Quality Track Production and Skyrocketing Your Career

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.

1. Synchronisation  

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.

https://www.musicgateway.net

Tips to Make Your Music Mix Sound More Professional

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.

Stereo Imaging

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.’

The Singer Songwriter’s Guide to Recording Equipment

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.

Audio Interface

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:

Piano-based Songwriters

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

 

Careers – Sound Engineer

A studio sound engineer is an engineer who works alongside a producer in a studio during the recording process. It is a varied role that can reap great rewards.

What Does the Role Involve?

The role of the sound engineer is to oversee and control the mixing desk during the recording process. In a studio environment they edit, manipulate, and mix sound by technical means in order to realise a finished track. Engineers are not generally involved in mastering, as this is a whole different role in itself. The sound engineer should work in tandem with the producer and make sure the artist is happy with the recording. This is in terms if the quality of the recording, equipment they will need and any other needs.

The role involves a great knowledge of recording and mixing consoles and technical expertise. A good sound engineer also needs to have a vast understand of many different genres of music. It’s important to know of other tracks that can be used as reference material too. Make sure you don’t copy the material though, as this can lead to legal problems further down the line.

An engineer can work with a producer and or an artist on more than one occasion. Often in bigger sessions the engineer will be more than likely brought in by the specific producer.

Making Money as a Studio Sound Engineer?

A sound engineer receives a set fee for the project taken out of the bands recording budget. On a smaller scale one person can so both jobs and they will usually charge more money. How good you are dictates how much work you will get and how much you could get paid.

Links

AES (Audio Engineering Society) – www.aes.org/sections/uk/index.html

APRS (Association of Professional Recording Services)www.aprs.co.uk

A Guide to Free and Simple Sound Design

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!

PaulStretch

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.

PaulStretch sound design

PaulStretch – download (Windows)

SPEAR

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.

SPEAR sound design

SPEAR – download (Windows or OS X)

Soundmagic Spectral

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.

Sound magic Spectral sound design

Soundmagic Spectral – download (OS X)

Cecilia5

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.

Cecilia5 sound design

Cecilia5 – download (Windows or OS X)

 

Interview with Castle Rock Studios

Deep in the countryside of Cheshire lies Castle Rock Studios. Focusing most of its time as a recording studio, Castle Studios is also an established artist management company and label. We caught up with Managing Directors Stret and Alex to ask them how they got where they are today. Here is what they had to say…

How did you both get into working at Castle Rock Studios and the music industry in general?

STRET: In 2005 we purchased the building that is now Castle Rock Studios. I had been working with bands within entertainment as I owned an events company and we booked acts for events.

We’d been contracted to deliver production elements for The Stereophonics, Joss Stone, etc. so I was working with lots of bands. Coincidentally my business partner’s son wanted to be an Audio Engineer.

When we spotted the building we are now based in up for auction, we knew it would be a good place. We created a recording studio with rehearsal facilities and a base for the label, representation and talent procurement.

ALEX: I’ve always been into recording and production. Since I got my first 8 track Tascam minidisk recorder when I was 14 I was hooked. I’ve been playing guitar for most of my life, and have toured in bands since I was 17. Whilst at university studying Philosophy I went to a local unsigned gig night and started chatting to the engineer there. He said that I could come down and shadow him so the next week I did. It was a fairly small scale operation (only about a 200 capacity bar), but a great learning experience.

On the second week of my shadowing, he got stuck in Liverpool so we were without an engineer. The manager of the bar came up to me and said “You’re a sound guy aren’t you? You know what you’re doing?” to which I replied “Yep, no worries” even though I wasn’t totally sure. So I set everything up and it seemed to work and then in walks the band – The Courteeners. Thankfully everything went well and I got offered a job there but it was quite nerve-racking to say the least!

Have you got any advice you could give to aspiring producers and engineers?

STRET: For me this is about standing out from the crowd. Get as much experience as you can and work with as many different people as possible. Somebody needs to give you a chance and my advice would be to research as much as possible. I’ve had people approach me and ask to shadow me, and not known even the basics of what Castle Rock Studios offer.

We recently exhibited at the Manchester Music Show where there was a Q & A session with some music high flyers, and someone asked the question:

“How do I gain experience in the business? I want to be a recording engineer.”

The advice given was to get qualified, which in general is the right advice, but I‘d take that further. Get yourself qualified to a high level of expertise. Alex Miller, our Head Engineer, is a Pro-tools expert level operator. At the time he qualified, he was only one of 10 in the country. So when the latest batch of engineers approached Castle Rock Studios, Alex stood out from the crowd because he’d worked hard to gain an expert level of expertise.

The sheer quantity of people looking to work in this very specialised sector of the industry is phenomenal. I can’t imagine there is sufficient quality paid work to satisfy the demand.

One young guy came up with a great way of standing out from the crowd. Instead of sending the usual email asking for work experience, he researched and discovered I was a Deep Purple Fan. He then recorded himself performing ‘Smoke on the Water’. He then posted it on You Tube saying “this is for Stret at Castle Rock please let me work in your studio”!

I contacted him and asked him to learn ‘Mistreated’ also by Deep Purple… a far more challenging track. He did and made a cracking job of it, even adding his own solo at the end. I then asked him to perform it in our gig room in front of bands that use the studio. I gave him a fortnight’s work experience, and he went on to join a band called The lost37. They then rehearsed and recorded at Castle Rock Studios and supported Ocean Colour Scene.

By the way that trick won’t work again, so don’t go sending me recordings of Deep Purple tracks. The message is be creative, stand out and research your target.

ALEX: You have to be prepared to commit everything to the job. It’s not a 9-5. It’s 10-10 most days, and longer than that on others. I’ve done 23 hour runs in the studio before now. Sure it’s long, but I’m doing a job I love so I don’t mind so much. It’s still fun, even though it’s hard work. It’s just how this industry works.

There are a frightening number of people trying to work in this industry. When you look at the number of people each year going to audio schools it’s crazy. You have to be more dedicated, and more proactive than all of them. As Stret said, don’t just send a CV addressed to “To Whom It May Concern”. At the very least drop it in yourself. We get about ten CV’s a week via email and at that volume they all just blend into one another.

Commitment is a big thing for me, so bringing it in personally shows you have that extra bit of enthusiasm most people don’t. If you email it, find out a little bit about the studio, and address your cover letter to them. “To whom it may concern” and “Dear Sir/Madam” makes it look like you’re sending out a blanket email. Include things about the studio that you like or are interested in and why you want to work there. Tell us why you are better than the others asking for a job.

But while you’re doing that, you also need to be doing the fun stuff. Record yourself, record bands, listen to your favourite albums and listen to the production. Ask yourself, why doesn’t your record sound like that? Then figure out how to make it sound like that. Come down and look round the studio, and find a way to bring a band here to record. I started to get more work at Castle Rock Studios when I started brought many of my projects here.

You also run a label and work in artist management, can you tell us a little more about this? What artists are you currently working with?

STRET: Our Label is very much in its infancy. We launched Sandbox UK Records in January 2014, signing three Artistes – Milla Muse, Alex Buchanan and Rian Peters.

All three artists are either completing recordings, or working on finishing touches for live performances.

Milla has recently completed recordings with Rory Ruadhri (Ed Sheeran, Mumford and Sons). Alex had great success with The Voice and is close to completing commercial recordings of his original music. He is off on tour to Australia for three months. Rian has also just finished recording with Alesha Dixon for a potential release in 2015.

Our representation division was born out of the passion I felt when I heard Milla’s voice for the first time. I had such a strong connection with Milla that I wanted to help her gain a career in the music industry.

The same happened with Purge. They had rehearsed at Castle Rock Studios and then they recorded with us too. I loved the recordings – the tracks reminded me of bands I grew up listening to. The Riffs were very catchy and when I saw them perform live I knew I wanted to be involved. I approached them to offer myself as their Manager and was delighted they agreed. The band have now performed in front of 8000 people at Chester Rocks supporting Razorlight, and were asked to perform at See-Rocks festival in Austria in 2015.

What advice can you give to young bands that are looking for representation and want label and management deals?

STRET: Again, it’s about standing out from the crowd. In this day and age it’s vital bands engage with their fans or those that come across them. Nowadays it’s easier to get your message out there, but because it’s easier means more people can do it.

If you do manage to attract the attention from management or a label, they will be checking your social media platforms. Not just the number of people who “Like” or follow you, but the creative content too.

I’m not saying labels don’t sign emerging talent from home recordings, but it’s rare. The quantity of demo discs they receive is huge. So if your demo looks good, has been duplicated professionally, and the recording is professional, there is more of a chance of that A&R guy giving it a spin.

To break a band from the pub/club scene is a very hard and long road in my opinion. If you get a crowd of 200+ fans, management will be attracted and should take you to a larger audience.

What’s your favourite piece of equipment in the studio and why?

ALEX: It’s always nice to have great gear, but without a good musician and a great sound it doesn’t matter.

The best thing about Castle Rock Studios is that there is no real weak link in the chain. A vocal chain could be: 414 > 1073 > 1969 > SSL > Pro Tools. All quality, great sounding gear. But that’s all no good if you don’t have great rooms.

So really, I think the best things are the rooms and monitoring – without them you can’t hear what you’re doing.

What top tips can you give to bands and artists who are looking to go into the studio for the first time?

STRET: Visit the studio beforehand, meet your engineer, book a listening session or rehearsal the night before. This way you can have your gear set up and ready to rock when the session starts. I see bands come in all excited, as they should be, to realise recording can be a laborious process. Setting drums up and “breaking the ice” can take 2-3 hours. By the time tracking commences, the guitarist and singer realise they won’t be playing today, unless it’s a live recording.

I would also say it’s very important to ensure you and your equipment is fit for purpose. Consider putting new skins on the drums, and re-stringing the guitars. Do it a few days before and bed them in.

And get tight, know your material inside out. If your first take is the one, then it’s the one. It leaves more time to spend on the mix. We’ve even had some bands writing lyrics whilst the engineers are wanting to crack on with recording. All the while the clock is ticking and you are wasting your money.

ALEX: As Ginger Wildheart put it “Before you spend a fortune in studio expense, rehearsing the fuck outta your songs makes a lotta sense.” You should be able to play your songs blindfolded, backwards. Sit down and listen to what you’re all playing in the practice room.

I’ve had occasions with two guitarists; one plays their part for the other to say “what are you playing? That’s not gonna fit with what I’m playing…” We then spend half an hour figuring out whose part to change, and what to change it to.

It’s hard to hear this stuff loud, so unplug and make sure you’re all on the same page. If you can, record your practice, listen to it back. How’s the momentum? Is the tempo shifting? Is the song too long? Are the drums accenting the right parts? Are there too many cymbal hits? Is the kick drum consistent… the list goes on..

After that, make sure all your gear works. Get your guitars set up by a professional, so that the intonation is spot on and there’s no nasty fret buzz. Re-string them before you come in. Re-skin your drums, polish your cymbals, check your amps aren’t making any horrible buzzing noises. Remember, we’re recording tracks that are going to be out there forever.

What do you prefer – analogue or digital – and why?

STRET: Speaking as a non-engineer I like the warmth and fullness of analogue, but it’s not practical.

ALEX: For tracking, I love the sound of analogue tape, but it’s such a pain I don’t use it anymore. I did one album totally to tape a few years ago. It was a good experience but during mixing the machine broke, and we couldn’t get it fixed in time. So we mixed off the Pro-Tools backup files we ran along with the two inch. Steven Slate came to the rescue with his Virtual Tape Machines plug-in. I compared it to the tape after the machine was fixed, and I actually preferred the sound of the plug-in.

We’re seeing so many analogue emulation plugs at the moment that I don’t feel I need analogue multi-tracks. The flexibility of digital wins for me every time. It’s faster, cheaper, and still sounds great. Mixing is a slightly different story. I prefer analogue consoles to mix on because I feel I’m more creative. But I find myself mixing hybrid more and more these days, mainly for speed and ease of recalls. Things like side-chain the bass to the kick would take about five minutes with the physical routing and patching. Whereas in Pro Tools you’re done in 20 seconds.

If you could record with any artist/band in the world who would it be and why?

STRET: Deep Purple. I would ask Alex to record it and then have it mixed by Andy MacPherson (The Who, Saxon, Buzzcocks, Blondie).

Why Deep Purple? I’m a fan… I’ve followed them all around the world. If you do get to visit Castle Rock Studios you will see purple sofa’s, carpet with purple lines in; and my pride and joy vinyl collection of their 19 studio albums.

ALEX: The Offspring. They are without a doubt, to me, the greatest band in the world. Every album is amazing from start to finish, and I listen to at least one of their albums every day. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen them. I don’t know exactly what it is about them, but the music just grabs me. Ever since I first heard “Ixnay On The Hombre” when I was about 12 I’ve not stopped listening to them. So being involved in the production of one of their records would be a career highlight for me!

Ableton Live 9 Key List for Mac

Menus with software such as Ableton Live 9 can be time consuming (also see useful features). The quickest way around this is to build up your repertoire of key commands. It speeds up your workflow and can actually make your music much tidier. Some key commands remain the same throughout the many DAWs, but there are some differences.

Below is a list of some of our favourite key commands from Ableton Live 9!

Mute:

Select the clip (either in arrangement or session view), and press ‘0’. This will mute the clip until the clip is deleted or un-muted.

Duplicate:

Select the region, then press CMD + D to duplicate.

Clip Merging:

CMD + J – This turns your selection of individual clips, and consolidates them into one.

Arrangement / Session view:

Tab – jumps between the two windows. Quick and easy!

Quantise:

Select the region (either audio or midi), and press CMD + U to quantise the notes.

Split:

CMD + E splits the clip into two sections.

Fine Tuning:

Select a parameter or a clip, and while holding press CMD + Drag with the mouse to make small adjustments. Small adjustments with fine tuning can make a huge difference, especially when it comes to applying edits or effects.

Insert Captured Scene:

CMD + Shift + I

Draw Mode:

B – This is always really useful to quickly draw MIDI notes!

Saving:

CMD + S – a good habit to get into. Computers can crash sometimes, and you don’t want to lose all of your valuable work!

Renaming:

CMD + R – Stay organised by renaming individual clips and audio channels so that you know what they are being used for. When your session gets to 20+ audio channel strips, things can start to get confusing!

That rounds rounds up the list of key commands that we find useful in Ableton Live 9. Does anyone have any interesting ones that we have missed out? Please comment so I can add them and we can build our list of key commands together.

Benefits of the Home Studio for Musicians

Anyone can create their own home studio, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. There are also plenty of benefits for musicians to have their own home studio.

Provides a Deeper Understanding of Your Musical Trade

For the brave beginners, the home studio is the key to unlock a deeper understanding of the recording process.

By default, a home studio helps you become a more independent musician. You are capable of understanding and communicating with professionals if you find yourself in a recording / live sound environment.

Self-produced tracks add a deeper sense of ownership to an artist’s music. This could be explored through choosing preferred stereo mixing techniques (Spaced pair, coincident/near-coincident pair, over-the-shoulder etc.) and mixing styles (Parallel compression, Double tracking). This will overall accumulate to the music sounding unique to the artist. It will also let the artist achieve the sort of production style that they initially aimed for.

Home studios force musicians to be creative with recording – a type of creativity that is highly influenced by engineers in a commercial studio.

Research and practice is key to creating professional sounding tracks at home. It will take a few times before you get to studio standard, but don’t let this discourage you! In the long run, it is the cheapest and most worthwhile choice.

No Time Limit: Tracks Don’t Need to be Rushed!

In professional studios, a person can spend a couple of hundred pounds for a week’s worth of recording sessions. This can be nerve racking for musicians; pushing them to give a good performance in as little time as possible.

Even though this pushes the band to become more productive and time conscious, it can prevent soulful performances and further experimentation with musical embellishments during the recording process.

Of course, you could argue that this is what the “jamming stage” of creating music should entail. But sometimes inspiration comes at uncertain points in the process and it would be in the bands’ best interest to create an overall more enjoyable piece of music.

Unlimited Access

This refers to the time of day as well as the time spent in the studio. It is advisable to take short breaks after an hour of recording work to prevent ear fatigue.

Inspiration can strike at anytime, mostly commonly in the middle of the night or in the shower. It’s a good idea to keep a notepad to write down ideas, but it would be ideal if you had a studio to act upon these ideas. Whenever a crucial idea strikes, you can go to your home studio to implement ideas straight away. There is no better time to try something than when it is fresh in your mind.

Distractions can be a common problem with a home studio especially excessive noise. This can be a huge problem when it comes to recording, whether being from neighbours, street noise, or even the material which makes up your home studio (creaky floor boards, computer / preamp hum).

A company named Pod-Space have come up with a great solution to prevent these problems. They offer a range of external study rooms called ‘PODs’ which can provide a whole new take on the creative environment for a bedroom musician.

Mix, Record, Play on Your Own Equipment

There’s nothing more positive for a musician than when their equipment sounds amazing together – it feels sort of like being a proud parent. There’s nothing better than seeing your mechanical hypothetical children succeed. This doesn’t mean entering your new RØDE NT4 for a school sports days (they wont do very well and might get damaged in the process). No, what I mean is hearing them succeed in creating amazing music!

Only using your own equipment means you have all the equipment handy that you require. Sure, studios have a wide inventory that can be used during recording sessions, which can be beneficial. But by exploring your own equipment, trying different combinations will become familiar with features of your gear that you haven’t touched before.

In most cases, you can achieve a lot more with a lot less. Excessive unfamiliar equipment can distract from the sound you are aiming for. Knowing what each piece of your equipment can achieve makes it easy to decide what to use to get the best results.

Test Your Limits in Your Home Studio

Part of being an independent musician is testing yourself and learning new skills. As you continue using your home studio (also see the home recording basics), the more you will learn. Use resources like SoundonSound and Gearslutz. Research: studio techniques, professional Mixers, Engineers and Mastering Engineers like Bob Katz and Joe Barresi, to see what they did to achieve certain sounds on music they’ve worked on.

Don’t leave ideas forever, explore and put down a rough track as soon as you can and see how far you get. This is a great form of practice and if something isn’t quite right, you can always go back at a later date.

Always share your music to get constructive feedback. Try and pick people who have diverse or similar music tastes to you (who are not mean). Play your music in social scenarios without telling people it’s your music; this is a useful way to get an honest opinion.

Remember not to get disheartened when you’re a home studio newbie. Stick at it and you will learn. Everyone learns at different paces and has to start from somewhere. Remember: you are your own worst critic.

Useful Free Music Software

Five useful music software programmes for creating music that are free!

Cecilia5

“Ear bending sonics” – a very honest tagline to a very unique piece of software.

Cecilia5 has the ability to help any musician out of writers block, allowing them to load in their own audio samples and manipulate them using one of the many modules provided in this software package.

The modules provided, range from the generic (3 band EQ, multi delay, etc.)  To the less generic (Granulator, Harmonizer, Phasor etc.). These modules can be manipulated with the various parameters at the bottom of the window and additional effects can be added from features on the left corner of the screen. Parameters can also be automated to create livelier textures to your sounds.

This Software is easy to use and allows anyone to explore complex sounds without the hassle of starting from scratch.

This package is completely free to download and you can find it here: http://ajaxsoundstudio.com/software/cecilia/

SPEAR

A universally useful tool for musicians in the creative, corrective and educational sectors of the Music Industry.

SPEAR: Standing for “Sinusoidal Partial Editing Analysis and Resynthesis” (Very posh, I know) is a software that resynthesises audio files that the user uploads through recreating the spectral contents of the audio, using lots and lots of sine waves.

This means that you can manipulate any frequency that appears in the file by stretching, shortening, transposing or deleting one or a group of sine waves mapped on the window. This feature is incredibly useful in a corrective sense meaning that the user can correct annoying hums and hisses in audio files. It is also useful in a creative sense by stretching certain sinusoids to create interesting variables to the original audio file. I personally have used this software for educational purposes, to transpose songs to standard tunings and slow down songs to make it easier for pupils to play their instrument to them whilst practicing.

This piece of software takes a little bit of practice to get used to but once your away, you will realise how incredibly beneficial it can be.

This package is completely free to download and you can find it here: http://www.klingbeil.com/spear/downloads/

There are also a few videos on YouTube that guide you through various features of the software.

Argeïphontes Lyre

If there’s one piece of musical software that is universally feared as well as loved, it would be this one.

Argeïphontes Lyre works solely on chance and resembles something you’d find in your creepy Auntie’s attic. It can be “used” by uploading an audio file, choosing one of its ominous looking modules, fiddling with its features and hoping for the best.

After you click “process” a bizarre dancing lady will appear on screen which as well as providing huge amounts of nightmare fuel; her main purpose is to indicate that the sound is being processed (or so they say…). Once she disappears, a file will appear on your desktop with a cryptic looking name (which is also randomised by the software). At this point you will be able to listen to the noise the scary software has spat out and decide whether you like it or not.

I realise that I haven’t exactly over sold the software here, but it is a lot of fun to use as well as incredibly easy. It is sure to melt away any case of writers block you might be suffering from (as well as giving you sleepless nights and possible demonic possession in the process). But hey, it’s just in time for Halloween, so why not give it a try?

This package is completely free to download and you can find it here: http://www.akirarabelais.com/vi/o/software/al/o.html

JACK

Here’s quite a nifty piece of kit.

JACK is the bridge between your favourite programs, unlocking the possibility of using both pieces of software in unison. In effect, this allows users to take the audio output from a program (for example iTunes) and play it in something completely different (an audio track on your favourite DAW) in real time.

Using JACK can create a very productive workspace, interlinking all your favourite compositional tools into one fully compatible music-creating machine.

However it needs a person confident in audio routing to create a chain of connected programs. If a program is in the wrong place of the chain, it can result in an unsavoury amount of feedback.

This can be a very useful piece of software if you know how to use it. It saves buckets of time and leaves the tediously excessive lists of audio samples out of the creative process.

This package is completely free to download and you can find it here: http://jackaudio.org/downloads/

There are also a few videos on YouTube that guide you few various features of the software.

MAX/MSP

The creation tool that can be used for pretty much anything, ever.

MAX/MSP (now known as Max), is software that uses graphic coding. It exposed the user to an incredibly flexible sandbox environment, which has almost unlimited compositional possibilities (amongst other things).

It uses readymade blocks known as “objects” with different functions that can be linked together to build a network. You can create something of some purpose (Synthesisers, loopers, FFT audio freezers etc.) You can even manipulate video though Jitter objects that come free with Max.

This program can take a while to get to grips with and you will encounter problems whilst creating projects. However, this is just part of the coding process. The order goes as follows:

  • Think of an amazing idea.
  • Workout how you can achieve this on Max
  • Find out that it isn’t all that simple
  • Cry a lot
  • Figure out a way around it
  • Celebrate
  • Encounter another problem

However painful this process may be, it is an incredibly rewarding one (and you feel really clever at the end). Plus if you do get really stuck, there’s a huge Max community out there who provide more than enough help.

This piece of software offers a 30 day free trial and discounts for students and can be downloaded here: http://cycling74.com/downloads/

There is a similar piece of software available called Pure Data that is completely free. I haven’t used it myself, but it’s always a free alternative for when your 30 day trail runs out.

This can be downloaded from here: http://puredata.info/downloads

How to Be a DJ – Your First Time

Aspiring DJs go through though many stages. Lets start with how to be a DJ and ‘play out’ for the first time.

Prepare Your Set

This does not mean that you plan each and every song from start to end. It simply requires you to give some thought into the type of records you want to play. The type of tempo, style, genre, old bangers and hidden records that you feel need airing. In the days of vinyl, you were physically limited to how many records that you could carry, but in the digital age, you can carry every song that you have ever owned. This can be both positive and negative.

Take time prior to your set selecting certain tracks that you want to play, but don’t plan every track. A lot can change during a DJ set, the energy can quickly change, and can very quickly require a different style of music.

The type of music you play, also depends on the type of gig you are playing at. The only way to find out the type of music they play, is to visit the club. Try going down and having a listen, watch how the crowd react, and take a look at the amount (or lack of) equipment they have. Don’t panic if  you arrive to discover the music playing is different to your style, the promoter might have picked you for your different style.

If you can not visit the club for some reason, try and ask people who have, or try and grab a listen to any promotional DJ mixes. Also be aware that promotional DJ mixes can sometime sound very different to what is played in the club.

Nerves

Everyone has nerves, even the professionals who have been doing it for decades. There is no easy way around nerves, but there are a few tricks. Alcohol can have a relaxing affect that makes you feel a little more in the moment and a little less self conscious. Beware, there is a fine line between slightly merry, to knocking your drink over the mixer and blowing the amps.

Pick the first few records of your set. Start with songs that you are familiar with, and long(ish) have tracks long enough so you have time to mix. Breathe deep, and just pretend you are in your own bedroom and carry on. If you are having fun, so is everyone else.

The Sound System

How records sound on your home hi-fi, to how they sound on a big sound system may come as a shock. There will be certain records that you love, that will just not sound good on a club system. That kick drum that you swear would rip the dance floor apart, may now sound like the a pillow being tickled.

When mixing two records together, while at home, it is usually best to do a smooth transition between the bass frequencies, on a bigger system that often does not work, and it is often better to do a quick transition (slamming one bass out, while the seconds tracks bass-line kicks in).

Fortunately, mistakes on a big system often get lost and forgotten (this has saved most DJs a good number of times). If a mistake is heard, at least the crowd know you are real, and not just a jukebox!

Stepping Into The Booth

The previous DJ is your friend, make good use of her/him! They have just had a complete set where they have gauged the type of crowd, as well as any problems with the DJ equipment. If you are not sure of something, ask! All DJ’s have been in a situation where they are not 100% on how some hardware works (or how to get free drinks) etc.

The DJ monitor is one of the most important factors of the booth, it allows you to hear what the crowd are hearing. If you had no DJ monitors, you would be listening to a delayed, and more reverberant sound to what the dance floor is hearing. This is not good! You want the monitors to be loud enough so you can hear them over the dance floor speakers, but not too loud as to give you hearing damage!

Monitors don’t always need to be loud, you can turn them down most of the time. Only use them every now and then to check the dance floor has got a good, clear sound.

Prior to stepping into the booth, check to see what it sounds like on the dance floor. How is the volume? EQ? Is the bass distorting? Take all this into account when you are DJing and make any necessary adjustments.

No Monitors?

Some clubs don’t have monitors. Some club monitors break. This can be disastrous, unless you know how to carry on without them.

If this happens, use your headphone mix. This involves using the headphone feature on the mixer (if it has one). This option will allow you to listen to the track on the dance floor, as well as cue your second track, and get it beat matched before you bring it in.

Mix off the speakers. This is the least desired option, but it’s possible. Beatmatch the record as closely as possible using your headphones, and the speakers on the dance floor. This will be more difficult as there will be a noticeable delay. Now start the record and bring it slowly into the mix at a very low volume. The record may be out of sync slightly. Now just readjust the record until it is in sync with the song currently playing.

The only thing to do now is practise practise practise, and make sure you know your records back to front. Good luck!