AF’s Weblog

October 17, 2012

The Importance of Space in a Mix: Part I

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:26 pm

To read the full detailed article see:  The Importance of Space in a Mix: Part 1

When entering a new space, how often do we consider it’s sonic characteristics. And more frequently, when building a mix, how often do we think of space(s) as its own sonic element?

We spend a great deal of time considering individual sounds in a space. We prescribe attributes to the instruments and the players in order to organize our thoughts about the sounds and how they blend. We may often say a singer is “mid-rangy,” a snare is “ringy,” or perhaps the acoustic guitar is “warm.” We do the same for microphones, pre-amps, compressors, and what have you. It is surprising how little time is spent considering the sound of rooms, reverbs, delays, and whatever other spaces are coexisting within our mix. Considering that sound is defined by air vibrations within a space one would think the room would be held in equal importance to that which is resonating in it. But, when entering a new space, how often do we consider it’s sonic characteristics. And more frequently, when building a mix, how often do we think of space(s) as its own sonic element?

Perhaps more often than we realize. After all, why do we spend so much time rolling through reverb presets trying to find the perfect one – when we seldom know what the right one will be? And why does a plate sound good one time, but a hall sounds better next? Something instinctive is motivating these decisions. Like all sound sources, we are on some fundamental level listening for – and striving for – tone, rhythm, and coherence.

Reverb

The purpose of having customizable reverb is to find that which perfectly compliments the sound source – or the surrounding sound sources. We can pick and choose a reverb with a certain sound that highlights the tones or rhythms in our mix. And frequently, we will send multiple sound sources to the same reverb for the sake of coherence.

The complication comes in when there are multiple spaces present in the mix. After all, how can one element exist in two spaces at once? Or three? or, why is it that the choir sounds like it’s in a church while the lead vocalist sounds like she/he is in a concert hall?

Sonic Cues for the Listener

Of course, the end listener is not listening on such a discerning level. The end listener is only picking up on subtle sonic cues that either indicate the sound is coherent or disjointed. So our task is to lead the listener’s ear where we want it to go. Do we want a unified sense of space, or something surreal?

That’s our job as the artist, producer, or engineer. To orchestrate all the sounds and consider what feelings and emotions they evoke. They key word here being “orchestrate.” A random piling of sounds will certainly sound “unmixed” or perhaps more importantly, “ineffective.” Reverb and space are no exception.

Listening for Spacial Characteristics

The primary goal to understanding and sussing out any mix is listening. When listening to the drums, bass, vocals, strings, etc, perhaps we should also make a point of listening to the space in the capture. If you’re not used to listening to space then using a compressor as a listening tool with a fast attack and release and a low threshold will exaggerate the room sound in the capture. Everything has spatial characteristics. A bass DI’d has no space sound – but that is still a spatial characteristic and must be considered. After all, if everything is close miked in isolation rooms, or DI’d, the capture is going to come out very dry, for better or worse (usually worse).

While listening to spacial sound, we are inherently listening to our front to back sound field. A DI’d bass is going to sound extremely forward while our drum kit miked from thirty feet away will naturally sound way back. This is a major advantage when organizing the image of our mix – as it can be recorded strategically to do the front to back work for us.

Tonal Cues

The trickier part of listening to space is the tonal cues. This is an immensely complex task, but can effectively be dumbed down into frequency response and “texture.” This can be broken down into an even more fundamental question: Are the room sounds complimenting each other or clashing? A bright, open, Lex PCM 96 Hall reverb might sound fantastic on vocals, but if the acoustic guitar was recorded in a dark sounding, dense room, the two reverb sounds will clash (or at least sound incoherent). While every mix is different, by and large this example will yield something that sounds “unmixed.”

Mix the Ambience

A brilliant colleague of mine named Gregory Scott turned me on to a unique but supremely effective concept. He said that one of the fastest ways to improve one’s mix is to “mix the ambience.” I’ve taken this to mean mixing not just with the space sound(s) in mind, but actually take the time to get all your room mics, reverbs, and delays up front or in group-solo and mix them. Get the plate slap from the snare sounding like it belongs with the room capture on the guitar. Or – if you have a surreal space – make sure it’s orchestrated in a way where the entire sense of space is working in the mix, or focus of the space moves in an evocative way (more on this in the next article). Once all the ambience tracks are mixed start bringing in the elements that have the most space in them – drum OHs, and mid-distant strings for example – and focus specifically on their space and how it sounds with the other spaces.

Tools for Mixing the Space

As with all facets of mixing and recording, the source sounds are paramount.

Choosing the best reverb(s) for the job up front will ultimately determine the end result. So, even before we get into the mixing of the space, let’s talk about sound selection. In a musical piece, we can treat the reverb as any other sound source, with four basic components:rhythm, volume, tone and texture.

Rhythm

One of the key elements of any reverb is it’s decay. The length of the tail is often an indication of the expanse of the space. However, it also determines the time in which the reflections sustain in the mix – and that’s a rhythmic concern.

A long sustaining sound in a fast tempo piece, or rhythmically complex piece is going to mask elements of the mix and generally slur the overall rhythm. A quickly decaying tail in a slow piece on the other hand, will leave a lot of empty space with very little impact from the reverb. Find a tail length that compliments the speed of the piece.

Pre-Delay

Another rhythmic consideration is the speed of the pre-delay. Pre-delay is a key element in determining the front to back relationship of the dry sound and the space it exists in. In other words, pre-delay helps the ear recognize how close or far the dry sound is. Generally speaking, the longer the pre-delay, the closer the dry sound. A zero millisecond pre-delay means that the reflections and the dry sound are reaching the ear simultaneously – which puts the dry sound far away. This acoustic phenomenon could be an article all to itself, but we’ll leave it at that for now.

Pre-delay is also a rhythmic element – it determines a space of time from the initial dry sound before the early reflections show up. Anything within the Haas Zone (10ms or less), isn’t going to have much effect on the rhythmic sense of the sound. Once you start getting up to 20ms and greater, the slap back effect becomes distinct and there is a clear rhythmic effect. Find a pre-delay that compliments the speed or rhythm of the piece.

Lastly, some reverbs (particularly room and hall style reverbs) have a rhythmic space between the early reflections and late reflections. This is not always controllable, but listening for that “bulky” moment in the reverb sound is very important when selecting a reverb. Often times, plates are a good choice for drums partially because there are no “early” or “late” reflections – eliminating that particular rhythmic concern.

Volume

Generally, when I’m mixing, I prefer just enough reverb to add a little life to the elements in the mix. Often, I’m setting my reverbs 15 or 20dbFS lower than my dry elements. However, this isn’t to say reverbs can’t come to the foreground. It’s a very important aesthetic decision. Just remember that whether the reverbs are subtle or prominent, they still need to sound right. Tone and Texture – this is where we get into the gritty stuff. There are many factors in determining the tone and texture of a reverb.

First comes the style of the algorithm or convolution, then the three “D”s: diffusion, density, and damping….

Conclusion

This is definitely a lot of information to absorb (pun completely intended). Read, re-read, and play with different settings on your reverb units, and note the results.

Be discerning – the rhythmic, tonal, and textural choices are equivalent of choosing guitar amp settings or drum tunings. If chosen wisely, the mix will be easy, if not, you’re in for an uphill battle.

To read the full detailed article see:  The Importance of Space in a Mix: Part 1

 

 

September 24, 2012

Monster Beats Pro Review

To read the full detailed review see:  Monster Beats Pro Review

Thanks to its partnership with Dr Dre, Monster’s Beats Pro have become a grand success. But are we really talking about a new reference product here or just a fad? That’s the question…

There’s nothing strange in an audio and hi-fi cable manufacturer launching a range of headphones, that’s what you usually call diversification. But what’s really surprising is that the manufacturer’s most expensive headphones are endorsed by famous hip-hop producer Dr Dre and that they are a smash hit in spite of their $400 price tag! Within a few months, the Beats Pro and their less expensive variations have become a popular reference: you can see them on many heads on the street, despite their price and their “pro” flair. We must admit that the Beats have that something extra: they are lookers! Compared to the old-school designs from the 80’s that still influence some AKG, Sennheiser and BeyerDynamic headphones, Monster tried to create a pair of headphones with a different look (available in black or white with a small, red “b” on each ear cup) and different high-quality materials, like brushed aluminum for the headband and real leather for the earcup cushions.

The beauty and the beast inside

Monster Beats Pro

It seems Monster has learned a lot from Apple’s marketing strategies: the Beats Pro come in a nice-looking, heavy box with all the necessary accessories. Besides small guides, the package includes a soft cover and even a small antibacterial cloth for cleaning the headphones. All details of the packaging and the accessories have been painstakingly considered and the same applies to the headphones themselves. Among the good ideas introduced with the headphones is the locking system of the red cable, which enables you to plug it either to the right or the left earcup. The other end of the cable features an angled minijack and even a small rubber holder for the 1/4″ jack adapter. A very good idea, considering how easy it is to forget where you put it…

Watch out for counterfeits

Being a fashion phenomenon, the Beats are the most counterfeited headphones in history, according to Monster. This might explain why you see them everywhere in spite of their hefty price. The manufacturer is very clear in this respect: the only way to get authentic Beats headphones is to buy them from an official dealer. They also advise against products sold on eBay (or the like) because up to 99% are counterfeits.

The headphones are quite heavy, which will please some and displease the rest, but they feel pretty comfortable on my head and give an impression of roughness with their thick brushed aluminum parts. Both earcups can be folded, which is convenient for transportation and for DJ-style listening. The adjustable headband and earcups allow the headphones to fit every head.

In short, they look great, are well manufactured, well thought-out, and sold in a beautiful package (following Apple’s footsteps). The only negative thing is that Monster doesn’t include spare earcup cushions, probably because the cushions of the Beats Pro are washable… Time will tell if this strategy is right!

Now let’s take a closer look and a listen…

Conclusion

Monster Beats Pro

The Beats look great and even if the bling-bling of its white leather won’t be to everyone’s taste (a black version is also available), the high quality materials, the listening comfort, the provided accessories, and the packaging justify the $400 price tag. But when it comes to the sound, the conclusion isn’t as easy. The overemphasized lows and tiny highs make the Beats quite pleasant to the ears, but they also make them an aberration for your wallet, at least for studio applications. In fact, they can hardly compete with similar products from AKG, Beyerdynamic or Ultrasone. Monster applied a successful marketing strategy consisting in making headphones fashionable, while implying that the sound is good because the price is high thanks to a cleaver endorsement strategy…

In this regard, Dr. Dre is certainly one of the best hip-hop producers ever. I have a huge respect for the man and his work, but I would like to know for what kind of professional applications is he using these “professional” headphones that neglect so many nuances and details of the audio signal due to an overemphasized low-end. In the end it all comes down to marketing, which makes me wonder if Bon Jovi ever drove the Volkswagen Golf that holds his name…

Advantages: 
  • Original look compared to competitors
  • Well thought-out headphones, good manufacturing quality
  • Accessories

Drawbacks:

  • Unbelievable value for money
  • Super-ultra-overemphasized lows
  • Crippled highs

To read the full detailed review see:  Monster Beats Pro Review

September 14, 2012

Basic Concepts in Electronic Music Production

To read the full detailed article see:  Basic Concepts in EDM

If you’re reading this article you might already know that EDM stands for Electronic Dance Music. The styles range over a wide gammet of musics, from House to Dubstep, Drum-n-Bass, and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). While the specifics of each style are extremely diverse (even within different styles there are dozens of sub-styles) – certain attributes remain consistent.

If you are just getting into EDM, or just want a fresh perspective on it, this article should offer some great food-for-thought.

Rhythm

The purpose of EDM is to make people dance. Period. The rhythmic elements and the movement of the record are sacrosanct. Once you find the pulse of the record, you make that as clear as possible. That means pushing the rhythm elements way up, exaggerating any kind of pumping movement and articulating the attacks of anything that is outlining that rhythm.

In addition, it’s best when people not only hear what they want to dance to, but feel it as well. One of the biggest challenges with EDM is packing that heavy bass into the mix. The first key is to remember that physical bass is a much wider range than just the sub. In fact, club systems tend to be very unreliable when it comes to the sub range. Pay special attention to what’s happening between 80 Hz and below 300 Hz. There’s a still a lot of physical bass there, and a little love in that zone can go a long way.

In fact, most instruments have “physical” ranges. For a snare, you might be looking at 300 Hz – 500Hz. For a hi-hat you might be looking at 1 kHz. To say exactly where the physicality of a certain sound exists is almost pointless – it varies widely. But when you feel it, you know.

Loudness

The difficulty in physical sound, and I know a lot of engineers are going to shoot me for saying this, but the difficulty is that club music needs to be loud. Only so much energy can fit into a limited space, so picking and choosing how to maximize your bang-for-the-buck in terms of headroom is one of the biggest challenges in EDM.

Sometimes it’s a lot more productive to trigger a sine wave or use a bass enhancer on a kick drum, rather than simply boosting the low end – as you can get a little more “perceived” bass without running the headroom. And equally over extending compression or distortion to gain perceived size is also worth experimenting with. Ideally all club systems would have tons of clean amps with DJs who know how to not overload the speakers, who could then turn the club amps up and keep there mixers down. But that’s not the world we live in. So until then, club music does fall under the jurisdiction of the loudness police.

Let’s take a look now at some other concepts…

….

Conclusion

This article is very stream of consciousness. I hope people comment and ask questions below as there is probably a million more things that could be said on this subject. But in the mean time, this should provide a few basic concepts that will step up your game when producing EDM.

To read the full detailed article see:  Basic Concepts in EDM

August 23, 2012

4 Steps for Effective Guitar Mixing

Filed under: Guitar reviews, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:46 am

To read the full detailed article see: 4 Steps for Effective Guitar Mixing

The world may not revolve around guitar music anymore, but there is still a lot of it out there. Whether you’re working on face melting hardcore or a gentle country ballad, the presentation of the guitar content in the mix has a lot to do with the overall stylistic impression of the song.

Here are a few tried and true techniques for working with guitar tracks:

Hear the Arrangement

Some guitar tracks are played and recorded to stand out as focal points in the mix. Other guitar parts are intended to work as tonal layers of another instrument. Before you dive into the mix (or even the tracking session), take a moment to consider why each guitar track exists.

You’re probably going to come up with one of three answers:

  • It’s a musical focal point, a source of interest and energy in the song.
  • It’s a rhythmic element that adds tonal complexity to a percussive instrument.
  • It’s not musically functional at all (and should be muted).

With your answer in mind, you’ll have a great benchmark for evaluating the guitar parts within the mix, as opposed to evaluating them as individual elements.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Refine the Tone of Your Guitar Content ‘In Place’

With the musically essential choice about function established by rough balance and reinforced by smart panning, it makes sense to address how the harmonic content of the guitar tracks can be optimized.

There’s no point in pretending to relate EQ specifics (or even most generalities), but if the guitar tracks you’re working with haven’t already fallen victim to knob twisting, there are some themes that might help organize your decision-making.

The fundamental frequencies of the guitar lay largely between 160Hz -1300Hz. In reality, your typical rock or country rhythm track is probably played in the 160Hz-700Hz range.

This frequency band will provide ‘fullness’, ‘warmth’, or even ‘muddiness’ when accentuated. The same range can be attenuated to get thinner, less supported tones. Try starting in the 350Hz-500Hz range with your center frequency.

Boosting a wide peak approximately two octaves above the fundamental frequency center can very easily, naturally brighten picked performances on metal-stringed instruments. This is the frequency range in which these instruments are naturally bright, so it pays to play along.

Below about 80Hz even the most theoretical harmonic contribution to your guitar sound has been exhausted. Don’t hesitate to high-pass filter guitar tracks to prevent non-programmatic low frequency content from messing with your gain staging and dynamics control.

Working From a Musically Relevant Basis

Notice we haven’t touched a single multi-band compressor or 8-bit distortion-cruncher-thing. Tricks aren’t tricks unless the tracks are working in the arrangement (i.e. for the song). Starting with these types of basic considerations can take decent tracks most of the way to musical effectiveness, and take excellent tracks all the way.

To read the full detailed article see: 4 Steps for Effective Guitar Mixing

April 20, 2012

Mixing Rap Vocals – Part 3: Compression

Filed under: Compressors, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:54 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for Mixing Rap Vocals: Compression

Time for the third installment of the Mixing Rap Vocals series: Compression.

I highly recommend you check out part 1 & part 2 before reading this article.

Compression is a difficult subject because there is a lot you can do with it. So let’s look at the main reasons to grab a compressor before getting into some of the more intricate uses.

Quick Macro-Dynamic Control

Macro dynamics refer to words and phrases. These are the clear dynamics you can hear as “this part is louder, that part is softer.” The most transparent way to get things sounding even is to actually automate the vocals manually. But sometimes time doesn’t allow for this approach. So if you aren’t automating, a light ratio, slow attack, slow release, just catching the louder moments with the threshold is a good way to even things out.

Micro-Dynamic Control

What volume automation might not catch is the very quick dynamic changes – loose spikes at the fronts of words. These spikes aren’t heard so much as “volume” but more as an overall quality to the vocal.

The issue with these spikes is two fold – first, they eat away at your headroom pretty quickly– second, they will trigger any compressors you are trying to use for purposes besides micro-dynamic control.

It can be useful to dedicate a compression stage toward pulling back these vocal spikes. Generally a fast attack and release, and a light ratio does the job. The light ratio is to retain the articulation of the word and minimize frequency skewing. The key is to set the threshold low enough to catch as much of the peak as possible while effecting the body of the signal as little as possible. I try to avoid using limiters for this purpose. I like the Empirical Labs Distressor for this (especially for controlling peaks while tracking), as well as digital style compressors such as the Logic or Pro Tools stock compressors or the Waves C1. The attack setting is very important – it’s usually between a number of nano-seconds and two or three milliseconds in the digital world, and on the faster side of things for the analog world (totally varies unit to unit).

Getting a Vocal to Stay Audible Through a Mix

The power of compression is that you can make something louder while not actually raising the peak volume of the signal. This becomes extremely useful for making something cut through a dense mix or to come forward. This is probably where the majority of compression work for rap vocals come in.

Rap is generally an in-your-face, visceral style of music. The kick is physical, the snare is physical, subtlety isn’t really the overall goal. And the vocals are paramount. I’ve mixed a number of rap records where the vocals are lower in the mix, but never have I thought it was a good idea. Generally I want the vocals to be equally as strong as the drums or stronger, and I want them as “forward” as possible. Compression is usually a part of that equation.

Let’s consider some more issues…

Conclusion

Compression is a powerful tool that many people struggle to fully understand, so try to get your hands on one and start experimenting. As always I’ll keep an eye on the comments in case there is anything that needs clearing up. I also encourage you to share your own compression tips!

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for Mixing Rap Vocals: Compression

April 4, 2012

Tips for Mixing Toward Loudness

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:25 am

To read the full detailed article see: Mixing Toward Loudness

Some people want their music really loud, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If loudness is part of their aesthetic and the audience likes it, then I say let’s go for it. In order to deliver the most musically effective loudness, that goal must have been addressed in the mixing process, but not as directly as you might think.

It’s important to remember that there are mix masters, and then there are replication or download masters. Your project isn’t finished until it has been mastered, so the relative loudness of a mix does not represent the final level of the project. Comparing the loudness of a mix master with a finished commercial CD is not particularly useful.

However, there are a lot of aspects of mixes that directly contribute to the eventual loudness of a finished master. So what should you be listening for while you’re mixing? Here’s an example scenario:

My client has brought me a set of 5 multi-track recordings to mix. The client is very concerned that her project should fit in with the latest release from Artist X as much as possible, including being equally loud.

Here are some things I would be sure to pay attention to while mixing her project:

The Loudest Instrument

What is the loudest instrument in Artist X’s mixes? 

The answer is probably pretty consistent across the whole CD; and I’ll be sure to use a similar approach with my client’s project.

This may not seem like a pivotal factor, but the relative loudness relationships within a mix establish a lot about the eventual absolute volume of the mix (and the project). If one hip hop mix has a lot more vocal content than another, the relative loudness of the two mixes will be confused.

If I’m mixing in a drum-heavy genre, I’ll be careful to reference that primary balance benchmark. If my next project is a vocal-driven style, I’ll simply re-establish my benchmark. In either case, I’ve setup the balance relationships within my mixes so that they can directly compare with other albums in the presumed audience playlist.

Now let’s take a closer look….

Mastering

These types of musically relevant aspects of mix structure will help you create consistent, engaging mixes that fit into a genre in a lot of fundamental ways. The mastering process can then more effectively finish preparing those mixes for their commercial audience, including addressing their market loudness.

To read the full detailed article see: Mixing Toward Loudness

March 14, 2012

Exclusive Interview with Chris Lord Alge

World renowned mixer/producer Chris Lord-Alge granted Audiofanzine an exclusive interview. The man behind Green Day, Paramore, Deftones, Madonna, Tina Turner, James Brown, among others, shared his working methods and ethics from his studio in Tarzana. Let’s see what the master has to say.

The Beginnings

AF : Hi Chris, can you tell us what are you currently working on at the moment?

CLA : What I am currently working on right now is finishing up an album by a band called Shinedown, just wrapping that up. The single is already out to radio and then the record comes out. Just before I finished Shinedown, I just finished mixing Bruce Springsteen. I kinda co-mixed that with Bob Clearmountain. Bob mixed it himself and then Bruce wanted me to mix a few songs. I literally just had dinner with Clearmountain last night and we were definitely having some good laughs about it.

There’s a good partnership between engineers! I’d like to go back to the beginning of your career, and just to know a little bit more about how you started and the reasons for why you do this job today?  What pushed you to become a sound engineer?  Specifically, a mixing engineer…

It started with my mom having a band. My mom is a Jazz musician and a professor of music theory.  She’d have her trio set up at my house, so here I am 12 years old and there are musicians rehearsing every day at my house, with tape recorders, a small board and a few microphones. Every chance I could get, when they would leave to go do a gig, I would take the gear down into my basement and let the experiments begin there.

So it’s a family thing?

Yes, absolutely, my mom is a musician, I’m a musician, it was just what I wanted to do since I was young, and by having some gear to tinker around with it was fun to start there. I already had my own band when I was 12, I just used that gear to start recording it. At that point I played keyboards, and then I moved to drums; I kind of filled in where the weaknesses in the band were.

Is there any personality or mentor who showed you the path or took you under his wing?  Showed you some tricks, who gave you the will to do this, someone apart from your family?

Yes, of course! So what had happened was that my mom had realized that I really wanted to do this, so she took me to a studio to interview for a job. I got a job at H&L Records under the mentorship of Steve Jerome(GrandMaster Flash, Bobby O, Pet Shop Boys, NDA). They had hired me for $50 a week to be a runner, an assistant. I started with the toilets, to the tea, to the coffee, to the track sheets, until I finally became an assistant and then Steve Jerome had trained me and showed me how he’d like me to do it. He was in essence, my mentor at that time. When I was at a young age 13/14, he showed me the ropes, all the disciplinary moves that became embedded in my life.

So then I read that you’ve been working at Unique Sound Studios?

Well, let’s not cut to that straight away. I put in a bunch of years right there with Steve with Hugo and Luigi, and that studio ended up being taken over by Sugar Hill Records, which in essence was the birth of rap.  So I was right at the beginning of rap, with Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, GrandMaster Flash’s “The Message” and  “White Lines”; all the big initial rap records were all done under that roof with Steve or with Eric Thorngren. So I was there for all of that.

What a period! So then Unique Sound Studios came later on?

At that point I started to work in New York freelancing with a few artists, and then I actually apprenticed to get a job. I went back down the food chain to be an assistant at Unique because I saw it as the cutting edge hip studio that was happening at New York at the time, at 82’- 83’. It kind of ended around 87’- 88’. I became an assistant and then staff, basically kind of took over, had a few reasonable hits, and then I just kind of took over working there. Just doing what I wanted.

So it was kind of the normal evolution : you started as a runner, then an assistant, and then as an engineer, very naturally.

Exactly. But you can always go back from an engineer back to an assistant, it helps put you in your place.

Part 4: The Bernard Pivot Style

What’s your favorite memory from mixing an album or working on an album?

My favorite memories would probably be from records I produced. They are all favorite memories, it is hard to say “this was the best”. I think the ones I got the most laughs on were albums I produced by Tina Turner, or John Miles or Rick Price or Joe Cocker, where being the producer, it was basically tweaking your last rough mix, with the artist in there and having some laughs and some fun with it. Knowing that you are playing on it and you’re producing it… And it came out great and you are excited. Rather than, mixing something that you didn’t produce. Of course, working on “American Idiot”, which went by so fast… It was exciting because the songs were so good and you didn’t really realize it at the time. But the best memories are definitely the ones I produced because there is more at stake because you are a producer. Human wise, because you are artistic about it, you play parts of it, there is more “blood” on the tape, than you just mixing someone else’s record.

You mean that this job is 60, 70% human aspect?

It’s 100% human. It’s not a business at all. It’s a personal, emotional business, that unless your heart is into the song, you’d might as well go back into the car and go home. You have to be emotionally attached to the music or there is no point in doing it.

Your worst memories/moments from mixing of all time?

There have definitely been some moments, I am not going to name the bands, but that had full-on fights in here internally with the band mates. No one agrees with what you are doing. Each guy leaves the room and comes back with a different idea. It makes it really difficult when the band doesn’t get along. There have been a couple where the band is breaking up or fighting at the time you are mixing it, or completely unsure of what you are doing. It’s not you, it’s them, and that’s what makes it difficult. A lot of the best records I ever mixed are when nobody is here but me, and I say this to them. Sometimes, they are their own worst enemy. It’s not their fault. They are really better off coming toward the end. When they want to come in here and do battle with it, sometimes they can unglue some of the magic that you’ve put into it by isolating their favorite parts.

Which artist would you still like to work with and why?

I want to work with Paul McCartney, I want to work with Coldplay; I want to actually mix a full fledged U2 album, not just one or two songs like I have done in the past, I want to be in the room with the band. I’d like to mix a new Rolling Stones record with the whole band in here. I want to go after the last of the mohicans, the biggest guns that are left while they still have something. It’s more the absolute legends of rock and roll that I prefer to be working with. Of course, I want to work with Muse and Foo Fighters and all the newer bands, but still they have some time. I want to get the old guys while they still got some action. I want to get it while there is a chance.

You’re engaged to mix an album for an artist you love but the requirements are : less is more. You have to pick only 5 pieces of your equipment.  Which do you choose and why?

If I can pick only 5 pieces of equipment, I’d pick my favorite vocal limiter, I’d pick my favorite vocal reverb, drum reverb, that’s three…

Which ones?!!

It would be my Urei Blue1176, my original EMT246, my Sony DRE 2000, then it would be a pair of Pultecs on my bus, and my Focusrite Red. The Pultecs I say they are one piece of gear cause they are a pair.

You are cheating! (Laughs)

They come as a pair.  With those 5 pieces of gear in a rack, I can go anywhere !

Just to finish up this interview, do you have any leitmotiv or quote/catch phrase about music that you like to use?

One of the things we say in the studio is “Don’t try this at home”! (Laughs) Everything I have here is not going to work at home. It’s really meant to be in the proper facility, in a temple of sound. Not your garage. For me it doesn’t work!

To read the full detailed interview see:  Mixing with an Attitude

 

March 12, 2012

Tips for Effective Buss Compression

Filed under: Compressors, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 2:31 pm

Buss compression is certainly not a new concept, however, it is an effective and reliable engineering tool and its basic principles are vital considering you are affecting multiple voices.

When approaching buss compression, there are two essential tools at your fingertips: Attack and Release – these two tools, when properly utilized, will have the ultimate say in the outcome of your efforts.

The attack and release functions of a compressor will tell its detector how to react to signal that passes through. An effective use of attack and release will essentially allow you to make conscious envelope changes to the signal rising above the threshold at the detector. This brings about the main philosophical concept behind compression, which is to shape the signal, rather than merely restrict its dynamic range (dynamic restriction is part of shaping the signal, not the end purpose). The attack and release controls are what really provide the push and pull effects of compression.

With this in mind, I have provided examples of effective and ineffective buss compression, focusing on attack and release settings, for a few simple approaches.

All of the following audio passed through the same compressor with the same settings (beside attack and release) and a ratio of 1.5:1 with an average gain reduction of 4 dB.

To read the full article with sound samples visit:  Buss Compression

December 15, 2011

Mixing Rap Vocals – Part 2: EQ

Filed under: Mixing reviews, Singing — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:24 am

I’ve read (too) many articles about mixing vocals. Cut 300Hz, boost 2kHz, compress 4:1, yada yada. Unfortunately these articles don’t actually give you any real resource – they simply speculate on generalities. What I’m going to give you is specific things to listen for and how to address them. This article will focus on EQ.

In my previous article, Mixing Rap Vocals Part 1, we discussed the importance of having an end game for your vocal sound. In this article I’m going to give you techniques for actually getting there.

Microphones

A vocal recording is an interaction between the vocalist and the microphone. In order to treat the vocal we’re going to have to address both the character of the voice, and the character of microphone interacting with the voice. Two common issues that arise from the microphone are low-end proximity build-up, and mid-range resonance.

Proximity Effect

When a vocalist gets too close to a microphone the low end will build up. If you have control of the tracking scenario, the optimal solution is to get the vocalist at the right distance from the mic. In the mix, the best way to eliminate this is to use a high-pass filter. I recommend not doing this haphazardly – the weight of the voice is caught in that proximity mud. Try using a gradual slope where the build up begins, or a medium slope to knock out the heavy build-up in conjunction with a low shelf or bell to ease off any residual build up in the higher bass range.

Mid-range

Microphones also tend to be sensitive to the mid-range. It’s not uncommon for an airy-resonance to perk up somewhere in the 300-600Hz range. Usually a couple 2 dB cuts at a narrow Q will suck that right out. However, don’t make any cuts if there’s nothing there you want to get rid of! In fact – be very wary of this range – this is sort of the area where everyone wants to constantly cut – but that’s the body – the “thickness” of the voice. You want enough content here that the vocal feels “full”, but not so much that it feels “unmixed” or “sloppy.”

Now let’s take a closer look at vocals…

Conclusion

In conclusion – I am giving you certain things to listen for – not necessarily certain things to do. If a vocal sounds great – don’t mess with it. You have to rely on what you are aiming to hear, not the processing. The key isn’t to do a lot of processing, but to do just the right amount of the right moves. Also, these ideas apply to the vocal on it’s own merits – once we start bringing in the rest of the mix we may have to reassess our tone settings. Anyway, check back for my next installment: Mixing Rap Vocals Part 3 : Compression.

November 1, 2011

Native Instruments Transient Master Review

The Studio Effects Series by Native Instruments just got expanded with the Transient Master plug-in, which ought to be faithful to its inspiration made by SPL — the perfect occasion to try it out (in its software version).

Although the principles of controlling dynamics are easy to understand, dynamics processing is a field where the experience of the user is as important as the processor itself. Choosing compressors and similar tools for a setup or a mix can be a real pain because of the number of questions or problems that may arise.

When German manufacturer SPL launched the Transient Designer rack processor, many sound engineers in the music and movie industries (as well as many musicians) immediately saw it as the perfect solution to two very frequent problems: the attack (due to too soft or harsh transients) and the (too long or too short) sustain of a signal, especially for field recordings where you can’t control natural reverberations.

To achieve that, SPL and its senior engineer M. Tilgner (who would later leave the company to start elysia and develop other famous compression tools) envisioned a new analog technology based on VCAs and envelope generators, called Differential Envelope Technology, by cleverly and efficiently playing with addition or subtraction of both generators in order to boost or cut the attack and sustain. But we won’t dive deeper into details (you can find very clear explanations on the manufacturer’s website) because the most important thing is the result and the incredible simplicity of the user interface: two controls, Attack and Sustain.

Before launching its own plug-in range, SPL collaborated with Universal Audio to create a UAD-1 and UAD-2 version with an additional volume control. Many software manufacturers also presented their version of SPL’s classic tool, for instance Voxengo’s Transmodder, Waves’ Transmod, Sonnox’ Transmoder, DigitalFishPhones’ Dominion (free plug-in for PC and Mac OS9), and SSL’s Drumstrip (non-exhaustive list).

It’s now the turn for Native Instruments to present its own version, the Transient Master.

Introducing Transient Master

Test system

MacPro Xeon 3,2 GHz

OS 10.6.8

Logic Pro 9.1.5

Guitar Rig 5 Pro 5.0.2

Transient Master

UAD-SPL Transient Designer

As usual with Native Instruments, just download the Mac or PC version after buying it (see NI’s website), install and authorize via the Service Center with your serial number. After the installation, it was impossible to find the folder (usually added to Native Instruments’ directory) to read the (rather short) user’s manual. But you can download it from the product page on the manufacturer’s website.

You can use the plug-in within Guitar Rig Pro 5 or the free Guitar Rig 5 Player (the free version includes an amp and several effects), and you will find it in the Dynamics category. Drag and drop into the empty rack and it is immediately ready to use. However, before using it, check if the Noise Gate is active and if the stereo mode in the guitar amp / effect host is active (click the R button next to the input level indicator).

The user interface is extremely simple, like the original, but with an additional Gain control inherited from the UA version and two additional Smooth and Limit buttons. Limit avoids clipping caused by level boosts of one of the two processed signal components. Smooth is more original: the processing has a smoother curve specially designed for distortion guitar.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Maybe you think that using a compressor, an expander and a noise gate properly could replace the Transient Designer and its software emulations. This is not entirely wrong but this would be very difficult to do and the resulting quality wouldn’t be always worth the time invested doing it, especially regarding the complexity of following the envelope of the input signal. The plug-ins, as well as the original hardware processor, require that you turn only two controls…

Both plug-in versions —UA’s original version approved by SPL and NI’s Transient master— do a good job at what they are supposed to. And both have their drawbacks: UA’s plug-in with extreme sustain settings on some stereo files, and NI’s plug-in because of this noise-gate effect that is sometimes too present.

Perhaps your choice will depend on whether you already own an UAD-2 (or 1)… Guitar Rig 5 Player and its free components are certainly a plus, even if sometimes it would be more convenient to use the plug-in without Guitar Rig, just by inserting the plug-in into a channel strip, for example (because Guitar Rig’s GUI takes a lot of place on the screen). However, we appreciate the consistency of NI’s Studio Effects series, and we look forward to try out the Solid Mix series inspired by a famous British brand.

Advantages:

  • Sound
  • Integration in a coherent environment
  • Rather subtle Smooth function
  • Integrated limiter
  • Reasonable price
  • Free Guitar Rig 5 Player

Drawbacks:

  • Pretty obvious “noise-gate effect”
  • Too subtle Smooth function?
  • Watch out for the damages the limiter can cause

To read the full detailed article see:  NI Transient Master Review

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