AF’s Weblog

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

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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

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

October 14, 2011

Quiz: Rate Your Audio Skills, Knowledge & Personality Type

Filed under: Live Sound, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:37 am

In order to help understand where you are in this overwhelming audio maze, I have put together a quiz to help rate your knowledge and personality type.

 

 

As technology accelerates at a dizzying rate and increases in processing power are only rivaled by the size of knobs on “retro analog” gear, we find ourselves navigating between magical-designer patch cables and legitimate advances in audio.  We know digital must always be “better” because CDs sound better than cassette tapes.

Everything is processed, as often as possible, and just as the hot dog is the perfect meal of processed meat, sound will be perfect and consistent any day now, as soon as we buy that magic black box with sufficient DSP power.

To properly score, you must answer every question, and be sure to keep score as you go.

 


1) You are mixing FOH at a venue that has a 90 dB A weighted limit, averaged over 10 minute intervals, maximum 20 dB peaks, measured from the FOH mix position. Which of the following would be a valid approach for achieving the best sounding show?

— Make a point of introducing yourself to the sound monitoring person, find out the rules and show interest in their job – 1 point
— Radio to production for a case of beer and a bottle of Jack – 2 points
— Yell obscenities and stomp around like a little kid – 4 points
— Ignore the irritating sound cop and crank it up – 3 points
— Go back to the bus – 6 points

2) Really old sound gear does not actually sound that great…
— Unless it has tubes, which means that it sounds amazing – 4 points
— Unless it looks cool, which means it sounds amazing – 2 points
— Age is not as relevant as the quality of the design – 5 points
— True – 1 point

3) Huge mics are better because they capture more sound…
— Of course – 4 points
— Especially if they have a tube – 3 points
— No, but they definitely fall over easier on a tripod stand – 6 points
— Yikes – 0 points

4) A large-scale digital console is best suited for…
— Replacing a smaller, lighter, less expensive analog console on a tour that ships worldwide and only one engineer uses it – 7 points
— A rental company to put on festivals so all the engineers can share one console and learn to use it at the same time – 4 points
— Award shows with multiple acts and cues and the producers won’t let the band engineers touch the consoles anyway – 1 point
— All of the above because it will make the band sound better – 4 points

5) When mixing a show you
— Lean over the console constantly turning knobs and must not be disturbed – 5 points
— Dial up the mix, hit your cues and make minor adjustments during the show – 1 point
— Drink beer and hang out with your friends – 6 points
— Watch the band intently because you are a monitor engineer – 0 points

6) A friend once told me “when mixing, never face an audience of 10,000 people without a beer and a cigarette”, his advice means…
— You should take up smoking and drinking while you work – 2 points
— Mix with your feet – 4 points
— Never panic, a relaxed and confident engineer will mix a better show – 1 point
— May as well enjoy yourself because the band can’t hear your mix or see you anyway – 6 points

7) Before your show starts you…
— Hang with your friends and drink beer – 6 points
— Do a quick check to make sure all is in order – 1 point
— Change into your “show clothes” – 2 points
— Turn everything up a bit, just in case – 7 points
— All of the above – 0 points

8) Feedback from stage…
— Usually builds quicker and more aggressively than feedback from the mains – 5 points
— Is the only place it comes from – 3 points
— Is the only chance for the monitor engineer to get in a “solo” – 2 points

To complete the quiz please visit:  Audio Horoscope

October 6, 2011

Tips for Mixing the Low End

Filed under: Bass, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 5:58 am

Besides vocal mixing – I would say the most common question I read about on the internet is how to manage the low end. The kick and bass, or whatever else might be occupying that area, is the weight and power of a track. In addition, it’s often the rhythmic backbone.

People tend to have a lot of trouble with low end, and I think there are two specific reasons why:

1) Harder to Hear

A lot of speakers and headphones simply don’t reproduce the low end with great detail and accuracy. You really need large cones, preferably 8″ or more to be able to produce the low end correctly. On top of that, rooms need a lot of treatment to manage the low end correctly. Parallel walls and corners tend to distort bass reproduction, making it hard to gauge what you are hearing. To complicate the issue – the actual bass range is much smaller linearly speaking than higher octaves. You can go from a sub bass A to a bass A in 55hz. In the upper ranges, 55hz might not even get you to the next note! Ultimately, this mathematically means your bass elements more readily over lap and leave you with less space to make things separate sounding and focused.

2) Frequency Perception

If you set a bass signal at equal amplitude with a mid-range signal, you’ll perceive the bass signal as being quieter (see Fletcher-Munson Curves). This means it takes more juice for the low end to come out booming. Especially if you’re going head first into some heavy compression, which is often the case for Dance and Hip Hop music. But hey, how important is having a big low end in Dance and Hip Hop? Oh wait…. So how do we get the low end focused and big?

Let’s take a closer look…

Don’t

  • Don’t carve out low frequencies to make room for other low elements. Bass doesn’t work this way too often. If you are carving out frequencies, do it because there’s an excessive resonance there, or because there’s sub build up.
  • Don’t be afraid of narrow boosts. Convention seems to say that you should boost wide. But in the low range – wide becomes very relative. Remember, there’s less space in the low range – so a wide bandwidth is going to be super wide. Also, narrow boosts can help emphasize a good sub. Just be careful when choosing what narrow band – make sure it helps the bass element and fits properly in the context of the track.
  • Don’t feaking side chain every bass to every kick in every mix. Yes, ducking the bass from the kick can be a good way to get the kick in the open. However, the bass should be SUPPORTING the kick. And if it’s supporting the kick, and you duck it out of the way – there goes your support. Also, remember that ducking has rhythmic consequences. In certain styles, where the kick is coming in regular intervals – this can be cool. When the kick doesn’t come in regular intervals, or very close together, you start losing definition of that rhythm. I actually like to do the opposite. Long sustaining bass lines tend to have very little movement, and don’t always aid the rhythm. I’ll side-chain an expander, or an upward expander to the kick – so when the kick hits, the bass jumps a little with it.

In the track below – I actually do both. During the verse, the bass is chained to expand with the kick. In the chorus, the bass is chained to duck the kick. Oh, and there’s a sine wave gated to the kick drum that’s tuned to the root of whatever chord the song happens to be at.

Daylight – Matthew Weiss Mix

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for mixing the Low End

July 22, 2011

Exclusive Interview with Dave Pensado

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 11:14 am

Dave pensado is a man who requires minimal introduction. He’s a world class mix engineer who’s worked on countless hit records. He’s also a teacher & mentor to an entire generation of successful mix engineers (including Jaycen Joshua, Ethan Willoughby, Ariel Chobaz & more).

Dave was kind enough to take time out of busy schedule to join us and answer some questions. Enjoy.

—–

 

I went to bed at 3am last night. When did you go to bed? What does your average week look like?


I’m still awake, I didn’t go to bed. I work about 105 hours a week, every day is 14 hours to around the clock. When I get on a roll I don’t like to stop. It’s not unusual after two weeks to slow down for a day or two though.

 

Let’s do the quick bio thing. Did you grow up in a musical family? Start playing early? See yourself as a mixer?


I was involved with music very early on. My mom was a gifted musician, and I learned a lot from her. I don’t know if I was particularly predisposed to mixing – really, I don’t even look at myself as a mixer, I look at myself as a guy who makes records. I just don’t participate in the entire process. I usually come in at the later part. But I don’t separate the different categories of engineering – it’s all just the process of making the record. For me, I enjoy every part of the process, but I tend to find myself at the mixing stage. For a while I thought I’d be playing on the records. Going from playing to engineering is not that big of a step though. A number of engineers started this way. We were broke musicians, we couldn’t hire an engineer.

 

Cool. Let’s talk “Pensado’s Place.” You’re making accomplished individuals very accessible. You’re exposing tons of great information. Why is it that you seem to have no qualms about revealing so many of your techniques?


It’s good to reiterate the point: I’m not selling my engineering, I’m selling my taste.

Even though Jaycen learned some engineering from me, he came to me with incredible taste. Dylan also has taste. I pick them because of their taste. They absorbed their engineering skills over time. The unique thing is that none of my assistants sound like me. We work together so much, and I hear little things in their mixes – but they’re their own people, and should be. If we were painters, and we decided to study art at a college, one of the problems is that artists sometimes come out third rate copy of their teachers. Some teachers grade from the perspective of what they feel is good. But it’s really about aesthetic.

This is a good time to let the readers know, if you have two hours available, the best use of your time is tolisten to as many records as possible instead of just learning techniques. That time comes after immersing yourself in records you enjoy. Create a set of references. There’s an old myth that says whenever you buy an acoustic guitar, set it in front of your speakers and play the best music you know and let the guitar absorb it, and the wood will retain that sound. Mixers need that same sort of thing. Get your own taste and then study.

 

It really can’t be said enough. So, where do you see the show going? It seems to be gaining popularity – it’s a fantastic show. What’s the goal?


I don’t want every Pensado’s Place episode perfect for every human – I want each one for certain things. I want each episode to have a timeless appeal – I don’t want them to be irrelevant in a year. It’s not just about mixing, but everything around the profession. One of the concepts behind the show is the question: once you make a mix, what the heck do you do with it?

 

I’m going to have A&Rs on the show, people on the business side. Even an art professor from UCLA because the brain has the same components; creativity is creativity, and I want different perspectives. I might have a show on successful mix engineer’s hobbies, and how those hobbies can make you a better engineer. I hope the entertainment makes it accessible to everyone, but not every episode is aimed at everyone.

 

I cook. Little known fact. What’s your hobby?


Photography. I use a lot of visual metaphors for mixing.

 

What is the future of “Pensado’s Place.” Do you have a definite plan, an indefinite plan?


I see it having a definite future. I may hand it off to someone else, but as long as people care, it’ll still be on. It’s all about hanging with my friends. I’ve always envisioned the show having an importance – it might morph, it might change just like our industry changes and our profession of mixing has changed.

 

Mixing in 2011 is 60% different than mixing in the 90s. I’ll have people on the show to help us feel into the future – it’s how to make a living – it’s how to learn – it’s a broad, almost impossible task, but it’s fun. What people don’t know is that I don’t allow the show to be edited. It’s live because that’s who we [my guest’s and I] are. Only time there would be an edit is if a guest said something that he later thought was uncomfortable.

 

Pensado’s Place is really much more than Dave Pensado. You have a great team. Herb is fantastic.


I’ve known Herb 20 years, just being in his presence is fun for me. I think if you look at the guests and the interaction with Herb and I – they all start out a little nervous and then settle in. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished starting out with nothing. Now the show takes 20 people. If you add up all the views on YouTube, and all the episodes everywhere they’re viewed, we’re probably going to hit – well, a lot of views.  I couldn’t put it together without Will and Herb, and Ryan, Ben and Ian. I get the glory but they do the real leg work. My wife filters through the questions.

 

I’m sure you get a lot of emails and comments.


I get about 300 emails – I don’t have time to respond every time someone contacts me. So, to everyone reading this, know that even if I don’t respond, I read every single email.

 

You were once quoted saying that mixing R&B is more challenging than rock. The sound of rock seems to have adopted a lot of pop trends, influenced by hip-hop. Do you feel rock mixing has changed? How so? Is it still easier?


I still stand by that statement. However, when I first made the statement, I assumed that people would print the rest of what I said! To clarify, the difference is that in the rock world, all of the effort to get quality is in the tracking. In the R&B world, everything is left for mixing. Tracking for R&B is just “get it to tape” – it’s a fix-in-the-mix philosophy, but in a lot of Pop, mixing is an integral part of the production. What I mean, is the producer is creating sounds, he’s mixing as he goes. When I get an R&B or Pop record in, the session has plugins on every track; he mixed as he went. Then I have to sort through all of that and pick it apart.

 

On the rock side, it’s rare that I get plugins on the tracks because the information is in the live capture. An incredible skill and talent has gone into getting the tracking right on the way in. I personally think the most intricate skill is required for tracking, a good tracking engineer can rival the best mixing engineer. Having said that, as to which is harder, I’m totally capable of screwing up either; they require different skill sets. The one thing that I’ve always maintained a great mixer should do is find the energy, the emotion, and what makes the song unique. Manny kind of went into that a bit, and I was mesmerized listening to his answers.At the end of the day mixing is not manipulation of sound – it’s emotion.

 

Very early in my career, I think I’d been engineering for 3 weeks, I did a bagpipe album for the top bagpiper in the world – it sounded like someone stomping through a field of cats. It was difficult to wrap my head around because when I EQ’d it (to smooth out the sound) the whole sound went away. So I accepted it and just turned to the playing. The album was well received – turns out that figuring out the emotion is what made it successful.

 

Our job is to ease the pain a bit in our culture. Even not so esoterically, what people remember is the emotion and the feeling they get from a song. Therein lies the secret to selling records, and perhaps why we’re not selling records now.

 

At what point do you say “I’m done” with a mix? What’s the feel?


I started mixing 35 years ago and I’m still waiting to finish a couple of those mixes. You don’t finish, you just run out of time. In classical and jazz, it may be possible to finish a mix. Currently with the internet, by the time you finish, by the end of the night, it’s obsolete. I enjoy staying ahead of trends, and contributing to the advancement of trends. But these trends always change. And really, you can hear a song a million different ways. I’ve actually recently gone and redone some mixes from a few months ago.

 

What trends have you stayed on the cutting edge of?


Two years ago I was predicting a shift and trend toward euro dance invading hip hop.

Another trend, Rock – just to stir the pot – I don’t think there is any Rock anymore, at least not that’s easily accessible. Rock is now Pop music with turned down guitars and sweet effects. The last great Rock record was Queens of The Stone Age. Rock is now pop with guitars instead of synthesizers. The drums aren’t even live.

 

Do you see more sample replacement or programming in Rock?


What’s the difference? When you change out the drums and make the drum timing so perfect, all you’ve done is create a programmed part. With live drums, you get the drummer, and you don’t dick with it. Maybe a couple nudges – but perfectly timed drum tracks is an anathema to Rock.

 

With R&B you have a steady drum track. We don’t rely on the drums to create the rhythm, we play against the perfect rhythm. You have things that move around it, that make it pocket. In Rock, the drum track should move. The drums on the Rolling Stones music, everybody’s following Keith – and that works. Had you quantized Charlies’ drums, then, Keith would have been out of time. The argument is not live or programmed, it’s perfect or emotional.

 

I once got the idea that ambiance is about one third of a mix. I have yet to feel other wise. To me, room, reverb, delay makes or breaks a mix. Where does it fall along your scale? How long do you spend crafting ambiance?


I spend an inordinate amount of time making ambiances. There’s two pan pots, there’s left and right and front to rear. The front to rear is imaginary – a person is at the other end of a gymnasium, and they yell – the initial sound hits my ear and my brain calculates where they are, 50-100ms. I get that early reflection, which cues my ear to the location and size of the space. With careful manipulation of reverb, echo, pre-delay, early reflections, you can place things pretty accurately.

To read the full detailed article see:  Dave Pensado Interview

July 8, 2011

Vocals Processing Tips: Part 1

It was late at night, at a live-in-concert recording session in Germany. As several thousand fans waited anxiously, the vocalist walked onstage, and picked up a set of headphones. I saw him plug them into the mixer, and figured he was going to make one final check of his vocal sound before the band kicked in. He then turned the preamp gain control up full…not too unusual, as mics don’t have a lot of gain. But then he held the headphones up to his mouth and — started singing. He had plugged the headphones into the mic in, not the headphone out…and he had done it on purpose. Is this what recording vocals in the 21st century is about?

Well, the answer is yes…and no. No, in the sense that a well-recorded vocal through a high-end mic feeding a state-of-the-art preamp remains a supremely important part of the recording art. Yes, in the sense that it underscores a fundamental truth about recording today: anything goes.

The tools of the vocal trade have undergone as dramatic a transformation as the recording process itself. Microphones are better and cheaper; today’s “budget” mics sometimes outperform the champions of yesteryear. Preamps, whether tube or solid state, have noise levels that are measurable only with the most sensitive test equipment. Processing gear ranges from “vocal strips” dedicated solely to vocal, to technologies such as Antares’Auto-Tune (which can correct out-of-tune-vocals) and mic modeling, which mimics the characteristics of particular “signature” mics. Compressors, reverbs, even vocal booths have all enjoyed the results of technological progress.

So what’s the best way to record vocals these days? The answer, of course, is that anything goes. Following are some of the possibilities.

Recording Vocals

Few topics inspire more debate than the optimum vocal mic and preamp. But note that a mic and preamp combination that sounds great with one vocalist might not work with another. Case in point: once while recording, my voice was recorded with a sub-$100 dynamic mic and a $995 condenser mic. The unanimous agreement was that the dynamic sounded better.

Was it because the mic was better? No. From any objective standpoint, it was inferior. But it had some response anomalies that flattered my voice. The condenser mic was accurate, but my voice didn’t need accuracy: It needed a high-frequency lift, and warmth from the proximity effect (i.e., the tendency of a dynamic to produce more bass as you sing closer to it).

I sometimes wish that all mics looked the same, and had no labels on them. That would force engineers to take a fresh approach with every session. It’s very easy to rely on using old favorites — the assumption is that the mic that worked great on the last session will be equally good on the current session, but that isn’t always true. Furthermore, there’s a matching issue between mics and preamps, so mic X might sound great with preamp A and not so great with preamp B.

Bottom line: Try every mic with a vocalist, record the results, then choose which one sounds most appropriate. I suggest comparing two mics at a time to prevent “option overload.” Choose the best of each pair, then have a runoff among the winners.

Let’s take a look at some other tips…

Synthesizing Vocal Harmonies

Normally, I sing my own harmonies. But sometimes, pitch shifters — because they’re not perfect — add timbral and timing imperfections that actually sound better for some applications.

 

Here’s an example of creating harmonies using Sonar’s real-time pitch shifting plug-in (the principles are the same for other programs). Note that Sonar Producer Edition also includes a high-quality, but non-real-time, pitch stretch processor. I usually use the real-time plug-in to get the harmonies right, then go back and process the files destructively using the higher-quality, non-real-time algorithm.

Harmonisation d'une partie de chantThis shows harmonies being generated within Sonar using real-time plug-ins. Higher-quality, offline plug-ins can be used for the final processing.

Note that there are four tracks of vocals: The teal one at the top is the original vocal. The violet one below that is a “cloned” version, which has been processed with the doubling technique mentioned previously.

The next track (blue) is also a cloned track, but it’s being processed through the pitch shifter set to a major 3rd. However, note that some elements have been cut from this track and moved to the next track down, which is processed through the pitch shifter set to a minor 3rd. As Sonar doesn’t know which notes should receive minor 3rd or major 3rd harmonization, you have to cut up the track appropriately, and move the right phrases or notes to the right tracks. This may require zooming way in on the cloned track, so you can make cuts in the space between phrases.

The standard pitch shifting caution applies — the further you stretch pitch, the less realistic the sound. Sonar’s real-time pitch shifter does not preserve formants during shifts; however, when pitching up a major third the formant change adds a bit of voice-on-helium effect, which when mixed behind the main vocal, can actually sound pretty cool.

Starting with Sonar 5, the Producer Edition includes Roland’s VariPhrase technology in their V-Vocal plug-in. With this plug-in, you can “draw in” harmonics and constrain a melody to particular notes. This makes the process of harmonization much easier, as does a similar feature in Samplitude and Digital Performer. There are also programs like Antares Harmony Engine, and zplane’s Vielklang (among others) that are designed to generate harmonies.

To read the full detailed article see: Vocal Processing Tips Part 1

March 17, 2011

Panning Laws Revealed

The idea of panning seems pretty obvious, right? You turn a panpot (real or virtual) to place a sound somewhere in the stereo field…

But ignorance of the law is no excuse – in this case, panning laws. These laws govern exactly what happens when a monaural sound moves from left to right in the stereo field, which can be different for different pieces of software. As a matter of fact, not knowing about panning laws can create some significant issues if you need to move a project from one host to another. Panning laws may even account for some of the online foolishness where people argue about one host sounding “punchier” or “wimpier” than another when they loaded the same project into different hosts. It’s the same project, right? So it should sound the same, right?

Well, not necessarily…keep reading.

Origins of Panning Laws

Panning laws originated in the days of analog mixers. If there was a linear gain increase in one channel and a linear gain decrease in the other channel to change the stereo position, at the center position the sum of the two channels sounded louder than if the signal was panned full left or full right.

To compensate for this, it became common to use a logarithmic gain change response to drop the signal by -3dB RMS at the center. You could do this by using dual pots for panning with log/antilog tapers, but as those could be hard to find, you could do pretty much the same thing by adding tapering resistors to standard linear potentiometers. Thus, even though signals were being added together from the left and right channels, the apparent level was the same when centered because they had equal power.

But this “law” was not a standard. Some engineers preferred to drop the center level a bit more, either because they liked the signal to seem louder as it moved out of the main center zone, or because signals that “clumped up” around the center tended to “monoize” the signal. So, dropping their levels a little further created more of an illusion of stereo. And some of the people using analog consoles had their own little secret tweaks to change the panning characteristics.

Panning Meets the Digital Audio Workstation

With virtual mixers we don’t have to worry about dual ganged panpots, and can create any panning characteristic we want. That’s a good thing, because it allows a high degree of flexibility. But it also adds a degree of chaos that we really didn’t need.

For example, Cubase SX3 has four panning laws in the Project Setup dialog; you get there by going Project > Project Setup.

 

Loi de panoramique dans Cubase

The default pan law for Cubase is to drop the center by –3dB, which is the classic equal power setting.

 

Setting the value to 0dB eliminates constant-power panning, and gives the old school, center-channel-louder effect. Since we tried so hard to get away from that, it’s not surprising that Cubase defaults to using the “drop the center by -3dB” classic equal power setting. But you can also choose to drop the center by -4.5dB or -6dB if you want to hype up the extremes somewhat, and make the center a bit more demure. Fair enough; it’s nice to have options.

Adobe Audition has two panning options in multitrack mode, accessed by going View > Advanced Session Properties.

Loi de panoramique dans Audition

Adobe Audition lets you choose from two common panning laws.

L/R Cut Logarithmic is the default, and pans to the left by reducing the right channel volume, and conversely, pans to the right by reducing the left channel volume. As the panning gets closer to hard left or right, the channel being panned to doesn’t increase past what its volume would be when centered. The Equal Power Sinusoidal option maintains constant power by amplifying hard pans to left or right by +3dB, which is conceptually similar to dropping the two channels by -3dB when the signal is centered.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

We can’t sign off without mentioning one more thing: The pan law you choose isn’t just a matter of convenience or compatibility, although I’ve stressed the importance of being compatible if you want to move a project from one host to another. The law you choose can make a difference in the overall sound of a mix.

This is less of an issue if you use mostly stereo tracks, as panning in that case is really more of a balance control. But for many of us, “multitrack” still means recording at least some mono tracks. I tend to record a mono source (voice, guitar, bass) in mono, unless it’s important to capture the room ambience – and even then, I’m more likely to capture the main sound in mono, and use a stereo pair of room mics (or stereo processing) that go to their own tracks. And if you pan that mono track, you’re going to have to deal with the panning laws.

In any event, you now know enough about those laws to make sure you don’t get cited for contempt of court. Happy panning!

To read the full detailed article please visit: Panning Laws Revealed

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