Recently, Avid teamed up with our friends at GRAMMY U to present a very special live-streamed interview and Q&A with noted producer, songwriter, and artist Rico Love in Miami. About 50 guests were able to join us in person, but you can watch the entire interview here.
For those of you who don’t know, GRAMMY U is a community of college students, primarily between the ages of 17 and 25, who are pursuing a career in the recording industry. Because GRAMMY U is part of NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), members have extraordinary access to the music industry and its artists. Events like these are held year-round and give students real-world perspectives on the industry from the people who truly know it the best—real working pros representing every aspect of the game.
And Miami-based Rico Love is definitely one of the top pros working in the game today. I had the opportunity to sit down with him before the live stream and talk to him about his creativity, recording, and how he found success in the music business.
As a producer, songwriter, singer, and rapper, Rico has worked with many of today’s modern legends of hip hop and R&B. Considering all of the roles he’s played in the production of so much music, it’s natural that he prefers to think of himself as an artist rather than to stick himself with any one tag.
He told me, “I’ve written songs for a lot of artists—Beyoncé, Usher, Nelly, Kelly Rowland, David Guetta to name a few. But my gift is to create music in whatever capacity I’m called for. Sometimes it’s in the form of songwriting or producing. Sometimes it’s in the form of singing or rapping. I really just see myself as an artist, as someone who creates music.”
In whatever capacity he’s working, Rico approaches every track with a sense of passion and individual perspective that has helped make him one of the most sought after talents working in music. But he didn’t start at the top. Like every other professional working on his level, he had to learn how to turn his musical ideas into actual records.
“When I started out, I used to work with these guys called the Corner Boys and we were recording on a little DAT machine before we graduated to Pro Tools. Like most people watching the GRAMMY U stream today, I was working in home studios, garages, and people’s apartments… I remember when I first got the opportunity to record in a real studio with Pro Tools, I felt like, wow, the power is yours. You could just do so much more in it.”
“When I started recording, we only had four tracks to record on and we had to bounce vocals down six, seven, or eight times in a session. So the fact that you have the ability to record 16 tracks of audio in Pro Tools | First—especially as a beginner—gives you a huge advantage.”
When asked about how Pro Tools | First might give up-and-coming producers and artists an edge, he was pretty clear on the advantages it provides.
“Pro Tools | First, and getting 16 tracks of audio in it, is amazing. When I started recording, we only had four tracks to record on and we had to bounce vocals down six, seven, or eight times in a session—maybe even more than that depending on the track. We’d have to make the music on two tracks and mix it as best as we could and import the music as a 2-track. So the fact that you have the ability to record 16 tracks of audio in Pro Tools | First—especially as a beginner—gives you a huge advantage.”
From partnering on events with groups like GRAMMY U, to working with artists like Rico Love and offering Pro Tools | First absolutely free of charge, we’re committed to creating new advantages for developing talent in the music industry.
For more info on how you can get involved with GRAMMY U, please visit the GRAMMY U page. If you’d like to download your own free copy of Pro Tools | First, you can get on the list here. And for more info on the man himself, check out Rico Love’s website. Finally, as a little bonus for our Avid customers, check out the behind the scenes extended interview we shot with the man himself in Miami where we discuss recording, creativity and, of course, the world of Pro Tools. Check it out.
Pro Tools | First is Here
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My previous article introduced our NotateMe music handwriting app and how it came to be. This article highlights how to use NotateMe and integrate it into your Sibelius workflow, with a focus on the design decisions that made it revolutionary.
A brief history of notation software will put NotateMe in context, demonstrating the successive technological advancements that have revolutionized the way musicians work with their scores (a detailed account can be found at Music Printing History):
The dedicated Musiccomp all-in-one system featured a special keyboard and computer screen.
Musiccomp Score Writer (1977)
MS-DOS based SCORE ran on desktop computers.
Sibelius utilized powerful mouse and windows-based systems. In order to benefit fully from the technology the creators, Ben and Jonathan Finn, designed a novel music notation interface from scratch.
Touchscreen based tablets and phones became sufficiently powerful to run demanding and sophisticated handwriting recognition software.
Martin Dawe Demonstrating Neurotron’s OCR System at Acorn World 1993, London
Designing Something New
At Neuratron we have been developing recognition software since 1993. We knew our work on scanned handwritten music recognition could form the basis of a new type of notation software that took advantage of modern touchscreen technology. For me, it was a rare opportunity to design a user interface from the ground up and create an original product that felt completely intuitive.
NotateMe v1 (2013) with Split Screen Running on iPhone 5
We took the plunge in summer 2012. It was a gamble for us: There are no fixed ways of writing recognition software, and no certainties that it will ever work. In addition there were concerns over whether we could finance its development, as customers’ expectations of what they should pay for apps was too low to be economically viable. We did not even know whether anybody would want to buy a music handwriting app! But I had a hunch, it felt right, and so we went for it full steam.
Whenever I create something original, I like as little disturbance and unnecessary thought processes in my head as possible – I work best when my whole mind is working with a unified objective. I realized this was the key to inventing a music notation app that would give musicians the opportunity to imagine their most brilliant work.
Leonard Bernstein Making Annotations to a Musical Score (click photo for copyright)
I noticed that composers often reach a similar relaxed state of mind when working with pen and paper, in front of their piano or at a desk. It seemed that a portable touchscreen tablet or phone, particularly with a stylus, could become the modern-day equivalent of this whilst offering so much more, including the freedom to write anywhere.
One of the challenges when designing NotateMe was holding on to the simplicity of using pen and paper, while at the same time adding the functionality to edit, print and play back a score automatically generated from handwriting. I felt it important there should be no menus or complicated toolbars in sight, and no keyboard shortcuts to remember.
To maintain the natural pen and paper philosophy, it was also important that musicians could write in the style they were already comfortable with. From a developmental point-of-view, it would have been an easy shortcut to take, to force the user into learning a special way to write notation. Instead we designed NotateMe to quickly adapt to musicians’ handwriting styles, not vice versa.
In the same light, I also thought it important that users should be able to help NotateMe correct any misread symbols by not only erasing and starting over, but by allowing scribbles to be marked more clearly with additional strokes – in the same way people clarify their handwriting using real pen and paper.
Armed with the power of a tablet, we added various capabilities to NotateMe that are just not possible with traditional pen and paper:
We thought it would be cool and useful for NotateMe to immediately transcribe and play back notes the moment they were written.
We rethought the process of selecting and editing objects by making it possible to intuitively draw a lasso around objects to select them. The selection can be tapped and dragged to move it, double-tap dragged to create a copy, and flicked to erase it.
Selecting Musical Objects in NotateMe By Drawing a Lasso
We automated the following aspects of score entry to reduce time and tedium from the score-writing process:
Voice numbering is not generally marked or highlighted by a musician writing on paper – we thought, why do this on a computer?
Tuplets are automatically added once a bar is complete.
New bars are added automatically.
Clefs, time and key signatures and barlines are all pre-written – simply select and drag to adjust them.
Page formatting for saving PDFs or printing.
With PhotoScore & NotateMe 8, tap Send to Sibelius and your score will open immediately within Sibelius. Continue with more advanced editing tasks, such as setting the house style, syncing with film, and so on.
When we began development, we weren’t sure how this could all fit within the confines of phone and tablet displays. Should users enter music onto staves already formatted into pages (as in Sibelius), or long continuous staves that could be navigated by swiping left/right? Was it better to keep the handwriting area of the screen separate from the transcribed notation, or should there be one set of staves for both handwritten and transcribed notation?
With the first incarnation of NotateMe, the answers ultimately arose not only from the reality that tablet and smartphone screens were quite small, but also that they lacked active pens/styluses (meaning the touchscreen could not tell the difference between stylus and finger strokes). A user’s finger/stylus would be required to both write and navigate around the score, and so the NotateMe screen was split in two – the bottom half for handwriting, and the top half for panning.
NotateMe 3 (PhotoScore & NotateMe Ultimate 8) on Microsoft Surface Pro 3
With the release of PhotoScore & NotateMe 8 and its compatibility with larger tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with active Surface Pen, it became possible to use the pen solely for handwriting, and the finger only for navigation. That is why the latest NotateMe 3 gives users the option to write directly onto the main score. The split-screen option has not been abandoned however. Many users prefer to work directly with their own handwriting; and music educators find the split-screen layout the perfect way to assess and assist students learning the age-old art of music notation writing.
PhotoScore & NotateMe Ultimate 8
Sibelius has shipped with free Lite versions of Neuratron’s music scanning and recognition technology since before even the first Windows version (Optical Manuscript shipped with Sibelius for Acorn computers in 1997). Sibelius 8 is no different and includes PhotoScore Lite 8, which now features the reduced functionality version of our music handwriting app, NotateMe Now.
PhotoScore & NotateMe Ultimate 8 is currently available to purchase at heavily discounted bundle pricing both with new Sibelius 8 purchases and upgrades.
As the largest cultural and concert venue in Hungary, the Palace of Arts requires a massive technical infrastructure and smooth, efficient workflows. Inside the huge building we have four sound studios that all serve as multifunctional workspaces, from recording through editing to complete post mixing.
Variety is the key. We produce about 500 shows a year, including radio, TV, galas, live broadcasts and webcasts. As an audio engineer, in the morning you may record voice overs, then in the afternoon you might edit the audio for a TV or radio show, while in the evening you may record a huge symphonic orchestra or mix a live broadcast event. Being prepared, flexible and well organised is mandatory. This is why we need tools that can properly serve our needs against very demanding deadlines.
We needed a control surface that was modular, able to control multiple DAWs, and was future proof. After much research and careful consideration we narrowed down our list to one candidate and purchased two Avid Pro Tools | S6 control surfaces in M10 24-fader configuration.
For us, it offers the best range of capabilities. We don’t just use the S6 surfaces for post production, but also for live broadcast and webcast mixes. Carefully built template sessions give us all the flexibility we would get from a digital console, with many added benefits. First, we can use the very same spectacular sounding and familiar plugins we use in post production. At the end of the show, we already have a fully customised and set up session with all the routing, grouping and personal needs of the engineer. And, importantly, we have fader automation already recorded which means we don’t start the post mix from zero, but from a stellar sounding, automated session. This makes an enormous difference in speed and efficiency.
We’ve tried many different layouts with the S6 as it is really like Lego. Just dream up a different configuration, and within 10–20 minutes you’re ready to mix again. My first mixing session with the S6 went surprisingly well. As I had a tight deadline with a pretty huge mix, I thought this would be the ultimate test; I didn’t know the surface very well then, and discovered new and available functions as I did the mix. What I really loved is that, after a few hours in the mix, it already felt like a natural extension. I didn’t have to overthink the process technically, it just worked. I had all the PDFs on my iPad in case I needed to look something up, but to be honest I never had to search for anything in the user manual.
The second day of mixing was even more fun. It really felt like my dream surface – so much so that I started to experiment with different things during the mix, I felt so confident that the S6 would do it properly.
“I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to mixing so I have many VCA masters in my sessions; often I even use nested VCAs for more control and to have more options. VCA spill is dead easy on the S6 and the ability to choose where to spill the tracks (to left or right of the VCA) is a very nice add-on.”
While I only got my feet wet with layout mode, I found it immensely powerful for organising and navigating a big session. After selecting and building a few layouts, it becomes quite addictive. With just a touch I can recall any of my custom fader setups. At the pre-dub stage I have more tracks in my layouts, and as I approach the final mix I have more VCAs and fewer individual groups and tracks. It’s good to know, though, that any time I need to delve in and modify some small element, I still have my detailed pre-dub layouts, so just one touch and all the necessary things will be right there in front of me.
What really helps me in a live broadcast mix is the do to all command. For example, at the soundcheck stage I can assign the input gain to the knob module so I can gain just like on any usual console, and later I switch it back to panorama. The ability to execute commands that affect all the channels is not only a great time saver but really makes the whole workflow faster.
Another feature I love is the ability to insert my favourite EQ and Dynamics plugins with a push of a button. Generally I use many Avid Channel Strips in a live broadcast mix, but in every situation there are certain things that need a bit more treatment; for example I use Fabfilter’s ProQ2 and Sonnox Dynamics to give me even more options. Plugin manipulation is fast and easy. What really makes it fun is that the knobs are coloured according to the process, and they’re touch sensitive. They also act as push buttons and have acceleration, which is really helpful. If I need to adjust a tiny thing, turning it slowly gives me high resolution, but also it is possible to go fast from one value to another.
An immensely helpful feature of the S6 is the ability to check the contributing channels per VCA at any time. This might seem a very tiny thing, but in a complex, large mix it’s a great help. Just push bus on the VCA strip and it automatically shows which channels have been assigned to that particular VCA. And it not only shows the track’s names, but also their levels. Since we use the S6 in post and broadcast situations, this little feature really makes the sound mixer more comfortable with the surface. There are many other seemingly small features of the S6 that makes the mixer feel confident, but somehow the whole design enhances the Pro Tools experience – not only by making manipulation and mixing faster, but the level of information we receive from the LEDs and coloured buttons is truly a great help for our workflow.
The ability to record automation while recording live performances is huge for us. On a live show I have all my VCAs in latch automation mode, so at the end of the show I end up with a well automated show, enabling me to use my time more productively in post production. Then it’s down to me if I coalesce that volume automation to the tracks or just trim the VCAs even more. It’s great to have that level of control of my session. I use the mouse less and less as it feels much slower.
As we are a multi-studio and multi-DAW facility, having the ability to seamlessly switch from Pro Tools to Nuendo and back is fantastic. It seems that the S6 integrates brilliantly with our daily challenges, be it live or post work. I think S6 has the potential to become the cleverest, most versatile surface ever.
Choose a pre-configured S6 system or build your own. Speak with our experts to determine the best fit for your workflow and business.
Sibelius has shipped with free Lite versions of Neuratron’s music scanning and recognition technology since before even the first Windows version (Optical Manuscript shipped with Sibelius for Acorn computers in 1997). The new Sibelius is no different and includes PhotoScore Lite 8, which now features the reduced functionality version of our music handwriting app, NotateMe Now. Sibelius can also be purchased as a bundle with the full versions of PhotoScore & NotateMe Ultimate 8. As the founder of Neuratron I thought it would be interesting to give you some background about these apps, how you can include them in your compositional workflow and how they integrate with Sibelius.
The way we use computers has been changing rapidly the past few years. Going are the days of clunky desktop machines controlled by mouse and keyboard; replacing them are highly mobile devices connected wirelessly to the web, controlled by touch and voice.
At Neuratron, we’ve been aware of these changes for a number of years and our highly acclaimed NotateMe music handwriting app for Android and iOS shows how we have strived to adapt.
NotateMe makes it possible for musicians to compose digital scores anywhere, for example, on the train or plane, at the park, or on the sofa. You simply handwrite notation using a stylus or finger on a tablet or smartphone and it is converted to printed notation in front of your eyes. In fact, it’s just like using pen and paper, with the amazing benefit that you end up with an automatically formatted score that can be played back and printed out. Now that NotateMe is integrated into PhotoScore 8, it can even be sent directly to Sibelius at the tap of a button, in the same way as scanned scores.
We’ve actually been making it possible to write digital scores on the go since we released PhotoScore Ultimate 5 in 2007, with recognition of music handwritten on special PhotoScore Paper. However it was fairly obvious that the ideal solution is to write notation directly onto a computer screen using a stylus and have software convert it immediately to printed notation.
The problem back then was that the processing power of phones and tablets had not advanced sufficiently for our recognition technologies and furthermore, touchscreens were not sensitive enough to pick up small drawings such as half-noteheads. Then, in Summer 2012, Microsoft announced the Surface tablet, and we realized straight away that this was all about to change.
The first NotateMe prototypes were tested using a Samsung touchscreen device running Windows 8. However, rather than releasing for Windows, the first commercial apps were made available for iOS and Android in Summer 2013. This is partly because we thought it made more sense to integrate our technology into the next major PhotoScore release, but we were also waiting for Microsoft Surface Pen technology to reach a certain maturity.