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Bedroom music production, gaming and random shit

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Correction of Audio Quality

Here’s an update, or a rethink, of an old post that claimed that a high-resolution sample rate is better for audio quality.

Well, it’s wrong.

192 kHz digital music files offer no advantages over 48 kHz. Sampling rates over 48 kHz have some nasty side effects, like ultrasonics that cause intermodulation distortion. You still get all the fidelity benefits – smooth frequency response, low aliasing – at the 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz rates.

But do go ahead and set your music project in 24-bit. Though 24-bit is irrelevant to playback, this bit depth does offer a larger dynamic range, is useful for multiple processing in series, headroom and noise floor. 16-bit linear PCM audio doesn’t cover the entire theoretical dynamic range.

It’s useless to distribute music as 24-bit (remember the dynamic range of most types of music is usually less than 12 dB). But nowadays most players can handle 24-bit files, and they don’t harm fidelity. Therefore it’s possible to skip dither solutions to reduce your music project to fit distribution at 16-bit files.

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No Need for Headroom in the Bedroom

Essentially, headroom is the space between the highest level a track reaches, and the level where clipping occurs.

If you’re a pro and submitting your mix for mastering at an external resource, you should give headroom (between -3 dB and -6 dB) on your master output. Likely, you’re also told to remove any pre-mastering processors, such as master bus compression, limiting, equalization, and to reduce frequency buildups and leave your mix dynamic.

The mix, handed over to the mastering engineer, should generally speaking be a 24-bit audio file, no dithering.

But what about us bedroom producers whom master our own shit, do we the need to care about any of this for our MP3s or uploads? No, but we could take these advices to help ourselves when mastering.

That is, when your mix is done and you’re about to enter the mastering phase (either you bounce your mix and start a separate mastering project or you do the mastering as a last step in a self-contained song project), remember these tips – your mastering process would gain from this.

Bass Divided

I already written about side-chain compression, so here’s a tip how to use it in a more subtle – yet effective – way: separate the bass in low, mid and high frequencies and then have the kick drum trigger the compression only on the low end of the bass.

  1. Make three copies of the bass (or create parallel channels).
  2. Isolate the bass in three frequency ranges; low 20-160 Hz, mid 105-950 Hz and high 550 Hz-7 kHz. It’s okay overlap some.
  3. It’s possible to pan the high and the mid slightly wider, but keep the low end in mono.
  4. Now side-chain only the channel with the low frequencies by -6 dB or so.

By doing this, the low end of the kick will be audible whilst the overtones of the bass will be kept intact.

Tempo Rubato

Tempo is the speed or pace of a given music piece. For bedroom producers, different tempos can really alter the mood of a track. And for a DJ, knowing the BPM makes beatmatching much easier.

In modern day music, a beats per minute (BPM) system denotes the tempo. And in our club-orientated context – based on a four to the floor time signature – conventionally a quarter note (crotchet) is specified as the beat. Here are some corresponding, relative BPM ranges:

  • Trap: 65-85 (or sequenced at 130-170)
  • Hip hop: 85-100, prominent 96
  • House: 120–128, prominent 126
  • Trance: 125-150, prominent 130
  • Dubstep: 138-142, prominent 140
  • Drum and bass: 150–180, prominent 160
  • Speedcore: >180, prominent 250

These values should not be taken too seriously though.

When mixing music, you can use the underlying tempo; e.g. a dubstep track at 140 BPM mixes well with a trap track at 70 BPM, due to the same underlying tempo. Recall that the standard dubstep rhythm patterns anyway are syncopated at this half-time tempo – the snare usually hits every third beat in a bar.

Furthermore, regarding dubstep, a wobbling LFO rate synced at 1/32 notes, is double the speed at 140 BPM compared to a tempo marking of 70 BPM. In theory, this means that you could program at 70 BPM, but then your LFOs may not allow you to reach 1/64 wobbles.

When I compose music, I usually don’t shift tempo, but I do accentuate the underlying tempo on parts of the track.

P. S. If you’re into Italian tempo markings and other musical terms, go to college or read Wikipedia.

About Side-Chain Compression

There’s a hyperinflation of side-chain compression in popular music. And sometimes it sounds – more or less – like loose cables or dropouts. Still, used properly, side-chain compression could be the factor to a floor-filler.

So about compression, it’s a big part of today’s music. It keeps the volume levels at bay and making sure shit sounds tight. And loud (without increasing its peak amplitude). At the same time the dynamic range is reduced, and dare I say, music do tend to sound less, well, dynamic, than classics from yesterday. Whatever.

In normal compression, the incoming audio signal is used as source for the threshold and ratio. Side-chaining (or keying) is a technique that uses a different audio signal to trigger/key the compressor. Whilst the incoming audio is still affected, it’s the side-chained audio signal that determines the compressor’s response; that is, how strongly it will reduce the gain on its output signal.

The premise is basically a kick drum that triggers the compressor of a bass, i.e. bass ducking. This allows the kick through – on the same low frequencies as the bass – without phase interference or a too muddy low-end. You can get a rhythmically pumping or pulsating effect if you duck out other instruments in the mix as well.

Remember that you can have other shit than the kick to trigger the compressor. Or, if you prefer, you can even program a specific pattern for this.

It’s kinda hard to generally guide to how to achieve a side-chain compression due to the many different DAWs out there. But briefly you should rig a compressor to your bass (or mix bus), and connect a different audio source to the side-chain input. Then set the compressor to a very low threshold (around -35 dB) and a high ratio (60:1), combined with a short attack (1 ms) and a longer release time (600 ms). But go ahead and experiment with these settings, adjust to taste. Also the length of the audio source, e.g. kick drum sample, will have some affect.

Crunk Up the Bass

Here’s a method to get that crunk/trap bass working with your Roland TR-808 drum machine. You know, like that fat Wiz Khalifa track. In brief, the whole point is the get the attack from a kick and some tonality in the following sub-bass boom. And while they’re on the same frequency, you need to make ‘em play along.

Alright then.

Upload an accented 808 kick drum sample with little decay (meaning a dry, short kick without any boom to it) to your sampler.

Get ya sub-bass on. Program it to hit on the same notes as the kick.

Now, the trick is in the Amplitude Envelope of your synth generating the sub-bass: a) slightly adjust the Attack so it doesn’t clash with the kick, b) set the Decay to around 650 ms, c) bring Sustain all down to the bottom and d) raise the Release to around 2,6 s.

You may adjust these numbers so you get the desired sound, but leave the Sustain level to null.

That’s it. I didn’t invent this, I got it Dorincourt, and he didn’t come up with it either. It’s been around for ages. Still, it’s not common knowledge.

About Dubstep Song Structure

Here’s the most standard dubstep algorithm, a kind of tutorial or walkthrough. (A noob tip perhaps.) I know that such dry decryptions can be disenchanting, so stop reading if you don’t want any spoilers.

  1. Intro (rhythm, stabs, melody…), 16 bars
  2. Breakdown (melody/riff, chords…), 8 bars
  3. Build up (tension, white noise, soundbite…), 8 bars
  4. Drop 1 (bass and mayhem), 16 bars
  5. Drop 2 (variations of Drop 1), 16 bars
  6. Bridge (variations of Breakdown and Build up), 16 bars
  7. Drop 3 (variations and/or inclusion of Drop 1 and 2), 32-48 bars
  8. Outro, (melody/riff, chords…) 16 bars

As always, breaking away from this anatomy seems legit. And even if the structure is kinda unimaginative, it’s really the content, the raw material, which separates the wheat from the chaff.

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