats and percussive materials for both action and exploration tracks, and the way ATOM integrates with Impact XT has been really helpful to my workflow throughout the course of this entire soundtrack.
One was for triggering 80s synth drums and transition fills that you can hear in synthwave all the time. The first bank (BLUE) was for elements of the drum kit, and the second bank (GREEN) was for triggering drum fills for transitions between parts.
I love the fact I can trigger loops and audio clips inside Impact XT and sync them to the BPM of my track. All you have to do is to quantize each trigger pad to Follow Tempo and Beats, and no matter what tempo you’re in, it will work flawlessly.
One more thing I like about Impact XT and ATOM is that all the pads can be color-coded the way you like for each bank, because it really helps during the performance to know which pad corresponds to which sound or loop. The bank button on the ATOM itself responds to the bank color of Impact XT, which is really cool.
My second instance of Impact XT was for deep ambient hits and various atonal noises and synth FX for background. I mean, you can’t have a space exploration soundtrack without some weird alien sounds in the background, right??
I love the option of multiple stereo and mono outputs in Impact, so that was really helpful for me to have different FX chains for various drum sounds.
SampleOne XT is featuring my main piano sounds for the entire Starpoint Gemini 3 soundtrack. I haven’t recorded actual piano samples, instead I re-sampled a piano VST I am using most of the time for my work. The thing is that this sampled piano uses up a lot of RAM and CPU, so I couldn’t use it in real-time with my other instruments inside my template, because the piano was processed with a lot of plugins, and then it was introducing latency after I had to increase the buffer size.
In order to use the sounds that I wanted, I re-sampled this piano in two octaves note by note with the processing included. It was more convenient for me, and it saved me a lot of loading time of the template itself.
SampleOne XT proved to be a great choice because it’s really user-friendly and convenient.
First, I had to edit and cut all of the individual notes and label them. That is the only tedious work I had to do here.
Basically what I did was to place all of the samples on the grid, select the audio input inside Sample One XT, choose the starting note and Play, Stop, and Record buttons in order to tell the engine to separate notes. After that, I only renamed the files, and that was it.
After that was done, I was able to play my piano instantly. I saved the patch as a preset, so I could recall it any time.
It doesn’t get any simpler than that, and this is the reason I love Studio One.
As I said, ATOM and Impact XT are all over my percussive tracks and beats on this soundtrack, but I also used another drum VST plug-in here in order to make things sound a little bit organic, and I used my 80s synth drum kit as a layer on top of those organic drum parts. Call it some sort of a kick and snare drum sample trigger like you have in metal production.
The option that really inspired me and got my creative juices flowing is the pattern editor in Studio One 4.6.
The way I sequenced my drums and percussion was to play them in at first, and get the most humanization out of them based on velocity, sample offset etc… But then I took those performances and improved them inside Pattern Editor, changed a hit here and there, modify the rhythm, etc…
Basically, I had a drum performance on a midi piano roll with all the notes labeled properly, and then I right-clicked on the midi clip to select the option to convert it to drum pattern for editing.
I could easily replace notes, create new performances, shift the beats and add some swing to them in order to make them sound more natural. The option for half-lane resolution is a really cool feature to add triplets and some odd hits, but it allows me to follow the pattern with precision. This is just one example of a pre-chorus pattern inside the action track, and you can clearly see the name of all the notes properly, and I love the way it integrates properly with third party drum VSTs.
It really is a beatmaking workhorse for electronic music. I have yet to test in on cinematic percussion with big drums and more elements.
MIDI FX in Studio One (the arpeggiator especially) can come in handy if you don’t like the fuss of setting up some complex sequences.
I used arpeggiator mostly on action cues where I wanted to create running sequences in order to have that sense of tension going on during combat. It was mostly set up in 8th or 16th notes, and then I played wide chords on percussive synths in order to get them running and the results were stunning! The arpeggiator is really easy to use, and it was my go-to MIDI effect on this soundtrack.
Repeater is a whole different beast, and this one is for people who actually like working with complex sequences of scales and melodies. I used Repeater also mostly on action cues for the same reason as the Arpeggiator, but I programmed it to play some aggressive melodies that would counter the chords of the Arpeggiator. I actually have a hardware analogue sequencer, but this was easier and faster to use.
The real fun starts when you place a Chorder in front of Repeater!
What I did with Chorder was to make it play intervals like fifths or octaves, and then sequence those with either Repeater or Arpeggiator.
The results I got were some really complex action sequences which made the game developers smile from ear to ear! I highly recommend trying this approach.
[Nikola Jeremic is a longtime PreSonus user, fan, and all-around good friend to the company. He’s written outstanding blog pieces for us in the past, and this is no exception! Today he sheds some light on the oft-misunderstood process of music and audio for computer games, in particular, the just-released science fiction epic “Starpoint Gemini Warlords.”]
How is doing music for games different than doing music for film or TV? What features in Studio One make it particularly well-suited for this application?
Doing music for games is technically a completely different process than composing for film or TV, because the music in video games is non-linear and interactive, unlike on films and TV. When you compose a cue for film or TV series, you are limited to the timeline of that particular scene, and you have to sync everything to fit in that particular timeline. In the game, the music needs to follow the decisions of the player and fit itself to the various situations the players will get into. That is why I compose a cue for a game in segments. In other words, I create a piece of music that can be divided into looped 8-16 bars parts that can be interchanged inside the audio middleware and each cue has a short ending stinger that can be triggered at any point to end the music cue. This idea is best applied to big action sequences and boss fights. When it comes to ambient atmospheric music, it’s fairly similar, but sometimes it’s not needed to be looped, and you can just transition from one ambient track to another, because I usually compose them in the same key, or I at least make them start and end on the same note for easier transition. That’s the approach I used for Starpoint Gemini Warlords for example.
You’ve been using Studio One for a long time. What are some of the more recent features that you found yourself using during the scoring of Starpoint Gemini Warlords?
Scratch Pads are hands down THE BEST idea ever! I love having the option of being free to experiment and change the arrangement of a cue in a single project that’s opened. It is very useful when I want to create different versions of one track to test how it sounds in different variations. I also love the fact that no matter how many scratch pads you have opened, everything is mixed in the same mix window, so I can bounce different versions very easily and quickly send them off to the developer for listening. I have to say that Studio One Mixer is absolutely the finest and probably the most respected mixing engine out there today. I have a lot of DAWs that I use for composing when collaborating with other people on projects, but I ALWAYS mix my tracks in Studio One. Project page is also awesome, especially when I need to deliver a big amount of mastered tracks to a client and I need to make sure they all sound the same and have the same levels. It’s just amazing, and the fact that I can quickly take care of meta-tags and add album art cover is really cool. The official soundtrack for Starpoint Gemini Warlords is being prepared in Project page, and it makes my life a whole lot easier. I also love the fact that it has all the needed metering in a single window, so I don’t have to load other plugins and use up my CPU. Bouncing in place and converting tracks in project pool is also a feature I use a lot. Creating FX chains with various plugins has made my mixing and sound designing process lightspeed faster, because I can always recall a preset I have created and use it over and over again no matter what plugins I have in the chain. Mojito is still my favorite go-to synth for bass lines. I generally love the sleek and clean look of Studio One interface and its plugins, because it makes my job a lost faster and easier to do without the need to think about “ooh what does this button do?” or spend a lot of time in sub-menus to find the option I need.
Do you use the Notion integration?
Yes I do. Not always, but I most of the time when I am working on piano and orchestral pieces, I always check my score sheet with Notion. What I’d love to see in the future is having Notion editor as an actual part of Studio One Pro. For example, when you open up a midi editor, you can also switch to Notion editor in the same window and tweak the notes on the staff.
Does your score consist of recordings of live instruments or are you using virtual instruments exclusively? If so, which ones?
The score for Starpoint Gemini Warlords consists of both virtual and live instruments. All of the guitar and bass parts are recorded via my FireStudio Project interface, and I also recorded my external hardware synths through FireStudio. This is mostly synth-oriented soundtrack that pays the homage to some of our favorite games and sci-fi franchises. My main synths here were my hardware synths Yamaha DX7 and KORG Volca Bass and Volca Keys, and all of them were processed through my guitar pedals, but regarding the software synths, I used Arturia V collection (mostly MiniMoog V, CS-80 V, ARP 2600 V, and Modular V) and U-He Zebra 2. I also used Mojito for basses and Mai Tai for some pad and drone sounds that were later processed via different FX plugins.
As Starpoint Gemini Warlords is clearly a Space Opera of sorts, do you take any inspiration from John Williams’ use of leitmotif in Star Wars? Any other musical influences you’d care to talk about?
What I love about Little Green Men studio (the developers of the game) is that it’s a group of fanboys and fangirls and it was a lot of fun at brainstorming meetings regarding the soundtrack for the game. Everybody was into sci-fi music and everyone has their own favorite franchises, so I had to do a lot of research and take a listen of various sci-fi game and film soundtracks. There were no traditional leitmotifs for characters, instead we decided to represent each sector in the game with a different melodic theme based on what usually goes down there, so for example more friendly sectors have some light evocative music, alien sectors are more mysterious and feature elven type of vocals and exotic woodwind instruments, while pirate and outlaw sectors are very dark and aggressive in sounds. The biggest inspiration came from video game soundtracks such as Homeworld, EvE Online (I’d love to score that one in the future), Mass Effect, Deus Ex The Human Revolution, and Battlestar Galactica TV series.
Any advice to share for musicians and producers who want to get into game audio or music but don’t know where to start?
First thing I suggest you do is to join audio societies such as AES (Audio Engineering Society), G.A.N.G. (Game Audio Network Guild), and visit conferences such as GDC (Game Developers Conference) and GamesoundCon. You will meet a lot of people from the industry, and they will all be more than happy to share knowledge and forward you to other people as well. Read books on game audio from publishers like Focal Press for example, I know that helped me a lot. You can always look for some smaller mobile gaming developers out there in your local communities and get in touch with them as well. And the most important thing of all is to learn your craft and learn it good. Don’t get overwhelmed by this or that plugin that’s newest on the market or whatever. Get a set of tools that you like and learn them well inside and out. You will be amazed by how easily you can get great results with bundled plugins that come with your DAW. I still use my Studio One Pro EQ and Compressor most of the time for sampled stuff. Create your own sounds from the stuff that you have. A developer will always learn to appreciate more the fact that you took your sweet time to create something original that’s only for them, than sending them something created with commercial instruments libraries that everyone uses.
[This just in from all-around badass and PreSonus Artist Nikola Jeremić!]
Just wanted to tell you that you guys really are making AWESOME products, and most of my musician friends have started using them and a lot of them praise Studio One.
Last night I had a recording session at Belgrade Music Academy with a not-so-traditional string quintet called Infinity Quintet. These guys have cello, viola and three violins, instead of traditional quintet which has a double bass instead of the third violin.
I wanted to record them in an old-school way with just one stereo mic setup. I chose two AKG 414s in M-S setup, but get this: I recorded with nothing but a friend’s AudioBox USB and Studio One Free on my laptop, and for monitoring I used the PreSonus HD 7 headphones. I just told the band to sit down and play their asses off, and they did just that. We recorded cover versions of “Sweet Child Of Mine” by Guns ‘n’ Roses and “Black Magic Woman” by Santana, and we are all happy with the result.
I used this recording for my competition entry in “Traditional Acoustic Recording” for 134th AES convention in Rome. And, by the way, I’m using Studio One also for editing sound to picture for my competition entry in “Sound For Visual Media” also for AES in Rome.
Anyway, just wanted to say a BIG THANK YOU to you and all of the guys at PreSonus, your support means the world to me! 🙂