Thursday, 26 May 2011

Guitars, picking your tone

I thought i'd do a quick post for a tip i've learned about selecting guitar tones. Its real simple - dont select your guitars in absenteeeeee of your track. I know this sounds like a no brainer but so many people fiddle with their amp settings to get a great tone coming out of it, the problem? They do it without ever considering how this will sound with other instruments and in a mix. As such when its put together with a mix where the kick wants the bass, the bass wants some more bass, the hats want hi's and the vocals want everything else, the tone ends up sounding weak or, usually, way too bassy. This normally creates huge amounts of mud in the lower ranges (200 - 400k).

The moral of the story is, that tone might sound great on its own but you only really care about what it sounds like in the context of a full track, so learn to weed out what I call "fudge". IE stuff that sounds great on its own and really thick and fudgy, but is really bad for you in terms of a healthy balanced mix.


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Second post, and its another repost ! Yup more from the red dog blog that I did a while back. This time about pushing analogue gear and the general differences in the treatment of overs.

Pushing the Analog

Posted in Mixing and Mastering on January 19, 2011 by RedDogMusic
by Phil Graham
The life-cycle of a piece of music can often be split into 4 stages: writing, recording, mixing and finally mastering. Mastering is the step of the music production process that is typically handled by a separate person and considered to be something that it is worth paying a bit to have done professionally. It is the finishing touch required to add polish and bring a piece of music up to a commercial standard with regard to EQ, volume and dynamics.

This said, many people still master their own material, either because of a budget issue or a desire to handle all aspects of the process themselves. This type of mastering is also very attractive due to the relatively low cost of software mastering bundles when compared with the cost of having an album professionally mastered.

Typically, when DIY mastering is performed, it involves the use of a variety of plugins to bring a sound up in volume and process its dynamics in certain ways. The purpose of this is to push the dynamic range of the sound closer to 0db.

The problem with this process is that analog and digital gear don’t deal with ‘overs’ (when a sound goes above 0db) the same. If a sound is over 0db in digital gear it will clip: the top of the waveform of the sound will be chopped off leading to a nasty clip or pop. In analog gear, the process is different – sounds over 0db will typically distort but in a softer, less harsh way. This can often lead to a more forgiving, compression-like, effect.

One trick involving this is to take the full mix and run it through a couple of channels on an old analog desk or some other piece of analog gear, relatively hot, so that it is being pushed into the distorting region. What many find is that this process leads to a more pleasing way of compressing and volumising the mix when recombined with digital processing.

I found myself using this process when mastering a track recently using my 1970s studiomaster desk that was originally used in the Albert Halls, Bolton. Under normal use, the desk is crackly, hissy, with a really high noise floor. But for this extreme use, it functions perfectly well due to its old, soft distorting analog circuitry.

Hint: The level in digital gear is typically about 18db higher than that of analog gear, it is for this reason that many analog products will have a 20db pad on them and this should be engaged when running input from a digital source.

First post - and its a repost ........

So here's my first actual post, and its a repost from red dog audio blog. The reason ? I wrote the original and its pretty decent information. Basically its a post about a particular kind of mixing that you perform at the end of your mix process that gets audio ready to send to a mastering house or even to master yourself. 

Grabbing Those Decibels

Posted in Mixing and Mastering on November 12, 2010 by RedDogMusic
by Phil Graham
So, you’ve got your mix sounding hot. Everything is pounding through the monitors and you’re happy with how it’s sounding. You come to do a basic master and push your limiter till just before it starts to sound distorted. Great, it’s sounding really nice and loud. Then you go to compare it to your favourite records and… it’s weirdly quiet in comparison. You try to push the levels further but they just start to distort and it sounds as if the mix is overly pumping.

What happened?
Chances are it’s not your mastering plugins but actually because your mix, although sounding great to your ears, isn’t technically perfect. This doesn’t mean that it sounds bad but there are a few basic tricks you can perform to get a mix to behave itself, and get a basic master that sounds closer to the real deal.

A lot of the time extra space is taken up in the extreme bass regions of a mix. Usually these cannot be heard through most commercial systems such as stereos and headphones and can safely be removed without adverse effect on your mix sound. A swift EQ cut below about 30htz is a good general rule of thumb and will tame some of those high energy low peaks such as kicks and bass lines.

Frequency Masking
Many instruments have frequency content which, although present in the sound, is being masked by other sounds in the mix which have a larger presence in that frequency range. This extra masked sound adds to the actual volume, if not the perceived volume (It can also sometimes make a mix sound muddier). Good practice here is to play your song and go through each instrument with an EQ cutting specific frequencies and notching lo and hi content. The idea is to listen for the effect the EQ has on the sound within the mix. If you can cut a certain frequency range of a sound without really effecting how it sounds in the context of the mix, chances are its safe to remove it, giving yourself more space to play with. Common culprits here are lead synth sounds which have bass content that argues with the kick and bass lines.

Limiting Peaks
Very often, sounds in the mix will have large peaks when the actual perceived sound is within the less high volume parts of the audio. Thus it can be a good idea to calm these peaks to give extra space to play with. One trick is to set a compressor on a very high ratio with as fast an attack and release as possible (basically so it mimics a slightly more forgiving limiter). Now solo each track and set the compressor threshold as high as possible. Move the threshold down till you begin to hear a noticeable change in the sound of the instrument. Set the threshold just above this point so that you are limiting the peaks but not drastically changing the sound’s quality.

You should find that surgically applying these techniques to the tracks in a mix will allow you to do a quick master and enable you to get the correct level of perceived volume without destroying your mix. Of course, there are other tricks and ways to achieve perceived volume (presence boosts, clipped gain, overloading analogue tape) but this should be a good start.

Welcome one and all

Hey everyone,
So I've started this blog as a sort of port for people into my brain and some of my audio engineering ideas. Most of this is probably basic to a lot of you but that's the bits that are key, the basics.

Fair game is anything audio engineering related really, so check it out and if you like it, comment, and get some discussion going.