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

This entry was written by Oliver Chesler, posted on January 25, 2008 at 5:42 am, filed under Ableton Live, plug-ins and tagged , , , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink and follow any comments with the RSS feed for this post.



Luxonix LFX-1310 is a free multi-effect plug-in.

Luxonix LFX-1310

Here’s another reason why there’s no exuse to use cracks. This free multi effect unit is from Korean manufacturer Luxonix. They make the Ravity software rompler. Luxonix is the effect section ripped out of Ravity and given to us for free. I did some research and Luxonix was released in 2004 but I thought it was worth mentioning because up until last night I never heard of it. So maybe you hadn’t either? My friend had it on his laptop and of course it peaked my interest.

Its available for Mac and it’s Universal Binary. It’s available for PC and also runs on Vista. It looks and sounds like commercial software. When it was released in 2004 it won KVR‘s “Free Plug-in Effect of the Year”.

I like the interface a lot. It reminds me of some old hardware and it’s a simple layout. Three slots load up three effects. Three parameters for each effect are tweakable. You get 128 presets, 32bit processing and 24 effect algorithms:

- S’Filter 12 / S’Filter 24 / 3-band EQ
- Peak Compressor / RMS Compressor
- Overdrive / Distortion / Amp Distortion
- Crusher / LP Noise / Stereo Image
- Chorus / Flanger / Phaser / Auto Wah / Tremolo / Auto Pan
- Delay / Stereo Delay / Ping-pong Delay
- Gate Reverb / Room Reverb / Hall Reverb / Spring Reverb

Go grab your download now: click here

This entry was written by Oliver Chesler, posted on January 12, 2008 at 2:47 am, filed under plug-ins, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink and follow any comments with the RSS feed for this post.



A video of KikAXXE from Way Out Ware.

The company Way Out Ware created my favorite software synth the TimewARP 2600. It’s a re-creation of an Arp 2600 semi-modular analog synthesizer. They have just released their new toy the KikAXXE and it’s a huge amout of fun!

It’s based around a re-creation the Arp Axxe and therefore it has only a single Oscillator. However like the original Axxe there is a noise generator and sample & hold which increases it’s flexibility. But the fun really starts when your eyes focus on the top part of the plug-in. Here you find a drum machine and an analog sequencer! The final joy can be found on the bottom right: an analog tape delay. Watch this video to see all these sections in action. The video is nicely sized so be sure to click the TV icon under the player to view the show in full screen mode.

Arp Axxe

As with the TimewARP this plug-in really does “Kik AXXE”! I had a blast using the fully working 30 day demo and I know in a month I will have to whip out the credit card. Luckily this noise machine is only about $70! Have fun watching the video but do yourself a favor and download it and make your bleeps and beats.

photo credit: geirarne

This entry was written by Oliver Chesler, posted on January 7, 2008 at 1:37 am, filed under plug-ins, synthesizer, video and tagged , , , , , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink and follow any comments with the RSS feed for this post.



The strange and cool Time Freezer Effect.

Time Freezer - screenshot

I like weird effects and instruments and Time Freezer from Mark Lingk fits the bill. Both the insert plug-in and instrument allow you to freeze any audio in real time. Once you have a frozen piece of sound playing you can shape it using a bandpass filter, pitch control Time Freezer - insert screenshotand de-noiser. There are mono and stereo versions. Intelligently there is a internal clipless maximizer. There is nothing as crappy sounding as plug-ins clipping in the digital realm.

The instrument version lets you morph to the next “hold”. Basically it’s applying crossfades between times you hit the “Freeze” pad. Take a listen to Time Freezer in action:

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For those of you with Ableton Live you can get a similar effect using Live’s built in Reverb. Crank up the decay time, scream something and hit the Freeze button! Reverb’s aren’t the only effects that sometimes have this function. For example, Propellorhead’s Reason BV512 Vocoder has a Hold button which also freezes audio in time. If you own Reason you should really try it out as it sounds uber wicked.

Ableton Live 7 - Reverb Freeze

Remember that you can automate the Freeze and Hold buttons!

This entry was written by Oliver Chesler, posted on January 4, 2008 at 5:41 am, filed under Ableton Live, plug-ins, Propellerhead Reason, sounds and tagged , , , , , , , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink and follow any comments with the RSS feed for this post.



Noise, electrical hum, LP scratches and warping.

Izotope Vinyl - screenshot

A few months ago I performed at a club called Rumours in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. This required us to get picked up from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and be driven about two hours north. In the car I was shocked to see there was no CD player or MP3 jack. Staring me in the face was a cassette deck. Looking around some more I TDK D90 Tapenoticed about 50 cassettes stuffed in various places. About an hour into the drive I realized how good these cassettes sounded. There was some very nice high end going on that I had not heard in years. The bass sounded warm and sincere.

There is hardware software that will emulate tape saturation. On the hardware side check out Robert Neve’s 5042 True Tape FX unit.. Software wise there are lots of options including Digidesigns Reel Tape Suite and PSP’s Vintage Warmer.

But what if you want to bring back some good old fashion tape noise? Adding a few seconds of noise before your song starts will trigger your listeners mind into believing your song was recorded in the 1980s or earlier. My favorite plug-in for the task is Izotope’s free plug-in called Vinyl. Here’s a list of some of the “sounds” you can add into your song using Vinyl:Scratched Record

  • Mechanical Noise
  • Wear
  • Electrical Noise
  • Dust
  • Scratch
  • Warp Depth

You can also adjust “Warp Models”, year and RPM of the Vinyl emulation. Lastly, there is a mono/stereo switch. Using the Dust and Scratch settings you can get a nice Portishead sound. I have to say I really love this plug-in and if it cost money I would buy it. Big thanks to Izotope!

Sonic Charge - uToniq

There are many other ways to get some noise into your tracks. Sometimes I turn off a synthesizer’s Oscilators and turn up only the Noise Generator. Adding a filter modulated by the LFO to the Noise makes some nice wave or storm sounds. Sonic Charge has a superb software drum machine called uToniq. I use it as a noise generator by clicking the oh so ever awesome random button. Or why not record some real noise with a microphone? Even aiming a mic at your computer’s fan while it edits a large Photoshop document will do the trick!

photo credits: Lee Jordan and Breakfast for Dinner

This entry was written by Oliver Chesler, posted on December 21, 2007 at 10:51 am, filed under plug-ins, sounds, synthesizer and tagged , , , , , , , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink and follow any comments with the RSS feed for this post.



UpStereo. A free stereo enhancer from QuickQuak.

UpStereo Plug-in

A few months ago I made a post titled “The wide stereo sound with Izotope Ozone & more!“. In it a discuss how I use stereo wideners. This week software house QuickQuack released a FREE widener plug-in for Mac and PC.

  • Loudness control enables a complex saturator to boost your mixes.
  • Stereo width slider going from mono to wide, bringing the stereo image out and towards the listener.
  • Subtle Air & Bass boosters to lift and help the audio ‘breath’.
  • Very low CPU usage.

Considering it’s free there’s no reason not to go grab and try it yourself.

This entry was written by Oliver Chesler, posted on December 12, 2007 at 2:02 am, filed under plug-ins and tagged , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink and follow any comments with the RSS feed for this post.



Smartelectronix Super Destroy FX Transverb sample.

Transverb - screenshot

Smartelectronix is a group of programmers making audio plug-ins. Most of the effects are completely free and available for Mac or PC. My favorite bundle are the Destroy FX plug-ins by Sophia and Tom 7. These plug-ins are experimental, glitch crazy wild. Today’s focus is Transverb. There’s no reason for me to describe the parameters or sound to you. Above is a screen shot and below is an audio sample. Now go to the website and get for free copy then hit the random button! The mp3 below is simply D16′s great TR-808 emulator Nepheton and Transverb as an insert.

Transverb is like a delay plugin, but it can play back the delay buffer at different speeds. Think of it like a tape loop with two independently-moving read heads. There are lots of parameters to control and a parameter randomizer for the impatient. Tom’s first “released” plugin. Fun! – destroyfx.smartelectronix.com

Transverb waveform - screenshot

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This entry was written by Oliver Chesler, posted on October 23, 2007 at 9:03 am, filed under plug-ins and tagged , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink and follow any comments with the RSS feed for this post.



The wide stereo sound with Izotope Ozone & more!

Izotope Ozone - stereo zoom

I almost always take the lead roaring synth in my songs and make them wider in the stereo field using a plug-in called Ozone from Izotope. Ozone is a complete mastering suite plug-in with several modules you can turn on and off. It consists of a Paragraphic EQ, Multiband Harmonic Exciter, Multiband Dynamics, Mastering Reverb, IRC Maximizer, Dither and Multiband Stereo Imaging. When I master full finished songs I use many of these modules. However, during the creation of the song itself I only use the Stereo Widener on one sound. I keep the other modules off. From the Izotope website:

Ozone allows you set widening and imaging for the mix using a multiband stereo imaging module. As with the other multiband modules in Ozone (Dynamics and Harmonic Exciter) the module is split up into four bands determined by the multiband crossover points displayed on the spectrum.Izotope Ozone - small

I put the plug-in as an Insert (not a Send Return), click on the Stereo Widener, turn off bypass, slide all the bands to the right until the number reaches 6. That’s it. Done.

If I want a dirtier more aggressive tone sometimes I will use Ohm Force’s excellent Predatohm plug-in. Load the plug-in as an insert and the look in the bottom right corner. See where it says “Super Stereo”? Thats your section. Click the little white square button on and turn the phase up. Done.

Ohm Force - Predatohm

There are few other plug-ins that do widening such as DUY Wide and the Waves S1. I’ve never used those so I can’t comment how well they work. I have lots of little rules I like to keep when it comes to panning but thats the subject of another post. Do you use any stereo widener plug-ins?

This entry was written by Oliver Chesler, posted on October 12, 2007 at 6:08 am, filed under plug-ins and tagged , , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink and follow any comments with the RSS feed for this post.



The Native Instruments FM8 arpeggiator is brilliant.

Native Instruments - FM8

Native Instruments from Berlin are one of the top plug-in manufacturers. One of their early smash hits was a recreation of the FM synthesizer the Yamaha DX7 called FM7. It could load original DX7 patches but was far easier to use. Many people finally unplugged there old DX and TX’s and put them on eBay.

This year they released the FM8. They added many new features but one component is the bees knees: the appeggiator. I probably would not have upgraded my FM7 but when I saw how much fun this thing was my credit card was out. Something tells me Native Instruments always had plans to release their own sequencer but the market was too saturated. Most of their new plug-ins are loaded with mini arps and sequencers. All of them are great. “NI” should not have a case of sequencer envy.

There is a complete working demo on the Native Instruments website.

Random Dice IconOpen the plug-in and pick a nice synth patch in the browser. Click on arpeggiator. In the global section click “on”. See the little yellow square stepping though the pattern editor? Hold down a key on your controller and you will hear whatever notes you play being effected stepping along. You can slide the little black triangle in the pattern editor to shorten or lengthen the loop.

Now here’s where all the fun is. See next to each lane on the pattern editor there is a little black dice icon? It’s a random button. Do it! Click them all! Do you hear what I hear? Thats the sound of fun. Thats the sound of… “Oh yeah cool idea I can use in this song!”.

Next try out the shuffle. It’s very strong which in my book means its very good. Lastly, take a look in the global section where you turned the arp on and find the drop down menu. There you can find some pre-programmed sequences. You can also save your own which is handy when you want to try out different sounds with a cool sequence you created.

This entry was written by Oliver Chesler, posted on October 11, 2007 at 8:55 am, filed under plug-ins and tagged , , , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink and follow any comments with the RSS feed for this post.



TC Electronic. How I use my Powercore.

TC Voice Modeler

TC Electronic was founded in 1976 in Risskov, Denmark. They are known for their ultra high end digital reverbs like the System 6000 and the Powercore platform. Back in 2000 when I was recording my album Manic Panic I was constantly running out of CPU Power on a Apple Powermac dual 500Mhz G4. Back then there were not many options. Either I use more external hardware, switch to PC or get a Powercore card.

Luckily I chose the Powercore because besides being able to work ITB (in the box) I was introduced to some amazing sounding plug-ins. In fact some of the plug-ins that came with the original Powercore PCI still hold up today. You can read a nice interview TC Electronic did with me back then by clicking here: TC Electronic interviews The Horrorist.

There is one plug-in in particular that has my heart: Voicemodeler. What’s funny is I only use 1 preset on the thing! It’s called “Male Enhancer”. I love it. I don’t use it on every song but it’s a flavor I can’t live without. I have yet to find any native plug-in that sounds the same. You can hear it on my voice on a song I did called Close to You:

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This entry was written by Oliver Chesler, posted on September 30, 2007 at 11:49 am, filed under plug-ins and tagged , , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink and follow any comments with the RSS feed for this post.




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