Friday, October 21, 2011

Focusrite 18i6 Scarlett DAW interface

So a few weeks ago I took the plunge and decided to completely remake my recording studio.  For the past 11 years I've been using a Mac G4 running Digital Performer with a MOTU 2408mkii.   Back then this thing was easily on the same level with the first generation Protools digi001 system, but since then it's become a dinosaur.  Don't get me wrong, it still sounds and works great, and I did record 2 full albums and lots of Youtube demo's with it, it's just.... I mean come on, Mac OS9?  Technology has plunged forward in the past decade.

I must apologize to all the mac people out there, but I decided this time to go with a PC laptop instead.  Since we're in the middle of a recession, cost was a big factor, but the reality is unless you're running Protools or MOTU stuff, a mac just isn't the be all end all of computers anymore for recording.  So after widdingly it down to Reaper as my DAW software (I'm still learning the ropes, but so far so good), the next big challenge was which interface to get.

Now obviously I'm a one man band, so the need for 300 ins and outs wasn't a high priority.   I've actually got my mic collection down to only a few high quality condensers and dynamics and they do the job very well since really all I'm recording is vocals, guitars, and a few other random things here and there.   My Neuamann TLM 103 has been with me for years and I love it, and my newest SM7B is absolutely stellar.

My laptop is a brand new Dell 17 with an i7 processor and 8gigs of RAM.  I'm sure a year from now this will be shit, but right now it should be able to power just about anything, so I figured the computer wouldn't be the thing holding me back.

My search for an new Audio Interface ulitmately led me to the Focusrite Scarlett 18i6.  It was in my price range, and since I already own an ISA110, I was pretty familliar with the company.   However I was actually very hesitant about getting the Focusrite 18i6, the reviews on-line seemed to paint a very mixed picture of how it worked.  Every forum post I read seemed to paint a picture of this thing as sounding great, with lots of features, but had tons of issues with it's drivers. So I was on the fence for a while.   Money was an issue, and the apogee duet II doesn't run on a PC.  So do I buy something that sounds worse for cheaper?  Do I spend money I don't have on something wayyyy more than I need?  And honestly a lot of the higher end choices didn't have all the features.  MIDI, SPDIF, enough inputs and outputs, etc.. Anyway, so I finally decided to pull the trigger on the Focusrite 18i6.  I figured if it didn't work I could always return it, plus Focusirte seems to really be on top of this and worst case scenerio, even if I didn decide to keep it, Focusrite would fix the driver issue in the next few months.    And even beyond that, it comes with the Focusrite Scarlett Plugins, which are a $100 progam on their own. 

Seemed like a win win win to me. What did I have to lose?  So I went ahead and purchased an Focusrite Scarlett 18i6.

The first thing I did when when I got it home, before I hooked it up, was download the latest mix control driver.   I've read a lot of people first used the included CD and had issues and had to uninstall, reinstall, unistal, BSOD, etc... so I wanted to avoid that as much as possible.  

Seriously?  If they say not to install what's on the CD-ROM, why would you risk it?

Anyway.  I loaded the mix control driver.  Restarted the computer, plugged the 18i6 in, loaded up reaper and BAM...   It worked.   Absolutely no issues what so ever.

As far as my impressions so far?   First off, the mic pres in this thing are AMAZING!!!   I can't believe these cost under $300.  The funny thing is, I've been using a Focusrite mic pre for 10 years.  I have an ISA110 which I made $2000.00 for back in 2000 and I'd been using through the MOTU 2408mkii as my main single channel pre/eq.   It's always sounded fine (Just listen to my albums), but this thing... damn, my old setup sounds sterile and dead compared to it.  I hate using the sound warm, but it just sounds so much more natural.   Fabulous, couldn't be happier. 

The only things I've noticed about it so far is that the line inputs on the back aren't very loud.  I was testing it with Guitar Rig 5 and found the signal very quite.  I switched it over to mic/line pres on the front and it's perfectly fine.  It makes me wonder if they're meant for +4dB input devices, which is totally fine since I have a Focusrite ISA110 mic pre/EQ which sends out a +4 signal.  But yeah, they work, but just know even with the mix control all the way up, a -10dB line signal is not coming at full level.

The only other thing I've had an issue with so far is the midi when using a Native Instruments very sample heavy Piano's in Kontakt.   I was actually getting some dropouts and sampling issues.   It was fine with most instruments, but those 3Gig Piano's like Vienna or New York would play fine for the first few chords, then drop notes or track really slowly.  I kept thinking it was probably just my computer and I didn't have my memory set correctly yet.  You have to remember I got my computer, DAW software and the 18i6 all within a few days.  This is all brand new to me and needs some tweaks.
Here's how I learned though that it wasn't my settings.  My Rolland D20, which I had been using as my main controller for decades was having issues with some keys not making connections.  What are you going to do, it's 20 years old?  I ran down to the local music store and picked up an Alesis Q49 midi/USB keyboard controller and the second I plugged in to the laptop via USB only I had absolutely no drop outs.  The piano's all played perfectly well.

So there you go, that's my take on the new Focusrite Scarlett 18i6.  I'm not returning it, it sounds amazing, it's tiny and I'm sure focusrite will release driver updates sooner than later, so even if it doesn't work at first, it'll probably be amazing ina  few months.  So.... I give it 9 out of 10 so far.  Go get one for yourself. :-)

As always, for more info on me and music... check out my website....

Friday, August 12, 2011

Generation White Trash

This is one of my favorite songs from this album. It's probably one of my strongest vocal performances recorded, and the subject matter is something I'm actaully very proud of since I basically predicted the financial crisis that would hit about 5 years later.

So subject matter. I remember around 2001 discussing with people how our economy was going to collapse under the weight of consumer debt. Obviously I wasn't in the housing market at the time, but everywhere I went as a College student in the late 90's, and post grad in early '00's, I was being handed offer after offer after offer for Credit Cards. I mean at those College Fest things you used to go to, getting a credit card application and approval for credit was easier than getting free condoms or water bottle with a corporate logo.

So anyway, this whole thing just kept bugging me, and the only eventuallity I saw was that when it did collapse we, the affluent and whitty 20-Somethings/Generation X or up and coming Generation Y's, were going to be completely fucked by our debt and the day of shopping at glitzy hipster stores were going to be replaced with shopping at Walmart and living what we'd once deemed "White Trash".

So the idea of our current generation turning into Generation White Trash became a reality. This song was a warning, me trying to scream to my generation to cut the shit out because that's going to be you one day. And of course, as I write this in August of 2011, it has basically all come to pass.

Talk about being prophetic.

So let's talk about the music....

As I already mentioned, I love the vocals in this song. It's just a great key for me and I sing it with conviction, very strongly.

I don't remember how I ended up writing the verses or choruses, but whole song is played with a capo on the 3rd fret, and that's sort of how it came to be. I'm not normally a capo person, but for some reason just liked the way it sounded and my vocals sounded better in this range. (3rd fret would make this song in the key of Bb Major? right). :-) Yeah, way to go Erik the Berklee grad. :-)

The guitar solo, as with most of my other ones, is pieced together is actually just two different take. Interestingly it's actually off-set. What I actually played along with the track while recording isn't what you hear. I pushed it forward, or back, 1/4 or 1/2 measure and found I liked the way it sounded better.

Ah yes, the Beach Boys-esque ending where I sing "We're Pretty much screwed" :-) I'm not really sure where that came from, or how it even fits the songs.... I just did it, and that's it. It's actually kind cool since it's actually 6 or 7 vocals stacked on each other. I have 2 vocals hard panning singing one part, all the harmonies panned with reverb, and one main vocal singing along. Not the greatest Beach Boys thing, but an interesting way to end the song.

So there you have, a little bit about Generation White Trash. I'll probably keep going song by song at this point, which means...... Trapped in Heaven will be next.

As always, if you have any questions or sugestions, let me know.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"All There is" by Erik Zukauskas

So starting today I'm going to be posting Youtube videos of all of my songs from my past albums.   Mostly it's a way to stream them via my Facebook page and get fans and friends who may have only heard some of my music, but not all, a chance to actually hear all my songs if they're interested.

So on my blogger page here I'll go a little more in depth about each song.  Why I wrote it, when I wrote it, how I recorded it, etc... You know, all those interesting tidbits that may not be overly obvious.

Today we'll start with the 2nd track off my 2004 album "Three and a half years gone..."  The song is called "All there is" and I wrote it and recorded it probably in 2002 or 2003(most likely the earlier actually).   This was one the earlier tracks I wrote for the album and actually the opening lick was something I'd been toying with for a few years, actually probably predated the disc 1. The Allston Years album.   Subject wise, it's basically an introspective "What the hell am I doing with my life, my 20 something years old, is this really what I want out of it?" sort of song.    Pretty much it's autobiographical;  I was brewing beer and drinking too much(still am), reading Harry Potter, watching South Park & Family Guy, running up my credit cards and just living the life of post college 20 something.  

I don't remember everything I did recording wise, although it is interesting to note that of the 3 guitar solo's in the song, each was played on a different guitar with a different amp set up.  The first was my Strat through Twin Reverb, the second was my Ibanez Jem 555 through a wah and 5150, and finally the outro solo was played on my Washburn N4, through a tube screamer believe it or not, through the 5150 and Carvin 4x12.

The outro solo is very cool.  Like most of my solo's (Wizard of Oz, behind the curtain giveaway here) it's actually pieced together from multiple takes.   For the most part it's all improvised and I had no intention of playing that cool two hand tapping lick at the end.  I was just winging it, started tapping, and out it came. :-)

So there you go...    If you have any questions, let me know, I'll be happy to answer any.

Up next.... probably Generation White Trash. :-)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Analogman Sunface TI/UK

Check out the new video I made for the Analogman Sunface TI/UK fuzz pedal. I've had this pedal for a couple years and was amazed to see that there wasn't a single other Youtube video out there showcasing this version of Analogman's famous Sunface.

So here it is...

I was really digging the feedback when I was recording the demo so just went with it and recorded a whole bunch of really cool and trippy feedback sections. The last, almost, two minutes is nothing but feedback. I kind of cheated and added some reverb and stuff to make it even cooler sounding, but figured that'd be ok since it was only during the credits.

So yeah, check it out.  If you're interested in picking one up for yourself check out Analogman's website..  I know those vintage germanium transistors are all New Old Stock, and they dont' make them anymore, so it's always a good idea if you really want one to get 'em before they're gone.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New stuff at Erik Z 3/20/11

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but I thought I'd give everyone a heads up as I have some cool new features that I added to my website.

First of all, you gotta check out my new social media icons.  It's pretty much required now that everyone with a website have not only facebook, twitter and whatever new thing that is out there, but also cute little links at the bottom of the site to bring you there.   I had been using stock images for the past few years, but thought I'd kick it up a little and make some custom gear nerd ones.   I hope you like them, they're basically just stock guitar pedals with the icons built in.  Pretty cool huh?

So now if you want to check me out on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook or here at Blogger, you can click on those cool little guitar pedal social media icons.  
I'm still not sure about adding other social media.  I have a MySpace page, but MySpace is long since dead.  I also have a Tumblr page, but I'm not sure if I'm really into that just yet.  The interface isn't great, and most of the people I've seen use it who I like just link it to Facebook anyway.  So what's the point? 
We'll see, I have it set you can ask me questions.  So maybe if you just want to ask me stuff about my gear or music or whatever you post there and I'll answer stuff.

What else?
Peltor 90554 Kid's Earmuff, Blue
Peltor Junior Earmuff, Pink #97022

Oh yes, concert season is upon us so I've again updated my Kids Safety Headphones section again.  I added some new pictures and some new text.  Although that section of my website has gotten lots of traffic, I felt it was a little too impersonal last time.   So check that out if you've got kids and are looking to take them to concerts.

Also really cool going on with my site...  My youtube video for my Pignose 7-100 Amp is absolutely blowing up.  It's the #1 search for Pignose at Youtube and people have really been digging it.    So thank you to everyone who may even be reading this for liking that video.  I ended up adding a bunch of extra info about the amp at the website too.  Stuff about the transistors and who used to use it, and all that jazz.  So check that out.  Pignose 7-100 at Erik Z

So that's it, thanks for reading and following my blog.   Feel free to click on the social media links on my site too and follow me on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook too. :-)

Let me know if you have any suggestions for things you'd like to see, or maybe sections that you'd like to see expanded.    That's the reason I'm here.  I could probably go on for days about stuff. :-)

Keep on rockin.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

You're Full of Shit - The Amazing Erik Z

Check out the new "video" for my old old old song "you're full of shit" from my 1996 album "Tastes Like Chicken.  Good song.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Musical Instrument Ideas for Kids

Just giving everyone a heads up.  I added a new section to my website today dedicated to Musical Instruments for Kids.    So if you're a parent looking to get your kids into music, or maybe looking to get birthday or even Christmas gift for a child who you'd think would be interested in music, check it out.

It's got all sorts of stuff like...
Guitar For Dummies Acoustic Guitar Starter Pack (Guitar, Book, Audio CD, Gig Bag)Casio LK-100 Lighted Keyboard with Premium Accessories Package


Monday, November 15, 2010

My favorite (or at least top 10) Christmas albums

Christmas With the Beach Boys
With Christmas right around the corner I thought I'd do a list of some of my favorite Christmas/Holiday albums.

Christmas Cocktails 21.Ultra Lounge Christmas Cocktails 2
Honestly this is it for me.   You can just end the list right now.  My hands down favorite and pretty much the only CD I listen to this time of year.   It combines all the best christmas songs recorded before they were overly beaten to death by soft rock 80's staples or the occasional jewish entertainer. :-)   But yeah... perfectly captures the spirit of Christmas.  Upbeat and yet reserved.   Make yourself a Gin and tonic, kick back next to the fireplace and just enjoy the blinking lights on the Christmas tree.  Christmas music perfection.

Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part One2. Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails, Part One

Ok, the Ultra lounge disc Christmas disc 1 is pretty good too.   It's a little more "lounge" cha cha cha, than #2, but still a great album.

White Christmas3. White Christmas
Yeah, this is like the biggest selling Christmas song of all time or something.  Oh wait, no... Bing's version of Silent Night was, right?  Anyway, this one just brings back all those memories as a kid for me, since I used to have this album on Vinyl and play it ever year.  Great stuff, and a great movie too btw.
Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire4. Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire
I don't know what it is about Bob River's, but it brings me back to like 1992 when the DJ's on the local rock station used to play all those dumb christmas parody tunes on the radion.  So this one was one of the newer ones from 2000, but I always enjoy it.   The Carol of the Bartenders  is awesome"hark how the cocktails seem to flow, gin tanquairy, more chardonay.  Christmas is here, drinking the cheer, ice cubes are cold, more cuervo gold." :-)     Plus a good reminder not to drink and drive.
J.S. Bach: Christmas Music5. J.S. Bach: Christmas Music
This may seem like an odd choice but there's something amazingly perfect about Bach and Christmas.  I think you can only listen to Chestnuts roasting on Fire or Silent night so many time.  This whole album makes me imagine Christmas before it became commercial.   Just sitting at your house on a silent peaceful evening in the dead of winter watching the falling snow perfectly content.  Great album.
6. Ultra Lounge: Christmas Cocktails 3Ultra Lounge: Christmas Cocktails 3Ultra Lounge: Christmas Cocktails 3
This one came a couple years after the first two, and although it has some good stuff on it, I always found it felt sort of like leftovers from the first two and have never been crazy about it.
7. Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra
Well not this album exactly (there have been so many), but this one's a compilation of some of the best.  Love Frank Sinatra, and you just can't go wrong over the holiday's without some Frank.
8. Christmas With the Beach Boys
Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like surf harmonies
Mr Hankey's South Park Christmas Album9.Mr Hankey's South Park Christmas Album
Ok, this one should actually be higher on the list but I already started it and don't feel like moving it any higher. :-)   More like # 3 or 4.  Every Christmas Eve I watch the South Park Christmas episodes because they're some of the best and the music is absolutely great too.   Santa Claus and Jesus singing together on stage is killer. :-)
Merry Christmas10. Mariah Carey -  Merry Christmas
You know I don't actually own this album, but I needed something to fill out my top 10.  I will say however that the driving bass line in All I Want For Christmas Is You may be one of the greatest, in the pocket, bass lines ever recorded. :-)

So that's about it, just some helpful suggestions from 'ol Jolly Erik Z. :-)