Friday, 21 October 2016

On being mid-project and the fascination of stepping stones

One of the most difficult times for me, personally, on any project is the middle section. You have some stuff done and it all seems like it's fitting into place but you know there is still a long road ahead until it's finished and often you don't see how to get there clearly. I find this time really difficult and I have a habit of comparing the current state of a project to finished examples. Most of the time this comparison is not exactly favourable on the unfinished work.

For me this whole stage of the project process is a little bit like the infamous scientific proof where one section simply reads "magic happens here". That "magic" is this middle part of the project or more specifically it's the transition between the middle section and some beautiful end state. At some point it stops being a middle of a project and becomes the beginning of the end. The home stretch, the last lap.

My main issue with this process is mental, it's the mental malaise that comes with comparing to finished work and not knowing how to get the current project to that state. Even if I do know how to get there, that can still be difficult because it doesn't feel like it's possible to get to that end state. I can genuinely start to feel depressed about the fact that I don't seem to be any closer and can't get past that middle ground and over the "magic" bridge into a clear path to the goal. Recently though there are two techniques that I've been using to combat this.

The first technique is something that I call current-state-mindfulness. This is the mental act of trying to take delight in the current stage of the process. If I am recording guitars then I am trying to really enjoy recording them, geek out and get really into it. Find the joy in mic placement, amp selection and all the other stuff that goes along with it. To quote Ze Frank "Try not to view the current state as just a stepping stone to something else, and if it is then try to become fascinated by the shape of the stone".

My second technique is cathartic side projects. These are basically projects that aren't what I would consider core to my main goal or are styles that I don't really particularly have anything to add to but they make me happy to create. Recently i've been working on a serious of metal tracks under an EP called Adrenaline Fuel. These have no vocals and I set up the basic mix of these in a pre-production stage before I started. The goal of them is to enjoy making them but also to allow me to have something musical that has a quick turnaround. I don't spend days agonising over the mix or this sound or that, I just make them some good-ish and then release them. The point is that finishing them gets me through that mid-track malaise. I often use them as a method of getting a break from something that is much more involved or mentally taxing. They also don't sound bad at all which is a nice aside. I often listen back to them just for the fun of it. It's almost free-ing to listen to something i've made and not criticise it.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Scratch tracks and recording with a different sound

So recently I have been experimenting with recording tracks with a different sound to that which I intend to have in the final mix. The reason for this is that I'm trying to separate my concerns when it comes to the sound versus the performance. When I record guitar I like to record with a very bass heavy, muddy, oversaturated tone. Why? Well quite frankly because I play better with that sound. I grew up playing guitars in my bedroom with no other instruments and I got used to the sound of the guitar taking up all the frequency spectrum because I had no other instruments to play with it. When I play with that type of sound I get a really good performance because it feels natural to me. The problem I have been finding though is that this isn't always the best sound when it comes to mix time. In particular I struggle to get the drums and guitars to gel without muddying up the entire mix. It occurred to me that what I really want to do is record with the tone I like but have the actual tone be something more fitted to the track. The way I handle this is to record a dry version of the guitar input to the daw and then re-record the amp tracks, from this dry tone, later. I monitor through my usual guitar setup so what I hear while i'm recording is my familiar tone. This is re-amping as we all know and love and nothing spectacular. What to me was the revelation was the idea that I didn't have to actually record in anything like the tone I planned on having in the end mix. For a start the tone I like to record with is a Marshall and the track I was working on ended up using a Mesa Boogie. This got me wondering if other guitarists have this same problem of hearing a good tone as something that is virtually unusable when it comes to mix time, or whether this is just a very peculiar affliction on my part?

I remember listening to an interview with Celldweller and Blue Stahli where they both talked about making demo versions of tracks, and then changing them later. They use crappy sounds to begin with to get the idea down and then work on the better version later. I find this really interesting because it is exactly what i'm discovering as a way to work, you are treating the different stages of the process as separate. Writing is writing and producing is producing.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Working to a timed plan

One of the time management techniques that I have been fond of for quite a while now is setting out what I intend to do in each day in a mind-map. It's sort of a chore list, I guess, but has things on it like "work on music track" or "do exercise". The main idea was that I would check off the items on it when I finished them each day. This went through several iterations along with various tweaks but I just couldn't find a method of working or set of tasks that I could get done consistently. There was always something that got left off the list or just didn't get completed. This was both disconcerting and quite frustrating. I felt that the list of items was achievable, but no matter how much I paired it down I just couldn't finish it on any given day. How could this be so difficult?

Some time passed, struggling with this method of working, and I read a book called "The way we're working isn't working" by Tony Schwartz which laid out a lot of things about work and productivity. I don't agree with every point the book makes but a lot of them do seem very sensible. One of its main points was the idea that human beings have a well of will power each day that can be both replenished and withdrawn from when required. Every decision we make in a day takes some energy out of this well but decisions that require a lot of work on our part, against some resistance, are particularly draining. As such this brought me to realise that even though I had a plan for what I wanted to do with a day, the act of having to decide to begin doing an activity at any given time was actually draining a lot of my will-power. In short it was actually making the tasks more difficult as I was already depleted when starting them. The problem was that even though I had a set list of what I want to do on a day, I hadn't defined WHEN I wanted to do these things, other than on that day. It's the old problem of starting, but I had made it so I had to "decide" to start tasks lots of times throughout the day and often this meant stopping something else, making the decision twice as hard.

As such I decided that instead I would look at what I had planned each day and actually make a time plan. I set out what each block of time was going to be for and had it planned out for all the hours I intended to be productive during the day and for each day of the week. The difference? Well pretty astounding so far. Before doing this my productivity was sparse and fairly spasmodic. Sometimes I would gets lots done but often I would just not start or only do 10 minutes here or there, usually with not the greatest results. The first week of trying this new method, I did 8 hours over the course of two days and was really happy with the results. The week after, the same again and this week so far has been the same yet again. That's a whole lot of productivity for me! Probably more than i've ever managed consistently in my entire life (without making myself sick). I'm hoping this will help to keep things moving forward. Sometimes when I have these nice ideas I find it hard to stick with them, so it should be interesting to see if this time is different. The signs so far though are very good.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Dave from Boyinaband's "I'm not dead"

To anybody that hasn't already seen this, it's a quite fantastic summary of the difficulties of creating and a comment on the subject of defining your self-worth by what you create. It's something that is very close to my heart and it's both troubling but selfishly comforting to see someone I look up to suffering from the same issues.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

How the world stops us appreciating the little things

One of the things I appreciate most in the entire world is walking along a city street in the rain, when everyone else is trying to get out of it. I imagine myself in some film noir film or painting, my long coat keeping me covered and secure, while the rain pounds off the street surface around me. People sprint left and right to try to get into shelter, their worried faces flashing my quiet contented smiling face a dagger'd scowl. It's a small fascination I have and one that most people don't share but it helps me get through my day. You see most mornings where I experience this feeling are those in which I'm on my way to the office to do a day's hard work. These types of little things get me through and in that sense are quite important to me.

This brings me to my main point, the modern world around us discourages this kind of quiet appreciation of little things that cost nothing. We are almost perpetually driven to want bigger, better, faster and crucially more expensive things, possessions and experiences. We are also told that if something is bad then it is bad, if it's good for most then it should be good and enjoyable for all. Everything is portrayed as black and white, and all the details are lost. We are somewhat discouraged from finding joy in small things that everyone else finds a nuisance or a hassle or even just unenjoyable. I think it's important to be able to do just that because it keeps us anchored both to ourselves and to the world around us, the real world. It helps us not get caught up in a world that is more and more appealing to our base selves and is largely controlled by people who don't have our best interests at heart. Advertising is almost always cynical, crude and designed to make people unhappy. If it makes us contented then it's not really doing it's job.

So how do you combat this? How do you deal with it? The trick, in my mind, is to recognise when something small is making you feel happy or content and make sure to actually experience it. Focus your time around these things instead of just taking them for granted. The next time i'm walking through the rain i'm going to try to not think about the day ahead or the day's past. I won't be walking along paying no attention but instead will enjoy the moment and try to live within it.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Excellent performance of doom on Vulkan !

So this morning I got the updated version of Doom (2016) on pc that lets me use the new Vulkan API. All I can say is WOW. I am running a fairly low-end pc, an AMD FX-6300 with 8 gig of Corsair Vengeance ram clocked at 2133Mhz. In terms of graphics card i'm running a 2013 Saffire R9 270X with 4 gig of VRam. I'm overclocking this card as in the following image from MSI afterburner.

I have most of the settings in Doom turned up to high and the anti-aliasing set to the highest level. With v-sync turned on i'm getting basically 60fps, pretty much locked at 1080p. The reason that this is surprising is that without Vulkan support I was experiencing drops to 30fps pretty regularly in this game. The V-Sync in doom is particularly aggressive and if you drop much below 60 it throttles everything back down to 30. Adaptive V-Sync isn't an option for AMD cards so I had actually just resorted to locking the game at 30 Using rivatuner. Long story short, if you are running Doom, get yourself onto VulkanRT, it's great.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

On sickness, pressure and mental energy reserves.

Recently I was pretty unwell. I had a bad case of flu and because i'm asthmatic that means i'm usually out of it for at least a month while I recover. This is the same if I get a chest infection or really any kind of upper respiratory condition. I don't like feeling sick and unfit etc but the thing that gets to me most is the disruption to the things I enjoy doing like making music and playing sports. I'm usually bed-bound and it really gets to me being stuck there unable to do anything. It starts as frustration but usually ends with me punishing myself for not powering through and doing stuff. Quite simply this is a ridiculous thing to feel bad about, there is 100% nothing I can do and I just have to accept it. The moral of the story here is that feeling like that about yourself actually makes you worse, and less likely to get things done. When you are unable to do things, for whatever reason, rest and give yourself that time off to recover. It's not a bad thing, you aren't being a slacker, you are listening to your body. I'm over feeling sick now but I still honestly feel absolutely shattered and have some of the symptoms hanging around purely because i'm so tired. As such i've been easing myself back into my normal schedule of work and creativity and trying not to put too much pressure on. If I can't manage it on a given day, then I can't manage it on that day. I will go for a walk, spend time with a friend or just sit drinking a coffee quietly.

I think a nice way to frame this whole thing is to do with energy reserves. We all, as humans, have a well of energy from which we can draw. This can be in the form of mental energy or physical energy but the basis remains the same, it gives us the fuel to do something. The problem is that we have to replenish that well with things like those I mentioned before, things we enjoy that aren't too taxing and give us peace and/or a sense of ease. When we are sick, this well is pretty empty a lot of the time because our body is constantly fighting against the illness, draining us. Some days the well is dry even at the beginning of the day and that's okay, it's just something we have to accept. The key, for me, is understanding how much we have in the well that day, how much that will allow us to do and then work with that. Trying to fit in totally unrealistic amounts will just leave us physically and emotionally drained. Trying to sustain that state is virtually impossible and certainly runs counter to our body's natural state.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Some thoughts from working on old tracks

So recently I've been working on some material that I largely wrote in 2013, some metal tracks. I have two of the tracks out already and what i'm doing currently is recording the vocals and mixing the tracks together. What is interesting is that from the time they were written to the point when I recently started working on them, I had lost a large amount of the initial drive I had when I wrote them. Working on them again it has come back and i've been able to more easily write the lyrics and vocal lines than I would have if i'd just dove straight into them back then. The moral here is that sometimes music, even digital music, can be left to mature. This is because music is an expression of the self and the self matures over time. Obviously you can take this too far and end up constantly reworking things and never finishing them, i'm not proposing that. A close friend I knew had been working on the same album for close to a decade without ever finishing it or putting it out and the net effect was largely detrimental to his health. Doing and finishing certainly breed productivity and improvement but sometimes you do need to let things cool for a bit while you figure out what to do with them. I have been working on other tracks in the meantime and for the most part the tracks I did back then were in a good enough state that not too much work was required. I think that is possibly the key, its often that final finishing touch that can be difficult to see from the outset, even if the rest of the process went very smoothly.

As an aside the tracks can be found at

Monday, 2 May 2016

Getting geeky about speaker placement

Its a good thing !

So recently i'm sitting in front of my speakers, working away on a track and I notice that one seems slightly closer than the other. I'm hearing a tiny phase issue, just some washiness so I decide to get out the measuring tape and investigate. I'm not wrong. One is not only closer to the back wall but its also slightly pointing at an angle compared to the other. I can only assume that at some point I must have nudged it just a slight amount, caught it walking by. Why is this important? Well it's important because the distance your speakers are from each other, the wall and you can make a massive difference to what's known as the sweet spot. The sweet spot is where you can hear the mix translated most clearly, every frequency in it's place and nothing over-exaggerated or over-hyped. For most speakers this is a fairly small point (Think Sheldon from the big bang theory trying to locate the perfect spot in the cinema) and as such can be basically nuked out of existence by a few inches difference in speaker location.

It amazes me how much I still come across people who will agonise over speakers and which to buy etc only to get them home and proceed to best guess where to put them in the room and never measure them and adjust until they are at the right location. I spent a small fortune on my studio monitors but I also spent a long time assessing where to put them, how to angle them and measuring out distances on a plan and replicating these distances in the room. Quite simply, getting geeky about your speakers could mean the difference between great speakers sounding great and great speakers sounding like a bad hifi.

As an example, I didn't use to be so picky about speaker location. At one point I moved into a cottage in the countryside and proceeded to pick out the main living room area as my chosen studio location. I promptly set up my gear slap bang in the centre of the room and to my horror couldn't hear any bass whatsoever. I had epic speakers and bass heavy music, why couldn't I hear anything? In short, I was sitting right in the middle of the null point of the room. I experimented by moving my desk (Then on wheels) around and eventually decided on both a different room and an off centre position. The moral of the story, when it comes to speakers, is to read a little and think a lot. You'll thank yourself later.

For those not so keen on reading lots of articles I would say some quick tips are as follows:

1.) There should be a triangle formed between yourself and the speakers. The sides of the triangle should have the same length.

2.) Don't sit with your head in the centre of any dimension of the room. If you sit in the absolute centre of the room, expect to hear no bass, triangle or otherwise.

3.) Imagine a mirror on any surface you see. If you also see a speaker in the imaginary mirror, your speaker will reflect sound off that surface. Invest in acoustic treatment. I don't have thousands of pounds worth of the stuff, you don't need a lot either. Just be careful and plan where you are going to put it.

4.) What are the speakers sitting on? If it vibrates then you just created an issue that might distort the sound.

5.) Avoid putting speakers right next a wall. Especially in corners. Bass will build up and frustration with your weak sounding mixes will follow. As an aside I did get very good results, at one point, from putting a mattress directly behind my monitors. The room I was working in had a terrible shape and I had to make do. Sometimes thinking outside the box can help with less than optimal conditions.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Why I don't make fun of people praying

I shall start this post by putting forth that I don't subscribe to any organised religion. I consider myself an atheist but I enjoy reading into specific religions and taking from them what I consider useful or beneficial. That said, I do think they can do harm when people swallow wholesale the doctrine of one case or the other but i'm not here to argue the case for or against religion as a whole, not today anyway.

With regards to Christianity, I used to think that prayer was a totally futile endeavour. I didn't believe in god so I didn't see why people would get any benefit from conversing with him. Then I discovered meditation. I practice meditation pretty much daily and for me it has a hugely positive effect. I don't think this has anything to do with spirituality or mysticism, for me its purely scientific. Focusing your mind creates neural pathways for concentration. The more you meditate, the more you strengthen these pathways. For me its purely a chemical process. I also believe focusing on breathing helps regulate it and breathing through the nose instead of the mouth has proven medical advantages as the air is basically filtered through the nasal passageways. So anyway, how does this relate to prayer. Well consider what prayer is. The subject sits, tries to block out all other thoughts and repeats a saying or phrase. Whether they believe that anyone is listening is not the point. Many feel that their life improves afterwards and attribute this to god listening. I attribute it to the fact that they are implementing a daily, strictly adhered to, mindfulness practice in their life. They are, for all intents and purposes, meditating.

As a final note, I genuinely believe that most religion stems from a common point. As such the idea that meditation crops up in the Christian faith, albeit through a subtle means, is not surprising to me.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The psychology of asking the right question

The human brain is a really weird, dysfunctional, thing. Often we know the answers to questions but we can't pull them out of our brain for love nor money. The key, sometimes, is actually asking a different question.

When i'm working on a track i'll sometimes find it difficult to know what the track needs. I can listen to it and not really understand where to go when I ask "What is the track needing?". Instead what I now try to do is instead ask "Is the track actually done?". If the answer is no then I start finding it easier to point out what makes the track not yet done. Its a shift from thinking about what my next step is to thinking back from my end-point and looking at what the scope of the gap is. For me it works and I can answer the second question much easier than the first. As an aside I also find that thinking in this way actually allows me to work for longer periods of time on a track without getting distracted. This simple loop of assessing whether the track is done often sparks my desire to immediately do the action I come up with there and then, making the move towards the finished track.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Learning when to speak up

I have a bit of a problem in social situations. Basically, I can't hold my tongue. An idea comes into my head or a thought and i'm generally inclined to just throw it out there without really thinking. As such I often end up having that feeling afterwards of "why didn't I just keep my mouth shut". I think there is a skill to knowing when to speak and when not to and its a seriously difficult thing to master. I don't really have the trick to it or even a method for determining it but it does seem like something I should make an effort to work on. As such I will be trying to engage a 2 second rule.

Generally speaking there isn't much that's so important that you can't wait 2 seconds to say it. Particularly to people you don't know that well. It should hopefully negate some of that initial "Oh god, why didn't I stop and think before I spoke" based on the premiss that I generally have that feeling pretty quickly after I say something dumb or inappropriate.

Monday, 28 March 2016


Sometimes you just need to do nothing and let things play out. This might seem trite, easy to say and generally a bit self-righteous but I think there is some truth in it. As humans our first reaction to everything that we do or that goes wrong is to try to fix it or complete it as soon as possible. We often take action, as a result of this, that can make situations worse because its either rushed or wasn't needed in the first place.

I'm the first to admit, I worry about everything. When something goes wrong, i'm really bad at giving myself the space and time to think before I act. I know this about myself but for some reason I still do it. I still take that rash course of action, I still try to act immediately. Well recently i'm getting better at giving things the time they need to just play out and often they just work out. I think the key to this is that we live in a giant system of interacting parts and elements. Its all to easy to think that we are playing a video game in life and that our actions are the only actors in the world we live in. This simply isn't true. There are a huge range of things that not only can we not change immediately but that we can't actually even change at all. For me it all comes back to one particular quote.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Assessing Rich and Poor (What do we gain from money?)

One thing that has been striking me lately is how people see other people, and in particular how they see other people's wealth. I hear people discussing people with a big house, maybe a couple of nice cars and they describe these people as rich. To me this is a bit strange though as very often these people are lacking in what I would describe as the best quality of a "rich" person's life. That quality is the ability to not have to work for a living and instead having the freedom to choose how to spend their time. Free time is the greatest asset of a rich person's existence in my opinion and very often the people living in the nice houses with the nice cars are having to work all the hours under the sun to obtain them. To me these people are actually suffering from a poverty, a poverty of time as opposed to wealth and the weirdest thing to me, a lot of the time its self-inflicted. They often do this to themselves !

One of the arguments I come across, against this sentiment, is that these people have a different value set, that they value these things, these possessions, more than the free time. To me this doesn't wash though, as I often hear these people complaining about how miserable they are and how much they wish they had more free time. Don't get me wrong, I realise that for a lot of people they would love to do what I do and work part-time but they can't for a whole host of reasons. This post is aimed at those people that choose that destructive, money-driven, lifestyle but then complain about it.

I guess it all comes down to your definition of success. To me success is being happy and happiness for me just isn't about how much money I have in my bank account or my job title. I work part-time and at present I probably have more free cash on any given month than i've ever had in my entire life.  I guess that's probably of a factor that I grew up, until a reasonable age, with very little. We didn't have money and I was never really aware of that fact. To me it was just our reality and I didn't question it. That being said, to a lot of people the fact that I don't work the extra days in the week, and earn more money, is strange. For me the time is just more important and having been able to negotiate a part-time job that works for me is an achievement, one i'm deeply proud of.

The final element of this that I'd like to deal with is the assertion that part-time workers are in someway lazy. Now if you're still with me at this point and understand my point about choosing what to do with your time then you probably already get that I don't believe that, but let's deal with it anyway. I work 3 days a week, currently. In my time off I often do other things like spend time with my family, see my friends and get lots of rest. I also, however, work on music, videos, fix up the house, write blogs like this one, work on free projects etc. In short, I do a hell of a lot of extra, what other people would call, work. The difference is, I don't get paid for this work so its completely on my own terms. The problem, for me, with paid work is often that when someone pays you they assume they own you completely for that time. Choosing how to spend some of my time, and sacrificing some money for that, is a good way to alleviate some of the feeling that i'm trapped in that loop of work and money.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

When to use mix bus compression

Ever wondered when the best time to use mix bus compression is in your project. I thought i'd elaborate on the subject in this short video tutorial.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The "Small Mindless Task Backlog"

Ever had one of those days where you just can't face being creative? You just can't face doing music and you really just want to flop in a heap? For those days I keep what I call my "Small Mindless Task Backlog". This is basically a list of small, annoying, boring tasks that are just a drain on my creativity when I'm in the middle of a good place or a good creative mood. During that mood they slow me down but when i'm drained and I don't really have anything left in the tank they are perfect for keeping me moving. Often they are just small things but doing them gives me the feeling that I've moved forward, that I didn't do nothing and that I made an effort.

Some examples of the kind of things I keep in my backlog:
  • Trimming waveforms
  • Bouncing intensive processing to wave
  • Automating Volumes to ride vocals
  • Cutting masked frequencies
  • Setting up sessions for mastering or mixing
  • Colour coding tracks
  • Transferring audio between systems
  • Tabbing out parts
  • Writing down temp lyrics

Saturday, 20 February 2016

How to keep active when your body fails

I love sport, I always have done. I enjoy tennis, cycling and running. Most of all though, I enjoy football. Its always been the perfect release for me. When i'm on the pitch I feel like my mind is only focusing on the game, i'm fully engaged and its a great way of being mindful without really needing to work at it. Lately though i've been finding it really difficult to keep playing. Part of this has been motivation and the weather but the biggest reason is that my health has not been great. Some of this is temporary issues but the largest two things stopping me are the state of my knees and the state of my lungs.

I have hammered myself for years playing football and as a consequence my knees hurt, quite badly, after every game I play. Most times I can no longer climb a flight of stairs the day after a game. I've been to the physio and have exercises, which I do, but I still have flair ups. The issue stems from a mis-balance in my thigh muscles that pull my kneecaps sideways when I run. As a result, the tissue under my knees swells and hurts. Lately its been not so great and generally speaking knees don't tend to improve with age.

My second issue is that I was recently diagnosed with Asthma. The condition is mild, but its enough to cause me some issues on the pitch and effects my stamina. I've never had the greatest stamina anyway but this has hit my ability to run distances pretty hard.

This basically leaves me one of two choices. The first choice, giving up football, is really not such a great option. I would really miss it and would feel like i'd lost something quite important, not just to my physical health but to my mental health also.

As such i've decided to try a second option, vary my game. I used to play as a winger, lots of running and high impact plays and taclkes. Now i'm having to play a much more patient sitting game and focus on my position and passing. The difficulty for me has been that I've always played on instinct, and now i'm having to work on a much more mental game. This said, if it prolongs my ability to play football into my 40s or even 50s then its worth the effort up front.

Once I get past 50, it is my intention to take up walking football. This is a variant of the sport where running is strictly banned, with the idea that it helps people with reduced mobility. The wikipedia article has more information for anyone that is interested.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Humans can't multi-task

Humans can't multi-task! I still meet people who dictate to me that humans are capable of multi-tasking. It astonishes me that people still believe this even when considering how the brain works. Sure we can multi-task basic functions such as breathing and walking but when it comes to thought processes this is a different matter altogether. This is because our brain is massively interconnected. At any given neuron, the activation level is largely a product of the other connected neurons. As such if you are strongly thinking about one concept which creates certain patterns of activation in the brain, you automatically create patterns of activation in connected neurons. Try to think about two problems at once and you essentially chemically nuke the required activation patterns needed to be cognitively useful in either case.

There are lots of wonderful articles on the subject but one of my personal favourites is this from Leo Widrich

It covers multi-tasking in the brain along with some hacks and tips on how to work at it. About the only thing it doesn't cover is mindfulness training such as meditation. I meditate mostly daily and find the practice very useful for helping me keep my mind in focus. Im not what Mike Monday calls a "Focus Ninja" but i'm a lot better than I used to be.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

An update to my compensatory eq

So a while ago I published a post on this blog talking about my use of compensatory eq. The idea was that I applied an eq, while I was working, over my entire mix. The reason for this was that I tend to hear things slightly differently to what modern mastered music sounds like. I always gravitate towards certain frequencies and sounds. As such when i'm working, as I now am, on expensive flat response speakers - everything tends to sound very scooped to me. As such I apply a reverse of this at the end of the mix chain. Previously I was performing this via logic's inbuilt eq but I have recently found a better solution.

This solution was brought about when my Apogee Ensemble soundcard became, how to put it, obsolete. The card's sound quality is excellent but it no longer works with the latest version of OSX (El Capitan). There has also always been issues with drivers and the controller software not working very well, so I wasn't that upset to be having to replace it. So with all this in mind, I plumped for a MOTU Track16. The feature list is insane for a card at the price and i've used MOTU products previously and was pretty happy with them. So far this has been, hands down, the absolute best card i've ever owned considering the relatively low price I paid for it.

One of the best features of the new card is that it has a built in DSP function which includes, amongst other things, an eq on every channel. This is great because its lets me apply the eq over everything I do, including reference tracks. This is where this solution is so much better than my old solution because I no longer have to important my reference tracks into logic to AB them against my work.
And without further ado, here is my final compensatory eq curve

And here are the settings on the motu DSP

If you would like to hear how this sounds, please check out my youtube video on the subject. I show the difference in sounds and also explain a bit more about the setup.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Tech - 8 Pin motherboard power connector

A while ago I bought a new motherboard for my new gaming computer. I was annoyed to find that it had an 8-pin connector but my old one had a 4 pin. I however found that my PSU actually supported this but in a slightly strange way that I wasn't expecting. The video below shows what I found.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Removing tiny barriers

Every person who sets out to create something in the world sets out with the best intention. The problem is that soon after, for most people, those creative tasks become increasingly difficult to find the motivation to work on. For me this has always boiled down to an issue involving what I call "tiny barriers". You can think of these as the barriers to entry, the gatekeepers of your ability to work on something.

A prime example for me involves my computer in my 'man cave'. If I have my computer on, I will be tempted to sit down and work on a track, maybe pick up a guitar and record some parts or even start a new track. If my computer is off, I simply walk past it. The act of having to turn the computer on to actually do anything with it is enough to put me off. This might sound lazy but consider another scenario.

You are lying in bed. Its cold outside the bed, you are comfortable, but you know you have to get up. You don't have work to go to and there is nothing particularly important to get done but you know you really should get up today as you will need to eat at some point and getting dressed is normally a good thing. This builds and you want to get up but still you don't get up. At some point you break through this mental fog and make the decision to actually get up. Something in your brain made you get up, but only because it was an eventuality that you weren't going to avoid. The barrier that you overcame was the lethargic feeling of not wanting to get out of bed. Now imagine if you had woken up outside of the bed, having already had the discomfort of leaving the warm bed and getting out into the cold air. That tiny barrier is no longer there and the decision to start your day is much easier to make.

With this in mind, I have my studio machine on most of the time now, but just left in sleep mode. I have a project open so I can work on that if I want. The mental difference is quite pronounced. Instead of avoiding working on tracks, I actually want to. That tiny barrier being removed makes the whole task seem less daunting.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Finished part of my album !

So recently I've been working on my album "Flawless Victory". Its a concept album about an astronaut, space travel, and aliens. I'm doing the album in 4 part segments known as Acts. Act 1 is up now at 

and is free to listen and download. I'm pretty pleased that I got it out there, and I really hope some of you enjoy it.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The power of doing

I'll admit it, I have a tendency to overthink the things i'm working on. It starts as valid critical thinking and ends with paralysis and fear of messing it up. The progression is often quite subtle and creeps on me. The problem is that more often than not i'm ignoring one of the golden rules of creativity - The power of doing. Put simply, the more we do the better we get at whatever it is we are doing. Its also one of the easiest ways to improve because it involves nothing more than simply keeping at it, no matter how bad your results are right now. For me its summed up in the following quote:

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit"

Want to get better at something? Do it more. Then do it some more.

Now this is not to say you shouldn't be reading or thinking about doing things. For me its about balance. A healthy balance of practical practice and study is the key to any craft. The take home here is more about not always striving for total perfection. Sometimes simply doing more and more will lead you to the same point of perfection, but in a more natural and less stressful way. Your brain can really only handle so much information at once when it is just an idea. If that idea is backed up by repetition and practical implementation, it becomes much more difficult to forget. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Transients versus bass, a common misconception

If you've ever had any form of audio engineering training, you will have almost certainly have come across the perceived wisdom that bass sounds take up the largest room in the mix. You will have been told to cut any sounds with presence below a certain point, unless they are bass instruments. You will likely then have gone home and tried this and wondered why your mix suddenly sounds like it has no life and no body to it and isn't really that much easier to master or mix. The truth is that bass is not always the culprit for db headroom. The largest eater of headroom is often transients.

Loud sounds often have a very pronounced spike in their soundwave, usually right at the start of the sound. This is called a transient. This can often be very loud in comparison to the nature of the rest of the sound, leading to it spiking out meters and limiters, while the rest of the mix is nowhere near that volume. So why aren't these just picked off by the limiter? The problem lies in the fact that all the parts of a mix intermingle at the same time and within the same frequency space. Limiting that snare drum's transient might end up taking down that hi hat with it if you just slap a limiter across the mix. Some win can be had from using a multiband limiter and isolating the frequency of the transient in question but i've found this to be a mixed results endeavour. Personally I find it more effective to limit or compress the part in question, prior to the final mixdown.

So how does this relate to bass? Well the nature of transients is that they are usually quite fast, hence the name transient, and as such are less likely to be made up of bass content. Bass takes time to develop (in the context of millisecond measurements) and is therefore not normally the cause of the problem. Bass instruments turned up abnormally loud can also cause issues with headroom, as the whole sound then becomes louder than other peaks, but generally speaking they are just more likely to muddy the mix and make the low end less defined.

The way I often go about detecting this transient issue is to slowly build up my mix, hitting it off a limiter with a readout of the gain reduction, and see what instruments lead to audible and visible dips in the meter. The most common culprit for me is the snare drum. That initial 'whack' of the snare can generate a transient that is so obnoxiously high above the rest of the music, it makes it impossible to master without ducking everything else at that point. The trick is not to even attempt to hit the whole mix with a compressor/limiter until we'v dealt with that snare separately, as discussed above.

So in conclusion i'm all for cutting bass in instruments if they are causing a build up or an unfocussed, muddy, low end. If, however, you just want to give yourself more headroom and more volume in mastering, i'd look to transients on individual instruments.

If you would like to see a worked example, I've done a video on it which you can see below

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Discontinuity of Life

So recently I've been thinking about the world and how most people seem to portion it out into little chunks and think of them as discrete units. This is in contrast to my understanding of the world as an interacting system. In my opinion this leads to issues which are largely systemic problems being treated as isolated incidents. Don't get me wrong I'm all for mental compartmentalisation but when it comes to external factors, understanding the system-wide implications of actions can go a long way to helping deal with life. For me one of the biggest examples of this is money.

Most people tend to view money as a thing, an object, something having intrinsic value in of itself. The truth, in my opinion, is that money is actually just a piece of a larger system. Money is a method of transferring goods and services, so in some sense it is actually more of a social contract than an object. It doesn't have an intrinsic value without the system that it operates within. By thinking of money as a discrete, we allow ourselves to become caught up in the pursuit of it. It becomes the end goal, rather than the facilitator. It leads to money becoming a status symbol, because of our possession of it. Me personally, I like to think of money as part of a system. If the money is flowing correctly through the system, I don't require to think about it or have it burden me. When I check my bank account to see if I have enough money to pay for something, I'm not thinking about how much money I have, I'm looking at the state of a system in flux. I understand that the aquiscion of money is only determined by my circumstances surrounding it. For instance, if I work so much that I cannot spend the money, then I have no real benefit from it. All the status or possessions in the world won't change the fact that I'm not better off for my inflated bank balance. What that bank balance actually represents in that state is a blockage in the system, a bottleneck. I think many things can be understood in this way.

So how do you deal with this mentally. How can you compartmentalise without trying to understood the world around you through a discrete lens. Well take for example the following:

I pick up a JIRA ticket at work and write some code. While I'm writing that code I'm focused and blocking some things out, I'm allowing myself to be in the pocket of the moment. When I'm finished I check that code in for code review. At this point I don't sit monitoring what has happened to that piece of code, I let it sit for a period while the reviewer goes over it. During this time I look into some other work, I research what I'm going to do next. My understanding is that my work isn't a discrete unit of work, its part of a larger system. That system is now handling the next step of the process. Most things we do have an effect, some influence on the system around them. Allowing the system to work and not focusing on the possession can go a long way to helping us act more effectively within the wider system.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Work passion balance : What does it mean?

People often talk about work life balance. I think this is a great thing and very important but I often also like to consider work passion balance. This is the balance between things that you do for employment and things that you are passionate about, but are not necessarily the same as your day job. I find that this balance is equally as important to keeping yourself comfortable as your creativity is often fed more strongly by passions. I believe there is also a valid balance to be sought between work, passion, family and recreation/relaxation. This gives a sort of 5 way balancing act that the original "work life balance" doesn't really adequately address. Its also the reason that I think so many people end up in a mess. They think that because they can get a basic 50/50 work to "everything else" ratio they will be okay. Personally this doesn't work for me. I have a lot more things going on that I need to address on a daily basis.

The difference between work and passion for me boils down to money, but in a subtly different way to what I guess most people see money as in relation themselves. I work hard in both pursuits and to the naked eye it would look like both are really just work. The difference is that work is something that someone pays me for but my passions are things i'd pay to do. This is significant because in this way money affects my motivations. If I wasn't being paid, I wouldn't go to work. The lack of any monetary incentive in my passion, however, is not discouraging. This isn't to say you can't have both but I don't think its as simple as monetising your passions and expecting it all to fall into place.

I think that people who manage to create a situation where their passion becomes their employment have to be very careful to keep the money side of things away from the general creative process. Its also one of the reasons that I don't believe you can buy truly creative people into an organisation and have it work. You have to provide people something else or it just won't work for them.

As an aside I also believe this is one of the reasons that having vastly different salaries between people who work in the same organisation, with relatively similar jobs, doesn't work. The minute you start defining success and progression as £ signs you remove focus from what's important. You also start artificially creating hierarchies and reinforcing rules that might not be appropriate. If you pay everyone roughly the same and find other, more effective, ways to incentivise your staff you stand a better chance of having a successful organisation.