The music industry is currently going through unprecedented changes, with an emphasis on digital media instead of the old physical ones. Whereas CD keeps losing market share year-after-year, vinyl has been experiencing an amazing resurgence for nearly a decade.
The thing is, increase in sales doesn’t necessarily mean vinyl is still a suitable platform in a society that relies heavily on digital services. Hence the question: why are some artists still releasing music on vinyl in 2016?
Wax Is The New Trend
Online distribution services guarantee any artist, even independent ones, distribution of their music to every online musical platform (from iTunes to Spotify, including Tidal and Google Play). Vinyl releases have no assurance that their music will actually reach an audience. With high production costs and much lower exposure, vinyl doesn’t seem to be a sound investment at first sight.
Yet everyone knows that money is not the only issue ruling music production. Vinyl production offers strong material and graphic assets – in this instance: large artwork, strong sleeve, and a warmer sound. By engaging the senses, vinyl goes beyond the musical framework.
Unlike vinyl, CDs have become incapable of attracting customers in stores today. Why would they bother buying an album when they can enjoy unlimited access to music on their computer for the same price? In contrast, vinyl managed to keep them interested in buying music thanks to its classy and appealing nature.
Vinyl is far from being a trivial format. Not only can it be a selling point for artists, but it can also help them distinguish themselves from their peers. By offering their fans the opportunity to buy their music on vinyl, they develop their identity beyond the boundaries of music. Graphic design, packaging, or thematic concepts are some elements that help define their universe – and make vinyl still very popular.
Collectible items, synonymous with vintage and their reputation for sound quality are all reasons that explain the strong comeback of vinyl.
Vinyl sales skyrocketed overseas, with a staggering 1,250% growth between 2005 and 2015 in the US alone! The vinyl market has never been so healthy since its heyday back in the 70s. Vinyl increasingly reinforces its status as music enthusiasts’ favourite physical medium.
What Vinyl Solutions Are There For Artists?
A stronger consumer demand that pushes market players to increase their annual output. However, it’s quite hard for artists to stay competitive without financial support from labels. Although self-production can be an alternative, there still are both major and obvious constraints:
- There is currently no reliable way to predict sales for vinyl records, which can lead to under/overproduction.
- Artists generally cannot afford to pay for the high production expenses of vinyl pressing.
- Similarly, they generally receive very little support from industry’s professionals.
- Market fragmentation makes it hard to find the best partners, making the production process much more difficult.
Direct involvement from fans within that process is an interesting solution since there’s almost no intermediary. Funds raised by crowdfunding campaigns are fully invested in making a project successful. This makes the financial relationship between an artist and their fans closer as the fans get to directly support the artists they like.
The growing number of successful crowdfunded projects highlights the efficiency and popularity of crowdfunding. This is an appealing model for artists and labels alike, the latter only having to promote and distribute a finished product without funding its production.
The great majority of “regular” platforms only raise funds for a project’s production without actually promoting or distributing the final product afterwards. By connecting artists, labels and fans within a pre-order platform, Diggers Factory aspires to match supply and demand and offers a real alternative to the traditional vinyl distribution circuit.
An Online Pre-Order Social Platform
The artist, label, or rights holder submits vinyl on the platform and sets a sales objective and price. Then the community comes into play. Diggers Factory and its members (“Diggers”) are the ones who bring projects to fruition.
People can support a production project by pre-ordering one or more records from the artist. As soon as the sales objective is reached, Diggers are notified, production is launched and the artist earns their margin. Should the sales objective not be reached on time, Diggers are fully refunded, free of charge.
Pre-orders alone provide the funds for a project’s production and distribution under the condition that it reaches its sales objective. Diggers are then guaranteed to get their orders by home delivery, wherever they are in the world.
By reducing intermediaries between artists and fans, Diggers Factory aspires to make vinyl more accessible whilst favouring independent music. It’s now up to Diggers to unite to produce and fund tomorrow’s promising artists.
The relief that comes from quality track production is mostly felt when an artist completes the lyrics to a song, finalises the recording process and sends it off for the final touches.
The creation process has always been the most exciting part of writing a song. Without a good song, there is only so far a track will go publicity wise of course. Although still relevant, the post-production stages has played a bigger role in bringing about success for artists and their music.
We have 4 ways quality track production can build you a successful career but even increase your fanbase.
Synchronisation has played a key part in helping many new or even established artists by creating awareness of their music. Once something has been synched, it can open doors that’ll evidently expose you to a wider audience. When Music Supervisors search in hopes of finding something that fits their briefs, the better it sounds, the easier the process will be. It’s also more likely your track will stand out amongst other potentials.
2. Connections and More Jobs
If you’ve gained a history of testimonials based on quality track production you may have worked/or were featured on, you can use this to open doors to more connections, work opportunities and overall industry attention. For example, you may be approached to be a session singer for a producer or you may be asked to mix/master a track. All this can happen because they’ve heard your work and thought the quality was awesome. In the first couple of moments of listening all that really matters is the quality of the production.
3. It Can Make you Look Really Professional
As the distribution/creation of music changed, so did the way it was listened to. From the phonograph to radio, from the walkman and now streaming. The quality of music has become increasingly compressed, all with the goal of creating easily distributable files. Compression has often been blamed for stripping much of the intricate sounds in the track.
However, having a well mixed/mastered track without harsh editing can make you look quite professional amongst your peers. It shows others you know what you’re doing. It’s not just about getting the frequency of a record so small so it fits in a small file. It’s about creating an enjoyable / immersive experience for the listeners.
4. Major A&R Points
Although it’s not majorly important, an A&R executive will like to see that you know how to finish a track well that embodies the qualities of a good sound. If you consider the amount of tracks they might receive, a badly produced demo may not get the attention it deserves. If your songs sound like demos, it’s best to not pitch them to A&R’s. Aim for professionalism, mix and master well and let the sky be your limit.
We could go on and explain other ways a quality track production is key to success in the industry. However, you get our drift. It’s always something worth investing in and something you won’t be disappointed in the results of. If you’re looking for someone to work with to mix your track simply click here to login to our platform and create a project today. Better yet, get a track mastered for free by Grammy award winning Metropolis Studios, click here to find out more details and how to get involved.
Written by: Trudy Kirabo – A&R Marketing Assistant
Music Gateway is a B2B platform specifically designed to allow music industry professionals to connect and work together in a global capacity through sync opportunities and record label placements, the platform has established itself as the go-to platform for the music business.
Whether this is through hiring music professionals or collaborating with other industry creatives, it is a well-known platform that provides opportunities for international established clients who are looking for songs for television, film, and song placement briefs.
In my previous blog posts on recording, I have covered drums and guitars. Once the main instruments have all been laid down you can add additional flourishes to your recording. However, eventually you will come to vocal recordings.
The most important aspect of vocal recordings will come down to the singers technique and ability in the studio. However, there are various things a recording engineer can do to make sure the vocal sits right within the mix.
Choosing the Right Microphone
Generally the microphone you use for vocals will come down to a personal preference. The main thing that will matter is that you use a condenser microphone with a large diaphragm. A larger diaphragm microphone makes it more sensitive to subtle changes in volume, capturing a more a accurate vocal take. Below is a list of microphones that are suitable for the job:
It is important to make sure that the vocalist is stood 6-9 inches from the microphone to avoid distortion. Make sure that you are also using a pop shield to avoid plosives and sibilance from becoming an issue. The vocalist should also be well trained in controlling their level near the microphone. This means that they should be pulling back from the mic when hitting louder notes, and vice versa for quiet notes.
With regards to the vocal microphone itself, there is room for experimentation with how much room sound you would like in the vocal. While a typical approach is to use a cardioid polar pattern in order to purely catch the direct sound, room sound can be useful depending on the location and type of music. For example, a power ballad requires a lot of space and reverb on all instruments, and a microphone that uses a bi-directional or omni-directional pattern would help to capture the room sound and create a greater sense of depth in the vocal.
Headphone Mixes and Vocal Recordings
When creating a headphone mix for the vocalist, make sure that they are as comfortable as possible as they will be basing their vocal performance on this. If the mix is too quiet, the vocalist will adjust and sing the piece quietly. Make sure that the mix matches the dynamic that the vocalist wants to achieve.
You will never get the perfect vocal take after one attempt. It could take some time to get the vocalist into a state where they can produce the best take possible, but as long as you make sure that the technical setup is correct, then it will come eventually.
The first thing you need to think about when mixing a song is what genre you are working with (see also mixing basics). Each genre has its own characteristics however there are general techniques you can use when to improve your music mix.
Using Delay as a Stereo Widener
One clever trick is to use a delay plug-in to introduce small delays in one or both sides of a stereo signal. in Logic Pro you can create this by selecting the Sample Delay plugin. Set the delay on the right to around 200 samples. Anything higher than 300 samples you start to hear the delays rather than a wider stereo image. This effect, often referred to as the ‘Haas effect.’
EQ and High Pass Filtering
Using EQ for clarity
To create space in the music mix you can EQ to remove problem frequencies. One technique using a parametric EQ to find the frequencies you do not want is to boost using a narrow Q width and go through all the frequencies until you can hear the dissonant/problem frequency clearly. You can then further narrow the Q width and reverse to from a boost into a cut, removing this frequency. Doing this on instruments will free up space in the mix making everything easier to hear and less muddy.
Using EQ to create space
You may have a few instruments that share frequencies. For example: guitar, synths and vocals. You need to think about which instrument you want to stand out the most. In most cases this will be vocals. To make sure that the vocals are not drowned out by these instruments you can cut the guitar and synths at around 300Hz-3kHz.
Leave Space for the Bass
A lot of producers use high pass filters on a instruments other than the bass and kick. This frees up all the rumbles/deep tones that are not needed and leaves room for the low end to be punchy not muddy.
Too Much in your Music Mix
There is always the temptation to go overboard when mixing. For example put reverb on everything, EQ everything. Sometimes less is more! It’s also important to take breaks from mixing as once you have heard a song hundreds of times over you begin to loose interest and stop hearing things like you did at the start.
The brilliant song Billie Jean by Michael Jackson was mixed 91 times by audio engineer Bruce Swedien before it was finalised. The final mix they went with was mix 2. It’s great if you have the time (and patience) to create that many mix versions but sometimes its important to know when to stop and say ‘it’s finished.’
Soundbase Megastore is located in the upbeat Northern Quarter of Manchester city centre. It boasts a large open plan showroom set up to demo all the latest Studio, Lighting, DJ and PA Equipment. Simon, the author of recording articles at Soundable Megastore, has over 15 years experience working in commercial recording studios as an engineer / producer. His in depth experience provides Simon with the knowledge of recording equipment and techniques and places him in the perfect position to offer advice on music recording equipment in respect to what the artist is looking to achieve within their budget.
Home Recording Studio’s are becoming increasingly more popular. We will explore the basic essentials for all studios, plus further essentials and desirable attributes for a singer songwriter’s recording studio.
So Where Do You Start with Recording Equipment?
The most popular kind of multi-track for sound recording is currently a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The DAW software you choose should reflect what you want to do and how advanced your production skills are.
After you’ve decided on your computer and DAW software, the next step is to pick the best audio interface. A high percentage of signal path fidelity is in converting your signal from analogue to digital and vice versa. So think carefully about how much you can afford to spend and how many inputs and outputs you’ll need. Also consider whether you require External Word Clock, S/Pdif, Optical and MIDI connections and if so, how many ports are you going to be using.
When buying an audio interface, read forums to see if any users encountered problems while using it. Especially with cheaper PCI soundcards you might find it isn’t compatible with the mother board in your computer.
You also need to think about how to monitor your song during recording, mixing and mastering. What’s best for you, passive or active monitors? What are the acoustics of the room you’re going to be playing and monitoring in like? Will your house-mates be trying to sleep while you’re slaving away on your next big song?
So you’ve got the basic idea of what gear you need to get started. Next we’ll look at what essential and variable peripherals are best for singer songwriters and the different types of equipment available.
Basic Singer-Songwriter Recording Set-up
If building a studio for doing demo recordings or DIY releases of new songs, DAW software such as Pro Tools, Cubase or Logic would be ideal. While this software is advanced it also means you won’t be limited in anyway by its capabilities. These programmes can be as advanced as a modern recording studio or as simplistic as a cassette 4 track. The more you get into recording, the more you’ll want to do with the software. Before long you’ll find yourself wanting to upgrade to a more advanced software package. So its always best to buy a more advanced music programme from the outset.
For an audio interface for this recording set-up, a simple 2 in, 2 out USB, 24 bit 96kHz interface with XLR inputs is perfect. We recommend buying one with MIDI I/O as there is not much difference in price. Plus its better to have this option, rather than not, especially for you piano players.
When you increase your budget for an audio interface you essentially get better Mic pre amps and ADA converters. This is what gives you clarity and fidelity for your recordings. However, you may find yourself paying for features on the interface that you will never use. There are a number of audio interfaces on the market from as little as £80.
Here are a few recommended audio interfaces suited to budget recording studios:
Next Up, You’re Going to Need a Microphone
The SM58 is a close proximity vocal microphone and has been the industry standard for many years. Although you may want to look into some other options like the SM7. If you only want to use a mic for recording in your home then a condenser microphone would be better suited than a dynamic. Condensers are powered (48v) microphones and often have a larger diaphragm than a dynamic microphone. You get a warmer sound with more clarity as well as the signal to noise ratio being less noisey. For a dynamic microphone, Soundbase reccomend looking at spending £70 plus, and for a condenser £120 plus. Anything less than that and you might as well just flush your cash down the toilet, but do look around at what’s available second hand in the B Stock at Soundbase Megastore.
For a “budget” vocal condenser microphone Soundbase recommend sontronics microphones, they sound amazing for the price.
For the acoustic guitar, you might want to look into buying a second condenser microphone so you can record your guitar in the same performance as your vocals.
While you might enjoy the sound of your guitar plugged straight into the interface, a microphone gives you wider scope for recording. Another benefit is you could simply place the microphone in the room and capture a natural recording. There are no rules as to whether you should use a dynamic or condenser microphone to record your guitar.
Here are a few recommended microphones for recording both vocals and guitars, suited to a range of budgets:
There’s a few different options to consider when it comes to how to record your piano parts. The most obvious is simply to place a good condenser microphone on an acoustic piano and hit record. This can be a very complex instrument to capture well, plus if your piano is out of tune then it will also be out of tune on the recording. The second option would be to buy a full size MIDI keyboard with weighted keys and a sustain pedal. You can connect this direct to your interface via MIDI or direct to your computer via USB. The signal from the MIDI keyboard will be recorded to your DAW and you only need a Virtual Piano instrument like the XLN Audio addictive Keys to playback a piano sound. The same MIDI controller keyboard can also be used to add string parts to your song.
All you would need to do this is a virtual string instrument, the same applies for other string instruments. A further option for those of you using a Clavinova or electric piano is to simply connect the line output of your Clavinova to your audio interface. Many Clavinovas also have a MIDI out on them that means they can also be used in the same way as a MIDI controller keyboard.
For a full size budget MIDI Keyboard Soundbase recommend:
Monitoring Your Recording
So you’re all set to record your songs, but you’re also going to need a pair of studio monitors or headphones to listen back to your recordings. While you could simply plug direct into your Hi-Fi from your audio interface it would be more suitable to listen back through flat response, uncoloured studio monitors so you can hear a true representation of what you have just recorded, in terms of both performance and signal clarity.
For a studio of this calibre Soundbase Megastore would recommend active studio monitors as you can simply plug them straight into the output of your audio interface.
Here are a few pairs of active studio monitors for under £250:
Are studio monitors the best option for your studio or would you be better suited for monitoring through studio headphones?
The first major benefit of using headphones is that if you wish to record backing vocals and guitar overdubs, for example, then monitoring the recording through headphones means that your song won’t spill from the monitors into the microphone while you’re recording. The second benefit of using headphones for monitoring and mixing your song is that you don’t have to be concerned with any noise restrictions. You can work on your songs anytime of day, in any place with the peace of mind that you’re not offending anyone.
Recommended Studio Monitor Headphones for under £120:
Complete your Recording Equipment Set Up
Last up you’re going to need to put a little aside in your budget for cables etc. For a recording set-up of this standard Soundbase suggest you put aside £40 – £150 of your studio budget for cables, pop shields and microphones stands etc.
The suggested budget for a recording studio set up for a singer songwriter is between £400 – £1900. If you are looking to buy a complete set-up from Soundbase then don’t hesitate to contact us for a package price, or simply view the following discount packages for everything you need to start recording your songs.
- Basic Vocal Recording Studio Equipment Package – Click Here – £489.00 inc VAT
- Intermediate Songwriter (guitar) Studio Equipment Package – Click Here – £805.00 inc VAT
- Intermediate Songwriter Studio Equipment (keys) Package – Click Here – £1025.00 inc VAT
- Advanced Studio Equipment Package for Vocals and Keys – Click Here – £1215.00 inc VAT
- Advanced Studio Equipment Package for Vocals and Acoustic Guitar – Click Here – £1200 inc VAT
In my previous blog post I tackled recording drums in the studio. Things get a bit simpler in this post as we look at different guitar recordings. I will be mentioning a few different microphones and other pieces of equipment, some of which I previously mentioned in the drumming blog, but for the sake of simplicity I have listed them below along with their retail prices.
- Sennheiser MD421 – £268 – Dynamic
- Shure SM57 – £79 – Dynamic
- AKG D112 – £99 – Dynamic
- Electro-Voice RE20 – £329 – Dynamic
- Blue Baby Bottle – £291 – Condenser
- AKG C1000 – £99 – Condenser
- Rode NT2A – £229 – Condenser
- Radial Pro-RMP – £85 – Re-amp box
Electric Guitar Recordings and Electric Bass Recordings
Before recording a guitar there are a few procedures that you should go through:
- Consider if you need a new set of strings on your guitar. If they are discoloured or show signs of wear, then you most likely do.
- Check that the intonation and action of the guitar is correct.
- Make sure your guitar is tuned (this is a must)
There are two ways to approach guitar recordings and bass recordings, and these come down to personal preference in sound. The first way is to purely DI, or direct inject, the guitar into the mixing console using a jack cable. This method is simple to record and also allows a lot of possibilities when it comes to editing. This includes being able to use impulse responses from other guitar models and mimic the sound of almost any guitar or amp you like. DI also provides a very clean tone to use as a base for editing. When using this method make sure to use a DI box to avoid an impedance mismatch between the guitar and mixer, particularly on guitars with active pickups. If your guitar requires a battery, then it will be using active pickups.
There is also a best of both worlds way to record guitar and that is through the process of re-amping. Re-amping is when a guitar part is recorded using DI, and then played back through an amp and recorded again. This works by using a re-amping box that takes the output of a mixer and routes the signal through an amp. A great box to use for this is the Radial Pro-RMP listed above. When re-amping, using a combination of three different microphones in different positions on the speaker cone is a good way to experiment. You can also work out what recordings sound right for you.
The diagram on the left, shows the general area of the cone you should aim for with each microphone. Popular spots to try are just off centre from the middle, halfway between the centre and outer ring, and on the outer ring. Marking the outer ring and centre of the cone with tape is useful and saves you time when replacing mics.
Try to experiment with the distance from the amp as well in order to catch more room sound. Often the reason producers re-amp a guitar is to capture the sound of an echo chamber or specific style of room. Note that some of the mics I have listed above are condensers and some are dynamic. Make sure to only try condenser microphones in your guitar recordings, and preferably clean guitar at that. More distorted tones will not sit well with the sensitive diaphragm of a condenser, and leads to clipping in takes. Alternatively, condenser microphones work well to pick up more bass than a dynamic mic.
Acoustic Guitar Recordings and Acoustic Bass Recordings
Things get a bit more traditional when working with acoustic guitar or bass. Whilst many simple guitar parts can be recorded with one microphone, a stereo recording always produces more clarity. It also give you more options with mixing. Condenser microphones are particularly good as they capture more of the high and low end detail, unlike a dynamic.
There are several techniques that you can use to record an acoustic guitar, each producing slightly different results. From Blumlein to Mid-Side to X/Y there are various techniques that can be applied to recording.
If you are using two or three microphones, there are specific areas that will best capture the guitar’s frequencies. The bridge of the guitar, or the sound hole directly, will capture the body and warmth of the instrument, whilst also providing a lot of the bass frequencies for the instrument. This may be the one area of the guitar where a dynamic is suitable to use. At the opposite end of the frequency spectrum, a lot of the highs will be clearer to capture at the headstock or first fret. Finally, there is a sweet spot on a guitar around the 12th fret that will provide the mid range frequencies. If you only have one microphone to use, make sure if you are close-micing to record this spot.
When it comes to placing your guitarist, there are also a few tricks that can be tried and experimented with. If you require a lot more bass in the performance, try having the guitarist face the corner of the room with a microphone behind them to capture the early room reflections. This works with amps as well. Lifting the amp off of the ground or tilting it upwards will also help to prevent phase cancellation.
With bass, a large diaphragm condenser like the NT2A aimed at the bridge of the guitar (experiment by listening) will provide the most well rounded bass sound without losing clarity. In both cases try and prevent the musician from moving around whilst playing, as this will ruin the consistency in any of your guitar recordings.
Recording guitar requires a lot of experimentation, and can take many hours to find a sound you are looking for as a result. This is why preparation is key when recording guitar. Make sure the guitarist knows there parts and has the exact sound they want already arranged. From there only a few tweaks should be needed to capture the sound of the room and give great clarity across the wide tonal range of the guitar.
In the next post I will be covering vocals, from knowing how to deal with the singer’s ego to capturing that perfect vocal take.
The sheer range of software available for sound design is staggering. To someone who’s looking to start using their machine for more than just recording, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start looking for new tools. There are some real gems hidden out there; there’s a huge selection of bitesize programs capable of creating sound design that will add spice to any track. The good news: they’re powerful. The best news? They’re free! See our previous blog about useful free music software.
These four programs are capable of completely changing the face of your track. It doesn’t matter what you put into it – vocals, guitars, saxophones, you name it. These tools will help you come up with surprising and interesting sound design. PaulStretch, SPEAR and Cecilia5 are standalone, but don’t be afraid to combine them or alter the result even further. Go forth and experiment!
If there was an award for the sketchiest looking website and the most “vintage” interface, then this little antiquity would certainly win it. This is a powerful tool which uses Fast Fourier Transform to stretch samples to ridiculous lengths, creating beautiful chime-like sounds from the grungiest of sources. PaulStretch is perfect for creating haunting pad sounds from guitar chords and pure, crystalline sounds from vocal samples. Armed with processes such as a pitch shift and an octave mixer, you can achieve a complete transformation before you’ve even touched your recording software.
SPEAR takes your sample, breaks it down and recreates it using sine waves which you can then manipulate to your heart’s content. You are free to crush them, stretch them, alter their frequency/volume or delete them entirely. If you’re feeling arty, you can even draw the sine tones in yourself. For vocal tracks, SPEAR’s sine wave reconstruction is a fascinating effect in itself.
This selection of fast Fourier transform-based plugins by Michael Norris are simple but very effective. They plug directly into most DAWs (e.g. Logic X, Ableton Live, Cubase) which, whilst it may require a bit of Googling, means you can use them directly on your recordings. There are 24 separate plugins – there’s a couple that deal with stretching to achieve similar results to PaulStretch, and others that add harmonic detail. Play around, but keep the FFT size below 4096 to prevent slowdowns.
Cecilia is a standalone tool with many facets, capable of automating multiple sample parameters at once. It has its own set of FFT processes and a range of more conventional plugins, such as filters and pitch-altering suites. Whilst it’s slightly more complex than the other pieces of software we’ve talked about, the ability to combine each process on the fly can lead to some interesting results.
Finding ways to improve your mixes can be difficult (see the mixing basics blog), and there are no black and white rules. We created these 9 steps to help you improve your mixes in the best way possible, before you move on to mastering.
1. Understand what you want from your mix before mixing
Before starting a mix, create a rough version and listen for a couple of days. This allows for approaches and ideas to present themselves organically. The music should dictate the mix, not the other way around. This is a good way to get out of ruts and habits and endless cycles of noticing things you’re not happy with and changing direction.
2. Try not to solo everything
Using solo is useful for cleaning up noises, or making sure your edits are tight. However, EQ-ing and compressing sounds in solo mode can cause them to clash and compete when put together. Mixing should get all parts of a song to work together as a whole. Soloing this way can make parts sound thin and small, but when placed into the mix with the fuller lead elements it works.
3. Make the most of filtering
High-pass and low-pass filters can be your best friends in a mix. Rolling off the lows, and occasionally the highs, on tracks that you think don’t need them actually opens up a lot of space you didn’t know you had. Again, don’t worry if the sound is slightly strange and thin when soloed – it only matters what individual parts sound like when mixed with everything else.
4. When stuck in a rut, go crazy
Obviously, we’re all striving for a mix that sounds balanced, defined, and well-proportioned. But a mix should also be interesting. If you get stuck in a rut this could be the perfect time to get lost in experiments. Try reverb and delay in ways you wouldn’t normally, run unusual sounds through a synth, use that EQ technique you’ve never used before. This could result in a terrible sounding mix or you stumble on your new signature sound. At least it gets you out of your rut and makes you understand what works best with the track.
5. Lower your levels
Recording too hot unnecessarily pushes your recording into harsh clipping territory. An average level of -18dB or a peak level of around -10dB on your faders will keep your signals safe from clipping. If you want it louder, turn up the volume on your speakers. You’ll save lots of headroom on your mix ready for mastering and your mixes will sound more open, intricate, and dynamic as a result.
6. Don’t rely on compression to set your levels
This is a crucial step, ignoring this can hamper your efforts to improve your mixes. Compressors tame wildly dynamic performances and add character, but don’t rely on it to set the final level of your tracks. If you do this while leaving volume faders static, it results in a lifeless mix. Once you’ve got a basic balance between all your elements, automate small fader rides. This helps bring parts together in a more natural and musical way.
7. Get rid of parts that do the same job
When faced with a busy, dense mix, ask yourself “do all the parts really need to be there?” before committing time to editing each part. Give each individual part space. Listen to the track multiple times with a different part turned off each time to work out what adds to the track and what you could go without. Sounds that are complementary instead of similar are more beneficial (i.e. a short, attack-y sound with a softer, sustained sound). If multiple sounds are too similar do you really need them all? Treat a mix like an arrangement and this can take the finished track a long way.
8. Listen to your mix through multiple mediums
Having a high-quality monitoring setup and room treatment is incredibly important, but once your track is completed and becomes a song, it is unlikely that it will be listened to through this setup. Music sounds different when played through different mediums, so listen to it through different mediums! Laptop speakers, earbuds, in the car, out of your phone. If it sounds great on all these systems then your mix is done. If not, take note of the problems go back to the mix, fix them and repeat the process.
9. Finally, think from a fan’s perspective
With the ease and quality of editing and correction tools and infinite tracks, it’s easy to get carried away and be forever finding the perfect mix. But once it’s completed, people don’t listen to it as a mix, they listen to it as a song. They won’t sit there intently looking for mistakes. If you really want to find mistakes in your mix, you always will. Listen from the perspective of a fan.
Improve your Mixes
If possible, take some time away from your tracks. Listen to your mix away from your computer to get you out of producer-mode and into music-fan-mode. If something sticks out as sounding wrong then it needs fixing. If the song comes across as something you would enjoy listening to, then the mix is done. Don’t waste time constantly trying to find things wrong, move on.
A common problem that occurs before getting your track mastered is a lack of headroom. Headroom is the ‘safety zone’ or the space for the loudest parts of your song to extend fully without clipping. Clipping can result in a very harsh sound, causing distortion and a generally unpleasant sound to your track. If you create headroom you will make your tracks more dynamic and leave producers room to work their magic.
Regardless of your gear and your studio setup, making sure there’s adequate headroom is one of the best things you can do for your mixes. So, here are six tips to help you create headroom before mastering your track:
1. Use Your Eyes, Not Just Your Ears
Keep an eye on your master fader. The “0” is the clipping point. Ideally, at the end of your production, you should have around 6dB between zero and the highest peak of your song. This should leave adequate headroom.
2. Use Your Channel Faders, Not Your Master Fader
Use your channel faders to avoid hitting zero in your master channel. Decide ahead of time which parts of your arrangement are going to be on top volume-wise and start there. After that, work in the other tracks underneath. There is only so much space in a mix to work with, so adjust the volume channel-by-channel according to which elements you want to be louder than others in order to leave headroom, rather than adjusting your master fader. This will make for a better mix-down to work with during mastering.
3. Louder Isn’t Always Better
Everyone gets excited because loud sounds good, so we crank up faders unnecessarily. If you think music sounds better louder, turn up the volume of your sound system until it feels right. This will let you work with loud music without limiting your headroom.
4. Work in 24 Bit
Many engineers are using 24 bit as their default these days. The reason is not necessarily that 24 sounds better, but rather, it gives more headroom to work within – perfect if you’re not confident about your skills at limiting yourself during the recording and mix down process. It is important to know the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit before you start.
5. Leave Automation Until The End Stages
Automating volume and effects changes is a very useful process but using it too early is a common mistake. Automating too early in the mix process will use up headroom. Making a rough mix with no automation first, flesh out your track as much as possible. Then, use automation as a tool to make a more dynamic mix during the end stages.
6. Work Backwards From the Loudest Sections
Most DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstations) run from left to right, so it is tempting to adjust volume starting with the beginning of the track. Instead, start with the loudest section and mix that first. This will give you an idea of how loud the rest of the track should be to compensate. Move onto the medium intensity sections and finally the lowest and adjust these according to how loud your loudest sections are. This will ensure you leave plenty of headroom without compromising the volume balance in the track between the different sections.
Create Headroom to Benefit your Mixes
It can take a few tries to make headroom a part of your workflow as it seems like such a small part of the overall process. But it is worth it! Your mixes will become far more dynamic with a far better feel and make it much easier to get those huge sounding masters. Also read why mastering is so important in our previous blog.
DJs are the rockstars of the 21st century
The web is an amazing thing. Anyone, anywhere in the world, can create something – stick it on the web – and have a global audience. As a record label owner, the web is how my team sources maybe 80% of the material we release.
Producers have a tonne of awesome tools to help them build a following. SoundCloud, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and many, many more. Some are music focused – some are not. But for DJs, there doesn’t seem to be as many opportunities. There’s a few awesome platforms out there – Mixcloud and Mixlr are two great examples – but to me, it feels like there’s something missing.
It’s estimated there are between half a million and over a million professional DJs around the world – people who’s main source of income is from DJing. But, in a time where EDM has evolved from an underground movement into a significant part of global culture, there are hundreds of millions of amateur and semi-pro DJs itching to make it big.
So is There a Solution to the DJs Problem?
We think so. The technology’s been around for ages, but it’s only just becoming widely and freely available. You might know of a website called Twitch. You know, the one that 30M people visit every month – a site with over 1B (yeah, billion!) pageviews a month that sold to Amazon for just under $1B last year?
Twitch revolutionised how gamers shared their gaming experience – giving bedroom gamers the ability to create global fanbases and, in many cases, livelihoods. How does Twitch do this? Twitch lets gamers livestream themselves gaming so others can watch – and learn – to play the same games.
Yep. Live-streaming enables you, as a broadcaster, to share whatever you’re doing online – live. As it happens. You can reach a truly global audience from your bedroom, studio, garden shed. If you’ve got an internet connection and something to broadcast with, you can livestream from anywhere.
If your goal, as a DJ, is to DJ in front of an audience – and let’s face it, you’re not a real DJ until you’ve done so – then livestreaming can make this happen.
We created Chew.tv because we believe that any DJ, anywhere in the world, should be able to perform to a global audience. We’d seen what Twitch had done for gaming, and what websites like Boiler Room were doing for the established DJs, and wanted to create something open and freely available to any DJ, anywhere in the world.
Chew.tv is the DJs’ live-streaming community. With Chew, DJs can broadcast their performances live to a global audience, from anywhere in the world. It’s that tool the DJs have been missing out on.
How Does Chew.tv Work?
To live-stream, you need a computer, an internet connection, a webcam and an audio source (as a DJ, this can be your controller, your CDJs or even your trusty turntables). Next, download and install an encoder (the software that takes your audio and video feeds and broadcasts them to Chew) like OBS. OBS is free, customisable and awesome.
Once you’ve added your audio and video feeds to your encoder, sign up for a Chew account (yep, that’s free too) and create your first live Show. Add your streaming details to your encoder and start broadcasting. It’s as simple as that! You can stream from your bedroom, studio or even from the club. Take your local events global. Build yourself an audience of fans from across the world. Go Live and go pro!
Sign up to Chew here.
Wil Benton is co-founder of Chew, the DJs’ live streaming community. Explore Chew and get your invite today: chew.tv