Wet Dry Distortion

I love plug-ins with Wet/Dry Mix knobs. It’s fantastic when you put a carefully selected effect on the Master bus and zoom in an effect for a half of a measure. I’ve noticed my friends use this trick often but rarely with distortion. My tip of the day is that Ohm Force’s Ohmicide distortion has a Wet/Dry Mix knob and it’s pretty tasty when used properly. Is it rare that Distortion plug-ins have Wet/Dry mix knobs?

“Ohmicide:Melohman can work with up to 4 frequency bands, all four bands having their own independent knobs for Noise Gate, Dynamics, Distortion, Feedback Generator and all mixing abilities, in addition of a twist of pre- and post-processing (distortion input, high shelf output and more).” – ohmforce.com

For more info: ohmforce.com

Slate Digital Virtual Console

The Slate Digital Virtual Console is a set of plug-ins that model the character of both mixer channels and an analog summing engine. There has been a huge discussion of this plug-in set on various forums including Gearslutz. I’m not 100% convinced using the VC will get you the same sound as outboard gear however I do believe it will give you a new color. I often use microphone impulse responses on a few channels so they sound like they have been recorded through say a Neuman and 15″ away. I know that definitely adds something unique and interesting to my mixes so plug-ins like the Slate have my interest. The Beta is available now for $199. iLok required.

“What it aims to do is precisely emulate the sound of mixing through a legendary analog desk. We’ve worked very hard on the algorithms and we’re happy to say that in our testing, it was extremely difficult to pick out the real desk verse the emulation in an blind A/B test. Fabrice Gabriel implemented modeling techniques that capture the entire dynamic response of the desk, meaning that the sound of the desk, (depending on the emulation), can change as you drive it harder.” – Steven Slate

For more info: slatedigital.com

Sonorasaurus

Sonorasaurus is another DJ App. There’s going to be a lot of them and the idea really makes sense on the iPad. It should be interesting to see how long it’s going to take before they are common place in clubs. This one is getting good reviews. You can grab it here for $12.99: click here (iTunes link)

“Two standalone decks each with a dedicated effects module offering reverb, flange, distortion, tremelo, echo and high pass. Beat-highlighted waveforms to further fascilitate beatmatching. BPM Tapper for easy BPM calculation. Pitch controls for adjusting the playback speed of your tunes and a dynamic jog area for getting your beatmatching just right . A crossfader and volume controls for mixing your songs together to any degree you choose. EQs and Gains for fine tuning the volume, low, mid and high frequency ranges. Split audio mode for headphone cueing (requires a Y adapter). A built in HTTP upload interface for adding songs to your mixing library.” – sonorasaurus.com

For more info: sonorasaurus.com

The best car for the car test?

VW Bug

I was talking via IM to “Raytrace” who’s name you see all over music tech social media sites. We were talking about checking our mixing in cars and he said that the Volkswagen Beetle is known to have the best shape for audio playback. I never heard that before but on the surface it makes sense. I guess if the circular interior walls are matched with a killer Blaupunkt system right?

Here’s my check the mix workflow:

  1. Adam P11A (nice monitors)
  2. Yamaha NS10M’s + Powerful Amp (harsh but acurite)
  3. Sony MDR-7506 headphones (loud cans)
  4. Apple iPod in-ear headphones
  5. Subaru Impreza (Japanese car)
  6. Nightclub Soundcheck

Remember to listen from other rooms from where the speakers are playing with the doors shut. The next door effect can point out too loud mix elements. Try mixing with a fan or noise in the room. Check mixes in loud cars (see above) and in parked cars. Remember to mix with fresh ears before any other music making.

photo credit: nitrox09

Keep your channel faders low and the Master at 0db!

Ableton Live - dB Set Up

Today I would like to talk about the biggest epiphany I had when it comes to recording entirely inside a computer. If you take one thing away with you by reading this blog this should be it. In 1996, Steinberg released Cubase VST which stands for Virtual Studio Technology. For the first time, someone with a limited budget and a PC could record audio to the hard drive and have access to a virtual effects rack and software synthesizers. People today call this mixing “in the box”. This had profoundTascam Portastudio implications, so much so I would compare it to the release of the Tascam 4-Track Portastudio. Recently, laptops have become so powerful that they themselves can be full virtual studios anywhere you are.

Almost weekly I am asked for mixing advice. Usually after a few probing questions I discover that 90% of the people unhappy with their sound are making the same mistake. They are completely overdriving their internal summing bus! Take all your song’s individual channel faders and bring them at least -12db and keep the Master fader at 0dB at all times.

Look at your DAW’s mixer. Now imagine the volume of your individual channel fader’s adding up from left to right heading to your Master. If you keep your channel faders close to zero surely your Master will go over odB and clip. As we all know any clipping in the digital realm is very bad.

Why not keep your channel faders all hot and turn the master down? Because you will still be overdriving cheap plug-ins. Well written plug-ins can handle a hot signal but some of the coolest freeware and to be honest some big name effects clip internally when even a warm signal is shot at them. The worst part about this happening is there is no visual warning. All you know is your mixes just sound like crap.

If you ran a test overdriving one plug-in and pushing a channel fader too hot you may not notice anything. But keep your levels low in a complicated song with over 10 channels and you will definitely notice a major improvement.

If this is news to you don’t stress about it. It took me a while to wrap my head around it. To give credit where it’s due I first came across this advice when reading an article in EQ magazine by Craig Anderton. After I read it I emailed Digidesign MBoxhim to clarify some questions I had. He was graceful enough to answer me and I then did some searches online and found this was huge discussion on several high end pro-audio forums. Forum members at Tapeop, Gearslutz and the Digidesign sites were rambling on about audio levels and mixing ITB. Most of the threads were over 50 pages. Everyone was learning the same lesson.

How did I choose -12db as a start point? First, each DAW has a different summing engine so your own number may differ. I use Ableton Live and originally I was starting projects with channel faders at -6db. However, I constantly had to adjust them all down as I built the songs up. I settled at -10db but recently I noticed something very interesting. In Live 7 they introduced Drum Racks and a Slice to Midi feature. A group set of faders becomes automatically available to you for the individual drum sounds of audio slices the new features create. Guess what? The channel faders are automatically set to -12db! It seems Ableton headquarters has also caught on how to make their DAW sound better. Interesting no?

In Ableton Live if you hover over the Track Volume slider you can see the exact dB it’s set at by looking at the Status Bar located bottom left of the screen. If you click on a channel faders small left facing triangle you can then use the up and down arrows to nudge the volume in small increments.

Apple AU Limiter

As I mentioned in this post something to keep in mind is when you add EQ to a sound you add dBs. If you add +6db of high end EQ to a vocal you may want to adjust the channel fader. Lastly, I add a limiter to the Master and set it at -0.1 to catch anything that manages to spike a little too loud. Anyone with a Mac has Apple’s free AU limiter built-in.

I think you will really enjoy mixing quiet a lot more once you try this method.

photo credit: oooh.oooh

How loud is loud? Learning about dB will help you.

According to Dictionary.com, “A decibel is a unit used to express the intensity of a sound wave.” Basically, it’s number we use to describe how loud something is. Over the past 19 years of making music my ears have been improving, always getting better able to recognize subtle changes in db levels. Take a look at the following chart to see some common dB levels:

Decibel Chart

A good piece of gear I recommend people buying is a digital SPL (Sound Pressure Level) meter. If your in the USA just head over to any Radio Shack. They have a decent unit called “Digital-Display Sound-Level Meter”, Model: 33-2055 for $49.99. It runs on a 9V battery. Of course the Shack isn’t the only company that makes them, click here to see Amazon.com’s selection. All SPL meters have a built-in mic and display decibel levels.

If your building a recording studio having a SPL meter is important as you can measure how much sound your neighbors or the outside world is pushing towards you. You can also calculate how much sound Radio Shack SPL Meterproofing you will need to keep your own noise private. Auralex has a nice area on their website called “Bothering Your Neighbors” that shows how much dB you can reduce with each layer of additional building materials: click here

Want to make some money? Bring your SPL meter to any concert, record the dB numbers on video and then go sue the band or venue for hearing damage. There have been numerous law suits exactly like that. I’ve even heard of singers suing venues for hearing damage because of excessive volume levels.

Of course, dB levels also play an important role in audio production. For example when you add some eq to a sound your adding actual volume or decibels. This is important to wrap your head around. If you add 6db of EQ at 2khz your adding 6db of volume to the Master. Working in the digital world, ITB (in the box) you want to keep your individual channel faders low and have them all sum toward the Master. I keep my channel faders at -12db to start and I always keep the Master at 0db. So if you have a vocal on a channel and you add 6db of EQ watch the Master fader level as you are adding 6db to the overall sum of your mix!

Resampling in Ableton Live is a creative tool.

Resampling in Ableton Live - image

One of the best things about Ableton Live is it’s mixer’s flexibility. You can route any channel into another allowing for groups, vocoding, Rewire-ing instruments and side-chaining. One often overlooked feature of the mixer is Resampling.

So what is Resampling exactly? This fast and awesome feature lets you record anything coming out of the Master into a new clip. Let’s take a look how this works. First, open an Ableton Live project you have been working on. In Session View hit Command (Apple)-T to create a new audio track. Make sure the In/Out Section is showing. Above the Fader and Send amount knobs and under the Clips you will see “Audio From”. Click to view the drop down menu underneath “Audio From” and choose “Resampling”. Now when you hit play notice underneath where it says Resampling you will see a tiny meter moving with the music. This track will now record anything coming out of the Master.

Why is this good and how would you use it? One example would be to create a crazy fill. Because you Resampled into audio you can now really mangle it. Adding a multi effect plug-in like PSP Audioware’s Nitro or Audiodamage’s Dr. Device will do the trick! Let’s say you have a nice vocal and two back up vocal tracks. They all have different effects on them and also are pulling reverbs and delays from Send Returns. Your 100% satisfied with the vocal sound and want to free up space? You want to have those vocals on together in one audio file so you can create some stutter edits? Resampling is your friend.

How do you use Resampling?