Temples To Telescopes

Temples To Telescopes300

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:


Hope you enjoy,

The -6dB Rule


Been seeing a lot of new producers asking why they should keep their DAW master meters around -6dBFS (or -3dBFS, -4dBFS, etc). While a lot of mastering engineers are the ones asking for mixdowns this way, there seems to be some confusion that this is something that is needed for mastering. In truth, mastering engineers could care less what the headroom of your tracks is, as long as there is some.

The real reason you want to try and keep some headroom in your mix downs is to make sure that you’re not inadvertently clipping. A lot of synths and effects use random modulations, even some dynamics processors are designed to mimic analog processors and thus might have slight variations each time you process audio through them.

By aiming to keep roughly 6dB of headroom on the master channel as you do your mix, you’re just ensuring that some of this randomness doesn’t clip. Just because your mix peaks at exactly -1dBFS one time when you play the song, doesn’t mean it will peak to that same value each and every time. Leaving some headroom just eliminates having to worry about this, it’s a safety net, nothing more.

In a perfect world if you’re 100% sure your mix is not clipping, you can render it as close to 0dBFS as you want. But that doesn’t mean that you’re going to gain anything by doing so, your mix won’t sound better.  So there’s really no need to push things that hard and risk clipping your file permanently.

As you can see, I tend to tell people to aim for roughly -6dBFS, but that’s just a personal preference. Some people recommend -3dBFS as well, either will work fine, just be sure you’re also working at 24bit or higher.

So what if your mix is too hot, and you don’t know the best way to fix it? In general I tell people it’s best to get in the habit of leaving the master fader at 0 and just lowering all the tracks by the same amount until you have the headroom you want. But there’s really nothing wrong with just lowering the master fader too, if that works better because you have a lot of track volume automation for instance. Use whatever is easiest for you, the key is just to get that safety in place.

I hope that helps clear some of this up, let me know if you have any questions!

The Practice Guilt


Last November I finally achieved a dream of mine by buying a really nice acoustic guitar. While providing me with a musical outlet that was a break from the electronic-inspired songs I work with all day, it also was a chance for me to finally spend some quality time improving my guitar chops. Something I hadn’t done much since I first started playing over 20 years ago.

So I made a pact with myself that I would at least pick up the guitar and play SOMETHING every single day. Even if it was only 5 minutes of exercises to keep my fingers in shape, such as the excellent “Finger Gym” by Justin Sandercoe.  Probably one of the simplest and best practice routines for finger independence and strength that I’ve found yet.

For months I was successful at my goal, every single day I played my guitar, sometimes for hours, sometimes for minutes. As you would expect, it didn’t take long for me to see some pretty dramatic improvements (even considering I was also finger-picking for the first time). If nothing else I FELT like I was playing better than ever before, and when you’ve been playing as long as I have, that’s a great feeling.

Then something unexpected happened that threw a wrench in my works, I went on vacation.

Specifically to Europe for two weeks, which meant I would have no access to a guitar the whole time (and I did attempt to find local shops on our travels). I was in a panic, not only was I about to break my vow of daily practice, but I felt like it was going to be a step backward in my progress too. But, at the same time I knew I had to be practical and that life was bound to throw me obstacles that would make daily practice impossible eventually.

When I returned from that vacation, one of the first things I did was pick up the guitar, fearfully expecting it to feel a bit clumsy again. I was more than a little shocked to discover that my playing actually felt better than before I left by a little bit. My fingers hadn’t forgotten everything, and they weren’t weak little sausages that couldn’t play for more than a couple minutes without getting tired.

I was happy, but convinced it was a weird fluke. However, as I’ve had the chance to take a few more days off for other various trips this fall, I keep experiencing the same thing. After a couple of days break from the guitar, I wasn’t struggling to return to the level I was at before. If anything, my fingers felt more confident, and my muscles felt stronger for the break too. A couple minutes of warmup and I was feeling better than ever.

This got me thinking about how I’ve noticed a similar thing when I come out of long bouts of writer’s block. I might go months without any solid ideas, feeling like my skills are slipping and things are going to be harder once the muse revisits my studio. But in each case, I’ve come out of these long periods of rest with my music being stronger than ever (I think anyway).

As I’ve looked into this some more, it seems this is a common phenomenon among musicians. Players say that after having troubles learning a difficult passage in songs, sometimes taking a break for a day and then trying again means they nail it first time. Or producers who struggle all day to achieve a balance in their mixdown come back to it after a good night’s sleep and suddenly the issues are obvious.

I think our brains need time to adapt and learn, and sometimes trying to force yourself to achieve a goal backfires, and we just end up making the same mistakes over and over. By taking a break, and especially sleeping for one night, we allow our brains a chance to process the new information we’re trying to learn at it’s own pace. The neural connections we need can form properly, and often we can suddenly achieve what we wanted the next time we try.

I don’t dread long times away from my studio like I used to anymore. I accept it’s a natural part of any learning curve, not just for something specific like the guitar. Sometimes trying to push through a problem doesn’t actually solve the problem, and you either never conquer it, or it takes way longer than it should.

It seems counterintuitive, but I guess sometimes you need to take a break from something to get better at it!

My Little Reminder


Every once in awhile, we all need a bit of a kick in ass.  Over the last year I’ve been spending quite a bit of time exploring new workflows when it comes to writing music.  I’m sure anyone following the blog has noticed I’ve been buying, using, and then flipping gear rather quickly to fund something else quite a bit recently.  Partly because I wanted to try out some pieces of gear I kept hearing good things about, and partly because, well…  Let’s just say I was hoping that one of these purchases would reinvigorate me to get out of a creative rut I’ve been in.  We’ve all been there.

However a few weeks ago, one of my wife’s co-workers asked if they could bring their 11-year old  son to the studio.  He had been working on writing electronic music, and they wanted to see if I could answer any questions he might have, or just let him listen to his songs on the bigger speakers.  I sometimes have local school kids here for just this reason, I love to help out, so it’s something I don’t mind doing at all.

I have to say it was the first time in awhile that I was generally blown away by the music someone else had written, not bad for an 11 year old!

It wasn’t so much the quality of his songs, as it was his excitement and determination to write music no matter what.  Don’t get me wrong, he was writing Avicii-style tracks, and the sounds and arrangement were actually pretty well done. But I had to keep reminding myself that he was only 11!

The cool thing was that he was doing all of his writing using the demos of Fruity Loops and Sylenth1.  So he wasn’t able to re-open his work in progress if he closed the app, and he had to work around the annoying voice-over copy protection that Sylenth had.  I mean, he’s only 11, it’s not like he can even mow lawns or get a paper-route to pay for this stuff yet!

But it didn’t phase him at all.  If anything he didn’t know that it didn’t have to be so difficult, so he just got on with things.  Ultimately he didn’t really have any questions for me to answer, and if anything was just super eager to have someone else listen to his songs.  He had a really good handle on the production process already, just from watching YouTube videos.  Heck, he even spent 10 minutes explaining to me how he sets up his side-chaining!  Freaking 11 years old!

What I didn’t expect was just how motivating the experience would be for me.  Seeing this little kid have so much passion and commitment when it came to writing music really was a great reminder for me of a lot of things.  Like how the gear we use doesn’t matter as much as we might like to think, or how much fun I used to have when I first started writing myself.

Over the last few weeks I’ve thought about that encounter a lot, and it’s been a real kick in the ass to get me reinvigorated in the tools I already have (notice the recent Live songs I’ve been posting for instance).  Sometimes the way out of a funk comes from the least expected places, and this was definitely one of those times.  So hats off to little Ben, and I hope his dream of being a famous producer some day comes true.  Given his determination, I have little doubt of it!

Special thanks to Lennar Digital as well.  When they heard about his story, they were extremely supportive and helped Ben get around that annoying Sylenth1 demo limitation.  Very cool of you guys!

Peace and beats,

Mixing and Mastering in Ableton Live – Decibel Festival 2014


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:


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:


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.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 9.01.47 AM

(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,

My Top Ten iOS Apps

Since one of the more frequent questions I get asked is for iOS music app recommendations, I figured it was time to list my favorites as of Summer 2014. I’m not saying that these are the “best” iOS apps out there, just that these are the ones I find myself reach for again and again. With that, and in no particular order, here we go!


1. Auria.

Easily my most used iOS app, Auria is not cheap for an iOS app but is an absolute steal given how powerful it is. Intuitive and fluid audio editing and mixing, the included plug-ins sound great, and there’s great export options if you want to finalize your mix on the desktop. But considering you can also use all of the Fabfilter plug-ins ported to iOS in Auria (available via IAP), you may not even want to use the desktop again. If you work mainly with audio and not MIDI, this is the iOS DAW you want.


2. Audiobus.

I’ll admit I rarely use Audiobus these days, preferring instead to access my effects and synths in Auria via Inter-App Audio (IAA). But Audiobus was the app that made me realize the potential of iOS music making, allowing you to finally route and record your apps and effects among each other. A game-changer, everyone should own this just in case.


3. DM1.

Probably one of my favorite drum apps currently, DM1 comes stock with some great samples of all the classic drum machines, as well as some acoustic kits and even some more unique percussion instruments. Simple to use, a fun randomize function, and great iCloud support. One of the more versatile electronic drum machines out there.


4. Alchemy Mobile.

While it’s nowhere near as comprehensive as the desktop version, Alchemy Mobile is still one of the synths I reach for more than any other on the iPad. Great sounds, just enough tweakability to personalize the presets for your songs, and a very handy 4 track recorder. One of the best balances between power and ease of use on the iOS platform I feel. The additional preset packs aren’t cheap, but all of the ones I’ve purchased have been well worth it if you want more sounds.


5. Figure.

My go to when I have the iPhone with me and not the iPad. I like simpler apps on the smaller screen, though Figure has a lot more power and versatility than it first appears. Lots of possibilities for tweaking the (few) included presets, and if you’re a Reason owner you can import your songs into that app on the desktop later. Great sounding, easy to use, and perfectly adapted to the touchscreen.


6. Nave.

Waldorf’s first foray into iOS is a powerhouse, and considering it takes up almost 300+MB of your RAM on the iPad, you’re going to know it if you have a lot of apps open at once 🙂 I found the interface a little confusing at first, but once I got to grips with it I realized just how capable this synth is. If it was a little easier on the CPU and RAM this would probably be one of the only synths I need. Still, in terms of matching what’s available on the desktop, Nave is definitely one to try.


7. Gadget.

Korg made a huge splash with this app when it was released, and for good reason! The synths sound and look amazing, the sequencer is extremely well done and easy to use for simple grooves or full songs, and there’s promised updates on the way shortly. If you only own one app on your iPad, this is the one I would recommend. Even if it only works in portrait mode, which is very annoying.


8. iElectribe.

The Korg ER-1 was one of my first drum machines, and this app only improves on that concept. All the sound and interface of the original drum machine, with greater export and copy/paste functionality. You can even re-skin it if that’s your thing. Fun to use when you need some artificial sounding electronic drum, it’s in second place for iOS percussion right behind DM1 for me.


9. Traktor DJ.

There’s quite a few DJ apps out there on the iOS platform these days, but Traktor is the one I use more than any other. Decent effects and layout, ongoing support and updates from NI, and support of all the new NI DJ Hardware as well. Unless you’re dead set on trying to mimic operating a real turntable on your iPad/iPhone, Traktor should be the first DJ app you try.


10. Sunrizer.

One of the first iOS synths I ever bought, it’s still one of my favorites. I love the way it looks on the iPad, and the sound quality and features still rival newer competitor synth apps today. Based loosely on the Roland JP series of synths, but it’s capable of much more than you’d expect. Fun randomizer, a comprehensive arp/sequencer, and well thought MIDI functionality make this a no-brainer for me to recommend.

Well, that’s the short and quick version, though as always I’m happy to answer any questions people might have about any of these. And of course, I’d love to hear what else other people are using too. Feel free to drop any questions or comments in the comments, thanks!

The Anniversary Wrap Up


Well, I thought it might be a crazy idea I’d come to regret, but my decision to offer 24 hours of free mastering as part of my Studio’s 5 year anniversary ended up being a real success.  I was able to meet a lot of new producers, and quite a few former clients I hadn’t heard from in a couple years came out of the woodwork too.  Not to mention the fact that it ended up being a lot of fun getting to work on so much new music, and across so many different styles too!

Quite a few of the producers I worked with were happy to let me use their tracks to update the before and after section of my website too, so I’ll have some mastering examples everyone can check out in a couple weeks.  Gotta find time to update the website first  🙂

One of the comments I got from multiple people was that they were very impressed with the results given my minimal gear collection these days.  It made me realize that perhaps that’s in fact why I like mastering so much, by it’s definition it’s almost minimalist processing of audio.  Do only as much as is needed to improve the mix, and leave everything else untouched to let the producers’ intention and styles come through still.

It’s no wonder I like this job so much, being a confirmed minimalist myself these days!  Though I have to say that new Fabfilter Pro-Q update is looking very sweet, so I might be adding to my EQ collection shortly!  Check it out:


More than anything though, this recent anniversary made me realize how lucky I am to have the job I do.  And that I need to redouble my efforts to reach even more producers who might need mastering.  I want to make the world sound better one song at a time!

With that, time to get back to work.  Until next time!

Peace and beats,
Erik M.



5 Years & Free Mastering


It’s truly hard for me to believe, but today marks the 5 year anniversary since I started running Inner Portal Studio full-time.  It’s been quite a journey so far, and I couldn’t have done it without all the support and trust of the hundreds of musicians I’ve worked with in that time.  As a way of saying thanks and giving something back, for the next 24 hours I will be offering….

… free mastering.

Yep, you read that right.  From now until 10:00 AM PST, August 19th I will master ONE of your tracks for free.  I expect to receive a LOT of tracks during this offer, so I’m requiring the following from people submitting songs to make sure this goes as smoothly as possible:

1. Please read and follow my usual guidelines on how to prepare your tracks for mastering: http://innerportalstudio.com/mastering/.

2. I am only accepting tracks sent to me via my Uploader: http://innerportalstudio.com/upload/.

3. All file names MUST include your name and the song name, i.e. “Artist Name – Song Name.wav”.

4. On the Upload form you will see the field “Type Your Message”.  You MUST include your real name, your artist name, the song name, and anything else I should know about your track and what you’re looking for in the mastering.

5. Please send me an email at Erik@InnerPortalStudio.com letting me know you submitted a track, and send it from the same email address that you put on the Upload form.  PLEASE include your Artist name and the Song name in the subject line as well.

6. When the offer is over, it’s over, so please don’t ask if you can submit late or if I can refund a previous mastering job.

Let me know if you have any questions, otherwise I look forward to working on your tracks!  Thanks everyone for an incredible 5 years so far, here’s to 5 more!


Strymon Timeline Review


Finally got a chance to do my video review of the Strymon Timeline, which you can view here:

As always, let me know if you have any questions, happy to help if I can!