Some thought and highlights from the 2019 NAMM convention in Anaheim, CA.
Producing is the construction of music. You have to make choices about the project as a whole and this will include things like EQ, panning, compression, lengths of the delay, when to delay, when to chop up the vocals, when to add guitar solos, how the song begins and ends, and everything else that happens in between. This is not an easy task, but it does have huge rewards that are long-lasting if you do it right.
There are way too many plugins out there and you may feel confused on which ones to buy and incorporate into your workflow. Here is an open discussion for you to ask questions and get insight for all those plugins. I'll regularly post any new releases or deals that I come across for those plugins that you should consider adding to your system.
PC or Mac, this is the ultimate question. If you're unsure of which one to get, you can always get a Mac and install parallels to run both platforms. A PC will ultimately be a little more affordable and have multiple options for a decent DAW.
I have personally had both computers and over the years have settled on a Mac. I started with a G4, then moved to a G5, and now I currently use a Mac Pro. If you're going to run a ProTools HD system, you'll need a computer that can handle PCIe cards. You can buy a chassis to house the PCIe cards, but then that is one more cable and device on your desk.
Be sure to get a computer with a fast processor and at least 8 GB of RAM. The i5 & i7 processors are excellent options for audio production. If you're not quite sure what to choose, call a specialist. I work directly with Joseph Secu at Sweetwater.com (800) 222-4700 x1232.
Also be sure to get a good monitor. With all the mainstream TVs having the ability to connect via HDMI or VGA ports you can have a large selection of monitors to choose from. Being able to see what you're working on is very important. You're going to be staring at this computer screen for hours on end, so it would be a good idea to invest in a screen that doesn't strain your eyes.
Tomorrow we'll cover microphones.
Multiple mixes of a song is a technique that I've developed over the many years of my career. Music tends to unfold differently every time you approach a mix. If you're using a program that allows you to save or save as multiple times, such as ProTools or logic, it's not a bad idea to try a new mix even if you think you nailed it the first time.
Here's how I like to set up my sessions. After I record, I like to save the session as just a raw track that hasn't been mixed. Then 'save as' the name of the track_mix1. This way I have a template to go back to when I want to create a new mix. You can repeat this process as many times as you like. I usually tend to think at least three mixes is a good reference point to determine whether or not you like a mix. Sometimes it's a good idea to try up to 10 mixes.
Try this, set up a timer and give yourself a time limit for the mix. Anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes should be enough time to get a good rough mix. When the timer goes off, save your mix session, close it, & open a new session.
After you feel that you've made enough versions of the mix, go back and review each of the mixes. You can bounce each of the mixes down as an MP3 file and put them on your phone or MP3 player. Then go for a run, take a drive, or head over to a friend's house and listen to your mixes outside of the studio. This will give you a reference point as to which mix is probably the best and/or if a few mixes should be worked on and handed to a client for review.
Try this technique on your next mix and see what happens. You may be surprised that the third or fourth mix is actually the one that you wind up keeping.
If I had a nickel for every time I had to turn down levels on the tracks I receive when I'm doing a mixing session, I'd be a millionaire. If you want to hear what your mix sounds like at a louder volume, try turning up the volume on your monitors first. Don't push the faders all the way up or use a compressor/limiter, you're only doing damage to your mix.
Set up a reference track! Just import your favorite song into your DAW session and listen to it through the monitors. You have an idea what that song sounds like so you can use it as a reference point to calibrate your system and get a good point of reference for your mix. Mixing without a reference track is like driving a car blindfolded. Not a good idea.
Most DAWs come with a metering plug-in or a metering software program. Use it! It's there for a reason. Metering helps you get a good idea of how loud your mix actually sounds. If your DAW doesn't show RMS levels, there are a bunch of programs out there that are free and will give you a good reference point for your RMS levels. Try and give each of your mixes at least 10dB of dynamic range. If possible, give your mix anywhere between 15dB to 20dB of dynamic range. You'll notice a huge difference in the audio quality of your mix if the dynamic range has lots of room to breathe.
Louder is not better if your mix has a bunch of digital distortion. If no one will listen to you music, it's probably not the content, but rather the lack of quality mixing that was put into the music. Take the time to give your music a real good listen. Critical monitoring is so important to making sure that you get a good mix. Don't over compress and don't smash your limiter or compressor so that your meters are all the way maxed out at 0 dBFS.
The influx of recording equipment has moved the music industry to new heights. Companies like AVID & Focusrite, just to name a few, have made home recording possible for thousands of bands and musicians. Music is flourishing in the world and more and more people are finding out that making music is simple and rewarding. Virtual instruments can now be tracked with MIDI to accompany a solo artist. Now it's possible for one musician to compose a whole album on their laptop or tablet. This is truly the dawn of digital music and the possibilities continue to mount as more and more companies are networking to bring audio tools into the homes of millions around the world.
Now that you're excited about recording, I just want to help you get started. Before you buy anything, do a little bit of research. Read a few reviews from different sites and don't hesitate to ask a professional about what they recommend. The best information is going to come from actual musicians and engineers that are using the equipment on a regular basis. Pretty much all the gear available today is a good investment. Most hardware interfaces come with their own software, so you've got what you need to get started.
Take it slow at first. Buy an interface and some headphones to get you started. You don't have to invest in a whole studio right away. Build your studio piece by piece and spent time figuring out what works best for your recording and mixing setup. If you can buy used gear from a trustworthy source, try that first. Save some cash so you can get your studio off the ground without breaking the bank. I've had my Digi002rack for years and it is still tracking and mixing like a champ. You can find one on eBay for about $200-$300 and will be a great place to start your recording education.
Again, most of the gear out there is affordable and you don't need to spend all your savings on setting up your studio right away. Buy a few key pieces and then start recording. Once the cash flow starts coming in, you can put some aside for investing in new gear. Do some research and ask some questions. The reps at Sweetwater.com are really helpful and if you want to talk with my rep, Joseph Secu x1232, he's a wealth of knowledge for all the gear they have for sale.
I hope all of you have a happy holiday season and make some great music.
Many clients have asked how we get such amazing audio quality and we're proud to say that it's a combination of mics, cables, and converters. At the heart of our drum and instrument recording is our modified Digi002rack. For many years, we were tracking with a Blue Face Digidesign 96 i/o on an ACCEL PCIe Core card. The recordings were good and we were very happy with the audio quality.
One day, a client came by the studio with a road case with a Digi002rack that had the Black Lion Audio Signature Mod. To be honest, I was slightly offended that a client wanted to track with the LE interface instead of our HD interface. We had a brief discussion about how each of us was impressed with the audio quality of our respectable interfaces and converters. At the end of the discussion, we decided to have a shootout with the interfaces and compare them side-by-side to hear if there was any obvious difference.
The band's drummer played a simple rock groove for about 60 seconds with a nice array of tom fills and cymbal compliments. We tracked the performance with both interfaces one after another using the same mics & cables, the only variable was the interface. We bounced the tracks down to a stereo wav file and then burned a CD with both tracks. We popped the CD into the CD player and put it on random. Then we listened to the two tracks. Instantly after listening to the first track, the second track kicked in and so did the detail. It was stunning how clear and accurate the tone and shape of the drum sounds were in track 2 over track 1. The kick had sharp punch and deep boom. The snare had crisp pop and resonating decay. The cymbals were vibrant, but not too brittle.
I was sure that track 2 was the 96 i/o. Oh the wave of shock that rippled through my mind when I saw that track 2 was the BLA mod. A system that cost 1/3 of the expensive HD system had just out shined what I thought was the holy grail of audio interfaces. Needless to say, I was able to purchase a new 002r from the local Pro Audio retailer for $300 on closeout cause they were starting to stock the new 003r units. So for less than $2,000, I was able to purchase a new 002r unit and ship it off to Black Lion Audio in Chicago for their premium Signature Mod.
Now the studio has been tracking with the BLA 002r for the past 5 years and clients have been impressed with the audio quality. It is one of those things you have to hear to believe and we're happy to invite clients to come by the studio and hear some of the recent projects we've produced.
As amazing as the BLA 002r is for instruments, it does fall just short of the new AVID HD interfaces. We picked up a OMNI interface with the HD Native Core card and the vocal tracks from this interface are impressive. With the combination of our BLA 002r and the HD OMNI, it's a perfect combination of music and vocals for any project.
Bass is the big monster in your mix that fills up a whole lot of your dBFS meter on the master buss. Bass can be a troublesome foe in your mixing quest, but do not fret! Bass has one big weakness, High-Pass Filters.
High-Pass filters are mysterious to some mixing engineers, but not to us. High Pass filters can do wonders for a dense mix that has lots of different tracks. When your mix is too boomy or muddy, first try using some high pass filters on the tracks that don't necessarily need to have low bass frequencies. Rolling off the low end on vocal tracks will really help separate the vocals from the rest of the mix. This may also immediately shape up the low end of the entire mix. Go through each track and use your ears to attenuate the HP filter on each track for a more controlled bottom end to your mix. You may not even have to touch the bass track or the kick track.
Alternately, you should use Low Pass Filters on tracks that reside in the low end of the mix. Rolling off the high frequencies on the bass and kick tracks may open up more brilliance and space in your mix. It's not too complicated, but it does take a little bit of practice to get used to using filters to control the low end of a mix. Be sure that you adjust the filters with the tracks playing in the mix. If you solo the track while you adjust the filters, you may not get the tone or control that you need when the tracks are put back into the mix. Soloing has it's place, but when you're trying to get tracks to fit together in a mix, it's best to adjust them while they're in the mix.
Shine On Studios is proud to announce the addition of the AVID HD OMNI system to our studio. This top-of-the-line HD interface for Pro Tools HD offers pristine A/D & D/A conversion with two high-end mic pre-amps. Paired with our Apogee Rosetta i/o, we now offer 8 additional channels of HD recording!
The studio is sounding better than ever. Tracks are clean and punchy! The clarity is amazing and Pro Tools 10HD offers our engineers so many ways to enhance and mix tracks. Everything from Elastic Audio to extremely low latency, gives every track produced at the studio that professional touch that makes them shine!