Temples To Telescopes

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Temples To Telescopes <- Right Click To Save.

This track started one night after I had just finished up jamming on my acoustic guitar using my Timeline Delay pedal. I was putting things away, and realized I had left the feedback cranked up, and the electrical noise from the guitar pickups started to feedback making this cool sound wash.

I fired up Ableton Live, and started to record, not realizing that the metronome from Live was being picked up by the guitar pickups and thus being recorded too. Luckily, it ended up sounding cool, so that recording became the intro and ending guitar parts!

From there I built up the core track using Push to program all the drums, the bassline, and some of the synth parts. Once I had those in place, I brought everything to arrangement view and started working on the basic structure to the song. Every now and then I’d stop to record some new guitar parts, sometimes keeping the results, sometimes not.

The guitar is a Taylor 814ce running direct into an Xotic EP Booster, Strymon Timeline, and TC Electronic Hall Of Fame pedals, from there into my Lynx Hilo. I don’t mind keeping mistakes when I think they add an interesting texture to the song, as you can hear in some of the string buzzes I turned into panning effects.

The mixdown used only the Ableton Live 9 effects, with just a touch of Limiter on the master channel to handle the “Mastering”.  You can download the Ableton Project File here, if you wish to take a look at how the track was written:

http://tarekith.com/assets/TemplesToTelescopes.zip

Hope you enjoy,
Tarekith

Mixing and Mastering in Ableton Live – Decibel Festival 2014

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Just wanted to take a second to let any Seattle people know about a seminar I will be co-hosting with fellow mastering engineer and Certified Live Instructor Jake Perrine at this years Decibel Festival.  We will be talking about mixing and mastering using Ableton Live, and it will be a round table discussion featuring some of the artists from this year’s Decibel Festival line-up.  Still waiting on final confirmation from a couple of the artists, I’ll post who will be involved shortly.

Hoping to meet some of you there, please stop by and say hi before or after the seminar.  I plan on hanging out at the conference most of Thursday and Friday, so don’t be shy if you see me!  🙂

The seminar will be Friday, September 26th from 12:30-1:30 PM in the JBL Theater at the EMP Museum.   It’s FREE, so I hope to see a bunch of you there!

For more details on the Decibel Festival Conference, please visit:

http://dbfestival.com/db2014/conference

Thanks everyone!

Hidden Natures

Hidden Natures

Hidden Natures <- Right click to play or download.

“Hidden Natures” is one of the first tracks I’ve written in awhile using Ableton Live almost exclusively. For whatever reason I was feeling guilty seeing my Push sitting in the studio unused lately, and when I sat down to play with it again… this song happened. That’s one of the things I like the most about Push, sometimes it surprises you how quickly you can get a song sketched out. And quite honestly it led me down a happier vibe than some of my other recent tracks too, not a bad thing either!

The Ableton Project for this song is available for download if you want to check it out, though you will need the latest version of Live 9 Suite to open it (sorry non-Suite owners). You can grab it here:

http://tarekith.com/assets/HiddenNatures.zip

For this track I really want to use something other than samples to create the main drums, and one of Live’s built in Drum Racks using a bunch of Operators as the sound sources worked great. It gave me a nice synthetic sounding kit, which I then layered with a couple percussion loops I made in Sonic Charges’ MicroTonic drum machine. These are the only thing in the track not created solely in Live 9.

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(Click image for larger view)

The bassline in this song is a bit goofy I know, but for some reason it got stuck in my head and once it gets going grooves with the drums in an interesting way that I really liked. I tried a few different variations, but it always changed the vibe of the song into something that didn’t resonate with me as much, so goofy bassline it is!

The main lead is this ethnic sound I created from a Tension preset, mainly give it a bit more ambience and a floating feel so it sits over the track almost. The other main synth in this track is more of a rhodes or muted piano comp created using Collision. Gives it almost a housey vibe, and adds a bit more action in the lower mids to offset some of the higher synth pads and the main lead.

The Hollow and Smear tracks are there to provide a bit more movement in the song as a whole, to break up some of the loopy aspects of the rest of it. These were just recorded as free form jams on Push, and I liked the weird aspects they added so much I didn’t even cut out some of the flubbed notes I recorded. Adds a bit more human feel having some parts that I’m playing dynamically based on the rest of the song structure.

The rest of the track is a few pad and ambient sounds, they add texture and provide bit more of a tonal bed for the rest of the sounds to work against. I used a few Utility devices to control their stereo spread too, sometimes making them wider, and sometimes making them more mono. Keeps things from clashing, and makes the stereo imaging more interesting too.

The track was mastered in Live as well using a single band on EQ8 to bring out a touch more airiness and space in the mix, and then a simple limiter to get the overall volume up. I used a faster look ahead, set the mode to “L/R”, and I have the release manually to accent to transients on the drums a bit. For the most part though, you can see there’s very little limiting in the mastering phase.

Hope you enjoy the track, and feel free to play around in the Live 9 project file for the track as well!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Welcome To The New Blog!

Woo hoo, welcome to the new blog location.  Sorry if you got multiple notifications for this blog post the last day or so, still working out a couple last minute bugs with notifications.  Ummm, that’s all I have, but more soon!

(Strymon Timeline review…..)

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DDP – New Downtempo Track


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 Tarekith – DDP <- Right Click to Save or Play.

Well it feels like ages since I managed to finish up a track, though looking back that’s probably because it has been a few months since I have!   This track was something I started in Maschine Studio, using that to do all of the beats and most of the synths.

The backwards edited guitar parts were recorded through my older pedal board using the Xotic EP Booster, Boss Tera Echo, and TC Flashback x4 pedals.  I’m not sure how parts of that lick got reversed, it happened randomly when I was slicing the audio in Maschine.  One of those happy accidents I guess!

The other guitar parts were recorded with my newer pedal board using the EP Booster again, the TC Hall of Fame reverb, and my new favorite delay, the Strymon Timeline.  Beautiful delay, you can hear it doing all sorts of weird things on the intro guitar for instance.

The main synth melody was recorded using the OP-1.  It was just played in realtime, then tweaked a bit with EQ in the mixdown.

Since I sold the Maschine Studio before I was done with this track, the rest of the arranging and mixing was done in Ableton Live.  Used mainly the built in EQ to tweak things during the mixdown.  Mastering was done in Triumph using DMG Audio’s Equilibrium, Voxengo MSED, and Fabfilter Pro-L.

Now that I actually remember how to finish a song, let’s see if I can get some more of the ones I have started wrapped up and online soon!  In the meantime, hope you enjoy this one!

Tarekith

(and no, I have no idea what “DDP” means in this case, it just popped in my head while writing the track and refused to leave!)

Maschine Studio Review

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In some ways it feels like ages since I last gave NI’s Maschine MKI a try, but it’s been something I’ve been watching mature ever since. I loved the sounds, and the hardware integration felt pretty complete, if a bit long-winded in some cases. At the time though (pre-Maschine v1.5?), there were still too many things you needed to revert to the computer to do. And if I’m honest the basic mono-chromatic displays were a tad on the generic side. It didn’t exactly ooze character and I found it would take me awhile to locate where I was in various menus sometimes.

All-in-all I was impressed, but it wasn’t quite the hardware groovebox replacement I had hoped it would be. After a brief affair, I sold it and set about mastering the Octatrack instead. Well, now the Octatrack has come and gone, and I’m once again interested in Maschine, specifically the new Studio version with it’s fancy displays. With the recent NI price drop during May, along with Guitar Center holiday deals on top, it was a no brainer that now was the time to give it another go.

I won’t go into every function of Maschine in great detail, there’s a ton of reviews out there with that info already. What I want to look at is does it function as a true groovebox now, and how does it compare to something like Push? (a question I see all the time lately)

The hardware itself is the same solid controller body NI has been using for awhile now on things like Maschine MKI and the Traktor controllers. Largely plastic, but with some heft to it that makes it feel a bit more sturdy. Only the lower portion of the faceplate has an aluminum skin, the upper portion is the same fingerprint-attracting gloss plastic that the S4 uses. Grr. Hopefully NI makes some skins for the Studio series, I rather liked the old gun-metal blue one for the first generation.

The pads and buttons all feel nice and responsive, and the knobs are solid and feel like they’ll stand up to a lot of tweaking. The new jog wheel is a little less solid-feeling, but it works well for scrolling in any list, and for moving and editing your recorded notes after the fact. The outer ring lights up to let you know when you’re in a menu or edit function that the jog wheel will be active for, and luckily it’s not too bright even in a dark studio. Ditto the pads and buttons, they looked really bright in some videos I saw online, but in use they’re nicely dim enough to not be annoying. The displays can be independently brightened as well.

One awesome new feature is the fold out legs under the Studio, I was curious about how sturdy it would turn out to be. In use they’re great, very solid feeling and it puts the Studio right at a perfect angle IMO. I use Blue Lounge’s Cool Feet to tilt all my tabletop gear, so having this built in and working so well is a huge plus for me.

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On to the main key feature of the Studio though, those new displays. When I first powered it on, I was a bit shocked that my first reaction was “wow, they’re not retina clarity”. Not that I expected them to be, nor should they be necessarily, just that it’s been awhile since I’ve seen LCDs that weren’t, doh! 🙂 All kidding aside, they new display looks great and NI has done a fantastic job using them to help you navigate and edit your projects as efficiently as possible.

Notice I said “edit”. One of things that sticks out to me the most about the new Studio controller, is that it makes using Maschine feel like you’re working at a dedicated editing station. NI have done such a good job of giving you easy and direct access to all the controls you need to edit your performances after the fact, that it feels like that’s the focus more to me than typical grooveboxes.

This is actually not a bad thing. Usually it’s all about performing and recording your material, and while Maschine works the same as always here, it’s the improvements to post-editing that give new life to things. Fixing mistakes and cropping together performances to create something larger in scope is so easy from just the hardware, that instead of finally achieving groovebox status, the Maschine Studio takes it to a new level.

This is further improved on by the fact NI have removed most of the restrictions of the software in terms of the number of effects you could use. Want 14 compressors? No problem! Need a fancy delay followed by a pristine plate reverb? Simple! It really is simple too, the displays on the Studio work great with the browser. Everything is color-coded tastefully and includes graphics, and with their preset tagging in place as always, finding what you need in the huge stock library is really easy. I’ll go one further even, it’s the best I’ve ever used when making music.

Back to no plug-in restrictions. One of the great things about this, is that it gives you DAW flexibility with a groovebox interface and workflow. Most grooveboxes have boring effects in the first place, or maybe you’re limited to only one or two per sound. With Maschine, you can layer endless effects per Sound, per Group, and on the Master. And then assign whatever controls you want to macros at the same Sound, Group (kit), Master levels.

Again, it takes the idea of a groovebox to a new level, especially given the quality of effects you have access to.

I was really interested in the new drum synths as well, and I’m happy to report they are every bit as awesome as I’d hoped. Nicely tweak-able from only a few key parameters, with everything created to function in a very useable range. You get a lot of useable range out of each drum model, and not a lot of dead spots where some parameters just sound bad there no matter the sound you’re trying to create. I do wish there were a few more percussion and cymbal models though.

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Since I’ve been doing a lot of work with my acoustic guitar lately, I wondered how difficult it would be to record any performances via the Maschine hardware and to edit them to use in my patterns. Happily, I didn’t even need to look in the manual to figure it out, it’s one of the simplest recording, looping, and slicing interfaces I’ve used. Dead simple to capture a recording, trim it, slice it, adjust your slices, and assign them to the pads. All without needing to use the laptop, I was impressed.

In fact, it’s pretty obvious by now for most of you that I like it overall I’m sure. 🙂

They’ve made a lot of improvements to the things that used to normally bog you down when working on a groovebox. Browsing your sounds, carefully managing how you used effects, rearranging your recorded performances, etc. Where as Maschine MKI felt a little bit short of my expectations, Maschine Studio exceeded them a lot more than I expected. Other than naming a new project and changing the colors of the groups (another very useful feature I use constantly), I’ve been able to create super solid song ideas from just the hardware. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could do a pretty cool live set from just the controller too 🙂

It’s still not perfect though.

There’s been probably a dozen times the software and controller integration has gone a little haywire and I had to restart the controller. Or a button press doesn’t do what it’s suppose to. There’s still the odd error message that you have to address on the software and not from the controller, which is annoying. If you can display a message on the controller telling me to check the software, why can’t you just tell me on the controller with a yes no button instead?

And of course, you do still need a computer and soundcard to use it. It does such a good job at working like a groovebox, a couple times I have literally been carrying it to another room to work in new surroundings before I remembers it wasn’t a standalone product. Sigh. A small case, a Mac mini, and a way to temporarily use an iPad as a display could almost make it standalone I guess. 🙂

Minor gripes aside, it’s probably one of the best grooveboxes I’ve ever used. There’s still a little bit of generic feel to the hardware that puts me off at times. But once I sit down and get sucked into the displays, it’s amazing what I can record and edit without touching the computer at all, and I always come away impressed. I can’t imagine using Maschine without the Studio controller myself, but it will be up to you and how much you use Maschine to make that call if you own any of the older hardware.

How does it compare to Push? Well, it’s almost not really a comparison, since they are almost devices with totally different uses. I find that Push is really good at coming up with some interesting and unique sounding song ideas. The step sequencers are more comprehensive since you have more pads, and the whole thing just feels like a musical instrument more than a general purpose controller.

The downside of Push is that there’s very little after the fact editing other than the simple step sequencer. And frankly, the browser in Ableton is weak compare to the way NI does it. Both in terms of content and organization, Maschine is far better here, especially on the Studio controller. Maschine is also much better at post-editing, which I’ve mentioned numerous times so far.

Overall I think of Push as being for someone looking more for a new instrument, a way of playing their own sounds and maybe sketching out some quick ideas to expand on back at the computer later. Creating melodies and even step drum programming is just easier on Push since you have so many more pads to use, and the scales function is really fun too.

Push is also easier to get up to speed on, a lot simpler to figure out since it does a lot less. If you’ve used Live, Push will make sense right away. Maschine doesn’t work like a DAW even though it looks like one, so understanding the structure of a project and navigating it can take awhile.

Maschine is more for someone wanting to have a dedicated and focused way of creating more polished and complete song ideas in the studio. Either for loops or just basic arrangements, Maschine just works better for shaping things once you’ve recorded them. Provided you don’t mind recording everything with a generic 4×4 grid of pads (or with an external midi controller I suppose, though that takes away from the groovebox factor some).

As a complete all in one solution, I think Maschine Studio is probably the stronger package of the two. But if you’re already a Live user, there’s no denying how useful it is keeping it all “in the family” so to speak 🙂 And there’s all those performance options Live offers if you want to take things to the stage later on.

I’ll still use Push for playing around in Live, especially with melodic content, but I think for now the library of sounds that NI is shipping with Maschine is a little more up my alley so that’s where I’m going to be focusing my attentions for the new future.

As always happy to answer any questions if people have them, just them in the comments.

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

We Won The Loudness War?

Fellow Seattle producer and Ableton Live Trainer Isaac Cotec asked me to write an article for his blog about the recent news that an end to the Loudness Wars as we know them might be coming soon.  I attempt to give a brief overview of why people are saying this, and how it affects your average producer now and going forward:

http://subaqueousmusic.com/production-articles/sound-design-tech/223-we-won-the-loudness-wars

Hope you enjoy, and expect to me return the favor and host a music production-based article by Isaac in the future!

Optimizing Sound Quality In Ableton Live

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This is something I’ve had to keep under wraps for quite awhile now, and it’s something I’ve been pretty excited about.  A long time ago, in a galaxy…  well actually just a long time ago, I was contacted by DJ Vespers about a project he was working on.  His plan was to create a way of providing world-class Ableton training for rates that were more accessible for a wider range of producers.

While the plan was to release content only from Ableton-Certified Trainers, he asked if I would still be interested in doing a set of videos for the site.  I’ll admit, I was kind of hesitant.  I get a lot of people approaching me wanting to work on projects that sound too good to be true.  And I’m really trying to be 100% focused on my mastering business these days (big changes coming in a couple weeks!).

But the more we talked, the more I could see that he had a solid plan in place, and experience getting projects like this off the ground on the scale he was talking about. And with the core group of Certified Trainers he already had onboard (Jake Perrine, Isaac Cotec, Michael Maricle, amongst many others) I could see that this had real potential to be something important that I wanted to be a part of.

We talked over a few ideas, and in the end I decided that my first series of videos should be about something I’ve spent a great deal of time looking into, achieving the best sounding productions in Ableton Live.  Over and over I’ve seen even experienced producers miss some of these options, and then wonder why something in their song doesn’t sound right.

In the 4 videos I produced for Warp Academy, I quickly break down and explain all of the different places in Live where you might be inadvertantly hurting your audio quality without realizing it.  A detailed explanation of each of the videos is here:

http://www.warpacademy.com/tutorial-series/210-optimizing-sound-quality-in-live-2/

Warp Academy has a special $19/month membership fee going right now, and that gets you unlimited access to a LOT more content than just my videos.  Even if you don’t care about videos, I highly recommend you take a look at the site and see what’s on offer.  $19 to access all of that training (let’s be real, you could unsub after one month if you REALLY wanted) is a great value.  Hopefully some of you use this chance to really increase what you know about Ableton Live!

Expect to see a lot more about Warp Academy in the coming weeks, this is just a soft launch for friends and family 🙂  Ableton themselves are going to be promoting this heavily shortly, as there are now a LOT of Certified Trainers making content for the site.

Play It Right The First Time

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It’s been a long time since I actively had to study intensely for something, so it’s been a pretty interesting experience as I set out to do just that in order to improve my guitar playing. I’ve always been someone on the look out for new ideas and tricks to try in audio production, but there’s a big difference between reading about new techniques to learn them, and actively practicing something over and over again. Kind of makes me feel like I’m in school to be honest, boo hiss! 🙂

On the plus side, since it has been so long since I set myself a task like this, it’s been a really pleasant surprise to see just how many options are out there for people wanting to learn an instrument (or a DAW, softsynth, etc). Not just the sheer number of people offering things like tutorial videos, the overall quality of them is actually pretty good too. Indeed, it seems like a lot more people these days are trying to make a career out of teaching other people how to play, versus playing themselves! I see a lot of parallels with the electronic music world on this front, there’s probably almost as many “how to use Ableton” videos on YouTube as there are how to play guitar (or bass, drums, etc).

Interesting the way people adapt to find the niche that works best for them when it comes to making a career in music. And that there’s such a market for it as well. But I digress…

One of the more interesting ideas I see over and over again in guitar instruction these days, is the idea of “play it right the first time”. The whole point of any activity in which you repeat something over and over to learn it, is to train your muscles to perform the action as easily as possible, with as little thought as possible. Thus it makes sense to make sure you only ever do that action correctly, so your fingers (in the case of the guitar) aren’t wasting time learning poor fingering techniques or getting used to playing the wrong notes all the time.

Usually this means SLOWING DOWN more than anything, really taking your time to play each and every note right the first time. But it also involves a lot of pre-planning before you even play a single note. Taking the time to look over a music passage and identify the areas that you think will cause you a problem, then mentally figuring out how to make that easier before you do anything else.

Or maybe it means learning shorter passages, to make sure you can remember all the notes. Maybe planning in advance where in a chord progression you might need to adjust your hand position to hit all the notes cleanly. In short, taking the time to plan out HOW you’re going to play something before you actually try and do it.

It’s a simple concept, but it’s something I think a lot of producers can benefit from as well.

If there’s areas in audio production you feel you’re lacking in, it’s tempting to just fire up your DAW and start messing around. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (all practice is good I suppose), it doesn’t always set you up to succeed either. At the very least it might just be inefficient and slow.

Sometimes the problems you’re trying to tackle are multi-faceted, and attempting to understand all of those issues at once leads to more confusion. Or worse, lack of proper understanding of what all those facets are actually doing to the sound. Yes you might have made something sound better, but do you understand WHY enough to actually apply that knowledge to future projects?

When you know you have skills that are not your weak point, take the time to sit down and think about everything involved. Try to come up with a plan that works to maximize what exactly you learn about it. Break down your learning goals, understand what you need to achieve these, and make sure you set yourself up with the right tools to do that before you even start.

Some examples:

– You’ve heard a lot about multi-band compression and want to learn to use it in your songs. But do you REALLY know how a single band compressor works first? Does it make more sense to try it on the master buss in your DAW, or on a simpler sound source like drums? Does the source audio you’re using in either case have enough dynamics to make the exercise useful in the first place?

– Your mixes always sound flat and one-dimensional, and you want to learn how to add more space and depth to them. It doesn’t make sense to start throwing all the options into the equation at the same time, like panning, reverb, wideners, etc. Focus on only one of these at a time, and use a project with fewer tracks so you can really hear what you are doing, and how it affects the sound stage. Take the time to listen to how each of these affects the way instruments sound and are placed, not just in your studio, but elsewhere too.

– After years of DJing club music, you want to learn to learn to scratch records. It doesn’t make sense to start trying to mimic a Q-bert routine you find on YouTube. Start with a basic scratch, and study the techniques ahead of time for just that one scratch. Think about where your hands and the faders need to be at each step of the way, visualize it in slow motion, and then do it exactly like that in slow motion until each motion takes place in the right order. Then work on getting faster, and combining it with other scratches you focused on the same way.

Nobody likes practicing. Well, almost nobody. 🙂 So it makes sense to maximize the time you spend actually focusing on learning something new. By having a simple and very clear plan in place ahead of time, you lessen the chance of distractions and getting side-track. Or learning bad techniques because you’re in a hurry and trying to do too much at once. It also makes it easy (and rewarding) to track your progress, because each practice activity is both achievable, and measurable because it’s so specific.

Slow down, visualize each step ahead of time, plan for the aspects will be difficult or easy, then execute what you’re trying to do accordingly.

Being a little more focused in how I approach learning something new (like the guitar) really has helped me a lot in making the most of my practice sessions. I get distracted easily, so frequent shorter sessions work better than all day marathons for me. Having a real plan in place for each practice session just makes it count for so much more. I figure if I’m going to actually spend some of my time solely to work on getting better at something, it makes sense to use that time as best I can. Life’s too short to be wasting any of it 🙂

Hopefully some of these ideas help you too! If you have other examples of how you do something similar, please post them in the comments for others to read. Reminder that all first time posts have to be approved by me (only way to accurately stop the spam), but I’m pretty quick about it.

Thanks!

Decibel Festival Mastering Session

This past weekend Dubspot asked me to host a Q&A session on mastering as part of the Decibel Festival conference.  The session went great, there were more people than I expected for it being earlier in the day, and I was able to answer a lot of questions for everyone.  Luckily, all of the conference sessions were video taped, and are now available online for anyone to watch.

There were a lot of Live focused sessions, so definitely worth a look if that’s your main DAW.  Note that it says you need to install Silverlight to watch the videos, but you can just click on the Podcast version to watch without it.  Here’s the full list:

http://dbfestival.com/news/streaming-db-conference-panopto

And here is the direct link to my mastering session:

http://decibel.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer/Default.aspx?id=6d727890-9b16-4934-a619-2e8e2d3bb65e

I was the first session of the day, so the first few minutes didn’t get recorded, and there’s some audio issues later on.  Otherwise it turned out pretty well I think.

Enjoy!