New and Updated Production Guides

Over the last few months I’ve had a number of people request PDF versions of my Production Guides and Tutorials, mainly for storing and referencing on their iOS devices.  I apologize that it took me so long to get this done, but things have been pretty busy here lately to say the least!

But, at long last I now have all of the PDF versions completed and online here:

http://tarekith.com/tutorials-and-reviews/

I tried to make the PDFs nicer looking than the html versions, a few more pictures and some nicer formatting mainly.  In case anyone is curious, I actually used Pages on my iPad2 to create all these, and I have to say it was really easy to use.  Never thought I’d prefer to use an iPad app over a Desktop one for this sort of thing, but it was much quicker in this case. Pretty impressive actually for only $9.99!

There’s also two brand new Guides I just finished as well, one on creating space and depth in your mixes (previously a blog post here) and one on working with other musicians.  Just some helpful tips people might find useful.   🙂

As always if you spot any errors or notice something that needs correcting, please let me know and I’ll do my best to correct it asap.

 

 

Blue Dream DJ Set

 

Blue Dreams Downtempo DJ Set

What can I say, I’ve been on a roll lately I guess.  🙂 Here’s a new downtempo DJ set, recorded live on Feb 13, 2012 using Ableton Live 8, Allen & Heath Xone62, Akai APC40, and NI Traktor Audio 6.

Tracklist:

Time – Artist – Track – Label
00:00 – Culture Cruisers – La Piscine – Ajnavision
07:12 – Deep Fried Dub – Submerged – Iboga
11:29 – Consciousness Federation – Causes And Effects – Uxmal
20:36 – Mooryc – All Those Moments – Freude Am Tanzen
24:51 – Ephemeral Mists – Looming – Sa Trincha
28:31 – BlueBliss – Splashed – Ovnimoon
33:25 – Flict – Orientation
36:22 – Consciousness Federation – You’re Not Your Memory – Uxmal
40:57 – Tripswitch – Roll Your Own – Section
46:49 – Banco De Gaia – Shanti – Disco Gecko
52:26 – Amber Long – Foresight – FineGrind Audio
56:23 – Fastus – Hero – Independant
59:43 – Tarekith – Slope Lifter
65:56 – Carmen Rizzo – Morning Glory – Electrofone
70:07 – Screw Bus – Brazzaville Beach – Time Tools
75:42 – Bobby Benninger – Moments – Independant
80:34 – Tomas Dvorak – The Bottom – Minority

Elektron Live PA Rundown

Been getting a few questions about how I did my recent Elektron live set, so I’ll tackle the set up and how I performed it here on the blog.  The set can be downloaded here if you haven’t heard it but are curious:

http://tarekith.com/m-dot-live-elektron-set/

So the basic idea was pretty simple, could I take my current downtempo live set that I’ve been performing in Ableton Live, and transfer that to my new Elektron Octatrack.  It’s probably the number one reason I wanted an Octatrack, so it was the first project I decided to tackle.

You can get a run down of how I do the Ableton set here:

http://tarekith.com/ableton-live-apc40-live-pa-set-up/

Even before the Octatrack (OT) arrived I was already getting all my sounds from the Live set prepped and ready to load into the OT.  Like all Elektron gear, the OT has a maximum base pattern length of 4 bars.  There’s a lot of little tricks and work arounds to use longer loops, but for maximum flexibility I wanted to stick with 4 bars for most of my loops too.  Since the Machinedrum (MD) would be doing all the drum sounds, I only need to edit and transfer my instrument loops.  This was usually 4-5 loops per ‘song’.

First step was to get all the bass, lead, and synth parts trimmed to 4 bars, and to make sure they still looped smoothly.  The pad sounds would be left as 32bar audio files that looped, and I would use one-shot triggers in the OT to trigger them.  Gives the songs a little variation and keeps them from getting so repetitive.  For those that know the OT, typically my Lead and Synth tracks were done in Flex Machines, while the rest of the sounds were Static Machines.

Since the MD would be doing all the drum sounds, that meant I had to transcribe all the drum sounds I had in Ableton onto the MD by ear.  I mainly was worried more about keeping the same vibe versus having exactly the same sounds.  Kind of hard to mimic something as complex and processed as Stylus RMX with just a few effects and drum synthesis.  I didn’t even want to set myself up for disappoint on that front. Later I switched a lot of the beats from being more of a breakbeat feel to more of a 4/4 feel.  No real reason other than I’m digging that sound lately.

The OT would be the centerpiece of the set, since it could not only hold all my instrument samples, but it would also be sampling the MD for my transitions:

http://tarekith.com/octatrack-crossfader-transition-how-to-video/

 

The layout of sounds in the OT was the same for all of my songs:

Track 1 – MD inputs, resampling channel

Track 2 – Bassline

Track 3 – Lead

Track 4 – Synth or Empty, depending on the song.

Track 5 – Synth

Track 6 – Guitar, Synth, or Empty

Track 7 – Pads and fills.

Track 8 – Master track

Around the time I had all of my loops trimmed and the basic drums on the MD, the OT arrived so I was able to dive in and get started prepping everything on day one.  I wanted to do more than just reuse my usual loops in the OT, as I already knew that was possible and honestly I needed to hear something different 🙂  So the plan was to more or less remix each song once it was in the OT.  This would give me something “new” to perform, and let me get up to speed on most of the OT’s functions asap.

There were so many ways I did this, that I can’t possibly cover all of them.  Some of my favorites though:

– Slicing a loop up and then randomizing the slices to get new melodies.  I’d cut and paste the best parts to a free track and then assemble the 4 best bars.

– Filter envelope being retriggered at different times in a long sample, via triggerless trigs.

– Intentionally messing with the time-stretching parameters, things like rate and pitch, as well as abusing the transient detection to give me new rhythms.

– Slicing melodies into individual notes, and then playing a new melody with the Trig keys.

– Parameter locking effect parameters, especially for the flanger and phaser.

Overall I was really impressed with how easy and fun this was to do.  I think in the end most of the songs will still be enough like the originals to be recognizable, but with lots of fun new tweaks to the way certain things sound.

It probably only took me 2-3 weeks of tweaking to get the set to point where I thought it was playable, and I had been planning on spending months doing this.  After everything was remixed in a way I was happy with, the hardest part was just balancing all the levels.  When you’re dealing with drum synthesis like the MD, the levels can actually be hotter than they sound, so it’s a combination of using my RME metering and my ears to get everything in the right ballpark.

I don’t want the songs to vary drastically in volume as I perform the set (though I do intentionally use some quieter sections).  A lot of times I’m using filtering and EQing sounds in both machines to keep things from being too bass heavy or not bright enough overall, as well as to tame stray peaks.  Luckily both of the Elektrons have well thought out features when it comes to shaping your sounds.  Usually takes me a few days to listen to that much material and make sure it sounds the way I want.

And then I’m ready.

The actual performance of the set is the easy part in comparison, heck that’s the fun part!  I’ve happily performed with the MD many times since I’ve got it, and the Octatrack is just as well designed when it comes to the performance side of things.

Anyway, pretty basic ideas when I’m performing.  I can mute and unmute parts on the OT to bring in new sounds.  The muting on the OT is like an audio mixer though, it mutes the audio output of the track (including effects!) and not note events.  Not my preferred way of doing things, as it kills delay tails when you mute a track, but I mostly adapted.  There’s a couple parts of the live set linked above where I maybe triggered a part too soon or too late.  After years of having to pre-trigger sounds in Ableton so they start on time, I forget to trigger things exactly on the beat.  Ooops, oh well. 🙂

I also use each track’s volume control to bring sounds in and out.  One of the things I do when prepping the set, is to set each track volume to max, and use the machine volume parameters to do the ‘mixdown’.  That way I know I can just slam a volume knob to max if I want, and know that the sound won’t be too loud.  All volume knobs at max means it’s the actual mixdown I created in the studio, the default state if you will.

While I’m doing the above to control and change the layout and structure of each song, I’m also jumping between tracks and tweaking sounds directly.  Each of my tracks in the OT typically has the stock filter and delay effects assigned to it.  Some use a flanger or phaser before the delay, but only a couple.  I’m a sucker for delays, what can I say?

The actual transitions between each song are linked to in the middle of the post.  Basically I have a looper constantly recording the OT and MD in the background (you can’t hear the output), capturing a new sample every 4 bars.  When I want to transition to the next song, I break down the current song until only a few sounds are playing at once.  Things I think will sound good when looped.  Once that has played and been automatically captured by the loop recorder, I can slide the OT’s crossfader over to the right real fast and hear a perfect copy of what was just playing live.

The switch from the live sounds to the loop happens seamlessly and with barely any difference in audio quality to my ears.  At least not enough to be noticeable in a live setting, which is good enough for me!    Once the loop is playing, I quickly switch to the next pattern on the MD and OT, since you still can’t hear them.  I’ll then decide what sounds from the new song I want to start with, and then slowly bring the crossfader over from the sampled loop of the last song, to the live sounds of the new one.  I can affect the sampled loop with filter, EQ, delays, etc too.

And that’s about it!  I’m sure there’s a ton more I didn’t cover, but feel free to ask questions in the comments if you have them.

What Plug-In?

As I was cruising different forums this morning, it was pretty apparent that some people had gotten a bit of money for the holidays, and were looking to do some shopping.  I found it kind of funny though that so many people were looking to plug-ins to solve all of their music writing dilemmas.  Certainly some plug-ins are better than others for different tasks, and some have a sound we tend to prefer compared to others.  But what struck me was how many people were assuming that there was some magical plug-in that would instantly solve what in reality were nothing but simple audio engineering issues.

Some examples:

– What plug-in do I need to spread sounds around in the stereo field?

Instead of relying on a plug-in on your master channel, or applied during mastering, just use the pan control on each track in the DAW to spread sounds out.  This gives you greater control over which sounds are placed where, and can sound much more natural than some of the stereo “widener” plug-ins.  Additionally, by placing different instruments this way, you also free up room in your mixdown for all the sounds to be heard clearly.

Keep in mind that most of these widener plug-ins work by using phase-shifts or short delays to create a Haas effect.  So while it might sound good in headphones, you can run into issues on mono systems and other playback environments.  One of the most common things I find myself adjusting in mastering is compensating for when people overdo these types of effects, leaving the center of the stereo field with a big gaping hole where the main instruments should be.  If you do use plug-ins like this, you only need a little to achieve a lot.

 

– I just got some top-notch drum sample packs from “Producers X,Y,Z”, what plug-in do I need to make them work in my mixdown?

One of the great things about buying a well-produced set of samples, is that most of the time all of the processing has already been done for you!  More often than not those drum sounds were already compressed and EQ’d to sit well in a mix.  You’re paying not just for the source samples themselves, but also the preparation that went into them.

It’s a classic case of people who by default start to apply processing to sounds, without first perceiving a real need for it.  So try your new sounds in a song without applying any EQ or Compression to them, I bet you’ll be surprised at how good they sound as is.

 

– I heard a producer with 20 years more experience than me do a live set over the weekend, and his tracks sounded so much better than mine.  What plug-in should I put on my master channel to fix this?

While the performer you heard might have some type of processing applied on the master out of their set, it’s worth keeping in mind that there’s no magic “make me sound better” plug-in (or hardware box).  The artist sounds better than you because they ARE better than you most likely.  They have years more experience, a studio full of hand-picked gear that suits THEIR needs (and might not fit YOURS).  Not to be a downer, but it’s usually a bit unrealistic to expect you’ll sound as good as professional with decades of experience when you’ve only been doing this for a year or two.

So instead of approaching the situation looking for a magic solution that will solve all your problems, look at it instead as a goal post to reach, a milestone to set and achieve in the future.  Try and find other sets online by the same artist, and compare your productions or live sets to theirs.  Analyze the specific differences, and try to identify areas in your own productions that you need to work to improve on.  Break it down so you can approach it one piece at a time, instead of trying to to improve everything all at once.  Baby steps, as they say.  And keep your chin up, we’ve all been there in the past.  🙂

 

– Every time I try and spread cold butter on my toast, all I do is break into the bread instead of leaving a thin layer of butter.  What plug-in will fix this for me?

Vintage Warmer, obviously  🙂

Apologies to anyone if some of those look familiar, not trying to call anybody out, just using some random examples to make the point.  In a lot of ways I can understand people looking at their problems this way, after all in the last couple of years there’s been some amazing plug-ins released that have really changed what we think is possible in terms of audio processing (Melodyne anyone?).

But sometimes it’s worth stepping back and getting a little old-school when it comes to looking at a problem too.  You might be surprised to realize you already have the tools and the means to solve an issue you’ve run into, and at the same time you might save some money for something you really have a need for.

Just for fun though, reply in the comments with what you would consider your favorite plug-in and why.  You have to pick only ONE though, no putting a list or multiple options.

——————-

Well, this will likely be the last blog post I do before the end of the year, unless I suddenly get inspired in the next couple of days (and considering my Octatrack just got dropped off by UPS minutes ago, fat chance).  I just want to once again thank everyone who’s followed my ramblings over the last year, shared the blog with their friends, or left some insightful comments of their own.  I’ve got a lot of new ideas for the coming year, so be sure to check back often.

Special thanks to those of you who were kind enough to donate a couple bucks last week too. It helps a lot, so you have my sincere appreciation.

Now, who else is looking forward to a killer 2012?

Sound Quality: Live versus Logic

As a lot of people know, I tend to frequent a lot of various music-related forums throughout the day.  Every now and then (approximately every 18 minutes) I end up running into a thread discussing which DAW sounds better.  Or as some people like to say, which DAW has the best sounding “Summing Engine”.  Now, I’ve looked into this in the past and posted my results about it, but there’s new people getting into music production every day, so it’s time to revisit the topic I think.

Originally I had planned to do a huge, comprehensive test among all of the latest DAWs I could get my hands on.  But, I’m super busy with the mastering business lately, and realistically I don’t have the time to learn the intricacies of each DAW to make sure that I’m doing the test as fairly as possible.  And besides, the test is easy enough for anyone to run on their own.  So I’m only going to focus on the two DAWs I know and use the most (which also happen have to most heated debates on inherent sound quality), Ableton Live and Apple Logic Pro.

So for this comparison I’m going to be using Apple Logic Pro v9.1.5 in 32bit mode, and Ableton Live v8.2.6.  The basic premise of the test is pretty simple, I’ll use the same set of audio stems in each application, and then compare the rendered results.  For those of you who’d like to use these same stems in your own DAW of choice, you can download all the 24bit stems here:

http://tarekith.com/assets/SoundQuality/LogicLiveStems.zip

Because I don’t have time at the moment to write new material for a test like this, I just used some stems from one of my recent songs.  I kept the stems at 17 bars to keep the file sizes smaller, with a short click at the very beginning to assist in lining up the files for comparison later on.  I did run the test on song-length stems as well, and got the same results as with these shorter files, for those that are curious.

Step one was to import all the stems into Logic, and lower each track fader to be exactly -3dB. (Command+Click on each image below to view it larger in a new Tab)

Next I made sure to change Logic’s pan law to “-3dB (Compensated)” in the project settings.  This way Logic is using the same pan law that Ableton Live uses (Live does not allow you to change the pan law).

After that I bounced all of the stems into a single stereo 24bit wav file.

Now to do the same in Ableton Live.  First step is to drag all of the stems into Live, MAKE SURE WARPING IS OFF, and then lower all of Live’s volume faders to -3dB.  It’s important in Live to actually type the exact value you want for the value faders.  Many people don’t realize this, but Live’s faders only show a resolution of one decimal place, but can actually be slightly different if you drag them with the mouse or use a MIDI controller.  For instance, if you drag them with the mouse they might really be set to -3.045dB, even though they show -3dB.  For day to day use this is no issue at all, but I want to make sure the volumes are identical to what I set in Logic.

Then I Exported the stems from Live into a single stereo 24bit wav file just like before.

Now the fun part.  The first thing I wanted to do is just listen to these two files and see if I could hear an obvious difference.  I dragged them both into Live (again making sure warping was off) and assigned a MIDI controller to mute one track while soloing the other.  This way I could instantly toggle between them with one button press.

Normally I’d get my wife to help me by toggling these while I wasn’t looking, so that the observations are done blind.  However she was watching Amazing Race on TV, so I had to just turn off the computer screen and do it manually a bunch of times without keeping count of how often I pressed the button. Not the most scientific, but regardless I could hear no difference between the two files anyway.  This was done at multiple volume levels with my monitors as well.

You can listen to the files yourself here:

http://tarekith.com/assets/SoundQuality/LiveTestFile.wav

http://tarekith.com/assets/SoundQuality/LogicTestFile.wav

Right click and choose “Save As” to download these to your computer if you want, and remember the little click you hear at the start of both files was intentional.

After that, I opened both files up Audiofile Engineering’s Wave Editor, and ran an audio analysis on them both.  You can see those results here:

As you can see, the results are identical.  Note that even though the “Selection Only” option is checked in the Analysis Window, the entire audio file was selected in both cases when I ran the analysis.

The final test was the infamous phase-cancellation test I’m sure many of you have seen mentioned before.  To perform this, I dragged both rendered files into Logic, used a Logic Gain plug-in on one of them to invert it’s phase, and then compared the combined output when both were played at the same time.  I used Logic metering, as well as Sonalksis’s Free-G plug in meter for greater resolution (and it’s free so other’s can use it for their own testing).  As you can see, when the phase of one of the files was inverted, the files COMPLETELY cancelled each other out.  I also repeated this test in Live using a Utility plug-in to invert the phase of one track, and got the same results.

This means they are bit for bit identical.

So, the results of this test show that Ableton Live and Apple Logic Pro produce exactly the same thing when you export a mixdown.

Everything else being equal.

That is the key point that people need to take away from this test, everything else being equal.  This test only shows that at their core, these two applications combine multiple tracks into a stereo wav file in exactly the same way, nothing else.  There are dozens of other aspects of each program that can affect the final audio quality of your mixdowns, and since there is no way to do a fair comparison of those, I’m not even going to bother trying.

For instance, both programs offer different time-stretching algorithms (Warping versus Flex-Time).  They both come with plug-ins (and presets) that designed and sound vastly different from each other.  They both handle things like automation data differently.  Just a few examples of places other than the supposed “summing engine” where what you do, and how you use each program, can impact the final sound of your productions.

I’m sure what I’ve done here won’t end the debate over which DAW sounds the best, but I do hope that in some small way it shifts the discussion to the aspects that truly make a measureable difference.  As I’ve shown here, if there is a difference in sound quality, it’s not in the way they combine multiple tracks into the final end result.

——————-

If anyone finds a flaw in my testing, or just wants to continue the debate, please feel free to discuss this in the comments section below.  Please don’t ask me to test other DAWs , I’ve provided the exact files I’ve used if you’re really that curious about it.  By all means feel free to post the results of any testing you do though, as I’m sure other people are curious as well.

——————-

UPDATE 12-06-2011

Well, it took awhile but the flood gates have opened about my Live versus Logic sound quality test that I just posted.  Some people have raised some good points about ways I could have modified the test to include other parameters, so I’ve gone back and done a few things differently as sort of a round two.   I also wanted to clarify a few questions that seem to keep popping up on different forums again and again.

First and foremost though, I wish people would have not just skimmed the article and actually read my conclusions.  I am NOT saying that Live and Logic ALWAYS sound the same.  The point of this test was to isolate one specific area for comparison, and show how at the core, the way these two programs combine multiple audio tracks into a stereo wav file is the same.  That’s it.

Like I stated in the original post, there’s a LOT of other areas where there will likely be difference in sound quality.  Instead of getting mad at me for not doing all the work for you, it would be great if people instead tested some of this on their own and said “hey look, here’s one area where I can reliable show a difference in signals”.

 

Anyway, here’s some other things I looked at over the last day, and some clarifications on the test itself:

– A few people mentioned that they hear the differences most notably with recorded instruments.  The guitar in this test was recorded live, it’s a Parker Dragonfly using a combination of the piezo and mag pickups, through a Pod HD500 and then into an RME Fireface400.

– Some people have questioned whether the soundcard I use (see above) could have any impact on the signals in the test.  Short answer is no, the soundcard doesn’t factor in at all until after the DAW has done it’s thing and that signal is trying to get out of your computer.  Or if your song sucks, maybe the signal is ashamed and is trying to stay in your computer, I don’t know.

– Other people wanted to know if perhaps the test would turn out differently if I use more than 9 audio tracks.  So I duplicated the tracks in each DAW many times, and added some other random loops from my collection as well (to rule out it just being these audio files that this was happening with).  In total, I used 80 stereo tracks, exported, and still got total cancellation when comparing the two.

– This last test was one of the most interesting.  Someone had suggested using the same 3rd party plug ins in both DAWs, and seeing if that had any impact on whether or not they cancel (or sound).  So I used a combination of Fabfilter Pro-L, DMG eQuality, Voxengo MSED and Polysquasher, and PSP Xenon, placed randomly across the different tracks (yet the same tracks in both DAWs).  Some were placed one after the other in series on the same track, others were solo by themselves on a single track.

Interestingly, when I compared these two results, they did NOT cancel, barely at all in fact.  As I dug into this some more, it seems that the Voxengo and PSP plugs were the primary cause, as once I removed these the signals almost cancelled.  Summed they were inaudible, but I was still seeing some very small signal around -96dB on the Free-G meter.  This gave me an AHA! moment though, when I realized this looked a lot like a dither signal.  Sure enough, I had forgotten that I had dithering enabled by default in Pro-L.  Once this was turned off, the two signals cancelled completely.

So, I’m really not sure what kind of conclusions one can draw at this point about this, other than some of the differences in this part of the test seemed to be down to the plug ins themselves.  Perhaps they report their latency differently, or have some sort of random processing happening as part of the way they work internally, I really don’t know.

 

Anyway, the long and short of all this is that all this testing was never meant to be a definitive statement about which DAW ultimately sounds better, or which people should prefer.  I’ve gotten a lot of surprisingly hateful emails from people calling me an “Ableton Fan Boy” (is that an insult?) among many other not so nice things.  At the end of the day yes, I do like Ableton Live for many things, but it’s only one of many tools at my disposal.

For instance, when clients send me mixdowns to work on, I don’t use Live unless they ask me to, I always reach for Logic first.  It’s faster for this type of work, has better automation functions, and quite frankly I like the way it’s plug ins sound better and how quickly I can add an EQ to a channel if I need to. (far from perfect though, Logic has been buggy as shit since OSX Lion came out).

As always I’m sure people will draw their own conclusions no matter what I say, but I do ask that instead of sending me nasty emails or message, maybe try instead to offer something more constructive to the conversation than “You must have tomatos in your ears!”.

——————-

UPDATE 12-13-2011

Well, it turns out a flaw has been found that invalidates my test.  In attempt to use measurement tools that others could also obtain for free, it’s been pointed out to me that the low-level resolution of the Free-G metering plug in was not sufficient to capture all of the audio signal.  An Ableton Forum user has brought to my attention that the last 3 bits of the null-test signal (the signal below -126dBFS) are in fact not bit for bit identical.

How much affect this has on the audible difference between the two signals is debatable (and I’m sure people will), but I have to withdraw my conclusion that Live and Logic produce bit for bit identical audio files given the conditions above.  My apologies for not being more thorough in my testing, you can now go back to arguing about which DAW sounds better 🙂

The Flickering Dark

This is a sort of proof of concept for a new type of live pa I’ve been working on for the last 8 days.  Not so much a demo as it’s only 20 minutes long, more an experiment for me to see if this was a valid way to play live.

http://tarekith.com/mp3s/Tarekith-The_Flickering_Dark.mp3

There are some benefits to being left home alone (plus a dog) for 16 days, while the wife goes on vacation with her sister.  Knowing I’d have this time to myself to work any schedule, and do whatever I wanted in the meantime, I planned on writing a LOT of music.  I prepped material for a new Machinedrum live set, I bought some new apps for the iPad, I even prepped some song writing templates in Live just in case I got an idea.  In short, I got all the BS out of the way before she even left 🙂

Of course, things never go according to plan, and literally on the day she left I got this left field idea to try and get a working live pa set up with Stylus RMX and Omnisphere in Ableton Live.  I’ve tried it a few times before, but always ran into hurdles that kept me from getting it set up in a fluid, performable way.

The key this time, was that I realized I could use Live’s Looper devices, much like I do with the Elektron RAM machines in my Machinedrum live sets.  So I have one instance of RMX and one Omnisphere (Omni) in the set, and I use them both in Multi mode.  This way I could use a Multi in each device for each of my “songs” in the set.  With a Looper on each of those tracks, I can capture the audio from them, and have it start looping immediately while I switch to a new Multi on the plug ins.  Switching the Multi in Stylus was only time I needed to use the trackpad in fact.

The only tricky bit was figuring out how to fade from the audio looping in Looper on each track, to the new material I had just loaded.  I ended up using an audio effect rack, with one chain for the Looper, and one for the dry audio.  Using a track fader on the APC, I could crossfade from looped material and new stuff for the next song by mapping a fader to the chain selector.

I used 3 tracks of drums from Stylus, and 4 tracks of synths in Omnisphere.  The APC40 would handle clip launching, and tweaking all the Stylus and Looper parameters.  (Stylus and Omni both have excellent MIDI mapping utilities btw.)

Here’s a couple views of the Live Set:

I used OmniTR on the iPad2 to control everything in Omnisphere, from switching sounds, to tweaking everything live, to selecting the Multi for each song.  Strangely I’d get an audible glitch when switching Multi’s with TR, a super short audible pop.  Even more strangely, this did not get recorded in the audio I saved to post online.  ????

Anyway, pretty happy with it overall, even if it does sound a little confusing on paper.  I’ll start working on some more material for the set over the next month or so.  Fun stuff, enjoy!

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!

Common Arrangement Issues

Earlier this year I covered some of the more common mixdown issues I hear in the songs I work on, and in others I hear online in the various forums I frequent.  I think it’s time to take another tack now, and talk about some of the issues I repeatedly hear in the way people arrange their songs.  I’ve learned it’s one thing to create a great “track”, it’s another to craft a song that makes people want to hear it again and again.

In fact, for the longest time I more or less stopped creating (synthesizing) my own sounds, so that I could spend more time working on creating compelling arrangements that made people want to listen more than once.  As part of this process (and indeed as part of my daily mastering anyway), I listened to a lot of songs and tried to identify what it was that made me want to immediately listen to a song again.  Or perhaps I had to listen to it again anyway for some reason, but each time I did I heard something that caught my attention in a new way.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that a lot of songs people post online these days fall into some of the same traps that make them almost disposable after one listen.  Here’s a few of the areas I think a lot of songs would benefit from improving on:

The intro of the song is too long, or not engaging enough.

It’s true that a lot of people think electronic music means dance music, and as such we’ve all been told that dance music needs to have a simple beginning for the DJs to beatmatch.  I’m not sure this really applies anymore in this day of auto-syncing and the multiple loops that most DJ software uses, but a lot of people play it safe and create long 32 bar intro with relatively simple structures.  There’s nothing wrong with this for the DJs among us, but realistically, how many people in your audience are going to be hearing your song while cueing it up in a club?

In reality, your average listener is likely going to be at their computer, in the car, or walking around listening to their headphones.  So for a “standard” 32 bar intro at 128BPM, they have to listen to a minute of rather bland music before you really get into the meat of things.  By all means use a simple beat structure to make the track easier to beatmatch if you want, but make sure and put some more subtle ear candy in there to draw in and engage the other listeners too.  Or consider using a shorter intro that perhaps is a little more relevant to today’s DJ.


The song is too long overall, or too repetitive.

Sometimes I get sent songs to work on where the whole tune is over 7 minutes long, and yet they could have easily said everything they needed to say in only 4-5 minutes.  Building and riding a groove is great when you’re making your song, but it’s important to try and step back and realize that not everyone will be willing, or wanting, to listen to it for as long as you do.  There’s very little need to fill up a side of a record anymore, so see if you have redundant section in your song where things are just not really going anywhere.

Likewise, one of my biggest pet peeves is with songs that are just too repetitive and loopy sounding.  You hear the same sound, exactly the same way for almost the whole song.  Even worse if it’s something the producer does with all the sounds in the song.  It might be rocking your world when you’re first making that core loop you’re going to build the song from, but try and look at it from another perspective and see if you can use some variations to keep it interesting on repeated listens.

Maybe use a simpler version of the loop early on, or add new effects or EQing to it halfway through.  Better yet, trying and find a way to have each sound constantly evolve as the song progresses, even if subtly.  Repetitive stuff can work on the dance floor where someone might hear only 4 minutes of a track before the DJ mixes into a new one.  But at home when your average listener is going to be hearing it from start to finish, do your best to keep them guessing and engaged, and not feeling like they know exactly how the song will finish.
The song sounds the same after the drop as before.

Another pet-peeve of mine, is when people have a really nice groove going in the song, then they go into a really well constructed drop and build up phase.  Then, at the peak of the build up everything hammers back in and sounds…..

….exactly like it did before the drop.  Boring!  Use that chance to take the song to the next level, introduce a new part, take the energy up, use a significantly altered part of your initial sounds to really get people to notice and re-engaged in the song.  After a really dramatic build up, you have the best chance to take the song some place new and unexpected.  There’s no reason that a song’s 2nd half has to sound like it’s first half, so get creative!

 

Every song has a long fade out at the end.

It’s not something you hear all the time, but there are some people out there who insist on slowly fading out each and every one of their songs to create the ending.  Used once in awhile it’s a great tool to keep people engaged in the song while slowly bringing them down.  But if you do it every single time, it loses it’s impact and ends up sounding like a bad 80’s cliche.

 

Too much is happening at once.

This is probably one of the more common issues I hear in people’s tracks, and I freely admit to being guilty of it myself at times.  There’s nothing wrong with creating dense music with a lot of sounds playing off each other, but you have to make sure they are really working together, and not fighting each other for space.  Having two lead sounds playing at once can often make things sound busy and cluttered, when what you might have been going for is more energy.  After working on a song for days or weeks, we get really good at tuning out certain sounds while we focus on others in the writing process.  So it’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking a song is not too cluttered sounding, we’re subconsciously already not really paying attention to the big picture.

Aside from making it difficult to hear everything or the focus of the song, it’s also going to make it harder to get the overall level of the song up to a volume that you might feel is competitive with other songs in the same genre.  Loud and punchy songs often have very simple song structures, with simple instrumentation (only a few sounds playing at once).  It’s much easier to tame the peaks from a few sounds when boosting things louder, than it is trying to keep it all from turning into distorted mush if the track has a couple dozen things going on at once.

Like I said, nothing wrong with make dense soundscapes if that’s your thing, but then you really need to focus on making sure everything compliments each other in terms of frequencies, pitches, and timing to get the best results.


Loops not trimmed perfectly.

Argh, I hate this one.  I don’t care if people hand craft each sound from scratch, or take everything from sample loop CDs, making music is making music.  But if you are going to use loops, especially when layering percussion and drum sounds, then you HAVE to make sure they sound like one part.  Layering multiple kicks for instance, it’s a great way to get really full and powerful drum sounds without needing to mess with compression and the like.  But you have to make sure that all those separate kicks sound like one single kick, and aren’t flamming at all.

There’s been so many times I’ve heard great tracks when shopping for records to DJ with, that ultimately i just couldn’t buy because the drums were flamming every 4 or 8 bars.  It sounds amateurish, it’s distracting, and it makes beatmatching painful at the very least.  Take the time to trim and edit your loops and drums so that they line up EXACTLY.  I find it’s best to solo the parts you’re working on, and use headphones to listen, and the effect is much more pronounced in cans than in some people’s monitors.

 

No fills or transitions to help guide the song along.

A lot of people are really good at crafting creative drops and build ups in their song, they realize the important of guiding people to an important section of the song.  But not everyone realizes that this same concept on a smaller scale can be used throughout the song, to much the same purpose.  I’m sure most of us have heard songs like this, where the artist sounds almost like they are turning sounds on and off abruptly every 16 bars or so.

Sometimes the sudden introduction of a new sound can have a lot of impact, but when that’s the only device you are using throughout the whole song, it can also get a bit boring and predictable too.  If you listen to some of your favorite songs closely, you’ll often hear how the artist uses small and subtle cues to tell the listener that something new is coming.  Maybe it’s a small drum fill, or perhaps a synth swell.  A common trick is to use a reversed reverb sound to lead into a vocal for instance. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, but little cues like this give the listener a sense of anticipation, it engages them and makes them eager to here what comes next.

On the other hand, it can also make transitioning to a new, and perhaps very different sounding, section of the song easier to follow.  Instead of a sudden change, you help guide the listener into something they might otherwise have found too quick of a jump.  The key of course is to not make the fills more obvious and upfront than the sections they are preceding or alluding to.  Done correctly, subtle fills can be one of the greatest tools to give a song that repeat listening potential.  It creates tension and expectation in the listeners each time they hear the song, and can provide the little bits of ear-candy that makes people hear something new each time they listen to your song.

Anyway, I hope some of you got some new ideas from this, or at least it refreshed your memory on things to remember when writing your songs.  For more on arranging and fills, you can check out these older guides I’ve written on the subject for more ideas:

http://tarekith.com/assets/arranging.html

http://tarekith.com/assets/transitions.html

Thanks, and stayed tuned for more articles in the future!

“Slope Lifter”

Slope Lifter – Downtempo 08-11-2011

Whew, to say it’s been a pretty crazy week would be an understatement I guess.  Never the less, I’ve been lucky enough to steal a few minutes here and there to work on a new tune, and here it is.  Starts out kind of spacey and ambient, then goes into a more mid-tempo groove, almost danceable in places.  Didn’t really limit myself to any specific tools when creating this one, so I pretty much threw the kitchen sink at it.  Everything was recorded, arranged, and mixed in Live 8, with Omnisphere, Synplant, and Analog providing the synth sounds.  The drums are a mish-mash of Stylus RMX and the Machinedrum, and there’s even a bit of guitar here and there via my Dragonfly and the HD500.  Mastering was just a touch of Elephant in Wave Editor.

FLAC and wav file versions are available at Addictech.com

Hope you all enjoy!

Next up, a new downtempo DJ set I have a feeling.

Until then,
Tarekith