This Thing Rules: iZotope Neutron

Welcome to a new edition of This Thing Rules! This time we’ll be taking a quick look at iZotope’s NeutronOne of many pieces of software I’ve been meaning to review for some time now.

Before we get into the actual review, or even check out the demo, I wanted to give you a little back-story.  I was recently looking for a certain older track I needed to go back to and edit for a project, and in the process, I found a remix I had started of my own song “Into The Black” from An Unseen Sky. On the companion album, Another Sky I did my first ever remix of my own work, “Forgotten (I Almost Remember Remix).” But I had completely forgotten (get it) that before creating that remix, I had already started on a remix for “Into The Black.” So when I found it just recently, it was a total surprise… And especially a surprise because it was pretty good! Then I had the idea of using it as the demo for iZotope’s Neutron mixing plugin, since it’s not an instrument and is something that needs to be added in the mixing phase, and voila! We’ve got ourselves a new This Thing Rules blog and demo! Here’s the track, “Into The Black (Undiscovered Remix).”

I’d imagine for those of you who actually listen to my albums, that was a pretty cool thing to hear. I know it was for me haha… A long lost remix of one of my more popular older tracks.

So since Neutron is a mixing plugin, we’re not going to go into the creation of the song much, except to say that when I first started the original version of “Into The Black,” it actually started life as a demo for iZotope’s Breaktweaker drum synth. Pretty cool how it’s all come around.

Every DAW comes with a suite of effects for mixing, and if you’ve been making music for a while, you no doubt have a ton of other software that you’ve added to your arsenal over time… Maybe even some of it from iZotope themselves… So why would you want yet another option? Well the promise of Neutron is basically a virtual mixing assistant. The real question is whether or not that virtual assistant works… The answer? Well, I’m not 100% sure yet.

At its core, Neutron is a plugin you can add to an instrument track or a bus and then click a button to make it start “listening” to your music. It will then decide what kind of instrument or music is being played and what should be done to make it sound its best and fit better into the rest of the mix. Surprisingly, it usually not only gets its right, but has some rather impressive results. There are times where it’s way off base, but for the most part, it’s really on point.

Now, that doesn’t mean it’s time to quit your music production school just yet. While some people may look at this as a way of lazily letting the computer do all the work, that’s not at all how I see it. For me, it’s more of a great starting point. Like any preset in a synth, this is like a preset for mixing. Sure, experience might be able to tell me to cut certain frequencies on a guitar with EQ or add some compression on a kick drum… But this is progress and technology creating a new way of doing things, and doing them faster. Not only that, but in my mind, you’re getting the most out of Neutron if you don’t just settle for what it decides to do.

Using Neutron’s decisions as a starting point can be incredibly helpful. Not just in the process of making your music sound its best, but in teaching you where you should be looking to do it yourself. EQ is EQ no matter what software you’re using, and if Neutron decides to adjust your piano in a way that ends up being a really good idea… You’re going to look and say “Oh… THAT’S how you make it sound like that” and remember it for next time whether you’re using Neutron next time or not. And of course, anything Neutron does, you can then adjust from there all within the software with a full featured set of tools.

Now like I said towards the beginning… I’m not quite 100% sure yet whether Neutron as an idea completely works. Partially, that’s because I’m not the best mixer in the world (or composer or masterer or player for that matter, but that’s another story haha)! But even without the wild virtual assistant options, just as a mixing tool, it’s quite full featured and can get you great manual results. What I can tell you for sure though, is that Neutron’s tricks are impressive and I believe definitely a sign of things to come in the future.

Neutron is available from iZotope for $249 and an advanced version that lets you break out each of the separate Equalizer, Compressor, Transient Shaper and Exciter effects as their own plug-ins is available for $349.

David Rosen is an award-winning music composer. He composes original music for films, commercials, jingles, video-games and all other kinds of media projects. He has a vast music library of original tracks available for licensing and is also available for custom compositions. Contact him on theABOUT page for pricing and availability for your next project.

THIS THING RULES: PluginGuru OMG! Drums Vol 1

Welcome to another installment of This Thing RulesThis time I am going to look at a monster of an expansion for my favorite synth, Omnisphere 2. I’ve covered PluginGuru’s software before in two of my first reviews, Omnipulse  and Omniverse 1 & 2 (which I still use all the time). I’ve purchased many of their other packs over the last couple years, but I’m glad to be finally covering them again with their new OMG! Drums Vol. 1 for Omnisphere 2. Before we dive into some of the features and what I liked about it, check out my demo “Nebula.”

This Thing Rules: BreakTweaker

Before we start this edition of This Thing Rules I just want to say thank you to everyone in the music forums who have been giving me feedback on this series. I’m really enjoying doing them and I’m glad you’re all digging it. Eventually I’m going to get into a groove and make it a weekly thing, and I’m also toying with the idea of adding some videos to the segments as well, but for now, a couple times a month, each with a new song…

This time I’m digging into probably the biggest piece of software I’ve done yet, iZotope’s brand new “is-it-a-drum-machine-or-is-it-an-effect” BreakTweaker. Co-created with electronic musician BT (who also helped design the excellent iZotope StutterEdit which I use all the time), this is a piece of software that will definitely be working its way into my regular songwriting process.

Before I get into what makes it special, let me give you a little bit of back story about me. For the past 15 years of making music, I’ve stayed away from drum machines, drum patterns, loops, breaks and drum sequencers. It’s just not the way I do things. I will occasionally add a loop into the chorus section to beef up the percussion for a couple bars, but very rarely, and even when I do, it’s only to augment the drum beat I played out on my keyboard. It’s not that I have anything against that way of doing things… The industrial music I got into this stuff because of was all done with sequencers and drum machines, and most of my favorite hip-hop beats all use breaks and loops. Maybe it’s a control freak type of thing, I don’t know, but I just like knowing I hit all the notes (even if it’s on a keyboard and not an actual drum set).

But with all that said, BreakTweaker is just different and for my purposes, worth using. It’s not just taking your kicks snares and hi-hats and making patterns, although you could certainly just use it to do that. The sequencer module is extremely powerful and easy to use. But it’s the other 2 modules, the Generator and MicroEdit Engine that set this thing apart.

BreakTweaker

 

With the Generator you have built in tools to create your own drum sounds. You can combine and tweak until you find exactly the right kind of sound for each piece of your digital kit. The built in kits are already a great place to start though, and for the purposes of my review track up above (you did listen, right?) I didn’t dig into the Generator module too much. Where I had the most fun was in the Sequencer and most improtantly, the MicroEdit Engine.

Playing with the MicroEdit Engine feels like you’re using an instrument that someone brought back from the future. iZotope says you can “manipulate audio at a molecular level” and they’re not kidding. You can take any clip from the sequencer and adjust its pitch, rhythm and texture by adjusting the easy to use knobs. You can take a normal snare drum and pretty much just destroy it… in a good way. Make it stutter, make those stutters pitch shift, transform the changes mid-change. It’s simply insane the amount of room you have to experiment. The Randomizer button adds crazy ideas to your selection which you can then learn from, figuring out how each setting actually effects your sound.

For the sample track, “Broken Glass,” I started out with two instances of BreakTweaker, each with a different but fittingly similar presets (Sin Bass & Tweak Woofer). Each preset loads an already made kit and 12 patterns, with 12 extra empty spaces to add and save your own patterns.  I used a mixture of preset patterns and my own created ones. These are spread across the keyboard so you can trigger them easily, and below the patterns are each of the 6 pieces of your drum kit individually so you can add some custom playing to the mix as well. You can also start completely from scratch creating every piece of your kit and totally new patterns. Of course since this software is mainly for drums I added some other synths into the song as well, but everything percussion you hear is from BreakTweaker.

So as you can imagine I’m absolutely recommending BreakTweaker. The drum tracks you can make with this thing are simply insane and if you even could make them without it (and that’s a big IF), it would take you hours of tweaking to do what takes seconds here. It’s a very specific kind of program and not for every kind of composer, but if you make any form of electronic or hip-hop music, you absolutely will not be disappointed. It’s currently on sale from iZotope’s website for $199 (regularly $249) or an expanded version with extra Expansion Packs for $249 (regularly $299).

 

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