Over the last several months, I've been taking a couple of online courses with Point Blank Music School, starting with Intro to Music Production (Logic Pro X) and a class called Creative Audio (Logic Pro X). The links to the first two posts covering the Intro class are below along with more about Magnetic Magazine Studios. This post will give you an overview of the Creative Audio course, which is kind of a companion to the Intro course and something I would recommend taking after the Intro class if at all possible. It will also give you some insights on what plugins we found helpful, sample libraries and some cool gear to spice up your workflow and keep your data safe.
What do you learn in the Creative Audio class?
This course is all about taking what you know about audio and getting more proficient with it, and yes, creative. As you learn quickly, you work with two types of files in music production, and that's Audio files and MIDI files. So as you start the course, some of the lessons you learned in the Intro course are revisited, which serves as an excellent refresher. The amount of information you learn in Intro To Music Production is quite overwhelming, so Creative Audio eases the pain a bit by starting slowly.
Note: During the class, Logic Pro 10.5 was introduced, which was cool on the one hand but a little frustrating because it was such a massive update that it could have its own dedicated class to learn all of the new functionality. So I'm assuming they are making updates to the course as I write this, and new students will get this functionality covered.
What I like about Point Blank's Online Learning and what needs some refreshing:
Going back to my earlier comments from the Intro To Music Production course that I took, I'm going to double down on some things that I liked and add some things that could be improved.
- Learning a program like Logic requires patience, commitment, and, most importantly, structured learning. The online courses at Point Blank give you an online classroom-type environment once a week, 1-2-1 personal sessions with your instructor and the right steps so that you can learn the program more effectively.
- Workflow is a crucial building block of these courses, and you will be able to go back to your lessons after the course has ended to brush up, refresh, and hone the skills you learned. Not every method or skill will appeal or matter to you, but it's nice to know you get an overview of everything.
- A course that moves in real-time forces you to keep up with it and keeps you motivated. You are actively getting feedback and learning with a group of people; this makes it a LOT more fun and inspires you to keep up with your classmates and coursework.
- This sounds like a cliche, and it is, but I'll say it anyway. You get out of this what you put into it. So make the time, do the exercises, and practice your new skills over and over. Repetition and experimentation will yield great results.
What I think could be improved.
- The one thing that is challenging about these modules is that sometimes the video lessons are done in an old version of Logic, which is disorienting as the versions are quite different. Not everyone can afford the latest version of Logic, so maybe offer version videos so students can watch the one that makes sense for their version. Either that or just work in the latest version of the program and keep videos up to date.
- This problem has been remedied to some degree but still needs a bit more refining. Point Blank now uses Zoom for its masterclass sessions with your instructor; this is a HUGE jump from their old VLM interface and much better. It just needs slightly more tweaking to smooth it out a bit, as does the calendar interface. These are only minor gripes but could make a world of difference.
Pro Tip: If you are a student taking this class, do yourself a favor and invest in the most recent version of the program and a computer that can run it. If you are investing in a class, it's worth your time to invest in your gear if you are serious about learning music production.
These sections break down the course:
Week One - Working With Audio In Logic
Here you learn the basics about what an audio file is, how to import files, basic commands, starting your project, editing regions, using some essential tools (like the Marquee tool), and exporting audio. In other words, it's a crash course on how to use audio files in Logic Pro X and move around the program's interface and menus.
Week Two - Getting Audio in time
As you will quickly find out, learning how to get your audio in time can be done in many different ways. The tools for this are so useful in the newer versions of Logic now that many older methods seem kind of pointless to learn. Still, PB makes sure to give you a comprehensive understanding of how to detect tempo, getting beats in time, using flextime, adjusting tempo, and all the techniques to get your audio in time and work in harmony with your production. This might seem a little daunting, but sometimes the more straightforward methods don't work, so it's good to know some alternative routes. Chances are you will find one or two workflows and stick to those. Learning how to chop up breaks and make breakbeat edits was pretty dope.
Week Three - Recording into Logic
This week is all about recording in your audio; whether it's a vocal or recording an instrument in, you get the basics here. You are also introduced to Flex Pitch, an excellent tool for helping you alter and correct the pitch on a recorded vocal. The Audio File editor is presented in more detail, which is a super helpful tool if you plan on working with audio files a lot, and the dreaded Destructive Editing is explained to help prevent you from deleting audio files from your drive!
Week Four - Sampler and Quick Sampler
Here is where things start to get super fun. Chances are if you are interested in working in audio, you are interested in sampling things. Your mind is going to be blown here and in all the right ways. You will learn sampling methods, some of the legal aspects (essential), and how to use the Sampler and Quick Sampler to start getting super creative with sounds. You will even learn how to make your custom drum kit and create full instruments with samples. A LOT is going on in this lesson, and here is where you will start to spend more time with individual chapters as things get complicated. You also have the option to dive into the EXS24, which was the predecessor to Sampler/Quick Sampler - which I opted to skip, as I have the latest version of Logic Pro.
Week Five - Multisampling and Modulation
We are starting to get quite nerdy in this module, and you learn how multisampling instruments are made and how to make your own. Meaning that if you wanted to sample a piano in its entirety to make a full instrument, you have to sample key by key - which is extremely tedious but satisfying if you are trying to make something unique. What's a little more fun is learning how to create modulations to get specific sounds like Chord Stabs, DnB Bass, Snare Rolls, and even pitch vocals for particular effects. Finally, you are shown how to use a sample in Logic's Alchemy synth with granular synthesis. This technique allows you to tweak an audio file/sample into something unique - this is a giant rabbit hole, but a very cool technique.
Week Six - Using Flex Time
So you thought you knew how to use Flex Time, nope, not even close. This module takes you through a basic FT recap and then dives headfirst into the details. You will come away with some excellent flexing skills to add to your composition, from transient markers to flex markers to the different flex modes to beat mapping. Chances are you will go through this module two to three times to extract your techniques and workflow style.
Week Seven - Creative Audio Editing
Here's where it gets super fun and a bit challenging, so pay attention as there is a lot to extract and bring to your productions. From a deep dive into Time Stretching to shifting pitch to layering loops. These skills will allow you to push the envelope and fuel creativity like never before.
Week Eight - Recording Audio & Editing Vocals
Remember, week three? This module is a much deeper dive into recording audio and vocals and will help you get recording right the first time. From what mics to use to monitoring to editing, this a comprehensive module for producers working with recording vocals and instruments, etc. It is also a module that you will go back to a lot if you are recording audio - it's a good idea to take notes.
Week Nine - Mixing - EQ & Compression
The final module tends to trip up most producers, as it's more about production's technical aspects. DO NOT skip this, it may not be the most fun, but it will save you hours of frustration and time, even money, if you are serious about making a career out of music. You will be judged by your mixdown, and if things sound like crap, labels, DJs, and remixers will dismiss you as a novice. You can learn the basics here to help your mix sound it's best, so take the extra time and learn how to EQ, compress, use side chain, master reverb, etc.
As you work with being more creative with audio in Logic, you will start to look to third-party plugins to help you achieve new sounds and enhancements not possible with just Logic. Here are some of the plugins that we found essential and worth the dough.
Ovox & Vocalsynth 2
One of the things that's a lot of fun is vocals and the human voice in general; even if you're not a great singer, you can achieve some cool effects using vocoders or voice-driven synths like Waves' Ovox and iZotope's Vocalsynth 2.
I got the chance to test out and start working with both of these plugins and enjoyed them for different reasons. If you are looking to enhance vocals that you already have or record stuff yourself to bring some fresh vocal treatments to your productions - these are both a lot of fun, and you can get super geeky with them.
Vocalsynth 2 - What I love about this is the ability to layer and the always excellent iZotope UI, making things more comfortable to use and deploy quickly. The modular design allows you to color and shape vocals with five blendable stompbox-style studio effects and then add filters like delay, reverb, distortion, and more in a similar manner.
Ovox - This plugin is all about the presets; yeah, I know - shhh. They are a great place to start and learn the power and effects of this vocal synth, and it's easy to start finding some sounds you like and then noodle with the controls to make them your own. There are hundreds to choose from with influences from such greats as Daft Punk - which you can immediately hear on presets like "Around The World." So the best advice is to start diving in on the presets and stripping away to understand better what does what.
Note: Ovox was a bit glitchy with Logic Pro 10.5, so you might have the same issues as presets not loading, but for the most part, it was fine.
Ovox and Vocalsynth 2 are both reasonably easy to work with, but to master them requires some time and effort if you want to max out your results. Vocals are not easy to master, so patience is needed here, but you will have a lot of fun getting there and exploring these wonderful plugins. You will probably want both.
This plugin is the ultimate idea machine, and there is nothing quite like it on the market. For a measly ten bucks a month, you get access to a seamlessly endless library of kits that range from 80s synth inspired loops to soulful vocals to cinematic sounds; there are kits for every taste and style. This instrument is essentially a sample bank that you can tweak on the fly, play together with the other samples, and provide an incredible way to find beats, hooks, bass lines, vocal snippets, and beyond. One of our favorite tools in the studio and a continually evolving library of sounds/kits and styles.
If you are a super newbie and looking to lay down drum tracks for house, techno, or more commercial styles of 4/4 dance music, this is a fun tool. Logic Pro X has a feature called drummer, and this plugin is similar in many respects, letting you tweak different kits, sounds, filters, and has a bit more functionality than drummer in some respects, especially with the filter tweaking. You can control and punch in single elements like kick, snare, hats, etc. or use presets for Intro Beats, Fills, Ending Beats to help you sculpt together drum arrangements on the fly. If you are looking to get your drums going quickly, this is an excellent tool for young producers just getting a feel for drum programming. It is probably not great to use in final tracks, but think of it as training wheels for 4/4 dance beats with many cool tweaks.
Just google Soundtoys, and you will see tons of stellar reviews from seasoned professionals; they make incredible plugins to get your sounds dialed in and sounding dope. The best deal is Soundtoys 5, which gets you all 21 plugins and the Soundtoys Effect Rack so you can stack the individual plugins together quickly in one interface. Just about everything you need is in here, from mixing tools to insane echos and delays. They have regular sales, and the next big one is coming up in November - so if you can wait, you will save a couple of duckets; otherwise, the whole kit (Soundtoys 5) is a very reasonable $499.
Loop & Sample Libraries
There are so so so many loop libraries out there and there are a lot of good ones and not so good ones. When you are working with audio tracks using great loops and samples that are recorded and labled correctly is kind of essential for your sanity, at least when you are first starting out. Great loop libraries will list key, bpm and sample title in the loop so you can easily see what's what. If you sample something you are on your own, but it's good practice to grab samples, work out the bpm and key for yourself. However, if you are just looking to build a groove and get some creativity flowing sample libraries are great.
1. Find one that's fast, deep and reasonable.
2. Some sample libraries have subscriptions that are plenty, and even some cool plugins on their own that let you pull up the library right in your DAW or even some instruments.
The two that we use are Noiiz and Loopcloud, both have phenomenal sounds, plugins or desktop apps, are fast, and reasonably priced.
It's fast, it's furious and there are a lot of different sounds for every taste. The desktop app is fantastic tool as it lets you layer samples in its little sequencer, the search function is solid and you can cherry pick what you need. It's popular, so everyone is digging in there but if you are creative with your tweaking and arrangements - no biggy.
The art direction and interface are stunning, it's almost like a true visualization of the sounds you will get in the artwork. The sample packs are unique, and a different, almost more experimental flavor than Loopcloud, so they are good DAW mates and very good together. We have often found samples in both to put into our productions here at Magnetic Studios. Noiiz also features a plugin for your DAW as well as an instrument where you can choose different sounds/instruments to play - for $199 a year you get unlimited access, that's almost impossible to beat.
Some Key Pieces Of Gear To Help With Creativity and Storage:
The Genki Instruments Wave Ring
The Wave Ring is a MIDI controller that you wear on your finger and can be used in the studio or for live performances. The ring is worn on the index finger, either left or right, and can run it's own soft synth with an array of presets or connect right to your DAW. If you are looking to bring a little more "human" to your work, this is worth checking out. Read our full review HERE.
Dubler by Vochlea
This device is one of the coolest things we have seen in a while. The Dubler Studio is a mic and proprietary software that connect with your DAW to use your voice to trigger drums or sing in tunes/melodies to a software instrument like a piano or synth. So for those of you that are not musically inclined, or are better at beat boxing than finger drumming, it's an incredible tool. Read our full review HERE.
Every studio needs a back up plan or even just a drive to keep your main computer freed up to run smoother, because a overloaded hard drive just won't do! Meet the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual USB-C Hard Drive that was created with creators in mind. The Elite Pro Dual was intentionally designed to handle diverse workflows and goes from 2TB all the way up to 32TB of storage for those working in video. , the Mercury Elite Pro Dual also gives you a built-in high-powered USB hub to connect accessories in case you run out of slots and it will even charge your devices like a phone or and ipad, so it works intuitively with your desktop setup. This drive will work with either Mac or PC, it can partitioned (so you can back up your back up) and it's incredibly fast at file transfer, which is especially important with video files. The Mercury Elite Pro Dual with 3-Port Hub is the perfect combination of performance, capacity options, and hub capability t
- Universally compatible: works with any USB-equipped Mac, PC, or mobile device such as iPad Pro, gaming consoles, anything that supports external storage
- Pro-grade storage with real-world tested1 performance
- Connect and charge: Three USB ports for audio or video mixers, cameras, card readers, tablets, keyboards, mice, anything USB
- Configurable capacity: up to 32TB of high-performance data storage
- Plug and play & ready to go: no drivers needed and includes USB connecting cables
Interview with Point Blank Creative Audio instructor Miguel Ferrador
1. What do you think some of the significant advantages are about taking a structured course like Creative Audio or Introduction To Music Production?
The amount of scattered information out there makes it quite easy to end up with fragmented knowledge. Structure is indeed what these modules aim for, as they're designed to carefully take students step by step through the process of learning the concepts and applying relevant features and techniques. Plus, there's the personal input and feedback from experienced lectures, which in my opinion, is an invaluable asset, as so much in this field is learned through sharing.
2. Can you tell us a little bit about the Creative Audio course and who it might be for?
I believe it's an excellent course for anyone who might want to explore the manipulative uses of audio in the DAW world, namely editing, time-stretching, sampling, recording, and processing. I guess there's somewhat of a modern fixation with MIDI's flexibility, so in a way, this is designed to shine some light on how audio can be just as powerful. In my opinion, it can even produce more unique results, so it's all about the journey into understanding how audio works and learning the tools to use it efficiently.
3. As an instructor, what are some of the things you see students struggle with the most, and how do you help them become more successful?
As I get students from all over the world and from all sorts of backgrounds, there's no set profile or expected level, really. Potentially, a recurring trait is that of students being confident about a particular aspect, but then maybe not that solid on some other foundation level information. I guess that's often a byproduct of what I like to call the "digital Swiss cheese phenomenon" - surely, there's plenty to be learned from random tutorials on YouTube, but the lack of structure can leave plenty of 'holes' in your knowledge. I think my job is to assume nothing, get to know the students, and try and help them fill these gaps as much as I can - that's why the 121 system is so great as it allows for a more personalized experience for the student.
4. As part of your master class sessions, you are big on taking students through the process of doing, not just teaching how to do - can you expand a little on this style and why you find it successful?
I feel like I've learned a lot from watching other people's work; never really been a' shadower' per se, but more like a fly on the wall, as it's also good to buzz sometimes! So I try to encourage that idea in my classes, where I always bring a personal take on the weekly topic, expanding on the course notes by showing my practical application of the concepts. For me, that means bringing in examples from my personal work and trying to be as eclectic as possible. Hence, students realize that it is about being creative and not necessarily genre-dependent. My main goal is not to teach hard and fast ways but rather to show different perspectives to students, who are then invited to incorporate, interpret, or question at will.
5. Do you feel that online learning is just as powerful as being in a classroom? Do you think we are going to see a more significant paradigm shift to online learning post-pandemic?
Interestingly enough, calamities can be as devastating as they are enormous catalysts for change - especially living in such technological times as these. Point Blank was very prompt to react to this, and right from the start, the predicament has been to try to recreate the 'real' classroom experience as much as possible. This started with the temporary shift of the London school to the Zoom platform, which has proven to be quite successful, given its ease of use and exceptional interactive features. Consequently, it leads to rethinking the Online school format and taking both the masterclasses and 121s over to Zoom. Although we're still on an initial stage and much will naturally be perfected along the way, we could immediately see the positive impact it had in making online students more involved, even from their homes' comfort and safety. So ultimately, yes, I guess this has had a profound impact on how we perceive and value the flexibility of online learning.
6. Point Blank has turned out some significant name artists. Have you ever had a student become a successful or famous artist?
The talent that I come across at Point Blank is quite impressive, and I believe the experience is quite empowering in itself. I've seen the vast majority of my students progress at an incredible rate, and there's quite a few that are already making a name for themselves and set out for great things. For instance, I recently had one of my students being released by UMG and supporting John Talabot, The XX, and Digitalism.