What’s Next?

First up, sorry for the blog seeming to wind down the last few weeks.  Every year the end of summer becomes an incredibly busy time for me, both with the mastering business and my own personal life.  Hoping to get back on a weekly schedule with the blog now that things are getting back to normal.  And thanks to all the people who continue to recommend my studio to their friends and fellow musicians.  Recommendations like this still help a lot, so I really appreciate it.

—————

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to figure out what type of music project I should tackle next. I’ve been getting the itch again lately to put together a new live set, I just seem to be in a performance-oriented mindset lately.  Having just wrapped up the Monomachine and Machinedrum live project, I thought it might be an interesting exercise to see if I could do a live set 100% on the iPad.

So far I’ve done two complete songs on the iPad, one using Garageband (Slip), and one using NanoStudio (Slat).  So I know that there’s apps out there capable of making some good sounds. I just hadn’t spent much time thinking about the platform as a live tool, aside from say Ableton Live controllers like TouchOSC or TouchAble.  I really didn’t want to just use a controller though, I wanted to create and perform an entire set using one app natively on the iPad.

Of course, I often get ideas like this without doing any research first, and it soon became apparent that there just aren’t a lot of apps out there capable of being used in a live manner.  I was willing to deal with a lot of limitations however, so I started looking into a lot of apps that might fit the bill.  My only real requirement was that I was able to write songs or patterns with the app, and somehow switch from one song or pattern to another on the fly.  This way I could chain together songs to do a full hour set, and hopefully there was at least some measure of real-time control and sound tweaking too.

One of the first apps that caught my eye was TechnoBox2, which is basically a really nice looking 909/808/303 clone ala Rebirth.  Much cleaner interface though, with 2 synths and 2 drum machines active at any time.  It supports up to 12 patterns per device, and you can switch between them in real-time.  However, each pattern can only be one bar long, and with only 12 on offer, I wasn’t sure I could do anything interesting for more than 20 minutes straight with it.  Plus, I’m not sure that the old school Roland sound is really something I want to limit myself to for this project.  Been there, done that. In the end, I decide to pass.

Honestly, for the longest time I just didn’t find anything else out there that looked like it would suit my needs, even with imposing some severe limitations on my working methods.  Most of the apps that seemed to maybe be oriented to live use, were straight up drum machines like Bleep!Box or Korg’s iElectribe.  Powerful and fun to use tools, but I’ve owned a real ER-1 in the past and know how frustrating it can be to create good synths sounds from a drum synth.

Then I started looking into maybe trying to figure out a workaround with one of the DAW style apps like BeatMaker or NanoStudio.  Certainly they offer a lot of sound generating capabilities via sampling or synthesis, but I just couldn’t come up with a fluid way of using them in a live situation.  Too much jumping around between screens trying to both tweak sounds and work on some way of switching songs on the fly.

Then by chance I ran into a review of an app called Electrify, which to be honest looked perfect.  Sort of a mini version of Ableton Live, it has 8 tracks and 8 scenes available at once, x-y pads for tweaking effects, and the ability to load your own samples.  More than anything, it looked like a fun way to create your own loops and grooves, and it even had a pretty decent factory set of samples to get you started.  I set to work making material for a new live set, and I had a great time doing so.

At first.

Unfortunately, the latest version of the app is super buggy, and before long I was running into issues and other weirdness that more or less made me give up on the idea for now.  I think for what I want to do, it’s definitely the best app out so far, but it’s just not stable enough, or even fully useable to see this project through.  I’ve been writing music for too long to feel I need to soldier on and deal with buggy software, so for now I’m stuck waiting for the developer to release an update which sorts out the confirmed issues.  The good news is that he’s aware of the issue and has promised an update soon.

Sigh….

So, I then started considering doing another Machinedrum-only live set.  I know a lot of people have told me they feel my Machinedrum (MD) sets are really basic sounding compared to my usual downtempo productions, but honestly using the MD is the most fun I’ve been had making music lately.  I know it very well, and can get ideas down pretty quickly on it, so it just feels like a real instrument to me.  It’s one of the only bits of hardware I’ve used that feels truly performance oriented.  Same sort of vibe I get from say, playing my guitar.

I decided that if I was going to go down this route again though, I needed some new samples for the UW aspect of the Machinedrum.  For this project I wanted to stick with the internal synthesis engines for all of the drum and percussion sounds, and use the samples for my instruments and synths.  I spent the last week or so using Live and softsynths like Omnisphere and Synplant to get about 40 samples created, all totalling only 1.3MB.  Remember, the MD-UW MKII only has 2.5MB of sample space, and some of that I need to save for live on the fly resampling 🙂  Always fun trying to get samples as small as possible, and a good reminder these days that you don’t need GB’s worth of samples to make compelling music.  At least I hope it’s compelling….

Just when I had all the prep work wrapped up and was ready to start writing though, I suddenly got it into my head that maybe it was time to revisit the idea of turning Ableton Live and the APC40 into a super groovebox.  Something that I could use not only to quickly sketch up loops and grooves, but also perform and manipulate those in a live performance setting.  All centered on MIDI loops and softsyths.  But as this is already getting to be pretty long, I think I’ll save that topic for another time.  🙂

—————

Still got room for a couple more questions for next week’s Production Q&A as well, so if you have any questions, please submit them via email or in the comments of this post asap.  Thanks!

The Beautiful Decay

The Beautiful Decay
(Right Click to Save As)

 

Downtempo & House DJ Set, Recorded 09-08-2011

Start Time – Artist – Track – Label
00:00 – Bird of Prey – Pathfinder – Addictech
04:42 – Thievery Corporation – Fragments – ESL
08:37 – Chris Zippel – Stretch Marks – D’Vision
14:28 – Sergio Walgood – Project 29 – Anjavision
20:23 – Kilowatts – Deliriously – Kilowatts Music
24:47 – Digitalis – 1992 – Eardrum
29:31 – Jakob Thiesen – Clocks – Obsolete Components
34:55 – Erik Sumo Band – Show Me The Light (Hanssen Rmx) – Chi
41:25 – Evren Ulusoy – Fade To Blonde (Paronator Rmx) – Proton
46:28 – Jonny Blanco – Souk – Tocame
52:39 – Wasabi – Go Back (Costin 105 Rmx) – Lovely Mood

Originally, this mix was supposed to air on the No Warning Shot show on Brap.fm later this month.  Unfortunately, due to reasons out of my control (something about a group of badgers stealing the server and the country of Sweden refusing to pay their ransom demands), No Warning Shot has been put on the back burner for a few weeks.

Since this mix was mainly intended to celebrate the winding down of summer, and the coming Fall (my favorite time of the year), I decided to go ahead and release the mix now.  The set starts off with some downtempo, and then works it’s way into a more upbeat housier vibe.  Loving the Hanssen remix of “Show Me the Light” at 34:55, such crazy vocals and a deep groove.

Enjoy!

Tarekith DJ EFX V8.5

Well, it’s been awhile since I last released some of my free FX racks for Ableton Live, so I figured it was time to add some new ones to the collection.  This time around I have 3 new racks that are pretty wild sounding, good for some really out there tweaking in your live or DJ sets.  The racks were created in Ableton Live 8.2.5, but they should work in any version since 8.1.4.  Please check the “READ ME!!!!!.pdf” included in the zip file for information on how to install these.

Tarekith’s Ableton Live DJ Effects version 8.5
(right click to Save to your computer)

Brake Check

Wild rack that messes with the time of the audio passing through it.  Sounds similar to the effect you get when you turn off a turntable while it’s still playing, after taking way too much acid.  Sounds different if you turn the knob fast or slow in either direction.

Time Check

Same idea as Brake Check, except the speed up and slow down effect is synced to tempo.  Turning to the right works best when you turn the knob slowly.

Buzz Kill

Turns the audio into a buzz saw effect that increases intensity with knob rotation,  different flavors if you turn left or right.  Use the Shape knobs to alter the tone and style of the buzzing.

Hope you like the new effects, or the old ones if you’ve never used them before.  If you do like and end up using any of these in your live performances, please consider a small $1 donation via the button below.  Or, if you just don’t have any spare cash, hit the Like button at the top right of this page.  Thanks, and I hope to have some more EFX Racks for you soon!

Production Q&A #4

Before I start with this week’s Q&A, just a quick note about the blog notifications going forward.  If you like the blog and the things I post, please take a second RIGHT NOW to sign up for email notifications of new posts (on the right hand side of the page).  Or follow me on Twitter, RSS, or Facebook via the icons at the top of the screen.  This is the last time I’m going to announce new blog posts on the various forums I visit, unless the topic directly has something to do with one of those forums.  Going forward, new posts will only be announced via one of the methods above.  Sorry, but it’s starting to come across as a little spammy according to some people, and I don’t want to make that impression.  Thanks!

Right then, here’s this week’s questions:

1. Can you detail your process for getting big, warm bass, big kick drum, mixing them together and keeping them big without the inevitable frequency conflicts?

I think that a lot of times people struggle with this because they’re trying to fit a round peg into a square hole (or maybe that’s a sine wav into a square wav?).  By that I mean, more often than not, when you choose the right sounds that compliment each other in the first place, they fit together in the mix quite easily.  So I usually tell people to think up front about what sounds they want to use.

If you want a deep 808-style kick in your song, then obviously you need to be careful about what kind of bassline you write.  Either by choosing a sound that sits a little higher in the frequency spectrum, or by writing the bassline that doesn’t sound when the kick is playing.  That’s one reason off-beat basslines (one AND two AND three AND, etc) are so popular in dance music, they don’t interfere with the kick.

And the opposite is true as well.  If you listen to dubstep or drum and bass where really deep and powerful basslines are more important, more often than not the kick is really bright and short.  That way it can cut through the mix still, and not get drowned out by the bassline.

Of course, even if you do pay attention to this stuff, there’s just times when you need to get a little surgical to get everything to sit together perfectly on the low end.  Side-chaining the bassline to the kick is a popular trend these days, it just pulls the level of the bassline down some when the kick hits. Done right, it can be a pretty transparent way of getting things to gel nicely.  Alternatively, sometimes you can use EQ to notch out each sound so that things don’t clash too much.  A few dB reduction in the frequency where the kick and bassline clash can be useful in some cases.

 

2. Why isn’t stem mastering used more?  Does it sound worse than regular mastering?

I think historically stem mastering was frowned upon by mastering engineers for a few reasons.  First, because a lot of times it just meant that the client was having trouble making up their mind, at a time when they need to really be getting everything nailed down and ready to release.  If they can’t make up their mind if they like a mixdown or not, then likely they’re going to be the same way with the mastering process.  Ultimately, it can just mean the client will be difficult to work with.

The second reason is that the mastering engineer is supposed to be looking at the big picture, the album as a whole and how it all fits and sounds together.  When they’re stuck having to deal with a lot of stems, it’s more difficult to bounce between songs and get a feel for the songs and how they’ll fit into an album.  You can’t get that overview of everything when there’s still so many details to focus on.

From a client perspective, stem mastering takes longer compared to normal mastering, so it’s usually more costly to go this route.  Clients rarely like paying more money after all 🙂

I think today things are a little different, since so much of the mastering and production process in general is singles driven.  A lot of people only get one song mastered at a time, especially in the dance community, so some mastering engineers are more open to the idea of stem mastering.  There’s still some ME’s who swear it doesn’t belong in the mastering process, but I know that I personally am fine with it, provided the client is willing to pay the extra cost involved.

As for does it sound worse, I don’t think so.  On one hand it gives the ME a lot more flexibility in how they can fix any issues or make improvements, so you could say it could sound better.  On the other hand, it also means that the ME is going to be making a lot more of the decisions in how the final product sounds too, so there’s less of the uniqueness that the artists brings to the table.

Generally I think that stem mastering is one of those things better left to the ME to decide.  If they hear some issues that just can’t be best sorted in normal mastering, and they aren’t sure the producer has the tools or experience to handle it on their end, then perhaps stem mastering is the way to go.

 

3. How important is the acoustic treatment of the studio, in particular the treatment of bass?  Is it fundamental for the production, or is it something that’s just nice to have if you can?

I’m pretty biased on this, but I think that having acoustic treatment in the studio can be one of the best things you can do for your music making.  I’d go so far as to say it can sometimes be more important than what kind of monitors you use even.  Everything you do, every decision you make in the production process is going to be affected by what you hear in your studio.  When you have all sort of audio reflections interfering with that, or your room is a shape that just doesn’t allow you to hear things like they will sound on other systems, it can be a real problem.

I always tell people who are asking for monitor recommendations to split their monitor budget in half.  Spend half on the monitors themselves, and half on some acoustic treatment, and overall you’ll end up with a much better investment of that money.

And the good news about acoustic treatment, is that it often doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference, especially when we talk about early reflections.  Additionally, there’s a lot of DIY info available on how to make your own to save some money too.  Here’s a good place to start when it comes to understanding acoustic treatment, or how to build your own:

http://www.soundonsound.com/forum/postlist.php?Cat=&Board=DESIGN

Also check these sites as well:

http://www.acoustics101.com/

http://www.realtraps.com/articles.htm

Finally, if you do decide to purchase acoustic treatment instead of making your own, I highly recommend GIK Acoustics:

home

——————

Well, that’s it for this week’s Q&A session, hope some people found this useful.  As always, if you have a question you want me to answer, send me an email or post it in the comments below.