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Bedroom music production, gaming and random shit

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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.

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.

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.

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.

No Reason to Go Back

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I’ve started making electronic music on the Amiga 500 using music trackers many, many years ago.

I then got a PC and used several shady Cubase versions. After that, I got a Mac and started using Logic for a while. At that time FruityLoops was weak and Reason’s sequencer wasn’t in a good place. But then something happened – Reason 6.5 introduced rack extensions and shit. And then came version 7, and I though it was the greatest. Everything was fine –  for a short while. When Propellerhead released version 8, focus had shifted to the surface, and community building seemed to be the new black. So I switched to Ableton Live.

Reason 9 just revealed. It adds pitch edit, scales and chords, note echo and dual arpeggio. What do guys think? Well, I for one, am not going back.

FM à la Analog Four

One of my favorite synths is the Analog Four, and with the OS update 1.22 a while back, Elektron added new LFO synchronization modes and destinations and made this synth even more awesome. (If I only could take one of my synths to a deserted island, it would be the Analog Four.) Anyway, in short that means I’m now able to apply pitch tracked LFO FM behavior.

Here’s a way to start (not rules):

  1. Set triangle (as a substitute for sinus) waveform on an oscillator.
  2. Open up both filters.
  3. Set the LFO speed to any multiples of 16.
  4. Set the LFO multiplier to over 512 and synchronize it to the oscillator you’re working with.
  5. Let the LFO restart when a note is played on Trig Mode.
  6. Choose sinus as the LFO waveform.
  7. Set frequency or pitch modulation to the oscillator as LFO destination. (Also try different destinations later, like the filter frequency.)
  8. Set depth of the LFO modulation (or, if you’re using the first oscillator, let the second assignable envelope control this).
  9. If you use Depth A in the step above, then try to fade in or fade out the modulation.

Also, there’s a few videos on YouTube describing these methods, like this, which is a good walkthrough, even though it’s a bit unfocused and lengthy.

Understanding Hip Hop Production

I imagine that most readers of this blog are aspiring producers of electronic music. Its subject are not limited to only electronics, but I haven’t mention the word “flute” or “acoustic guitar” even once since the start of it all.

Anyway, electronic music is such a wide genre and has more to do with gear and techniques rather than a certain style of music.

So I’m into music production and old analog hardware. Here’s the thing, I’m into hip hop, and mostly trapish contemporary shit for the time being. And as a vintage gear head, I feel kind of alone.

Of course I’m influenced by Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk, older Depeche Mode, Warp Records, Hyperdub, Skinny Puppy, Front 242 and so on, but equally so by hip hop producers, such as J Dilla, DJ Premier, Timbaland, RZA, The Neptunes, Dr. Dre, DJ Shadow, RJD2.

And right now, I think my favorite producers/songwriters are Noah 40 Shebib and PartyNextDoor. And Noisia, and Zomby, and Burial, and perhaps Datsik around 2011.

Many electronic producers don’t seem to appreciate or understand hip hop production. I’m not talking about these people mentioned above, but about hte generic bedroom electronic music producer. They might think of hip hop as turntables and loops. But modern hip hop production uses the same gear and share many point of contacts with electronic music. (Of course, it’s kind of banal, because so do all popular styles of music.)

I don’t know, I don’t have an agenda here, I’ve just been thinking about this when browsing through different forums and groups. Most connoisseurs and nerds of synthesizers make techno, electronica, house, synthpop, industrial, edm or synthwave, not many make hip hop.

Happy New Bass

If you’re reading and following this blog you ought to be interested in bass. And because of that, I’m giving you two – not so obvious – techniques on how to accentuate your synth bass sound.

Using the high-pass filter to boost bass

Okay, so you know what a high-pass filter is right, and that its cutoff frequency is the point at where the filter limits the low frequencies and lets the high pass.

You also know about resonance, and that it’s generally used to give a brighter/thinner sound. (And when the resonant setting is cranked to max, some filters go into self-oscillation and which make them scream.) But when high-pass resonance is added, the note and overtones near the cutoff are boosted – in other words, this is lifting the bass.

Just use keyboard tracking to make the resonant peak follow the pitch of the note and cutoff to follow the keyboard. The fundamental note will now be boosted while the surrounding spectrum is unaffected.

Use two filters in series if possible, set the other to low-pass filter and reduce harsh elements of the sound.

Get bigger bass by focusing on midrange

To get louder bass it’s not always necessary to pump up the level or to boost the lower frequencies, no you could just draw more attention to the bass element. Add midrange to it – it’s almost a mindtrick, and it shouldn’t make the bass any muddier.

So saturate the overtones of the bass or sculpt the thud of the kick drum. This is also valuable when there are several sounds competing for room in the low end.

Analog Sound Designed

Here’s a breakdown of a song that you maybe can learn something from. It’s not that profound, but should give you some hints of the sound design.

But first, listen to https://soundcloud.com/johaneckerstrom/read-me, so you can follow the article.

The song itself is fairly minimal and only consists of a few channel tracks, and therefore easy to analyze.

Drums

For the drums I used an old Roland TR-606 drum machine sequenced to the tempo of 110 BPM. I also added Boss DR-110’s hand clap and a slightly downpitched snare drum for the drum roll.

I put rhythm first in most of my songs, even if this particular pattern isn’t that complex.

Bass

The pounding bass is created on the Korg volca bass.

There are two VCOs grouped, an octave apart, playing the main ostinato, and the third VCO is introduced later in the song as a live pitch. In this case the effect of the VCOs sharing a common envelope and stuff renders a nice effect, where the gate length sounds chopped while the rhythm is intact.

The filter cutoff is slowly modulated by the LFO to make some movement in the sound.

During the crescendo, the filter is manually opened up to two-thirds – and what a liquid filter it is.

A quite high resonance is applied to make the bass scream a bit.

The bass channel is side-chained (triggered by the kick drum) and duplicated to a parallel channel, with bass rolled off (using a high pass filter) and fed through a phaser effect to enhance the stereo image and add further movement.

Motif

The motif is a minimal, almost atonal, figure made on the Korg volca keys. The synth is best used for plucky shit, and set to poly ring voicing (square waves through a ring modulator). The noisy internal delay is bypassed, in favor of an external digital reverb with a plate algorithm.

Arpeggio

This is sequenced internally on the Roland SH-101. Mixed waveforms are used and noise modulation of the VCF for that gritty sound. Cutoff sweeps are manually made and pretty randomly so. Also with high resonance level to add an acid touch. There’s not much use of the sub oscillator here, because the arpeggiator shouldn’t collide with the bassline.

Accent

Only two notes where played twice on the Yamaha CS01, and they are almost unmotivated. Nevertheless, they sound good – yeah, it’s that notorious PWM sound.

Coda

This is the small but big Moog Music Minitaur producing a 8-bit colored sound. The synth is run by a software monophonic arpeggiator which makes these octave jumps when programmed with more notes that it can handle.

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