The best way to think about B Step 2 is as a bass guitar with standard tuning ( E A D G ). The bass string can be tuned to any note you like and the rest will automatically be retuned keeping the same intervals between the strings.
There are 16 steps per bar and a total of 16 bars in total. Each bar is completely customisable in terms of pattern, step duration, chords repeats etc. And of course it’s not limited to bass sounds, you can also use synths and even drum machines. It’s this versatility and control that makes B Step such a powerful step sequencer, it allows really subtle nuances to give a more realistic feel. That might sound like a lot of setting up but in practice you set up your requirements on 1 bar then copy this with an intuitive multidrag feature. B Step also includes a number of presets with arpeggios, progressions and drums to get you started.
Opening the VST reveals an interface that is clear and well laid out. The section at the top shows your strings and 16 steps, a section below with bar related parameters that can be set for each bar and a global section along the top and down the right hand side with options for tuning, chord set, swing etc.
This is known as the main layer and you have a number of other layers activated by tabs on the left hand side of the screen. One very clever design feature is the one, three and five stars in the bottom left corner that determines the level of complexity and hence the number of layers available.
The step layer allows you to set duration and velocity of each step and as outlined above creating patterns can be straightforward by adjusting the settings for one step and then using the multidrag copy feature to drag and drop to the rest of the steps. There are also 3 basic manipulation parameters per step – octave up/down; chord select; repeat (can also do this globally).
The chord editor is a great feature which allows you to select chords and chord patterns very quickly and easily. There are 5 chord sets available with 6 chords in each set. You can edit these, use preset chords by simply clicking on the chord and one of the 6 chord boxes to assign it or you can also generate scale based chords randomly.
The layers method and star approach is a great way to get to learn the functionality. In rookie mode (one star) you have the main and step layer which allows you to change octaves on each step, define chords and adjust microtiming. It’s possible to set this globally for all steps if you prefer.
Other layers add increasing complexity. Mid-skilled mode (three stars) adds a further 2 layers. The BAR layer has the ability for non-linear playback with probability, skip, move start / restart positions and a handy force to beat option. The SEQ layer has bar playback and sequences which allows reverse playback or to move steps around , skip or restart.
The pro mode (five stars) adds a further 3 layers. REP1 has step repeats / flam / ratcheting which allows you to take one step and trigger it again and again after a period of time but also change distance between repeats and the duration of each triggered note. REP2 Repeats / Ratcheting has the same step repeat feature and velocity offset, note offset plus an option to vary each offset up or down combined with a repeat probability option. The final CC layer allows you to set up control changes.
It’s brilliant software, sometimes step sequencers can sound a bit rigid or mechanical but the subtle control that B Step allows gives you such control and flexibility you can create intricate and complex patterns with a more natural feel. I found as well that the type of synth sound you control with B Step makes a difference too, for instance a pattern for a short type of bass sound applied to a string sound gives a totally different effect. I’d also say that as complex as B Step is, it’s intuitive enough – and has a very good embedded user manual – which allows you to get to grips with the fundamentals quickly and you can build your knowledge over time using the different skill modes.
As an example of what patterns B Step can produce, I’ve produced a few riffs in the following audio file. They’re not very polished in terms in bar lengths and endings but they give you an idea of the range of sounds that can be produced. The easiest way to create patterns is to set up your requirements on bar 1 and then copy this to however many bars you choose. You can then edit each individual bar as required to produce your overall pattern. If you want to copy a pattern to a specific bar but not others you need to make sure you ‘skip’ around these bars when using multidrag:
I’ve also produced a short track with a demonstration of a bass pattern and synth pattern:
That sounds ok, but maybe a little disjointed. Where B Step really excels is the ability to control upto 4 vsts at once. This does mean that you don’t have the full 16 bars but 4 sets of upto 4 bars with 16 steps in each. This did take me much longer than it should have done to setup, in fact it turns out that in MuLab it’s actually very straightforward. Load B Step on one rack and then the VSTs you want to control into their own separate racks. Then you need to go into the modular and add a midi splitter and then connect ‘event out 1’ to vst 1, event out 2 to vst 2 etc. You also need to change the settings in B Step so that it outputs sequence 2 on midi channel 2, sequence 3 on midi channel 3 and sequence 4 on midi channel 4. The other really important point is to save your projects in B Step because if like me you spend ages setting up a demo track and just save the MuLab project, the settings aren’t saved and you lose your project unless you specifically save the project in B Step.
The advantage of controlling more than 1 VST in this way to me is a more coherent sound and the ability to use B Step for live recording really effectively. You can use one of these 4 sequences as a drum machine but because you only have 4 strings (or lanes) you can’t create complex drum patterns but it works great as a groovebox. There’s an excellent tutorial by Monoman on the user forums. I initially used ADM CM as the drum machine, the disadvantage with this is that you need to adjust the global settings to -2 octaves, tune to A and use chord set one. You also need to detune the chord settings so that you get the right drum sounds. This means you have a much lower range for chord settings for the other VSTs you are controlling although you can change the octave settings, notes and so on for a higher range.
In MuLab it works better with MuDrum for me, in this case you don’t need to adjust the global octave setting, just adjust the chord tuning until you get the drum sounds you want. This gives you a much better chord range.
I found that the setup takes the most time, sorting which VSTs and sounds you are going to use and creating a basic pattern for each that you can then edit and adjust on the fly. I’d advising saving the setup before recording because I found once I had started and made changes to patterns / settings I then couldn’t redo a second take because I hadn’t saved the setup and had to start completely from scratch. I also lost a recording because I did the mixdown wrong and deleted everything ready for another take before realising my mistake.
I really enjoyed using B Step as a live recording tool. I did this by sending all the audio outputs to an audio recorder so that all of the setting changes were recorded live as I made them. There’s been no post processing in terms of editing, EQ or mastering although I did apply a smoother fade in on one track and a fade out on another. You could say it became a bit of an obsession and so instead of the usual one demo track, I’ve created a 4 track EP as a result, well I say 4 but on listening back I’ve realised one of the tracks got ‘silenced’. This appears to have happened during upload and I’ve now lost it which I’m gutted about. I wasn’t at all happy about a 3 track EP so I recorded a replacement. And then got carried away and recorded 3 more to produce a 7 track album:
They’re certainly not perfect tracks by any means, for instance I messed up the ending of the first one by clicking the wrong button but included it anyway. That’s the beauty and pitfall of live recording I guess. I could also do with a better midi controller to give more control over parameters which would make the process more fluid. Even as I write I can think of other ways of using B Step for live recording, of course you could use other audio sources too but the EP stands as a showcase of the sort of sounds and functionality that you can get from a live performance just using B Step to control 4 VSTs.