Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Music Production: Always Use Your Ears for the Perfect Sound

Nowadays with the technology that we experience in DAW's (digital audio work stations) we tend to be attracted to staring at the big show of colored wave forms, super accurate meters, graphs and digital moving plug-ins that are music programs have to offer. Even know all the glitz and glimmer do serve as a purpose, we tend to forget that our ears are what is hearing the music not are eyes.

When we use both our ears and our eyes, our brains are taking in two different types of information at the same time in-turn distorting or weakening the signal of what we hear. And even know the numbers on the computer screen may never lie they don't always make the sound we are looking for.

One thing that any good engineer needs to do is turn off the computer screen or at least close your eyes when the sound that you are trying to mix is playing. You can  try other things to get away from the computer screen as well, such as getting up and walking to the back of the room or to gain a different sound perspective you can walk from one side of the room to the other. You can also try letting the sound source play while you walk out of the room for a minute then come back into the room while it's still playing to see if you can pick up anything that needs to be changed.

One last tip, something I do often  that a lot of engineers won't do is if I'm pretty close to being finished, I take the music and make a quick copy of it, then I take that copy to my car and ride around the block and listen to it; or I will take it to another room lay on the coach and set back and listen to it. A different room will give you a different atmosphere, and that might just give you a different perspective, then you can head back into the lab make some changes and finish up.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Getting Some Hands-on Time in A Studio with a Studio Engineer

In this day and age there may be enough technology out there to have just about all of the same technology that a high profile studio has right in the comfort of your own home. But one thing you can't buy is you can't buy the knowledge and experience that a high profile studio has.

How do you get this type of knowledge and experience? The obvious answer to the question is to read the manual, research the internet, watch videos and get as much hands on experience as you can.

But, there is another way you can get free training.

I found that engineers are usually pretty nice and reasonable people. They like to help other people chase there dreams just as they probably had mentors and help throughout their career. You can try to find studio owners or well respected engineers and ask them if you can sit in on some of their recording time. Let them know that you are using some of the same hardware and software they use and spending some time in the studio with them will be beneficial to you.

If you can get someone to agree to let you come in and sit in on a session; know your place. Watch and ask questions but don't get in the way, don't over step or be pain. Unless asked directly, don't try to help, just pay attention take notes and learn.

Now, you probably won't get anyone to pay attention to you as some smuck off the streets. What you want to do is do your homework on the person and the studio you want to approach. Look and sound professional, even if you're not yet professional, showing up with a professional attitude will help who ever you approach believe that they are not just wasting their time. And if possible always approach with a phone call and or in person. An e-mail or a Facebook message in most accounts will not be taken seriously.

The best way to break this plain between you and a professional engineer is to come off as someone who is eager to learn. Know you stuff, be persistent, know who you are approaching, the music they specialize in and be prepared to let them know what your goals are in the future, but make sure they are realistic. But, most important thing you need to do is listen and remember whatever they have to say.

In the end, if you can get a chance to sit in on a session, the best thing that can happen is you get some in-studio time, possibly some time to pick the brain of a good engineer, maybe even some hands-on experience and if all goes well, you have now made a connection that down the line can become very useful.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Making Your Sample Drum Tracks Sound Real

It's no surprise, there is no replacement for the sound of a perfectly recorded drum kit. There is also no surprise that getting sampled drum tracks to sound real can be a very tedious task. But nowadays, with the way technology has progressed, there are many different options to help an engineer overcome this common problem.

Here are three very important steps that can be taken to help you get the best realistic sounding drum tracks as possible:

1. Reverb and compression:
There are many different effects that can be attached to the drum track to help get rid of an unnatural sound. But the most important effects that must be used are compression and reverb. As an engineer, you should start with EQ, volume, panning, room size, diffusion and any other effects you need to apply to the drum samples and tracks before you get into the final reverb and compression.

When you are getting ready to do the final touches, you should start with a parallel compressor. Your parameters should be: a fast attack, an increase in gain control, a low threshold and a decay of your liking. This will give you an on-and-off pressuring sound that will mimic the sound of a real person being recorded on a real drum kit.

The last final touch you should apply is the final reverb. The reverb should create just enough distance in the drum sound to make it feel like the drums are in the room not in the speaker. But the biggest/smallest mistake you can make is adding to much reverb. Don't go over board, just a little to much can bring back the very sound you are trying to get rid of: an unrealistic sound.

2. Use overhead and room microphone samples:
When drums are recorded in the studio or at a live venue, they are most likely recorded with each component using an individual mic. But also there will be two overhead mics and or sometimes a room mic used to catch the sound of the kit at a whole. Finding samples of overhead drum mics or room mics might be hard and tedious, but if you find the right sample sound that complements and completes each component of the original drum sample, the process would be well worth the while.

3. Using ghost notes:
What are ghost notes? Ghost notes are inadvertent sounds made by a drummer before and after the original hit of a drum component. It mostly happens with the kick, snare and sometimes the hi-hats. The process of using ghost notes are as easy as taking duplicates of each sample you want to make ghost notes of and placing them within the drum loop at a decreased value of about 70 to 80 percent less then the original note.

Tip: Since they're supposed to be inadvertent notes, it should not have any type of pattern to where you place them in the loop.

Drum Smaples: Do You Really Have to Break the Bank

Do you really need to spend that much money on drum samples? My answer, is NO. With the technology in plug-ins these days your strongest weapon is to know your plug-ins and know how to work them. Having this knowledge can make any average drum sample sound just as good as a sample that you will get from a drum sample library such as a Ocean Way's drum library which can run you anywhere from $500 to $2000. 

Now, if you have the money than by all means go for it if it will make your music making experience better. But, if you will have to spend a month eating Ramen noddles out of a styrofoam cup then maybe you should learn how to make those drum samples that come with fruity loops, reason, etc.  sound like something awesome without the expensive cost, and trust me it can be done.

The first thing you have to remember as a recording engineer is that you will probably listen to music in a different way then other people. As recording engineers, were more likely going to pick out certain parts of a song and say those vocals need a little more compression or those drums could be miked a little different. But this is not the way an average person would listen to music. So in my opinion the average person listening to music is not going to have any ideal how much money you spent on a drum sample. This of course, is unless there is a noticeable bad quality track. You have to remember when you are recording and mixing music and you are doing it as a job, you are trying to make it perfect. But the non-engineer is listening to the music for pleasure not to pick it apart to find every last imperfection, that is if they were even able to hear an imperfection that an engineer could hear. 

 Here are some things that will help you get those just alright drum samples sounding just as good as a real drum kit.

  • Know your plug-ins, know how to use them and know how to use them the right way.

  • Mix the drums by themselves, but also do some final touches to your plug-ins and volume levels after you have put the drums tracks back into the mix, just like you would with real drums. One thing people forget is no mater how great you can get a certain track to sound good by it's self, listeners still only listen to the whole mix not just one instrument.

  • Be creative and think outside of the box. For example: I was reading an article in EQ magazine and it gave me some great advice I never thought of before. When you record real drums each microphone gets a little bit of bleed from other sound sources than what you are trying to pick up. The article talks about using drum samples, and when the drum samples are played back through the monitors they would set up a couple more mics in the control room, and they would use those tracks to add the illusion that mic bleed is present in the mix. And that is what it is all about, making the listener think he or she is listening to a real drummers drum kit.

  • I like to use ghost notes and layered samples to help bring a realistic drum kit feel.The illusion of some imperfection is the key to a realistic sound. 

There are many ways to get great drum sounds without spending an arm and a leg. Like I said before if you have the money go for it, but if you want to save some money, it is extremely possible to make average drum samples sound great.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Recording Friuty Loops Into Pro Tools Using ReWire

A question I’m often asked by rookie music producer and engineers is; what’s the best way to use Fruity Loops for my music creation platform, but use Pro Tools for my vocals, instruments and final production platform?

I usually get the same story on how people love Fruity Loops as a sequencer platform but they have to spend too much time and sometimes extra money to get their vocals and instruments incorporated, and the project as a whole to sound professional.

First, let’s talk a little bite about Fruity Loops. When Fruity Loops first came out, after a couple of years on the market it soon became a great program for beginners and for advanced players in the music industry. With an extremely user friendly MIDI platform to work with, Fruity loops became one of the most popular software sequencers you could buy. But, through the years it kind of lost its steam in the industry to programs like Reason and Cubase. It then became noted for something that mostly only beginners would use, and if you were going to be professional then you would need to be on a whole different level. But now present day, Fruity Loops has out done themselves and has earned themselves the respect to rank right along with all the top dog music programs of the industry.

I personally enjoy and prefer working with Fruity Loops when sampling or working with any type of MIDI beats. But, when it comes to my final product I don’t even mess around with the thought of doing any of the tiny final touches or mastering in Fruity Loops. Even know Fruity Loops has mastering tools, I found that most of them are really just a lot of eye candy, a lot of bark but no bit. In fact, I found that some can even steer you in the wrong direction. This is where I will use Rewire and rewire fruity loops to Pro Tools. You can record in Pro Tools via MIDI or by audio track, and you can record each track individually or in the stereo left and right channel. My suggestion to you, to help make your life easier, is to record your Fruity Loops session into Pro Tools by audio track. Although Pro Tools is MIDI compatible, I still use the audio tracks to save me the hassle and open up my options. Now depending on what kind of project I am working on, and what my plans are once I am ready record into Pro Tools, will determine rather I will be recording just the Fruity Loops stereo track or if I will be recording each track individually. Recording each track individually has its perks. Recording individually into Pro Tools will allow you to use Pro Tools plug-ins, adjust automation, pan, volume control, and solo on each track from Fruity Loops without going back into Fruity Loops. This task can be tedious but in the long run it might save you some major headaches.

So how does the process of recording audio from Fruity Loops to Pro Tools work? Very easily, make sure Fruity Loops is not running and start up Pro Tools, I’m going to assume that if you have Pro Tools you know the basics, so I won’t bore you with the real simply things.

First crate an audio track and also create an instrument track. Go to the mix window and go to your instrument plug-in options. There you should find an option that reads instruments, then you should see an option to pick Fruity Loops. When you select this option; Fruity Loops will automatically come up and will be wired to Pro Tools.

Next go to the instrument track, go to input selector and select interface 1-2 (stereo), then go right below that to the instrument output selector and select bus 1-2. Once you have done that go to the audio track input selector and select bus 1-2 for the input, now right below that on the track output selector, select interface output 1-2 (stereo). Now you are routed correctly.

Now make both tracks record ready and make sure both programs have the same bpm’s, if they do not, make the proper adjustments to make them match.

Next, once all that is set, hit record/play in Pro Tools, this should prompt Fruity Loops to start playing as well and while Fruity Loops is playing Pro Tools will be recording. Once I am done recording the project using this process, I will then be ready to do vocals, final adjustments and mastering. There are many different mastering programs but I find that the Izotop is the best program for Pro Tools.

Now if you want to record each track out of Fruity Loops individually you will still only need one instrument track but you will have to create as many audio tracks in Pro Tools as you have in Fruity Loops. Use the record enable function in Pro Tools to indicate which track will be receiving the signal to be recorded, and in fruity loops use the mute function to mute all the tracks that you do not want to record at that time. Again this process can be a little bit tedious and can take up a lot of time, but if you find out somewhere down the road that something needs to be changed you will be in a lot better shape if all your tracks are individually recorded into Pro Tools.