This is a mix I reviewed for a student. This was their first attempt at something like this after a few months of learning the basics. I go into some details about it’s merits and problems while comparing it to the raw unmixed track as well as a final mix.
I was working on a project recently where I needed some decent brushed drums. I needed it to be simple and affordable since the project was on a pretty tight budget. Firstly, there just aren’t that many sample packs for brushed drums out there and the ones that do exist are pretty expensive. After looking for a while I came across the perfect compromise. This one was affordable and had a decent amount of articulation. Check out the Brushed Drum Sample Pack by Ben Burnes : https://ben-burnes.gumroad.com/l/bb_b…
As part of my game audio module at Point Blank Music School I had to create a walk-through using Unity Engine.
The goal was to create an environment that you could navigate as a first person character.
The environment once created had to be populated with character and environmental sounds.
In this video I take a look at how the environment sounds react to the character and talk a bit about how I made them.
The software used were:
Plugin manufacturer Valhalla is well known for their reverb plugins. They all come with simple interfaces, affordable price tags and wonderful algorithms.
Their new offering Supermassive is no different. Its a delay plugin with bags of character and eight different feedback networks to choose from. According to their site “these algorithms run digital delay lines in series and/or parallel, in such a way that the echo density would build with time (as found in a real acoustic space).” (Costello, 2020)
If you’re looking for a nice warm analog delay reminiscent of a tape echo this plugin is NOT for you. As Sean Costello of Valhalla DSP puts it when talking about the algorithms. “They are unrepentantly digital, and unrepentantly un-natural. The Supermassive algorithms just want to be themselves.” (Costello, 2020)
I messed with it earlier today and was delighted with some of the things it could do. As a Star Trek fan and someone who’s fascinated by astronomical objects and stellar phenomenon. The chosen names for the plugins and its algorithms are a welcome treat.
Costello, S., 2020. The Philosophy Of Valhallasupermassive – Valhalla DSP. [online] Valhalla DSP. Available at: <https://valhalladsp.com/2020/05/06/the-philosophy-of-valhallasupermassive/> [Accessed 20 May 2020].
Mix prep is probably the most underrated topic in mixing. Probably because it’s also the least glamorous.
When you’re watching a 10min video of you’re favorite engineer cutting 3 db from kick drum and suddenly it sits perfectly in the mix, but every time you do it you’re left wondering if it makes any difference at all. Its because there are hours of mix prep that goes on behind the scenes. Often by assistants and interns.
Being meticulous about your project and spending time organising things will not only make it a joy to mix, but also open doors to more advanced techniques without the need to backtrack and keep checking your routing.
Here are a few examples of things that I do while setting up a project for mixing. This is not a guide or a tutorial. Just an insight into my workflow.
Importing & Naming
It’s fairly obvious that you need to import your tracks first, but before I do anything else I name all my tracks and arrange them in an order that’s familiar to me. For example going from left to right in the mixer the drums first, followed by the bass, guitars, vocals etc…
Naming them with labels that make sense is important to me. I may get a guitar track that’s called gtr_sm57 that isn’t a very useful label in the context of a song, especially when you have 40 or more tracks to work with. I tend to rename things based on the part so if it’s an electric guitar that’s playing in the chorus I’d probable rename it eGtr_Chorus.
I always create regions for different sections of the song. Even if its an unconventional style of music like an experimental sound design piece I’d still find a section and call it the “chorus”. This just lets me know what part of the song to prioritise and It lets me make sense of the arrangement, using words that I understand and are common across all my projects is key.
Groups, Busses, VCAs, Colours
At this point I start grouping tracks into folders and then busses. It may seem odd to use folders as well as busses. But this allows me to mix at various levels of detail at any point in the mix. I usually have all the drums grouped into one folder and all the parallel processing for the drum tracks grouped into another, both these folders go to a master drum bus. This gives me the option to solo or mute just the parallel processing or the clean drums and work on things separately or as a single unit.
The next thing I do is setup VCAs for all the individual tracks. I use VCAs to do more broad stroke automation later on in the mix and since I’m using a VCA it also changes how hard I’m hitting the dynamics processing on that bus.
After I have the routing setup I colour code everything based on the instrument. The colours are always the same that way I can open a session from a year ago and it still makes sense. Drums are always red, bass is always some shade of grey, guitars are always teal, vocals are always purple and so on.
I’ve also started using track icons lately. They tend to make the project look a bit cartoony but I find that it does increase my navigation speed and when you’re working to a deadline the seconds add up.
TCP (Track Control Panel)
When working in Reaper I can add plugin parameters to my track control panels and I’ve taken advantage of this feature by adding a digital trim to all my tracks. This way I get to keep my faders at unity all till the very end of the session giving me finer resolution on my automation parameters.
Editing & Phase
The time I spend here varies with the condition of the project that I receive. Usually I spend this time cleaning up vocals, making choices about where I use the DTs, checking the phase on the drum kit and other multi mic instruments.
Pre FX Automation
More often than not I may want to smooth out the volume levels on a vocal before hitting a compressor. I tend to do this with pre fx automation. Its time consuming but offers total control and I can also de-ess using this method.
It comes in handy for other things as well like uneven tom hits etc….
I usually leave things like this till the end. I prefer to avoid techniques like sample replacement, but after listening to a cleaned up project, it’s pretty easy to judge the potential of the track and if its going to fall short of my vision I tend to set up samples for drums or add some keyboard bass in there to supplement the low end.
Finally, I setup a rough balance with some panning and bounce the track so that I have a reference of how it sounds and feels at this stage. This lets me look back at any point to check and see if I haven’t butchered the song with some terrible mixing decisions.
Pretty much every track I mix roughly follows the above mentioned pattern for preparation.
All the screenshots are from a song that I worked on recently and you can listen to it below.
Native Instruments released Massive X sometime in 2019 with the latest version 1.2 coming out in December of the same year. It’s meant to be the upgrade to the ever popular Massive, beloved by countless producers and sound designers.
I bought Massive X when it came out, but with the plethora of soft synths I have at my disposal its been little wonder that I haven’t spent much time with it. Today, I decided to change that.
As is customary I threw the manual out the window, burnt the quick start guide and started twiddling knobs until weird things started happening.
The quality of sound coming out of this thing is a definite improvement over its precursor. It feels very much like a Reaktor Blocks ensemble, especially when you’re on the routing page. The amount of parameters that you can modulate are quite staggering. The global controls which are at the top of the plugin at all times is easy to to setup. The GUI seems a bit cluttered at first, but if you know your way around a synth it doesn’t take long to figure out where everything is. Added to that its seems to be quite CPU friendly. I’m running it on an 9th gen i7 with 8GB RAM and it only eats about 1.5% CPU with almost all modules active.
Long time Massive users have had some issues with it, but for someone who doesn’t carry the baggage of the previous synth its quite a joy to use. Definitely worth checking out.
Here’s some noise from a patch I made within about 30 minutes from opening it up and twiddling knobs.
It also has a great library of patches that have varying levels of complexity. Advanced synth users should be able to squeeze very creative sounds out of it.
What’s the best sounding DAW ?
The Digital Audio Workstation or DAW for short is the ubiquitous centrepiece of the modern recording studio. Every studio on earth probably uses the DAW in some form or the other.
It wasn’t always like this though before useable software and hardware arrived on the scene in the 90’s using a computer to record and produce music was very uncommon. This was largely due to the fact that personal computers at the time didn’t have the hard drive space or the processing power necessary to be considered a serious and stable machine for such a task.
Some companies found a way around this by introducing standalone hardware units that could be used to complete all the processing tasks needed to run the DAW while leaving your computer’s processor free to handle everything else.
This helped Immensely and by 1997 songs that were recorded and mixed entirely on computers were making it to top 10 charts across the globe.
Now in 2017 however, things are very different. The laptop that I’m using to write this piece probably has enough processing power to launch a satellite into space. So the need for external hardware just to run your DAW is no longer necessary.
You still need basic sound cards though in order to get signals into your computer. The reason being that a computer is basically a glorified calculator. It only understands numbers. You have to find a way to quantify things in the physical world in order for your computer to understand it.
For example, you could convert the sound of the human voice into a simple electrical signal using a microphone. At this point a voice has become a series of fluctuations between positively and negatively charged particles. You’re going to need another step in order to feed this into a computer. That’s where your sound card comes in. It reads the incoming signal and further converts it into a stream of binary data or ones and zeros. That’s basically all your DAW needs to read and playback audio. Since your computer isn’t doing any of the converting its relegated to the role of simply playing back whatever you feed into it.
Now you might be wondering what’s with all the dry audio jargon? Well, it has to do with the fact that there’s quite a lot of misleading information floating around. And one of the biggest myths out there is that different DAWs sound different. Or worse, some sound better than others.
A DAW is designed to simply play back WAV files or any other audio format that you put into it. They aren’t designed to have “a sound” unless the manufacture specifies it. One of the things I hear a lot from audio engineers is “XYZ DAW has a better audio engine” and upon enquiring what they mean by audio engine I’m met with a blank look and then a sudden change of topic.
Now to be fair, there are some DAWs out there that impart a sonic character to the audio you feed it. But this is solely by design and is always mentioned in big red letters on the manufacturer’s website. Take for example Harrison Mixbus which is a DAW thats designed to emulate Harrison mixing consoles and the analog saturation that they produce.
But these are very rare. I know of only two DAWs that are designed to do this and Harrison Mixbus is one of them. As far as I’m concerned all other DAWs sound the same.
You might be wondering though. If all DAWs sound the same why do people have their own unique preferences. Well, that has more to do with workflow and functionality than sound.
A classic example is Ableton Live. Now if you’re an electronic artist and want to use your laptop to perform live Ableton is your best bet. The word “Live” is literally in the name. There are things that Ableton does that you simply can’t do with anything else. So people have various other reasons to use the DAW of their choice. What’s important is to remember that it doesn’t matter what you’re using as long as it serves the purpose you intended it for.
Is it important to know all of this if you want to be a producer ? Does it matter if you have an irrational belief that the software you use gives you magical powers ? Probably not, but I personally think that false information, however harmless can on occasion lead to some people making investments in things that they could have easily avoided. And also its just good to know what you’re talking about sometimes.
So for those of you who believe that your DAW somehow just sounds better or has better “summing” or a better “audio engine” or whatever ambiguous term you want to use.
I’ve put together a little experiment which is really simple and you can try at home with any number of DAWs and proves without a doubt that they’re all the same.
Reverse polarity cancellation experiment :
- Get any two DAWs
- Get a few WAV files
- And a few third party plugins
- Load up the wav files in both DAWs
- And then load up the same plugins in both DAWs with the exact same settings.
- You can adjust the faders too if you want. Avoid decimals.
- Bounce the master out as a stereo wav file from both DAWs and re-import them back into a project in either DAW.
- Reverse the polarity on one of the tracks and voila you will magically hear NOTHING.
What does this mean ?
It means that both the files are exactly the same. Like if you add a negative number with a positive number of the same value you get nothing. Matter, anti matter ….etc
Here’s a video where I demonstrate the process. Please take a few minutes to watch this and take solace in the fact that your 60$ DAW sounds just as good as a 1000$ one.
It’s been way too long since my last upload. Towards the end of the year 2016 got a bit crazy with gigs and whatnot. But now that the dust has settled, I’ve decided it’s time to indulge the people who depend on this blog to demystify their production queries. All five of them…
Compressors can be really annoying. Especially when you watch Joe Mix Engineer tweak one for a few minutes and say “now it’s really starting to pop” but to you she might as well be muttering verses in Latin while sprinkling her mixing desk with holy water.
So for those of us who don’t have the luxury of working in a proper studio, here’s a simple and free way of knowing exactly what your compressor is doing.
Last week, you learnt how to shoot alien chickens in a laser tag arena. Good job. This week, we teach you how to lay an egg.