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Bedroom music production, gaming and random shit

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music making

New keyboard stand, four tiers, compact living. Early December 2016.

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Here’s my setup as of today. A bit crowded.

Compression Time Again

Compression is an invaluable tool that can be applied to almost any sound. Therefore, here’s a friendly reminder about compression and the settings of attack and release on a compressor.

Most times compression is used to control dynamics and taming peaks to get a smooth, consistent signal. Other times compression is used to add punch, impact, proximity or for tonal control.

Four Settings

There are four settings on most compressors. The threshold controls the point at which compression begins. The ratio is the setting for how much compression is being applied. (A so called limiter is a compressor with a high ratio, e.g. inf:1, that will stop the signal at the set threshold.) Then there are attack and release settings. Attack sets how long it takes to reach maximum compression once the signal exceeds the threshold. And release sets how long it takes for compression to stop after the signal gets below the threshold. (Some compressors feature an auto release, which automatically adjusts the release time based on the incoming signal.)

Attack

Attack controls how much initial impact gets through.

A fast attack time shaves off the initial transient impact, and can make it sound more consistent and controlled. But when gone too far, the sound will lose vibrance and seem more further away.

A slow attack time is letting a lot of transient formation through. The initial impact will come through and the compressor will start to work after that. This can make it sound punchy, big and aggressive, but not very consistent dynamically.

Release

For release time, again there are two options: fast and slow. In general, fast release can render a more aggressive, gritty sound – the initial sustain is sort of brought up, meaning more perceived loudness. But when the release time is too fast, it can sound exaggerated, distorted and bad, and there can also occur some pumping artifacts.

A slow release time will give more dynamic control, more smoothness, but also sound a bit distant. And if overdone with a slower release, the compressor will not release in time for the next hit to come through, and that can suck the life out of the initial impact and sound flat.

Stack Compressors

An effective way to stack compressors is to put the compressor with the fast attack time first and the compressor with the slow attack time second. The first compressor will smooth out those transients and make the initial hits more consistent, while the second compressor, fed by the dynamically controlled signal, will accentuate the initial hits.

Switching DAW: Reason to Live

I’m switching to Ableton Live from Propellerhead Reason. There are several causes for this.

In short, nowadays I’m using mostly hardware synths and Ableton Live is more paramount and flexible when it comes to integrating hardware.

Reason’s core softsynths are still good, but I’m using them less and less, and I’ve grown tired of certain limitations and the workflow. So going to a different DAW is a good remedy for that. And I can still rewire (connect) Reason to Live.

And working with up-to-date “real” plugins is so much deeper and at the same time a bit exhausting.

Although none of these thing are new, the last few iterations of Reason (version 8 and 9) are clearly focused on bringing in newcomers without trying to keep more seasoned users.

For me, switching DAW is both fun and challenging. Of course there’s all this learning to be done. But it’s also fun. And it’s really not that hard, it could just seem a bit daunting at first, but there’s great help online nowadays with countless forums and tutorials. Right now I’m on some kind of trial period, and a lot of time is spent trying to connect and run hardware with software, but I think the new main DAW will be inspiring and push my music productions further.

Add Life to Your Mix

Sometimes when I read about music production and audio engineering stuff I come across ideas that I personally wouldn’t use in my music, but nevertheless could be interesting – at least in theory – and perhaps someone else dare to try.

Here’s one: record your “as is” mix from your monitor speakers, using a couple of microphones, and then blend the recording with your final mix.

This could add vibrance and “realism”. It could of course also clutter your mix if you overdo it. If needed, try to poke the recording to play with the phase relationship.

Recording your mix like this can add some analog imperfection by revealing a little of the studio’s ambient, and the colors of the mics, preamps and monitors would also print this sound layer. And you need not to record in the studio, you could put the monitors in a (non-acoustic treated) reverbant room, or record with an opened window… You get the drift.

https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/266445111/stream?client_id=3cQaPshpEeLqMsNFAUw1Q?plead=please-dont-download-this-or-our-lawyers-wont-let-us-host-audio

Here’s something.

A Method to Make Synth Strings

Recently I got a Roland Alpha Juno-2. It’s an analog synth that has a couple of uncommon features: pulse width modulation on both the pulse/square and the sawtooth waveform, and a 7-stage contour generator, which adds a huge range of sonic possibilities.

Anyway, the AJ-2’s pretty good for lush polyphonic pads and strings. But instead of writing a review of this nearly 30 year old synth, I thought I’d give you guys a quick rundown of how to make strings, which you can translate to other subtractive synths. For this, I’m skipping the unique features of the AJs, although it’s best if the synth you’re using has pulse width modulation (PWM).

  1. Set a first oscillator to pulse, give it a pitch of 8’.
  2. Add slow movement by applying some PWM. You might need to use a LFO to do this; route LFO (triangle wave) as source and the oscillator’s pulse width as destination.
  3. Set a second oscillator to sawtooth and an octave higher than the first. Detune the pitch a few cent steps to render unison and fatten the sound.
  4. Mix the two oscillators so that the second is slightly lower.
  5. Add a subtle amount of vibrato (pitch modulation) using a LFO (triangle wave or sample and hold) to modulate the pitch of both oscillators.
  6. Bring in some white noise, though most of it should be muted by the LPF (see below), it can give the sound a little shimmer.
  7. Add a sub-oscillator set an octave down from the first oscillator.
  8. Set the low-pass filter to about halfway (aim for a mellow tone) and add a bit of resonance.
  9. Optionally, you can tweak the filter envelope for timbral variation.
  10. Adjust the amplification envelope to a slow attack and a medium release time. Bring up sustain so that the sound doesn’t lose volume over time.
  11. As far as effects go, try chorus, a little delay and/or a hell of a lot of reverb.

There you go – a thick, lush, synth string. Nothing like real orchestral strings, but yet a sound with its own characteristic, that’s just as valid as any other instrument.

Machined Drums Part 2

This is the second part of synthesizing drum sound. The first part covered the kick drum and the snare, now it’s time for the hihats and the hand clap. Let’s dig right into it.

Synthesize Hihats

There are several ways to create a metallic-sounding hihat and it can be rather complex. A simple way though, is to use a pure noise source with HPF, or a square wave with ring modulation. (It’s also possible to mix these two sound sources.)

Set the envelope of the VCA to a slow decay and a quick release time. Play staccato which should render the closed hithat, while a held note produces the open sound. You could of course save two patches with different decay and release to finetune both of the variants.

Add presents to the hihats by boosting at 3 kHz on the EQ.

It’s very hard to mimic recognisable, convincing, metallic percussion. This quest have defeated many before me, thus I’m just letting it be. Still, if you insist of accepting a sound you could use as a cymbal – though it sounds totally unrealistic – then grab a hihat patch, accentuate the high-pass filtered white noise, add a longer decay and release time and put some flanger effect to it.

Synthesize Hand Clap

To achieve something that can be called a hand clap, try to run white noise through a band-pass filter and use two individual EGs to shape the VCA. Modulate the first envelope with a LFO; set to sawtooth and the frequency to about half way, to and render a clap effect. Then set a second envelope to a long decay to add reverb. You should tweak these parameters as you se fit.

Boost the mids on the EQ to make an aggressive snap.

Try to put on a gated reverb effect to the sound, or just a tiny delay.

Machined Drums Part 1

This is the first of two articles about creating drum sounds with a synthesizer. While many of the popular vintage Roland TR-x0x sounds are generated by analog circuitry, it is possible to achieve a variety of drum sounds using a common monosynth.

My aim is to give you some basic ideas and guidelines of the concept – presented as simple as possible. These are, after all, quick and dirty tips and tricks of a rather complex subject.

First off, you can use an analog or a digital synth, even a softsynth, it really doesn’t matter, although it needs to meet the given specifications, like noise source, voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA), preferably a faster envelope generator (EG) and so on. The output will of course differ from different synths.

Ideally, the synth should have a couple of oscillators (VCO, DCO et cetera) with different waveforms, a ring modulator, a white noise generator, high-pass (HPF) and low-pass filters (LPF) able to self-oscillate, ADSR EGs, separate for filter and amplifier, and in a few cases, e.g. hand claps, a low-frequency oscillator (LFO) with selectable waveforms.

Synthesizing the Kick Drum

Use a LPF that can be sent into self-oscillation. Set cutoff to zero, turn up the resonance almost to max. Use a filter envelope to modulate the cutoff in a quick downward sweep, that is, turn up decay, just a little bit. Also give the sound a little release time. VCF envelope amount should just over half.

Combine this zap or thud sound with a VCO sine wave or a sub oscillator played on a low note. On the amplification envelope, set a short decay and some release. Go ahead and contour these EG parameters; a longer decay and release time can introduce a tonal quality to the sound (but keep attack and sustain at bay). To get it right, you might need to reduce the VCF EG amount and raise the cutoff frequency just to let the lowest harmonics pass.

You could boost a little in the 50-150 Hz range on an EQ to add some bottom depth.

Synthesizing the Snare

Use a white noise source and two oscillators, i.e. triangle wave, at different pitches. Run the noise through an HPF to add more snap.

For a more complex sound, you could use individual VCAs, filters and contour generators for the noise and the oscillators, and then mix the levels of the three sound sources. If you use a separate HPF for the oscillators, try sending it into self-oscillation, to get extra tone and resonance.

Contour the VCA (or multiple VCAs) with a just little decay and release (as always, the attack should be instantaneous and a snare drum shouldn’t sustain).

Use an EQ and cut the low-end. Boost the mids around 500 Hz to add body to the sound, and boost some at 2.5 kHz for extra snap and attack.

That’s it for now. Here’s a sound example of drums made on the microKORG using this concept, https://soundcloud.com/johaneckerstrom/suffix.

The next part will cover synthesized hihats, toms and hand claps, and perhaps even cowbells, claves and metallic percussion. We’ll see.

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