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Softsynth Advice


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I'm looking for some advice regarding tools for a new project (cue sound of Pandora's Box opening).  I've been playing keys for quite a while.  I've played Yamaha workstations, various Nord products, various hardware synths, Hammonds, Rhodes, Wurly's, etc.  FWIW.

 

I've got a new project featuring a young female singer.  It will be focusing on various current artists along with some older artists along the same lines:  Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Paramore, Blondie, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, etc.  You get the idea.

 

I'm thinking that covering these songs will be mostly synths of various kinds including lots of layers, zones, sequences, etc.  Probably better suited to mac-based system running soft synths.  This is a departure from my experience so I'm hoping to get some suggestions for tools for the job.  

 

I'll be running on a MAC laptop.  Soliciting input from the hive mind for:

 

  • Basic software/DAW well suited for soft snyths and live playing.  
  • A few "swiss army knife" soft synth packages that would allow me to cover a lot of ground.
  • Controller - I can probably sort this out but am happy to hear suggestions.

 

Thanks for any and all suggestions!!

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2 minutes ago, Keysmcgee said:

Lady Gag,

Unitnentional typo? 🙂

 

Apple's Mainstage would do you well for this, it gives you a gig-worthy host and a set of instruments that would likely cover the material. You might even be able to find pre-made Mainstage sets for specific songs you are doing. Good luck, and have fun!

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It's a keeper

-Captain Beefheart, Ice Cream for Crow

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Yikes!  Fixed the typo (or editorial comment?)  :)   MainStage seems like a good starting point.  Extra points if i can find pre-made material (would save a bunch of time).

 

Thanks NewImprov!!

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DAWs are not for playing live. Mainstage is, and it's great bang-for-the-buck. However as far as the sounds, a "jack of all trades" app is not going to give you the maximum quality a laptop system can do. Not saying there aren't good sounds there - it all depends how you use them. For example I probably wouldn't go with their stock acoustic piano for a solo piano project. Might be perfectly fine in a band mix though. For the money you can't go wrong with it and even disregarding the sounds it's a great way to build a live playing setup. I say this as someone who doesn't use it, BTW – I'm recommending the competition! Gig Performer is also a very powerful live playing app and has a few devotees here, as well as the dev stopping by occasionally as well - so that would be a worthy purchase, though I don't think it comes with sounds like Mainstage.

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11 minutes ago, Reezekeys said:

DAWs are not for playing live. Mainstage is, and it's great bang-for-the-buck. However as far as the sounds, a "jack of all trades" app is not going to give you the maximum quality a laptop system can do. Not saying there aren't good sounds there - it all depends how you use them. For example I probably wouldn't go with their stock acoustic piano for a solo piano project. Might be perfectly fine in a band mix though. For the money you can't go wrong with it and even disregarding the sounds it's a great way to build a live playing setup.

I thought about this in my initial recommendation, and I think that Logic's instruments really tend to skew towards the modern electronic pop that the OP references. Plus, it's expandable, if the OP finds he can't get the sounds he needs from the internal sounds, he can always add AU's

 

12 minutes ago, Reezekeys said:

Anyone know if Mainstage bought on its own comes with all the sounds included with Logic? Or a subset?

I've always thought it did, but TBH, I don't know for sure.

Turn up the speaker

Hop, flop, squawk

It's a keeper

-Captain Beefheart, Ice Cream for Crow

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Here ya go. Short answer, yes it does, full house, including Alchemy. You also get the creditable Vintage B3 & Electric Piano. The Mellotron feels puny to me after years of loving M-Tron Pro, but it offers the popular basics. Sampler really upped my game, once I learned how to fine-tune Autosampler. My hardware Korg favorites are in there, as well as unique Soundfonts, some E-mu sets from Digital Sound Factory & a few alien freebie downloads.      

 

https://www.apple.com/mainstage/plugins-and-sounds/

 "Why can't they just make up something of their own?"
           ~ The great Richard Matheson, on the movie remakes of his book, "I Am Legend"

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Oh yea, Alchemy is easily worth the what, $30? Boatloads of great sounds for EDM & pop. Also, Autosampler changed my gigging life - making exs sampler instruments I could load into my iPad and iPhone. The only drag is there are too many sounds! I'm in a Logic session auditioning sounds, the list scrolls on and on, and I sometimes lose my flow - I suppose there are worse things to deal with though!

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I run Gig Performer both in Windows machines and Mac.   It is so easy and intuitive to control all my plugins in Gig Performer.    I purchased Mainstage just because I already had my MBPs, but I don't use it.   I want all my sounds available in Windows machines as well.  I always think that MS is an Apple's way of getting you locked in their ecosystem.    

 

Right now Proaudiostar has Arturia V-Collection 8 Software Instrument Bundle Software for $59 instead of $599.    I have V 9, but I'll say this is a terrific price.   I only purchase sounds that I can run in Win and Mac.

https://www.proaudiostar.com/catalog/product/view/id/99056?utm_source=Klaviyo&utm_medium=campaign 

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16 hours ago, Reezekeys said:

Looks like they're up to V 10 now... of course it's a great price even if it's older version instruments, but I wonder if you can get updates on them?

 

https://www.arturia.com/products/software-instruments/v-collection/overview

Arturia always has good deals on updates/upgrades.   If I remember it correctly, I always paid $99 for a new version, but sometimes I would skip a version. 

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OP - which Mac laptop are you running?

 

Patch complexity could bring your system to its knees. 
 

I have Gig Performer, and it sure does a lot, but a single instance runs on one CPU core. That could get hairy with dense multilayered patches. 

 

I think MainStage spreads channels across cores? I know the answer is a web search or smart forum member away. 


Anyway, as for sounds, I was always impressed by the included MainStage content. Third-party instruments may give you that extra 10% of mojo, but perhaps at increased CPU usage (not to mention $$$) or license hassles or some other annoying technical thing.


For $30 MainStage comes out swinging hard. 

I make software noises.
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22 hours ago, Keysmcgee said:

A few "swiss army knife" soft synth packages that would allow me to cover a lot of ground.

 

You are already getting good advice on the other questions. I'll focus on this one. As good as the Logic / MainStage library is, you can benefit from third party synths. Everybody has their own preferences but for me the main contenders are:

 

1-  In the generalist emulation camp - The Arturia and Cherry Audio bundles are great. 

2- In the unique / best of breed-ish camp - U-he, Synapse Audio and Softube are great.

3- The do it all synth - Omnisphere is very well regarded.

 

You can mix and match. Grab a package from group 1 and add a specialty item from group 2. Even though I own and love synths from Universal Audio and Native instruments I find that the companies mentioned above are simpler at covering the waterfront. Personally, most of the time, I reach for a U-He synth. YMMV.

 

Two things you didn't ask about that you should budget for:

 

Effects: Your daw/host can help you get started but carefully crafted effect presets can be magic in a synth-heavy mix. Third party effects often have beautiful tweakable presets.

Patch libraries: Like you I enjoy programming synths but we all need to be shaken out of our comfort zones from time to time. One good technique is to find preset libraries and sound designers you like and then purchase the related synths. You will be tweaking from a different starting point. Personally, my favorite independent sound designers are The Unfinished and Luftrum. YMMV.

 

Hope this helps.

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3 hours ago, Tusker said:

Patch libraries: Like you I enjoy programming synths but we all need to be shaken out of our comfort zones from time to time. One good technique is to find preset libraries and sound designers you like and then purchase the related synths. You will be tweaking from a different starting point. Personally, my favorite independent sound designers are The Unfinished and Luftrum. YMMV.

 

:yeahthat:Hear hear! I've been buying third-party sounds for years. I get the best of that set and then a second one that I tweak into a personalized Best Of. 

I've learned as much from reverse-engineering the gems in those sets as I have from other resources combined. I encourage people to buy at least 4 or 5 from different designers. Its like a mini-master class in programming the instrument.

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 "Why can't they just make up something of their own?"
           ~ The great Richard Matheson, on the movie remakes of his book, "I Am Legend"

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Starting out I‘d probably go with GigPerformer (deep but simple, with excellent new features that were user-driven) + Omnisphere (covers almost all synth duties, plus what used to not be the case is now pretty light on the modern cpu) + Kontakt (for the real instruments). Don‘t do what I did, which is buy sooo many softsynths & sample libraries….awesome and fun tho they all are, you just don‘t have the time to maximize & utilize them to their full capabilities.

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Raul
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16 minutes ago, Sergievsky said:

Starting out I‘d probably go with GigPerformer (deep but simple, with excellent new features that were user-driven) + Omnisphere (covers almost all synth duties, plus what used to not be the case is now pretty light on the modern cpu) + Kontakt (for the real instruments).

 

You're closing in on $1000 right there (GP, Omnisphere and Kontakt). Versus $30 for Mainstage. That's how you "start out"?! 🙂 

 

On 4/2/2024 at 6:07 PM, Keysmcgee said:

I've got a new project featuring a young female singer.  It will be focusing on various current artists along with some older artists along the same lines:  Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Paramore, Blondie, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, etc.  You get the idea.

 

The Logic sounds that come with Mainstage will probably work just fine for this genre of music. For someone starting out on the laptop route, it just makes more sense to me - this package has it all, you're not going down the time sinkhole (and expense) of researching, auditioning & buying 3rd-party sounds. If what comes with MS isn't making it, then go with the Lamborghini libraries!

 

On 4/2/2024 at 6:07 PM, Keysmcgee said:

I'm thinking that covering these songs will be mostly synths of various kinds

 

Exactly what MS does best, iMO. I'll use Kontakt for my acoustic piano & rhodes. You may find everything you'll ever need in Alchemy.

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I would echo the sentiments here. Start with Mainstage and its supplied plugins. Alchemy, ES2 and RetroSynth should get you 90% of the way to everything you need.

 

If/when you feel like you need the extra 10%, supplement it with Cherry Audio, Arturia or Uhe.

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Nord Electro 5D, Novation Launchkey 61, Logic Pro X, Mainstage 3, lots of plugins, fingers, pencil, paper.

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4 hours ago, Reezekeys said:

 

You're closing in on $1000 right there (GP, Omnisphere and Kontakt). Versus $30 for Mainstage. That's how you "start out"?! 🙂 


haha 😂 ya ur right, sorry didn‘t consider that. If he has the dough though hey go! 😁 

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Raul
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The OP hasn't established a budget but he has established a purpose: he wants to emulate various artists he mentioned.

 

I've performed with the Logic/Mainstage plugins for more than a decade now. ES2, Sculpture and Alchemy are among my favorite synths. In some respects Alchemy is unrivaled. But two issues are worth considering: time and polish.

 

First, the third party synths often have patches/effects/automation that speed up the process of building a mix. Third party patches accelerate this process even further.

 

Second, some of the Logic synths don't sound as polished or three dimensional out of the box. They are not the newest code. But you can polish them up with effects. Skrillex used an ES2 sound in 2010 on Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, but there is an effects chain polishing that sound. Polishing isn't rocket science:  it's usually some combination of compression, chorus, delays, reverb and spatial panning to make the sound bigger. By contrast, many of today's third party synth patches sound great out of the box. So polish is also a question of how much time you want to spend.

 

There's a question for our OP: what's your time worth?

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Been down this rabbit hole so many times. Start with MainStage then fill in with other AU's if they sound better than what you can get out of Alchemy for synth. MainStage @ $30 comes with au's that cover every base. Gig Performer costs much more and comes with  nuttin.  Were I still on Windows Gig Performer would be my choice. I have VB and B5 but I  still use Vintage B3, included with MainStage at no extra cost,  for some patches. $30 or $3,000? Your choice on Mac OS. No choice on Windows.

A misguided plumber attempting to entertain | MainStage 3 | Axiom 61 2nd Gen | Pianoteq | B5 | XK3c | EV ZLX 12P

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Agreed, I don't use computers live but I'd try hard to make Alchemy work for any synth sounds I need before I bought anything else.  I reckon it would--it's quite versatile.  It used to sell for a couple hundred bucks when it was Camel Alchemy and I believe Apple has added to it.   For simpler patches, Retro synth works well IMO.

Iirc, by default Alchemy (like some u-he synths) defaults to second-best quality.  I've found there's not a ton of difference between this and top quality, might be worth checking (value vs any performance hit).   I will usually turn off reverb in plugins as well in favor of a send/return "global" reverb, but it would depend on whether the patch had modulation affecting reverb in some interesting way.

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Don't break the bank if you're not sure you are going to use soft synths for a long time. It's a long process and I would advice you (as someone who uses software for more than 20 years) to go one step at a time and take the time to learn the workflow. Mainstage is wonderful and very cheap, and has plenty of very useful libraries to start with. If you need more horsepower, you can go unlimited third party VSTs. 

Just my two euros 

Be grateful for what you've got - a Nord, a laptop and two hands
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Start with MainStage, get the free Kontakt player with all the sounds you can, get the free version of Roland ZenCore. Need a synth, the free version of U-He Zebra. Don't buy anything else unless you find something deficient. And by the way, if the MainStage version of sounds are not enough Logic Pro is only $199.

This post edited for speling.

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If you have Alchemy, start with this and consider it more fully. The GUI is a sweetheart. Being able to drop your choice of goods into as many as FOUR slots is impressive. Its something of a Desert Island synth that handily competes with everything else. Remember, you can fill those slots with ANYTHING in your Logic libraries and do the Twist with heady effects chains. Its utterly elastic and keeps me from FOMO on some attractive newer synths.     

 

https://support.apple.com/guide/logicpro/alchemy-overview-lgsi2618652a/mac

 "Why can't they just make up something of their own?"
           ~ The great Richard Matheson, on the movie remakes of his book, "I Am Legend"

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Begin with the end in mind. It will take a lifetime to exhaust the Logic toolkit. But your goal is to stand up your project quickly yes?

 

Use tools which will most easily help you acomplish your goals. Logic easily provides the basics. Third parties easily provide the rest.

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If you're looking for very affordable, excellent sounding staple sounds to go along with whichever synth package do check out the free UVI Workstation player and  AcousticSamples products such as VTines (rhodes), VReeds (wurly), and B5 (still the current fave and most convincing Hammond organ VST). 
Cheap, cheap and will work with MS, GP, Cantabile or your DAW.

Omnisphere is worth every penny, that company is fantastic. Consider adding at some point.

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One brief potential issue, that Mainstage could handle for you easily, not sure.  I know Logic has a transpose midi plugin you can add to each channel...I've been in a couple bands that transpose down a half step, and when I was on windows (Ableton Live) this was a bit of a challenge.  This was many years ago for what it's worth.  I ended up using a different program that basically intercepted the midi before it got to Ableton and transposed notes down one.  Otherwise I would have had to do it per track, or worse per patch.

 

Of course, you may not need to ever transpose, in which case no worry!

 

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For what is worth, in Gig Performer you have lots of flexibility when transposing.

 

You can set up song in one transpose value, and tempo, and then set up individual 'overrides' for each song part.

 

You can set up the Global transpose (or global tempo), or you can transpose only one MIDI device (or all). Basically, you can do whatever you think of in terms of MIDI, transposing and changing the tempo. And all of that you can map to your pad, or a key on your MIDI controller.

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