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The Non-Technical Approach To EQ

We all know that EQ plays a critical role in getting a great mix, but might I submit that many of us are approaching the use of EQ in the wrong way? Almost daily I receive questions from readers in search of flow charts of suggested EQ moves for certain instruments. Why is this? Why do these people believe that a chart is going to help them with their EQ? What if I told you there was an easier way?!

Just Like Vocal Harmonies
I was watching another episode of the ever enlightening Pensado’s Place, in which Dave interviewed mix engineer Marcella Araica (Timbaland, Madonna, Pink). She said something about EQ that literally blew my mind:

" I think I would drive myself nuts thinking numbers and frequencies. That does play a part in it, but for me it’s about accentuating the sounds. It’s like when singers sing their harmonies, you need to make sure [it’s] not going to rub up against another. I think [EQ] is the same way." – Marcella Araica, Mixer

What a genius analogy! You don’t have to be a classically trained vocalist to know when a harmony isn’t working. You simply can tell that some notes are colliding and there’s a friction or a tension in the track that isn’t working. You may not know what the solution is, but you know there is a problem. Time to try a new harmony. The same is true with EQ.

Identify The Problem
Here’s my non-technical approach to EQ. First you have to identify the problem (if there is one). Why reach for an EQ if you don’t have a reason? Author and mixer Mike Senior touched on this in our recent interview. Do you hear something you don’t quite like? Is there something “rubbing up against” your vocal that is making it sound flat and muddy. If the vocal sounds great in solo, but indistinguishable when the guitars are in the mix, then you have a problem with the guitars and the vocal. EQ can fix that.

This is how you should initially approach EQ, to solve a problem or make a track fit better in the mix. Don’t approach EQ because “you’re supposed to EQ.” Don’t start making EQ moves on a vocal just because your read a chart with suggested vocal EQ treatments or watched a video of mine saying the same thing. These are general suggestions that apply to many situations. But really they are only meant as a solution to a problem. If the track sounds fine, don’t touch it!

Discover Your Solution
Much like I talked about on before that we are conditioned as 21st century humans to look for the answers rather inquire, discover, and enjoy the process, we have no patience for the art. We only want a back of the book answer to make our mix sound great. This mentality leads to amateur questions like “How should I EQ vocals?” And no, I’m not picking on anyone here. I’ve done this (and do this) plenty of times myself. Like I just mentioned, we’re conditioned to look for answers.

In reality, no one can tell you technically how should EQ something. You must discover the answer to your specific track (and mix) in question, yourself. Just like with the vocal harmonies analogy, if you’ve noticed that something sounds off or out of place, it’s time to experiment with different frequencies to see if you can clear up the mess. The goal is to tweak and explore until the tracks no longer “rub up against” one another and you have more clarity. Simply put you want to be able to hear and feel every track clearly.

Take Things A Step Further
Now, lest you think EQ is only meant for “corrective” procedures, it is also an artistic tool that can help sculpt new sounds and enhance your tracks. So it’s not always about identifying and solving problems. Sometimes it’s about innovating tones and sounds for the sake of the song. Again, this process is aided by a non-technical approach.

Does it honestly matter to your listeners what 60hz sounds like? What about 6khz? No way. They just care about music, and so should you. If you want your snare to crack and it’s not cracking, then go on a hunt for whatever makes it crack. This too is a process of discovery, not an equation to solve.

It’s more art, and less science. It’s also more fun.

Credit: therecordingrevolution


3 Ways To Create More Headroom In Your Mix

The name of the game with mixes these days is headroom. This is especially true with mixing in the box (i.e. your software). What is headroom and why is it important? The short answer is: the range between your song’s loudest peaks and 0dbfs (or clipping). The benefit of lots of headroom? Sonic clarity and musicality. Do you want your mix to sound squished and flat? I didn’t think so. So listen up.

TRR208 3 Ways To Create More Headroom In Your Mix

Via Justin Davis

No Room To Mix
If you don’t leave enough headroom in your DAW then you really have to where to go with your mix. You will be hitting the proverbial (and literal) ceiling early and often. No es bueno. In the analog world we had some fudge room near the top of the meter, but the same does not hold true with digital. The solution? Free up as much headroom as possible and your mix will gain life and room to breathe. Here are the three easiest ways to get back some precious headroom in your mix.

Turn Your Tracks Down
This is the most obvious solution to the headroom quandary. Although few people seem to take my advice on this one. By simply turning down your tracks in your DAW you will be sending less signal to your mix buss and consequently will have instant headroom and clarity. You can do this in one of three ways: turn down your faders, use clip based gain to reduce track level, or insert trim plugins across your tracks with a generous level cut.

I guarantee you your mixes will come together faster and will sound better if you would simply pull all your tracks down before you begin to mix. At the modern 24 bit depth provided just about every audio interface these days, you have plenty of quiet gain and a low noise floor. No need to have really loud tracks running way up the meter. Pull them down and turn up your speakers and your tracks will sound better.

Use Your High Pass Filter Often
A long time ago I wrote about how using your high pass filter is the fastest way to clean up your mix. It’s so simple that it’s mind boggling. By rolling off the ultra low end (100hz and below) on just about every instrument other than kick drum and bass you free up a ton of headroom and volume for your mix buss to breath. On most tracks in the mix, you gain nothing sonically from the sub 100hz area so it’s a waste of volume anyway.

Some people complain that your tracks will sound too thin if you high pass them all, and I would agree…if you listen to them in solo. But as you should know by now, mixing in solo mode is a fools errand. In reality, your tracks will sound 100% the same in the mix. The only difference will be the extra headroom you’ve just freed up. Nice!

Cut The Ugly Low Mids
The third and final way to buy back that precious headroom in your mix is to cut any and all of the ugly low mid frequencies. Low mids are notorious for hogging up volume. In fact, they arguably can take up more headroom than all that stuff you’ve been high pass filtering. Sometimes we label these frequencies (anywhere between 200 and 500hz) as muddy and I think it’s an accurate description. They don’t have nice warm low end, just thick, sticky, headroom sucking mud.

Here’s my reader’s digest version of how I cut low mids. I grab an EQ on say a drum buss, do a huge boost in the 300 to 400hz area, and sweep around until I hear the ugliest frequency on the planet. Once identified, I turn that boost into a cut of at least 3db. Then I simply compare the carved out EQ curve to what the track sounded like before. 9 times out of 10 the track sounds the same only better. More clarity in the top end AND in the bottom end. And all the while it’s taking up less volume, and consequently eating up less overall headroom.

What’s Stealing Your Mix’s Headroom?
At the end of the day, you can’t get a great mix going if you have no where to go on your mix buss. If your headroom is taken up, you might as well concede. That’s why it’s critical to free your mix buss up from wasted headroom so you can get to work creating a musical, clear, and punchy mix. Which of the above three target issues is stealing your mix’s headroom? Experiment and find out. Your mixes will thank you for it!



10 ways to extend your musical ideas
Tips and techniques to help you turn your core musical ideas into complete tracks

So you've got a neat idea or loop going - but how do you extend it into a full section without it getting boring? In dance music in particular, focussing on one solid concept can often be more effective than writing multiple contrasting sections.

Here, then, are our top ten tips for making your best ideas longer and stronger.

1. Development prep

It might sound obvious, but the most foolproof way to ensure you'll be able to develop and progress an arrangement is by creating your track elements with this in mind from the start. For example, when programming a synth or bass part at the initial loop stage, have a play with the instrument's parameters while bearing in mind how these tweaks can be incorporated into an arrangement. Perhaps dramatically opening the filter cutoff at the end of eight bars will provide a much-needed change, or reducing a bass synth's filter envelope amount will pull down the part's 'twang' and cool things down mid-track. If you're using a synth with macros, such as Massive or Serum, then you can go one further and prepare custom knob assignments designed to develop a part throughout the course of a track.

2. Preparing sufficient material

Another way to develop the same idea over time is to record and prepare more material than you need, with the foresight that you'll be able to return to any unused sounds or variations later and use them to develop the track further. This is far easier when your compositional workflow incorporates bouncing or rendering parts to audio - for example, many producers record synth parts onto an audio track in real time, continuously tweaking knobs in the search for a 'magic moment' or loop that will form the centrepiece of a track. Provided you've generated enough usable material, this will leave you with a bunch of variations within each audio region that you can extract and incorporate in an arrangement for extra movement and change, or the occasional fill.

3. Flip reverse

Ah, the good old reverse effect: a staple of dance music since the days of rave and jungle. It's one of the most basic effects to execute, yet it can have a monstrous impact on a dancefloor, injecting a new lease of life into a static track. Take a sound from your arrangement, bounce it to audio, then use your DAW's audio processing to play this bounced file backwards instead of the original part. It's a versatile trick - anything that isn't a static, sustained sound will likely sound good played backwards, from a beat to a bar or two. Your core drum groove is an obvious candidate for the reversal, but also try reversing synth stabs, basses, or even entire sections of a track to introduce some variation.

4. Rhythmic variation

An energetic way to switch up an existing section of a track is with rhythmic variation. This can take a near-infinite number of forms: examples include the introduction of a new percussion part such as a ride cymbal or bongo, or simple variations in the drum pattern itself, such as staggering the second snare of a bar back by a half-beat or so. If you're too lazy to head in and reprogram your parts, there are a heap of ways to step up the rhythm with a couple of mouse clicks - two of our favourite tricks are mixing in tempo-synced delay on a hi-hat sound to fill in gaps and add extra groove, and throwing a beat repeat/stutter plugin on the whole drum bus to change the entire groove.

5. Filter freak

While filtered French house isn't everyone's cup of tea, you can take a lot of inspiration from the Gallic 4/4 style when arranging a track in any genre. Simply group your core musical elements to a single bus, insert a low-pass filter plugin on this bus, then pull down the cutoff at points when you want to 'cool down' the arrangement. This basic technique can be used in plenty of ways: slowly open the filter to introduce your musical elements as the track develops, sweep the cutoff down later in the arrangement once your ear gets tired of the main hook, or wildly filter parts at unexpected points to keep the listener guessing.

6. Strip it down

Old funk and soul records would often strip all the vocal and melodic elements back mid-track, allowing the drummer to let loose in isolation. These funk-fuelled 'breaks' have long been used as sampling fodder by electronic musicians, but forget shameless sampling: instead, take inspiration from the original concept and alleviate aural boredom by giving your listener a well-needed rest mid-track, reducing the current elements down to only drums and bass for a while.

7. Duplic8

Often, you'll be happy with your current chords and/or riffs, but the actual sounds used might begin to grate on your ears. For a quick 'n' easy variation, simply duplicate a key MIDI region over to another channel and hook up a new synth or instrument. How you use this new element is up to you: either mute the original part and introduce this new sound as an abrupt tonal switch, or keep it subtle and blend the new layer behind the other.

8. Have a break

If a track is getting monotonous, it can be tempting to give in and switch to a more exciting, complex musical idea. Don't do it! Instead, drop out a few parts and transition into a 'mini-breakdown' designed purely to refresh the ears and break up the flow of - and ultimately enhance - the original loop when it returns. For maximum results on the dancefloor, keep this 'cool-down' section rolling for 4, 8 or 16 bars, then build up the tension and drop back into the original idea - perhaps with one or two new changes or sounds thrown in to surprise the listener.

9. 'Arping on

It may be a cliché heard in a thousand tracks, but give this quick and dirty method a try: once a basic chord sequence has outstayed its welcome within an arrangement, copy the MIDI to another synth instance and arpeggiate the chords to create a synth sequence that supports and rides over the original chords, lifting the interest of the track without having to write a new accompanying part from scratch. Keep these notes simple and quiet in the mix to provide subtle lift and momentum; or go all out and drop in a huge, extravagant synth arpeggio to abruptly ramp up the cheese factor.

10. The usual suspects

There are plenty of standard 'incidental markers' that can be used to keep the momentum up in a track - things like a crash cymbal marking an 8- or 16-bar section, a drum fill at the end of 16 bars and before a new section, chopping out regions to create short gaps in the arrangement, and so on. Many of these have become overused throughout pop and electronica, but their popularity continues for a simple reason: they allow a steady idea to roll along for longer, marking out time in an arrangement and adding fool-proof thrills without having to introduce brand new musical elements. Put your own stamp on clichéd techniques like these by swapping them out for atypical but functionally similar sounds, or by adding them in unexpected (but musically logical!) places, subverting the listener's expectations and helping you create a unique artistic style.

Credit: MusicRadar.

Positive Grid Pro Series Compressors VST/AU plugin in action

One of the joys of vintage studio hardware is its potential for revision and customisation by both its own manufacturers and 'modders' brave enough to reach for the screwdriver, and Positive Grid's drably titled new series of plugins goes some way towards emulating this.

To some, the idea will be incredibly exciting; to others it will be a level too deep; and the rest of us can just pretend to hear the difference!

The three-strong Pro Series bundle (AU/VST/ AAX) comprises FET, Tube and Optical compressors, with all but the FET looking similar to the classic hardware they're emulating. For the last two, the dynamic responses of several hardware units was measured before and after their individual elements (filters, transformers, attack, release and ratio curves), allowing you to mix and match components for – in theory – a much wider sonic range than a single model.

At the time of review, the AAX version was very unstable in Pro Tools, opening with blank GUIs and crashing the program, but the AU and VST versions worked fine, and the AAX bugs should be ironed out by the time you read this.

Optical Compressor

Optical Compressor models the Teletronix LA-2A with its big Gain and Peak Reduction knobs, and four drop-down menus along the top let you switch out various elements.

The Input Stage features a choice of three valve types (12AX7, 12AT7 and 12AU7); the two Capacitor stages can be made of Ceramic, Aluminium or Mica; and the Light Sources on offer comprise Bulb, LED and Panel, with Age and Sensitivity knobs subtly affecting the amount of compression and attack times respectively.

Below the fascia are the customisation options: Attack and Release controls (two of the latter for the two distinct release stages of an optical compressor), a Mix knob, an Input level knob, a Curve knob (soft to hard knee), and, most interestingly, a valve Bias control for subtly varying the tone, dirtying the sound and adding crunch.

The 12AU7 valve is particularly filthy, with deliciously gritty distortion. The industry favourite 12AX7 is tough and warm, and, with additional biasing, can give that classic valve thickness we know and love.

The two capacitor stages, on the other hand, don't really have much impact on the sound – they're supposed to affect tone and attack/release characteristics, but it's hard to discern the difference.

The Light Source options cause vaguely perceptible changes in peak detection – subtle in the grand scheme of things. We're a bit surprised at the lack of high-pass Filter in the detection circuitry.

Tube Compressor

Tube Compressor looks just like the Fairchild 660 on which it's modelled, and as well as the controls you'd expect (Input Gain, Threshold, Output Gain and Sensitivity, the last the equivalent of the Fairchild's Time Constant release control), it boasts the same selection of Input Stage Tubes (12AX7, 12AT7 and 12AU7) and Capacitors (Ceramic, Aluminium and Mica) as Optical Compressor, plus a choice of two Output Stage Tubes (6L6GB and EL34) and three output Transformers (American Style, British Style and Fat Style).

The output tubes open up a range of saturation colours and distortions, while the transformers subtly vary in terms of warmth, fullness and bottom-end 'glue'.

The lower panel hosts Bias knobs for each tube stage, essentially adjusting the drive or 'valve effect'; an automatic gain Make-up switch; a wet/dry Mix knob; and a Curve Knob to shape the knee from hard to soft.

The compression is gentle and almost perfectly transparent, as you'd expect, but it's the range of subtle tonal shaping on tap that make Tube Compressor a winner. Basses, acoustic instruments and vocals can all be delicately pushed so that they blend with each other into a coherent mix. Again, though, no high-pass filter is included.

FET Compressor

FET Compressor is the only one of the three that isn't a direct emulation, although it does bear a passing resemblance to the Softube FET compressor plugin, which is a model of the Urei 1176.

It's also the only one that doesn't let you change its components. Input, Output, Threshold, Ratio, Attack and Release controls make up the main panel knobs, sitting alongside an In/Out/Gain Reduction meter select switch. Below the main panel sit the sidechain parameters – Peak/RMS detection, Low and High Cut, and Look Ahead – as well as Knee Width and Mix (for parallel compression) controls.

In use, FET Compressor is unconventional: the Threshold lowers as its knob is turned clockwise, which takes a bit of familiarisation if you're used to the more orthodox arrangement. It sounds pretty good, though, with that classic FET bite lending attitude and energy to drums, and the quick release pumping up their tails.

Triple lock

With so many compressors on the market, coming up with a new angle on them isn't easy.

The variable components of Optical and Tube Compressor do achieve that goal, though, being more than just a novelty.

The Capacitor options are perhaps too subtle for all but the bat-eared, but the valves and accompanying biasing possibilities, as well as the Transformer options, give an impressively broad palette from which to get interesting saturations as well as some punchy compression.

Hear Positive Grid Pro Series Compressors in action! Full review in CM229: Facebook: Web: http...


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