New music, updated website, MailChimp can’t send mails properly, and Annual Trance List 2015

So… It’s been a while! I have things to share, because there’s certainly been things happening. Yes, the reason I haven’t made an update before now is because I’ve been busy. 😛


New music!

Let’s start with the most important part. I’ve been working on a new track for a while now and it’s progressing quite nicely. It’s quite a step up from The Beginning I would say, which is exciting in itself (to see the progress I’m making).

You can check out two examples below. The first one is the intro and build up sections. Second one is a lead melody and sound test.



Feedback is as always welcome! Hopefully you can hear the progress compared to The Beginning. 🙂

I would also recommend that if you want to stay a bit more up-to-date on new music, go ahead and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter, as I do post new stuff there from time to time (more frequently than here).


Photontic website updated

I updated the Photontic website, which took quite some time. I used to work as a web developer, but that’s over 10 years ago – let’s just say a lot has changed since then (luckily things are much easier now). However you do have the added extra work of dealing with mobile devices, which requires a good portion of testing depending on the layout.

Basically what I did was update it to use Ajax if possible (meaning if the browser supports it and the user isn’t using noscript), meaning it only changes the content of the page itself, instead of reloading the entire page.
I did this because I wanted a music player on the page, which wouldn’t work if the page got reloaded as people navigated the pages on the site. Obviously that means I also made a music player.

I also:

  • Added a news slider thing on the front page, to show recent news items (loaded from an XML file).
  • Expanded the use of Google Analytics so I can better track how people use the site.
  • Further improved SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
  • Added cards and such for Twitter, Facebook and the likes when pages are linked on those networks.
  • Added a detail page (data coming from an XML file) for tracks. Both for SEO reasons, as well as being able to give each track its own little page with relevant information. For instance this is how it looks for The Beginning.
  • Got everything working properly on mobile devices, as well as in the different modern browsers.

Basically a lot of “under the hood” improvements to allow me to make updates more quickly in the future, as well as making sure the site was as viewable as possible across browsers and devices.


MailChimp doesn’t send out opt-in mails properly

While I was working on updating the website, I wanted to add a newsletter option as well, so that people could sign up for such a thing. And well, so I did. I decided to use MailChimp as they’re established and seemed solid (and fit my current usage scenario).

I then went ahead and made the respective pages and what not. I used their API instead of their pages, so that I could keep as much of the newsletter functionality on the site itself, to maintain the design and so on. This of course takes a bit longer to do, as you then have to write a lot more code yourself, like for handling errors and so on.

Never the less I got all of that done and it was working. Well, kind of… I spent an entire day trying to figure out why opt-in mails didn’t reach Gmail. I figured I had done something wrong, but nope. I dug deeper and looked at the mail headers, because newsletters did get delivered, just not the opt-in mails.
Now I’m no expert in all of that, but I could see that there was a difference, I just didn’t quite know what to do with all the information. Fortunately I know someone who knows about this kind of stuff, so I got him to help me figure out what the hell was going on.

The cause? MailChimp isn’t sending the opt-in mails correctly. This has to do with domain security (something that’s a bit of a hot topic – basically has been for a few years now).
If you own a domain you can set a DMARC reject policy on it. This basically means that a mail server, when receiving a mail from a domain (actually the domain name of the sender address), will check it against the originating IP of that mail.
On your domain you have it setup so there’s an SPF record that has the IP of your mail server in it, so that when a mail server receiving a mail can check that the server this mail is coming from is allowed to actually send from the domain in the sender’s address.

Why does this matter? It matters because you’ve probably received spam from all kinds of domains and that’s what they do. They find domains that are not setup properly and “fake” the sender address because they can do so. Basically all those domains do not have a DMARC reject policy or they’re setup wrong in some other sense.

With the DMARC reject policy what happens with those spam mails is that they basically get destroyed before you see them. Gmail does this, as I’m sure plenty of other services do too.

Now you might ask: Then how can MailChimp send mails on your behalf? They can because you include the IP’s of their mail servers in your SPF record, which means that when a mail server receives a mail from your domain, but has been sent from MailChimp, it can see that the MailChimp servers are allowed to send on behalf of that domain. If you don’t set this up (the MailChimp IP’s) you would run into the same problem with mails getting eated by the internet void if you have DMARC reject policy (which you should have).

Good stuff all around. However the problem is that the opt-in mails are not sent with proper signing. Basically they don’t adhere to the standards and are sent from entirely different servers than the newsletters. This also means that if your domain is setup properly, as to now allow spam to be sent from it, those mails will fail (depending on the receiving mail server’s setup). Basically the header of the opt-in mails that MailChimp send is completely messed up.

This, in essence, makes MailChimp a completely useless service. Because if people can’t get the opt-in mail, they can’t get the newsletter either. The solution? Open up your domain to be abused for spam. That’s really the only thing you can do if you want to use MailChimp.

MailChimp IS aware of this issue, but they just don’t care.
Now consider that Gmail has 1 billion users. That’s 1 billion potential customers you won’t be able to reach.

My solution is to look for alternatives, and I’ve found some that I will look into at a later date when I feel it’s time to add a newsletter option.

But this is important information if you’re considering using MailChimp as your mail blast service.

In short MailChimp is a service that sends mails – that’s what it does, how it makes its money, yet it fails to actually send out mails properly, despite them boasting about it on their website. It’s great, isn’t it?


Annual Trance List 2015

Obviously I’m behind on getting the Annual Trance List for 2015 up. I have not forgotten about it and will do it as soon as possible. I did however post my top 3 on Instagram a while back.


So uh, yeah… There you have it! An update finally. Until next time! =)


Surge updates and TrackSpacer from Wavesfactory

One thing I’ve been struggling with is keeping my track “open” and “big”, and not at the same time be straining (harsh sounding), so I did some research on that and made some changes accordingly. I think I’ve succeeded pretty well for now at least. Considering the track isn’t final (far from it) there’s no reason to spend too much time getting a perfect mix, but I at least wanted to have the knowledge now and make my track sound a bit less straining (mainly for my own sake as I’m the one who’s listening to it quite a bit, over and over again… 😛 ).

I’ve also done some work on the percussion elements, making them more interesting. Might still need a bit of tweaking here and there, but I’ll look into that later. The clap sample has also been replaced, as I never felt the old one really sat well, but the new one does. I also added a cymbal crash, because hey, got to have that, right? 🙂

The top melody has also seen a slight change in that I’ve removed two notes for better flow. 🙂

Surge (WIP 103)

I’ve also scrapped the entire current (old) intro and working on a new one. I got an idea for something I could do and I figured I might as well start from scratch now that I have a some melodic elements that I can utilize during the intro segment.
It’s also important to note that these current WIP updates are not representations of how it’s going to be in the track. It’s basically a small little segment that has been made as I was making the chord progression and melody, so that I could have it in context of a track setting to see how it works.

I also recently discovered a plug-in called TrackSpacer from Wavesfactory. It’s a great little simple plug-in that I’m currently using as “frequency sidechain compression”, having replaced some of the compressors otherwise doing that in the track. What I mean by “frequency sidechain compression” is that the plug-in works as an EQ, where you send in a sidechain signal and it then applies “compression” on the frequencies that are active in the that signal to where you have the plug-in. You can control how much (compression), the attack and release, panning or work in mid/side mode, as well as HP and LP filter the sidechain signal. Basically it’s just a more surgical sidechain compression where you only actually compress the frequencies you need, instead of the entire signal.
Right now it’s running on the basses, triggering from the kick. It’s also on the bus that has all tracks going into it, except for the lead sound and kick, helping create a bit more room for the lead (it’s the one triggering the compression) when everything else is playing.

I’m a published author (of sorts) on Studio One Expert!

As you might be aware, the DAW that I use is Studio One (version 3, professional) from PreSonus.
Recently I managed to make a new friend, one who works on the Studio One Expert website, which is a wonderful resource for Studio One users. Incidentally him and I managed to connect during the live stream event(s) announcing the new Studio One version 3 a little while back, simply by us being equal amounts of silly.

He quickly tried to get me to write for Studio One Expert, something I’m not entirely sure I’m capable of with my limited experience, both with music production and the program itself. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time and I don’t feel I’m in much of a position to teach anyone anything in these matters. 😛

Never the less I did write a small article for the site, as I wanted to highlight a feature in Studio One that not everyone might know about, but is a great tool when working with multiple MIDI tracks. If you want to read that, head on over to the article on Studio One Expert.

In the future I might write some more articles for the site. It’s at least something we’ve talked about and there are some ideas for things I could possibly write about. I’m all for helping out people with the knowledge I’ve gained, but there are also a whole lot of people way more suited for it, but if none of them do it, then I might as well… 🙂

Studio One 3, multi instruments, plug-in delay compensation and sync problems

Listen to the audio examples at the end of this post to hear the issue.

Update 3
I realise I never actually updated this post, but the issue has been fixed. It got fixed in the very first update for version 3. As expected PreSonus was on it and knew that this issue was one of the bigger ones, so they got it sorted quickly.

Update 2
PreSonus is sending the issue to the software team as per their tweet:

I didn’t doubt they would – PreSonus after all seem to take customer concerns quite seriously. Thanks, PreSonus! 🙂

Update 1
Added a sound example where the multi instrument has been created the way you would do it before, meaning 3 separate tracks routed into a bus.
It has all the same plug-ins and is 100% identical to the multi instrument, except it’s not using the multi instrument feature.

Original post
A few days back while working on the lead melody for Surge I noticed something. I’m using Studio One version 3 now, which is a pretty awesome update to an already great DAW.

This new version introduces “Multi Instruments” which basically allow you to stack a whole bunch of instruments within one, meaning you don’t have to create a bunch of separate tracks for each instrument, but can play it from a single track. It allows for other fancy stuff to be done too (check out this article on Studio One Expert to learn more), but for this example all I’m doing is playing 3 instruments at the same time. For Surge I have 2 instances of u-he’s Hive and 1 instance of reFX’ Nexus 2.

The problem I noticed was that it seemed like my lead melody, the only thing in the track using the multi instrument feature, was slightly ahead of everything else in time. This also contributed to the melody tripping over itself, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. While some of that I believe was the melody timing itself (while the notes were quantized properly, they just didn’t fall in the best manner), compared to the rest of the track, it’s still a problem after I’ve fixed that.
I suspected a bug with the PDC (plug-in delay compensation) and multi instruments, but I didn’t really look much more into it after having briefly talked to Matt from Studio One Expert about it.

Then yesterday I saw a post on the PreSonus forum where other people brought up this exact issue, meaning I apparently wasn’t crazy thinking there was an issue, so I tested a bit more, and best I can tell there is a bug with PDC and multi instruments.

I put an Analog Delay (a Studio One built-in effect) plug-in first in the inserts chain of the multi instrument, turned BPM sync off and delayed the lead melody a few milliseconds. I also made a somewhat similar sound to what I had using a single instance of Reveal Sound’s Spire, meaning that would get the correct PDC as it wasn’t a multi instrument.

Below are some audio samples and I do think you can hear the different from the normal non-delayed one to the ones I have delayed. The 16ms (just a random number I picked) is probably the one closets to what it should be, but not quite fully there. The Spire version is obviously being synced up properly without issue (but it does feel a little staggered, which is more to do with the sound itself and that it’s hitting the notes rather hard).
Listening to all 4 of them playing right now, I can easily tell when it’s the non-delayed version that is playing – it just sounds a bit off.

Anyway, here are the sound samples!

Surge (WIP 048) – No delay on the multi instrument

Surge (WIP 048) – 10ms delay on the multi instrument

Surge (WIP 048) – 16ms delay on the multi instrument

Surge (WIP 048) – Multi instrument re-built the old way (separate tracks routed to a bus)

Surge (WIP 048) – Single instance of Spire, no multi instrument

Obviously all of this is a bit unfortunate because the multi instrument is a great tool, but with it being out of sync due to PDC it makes it hard to really use at this point. Regardless I’m sure the PreSonus software team will sort this out as quickly as possible!

Some Studio One 3 and Surge news

So yesterday was pretty exciting – the new version (3) of Studio One was announced (and made available) by PreSonus.
It brings a ton of really cool new features, like the scratchpad, which is brilliant and I can’t wait to use it. I’m not going to mention all the new stuff, because you can find all that explained on their site.
Overall a really substantial update which solidifies Studio One as a DAW to reckon with. It’s still missing some UX things that I outlined in the big post I wrote on their forum, but considering the timing of that post there wasn’t really time to react to much of what I was suggesting. Hopefully some of my suggestions will make it in during updates for version 3. I know that the head honcho at PreSonus Software (Arnd Kaiser) has read my post (he commented on it at least), so I guess there’s hope. 🙂
At any rate I plan on upgrading to version 3 as soon as I have the money available to do so. 🙂

Regarding Surge I’ve played around with it a bit, trying out various things. For one I’ve stripped down the intro segment you’ve heard already by removing the main mid bass arp that kind of drove it. I was never really happy with how it sounded and I also think it ended up crowding the spectrum too much.
The next step is to create the lead melody and sound, so I can use parts of that in the earlier segments of the track (like during the intro and breakdown). It might be a little while before you hear an update of the track again, but we’ll see how it goes. 🙂

A Surge update? Yep, here’s some trance!

So I accidentally (what?) started playing around with my Surge track again, so let me just give you an update on that, since it’s progressed quite a bit since the last version posted here.

It’s been extended some and I’m ready to progress into the next section of the track. A few vocals have also been added (using the Siren by Veela samplepack) and pretty much everything has been tweaked, including some changed percussion samples.

So without further ado, here’s the latest update!

Surge (WIP 031)

And just for kicks, here’s a list of the different synths currently used in the track:

As always feedback is much appreciated! 🙂


And now for something completely different… UI and UX!

Although still within the realm of creating music. One thing that also interests me is UI (User Interface) and UX (User Experience) and I’ve done this in various capacity, like for websites and games.

I use Studio One as my DAW (music program) and I’m very happy with it, but like with everything else it’s not perfect and there’s things that bug me about it – things that could be improved. So instead of just complaining about it, I sat down a wrote a very detailed UI/UX feedback post on their forum, to bring some of my issues to light and provide solutions, as well as reasoning for why these things should be changed/added.

I started it yesterday and just now finished it, as well as posted it. So if you’re interested you can head over to PreSonus’ forum and read it, but I will warn you: It is very long, but it does contain pictures! 🙂 Feeling brave then? Have at it.

A small update on strings

This isn’t really much of an update, but figured I’d do it anyway. I was exploring the options in my string library and managed to find some better sounding patches for the little loop I made the other day, so I want to just post that here… That’s basically it, so enjoy! 🙂

Strings 01 – 02