Thursday, June 26, 2008

Compression Depression

Do you suffer from compression depression?
Here are the symptoms, as they were explained to me.
First of all the sufferer shows a blatant disregard for the understanding of the sliders, knobs, and titles of the many different parameters that make up most compression effect units. We, myself included, never looked into what any of the endless parameters found on compressors did. Words like ratio, release, attack only boggled my mind, and I found myself tweaking them endlessly. It is a common trait of the depressed, and compressed deficient, to play with the many knobs and sliders just to watch the multi-colored lights light up, until hopefully the music sounded "cool" to our ears.
I was a long time sufferer, and one day I reached "my bottom". I reached out for help, and I got just what I asked for! I no longer suffer, and my music is now tighter, louder, and punchier because I asked for the help that I needed so badly.

First of all, let me explain what compression is, what it does, and then what the parameters actually do to music that we push into them.

Music consists of all types of sounds and notes. Sometimes the louder hits like drum snares and picked bass notes get recorded, which is all too common. These loud notes can stick out, and get in our way. We can't raise the volume level of these tracks because they will distort, and peg the output volume level meter bridge. We need to find a way to lower the louder hits without loosing anything else!

Compression is used in music to lower or remove the louder volume hits and/or notes in a song. This then brings the overall volume ride along a certain chosen level rather than having loud peaks and deep quiet valleys. When we do this it smooths out the volume, and it can actually make the music feel louder and tighter.

If you have a piece of music that contains some very loud snare hits, you can only set the volume to a certain level before it distorts. If you turn up the master volume level so that you can hear the rest of the music, the snare hits will distort, and if left in our song it will result in blown out speakers in our cars. Lowering these "transient" snare hits will allow us to raise the master volume level of that track as we master it, which increases the overall volume level of that track. The snare hits will now sit nice in the track, and the rest of the music recorded on that track will be louder, or more present.

This is a crude example of what a compressor can do for us, but it is a good one! The same is true for a bass track. A compressor on a bass track can tighten up the sound, and allow it to sit in the track all the better. By lowering, or compressing, the spikes caused by pics or hammer-ons, we can raise the overall level without distorting.

Using a compressor on a master stereo output track can make magic! A master track, in this example, is the last chance to control spikes in volume in the stereo output . All of our recorded tracks go through this master stereo track and this is where we can add effects like reverb, compression, and other major stereo effects before the output leaves the recorder. This is the final master mix stereo track. The perfect amount of compression at this point will iron out all of the unruly peaks, and supply us with a more powerful, louder master mix down.

What are these perfect amounts of compression? What do the titles of the parameters that have knobs and sliders mean? Let's dive in and find out!

As any type of effect unit there is usually an input level, as well as an output level. These are a "no-brainer", which needs little to no explanation. One thing that I might need to tell is that most often we put compressors in series with our tracks and not in parallel. In other words, we run our music (or our tracks) straight into a compressor, and then the output is not "mixed" with the original music (or tracks). We want to alter the input sound with our compression, not add to or take away from a portion of what is recorded. We do need to find a smooth amount of input and output without pegging the meters, and that will come with an explanation of how the compressor works, and with practice.

The next parameter of the compressor that we should try to dial in is the threshold. Threshold is the volume level, which we choose, at which reduction (compression) happens. So, as the laymen would say, after we set the input and output levels we then tell the compressor at what level of volume we want it to start working. To explain that in my terms, when the snare hit gets too loud, then wham, start working! As the music "crosses the threshold" the compressor starts working. The music that remains below the threshold level is not compressed, or altered.

Ratio is the next parameter that you will need to understand in order to properly use your compressor. The ratio is simply the amount of compression that is applied to the volume spikes(music) that crosses the threshold level that you just set.

The snare hit example that we continue to use will once again come in handy in explaining how ratio works. We just set the threshold to a point that fails to alter any of our music, except for the loud snare hits. Next, we set the ratio, which tells the compressor how much of the snare hit to take away. The ratio has settings like 1:1, 2:1, 3:1, and so on. This is read as "one to one, two to one, and three to one".

Attack is the next parameter on the hit list of explanation. Attack is a groovy term that defines how fast the compressor starts working on the sound, as it crosses the point of the threshold. A fast attack lets very little time pass, if any, before the compressor take away from the volume spike.

In terms of an opposite force, release is the term for the "letting go", or the stopping of the compressing itself. When the effected signal (snare hit) sinks below the point of the threshold that you set, how soon the compression stops doing its' thing is what is called the release. Attack is how fast the compression starts working on a signal after it crosses the threshold, and release is how long it keeps effecting the signal after if falls below the threshold.

Compression can raise the overall volume level of a track by removing the volume spikes. The spikes are what triggered the red "peak indicators" in out output volume meter. The red lights on top of the output volume meter means distortion to you and I. Removing the volume spikes, or the red peak indicators, means that the distortion is also removed. This means that you can now turn up the tracks' volume without adding any distortion! The beauty of compression!!!

To wrap up the topic at hand, I should add that a little compression goes a long way. Over compressing a track is easy to do. Over compressing sounds like pulses to a good ear, and it can ruin a song. Under compressing will result in a song full of instrument volume spikes which results in an overall quieter song. The spikes take up the available room that should be occupied by instruments and vocals. Use a compressor with caution, but try to use them. They add balls to bass tracks, and magically tighten up lame songs. Compressors can be a magical tool but they can also be so addictive that you can easily overuse them, resulting in a flat, mono level song full of irritating pulses.
Whatever you do, keep playing! Tweaking the compressors can only lead to perfection. In no time at all you will be setting the parameters by memory, and for each instrument!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Finished from the start.

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Sometimes, as we record our musical ideas, we are the only ones that can hear the ending result in our heads. As we play it to our friends, it may sound dull and lifeless, but not to our ears! We hear it in all of its' finished glory.

With this power in mind, lets discuss a couple of different ways that we can record our instruments. We can record a guitar and an amp using a microphone just in front of the amp.This works fine if we know the tone and the effects that the song needs. If we are not totally sure, however, we can record the instrument directly out of the output jack, or by using a "DI" (direct in) technique.

The DI technique is when the track you are recording is straight out of the instrument, and is then plugged "directly in" to the recording machine. After it is recorded, we can then route the tracks' output into any amp and room combination that we want, and then record that newly amped sound onto a new track. This allows us to audition as many amps, in as many situations, as we have the money and the space for. They also make bunches of DI boxes that sound or act like tube amps, but this is all for another blog entry to come.

This fore mentioned technique is called re-amping, and it is a rather common practice. If I had access to a guitar player for only one day, and he did not bring any amps with him, well, you can see where this is going. A trick that producers and engineers like to do is to duplicate the original DI guitar track, and then re-amp it out to several different amps, in different size rooms, and then mix them all together for a complicated (but good) sound. See the links at the bottom of this entry for more great information on both re-amping, and effects loops.

If you are budget minded (my excuse for being a budget restricted recording enthusiast) like myself, than this may never happen in your studio. Instead, we often choose the "finished as we record it" technique. This is where we close our eyes in order to meditate, and "hear" our unfinished song, finished. The tone of our guitars and bass can be heard, well, close enough to the finished state. We know if it needs delay or reverb, clean or dirty, and things like that. Before we record it we can audition effects and tones as we rehearse. Getting the sound of our instruments as close to the "end result sound" works for myself and my recording habits. This technique fits me just fine. Why?

Well, with all things in my life I like to put things off until the very last minute. I try not to do this with my music, however. Re-amping guitars and basses is perfect for the bigger studios with the larger productions. It makes perfect sense if your band mate is jet setting all over the globe and cant stay too long in order to try out amp and speaker combos, for the best sound on a particular song on a record. At home, I have the time to get the sound very close, and then record it.

I do like to play with duplicating tracks and using different amps on them, and then mixing it all together. I am not against experimenting with my music. However my budget only allows for so many amp/speaker combinations. I love to take a "duped" track and offset its' timing by a nano second. This acts like a delay effect and gives the track a rich thick feel. I use this on vocals allot. I am getting off the topic a little, so lets' get back.

Getting your tone as close to the end result as possible, and then recording it, is how I like to do things. It leaves no room for alteration though. Re-amping is all about alteration, and playing around with different sounds until you get the sound that you like. This is a different reason to choose to (or to choose not to) re-amp.

If you are recording someone else's band, and you are not too sure of the exact direction of their sound in mind, than perhaps re-amping is the answer! You can always go back later, after all of the instruments are recorded, and try different amp/room combinations. This would be impossible if you did not record a DI track, but instead recorded the track "wet" or dialed in as you think it should sound.

The best argument for re-amping is the fact that you can always go back and change the sound. What I am getting at here is that by using a DI track, as you record an instrument, is that you can fix tones easier. You have to re-record the entire track if you do things the other way. I wish I had a hit song for every time that I had to go back and re-do a guitar or bass track in order to better dial in a delays' tempo. I also wish that I had a hit song.

I hope that this helps give birth to some new ideas with your musical adventures. This is very much like using send/return loops for use with effects. I wrote about effect loops recently in the blog "Its a loopy world" , if you feel like checking that out!

Here are some links that I have found on this same type of loop and re-amping topic.



Keep writing!!! The world needs all of the uniqueness that it can get, and that means you and your idea of what music is!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Which sound is correct?

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Hello to all of the good people out there that enjoy this blog, and making music!
I am in the mood for Blogs.....Great idea for a tune, eh? Well, at least if it is heard correctly! What does that mean? Let's talk about the sound of sound, as it comes to our ears in each step of the writing process.

"What?" That was the only thing my brother could say as he found out how much studio reference monitors cost. "What gives, they are just speakers, right?" He went on to say. He was correct, but not completely correct.

The studio monitors (and the studio headphones) that we use to listen to our music, as it is in the writing/editing phase, are rather different than the regular speakers that we find in our home entertainment systems and in our automobiles. The studio monitors give us an exact replication of the different levels of frequencies that the instrument that we have recorded has. Basically what that means is that if we record a bass and a drum into a recording device, than it should sound the exact same, as it comes out of our studio monitors when we play it back. The high frequencies of the cymbals as well as the low frequencies of the bass should both be represented and present in our monitors and our headphones that we use to record and mix music down.
If the monitors in your studio do not give the exact same values for the sound that you have recorded, than it will simply not be heard by our ears, even if it is recorded on the machine that you use.

What this means is that we might add an EQ to help bring out the cymbals, or maybe some sort of effect to bring out the bass guitar, so it all sounds better through our monitors. These tweaks will ruin the tracks that you are working on, since the tweaks were not needed to begin with. The fact that your monitors could not project the frequencies that were recorded, made you work at trying to bring them out. That un-needed adjustment can ruin the perfect recording that you have, but just simply can't hear through your monitors.

This is why some of our songs sound great at the home studio level, but as we bounce the songs down to a master stereo track, then save them as different file types, and then listen to it in your car or your home stereo, it sounds like it is has way too much bass, or it is all treble. Each time we advance from one set of monitors to another set along the way, disaster is lurking!

How do we avoid this sort of trouble? There is plenty that we can do, and lots we should do! Here are some ideas and some different things that you can do to assure yourself that what you hear in the studio is what you will hear in the car.

First of all, try to get a decent pair of studio monitors. The best types of monitors are relatively "flat" when it comes to frequency response. This means that the monitors do not add or take away "sound" like extra bass or treble. Instead, they are "flat".

Makers of such monitors work very hard to achieve this "perfectly" flat response. They use new and better materials, they may choose to port their enclosures, they use several different amps in each enclosure, or they use a "passive system". Passive means they are not amplified by the way. There is an endless list of tricks that they use, all for our pleasure.

Some monitors ship with a microphone type of "thingy" with them. This acts as a type of speaker that tunes the monitors themselves, to your studio space. They send along a CD that contains white noise and the different frequencies that your room, and music will produce. Then you can adjust these monitors to the room that they are in, using the CD of noise that comes with them. I like to call these "tuned" monitors, but I have heard a few different terms for them. This can "dial in" the monitors for the room that they are in, which will assure you of the best frequency response, and in turn, make your music sound better.

Manufactures make all types of room diffusers in order to eliminate any unwanted reflections of the sound. This bouncing of sound in a room can actually cancel out some frequencies. Even though these frequencies are coming out of your monitors, you will not be able to hear them very well. These diffusers can consist of many different units such as corner pieces and wall hanging pieces. Lately, they are making are making these wall and corner diffusers that look very much like art, and they are very nice to look upon. They also work very well at canceling out the unwanted bouncing and echoes that can ruin a recording as well as a good monitoring sound.

You can find headphones that do all of this stuff too. They come in all types of types, like open back, closed back, noise canceling, and the list goes on and on. My advice to you is to find a good flat pair that match your monitors. The most important times that I use headphones is when I am recording a vocal, guitar, or whatever, and I don't want the recorded tracks to "bleed" into the mics I am using. Also, the most critical time that I use them is during a mix down. This is a critical step, so I need a great representation of the music that is recorded, that I am mastering. Any extra bass or treble that gets by the headphones will make it to the master. The same is true for any lack of frequency that manages to get by due to the added tone, or "charactor" of my headphones.

Another point to keep in mind is that you need to know your monitoring system. As time goes by you will know which monitor in your chain, may add a little treble or bass. You should know that which pair of headphones adds a little bass, and you will need to look out for that. Using a couple of different monitors during a mix down is a great idea to ensure a good mix. You don't need a ton of cash however, to accomplish this.

Your headphones and your monitors are actually two separate sources, so use them! Play your mix through one pair, and then the other, and then split the difference, so to speak.

The final test in the chain should be a stereo that you know very well. My car stereo has a decent sound. More importantly I do not have any EQ's in the chain, or it is simply the CD player and the speakers. I like to play a professional CD (purchased at a local record shop) to dial in a good sound. Then, I pop in my new mix, and compare it to the professionally mixed CD that I purchased. This will let you know exactly how your mix is eq'd. This will tell you where your monitors are weak, and where they are brilliant! If the mix sounds good in the studio, and good in your car, than you are right on track for a great "flat" monitoring system!

Please know that I am not talking about volume. I do not mean that the bass or the cymbals are louder in the mix, but rather their frequencies are more or less present in the mix. An instruments presence in a mix can be missplaced due to a poor monitor as well, but we are talking about the overall sound and tone of a recording.

Well, once again thank you very, very much for reading this blog. I am trying to keep rather common problem areas in the discussion with each new entry. I hope that I may some day be able to help someone out! Let me know how I am doing. If there is an area that you would love to see more information on, let me know! Keep playing, and I will be back soon!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Killing the buzzing buzzKill buzz.

Welcome back to The Hit Maker blog. With the catchy title that I used today, readers will never forget how to deal with the problem of a buzzing amplifier again. But first, let me tell you a true story.

A woman once reported a problem to the power company that I worked for. It seemed that the streetlight in front of her house would buzz loudly all night long. When I arrived to fix the light, she asked me just why it is that some streetlights buzz. I could not help myself, so I explained that "streetlights hum because they can't remember the words". Yea, that one was pretty bad, eh?

The word "Buzz kill" has recently come to mean an annoying person, or an unseen event, that ruins a good time.

It is also true that a buzzing can be a buzz kill. Ever plug your guitar into your amp and hear a buzz killing buzz? It becomes what is commonly referred to as "a major buzz kill" when it happens during a gig, as any member of the paying crowd will happily let you know.

I like to think that the days of ballast-using fluorescent lighting (especially those neon tube beer-lights) causing a buzz are a thing of the past. One by one these noisy fixtures are being replaced or repaired. They can be the culprit of some of the most annoying buzz making objects in a bands sound equipment. However, these lights are often times overlooked as a source of that mind numbing sound in some of the hardest to solve buzz-sound mysteries.

Most often than not these lights are not the only source of amplified sound equipment buzz. There is another major player in the world of "buzz kill buzzing" that must be passed on to all of you, because this buzzing can turn even the happiest crowed against you. The source of "the buzz" is not from any flashy neon beer lights. No, not by a long shot. Nope, that sound that just will not go away (unless you keep your fingers on the strings of your bass or guitar) is from the ground.

The ground you say? How so?

Well, not the ground that you stand on, or is it?

It is true! It is also true that electricity flows from a positive to a negative charge. The buzzing sound is often from a problem that is called a "broken ground", or a "broken ground loop".

Let me better explain this all to you. Basically, after we use a certain amount of electricity, we then force it to go towards a ground source, or towards a negatively charged ground. It is called "ground" because the grounding wires and/or the grounding rods that carry the used electricity are literally driven into the ground. The Earth itself has (or is) a negative charge. Lightning bolts shoot down from the positively charged cloud, to the negatively charged Earth.

The way in which the in-coming power is used and then pushed along to the ground is often called a "ground system" or a "ground loop". When the grounding system has some trouble getting to the Earth, back currents of stray voltage starts being heard by our ears as it goes back into our amps. Well, in layman's terms that is how we are able to hear it.

With this newly gained knowledge of grounding systems, you will be able to diagnose a grounding problem, and then be able to fix it, right? Well, maybe not just yet, but after you are finished reading this blog you certainly will!

There are a few videos that I provide links to in a paragraph or two that will clear up a lot of your questions too.

O.K. Lets say that the lead guitarist in your band is creating a buzz. The problem with this new buzz is that it is not from the media, and it is not from a brewskie either. Instead, his guitar and his guitar amp are generating a loud buzzing noise. It grows louder and louder as he keeps his hands off of the metal parts of his instrument. I bet you already know the cause of the problem, so let's fix it.

The electrical system in this particular night club is working just fine. The trouble is that his gear is having a hard time getting to, or finding a good ground. The most likely cause for this problem is the three prong plug that came with his guitar amp. It is a nice, newer amp and it has a three prong style plug for the power. Problem was that he played in a club last week that had only the old style of outlets, the type that has only two female plug spaces for the plug end to plug into.

So, like so many other people on the Earth, he simply pulled out the circular lug, or the ground lug, out of the end of the amps' power plug. When he did that he was able to plug his amp in and play that night, but he forever ruined the amps' ability to supply a decent ground loop. A simple ground power adapter would have made the fix quick and easy, and he would not had to have pulled out the grounding lug out from his amps' power plug.

Basically these adaptors are a small thing that you plug your three plug chord into. The adaptor has two plugs leading from it that plugs into the older style outlet. These adaptors have a piece of copper that hangs off of them which has a small hole in it. This allows you to attach the copper to the screw that holds the outlet cover on, or some other good source of ground. This, in turn, eliminates the unwanted hum. If you come across this problem you must have a ground power adapter on hand in order to fix it correctly. In fact, keep several of these adaptors in your gear bag as they are cheap and you might very well need more than one at a show.

Please refer to these awesome links and see just how easy the good people at Taylor Guitars make solving this whole ground hum issue. Please make sure to watch all of them as their is only about three or four of them in total.
Here are the links:

So now that you can save the show from any and all unwanted electrical humming noise, your shows will be the best in sound time and time again. You will have other acts begging you to diagnose their source of hum sound, and then they will beg you to help them fix it. This hum is annoying, and it just plain sounds unprofessional. Be warned that I have found a bad ground connection at the venues' power panel before. The source of our hum could not be found that night, and nothing that we did was working to get rid of it. I metered the connection at the panel, and it read fine on the meter. I decided to tighten the connections anyway, since I was in the panel already, and I was glad that I did! That simple deed was all that it took to better the path to ground, and the hum stopped.

Speaking of bad ground connections...... We built a new building once in Florida. The ground their was hard to get down to almost perfect, no matter what we did. We soldered our connections at the panel, we added length to our grounding rod outside. The last thing that we ended up doing was pouring a mixture of saline (salty)watter down beside, and all around the area of the ground rod. This worked, and the power and ground worked and metered correctly.

Bad connections to ground will do some weird things to a buildings power supply. The voltage will go up and down at will, and lights will dim and then burn out. The arking that may happen at the poor connection (if it is loose or broken) may melt the wire itself. A good path to ground is very important, and only a person that knows what they are doing should check the ground connection. Only a pro electrician can legally install and repair this stuff, so do not try it on your own, O.K.? Fix the ground at the amps' power plug, not at the buildings power supply. Leave that to the pros. Please leave that to the licensed pros, we want you playing music, not playing electrician!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Where are the Drums?

Hello home recording enthusiasts, and welcome back to the Hit Maker!
First of all I have added "subscribe" tabs and/or links to this blog so please feel free to do so. This way you will never miss a new addition to the Hit Maker!!

I have been working on a few different rap songs, and there is a lot to say about the percussion in these songs. The beat is the meat and potatoes to the song when it comes to all forms of rap music. I have been using some basic loops, altering the slices that make up the loops, with volume changes only. The loops that are out there are insane both in sound and in number. Pick your loop library carefully as you may want to expand and take them with you to your new setup. I have yet to expand, so the loops I find in Reason are what I am using. I like the sounds, and the cost of the Reason loops too. Look here for your best price for propellerheads Reason 4.

If you are like me, when it comes to good ole' rock and roll, then you like real drums in your music! Look, just because I write some rap doesn't mean that I don't like to rock you know. Anyhoo, real drums can be added in a lot of ways, and we should discuss the many ways, and a little about these ways. Drums are the back bone of our songs, and they need to sound both good, and right!

The way that gives us the less stress and probably the best sound (hands down) has to be recording a drummer playing a set of drums. I like to send a click track to the drummers headphones, as well as a bass or guitar player too. The bass and guitar player need to have their amps in a separate location as the drum set, or else it will enter the mics that we are going to set up all over the drum set. With several players, along with a click track, playing into the drummers headphones, we should be able to take a practice run through the song, and then record him playing it for real! Wait, did we set up the mics yet?

The drums can be mic'ed in a thousand different ways, with a thousand different types of mics. All too often our limiting factor is our budget. Let's take the small budget approach first, and then build on that.

Whichever way you record the drums, you must have the mics going into a mixer, or some type of recorder. Some folks run the drums mics into a mixer, and it is in the mixer that they adjust the mics individual volumes, and then send the mixers' outputs to a recorder. Weather you use a mixer or not is not paramount, but you should know that with a million mics set up all around the drum set, a mixer is the logical choice.

We are starting out with only two microphones though, so you may not need to be a Sir Mix-a-lot. Take a minute and move your ears all around the drum set as the drummer plays. Find the sweet spot, for the "sound" that you desire on your song. Keep in mind that the brass (the cymbals) may cut through the mix, or may be louder than the other drum heads.

Lets say that our drummer is rather predictable, dynamically speaking, and plays each piece of the kit at a steady volume. After listening, we find that just in front of the kit, at about the drummers' head level, sounds killer. Lets place our only two mics at about the drummers head level, and in a sweet spot that is not too close to the brass, and yet not too far away either. Listen through a set of headphones to get the perfect spot, in our sweet spot. Place the mics so that they are pointing down towards the Tom and snare heads, and not the ceiling or the floor. Again, you can aim them best by simply listening through a good pair of headphones.

This technique is widely used in budget minded home recording studios all over the Earth. You will get some great sounding drums using the two mic method, trust me as I always have!

With a little more cash comes the option of using more mics for recording the drums. You don't need a million mics to get the best tone possible, but damn near. The parts of the drums that I would deem in need of their own mic, and in order are: the floor/kick tom, the snare, the toms, the hi-hat, and then the (powerful yet often forgotten) room mics.

Once all of these are covered with mics, then I might add a second mic to the kick and a second mic to the snare. I might place a mic on top of the snare and place one under it. This allows one to capture the "snap", or attack of the snare, and then the one under it captures the tone and the ringing of the snare.

The same holds true with the floor tom or the kick tom as I like to sometimes call it. Place one inside of the floor/kick tom pointed at the striker and a second mic just on the outside of the back of the kick tom itself. All the while listening to the mics with a close ear as you go.

Heck, this is not the only way of doing things you know. Their have been times that I have been short on mics, and so I came up with a cool way of getting a "million mic" sound out of a drum kit. I set up two mics, as we did at the start of the blog, and played the kick and the hi-hat only. Then, I double mic'ed the snare and ran through the song again, recording only the snares' parts. On and on I went, and got a great sound with only two mics. The bad part is that this way of recording the drums needs many, many tracks available to record onto.

Here is a little diddy about the mixer. With all kinds of mics pouring into the mixer, from our heavily mic'ed drum set, one should adjust the input levels so it all sounds good together, as the drums are played. The room mics (these mics pick up the entire set in the room they are in as a reverb feel) need to be kept together in the mixer, or side by side, and adjusted to taste "in to the mix" only after you have the drum set dialed in. The room mics add an ambiance to the entire kit, and not any particular piece of the kit.

Many pros use sub mix groups on the drum tracks in the mixer. This is a smart way to go as the entire kits volume can be raised or lowered with one pair of sliders. This is done by routing all of the separate mics into the mixer, in a "sub group". Once the mics are all dialed in, and the kit sounds perfect, the sliders will be "locked", or not moved again. Instead, the sub mix groups main output is raised or lowered to add volume, or to take it away.

If all of this is not your cup of tea, you can always send out for pizza. Wait, no, not what I meant. You can send out for drums! Yea, that's it, send out for drums.

When a tight budget is the main factor (when it comes to mics and mixers) you can always call 1 (800) DRUMS! What I am teasing at is that there are a growing population of drummers out there that have their drums set up in their million mic studio, and they are ready to play them for your next song! You can talk to these cats and explain what you have in mind for the songs' drum parts, or you can just let the experts cut loose and do their thing! They ship your new drum tracks back to you (via snail mail or the web) in any format you could ever want them to be in. These folks are very, very good at what they do, and you can even listen to some of them here, here, and even here!

Then there is always the digital realm when it comes to "matters of percussion". This is no longer second rate stuff. The samples that I have heard as of late rival the best studio recording that you can ever get! Midi is simple to program (a blog to come soon) once you get the hang of it, and then it can all be swapped around for either different instruments or different parts. Loops are getting better sounding and easier to use than ever before. You simply just drop them into a mix via a midi sequencer. Programing a drum machine can be rather tedious at times, but if that is all that you have, than that is all that you have. Thank goodness for copy and paste!

Add some delay to the bottom/kick toms, and maybe some reverb to the snare, and whammo! A great sounding drum set for your next song. Not too sure that a drum machine will work for your ego? People will be so dang impressed that you wrote a song, that they will not ever know that you used a midi device instead of using Stuart Copeland (drummer of The Police).

You do not need to spend a mint on mics and a mixer, but if you have access to them; then use them! There is no such thing as drums that sound too good. I have over worked parts, and over done some effects, but never had a kit sound too good. I could talk for days on the topic of percussion sound, but I am limited.

In the future I will dive into mixing, and using sub mixes. I can't wait to get into midi sequencing, and programing instrument parts into your songs. I learned how to write with midi on a Korg keyboard. I know that it can be overwhelming at the start, so I really want to help if I can. That is why we blog, right?

Please consider subscribing to this blog, won't you? If the topic of the day is not your favorite flavor than perhaps the next one will be!

Thanks again for reading along, and, well, keep jammin, that's how we all get better!!! Peace to all!!!


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Thicken up your mixes

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Hello home recording enthusiasts, it's time for a great new entry! Today's blog is one that may just be the thickening agent that puts the polish on your mixes. These simple tricks are not a secret by any means, however, they are not openly shared. It takes years of tweaking at home to come by these tricks on your own. Very few people like to openly give these away, but I will. Why? Because I feel that the world needs thicker sounding cuts!

One trick, that is great for Mono guitar tracks, I actually saw on a "recording school" gotcha-page. It was a free sound/video byte. I would like to explain it, and then explore it further, with the respect it needs.

The trick is used in order to spice up a semi-lame track. Once you have a guitar track recorded, and it is good, but flat in the mix, one can duplicate the track (or copy and paste separate parts) onto a second track, set up just the same as the parent track. What makes the magic here, is the panning and the "thickening agent" that you choose to use. I will suggest some thickeners, but you must find out one for yourself, or, one that fits in the tune you are working on.

O.K. My guitar track is living in Lame city. It is a mono semi-distorted guitar track. I love the tone very much, but it sits rather flat and lifeless in the overall cut, or mix. What I would do here is to first create a second track (with the same settings) and then duplicate the guitar track into the new track.

With the new guitar track selected, open up a compressor and insert it into the track. Work out a small ratio, but it should be tight, like 3:1 or close. Play with it so that it adds sound and charm, but not volume! We are not taking away from, but adding to the original guitar track.

Next, the panning of the two guitar tracks is going to polish off the work in progress! Take the original guitar track, and pan it to the left, just so that it is noticeably panned, and not too hard. Then, pan the second guitar track to the right, again just enough to notice it, and wallah! The guitar is now sitting very nicely in the mix, and it sounds like a true stereo/mono hybrid thing, with the tone of a monster! By playing with the two track volumes (after you are happy with the compression settings) you can work it into the mix, as far as the tweaking of the stereo-yet-mono effect.

Now a compressor isn't the only effect listed in the "recording guitar rule book". No, not by a long shot. Try using a second, or a different tone, or distortion, all togather in the second track. This is easily done by adding an "Amp" to the second track. In Pro Tools this is all too easy! You simply open up the amp effect that you like the most, like "Amp Farm" . Amp Farm is a digital (computer bassed) guitar effects rig, by Line 6. "Guitar Rig" is a different system, but gives you the same killer sounds!

This is killer on vocals, and I toss this dynamite application onto both lead and rhythm guitar tracks too. Open up the effect in the track two's input track, and dial it in, using the amps' settings to taste.

I love to open up a delay on the second track also. This realy shines on any sort of instument. Also, you can tweak the recorded material in the second track, by taking some away, and use the track with delay to highlight only a few words in a vocal, or a few notes of a solo.

This is much like an effects send return loop, but it is not the same. This method described here will add to a track, using a second tone with panning effects being the glue. Effect send/return loops do not use panning to fatten up a track, but instead they add a degree of an effect to a single tracks output.

Here we "duped" the track, put on a "wet" effect, and panned it back into the mix. There was no bus tracks used at all, but rather the track was "duped". In other words, we added to a track, instead of routing its' output into an effects send track that relies on the original track for information. Right?

Anyhoo, this is one simple and very cool way to spice up a lame (or a flat) track in your next song. This can be the thing that defines your own "sound" or tone. Believe me, folks will notice it and then ask you how you got that thick and spicy sound out of your guitar!

Untill next time, keep jammin mon, and I look forward to writting to y'all soon.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It is a loopy world

Effects Loops

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In the recording world their are many types of "loops". Their are loops of beats and sounds that we cut and paste into sequencers and such, but were not talking about those kinds of loops today. Why not take a look into the most common loop that is used in music?

I have used some type of effect loop with each song that I have ever recorded! I use them mostly in my vocal tracks, but that is because my vocals are weak at best. Fact is that these loops can be, and are, used with every type of track that you can think of, and for many of desired effects! What is an effects loop? What can they do for you? Let's dig into this weeks blog entry "It is a loopy world" and find out!

Effect loops are as varied as the types of music that they can be placed into. They can add distortion to a vocal, EQ to a guitar lead, and compression to a bass track, and this is just for starters!

When I first started recording, like many of you, I had the faithful Four Track recorder and a couple of mics. When I got my first reverb unit, I was now in the big time, at least so I thought. Problem was that I plugged my mic directly into the reverb unit, and then directly into the four track recorder. This caused a vocal that was drowning in reverb. My tracks were reverb laden, or what is known as "wet". I tried to make it sound better by lowering the "dry to wet" ratio on the reverb unit, but it still was way too thick sounding.

That is when a friend of mine introduced me to the world of effects loops. My mind was blown! Could the answer have been looking me in the face the entire time? I want to explain effects loops in two different ways, once in the four track use, and the same in Pro Tools use. This will make it easier to digest, and better to understand.

Effects loops (in a nutshell) are a second track that uses a portion or a certain amount of a track, and adds effect to only that portion. What? Look, if you have a vocal on track one, and you want to add delay to it, try using an effects loop. Here is how.

Set up to record your vocal on track one, just as you intend to do. Now, take a "effect send" or a "bus track send" to a second track. This means that you send only a portion of the vocal track and send it to the input of the effect track, which is track two. Track two is nothing but a "wet" track that is plugged into the delay. The only input that track two gets is a trickle of track one, and the output of track two is the vocal portion with a delay added to it. The beauty here is that you can add to or take away from the amount of vocal going to track two, and the amount of delay coming out of track two.

You will be able to add more or less "dry" or "clean" vocal using the track one "effect send" knob or slider, and by the track two's output knob or slider. Yet another way to vary the effect is to adjust the "dry to wet" adjustment on the delay unit itself. This set up is an effects loop, and it is a better sound, with surgical precision of the amount of overall effect that a track gets.
You can send more than one track to an effect loop track too. Imagine recording all of your instruments in a "dry" or reverbless room. It will sound good, but flat and lifeless. Now, if you set up an effects loop, with a reverb unit as the effect, you can send just the right amount of each instrument to the reverb effect loop track, and get a live feel. It will sound as if your band played at the big venue last night.

Here is a simple diagram of the effect loop with a four track set up.

Now, what about using an effect loop with a song in Pro Tools?

It is the same in theory, only the effect send and the effect tracks' volume are harder to find. The "send" part of the main (vocal) track is where it all happens, but first lets set up an effects loop in Pro Tools.

Lets say that track one is your vocal track. You have a mic plugged into the system, and track one is a mono audio track. Before you do much more, create a new (second) track. This track will be another mono track, but with a twist. Make sure that it is a auxiliary input track.
On track one, under the send section, highlight "bus 1" as a send. The slider that is "send volume" is going to be the amount of the vocal that is sent to the effect device of track two, your auxiliary track.

Now, on track two, under the (plug-in) input section, choose "bus 1". Next, were going to choose which effect we want on the vocals of our song. Lets go with a delay. Click on the "input device" and go to effects, and highlight "delay" and then choose one of the delays.

Using the several volume sliders (track ones' "dry" volume slider, bus ones' send volume slider, and track twos' output volume slider) you can dial in that perfect vocal and effect mix. This is how the pros do it, so now you can add one or more tracks to the effect loops that you create, and get professional results!

I have a great book that covers this all, and it is titled "PRO TOOLS for Mac and Windows" ,by Steven Roback, and I simply must recommend that you buy this book. Click on the link to see it and purchase it, as it will make your recording easier and your sound professional too.