GearFest, held every Summer on the Sweetwater campus in
Fort Wayne, Indiana, has become the premier Midwest event
for musicians. Over the years, founder Chuck Surack has
transformed it from an informal gathering where musicians
can connect and check out gear to an ever-growing, twoday
event; this year GearFest featured a mix of booths
from 220 manufacturers (many of whom didn’t exhibit at
Summer NAMM), visitors from around the world, more
than 80 seminars and workshops, a flea market for used gear,
celebrated keynote speakers, “you-have-to-be-there” deals on
gear, and some pretty cool music. Some of this year’s featured
speakers were Thomas Dolby, Lee Roy Parnell, Marcus
Miller, Fab Dupont, J. R. Robinson, Jeff Loomis, George
Massenburg, and Electronic Musician’s own Craig Anderton.
|At GearFest 2012, Craig Anderton led a presentation on integrating analog and digital studio technology.
The thing that makes GearFest successful is that,
while it’s obviously Sweetwater-centric, it has transcended
its origins to become a summer music event second only
to Summer NAMM. Among the many seminars featured
at GearFest was the Craig Anderton-led presentation on
integrating analog and digital in what he calls
“the hybrid studio.” Although we can’t take
you backward in time to GearFest itself, we
can certainly present the highlights of this wellreceived
seminar. —Sarah Jones
Although there’s much hype around analog
vs. digital technology, let’s remember
analog’s original meaning: “represented by
a continuously variable physical quantity.”
Analog is more than just a type of technology;
in fact, most studios already combine analog
and digital—transducers are analog, as are
moving air, ears, and instruments. Furthermore,
levels, sends, EQ, and similar elements, even if
implemented with digital technology, aim to
give a smooth, analog feel.
Mixing is a good example of an analog
process, but also note that a mix can be
a performance ( just ask DJs, or consider
sessions back in the ’60s when multiple sets of
hands worked a large-format console), and it’s
also an inherently polyphonic activity.
This is why mixing with a mouse is often
unsatisfying: It’s a monophonic device in
a polyphonic world. Fortunately, there are
plenty of control surface options—from
keyboards like Yamaha’s Motif series, whose
sliders (Figure 1) can map to a variety of
DAWs, to multifader controllers like the
Mackie Control, Euphonix Artist Series,
or Behringer BCF-2000, and to individual
channel faders like the PreSonus FaderPort or
Frontier Design AlphaTrack. And of course,
there are specialized control surfaces, like
Novation’s Launchpad, or Akai’s APC20 and
APC40 for Ableton Live.
|Fig. 1. Yamaha’s Motif series was designed to serve double-duty as a basic control surface for a variety of DAWs—not just Steinberg’s Cubase AI.
|Fig. 2. This shows the FireWire button enabled in PreSonus’s StudioLive 16.0.2 mixer; inputs 1–3 are set to inputs coming in from FireWire instead of their analog inputs.
The Mixer as Control Surface Another
option is a conventional mixer working with
an audio interface that has multiple audio
outputs, or a mixer with a FireWire or USB
2.0 interface (PreSonus StudioLive series, or
the latest digital mixers from Yamaha, Phonic,
Alesis, and others). There are several benefits
to using a mixer as a control surface:
• You can route the output back into the DAW
feeding it to record a stereo mix.
• Real faders encourage mixing as a
• You can perform with EQ and other controls.
• It offers easy interfacing with analog effects
via inserts and auxes.
• Using the mixer’s processors takes a load off
• Analog mixers can lend an “analog”
• Workflow is much faster than using a mouse.
• This approach is DAW-agnostic.
Of course, there are disadvantages too:
• Mixer settings aren’t saved with a project by
• There may not be enough hardware ins
• Mixers take up space.
• They can be less convenient, due to the need
for extra connections.
Interconnections My first “mixer as
control surface” experience involved a
Panasomic DA7 digital mixer and Creamware
SCOPE interface. Both had dual ADAT
Lightpipe ports, which allowed sending 16
DAW outputs to 16 DA7 inputs. Some faders
handled individual instruments, while
others covered submixes. In those days
computers were pretty slow, so the DA7’s
onboard processing was a big advantage.
Although connecting via analog patch
cables from a multi-output interface to a mixer
is doable, using an ADAT, USB, FireWire, or
MADI digital connection—now offered by many
mixers—keeps the signal in the digital domain and
minimizes cabling. However, you do need to know
how to set up the mixer to talk to your computer.
Typically, you assign DAW outputs to FireWire
buses, which then go to individual channel inputs;
these are then enabled for FireWire inputs as
opposed to standard analog inputs (Figure 2). Now you can do your mixing moves in real
time, using the mixer’s faders.
If the mixer has built-in DSP, that can
supplement any plug-ins used in the DAW
itself; if your mixer can save snapshots, you
can call them up in real time as part of the
mix. And if there aren’t enough faders, you can
send a premix of parts whose level doesn’t vary
much (or which use DAW automation) to two
channels, thus reserving the other faders for
“important” mixing moves.
|Fig. 3. This routing allows not only mixing your DAW through a mixer’s faders, but also recording your 2-track master back into the project from which it came.
Mixing and Mastering In the days of tape,
studios would mix down from a multitrack to
a separate tape recorder. But with the hybrid
studio, you can record your stereo mix into the
same DAW project you’re mixing.
Referring to Figure 3, the DAW
outputs (red) are going into mixer inputs via
FireWire. Meanwhile, the mixer’s stereo master
out (green) feeds back into the DAW (in this
example, using interface inputs 15 and 16). Now
when you want to hear your final mix, simply
play back the track where you recorded the
And if your mixer doesn’t have moving
faders, you can do a sort of “pseudoautomation.”
Start mixing; if you make a
mistake partway through or miss a move,
locate your DAW to a place before the spot
where the mistake occurred, then set up your
faders, pan, etc. the way they’re supposed to
be. Start playback, punch before the mistake,
then carry on with the mix from there. Even
better, once you have the perfect mix, it’s now
in two tracks of your original project. When
you save the project, you also save your mix.
Integrating Hardware Effects As your
mixer will almost certainly have aux buses,
it’s easy to add aux effects like hardware
reverb units. But even without a mixer, it’s
not hard to add hardware effects to individual
DAW channels. Most DAWs have some kind
of “insert” plug-in that looks like a standard
plug-in, but acts like a virtual insert (see
Figure 5). It routes the channel’s output to a
hardware interface output, which you patch
to a hardware effect input. The effect’s output
patches to an unused interface input, which
then returns to the insert plug-in and proceeds
to the DAW’s mixer. The DAW will typically
“ping” this effects loop, and compensate for
the additional latency introduced by going
through another stage of analog interfacing.
However, note there is one limitation: You
can’t do a faster than realtime bounce through
hardware; any track bounces need to be done
in real time.
|Fig. 5. Sonar X1’s external insert plug-in routes a channel’s signal out of the DAW, into a hardware effect, then returns the signal to the DAW channel.
“Hybrid” Isn’t Just For Cars Although
some people treat analog vs. digital as some
sort of technological holy war, you don’t have
to buy into the hype. Simply choose the right
tool for the right job. Sometimes you’ll get
the best results by embracing both analog and
by Sarah Jones
A major GearFest highlight was EM Live!, presented by our own Craig Anderton, who created
a virtual issue of Electronic Musician especially for the event, and brought the magazine to life
by taking “articles” off the printed page, projecting them on a giant screen behind him, and
performing live presentations for each article.
Subbing for my usual Insight editorial, Craig opened by presenting an editorial on “Why DJ
Thinking Matters,” and demoed the concepts he was talking about by using Native Instruments’
Traktor Pro 2 to do a live mashup—complete with tempo-synced effects, dangerous crossfades, and
more. For our New Gear section presentation, Asher Fulero from Moog Music came onstage and
demoed the new MF-104M analog delay, which had just been introduced at GearFest the previous
day. Now that’s new gear!
And of course, what’s Electronic Musician without one of our exclusive Roundups? Craig did a
DAW compare-and-contrast (Figure 4) of Adobe Audition, Sony Acid, Steinberg Cubase, Acoustica
Mixcraft 6, Apple Logic Pro, Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live, MOTU Digital Performer, Propellerhead
Reason, PreSonus Studio One Pro, and Cakewalk Sonar X1. He managed to cut through the
marketing hype to give a clear, objective account of each DAW’s strengths and limitations.
|Fig. 4. The realtime “DAW roundup” was a highlight of EM Live! Here, Craig helps people wrap their heads around Ableton Live.|
Taking the place of print Q&A, guitarist Neil Zaza came onstage and was interviewed
about all things guitar, but the conversation drifted toward amp sims and, specifically,
Eleven Rack. Zaza’s engaging, humble, personable style was definitely a hit with the
audience. Then former EQ editor and acclaimed author Mitch Gallagher closed out the
interview segment by sharing his formidable expertise about guitar tone, as exemplified
in his latest book, Guitar Tone:
Pursuing the Ultimate Guitar
Craig ended EM Live! with
a demo of a Power App using
Cakewalk’s Sonar X1, but in
the same way we often run out
of space in the print edition of
Electronic Musician, he ran out
of time before he could cover
everything he’d planned. But no
matter: The crowd’s enthusiastic
reaction made it clear that
Electronic Musician could be
a great live act as well as a