Ideas from last year... 2016

After having spent much time obsessed with music, taking a step back has granted me the ability to see what is important.

I'll be as straight to the point

This is what I believe to be important in *ANY* popular song

Rhythm -- groove, bass, foundation... this is the literal fabric by which all of music is built from. Arhythmic is still rhythmic... (but remember, we're talking about popular music)

Melody + Rhythm (or the rhythm of the melody -- whatever you want to call it)

Ostinato -- this is where the 'hypnotic' vibe is created

Repetition... can never have enough

Blend of consonance and dissonance - - this is where beauty is created. this is the contrast. this is the color pop in the room (metaphorically speaking)

Voices -- we connect so strongly to voices. YES, there are instrumental 'chart hits'... but that represents a minority and is also a cultural artifact (if you were to argue for EDM). Majority of popular music has voices; they are the focus; they are stacked and harmonized.

Tone / Pitch -- this is non-negotiable. It has to be on. This akin to fashion, interior design, architecture, art.. there is a first-impression that you establish with your listener where tone and pitch are essential for the feeling of the track on a sub-conscious level.

First impression -- the audience knows what's going on in the first 5 seconds... use this to your advantage and give them another 5 seconds of magic... then another... and another... until you've said your story.

Audience -- knowing your audience is key if you're taking on "that" kind of approach. The main idea being that all audiences simply want a good beat and the ability to dance to your music (not always literally, but moreso on the rhythm being solid). Audience does not care about technical bullshit. they don't care what studio, mic, approach, etc. That's all technical bullshit. What you should give them is the most emotionally compelling piece of music that is well recorded, well performed, and has all the rhythm/pitch/tone in place. Keep in mind that your 'mix' engineer can't save you from a bad performance, bad pitch, tone, and rhythm (don't get me started....)

 

Everything

Mixing is beginning to make a lot of sense to me... I find it has nothing to do with genre, so much as it has to do with presence and tone. Modern recording allows us to carefully craft the spectrum like never before. What's interesting is listening to the cross over from the 70s-80s-90s and hearing a significant change in the volume and detail of the mixes. 

Anyway, 

Mixing remains to be one of my favorite hobbies because of the sheer number of decisions and strategies that go into the process. One trick I've been using is where I "live" with a template that I dump projects into. While constantly saving this template and plugging in work, I get to add and take away things and get to create my own "sound" 

It is only recently that I feel I am beginning to understand my "sound," and the only reason for that is because I've learned -- like a scientist -- how to control variables and how to apply consistency to the entire process. Balancing a mix is something I no longer need to sit with a list of reminders for things to check -- my ears are already going there and making quick decisions. 

So recently I did a mix where I wanted to take it a step further... It had become the first time in a long time that I go to a website for tricks or reminders of things I could do. Needless to say -- like always -- I found some really good advice about using multiple limiters and not just a single one... Anyway, I tried it and it worked... there was a fullness both in the waveform (visible in Foobar2000) and in the sound; all I did was chain 4 Waves L2 Limiters together and hit them not harder than -3db. It wasn't until the third and four limiter than I began to hear it fill up! 

What I'm finding in "my sound" is that by applying these same settings and using my meters (an absolute must), I am one step closer to creating said "sound." 

I really hope one day to have access to outboard gear and continue experimenting with my blending techniques; I'm after this 'feeling' of the mix -- when listening in stereo. I don't feel I am truly "synesthetic," but I do "see" things when I 'perceive' my mix moves (panning, volume, etc.) 

 

Rant:
It's that now I'm using lots of blending techniques and building soundstages

Now i'm compressing in rhythm to the music and it's really clean -- everything hitting sweet spot

Vocals are dialed in and usually nudged back to "sit better" -- Ableton is great for this with their "delay" button

Bass is king -- this is the modern sound. Getting the bass right (even without a sub) is something that get's clearer and clear to me through the years. Now I understand it as it's "own space" and something that the rest of the music 'locks' into. Bass is the foundation (kick and bass) 

With that said, I use my meters to get the 'loudness' I am after.. For most applications, I'm hitting -8db (crest factor). 

Using chorus, saturator, spreader, panning, reverbs, etc.. to make a 'voice' standout has been extremely rewarding -- it truly is magical how it works. 

Small doses of compression (everywhere) 

Consistent levels

Cutting in the 315-500hz range... this is where most records have a cut in mastering

67hz is still one of my favorite feeling frequencies (daft punk - crescendolls)


 

On the need to obsess...

I'm guilty of it... Hell, it's what I pride myself on being able to do for any project that I engage. I'd firstly say it is a healthy obsession with the sole purpose of fully realizing the vision of the artist...

But while working on a project the other day, I also learned that this is my ego stepping in front of the project and, while intentions are pure, it can sometimes hinder and leave me frozen...

I really want it to be perfect... You hire me because I'm a perfectionist and really want to handle every single detail... But the effect that leaves on me is one of being overwhelmed and unable to see the ending, or upset that I didn't get it to sound the way 'it could be.'
 

Anyway, upon taking on a recent mix project for NOAH X 23, I basically "broke" myself in the process and really found myself unable to "perfect everything" because there was simply too much to do (16 tracks) and not all of them were multitracks...

So the job went from making them 'perfect' to making them 'right' for the task at hand.

Once I was able to re-frame my perspective on this, I instantly was able to push through the project and not second guess myself or really allow my inner critic to get in the way. I'm still learning a whole lot, but this would be one of the key lessons I take away with me in recent times.

I got the project done in a week, everyone involved was happy, I was happy, we met the deadlines, etc.... This was all because I helped myself get out of the way and obsess and simply just went along for the ride and did what I know to do...


GET OVER YOURSELF. THIS ISN'T ABOUT YOU. IT'S ABOUT THE SONG. IT'S ABOUT COMMUNICATION. NO ONE CARES WHO MIXED IT... EVER

Furious Primates EP

Here's a local band from Nashville that I had the pleasure of mixing this EP for

enjoy!
 

Click through to hear more!

Specs: Mixed ITB with Pro Tools 10, Waves Suite; mono compatible was the goal in order for clear playback on portable devices.

Templates and You

I can't do what I do without a template. Templates have always been talked about (when in school) as a thing you do and have and it makes your job easier....

mmmk.

Templates are a way of defining and cementing a workflow. There's no need to reinvent or remember a process when you have it nailed into a template. It's all about the constants.

I use templates so that I don't have to recreate an entire bus architecture full of parallel compression, fx sends and returns, sub groups, parallel master bus, instrument tracks,. click tracks, keyed gates, keyed compressors, etc... this is all time saved for when I'm ready to mix.

Imagine you want to edit a track in pro tools... if you start from scratch, you literally have to build an entire chain in order to get the consistent results (that I'd hope you'd want). Time is money. Time is time wasted. If you can shave off a minute from a task you do hundreds of times, well, those are hundreds of minutes saved where you can go outside and exercise.

Point is that templates are key to having a cohesive workflow and key to having constants in place so that creativity can flow

Personally, I'd share my template, but I've invested enough time and effort to make it something truly unique and don't think it would be of help to share. Just know that I have my all the above mentioned and, at the very least, an eq, limiter, meter, widener, and mono-maker on my 2-bus.

So, with a template in place, you can then edit that track you were given with and rest assured that a lot of the left brain work has been done for you in advance so that you can worry about proper conveyance of the message (what your mix is supposed to achieve)

 

/doza

 

Definitions, Understanding, and Assumed Knowledge

I believe that if you don't know what something is, then you couldn't possibly know what it does. What has always fascinated me about music is the vast number of parts that make up the whole. Understanding the definitions takes me back to learning as a child when I was made to write out definitions about a specific topic. Things like names, dates, places, etc were all in need of defining and, in applying that idea to learning the craft of production and mixing, one has many, many, names and things to define.  

Think about all the parts in a DAW, each icon you click has a name and a function. Do you know them all? Do you know the ones you need? Do you even know which ones you need? Do you know when you'd need it?  

Think about all the parts in music, each sound event (and silence) has a function and a name. There are labels for genres, styles, instruments, etc... basically everything has a label and needs to be labeled.  

 

Where I am going with all of this is that I've found it to be of great help to understand, and be able to define for anyone (like if they were 5 years old), about any aspect of music and the technology behind it. There should be nothing that requires a complex explanation, or charts, etc.  
 
I believe it has to be simple; always. I believe that it all can be defined, and defining leads to understanding. Understanding leads to freedom. Freedom leads to creativity.                                                                                                                                                                                           If you're just starting out, getting familiar with the words and terms you will see day in and day out is something that is paramount to becoming an expert (this applies for anything you do in life).  

if you're not new to the game, then going through all the definitions for the sake of wholeness and total understanding of the topic is what's up. A true master can explain it to a five year old. Can you?  

Simply being able to put a label on something and say "this is this, and it does xyz" will take out a lot of the mysteries in the task being performed.  
 

Let's say you were mixing down a track and the drummer says the snare sounds boxy, would you know what to do? where to go?  

Let's say the artist you're working with wanted to include a fermata coming out of the bridge before the last chorus. Would you know what this is? do you know where the bridge is? know what a chorus is? 

Catch my drift?  

 

With that said, after all of this time spent studying and reading (in parallel to actually experiencing music and production), there is something I like to think of called "assumed knowledge." This happens after working and experiencing something over a long period of time. It is assumed you know how to hold a fork, wash your hands, put on pants, etc. Imagine having to look those things up on google every time you wanted to perform such a task... In my case, it meant exploring new topics and experiences in music, but constantly trying to put together what just happened and define things. What would then happen is I wasn't fully in the moment and wasn't fully immersed, but instead grappling with trying to figure it all out. Be patient, though, it takes a long time to get it all, and I'm only a quarter of the way there... 
 
Well, once you've engrained it enough, it becomes something of second nature and, when you have that mastered, you can move onto more advanced things...  

My point is that when learning this stuff, you learn the definition first, then get an understanding, and finally work your way out of the fundamentals. The understanding of the fundamentals leads to assumptions in your knowledge when you are working with other able musicians and producers. It is here that - in my opinion - true learning takes place and you actually begin to experience the creative side of things. It'll only happen however, when you have the fundamentals rock solid and understand all the parts that are involved to make the whole.  

This is something that's been on my mind for awhile because in my walk with music, theory, technology, mixing, production, songwriting, mastering, etc., I've learned a process to learn anything... I can easily take this process of understanding and learn something new like building a house, or repairing an automobile. To me, they are one in the same. I want to help you learn to learn, as I call it. This is the first steps towards that.  
 

Remember, you want to have as much assumed knowledge under your belt so that you can truly experience things and not be worried about holes in your knowledge or a lack of understanding.

 

Here are some links to get you started in defining music and production...

http://www.classicalworks.com/html/glossary.html

http://www.virtualmixengineer.com/audio-glossary/

 

On Faith's "I'll Be There" Project

What would you different?
- I would probably do more editing throughout the process so that when I reached the mix stage, it doesn't become one big editing session, followed by mixing. This, I think, is key to having a rocking track and solid groove from beginning to end. It all starts with that first scratch guitar being in time, followed by all the other parts that are in place. When the first scratch instruments are laid down, it is essential (for me) that the musician has some kind of idea of the groove instead of a bleeping click track in their ear. In this case, reggae, it was important to have that kick and snare in place already with the high hat playing the groove through. It was bass that we laid down first and helped us build the song from there.
- probably not much, the process was fun and smooth. I would likely want to find new ways to 'shop' for sounds and tones. I really believe tone is king when it comes to music, especially recorded music, because it lives on forever.... but perhaps having the time frame to get the song down in a skeletal form and then being able to explore more tonal options would be nice. However, given the time frame to complete the project, as well as budget, I feel I'm very pleased with what we got down.

I believe in doing whatever it takes to fulfill the vision of the artist, and the artist wanted horn tracks. We had some midi samples to start, but it was key to have real horns there because of the tonal qualities that would give. Enter me picking up my trumpet that I've only been playing for 2 years or so as a novelty instrument and adding trumpet, while my buddy Diego donated his trombone recording. This, blended with a midi barry sax and another trumpet gave us the vibe we were looking for.


what did you learn?
- I learned a wealth of things that I’ll list and maybe expound on:
- artist interfacing and understanding their vision -
- a deeper understanding of reggae production values and form
- how important it is to have things playing in time... the slightest flub though... you know?
- how crucial sound design is in realism and the limitations of electronic sound design
- how to blend electronic and 'human' elements to create a cohesion
- how to listen really, really deep to the reference recordings I was given
- the importance of keeping the 'traffic lane' clear when working with so many instruments and moving parts. One guy swerving around or overplaying too much can really put a damper on the vibe (it was actually me an my parts that did this for a time...)
- how to use the artist to co-produce the record together. I can't take sole credit for every decision that was made, but rather for being as self-less as possible and merely providing guidance as we moved and progressed through the process
- how many different ways you can change a piano sound...
- the importance of a 'flow' throughout every aspect of the process
- the importance of moving forward at every step and, as producer, being in control of this. It was this flow that kept us enthusiastic about the project and allowed us to finish in the time we had available for it (which wasn't always ideal)
- importance of 'sweeteners' and their role in the production
- importance of keeping the music interesting from beginning to end and what that entails
- how to better stack vocals for a choir-like sound, but not exactly choir. Pro tools edits for note onset and finish were key to getting the voices really tight... makes me wonder how they were doing it back in the day before digital...
- about stretching the perspective high (with the hi hat) and low (with the bass) as well as wide with the guitars and voices... this was really made possible through crafty eq'ing and balancing
- how  to use my meters to my advantage when balancing all the voices that were involved in the process
- the importance of subdivision grooves in music... some things need to exist in certain 'grooves' to satisfy the style of music involve... for example, metal wouldn't be metal without the 32nd notes and double bass pedals... reggae needed it's 16th notes to really shine through in order to flow right
- the importance of a foundation for the singer to sing on... I noticed that the better the mix I provided her, the better she sang and vibed with the track. this is key. I really wouldn't let her sing on anything less than what I thought was perfect
- how to transition sections in songs and how important the simplest form could be. My one fear when I was programming drums was having to come up with a 'drum fill' to get me in and out of the sections. Since having a drummer wasn't in the budget, I had to come up with ways to create a 'realistic' sound. So, instead of fills, I opted to create pauses and simple flows for the drummer to get through and allow the other parts to speak a little more clearly (hence the traffic flow)

[This was achieved by use of laying the essential hits down, later nudging them back for a 'relaxed feel,' and finally doing some sound shopping to get a timbre on the snare and kick that was close to the references we had our ears on. Snare was a snare sample, mixed with a sidestick sample eq'd to taste and blended. Kick was the same with one sample providing the low end and the other the click.]
- I learned about how important the first listen is for the artist. Every time she would come in to listen to the progress, i would get nervous because I felt I'd be missing something. Instead, I learned to use this precious moment by giving the artist a paper and pen, space, and freedom to share their initial thoughts on what they heard. it was several of these listens that allowed us to move forward and really achieve something we both were satisfied with.
- how key having a 'noise floor' is for the overall feel of a song... if you listen closely to the intro and between the two gaps of silence, you'll hear what I’m talking about. This is all over the place in analog recordings and can really be heard in the "marry that girl" pop song during the intro
- I learned how to take a busy part and cut it up in the editing/mixing process to keep it in the song, but not have it stepping all over every ones parts. I had help from the artist on this one so that we both could find something we agreed on. I really enjoyed this process. - duplicating tracks is key to creating all the effects and parts that I wanted. sometimes it saves a lot of time to just copy and have the part you want to hear playing and put fx on it (instead of automating and drawing in bypass switches and all that). The bass was duplicated as well and a distortion track was placed on it. This really helped it pop through.
- The important of 'press play' and what that means for the listener... I find the first 10 seconds of the song to be where people decide if they are going to let it run or not... sorry, but if your intro is lame or uninviting, I just won't have the energy to sit through and get to your 'exciting bridge part.' The idea for our intro was to keep the Jackson 5 intro and somehow segway into a reggae feel
- i learned that you really can cheat 'the eye' and cut and boost much more than what is drawn in your eq. To explain... certain sounds were LPF or HPF in order for them to be present in the mix, but not stick out in front of the things that needed to be up front. Sounds like the crashes, intro ride, certain guitars and other things were aggressively cut like this. In solo, they sounded weak, but within the context, they fit perfect.
- I learned how to make sounds pop out with simple flanging effects and other 'ear grabbers' so that the element that they were placed on didn't need to be raised in volume, but rather made more perceptible with these effects.
- I learned that when I had the vocal sitting nicely in stereo in my room, in mono, it popped out really hard and sounded like a karaoke track. it was then that I realized that If i can make it sound clear from one headphone in mono, then I would be fine in stereo.
- I learned how importance it was to have certain levels on my monitor marked out as well as a well matched reference to hear bass on.
- I learned that once I establish bass and kick relationship, that I don't have to go 'down there' anymore and that I can focus on the other lead elements.
- I learned how fun it was to side-chain many elements together (reducing only about -3db) in order to get a cool flowing sound. Bass was chained to kick, upbeat stroke was chained to clav parts, lead was chained to drum subgroup... it was everywhere I could put it
- I learned how to successfully duck my verbs from my lead vocal.
- I learned I have to be selfless and ego free in order to get the sound that I truly want, and be prepared to give honest critique and opinion when asked for.
- I learned how to get what I needed out of a vocalist and what was needed for the part at hand. working with Faith was great because she knew what she wanted to accomplish and trusted me to listen to make sure that we got the detail and the part we were looking for. I learned that I have to be 'invisible' in the tracking process and simply follow the musicians flow in order to keep them in the music.
- I learned how important it is to have the proper lead in time when overdubbing a part... too long and its not fun, too little and it can disorient
- I learned a painful one that I'd hate to admit... but we did do some tracking with the KSM32 facing backwards... I know, I know... but they have this stupid swirl logo on the back that I thought meant the front... it was after intense eq'ing for low end mud that I realized what was wrong.
- I learned that I need to learn how to better manage my files so that things don't bloat up to 10+ GB sessions... this isn't that big a deal for me, but it kind of is when you are trying to do backups to a cloud, thumbdrive, and external hard drive. My backups happen in four points at a time.



how did the idea form?
- Faith came to me with the idea and, I honestly had never heard the song. After the first listen, I felt she was onto something. I believe that a strong cover song can really get people places and this was one that I thought had potential and already a solid following. People were really open to this happening.

What limitations did you encounter?
- Other than time constraints and budget (go figure), I'd say the only limits we had were imposed on ourselves... a fancy way of saying none. I had all the sounds I wanted and all the resources necessary to get them. It was all there for the taking and we took it.

What were the references?
- Chronixx - here comes trouble (mainly groove, and mix)
- Marley - Could you be loved (the flow of the instruments and interplay between them was so beautiful and so key to try to emulate. I added a 16th note guitar part and clav part just to try and match the sound on this record)


what are you pleased with?
- Damn near everything. I loved that it was a learning experience for both Faith and I and it was something that I’m sure we'd never forget. My favorite part of it was all her enthusiasm to leave no stone left unturned and to really dig deep into all the details. we really tried our best to make sure that there were no flubs (especially in the vocals) and that we had something that people would genuinely want to sing to and dance to.


what software and equipment was used?
- Pro tools X (mixing and editing)
- Ableton 9 (songwriting and production)
- Maschine 2.1.2 (sounds and sequencing)
- Waves plugins
- Sapphire PRO 16 interface
- KSM32 and M-audio condensers
- my bedroom
- Live: congas, trombone, trumpet, bass, and guitars


What was your role in the music?
- To stay the hell out of the way and go with the flow. Foster the flow. Create the most authentic reggae sound that we can with our limited resources. Have things prepared so that when musicians walked in, all I had to do was allow them to get ready and push record. I was producer, mixer, and performer.

 

Below are screenshots from the entire session!

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