Artikel ini membahas tentang apa itu home studio recording dan apa saja yang kita butuhkan untuk membangun sebuah home studio recording.Deskripsi lengkap
Descrição: Artikel ini membahas tentang apa itu home studio recording dan apa saja yang kita butuhkan untuk membangun sebuah home studio recording.
Home Studio Series Vol4
Home studio handbook
Home StudioDescrição completa
Descrição: Soundproofing Your Home Recording Studio
Descrição: Guide to setting up a home studio for beginners.
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GUIDE TO MAKING PRO MUSIC AT HOME
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etting your head around the basics of recording can be a daunting yet intensely satisfying undertaking. With increased experience you will have seen your home recordings go from strength to strength. Perhaps you even used the Beginner Home Studio Handbook, the companion to this Expert edition, to help you improve. Now you’re probably asking yourself, ‘How can I take my music and recording skills to the next level?’ This is where the Expert Home Studio Handbook comes in, offering you everything you need to enter the next stage of your recording journey. There’s no point spending hours on a track if it’s simply no good to begin with, so we start with songwriting advice from pro writers and composers Andy Burrows, Noel Gallagher, Frank Turner and James Morrison. If you’re a singer-songwriter without a drummer, we show you how to program beats with our handy tutorial. We’ll also show you how to turn your home into a fully functioning, acoustically treated recording space, complete with your very own control room. Our Buyer’s Guides will help you choose recording gear with conﬁdence, before we move on to the ﬁner details of arranging your studio space for recording. From backing up your music correctly to ﬁxing common faults during the recording, mixing and mastering processes, our advice will ensure that you don’t waste valuable time when it comes to recording. We’ll also go in-depth on some amazing recording techniques for you to try with your own music; from achieving classic drum and vocal sounds, to getting creative with distortion and using alternative miking approaches, there’s a world of information waiting for you. You can learn how to give your tracks the professional ﬁnish they deserve with our comprehensive guides to EQ, Compression and Reverb, before wrapping your head around mastering. There are tutorial audio ﬁles for you to download, too, helping to guide you further. Whether you’re recording your own music or that of another artist or band, the Expert Home Studio Handbook will be your studio wingman from solid start to glorious ﬁnish.
G on To get the tutorial ﬁles to go c, Ma or your PC .uk vault.computermusic.co is th sign in and register book as issue 33
CLAIRE DAVIES, EDITOR
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Daniel Grifﬁths EDITOR Claire Davies ASSISTANT EDITOR Chris Barnes ART EDITOR Andy McGregor PRODUCTION EDITOR Chris Burke
We are committed to only using magazine paper which is derived from well managed, certiﬁed forestry and chlorine-free manufacture. Future Publishing and its paper suppliers have been independently certiﬁed in accordance with the rules of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).
OTHER CONTRIBUTORS INCLUDE: Simon Arblaster, Michael
Brown, Jono Buchanan, Skip Curtis, James Hester, Elena Kay, Tim Oliver, Rob Power, Ben Rogerson, Joe Rossiter, Mick Taylor, Ian Shepherd, Jeff Slate, Robbie Stamp, James Uings, Stuart Williams
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 3
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com CONTENTS
SONGWRITING 8 ....... EXPERT SONGWRITING 12 ...... PRO RIFF WRITING 16 ...... HOW TO PROGRAM BEATS 16
SETTING UP 62 ..... ANALOGUE VS DIGITAL 68 ..... BACK-UP YOUR MUSIC 72 ..... FIX YOUR STUDIO 56
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RECORDING 77 ...... CLASSIC DRUM SOUNDS 80 ..... PROGRAM PERCUSSION 86 ..... THE THREE MIC SETUP 88 ..... RECORD HUGE GUITARS 90 ..... MID/SIDE RECORDING 96 ..... DISTORTION EXPLAINED 102.... PRO VOCAL EXCERCISES 106.... CLASSIC VOCAL SOUNDS
MIXING & MASTERING
PROMOTE YOUR MUSIC
115 .... PREPARING YOUR COMPUTER 143.... ONLINE MUSIC PROMOTION 118 .... GUIDE TO REVERB 143 122.... GUIDE TO EQ 128.... GUIDE TO COMPRESSION 134.... PRO MASTERING 128 115
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 5
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EXPERT SONGWRITING n the beginning, there is The Song. Everything you’ll learn from this expert edition of the Home Studio Handbook will teach you how to put out a great-sounding track, but all of the studio trickery in the world can’t disguise a lacklustre song. To help get you on the right songwriting track from the beginning, we’ve enlisted the help of former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows, now a highly regarded composer, solo artist and songwriter, who reveals his approach to songwriting, offering plenty of advice on how you can craft the perfect song. In addition, we have some ace writing tips from the likes of Noel Gallagher, Frank Turner and James Morrison. So grab your pen and paper and prepare to be inspired!
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 7
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“I love the magic of songwriting, the combinations involved and the impossibilities” 8 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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EXPERT GUIDE TO SONGWRITING Andy Burrows is one of the UK’s most tasteful songwriters. We recently spoke with Andy to learn more about his approach to songwriting, and how it can help you write your own songs
ndy Burrows rose to fame as the drummer for Razorlight, but it was when ﬂexing his considerable writing chops on the band’s mega-hits including Before I Fall To Pieces and America that
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE A THEORETICAL KNOWLEDGE OF OTHER INSTRUMENTS, LIKE BASS OR PIANO? “I’m not sure it is. I ﬂip between piano and acoustic guitar when writing, but writing is more about your imagination and freeing that up. I’m sure there have been some wonderful songs written by people who can just play three notes on one instrument. By the same token, there have been many beautiful and clever songs written by classically trained virtuosos. Perhaps it’s about having a magical combination of both? “I like the fact that I can play a few different things. I’m anti suggesting that there’s a right method, or that something will or won’t stand in your way when writing. It’s more about not letting anything get in your way in the ﬁrst place, and then making sure your imagination is allowed to behave the way it did when you were a kid.”
WHERE DO YOU START WHEN WRITING? DOES IT BEGIN WITH A CHORD PROGRESSION, A LYRIC, OR MELODY? “The most inspiring time is when one little line of lyric, a melody and even perhaps some chords present themselves all at once and the song
Razorlight properly exploded and Andy found a new calling. After leaving the band in 2009, Andy pursued a solo career, writing three albums of beautifully-crafted pop, in tandem with writing sessions alongside stars such as Tom Odell, and tackling
the score [with Ilan Eshkeri] for 2012’s festive hit The Snowman and the Snowdog. Here Andy talks about his songwriting process, and why sometimes imagination is more important than knowing the theory when you start writing.
has written itself. I feel like most songwriters will say that the most magical songs are the ones they didn’t know how they wrote. It’s more subconscious, relating to that thing I said about childhood imagination and letting it out. It’s about unblocking the stuff that’s stored deep down. “I’m not a big fan of waking up in the morning and being like, ‘Right, today I’m going to write a song’. I like to let the ideas that come in every day just happen, then with the stronger ones I’ll be like, ‘Ok, maybe I should go and sit down for ﬁve minutes and explore that’. It’s almost like they pass their own little exams throughout the day and then they get further along the development pool.”
“I’ve been very inspired by Tom Odell’s work ethic – he just keeps going at an idea until he’s happy. I don’t really know what my work ethic is. I could be perceived as being lazy, but I don’t think I am. I could be in the pub and have an idea and sing it into my phone. It wouldn’t bother me that I couldn’t run home to work on it right then. Everybody does it differently and that’s the most exciting thing about it.”
MANY ARTISTS SAY THAT INSPIRATION COMES TO THEM AT ALL HOURS, SOMETIMES WAKING THEM AT NIGHT. DOES THAT HAPPEN TO YOU? “I don’t sleep much anyway. Most of the people I know who are brilliant songwriters immerse themselves in it to the point where they can’t exist in the world. I don’t like shutting myself off. I write in short bursts and if I’m not captivated by what I’m writing, I’ll give up or come back to it later.
DO YOU EVER FIND THAT YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK? “It affects me massively. There are two different types of writing: the spontaneous writing that just comes to you, and the more worked for version. It’s been a while since I’ve had that ‘fall from the sky’ track. I’ve got to the point now where I’m not so desperate to try and grab it. It’s a lovely magical feeling when you’re playing around and something appears – it’s almost like something comes over you. But you can’t force it.”
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU’VE WRITTEN SOMETHING GOOD? IS IT A GUT FEELING? “The last time I had that feeling was with a song called If I Had A Heart, from my
Andy started his career as drummer in Razorlight, writing smash hit America
record Company . That song just came to me; one of those things when a lyric and a melody and a chord just happen. You think, ‘Wow, that isn’t cheesy, it’s not crap, and I haven’t heard it before’, and it moves you. All of those things contribute to the feeling. I had that recently with Tom. It’s different working with another person. You catch each other’s eye at a certain point of writing something. It’s very rare that it happens, but when it does you get that moment of, ‘This is really good’. I think we all know when something is special.”
DO YOU THINK THE ABILITY TO WRITE SONGS IS INNATE, OR IS IT SOMETHING THAT CAN BE LEARNED? “It’s a combination of things. Obviously there has to be something there to begin with, whether that’s purely imagination, or purely musical ability, or both. The best writers are the ones with a great ability and some sort of musical skill, but imagination and a sense of ambition and wonderment.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A REALLY GREAT SONG? “What you want to get from a song is somebody else’s perspective on a subject you know well. I love the magic of
10 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
songwriting, the combinations involved, the impossibilities. Every time someone comes out with a genius song I’m like, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ It’s becoming slightly more difﬁcult now [to write genius songs]. You can’t do I Want To Hold Your Hand because it’s already been done, but I don’t believe that means it’s all been done because then a song like Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know comes along. That’s a modern classic pop song. It sounds like Sting and The Police, but it hadn’t been done before.”
ARE YOU A REAL INSTRUMENTS PURIST, OR HAVE YOU USED DIGITAL INSTRUMENTS ON YOUR TRACKS? “I always prefer to have real instruments, but I don’t mind a bit of trickery here and there – sometimes blatant synth strings are fun! There are some tunes that use drum machines and they’re wicked. It’s a matter of right time, right place. Although, I’m not really into much music that doesn’t involve real instruments.”
WHO ARE YOUR MAIN SONGWRITING INFLUENCES? “Neil Finn [Crowded House], and I love Damon Gough [Badly Drawn Boy] and Damon Albarn. Glen Tillbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze, and also Paul
McCartney. I love the Beatles-y interpretation of someone like Neil Finn. You know, that lyrical intelligence and the beautiful melodies. I love it when you can hear how somebody else has been inspired by the same music you have been inspired by, like The Beatles, but they’ve taken it down a different road.”
WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WHEN WRITING SONGS? “If you can ﬁnd that sweet spot where you feel conﬁdent and can let your mind go, that’s when writing gets really good. It’s all in there, in you. It’s what you’re soaking up and putting out; what you unlock and when you unlock it. It’s about not being afraid to make a tit of yourself. Some of the greatest songwriters I’ve worked with are the people who are the most bolshy, bounding around and not really paying attention to things. “I wrote a fair bit with Andrew Wyatt. Me, him and Mark Ronson had a band for a short while and were writing a lot. Andrew fascinated me. He was almost like this big oaf, just knocking people over, then he’d play a s**t guitar solo and fall on his back because he was so into it, but every so often genius came out. In amongst all this buffoonery, he knew exactly what he was doing.”
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PRO SONGWRITING TIPS NOEL GALLAGHER
The High Flying Birds leader talks pottery and writing
The eternal quest for keeping your songwriting fresh
Why elaborate demos could kill your songs in the studio
Have your songwriting habits changed much
Has the way that you write songs changed over
How do you write? Is there a speciﬁc process
on your new High Flying Birds album Chasing
the last few years?
involved or not?
Yesterday? Did any songs start with loops,
“Yeah, it has. I’m trying to improve what I do, I’m
“Usually, the best stuff that I write is when a feeling
trying not to repeat myself, and there are lots of types
comes over me. You know, when you just look out
“No, never. It’s all me sitting with a guitar, watching
of song. You’ve got ballads and upbeat songs, there
the window late at night? Your mind is searching for
TV with the sound down. It’s like pottery or crafting,
are shufﬂes and fast songs… If I hear something
things. You want answers. It’s like that. I just play my
you know what I mean? You get a shape and then
that’s in a stylistic mode I haven’t tried myself, my
guitar and hum a melody, and if something happens
you make it better. You put some more water in and
ﬁrst thought is, ‘I wonder if I could jam something
I’ll get a rough structure together, some chords, and
make it better and better until you can say, ‘Right,
into that approach?’ It keeps things fresh.”
I’ll let my subconscious ramble out lyrics.”
that’s ﬁnished. Let’s do another one.’” Your two solo albums have been more grooveand rhythm-based, with a broader scope than what you did with Oasis. Some fans might long for those days, though. Do you worry about that?
“Before I start to record I’ll do acoustic demos. I listen to them for quite a while before I actually commit to going in and recording the songs properly” Noel Gallagher
“Before I start the record, I’ll do acoustic demos. I listen to them for quite a while before I actually
Do you have a songwriting method?
Do you make elaborate demos? And what gear
commit to going in and recording the songs
“I don’t really. Sometimes lyrics comes ﬁrst,
do you work with?
properly. I listen to them in all sorts of different
sometimes music comes ﬁrst, sometimes it’s slow,
“I used to do elaborate demos, but I found that it got
guises: when I’m on a train, a plane, with
sometimes it’s fast, but my favourite moments are
in the way with trying to imagine it in the studio. You
headphones, in the bedroom, in the shower. I listen
when something comes quickly. I really feel like if
get that ‘demo-itis’ thing where you can’t get past
to them all over the f**king place. By the time I get
you’re running on pure instinct and gut, you’re
the demo. Now I keep everything really simple:
in to record them, I’ve got a fair idea of what I want
writing something good. If the song just kind of
acoustic guitar, a vocal, maybe some keys and bass.
to do with them. I’ve never really second-guessed
tumbles out, that’s way better than something
That’s the thing I try to do – write it and put it down
anything, because you can’t make records for your
you spend six months agonising over chord
in a simple way without all the production.
fans. You can’t do that. My fans would want 12
“Depending upon who I’m working with, I’ve been
versions of Wonderwall!”
using Pro Tools and Logic. I just try to get it in the pocket. On my second album, a lot of the demos got
Some people talk about guitars ‘having a lot
screwed over, the songs got missed, because the
of songs in them’, where they are especially
demos were either too produced or the sounds
inspiring for writing. Do you have a go-to
acoustic for songwriting?
James Morrison keeps his demos clear and simple
“No, I go for the other approach: I will have a guitar in my house for two years, but then I’ll think, ‘That’s all used up now.’ Then I’ll send it back to my lock-up and I’ll just pick another one at random. I’ll take it home, tune it up, clean it up. I think all guitars have got songs in them.
kind of dried up, so I’ll put that back in the lock-up and I’ll dig another one out to see if something comes from it.”
Frank Turner strives to keep his songs fresh stylistically
“Sometimes I’ll want to have an acoustic at home for years. For the last couple of years it’s been this
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 11
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GUITAR RIFF WRITING 101 Learn the basic scales and chords to help you write great riffs today with these handy exercises. Plus, get writing advice from rock and metal’s most proliﬁc riff writers! iffs are the backbone of rock. Whether they last for just a single bar, like Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses, or they hold on for two bars or more, like Song 2 by Blur, riffs are powerful. In order to get your riff-writing juices ﬂowing, you’ll need to do some groundwork ﬁrst. In this feature you will learn the basic scales and chords for constructing your own riffs, and how to develop short riffs into longer musical ideas. We’ll also bring in the likes of Joe Perry, Mark Morton and Tom Morello to talk about how they’ve
written some of rock and metal’s most memorable riffs.
STEP ONE: NAIL THE MINOR PENTATONIC SCALE THIS IS one of the most popular scales to
create riffs with. Example one shows two patterns of the E minor pentatonic scale – the ﬁrst pattern of the scale is the most common so learn it off by heart. While the second scale pattern is less common, it’s used a lot in rock and metal music and you can develop it right up to the top end of the fretboard to create more dynamic riffs. This means you will have more
scope for using bends, slides and vibrato – elements that add extra character to your riffs. Example two shows a riff that uses the second pattern of the E minor pentatonic scale. On your ﬁrst go, play the riff without the slides or vibrato. Now add them into the riff and you’ll be able to hear how much these techniques add to a riff’s effectiveness. Another common device, particularly used in blues, is to take a riff and move the fretboard pattern to another starting note. Example three shows a minor pentatonic riff that moves to follow an eight-bar blues pattern.
EXAMPLE ONE E MINOR PENTATONIC SCALE IN TWO POSITIONS
Play through the two positions of the scale to get used to its different sounds, but experiment with your own riffs. You can play the notes in any order you choose.
EXAMPLE TWO ONE-BAR RIFF
Play the ﬁrst note with your ﬁrst ﬁnger and slide into the third note with your third ﬁnger. Don’t pay too much attention to the slide from the ﬁnal note, as this will happen naturally when you move to start the riff again. 12 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
Play the ﬁrst note with your ﬁrst ﬁnger and slide into the third note with your third ﬁnger. Don’t pay too much attention to the slide from the ﬁnal note, as this will happen naturally when you move to start the riff again.
STEP TWO: ADD POWERCHORD COMBOS POWERCHORDS ARE an essential tool for riff
writing. Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi has relied heavily on the humble powerchord
throughout his career, as has Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. Example four shows you all the powerchords in the key of E minor. Example ﬁve is an E minor
powerchord riff to show you how you might use them. Try writing your own riffs using different combinations of these chords and trying different rhythms.
EXAMPLE FOUR POWERCHORDS IN E MINOR
This example maps out all the powerchord options on the ﬁfth and sixth strings. It’s a good idea to start with an E5 chord, and from there you can use whichever chords you think sound good.
EXAMPLE FIVE E MINOR POWERCHORD RIFF
This two-bar riff is fairly easy to play, but mute the guitar with your picking hand after each of the powerchords to keep the sound tight and clean. These silences are indicated with rest symbols in the notation. EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 13
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com SONGWRITING | GUITAR RIFF WRITING 101 STEP THREE: EXPERIMENT WITH STRUCTURE ONE OF the most popular types of riff is the
‘3+1’. The 3+1 is often associated with Metallica and has been emulated by
other bands including Killswitch Engage and Avenged Sevenfold. A one-bar riff is repeated three times, then the fourth bar is a new phrase that rounds off the riff ready for a repeat. The
ﬁnest example of this type of riff is Metallica’s Enter Sandman. Try using combinations of examples one and four to create your own 3+1 riffs, as we have done in example six.
EXAMPLE SIX E MINOR 3+1 RIFF
Bar one is repeated three times and then in bar four there’s a variation on the theme, rounding off the riff. Play the opening note in bar one with your second ﬁnger so that you can reach down to the second fret with your ﬁrst ﬁnger.
RIFF WRITING MASTERCLASS Ready to write your ﬁrst guitar or bass riff? Heed some ﬁnal words of wisdom from Joe Bonamassa, Mark Morton, Joe Perry and more before you do
MARK MORTON, LAMB OF GOD
WES BORLAND, LIMP BIZKIT
Maiden or something else. If you leave your mind
“Riffs just pop into my head. Religious people say
open, it just seeps in.”
that music comes from a higher power, but I’m an pop into their head and other people hear melodies.
TOM MORELLO, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
The key is to get to some kind of recording device
“My inﬂuences come from bands like Led Zeppelin,
before it’s gone. I love my iPhone because I can hum
Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. The thing about
a riff into it and listen to it later.
Zeppelin and Sabbath is that there’s a great rolling
atheist so I believe that some people have images
“Expose yourselves to as many riffs as you can. I’m constantly exposing myself to new kinds of music and trying not to get into an incestuous
groove to their heaviest riffs, and that’s something I’ve incorporated in my right hand. “One of my mottos is, ‘If you can’t play a riff on
“Sometimes the simple stuff hits harder. That’s the
listening process where I’m only listening to music
just the ﬁrst and second dots, it’s probably not
big difference between me and Willie [Adler, LoG
that sounds like [the music] I want to create. Try not
worth playing’. What makes a riff come to life is
second guitarist]. When he writes riffs he likes them
to have a ﬁlter either – just take the best of
not just the selection of notes but the ghost notes
to be really challenging, fast and tricky. I don’t think
everything you’ve heard and mix it together.”
between them and the elasticity of the right rhythm-
I’m necessarily from that school. For me, I’d rather a riff make my head bop. I can pull off some tricky
stuff, too, but for me it’s more about the groove.”
“A great riff is something that hits you right away. Just Got Paid by ZZ Top is a fantastic riff,
hand guitar playing. Name a great riff writer, whether it’s Eddie Van Halen or Tony Iommi, and it’s all in their right hand.”
JOE PERRY, AEROSMITH
as is Heartbreaker by Led Zeppelin. You don’t
PHIL COLLEN, DEF LEPPARD
“For me [when writing riffs], a lot of it is picking up a
know anything about the song yet but the riff
“A riff has to be memorable but you have to keep
different guitar. Try and play heavy metal on an
pulls you in. It gives you a sense of anticipation
out of the way of the vocal. Guitar parts have to
acoustic guitar, attack things from a totally different
of what’s to come.
be either rhythmic or melodic. If a riff is too
way, and that tends to inspire some different
“[When riff writing] you have to listen to a lot of
complicated, or it’s in some weird time signature,
sounds or a rhythm. A lot of it comes from the
music. I listen to everything from John Legend to
90 per cent of your audience are going to turn off.
rhythm of things ﬁrst. If a riff doesn’t make your
metal. I ﬁnd little bits and pieces that inspire me
Also, a great riff has to be played right. You have to
hips move, I haven’t got much use for it.”
from lots of different music, whether that be Iron
give it some stick. You’ve got to mean it.”
14 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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Get tutorial files online at vault.computermusic.co.uk Register this book as issue 33
If you’re a songwriter without a drummer that needn’t prevent you from programming your own totally convincing ‘live’ drum tracks to complement your songs any computer musicians seem to shy away from programming their own acoustic (as opposed to electronic) drum tracks, understandably concerned that since they don’t know how to play a real drum kit, any attempt to create a performance on a virtual one will fall short in terms of technicality and sound. Others go in the opposite direction, naively and overconﬁdently penning beats that at best would require ﬁve or six limbs to actually play, and at worst come across as mad and unconvincing, even to the untrained ear. The fact is that programming realistic, groovy drum parts is well within any desktop producer’s abilities. All you need is a MIDI sequencer, a quality sound source and some insight into the rules, limitations and standard practices that real drummers work to and within. But is
16 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
it really worth the effort? Why can’t you just use sampled loops of real drummers playing real drums to create your percussion parts? While the above is always a wholly viable option, the results will be qualitatively different to what you’d get from building your own parts. You would have to choose a loop based on its particular production and rhythmic qualities, and you’d have a very ﬁnite level of control over them. Program your own drums, though, and you have total command over every element of the ‘performance’ – from the notes themselves to the sounds of the individual drums and cymbals. So, if you really want to take full ownership of your beats, building them yourself from the ground up is the way to go.
SAME DIFFERENCE IF YOU’VE programmed electronic beats
before, you’ll be glad to hear that the
rhythmic paradigm that governs dance music and electronica is equally dominant in pop, rock and most other genres in which you’d ﬁnd a live drummer. It’s that fabulous 4/4 backbeat, with the kick drum emphasising the ﬁrst and third beats (either directly or by implication), and the snare on the second and fourth, embellished by incidental grace notes and ﬁlls. The vast majority of modern music adheres to this straightforward structure, which is good news for programmers looking to emulate the real thing. What’s more, knowing how drummers play their drums isn’t just useful for programming live-sounding parts: even your drum machine patterns will beneﬁt from a true understanding of what the human ear has semi-consciously come to expect from contemporary percussion elements. With all that in mind, then, it’s time to take a drum lesson…
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DRUMMING 101 THE DRUM kit comprises a kick drum, a snare drum and a pair of hi-hats, plus a variable number of tom toms and cymbals. Most of the action takes place on the kick, snare and hats, while the toms and cymbals are used for accenting and ﬁlls. Most tracks will see the drummer spend the vast majority of their time playing a groove, which, generally speaking, involves nailing the backbeat on the kick and snare, and tapping out a metronomic eighth-note ‘tick’ on the hi-hats (known as ‘riding’). Assuming the drummer is right-handed, the right foot plays the kick drum, while the left foot controls the hi-hat. The top hi-hat cymbal is struck with the right hand (crossing over the left), while the left hand hits the snare. Try it now on a desk or your thighs: tap out eight evenly-spaced hits with your right hand, simultaneously tapping your right foot on hits 1 and 5 and your left hand on hits 3 and 7. Don’t worry about the left foot – just repeat ad nauseam. Congratulations – you’re drumming!
FEELING THE GROOVE THOSE ARE the fundamentals, but of course there’s considerably more to it than that. Rather than consciously calculating the
placement of kick, snare and hi-hat notes while playing, the trained drummer ‘feels’ where they should go. He or she places them in the context of the rest of the track, in which – never forget – the drums play an underpinning, supporting role. This isn’t something you need to master in order to program realistic drums, but you do need to understand the forms that these intuitive patterns might take beyond the elementary ‘kick, snare, kick, snare’. Generally speaking, the kick drum should work in tandem with the bassline,
“No drummer can hit more than two drums with their sticks at any one time” so try placing kick hits directly on top of your main bass notes. Most of the time the snare will fall on beats 2 and 4, but shifting one forwards or backwards by half a beat can utterly transform a groove. Other variants are the half-time groove (à la dubstep), with the kick falling on beat 1 and the snare on beat 3. There’s the disco-style hi-hat pattern, too: you play 16th-notes with both hands, with the right hand moving to the snare for the backbeat. There are plenty more
variations too. Download the tutorial ﬁles to check out an example. Although it should go without saying, we’ll say it anyway: no drummer can hit more than two drums with their sticks at any one time. Just like us, they only have two arms! So, if you’ve programmed a snare, a tom and a hi-hat hit on the same beat, realism has left the building.
LITTLE EXTRAS A COUPLE of drum kit variables worth bearing in mind are the ride cymbal and double-kick drums. The ride cymbal is an alternative to the hi-hats. In pop and rock, it’s traditionally used in choruses and middle eights, where the energy of the track needs to increase a touch. In jazz, it replaces the hats as the primary riding instrument – but jazz drumming is a whole other kettle of ﬁsh that we don’t have space to get into here. Another time maybe… Double-kick drums are found almost exclusively in the realm of heavy metal, where they’re the bedrock for blisteringly fast double-time grooves and ﬁlls. Feel free to use them where appropriate, but be aware that they can quickly overpower a track, and that the average drummer in the real world can’t easily pedal the hi-hat and play that second kick drum at the same time.
STEP BY STEP LAYING DOWN A BASIC GROOVE
This is about as simple as a drum kit part gets: kick drum on beats 1 and 3, snare on 2 and 4, and
Upping the complexity a bit, we draw in another kick drum note leading into the second half of
Displacing the ﬁrst snare hit makes the groove become something else altogether. At the
hi-hats riding on every eighth-note. If this was this
the bar. Listen to the audio ﬁle to hear what a big
moment our drum part is authentic in that it doesn’t
the chorus of our track, we might consider moving
difference this seemingly minor change makes to
make any unreasonable demands on our ‘drummer’,
the hi-hat part to the ride cymbal (Basic Groove
the groove – although you still wouldn’t call it a
but it’s way too rigid and programmed-sounding to
complicated pattern (Basic Groove 2.mid/wav).
pass for the real thing (Basic Groove 3.mid/wav).
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 17
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DYNAMICS & TIMING AS YOU’LL have no doubt noticed, our drum
part so far, while making sense in terms of playability and pattern, still sounds totally mechanical and unrealistic. This is because we drew all the notes in by hand, snapped perfectly to the grid and at a constant, ﬁxed velocity level. The best way to remedy this problem is to play the part in live using a MIDI keyboard or drum pads. It does require a modicum of skill and the ability to ‘feel’ the groove rather than just rigidly bash it out, but you don’t have to play the whole thing at once. Set up a record cycle and play each element in separately as the track loops round – hats, then kick, then snare, for example. The result will be a MIDI part with naturally varying velocities
and subtle timing ﬂuctuations from beat to beat (and they do need to be subtle – if anything sounds noticeably out of time, move it closer to the grid). If you can’t or don’t want to play your part in live, draw the notes in with snap turned off, aiming for the grid lines. When you’re done entering the part, manually tweak your velocity levels or use a MIDI plug-in to introduce a touch of randomisation/humanisation.
KEEP IT BELIEVABLE VARYING VELOCITIES and timing is the best way to make your parts sound realistic, then, but don’t go too mad! Keep your velocities within a relatively narrow range – a drummer will strive to be as consistent as possible, so obvious leaps in volume from hit to hit will sound wrong.
For hi-hat and ride cymbal patterns, the drummer will play the notes that fall on the beat harder than those falling in between (or vice-versa, if they’re looking to accent the off-beat). Of course, it’s not enough to trigger just the one sample per drum at varying velocities – you need a properly multisampled drum kit, so that lowvelocity hits trigger samples of drums played gently, while high-velocity hits ﬁre off full-strength recordings. Your DAW most likely has a decent multisampled kit built in, and there are several ﬁne third-party solutions: Toontrack’s EZdrummer 2 and Superior Drummer2, XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums 2, NI’s Battery 4, FXpansion’s BFD series, and Studio Drummer are among the best available.
STEP BY STEP GETTING REAL WITH TIMING AND DYNAMICS
Our drum part is currently triggering one of Ableton Live’s bundled drum kits, which only
We’ll load up our groove from the previous walkthrough in a moment, but ﬁrst, here (and in
Let’s go back to our rigid, manually programmed part. The ﬁrst thing we need to
comprises three layers of samples – not enough
the MIDI ﬁle in the Tutorial ﬁles folder) is our attempt
do is inject some human feel into our groove by
for a truly convincing performance. We switch to
to play the same part in on a keyboard. Note the
deactivating snap and moving the hits slightly ‘off
Native Instruments’ Battery 3, calling up the 24-layer
natural variations in timing and velocity. That would
the grid’, emulating the subtle, intrinsic variations
TightKit patch, which will massively increase the
be the whole job done were this not a tutorial on
in timing you get with a real drummer. (Groove
realism (TightKit Groove.wav).
manual programming (Live Groove.mid/wav).
Dynamics next, and we repeat Step 3 but for velocity rather than timing. Again, our
Shifting the hits to emulate the push or pull of a real drummer changes the feel of the whole
Alternatively, we can give our tune a more driving vibe by pushing the drums ahead of the
adjustments are small – we want our snare drum
track. We load up a couple of loops, then apply 12ms
beat – dialling in -30ms of track Delay increases the
hits to range from loud to slightly less loud. We
of track Delay to the drums to pull them slightly
momentum nicely. Generally speaking, you can push
also want to make our off-beat hi-hats consistently
behind the beat. We also move the kick hits to sit ‘in
your drums further than you can pull them before
quieter than the on-beat ones, as per the drumming
the pocket’ with the bassline (Groove Track Straight.
things just start to sound out of time (Groove Track
norm (Groove Timing and Velocity.mid/wav).
wav, Groove Track 12ms Pull.wav.)
Straight.wav, Groove Track -30ms Push.wav).
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‘live’ so far, but there’s still more to do if we’re to make our drums sound like they’re being played by a real drummer with a real drummer’s brain. To bring syncopation and a feeling of forward motion to the groove, we need to employ ghost notes. These are very quiet incidental snare hits, funkily ﬁlling the spaces between hi-hat strokes. They can take the form of single hits or gentle presses. Applying ghost notes is an automatic, almost unconscious process for the experienced drummer, who will play them pretty much constantly. For the programmer who takes the time to
draw or play them in, the sonic results will always be well worth the effort. The snare drum is also used for accenting, with strategically placed full-strength hits adding character to the groove and/or emphasising other track elements. Open hat strokes (whereby the left foot releases the hi-hat pedal, moving the two cymbals apart) serve a similar purpose, being deployed to lead into a bar or phrase, or doubled with a snare hit to add bite and a burst of splashy sustain.
FUNDAMENTAL FILLS EVERY EIGHT or 16 bars, the drummer might throw in a ﬁll, bringing the toms and crash cymbals into play. A ﬁll is a roll around the toms, a series of enthusiastic snare hits or any other free-ﬂowing deviation from the groove, usually
concluding with a cymbal crash (which is always accompanied by a kick or snare). It’s designed to lead into the beginning of the following bar, which will serve a purpose in terms of phrasing – introducing a chorus or key change, say. Fills can be simple but effective or complex and impressive, but all the usual programming rules apply: turn the snap off; vary the velocities, bearing in mind that the ﬁrst hit in a series of strokes on one drum will naturally be played harder than those that follow; and don’t ever trigger more than two things at once. If you can, alternating between separate left- and right-hand samples can only boost the realism. Finally, ﬁlls don’t have to be full-on, so exercise some restraint in your ﬁll programming endeavours.
STEP BY STEP ADDING GHOST NOTES, ACCENTS AND FILLS
Ghost notes add movement and syncopation to any groove. We draw in some very low-velocity
Many drummers will play ghost notes on the snare drum between most of their hi-hat hits
The only thing a real drummer would take issue with in our groove now is the lack of hi-hat
snare presses and single hits between certain hi-hat
almost semi-consciously, so we add a few more for
variation. To remedy this, we place open hi-hats at
hits. To make the presses sound convincing, like a
good measure. These really enhance the ﬂow and
the end of the ﬁrst bar of our two-bar phrase and
real drummer would play them, the ﬁrst hit needs
energy of the groove, and our drum part is now full of
on top of the last snare. These are choked by the
to be a bit louder than the following ones (Ghost
movement and sounding pretty darn funky (Ghost
following closed hi-hat hit – most virtual drum kits
include this feature. (Open Hats.mid/wav).
For accenting and elaborating on the backbeat, extra full-strength snare hits are called for.
Fills are used to mark the ends of phrases and lead into verses, choruses, middle eights, etc.
This is the sort of thing a skilled drummer would actually play as a ﬁll! We include a variety
These can be placed on or off the beat, depending
Our ﬁrst example is incredibly simple – 16th-notes
of snare articulations, different samples for left- and
on whether you’re aiming for syncopation or ‘beat
round the toms, with a cymbal smash at the end.
right-hand strokes and a set of classic Bernard
reinforcement’. We go for syncopation here, with
We show you this for demonstration purposes only
Purdie-style hi-hat kicks (at maximum velocity).
a big on-beat accent at the end of the phrase
– don’t ever use it unless you’re speciﬁcally going for
We’ve drawn everything in by hand, with snap off
triggering a rimshot sample (Accents.midi/wav).
a naive, amateurish feel (Fills 1.mid/wav).
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YOUR STUDIO his is where things get real! You’re about to take the plunge into serious home recording, and for that you’re going to need a dedicated space within which to record (and polish) your music. In this section we’re going to show you how to turn your home into a prostandard studio, complete with control room. We’ll be dishing out expert tips on everything from creating the right acoustic environment to earthing your room correctly, and revealing the optimum speaker and listening positions within your chosen space. We’ve also got advice on affordable studio construction and getting the best acoustics. Before you know it, you’ll be living in the studio – literally.
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HOW TO BUILD A HOME STUDIO We show you how to turn your humble abode into a recording studio, complete with control room t’s never been easier to whip up great-sounding tracks, particularly if you’re into electronic or heavily sample-based music. Every DAW on the market today ships with an extensive collection of ready-made loops, hits, pads and riffs, bundled synths and samplers. And then, when
you’re happy with your mix, there are plenty of truly incredible plugin effects available that can give you a loud, shiny master, sometimes using just one knob. If you’re an electric guitar or bass player looking to put tracks together in your more rockin’ genre of choice, though, you’re probably more interested
in capturing the feeling you get from your treasured collection of amps and pedals being played for real. Things are even more complicated for drummers, acoustic instrumentalists and singers. In short, if you’re an instrumentalist and you’re looking to really capitalise on your talents and training in the production of
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 21
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com YOUR STUDIO | HOW TO BUILD A HOME STUDIO your own tracks then there’s no avoiding the terrifying world of sound engineering. You know… with microphones. There was a time when you had to go to a studio to record – and at great expense, too – but now we have the option of doing it all ourselves. Since you’ve bought the Expert Home Recording Handbook, you’ll probably have some kind of home set-up already in place, and will have picked up a few tricks for getting the best out of it. Today, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to microphones, audio interfaces and speakers; we have powerful computers to run the show; and we can get hold of reasonably priced software to address almost any production issues that might arise. Nonetheless, when we see our favourite recording artists at work on TV or YouTube, we can’t help but yearn to be in one of those super-posh studios. So, what’s so great about studios anyway? It’s just a bunch of rooms with
some gear in them, right? And if we have the gear, why can’t we turn our homes into studios? It’s a given that studios have good mics and preamps, and all manner of extraneous toys to play with, but it’s actually all the other stuff that makes them such wonderful places in which to record. Our ﬁrst attempts at home recording are often disappointing because the sound can be crap – it can feel like there are a never-ending stream of annoying things trying to sabotage the session. Take noise, for example. It’s a problem – both keeping it out and keeping it in. Dirty signals can make recording electric guitars a nightmare. When you set up for a session for the ﬁrst time, you inevitably end up searching for just one more female XLR-to-quarter-inch jack adapter. And why are the guitar signals so weedy, and where did that buzz come from? Don’t even get us started on drummers. Studios, of course, have cupboards full of useful stuff for solving just these
problems, because they’ve been there time and time again.
AUDIO FENG SHUI APART FROM all the peripheral requirements,
the main hurdles in the home studio are the rooms themselves. Good studios are masterpieces of acoustic design, whereas our own rooms contain all kinds of acoustic gremlins that can make it difﬁcult to get a good recording – and even more difﬁcult to hear it properly. Here we’re going to look in detail at the problems you’ll encounter recording at home, and suggest in-depth solutions. Starting with the control room, we’ll show you how to get the optimum monitoring set-up and solve the most common acoustic problems. We’ll debunk myths, reveal trade secrets and show you, step by step, how to make proper acoustic treatments that don’t involve gimmicky software or bits of sponge. Follow our advice and you could be living in your own studio by this time next week.
THE ALL-IMPORTANT CONTROL ROOM IT’S ESSENTIAL to get your control room
right ﬁrst, then sort out your recording rooms. If your monitoring environment is rubbish, how can you expect to make good judgements on the sounds you’re recording in other rooms, let alone try to mix and master it all when it’s recorded? Our quest for good monitoring and great-sounding rooms is thwarted by the unholy trinity of anti-bass, honk and reﬂection. Fortunately there are sonic equivalents of garlic, holy water and silver bullets to help stave off these evil forces, which we’ll show you in the following walkthroughs – and these techniques apply equally to both control rooms and recording spaces.
BASS NODES AND MODES RECTANGULAR ROOMS inevitably suffer from standing waves or ‘modes’. These are a bigger, badder version of what happens when you blow over a bottle and make it resonate, or sing in the shower and ﬁnd a particularly loud note that seems to ﬁll the space. A normal-sized room will have
22 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
X and Y dimensions that are long enough to correspond to long-wavelength bass and sub-bass frequencies (300Hz and below), and being amongst the resonance of these low frequencies results in an inaccurate listening environment and, ultimately, a mix with a bottom end that sounds totally different when played anywhere else.
points where the two different frequencies will meet and interfere with each other, causing exaggerated peaks and troughs, and if your listening position happens to be in one of these places, you’re going to end up with a highly compromised sound – either too much or too little of the modal frequencies. As well as that, loud, high-pressure anti-nodes occur near hard walls, and are often the reason why you might hear more bass on the sofa at the back of the control room than in between the speakers. This all creates a very uneven bass response that in turn causes an unbalanced listening environment.
The bass response is invariably at its weakest at the halfway point of a rectangular room
THE 38% RULE
Imagine you can see two big, luminous sine waves hovering in your room when you play a low bass note on your synth; one lengthways, one widthways. If you move around the room these frequencies will appear to be louder at points where the sine waves are peaking, and quieter where they trough. There will also be
MOST DOMESTIC rooms are rectangular and suffer from these bass issues, but on the other hand, it’s easier to target problems in a predictable room, so you’re actually probably starting from a fairly positive position. The bass response is invariably at its weakest at the halfway point of a rectangular room, so listening at the centre of a square will be disastrous.
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com HOW TO BUILD A HOME STUDIO | YOUR STUDIO Fortunately, we can use the ‘38% rule’ to ﬁnd a position in the room where we’re least likely to encounter bass nodes or interference. This rule says that a point 38% into the length of the room is most likely to offer an interference-free listening position. If you measure 38% in from both ends of your room, then you’ll get two options. Some engineers also do the 38% calculation on the width of the room, which gives four starting positions at which to place the chair. See the walkthrough below for more on this.
TUNE YOUR ROOM FINDING A good listening position can solve
your bass problems, but it may be that the modal frequencies of your room are
just too boomy. This typically happens at around 65Hz and 125Hz. Unfortunately, no amount of foam, egg boxes or mattresses will solve this problem – you will need bass absorbers. A perusal of the websites of manufacturers like Real Traps and RPG will reveal some great and effective products, but they’re often prohibitively expensive. A single 50500Hz low-frequency absorber can cost £300 or more – and you might need six of them! It’s not difﬁcult, time-consuming or prohibitively expensive to make your own versions of all this stuff, though. Lowfrequency absorbers work by vibrating in sympathy with the low frequencies and are mostly constructed from metal and
high-density foam or rubber. From old BBC documents to public patent information from the Fraunhofer Institute, it’s all there if you look. We already have, and here we’ll show you how to make your own dual-function treatment panels using sheet steel, rubber and the amazing MelaTech melamine foam (quite expensive but worth every penny). These will handle both low- and mid-range absorption. You can’t make your own microphones or speakers, but with a couple of hundred quid you can make your own acoustic treatments. Admittedly, you may need the assistance of someone who understands basic DIY, but all of this is doable – we know, because we’ve done it.
STEP BY STEP FIND YOUR LISTENING POSITION
Use a mic and a spectrum analyser to see what an even bass response looks like. With your best
Set the test tone and input level of the mic so the level meters at around -12dB. Insert a spectrum
Freeze the spectrum analyser display. You should see the bass response drop away evenly.
condenser mic a couple of inches away from one of
analyser on the input channel, set it to ‘peak hold’
Typically, the slope begins around 100Hz and drops
your speakers, use your DAW or a synth to send a sine
and slowly sweep the test tone from 500Hz all the
off 10dB by around 60Hz, plummeting nearer 40Hz.
wave test tone at 500Hz to that speaker only. Set up
way down. Give the analyser time to register each
This will vary depending on mic and speakers, but
an input channel for the mic in your DAW and mute it.
frequency, and repeat the sweep two or three times.
we’re looking to see an even slope for comparison.
Now move the mic to your proposed listening position, reset the tone to 500Hz and boost the
Draw a plan of your room and measure out the 38% points. Measure both length and width to
After trying a couple of options, hopefully you will have found the place with the smoothest
mic input so that it still meters -12dB. Insert a second
give four possible options for our new listening
bass response curve. If there are any persistent
spectrum analyser and repeat the sweep procedure.
position. (Of course, some of these points won’t be
humps you’ll need further bass/broadband
Now freeze this second curve and you’ll probably see
practical.) Once you’ve found a likely spot, move the
absorption, but this will be the best listening position
a few lumps and bumps in the journey from 500Hz
mic there and put a speaker where it would be if you
bass-wise, and you should build your control room
down to 20Hz. If the trace matches Step 3, you’re
were monitoring from that position, then repeat the
around it. The next thing is to get your speakers
sorted. If it’s lumpy, ﬁnd a new position.
sweep and measure process.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 23
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SPEAKER POSITIONING BEFORE WE correct the bass, our speakers
should be placed so that the tweeters are at ear level and the woofers are not exactly halfway between the ﬂoor and ceiling. The speakers should form an equilateral triangle with an apex just behind your head. Using the 38% rule is a trade-off between physical symmetry (good for stereo imaging) and bass response (good for tonally balanced mixing), so check how good the ‘phantom centre’ is in your new position by listening to a vocal. It should sit bang in the middle. If your high-frequency
diffusion is up to scratch, you shouldn’t have too many problems. The more solid your speaker stands, the better. Hollow metal stands aren’t great, since they can remove your bottom octave – if yours are hollow, at least ﬁll them with kiln-dried sand. Breeze-blocks are great, but should be wrapped in clingﬁlm and fabric to prevent dust shedding. And don’t use foam speaker pads – speakers work more efﬁciently when they can’t move. Every time the cone moves, the cabinet tries to move as well, so preventing the
cabinet from moving makes the speaker more efﬁcient. Don’t make a bad situation worse by adding ﬂoppy foam into the mix!
CORRECTING BASS RESPONSE MOST SMALL and medium-sized rooms end
up with a couple of problem areas, typically down at 60Hz and a little higher at 150Hz. If we’re going to ﬁx these, it’s time we introduced MelaTech properly. Made by H&H Group in Melton Mowbray, MelaTech is a high-density open-cell melamine foam that boasts powerful and
STEP BY STEP CONTROL ROOM BASS CORRECTION PANELS
First we need a way of mounting our heavy panels on the walls. By using batons rather than ﬁxing everything directly to the wall, we can minimise ‘wall
Drill holes in your 1200x600x2mm steel panels to hang them on the long screws. Push them right back to reduce stress on the screws. Hang sheets of
trauma’, keeping partners, parents or landlords happy. Use captive ﬁxings/T-nuts
rubber of the same size so as to dampen the steel, taking away its reverberation. A
to attach long threaded screws to the batons, then ﬁx the batons to the walls
piece of wood glued to the rubber can prevent curl if necessary. The steel plate now
using rawl plugs and screws.
resonates down in those problem areas, helping to cancel excess bass.
The rubber makes an undesirable reﬂective surface, so use a big piece of 100mm-thick MelaTech to cover it. We’ll now have a bass absorber and a
Here’s the whole dual-purpose treatment panel. Ideally you should have some like this and also some that are double the width (1200x1200x2mm)
broadband mid- and high-frequency absorber in the same place! Glue a drilled
to make sure you’re acting on a wide range of low-end frequencies. These panels
aluminium plate to the MelaTech, as shown. Evo-Stik works well, but be sure you
are ideal on a wall behind the listening position, or to each side in order to ‘take
have good ventilation!
out’ nearby walls. Cover them with fabric and they’ll even look nice!
24 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com HOW TO BUILD A HOME STUDIO | YOUR STUDIO even broadband absorption from 125Hz to 250Hz upwards. Best bought in 100mm-thick panels or big, pre-cut blocks, MelaTech will deal with all your high-frequency reﬂection problems and is going to be a vital component in building our bass treatments. We’ll also be needing some pre-cut 2mm-thick steel plate (which should be easy to obtain from any engineering company), and some 3mm rubber sheeting. These will come together to make panels offering good bass correction, while the MelaTech will help us ﬁx the honk and reﬂection. You can buy purpose-made diffuser panels designed to break up honk and
reﬂection, but these are expensive, and a load of shelves ﬁlled with books and bits and pieces will do just as good a job, if not better. Putting MelaTech on the ceiling and bass absorber panels to the sides, between us and the speakers, will effectively make those walls disappear by ensuring that the high frequencies from the speakers get to our ears free of reﬂection from above and the sides. The downturn in fortunes of big recording studios has made it possible to ﬁnd cheap acoustic treatments on eBay, but watch out – all that thin, bumpy, dark grey foam isn’t really going to do anything. Neither are egg boxes!
Make sure your speakers are solidly mounted on some form of immobile stand if you want them to be properly effective
STEP BY STEP KILL CONTROL ROOM CEILING AND FLOOR REFLECTIONS
More MelaTech, but this time in chunky shapes. Wherever you end up sourcing your open-cell melamine foam, it’s worth buying it ready-cut. A steady hand
Use a plasterboard ﬁxing like this one to screw a circular neodymium magnet to the ceiling. This is by far the easiest way of getting your foam up and down,
and a breadknife will get the job done, but unless your going to cover it, it’s
and if you accidentally knock it with something, it’ll move rather than get holed.
deﬁnitely better to get it pre-shaped. Shapes like this are great for removing
The magnets also enable positional adjustment, of course, so you can easily move
ﬂoor-to-ceiling ﬂutters and tightening the stereo image.
your shapes next door into your ad-hoc vocal booth!
Use 200x100mm aluminium plates as your magnetic ﬁxings. For the best join, use a glue gun and a hot iron on the plate for a minute, and leave to dry
Last but not least, the ﬂooring. If possible, use a thick underlay and wool twist carpet. As well as softening the room, it’ll be very comfy! Add to
overnight. If your ceiling’s high enough, use a long screw on the magnet, making a
that an extra rug underneath the chair and you’ll have pretty much eliminated
200mm gap between the MelaTech and the ceiling. This increases efﬁcacy, as
ﬂoor-to-ceiling problems. The general rule with home rooms is that they’re never
sound hits the MelaTech, goes to the ceiling, then back through the MelaTech.
great acoustically, so the idea is to kill the reﬂections completely.
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NOISE IN THE RECORDING SPACE WITH THE control room sorted, it’s time to consider the recording room. All the treatments discussed for the control room apply equally to the rooms we want to actually make noise in. Let’s be honest: you’re never going to achieve a large, neutral, ambient space in the average home, so unless you have a hall with a minstrel gallery, you need to aim for dry. The issue that usually ﬁrst springs to mind when thinking about making a studio space at home is soundprooﬁng. Unfortunately, unless you’re purposebuilding a control room or live room and you want to spend a fortune and render the space pretty much unusable as a part of your house, there’s very little you can do about this. Double and triple glazing will do a good job of keeping out general noise, but it’s almost impossible to keep 100 percent of noise
out (or in) unless you’re physically isolated from your surroundings. Low frequencies will arrive in your room by physical transmission from outside, and nothing you can stick on your walls will make any difference – you just have to work around it. If you live in a ﬂat or a terraced house, you might want to think twice about attempting to set up anything more than a small control room with some high-quality headphones for your musicians. Sometimes even the physical sound of someone playing a keyboard can be a nuisance to neighbours living below. Windows are often cited as a weak point, and all you can really do is shut them tightly, use thicker glass, or seal them (with mastic, say) if it’s safe to do so. If the window is in a recess, you could try cutting a 100mm-thick MelaTech shape to ﬁt snugly in it, but this will only earn you 1-2dB of reduction at most. Using tightly ﬁtting ﬁre-doors with acoustic seals can also help a bit. Whatever you do, avoid the following totally useless sound isolation treatments – not only because they don’t work, but also because most are ﬁre and/or health hazards: egg boxes, carpet on the walls, furniture foam on the walls, cavity wall insulation, ﬁbreglass insulation panels on the walls, plywood or MDF on the
THANKFULLY WE’VE seen a vast improvement in the quality of noise reduction software. Waves X-Noise and Z-Noise are great for tackling broadband noise like computer cooling fans, while apps like iZotope RX are very useful for dealing with planes, trains, birds, creaking chairs and kicked mic stands. Used with care, they really can help solve incoming noise pollution. If your studio is a one-room affair (ie: just a control room), you’re going to ﬁnd it very difﬁcult to record soft vocals or acoustic instruments in there – especially picked acoustic guitar – without also capturing the sound of your computer’s fans. It’s well worth getting your computer into a different room if you can, or just out into the hall. USB/DVI-over-CAT5 extenders are affordable, and make it easy to ferret that noisy gear away. You can also do a fair bit to quieten your PC. Macs are pretty quiet, by and large, which is fortunate because they can’t easily be tampered with. PCs, on the other hand, are much easier to modify, and if yours is making a racket, it might not be too difﬁcult to replace your stock CPU cooling fans with liquid cooling systems. One of the best is the Zalman Reserator 1 V2, which uses a freestanding, ﬁnned cylindrical aluminium radiator to cool the liquid in the loop, leaving you with a silent computer.
NOISE REDUCTION TACTICS
cab sounds great, but it’s always going to make an
You could always re-amp it later if the sim doesn’t
do it for you.
priority to get hold of a high-quality amp/cab
and metal bands – is a MIDI drum kit (eg, the
There are some awesome bits of software that can
simulation software suite such as Native
Roland TD series) combined with a drum ROMpler
help you side-step many of the traditional noise and
Instruments’ Guitar Rig, IK Multimedia AmpliTube
like FXpansion BFD, perhaps with real cymbals and
loudness problems that are so intrinsic to recording
and the like – if you’re a Logic Pro user you’ve
hi-hats thrown in for good measure. This could get
live musicians, particularly when recording them in
already got some good options in the form of Amp
you a better result than recording a real drum kit –
a home environment. Even in a well-soundproofed
Designer and Bass Amp Designer. This can give
not the easiest of tasks in an average house. This
building you can still hear a band playing, especially
your bassist and guitarist a really great sound,
won’t be so good for soft, more expressive playing,
if they’re working late at night. A drummer hooﬁng
enabling them to perform to the very best of their
but if that’s the vibe you’re going for, a softly played
a kick alongside a hefty bass amp powering a 15"
ability while you capture their performance via DI.
real kit may be a viable option anyway.
The Zalman Reserator 1 V2 replaces your noisy CPU fan with liquid coolant – and it looks pretty good doing it, too
26 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
So, if you don’t have one already, make it a
walls, rubber matting on the ﬂoor, any kind of ‘soundprooﬁng’ paint!
NOISE REDUCTION SOFTWARE AND HARDWARE
Another realistic option – particularly for rock
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The best thing you can do to keep your audio
prone to earth hum as they can’t take advantage of
clean is to use only balanced connections wherever
balanced connections. The walkthrough on this page
When you send a signal from one particular device
possible. Connecting mics to audio interfaces using
shows how this can be dealt with.
to another, it becomes susceptible to all kinds of
XLR-to-mono-jack cables is simply not allowed,
interference that can in turn show up on your track
we’re afraid, and mono jack leads are for connecting
as unwanted buzz, ﬁzz and hiss. The most common
guitars, pedals, amps and unbalanced instrument
To solve earth hum, ‘lift’ or disconnect the earth
sort is earth hum. In a perfect set-up, all your audio
outputs (such as old synths) only. If you’re serious
(ground/pin 1/sleeve). Eg, at the input of an audio
equipment would be grounded at a single, effective
about recording, this is an unbreakable law.
interface. This can be done on an individual cable, on
earth so there would be no current ﬂowing in
For all mics, you must use balanced XLR cables.
conductors and cable shields, so no current
Balanced connections use three wires: ‘hot’, ‘cold’ and
to label wherever you’ve lifted an earth as, while it
introduced into circuits and signals. Your home
‘ground’ (earth). On an XLR, these are pins 2, 3 and 1
may get rid of hum, it could allow also different
probably has reasonable earthing, but earth points
respectively, while on a TRS jack they’re tip, ring and
interference in. Care should be taken with lifting
can be numerous, shared between houses and
sleeve. The cold wire carries no signal, but will pick up
earths on guitars and amps; electrocution is a real
sometimes a good distance away. Installation may
the same interference as the hot wire. When one is
possibility. Use a specialist unit for earth lifting
not be up to ‘broadcast’ standards, and the
electronically phase-reversed, the noise cancels itself
guitars if possible. It’s not the most exciting thing to
distribution of power in your house may be on ‘rings’,
out, leaving a clean signal. Guitars, pedals and amps
blow £200 on, but it’ll make your home recording
which can cause further problems.
are more problematic to connect over distance, and
experience more pleasant – and safe.
a loom or across a section of your patch bay. Be sure
STEP BY STEP GETTING RID OF EARTH HUM
This is the transmit end of a buffered line driver system: a powered unit with a high-impedance instrument input. The ﬁrst step is to plug the guitar
A balanced XLR cable takes a clean, boosted and balanced instrument signal as far as you need it to go in order to reach the ampliﬁer. You can even join
into the input. If the guitarist is in the control room, a DI output can be taken direct
XLR cables together without fear of interference creeping in. This particular
from the transmit box to your DAW for later re-amping or processing through an
system uses its own signal type; you couldn’t plug the other end of this cable
amp sim plugin.
into a microphone input!
This is the receive unit, and it lives at the other end of the house, next to your amp. This particular unit also lets you take two amp feeds from
The Gig Rig Humdinger (£109, www.thegigrig.com) is a simpler and more economic solution for signal cleansing and dual-output operation. If, for
a single signal and drive two amps at the same time without worrying about
example, your guitarist wants to be with the band rather than in the control room,
an earth loop between the two – a feat that can be difﬁcult to achieve at the
the Humdinger enables you to feed and record an amp, and take a second feed for
best of times.
a DI or amp sim at the same time. Boring… but very useful for home recording.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 27
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STEP BY STEP SIX HOME STUDIO CONSTRUCTION TIPS
Empty, closeable cardboard boxes can really help clean up the low-frequency response of a room. They’re just closed volumes of air that will resonate at
A rolled-up, stifﬁsh rug around the kick drum delivers dual beneﬁts. First, it can augment the low resonance and ‘note’ of the drum and help
those key frequencies – the bigger the box, the lower the frequency. This trick is
boost the bottom octave; and secondly, it acts as a physical barrier, so you
often discovered by accident when unpacking new monitors – ever wondered why
can wind some serious top end in on your kick mic without adding high-
they sound worse when you tidy away the packaging?
frequency kit spill.
Domestic walls tend to be painted plasterboard, with a natural sound you could only describe as ‘quacky’. Patio doors/windows are equally unhelpful.
Moongel pads are small, sticky gel rectangles that you can stick to drum heads to reduce unwanted ringing and general ﬂappiness. Most good
Luckily, your home studio already contains just the thing for diminishing these
studios will have some, but a square of jelly from your kitchen cupboard or
unpleasant reﬂections: a duvet. Use cable ties on curtain poles or rails, and try and
local shop (any ﬂavour will do) will be just as effective in helping to get that
get the duvet a few inches away from walls if possible to maximise its effect.
perfect snare sound.
One of the problems with killing the reﬂections of our rooms is that we then can’t get any natural ambience into the recordings we make in them. If
Sometimes, a surprisingly big sound can be made by a small ampliﬁer. 1x12 combos or smaller are great for tucking away in cupboards or under
possible, stick a mic in the bathroom or kitchen – bright and bouncy-sounding
stairs and miking up, so that they don’t bleed into your drum or vocal mics.
rooms – then record your drums or amp in an adjoining room, with the doors
The perfect place is a wardrobe ﬁlled with clothes – good isolation and no nasty
open. Delay this ambient signal by a few milliseconds for extra ‘size’.
28 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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13 TIPS FOR BETTER STUDIO ACOUSTICS LOST IN SCIENCE
However, don’t think of these as a replacement for acoustic treatment – they’re not. They can, however, aid in achieving that “last 5%” of sonic purity in an otherwise well-treated room, or help to make the best of a situation where full-on acoustic treatment is not possible.
AS USUAL, there’s a lot of information
available on the internet. Just remember that acoustics is a science, and as such, there are some very deep and hugely involved texts out there, and a huge number of people who want to come across as being cleverer than you are. Rely on measurement software rather than equations and jargon – you’re building a decent studio, not a stateof-the-art acoustics laboratory!
FABRICATING PANELS FABRIC IS surprisingly expensive and can easily be your biggest expenditure in making sound absorbers. It’s tempting to cheap out here, but bad fabric just looks bad. Ring around local fabric suppliers and see if they have any quality end-ofline stock you can snap up for a bargain.
SEEK THE PROFESSIONALS IF YOU don’t have the time or inclination to build your own traps and panels, check out companies like RealTraps and GIK Acoustics. They’re a friendly bunch who will throw in a consultation to hammer out a treatment plan that works best for your speciﬁc room and budget.
BUILDING BY VIDEOS CHECK OUT YouTube for videos detailing how to build your own bass traps and early reﬂector panels. The concept is quite simple, but if you’re shy with the DIY, then any new angle you can get on how to tackle the challenge will only help.
AVOID FLIMSY FOAM BEWARE OF foam suppliers selling cheap
acoustic foam. There’s no way of verifying if they are up to scratch in terms of performance so it’s usually better to spend a little extra with specialist companies such as Auralex
No half measures – use proper acoustic measurement software rather than improvising a test in your DAW who have a proven track record of delivering the goods.
ACOUSTIC PHILOSOPHY TAKE THIS axiom to heart: “In acoustics, if
something seems intuitive, it’s probably wrong.” Acoustics is a deep and complex topic, not something to be taken on a hunch. There’s a wealth of great resources on the web (eg: gearslutz.com’s Studio Building/Acoustics and johnsayers.com’s Acoustics forum) so don’t be shy to ask questions and make sure to do the necessary background reading.
TAKE MEASUREMENT SERIOUSLY
GET THE SPECS MINERAL WOOL suppliers usually publish the
Sound Absorption Coefﬁcient specs for their brands. These are often found on the manufacturers’ websites and detail how well a given product performs at absorbing energy at various points across the frequency spectrum. Basically, an absorption coefﬁcient is a measure of how much sound is absorbed by the material – between 0 (no sound absorbed) and 1 (complete absorption). You can use sound absorption coefﬁcients to get an idea of whether certain materials are right for certain tasks. They can also tell you what materials you can use together to increase your absorption across the entire frequency spectrum.
PLAYING IT BY EAR
WHEN TAKING room sound measurements, blasting pink noise and looking at the result of the mic input on a spectrum analyser in your DAW is no substitute for proper measurement software. There’s no reason to not do a proper job, when software like REQ Wizard is free.
IF YOU really can’t get your hands on an omni mic to take room measurements, you’ll have to do some educated guesswork. For small rooms (less than 1,500 cubic feet), ‘the more bass traps the better’ is a sensible strategy.
GETTING YOUR MINERALS
THE KEY players in acoustic treatment
YOUR LOCAL builder’s merchant will
often have a wealth of resources on their websites to aid the novice. These guides are aimed at the beginner, so the important take-homes are laid out in an easy to understand manner.
often have killer deals on mineral wool, potentially allowing you to slash your costs by half. Be sure to take them up on their offer for delivery as you’re in for a shock if you think you can ﬁt more than a bale or two in the back of your hatchback.
SOFT SOLUTIONS SOFTWARE-BASED SYSTEMS such as IK
Multimedia’s ARC System 2 can compensate for acoustic deﬁciencies.
Good manufacturers will make their absorption coefﬁcients available online
VERTICAL ADJUSTMENTS IF YOU can afford solid speaker stands
with adjustable height, it will open up, literally, a whole new dimension to experiment with speaker positioning. Just be sure you likewise grab an adjustable chair so you can boost your listening position up or down to align your ears with the tweeters.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 29
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HOME STUDIO GEAR GUIDE hen you’re creating music at such a high level, it’s important to use the best gear you can afford. After all, you’re poring over every other detail – especially if you’re following the in-depth tutorials in this edition of the Home Studio Handbook. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up a raft of pro level instruments, accessories and software for the serious home studio recordist; any of which will go a long way to enhancing your recorded sound. From top of the range mics, headphones and monitors through to electric guitars, basses and drum kits, we have all of your gear needs covered. You might want to hide this bit from your bank manager...
HANDHELD RECORDERS hile handheld recorders are useful for recording ﬂashes of inspiration, they can also be used for more expansive projects, particularly on location. As you work your way up the price brackets, you’ll ﬁnd additional options, from built-in stereo mics to XLR inputs, enabling you to run external
condenser mics for studio-quality sound while on the move. Decide how seriously you’re going to take your handheld recordings before you buy; if you’re just taking down ideas, you won’t need to splash out as much as if you intend to drag and drop handheld audio into your mixes.
BLUE MICROPHONES MIKEY DIGITAL
YAMAHA POCKETRAK PR7
If you love the idea of recording on an iPhone but crave better sound quality, the
Lightweight, this battery-powered stereo recorder features a crossed X/Y
Mikey Digital will sing to your inner perfectionist. Connecting to your iOS device’s
microphone and you can also plug in an external mic. Setting up for recording
30-pin or Lightning dock, it handles loud sounds and has a line input for guitar.
AUDIO INTERFACES f you’re looking to take the next step up in AD/DA conversion, or simply upgrade your existing multi-channel audio interface there is a lot to consider when making new purchase. Are you looking for onboard DSP, or digital I/O expansion? Perhaps
you need a master clock included, or portability might be the main focus? Either way, you are going to want the ﬁnest mic pre’s and converters that your budget will allow. Here’s a small selection of some of the best mid-pro interfaces on offer.
ANTELOPE AUDIO ZEN STUDIO
UNIVERSAL AUDIO APOLLO 8
A portable audio interface with a plethora of analogue and digital connectivity:
The updated Apollo 8 is an 18 x 24 Thunderbolt 2 interface. They were desirable
12 world-class mic pre’s, Antelope Audio’s signature clocking and on-board
before but they’re close to irresistible now, if you’re Mac-based, have the budget
DSP effects delivered through their proprietary zero-latency USB connection.
and want to put UAD effects processing at the heart of your production.
A twin-channel analogue and digital audio interface which hosts UAD’s plugin
About as good as it gets when it comes to compact desktop interfaces. Six
range. Solo or Twin SHARC processor options, with two great-sounding
ins (four analogue), two discreet mic preampliﬁers and two instrument
preamps delivering up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution.
preampliﬁers (Hi-Z, +22dBu). And six outs, with lots of routing ﬂexibility.
APOGEE ENSEMBLE THUNDERBOLT
PRISM SOUND LYRA 2
A stunning sounding interface with ﬂexible I/O, more straightforward
A truly pro quality, small format convertor with ﬂexible monitoring options. Lyra
front-panel control and ultra-low latency recording. Ensemble will particularly
is a 2-in/4-out interface with mic pre’s and eight-channel optical I/O. Incredible
appeal to the guitar-playing producer but it’s got plenty for everyone else too.
conversion quality, outstanding mic amps and excellent control features.
www.prismsound.com EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 35
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STUDIO MONITORS ere we look at the end of the near-ﬁeld monitor market and ask, should you be considering a near/mid-ﬁeld option for your studio set-up? If you’ve the space and budget, then yes – bigger is always better. The clarity, depth and the
broader sound-stage achieved with larger drivers will only make your music better. Detail is key. If you just don’t have the room for the larger enclosures, then there are still smaller options out there that can deliver great results.
MUNRO SONIC EGG 150
Two-way studio monitoring system with separate standalone ampliﬁcation
Active studio monitors with 7" mid-woofer and X-ART ribbon tweeter. One of
system updated to feature a more deﬁned and fuller low-end. These are serious
the best monitors on the market. The mids are accurate and revealing, though
contenders for the best monitors in their price range.
with none of the hi-ﬁ smoothness of their bigger brother the AX8s.
36 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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GENELEC 8330A PACK
KRK ROKIT RP10-3
Allowing adjustments of all aspects of monitor settings and full system control,
The RP10-3s offer high quality three-way monitoring at an incredibly
the pack includes everything you need to calibrate and manage the DSP
competitive price, and they are far more detailed than two-way Rokit
yourself; two monitors, mic, interface correction kit and software.
designs. Featuring a 10" woofer, 4" mid-range driver and 1" tweeter.
DYNAUDIO AIR 12
FOCAL TWIN 6 BE
Master £1,748; Slave £1,455
Rear-ported two-way design built around an 8" woofer and 1.1" soft dome
A three-way active near/midﬁeld studio monitor with beryllium dome tweeter
tweeter. Each driver gets a 200W amp, and peak SPL for a pair is 128dB. Slave
and two 6.5" woofers. These speakers are hard to beat at any price. Exactly
satellites connect to the Master unit via the Ethernet-based TC Link system.
HEADPHONES hrough necessity, convenience or critical listening we all have to use headphones. The trick is to avoid hearing their use in your ﬁnished work. With so many different types of headphone out there, it’s very easy to get bogged down by the
sheer numbers available. Our advice is to try before you buy. You can pick the most impressively-specced cans, but if they are uncomfortable to wear you’re not going to get much use out of them. Choose wisely – here’s a pick of the best.
AKG K812 PRO
AUDIO TECHNICA ATH-M70X
The top-end open back, dynamic, reference studio headphones from AKG.
Audio Technica’s M-range has a new ﬂagship model in the form of the
Large 53mm transducers offer a frequency range up to an impressive 54kHz.
ATH-M70x. These closed-back ’phones feature 45mm drivers and are tuned
The K812s do not disappoint, delivering detailed sound with depth and clarity.
to accurately reproduce an extreme frequency response of 5Hz to 40kHz.
MICROPHONES he microphone is one of the most important links in the recording chain, so you should evaluate your needs and upgrade wisely. Here’s our pick of 12 mid-to-high-end microphones that deserve to be on your shopping list – from versatile ‘all-rounders’ through to more specialist and
high-end options. Note that the prices we’ve quoted are the manufacturers’ retail prices, correct at the time of going to press; some ofﬁcial SRPs may have increased slightly, while many prices from retailers will be lower – we’d highly recommend you sure to shop around!
An industry standard across the globe, the famous ‘57’ is used for all manner of
A cost-effective valve condenser from Australian mic giants Rode. Its cardioid
applications – but its natural home is the guitar amp thanks to its compact
polar pattern and warm, natural tube sound are ideal for capturing high-quality
windscreen, which allows it to get right up close to the grille.
vocals, overheads, drum ambience and acoustic instruments.
SE ELECTRONICS SE5 PAIR £479 A matched pair of condenser mics is a sound investment for the project studio owner who wants to expand their range of recording options. For anything that needs to be recorded in stereo, the sE5 pair is a solid choice for decent sound quality at a reasonable price. This matched pair of small-diaphragm condensers are supplied in a foam-lined aluminium carrying case that holds the two mics, their shock mounts and a mounting bar so that you can ﬁx both mics to the same stand for stereo recording.
SONTRONICS ARIA £899 The Aria replaces Sontronics’ Omega valve condenser, but is a new design and slated primarily as a vocal mic. The Aria was one of our favourite high-end mics of 2014, with its faithful, silky smooth response and the touch of colour courtesy of the ECC83 valve-driven power supply. With acoustic guitar it’s easy to capture a non-boomy sound, and once again the non-hyped sound is great. The smooth response also lends itself to complex sounds such as guitar amp, strings and percussion.
COLES 4038 £920 Known for its use throughout the BBC and broadcast studios around the world, the 4038 is an elegantly classic ribbon condenser that’s another classic on our list. Its rich, dark frequency response won’t give you the excessive brightness that other mics do, but its dusky smoothness captures jazz instruments, drum overheads or ambience with unrivalled class. Plus, the resulting recordings respond exceptionally well to EQ lifts above 10kHz. The 4038 is sturdily built, so you’ll need a solid stand to support it. Also available as a matched pair.
NEUMANN U 87 AI £1, 675 The most revered condenser on the planet is a large dual-diaphragm design, featuring three switchable polar patterns: cardioid, ﬁgure-of-eight and omni. A low frequency attenuator reduces proximity effect, while the 10dB pad switch attenuates the mic’s sensitivity – allowing for levels of up to 127dB SPL. Sonically, the U 87’s luxuriously warm, clear sound and incredible transient response justiﬁes its price tag, excelling at almost all recording applications: lead/backing vocals, acoustic instruments, drum overheads, orchestras and more. If you have the cash to splash on a new condenser, you could do a lot worse than the ultimate studio classic.
TELEFUNKEN ELEKTROAKUSTIK AR-51 £1,522 The AR-51’s tone is classic smooth all-rounder: never sounding exaggerated or scooped, always allowing the reality of the source to come through unmolested. The sheer quality of this condenser makes its hefty price tag seem reasonable considering that it will easily ﬁll that ‘lead vocal’ spot in a mic collection. Transient response is excellent, easily capturing percussive sources realistically across a wide dynamic range, from the subtlest snare ghostings to the most intense ﬂoor tom wallops. Overall, it’s a smooth condenser with great all-round performance that lives up to the Telefunken name.
ROYER SF-12 £2,350 A microphone or two to pick up the general room ambience is vital to add colour and character to the overall sound of your drum kit or ensemble recording. You’ll need a pair to capture in stereo; ribbon mics are popular here, and have a mid-range character that brings the best out in a room. The SF-12 is a high-end stereo ribbon microphone featuring two matched ribbon mics at a 45° axis for the classic Blumlein technique. It’s perfect for any situation where a nuanced stereo performance must be captured: acoustic guitar, drum overheads, jazz or classical instruments.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 43
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STUDIO AMPS hile valves and lower output wattages are your main priority when it comes to home studio amps, a higher budget affords you the luxury of pinpointing exactly the kind of sound you’re after. American-style amps are famed for their shimmering cleans, while Brit heads and combos are
associated with ringing crunch and overdrive tones. Then there are some amps that bridge the gap, delivering the best of both worlds in one package, and some that do away with valves altogether, opting for cutting-edge digital modelling. Here are some of our favourites from across the spectrum.
VICTORY V10 THE BARON
Aside from its stunning looks, Suhr’s ﬁve-watt head offers variable wattage
With a range of 6L6 and EL84 sounds, The Baron is a versatile, toneful beast
down to zero via a built-in attenuator, facilitating silent recording, plus minimal
thanks to its intelligently designed hybrid of hand-wired and PCB construction
noise and tones that range from ‘blackface’-style cleans to all-out high gain.
and solid pine cabinet.
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FRACTAL AXE-FX II XL+
It’s pricey, but Fractal’s modelling super-processor could be all the amp
Much of the Brit amp legend’s output is geared towards the stage, but the
you ever need, with modelling tech that is second to none. Add in the built-in
OR15 keeps the wattage down (as low as seven watts), while still delivering
effects and tone-matching tech, and that price starts to make sense.
the compressed, touch-sensitive crunch for which the company is famed.
PRS ARCHON 25
The smallest of the Archon range, which has found favour with players
This hand-wired head aims to recapture the tones of Marshall’s ’70s ‘Lead and
from camps as diverse as country and metal, this 25-watt combo packs
Bass’ amp, with a 20-watt output that delivers those trademark crunch and
a high-headroom clean channel, and a modern-sounding overdrive.
distortion sounds at relatively low volumes, employing two distinct channels.
www.marshallamps.com EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 45
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STUDIO ELECTRIC GUITARS here are a number of classic electric guitar models that are considered essential for recording – Fender’s Strat and Tele, Gibson’s Les Paul et al – but there’s more to a home studio guitar than just heritage. Adding to your six-stringed arsenal not only changes the sounds you lay down but also affects the way
you play, which could alter the entire direction and dynamic of a track. We’ve rounded up a selection of pro-grade models that offer history, updated specs and new approaches, but they all have great tone and reliability in common. Time to add to that collection!
FENDER CLASSIC SERIES ’60S STRATOCASTER LACQUER
Seven-string guitars can add an extra dimension to your sound in terms of
A decent Strat can be invaluable in the studio. This nitro-ﬁnish model brings
low-end clout, and this Ibanez Premium axe is based on the one that started
some of the vibe and tonal palette of higher-end American Vintage reissues
it all: Steve Vai’s 1990 Universe.
to a more affordable package.
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FENDER AMERICAN VINTAGE ’64 TELECASTER
LTD EC-1000 EVERTUNE
The Telecaster has sweet yet biting single-coil tones that make it an evergreen
As well as a pair of high-output EMG humbuckers, ripe for high-deﬁnition metal
choice for rhythm and lead parts that sing out in the mix. This ’64-spec model
tones, the EC-1000 boasts a cutting-edge EverTune bridge, whose mechanical
evokes a golden era of tone.
system ensures your guitar never goes out of tune – a boon for recording.
GIBSON LES PAUL STANDARD 2015
FRET-KING CORONA 60 FLUENCE EQUIPPED
Radical updates to the Les Paul include the G Force Tuning System and a wider
This Fret-King packs Fishman’s cutting-edge Fluence active single coils, which
neck, but the depth of tone remains consistent with its forebears thanks to a
eliminate single-coil hum, and offer two voices: vintage and a hotter, more
pair of Burstbucker Pro humbuckers, which ape early models’ PAF originals.
muscular sound – both deliver hi-ﬁ tones that are ripe for recording.
www.fret-king.com EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 47
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GIBSON MEMPHIS ES-335 SATIN 2015 £1,899 Gibson has a long history of semi-hollow designs, but the ES-335 is its most popular, used by everyone from late blues man BB King to session legend Larry Carlton. A little sweeter and less rock-focused than a Les Paul, it’s as dependably versatile as Fender’s Telecaster – you could make use of the warmth and punch of its two Burstbucker humbuckers on everything from a slow blues to crunchy indie rock. Aside from the classy satin ﬁnish, this example shoots for vintage accuracy. But when a guitar has contributed to as many milestone recordings as the ES-335, there’s little need to ﬁx what is very far from broken.
GRETSCH G6137TCB PANTHER £2,926 Is there anything cooler-looking than a Gretsch? The trouble is, the all-hollow designs can be a nightmare with any kind of gain and volume. Finally, after ﬁve decades or so, we’ve got what we really want: a centre block to suppress feedback at volume. The big yet deceptively subtle Gretsch tones you’ll get from the Panther’s pair of Filter’Tron humbuckers really do constitute the ‘third’ classic guitar voice of rock, alongside Fender and Gibson tones. As a serious studio tool, this is worthy of consideration. The price is breathtaking, but Gretsch’s lower-tier Electromatic Center-Block models, such as the G5622T-CB, offer a credible alternative. Where do we sign?
PRS S2 CUSTOM 24 £1,375 While new models come and go with alarming frequency at PRS, the Custom, ﬁrst seen in 1985, remains the company’s true classic. The S2 series name refers to a second production line set up within PRS’s Stevensville factory, which was designed to make a more cost-effective PRS guitar. To achieve this, the S2 version features a bevelled edge rather than a fully carved maple top and a three-piece mahogany neck. Hardware is all USA-designed and sourced from either Korea or the USA. Likewise the pickups, which ape the USA models but are made in Korea. The result? A ﬁne, modern-voiced solidbody without the eye-watering price tag.
48 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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STUDIO ACOUSTIC GUITARS nce you get into serious recording territory, you’re going to want to invest in a top quality acoustic guitar. Rather than the quality of the wood – unless otherwise stated, we’re deep into all-solid wood territory here – your concerns will be over which tonewoods to opt for; spruce is brighter than
mahogany, for example. The quality of built-in electro preamps, as featured on some of the models shown here, is improved over cheaper models, too, and you may actually end up preferring the zingier tone – not to mention the convenience – over a mic’d sound.
Featuring Taylor’s own Grand Auditorium body design for a warm, commanding
Featuring a Larrivée-exclusive bracing system to control bass frequencies, the
sound from its Engelmann spruce top and rosewood back and sides, the 14
OM-40 sits perfectly in a mix, owing to a warm yet crisp low-end and rounded
series is a benchmark in the company’s long history of acoustics.
highs from its Sitka spruce top and mahogany sides.
50 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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FAITH PJE SIGNATURE FSGNCLPT LONDON PLANE
Designed by master luthier Patrick James Eggle, the PJE features an unusual
Part of the Japanese brand’s Pro Series, featuring a spruce top, ﬂame maple
London plane wood for its back and sides, and solid Engelmann spruce top. The
back and laminate ﬂame maple sides. Well-built for picking; plugged in, its
combination produces a modern, dynamic voicing with a shimmering top-end.
comprehensive preamp produces a convincing miked-like sound.
Borrowing the grand auditorium body shape from Taylor and tidily constructed,
If money truly is no object, we point you towards this Texas-made dreadnought,
its cedar top and rosewood back and sides deliver crisp highs and an even
whose painstaking attention to detail delivers an articulate sound with deep
mid-range. Its dual-pickup system is ideally suited to percussive players.
bass, which captures the 1930s golden era of acoustics.
www.collingsguitars.com EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 51
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You Were Here and Hotel California to name but two – and the F-512 is a celebrated example. The upper octave and unison string voicings will add an elegant shimmer to any recording. Handmade in the USA, the F-512 is certainly not an impulse purchase. In fact, we’d say that it’s either a totally frivolous, got-to-have-the-best choice for the guitar player who has everything or, conversely, the realisation of the 12-string dream for anyone deadly serious about playing them professionally.
GIBSON ACOUSTIC J-45 STANDARD £1,599 A rich bass and inspiring dynamic response made the J-45 an iconic acoustic workhorse for more legends than you can shake six strings attached to a stick at, from rock’n’roll trailblazer Buddy Holly to modern-day minstrel James Blunt. A great all-rounder for ﬁngerpicking and strumming, it’s hard to get a bad sound out of this round-shouldered dreadnought in the studio. Not content with being stone-cold classic acoustics, Gibson’s latest models also feature quality LR Baggs Element active pickup systems for additional tonal options.
MARTIN D-15M BURST £1,239 By Martin’s standards, this is a fairly affordable model, but everything about the D-15M Burst screams quality, with the focus placed squarely on tone over visual appointments. With an all-mahogany build, it has a rich resonance to its core sound, with a punchy, present mid-range. Admittedly, there’s less complex bass and treble here than the spruce and rosewood combination you’ll ﬁnd on many other acoustics, but the dark yet vibrant tone of an all-mahogany guitar is one that’s well worth experiencing, and the D-15M is a ﬁne example.
52 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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STUDIO BASS GUITARS
hile you won’t ﬁnd as wide a range of classic bass tones as you will guitar, the world of low-end still offers a number of deﬁnitive sounds. All the basses listed in this buyer’s guide offer record-ready tones, but some also deliver useful additional options courtesy of active electronics or
selectable pickups, which can help to hone in on the frequency that sits best in your mix and will mean you have a guitar that can handle a variety of sessions. That said, some of the greatest recorded bass tones in history feature one-pickup basses, so don’t discount the versatility of one good sound!
FENDER AMERICAN VINTAGE ’63 P-BASS
FENDER AMERICAN STANDARD JAZZ BASS
The P-Bass is perhaps the bass guitar, and this American Vintage model gets
If you seek old-school tones, the deﬁned, bright tonality of the Jazz Bass will
incredibly close to Fender’s golden-era instruments, thanks to a ‘63-faithful
get you there. This latest American Standard model is more versatile and
split-coil pickup, which maintains an even output across the strings.
distinctive than ever, making it a ﬁne choice as a do-all recording bass.
54 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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MUSIC MAN CLASSIC STINGRAY 4 BASS
A classic design, thanks to its powerful humbucker, active two-band EQ and
The 4001 was often found in the hands of players as diverse as Paul McCartney,
through-body stringing, increasing variety of tone and sustain. This model
Chris Squire and Lemmy; this model, ﬁrst released in 1981, features the same
replicates original ’70s designs, but its hi-ﬁ tones still sound contemporary.
twin-single coil design and wild output, which yields gritty rock bass sounds.
GIBSON SG STANDARD BASS 2015
WARWICK THUMB BOLT-ON
Based on Gibson’s EB-3 (as played by Jack Bruce and Bill Wyman), with a 30.5"
Warwick’s high-end basses have become favourites among session players,
scale length for an easier playing experience for guitarists. The combination of
owing to rock-solid construction and pro-level tones. The switchable active/
humbucker and mini-humbucker pickups give a distinctive low-end growl.
passive pickup circuit in this ovangkol-bodied bass delivers a wide sonic palette.
www.warwickbass.com EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 55
DRUM KITS f money is no object then you can really go to town on your studio drums in terms of quality, quantity and detail. At this level, shells should be almost perfectly round and made from the very best species of wood. In many cases you will have your pick of depths, diameter and shell construction.
Drums will be built to elicit the best natural tone of the wood, often with minimum-contact hardware and bass drums undrilled to let the shells resonate at their optimum. Tuning will be reliable and, when combined with the right choice of batter and resonant heads, your drums will ‘sing’.
DW COLLECTORS SERIES
MAPEX SATURN V
With its sumptuous ﬁnishes, attention to detail and an awareness of
Building on the already impressive Saturn IV, key features include SONIClear
drummers’ needs, Collectors lets you chose everything from wood type
bearing edges and tom holders for more consistent tuning and better
and grain orientation to ﬁnish and hardware colour. Truly custom drums.
resonance, and short stack toms. As happy on stage as in the studio.
CYMBALS ith a higher budget your options for cymbal voices appropriate to the music you’re recording becomes huge, as does the cost, so choose wisely. Are you looking for warmer, darker tones for jazz, or something brighter or trashier for rock or heavy metal? Regardless, at this end of the
spectrum you will be treated to the very best alloys that are cast rather than pressed or rolled, and labour-intensive, often hand-worked processes that result in more complex, rich and consistent tones. You should deﬁnitely try before you buy at this level as the voice and character will differ per cymbal.
The Swiss manufacturer offers plenty of choice at this pricier end of the
Meinl’s broad Byzance range will offer something to match the sound inside
spectrum, but the CuSn8 Bronze of this classic line has been driving rock
your head. From Extra Dry to Brilliant, via Traditional and Jazz, these cymbals
giants from Led Zeppelin to AC/DC for decades.
use the ﬁnest alloys and state-of-the-art manufacturing processes.
The A Customs are brighter, designed to suit the rockier player. K Customs are
A warm, vintage sound without having to unearth decades-old metals. Master
warmer cymbals more at home in jazz or soft rock. Looking for something in
Vintage are left relatively unlathed, their complex, dark sounds extracted by
between? Why not mix cymbals from both ranges?
expert hand hammering instead. Perfect for singer/songwriter ballads.
SABIAN AAX OR HHX
In the same vein as the Zildjian As and Ks, these two lines represent the lighter
If you’ve spent almost all your budget on drums then you might be outpriced by
and darker ends of the cymbal spectrum. Cymbals are available in natural or
cymbals at this level. For something mid-range but great sounding the
brilliant ﬁnish that adds an extra layer of sparkle to your sound.
consistent quality of the Xists punches through in most modern settings.
www.istanbulcymbals.com EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 59
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BEFORE YOU RECORD he best engineers will tell you that unless your studio space is well-ordered and set up, your recording sessions will be fraught. In fact, there’s a whole world of things for you to consider before hitting record and beginning your journey to creating the perfect track. Not only do you need to get your recording space prepped, but you need to engage your producer’s brain for the work ahead. Over the following pages we’ll show you how to ﬁx up your studio so that it’s ready for action. We’ll advise you on backing up your precious work, and we’ll be delving into subjects such as analogue to digital conversion, clocking, digital formats, the merits of analogue equipment versus digital and more. Time to gen up...
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DIGITAL & ANALOGUE EXPLAINED Making a recording requires a basic understanding of how sound, as air vibrations, becomes ones and noughts inside a machine. Our guide will help keep your analogue and digital signals simple… 62 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com DIGITAL & ANALOGUE EXPLAINED | YOUR STUDIO elcome to the digital world, where bit rates rule and sample rates affect everything. In terms of convenience, digital is a good thing, a very good thing. In terms of sound quality, it’s amazing. Is it better than analogue? We’ll not get into that debate here but the ease in which audio can be chopped around, corrected, duplicated and improved in the digital world makes recording on tape feel positively Stone Age. However, in order to cope in the digital world and get the best from all it has to offer there are fundamental principles we all need to understand. These issues traverse the analogue world into our digital computers and back again, affecting everything we do with our music.
voltage) corresponds to the amplitude of the sound wave. Connect that microphone to an ampliﬁer and speaker and the electrical signal moves the speaker cones generating ﬂuctuations in air pressure; our electrical signal has been converted back into sound waves. In digital audio we represent this electrical signal as a stream of numbers that computers understand, a process known as analogue-to-digital-conversion. An analogue to digital (AD) converter takes a ‘sample’ of the voltage that’s present at its input and represents that as a speciﬁc number; the higher the voltage, the higher the number. The amount of times it takes that sample in a second is known as the ‘sample rate’, and the range of numbers used to represent that voltage is the ‘word-length’ or ‘bit-rate’. In the most general sense, the higher either of these settings are, the better the sound quality.
Be careful. An error of less than a single millisecond could cause the entire system to fall down
WHAT IS DIGITAL AUDIO? SOUND IS a form of longitudinal wave;
peaks and troughs of air pressure that our ears and brains convert into the sensation of hearing. Soundwaves are relatively easy to represent in analogue and digital forms and then convert back, to reproduce accurately whatever sound we ﬁrst captured. A microphone consists of a capsule that moves in response to incoming sound waves, generating an electrical signal whose amplitude (a ﬂuctuating
ANALOGUE TO DIGITAL CONVERSION THE ACCURACY of these AD converters has a big impact on the quality of your digital recordings; professional engineers won’t touch cheap sound cards and with good reason. Many factors can inﬂuence
ARM YOUR PHASERS Audio waves have a positive and a negative side. When a mic’s capsule is pushed away from the front of the mic by a sound pressure wave, this typically generates a positive voltage to the mixing desk. When the capsule is pulled forward by the sound wave, it produces a corresponding negative voltage. It’s these ﬂuctuations from positive to negative, the opposing phases of a sound wave, that represent the original sound wave. Phasing, the alignment of these peaks and troughs, is not an issue when using one mic, but how about if you have two mics on the same instrument? Phase misalignment and cancellation becomes a real headache. When recording a snare, engineers will use a mic facing the drum skin with another underneath to capture the snares. This poses a problem: when the skin is struck, the downward pressure will pull the capsule in the top mic and create a negative voltage, but the mic underneath will have its capsule pushed down and create a positive voltage. Here, the mics are said to be 180° out of phase: combine them in a mixing desk and the positive signal from the top will largely cancel out the negative version of the same signal from the bottom. The snare will sound weedy, weak and ‘wrong’. To counteract this, an engineer must ‘invert the phase’ of one of the mics, reversing its polarity, thus adding to the other mic’s signal where previously it was cancelling it out. A trick that’s sometimes used when tracking vocals in the studio control room is to swap the phase of one of the two monitors and place a mic dead centre between them. The singer can then sing without headphones and with the monitors blasting out the mix. By the time they arrive at the microphone the signals from the monitors largely cancel each other. Being out of phase, there is very little ‘bleed’ into the vocal mic, and the results can be just as good as the singer wearing headphones. Another possibility is with guitar amps. You can create a wide variety of tones by swapping the phase of mics against a single (or multiple) amp. Having the mics in phase tends to create a stronger, full sound. Out of phase, sounds like a static comb ﬁlter and is very useful for delicate sounds.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 63
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Classic analogue gear gives a warm complex sound that digital equivalents are still working hard to recreate their effectiveness. If you’re in the market for a new soundcard or AD converter you should be examining the stability of their clocks (see Clocking), the quality of their preamps, quantization error (see Understanding Dither boxout) and the total harmonic distortion introduced in the process. The preamps in a soundcard increase the level of the incoming signal to
something that’s suitable for both the AD converters and the source material, keeping the signal within an acceptable range of amplitudes (see Headroom). Cheap preamps often introduce noise and unwanted colouration to the conversion process and might not be optimised for microphones, or even line level audio sources. Total harmonic distortion is the amount of distortion the
few things to bear in mind. You will be making four
Which sample rate and bit depth should you use for
recorded at 192KHz will occupy four times as much
your recordings? In the music world the standard
disk space than at 44.1KHz. You’ll be placing a higher
settings are a sample rate of 44.1 KHz with a 24-bit
demand on your system to deliver this data whenever
word length. This is the same sample rate as for CDs
you play your project. Can your hard drive supply
and the bit depth is high enough to capture a huge
data at this higher rate, especially when running a
dynamic range (approximately 144dB). However,
32-track master mix? If not, then you need to run a
engineers with golden ears maintain that there is an
fast solid state drive or a RAID system to keep up.
advantage to recording at higher sample rates, right
DIGITAL TO analogue (DA) converters reverse this process by converting the numbers back to an electrical signal that can be ampliﬁed and replayed through monitors. Once again, the quality of these converters will have
The load on your CPU will be quadrupled too, presenting four times as many samples for the same
to capture frequencies as high as 96KHz, way higher
audio. You’ll need a fast (expensive) computer! It’s
than the 22KHz theoretical highest on CDs.
more likely that you will improve the quality of your recordings by focussing on mic techniques, high
in young children, adults often can’t hear much
quality monitoring, better instruments and better
above 15KHz. Despite an inability to perceive higher
recorded performances than increasing your sample
frequencies directly, the engineers maintain that the
rate above 44.1 KHz. And bear in mind that most
improvement in ﬁdelity is clear. Whether this is a real
people listen to music in compressed formats
improvement on standard settings is debatable, but if
anyway, so there’s a good chance all your supersonic
you decide to super-size your sample rate there are a
info will be discarded before anyone hears it!
64 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
AND BACK AGAIN...
times as many samples per second, so audio
up to 192Khz. These ‘super audio’ settings allow us
Human hearing tends to max out at around 18KHz
process adds to the signal, the lower the THD the better.
That the human ear can still hear the difference in recordings made at sample rates technically far in excess of its range, is a testament to its mystery and marvel. Treat it with respect
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DON’T WANT DIGITAL?
Tape deck quality can vary enormously, mixing desks
IT’S A MYTH TO THINK THAT ANALOGUE SYSTEMS ARE INHERENTLY OF HIGHER QUALITY THAN DIGITAL
SIGNAL LEVELS AND GAIN STRUCTURE ARE VERY IMPORTANT IN ANALOGUE SYSTEMS
Analogue systems tend to have a distinctive ‘sound’
are increasing the ‘noise ﬂoor’ of a mix. Therefore it’s
that may or may not work for you and your music.
important that your audio is recorded at a relatively
This colouration is not necessarily ‘higher ﬁdelity’
high volume (see Headroom).
are a world of their own. Once again it’s not the analogue nature of the equipment that matters but the end results.
With every channel open on an analogue desk you
but subtle distortions introduced by the circuitry. Let your ears be your guide.
AUDITION EQUIPMENT BEFORE BUYING
cleaner is essential. Compressed air canisters are useful for blowing away dust. Cigarette smoke will
In the glory days of analogue studios, an important
harm you and your fragile equipment too, so smoke
role of the assistant engineer was to keep the
outside if you must.
machines in working order. One chore was to
With digital equipment you get a pretty good
regularly ‘degauss’ the tape heads, removing residual
ARCHIVE YOUR WORK CAREFULLY
impression of what the unit will do without opening
magnetism that the deck acquired over the course
Magnetic tape is fragile, so if mixing onto it make
the box. Its speciﬁcations tell you an awful lot,
of the session. Without this routine, the tape deck
sure you store it somewhere dry and free from errant
possibly everything you need. But if you’ve chosen
would quickly become unusable. Consequently, if
magnetic ﬁelds, such as those produced by even the
the analogue route it’s bound to be because you
you’re intending to run an analogue style studio it’s
humble fridge. Err on the safe side; make multiple
prefer the sound; consequently you need to be sure
important that you have a maintenance schedule.
copies of your work, possibly even onto a digital
you actually do like the sound of the equipment.
Clean your equipment regularly; a can of switch
format for the day disaster strikes.
a big impact on what we can hear. Cheaper soundcards tend to be noisy with poor stereo imaging and may not be accurate at either extremes of the frequency range. Usually we’re not looking for a converter that imparts its own sound or ﬁngerprint on the work, but accurately converts the presented analogue signal to numbers and vice versa. Opinions vary wildly as to which converters are best, but it’s widely considered that Apogee soundcards are exceptional, as are Prism. Avid Pro Tools HD rigs are highly respected too. At the other end of the price range, PreSonus’ VSL range produce very good results for the money. The sky’s the limit when it comes to buying converters and soundcards, but the bottom line is that everything you record and everything you hear will be passing through one of these. It’s best to try out a few and bear in mind that in digital audio, as in life, you tend to get what you pay for.
exactly the moment dictated by a clocking signal. If this signal is absent or compromised in some way the result is a ‘clocking error’; either no audio, stuttering, clicking or a piercing degradation to the sound quality. In the digital studio, every unit’s internal clock will be calibrated to the same sample rate, typically 44.1Khz. But no matter how carefully set up, there will always be a slight difference between units. Even if every unit were perfectly accurate there’s no guarantee that they would be exactly ‘in phase’; an error of less than a single millisecond could cause the entire system to fall down. Careful digital clocking solves this problem; a master device generates an accurate clock signal (typically in S/PDIF or AES3 format) and the slave units synchronise to it. The clocking device sets the ‘pace’ of the data, how much of it there should be and exactly when it should arrive; the slaves respond obediently. In a studio with multiple A-D converters, the unit with the most accurate clock should be the master; errors emanating from cheap units
The majority of audiences can’t spot the difference between CD and MP3
CLOCKING DATA IS expected to arrive at every component in a digital audio chain at
introduce ‘jitter’ where the clock signal itself varies in frequency. This phenomenon is unlike what’s referred to as ‘wow’, a slow change that you sometimes hear on mispressed vinyl or tape cassettes, but has more in common with ‘ﬂutter’; high frequency ﬂuctuations that occur when tape is distressed. With jitter the period between samples varies slightly over time; this error creates noise when the digital signal is converted back to audio and can cause problems with stereo imaging too. To avoid this, professional studios use expensive and highly accurate dedicated digital clocks to keep their units synchronised. Apogee’s Big Ben is the current market leader, and retailing at more than £1,000 it’s not cheap. In smaller studios, there’s usually no need to splash out on such items; with only one A-D converter in the set-up, it’s best to set this as your
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 65
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HEADROOM IN THE days of analogue tape, engineers
were trained to record audio at high input levels. This approach had clear beneﬁts: analogue tape has a relatively loud ‘noise ﬂoor’, a background hiss that’s inherent to the medium that can’t be easily removed. The louder the signal onto tape, the lower the hiss becomes relative to the recorded signal. And at high amplitudes an effect called ‘tape saturation’ occurs, a gentle distortion that many engineers and producers enjoy. This is a key component to the perception of ‘warmth’ in analogue recordings. Digital audio is different. The noise ﬂoor of a modern domestic digital recording system is very low (around -120dB) so avoiding hiss is easy. But there is an unavoidable maximum level in every system, referred to as 0dB. If you attempt to record a signal that exceeds this maximum, this information can’t be captured by the AD converters and is rounded off as 0dB. This error is known as ‘clipping’ and manifests itself as unpleasant digital distortion; clicks, splats and a general harshness that’s usually impossible to remove, an effect no one wants on their recordings. Consequently we need to include plenty of ‘headroom’, the difference between the loudest level in a signal and the maximum level the system can capture. If your vocalist reaches -3dB on your input level meters, your headroom is said to be 3dB, the difference between -3dB and 0dB. How much headroom should you leave? In the olden days of 16-bit recording, there were some clear beneﬁts to recording ‘hot’ signals; the lower the signal amplitude the smaller the amount of ‘bits’ available to represent the sound, and thus the lower the dynamic range. This is less of an issue in 24-bit recording systems, where the noise ﬂoor is theoretically up to 48dB lower than at 16-bit. Consequently, you can run all of your equipment at lower levels, avoiding the distortion inherent to amplifying weaker signals and thus have a cleaner and clearer signal path. It’s possible to
66 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
leave headroom of around 18dB and have an extremely high quality recording.
DIGITAL FORMATS THERE ARE two main categories of digital audio ﬁle: PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) such as AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) or WAV (Waveform Audio File), and Data Compressed, such as MP3 or FLAC. With PCM, audio is represented as the raw numbers that the AD converter presents to a recording system, or the numbers the DAW created in its virtual mixer. No further processing is introduced. Both formats have been in use for decades and place very little drain on a computer’s CPU. They are ideal for recording audio as the process of encoding and storing the ﬁle makes no modiﬁcation to the audio data. There is no difference in sound quality between an AIFF and a WAV either, only the way this data is presented within the format. There are a wide range of datacompressed formats, MP3 being the most common. These enable us to store and move audio between devices with much smaller data sizes than PCM ﬁles. Each format is deﬁned by its scheme to reduce the amount of data contained in the ﬁle. This is achieved by either encoding it in a more efﬁcient manner than PCM but retaining the exact amount of detail (known as ‘lossless’), or by
throwing away the data that the system believes we will miss the least (leading to these formats to be known as ‘lossy’). Lossless formats such as FLAC and Apple Lossless do not degrade data. They decode to the same stream of numbers as the original PCM data, in much the same way that ‘zipping’ and ‘unzipping’ data gives you an identical ﬁle. The amount of data reduction in these formats is relatively small, up to about 50 percent – ideal for archiving your audio library. Not so great if you have limited storage space on your phone! MP3 and AAC are lossy formats that uses psychoacoustics to remove data that humans cannot hear. By analysing the incoming audio, the computer follows an algorithm that deﬁnes what should be retained and removed based on a mathematical model of how humans perceive sound. The result is a very good representation of the original audio, but is not the same: there is always a reduction in quality, sometimes drastic. There is a trade off between the amount of data in a lossy audio ﬁle and the ﬁdelity of the result too. The higher the bit rate, the bigger the MP3 or AAC ﬁle, the less audio data has been removed and thus ﬁdelity retained. Lower the bit rate and the resultant audio ﬁles become smaller but with an increasingly detrimental effect on sound quality. Some listeners prefer the
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UNDERSTANDING DITHER Dither is used when we reduce the word-length or bit depth of an audio signal, such as when converting a 24-bit master to a 16-bit audio ﬁle for a CD. This reduction in data implies we have to lose eight bits’ worth of ﬁdelity on the CD, achieved by simply ignoring the least signiﬁcant bits and retaining the larger ones (truncation). Unfortunately this greatly increases the difference between the original audio signal and the resulting data (known as quantization error). The resultant audio ﬁles can sound harsh, reverb tails become ‘grainy’ and there is an increase in the noise ﬂoor. Reduced word lengths sound very apparent in content with a high dynamic range, such as classical music. The issue arises because losing the least signiﬁcant eight bits in a sample introduces a predictable level of quantization error to the data. This predictability is what generates the unwanted distortions; but by adding very low level dither noise, a tiny ‘random’ signal, you remove the problem. The errors become unpredictable, essentially smoothing over the truncation. The result is a marked reduction of distortion and retention of ﬁdelity. Dither should only be applied once, usually as the last stage in the production of a CD. And dithering for lossy formats is not considered necessary as the act of data compression largely
The dynamics of classical music – loud detailed crescendos and slow passages and silences – make it a real problem for digital recording. So much so that purists still swear by their old analogue vinyl recordings
removes the beneﬁt of the process.
sound of AAC over MP3, although the majority of audiences today ﬁnd it difﬁcult to spot the difference between even the source CD and a 128-kbit MP3. Best practice is to retain recordings in PCM or lossless format, and to only use compressed formats when sharing. Should you need to produce a higher quality ﬁle at a later stage, you can always return to your source material safe in the knowledge that all the detail is still there.
MASTERING FOR MP3S MASTERING FOR digital formats is subtly different than mastering for vinyl or cassette reproduction. Cutting to vinyl, the mastering engineer has the physical considerations of the medium to ponder; how much signal can the medium cope with? Are there special EQing processes
to be mindful of, such as Dolby noise reduction? With digital formats, these issues are minor but with a couple of important exceptions; it’s crucial that you do not exceed 0dB with your audio as this will give digital distortion. And exactly
It’s crucial that you do not exceed 0dB as this gives distortion how loud do you want the resulting ﬁle to be? It’s standard to leave headroom of between 0.5-1dB in your mastered audio ﬁle as some older CD players distort at consistently high amplitudes. Also, your metering system may not be 100 percent accurate; leave a small safety margin.
But there’s a more subtle issue to deal with when mastering for lossy formats. As most MP3 and AAC ﬁles are originally ripped from CDs and sound just ﬁne for most listeners, there shouldn’t be a necessity to adjust your mastering to cope with the compressed format. But what about the reproduction medium? MP3s are often played on computer speakers: computer speakers are usually small and tinny, so should we enhance our bass frequencies to adjust for this? Probably not, many computer systems already have a bottom-end boost to cope with their physical limitations, adding more will leave mixes sounding unpleasantly boomy. The consensus in the mastering world is to master relatively ‘ﬂat’, avoiding big EQ changes for MP3s.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 67
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BACK IT UP! If you lost all of your ﬁles tomorrow, would it be a disaster or just a minor inconvenience? It’s time to talk about data back-up ook, we’re your friends, and as your friends, we’ve gathered here to stage an intervention. You see, we’re concerned about your behaviour. Frankly, we’re worried that it may be selfdestructive. We know it’s a difﬁcult subject, but someone has to bring it up. Yes, we’re talking about protecting your data. In all seriousness, what would happen if your computer’s hard drive failed? Where would you stand? Would months – even years – of hard work be ﬂushed down the drain? What about all of your applications? Do you have all of your installation ﬁles stored ofﬂine? Serial numbers and authorisation codes? Loops, sounds, samples? How hard would it be to replace all of that stuff if you had to start fresh with a new hard drive or even a whole new computer? It’s the nightmare scenario for the desktop artist, but it needn’t be that painful. In an ideal world, you could
simply pop in a new drive, ﬁre it up and be ready to begin where you left off. It all depends on the strength of your back-up. Once upon a time, backing up one’s computer involved little more than slipping a ﬂoppy into a disk drive. It was quick and easy. However, modern productions on today’s machines push far more high-quality audio data to and from your drive. Copying gigabytes – maybe even terabytes – out to a back-up medium takes a lot of time, and there’s no denying that it can be a complete pain in the posterior. Still, it must be done, and we want you to do it. Now. Well, maybe after you read the next few pages, where we’ll discuss the various methods of backing up data on your platform of choice. We’ll learn about storage mediums, offsite and online storage options, potential pitfalls and solutions. We’ll even take you step-by-step through some of the preferred procedures of producers just like you.
Your work is important to you and to us. It is, quite literally, the future of music. We want to see it protected.
WHAT AND WHEN? SO WHAT exactly should be included in a
back-up? Ideally, everything. You should be keeping at least one clone of your entire system drive for a start – ie: your operating system and any essential data such as drivers that you need alongside it. This type of back-up needs to be done intermittently. It will allow you to restore your entire system or migrate to a new one if your old machine, system drive or the computer on which it resides is damaged or replaced.
FILE ORGANISATION SOME USERS don’t separate their system
ﬁles from their projects and other documents, but many do, and doing so can be quite convenient. You might keep the two on separate drives or merely
STEP BY STEP BACKING UP IN WINDOWS
If you use Windows, you already have an easy means by which to back up all of your work. Go
It’ll take Windows a few minutes to look at your system, after which you’ll see a window with all
Windows will ask if you want to let it decide what should be backed up, or choose yourself
to your Start menu, select Control Panel, System
of the possible destination drives on which you can
from your libraries and folders. Either way, your
and Security options, then select Back Up Your
back up your data. Windows will recommend the
selections will henceforth be periodically saved to
Computer. Now you can select from among various
drive it thinks is most suitable. Here, we’ve pointed to
the selected drive. If you’ve never created a back-up
options. If you’ve never created a back-up before,
an attached USB hard drive we’ve purchased for this
before, we’d suggest the former. It’s that easy, so why
you’ll choose Set Up Back-Up.
very purpose. Select your drive and click Next.
haven’t you started already? Get backing up!
68 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com BACK IT UP! | SETTING UP separate partitions. You don’t have to – the practice stems from a time when drives were smaller and slower – but it can still help to keep things organised. Copying an entire drive is sometimes known as ‘ghosting’, and there are applications dedicated to making the task easier. If you’ve ever suffered a catastrophic system drive failure without a back-up, you’ll be aware of the hassle of re-downloading, reinstalling and reauthorising all of your applications. We suggest periodically backing up and updating the contents of your plugins folders. Even the free ones. Do you really want to scour the internet or sift through CDs for them again? Ditto for presets, sample packs and loops. As for your commercial software, keep current back-ups of all of the installers and updates. Keep serial numbers and key ﬁles you’ve received from the developer. We keep receipts, account info URLs and passwords for each developer/product, too. You’ll need back-ups of every project you’ve done and every one on which you are currently working.
you to schedule periodic back-ups, though some apps have their own ideas about when they ought to be snapping at your bits. Apple’s Time Machine, for instance, is automatically conﬁgured to keep hourly back-ups for the previous 24 hours, daily back-ups for a month, and weekly back-ups for all previous months. This is not a fool-proof system – it’s really intended as a means by which your whole system can be restored to a previous state, though that does serve essentially the same purpose – up to a point. You see, Time Machine will start deleting the oldest back-ups when your back-up disc gets full. Nevertheless, Apple’s schedule isn’t unrealistic and gives you a pretty good example of a reasonable timetable – though hourly back-ups might be overkill, especially if they’re eating away at your production power.
GET SERIOUS AS A rule, if you’re working in the studio
every day, you should be making a back-up copy of your work every day. You
don’t need to clone your whole system, just keep a back-up of your daily work. If you’re an intermittent studio dabbler, you might be better off making a back-up every week, or even every month. It really depends on your production schedule. We’d recommend making multiple back-ups, on multiple formats, if possible. We also very emphatically suggest that you keep one or two extra copies of your most precious ﬁles offsite – way offsite, if possible. Mail ’em to an out-of-town friend or relative for safe keeping. Disasters can and do strike. We hope they never happen to you, but they have to be considered. What if your home burns to the ground while you’re at work? What if Mother Nature hits your area with some natural catastrophe? What if your production laptop gets lost/stolen? Your latest song will likely be the last thing on your mind, but when you do get back on your feet, you’ll still have a copy available.
MAINSTREAM MEDIA We’ve seen plenty of digital storage options come and go over the years. Remember the Jaz drive? No? Neither does anyone else, yet it was a viable medium in its day and was even built into some of the very ﬁrst standalone hard disk recorders. Introduced in 1995, it was gone by 2002. Why bring it up? To emphasise the transient nature of computer technology; nothing is futureproof. Consider: as of this writing, there is only a single Mac model with a built-in CD/ DVD drive. We’re not going to signal the death knell of the CD/DVD just yet, but it’s clear that the times are, as ever, a-changin’.
BACK-UP TOOLS THERE ARE many ways to go about making a back-up, and we polled a number of musicians to ﬁnd out what methods they preferred. A distressing number of those polled have never made a system-wide back-up but have instead copied their most important ﬁles piecemeal onto an external drive. It’s perfectly reasonable to grab your most essential ﬁles en masse, but the number of people regularly taking more fundamental back-ups regularly is surprisingly small, especially since it’s so easy to do. The aforementioned Time Machine is included in OS X and installed on every Apple computer sold, and Windows users have access to Windows Back-up, at the very least. Third-party options include Macrium Reﬂect (for Windows) and Clonezilla. The free version of Macrium (ﬁnd it at macrium.com/reﬂectfree.aspx) is easy to use and will get the job done. The slightly ﬁddlier Clonezilla (check out clonezilla. org) is a free and open-source solution for Windows, Mac and Linux users. XXClone (good for Windows users) is free for personal and private use and allows you to copy the volume ID to your target drive so that you can boot from it (visit www.xxclone.com/index.htm).
Currently, our hope lies not in the media itself, but in the way it connects to our computers. USB 3.0 is fast and reliable, and there are scads of external storage options available, primarily in the forms of the thumb drive, external hard drives and solid state drives. Prices are plummeting on the latter two, with a couple of terabytes of hard disk storage available for well under a hundred pounds. Apple very much want to provide you with another option in the form of Thunderbolt peripherals. This lightningquick connection protocol hasn’t yet become as ubiquitous as the company would like, but Apple users have the option of Thunderbolt-based drives and drive arrays. Many third-party drives offer compatibility with both USB and Thunderbolt ports. These solutions are ideal for the massive storage needs of desktop music producers and are especially good for backing up your entire system, apps, OS and all. USB thumb or stick drives are likely suitable only for less demanding tasks. You can indeed get one with a full terabyte of storage, but it could set you back nearly a thousand pounds. Still, for intermittent and safety back-ups of your projects and documents, the thumb drive remains an inexpensive, convenient option.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 69
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What do you mean you’re not using Time Machine? It’s right there at the top of your screen! Mac users who prefer not to use OS X’s Disk Utility can make great use of Carbon Copy Cloner. It will make bootable clones, and you can even schedule it to wake or power up your Mac to make a clone at your command (visit www.bombich. com/index.html).
BIT BY BIT SO NOW that we know making occasional
clones of your entire system drive is necessary for the survival of your music and the process is thankfully simple, how about those smaller daily or weekly back-ups? Many of the software options
we’ve listed can run scheduled back-ups, but often you’ll be doing just as our polled musicians do: copying ﬁles and projects one at a time to an external storage disk. This is the method you’ll want to use for ﬁles that get changed or updated a lot: works-in-progress, sample collections, plugin folders and presets. Be aware that most DAWs’ primary ﬁle formats don’t save everything you do. For example, their primary ﬁle format will likely merely point to any audio ﬁles recorded or imported into the project. These are usually kept in a speciﬁc folder, often a sub-folder of the project itself. You
could simply copy the project folder, but that will likely also copy bad takes and unused audio over, too, which will rapidly munch up space. Some DAWs allow you to purge unused audio, so take advantage of that before you back up: Live’s Collect All and Save and Cubase’s Back up Project commands, for example. Furthermore, many DAWs provide a packaged ﬁle format that will roll all audio and pertinent data into a single, selfcontained ﬁle/package – Cakewalk’s BUN ﬁles, for example, or Logic Pro X’s Package ﬁles. However you store your projects, you’ll want to back these up every time you make a major change to one. Make copies and archive them safely when you’ve ﬁnished the project off.
WHAT ELSE? SPEND SOME time examining your work drive. Go through your documents folder; go through your project and application folders; make a checklist of everything you use frequently. Do you swap out lyrics? Do you maintain a growing collection of band photos? Do you make your own videos or do your own cover art? Back ’em up! Ditto for industry contacts and your ever-growing collection of reviews and references. Ask yourself: “What would I do if this speciﬁc data were to vanish today?”
STEP BY STEP ARCHIVING A PROJECT IN CUBASE
Some DAWs like Cubase keep most of a project’s ﬁles in one folder. Archiving a project is as easy
If we know we’re not going to need the unused audio ﬁles, we can cull them from the project
It’ll take a few seconds to complete the process, after which Cubase will tell us that the Pool is
as copying that folder to a storage device, but you’ll
with Media » Remove Unused Media. You’ll get the
ready for archive. Now, let’s go to File » Back up
need to tidy up ﬁrst. Let’s go to Media » Open Pool
option of moving the ﬁles to the Pool’s trash bin or
Project. Choose a destination and select the options
Window. As you can see, our project has dozens of
removing them from the Pool altogether – we do the
you want. Hit OK. Cubase will create a fresh project
audio ﬁles, many of which aren’t actually used –
latter. Next, Media » Prepare Archive. When asked if
folder containing only the used ﬁles, trimmed to save
they’re parts we deleted, or takes we didn’t use.
we wish to make our edits permanent, we say OK.
space. You can back up this new folder as usual.
70 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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STEP BY STEP BACKING UP TO THE CLOUD CLOUD, AT LAST Let’s get something straight: cloud-based storage is simply online storage. It’s been around for yonks, but only recently have
Head to www.symform.com/download – this is the download page for the version of Symform
Now you should be able to open it. You’ll be
advertisers slapped on the buzzy moniker.
prompted to create an account or to log in.
The idea is that you purchase an online
meant for your platform of choice. OS X, Windows
Once done, you’ll be taken immediately to the Device
storage scheme, install the required
and Linux computers are supported. The download
Setup process, where you’ll name your device. Next,
software and schedule when, where and
will likely start immediately. If not, you’ll need to click
you’ll need to select the folders you want the
what you want backed up. Once done, the
the Download button. Install the application.
program to back up.
back-up will be automatic. Some companies offer free storage up to a certain limit. Jottacloud (jottacloud.com) offers a free plan for backing up computers and mobile devices with a limit of 5GB, while Symform (symform.com) provides 10GB. Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) has a free option and is handy for backing up speciﬁc ﬁles (but you have to copy them into the Dropbox folder, so it’s more a sort of virtual USB drive). Free accounts are useful, but
You’ll now be prompted to contribute some of your local drive space in exchange for free extra
Your ﬁrst sync will begin immediately. As you
hi-res audio and massive projects will soon
can see, we’ve now got a little cloud icon in our
leave you gasping for more – you may have
storage space, though it’s not required to use the
taskbar. Clicking it reveals that Symform is
to pay up to get a serious amount of
free 10GB of space on offer. Choose your options
uploading our ﬁles to the cloud. It’s as simple as that.
storage. Money well spent, we’d argue.
and click Next to complete the device set up
10GB isn’t a lot of space, but it’d be a good way to
Crashplan (www.crashplan.com) is a
process. You’re now ready to avail yourself of your
create safety back-ups of ﬁnished songs. You can
particularly popular paid-for online back-up
free online storage account.
plump for more if you need it.
scheme, offering – yes! – unlimited storage.
STEP BY STEP CLONING A MAC’S DRIVE WITH CARBON COPY CLONER
You can create a bootable clone of your Mac’s drive (bootable by holding Alt while your
Select your new drive and click the Erase tab. Next, you’ll need to choose a ﬁle format for the
Now, open Carbon Copy Cloner. If you’re using the trial, you’ll need to extend it – it’ll work for
Mac boots) using Carbon Copy Cloner and OS X’s
new drive. Choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled)
30 days. Next you’ll see options to select the source
own Disk Utility. Get the CCC demo from www.
and then type in a name for your new drive. Click
and destination drives, as well as what you want
bombich.com and install it. You’ll need to format
Erase (and conﬁrm this). You’ll be asked if you want
copied. The default settings are ﬁne for the ﬁrst time;
your destination drive by going into Disk Utility
to use Time Machine. Not for this disk. Depending on
after, you can schedule back-ups for speciﬁc ﬁles. Hit
(in Go » Utilities).
your drive sizes and speeds, this could take a while.
Clone and enjoy the feeling of security.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 71
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FIX YOUR STUDIO You’ve invested a lot of time and money in your gear and room, so get the most out of them with our guide to keeping things in order aving your studio kitted out with all the latest gear, possessing killer production chops, and boasting supreme knowledge and experience is all well and good, but it amounts to nothing if your basic studio setup is letting you down. It’s amazing how learning a few simple rules and heeding basic advice that too many producers take for granted can have a profound effect on the quality of
72 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
your sound and your ability to make great music. From the mains power scheme to the walls of your room, there are many aspects to audio production that can directly affect your workﬂow, but it is often hard to give them the time and effort they require. In this feature we’ll be exploring some major areas of your studio setup with an eye to making improvements that don’t require a degree in acoustics and electrical
engineering to implement, or a particularly big outlay. There are tips on making a more organised and efﬁcient workspace, streamlining your setup and making the best of the acoustics of your room. Approaches to fault-ﬁnding and repair work are explored, as well as a guide to the tools you might need. And best of all, making your studio setup ﬁtter, healthier and more productive doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg.
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GET ORGANISED Keeping your studio time creative
GROUP YOUR CABLING
patch bays, keyboards and the
Make sure that the items you use
This will make fault-ﬁnding easier,
like. We also use ours to label
regularly are within arm’s reach
allow gear to be moved about
equipment when a repair is made
of your seat and that the controls
and patched quicker and help
so we know what work has been
and displays do not require you
reduce cable-borne noise
carried out, and when.
to bend and stretch too much.
problems. Keep cables grouped
Try to arrange gear so that
together by type (audio, mains,
START A ‘FAULTY’ BOX
MIDI, etc) as this will make it
Every dodgy cable or faulty
quicker to ﬁnd a particular line.
stompbox should be stored
If something is loose so that
nothing else needs to be moved
The +4dBu / -10dBV switch is simply a +/-11.79dB differential
Putting some distance
separately for later repair or
pressing buttons, turning dials or
between types will reduce the
recycling of its components,
plugging into it makes it move (ie,
LINE LEVEL ISSUES
potential for EMI (electro-
instead of being put back in the
it requires one hand to hold it
The best way to connect balanced and
magnetic interference) problems,
collection only to disappoint you
in place), get it racked up or
unbalanced inputs/outputs is to use
as mains cables can induce a
again. Don’t put up with a cable
secured. Buying stick-on rubber
high-quality transformers. The second-best
50Hz hum on audio cables. If
that needs a wiggle to use it.
foot pads can prevent slippage
option is to use custom cabling for each
on work surfaces.
situation. Both of these involve time and
you’ve got mains and audio cross paths, ensure that they do
STREAMLINE YOUR GEAR
so at a 90° angle to minimise hum induction.
cables that absolutely have to
before you can work with it.
If you use a lot of stompboxes,
expense, however, so in their absence only
stick some Velcro (hook side) to
use balanced cabling (two conductors
Space is always at a premium in
their undersides and stick the
and one shield) with balanced-balanced
the studio, so identify any items
opposing strips (loop side) to a
connections and unbalanced (one
that you don’t use and consider
wooden board so that they can
conductor and one shield) with all other
selling or swapping them. Are
be kept patched together and
combinations. Balanced outputs connected
Use Velcro cable ties, easy-
there items that you don’t make
to unbalanced inputs or via unbalanced
release plastic ties or ﬂexible
use of because they’re not wired
trunking to keep your grouped
up? If a piece of kit is not hooked/
cables together. This can allow
racked up, you might have to
There’s always an ofﬁce
ground, which essentially means a 6dB
the bunches to be arranged for
admit that you’ll probably never
somewhere throwing out a
increase in the noise ﬂoor. If you want to
maximum ﬂoor space and
use it. If you can’t bear to part
perfectly good whiteboard, and
explore making your own converter cables
minimal cable treading.
with it, hook it up to the patchbay
these can prove very useful in the
we recommend ﬁrst reading the white
or keep it set up and ready for
studio – use them for ‘to do’ lists
papers on the www.jensen-transformers.
lengths of sticky-backed Velcro
use – you never know when it
for your tracks, stompbox setups,
com website by Bill Whitlock and Note
from haberdashers and making
might provide just the right
outboard settings, lyrics, gear
151 in the RaneNotes reference section
your own loops. Don’t bunch
sound or treatment for a project.
repair lists and so on.
reﬂective so you’ll need to
annoying sticky residue after only
GEAR ACCESS AND ELBOW ROOM
consider their acoustic effect,
Line level is the backbone of audio
a day or so – only use tape as a
Spend some time considering
though it’s not all bad as they can
production, and it comes in two oft-
the layout of your equipment
serve to partially skew a parallel
misunderstood ﬂavours: +4dBu and
with regard to working practice.
wall in a small room.
-10dBV. These are often described as
TIDY YOUR CABLING
You can save money by getting
cables with electrical or gaffer/ duct tape as these leave an
Having organised and tidied
Whiteboards are highly
cable will, in some cases, lead to a 6dB drop in level as half of the signal is lost to
your installation cabling, try to
‘professional’ and ‘consumer’ respectively,
store it properly rather than
but this has led to some confusion. Though
leaving it in coils and tangles
professional balanced gear uses the +4dBu
on the ﬂoor. Make your own cable
operating level and predominantly
hangers by adapting shelving
‘consumer’ equipment uses the -10dBV,
brackets, coat racks and long
there is no necessary link. +4dBu sets a
screws wrapped in foam.
nominal line level of 1.228 volts while -10dBV uses a nominal level of 0.316 volts, a
difference of 11.79dB. So when gear offers a
Investing in an ofﬁce labeller with
switch between these levels, use the one
a variety of label tape sizes is a
appropriate to the adjoining item, whether
must for keeping track of your
it’s balanced or not – it’s merely adjusting
cable connectors, mains plugs,
the resultant level by +/-11.79dB.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 73
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Gremlins in any audio system can be
Handy hints for reducing ground noise and optimising your power signals
frustrating, awkward beasts, and only robust methodology can overcome their inﬂuence. The ﬁrst step to curing studio ills is to make a note of everything that
THE TERMS ‘ground’ and ‘earth’ are often
is involved – that is, everything that’s
used interchangeably, but there is an important difference. Earth means the connection to the planet, to which all current wants to ﬂow. Earthing connections allow any unwanted current to ﬂow directly to the earth and thus not electrocute us. Ground is a reference point (0 volts) which acts like earth to create current ﬂow and therefore a voltage. A ground does not have to be connected to the earth to act as a reference, but most often it is, thus the confusion. Equipment grounds are subject to the ﬂow of various unwanted or discarded currents, and though they may be small, these soon add up to audible noise (mains hum, interference noise, crackles, etc) as the 0-volt reference ceases to be 0 volts. Though it’s impossible to completely remove ground noise, with some simple but effective adjustments the overall grounding scheme of your setup can help to reduce some of the audible effects. As it’s unlikely that your entire setup will
powered up and connected. Don’t jump to conclusions, but don’t overlook anything either. Consider when the problem occurs: is it a noise that happens when things get loud/ quiet, or when you touch/move something? Is the problem system-wide (eg, on every channel of a mixer) or is it localised to a single signal path? Don’t start pulling cables out to see what happens, as you may well miss the true cause and ﬁnd it recurring minutes, hours or days later. Patience is key – don’t get angry and start hitting things, as this will only cause new problems!
SIGNAL CHAIN Examine the suspect signal chain systematically from source to monitor. Swap out or bypass each component along the signal path, be it a cable, synth, monitor or EQ, noting changes as they occur, if they occur at all. If the problem continues, you can discount the removed/swapped component; put it back and move on. If the problem disappears then you may well have found the cause, but be aware that it may be a relational malfunction – an incompatibility or fault caused by an interaction. Once you’ve found your suspect item, put it back in the chain and swap out or remove the components before or after it to make sure they aren’t the true cause or part of a combined malfunction.
ANALYSE THIS! Gathering and analysing information acquired methodically will allow you to accurately and efﬁciently track down any faults along the way and will provide you with valuable information to pass on to repair engineers or use yourself to carry out the necessary work. If the problem is a cable fault, don’t just put the cable to one side – remember to add it to your faulty equipment box for repair.
74 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
It’s safe to terminate your whole studio from the same wall socket
exceed 13 amps (3,120 Watts!), it’s safe to terminate everything at the same wall socket. You could plug two multiextensions into a double-socket wall outlet and then run everything to these. If you have the need for more power sockets, for instance in a rack, investing in a rackmount power distribution unit will help keep connections close and simple. The power-grounding scheme of your studio directly affects its sonic performance, so if your mains distribution setup looks like a rat’s nest, it will probably sound like one too – simple and neat is best. Investing in a patchbay will centralise all the signal ground connections between your various pieces of equipment and this will go a long way to reducing the potential differences in reference voltages, which cause the tiny voltages that become noise. Ground loops (an audible 50Hz hum that occurs when two units are connected) are much more easily isolated and overcome using a patchbay.
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Crackly faders and pots are a very common issue with vintage gear
MOVING PARTS Moving parts (switches, potentiometers
The importance of the right tools can’t be overstated, so invest well in them
and faders) are the most likely components to cause noise, but with some attention they can be kept in ‘silent running’ mode
GET TOOLED UP
Recommended basics for a studio toolkit
so to loosen any pollutants. A quick blast
SCREWDIVERS A SMALL and medium-sized
driver in each of the three main types (ﬂared/ ﬂat-head, Phillips and Pozidrive) will get you in and out of most casings. Powered drivers will save time, but use low speeds and torque settings so as not to strip screw threads and heads.
HEX KEYS MANY EQUIPMENT casings
First, toggle/slide/turn the switch/ fader/pot back and forth for 20 seconds or from an air duster between toggles/turns
to reduce the risk of electrocution.
VERY USEFUL for picking out
those moving parts, but this gets expensive so only get what you’re sure you’ll need. Cotton buds are the perfect partner for all of these products and are essential for cleaning PCBs, sockets and around control surfaces.
tiny components, ﬂuff, etc, and very cheap too.
SIDE CUTTERS FOR TRIMMING component
leads and small cables.
SOLDERING IRON A GOOD 18W to 25W iron
wrenches for removing bolts – don’t use pliers as they will damage the bolt head.
with a couple of ends (ﬁne-pointed and medium-tapered), a soldering station (ie, a holder and tip-cleaning sponge) and a roll of solder. Some de-soldering braid and a solder sucker are invaluable for component removal, too.
SMALL NEEDLE-NOSE or
AN AIR duster is a must for
circlip pliers are the best choice for electronics and cabling. As with all tools for such tasks, make sure the handles are insulated
cleaning out dust and dirt. A range of switch cleaners, contact cleaners and lubricants will be needed for rejuvenating
now use hex-headed screws and bolts.
SPANNERS A SET of small spanners or
can help shift dirt and ﬂuff. Switches can be accessed by aerosol tubes where the toggle arm enters the case, and fader innards are also reached from the top, but pots need to be accessed from underneath, which requires opening the equipment casing – only do this with the power cable disconnected. The toggling, sliding and turning can be done with the power on (you will be able to hear whether the contaminants are being shifted too), but
DON’T WASTE your valuable
don’t spray any aerosol or air duster into
time hooking up broken cables – testers can be picked up for under £30, so there’s really no excuse not to have one.
the components while the unit is on.
If there is no change after wiggling and blowing, it’s time to break out the switch cleaner (for switches only – do not use on pots or faders), contact cleaner and lube. These products can be obtained from electrical suppliers such as Maplin, Farnell
IF YOU want to deal with
and RS, though the best contact cleaner
electricity, there’s no way you’ll get anywhere without one of these. A basic digital model will cost around £25 and will allow you to measure AC/ DC voltages, current and resistance as well as providing basic line continuity testing (ie, whether the wire/PCB track passes current).
and fader lube we’ve found so far is by DeOxit, and it’s not cheap. Make sure whatever you use not only cleans and ﬂushes components but has some lubricating action. If not, invest in a dedicated lubricant to ﬁnish off the job, otherwise pots and faders in particular will feel stiff and will wear out prematurely. Always follow the instructions, making sure to allow any liquid time to evaporate – don’t let impatience deal the death blow to your gear.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 75
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HOME STUDIO RECORDING hen it comes to capturing your performance, we’re assuming you know which end of a mic to point at what. That said, we’ll bet you’ve also been listening to a lot of great recorded music and wondering just how those engineers managed to capture those sounds so perfectly. Well, in this part of the Handbook we’ll be digging into the ﬁner points of brilliant studio recording. With the help of studio experts we’ll be presenting tutorials and walkthroughs to guide you on how to get classic drum sounds, capture great stereo with midside miking technique, use distortion to bring character to your recording, as well as how to get the best out of your vocal performances and much more.
CLASSIC DRUM SOUNDS From Bonham to Grohl, try these recording set-up and mix ideas based on the sounds from classic albums rummers often discuss classic beats – those instantly recognisable grooves that changed them as players. They also talk about how hard some of them are to play and to properly capture the ‘feel’ of, but most often it’s the sonics
of the drums that hit us ﬁrst. We’ve researched a whole spectrum of drum sounds from classic tracks that require different recording approaches. The info on these pages has been gleaned from our own experiments with achieving these sounds, but while it’s important to have reference material for the sounds
you are after, remember that very rarely do you actually set out to 100-percent copy an idea – most drum recordings stem from experience, experimenting and generally throwing some mics up and having a go. Check out our suggestions and get started! Who knows what you’ll come up with.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 77
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Replace the cymbals with pads to capture the sound of the drums...
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE
any additional sound being picked up by the
‘No One Knows’
the drums as possible. Try putting an acoustic tile or
Drummer: Dave Grohl Album: Songs For The Deaf Producer: Eric Valentine and Josh Homme
the resonance bouncing back from the ﬂoor to the
mics. To emphasise the feeling of close, dead, ‘claustrophobic’ drums, use plenty of gaffer tape and Moongel to stop as much interaction between a soft snare case under the ﬂoor tom head to stop head. Make sure the left, right and centre overheads
LED ZEPPELIN ‘When The Levee Breaks’ Drummer: John Bonham Album: Led Zeppelin IV Engineer: Andy Johns
are the exact same distance from the centre of the snare to keep phase in close check. You’ll then need
This delay and reverb-drenched
to hunt down anything else in your room that might
Led Zeppelin track is a Holy Grail
For this classic track the drums
resonate or rattle. After your drum takes it’s time to
for drummers in so many ways –
and cymbals were recorded
swap to real cymbals and your drums to electronic
separately, meaning you will have
pads (or pillows). We’d suggest close-miking the
on this track – not only was John Bonham’s sound
to remember your parts perfectly
hi-hat to maintain control over it.
so legendary but the sound of the drums mixed with
in order to match them up later. The lack of reverb
For the mix don’t use any compression or EQ on
the feel is as critical as the sound
the fact that they were set up at the bottom of the
and space on the album makes all of the instruments
the overheads. Gate tom mics so they are only live
stairwell at Headley Grange (a recording and
sound in-your-face and, really, in your head. The
for the tom hits and we’d EQ the bass drum and
rehearsal studio in Hampshire) creates a unique and
ﬁrst job is to record the ‘drums’ part with no cymbals
snare to really ﬁne-tune the sound and get the
uncompromising sound. You will need a large,
at all. We’d suggest using electronic cymbal pads so
deﬁnition required. For cymbals, hard-pan the left
live-sounding space in order to capture a real reverb,
it still feels like you’re playing a full kit but without
and right overheads.
the main focus of this sound. You’ll need a full front head on the bass drum with no dampening, tuned medium-high both front and back, and the snare tuned medium-high with a couple of Moongels. Hi-hat accents on this track are actually a product of compression. The balance of the drum kit is key here and the hi-hats and the cymbals are the most important areas to keep under control. The ﬁrst stage of the mix is to get all the channels balanced. Then you need to use sidechain compression to get the hi-hat ducking under the bass drum and snare drum. Getting that famous delay involves ﬁnding a main single-repeat delay for the bass drum and snare drum and then a less prominent ‘chatter’ delay that has more repeats. We’d suggest the single repeat delay being fed by the bass drum and snare channels and the chatter delay by the room mics. Finally, EQ to ﬁt that ’60s sound,
...then record the cymbals separately
and scoop a little mid-range out. Finish off by compressing the overall mix to let the dynamics sit more consistently.
78 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com CLASSIC DRUM SOUNDS | RECORDING Plenty can be done with a single mic
JAMES BROWN ‘Cold Sweat’ Drummer: Clyde Stubbleﬁeld Album: Star Time (box set version) Producer: James Brown A classic sound, a classic beat, and amazingly recorded with just one mic. The key here when recording with a single mic is going to be kit balance and a nice dead room. After tuning the kit as
The room itself can play a big part in achieving the sound you’re after
close about an eighth note after the drums were hit.
‘In The Air Tonight’
come from these two channels so no extra reverb
Drummer: Phil Collins Album: Face Value Producer: Hugh Padgham
close to the recording as possible (dead medium tuning on the snare, more jazzy mid-tuning on the
There are some drum sounds that
bass drum and a bebop high tuning on the rack
deﬁne a song but few enter the
tom), it’s worth noting that a light touch, à la Clyde
Stubbleﬁeld, will pay dividends here, not least on
more than the ﬁll that announces
The majority of the classic gated reverb sound will should be needed in the mix.
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS ‘Give It Away’ Drummer: Chad Smith Album: BloodSugarSexMagik Producer: Rick Rubin
the cymbals, where you’ll need to lay off to ensure
the back end of Phil Collins’ 1981 hit. As with most
the drums cut through well enough. In terms of mic
things this distinctive, there’s a story behind it. The
placement, try 3ft in front and about 6ft up from the
SSL 4000 desk not only allows the control room to
bass drum pointing between the bass drum and
‘talk back’ to the live room musicians via a switched
The sound of this classic funk rock
mic going to the headphones but also allows the live
album seems to be as much an
room musicians to speak to the control room.
exploration of the acoustics of the
You’ll need to bring in some parallel compression for your mic. Duplicate the single mic then add a fair
However, this requires a serious compressor. Playing
amount of compression to the duplicated signal.
the drums through this mic/compressor combo
was a process of the band members ﬁnding their
Mixing that with the uncompressed channel allows
created a unique sound that Padgham and Collins
musical and personal equilibriums. You’ll need a big
for a very balanced kit sound in terms of dynamics
discovered. To record this you’ll need to turn your
room ideally with hard walls and ﬂoors to record this
but still allows the differing tones of the drums and
toms into ‘concert toms’, removing the bottom heads
one in. The ﬁrst thing to do is get the drums to sound
cymbals to come through. It’s worth sending a tiny
to provide a ‘bark’. Tape up the bottom lugs to stop
as close to the original as possible. A biting snare,
amount of these two channels to a reverb auxiliary
them rattling. Placing mics above the toms is ﬁne,
tuned medium-high with a little Moongel and a
channel to give it the sense of size as on the
but try mics underneath, inside the shell of the
thumping, fairly well-dampened kick drum with quite
recording. Some experimentation shows that just
drum, pointing at the head. Set room mics up in a
a lot of attack from a slack batter head. Getting the
one mic can be used to give a great sound. If it’s
triangle: a left and right pair away from the kit to pick
kit balance right from the off is essential as most of
good enough for James, it’s sure okay by us!
up the room sound, and a centre mic as far away as
the sound will be coming from the room mics,
possible. Gate the kick, snare and tom mics so that
meaning adjusting the individual levels after
there’s no bleed of the room coming from them.
recording will be impossible. You’ll need kick and
In the mix duplicate the left, right and centre room mics. With the ﬁrst set, heavily compress them and send a little of this to an auxiliary channel with a
Single-headed ‘concert’ toms are vital to achieve Phil Collins’ sound
mansion it was recorded in as it
snare mics, a couple of overheads some distance away, and a room mic as far from the kit as possible. If you can get the right space no reverb is needed
phaser effect. For the other left, right and centre
as the room becomes ‘the sound’. You might have
room mics, gate them – but side-chained. This
issues with getting the deﬁnition on the drums
means the trigger for the gates to open is a buss
themselves, so you may need to gate the snare and
channel that you send all of the close mics to. This
kick with a short release, EQ’d to give real clarity. Add
means that the gate is only opening and closing in
a small amount of this to the left and right overhead
relation to the close mics picking up a signal and not
mics too. To ﬁnish with, add a touch of very heavily
the room mic itself. We’d suggest setting the gate to
compressed room ambience to ﬁll in the spaces.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 79
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Get tutorial files online at vault.computermusic.co.uk Register this book as issue 33
GUIDE TO PERCUSSION Whether you’re crafting laidback jazz numbers or banging out a pop rock smash, our guide will help you to infuse your beats with percussive groove. Shake it, baby! n many styles of music, a basic ‘kick, snare and hats’ drum beat is the backbone of the rhythm, but that on its own is often not enough to make your track groove. To really get things shufﬂing along nicely, you’ll need to layer up some percussion parts to add excitement, ﬂavour and groove to your beat. Whether your tracks featured a real drummer or programmed beats, in this modern world it’s possible to add additional percussion parts on top without having to hire in and record a raft of additional musicians. But percussion is one of those areas of music production
80 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
that many computer musicians think they’re approaching ‘correctly’ but probably aren’t. Just like any other acoustic instrument, playing percussion involves a speciﬁc range of techniques and styles that require training and practice to master. If you’re programming MIDI, you don’t actually need to be au fait with the physical speciﬁcs of perfect conga technique or the tambourine thumb roll, but if you’re looking to program authentic tracks, it helps to know what these things sound like. Here we’ll tackle percussion from a number of different angles. First, we’ll introduce you to the types available and
recommend some sample packages that can really boost your songs. Then we’ll look at programming realistic live percussion grooves, some ideas for spot percussion parts, as well as how to make your own sounds using your smartphone. Good percussion parts can have a hugely beneﬁcial effect on almost any track, elevating it both rhythmically and texturally. Even just a simple conga or shaker part can transform a dull rhythm track into a more complete sounding, syncopated, ‘human’ groove, particularly if the main drums are overtly electronic sounding. Let’s get started then – those bongos aren’t going to play themselves…
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A QUICK GUIDE TO PERCUSSION ROUGHLY SPEAKING, there are two broad
families of percussion that you’re likely to deal with. The ﬁrst is orchestral percussion – timpani, snare drum, xylophone, etc – and the other is ‘ethnic’ percussion, which really covers everything else. There is quite a bit of crossover between these two worlds in terms of instrumentation, but in this feature we’re dealing exclusively with Latin, African and Afro-Caribbean percussion in the context of beat-driven music. Here, then, are some of the most ubiquitous instruments in our chosen category…
CONGAS THE CORNERSTONE of the Cuban percussion
family and a ﬁxture in many forms of dance music – particularly house – congas generally come in sets of two or three (tumba, conga and quinto) and are played with the bare hands. An established repertoire of standard conga rhythms exists, based on the various styles of Latin dance music and serving as a great foundation for your own parts. When you’re ready to get into them, check out this page from the website of top session percussionist Pete Lockett: http://bit.ly/GItJRM.
BONGOS ANOTHER AFRO-CUBAN essential, bongos
comprise a pair of small wooden drums serving a similar role to the congas, although much higher pitched and less ‘weighty’ in their delivery. Bongos are generally played on their own or alongside a set of congas, the latter option giving the conguero an expansive range of pitches and tones to work with.
TIMBALES A PAIR of single-headed metal drums on a
stand, timbales are played with a pair of thin sticks and are used for backing riffs (including ‘cascara’, which involves striking the sides of the shells) and bright, loud, energetic soloing. In dance music, they tend to be called on as a highimpact spot effect. Timbales and
cowbells/agogo bells go together particularly well, and most players will have one or two of the latter mounted on the timbale stand, combining the lot to create intricate, clattering rhythms.
DJEMBE YOU’LL SEE this West African drum in the
hands of buskers the world over, the reason being that it can produce both bass and treble notes, making it a sort of self-contained ‘one-drum percussion section’. The djembe can also fulﬁl a similar role to the congas, although it’s a lot louder and not as mellow-sounding as its Cuban counterpart.
PERCS OF THE JOB While percussion sounds are fairly easy to come by, there are some very impressive ROMplers out there that warrant investigation if you’re at all serious about convincing percussion sequencing.
CULTURE €99 9GB of beautifully multisampled world, orchestral and industrial percussion. The conga, djembe and tabla patches are particularly stunning, featuring separate left and right hand samples for deep realism, while Yellow Tools’ Independence playback engine gives a wealth of processing and sound design options. www.yellowtools.com
A CLAPPERLESS, square-horn-shaped metal
bell struck with sticks, the cowbell (and/or a pair of agogo bells) is often found mounted above the timbales, but can also be played hand-held. Although generally used in rock and pop to nail the four main beats of the bar, in a Latin context, the cowbell plays the clave (the rhythmic ‘key’ to the music that acts as the base of all musical arrangements in Afro-Cuban music) or a pattern based around it.
WORLD IMPACT: GLOBAL PERCUSSION £270 Vir2’s Kontakt/Kontakt Player 3 sound library clocks in at 13GB and is as comprehensive a percussion soundset as you could hope to ﬁnd. The full range of Latin instruments is onboard, but that’s really only the beginning, as the journey continues across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and North America, taking in
A WOODEN or plastic ring with pairs of tiny
such rarities as dobachi bowls, kpanlogo
cymbals (zils) mounted within it, the tambourine can be skinned or unskinned, hand-held or mounted on a drum kit or percussion rack. It boasts a variety of uses: it can be used to play a constant rhythm (similar in usage to the hi-hats), for accents (eg: doubling up the snare on the backbeat), or as an effect (shaken, for that characteristic shivery sound).
and naqqara on the way
WORLD PERCUSSION £499 You want percussion? How about 220GB of the stuff, shipped on its own hard drive? Four years in the making, this vast library is cinematic, lavish and beautifully produced, sounding a million
THE BUTT of many a percussion-based gag,
dollars and keeping playability high on the
the triangle is actually one of the most useful ‘supplementary’ sounds available to the music producer. Whether used for one-shot accents or effects, or to ﬁll out the high end with the kind of rhythm that only a triangle can deliver, it’s easy to program and is just the thing to bring a funky sheen to any track.
agenda. Running within Best Service’s Engine ROMpler engine (essentially Yellow Tools’ Independence engine, rebadged), it boasts multiple mic channels and effects aplenty. The cut-down World Percussion Compact is also available, with 7GB of sounds from its big brother for just £175. www.bestservice.com
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 81
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HANDS AROUND THE WORLD Percussion beneﬁts greatly from being played live rather than programmed with the mouse, which means getting busy with the MIDI. While there’s nothing wrong with recording your conga parts on a keyboard, a set of pads is a much better option, being more like real drums in that they have no travel and a single pad can be played rapidly with alternate ﬁngers. Here are some of the best USB models on the market…
MASCHINE MIKRO £299
SHEKERE ANOTHER LATIN staple of West African origin,
the shekere is a gourd with an open ﬂared tube at one end, wrapped in a cord net with a large number of beads threaded into it. It can be struck, thrown, shaken and ‘ﬂicked’ (quickly pushing the beads around the gourd) to produce a wide range of tones. Striking the gourd with the heel of the hand gives a bassy thump; hitting it with the ﬁngertips gives a highpitched slap; rapidly pushing the beads backwards and forwards generates a slithery ‘shhk’ sound. It’s one of the more technically involved and visually exciting percussion instruments – see a virtuoso in action here: http://bit.ly/3rvuLo.
9GB of beautifully multisampled world,
orchestral and industrial percussion. The
THE CABASA provides a more compact form
conga, djembe and tabla patches are
of friction-based rhythm. The modern cabasa is a wide, short metal cylinder mounted on a wooden handle, with strings of metal beads wrapped around it. It can be shaken to make a rattling sound, or twisted with one hand while the beads are held in place with the other for a similar ‘shhk’ sound to that of the shekere, but brighter and higher in pitch. Like the shekere, a skilled player can do pretty amazing things with a cabasa.
particularly stunning, featuring separate left and right hand samples for deep realism, while Yellow Tools’ Independence playback engine gives a wealth of processing and sound design options. www.native-instruments.com
MPD18 £80 A simple 16-pad surface from the company who know more than any other about ﬁnger
percussion triggering. The MPD16 feels
THE LOOSELY deﬁned shaker family includes
great to play and features an assignable
any sealed enclosure ﬁlled with beads, as descended from the seed-ﬁlled gourd. Maracas, caxixi, egg shakers, rainsticks – anything that you shake to mobilise its rattly contents with the intention of providing a hi-hat-like percussion line qualiﬁes as a shaker.
fader for real-time control of virtual instrument parameters. www.akai.com
PADKONTROL £156 Sixteen fully assignable
pads, an X-Y controller and two assignable
A PAIR of thick, short rosewood sticks, one
knobs come together in this dynamic
of which is held with the ﬁngertips of one hand over the ‘chamber’ made by the palm and ﬁngers (which acts as a resonant space) and struck with the other. The result is a loud, cutting attack, and claves are so-named because they’re traditionally used to tap out the clave (guide pattern) in Latin dance music.
performance controller from the Japanese music technology giant. www.korg.com
PERFORMANCE PAD £159 Played with sticks rather than ﬁngers, this eight-pad playing surface/drum machine
can be expanded with pedals and extra pads.
THESE DAYS, a woodblock is as likely to be
made of plastic as it is wood, but either
82 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
way, it’s simply a hollowed-out block with a narrow, slit-shaped opening that can be used as either a solitary instrument or in a set of two or more. Fulﬁlling a similar background role to the cowbell and agogo bells, the woodblock has quite a loud, cutting sound when struck with sticks, so soft beaters are sometimes used instead, in order to keep the volume down.
GUIRO ANOTHER GOURD! This time open at one
end with a series of horizontal notches cut into one side. A stick is scraped rhythmically over these notches to create the characteristic and instantly recognisable sequences of short and long sounds that are essential to several Latin styles.
AGOGOS A PAIR of connected metal bells held in
one hand (unless mounted on a stand) and struck with a stick held in the other, agogos have a brighter, less weighty sound than the heavier cowbell, and are a mainstay of the go-go sub-genre of funk (which may or may not have been named after them).
TALKING DRUM AN HOURGLASS-SHAPED drum with heads at both ends connected by a series of cords that tighten when the centre of the drum, held under the arm, is squeezed, thus changing the tension of the heads and the pitch of the sound. Originally used to send messages from village to village in West Africa, the talking drum is played with a curved stick (held in the free-arm hand) and the ﬁngers of the holding-arm hand, and is loud, attacking and incredibly expressive, capable of blasting out precision melodies and bends over a wide pitch range.
OTHER IT’S IMPOSSIBLE to detail the full range of
percussion instruments available in just two pages, so we’d urge you to get online and investigate for yourself the likes of the berimbau, cuica, jawbone, castanets, cajon, vibraslap, mark tree, singing bowls and a huge array of weird and wonderful drums from all corners of the globe.
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STEP BY STEP PROGRAMMING REALISTIC LIVE PERCUSSION
Let’s start our percussive adventure with a bit of funky ‘live’ action. We throw together a quick
We record our conga part using a pad controller. We use a total of seven different samples: four
We overdub a ﬁll at the end of each eight-bar section. For conga ﬁlls, think triplets,
16-bar backing using the Apple Loops that come
open tones, one slap, one bend and one palm strike.
syncopation and playing slightly behind the beat
with Logic Pro: drums, bass and electric piano. It’s
The slap is used to provide the accent off the beat,
before bursting into the next section. Audio ﬁles of
groovy but rhythmically sparse, lending itself
and a conga player will ﬁll the gaps between hits with
each percussion line, solo and with the ‘band’ are in
perfectly to the addition of multilayered percussion.
ghost notes (very soft notes, much quieter than the
both quantised (to 16th-notes) and unquantised
We load up a conga patch in the EXS24 sampler.
others), so we do the same. We also send a bit of the
versions, as are the unquantised MIDI ﬁles. (Audio
(Audio example: 1. Drums, bass, keys.wav.)
signal to a reverb for a touch of ambience.
example: 2. With congas.wav.)
FEAR OF CROWDS With such a diversity of instruments in the percussion category, it’s no surprise that there’s plenty of sonic overlap between them. When choosing the instruments making up your virtual percussion ensemble, be mindful
Next, an EXS24 timbales patch, with the ‘left hand’ playing alternating quarter notes on the
Although torn between the shekere and the
of the frequency range covered by each one,
cabasa for our shaker part, we decide on the
and if any of them clash in any particular area,
two drums and the right beating out a cascara
latter, since there’s already quite a lot of bottom end
get rid of all but one. We toyed with the idea of
rhythm (which, as we mentioned earlier, is played on
to our percussion and the cabasa is the higher
adding a djembe part to our track, for example,
the shell of the drum). Our sampler patch features
pitched of the two. A simple shaker part pushes the
but it had too much in common, frequency-
fairly heavy panning between the two drums, which
groove along nicely and has the added beneﬁt of
wise, with the congas, so we decided against it
we rather like. Fills are also recorded at the end of
providing a splashy accent on every other snare hit.
in order to not crowd the mix.
each eight-bar section. (Audio: 3. With timbales.wav.)
(Audio: 4. With cabasa.wav.)
Our percussion mix is getting rather dense now, so ﬁnding space for the actual notes of
For a bit of ’70s cop show vibe, the triangle is easy to program and adds extra top-end
In nine tracks out of 10, the tambourine part will be a simple 16th-note shake pattern with
our agogo pattern proves a bit tricky! Eventually
interest. We program a part in which the ﬁrst two
accents on speciﬁc regular beats – usually ‘2’ and ‘4’.
we settle on a loping off-beat riff moving from
notes in each repeat are muted (the ﬁngers are
Use different samples for each ‘side’ of the shake to
one bell to the other. We drop the bells out entirely
wrapped around the triangle to achieve this), and the
avoid the machine-gun effect – any decent
for the ﬁlls at the end of each eight-bar section,
third one is open (ﬁngers removed to allow the
tambourine sampler patch should cater for this. Our
since there’s already enough action there.
triangle to ring freely). Simple but perfectly effective.
tambourine adds a layer of ‘crunch’, ﬁnishing our
(Audio: 5. With agogos.wav.)
(Audio: 6. With triangle.wav.)
groove off nicely. (Audio: 7. With tambourine.wav.)
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 83
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STEP BY STEP SPOT PERCUSSION
Feast your senses on some percussion greats on YouTube… www.bit.ly/xV7a0W One of the greatest congueros of all time, Mongo Santamaria, leads his own band in a supercool rendition of his own jazz standard, Afro Blue, from ’84. www.bit.ly/zcTHsb Feel the push and pull of the clave and watch how well percussion legends Giovanni Hidalgo, Johnny Rodriguez and Orestes Vilato weave their separate lines
together without getting in each other’s way.
rhythmic) percussion is also extremely useful for
Scooby Doo and other such vintage cartoons, where
So far we’ve had our percussion parts playing full-on grooves, but some (weirder and less
Even odder than the vibraslap, you might recognise the sound of the ﬂexatone from
spot effects, to smooth over transitions between
it was often used to imply spooky goings on. It can
www.bit.ly/17iGPt Ray Barretto’s style of
song sections, or just for adding colour. The vibraslap
be employed for sustained vibrato effects, or as a
conga playing was uniquely characterful.
has an instantly recognisable sound – we throw one
one-shot, as we’ve done in our track at the start of
This, from 1975, ably demonstrates his
in at the start of our track, half way and at the end.
bars 5 and 13.
incredible chops. http://bit.ly/1BLPn4F Conguera Chano Pozo was the first of many Latin percussionists to work with Dizzy Gillespie, who was largely responsible for Latin jazz taking off in the US. www.bit.ly/f4Zwpc The eccentric Airto Moreira does weird things with his voice, and throws some incredible shapes with a whole armoury of Brazilian percussion.
A set of thin tubular bells of progressively decreasing length hanging from a horizontal
The rainstick is a wooden tube full of beads, with inward-pointing protrusions (cactus
crossbar, the mark tree is played by swiping a hand
needles, traditionally) that, when turned over, makes
www.bit.ly/w9Qigo It’s no surprise Sheila E is
through it to make that scintillating, ethereal sound
a sound like rain falling, through the action of the
a superb percussionist – her dad, brothers
much loved by producers of ’80s ballads. In our
beads rattling over the spikes. Used in a similar way
and other members of the Escovedo family
track, it makes a great accompaniment to the
to the mark tree, ours is deployed right at the end of
are big-hitters on the US Latin music scene.
Doors-style electric piano section.
our track. (Audio example: Spot percussion.wav.)
STEP BY STEP MAKE YOUR OWN PERCUSSION
If you want to be really original with your percussion sounds, why not record your own
Importing our recorded audio ﬁle from the iPhone into Logic, we cut it up into single
Playing along with our bass, drums and keys from the previous tutorial, we quickly come up
samples? After a quick scout around the ofﬁce,
hits, ditching anything unusable, and create an
with a tasty (if rather shrill) ensemble performance
we’ve recorded a range of things, including bannister
EXS24 sampler instrument out of the resulting
that we simply wouldn’t get any other way. The low
spindles, a pint glass and a radiator, directly into our
slices. Thus far the whole process has taken us
quality iPhone mic keeps the bandwidth narrow,
iPhone, using Audioﬁle Engineering’s utterly
about 10 minutes. Now we’re ready to jam the
which actually beneﬁts our sounds here. (Audio
essential FiRe app.
heck out of our sounds…
example: DIY perc.wav, DIY perc with band.wav.)
84 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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PERCUSSION RECORDING TIPS QUANTIZE THEORY
KEEP IT REAL
SHOULD YOU quantize your percussion?
WHILE PERCUSSION parts in dance and
The answer to that question depends on the sort of feel you’re trying to achieve and the groove of the rest of your track. Good percussion parts will usually have a high level of human feel, but a lot of that comes from dynamics and articulation, so don’t feel that quantizing them will necessarily rob them of their soul. If it sounds cool, go with it. If it doesn’t, make whatever timing adjustments need to be made manually. Be careful when quantizing slow-attack sounds like shakers or guiro that they don’t actually sound late when snapped to the beat. If they do, move them back a bit. Our Live percussion walkthrough track in our examples download sounds pretty loose au naturel (we were going for a live band feel), maybe too loose for some tastes. Quantized, it sounds rhythmically ‘perfect’ – but does that mean it’s ‘better’? We’ll leave you to decide…
electronic music will tend to be looped (whether audio clips or MIDI parts), in ‘live’ tracks, they should be properly performed all the way through. So, rather than recording eight bars of MIDItriggered bongos and looping it, put in the effort to play the whole thing live from start to ﬁnish, punching in on any unacceptable mistakes afterwards. Even with rhythmically straightforward parts – a shaker, for example – approaching your percussion tracking like a proper recording session will make a real difference to the feel of the track.
KNOW THE LIMITS WHEN PROGRAMMING drum kit parts, you hopefully already know not to trigger more things at once than a drummer could physically play with their four limbs, and it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the same rule applies with percussion. Obviously, a conguero can’t hit more than two congas at the same time, and you can’t strike and scrape a guiro simultaneously. Adhering to such limitations will make your parts more realistic and stop them becoming too dense.
GUNNED DOWN FOR MAXIMUM realism, make sure your sampler patches feature both left- and right-hand strokes (where appropriate), and use them. The difference between them might be barely perceptible, but you’ll certainly hear it if you compare a run of alternating notes with a run of the same one repeated.
CHOKING UP IF YOU’VE ever programmed a sampled
drum kit, you’re probably aware of mute/ choke groups, whereby certain sounds are set up to immediately kill other sounds when triggered – closed hi-hats curtailing open ones, for example. Mute/choke groups are also used for percussion: muted triangle interrupting open triangle, short cabasa rub defeating long cabasa rub, etc. As a rule, if it’s not physically possible for two speciﬁc sounds to happen simultaneously, one always needs to mute/choke the other.
EXERCISE RESTRAINT KEEP YOUR individual percussion layers simple. With such a broad range of sonic ﬂavours and colours in the percussion family, once just a few members of it are brought together, the result is usually a surprisingly dense wall of sound. Always consider the interplay between your different drums, shakers and whatnot – rhythmically, they should lock together and move around each other (as if your
Many ROMplers feature separate left- and right-hand strokes, programmable on different MIDI notes, as shown virtual players have been rehearsing for weeks) rather than clash, with everything hitting at the same time.
BEATS WORKING AVOID THE temptation to place emphasis on the backbeat with your percussion – that’s the job of the snare. While certain percussion instruments (tambourine or cabasa, for example) make a good accompaniment to the snare, generally you want your perc working around the main beat rather than sitting on top of it.
IN THE PLACE ALL MEMBERS of your percussion ensemble
should exist in the same virtual space, so when applying reverb, send all your grooving percussion parts to the same plugin – using different reverbs on each instrument will mess up the sense of cohesion (although that can at times be an effective technique). All of the parts in our ‘live’ project are sending to the same reverb at varying levels. For percussion spot effects, however, tailor the reverb to each individual sound according to its own speciﬁc needs.
PANNING FOR GOLD WHEN IT comes to panning the percussion
section, go for a noticeable spread, but nothing too extreme. With the exception of the timbales, our parts cover a fairly narrow panorama – just enough to give a sense of width without distracting attention from the drums, bass and keys.
The snare in your drum kit should have the backbeat ably nailed, so don’t step on its toes with your percussion parts
THREE-MIC AMP SETUP This simple approach to recording with multiple mics will give you plenty of options at the mixing stage sk anyone how to record a guitar amp and they’ll typically suggest sticking a single mic right in front of it. Normally they’ll suggest a dynamic, and nine times out of 10 it’ll be a Shure SM57. It’s simple, solid advice, and difﬁcult to go wrong with. But – and this is the important bit – it won’t necessarily sound that great.
The results can often sound nasal or harsh, the microphone’s proximity to the speaker cone will make it very sensitive to small changes in position, and it certainly won’t capture any of the room ambience. As an alternative we’re going to suggest a more ﬂexible method that builds on the one-mic approach, adding an extra dynamic mic and a room mic to the equation. But before we go any
further, let’s look at some other important stuff.
FOUNDATIONS FIRST UP, when it comes to electric guitar
you really have to get the sound right in the room and right for the track. It’s obvious stuff, but if you’re intending to capture the sound you want at source, you need to be certain you have it nailed. So, take time out to listen to reference
STEP BY STEP FLEXIBLE MIKING METHOD
Stage one with any instrument is positioning it in the room. You can raise guitar amps from the
It’s vitally important that you know where the speaker cone is, so the next stage is to get down
You will need two close mics. They don’t have to be the same, but you want to get the capsules
ﬂoor to help with projection or isolate them from the
and look for it. If you really can’t tell, shine a torch
coincident, and large designs may make this harder.
ﬂoor to reduce rumble, but the most common trick
through the grill. You’re looking for the domed centre
For close miking, dynamic cardioids are the most
with open-backed designs is to position them against
of the cone. For multiple speaker models it’s worth
robust, but condensers with a level pad are an option.
a wall or screen to help contain sound from the back.
checking each cone to see which one sounds best.
Ribbons can be a bit delicate to stick right up close.
Position the ﬁrst mic as if it were the only mic – so, for a tight sound, start a few inches from
The second mic is positioned relative to the ﬁrst, with the capsules as close as possible. As a
Because you’ll be blending the two mic signals, it’s very helpful to try and match the two levels
the cloth with the capsule parallel to the cabinet.
starting point, angle the second mic at 45° to the
at the recording stage. On your mic pre-amp and in
Point the mic straight at the cone centre for the
ﬁrst. Which direction you point in will depend where
your DAW, use the peak meters for comparison. If
brightest sound and at the edge for a darker tone.
your ﬁrst mic is aimed. If the ﬁrst is aimed at the
you have access to a low-cut ﬁlter, this can be useful
Back away to 6" or more if the sound is too harsh.
cone centre, aim the second towards the cone edge.
for removing low-frequency rumble prior to tracking.
86 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com THREE-MIC AMP SETUP | RECORDING material and analyse the overall nature of the guitar sound you want, from general EQ (brightness, body and so on) to the drive of the amp and overall ambience of the sound. Of these, one thing that’s easy to get wrong is the drive or distortion – too much can easily reduce the punch and impact of the sound. Next up, volume. The ‘single dynamic mic’ option isn’t hugely affected by the overall volume of your amp, but factor in the room, and volume has a bigger impact. Basically, if the amp sounds good in a room at a moderate level, that’s the sound you should be recording. What’s more, you’ll be able to judge things much better if you’re not covering your ears. Older amps may have no master volume, and you might need to turn them up pretty loud to get the amp to drive. Try using a power soak between
amp and cabinet so you can exploit the drive of the power amp circuit without excess volume. Finally, it’s worth reminding ourselves that all players sound different, so if you’re going for a particular sound, accept that the guitar’s original tone will be inﬂuenced by the player’s technique and competence.
If you have a desk with bussing capabilities, you can blend your mics prior to recording, although
FINDING THE SWEET SPOT To capture the best sound, ﬁnding the sweet spot is key. Although our three-mic technique is ﬂexible, we still recommend you follow this procedure to get your mics in a good place. If you’re working alone, position your mic, listen on the monitors,
move it slightly and listen again. If
THE THREE-MIC method requires you to
necessary record a little in each position.
have a couple of dynamic mics. The plan here is to cross the mics as a coincident pair, so if they’re quite compact this will be easier. As it happens, the SM57 is quite well suited to this. You’ll also need a room mic – we’d suggest either a large-capsule cardioid condenser, or, if you want a more ambient effect, a ﬁgure-eight ribbon.
The third element is an ambient or room mic, designed to capture a combined amp and room
Alternatively set up a headphone feed containing the mic signal, positioning the mic and listening as the guitar plays. If you have a helper, give them the headphones and get them to move the mic while you listen to the monitors and bark orders at them on talkback. Note that all these techniques require you to base your decision on listening to the results.
Positioning this mic will depend on how ‘live’ the room is. Smaller rooms often have dominant
then you’ll be committing to the sound. For most DAW
sound. Best for this is either a condenser or ribbon
reﬂections that colour the sound even if the mic is
users recording straight into an audio interface, it’s
mic, and there are no rules as to which pickup pattern
only a few feet back. For the best results, stick on a
easier to record mic signals separately and combine
you should use. We’ve chosen a multi-pattern mic so
pair of headphones with a cue mix of the mic and
them later, so next get a couple of tracks ready.
we can try different patterns.
walk around until you get the sound you want.
Any multi-mic set-up has the potential for phase cancellation so be mindful of this.
We’re nearing the home straight with this set-up, so create a recording track for the
The ﬁnal stage is to balance the mics. Purely for monitoring purposes, you should be able
A useful technique here is the 3-to-1 rule. With our
room mic. The plan is to make use of all three mics,
to do this as you record, creating a balance that’s to
close mics a few inches away and our room mic a
so it’s important to keep the tracks grouped
your liking. The real beneﬁt of this technique,
few feet back, we’re already following this rule. When
together. If your DAW has a grouping option, use it.
however, is that it gives you enormous ﬂexibility
monitoring all three mics, try phase-reversing the
If not, try colour-coding your takes so that you can
when mixing. In addition to blending the mics in
see which ones go together.
mono, try various combinations of panning.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 87
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RECORD HUGE GUITARS Have you ever thought about recording your guitar one string at a time? Try this unusual idea for a truly amazing effect
hen recording Def Leppard’s Hysteria, legendary producer Mutt Lange asked guitarist Phil Collen to record some chords one string at a time.
This off-the-wall idea may seem strange, but its simple yet brilliant effect can be used in any genre of music, and the resulting sound is an extremely resonant – almost piano-like – sustain, and it works on electric or acoustic parts! Not only do you get an unusual resonance,
but it gives you individual control over every note in your chord. Here, we’ll show you how it’s done, and take the concept even further to create superwide chords. Why not give it a shot, hen read our mixing tips for some further ideas.
STEP BY STEP WIDE-SOUNDING CHORDS… ONE STRING AT A TIME
A strummed guitar part is actually quite complex, so for this to work, the notes need to be played
Duplicate your track so you have a fresh track with the same settings and record the next note
Now you have all of your notes on record, you can stop here. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous,
tightly. Open a track in your recording software and
in your chord. Repeat until you’re ﬁnished (don’t
this is the point where you can start getting creative!
set up your sound. Record your guitar, but only play
forget any open strings that are needed), and try to
First, we’re going to pan our notes to add some width
one string of the chord. Let it ring out and try not to
be accurate with your picking – ideally, the notes
to the sound. Set alternating strings to the left and
introduce too much fret-hand noise with movement.
need to start as closely as possible to each other.
right channels respectively.
88 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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A WORD ON MIXING LOSE SOME LOWS A common trait when recording and mixing guitars is to ramp up your low end. This makes sense if you’re after a particular effect, but moderation is key. When trying to blend your guitar tracks with a bass guitar, there are certain low frequencies that will overlap and clash, making your overall sound more muddy. If you’re in standard tuning, try rolling off your guitar’s low end from around 120Hz.
An EQ set to analyse shows the natural frequency response of your guitar
Here, we’ve set the EQ to roll off frequencies outside of our guitar’s spectrum
Plugins allow us to change guitar tones during a song, but watch those frequencies and avoid clashing with the bass…
USE AUTOMATION Plugins not only allow us to easily record our guitars, but also let us change our tones during a song. These changes can be recorded by your DAW and recalled as you play through the song. If you need more midrange or extra delay level in a particular section, let the computer do the work and automate your settings.
KEEP THE MIDS Don’t be fooled by trying to suck the mids out and thinking that the scooped sound’s gonna give you the best sound. It’s fun to play with,
You can add interest by applying varying amounts of gain to individual notes. There are
BITE 2KHZ - 2.5KHZ
PUNCH 100HZ - 150HZ
NOTE CLARITY 200HZ - 250HZ
TIGHTNESS 400HZ - 600HZ
Next up, choose the remaining tracks and apply a dotted eighth-note delay with similar
You don’t have to stop here. Try applying different delay times, ﬁltering, tremolo,
no rules – add as much or as little as you like! Pick
feedback and level settings. Notice how the notes
reverb or any other effect. Once you’re happy with
a couple of your tracks and add a delay plug-in.
bounce around each other? The opposing rhythms
the texture, bounce all of your notes to one stereo
Set your rate control to produce eighth notes,
work together to create a cascading delay sound
track. This way you can take some of the strain off
feedback for two or three repeats, and the level
between the left and right channels for an interesting
DISCOVER STEREO WITH MID/SIDE RECORDING Once a well-guarded secret, mid/side mic techniques are reappearing, widening the stereo image, improving phase coherence and even meddling with multichannel work. We break out the mics and stands and uncover the world of M/S recording… ost music isn’t recorded in stereo – in fact, music recorded as far back as the 1930s is often more stereo than any modern recording. But what do we actually mean by stereo sound? Stereo is short for ‘stereophonic’, a composite word from the Greek stereos, meaning ‘solid’, and phone – ‘voice’ or ‘sound’. A ‘solid sound’ is created when its reproduction is realistic and lifelike, regardless of the number of speakers involved – curiously enough, there was a (now obsolete) cinema sound system named Dolby Stereo which had four discrete channels. Modern recording sessions often rely on mono multitrack techniques, a practice too often followed to avoid committing to a speciﬁc sound and speed up the costly recording process. In these days of shrinking recording budgets and mix-it-in-the-bedroom productions, hardly anyone dares to make choices at the recording stage, so long as everything’s captured and ready for further processing. Alan Blumlein is the UK engineer regarded as the inventor of a technique that he named binaural sound and that we commonly call stereo. It is said that, during the projection of a ‘talkie’ movie in 1931, he was rather disturbed that the monophonic sound would come from the centre of the screen when the actor had moved to one side, so he came up
90 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
with an idea to have the sound follow the actors around as they moved across the large screen. Not only did he conceive and patent a two-channel stereophonic system at a time when other researchers all believed that a multichannel system was the only way to go, but he also went on developing stereo mic techniques that
Music recorded in the 1930s is often more stereo than any contemporary recording would capture the essence of a room’s sound and reproduce it through just two loudspeakers.
STEREO TECHNIQUES ALL STEREO recording techniques rely on
one simple principle: when a sound or noise hits your eardrums, your brain works out the time delay and the loudness difference between the left and right ears and uses these parameters to place the source at the correct angle and distance from your head. An accurate stereo recording system must be able to capture these details perfectly in order to embed sufﬁcient spatial information into the ﬁnal recording. Blumlein patented a microphone technique, later named after him, which employs a pair of identical bidirectional
mics, arranged in a coincident position with their axes at right angles to each other. The two mics are panned hard left and right. A Blumlein pair generates a very convincing stereo image and is also mono-friendly, but relies on the accuracy of the microphone placement to give the best results, particularly when it’s folded down to mono. A clever variation on this microphone arrangement, which was also patented by Blumlein, is the so-called middle and side (mid/side or M/S) technique. This is also done with two microphones, but one of them is dedicated to capturing the direct sound and can have any polar pattern, so long as it’s pointed directly at the source. Blumlein speciﬁed an omni microphone in his patent, but M/S is traditionally pictured with a cardioid or hypercardioid mic. The second microphone’s polar pattern must be ﬁgure-of-eight (bidirectional). The capsules of the two mics must be vertically aligned with their axes perpendicular to each other.
DECODING THE MIDDLE and side technique, despite its
simplicity, requires a speciﬁc decoding matrix. This is because the side (ﬁgureof-eight) microphone contains information relevant to both the left and right channels. To extract this information, it is necessary to duplicate the signal coming from the side mic into two (usually adjacent) channels on your audio mixer, pan them hard left and right
ALAN BLUMLEIN, ENGINEER EXTRAORDINAIRE Born in 1903 in Hampstead, Alan Blumlein studied at City and Guilds College, where he graduated with a ﬁrst-class honours BSc in 1923. The following year he got a job at International Western Electric, which later became Standard Telephones
A pair of AKG 414 microphones, both with ﬁgure-of-eight polar patterns, in a typical Blumlein set-up. Notice that they’re at an ‘X’ shape to the front of the amp
and Cables (STC, known in the professional audio industry for their microphones, which were adopted and made famous by the BBC). During his ﬁve years with the company, his constant research led to seven patents being awarded to his inventions. Blumlein left STC in 1929 to join Columbia Gramophone Company, which only two years later merged with the Gramophone Company to form EMI. The EMI years were the most productive in terms of the development of stereo sound. Similar research was being carried out at the same time by Harvey Fletcher at Bell Laboratories in the US (though he and Blumlein were unaware of each other’s work), but while Fletcher was contemplating multichannel systems, Blumlein always insisted on a system with just two channels.
The same pair of AKG 414s, arranged in an M/S setup. The mic pointing at the instrument (middle) can have any polar pattern; the other one (side) must have a ﬁgure-of-eight pattern
Blumlein’s British patent no. 394325, accepted in 1933, is titled ‘Improvements in and Relating to Sound-Transmission, Sound-Recording and Sound-Reproducing Systems’. Over 70 claims cover ideas like
and reverse the phase of the one panned right. This process is known as an M/S decoding matrix, and it can be summed up in the formula Left = M+S, Right = M–S, where +/– refer to the polarity of the side. It is imperative that the level of the two split side channels is exactly the same. If you gang the levels of the three audio channels together, you will have a true M+S decoded balance. The nice thing about the M/S technique is that microphone placement isn’t overly critical. Of course, to avoid phasing problems and notches in the frequency response of a classic M/S system, one should take care that the two microphones are well aligned and as close as possible. Because the side information is captured by a single microphone, however, the stereo effect
will be accomplished successfully even if your set-up isn’t particularly good. Another fundamental advantage of the M/S technique is that it is 100 percent mono-compatible. Folding an M/S matrix down to mono will overlap the out-of-phase channels of the side microphone, making it disappear completely and leaving the middle microphone on its own.
WORKING WITH M/S ONE OF the obvious daily uses for mid/side
miking is with any location recording where mono compatibility is crucial. For example, boom mics used during ﬁlm shoots are often equipped with an M/S set-up. This is because mono sound always takes priority, but a snapshot of the stereo ambience can come in very
recording two channels in a single groove of a record, a stereo disc cutting head, the ‘Blumlein pair’ (as it’s known today), and matrix systems to convert signals from M/S to stereo and vice versa. Blumlein was also deeply involved in the development of the TV, and during wartime he helped develop a new radar system. It was during the course of a test ﬂight that he lost his life in a tragic crash, aged just 38 and at the peak of his engineering career.
handy during post-production for some added realism. The fact that mid/side miking simultaneously delivers a mono and a stereo picture with the same recording is invaluable. When using a decoding matrix, it’s important that the levels for the two out-of-phase side channels match
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK 91
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com RECORDING | MID/SIDE RECORDING perfectly. An easy way to calibrate them is to pan them to the centre, push the faders up to the required level and then adjust one against the level of the other until they cancel each other out completely. Once they’re calibrated, they must be panned wide left and right and ganged with a VCA group or sent to a stereo channel, so that their level can be changed without losing the calibration. This is, of course, unnecessary with digital mixers or DAWs as fader ganging is perfectly accurate. The ﬁrst thing to try is to experiment with the level of the side against the middle microphone. You will notice that the image progressively expands sideways, adding room information to
the mono microphone but without removing its presence and focus. Since the side microphone cannot be used on its own, it’s usually best to avoid having it too loud in the balance, or the stereo image will collapse.
CHOOSING MICROPHONES THERE ARE endless microphone combinations that will work for M/S, and for those who need a package deal, there are some dedicated stereo microphones that will do M/S without any need for a set-up. There are also M/S combinations – microphones developed to work together for optimum M/S performance and supplied with speciﬁc accessories to facilitate the set-up. These
are often an ideal solution as the two mics can also be used independently for purposes other than M/S recording. Lastly, there’s a whole world of DIY combinations and rigging to explore. We personally tend to prefer the DIY approach, because we enjoy the freedom to experiment with mics we wouldn’t ordinarily use for stereo work. Let’s take a look at some of the better mics out there for M/S recording…
SHURE VP88 (1) THE SHURE VP88 is arguably one of the
easiest to use single-bodied M/S mics you can buy. Built around two condenser capsules arranged in the traditional middle and side conﬁguration, it has a
HOW DOES M/S WORK? Bidirectional microphones capture sound from both sides of the capsule, but the
information so captured becomes unintelligible. The M/S technique provides a
two sides will be out of phase with each other. This isn’t a problem in regular
simple solution to this problem by using a second microphone, perpendicular to
mono recordings, because the rear side of the microphone faces away from the
and in axis with the ﬁrst one. Not only will this middle microphone cover the blind
sound source and at best it can only capture the reﬂections from the room. The
spot of the bidirectional microphone, but its signal combined with that of the side
results will be out of phase, but we’ve yet to encounter a situation where reversing
mic will pinpoint the sound source. Below we’ve provided three examples of mid/side set-ups, with a brief description
the phase of the reverb would cause a problem. However, when a bidirectional mic
of how each one works.
is used sideways to the source there is no dominant side and the spatial
A sound source 60° to the front-left of the middle
If the sound source moves 60° to the front-right
If the sound source is perpendicular to the middle
microphone reaches the M/S pair. In this example,
of the middle mic, there will be more direct signal
mic, there will be no signal collected by the side mic
the majority of the direct signal will be collected by
being collected by the negative side of the
because it will hit its blind spot, so the only
the positive side of the bidirectional mic rather than
bidirectional mic than by the positive side. In this
contribution to the stereo output will be the mono
the negative side. Therefore the global output of the
case, the global output of the side mic will have a
signal coming from the middle mic, equally
side mic will have a positive phase (+S), and this
negative phase (-S), and this signal will be out of
distributed between left and right.
signal will be in phase with the direct signal
phase with the signal reaching the middle mic. The
simultaneously collected by the middle mic. The
M+(-S) value (left channel) is in this case lower than
M+(+S) value (left channel) is, in this case, higher
the M-(-S) value (right channel), so the signal will be
than the M-(+S) value (right channel), so the signal
more localised to the right side of the stereo
will be more localised to the left side of the stereo
92 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
NOTE: The M and +S capsules are in phase. The -S capsule is Ø. M+ (-S) means reverting the phase of -S before adding them together.
MID/SIDE DRUMS Recording percussion with mid/side techniques Drums and percussion are fertile
the kick and snare ﬁrst. To begin
from a central spot, a couple of
ground for M/S recording due to
with, locate the place where the
metres from the ground.
the instruments’ width and depth.
balance between the two is more
Drums can obviously also be very
or less correct, check it’s not too
crucial – it’s more important their
loud, however, so care must be
far away and not too close to the
placement avoids boomy or boxy
taken in choosing the right
kit, and check that you’re also
corners of the room and instead
microphone for the task. Any
getting enough of the toms and a
has enough width and separation
drum kit usually has a ‘sweet
sprinkle of cymbals.
to capture a nice wide ambience.
spot’ where you can place a single
That spot is where the M/S pair
Position for ambience mics isn’t
Another useful placement can be
microphone and get a nice blend
should be placed if it’s going to be
behind the drummer, as a second
of all the elements of the kit.
the only mic on the kit. If the kit is
overhead pair, pointing towards
instead miked up with lots of close
the snare. The power of the snare,
somewhere in front of the drum
mics and the M/S arrangement is
combined with the width of the kit,
kit, snare side, about a metre from
only a complement to the
might only need reinforcement
the ﬂoor. To ﬁnd the right place, it’s
traditional setup, it’s probably
from a kick mic, and from the
important to listen to the blend of
worth capturing the ambience
toms, when miked in this position.
Typically a good place to start is
built-in M/S decoder matrix, with three presets that will vary the blend of mid and side for narrower or wider stereo. The microphone has a ﬁve-pin XLR stereo output, although the matrix can be disabled and the mic will then output a pure M/S signal. It can also operate on battery power, for portable use.
AKG C426 STEREO (2)
COLES 4038 (3)
one-stop solution for any coincident stereo miking need. Two rotating large-diaphragm capsules (complete with a gradient scale for accurate positioning) are coaxially mounted on the same body. Each capsule can be adjusted separately, and a remote control box allows you to select the polar pattern for each from a choice of nine positions. Any combination of X/Y, Blumlein and M/S, and in fact anything in between, can be easily achieved with a simple twist.
THE STC/COLES 4038 is a bidirectional
ribbon microphone. Originally used by the BBC, it’s been recently rediscovered and cloned for its tonality. The Coles has tons of character and quite a strong colouration, but it can be an ideal side microphone when accuracy isn’t the name of the game.
NEUMANN U87 (4)
THE LONG-DISCONTINUED AKG C426 is a
THE NEUMANN U87 needs no introduction. A
very ﬂexible microphone with a subtle presence and colouration, it can give great results in M/S. While a little duller than the AKG 414, it has a really nice midrange, which translates as warmth, and can be ideal when used with bright instruments that need a tamed environment in which to sit.
SHURE SM57 (5) THE UNMISTAKABLE, omnipresent 57 might seem an odd choice for an M/S pair.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK 93
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com RECORDING | MID/SIDE RECORDING Being a dynamic mic, it doesn’t have the range and the sensitivity of condenser mics, but loud sources will beneﬁt greatly from its mechanical compression.
SENNHEISER MKH 418-S THE SENNHEISER MKH 418-S is a lightweight M/S shotgun mic. Suitable for boom operation and dialogue recording, it offers the extra option over the betterknown hypercardioid MKH 416 of an electret side microphone. Although not as quiet as combos using separate mics, the MKH 418-S offers a direct replacement for shotgun mic users.
SENNHEISER MKH30 AND MKH40 THE SENNHEISER MKH40 cardioid and the MKH30 ﬁgure-of-eight mic are a classic M/S combo, and are often used on classical recordings, on location and in the studio. A simple but sturdy dual clip allows you to stack them for mid/side set-ups. Not only are these microphones built like tanks, but they can also take serious volume without distorting and have a very ﬂat frequency response. Additionally, they are less prone to failure or to generate noise in harsh environments, a real bonus for the location recordist.
PAIR OF AKG 414S THE AKG 414 is perhaps one of the most used condenser mics in the studio, and is often used on acoustic instruments. The multipolar pattern gives it great ﬂexibility,
A pair of SM57s set at right angles make a perfect pair for capturing a cab
94 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
FROM STEREO TO M/S: SUM AND DIFFERENCE
increase or decrease its stereo width, add EQ or dynamics or even trigger an effect from its mono component. Once the processing
While it’s common knowledge that
will constitute the side channel, in
is done, the M/S components can
M/S can be translated into stereo
this case called difference. Sum
be matrixed to stereo again. This
L+R, not many people know that
and difference is a technique that
technique is widely used for
the opposite is also true. A regular
allows you to extract the M/S
mastering; eg: overcompressed
stereo sound, or even a whole
content of any stereo audio and
mixes tend to lose their width,
song, can be separated into its
manipulate a stereo track to
which can be restored using M/S.
mono and side components. The process is simple and exactly the reverse of what is done for M/S, only it takes four channels
on your audio mixer instead of three. First, duplicate the L+R
channels so that you have L, R, L,
R. The ﬁrst stereo pair should be panned to the centre, and ganged. This is your middle channel, also called the sum. Now also pan the other two L and R channels to the middle, reverse the polarity of the R channel and gang them – they
L+R=M, L-R=S. This is because L+(-R)=S. (-R) is ØR
and a pair can do great stereo work. Like most large-diaphragm condenser mics, the AKG 414 can add a small amount of colouration to the sound, particularly when used too close to the source. If used at a suitable distance it can be on the bright side, but it’s never harsh.
COMBINING MICROPHONES ALTHOUGH THERE are a lot of M/S packages
available on the market, sometimes it
pays to experiment a little rather than getting an off-the-shelf solution. Choosing the middle microphone ﬁrst is always a good start. Depending on the material that you’re setting out to record, there are two considerations to bear in mind. Firstly, remember that M/S usually sounds best from some distance, so that the side microphone can pick up the ambience and not the direct signal. You can, of course, try close-miking as a special effect. Secondly, once you’ve chosen the position that you’re going to place the mid/side pair in, make sure you choose a middle microphone as if you were recording in mono from that location. The side microphone could be placed in a more conventional way – vertically and on-axis above or below the middle one – but you could try placing it at least a metre away from the middle one, on wide ambience duties. With enough distance between the two mics, it’s possible to minimise phasing. Another handy trick for tailoring the stereo image to the speciﬁc requirements of your project is to narrow the panning
AMBIENCE AND MULTICHANNEL RECORDING Ambience recording is typically the primary application of M/S. The wider the space and the further away from the source, the less prominent in the balance the middle mic should be. It’s not advisable to go over a 1:1 ratio between middle and side (assuming the two have comparable loudness) but to avoid any phasing creeping into the stereo balance, it’s a good idea to push the level of the side quite close to the mark. There’s a handy variation of M/S that’s sometimes used for multichannel work, and can be implemented for large orchestral sessions or recording in a large venue. An M/S pair is set up in front of the performance area, capturing the near ambience. A second pair, facing away from the ﬁrst, can be set up at the rear of the room, a few metres away. These pairs can be used in a conventional way, with the results then matrixed to stereo and blended to create a rich ambience balance. It’s not uncommon, with orchestral work in particular, to record a couple of stereo pairs for a more 3D rendition of the room. Multichannel 5.1 work can particularly beneﬁt from this, since the presence of a discrete middle channel can naturally feed the centre channel of the 5.1 surround matrix, while the decoded wide stereo of the same pair can do the L+R front channels. This will create a more consistent image across the front, as some mid information will still be contained in the L+R front channels, but something unusual can be done for the L+R surround channels, eg: matrix the other M/S to stereo and feed the surround channels directly with it. Obviously, L and R are inverted, since the pair is facing away from the performance area. If the room isn’t too big and the distance between the front and rear M/S pairs is only 1 or 2m, it’s also possible to use one single bidirectional microphone and matrix it with the front-middle mic. This way, by means of exaggerating the matrix balance towards the rear-side mic and perhaps using a ﬁgure-of-eight mic for the shared middle, it’s possible to retain a wholesome, realistic surround image building the balance on a shared microphone.
CARDIOID M1 -S1
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM says that in order
2m or more
CONCLUSION to record a stereo image, you need to place microphones to the far left and right of the subject being recorded, but mid/side set-ups offer a simple and more effective way to get a wide sound. This technique takes advantage of the narrow ‘focus’ of mics, effectively recording a direct and an indirect signal simultaneously from the same point. Setting up the mics with precise placement is therefore essential, so it’s well worth having a few trial runs, minutely adjusting the position of the mics to get the best results. The mid/side technique has long since celebrated its 70th birthday, and it still sounds very contemporary. Simple techniques always capture the best sound, but M/S recording is the only one that offers such an extensive range of possibilities – a testimony to Alan Blumlein’s acute mind and ear.
2m or more
of the side microphone a little, or to change its equalisation in order to improve the depth of the stereo image. This technique is based on research that Lexicon did when they were developing their reverb units. It was found that low frequencies enhance the listener’s envelopment in the sound, especially when they are different between left and right. This theory can be applied to M/S: a gentle boost to frequencies below 400Hz on the side channel, associated with a matching cut on the mid channel, can improve the smoothness of the stereo image. Ensure that the equalisation takes place before the side channel is fed into the decoding matrix, otherwise the M/S technique won’t work correctly. Another important tip – while it may be tempting to clamp your mid/side mics together, the last thing you want is any extraneous noise caused by the mic casings rubbing together. The best option is to clamp them together so they are touching and then carefully check their placement and the angle between them. Once you’re happy, simply move them apart a few millimetres so there’s a bit of vibration leeway for when the sound actually hits them.
A shared middle channel for wider ambience
Two M/S pairs for extra depth
SITUATION (A) IN SURROUND
SITUATION (B) IN SURROUND SPLIT
• LFE On. • LFE = 100Hz LPF 24dB/Oct
• LFE On. • LFE = 100Hz LPF 24dB/Oct * M1 has a delay of 3/4ms HPF EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK 95
Get tutorial files online at vault.computermusic.co.uk Register this book as issue 33
DISCOVERING DISTORTION Distortion has a reputation as a dirty, noisy beast, a world away from the subtle frequency balancing we apply to our mixes. But what if throwing in a little ﬁlth could actually clean up your mix? istortion is a complex issue in the world of audio, so to get a better handle on this beast, let’s kick things off with three dictionary deﬁnitions. In the realm of electronics, Collins English Dictionary deﬁnes distortion as “an undesired change in the shape of an electromagnetic wave or signal” or “the result of such a change in waveform, esp. a loss of clarity in radio reception or sound reproduction”. In terms of psychology, meanwhile, it’s described as “a change in perception so that it does not correspond to reality”. If the ﬁrst two deﬁnitions told the whole story, this article would be entirely about how to avoid distortion and the seemingly negative effect it has on recorded music, but it’s a little more complex than that actually. While the electronic deﬁnitions of distortion are true in as much as we all want our listeners to hear our music as
96 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
accurately as possible, it’s perhaps the psychological deﬁnition that bears more relevance to how we actually approach distortion. That “change in perception” is, in fact, the basis of our recorded music – close-miked drums, vocals and guitars don’t correspond to how we hear them in a room, so distorting reality is actually what we do every time we record.
How should we use distortion to get the best possible results? The word ‘distortion’ may summon up images of darkly clad men with copious amounts of facial hair shaking their long locks before endless towers of groaning ampliﬁcation, but in production terms it’s often the secret weapon that brings life and clarity to an otherwise problematic sound. The distortions that we will be
talking about here cover the whole spectrum of music, from the purely electronic to the purely acoustic. So, if distortion is bad in some musical scenarios but good in others, how should we use distortion to get the best possible results both sonically and creatively?
KEEPING IT CLEAN LET’S START with where it’s bad. In terms of signal path, we don’t want distortion in our A/D and D/A converters, we don’t want it in our DAW systems (unless we are in control of it), and we certainly don’t want it in our monitoring. For over a century, designers have been coming up with innovative solutions that allow incredible levels of clarity in the ampliﬁcation of audio signals. It’s no real surprise that the pages of music-making magazines are often full of praise for the sonic purity of many items under review. Having the highestquality system that you can afford is
FATTEN IT UP Sometimes a recorded sound just doesn’t cut the
will tend to enhance the slightly dull nature of the
mustard, and an instrument that should sound full
original. The Distortion adds just enough harmonic
and rounded ends up sounding thin. Download and
colour to make it sound fat; you can then EQ to your
> Oudu No Dist: a thin-sounding Oudu.
listen to the two versions of the Oudu track (see
own tastes in the mix.
> Oudu With Dist: the same Oudu fattened with
The drum kit is a different beast. It’s programmed
audio ﬁles, opposite) and you’ll see what we mean.
The original sounds thin: the rich, warm tones that
using Ocean Way drums that run in Kontakt player.
should be present are masked by an unpleasant high
The trick here is in fattening up some dynamic kit
end. As soon as you try to put it into a track, what
elements without letting the distortion get out of
> Talking Drum Logic Dist: the same talking drum,
lows there are will be swamped by the rest of the
control. The kick is pretty much constant, so the
this time given a bit more body and cut via some
music. You could try EQ and compression, but that
distortion alone is enough to make it fat, but the
would involve a lot of ﬁddling. Instead, you can see
snare has a wide dynamic range because of the rolls.
from the screenshots below that we’ve used two
Instead of attacking directly with the saturation plug,
distortions, a bit of EQ and a Transient Designer.
it’s been limited ﬁrst. This reduces the dynamic range enough so the saturation never gets out of
Logic’s Distortion plugin is great when subtly
> Talking Drum Clean: a slightly dull talking drum that won’t cut through the mix.
simple distortion. > Ocean Way No Distortion: a good, clean, open-sounding kit. > Ocean Way With Distortion: the same kit, but fattened up using Kontakt’s FX.
used to enhance percussive sounds, as is the
hand. The other trick here is to use saturation
> Spacey Rhodes No Dist: an effected Rhodes loop.
Bitcrusher, which is second in the chain. The Drive is
followed by a Bitcrusher, and then more saturation.
> Spacey Rhodes Dist: the same Rhodes loop, with
set low on both of them and the Tone control on the
Finally, the ambience has saturation on it, with EQ
more body courtesy of Logic’s Distortion plugin.
Distortion is at just over 2kHz, meaning that most of
and compression, making the space around the kit
the action is going on in the mid to low frequencies.
sound bigger and more aggressive.
The Bitcrusher is set clean and in this position it helps to add a little ‘air’. The EQ knocks out a bit of the upper-mid peak of the original sound and the Transient Designer adds a dash more sustain to the low end. The result is a sound that’s much more capable of holding its own. The next two audio examples are a talking drum
and a drum kit. The originals of both sound great on their own but in the context of the tracks they come
from, they don’t have enough poke to cut through.
The trick is to keep the dynamics from creating an uneven saturation response
The talking drum has been put through the Logic Distortion and EQ’d to bring out the highs. The extra depth and attack that the treated version has can’t
Sculpt your distorted sound by using multiple plugs and EQ
be brought out by using compression alone, as this
always the best starting point, from your microphones and preamps right through to your speakers. Good distortion comes into play when you can control it, and having a clean signal path is the fundamental requirement that enables you to do it.
WHERE IT’S GOOD MUSICAL SOUNDS are made up of
fundamentals (the pitch that you hear) and a series of overtones and harmonics, which give the sound its timbre. Some instruments, like pianos and the string family, are full of them. This is especially true of the more expensive examples of those instruments – the difference between a cheap acoustic guitar and a
Martin is often in the amount of these overtones and harmonics that the instrument produces. If an instrument sounds rather dull, it’s often because these overtones are quiet. Distorting a sound serves to bring out the harmonic structure, making it much thicker and more complex. It pulls up the underlying overtones while leaving the fundamental pretty much where it is. Extreme distortion can completely destroy the quality of the original sound – which, of course, may be exactly what you are looking for. If it’s applied subtly, however, it’s entirely possible not to perceive the distortion at all while still beneﬁting from the enhanced harmonic colour that it imparts to the sound.
WHERE IT STARTED THAT DICTIONARY description of distortion
causing a loss of clarity can be pretty much stood on its head if you consider just how important the guitar ampliﬁer has been through the history of rock and pop – imagine Led Zeppelin and AC/DC without their Voxes and Marshalls. The punch and presence that a good valve amp gives an electric guitar or bass allows it to cut through even the loudest and most aggressive of drummers. The wonders of the valve aren’t just restricted to instrument ampliﬁers. Back in the early days of rock and pop, every bit of audio circuitry was dependent on them, from mics to mixers to tape machines. Analogue tape wasn’t the
ADDING CLARITY Now we’ve gone through a few methods of creating distortion, let’s talk about how we can apply some of these methods to add clarity. This is really about how to add mid-range, as that’s where the ‘bite’ is. You will have noticed that a lot of engineers use the parallel method either with an analogue or a plugin chain, or by using cheap and nasty-sounding mics and speakers. All these devices can add a real spike to the mids. If you have a problem sound in a mix and your usual tricks aren’t helping it cut through, try adding some hard-edged mid distortion. Guitar amp emulations like AmpliTube and Guitar Rig are especially good at this. Use a bright setting with very little bass, or even put a high-pass ﬁlter after the distortion so that only the mids and highs are left. Even if the effect doesn’t really have any of the note left in, it doesn’t matter – it’s only the presence that you’re after. Using guitar amp emulations in parallel gives you ultimate control over what they are doing and makes any noise they add easier to automate out. They’re particularly good on bass but can save any sound that refuses to respond to other treatments.
AUDIO FILES > Worse Than Bef Dull Bass: the original track with a solid but
uninspiring bass sound. > Worse Than Bef Dist Bass: the same track with parallel distortion added to the bass to make it cut through more.
reﬁned medium that it ended up being – it sounded good but was noisy. Maximising level to tape meant less hiss, so engineers were always pushing as hard as they could at the edges of the tolerances of their equipment to ensure that things were recorded as hot as possible. They soon realised that when you hit a mic pre or a tape machine hard, it sounded totally different. A little distortion would creep in and things would start to sound fatter and more exciting. Valve circuits and analogue tape distort with second order harmonics, which sound more natural to the human ear than the third order ones generated by transistor circuits. That’s why guitar amps and loads of outboard gear are still made with valves.
BLUES POWER IN CERTAIN genres, distortion started to become a large part of the music, not just on the guitars but for everything. AM radio had a restricted bandwidth and people started to notice how much
Use distortion on an aux channel to beef up your mids
louder those records sounded than the more restrained tones of the likes of Les Paul and Mary Ford. In the 1960s, pop didn’t just draw on the music of the blues, it drew on the recorded sound too. As such, engineers started to push everything to the limits and beyond, and the studio became another instrument in the band. Subtle (and, in some cases, not so subtle) use of distortion has always been a part of the cutting edge of modern music, and today is no exception.
The 1980s brought us the joys of digital and FM synthesis in various guises, the most notable being the DX7. While many people relished the clean, bell-like tones of these machines, for some they were just too clinical. Digital clarity and analogue ﬁlth were to prove a great combination – further experimentation revealed that distortion sounded great on any synth, as did sending the synth sound through guitar amps and all the other range of pedals at the engineer’s disposal in the studio.
SERIES OR PARALLEL?
ALONGSIDE DEVELOPMENTS in recording
WHEN USING a pedal on a guitar or synth, the signal passes through it, meaning that it’s being used in series. When you run the sound through a mixer you can use a nifty send and return conﬁguration that means it’s in parallel. What does that mean? Parallel distortion adds a new dimension to your sonic manipulations as you are blending the original clean signal with its distorted self.
technology have come many great and varied stompboxes, mostly aimed at electric guitarists. Of course, these devices aren’t used exclusively by those thrashers of the six strings – a pedal can be used on anything you like. Engineers also took a keen interest in them, so it wasn’t long before they were marked out for use on all kinds of sounds.
THE FUTURE OF DISTORTION In the marvellous age of the DAW, automation gives
As the sophistication of
Automating distortion can add new grooves and ﬁll any mix holes
us a whole new set of ways to control our FX, and
plugins continues to grow, we
distortion is one of them. Automating distortion
are starting to see more and
plugs adds yet another level to how we can adapt
more complex distortions on the
musical parts to ﬁt exactly what we need in a track.
market. Multiband distortions
Listen to the two versions of the track called
available. Trash from iZotope is a
was thrown together in a few minutes from some
great example, as is Audio Damage’s Kombinat, but
Apple Loops, as we’re sure you’ll be able to tell from
more often than not our weapon of choice is the
the undistorted version. We then spent about 20
Ohm Force Ohmicide. We love how you can set the
minutes messing around with some automated
crossover points between the bands and the
distortions to give you a basic idea of what they can
distortion type (and there’s a huge number to
do. The chordal part and the bassline both have a
choose from), and then ﬁnely adjust lots of
bitcrusher with automated downsampling. The
parameters in each band. Used subtly, Ohmicide can
difference that automation makes is huge as it
add some real analogue feel to even the coldest of
changes the emphasis of the groove, setting up
parts, but when cranked, it turns into a raging beast.
The bebop drums have some multiband
Ohmicide features multiband distortion processing functions
are now becoming more
Twister and then look at the screenshot. This track
a very different feel.
Being able to add warmth or savage distortion to speciﬁc bands of a sound means that you
> Twister With Dist 2: the same track again, but this time transformed using some automated distortions. > Ac Gtr Clean: a good-sounding acoustic that lacks a little energy. > Ac Gtr Ohmicide: the same guitar pumped up using Ohmicide. The distortion adds bite and depth, but it doesn’t sound distorted. > Disco Bass No Dist: a straight octave synth bassline that sounds fairly ﬂat at the minute. > Disco Bass Overdrive: the same bassline fattened
distortion to fatten them up. The drum loop has
can really emphasise nuances or pull up hidden
a subtle distortion on the channel, and then a
parts, particularly in loops. It’s an exciting area
> Panderio Straight: the original loop.
second, more aggressive distortion is faded-in on
of development – one that will only grow as
> Panderio Filter: this time through a Logic
an auxiliary in parallel. The lead line has a bitcrusher
producers, engineers and musicians ﬁnd new
followed by two distortions, each set to different
ways to utilise distortion.
levels of gain and EQ, and lastly there’s a high-pass ﬁlter to get rid of some of the low harmonics
generated by all that gain, allowing the part to sit
> Twister No Dist: the straight track with the loops
in the right area of the mix.
As with parallel compression, you will enjoy the beneﬁts of both signals: the transients and sonic purity of the original, coupled with the energy, aggression and power of the distortion. There are many tricks associated with this, most notably around drums where the distortion not only adds extra bite and aggression but also serves to bring up the sound of the recording room. Even in subtle and subdued amounts, distortions can have their rightful place. For example, we often put the DI output of an acoustic guitar into an amp. With the acoustic miked up in one room and the amp cranked up in another, we get a superb clean sound from the guitar itself and use the ambience of the distorted amp to put some backspace into the sound. It’s surprising how little of the ambient sound you need to make a big difference to the overall character. If you don’t own an analogue delay, you can always emulate the sound by putting
100 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
clean. No FX.
a crunchy pedal in front of a digital one – the results can be remarkably similar, and it can help to keep gear costs down on recording sessions where the budget is already a tad stretched.
CHEAP TRICKS ANOTHER SET of tricks used by some
engineers involves the physical distortions resulting from cheap, very small and even broken loudspeakers. Lots of guitar players in the early ’60s couldn’t get distortion from their amps (Selmer used to advertise their amps as being impossible to distort), so they would ‘razor’ their speakers. This entailed slitting the speaker with a razor blade, causing something sounding remarkably like amp distortion. A lot of engineers will send a dull snare out into a room through a cheap loudspeaker. They close-mic it to get some presence and often take the ambience, too. If you don’t happen to
up with Ohmicide.
Distortion and high-pass ﬁlter to give it a bit more cut and lose the bass. > Panderio Ohmicide: the multiband approach with Ohmicide makes it easier to remove the low end without a trace, circumventing the need for low-pass ﬁltering.
have a beautiful live room at your disposal, a tiled bathroom is ideal. Why bother using digital ambience when you can have the real thing? It’s great for livening up a sampled kit but, again, you can try it on anything. The other cheap items beloved of many engineers are microphones, and there are thousands of dreadful-quality mics available to the serial distorter. Cable-tie one to the front of a studio condenser and record both mics; the bad one might sound shocking on its own, but mix a bit of it in with the expensive one and you can get some radical effects. So, whether you’re looking to add some warmth to an acoustic number or turn your metal track into a savage beast, you should have a good few methods to check out. As with all aspects of making music, the only limit to how you use these tricks now is your imagination. Everything can go up to 11, you just have to decide when and how to use it.
PARALLEL DISTORTION It can take a bit of effort, but sending your signal out of the box and bringing it back on an auxiliary is a great technique for adding some extra air, grit and depth to your sound With parallel distortion, we can apply identical methods to both analogue and digital. We’ve used this method for years and it can work on any sound. Because distortion can ﬂatten out dynamics, it can alter not only the sonic character of an instrument but also its groove. You may need to spend some time automating out some of the inevitable noise that all of that unbridled gain will bring out, as with extreme settings the hiss between the notes can become as loud as the
sound itself, but hopefully you’ll ﬁnd it
DAW into your pedal at the right impedance. Feeding the
Take a jack out of the passive DI’s input and connect it to your
well worth the effort. Extreme EQ
input of your pedal with a much lower impedance signal
pedals’ input. Plug your pedals’ output to another DI, bring it
settings can also make a huge
than it needs won’t damage it, but it may sound vastly
back into your DAW via your usual chain. If using an analogue
difference, adding thundering lows
different. If it sounds thin, you’ll need to impedance match.
mixer, create the same DI chain but send from an aux out.
You’ll need a pair of DI boxes. At least one of them has to be passive, as this is what will get the output from your
Using a send from your DAW, route that sound to an output and connect that to the passive DI’s XLR output.
and savage mids that you will never achieve by EQ and compression alone. Next, take a look at some of the best ways of sending to and returning from a pedal with your DAW or mixer in the boxes to the right.
AUDIO FILES > Drums Dist Par 1: the Ocean Way drums from earlier, with parallel distortion from a Marshall Guv’nor. > Drums Dist Par 2: this time with an Ibanez Tube Screamer. > Drums Fuzz Par 1: with an Electro Harmonix Big Muff. > Drums Fuzz Par 2: ﬁnally, the drums with a Coloursound Tone
Now you can send either a single instrument or a mix into the distortion and blend in the resulting effected
Play around to see what you have. Swap the phase of the returning signal, as that can cause some very
sound with the original source. If you’re doing this only with
unexpected changes; try different levels of distortion, EQ
a DAW, the returning input signal will be subject to latency.
and compression; try delays, chorus and anything else you
Get around this by sending the original sound out of
have. If you power your pedals from a power supply with
another DAW output and bringing it in on another input.
switchable voltages, try sending only 6V or 3V instead of 9V.
Because distortion can ﬂatten out dynamics, it can alter not only the sonic character of 5 an instrument but its groove too
If you have set this up through a mixer, you could record the mixed signal back in. Recording back into the DAW
Without using pedals at all, you can do the exact same thing by using a distortion plug on an auxiliary in your
will mean the signal is delayed so you’ll need to line up the
DAW. Latency won’t be an issue here and you can still go
recorded ﬁles with the original. We record the original signal
through EQ, compression and more FX just as you can in
back because if the distorted track’s been truly smashed, it
the analogue chain. It’s a neat option worth exploring if you
might be hard to match the waveform of that to the source.
ﬁnd yourself with extra time to experiment.
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PRO VOCAL EXERCISES Prepare your vocals before you start recording with our essential exercises for singers, plus tips to help you through your session on the day, with vocals coach and trained singer Elena Kay
erhaps you’ve been singing for a while and you’re getting ready to record, but you’re concerned about your vocal sound. Or maybe you’d like to increase your vocal range before going into the studio?
102 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
Working on your vocal sound can take time and hard work, but it is rewarding. Vocal coach Elena Kay, who taught vocals at BIMM (some of her former students have performed with legends including Robert Plant), and who is your tutor here, recommends starting a few
months in advance. However, that doesn’t mean all is lost if you’re recording next week. Good posture, breath control and warm-ups will beneﬁt your sound, and the following exercises will help you target those areas. Now it’s over to Elena...
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PART 1 THINK ‘TALL’ FOR GREAT POSTURE BAD POSTURE can cause tension in your
larynx and, even worse, result in you losing your voice. Standing tall enables your neck muscles to relax and your breath to reach your abdomen, which produces a stronger tone. Practise the following exercises for ten minutes a day and before you do your voice warm-ups. And remember, it’s easy for your body to go back to its old habits, so check your posture regularly in the middle of a song.
PRACTISE IN FRONT OF A MIRROR TRYING THESE two examples of good and
bad posture can help you identify any bad
habits. First, stand up, balancing on one leg with your shoulders low, a slight curve in your back and your chin up. Sing a long, loud ‘aahhh’. Now push your shoulders back, stand up tall, balance well on both legs and relax your neck. Take a deep breath and sing the same. Can you see, feel and hear the difference?
USE MASSAGE TO RELEASE TENSION BEFORE YOU sing, massage the back of your neck and shoulders, as these are areas where we usually carry tension. Ensure that your jaw is also relaxed. Massaging your cheeks with the palm of your hands
while opening/closing your jaw can help release any tension if it’s tight.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH ALEXANDER A LOT of performers have beneﬁted from
the Alexander technique – invented by Australian actor Frederick Matthias Alexander to help heal his chronic voice problems. The idea is to stand straight, imagining your body growing taller. Balance on both legs and imagine a line starting at the top of your head, coming down through your back and keeping your body aligned. For more info, check www. alexandertechnique.com/musicians.htm.
WHAT ABOUT THE LYRICS?
TIPS FOR ROCK VOCALISTS
Singing a song is as much about the storytelling as it is about vocal technique. Reading your lyrics
Focus on strengthening your upper range – sing some warm-up
aloud (as if reciting a poem) can help you focus on them without worrying about the singing.
exercises loudly, trying to sing as high as you can without straining.
Notice where you breathe, as a breath before or after a certain word can change the emphasis on
Some singers push in their abdominal muscles and/or bend their
it. Work on your annunciation, too – tongue twisters are good for relaxing your tongue and jaw.
knees when they sing (or scream) loud, high-pitched sounds. This
Exaggerate the way you pronounce the sounds in your warm-up exercises. When you practise the
takes some of the strain away from the vocal cords. Always relax your
song, pay attention to long vowels by opening your mouth wide and don’t forget to pronounce
jaw (as if you’re yawning). Also, use your natural tone and be wary of
consonants clearly. Experiment with vocal effects and dynamics to express different emotions.
pushing your voice to produce a desired tone that feels unnatural. For
Singers often use grit, vocal creaks, a husky tone or yodeling to sing certain words. Choose wisely
example, if you decide to use a husky or gritty tone, don’t do this
where to use a vocal effect, as too much repetition could tire both your voice and your audience.
throughout the entire song as it could wear out your vocal cords.
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PART 2 PRACTISE DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING SINGERS HAVE to take short, fast breaths
but still be able to sustain long phrases and belt high notes. Diaphragmatic breathing takes some time to get used to, but it can increase your stamina and tone projection, not to mention protect your voice from getting strained. We all do it when we lie down to sleep and we can apply it in singing too. Below are a variety of exercises for you to try. Ideally they should be done for ﬁve to ten minutes a day, right after your posture exercises.
LYING/SITTING DOWN FIRST, LIE down or sit on a chair. Put one hand on your stomach and take a deep breath, ﬁlling it right up with air. That’s it! Now try it standing up, making sure that your shoulders don’t move at all – if they
rise up then your neck muscles will automatically tighten.
THE CLOCK TAKE A deep breath and exhale, vocalising a sound such as ‘sss’, ‘vvv’ or ‘zzz’. Repeat the exercise, using a different sound at a time. Once you have used all of the consonant sounds, start working your way through the vowels. Time yourself while you exhale and monitor your progress. Beginners might start with a ten-second exhalation, for example, before advancing to exhaling for 20 seconds or more.
COUNTING TAKE A deep diaphragmatic breath and count out loudly and slowly from ten all
the way down to one, all in one breath. Make sure that you pronounce all of the consonants well. You will ﬁnd that as your stamina increases, you’ll increase the amount of numbers you count.
THE PUMP TAKE THREE short breaths, hold for three seconds, then exhale with three sharp ‘s’s. Increase the number of breaths, seconds and exhalations as your body becomes used to the exercise.
YOUR SONG SING YOUR song slowly, phrase-by-phrase, focusing on your breath. This might take a while, but remember that you’re trying to change a long habit so prepare to persevere. The results are worth it.
TIPS FOR METAL SINGERS
TIPS FOR INDIE/FOLK SINGERS
Matt Boyd, lead singer for Heavenasunder (head to heavenasunder.bandcamp.com)
“Singing indie and folk music is all about your delivery of the story”, says Siddy
has some useful tips for metal singers: “Warm up and stretch your entire body before
Bennett, lead singer for Bristol based folk four-piece Wildﬂowers (check them
you sing, paying particular attention to your tongue and jaw. Experimenting with
out at wildﬂowersband.co.uk). “Try your best to focus on the emotion of the
resonance is key; as the vocals are less melodic, you have to be aware of changing the
song, and really get yourself worked up into the appropriate mood so that you
sound to keep things interesting.” Apparently a tickly throat is almost guaranteed for
feel every word as you are singing into the microphone.” Siddy performs her
metal singers, so Matt drinks plenty of water whenever he practises and records. As for a
Wildﬂowers songs live as much as possible before entering the recording
good mic, Matt recommends the Shure SM7B: “They are particularly good at picking up
studio with them. “The more you do this, the more you will play around with
the grittier stuff without needing a pop ﬁlter.” The Zen Of Screaming, an instructional
melodies and inﬂections,” she says, “and therefore the song will have developed
DVD by Melissa Cross, is another good resource for metal vocalists.
to its full potential.”
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PART 3 DON’T FORGET YOUR WARM-UPS YOU’D NEVER think about going for a run or
lifting weights without warming up your body ﬁrst, so why sing without a proper warm-up? Your vocal cords (two delicate bands surrounded by muscles) can easily get strained, affecting both your tone and your ability to project. A thorough vocals warm-up lasts about 20 minutes and covers the entire vocal range. Don’t be afraid to hit those high notes – you won’t increase your range if you only use your middle register. Practise these exercises three to four times a week to get used to the techniques before your recording session.
SIRENS AND LIP TRILLS THESE TECHNIQUES are absolutely brilliant
for relaxing the larynx, tongue and jaw. Using the sound ‘woo’, smoothly move up and down your vocal range while sustaining the sound without forcing at all. Gently push your tummy muscles in to enable more projection and better stamina. Lip trills are the same exercise
using the sound ‘b-b-b’ (similar to blowing raspberries).
HUMMING FROM A comfortable pitch, sing the ﬁrst three notes of the major scale, ascending and descending (do-re-mi-re-do). Move up a semitone at a time, reaching a pitch you feel is comfortably high. Don’t force your voice; relax into your sound. After a while you should feel a tickling around your lips and nose. Descend to warm up your lower range.
SCALES AND ARPEGGIOS REPEAT THESE a semitone up at a time. Use sounds such as ‘may’, ‘mee’ or ‘ma’ to begin with, then have fun creating your own consonant and vowel combinations (‘va’, ‘lo’, ‘koo’). Don’t forget to check your jaw. Does it drop down low enough? There’s a massive difference in tone projection when your mouth’s open wide. You can hear for yourself if you sing the same pitch with a small opening of the mouth and then with a low, relaxed jaw.
OVERCOMING NERVES No one wants a shaky voice in a recording. Nerves can also waste time for everyone involved, as you might end up having to re-record your lines. Make sure that you are conﬁdent about any tricky parts of the song. If you’re worried about high notes or you don’t have enough stamina for a long phrase, you’ll be more likely to get nervous. Do something to relax instead – some singers meditate, while others unwind with a cup of herbal tea and honey to hydrate their throat. You can also practise your breathing, as diaphragmatic breaths help to slow your heart rate down, helping you to focus.
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CLASSIC VOCAL SOUNDS It’s time to enter the emotive world of vocals, and here we explore some subtle techniques that will balance your vocals with your instruments to give them a classic, pro feel our sessions are done, your vocalist has laid down some truly killer takes and you’re conﬁdent that your tune will be a hit. But all of this will amount to nothing unless you treat the vocals right in the mix. In this collection of tutorials, we’ll be focusing on mix techniques that are reliant on balancing vocals against traditional instrument arrangements. Whereas vocals in dance-pop productions often rely on ﬂashy effects, the onus here is on making sure that the recorded vocal is treated with respect (which puts an even greater emphasis on recording a great-sounding vocal in the
106 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
ﬁrst place). Treatments are kept subtle, letting the vocal part do most of the work, and effects are used simply, ensuring that the crucial balance with the other instruments in the arrangement is maintained throughout. We’ll look at some other important techniques, too, including how to balance a recorded backing vocal with a lead line, which is particularly critical if both vocal parts are sung by the same performer. Additionally, we’ll look at how to achieve the classic sound of one of the most famous mixing consoles in the world, even if your plugin suite isn’t blessed with a direct software emulation. We’ll also look at more stand-out plugin tricks, such
as careful use of telephone-style treatments across an entire lead vocal, and various tonal ﬂavours of auxiliary delay, including dark, atmospheric delays and thinner, brighter ones, both of which can work beautifully within the context of different types of records. If you’re a singer-songwriter looking for ways to enhance your vocal performances with expert use of plugins, the following walkthroughs are for you. Remember, if you want to be considered a serious artist in this musical ﬁeld, subtle treatments will often be received better by the listening public than more extreme ones, so start with a great-sounding channel strip and build slowly from there.
VOLUME AUTOMATION NO DRY recorded vocal will ever sit comfortably in a mix without some balancing, and the following walkthrough will focus on some of the tricks used to create the illusion of volume consistency. Any emotional vocal performance will vary a great deal in dynamic range, with artists regularly singing almost whispered notes at one end of the volume spectrum and full-on, belted vocals at the other – sometimes within the same bar!
Engineers and producers often prepare for this by using subtle compression as vocals are being tracked, so that the loudest notes have their volumes slightly reduced to ensure recording levels don’t overload. However, it’s not great practice to compress hard at the recording stage because compression is a difﬁcult effect to remove later. So, while you can always add more compression at the mixing
stage, discovering that you’ve recorded too much can often be a disaster. In fact, as you will ﬁnd, the most convincing way to balance levels within a track is to use volume automation, a capability all DAWs now provide. We’re using Beyoncé as the example for this tutorial as she has a powerful voice that’s treated fairly consistently through the majority of her tracks, with only subtle effects usually employed.
STEP BY STEP TAMING THE DYNAMICS
We prepare a backing track loosely in the style of Beyoncé in ballad mode, with a piano part, gated pad, kick and snares, and an emotionally rich vocal
Next we add EQ and Compression. We boost at 4.1kHz and 10kHz by 2.5 and 6dB respectively, and cut at 80Hz, 200Hz, 500Hz and 1.2kHz by 3, 2.5, 2 and
part. You can hear the latter in dry, unprocessed form in this ﬁrst clip (1 Beyoncé
1.5dB respectively. Compression evens the dynamics somewhat with a Ratio of
start.mp3). Note the fairly wide dynamic range, which is causing some notes
7:1, a threshold of -22.5dB and make-up gain of 4dB. We also add Reverb and
to get lost.
Delay via Auxiliary 1 and Auxiliary 3 (2 EQ Compression and FX.mp3).
The compressor alone can’t provide the level balancing this vocal requires. We open Logic’s automation and select volume as the parameter, then add
We set up Auxiliary 4 and insert a tape delay effect. We set the beat division to quarter-note (crotchet) and the feedback level to 8% to ensure a single
boosts and cuts where required to even the vocal’s dynamics until the result is
echo. We automate the send level from the vocal, raising it for the last word in each
smooth throughout. It’s rare to record a vocal that doesn’t need this level of
phrase. After the tape delay we insert EQ and select a ‘telephone treatment’ preset,
volume automation at the mix stage (3 Volume Automation.mp3).
which colours the delay tone nicely (4 Telephone Delays.mp3).
MIXING & MASTERING his is where the real magic of recording happens; where you can polish your performances using pro studio techniques that have been honed by masters of the art over the past decades. Thanks to our DAWs and the wealth of software now available to us, these techniques are readily accessible to home recordists. Over the following pages you will learn how to get the best from your computer, as well as snagging genius tips for adding reverb and compression, EQing your mixes to perfection, and polishing your tracks at the mastering stage. We’ve enlisted the help of studio pros to help you give your work that extra sheen, and our tutorials and walkthroughs will transform you further into a home studio wizard.
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GET ORGANISED Setting up your computer might not seem like the most exciting mixing project you’ll undertake, but do it properly from the start and you’ll be free to focus on the most important thing: your sound ixing can be either simple or complex, but it can also be quite confusing. And that’s the last thing you want when you need to be focusing on your sound. Avoid getting into a pickle by taking some time to arrange things in a clear manner from the start. So what’s the best way to set up your computer for mixing? Take a quick look at an analogue mixing console. A well set-up mixing desk will be conﬁgured differently for recording and mixing, and with good reason. At the mixing stage, tracks and inputs are routed via the line inputs (not the monitor inputs), allowing you to make full use of the channel processing. All signals, including any auxiliary effects returns, are then bussed via a master fader into a stereo output. But on many desks you’ll also ﬁnd that the group busses you used to send signals to your recorder during the recording stage can
MIXING SIGNAL FLOW
now be re-patched, enabling you to create stereo submixes as well. So how does that translate to mixing in your computer? As long as your software has good bussing options (full versions of Cubase, Live, Logic, Sonar and Pro Tools all do), setting up your computer in this way can be a real bonus. Not only does it keep things tidy and easy to understand, it should also make better use of your CPU. Fundamentally, though, both of these aspects will help you achieve better mixes – and that’s the important bit.
GAIN STRUCTURE PRIMER ALTHOUGH BIG, pro mixing desks may look
incredibly complex, in reality they’re actually quite simple. Take a look at the top right of this page, where you’ll see our block diagram of the signal ﬂow for one channel of a mixing desk as it operates at the mixing stage of a project. As you’ll see, it’s all pretty straightforward. What’s interesting, though, are the various points
LINE INPUT LINE GAIN FILTERS/EQ DYNAMICS CHANNEL FADER CHANNEL PAN POT
STEREO BUSS STEREO FADER
of gain control. These may be ampliﬁers (plus and minus) or simply trims (just minus), but the point is, every channel has them and they’re very handy. Thinking back to how most software is set up, it’s likely that most tracks will simply be routed straight to the main output via a level fader. What’s more, that fader will most likely be accompanied by a peak meter (more on metering later).
STEP BY STEP LIMITING
It’s easy to get into the habit of overloading channels, and often the clipped sound can act
It may seem obvious, but if you do want to clip or limit signals there are often better ways to do
You will ﬁnd that certain plugins include clip protection. With Logic’s standard compressor,
just like limiting the signal. The problem is that it
it. Here we have selected a simple limiter plug-in,
for example, hidden away in the extra parameters are
completely messes up your gain structure. Here,
slammed the signal up to zero to achieve the desired
some overload options (Soft, Hard and Clip). As it
overloading one channel has caused the master
clipped sound, then turned the whole thing down so
happens, none of these will actually let you overload
output to clip as well.
that our output doesn’t overload at all.
the channel, which is handy.
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free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com MIXING & MASTERING | GET ORGANISED But imagine you’re blending 30 or more tracks to that single stereo output. The chances are that it will be ﬂatlining before you know it, and not only will you have run out of bits, you’ll also be distorting your signal. As it happens, most software will overload to a degree without sounding too bad (and will sometimes indicate the overload amount). The problem is, this can lull you into a false sense of security. Anyone used to mixing on analogue boards will be fully au fait with trimming back the faders to stop the output buss overloading. But if you really want to stay in control, one simple solution is to build various additional gain layers into your mixing setup. These could be a couple of sub-groups (eg, backing track, vocals), or a more complex set-up with extra gain trims all over the place. Whichever route you take, you’ll then have a safety net if things get out of control, and you won’t be mixing with all the faders pulled down to where the scaling gets less accurate. There will be some people who say they like to clip the levels, because this acts as a form of hard limiting and that increases the energy of sounds. Sure, fair enough. But if that’s your bag, there are other ways you can achieve it (eg, using a genuine limiter plug-in) that won’t result in the levels overloading further down the signal path. Plugins such as Steinberg’s Loudness Maximizer or Logic’s Adaptive Limiter give a choice of ways to squash the signal up to zero, and you can then
turn the overall level down without losing the effect you want.
METERING YOU’LL ENCOUNTER two main types of audio
level meters: PPM (peak program meter) and VU (volume unit). Typically, the needle meters you see on a desk are VU meters, while the metering within your software will tend to be of the peak variety. This is because in digital audio your main concern is with making sure you don’t go over zero, while still trying to use as much of the dynamic range as possible. However, when it comes to mixing, if you’re going to buss those signals together without overloading the outputs you’ll need headroom. That means turning some things down. In practice, there are a few things to bear in mind. Firstly, it’s your output meter that you want to be tickling the zero point, and this means that most of your individual tracks won’t be metering anywhere near zero. Secondly, peak meters are best at indicating transients, but with sudden sounds even the fastest can struggle to keep up. Ultimately, the meters are there to help, but don’t rely on them solely. Thirdly, track down a VU-style meter and use it on your mix output. It’ll give you a much better indicator of the perceived loudness of your mix. Finally, many software packages include spectrum analysis plugins. Not only do these look great, but if your monitoring is
limited they could also be your salvation. Take the time to run some commercial mixes you like the sound of through one of these so you can see what’s going on.
LAYOUT CHANCES ARE, all your visual data – from faders to waveforms – is going to be crammed onto the same screen. Each software package has its unique way of dealing with this, though some are more ﬂexible than others. Whether you’re using Logic Pro’s complex screensets, the simpler two-screen set-up of Ableton Live, or something in between, your mixing experience will improve considerably if you arrange the tracks in logical fashion. Putting down tracks quickly during the production process can leave you with an arrangement that’s less than clear. You should at least shift the tracks around so that similar elements are close together. If your song is complex, take the time to sort things properly. Perhaps colour code individual tracks, or elements within them. Equally, keep your auxiliary returns together and select your auxiliaries so that they follow an obvious pattern – with, for example, delays on the ﬁrst four auxiliaries in order of length, followed by reverbs using the same order. It will save you a lot of time, and you’ll look like a pro. The other thing to always keep a look-out for is opportunities to share plugins. Using auxiliary send/return busses for delays and reverbs is the
STEP BY STEP BUSSING & GROUPING
SIMPLE GROUPS The terminology tends to vary between software
SIMPLE BUSS We’ve set up a number of extra busses so that
EFFECTS BUSS To keep things tidy, we’ve also decided to group
packages, but on the whole grouping refers to the
we can submix certain elements of the track. Our
our effects returns to a single buss. This can serve a
linking of different tracks. Here we’ve taken two
ﬁrst submix will handle beats. You’ll also notice that
number of uses during the mixing process, including
kick drums, set their levels and linked them. We’ve
we’ve taken the precaution of trimming the level
general increasing, decreasing and muting of overall
then done the same with the bass parts.
down on the buss, using a gain plugin.
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free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com GET ORGANISED | MIXING & MASTERING traditional example, and this is far more CPU-efﬁcient than using these sorts of effects as inserts. But you can apply the same theory to sub-mixed elements, which can then share compressors, EQs and your more CPU-hungry limiters.
BUSS AND GROUP BUSSING SIGNALS into submixes will help
the organisation and sound of your mix, but how does that differ from grouping? Typically, grouping involves linking together a bunch of existing tracks so they act as one cohesive unit. In Logic and Pro Tools, you can create speciﬁc groups that link tracks together for editing, automation or both. This way you could set up a group for all drum kit or ‘beat’ elements in your track. Then whenever you change the level of one element, all the others will follow. Bussing refers to blending certain elements together to form a submix. The big difference is that the submixed signal can then be processed as one; grouping merely allows you to control a bunch of tracks together. Why is this so signiﬁcant, you ask? Well, one of the main considerations is your auxiliaries. If each of your grouped tracks is sending a level to an auxiliary (typically the level is affected by the fader level), then changing all of your fader levels together (using a group) will change the send levels, but in a consistent manner (for all your grouped
tracks). However, with a collection of tracks that are bussed into a submix, changing the overall level of the submix won’t actually affect the send levels of the individual tracks routed to it, so the send levels remain constant. It may sound pedantic, but it’s signiﬁcant – especially if you need to modify your group levels and maintain the relative level of the auxiliary returns. One alternative is to buss your effects returns to their own buss, too.
PPM VS VU
THERE ARE a few other things to consider.
Firstly, delay compensation. If you submix tracks and use plugins across them, you will inevitably introduce processing delay. If your software has full automatic delay compensation, this shouldn’t be an issue as everything will be delayed to match the slowest plugin. However, not all software uses this, so you may have to use manual delay adjusters. This will be apparent if you use powered plugin systems like the Universal Audio UAD range. The second trap is that you can end up with so many submixes and groups that it defeats the point of setting them up in the ﬁrst place. Should that become the case, go back to basics: submix your backing track, vocals and effects.
AUTOMATION AND FINALLY, before you start thinking that it could all be a bit of a pain, we
Rather than rely solely on peak meters, it can be good to see things on VU meters too, as they emphasise different things. Here we’ve got a meter that shows peak levels on the left and VU on the right. The ﬁrst is from a passage without too much low frequency content. The second is at the peak of a crescendo. The peak meter differs between the two, but the difference for the VU is more marked, indicating a big difference in the loudness of the track.
have one word for you: automation. If you like to get busy with automation, you’ll be only too aware that once you have done lots of level adjustment, rebalancing elements while retaining your automation can be a ﬁddly process. With a few submixes, however, it can be much simpler.
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THE ART OF AMBIENCE Reverb plugins can sound spookily realistic or purposely synthetic, but whichever you prefer, you’ll get more from them with our guide everb is one of the few audio effects that occurs in the natural world, and in fact, it’s around us at all times, though we tend to take it for granted. Sound waves propagate from a sound source in a spherical fashion, continually bouncing off any surrounding surfaces and gradually losing energy until they die away to nothing – this is what we know as reverb. Just about the only place you won’t hear any reverb would be inside an acoustically-dead anechoic chamber. Many recordings are made using close-miking techniques, where the natural reverb of the recording room is
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kept to a minimum – most of us don’t have access to great-sounding recording rooms anyway, so this makes sense. Indeed, computer musicians commonly record guitar parts directly into their DAWs, and many of the instruments that we use don’t even exist in physical form. Reverb is therefore often added artiﬁcially after the sessions are complete, at the mixing stage. When working with real instruments, it’s generally desirable to impart a realistic reverberation space, although with the widespread use of digital reverb units in the ’80s, many began to apply the effect in a more creative fashion. And when it comes to electronic music, which mostly
doesn’t involve real instruments at all, this ethos applies even more strongly. Wherever you’re coming from, though, our tutorial is for you. Over the next few pages, we’ll be explaining just how typical digital reverb processors work, before going on to demonstrate some standard reverb mixing techniques and getting stuck into a few more creative applications. We’re using Ableton Live 7 in our walkthroughs, but the techniques are entirely applicable to other DAWs, not to mention other musical genres. If you don’t have Live, you can always download the trial version at www.ableton.com – then you’ll be able to load up all of our tutorial ﬁles.
UNDER THE HOOD THERE ARE many types of reverb processor, including mechanical hardware such as spring and plate reverbs, but the kind that most computer musicians will be familiar with is the digital (or algorithmic) variety, which attempts to mimic the real-world process of reverb in a room. We already touched upon the fact that soundwaves propagate outward from a sound source in a spherical fashion, much as light radiates in all directions from a bulb. Consider what happens when you stand in a large hall and someone at the other end of it claps their hands: the ﬁrst thing you’ll hear is the direct soundwave coming from the clap, which can be considered the dry signal. Next, you’ll hear the ﬁrst echoes of that clap as it bounces off the walls – these are the ‘early reﬂections’, and already the sound will be coloured a little, as the walls absorb certain frequencies. The phase/ timing of the soundwaves will also have been smeared a little due to this, softening the sound Shortly after comes the ‘tail’, caused by the many complex echoes that soon take place. Discrete echoes are no longer heard, as the sound diffuses into a smooth decay, and gradually fades away as energy is lost to the walls. As you can imagine, the shape of the room (and its contents) play a huge role. The material of the walls is also a prime factor, as ﬂat, hard surfaces will reﬂect the frequency range more evenly, whereas soft surfaces will quickly absorb frequencies. Irregular surfaces will mean that the sound is broken up and diffused more readily too. Many digital reverbs take the approach of modelling the early reﬂections and diffuse tail independently, which, while not being exactly how real rooms work, gives a good approximation. The early reﬂections may be based on a series of short delays, whereas the tail might be created using a complicated network of delay lines fed into each other. Filters would provide for damping of high or low frequencies over time, and all-pass ﬁlters may be employed to smear and diffuse
the sound further. There are other digital reverb algorithms, of course, but what we’ve described is the classic one.
DIGITAL REVERB PARAMETERS PREDELAY IS simply a delay
applied to the input signal before any reverb processing Magix VariVerb Pro is an excellent reverb plugin, featuring many is applied. If you were in an different algorithms, including the type described here enormous room, and clapped STEREO WIDTH your hands, there would be a A HIGHER value generally sounds more discernible delay before you heard any ‘real’, but reducing this can give the reverberations bouncing back from the reverb more deﬁnition. walls, so increasing this can make the room sound bigger. This also prevents MODULATION the reverb from blurring into the initial MANY DIGITAL reverbs also employ subtle part of the dry signal, which can be good pitch modulation of the tail, to further for preserving drum transients, etc. diffuse the sound. This isn’t especially EQ realistic, but it can certainly sound nice, ENABLES YOU to tailor which frequencies and many of Lexicon’s famous reverb are passed through to the reverb, eg: units use this to good effect. cutting the bass will reduce boom.
DECAY DETERMINES THE RT60 of the reverb in
seconds, that is, how long it takes for the reverb’s level to fall by 60dB.
SIZE ALTERS THE perceived size of the room. In a
classic digital algorithm, this may inﬂuence the length of the delays in the feedback network, which are essentially simulating the distances between walls.
HIGH/LOW DAMPING NOT JUST a simple EQ, this controls how certain frequencies are attenuated over time. For instance, with no high damping, the reverb will have a constant treble level; increase the damping, though, and the sound will become duller over time. This mimics how wall materials absorb sonic energy at different frequencies. In Live’s Reverb, this is the Diffusion Network section.
SOME REVERBS let you specify the level
of the early reﬂections and the tail independently.
DRY/WET ALWAYS SET this to 100 percent wet when
using your reverb on a return bus. THERE’S A great degree of variance in the parameters offered by different reverbs, so you should check out the manual of yours for the full lowdown. There are also convolution reverb processors to consider. These work very differently from those described thus far, and typically use samples taken from real rooms to recreate them digitally. A loud, sharp sound (for example, a clap or starter gun) is made in a room, and the reverb tail recorded – the resultant sample is called an impulse response and can be loaded into a convolution processor. Another way to create impulse responses involves sine sweeps.
Get tutorial files online at vault.computermusic.co.uk Register this book as issue 33
THE PRO PRODUCER’S GUIDE TO EQ If music is all about evoking emotion through sound, we need powerful tools to sculpt that sound. Welcome to the world of EQ, where the mix magic really happens qualisation (EQ) is a powerful tool that lets you shape the sound of your music, balancing and enhancing the tone of each individual instrument recorded for maximum impact. Here you will learn how to clarify a muddy mix by removing unwanted frequencies, and we’ll also give you suggestions as to which frequencies you can use to add ‘air’, ‘warmth’, ‘thump’, and so on, where needed. We’ll look at speciﬁc techniques that enable you to sculpt an instrument’s frequency response to sit well within a mix, and show you how to ﬁnd exactly the right frequency to cut or boost any instrument. We’ll look at different types of EQ, both analogue and digital, and consider the advantages and disadvantages of each. First, though, it will be helpful for you to
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understand a little about what EQ is, and how it works.
LIKE COLOUR FOR SOUND WE CONSTANTLY talk about sound using words borrowed from things we can see, such as ‘bright’ or ‘dull’, ‘muddy’ or ‘clear’, and ‘sharp’ or ‘smooth’. People with a condition called synesthesia actually see speciﬁc colours when they hear certain sounds, and most of us associate colours with sound to some extent. In fact, there’s a fundamental link between the colours we see and the ‘colours’ we hear. The colours we see are determined by the frequency content of the light waves that reach our eyes, whereas the colours we hear are determined by the frequency content of the sound waves that reach our ears. So, low-frequency light waves are brown, red or orange in colour, and
these ‘sepia’ tones are colours we often associate with lower-pitched notes and ‘warm’, ‘analogue’ sounds, whereas higher-frequency, ‘brighter’ and more ‘metallic’ notes and sounds are often connected in our minds with colours like blue or cyan. Coincidence? Probably not. All of this is the work of our brains trying to make sense of the world around us, and the association of blue with cold water or red and orange with the dying embers of a ﬁre goes back a long way. Luckily, this instinctive connection means that controlling the frequency content of your music using EQ – its colour, if you like – gives us a powerful way to control the affect it has on anyone listening, which is exactly what music is about. Over the following pages, we will show you how to maximise this effect to really let your music sing.
EMI’s TG EQs have helped craft thousands of classic recordings
THE FACTS: WHAT IS EQ? EQ is equalisation – but equalisation of what? WE CAN control the frequency content of
our music using equalisation, but what does the term mean? It comes from the earliest use of equalisers: correcting the uneven frequency response of telephone lines. When you’re using a phone, you want each person’s voice to sound as close as possible to the real thing, so it needs ﬂat, or linear, frequency response. The very ﬁrst telephone electronics were far from ideal, so the frequency response of the signals needed to be ‘equalised’ so that what you got out was roughly the same as what went in. Nowadays, digital audio systems are designed from the ground up to have a linear frequency response, and more often that not we use EQ to stop things having an even frequency response by adding colour (more on this later).
NATURAL EQ THINKING ABOUT the original meaning of
equalisation, it’s interesting that the natural frequency response of much acoustic music is often already quite ﬂat.
If you look at the frequencies produced by a piano, a symphony orchestra or a rock band recorded without much processing, you will see that most frequencies are represented fairly equally, sloping gently down in the high frequencies. This makes sense. If all instruments made sounds at the same frequency, it
If a guitar is ﬁghting with the vocals, try using a different chord inversion would be much harder to tell them apart. This natural EQ is determined by the fact that low-frequency sounds have a lower pitch, and high-frequency sounds have a higher pitch. For some rules of thumb about different frequency ranges and how they work with instruments, see Using EQ on p.132. Songwriters naturally choose instruments with different frequency characteristics to balance and contrast against each other, and when
you put them all together, the sound covers the whole frequency range.
EQ WITHOUT AN EQUALISER USING THESE ideas can give us a powerful way to control the ‘EQ’ of a mix without ever touching an EQ unit. If a guitar line is ﬁghting with the vocals in the mix, try using a different chord inversion or moving one of them up or down an octave to make space for the other. Even if changing the arrangement isn’t an option for you, it’s entirely possible to get a markedly different sound for each part. Moving a microphone can capture a different sound – for example, closemiking an acoustic guitar will often produce a warmer, richer feel. When it comes to synths, editing a patch is often a much better way to achieve clarity and separation than trying to EQ the sounds afterwards. You can also use EQ to achieve the exact same effect, of course – this particular technique is known as ‘frequency carving’ and is covered in more detail on the next page.
IN PRACTICE: USING EQ Practical and creative equalisation techniques AS WITH any audio processing, the key to
great results with EQ lies ﬁrst in knowing what you want to achieve. Reasons why you might want to use EQ include: > To balance a sound within the mix – for example, adding more edge on the vocals to help them cut through. > To ﬁx a recording problem, such as too much boom on a bass sound or mic pops on a vocal. > To balance the overall sound of a mix – for example, to add more bass. > To create an entirely new or unique sound – this may include transforming something into a bassline by cutting all the high frequencies. Whatever your goal, having a clear idea of what you want to achieve is a must, but ﬁrst you need to know how frequencies are measured and labelled.
MEASURING FREQUENCY THE FREQUENCY of a sound is measured by
how many times its wave oscillates per
second. Frequency is measured in cycles per second, or Hertz (Hz). The lowest note on a piano has a fundamental frequency of 27Hz and a maximum frequency of 4186Hz, or roughly 4kHz (kilohertz). Our ears can hear much higher, though – right up to 20kHz for some young children – and there is plenty of important sonic information in these upper frequencies.
EQ BANDS LEARNING WHAT different frequencies
sound like and the effect they have on the sound of different instruments is an invaluable skill. Below are the names we use to classify each of the different bands. The frequencies are approximate, so use your ears! > 20-60Hz – Sub-bass: Gives boom, depth and richness, but too much will sound ﬂabby and out of control. Small speakers don’t reproduce this. > 60-150Hz – Bass: ‘Thump’ and punch
in drums, especially kick and snare, and richness in bass and guitars, but too much will sound woolly. > 150Hz-1kHz – Lower mid: Important for warmth, but too much will sound thick and congested. The 500Hz-1kHz region is especially crucial for a more natural vocal tone, but too much sounds boxy and nasal. > 1-3kHz – Upper mid: The most sensitive area of the ear, important for edge, bite and clarity, but too much will sound harsh and tinny. > 3-8kHz – Low top: Provides sizzle and ﬁzz, as well as edge and aggression in guitars, but too much will sound thin and brittle. > 8-12kHz – Top: Gives openness, air and clarity, but too much will sound glassy and over-bright. > 12-18kHz – Very high top: These frequencies can add sheen and sparkle and sweeten things up, but too much will sound unnatural, gritty and forced.
IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE… OR IS IT? AS YOU may have gathered from the rules of thumb above, every frequency has an important role to play, but too much of any one area will sound unnatural. This means having the right balance of each is essential for a natural sound. But actually, that’s not quite true. The sound of the overall EQ needs to be balanced, but individual sounds on their own don’t need to be, provided they work within the mix. In fact, if all the instruments in a mix sound perfectly balanced by themselves, this can often lead to a muddled, cluttered mix. A great example of this is acoustic guitar – when close-miked, there’s a lot of warm, boomy bass information in the sound of the guitar. This may sound great on its own, but it will often just clutter things up and make them sound muddy within a mix. The solution can often be to reduce the low mid and bass boom to help the guitar cut through the mix and sit right.
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free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com EQ | MIXING & MASTERING This particular technique of restricting the frequency range of instruments to create a dedicated space for them to sit in the mix is an extension of the idea of choosing sounds that complement each other sonically, and is known as ‘frequency carving’. If there are two parts ﬁghting in the mix because they are occupying the same frequency range, then it can sometimes help to boost the EQ on one of them and cut the other at the same frequency. You should then reverse the strategy and boost the second sound in a different place while cutting the ﬁrst. Doing this will emphasise the contrast between the two parts, with gentler boosts, and will help to stop things sounding unnatural.
EQ PARAMETERS Choosing the right variety of EQ for the effect you need is essential All EQ boosts or cuts certain frequencies, but
frequency. The Q control decides how broad or
exactly how it does this will vary. The simplest
narrow the band is – lower values give a broad
type is the high or low cut – these do exactly
boost, while a high Q creates a narrow ‘notch’ EQ.
what they say on the tin, removing everything above or below a particular frequency. Shelving EQs allows for broad boosts or
AUDIO EXAMPLES > In the download, you will ﬁnd examples of each
cuts above or below the chosen frequency,
EQ type in use – ﬁrst the ﬂat audio, then high
and parametric EQ centres around the chosen
and low cut, shelving and parametric EQ.
FINDING THE FREQUENCY THIS IS probably the most useful EQ
technique you can ever learn, so pay attention! Let’s say there’s a honky mid-range resonance in the vocal for the song you’re working on. You know it’s somewhere in the lower mid, but you’re not sure exactly where it is. To pinpoint the problem frequency exactly, all you need to do is follow these steps and you’ll have it nailed in no time: > Solo the channel that you want to EQ. > Listen carefully and remember what the frequency you’re trying to ﬁnd sounds like. > Using a parametric EQ, add a large boost with a fairly narrow Q. > Slowly sweep the frequency of the boost up and down. > Listen for an extreme version of the frequency region that you want to ﬁnd. > When the boost hits it, you’ll hear it ‘sing out’ or ‘ring’. > Now use the EQ to make a big cut, and double-check by rocking the frequency up and down again. > Reduce the cut until you hear the problem frequency again. > Tweak the Q – too broad will cut out too much around the problematic frequency, but too narrow will sound ‘pinched’ and unnatural. > Finally, unsolo the track and listen carefully again in context. With that done, you can now experiment with more or less cut on the selected frequency to ﬁnd the perfect amount.
HIGH AND LOW CUT Cutting out-of-control low frequencies can help clean up a muddy mix – take care not to make
everything too thin, though. More advanced EQ types allow you to control the steepness of the cutoff.
SHELVING Great for making smooth, gentle alterations to a whole mix. A high-shelf boost can be a nice way
to add ‘air’ to sweeten a vocal or dull mix without making anything in particular stand out.
PARAMETRIC This allows for ‘surgical’ changes at any frequency. Very narrow boosts create a resonant effect
that can sound great swept up and down through a broadband sound like a synth pad.
PRO PRODUCTION: ADVANCED EQ TECHNIQUES How to take your use of EQ to the next level THE ENGINEERS and producers who worked
on many of music’s biggest albums from decades past could only have dreamed of the power and ﬂexibility of modern digital EQ, where three or four fully parametric equalisers on every channel is standard. Yet some of the most expensive and highly regarded digital EQ plugins are emulations of the classic analogue hardware that was used on those same albums. Why? Were they better able to do something that digital EQ can’t? Not on paper. The ﬁrst thing you’ll notice when using emulated Pultec or Neve EQs is how limited they are. They restrict the choices of frequency and the number and types of different ﬁlters, and sometimes change the sound of the signal even when all of the dials are set to zero. But the reason they sound great is the choices that led to those restrictions. You’ll often hear people say how much easier it is to get a great sound using a classic EQ. That’s because the decisions the designers made – which frequencies to make available, what shape the curves should be, and so on – guide our hand to
DO’S & DON’TS DO use high-pass ﬁlters to remove ‘wild’, out-ofcontrol or unnecessary bass. For example, a hi-hat seldom needs anything below 1kHz DON’T high-pass everything. Using a high-pass can be a great way to clean up a muddy mix, but if you take it too far, it can sound thin. DO experiment with ‘unnatural’ EQ – this can be a great way to add interest and character without overusing effects. DON’T add the same EQ to everything. Build-up of EQ in this way is a sure route to a cluttered and confused mix. DO use extreme EQ if you need it! We once added 24dB at 40Hz to get the warmth that we needed – it could have been a recipe for disaster, but it worked. Don’t forget, if it sounds right, it is right! DON’T boost what’s not there. Adding loads of top to get clarity when there isn’t any in the signal will only add noise and distortion.
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make the best decisions. Your choice of frequency may be limited, but it’s limited to creative, musical-sounding options, and while the technical specs can’t match digital EQ in simple numeric terms, the ways they don’t match up more often than not make things sound better. Another factor is the way the analogue hardware works. With a ‘vanilla’ digital EQ you get a numerical, mathematical performance. Classic analogue EQs were often designed ‘by ear’, and the results you get can vary depending on how extreme the settings are. Once you’re used to it, this can prove to be creatively inspiring. Modern emulations by the likes of Universal Audio and Waves work hard to get close to the ergonomics and original sound of those classic analogue originals in a digital world, so we have (almost) the best of both worlds!
MINIMUM PHASE VS PHASE-LINEAR EQ MOST STANDARD digital parametric EQs sound very similar, despite interface differences. You pay extra to get the ‘imperfections’ built back in. But digital technology allows one trick that really is worth looking at: phase-linear EQ. Traditional EQ not only changes the frequency response of the input signal, it also changes the phase, near your chosen frequency. Roughly speaking, this means some parts of the original wave get delayed compared to others. This can have a subtle but noticeable effect on the sound. Often that’s exactly what we want,
especially when emulating an oldermodel EQ, but if you want to make very deep cuts or boosts in the audio signal, or use very narrow notches, these phase shifts can start to sound quite unpleasant. Linear-phase ﬁlters don’t do this, so you can make more dramatic changes without the side-effects of a ‘normal’ EQ. For this reason, linear-phase EQs are often used in mastering. The downside is, phase-linear EQ eats a lot of CPU power and involves a delay, so it’s less suited to tracking.
USING EQ ON EFFECTS ASIDE FROM using EQ on different parts in a
mix (instruments, vocals, etc), you can also use EQ on effects, separate from the source. For example, adding lots of nice top-end to a vocal to get an airy, breathy quality could end up causing a problem with the reverb. Digital reverb is notorious for catching and emphasising ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds – and the extra high frequencies from the EQ will make this worse. EQing the reverb return can ﬁx this: use a high shelf to reduce the effect, or even a high-cut ﬁlter to remove it completely. Even better, EQ the reverb send so you can tailor the sound for individual sources separately before it gets to the EQ. This enables you to bring in a range of different effects using the same EQ. Or you could radically EQ an effects return – eg, a rich resonant ﬁlter sweeping up and down over a chorus or delay return in a dance track. This can be as subtle or as dramatic as you need it to be.
often the quickest way to ﬁx it is with a cut, but sometimes you will
Cutting or boosting can have a dramatic effect, but which one to use isn’t always so obvious
just want more edge, more thump,
EQ IDEAS TO TRY
and more sparkle. In that case,
ADDING PUNCH TO DRUMS
boosting will seem the obvious
On the kick drum, boost at 50-60Hz using a parametric EQ and a narrow Q. Watch out
You’ll often hear that it’s better to
sounds great, but then realise it’s
thing to do. You will then need to
cut EQ than boost. This is because
no longer balanced in the context
tweak the level afterwards to
for the kick sounding too boomy, though –
boosting the level of an EQ band
of the whole mix. You also run the
compensate, but that’s OK! We
you may need to throw in a high-pass ﬁlter
has a much bigger impact on the
risk of pushing things too hard –
recommend you boost or cut at
at 45Hz to clean it up. On the snare, try
apparent level than cutting
in general it’s better to leave some
will – whatever gets you to the
another narrow boost, this time at around
somewhere else. Since louder
headroom, and maxing out all the
sound you want quickest – but
100Hz – this is often where the weight of
often sounds better to begin with,
EQ isn’t a great way to achieve it.
bear in mind that if you do nothing
the snare is. Tune the frequency for
but boost, you may end up going
maximum impact but be careful not to
round in circles.
make the toms boomy if there’s spill.
novice producers will often keep boosting EQ on a part, thinking it
If you hear a problem area in a sound that you don’t like, quite
DEEP, RICH BASS For a deep, rich bass sound, try boosting at
IN PRACTICE: TIPS & TRICKS Check out these tried and tested tips for EQ
60Hz with a fairly narrow Q. Again, you’ll ﬁnd that a high-pass ﬁlter at 45Hz can clean things up if it starts to sound ﬂabby. 100Hz is also important for bass, adding warmth and weight. To help bass cut through the mix, boost the upper midrange
ALTHOUGH THERE are plenty of rules (that
decisions, and if you’re not sure of the answer, experiment!
are made to be broken), there are some things you can only learn through practice. Here are some less textbook methods for carving and crafting your mix, and some choice tips for everyday production issues.
EQ BEFORE OR AFTER COMPRESSION? DECIDING WHERE to use EQ in the chain
can have a huge impact on the results you get. Generally speaking, you need far less EQ once a sound has been compressed. EQ applied before a compressor will need bigger changes made to hear a result, because the compressor will reduce those changes. For example, if you have a mix with a compressor over the stereo buss and a bass-heavy kick drum is causing excess pumping, removing the bass after the compression will even out the frequency balance but won’t stop the pumping effect. EQing the kick drum before it hits the compressor, on the other hand, will both balance the sound and reduce the pumping. We usually use EQ before compression, unless we’re going for a particular effect. The best practice is simply to ask yourself the question: ‘Do I want to EQ my compressed signal, or compress my EQ’d signal?’ This applies to all chained effect
– 2.5kHz, say – but watch out for guitars and vocals in this frequency area. If you use both these suggestions, keep an ear out for a ‘scooped mids’ feeling if you overdo it. The
MUSICAL SOUNDS are made up of much
‘tight’, ‘muscular’ part of a bass sound is
more than just a single frequency, even though we only hear one pitch – many different harmonics combine to give each instrument its unique timbre. Bear this in mind when EQing, and use it to your advantage. A narrow notch to modify just a single harmonic can have a powerful effect on the tone of an instrument. Understanding harmonics can be useful when trying to remove mains hum or amp noise, too – if you use a narrow notch to take out some hum at 50Hz and ﬁnd you’re still hearing buzz, try taking some out at 100Hz, 150Hz, 200Hz etc.
around 200-500Hz. Too much of this will
CONTROLLING BIG SYNTHS
DYNAMIC EQ only works when you tell it to
The broad frequency content of synth
– a de-esser is a very speciﬁc example of this, but you could also use a notch to smooth out a clicky bass sound. Some dynamic EQs can be sidechained, allowing different bands to control each other, eg: a top-end frequency lift that only comes into play when the bass signal is very loud. As with multiband compression, dynamic EQ offers the potential to make a huge mess of, as well as improve, your mix. Use in moderation!
presets can often overwhelm a mix.
start to sound thin, though.
WARM, AIRY VOCALS ‘Air’ in vocals is almost always at 10kHz. If your vocal sound feels a little ‘closed-in’ or dull, a broad parametric EQ boost in this area will often open the sound out nicely, without adding sibilance or making it too harsh. Avoid adding too much, as it can make things sound brittle. To keep the vocal sound warm, you can lift between 200 and 500Hz, but this requires caution on your part as too much will sound muddy.
Anywhere the synth is ﬁghting or masking something else in the mix, you should use EQ to reduce it.
AUDIO EXAMPLES > In your ﬁle download for this Handbook, you will ﬁnd an example for each of the four scenarios mentioned above. Each example will play three times as follows: EQ on, EQ off, then EQ on again.
THE PRO PRODUCER’S GUIDE TO COMPRESSION If you want your music to sound right, you’ll need to use compression, and you’ll need to use it well. Read on to ﬁnd out how… ry to imagine riding the ﬁrst ever bicycle, the legendary ‘boneshaker’. Without suspension, every lump, bump, ripple and pot-hole in the road was connected directly to one of the most sensitive parts of your body. Audio is the same – without compression, every click, thump and subtle nuance of the music is connected directly to another
128 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
of the most sensitive parts of your body – your ears. Sometimes that’s exactly what you want, of course, but in most modern genres compression is an integral part of the sound. Just as good suspension smooths out the ride on your bike and car, compressors even out audio signals. They can make the signals gentler on the ear or easier to balance in a mix, or they can add a unique ‘warming’ character to
the sound. Or, like the suspension on a racing car, they can be used for control and power rather than comfort. Compressors can add punch and impact, allowing you to push music to its limits. This feature will tell you how to achieve all of these goals – or at least, it’ll get you started on the road to using compression effectively in your mixes. We’ll talk about the creative uses of compression later – ﬁrst though, let’s go back to basics.
Riding the fader is still one of the most natural forms of dynamic control
THE BASICS: MANUAL COMPRESSION Sometimes the simplest approach is the best ELECTRONIC COMPRESSORS as we know them only became widely used in the ’60s, but that doesn’t mean people weren’t using compression before then – it’s just that they did it ‘by hand’. In the broadest sense, compression is about managing dynamic range. Dynamic range is the difference between the loudest and softest sounds in a song. Voice, bass guitar and percussion have a naturally wide dynamic range, while a solo ﬂute or sustained string chords tend to be much less ‘peaky’ and more consistent. In any mix there will be an ideal dynamic range for each instrument – enough variety to keep interest and emotion, but controlled enough to remain audible, without getting lost or overpowering other elements.
MIC TECHNIQUE THE SIMPLEST and most direct way to manage dynamic range is at the source. A great example of this for singers is to use what is broadly described as microphone technique. You’ll often notice
a great live singer pulling the mic away for the loudest notes and bringing it close in for quiet, intimate moments. You can achieve the same thing by asking a singer to move toward and away from the mic in the studio. This strategy has pros and cons. On the plus side, it’s immediate, effective and cheap! On the other hand, it takes skill and practice to get right. Many singers overdo it, and removing the effect can end up being more timeconsuming than using our second manual compression option, which is…
RIDING THE FADER IN A nutshell, turn anything that’s too loud down, and anything that’s too quiet up! Just like microphone technique, there are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. Again, it’s free, and it sounds very natural. The mixer chooses the ideal level for every phrase, and so long as the level doesn’t change, the part sounds entirely natural. On the downside, this is a very time-consuming method. Even with
modern computer-based automation technology it can take many runs through a track to get everything just right, and like mic technique, riding the fader doesn’t produce that distinctive ‘compressed sound’ that a lot of genres require – but more on that later. This method is worth experimenting with – we’ve done a few mixes in our time that used only minimal compression, with everything else being done by hand, and the results can be superb. In particular, riding a fader into a compressor can get great results – you can get even more control, and the compressor doesn’t have to work as hard. Often there are times when manual compression isn’t enough, though, or is simply too time-consuming. For example, if a vocal can be balanced line by line, that’s great, but the human voice is one of the most dynamic sound sources you can record, and often it requires much ﬁner control. In these cases it’s time to break out a compressor…
THE KNOWLEDGE: COMPRESSION SETTINGS Compression controls explained… LIKE THE manual methods discussed
on the previous page, a compressor manages dynamics by reducing level, but it does so automatically, depending on the settings you choose. To help understand how this works, let’s keep the car suspension analogy in mind. The suspension in the car is a compressor of sorts, controlling the ‘dynamics’ of the road’s surface – the bumps, peaks and troughs.
RATIO, THRESHOLD, ATTACK & RELEASE The overall smoothness of the ride is determined by the stiffness of the springs in the suspension. If you lean on the car,
how easily does it sink down to absorb the weight? In a compressor, this overall ‘softness’ is determined by the ratio. A lower ratio means a smoother ‘ride’ – most family cars have their suspension set up this way – but more movement in the car, and less control for aggressive driving. Higher ratios are analogous to sports suspension in a car, where the smoothness of the ride is less important than control. Next up is the speed with which the suspension reacts to lumps and bumps in the road. In a compressor, the attack and release times determine how quickly a compressor reacts to the input signal
Subtly adjusting settings can dramatically alter a compressor’s effect
(attack) and how quickly it relaxes afterwards (release). The attack time needs to suit the material being used. Imagine a car hitting a speed bump too fast – the suspension isn’t able to react fast enough to smooth out the bump. The same thing happens with audio if the attack time of a compressor is too slow. The ﬁnal crucial setting is threshold. This determines when a compressor starts working, depending on the input signal.
MAKE-UP GAIN ONE SETTING on a compressor that doesn’t ﬁt this analogy is make-up gain. As we’ve seen, compressors control the dynamics of the input signal, and usually reduce its dynamic range. Roughly speaking, they turn the louder stuff down. This means that when you ﬁrst patch an analogue compressor in, it will probably make the overall signal sound quieter. To avoid having to keep pushing the fader up to compensate, most compressors allow you to add make-up gain – this is just a way of lifting the signal back up to balance the reduction in the dynamic range caused by the compressor. You may not have seen this control if you use a compressor plugin,
FOUR CLASSIC COMPRESSION TECHNIQUES The ‘perfect’ compression settings will change with each project, but here are some suggestions…
NATURAL COMPRESSION For a natural sound, use slower
PUNCHY RESPONSE For a harder, punchier sound, use
THICK AND DENSE For a thicker, denser sound use
PUMPING EFFECT For a ‘pumping’ effect, use fast
attacks (longer than 75ms) and
higher ratios and thresholds – but
faster attacks, medium ratios and
attacks, high ratios and a longer
gentler ratios (less than 2:1) and
keep an ear out for any distortion.
lower thresholds – you’ll see much
release time. Use the compression on
more gain reduction though.
a stereo buss to affect only part of the
always allow the compressor to ‘relax’ back to zero several times a bar.
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mix, such as bass and drums.
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com COMPRESSION | MIXING & MASTERING GAIN REDUCTION ONE WAY to avoid this honey-trap is to keep
an eye on the compressor’s metering – the overall gain reduction. Exactly how much gain reduction is needed is highly dependent on what you’re recording – vocals and bass may need heavy compression, whereas keyboard sounds and strings will hardly need any. As a rule of thumb, pay very close attention if you start to see more than 8-10dB gain reduction. If you wind the threshold control down further and don’t hear any real changes, you should probably ease it off and try some different settings.
Anything more than 8-10dB reduction should be avoided
though (many digital compressors now include automatic make-up gain as standard) so the effect you hear as you dial in more compression is simply the quieter signals getting louder, with the peaks staying roughly the same. This can make using compressors quicker and easier, but it can also lead to them being overused. Our ears tend to assume that anything louder sounds better. With automatic make-up gain, we keep piling more and more compression on, thinking it sounds better and being distracted from the negative aspects – reduced dynamic range, pumping, and perhaps even introduced distortion.
To avoid having to push the fader up, most compressors allow make-up gain
DO’S & DON’TS DO avoid using extreme settings to begin with, if you are just trying to control the dynamics. DON’T just add compression to every channel by default. Start off
THE KNEE refers to when and how the ratio
with minimal compression, and carefully
starts to change when the compressor starts to take effect. A ‘hard knee’ means the compression becomes immediately active as soon as the input signal hits the threshold, whereas a ‘soft knee’ means the compression becomes audible more gradually. A soft knee also means gentle compression starts happening further below the threshold. If your car’s suspension bushes start to wear out, you’ll feel the equivalent of a ‘hard knee’ effect when you drive it. Normally the bushes smooth out the smaller thumps and bumps that aren’t big enough to involve the main springs. As they become worn, they don’t do this as effectively.
choose where to add compressors. DO experiment with different types of compressors – hardware and software. There can be some quite big differences between them all. DON’T forget to bypass the compression occasionally to check that you’re getting a good result. DO remember to balance the output gain so the level doesn’t change when you hit bypass – that way you’ll get a fair comparison. DON’T be afraid to experiment. Some of the greatest sounds in the history of recorded music came from misused and abused compressors!
PUSHING THE LIMITS: COMPRESSION IS COMPLEX Every setting affects the way the others sound IF YOU follow our now-familiar ‘car suspension’ analogy through, you’ll realise this is a very complicated system, because all the different controls interact with each other and give different results depending on what the source signal is. Compressor controls need to be carefully balanced to get the ‘ride’ to feel right – this is why learning compression can sometimes be tricky. Let’s look at some examples, using the suspension analogy. A family car, for instance, probably needs a soft suspension. The ratio has to be high
enough to absorb plenty of energy and smooth out the ride, but if it’s too high the suspension will feel too stiff, and you’ll feel jolted around inside because there isn’t enough ‘play’ in it. In music, the ratio needs to be high enough to control the signal level in the way you want – but not so heavy that the life and energy of the music is squashed out. Car suspension needs to react fast to new lumps and bumps – if it has a slow ‘attack time’, you’ll feel the bump before the springs have had time to squash and
absorb the shock and impact. It needs a fast ‘release time’ too, to allow the wheels to follow the surface of the road closely; otherwise you’ll get a noticeable ‘bounce’ afterwards. In the same way, in music the attack time of a compressor needs to be fast enough to catch the changes in level, and if the release time is too long, you’ll hear it ‘bounce’ afterwards too – especially on drums, for example. The ‘threshold’ needs to be set right so that the car suspension works when it’s needed. If the car is heavily
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free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com MIXING & MASTERING | COMPRESSION loaded, it may be sitting low on the suspension already, so the springs are always working – and if you hit a really big bump, there may not be enough play left to absorb the impact. This would be equivalent to setting the threshold level too low on a compressor. Conversely, if the threshold is too high, the compressor hardly does anything – this would be like a car that wasn’t heavy enough for the springs to ever do any good.
EXPLORING THE SUBTLETIES THIS IS where things get interesting,
because so far we’ve only talked about conservative compression settings – but there’ll be plenty of times when you’ll want to use compression settings which, in the suspension analogy, would give your passengers an incredibly uncomfortable ride! ‘Correctly’ used compression – that is, compression that’s used purely for dynamic control – keeps things nice and level. A great example of this is compressing bass – you would often use a high ratio with a fast attack and release time to catch the initial ‘pluck’ of the plectrum but then allow the tone of the rest of the note to come through. This is like a smooth ride in a standard family car. But now imagine that you want that classic ‘pump and suck’ sound that the Beatles often used on Ringo Starr’s drums. That’s achieved using a compressor with a high ratio, fast attack and a long release. It would make no sense at all in a car – it would be the equivalent of the car dropping suddenly down when you hit a bump, and then gradually smoothing out again afterwards. So, the ideas and techniques we’ve discussed so far are only the beginning of the story. Like all processing in audio recording and mixing, it’s just as valid to ignore all the rules and choose the ‘wrong’ settings as it is to do things by the book – the bottom line is, if it sounds right, it is right!
CHARACTER VS CONTROL IN GENERAL, different compressors tend
to sound different when compressing the same signal, even with the same settings. Some engineers will choose to use compression to add ‘character’ to the sound, rather than simply to control it. ‘Character’ is hard to deﬁne, though. It can mean the effect that dynamic control has on the sound – for example, a well-compressed vocal can sound full, warm and intimate when the original sounded thin, hard and distant – or it can mean the particular sonic characteristics of a hardware compressor, such as the valves of a Fairchild or the lightning-fast attack time of a Urei 1176. The key to all this is to realise that the rules of thumb suggested in this article only apply to straightforward ‘mathematical’ software compressors – so you shouldn’t expect a 4:1 ratio on Logic’s compressor to sound the same as on a classic hardware unit, or even on a modern software emulation of one.
It’s just as valid to ignore all the rules and choose the ‘wrong’ settings
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ADVANCED TECHNIQUES LIMITING A limiter is a compressor with a very high ratio – typically more than 20:1 – and very fast attack and release times. Limiters are often used in mastering because they offer a great way to control unwanted peaks and spikes.
MULTIBAND COMPRESSION Sometimes used on an entire mix during mastering, a multiband compressor splits the signal into several different frequency bands and applies compression to each one separately. Multiband compression needs to be used with caution – the right amount can pull a mix together nicely, but too much can remove internal dynamics, leaving you with nothing but confused, over-compressed mush.
SIDECHAIN COMPRESSION Some compressors can be set up to react to the input from another channel – the sidechain. This external effect triggers the compressor. Use fast attacks, high ratios and a longer release time – and make sure the effect works in time with the music.
IN PRACTICE: LISTENING WITH INTENT Getting great results with compression
SOFTWARE VS HARDWARE While software tools are very capable, there are certain jobs only components can conquer The compressors most of us use are
USING COMPRESSION is an art, just like every
audio mixing technique. There’s no real mystery to it, though – it’s just that you can achieve such a range of effects and results that it can be hard to get a handle on them. Here are some guidelines to help keep you on track.
DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE ARE YOU looking to control a dynamic
‘bounce’ (where you can hear the level ducking as the compressor cuts in, and then springing back up when it releases) try dialling in a shorter release time and easing off the threshold – or using a lower ratio. To add punch, experiment with higher ratios, slightly longer attack times and shorter release times, but watch out for ‘pumping’ (where the end of the note is louder than the start) and any distortion that might be introduced.
software plugins, often the ones that came with our DAWs – and the truth is, they do a great job. The ﬂexibility to be able to put as many compressors as we like anywhere in the audio chain, at any time, is a luxury that the engineers who mixed most of our favourite classic tunes could only dream of. But there’s a catch. Simple software compressors bear no relation to the
signal, or add punch and impact, or change the sound and create an unusual effect? Keep listening with your ﬁnal goal always in mind. Choose a neutral starting point. We suggest a ratio of around 2:1, a 75ms attack time and around 100ms release.
the different settings against each other. For example, higher ratios usually need higher thresholds if you want to avoid a heavily over-compressed sound.
OVERDO IT TO BEGIN WITH
WIND DOWN the compressor’s threshold
EXPERIMENT, IMITATE and listen again.
compressors was an art – a constant
until it starts working – it can be useful to start with an exaggerated version in order to help you get the settings right. You can better hear how the attack and release are working at the more extreme settings. If you ﬁnd yourself having to turn the threshold a long way down, try boosting the input level a little instead.
Some of the greatest sounds to have been heard in popular music owe their existence to the use of compressors – and some of the most unpleasant, too! Using too much compression when it’s not needed is almost always worse than using too little. At the end of the day though, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to compression settings – only what sounds right to you. Just remember that ratio controls the degree of ‘squash’, threshold determines how much squash happens, and attack/ release and knee dictates how fast and how abruptly it squashes. Every source and every mix is different, so keep these points in mind, ﬁre up whatever compressors you have to hand and listen, experiment – and enjoy.
process of balancing the technical
For a smoother sound, try using a faster attack time and higher ratio – but make sure you keep enough energy and excitement in the sound
LISTEN FINE-TUNE THE settings, remembering the
goal you have in mind. Once you’re getting close, you can adjust the threshold to get just the right amount of compression to achieve the effect you’re aiming for. For a smoother sound, try using a faster attack time and higher ratio – but make sure you keep enough energy and excitement in the sound. To reduce
hardware compressors that those same engineers use in their mixing, right up to the present day. These days it’s pretty easy to
mathematically deﬁne a compressor in
terms of ratio, attack and release times and so on, and build a plugin that slavishly follows that deﬁnition. Back in the golden age of audio though, that wasn’t the way things were done! Compressors were built with electronic components – transistors, resistors, ampliﬁers and valves – and these components weren’t capable of the inﬁnite control and ﬂexibility of a computer. As a result, designing
requirements of the project against factors like noise, headroom and cost. To give you an idea of what we mean, if you listen to a digital compressor with a ratio of 1:1, the chances are that its output will sound exactly the same as what you put in, even at quite a high level – whereas the classic Fairchild 670 limiter (for example) uses no less then 20 valves in its design, meaning that even when it isn’t compressing things at all, the output may well have all kinds of interesting colouration and sonic changes that have nothing to do with compression. This is one of the reasons why big-name engineers love the sound of their expensive racks of analogue hardware.
You’ve written a brilliant song and have mixed it to perfection – now discover how to give it a high-gloss ﬁnish with our expert guide astering is the ﬁnal stage of the production process, and your last chance to make your track as good as it can be. When done well, mastering will polish your mixes to perfection. Done badly and the mastering process can undo much of the good work that came before it. Traditionally, a dedicated mastering engineer would take over this phase of production, but these days the computer musician is often expected to be composer, producer and engineer. For this reason, we feel it’s time to extend you a helping hand to set you on the right track. But ﬁrst, here’s a little history on the subject… Back in the bad old days of analogue, a ﬁnished studio mix would be played through the mixing desk and recorded to two-track (ie, stereo) tape. This master tape would be the last the mix engineer would see of their hard work before sending it off to be turned into vinyl records. A mastering engineer would then transfer the tape to a master disc, from which all of the records would be pressed. During this transfer from tape to disc, the engineer may have chosen to apply some further processing to improve the sound of the mix. Perhaps the mix was created using speakers that lacked bass, so the mix engineer had made the mix too bottom-heavy without
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realising it – the mastering engineer could correct this by applying EQ to the stereo mix. As time went on, these sort of postmixing corrections and improvements became more commonplace, and keen-eared mastering engineers would perform their critical work using extremely accurate speakers in an acoustically treated room that typically far exceeded the listening conditions of the average mix room. Today’s mastering engineers work in much the same way, but these days the
For a lot of mastering tasks, there are ways to do a fantastic job yourself emphasis is on the processing more than the transfer to a physical medium. Typical processes include applying EQ to balance the track’s frequencies, and compression and limiting to ‘glue’ the track and to increase its volume. They either apply these effects plugins on the master bus in the DAW, or render out a track as a WAV ﬁle (at least 32-bit) and then load it into a fresh project, placing the plugins on the appropriate track. Given that mastering is essentially your last chance to make your tracks blast the competition out of the water, is this stage something you should attempt yourself,
or is it best left to specialised pros? As with most things, it depends. We’re not going to suggest that a layman can match the ears, experience, tools or acoustic environment available to top mastering engineers. However, in a lot of cases that doesn’t matter. If you simply want to add a dash of life to a demo, there’s no point spending additional money on the job – after all, there are plenty of things you can do with the tools you already have to transform your song into a great sounding track. And for a lot of tasks, there are ways to do a fantastic job yourself. That said, if you have invested months of your life and many pints of blood, sweat and tears into producing your album, it seems silly to split hairs over a few hundred quid to make it sound as good as it can. Indeed, for some formats – such as vinyl or 5.1 – it’s pretty much essential to go to a pro studio with the equipment and the know-how to do the job properly. Even in these scenarios, though, if you’ve at least had a go at mastering yourself, that may help you to understand what mastering can (and can’t) do for your tracks and how best to communicate what you want to the mastering engineer. Here we look at the common scenarios you’re likely to run into, and we’ll be visiting Metropolis – one of the world’s ﬁnest studios – to gain insight from one of its renowned mastering engineers. Over to you, then, Mazen Murad…
MEET THE MASTER: MAZEN MURAD MAZEN Murad’s credits
include releases from a raft of modern day superstars, from the quirky talents of Björk to Duffy’s sultry swing, Groove Armada’s laid-back tracks and the raw rock muscle of Muse. Mazen began his mastering career at EMI, under the tutelage of engineers who invented the very techniques that we now take for granted, such as those pioneered on early Beatles albums. He didn’t begin his career with an eye on turning into a mastering maestro, however: it was the birth of a new format that drew him unexpectedly into that world. “I started out recording and mixing,” explains Mazen. “Then, when CD came in, they got me working on a lot of CD remastering work. There was so much work that I ended up getting into mastering [full-time].”
LET YOUR EARS LEAD YOU MAZEN STARTS work by pressing into service the most precious of all his equipment: his ears. “I start by listening to the whole track,” he says. “You’re balancing all the frequencies. You listen completely differently when mastering. It’s got to sound good wherever you play the track.” This means that the settings Mazen uses on his processors vary a lot, and not always for purely technical reasons. “If the band doesn’t come in, I’ll look at their website or Facebook page and see what they’re about. You can get it all technically right, but some things are a matter of taste,” he points out. “So, the chain I use varies according to what the track needs. Sometimes it’s EQ, compression and a limiter. Or if it doesn’t need compression, it would comprise EQ and then limiters. Or if the mix needs compression before mastering, I would put the compressor ﬁrst and then drop in the EQ and limiters. And then I sometimes use parallel compression or multiband to get the job done. It just depends, really. The chain is very
important, but you certainly don’t always need a compressor to make tracks loud.”
MIX WELL TO WIN A LOT of issues are best dealt with in the mix rather than at the mastering stage. If Mazen thinks it will be easier and faster to correct a problem this way, he will suggest that the band or artist supplies a tweaked mix rather than working on a master that won’t reach its full potential. He elaborates: “Sometimes you might cut at 20Hz [on the master bus] if there’s too much information. But that is best done at the mixing stage. If you have a high string with low rumble, cut the rumble [on the track].” He also suggests avoiding certain types of EQing in the mix to ensure the best results can be obtained at the mastering stage. “You often get situations where the kick and bass aren’t working
mastered,” he warns. “Doing so will limit what the mastering stage can add. So, keep your limiting low if you use it. I ﬁnd people [overdoing the limiting] happens a lot, especially with dance remixes – they’ll send it turned up full. All I can do is turn it down 5dB or whatever, do whatever processing it needs and then turn it back up. Of course, that’s not great. But then if you mix it with the limiter on, and then take it off, your balance is going to change, so maybe send a version with and without.” And Mazen’s key tip? “Trust your ears. Just because you can, really doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes less is more.”
THE CASE FOR GOING PRO No matter what stage of the music-making
It’s important not to slam the compressor/ limiter at the mixing stage – it will limit what mastering can add
process you’re at, it’s good to get another set of critical ears involved. When you’re too involved you can’t always listen in the right way, and this happens to everyone, even the pros. “I was recording a band for months,” recalls Mazen, “and I was getting too close to it, so I suggested they bring somebody else in to mix it.” Then there’s the familiarity with top-end techniques and gear. “A mastering engineer
together because somebody’s boosted a shelf that’s covering everything. So, if the kick is around 100-120Hz, take a bit of that out of the bass. You don’t need any kick at 300-500Hz, so maybe take a little bit of that out too.” Similarly, give vocals and guitars their own space to begin with, which means that the master will sound even better. “Maybe the guitars don’t need boosting at 3kHz – perhaps boost them higher to make space in the 1-4kHz range for the vocal,” Mazen suggests. He also warns against pushing things too hard when mixing, especially the use of compression/limiting on the master bus. “It’s important not to slam things at your mixing stage when you’re comparing it to tracks that have been
is in one room, and he knows it inside out,” he says. “We can EQ for CD, vinyl… We know how to trick limiters for radio. We even did tests with the BBC.” Mazen points to a rack of gear against one wall. “That’s one of the best reasons to use a place like this [Metropolis]. Even the wiring is the best of the best! We have different clocks for all our digital equipment – some work better on different styles and even a tiny shift can change the whole groove. Nobody knows how to clock their system, it scares them!” So, what’s the catch? The price, though it’s not as prohibitive as you might think. “Our pricing is tiered and caters to all budgets,” Mazen tell us. Mastering with Metropolis starts at £60 for one track. Further info can be found at www. metropolis-group.co.uk.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE TO MASTER your own tracks, there are a few
pieces of kit you will need to do a decent job. Let’s have a look at the essential ingredients of a mastering meisterwerk…
MONITORING THE POINT of mastering is to create a mix
that sounds great anywhere you hear it. This requires a decent pair of monitors – there’s no point troubleshooting a frequency only to ﬁnd out that it was your monitors at fault, or to completely miss a problem sound because your speakers didn’t reproduce it properly. In general, the more you spend on speakers the better they’ll be, so this is an area that will demand your cash. Just as important is the room itself. Even the best speakers won’t sound any good in a poor acoustic environment, which can cause poor stereo imaging, a bumpy frequency response and general lack of detail. This is a topic in itself, but do take it seriously because without a decent-sounding room, you will struggle to create good mixes and masters. The things to look into are speaker placement and the use of acoustic treatment products such as bass traps and absorption/diffusion panels. Assuming you’ve got all that sorted, listen to as much different material as possible until you learn the limitations and idiosyncrasies of your environment. When
TAPE EMULATION Many modern producers are convinced that things
mastering, you should also listen to your tracks on many different systems. Even Mazen, who’s been using his exceptionally well-calibrated system and room for years, still checks on midﬁeld speakers and even iPhone headphones from time to time. If your master sounds awesome in your room but unbearable on earbuds, then go back to the drawing board. If you’re really stuck, there are plugins that claim to compensate for ﬂawed monitoring and poor acoustics, such as IK Multimedia’s ARC. These work to an extent, but they’re not a magic bullet, and you’ll get the best results using them in combination with a well-treated room and great speakers.
EQ THIS IS one of the most critical processes in
mastering. Two main factors affect how we hear a ﬁnished mix, and one of these is the frequency spectrum, so a good EQ is essential. It’s also important for setting the general tone of the ﬁnished master. All of the usual rules apply, but there are some special considerations that we will get into on the dedicated EQ page (p.138).
112dB’s Redline Equalizer has an auto-gain mode that’s massively useful in evaluating your tweaks or even remove – pumping. It’s important to choose the right compressor. Some are better suited for sounds with fast attacks, others will shine with smoother grooves. While valve and analogue emulation is all the rage, these models are not always ideal for mastering, where you often need something accurate yet not overly clinical.
MULTIBAND DYNAMICS THESE ALLOW you to compress and limit
A COMPRESSOR’S main use is controlling transients and groove. So, the process can be used to accentuate or smooth the punch of your bass and kick, or to add –
(and sometimes expand) different parts of the frequency spectrum individually. When troubleshooting bad mixes, this is an incredible boon as it allows a huge amount of control over each part of the mix. These tools can be used to tame bass, bring out vocals, reduce harsh top end and ﬁx a multitude of other issues. It can also be used more subtly to pull together parts of a mix and add some sonic glue. With more bands come more problems, and we’ll look at some of those
us never listen to them on the sort of equipment
digital signal, then, but so can EQ, and without
they would originally have been played on.
So, do tape emulations have any real place in
Of course, there are some situations (such as a
used to be ‘warmer’ back in the days of analogue
mastering? Well, we think that warming is best
soundalike or a song intro) where you might want to
gear. They cite the cosiness of vintage recordings
applied at the mixing stage, rather than at the
properly mimic that warm and fuzzy style.
and seek out tape emulation and valve saturation
mastering stage. Instead of whacking a tape
plugins to try and recreate the sound for themselves.
emulator on your ﬁnal mix and setting it to one of
But are they right?
the ubiquitous mastering presets, and then basking
The truth is complicated. Old recordings were
in the subtle distortion and compression, why don’t
made courtesy of analogue units, but it was hugely
you try applying the effects to individual channels
expensive high-end gear, jockeyed by highly
and use a compressor on your ﬁnal mix? Most tape
specialised and gifted professionals. Such records
emulation plugins are based on multitrack tape
were often also completed in very laborious ways
recorders, and although they can add character to
(such as endless bouncing to accommodate a full
individual channels, they can also take away from
band using just a four-track recorder). Many factors
the clarity and dynamics of a full mix. Tape
contributed to the sound of old tracks, and most of
emulation can take some of the edge off a sharp
136 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
Tape emulation plugins recreate analogue kit’s warmth, and are best applied at the mixing stage
free ebooks ==> www.ebook777.com MASTERING | MIXING & MASTERING issues later on. Multiband dynamics is not mandatory, and some mastering engineers rarely use it, or perhaps only a band or two. We’d say that if you’re relying on multiband dynamics to get a good sound, you need to work on your mixing.
same genre comes in handy. Play your favourite mastered tracks through the analyser and have a look how the meters behave, then compare it to your own stuff. If there are obvious differences between your tracks and theirs, this will give you some pointers on what to ﬁx.
LIMITING LIMITERS HAVE become synonymous with the often overly-loud style of modern mastering. This processor prevents peaks in the signal exceeding a certain threshold, and so the signal can then be turned up louder without those peaks causing nasty digital clipping.
PROCESSOR ORDER AND GAIN STRUCTURE YOU MIGHT use some or all of these tools
frequencies, particularly in the bass. This way you can keep an eye out for such ear-evading problems. Stereo correlation meters can also help you to keep an eye on phasing issues (which can be introduced by stereo processors). So where to place your metering? As you’d imagine, stereo analysers should be placed after any stereo ﬁeld processors in the signal chain (any decent stereo mastering plug should include one). Frequency analysers should be applied at least after your EQ, though ideally you want to be able to check what’s going on before and after the equaliser to see the effects, so we recommend you place two into the chain. Many modern EQ plugins feature built-in frequency analysis anyway. Dynamics processing can also have an impact on the frequency content, so we like to have an analyser right at the end of our chain, to check the ﬁnal product. Try different analysis modes too, eg, some analysers feature an RMS/hold mode that gives an average of the signal’s frequency content, rather than a constant update. If you aren’t exactly sure what a good mix looks like, this is where playing back professionally mastered material in the
on any given track, but it’s no use applying the appropriate processors if you’re not using them in the right order. It’s vital to have an understanding of the signal path and how this affects your ﬁnished master. Firstly, processor order. Some tools will affect the quality of results further down the line. EQ, for example, affects the level of frequencies within the signal. This means it will impact on the results of any subsequent dynamics processors (since these react to signal level), particularly on heavy bass frequencies. For this reason, it is often a good idea to place your EQ before the compressor to ensure that it’s working on a well-balanced mix. The limiter should always come last in the chain. This is because it doesn’t just create loudness but is also a functional device for preventing clipping and overloaded signals. Gain structure is the second consideration. Each processor will affect the level a little, especially compressors and limiters, so be careful that none of them cause any overloading or add unwanted distortion. Any decent mastering processor will feature an input and output meter so you can be sure it’s getting enough signal and not overloading internally. Most modern plugins are tolerant of overly hot levels, but many still work best with a sensible signal level.
its ﬁfth incarnation. This mastering suite has quite
will come with certain limitations. You may ﬁnd that
a lot to recommend it, offering compression, stereo
a certain tool within the package just won’t provide
imaging tools, EQ, frequency analysis, loudness
you with the results you desire.
Choosing individual plugins can be a real pain, so
slightly contentious) mastering reverb. It sounds
mastering plug-ins or bundles altogether. Indeed,
all-in-one solutions like IK Multimedia’s T-RackS 3
Ozone 5 and T-RackS 3 both offer individual effects,
STEREO TOOLS STEREO PROCESSORS come in a number of
ﬂavours, with varied uses in mastering (more on this later), and are typically used to create a greater sense of space in the stereo mix, but this can have a knock-on effect on the clarity and focus of certain parts. You may also reduce the stereo width to create a more central punch. The most important things to consider when using stereo tools are that bass should usually be mono and vocals should normally take centre stage. Stereo widening often increases the perceived level of high frequencies: something to consider when EQing your mix.
SIGNAL ANALYSERS WE OFTEN say you should trust your ears above all else, and we stand by that. However, there are a number of reasons why even pro mastering engineers like having a visual meter on hand to guide and conﬁrm their impression. When you’re mastering your own stuff in your own studio, using a meter is even more important because your monitors may have problems reproducing certain
Multiband dynamics tools allow you to isolate speciﬁc frequency ranges and process them separately
maximising, demonstrative presets and even (the
So, what’s the catch? Since mastering tools and
or iZotope’s Ozone 5 are appealling. But are these
We aren’t suggesting that you dismiss all-in-one
so you can use just the bits you like. The thing to
one-stop shops a good idea? Well, iZotope Ozone is
settings vary as much as music itself and the taste
bear in mind, then, is that you may sometimes get
one of our favourite such packages, and it’s now in
of the people who make it, most all-in-one solutions
EQUALISATION FOR MASTERING, you want a fully parametric
EQ with shelving ﬁlters for the top and bottom end, as well as a high-pass ﬁlter. This allows precise work on speciﬁc frequency ranges as well as broader top- and bottom-end adjustments. Something else associated with mastering is linear-phase EQ. Such tools are designed to eliminate phase distortion, which is caused by the tiny time delays introduced at different frequencies. While this problem is usually extremely subtle and often unnoticeable, it may affect further processing. The idea behind linear-phase EQ is to make the process ‘transparent’ by affecting the
Analogue emulations such as this one from Nomad Factory can provide a touch of warmth and smoothness
level of each frequency but not its phase relationship. Linear-phase tools are particularly associated with mastering because the signal chain at this point of the overall production process contains the full range of frequencies, meaning that any phase distortion across the spectrum is compounded. Linear-phase EQs have their pros and cons. The process preserves the shape of transients and waveforms rather accurately, but unlike a normal EQ that causes ringing after each sonic event, linear-phase tools spread the ringing before and after. This can be most noticeable in the bass, where it can produce a (subtle) ‘womp’ before bass notes and kick drums. Pre-ringing is increased by tighter Q values, so linearphase EQs are better suited to broad, gentle adjustments. They’re also good for left/right or mid/side EQing because they eliminate phasing issues caused by having different EQ settings on each channel.
OTHER OPTIONS WHEN IT comes to boosting, we often like
an EQ that imparts some character,
GETTING EXCITABLE One of the simplest tools for adding top-end sparkle to a sound is an exciter. This process can be carried out in a variety of ways, including generating higher harmonics based on the information in the signal, applying more traditional EQ boosting and subjecting the signal to other more unusual methods. For instance, BBE’s Sonic Maximizer range claims to introduce tiny signal delays at certain frequencies to compensate for the delays introduced within electrical circuits, such as those in monitor speakers. However they work, we’re wary of using exciters on the master bus. Firstly, if your mix is okay, you shouldn’t need to add too much to the top. Secondly, by adding to the harmonic mix you are increasing the amount of sonic clutter. While top-end is important for a clear-sounding mix, it’s equally important that you don’t overload the frequency spectrum or expose unpleasant harshness. In most cases we’d much rather use an EQ to add top-end presence and brightness, leaving exciters for individual channels. As Mazen conﬁrms: “Maximisers and bass boosters affect the whole track, so they’re better used on just the parts that need it.”
Think twice about adding exciters at the mastering stage – you may be better off using them in the mix 138 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
FabFilter’s Pro-Q can operate in linear-phase mode, ie, the sound wont be subject to phase distortion perhaps one modelled on an analogue unit with a touch of valve warmth. Anybody who’s listened to a high-end analogue EQ will tell you that for boosting, many digital EQs aren’t quite as smooth at the top end or as solid and clear in the bottom end. This is especially true if you’re using it to add shelving EQ at the top end. For troubleshooting problem frequencies, giving a bit more presence to a vocal, or carrying out similar frequency-speciﬁc jobs, we ﬁnd that a mix of analogue emulations and ‘digital’ EQs works well. Still, it entirely depends on the music and plugins in question, so use your ears. There is no one-size-ﬁts-all for mastering EQs. We have a few favourites for different types of music and different applications, but what really matters is the settings you dial in. This makes inﬁnitely more difference than the relatively subtle distinctions between different EQ types.
INSERTION ISSUES WE USUALLY insert EQ before any compression or multiband dynamics tools since it can really affect what these do. For example, if you don’t use low cuts (high-pass) on channels at the mixing stage, there can be lots of accumulated boominess down the bottom end. This can go unnoticed on smaller monitoring rigs as they often don’t reproduce the lowest frequencies, yet this sonic muck can trigger compressors and limiters, causing pumping and other issues. Therefore, it helps to put the EQ ﬁrst, with a low cut engaged.
STEREO PROCESSORS STEREO TOOLS are one of the newest
weapons in the mastering armoury, and there are a few ways in which these can affect the stereo ﬁeld. One of the simplest is to delay one side of the stereo signal (or one side of a dual-mono signal), thus creating a perception of space. This is called the Haas effect, and its results range from subtle to disorientating. As the effect is not very natural-sounding it should be used with caution – we certainly wouldn’t use it on the master bus! Another way to create artiﬁcial stereo is to use a type of comb ﬁltering that spreads the frequencies of a signal alternatively left and then right. This technique is more suitable for mastering and is offered by plugins such as Vengeance-Sound’s Stereo Bundle. As we’ve pointed out, artiﬁcial stereo isn’t the most natural-sounding thing in the world, and so a number of dedicated
wideners such as Waves’ S1 and Sonalksis’ Stereo Tools are available for those times when you need less-obvious stereo processing – when mastering acoustic genres, for example. These utilities essentially act like a mid/side processor, allowing you to adjust the balance between the mono and the stereo signals. This means that they can make the track seem wider without adding anything that wasn’t already in the signal. The downside of this, of course, is that they are no use for widening pure mono material. The last stereo tool in the mastering engineer’s toolbox is mid/side processing, as found in EQs and compressors. These tools allow the mastering engineer to either equalise or compress the stereo, or work on the mono signals separately. This technique can be used to increase the perceived stereo ﬁeld. It can also be employed
Sonalksis’ Stereo Tools makes tracks seem wider without adding anything artiﬁcial creatively for things like making just your mono bass pump, or increasing separation between instruments by targeting them and bringing them out/pulling them in. Whichever process you use, the key to stereo processing is not getting carried away. You should always turn the effect off from time to time to evaluate the difference it makes. Take regular breaks, too, as it’s easy to get seduced by width. After a few minutes away from the studio, your refreshed ears should be able to tell if you’ve overdone it.
MULTIBAND DYNAMICS TOOLS AS WE stated earlier, dynamics processors have two main uses in mastering: controlling transients and making things seem fuller and louder. The primary tools for these tasks are compressors and limiters. But there is another use for dynamics processors in mastering, and that is to isolate and reduce or enhance speciﬁc elements and frequencies – for instance, get the bass pumping independently of the rest of the track. To do this, the signal must be split up into different frequency bands. Nearly every DAW features a multiband processor, and there’s no shortage of third-party plugins on the market either. When working with multiband dynamics tools, the most important thing you must do is get your frequency range right. If you get this badly wrong, you can severely upset the frequency balance of your track, ruin the groove, squash the dynamics or upset the mono/stereo balance.
The other important thing to remember is to avoid overdoing things. A little adjustment can make a big difference when you’re working with a multiband dynamics processor, as each band ﬁlter will probably be wider and blunter than the low-shelf setting on a good mastering equaliser. So, when you’re raising the gain of a certain section in order to bring it out more in the track, bear in mind that it shouldn’t need that much of a push. The last golden rule is not to tweak all ﬁve bands just because you have them sitting there in front of you. In fact, you might not need to adjust more
Multiband compressors such as Waves C4 make it easy to treat the bass separately to the top end than one. Does the track really need it? In other words, are you adding something that was missing; tidying or ﬁxing something that’s already there; or giving a bit of life to a certain section? If you don’t need to do any of these things to your track, you probably don’t need multiband dynamics.
MASTERING ROCK/ACOUSTIC TRACKS ACOUSTIC AND rock tracks can vary in style
and tone more than almost any other genre, so there is no one representative song we could choose for the accompanying tutorial. Instead, we chose one to highlight some of the variances found in the genre, and also to cover some other problems you can encounter in mastering tracks of any genre. So, what are the challenges of these ‘live’ genres? One of the main differences between a rock master and an electronic one is that you need to ensure things don’t sound overly synthetic. Excessive stereo wideners, unnatural exciters and extreme limiting and EQ can turn a human-sounding song into a clinical
exercise in ﬂatness. You need to create a dynamic and real feel, ensuring there is adequate separation between the instruments while retaining their balance. You also need the vocal to be strong and true through the centre of the mix. The kick and groove are also important, but they tend to feature greater variety and inconsistency in timing than you would ﬁnd in electronic music. You must be very careful with the settings, then, particularly when working with the timing of compressors and limiters. For example, tempos are generally far less strict than pop or dance, both in terms of the range of speeds used and the band’s ability to
hold an exact tempo throughout a track. The dynamics will not be as precisely controlled either, so you can’t often set the attack/release to pump to the beat as you can with dance music. To show you some of the tricks we use on rock masters, we’ve taken a live demo jam by singer Zena Kitt (www.zenamusic. com). Recorded quickly, it comprises a vocal, acoustic guitar and drums. We need to make sure that it sounds full and balanced, as well as give it a little life. As the track is the result of a jam rather than a proper multitrack recording session, we have to inject some sonic character that isn’t there, while still retaining the pleasing live vibe of the recording.
STEP BY STEP TAMING THE DYNAMICS
We add a tape emulator set to high-speed tape (30 ips) to preserve top-end. Our track is pretty lo-ﬁ, so
We use Abbey Road’s TG Mastering Pack for a classic EQ. In the Filter, we add 1dB of Presence at
In the slot after the EQ, we insert Waves’ SSL G-Master Buss Compressor. Threshold of 8.5
we want to keep top-end clarity; the track count’s low
10kHz; Low-pass knob down to 20kHz, to roll off harsh
gets the needle to 4dB – nice on this compressor.
so it gives gentle cohesion without muddying it. With
top. In the EQ, 1dB of boost at 2.05kHz, Medium Q
Every compressor is different, though A fast Attack of
a busier track, we’d only use this type of plugin on
settings to give the vocal body. We skip two plugin slots
1ms and slow Release of 1.2 prevent the drums being
individual channels, but this track won’t overwhelm it.
and add Brainworx Control, Mono-Maker up to 100Hz.
too thumping, a 4:1 Ratio ﬁnishes things off.
Mid/side EQ courtesy of PSP oldTimerME to bring
Vengeance-Sound Stereo Bundle adds top shelving
We add FabFilter Pro-L, avoiding extreme Attack
peaks, which can be overbearing in a basic mix. We set
area (1.5kHz), then add a push at 1kHz to the mono EQ.
notes drift. Using just Slate Digital’s FG-X’s main
it on the Mono channel, turn off Auto and dial in a slow
We apply compression to the sides. It’s now brighter
processor, we raise the Gain until the RMS level is
Attack and fast Release with medium Compression
and wider, with a warm, distinct centre. We turn up the
about -10dB, protecting peaks and transients while
and 2:1 Ratio. We tweak it to accentuate the vocal.
Mono Level for a balance of presence and width.
raising the level. Then a simple 13-second fade-out.
out the vocal in the centre. Valve mode softens the
140 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
to the stereo signal. We dip a little out of the vocal
PRO MASTERING TIPS MOVE THE BASS IF YOUR bass is muddy, try using mid/side
EQ. “You can take out the bass where it doesn’t need to be, if there’s a bit of spill into the stereo,” says Mazen. By reducing clutter from the stereo ﬁeld, the centre bass can poke through and it’s not getting muddled up in the busy side signal.
COMPRESSION AFFECTS WIDTH A NARROW mix can be widened using mid/ side processing, as compression and gain on the outer frequencies will accentuate them. Just be careful not to obscure important parts in the centre, like bass and vocals. An overly wide mix can be reined in by compressing the centre signal, then raising its level back up.
TRICKSY KICKS IF YOUR kicks are cutting through too much yet turning them down takes out too much, try compression with a fast Attack and/or slow Release. Conversely, if your kicks don’t come through enough, try a slow Attack to let the crack of the kick through, plus a fast Release. Multiband compression can zero-in on kicks.
DROP THE OUTPUT WHEN CREATING MP3s, you’ll often get better results by converting from a WAV that has been mastered to a slightly lower output level than 0dB. Mazen suggests -0.5dB. “I did the tests myself,” says Mazen. “The difference was unbelievable.”
USE MULTIPLE LIMITERS “DON’T JUST use one limiter,” says Mazen. “I have two or three, each doing a little bit.” This allows you to gradually scale up the
limiting. Two limiters with 1.5dB of gain reduction could sound louder and punchier than the same limiter with 3dB reduction.
TOO LOUD TO BE PROUD IT’S A misconception that mastering alone is responsible for loudness, as any track’s potential for ‘going loud’ is really down to how well it’s mixed. If your mixes fall apart when pushed as loud as commercial ones, it’s likely to be your mixing that’s at fault and not the mastering.
CUT BEFORE YOU BOOST “IF YOUR mix is too dull, don’t add top end,”
advises Mazen. “Try taking out some bottom end ﬁrst.” There’s only so much space in a mix, and too much of one thing will obscure others.
KNOW THE LIMITS “FOR THE radio, sometimes louder isn’t better,” Mazen says. “Most people think that to get your tracks really loud on radio you need to limit them, but we’ve done tests and if you limit it too much at mastering it will be quieter on radio once it’s gone through their system.”
DO DITHER DITHERING IS a complex subject, but all you really need to know is that you should apply it at the very end of your mastering chain, after all other processors (many master limiters include dither for this very purpose). Dither makes a very subtle difference that you may only hear on the quietest parts of your track, but it’s dead easy to apply, and there’s no reason not to do it, especially when
Using multiple limiters when mastering can make your track sound punchier and louder rendering out to 16-bit WAV (eg: for CD). So just do it!
NOTCH THE KICK “DON’T USE shelving EQ to boost your kick,” Mazen warns. “When you do this, you are boosting all the harmonics too. Always use notching to just control the thud of the kick. Make sure you need to boost it, rather than making space for it in your bass using EQing and sidechain ducking.”
RAMP UP THE VOCALS IF A vocal isn’t cutting through, Mazen
uses EQ. “I go to the centre and add some mids. I boost around the 2, 2.7, 3kHz range, depending on the vocal tone.” He may also use a mid/side processor to make the centre channel louder.
HAVE SOME RESTRAINT “JUST BECAUSE I have these great tools doesn’t mean I have to use them on everything,” Mazen warns. “If the music’s well-balanced, maybe I don’t need a compressor. It’s all about gain structure. You want to turn your track up but you don’t want to ruin the transients.”
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
When EQing a kick drum, it makes sense to use notches rather than shelves
IF YOU ﬁnd yourself using effects to excess, chances are you aren’t dealing with a good enough mix. We DIY types have the luxury of being able to revisit the project and make the necessary adjustments right there. So, make sure your mix is up to scratch rather than trying to force it over the ﬁnal hurdle that is mastering.
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 141
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PROMOTE YOUR MUSIC ou’ve created music that has been written, played, recorded, mixed and mastered to sheer perfection. Depending upon your reason for making and recording music in the ﬁrst place, now might be the time for the rest of the world to hear what you’ve got! In this golden age of social media, music is everywhere and readily available to all. The real trick is getting your music heard, reaching the global audience it deserves. The good news is that you don’t have to rely on the record industry PR machine to do that – many of today’s biggest artists are masters of DIY promo. In this section, we’ve drafted in an industry expert to run you through the best places to promote your music online. Time to say, “Hello world!”
142 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
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HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR MUSIC ONLINE A&R and music producer Skip Curtis takes a peek behind the marketing curtain to bring you the best places for promoting your music online n the inﬁnite sprawl of new music available online, getting heard and noticed is one of the biggest challenges facing new artists. The industry will always pay attention to artists that can afford to pay PR ﬁrms to land a big online premiere and service their music to the tastemaker press; but there are more and more ways for artists to promote themselves online and build their fan bases in-house. Here are the 10 best sites for promoting your music online.
SOUNDCLOUD SOUNDCLOUD IS the ‘industry’ new music king. This is where A&R scouts and bloggers tend to source new music. The site generates over 175 million unique listeners a month, so it’s an ideal place to establish a fan base. SoundCloud is great for following and collaborating with other musicians, especially remixers, and it’s an essential place for artists to upload and tag their music. The SoundCloud player is also the embedded link of choice for blogs, press websites and other media mainstays like Facebook and Tumblr. Easy to navigate and with tons of users, SoundCloud is a no-brainer.
YouTube is your biggest chance to go viral – it is still the site of choice for most listeners
YOUTUBE WITH OVER a billion users, YouTube is
potentially the biggest tool that artists can use to promote themselves. This is your biggest chance to go viral and YouTube is still the site of choice for the everyday listener. There seems to be two main approaches when it comes to getting mass YouTube hits; either do something totally new and original OR do a cover… There are countless established career musicians who have built their fan bases from a well-lit, well-recorded video cover version. A creative YouTube video can do wonderful things for your career.
REDDIT SoundCloud is great for getting music industry exposure – A&R scouts use it to source new music
AS LONG as you play by their rules (of which there are many!), Reddit can be a
great way to get a lot of listens and plays FAST. For the unenlightened, Reddit is essentially a link-sharing site; users post url links to music and other users have the ability to ‘upvote or downvote’ the links depending on if they like them. Just a handful of ‘upvotes’ on your link can start a snowball of upvoting and give a real boost in plays, which can lead to your music being promoted in Reddit’s infamous ‘Hot’ list. Be prepared for the odd troll though!
INSTAGRAM SINCE IT introduced video clips to its
repertoire, Instagram has become an increasingly inﬂuential way of sharing new music. It’s a great place to upload snippets of new material and behind-
EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 143
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FIVE ELEMENTS OF ONLINE PROMOTION Your ‘in a nutshell’ checklist… 1. COVER You’ll get more passing trade from searches on YouTube by uploading a cover version. The US band Boyce Avenue launched themselves after having huge success doing this.
2. CROSSOVER Choose some popular artists that have fans who you think might be interested in your music. Post friendly introductions to your music on their forums, YouTube videos and proﬁles with links to ﬁnd out more.
3. NETWORK Don’t just gig with other bands – promote each other and share fanbases. And don’t be shy about tactfully posting a link to your songs on the Facebook pages of venues
AWAL, or ‘Artists Without A Label’, allows users to digitally release their music globally the-scenes footage of yourself in the recording studio. With the right hashtagging, your content can really start racking up the views. If it’s good enough for Madonna, it’s good enough for you.
you’re playing because they will rarely
do it for you.
‘ARTISTS WITHOUT A Label’ is a digital
4. INCENTIVES Separate yourself from the pack and keep people coming back – for example, release ºa new song free every month until you have an album after a year.
5. WATCH Look at other local artists: how well are they doing? How do they present themselves online? Take notes and see if it shows up any holes in what you’re currently doing.
distribution platform run by the forward thinking publishing company Kobalt. AWAL allows users to digitally release their music globally in pretty much the same way that record labels do; except with AWAL, the artist keeps all their rights and ownership. As long as you pass their quality control (make sure your recorded audio is acceptable) then AWAL can make your music available via every major online retailer including iTunes, Spotify, Deezer and Beatport. (Wow, I know.) They take a 15 percent slice of everything you earn from online sales, which is very reasonable for the service they provide.
Last FM allows users to recommend music they like to others 144 | EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK
LAST FM allows users to recommend music they like to others online, through a process called
‘Scrobbling’. This is essentially a notiﬁcation sent to the website indicating what song that particular user likes. This is a great service for music consumers, but as music makers it’s also a great place to get your music shared around. For some kind of context, to date there have been more than 43 billion ‘scrobbles’ on the site. Artists sign up (for free), upload their music to the ofﬁcial playlists, get a couple of friends’ scrobbling and you’re away.
TUMBLR TUMBLR IS an easy-to-use microblogging site that allows users to ‘like’ and reblog/ share content from other Tumblr users and pages. The website is very customisable and user friendly and lots of artists use it exclusively as their main website (Frank Ocean for example). At present Tumblr hosts over 234 million blogs. Tumblr users tend to post images and pictures more than heavy written content so make sure your posts and links are eye-catching and tagged accordingly. Also, prepare to be inundated with gifs; Tumblr users love gifs!
TWITTER EVERYBODY KNOWS the power of Twitter by
now – 140 characters to grab the attention of readers and win the hearts and minds of potential followers. Twitter
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VOICES OF EXPERIENCE Some top tips from the industry’s brightest…
BE PROLIFIC Ed Sheeran: “If I’m a fan and every month I have got new music to listen to, it doesn’t matter whoever it is, I’m going to become more of a fan, just because there’s more music to listen to. So if you are a singer/ songwriter trying to build up a fanbase, the best thing to do is just to release as much as possible.”
Earbits allows users to upload and share music whilst earning ‘Groovies’ to help promote artists
GO TO THE PEOPLE
is an essential place for artists to promote their new music. Like with the majority of sites listed here, clever hash-tagging can bring in a lot of trafﬁc but the real trick with Twitter lies with genuine interaction between users and potential fans. Use the search tools to ﬁnd people in your demographic who post about new music; and follow them. It’s also a great tool for ﬁnding the accounts of magazines and websites that are the most likely to review and feature your music.
Ron Pope: “Wherever people live, that’s
EARBITS EARBITS IS a commercial free, hand-
curated online radio-streaming site that allows users to upload and share music whilst earning ‘Groovies’ – a kind of social currency that helps promote certain artists. Users can add songs they like to their own libraries, which are easily sharable with other sites like Twitter and Facebook. For artists signing up, as with AWAL there’s a quality-check to pass ﬁrst, but once you’re in your music will be added to the editors’ categorised playlists. Like with Last FM, your success on this site will rely on a handful of friends and fans having proﬁles too so they can give your music that initial spike of sharing and promotion to really make using a site like this worthwhile for promotion.
promote their releases but there are also some simple etiquette rules to adhere to. Firstly, spamming people will generally get you hidden or un-followed. Secondly, don’t sound too desperate, there’s nothing cool about the band who beg fans to ‘Please, please share our new single!’ Thirdly, schedule your posts so that yourselves as members of the site and your core network of friends and fans will re-post and share accordingly so that you stay in people’s timelines. Lastly, ‘sharing’ is massive on Facebook, but people generally only do it if you ask them. Ask fans and friends to share your content (without sounding desperate): ‘If you like, please share it.’
where you have to go with your music. There’s no such thing as mystique now. You’ve got to live where the people live; if people are on Twitter, you have to be on Twitter.”
GIVE IT AWAY Gabrielle Aplin: “It’s just using all of those resources to your best advantage – Facebook, Twitter, all that. Putting your music online is really important, too, for free! I don’t think you should sell your ﬁrst EP for £5, or whatever. You shouldn’t even care about money – just about getting it out there and making the most of all your opportunities.”
FACEBOOK SHARE AND share alike. Facebook is still an
absolute must for new artists looking to
Sharing is massive on Facebook, so it can be a great way to get your music out there EXPERT HOME STUDIO HANDBOOK | 145
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