Rivers Of Nihil vs Toontrack EZ Mix: Cage Match Battle Royale

Since I’ve started the site I’ve had several conversations about whether there can be too much work done for you by software. Well, let me rephrase that. Of course there can be, but is that already happening? If you have someone’s Axe-FX presets will you not do the work in developing your own tone? Will mix settings or drum samples become album preorder bonuses? Will this overly homogenize an already homogenous genre of music?

The argument against this is always that no matter how good a tool is, you still have to know how to wield it, and even if you wield it well you may do so in an entirely different manner than I would. So with that said, let’s take a look at Rivers of Nihil guitarist Brody Uttley and bassist Adam Biggs using Toontrack’s EZ Mix software to record a song without microphones, drums, or amplifiers.

It still boggles my mind that we’ve come far enough that some relatively inexpensive software, an average PC, and a couple guitars are all you need to get a recording that sounds like a presentable product. That said, the first thing that jumped out at me was “that’s not the guitar tone I would have gone for, that’s not the kick I would have picked.” I sure as hell would have mixed the bass differently, since you really can’t hear any tone out of it besides some string clanking. I’ve heard some great bass tones direct from software like this, but this isn’t one of them.

But strangely I like that I can hate the bass tone. The guitars sound very good, as do the drums (personal preference for typewriter kick drums aside), but the fact that software can only take you so far, and ultimately it still comes down to your choices at the controls, makes me feel better about the music scene. A tool that won’t let you use it improperly by the same token won’t let you have fun and stumble upon something crazy when you turn all the knobs the wrong way. So as long as the machines are leaving room for human error I won’t be hunting down Skynet just yet.

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Chris Alfano has written about music and toured in bands since print magazines and mp3.com were popular. Once in high-school he hacked a friend's QBasic stick figure fighting game to add a chiptune metal soundtrack. Random attractive people still give him high-fives about that.