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Bedroom music production, gaming and random shit

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Mixing at the Right Levels

There’s this theory of the ear that it hears different frequencies at different levels. The Fletcher-Munson curves, commonly known as equal-loudness contours, indicate the ear’s average sensitivity to different frequencies at various amplitude levels.

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Even if the tonal balance of the sound remains the same, at low volume, mid range frequencies sound more prominent. While at high listening volumes, the lows and highs sound more prominent, and the mid range seems to back off.

In short, this explains why quieter music seems to sound less rich and full than louder music. Generally it’s better for the music to sound good as the volume increases.

As a consequence of this, you should edit, mix and work on your music on a high enough volume (not ridiculously loud), so that you can make sure your music doesn’t sound terrible when it’s listened to at a higher level. Because as a music producer you would want your music to sound best when the listener is paying full attention. But use caution, don’t damage your ears bla bla bla.

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Vocal Delay Ducking

The normal thing to treat a dry vocal is to put reverb and delay on it. But that could make the vocal a bit muddy.

To keep it in-your-face and conserve the clarity of the vocal, while still having an effect to make it sound bigger, try ducking the volume of the delays whenever the dry vocal is active. To do so, side-chain the delay bus to the lead vocal track.

For example, use a delay device on a return bus and put a quarter note delay with low feedback, and send it to the vocal track with a little less volume. On the same bus, put a compressor and select the vocal track as the side-chain source. Set it up as you like, perhaps bring down the wet-parameter some.

You can also try the same thing with a reverb.

Split Frequency, Split

I’ve written about the perks of putting side-chain compression on only the low frequencies of a bass earlier.

To do so, three copies of the sound are needed. Or, as this post will show, you could split the frequency into three bands (high, mid and low). By doing this, it is possible to apply different signal processing on each band.

Now I usually try to write about music production on a more abstract level, and not about a specific DAW or instrument, but this time I going to illustrate with Ableton Live on Mac. The theory is the same though, you just need to figure out how it works in your particular environment.

So I’m using the stock effect Multiband Dynamics to split frequency. The device has noticeable affect and coloration on the signal, even when the intensity amount if set to zero, but it should be transparent enough for now.

  1. Drop a Multiband Dynamics in the Device View.
  2. Set the Amount control to 0.0 % to neutralize compression or gain adjustments to the signal.
  3. Group the Multiband Dynamics in an Audio Effect Rack (select the device and press CMD + G).
  4. Show the Chain List of the rack.
  5. Dictate the crossover points on High and Low (the Mid consists of what is left in between, so remember to also change the crossover points in the mid chain if you make adjustments on the others), e.g. set the bottom of the frequency range of the high band to 1.00 kHz.
  6. Duplicate the selected chain two times.
  7. Rename all of the chains High, Mid and Low, from top to bottom.
  8. Solo each band respectively on the Split Freq, i.e. solo Low on the low chain.

Now process each band individually. Use a Utility device on the low chain and set Width to 0.0 % to direct the low frequencies to mono. Also, on this band, set up a side-chain compression triggered by the kick drum. Try a stereo widening effect and some reverb on the mid chain. And perhaps a little saturation to add some crunch on the high chain, I dunno, it’s up to you.

Bedroom Studio Tips Revisited

Three years ago I posted a list of some music production methods and tips on my blog that still gets some attention. Now, here’s some other good read (I hope).

Moreover, you really should check out the most popular post on this blog about the best tips on music production that I can think of.

CV on Analog Four

If you got an Elektron Analog Four (or Analog Keys) and devices that can be operated via CV (control voltage) and Gate trigger connections, here’s how to do it, e.g. connect Moog Minitaur and Arturia MiniBrute to sequence, automate and processes them on Analog Four.

1. Connect a stereo ¼” (female) to CV Output A and B on Analog Four, and dual mono ¼” to Pitch CV (tip) and Gate (ring) of the Minitaur.
2. Connect Audio Out on Minitaur to Audio Input Left on Analog Four.
3. On Analog Four, select track Trk 1.
4. Select Osc 1 > IN L.
5. Pass all frequencies on 2-pole ladder filter: Filters > FRQ 127 and RES 0, and 2-pole multi mode filter: Filters > HP2 > FRQ 0 and RES 0.
6. Set the envelope on Amp > REL INF (if you don’t plan to use the Osc 2, sub oscillators or filter self-oscillation of the Analog Four).
7. Select track CV.
8. Set CV > CV A > TRK > TR1 and CV > CV B > TRK > TR1.
9. Select CV A configuration page, and set:

TYPE > PITCH V/oct
NOTE 1 > C 3
VOLTAGE 1 > 1.448 V
NOTE 2 > C 6
Voltage 1 > 4.634 V

10. Select CV B configuration page, and set:

TYPE > GATE
POLARITY > V-TRIG
LEVEL > 5.0 V

11. Connect a stereo ¼” (female) to CV Output C and D on Analog Four, and dual mono ¼” to Pitch (to VCO) (tip) and Gate In (ring) of the MiniBrute.
12. Connect Master Out on MiniBrute to Audio Input Right on Analog Four.
13. On Analog Four, select track Trk 2.
14. Select Osc 1 > IN R.
15. Pass all frequencies on 2-pole ladder filter: Filters > FRQ 127 and RES 0, and 2-pole multi mode filter: Filters > HP2 > FRQ 0 and RES 0.
16. Set the envelope on Amp > REL INF (if you don’t plan to use the Osc 2, sub oscillators or filter self-oscillation of the Analog Four).
17. Select track CV.
18. Set CV > CV C > TRK > TR2 and CV > CV D > TRK > TR2.
19. Select CV A configuration page, and set:

TYPE > PITCH V/oct
NOTE 1 > C 5
VOLTAGE 1 > 1.004 V
NOTE 2 > C 8
Voltage 1 > 4.004 V

20. Select CV D configuration page, and set:

TYPE > GATE
POLARITY > V-TRIG
LEVEL > 5.0 V

Set up the old king SH-101

If you got a Roland SH-101, the set it up like this:

1. Connect a stereo ¼” (female) to CV Output A and B on Analog Four, and dual mono ¼” to CV In (tip) and Gate In (ring) of the SH-101.
2. Connect Output on SH-101 to Audio Input Left on Analog Four.
3. On Analog Four, select track Trk 1.
4. Select Osc 1 > IN L.
5. Pass all frequencies on 2-pole ladder filter: Filters > FRQ 127 and RES 0, and 2-pole multi mode filter: Filters > HP2 > FRQ 0 and RES 0.
6. Set the envelope on Amp > REL INF (if you don’t plan to use the Osc 2, sub oscillators or filter self-oscillation of the Analog Four).
7. Select track CV.
8. Set CV > CV A > TRK > TR1 and CV > CV B > TRK > TR1.
9. Select CV A configuration page, and set:

TYPE > PITCH V/oct
NOTE 1 > C 3
VOLTAGE 1 > 0.986 V
NOTE 2 > C 6
Voltage 1 > 3.956 V

10. Select CV B configuration page, and set:

TYPE > GATE
POLARITY > V-TRIG
LEVEL > 5.0 V

Note that the voltage levels are roughly set. Also bear in mind that it seems that some split cables use left for tip and right for ring, while others directly contrary.

Tune Other Gear

If you got other gear, then connect a tuner to the audio output, select CV A configuration page and start with:

TYPE > PITCH V/oct
NOTE 1 > C 3
VOLTAGE 1 > 1.000 V
NOTE 2 > C 6
Voltage 1 > 4.000 V

Then just tweak the voltage settings – 1 V per octave in the mid range – according to the tuner, this usually works.

Lastly, don’t forget to check all four voices on the KIT > POLY CONFIG > VOICES to use Analog Four as an analog polysynth while using the two external sound sources of your choice.

P.S. I totally missed this, but this blog, Holy Bot, turns four years today, yay!

Translate Sub onto Smaller Speakers

There’s a few things you can do to make your bass sound on smaller speakers like laptops, tablets and cellphones. First you need fundamental and harmonic content on your bass. The fundamental frequency is the base foundation note that represents the pitch that is played and the harmonics are the following frequencies that support the fundamental. In short, it’s the higher frequency harmonics that allow for the sub to cut through the mix.

One idea is to create higher frequency harmonics. The harmonics should be in unison with the fundamental frequency, but don’t contain it. (The harmonics trick your brain into hearing lower frequencies that aren’t really there.) Add a touch of harmonic saturation, drive a little warmth, a little fuzz to help that sub cut through. The harmonic distortion, adds high-frequency information to reveal presence on systems with poor bass response.

Also try to copy the bass to a parallell channel, bitcrush the higher harmonics and cut all lows and mix with the original bass.

If you’re beefing up your main bass by layering a separate, low-passed sine wave at the octave below, perhaps try square (or triangle) to add some subtle higher frequencies that allow the sub bass to translate better than a pure sine wave.

You can also try to EQ the bass. Try to boost the harmonic multiples of the fundamental frequency to hear some definition from the bass sound. And boosting above 300 Hz will bring out the bass’s unique timbral character. Actually, try around 1 kHz (but add a low-pass filter at around 2-3 kHz).

Use high-pass filtering (to clear the low-end frequencies and make room for the intended bass sound), and you can also side-chain your sub bass to keep it from fighting with the kick drum.

When it comes to kick drums you can add a small click noise to help it translate onto smaller speakers.

P.S. There are also plugins that use psycho-acoustics to calculate precise harmonics that are related to the fundamental tones of bass.

Envelope, Basics

In sound design, an ADSR envelope modulates the sound and sculpts its timbre thus changing its sonic character. ADSR is an acronym that stands for its four stages Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. The contour of the ADSR envelope is specified by three time-parameters and one level-parameter like this:

(A) Attack time is the time it takes for the signal to go from minimum to maximum when the key is pressed.
(D) Decay time is the time for the signal to drop to the designated sustain level (if it is not set to maximum, then decay time has no meaning).
(S) Sustain level is the level of the signal while the key is hold.
® Release time is the time taken for the signal to fade out after the key is released.

Note that the signal will jump to the release stage when the key is released no matter where it is in the envelope. Hence if a short note is played, the signal might not had time to rise to the maximum in the envelope, therefore release will be relative to the level reached in the envelope.

Envelopes can be applied not only to volume, but also to filter frequencies or oscillator pitches.

To correctly tune the pitch envelope modulation range:

  1. First turn the modulation/envelope amount knob down.
  2. Press the key and set the desired minimum with the pitch knob (offset for modulation).
  3. Turn sustain level all the way up, press the key and let the signal reach maximum.
  4. While on sustain, dial the modulation knob to the maximum pitch.

About cutoff modulation, the cutoff knob is the starting point of the modulation, that means that the sound will not be altered if cutoff is set to maximum.

Moreover, it is sometimes possible to inverted the envelope and reverse its behavior.

Envelopes, Basics

In sound design, an ADSR envelope modulates the sound and sculpts its timbre thus changing its sonic character. ADSR is an acronym that stands for its four stages Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. The contour of the ADSR envelope is specified by three time-parameters and one level-parameter like this:

(A) Attack time is the time it takes for the signal to go from minimum to maximum when the key is pressed.
(D) Decay time is the time for the signal to drop to the designated sustain level (if it is not set to maximum, then decay time has no meaning).
(S) Sustain level is the level of the signal while the key is hold.
® Release time is the time taken for the signal to fade out after the key is released.

Note that the signal will jump to the release stage when the key is released no matter where it is in the envelope. Hence if a short note is played, the signal might not had time to rise to the maximum in the envelope, therefore release will be relative to the level reached in the envelope.

Envelopes can be applied not only to volume, but also to filter frequencies or oscillator pitches.

To correctly tune the pitch envelope modulation range:

  1. First turn the modulation/envelope amount knob down.
  2. Press the key and set the desired minimum with the pitch knob (offset for modulation).
  3. Turn sustain level all the way up, press the key and let the signal reach maximum.
  4. While on sustain, dial the modulation knob to the maximum pitch.

About cutoff modulation, the cutoff knob is the starting point of the modulation, that means that the sound will not be altered if cutoff is set to maximum.

Moreover, it is sometimes possible to inverted the envelope and reverse its behavior.

Mixing with Pink Noise

Setting basic level and pan are usually the first things to do in the process of mixing. Choose a sound/channel, e.g. kick drum, to act as your main level reference, and balance all the other instruments tracks against it. So establish the initial gains and then refine with dynamics processing and stuff. That’s what I usually do.

But – here’s a neat trick to help you get the balance right: use pink noise as level reference and balance each sound/channel to it.

Generate or play pink noise at the stereo bus. Calibrate the noise to a sensible reference level that allow ample headroom on your master bus when mixing. Use an averaging meter, a RMS-type meter, to establish the level of the noise.

Start with soloing the first instrument and play it alongside the pink noise, and balance it directly against the noise by ear. That is, try to find the level at which the instrument is just audible above the noise, but not hidden. Now mute that instrument and solo the next one. Repeat. Kill the noise and voilà!

Mixing this way won’t make it perfect, but accurate enough for a start and then some.

Another (general) tip is to listen to and learn by mixers that are much better than you, and that you admire.

Note: Pink noise is a random signal, filtered to have equal energy per octave.

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