Setting up my own NINJAM server to host “real time” global jam sessions on Ubuntu

Some friends and I have been experimenting with NINJAM over the past couple of weeks and it got to the point where I wanted to run my own NINJAM server, rather than relying on the public servers or Jan Bucholtz’s. if you want to find out more about NINJAM there is a good overview at http://www.cockos.com/ninjam/.

It turned out to be relatively easy, although took a little bit of tinkering.

Download the NINJAM server source code from http://www.cockos.com/ninjam/downloads/src/ninjam_server_0.06.tar.gz

I then needed to make sure I had the software installed to be able to compile the application:
“sudo apt-get install build-essential”

I unpacked the source code:
“tar xvzf ninjam_server_0.06.tar.gz”

Change into the directory where the ninjamsvr.cpp code resides. In my case this was:
“cd ninjam_server_0.06/ninjam/server”

Compile the code
“make”

Take a copy of the example configuration file
“cp example.cfg myconfig.cfg”

After making some changes to the well documented config file you can start the server application by typing;
“./ninjamsvr myconfig.cfg”

I needed to amend my router’s port forwarding to make sure the server was visible to the outside world and that was it.

I’ve chosen to secure my ninjam server with userid/passwords, rather than leave it open to anonymous users. If you want to have a go at a NINJAM sometime, or just to borrow the server for your own test, let me know and I’ll set up a password for you.

Another point worthy of note – because NINJAM relies on a repeating sequence of chords to sync up everyone’s parts, it is important to get the number of bars set correctly. After experimentation I found that if you multiply the number of bars required by four you get the value at which to set the BPI. Therefore, for a 12 bar progression set the BPI to 48.

Experimenting with mic position to record an acoustic guitar

For a while I’ve meaning to experiment with using different microphone positions to record an acoustic guitar. After some discussion about this over at the Six String Bliss forum I decided to pull my finger out and do it. So without further ado, here it is;

The guitar was a Takamine EG560C (with some very old strings on) recorded using a Red5 Audio RV6 condenser microphone set at the same height as the centre of the guitar, into a Behringer Eurorack MX602a mixer, then into an Edirol UA-20 USB soundcard and into Reaper on Windows 7 (32-bit).

There were no effects, reverb or compression added. The only editing I did was to cut out some of the silences between parts and each individual section was normalised to just below 0db to make sure the volume was consistent between each sample. I rendered it to a variable bit rate MP3 (quality 80%, equivalent of 224kpbs).

And what of the results? Well here are the details about each position;

Number Position Distance from guitar
1 Level with the endpin 10-12″
2 Directly in front of soundhole 10-12″
3 Directly in front of soundhole 5-7″
4 Level with 12th fret 10-12″
5 Level with 12th fret 5-7″
6 Level with the nut 5-7″
7 Behind the headstock 5-7″

With the exception of position 1, I can imagine finding a use for each of these different sounds. In a sparse mix, where I need the guitar to fill things out, the warmth of placing the mic right in front of the soundhole will really help. If it has to fit in a busy mix then I’ll be moving it more between the nut and 12th fret for the more “stringy” sound without the booming low-mids and mids. Sound-wise I’m fairly ambivalent about the distance between mic and guitar, although when it was close up (positions 3 and 5) I had to be very careful not to hit it with my strumming hand so I’d probably err towards keeping it around 10-12″ away.

And let’s not forget – what we’re experimenting with here is the raw sound. The addition of some careful/tasteful EQ, compression, chorus and reverb will make the world of difference, but you need to have a good solid foundation to build on so I’d definitely recommend you undertake a similar experiment with your own gear.

Note: I didn’t try an option of placing the mic further away, because the room in which I recorded has a particularly harsh sound. If you’ve got a good sounding room though, this should be an option you try too.

Book Review: Guerilla Home Recording – How to Get Great Sound From Any Studio

Introduction

I’ve been involved off and on with attempting to make music at home for close to 30 years now. I’ve also spent time (and a lot of money) in professional studios. I can get by with most things but I’m looking for something to improve the quality of my results. I asked for suggestions on a couple of forums, and one of the common answers was Karl Coryat’s book “Guerilla Home Recording: How To Get Great Sound From Any Studio (No Matter How Cheap Or Weird Your Gear Is)”.

There was something particularly appealing to me about this book’s premise. I’ve got a load of gear. Some odd and some not. But most of my gear would be the stuff a professional studio or an aspiring engineer/producer would turn up their nose at.

I still felt that I hadn’t got anywhere near exploiting the capabilities of what I had. I needed something that was going to help me learn how to use what I’ve got, rather than telling me why I needed to spend four figure sums on a new microphone or suite of professional mastering plugins.

The topics covered

  • Chapter 1: Introduces the book and the principes behind the whole “Guerilla Home Recording” thing.
  • Chapter 2: Some sound basics: dynamic range, frequency spectrum and EQ, signal:noise ratios.
  • Chapter 3: The signal chain: A run through the whole signal chain from top to bottom, including gain staging, microphone choices, DI, mixer inserts, pre and post sends, busses.
  • Chapter 4: Controlling dynamics: Expanders, compressors, noise gates, de-essing, plosives.
  • Chapter 5: The principles of separation and how to make sure each of your tracks gets the “space” it deserves.
  • Chapter 6: Effects: Background info and a host of tips about how to effectively enhance your recordings.
  • Chapter 7: How to record almost anything.
  • Chapter 8: Humanising drums and MIDI: How to make sure your carefully crafted loops and MIDI parts don’t sound like a machine.
  • Chapter 9: Miscellaneous techniques: From punch in/out, automation, digital editing, pitch correction, reamping.
  • Chapter 10: Mixing and mastering.
  • Appendix A: Analog recording.
  • Appendix B: The “Immersion Music Method”. A way of kick-starting creativity and hammering out a large number of songs in a short period of time, without getting hung-up on trying to perfect the small details.
  • Appendix C: Re-production. A suggestion that, to improve your abilities as a home producer, you undertake an exercise to completely replicate one of your favourite tracks.
  • Appendix D: Using your studio as part of a multimedia project.

What I liked

Right from the start there is a bit of a kick in the teeth for somebody like me – someone with years of experience and a smattering of exposure to pro studios. Quite simply I was told to “get over myself”. I’ve seen and heard what proper studios are like and I’m the classic wannabe. I’m trying to apply professional techniques to a cheap home studio and guess what? It sounds like a cheap home studio. To make a professional sounding recording with less than ideal tools needs a different approach. I’m going to have to forget some stuff.

Once I got over this initial scepticism, I began to get the point. There is a Machiavellian “The ends justifies the means” logic going on here. Concentrate on what the end result sounds like. If you used a technique that a pro would frown at to get the result that you like, it doesn’t matter.

Then suddenly I’m into the meat of the book and delving into areas with which I was familiar but not competent. The two of these which I now see had the biggest detrimental impact on my recording quality, was a lack of understanding about the importance of gain staging at every step in the signal chain, and of the techniques to maximise dynamic range whilst still keeping a low signal to noise ratio. I’ve still got a lot to learn and, more importantly master, but this is area where I’ll be focusing my attention for my next couple of projects. This is also one area where, despite the book’s title, I think I may be needing to acquire an additional piece of gear. I’d not really thought about how a carefully used outboard expander/compressor could improve the quality of a recorded track.

While I’m still trying to get to grips with the nuggets in chapters 3 and 4, I’m suddenly plunged into chapters 5, 6 and 7, where the tips just come thick and fast to the point where it is almost overwhelming. I’ll just give you one example;

I come from a background of using effects in a guitar signal chain and had got into the mindset of using effects in a DAW in the same way; plug it in, tweak the settings, job done. I’ve long found that while a chorus can sound great on a bass part, it has a tendency to make the bottom end mushy and indistinct. Karl’s suggestion was to replicate/route the bass onto another track, use a high-pass filter to cut out the bottom end, apply 100% wet chorus to this and then blend it back in with the original bass track. My mind was officially and totally blown! Wait, I can use this approach to create a separate reverb or echo part and pan it exactly where I want. I could do the same thing with phase and flange. What would a uni-vibe sound like just applied to the low-mids of a vocal? I’ve no idea but I’m damn sure I’m going to give it a go to see.

What I didn’t like

To be frank, very little. The author’s preference is to use a fair amount of outboard gear and a real mixing desk, and this colours the book. My personal preference is to get everything into the DAW and then keep it wholly digital until the final mix and master. I’m not excluded but it stopped me feeling like the book was aimed exactly at me.

I didn’t find the sections on recording and humanising drum and MIDI parts to be particularly useful or tell me anything I didn’t already know, and the section on the “Immersion Music Method” in Appendix B didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book, but it was an interesting concept and exercise nonetheless.

Conclusion

When I first bought the book I had visions of reading through and then passing it on to a couple of friends. Having finished the book, that is not going to happen. This is a book that I’m going to keep by my side for a few years to come. I’m afraid my friends are going to have to get their own copy. There are a couple of sections I’m going to want to have on hand as a reference (particularly the stuff about gain staging, dynamic range, and the mix-down check-list). There are other parts (especially chapters 6 and 7) where the suggestions come so thick and fast, I’m going to be going back for inspiration and help for a long time to come.

If you’ve got some recording gear and are more interested in trying to make the best use of what you’ve got, instead of looking for a new “silver bullet” piece of gear then I can’t recommend this book highly enough. And let me put this in context; the book cost about the same as two guitar mags. It is going to provide me with months (perhaps years) worth of inspiration, and it isn’t stuffed with adverts. Now that’s what I call value for money.

If you want a sneak preview of the book, the author Karl Coryat, has published the section on Compression at ProSoundWeb.

Shaping the scratchplate and carving the heel

Where the scratchplate meets the control panel it didn’t exactly match up. This was more to do with the plans I followed than the quality of the parts, but it meant I needed to slightly reshape this curve.

In the picture below it shows the marked area I was cutting back to. I was going to use a sanding spindle, loaded with 60 grit, in my drill press.

I finished up with 600 grit wet and dry, and here’s the final result.

Next up was carving the heel. I marked out roughly where I wanted the carve and then set to with a 60 grit sanding spindle in my hand hand drill.

I’m really happy with the final shape. Not too radical but it certainly helps access to the upper frets.

Next up was drilling the string-through holes. The throat on my drill press was too small so I made up a jig to keep my hand held drill vertical and drilled away. I needed to drill the rebates for the 6mm ferrules to sit in the back of the body (to hold the ball-end of the string. Another quick MDF jig, drilling done, all sorted.

The final job this morning was to try and fix the problems with the tear outs on the bridge pickup rout. The veneers had arrived to I trimmed out a couple of pieces of maple with a pair of scissors, held them to some scrap wood and traced round them with a Stanley Knife. Using the 6mm cutter in the router, I cut out the very shallow rebate to inlay the maple. Buggered it up the first time so I had another two goes on scrap wood before I was totally happy with what I was doing, then took a deep breath and did the body. It needed a little cleaning at the edges with the Stanley Knife and the inlays dropped right in. A light smear of Titebond under each of them, cover with clingfilm and clamp together. I’ll leave them a couple of hours and see how they turn out.

Removing noise from a recording with Audacity

Do you have a problem with background noise in your audio recordings? If so, I may have the answer.

Now it is obviously better to ensure that your recording environment is as quiet as possible but that it not always possible for a number of reasons. For example, I usually record on a laptop in our family room area which means that I always have the noise of the laptop fans and, during winter, of the central heating boiler pump. I’d never realised that either of these made a detectable noise until I started recording with a condenser microphone.

I tried everything I could to minimise this, by moving the mic as far away as possible, draping stuff with blankets and bedding, but it still wasn’t enough.

Time to call in Audacity, a superb free, open-source audio editor available for most platforms (Linux, OSX and Windows). If you don’t have this installed on your system then go straight to http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/ and download it now. You will not regret it! If you’re going to want to export to mp3 then grab the installer for the LAME encoder from http://lame.buanzo.com.ar/ while you’re at it.

One of the things Audacity can do is to analyse a section of your recording that is supposed to be silent, build what it calls a “noise profile”, and then subtract the noise profile from the whole track.

Let me talk you through the steps:

  • When recording, ensure that you have at least 2-3 seconds of silence;
  • Open the track in Audacity;
  • Select the silent section of the track;

  • From the menu choose “Effects”, and then “Noise Removal…”;
  • Click the “Noise Profile” button;

  • Now select the section of the track (usually all of it) from which you want to remove the noise;

  • From the menu choose “Effects”, and then “Noise Removal…”;
  • Preview the noise removal, adjust the settings and, when you’re happy with it, click “OK”. So far I have always been happy with the results of the default values, but you need to pay particular attention to the transition between noise and silence, especially where the audio has a gradual decay, like a sustaining guitar;

  • Audacity saves into its own AUP format. If you want any other format then you need to export it by choosing “File” and then “Export…”
  • Now you’re left with an audio track with silent silences. Bliss.

Here’s a before and after example using an acoustic guitar.

Before:
NoiseRemovalBefore.mp3 by davmac

After:
NoiseRemovalAfter.mp3 by davmac