"Alternatives To A New Computer ..."
You Don't Actually Need A High-End System To Make Good Music



The alternatives to that new computer…


Ah yes, it’s that time of year again, isn’t it? The time where you watch your little CPU usage meter make swan dives into the deep, black abyss, frequently maxing out your machine.


Your thoughts wander off into ‘new VSTi’ syndrome, thinking that there is no way for you to write new music without new gear and new sounds. You think to yourself ‘Man, if I only had a new computer, I could write some new tunes!’ With that thought in mind, you’ve been eyeing those shiny new Intel 3.2 GHz, or an Athlon 64 machine with a gleam. If this doesn’t sound like you, and you’re happy with your Pentium III 800mhz, then congratulations of overcoming that frenzy and malady called ‘Gear Lust’. It’s certainly not a fatal disease, but we all tend to suffer from it from time to time, if not all the time.


But if this does sound like a ‘certain someone’, then this is article written especially for you. We’re here to talk about why you DON’T need a new computer. Yes, you read that right. You do not need a new computer. I know, I know, I can hear you saying ‘Devon, surely you jest? Put down the crack pipe, and come join us in reality.’ Well, my friends, I’m here to show you every trick I can come up with from a few hundred dollars to absolutely free on how you can get every last bit out of your machine. We’re going to give you ideas for other ways you can make music without having to turn to a more powerful, number crunching, machine of death!


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Let’s go over the alternatives from the lavish and extraordinary to what calls to the penny-pinchers in all of us -


1. DSP Cards – the darling children of the stable, with their virtual knobs oh so shiny, offering to make your tracks the next best thing since sliced bread.


2. Using that old machine that’s in the closet – How you can get some more mileage out of that box that you have left for dead, left rotting next to your stinky socks, and an old bologna sandwich from 1978.


3. Bouncing down – Freeze, snow flake, call it what you like, it’s still bouncing down, and a very good alternative to those CPU hungry plugins. 4. Make no excuses, and just write! That’s right, get over that gear lust and get back to using what you have!


So let’s put on our walking shoes and take a little journey down the long and twisted path of music creation and alternatives.


DSP Cards

DSP, short for Digital Signal Processors, are special PCI cards specially designed to have an insatiable habit of crunching those nasty ones and zeros to generate some monster sounds. The best part of these cards is that it has little to no impact on your CPU usage, and a meager hunger on your memory. Arguably these cards offer you the highest quality plugins to grace the planet. Let’s take a peak under the hood at these fine beauties.


Creamware – Creamware has been around the longest on the PC side in the way of DSP power, and hence, has the most options available. Everything from MiniMoog? emulations, to full on 48 channel surround sound mixer, to samplers, to a modular with Waldorf filters, to mastering plugins, to tons of synths that come with the card, and a wealth of quality effects, their options will simply blow you away. You have cards that hold 3 DSP’s at $349 that will honestly barely get you started, to full SRB cards with 15 Sharc DSP processors at $1199 that you can link 3 together, giving you a massive 45 DSP’s to take you and your song out to dinner in style. It is fully possible to write an entire CD from conception to mastering your final song with this one card alone. No other card for the PC gives you as many options as Creamware cards do.


Universal Audio – The Universal Audio UAD-1 is for the guy who loves the vintage gear, but not the vintage price, and averages about $599. If you’ve always wanted an LA2A compressor, or a Pultec EQ sitting in your rack, this is the card to get. Want to add that edge to your guitar tracks? Let Nigel delve its claws into your mix and spice up that track. Need a few of the basics, like chorus, reverb, and delay? It’s there too, just waiting for you to take advantage of. Running out of DSP power? Fear not, mortal, as you can chain up to four cards together, for ultimate DSP might!


TC Electronic – Powercore Essential, the monster card just got more affordable! Now sporting its new price tag at $499 after NAMM, it gets hard to ignore such a bargain with its quality plugins. Wanted a Virus but didn’t want to deal with the hassles of a hardware synth? It’s coming in early 2004! Still need your own TC Finalizer? It’s available as the X5 multiband compressor. Certainly cheaper than if you bought a Finalizer new. Everything from reverb, to compressors, to EQ, to tube effects, its all here, and it’s here in style! Just like the others, if you run out of power, you can chain four of these beauties together as well.


Don’t have $500 just lying around the house? There is still hope in the next alternatives.


Use That Old Box

What are you doing just letting that old box rot in the depths of your closet, becoming a home for scads of cockroaches? Pull it out, dust it off, and read on. Options are now available to get some legs on that old box and make some more music!

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FX Teleport – Recently released, all you need is a NIC card, and the program running on your box, and it’s like having a virtual extension to your machine! This is perfect when you just need that little bit of ‘extra’ to polish off your song, and don’t want to deal with the hassle of multiple monitors, keyboards, and mice. Best part is, your old system doesn’t even need a soundcard for FX Teleport to even work! It simply transfers all the audio data over the NIC card. Talk about a money saver!


Brainspawn – Wanted to take your box on the road, but didn’t want to have to aggravated with a monitor and keyboard to load all your plugins? Now you don’t have to! This is the perfect option for the gigging musician to just hook it up and play, as it just loads in the plugins on the same channels and same patch every time for you on boot it up on your PC. At home, it makes the perfect extension to your rig to add more plugins as well.


Chainer – Probably one of the most popular simple VST hosts out there, it’s a nice, cheap alternative to help you load in more VSTi’s on another box, yet still control them from your main DAW. While it doesn’t offer the ease of use of FX Teleport, it does offer the ability to load in as many VSTi’s that you could ever want.


So you’ve looked at the alternatives, and decide your piggy bank is a little bare, so now what do you do?


Freeze! Put Your Hands In The Air!

Running out of CPU power using that carnivorous VSTi? Heard about Freeze in Logic Audio, Tracktion, Samplitude, and Cubase SX 2? Wish you had it in your host? Well, don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that you don’t. We’ve all had the ‘freeze’ function well before anyone thought of making it an automated process. It’s called bouncing down your individual tracks to audio, thus freeing up more processor slices for another plugin for you to run, to add one more reverb, or put in one more compressor on your group tracks. Bussing is also a beautiful thing to take advantage of as well.


If you’re running out of CPU power using effects on individual tracks, as long as your host supports group bussing, you can have a reverb for all your pads on one group, a compressor for some of your drums on another group, and a phaser for your lead tracks on another group. You simply route your audio from your VSTi to the group bus, and they all get processed together as one track, taking less of a hit on your CPU. Works like a charm!


Still not enamored with bouncing?


Flaunt What Your Momma Gave Ya!

Probably the thing that kills me the most is the excuses. My apologies if I offend anyone out there about this, but it’s the truth, and I am just as guilty as the next guy. I’ve heard too many times ‘If I only had ‘blah’, I could ‘blah’. When there are people out there like Donkey Tugger who’s lived on a Pentium III 550 for ages, cranking out a new song each week with guitar, vocals, and complete backing tracks, I myself feel embarrassed at the power that I have in my studio. If he can do it, so can you!


What many of us are also guilty of is simply not using what we got to its full potential. Grab those manuals, surf the web looking for tutorials, ask questions on forums about things you don’t understand, do whatever it takes to make you learn something new about what you already have or have access to. Each step you take puts you that much closer to being a better musician, and I know we all want to be better, no matter how much of a virtuoso you are, or not.


There are also so many options now for you to write music now more than ever, it’s really a dream come true! Only have a few dollars? Pick up a copy of Computer Music Magazine and have access to a synth, a drum machine, a host, and plenty of samples every month. So broke, you can’t even afford to pay attention? There is a vast amount of freeware out there, and it keeps growing. Need a new free VSTi? Check out the list on KVR. Need a new effect? Again, the VSTfx roundup on the KVR forum is just overflowing with ones for you to check out and begging for you to play with.


The Skinny

So what it comes down to is you don’t always need a faster computer to get the job done. There are so many options to expand your music horizons, it’s just a matter of you taking the time to explore seas uncharted, and territories not discovered. So go on that treasure hunt, and find that diamond in the rough, and start to enjoy writing music again!


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