The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 18: Revisiting MIDI sequencing and songwriting #COVID19

Years ago — another lifetime ago, it seems — I was a songwriter. I actually had several demos that I put together (you can listen to them here), and I had a few friends who helped me put them together (mostly because I don’t play the guitar, and I can’t sing worth a damn). My idea was to put together songs in my own living room under the guise of a “band,” similar to what Tom Scholz does with Boston. I attended songwriting workshops, and I even entered a songwriting contest in which I received Honorable Mention recognition.

Had I pursued this endeavor more vigorously, it’s entirely possible that I could be making a living off my music, rather than pursuing a career in IT and writing professional development ‘blogs. Alas, as John Lennon once famously sang, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” My “band” lost touch with each other and went on with their own separate lives (one of them actually died tragically). I went to grad school, got my Masters degree (in a field unrelated to music), got married, and went down the technical career path on which I continue to this day.

Although it’s not the main reason why I stopped making my own music, one of my big deterrents was the tools at my disposal. I had a MIDI sequencing setup that utilized a Kurzweil Ensemble Grande piano (the original model), a Kawai G-Mega sound module, and a Macintosh SE running Trax. It was a setup that worked very well. It was very easy to use, and it did what I wanted it to do.

Unfortunately, it also started showing its age (when was the last time you saw a Mac SE?). I still have the Kurzweil piano and the Kawai module, and even though they’re about thirty years old (maybe more), they still work. The computer, however, was another story. The screen built into it was starting to fade, and it was clear that it would eventually get to the point where it would become unusable. So I pulled as many MIDI files off of it as I could and transferred them to my PC.

I also managed to get a copy of Trax for the PC, but as I upgraded my PCs, my version of Trax became incompatible. I looked into getting another MIDI sequencer — and that’s where my problems began.

I had purchased a copy of ACID Music Studio (at the time that I bought it, it was a Sony product). I liked (and still like) using it for mixing and mastering, but I still preferred using Trax for creating my MIDI sequencing data and importing them into ACID.

When I tried recording MIDI data, I kept running into problems, neither of which I was able to resolve. Either…

  1. my computer kept blue-screening, or…
  2. I kept having massive (and very nasty) latency issues.

Unfortunately, these issues (especially the latency) became so bad that it discouraged me from working on them. I set them aside and never got back to them…

…that is, until last night. Last November, I bought a new laptop, much better than any machine I’ve previously owned (although I did need to install a new hard drive in it). Additionally, I bought a new MIDI interface a few months ago; it turned out that my old one was not compatible and no longer supported. And I upgraded my copy of ACID a while back; even though I had originally bought it 20+ years ago, when I went to the vendor‘s web site, I was happy to see that my software license was still valid, which allowed me to download an updated version.

So now, my setup consists of the following.

  • HP Pavilion x360 laptop running ACID Music Studio v.10.0 on Windows 10 Home
  • Roland UM-ONE MIDI interface
  • My thirty-year-old Kurzweil Ensemble Grande piano (hey, don’t knock it — it still works, and I love that I can use a full-sized piano as a MIDI controller)
  • My nearly-as-old Kawai G-Mega MIDI sound module

I spent last night (I was up until 1:30 am!) experimenting with my setup. The computer remained stable, and I did not experience any serious latency issues. After being away from it for several years, it looks like I have a working MIDI setup once again!

However, the setup wasn’t without its problems.

  • As I mentioned above, I created my MIDI sequences in Trax and imported them into ACID. I’d forgotten about this when I tried creating and editing MIDI sequences directly in ACID, and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to (easily) do what I used to be able to do. It turned out that I was accustomed to creating them in Trax. I should be able to do them in ACID, but I’m finding out that there is a steep learning curve involved. I might look into getting another easy-to-use sequencer; the thought of investing in a new version of Trax has crossed my mind.
  • One thing missing from my setup: a good audio interface. As anyone involved in recording can tell you, you don’t want use the default input to record audio directly into your computer; it makes for poor sound quality. I have a Lexicon Alpha which has served me well, but while tinkering with it last night, it suddenly stopped working. I reinstalled the driver and rebooted the computer (several times), all to no avail. The website says the Alpha has been discontinued, and although the driver is supposedly Windows 10-compatible, my machine would not recognize it after several restart attempts. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I may need to invest in a new one. If anyone has any suggestions for a good audio interface, feel free to comment below.
  • I still can’t sing or play the guitar to save my life! Anyone who can do either (or both) want to help me make demos?

It’s been several years since I worked on my own original music. Now that I have a working (albeit clunky) MIDI sequencing setup once again, I can return to a hobby that I once loved but abandoned years ago.

Uninstalling SQL Server

As I wrote earlier, I discovered, much to my chagrin, that I vastly underestimated how much disk space I would need when I purchased my laptop. So I went to Amazon and bought a new 2TB internal SSD for my machine. It’ll take about a week or so to arrive. Until it gets here, I needed to free up some space on my drive.

I decided to uninstall SQL Server. I don’t need it immediately, and I can reinstall it later once I get my new SSD.

So, I first went to my Control Panel and looked at uninstalling SQL Server. But when I got there, I saw a number of things under Programs and Features, as you can see below. What, exactly, am I supposed to uninstall?

I went to my old and trusted friend, Google, for advice, and found this article (among others).

The first step is backing up your data. Well, I don’t have any data to back up, so that isn’t an issue at the moment. It likely will be somewhere down the line, but at the moment, I don’t anticipate that to be an issue. That said, if you do have important data that you want to save, make sure that you back it up first!

Next, they tell you to stop the services. I opened Services (hit the Windows key and type “Services”) and look for any SQL-related services. I shut down MSSQLSERVER, SSAS, SSIS, and so on — basically, anything that looked like it was tied to SQL Server. I checked everything listed under “SQL Server.” I also looked under “Microsoft,” but I didn’t immediately see anything related to SQL Server when I did.

I then followed the steps to uninstall. Step 2 tells you to “search for ‘sql’ in the search box,” but what it doesn’t tell you is that you need to do that from Apps and Features, not from Settings. That step is missing from the instructions. I selected Microsoft SQL Server (Version) (Bit) per step 3 — for me, it was Microsoft SQL Server 2019 (64-bit) –and selected Uninstall. I selected the appropriate prompts, and off it went.

I didn’t think to time how long it took to run, but by my estimate, uninstalling SQL Server took about twenty minutes to run. It appeared to uninstall cleanly; I didn’t see any errors. By the time it was finished, I had about 16GB of new space on my drive.

So, that’s my adventure in uninstalling SQL Server to clear space on my drive. When my new SSD arrives, I’ll make sure it gets reinstalled. (And stay tuned for a future article about installing my new SSD on my laptop.)

A gigabyte ain’t what it used to be

I’ve had my HP Pavilion x360 since November, and for the most part, I’ve been happy with it. Lately (for about the past month or so), I’ve been getting storage warnings, saying that I needed to free up space on my hard drive. This was puzzling to me; I hadn’t even had my laptop for a year (or even six months), and I was already getting storage warning messages?

I checked my storage settings. Sure enough, this is what I saw.

I have a 256GB SSD on my machine. I had used nearly all of it. What gives?

Since Apps & Features was using up the most space, I looked there first. I sorted my list by size. This is what I saw.

I uninstalled a few apps that I didn’t need and managed to free up some space on the drive, but it was still just a drop in the bucket.

I didn’t remember having space issues on my old laptop, and then I realized my issue. My new laptop has a 256GB SSD. My old one — which my new one had replaced — had a 512GB HDD.

There was my problem. I had underestimated the amount of disk space I needed when I bought my new laptop. I thought 256GB would be plenty, and as it turned out, it wasn’t.

So it appears that I’ll have to add more storage to my laptop. The first question I had was whether or not I could do so easily, without replacing the existing SSD. I found this article about how to disassemble the same model laptop that I have, and sure enough, it appears that I can. There is a space inside where I can add a second drive. So, now it appears that I will be shopping for an additional drive.

It’s funny. I thought 256GB would be big enough. I remember my first job out of college, when we took delivery of a new backup tape drive, capable of handling 1GB tapes. Back then, we didn’t have to worry about storing data formats other than ASCII and numeric text, not like the graphic and audio formats that we have now. Large storage at the time was measured in MB, not GB. We would pick up a tape and joke, “in my hand, I hold the Library of Congress.”

Back then, 1GB was a lot of storage space. Now, it’s small potatoes. Apparently, a gigabyte of space isn’t what it once was.