Designing sounds with Massive X

Native Instruments released Massive X sometime in 2019 with the latest version 1.2 coming out in December of the same year. It’s meant to be the upgrade to the ever popular Massive, beloved by countless producers and sound designers.

I bought Massive X when it came out, but with the plethora of soft synths I have at my disposal its been little wonder that I haven’t spent much time with it. Today, I decided to change that.

DSC_01_Massive_X [modified] - REAPER v6.09_x64 - Registered to Rahul Ranganath (Licensed for personal_small business use) 09-05-2020 15_42_00

As is customary I threw the manual out the window, burnt the quick start guide and started twiddling knobs until weird things started happening.

The quality of sound coming out of this thing is a definite improvement over its precursor. It feels very much like a Reaktor Blocks ensemble, especially when you’re on the routing page. The amount of parameters that you can modulate are quite staggering. The global controls which are at the top of the plugin at all times is easy to to setup. The GUI seems a bit cluttered at first, but if you know your way around a synth it doesn’t take long to figure out where everything is. Added to that its seems to be quite CPU friendly. I’m running it on an 9th gen i7 with 8GB RAM and it only eats about 1.5% CPU with almost all modules active.

Long time Massive users have had some issues with it, but for someone who doesn’t carry the baggage of the previous synth its quite a joy to use. Definitely worth checking out.

Here’s some noise from a patch I made within about 30 minutes from opening it up and twiddling knobs.

It also has a great library of patches that have varying levels of complexity. Advanced synth users should be able to squeeze very creative sounds out of it.



MonoHive Sessions – Dhruv Visvanath

This Monohive session has been produced in collaboration with the Toto Music Awards, who are celebrating their 15th anniversary this year!
​Dhruv Visvanath was first noticed at the Toto Music Awards in 2012, when he was a young and upcoming singer songwriter with a simple acoustic guitar and a voice. He was long-listed that year and won many hearts at the awards ceremony with a wonderful live vers​ion of one of his songs.
He was long listed again in 2014 but probably his strongest submission was in 2017 with his album Orion. Here we saw a noticeable transformation in the man. No doubt the production was slicker, but it was really his guitar playing and musical ideas that shone through here. He was unlucky to have not been noticed by the jury enough to make it into the short list. Dhruv however continued to grow and evolve unhindered.
With his unique percussive guitar playing style, he has now cultivated a solid reputation around the country.​ His latest album The Lost Cause is ample proof of why that is.
In this two part session Dhruv plays us some music and talks a little bit more about his approach and writing style.

Are some DAWs more equal than others ?

What’s the best sounding DAW ?

The Digital Audio Workstation or DAW for short is the ubiquitous centrepiece of the modern recording studio. Every studio on earth probably uses the DAW in some form or the other.

It wasn’t always like this though before useable software and hardware arrived on the scene in the 90’s using a computer to record and produce music was very uncommon. This was largely due to the fact that personal computers at the time didn’t have the hard drive space or the processing power necessary to be considered a serious and stable machine for such a task.

Some companies found a way around this by introducing standalone hardware units that could be used to complete all the processing tasks needed to run the DAW while leaving your computer’s processor free to handle everything else.

This helped Immensely and by 1997 songs that were recorded and mixed entirely on computers were making it to top 10 charts across the globe.

Now in 2017 however, things are very different. The laptop that I’m using to write this piece probably has enough processing power to launch a satellite into space. So the need for external hardware just to run your DAW is no longer necessary.

You still need basic sound cards though in order to get signals into your computer. The reason being that a computer is basically a glorified calculator. It only understands numbers. You have to find a way to quantify things in the physical world in order for your computer to understand it.

For example, you could convert the sound of the human voice into a simple electrical signal using a microphone. At this point a voice has become a series of fluctuations between positively and negatively charged particles. You’re going to need another step in order to feed this into a computer. That’s where your sound card comes in. It reads the incoming signal and further converts it into a stream of binary data or ones and zeros. That’s basically all your DAW needs to read and playback audio. Since your computer isn’t doing any of the converting its relegated to the role of simply playing back whatever you feed into it.

Now you might be wondering what’s with all the dry audio jargon? Well, it has to do with the fact that there’s quite a lot of misleading information floating around. And one of the biggest myths out there is that different DAWs sound different. Or worse, some sound better than others.

A DAW is designed to simply play back WAV files or any other audio format that you put into it. They aren’t designed to have “a sound” unless the manufacture specifies it. One of the things I hear a lot from audio engineers is “XYZ DAW has a better audio engine” and upon enquiring what they mean by audio engine I’m met with a blank look and then a sudden change of topic.

Now to be fair, there are some DAWs out there that impart a sonic character to the audio you feed it. But this is solely by design and is always mentioned in big red letters on the manufacturer’s website. Take for example Harrison Mixbus which is a DAW thats designed to emulate Harrison mixing consoles and the analog saturation that they produce.

But these are very rare. I know of only two DAWs that are designed to do this and Harrison Mixbus is one of them. As far as I’m concerned all other DAWs sound the same.

You might be wondering though. If all DAWs sound the same why do people have their own unique preferences. Well, that has more to do with workflow and functionality than sound.

A classic example is Ableton Live. Now if you’re an electronic artist and want to use your laptop to perform live Ableton is your best bet. The word “Live” is literally in the name. There are things that Ableton does that you simply can’t do with anything else. So people have various other reasons to use the DAW of their choice. What’s important is to remember that it doesn’t matter what you’re using as long as it serves the purpose you intended it for.

Is it important to know all of this if you want to be a producer ? Does it matter if you have an irrational belief that the software you use gives you magical powers ? Probably not, but I personally think that false information, however harmless can on occasion lead to some people making investments in things that they could have easily avoided. And also its just good to know what you’re talking about sometimes.

So for those of you who believe that your DAW somehow just sounds better or has better “summing” or a better “audio engine” or whatever ambiguous term you want to use.

I’ve put together a little experiment which is really simple and you can try at home with any number of DAWs and proves without  a doubt that they’re all the same. 

Reverse polarity cancellation experiment :

  1. Get any two DAWs
  2. Get a few WAV files
  3. And a few third party plugins
  4. Load up the wav files in both DAWs
  5. And then load up the same plugins in both DAWs with the exact same settings.
  6. You can adjust the faders too if you want. Avoid decimals.
  7. Bounce the master out as a stereo wav file from both DAWs and re-import them back into a project in either DAW.
  8. Reverse the polarity on one of the tracks and voila you will magically hear NOTHING.

What does this mean ?

It means that both the files are exactly the same. Like if you add a negative number with a positive number of the same value you get nothing. Matter, anti matter ….etc

Here’s a video where I demonstrate the process. Please take a few minutes to watch this and take solace in the fact that your 60$ DAW sounds just as good as a 1000$ one.



This could completely change how you use compressors.

It’s been way too long since my last upload. Towards the end of the year 2016  got a bit crazy with gigs and whatnot. But now that the dust has settled, I’ve decided it’s time to indulge the people who depend on this blog to demystify their production queries. All five of them…

Compressors can be really annoying. Especially when you watch Joe Mix Engineer tweak one for a few minutes and say “now it’s really starting to pop” but to you she might as well be muttering verses in Latin while sprinkling her mixing desk with holy water.

So for those of us who don’t have the luxury of working in a proper studio, here’s a simple and free way of knowing exactly what your compressor is doing.



MixCraft Part 1: Levels and Phase

This series will deal with mixing a live recording from start to finish. I’ll be covering a lot of essential mixing basics. So if you’re new to the craft, perhaps some of this will help clear up a lot of questions you may have and speed up your process.
The artist in the recording is Big Mean Sound Machine an Afrobeat band from NY. The session was recorded live at Telefunken studios. Download links are below and in the video description.

The entire multitrack project is available here.


Full song and video.


MonoHive Sessions – Abhijeet Tambe with Tony Das live at Rooster Guitars

Abhijeet Tambe has been a part of various musical projects over the years. Most notably the Bangalore based act Lounge Piranha. He’s also explored sound design, performs live music for theatre and works with DSP. His latest foray into music making has led him to explore more traditional song writing if there is such a thing. This set includes four of his songs and some friendly banter about his musical and song writing process. He’s accompanied by Tony Das, an incredibly talented guitarist from Bangalore who’s also a highly sought after guitar instructor.


Rig rundown – Bruce Lee Mani

It doesn’t matter if you’re a tone snob, tone deaf, a riff junkie or the guy who spontaneously combusts if he doesn’t play a guitar solo on every song he writes. The one thing that unites all modern guitar players is gear. Please note that I use the term “unite” in the loosest sense possible.


I caught up with guitarist and frontman Bruce Lee Mani of the Bangalore based act Thermal and a Quarter and we talked about guitars, practice and rigs. Bruce relies heavily on digital gear and for me this was a real eye opener in terms of what you can do with affordable digital processors and some critical thinking.

I would go so far as to say that he’s really pushing the limits of his current set of multi effects pedals.

But first a little about his guitar and playing history.

Bruce first started playing Stratocaster style guitars around 2006. Erisa who’s a custom guitar maker from Pondicherry built him the guitar that he’s been seen playing for nearly a decade now. Before that he had a Parker Nitefly and a Washburn MG-74 with a Floyd Rose which was a typical 80’s style shred axe.

The Parker Nitefly has some very unique features apart from the obvious contoured body that looks pretty cool. It comes with a Graphtech Nubone Nut, Parker Vibrato Bridge, Sperzel Trim-lok-in-line Tuners, Seymour Duncan Hum/Hum and Graphtech Ghost piezos. parker-nitefly-NFV2_0

The combination of regular magnetic pickups and piezo pickups allows for a wide variety of tones and the piezo offers a range of acoustic tones as well.

The current range of Nitefly guitars are also MIDI upgradeable.

The Nitefly allowed Bruce to experiment with cleaner tones and egged him toward evolving the sound he’s best known for today.

The Bruce Lee Super Strat

Pickups: Lindy fralin vintage hot

Hardware: Graphtech

All pickups are shielded with a thin copper sheet and a single ground running into one of the pots.

The pick guard is also shielded with an aluminium sheet.

The shielding along with great pickups and electronics make for one extremely noiseless guitar that performs spectacularly in the studio and on stage.

The entire thing works like a regular Strat, the only mod is that the tone controls also work on the bridge pickup unlike a traditional Strat.

The thing about the guitar that Bruce speaks very highly of is the tremolo. Its a Hipshot US tremolo.

What sets it apart from a regular tremolo is that it has hardened steel pivot points set into a bent top brass plate forming something like a ball and socket joint that reduces wear and tear considerably and increases accuracy. Over the last 10 years, he’s had to make little or no adjustments to it and it still works like a charm.

If you find your tremolo not working as well as you would like it to, the Hipshot is definitely worth looking at.

The body of the guitar is one piece red cedar, the neck is once piece white cedar and the finger board is satin wood.

Bruce spent a lot of time during his formative years as a guitar player working on exercises or “drilling” as he puts it. Like getting 16th notes and 32nd notes at 200 BPM. It’s something that is quite often overlooked by guitar players who aren’t into music that required you to shred. But, he says, this was a great foundation for him and allowed him to explore many styles comfortably.  Over time his guitar regimen has changed and now he focuses more on writing stuff that’s somewhat out of his comfort zone and trying to get really good at it through practise. There are many approaches to becoming a good guitar player, but a disciplined practice regimen when you have the time for it is never a bad idea.

You might be wondering why this article has yet to mention anything about his guitar rig. Firstly, its because writing about Bruce’s setup is daunting and I’m trying to put it off for as long as I can. And secondly because you can’t have great guitar tone without a great guitar player and a great guitar. And no matter how much I may rave about a certain piece of equipment I feel those two things always come first.

Alright, so finally lets get down to the rig (takes a deep breath)

Guitar : Line 6 POD X3 Live (Upgraded to Helix but used similarly) and a VOX AC30

Synth: Roland-GR55 Guitar Synth

Vocals: Blue Encore 300 Live vocal condenser microphone into a TC Helicon Voicelive 2 IMG_4800 (1)

The interplay between all these units is really interesting. At the core of all the processing is the Line 6 POD X3 Live so lets start with that.

You’ll notice the X3 has a lot of inputs and outputs. I will only be mentioning the ones Bruce uses in  his rig. Although the unit isn’t manufactured anymore, The documentation for the X3 is still available online and if you’re interested in knowing more about its routing capabilities you’ll find all the information on the Line6 website.

If you aren’t familiar with Line6 products the X3 is what’s called a digital amp modeller. It can emulate a range of guitar amps, cabinets, microphones and stomp boxes. Basically, you can create a virtual guitar rig and plug it straight into a PA system or a studio console for recording without the hassle of having to lug around a ton of gear.

At the time of its release in 2007 Line6 had taken full advantage of advances in digital processing and the X3 was a huge upgrade with a host of new amp models and effects but the feature most talked about was its Dual Tone function. It’s basically the ability to run 2 completely independent virtual rigs with 2 completely different effects and amps into 2 separate outputs simultaneously.

Bruce takes full advantage of this feature in what could best be described as a hybrid setup.

He has two signal chains setup on the X31627


Signal chain A has no amp models or spatial effects. It’s essentially on bypass and it runs into his amp through one of the Live outs which are the 1/4 inch outputs right next to the guitar input. His VOX AC-30 is slightly driven at all times and a few stomp boxes are setup on this signal chain like boosts and drives. There’s an SM57 in front of the amp that sends this signal to the console.


Signal chain B has amp modelling, effects and stomps. It’s the entire virtual rig with all its bells and whistles. This runs out of a set of XLR direct outputs which you can find right next to the Live outputs. Both these outputs run directly into to the mixing desk to form a stereo pair. It’s in stereo because Bruce has all his spatial effects running on this chain like reverb and delays. Effects like these usually sound better in stereo.

In addition to this the output from the FX loop which is set to pre FX runs into his vocal processor. It has an input to track your guitar chords as you play and can generate appropriate vocal harmonies based on the chord.


The AUX input on the X3 is used on heavier songs and tracks with different tunings. Before I can get into details about that, a little bit about the GR-55 Guitar Synth.


In order to use the GR-55 you need a pickup that sends individual string information to the unit. In Roland’s case they have the GK-3


The pickup sits right in front of the bridge and tracks individual strings. It then sends that to the GR-55 through a 13 pin cable. The pickup is also designed to take the signal from the regular magnetic pickups and send that to the GR-55 and you’re meant to take the guitar output from the Synth and send that to your amp. However, Bruce has a Y cable designed that sends the GK-3 pickup to the synth and another 1/4 inch cable to his X3.


This frees up the guitar output on the GR-55 for another really cool trick. Apart from generating a wide array of synth sounds the unit also emulates actual guitars and this feature comes under Roland’s COSM modelling technology. The algorithm is so well designed that the tracking is virtually instantaneous as opposed to the synth sounds which take a bit of getting used to.


Essentially Bruce uses this feature to make up for not being able to tour with a guitar tech and 20 guitars. The COSM modelling allows him to change his guitar from a Strat to a Les Paul or a Tele instantly. Apart from emulating multiple guitars and their pickup positions it can also emulate different tunings. So instead of having to retune his guitar every time he plays a song in drop D, DADGAD or any other tuning for that matter. The GR-55 also stores the tuning of your choice along with the modelled guitar patch for a particular song and it lets you move between guitars and tunings at the flick of a switch. He also uses the acoustic guitar emulation on some tracks.
Brace yourselves because this is where the AUX input on the X3 comes back into the picture. The guitar out from the GR-55 goes into the AUX input of the X3 and on tracks where the emulated guitar output from the GR-55 is in effect the AUX input of the X3 runs both signal chain A and B.

If you catch them live you may notice some of the modelled sounds on tracks like.

If Them Blues, Edifice of Lies, Motorbykle, Dresden Drum Beat and Silicon Outhouse to name a few.

You’d think all of this would be more than enough to keep track of in a live situation but Bruce insists that he could be doing more with the pedals.

In any case there are definitely some really interesting take aways from this rig. And some great solutions to some common guitar conundrums.

MonoHive Sessions – Nikhil Narendra and Shreyas Dipali Live at Bflat

Kick starting a series of videos featuring artists that I feel are pushing themselves to explore some far out sounds. It’ll mostly revolve around live shows, but may branch out into other things. Here’s the first one featuring two very talented musicians from my hometown of Bangalore, India.