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Music Production and Mixing Tips & Tricks

A Decent Home Studio

What makes a pro recording pro? What is the “sound” that the pros get and how can you make your recordings sound more professional? The simple answer is – there’s no simple answer. But with careful listening and a little experience you can create excellent results with modest equipment.


Good mixing starts ear

The first and most important item of equipment is – who knows? Anyone? It’s your ears! Sorry to tell you this, but listening to ten hours of Rave at 110dB will do nothing for them and you might as well give your mix to a turtle as try to mix with misused ears.

Listen to commercial recordings of mixes you like, analyse them, listen for the effects and get to know what constitutes the sort of sound you’re after.

Mixing secrets

There’s no hidden secret to getting a good sound, but if we had to sum up the secret of mixing in two words it would be this – EQ and compression. Okay that’s three words.

These are probably the two most important tools used by professional producers. However, like any tools, if you don’t know how to use them you’ll be carving Habitat tables instead of Chippendale chairs.

That’s where your ears and experience come in. Here we have assembled some production ideas, suggestions, tips and tricks but they can only be guidelines and need to be adapted to suit your material. There are no presets you can switch in to make a bad recording sound good. And if your original material has been poorly recorded not even Abbey Road could salvage your mix. But follow these suggestions and see how much your mixes improve.

Tips for Becoming a Better Singer

Get the level right

You can’t push the levels when recording digitally as you can when recording to tape but you still want to get as much signal into the system as possible. This means watching the levels very carefully for clipping, and recording at an even and constant level.

Some recording software lets you monitor and set the input level from within. Some expect you to use the soundcard’s mixer while others have no facility for internally adjusting the input level and expect you to set this at source.

Your ears are only as good as the monitors they listen to. DO NOT expect to produce a good, pro mix on tiny computer speakers. It may sound fine on a computer system, but try it on a hi fi, in a disco and through a car stereo.

Oddly enough, you don’t necessarily need the most expensive Mic. Many top artists use what some might call “average” Mics because they work well and get the job done. You can spend a wad on a large diaphragm capacitor Mic (yes, they’re good for vocals) if you have the lolly but check out dynamic Mics which are much more affordable and can be turned to several tasks.


Mixing MIDI and audio

One of the great things about computer-based recording is that the parts can so easily be changed, edited and processed. It’s also so easy to combine MIDI and audio tracks and many musicians use a combination of sample loops, MIDI parts and audio recording.

Audio recordings are generally guitar and acoustic instruments such as the sax and vocals. Incidentally, the best way to record guitars is by sticking a Mic in front of its speakers. You can DI them and process them later and this may be cleaner but for a natural guitar sound a Miced amp is hard to beat.

It’s not necessary to record drums live and, in fact, it’s difficult to do and retain a modern sound. You can buy off-the-shelf MIDI drum riffs and audio drum loops, or program your own. The quality of the gear which makes drum noises these days is such that anyone with a good riff can sound like a pro.
MIDI Mixing

As MIDI and audio parts appear on the same screen in modern sequencers, it’s very easy to arrange them into a song. However, when you come to mix everything down there’s another consideration. If you are recording to DAT you can simply route the audio and MIDI outputs through a mixer and into the DAT machine.

However, if you want to create a CD you must first convert the MIDI parts to audio data. The entire song can then be mixed to hard disk and burned to CD. Converting MIDI to audio can have another benefit and that’s the ability to process the MIDI tracks using digital effects.

There are three positions for effects known as Master, Send and Insert. Use the Master for effects you want to apply to the entire mix. These will often be EQ, compression and reverb.

Although giving each channel its own Insert effects is kinda neat, each one uses a corresponding amount of CPU power. So if your computer is struggling and if you’re using the same effect on more than one channel, make the effect a Send effect and route those channels to it.

Many pieces of software let you apply an effect Pre or Post fader. With Post fader, the amount of sound sent to the effect is controlled by the fader. With Pre fader, the total volume level of the signal is sent. Post fader is the usual default and the one you’ll use the most.

EQ is the most popular and the most over-used effect. Yes, it can be used to try to “fix a mix” but you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear as me Gran used to say and what she didn’t know about mixing could be written in the margin of the book of honest politicians.

But before you start messing with EQ – or any other effect for that matter – make sure you have a decent set of speakers. Have we said that already? Oh, must be important, then.

There are plug-in effects such as MaxxBass which can psychoacoustically enhance the bass frequencies to make it sound better on smaller speakers. However, this is by no means the same as getting a good bass sound in the first place by observing good recording principles.

Gloss and sheen

EQ can enhance a mix to add gloss, fairy dust, shimmer, sheen, a sweetener or whatever you want to call it to the final production. It can be done with enhancers and spectralisers, too, although these tend to mess with the harmonics which some producers don’t like. However, don’t dismiss them out of hand.

General EQ lore says that you should cut rather than boost. If a sound is top-heavy, the temptation is to boost the mid and bass ranges. But then what usually happens is you start boosting the upper range to compensate and you simply end up boosting everything and you’re back where you started – only louder!

The reason why cutting is preferred is that boosting also boosts the noise in the signal which is not what you want. Try it. Boost every frequency and listen to the result. If you think it sounds okay, fine. What do we know?

But when you’re fiddling, do keep an eye on the output meter. Boosting EQ inevitably means increasing the gain and it’s so-o-o-o easy to clip the output causing distortion which does not sound good.

Finally, check EQ changes to single tracks while playing back the entire piece. In other words, listen to the tracks in context with all the other tracks. It may sound fine in isolation but some frequencies may overlap onto other tracks making the piece frequency rich in some places and frequency poor in others.

Reverb creates space. It gives the impression that a sound was recorded in a hall or canyon instead of the broom cupboard. Recording lore suggests that you record everything dry, with no reverb, so you can experiment with a choice later on. You can’t un-reverb a track once it’s been recorded.

The more reverb you apply, the further away sound will seem. To make a vocal up-front, use only enough reverb to take away the dryness. Vocals don’t want to be mushy (lyrics can be mushy) so use a bright reverb.

A common novice error is to swamp everything with different types of reverb. Don’t – it sounds horrible!
Mixing down

You’ve done all the recordings, done the edits, applied the effects and now it’s time to mix everything into a Big Number One Hit! Before you do, go home and have a good night’s sleep. Have two. In fact, sleep for a week.

Yes, we know you’re hot and raring to go but your ears are tired. They’re falling asleep. Listen carefully and you might hear then snore!

There is a phenomenon known as ear fatigue and consistent exposure to sound, especially the same frequencies, makes our ears less responsive to them. Goes back to the bit about spending your life in a Rave club – you’ll never be a master producer. If you try to mix after spending a day arranging, your ears will not be as responsive, so do them and your mix a favour by waiting at least a day.

Now, go forth and mix! And don’t forget – you get better with practice.

(via making-music.com)

Home Studio Pics

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How to Choose a Computer for Your Home Studio

There are a lot of powerful machines built in the last few years and this entails a lot of possibilities for home recording. A while ago parameters of modern computers were available only for large recording studios. Home recording is lurking in the ether, making the topic of music production more accessible and lasting the level of technical sophistication.

A question about the selection of an ideal workstation for the studio is quite difficult to answer unanimously – due to individual preferences for the brand / design, etc..

It’s worth seeing that we are at the epicenter of constant competition between PCs and Apple products. This never-ending battle between manufacturers of computers propels an economy, thus making a huge rash of brand new gear on increasingly shorter time. According to Moore’s Law, optimal performance on a chip doubles in consecutive years in almost equal intervals.

Find a Recording Studio in Los Angeles

What parameters does your computer should have to launch DAW?

  1. At least 1 GB of RAM
  2. In practice it should be 4 GB today. Powerful applications are process-devouring and can prevent the smooth functioning of the other apps running in the background. The more RAM you have, the more your computer will be able to handle in the way of plugins, effects and so forth.

  3. 500 GB of hard drive space
  4. I would suggest, however, get a disk with a capacity of 1 TB. The sessions leave a lot of garbage, and one song is a lot of audio tracks.

  5. …and 7200 rpm
  6. It is also advantageous to have fast hard drive.

  7. 3.2 GHz processor
  8. I recommend in this case CPU Intel Dual Core Model. They are very efficient.

  9. LCD 22″ or higher
  10. Your DAW should work on full screen mode, right? With more space on the screen everything is cleaner.

  11. FireWire
  12. Most interfaces connects to the computer using a FireWire port.

  13. Peripherals
  14. A MIDI controller, dedicated keyboard, comfortable mouse etc…

  15. Microphone
  16. When a musician is trying to play his track for the tenth time, you need to help him somehow. Turn on your mic and tell him what to do patiently.

    So, we’ve covered the basics of what you should look for when buying or building a computer for home recording. Before you rush out to the store, check your computers specifications to see whether your system is already capable of performing its tasks well.

    Need Some Musician Marketing Tips?

    (via themusictips.com)

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Do It Yourself Mastering – Part 3

Cont’d from yesterdays post…

Get a Clean, Professional Sound

In the Trenches

Let’s take a look at some examples of what you should listen for when mastering and how to evaluate what types of processing might be helpful to make the changes you want to hear. Of course, an in-depth discussion of signal processing techniques is beyond the scope of this article, but the following mastering tips will give you some useful ideas to pursue further.

First, switching among your different pairs of monitors during playback should give you a good idea of where the spectral balance may be skewed. For instance, if the current mix lacks presence on your full-range monitors but sounds balanced on your band-limited speakers, the problem probably isn’t a lack of upper midrange frequencies but too much bottom end.

Here, the 7-band PSP MasterQ linear-phase equalization plug-in is being used on only the left channel of a stereo mix. MasterQ also includes various limiting and saturation algorithms, which may be disabled.

As you evaluate what equalization may be needed to restore the proper balance, keep in mind that the problem frequencies may be affecting only one side of the mix. For example, a guitar part with excess energy in the upper-bass band may be panned more or less to the left side of the stereo field, in which case cutting in that band on both channels would cause the right channel to sound thin. The PSP MasterQ equalizer plug-in is highly useful here, as it allows you to equalize only one side of a stereo file while leaving the other side untouched.

The RND Uniquel-izer and Frequal-izer plug-ins both go one better, allowing you to apply different EQ treatments to the left and right sides of a mix simultaneously. With Uniquel-izer, you can add and delete as many bands of EQ as your CPU can handle, choosing from 11 different filter types.

As long as your CPU can handle it, you can add as many bands of equalization as you want in the RND Uniquel-izer plug-in. Choose from 11 different filter types for each band.

As you work, listen also to the current mix’s dynamics. Does the mix sound full enough? If not, some light stereo-linked compression with moderately fast attack and release times and a low ratio should add some pleasing “glue” to the performance. Just be careful not to go overboard, or depth will go out the window and your mix will start to sound two-dimensional, squashed, and lifeless.

Perhaps guitars and keys are blanketing the trap drums too much in your mix. Instead of EQ’ing the traps so they sound brighter, try applying stereo-linked compression with slow attack and fast release times. That should make percussive elements such as kick and snare drums “pop” more.

Need the Music Producer’s touch?

Boom Town

Say you’ve got a mix in which the acoustic guitar gets boomy every time it plays the D string, but it sounds fine at all other times. (Make sure this is really the case and isn’t just a room mode blossoming at that frequency.) A static equalization cut around 160 to 200 Hz will tame fundamental frequencies for that D string (if fretted below the sixth fret), but it will also thin out all other guitar passages, as well as the entire mix, when that string isn’t played. A dynamic approach is called for here.

You can use a split-band compressor such as the Waves Linear Phase Multiband (part of the Waves Masters bundle) or iZotope Ozone 3 Multiband Dynamics plug-ins to put a lid on the 160 to 200 Hz band so that its energy is dynamically cut every time the boominess surpasses the threshold set for that band. (You might actually need to set the bandwidth wider to also tame boomy formants) Both of these plug-ins can also execute upward expansion (sometimes called bootstrap compression) that will make quiet song passages such as a solo guitar intro louder without compressing the top end of the dynamic range and squashing peaks.

Of course, squashing peaks is where it’s at if you want your mixes to be competitively loud. Plug-ins such as Universal Audio UAD Precision Limiter, iZotope Ozone 3 Loudness Maximizer, and Waves L3 Multimaximizer and L2 and L1 Ultramaximizer can really pump up the volume of your mixes by clamping down on peaks and bringing up the average level. The danger is in going too far, killing any punchiness and making your project sound like a fatiguing onslaught nobody can stand to listen to for more than five or ten minutes at a time. In fact, for some musical styles, such as classical, using any amount of limiting or maximizer processing would be inappropriate. If used, maximizing and dithering (which I’ll discuss momentarily) should be the very last processes you apply to your mixes.

Universal Audio UAD Precision Limiter is an excellent mastering tool for cranking up the volume and power of your mixes.

Waves L3 Multimaximizer is an especially powerful mastering limiter because it can condition different frequency bands to alter the limiter’s response. With L3, you can subtly favor average levels in one frequency band and peak levels in another by changing the plug-in’s Gain and Priority settings. For example, you can increase the energy in the bass band and enhance the upper-midrange-frequency component of snare drum hits while keeping a firm lid on other bands. L3 includes the Waves IDR word-length-reduction algorithm, a highly transparent quantization and dithering process useful for rendering your files to 16-bit format for CD release.

Users can condition the response of the Waves L3 Multimaximizer’s limiter in five different frequency bands. With the settings shown, the average level of a cello section and, to a lesser degree, the crack of snare drum hits are enhanced in a mix while other elements are more tightly controlled.

There are many other types of signal processors available for use in mastering, including harmonic exciters, reverb, and stereo imagers. The Waves S1 and iZotope Ozone 3 Multiband Stereo Imaging plug-ins can alter the perceived width of your mix, but not without making it sound more diffuse (which may or may not be appropriate). Mid-side (M-S) processing is an advanced mastering tool that can also be used to adjust your mix’s width. By encoding a stereo mix into an M-S matrix, audio common to both channels such as center-panned tracks (the mid component) and audio that’s exclusive to both channels (side) can be separated and independently equalized and compressed. For example, you can use M-S processing to beef up the kick and snare drums while raising the level of an uncompressed stereo string pad to widen the mix.

As mentioned earlier, before you maximize and dither your files to 16 bits for CD release, you should trim the head and tail of each file to remove unnecessary noise at the start and end of each mix. Then create fades at the beginning and end of each trimmed file to avoid any pops or clicks that would otherwise result from potential DC offset or low-level noise instantaneously slewing up or down at butt-splice margins. Finally, after any last-minute fader adjustments or other gain changes are made so that perceived loudness flows smoothly from song to song throughout the entire program, maximize and dither all the files to 16 bits. To preserve the depth of your mixes, make sure you apply no further signal processing — including gain changes — after you dither your files. And avoid dithering more than once if possible, in order to prevent potentially audible artifacts from polluting your files.

Premaster Prep

After all of your mixes have been trimmed, faded, processed as needed, and dithered to 16 bits for CD replication, import them into whatever software application you’ve chosen to prepare your premaster. (The premaster is the disc or file from which a glass master is made at the replication house in preparation for mass-producing your CD.) If you’ve been using, for example, BIAS Peak Pro XT to master, your files are already ready for premastering in Peak’s Playlist and don’t need to be imported. (I’ll talk about Peak and other premastering solutions in greater detail in a bit.)

Due to space constraints, I can’t completely discuss premastering, but I’ll hit on some of the major points. First of all, resist the temptation to make any further gain changes once signal processing has been rendered and your mixes have been dithered; doing so would degrade the quality of the audio portion of your CD.

Your premastering software should automatically assign a different CD-track number to each audio file you import, but you can rearrange the song order and their track numbers if you want. After the song sequence is set the way you like, set the duration of any gaps (silent portions) you want to have between CD tracks. One CD track is typically composed of only one song but may be fashioned to include a medley of several songs or a segue.

Track offsets should be set for your premaster to prevent CD players from muting audio at the beginning or end of each CD track. In this example, global track offsets are entered in the Delivery window (Windows‘Preferences‘Delivery) for Sonic Studio PreMaster CD, a premastering application.

CD players take a fraction of a second to fill their play buffers with the current track’s audio, during which time the player’s output is muted. So if you keep your CD track’s default start time, ortrack index, positioned at the onset of the audio program, playback of the very beginning of the track may be cut off. The solution is to programtrack start offsets, which are silent gaps that occur between each track index and the beginning of audio for the respective CD track. The first CD track typically requires a longer start offset than that for all the other tracks on the CD. It’s also important to add track end offsets to prevent the end of a CD track from getting muted before its audio program fades completely out. (I’ve been told by a reliable source that this is an issue only when a CD player is in shuffle or random-play mode.)

Start and end offsets are usually programmed globally so that they are the same duration for every track after track 1 (which we noted gets its own special offset applied). That said, Peak can set different start offsets for each song (in the application’s Playlist), which is useful when you want to arrange a specific start point during a crossfade between two tracks. As consumer CD players don’t all mute their outputs for the same amount of time while filling their play buffers, play it safe and set the premaster’s global offsets to be a tad longer than you think you might need. Safe numbers are 75 CD frames for the first track, 25 CD frames for track start offsets, and 15 CD frames for track end offsets. An offset of 75 CD frames is equal to a 1-second duration, so each 25-frame track start offset is ⅓ second in duration and each 15-frame track end offset is 1/5second long. When calculating how long the silence will last in between each song on your CD, it’s important to add the track start and end offsets to the gap time you programmed, to arrive at the real silent-gap length.

If your computer’s operating system and drive can write CD-Text data (you’ll need Mac OS X 10.4.3 or later if you’re using a Mac), you may want to enter this information, which includes album and song titles, the names of the performer or band and songwriter, and ISRC data. (Go towww.ifpi.org/content/section_resources/isrc.html for more information on obtaining ISRC codes for your CD tracks.) Once all text data is entered, use your software to print out your premaster’s contents so that you can give a text readout of all PQ codes (which generate the disc’s table of contents, or TOC), track offsets, and other data to the replicator.

If your software enables it and your replicator can accept it, export a DDP (Disc Description Protocol) file set and burn it to a CD-ROM. DDP file sets contain error-protected audio data and all the metadata (or “data about the data” on your premaster) needed by the pressing plant. DDP file sets are a superior delivery format compared with Red Book CD-DA discs, which are prone to errors, but not all replicators can accept them.

Learn to Burn

Several premastering programs are currently on the market, some of which are incorporated into mastering software. Here is a quick look at what’s available.

With a $200 list price, Roxio Jam 6 is an inexpensive disc-burning application with a limited premastering feature set and no plug-in support or DDP-export capability. BIAS Peak LE ($99) includes audio file editing, plug-in support, and disc burning, but it can’t export DDP file sets either. BIAS Peak Pro 5 ($599) offers plug-in support and advanced editing, mastering, and premastering features, including, with an optional extension costing $399, DDP file set export. BIAS Peak Pro XT 5 ($1,199) adds the company’s Master Perfection Suite plug-in bundle and SoundSoap and SoundSoap Pro restoration software to Peak Pro 5’s feature set and can also utilize the company’s optional DDP extension.

Sonic Studio PreMaster CD ($475 for the download) offers intuitive editing and premastering capabilities but no plug-in support. It is the least expensive solution for DDP file export. However, PreMaster CD also forces you to set the same gap between every song, while even the rock-bottom-priced Peak LE and Jam 6 allow the gaps between songs to be set to different lengths. The 4-track, 4-bus Sonic Studio soundBlade (native, $1,495; with accelerated DSP, $3,995) does everything PreMaster CD can do but also adds powerful plug-in architecture and advanced editing, mastering, and premastering capabilities. SoundBlade offers expansion options for applications such as restoration as well.

Job Export

There’s a lot more to mastering than simply slapping a maximizer on your project and calling it good. (In fact, we’ve just scratched the surface in this article.) And while many studios offer mastering services these days, there is a wide divergence in know-how and quality between the best and worst of the crop. If you can only afford the mastering services of a bottom-rung studio, you may find that you can obtain better results by doing the work yourself. With an accurate room and monitors, quality mastering gear, good ears, and technical chops, there’s no reason not to give it a shot.


If you’re considering opening a commercial mastering studio, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is which formats to support. The best-equipped facilities support a wide variety of analog and digital formats, both for compatibility with clients’ masters and, in some cases, for use as signal processors in their own right (as is the case when transferring program material to certain analog tape machines). The commercial operator must weigh the expense of supporting multiple formats against what the market requires and competitors offer.

Mastering other people’s projects also demands that extra weight be given to considerations beyond your own creative leanings. First of all, it’s important to ask your clients what their likes and dislikes are. That huge bottom end on their mix might be an annoyance to them — something that needs fixing — and not an intentional production value. How do they feel about competitive loudness? Do they want their record to be louder than anyone else’s at any cost to sound quality? And if it’s a band’s project that you’re mastering, which member(s) call the creative shots?

Before you begin working on a project, give a quick listen to short sections of a few tracks and offer your opinion of what needs to be done to fix problems (such as a murky midrange masking vocals and guitars) and also what can but doesn’t necessarily have to be done in the realm of creative enhancement (such as making the drums slam more or widening the stereo image). Write down your client’s responses and direction and use those notes throughout the mastering process as your homing beacon to keep true to the artist’s vision for the project.

The need to work fast must be weighed against all potential audio engineering considerations. Unless you’re working for experienced artists or companies, only a very small portion (if any) of the project’s overall budget will likely be allocated toward mastering. Whether you’re working for an hourly or per-song rate or a flat fee, you’ll need to stay aware of the time you’re spending, focus on the major issues, and realize when the law of diminishing returns is kicking in and it’s time to wrap things up.

(via emusician.com)


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