It’s hard to believe I’ve been running my blog for 6 years now, even more difficult to believe that I’ve done 282 posts in that time period. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end, and I’ve decided that now is a good time for me to step away from the blog and focus on other avenues for sharing my views on creativity and audio production.
It’s been really enjoyable talking to everyone and sharing your views on how you approach all the struggles and joys of writing music. I can’t thank everyone enough for all the insightful comments, indepth replies, and most especially for all the donations you’ve made to help make all this possible.
As a way of saying thanks one final time, I’ve collected all of the best blog posts into one document, which you can download here:
The zip file contains both PDF and epub versions of the document so you can view it on any of your devices. I’ve made a few changes here in there in the text to update my recommendations on gear, and make it easier to read all of the posts front to back.
Well, it’s been a bit more than a week since I released my latest album and the accompanying video walkthrough of the Live Projects for it, and I’m super pleased with the way it’s been received so far. All that work putting together the walkthrough wasn’t a waste of time, though I’ve been getting a few questions from producers about some of the things I didn’t cover in the video. I figured it would be good to collect them all here so other musicians who might be curious about these can read them too!
So, without further adieu, here’s some follow up questions I was asked about making “Ad Infinitum” (rephrased for clarity/brevity):
1. What settings from the Groove Pool did you use for the songs on the albums?
I actually didn’t use Grooves at all on this album, instead I just set the Swing parameter on Push 2 to roughly 7% when I was recording new parts. The Groove Pool in Live is a nice idea, but I find it a bit cumbersome to use myself. A little bit of swing here and there when using things like Note Repeat goes a long way towards making things a bit more human sounding I find.
2. What sample-rate and bit depth did you for this album?
I actually spent a couple days before I started trying out various sample rates to see which I should use for the rest of the album. Namely I wanted to see if running at 96kHz was something I wanted to use. Every couple if years I start telling myself that perhaps now is when I’ll be able to notice an increase in sound quality, so I like to spend some time revisiting the idea before larger projects.
But, as in the past, I still ended up preferring the 44.1kHz versions of my songs once everything was down-sampled to that setting for release online. In a couple cases the 96kHz raw versions sound a tiny bit more open on their own, but once you add in a pass of sample-rate conversion to get the standard 16/44.1kHz wav files most online aggregators like CDBaby.com want, then I preferred the regular 44.1kHz versions.
In the end I decided that for my music (and the way I write it at least), sticking with 24bit/44.1kHz files while working was the best way forward.
3. In the past you’ve said you almost never use MIDI and prefer working with audio files directly in Live, however in the video it looks like you’re using a lot of MIDI clips. What changed your mind?
It’s true, normally I prefer working with audio as soon as possible when writing my songs. On this album though, every one of the songs was written from the ground up with Push, which largely was created to control the built in instruments in Live via MIDI. So while in a few instances I resampled the MIDI tracks to audio if I needed more CPU power, overall it was just easier to keep things as MIDI after I recorded them with Push.
Even audio loops from my own sample library were typically imported into the new Simpler for further tweaking.
4. You seem to have a lot of nice gear available to use in your studio, why did you decide use only Live?
Actually the initial plan when I started working on the album was only to use Live as a DAW for writing the songs, and everything else was fair game if I thought it should be used on the album. But once I started diving in with Push and exploring some more of the Ableton Live Packs, I just found a workflow that seemed to fit me really well so I ended up ultimately using mostly the Ableton instruments for most of the writing.
There’s a little bit of other things still scattered throughout here and there though. In one track I used Absynth 5 for one sound, and I think Synplant might have been in one song as well. Plus I have a lot of audio loops I’ve made with other gear that got chucked into Simpler for the album. A few were from the new electribe, and there’s a lot of MicroTonic drum loops from the Patternarium website on there too.
So while the actual hosts of the audio loops were Simpler or Sampler, there’s a few years of other gear as the source material too.
5. For awhile there you were heavily into the iPad for music making, did you use it for this album at all?
I’ve been using Auria a lot the last few weeks for the album, though not for the actual writing per se. Where Auria really came in handy, was letting me take all rough mixes of the songs as I was close to finishing them, and play around with the track order while not in the studio. I’d load them up on the iPad at the end of the day, and go sit outside to listen to what I had done and play with track spacing and track order (it’s meant to be listened to as a continuous album).
Also, because I was going to be using Pro-L to master it on the laptop, I could use Pro-L in Auria to get a rough idea how it might sound on different headphones once it was done. Useful for gut-based mix checks as I work. It was really handy for letting me listen to everything with a fresh perspective out of the studio.
6. Will you do your next album with Live and Push 2 again?
At this point I haven’t decided what the next album will be, or even when I’ll start it, so it’s hard to say. Given how complex this album was though, I think in the short term I’m going to rachet things back and focus on my Novation Circuit which is arriving any day now 🙂
Hope that clears things up for people, if you have any other questions by all means put them in the comments!
Earlier this month I was interviewed by Jakob Haq about my role as a mastering engineer, and how iOS devices and apps are starting to become part of my workflow. Really happy with the way this interview went, hope you enjoy it too!
12PM PST – Mixing and Mastering in the 21st Century | Jake Perrine and Erik “Tarekith” Magrini
“As technology continues to advance, so do the practices for delivery in the audio industry. With many producers working entirely on their own, how do we deliver the highest quality product we can? Are CDs relevant? What aout the MP3 and the many online portals for distribution? Are there any standards we should be following? Lead Trainer Jake Perrine hosts a conversation with Erik “Tarekith” Magrini, owner and operator of Inner Portal Studio to help you navigate the many pitfalls of mixing and mastering your own music.”
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:
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!
This recent trip of mine down a 6 string path has thrown a lot of people I know into a loop. Been getting a lot of emails and messages from other producers largely falling into one of two camps:
– Those who don’t get the sudden fascination with the acoustic guitar of all things, especially not for someone known for many things having to do with electronic music.
– Those who get the shift in focus of my tools, but are curious why I choose exactly what I did out of all the guitars out there.
For those of you in the first camp, what can I say, I’ve always been a guitar player. My first music dreams were of playing the guitar and it was the first instrument I ever bought. I went from being a guitar player to being an electronic music producer without realizing it, and the two never really integrated as closely as I would have liked in hindsight. Without a doubt for a long time the electronic world was my focus, and it still is to this day for obvious reasons.
But these days I feel the need to spend more time with a traditional instrument in my hands too, there’s goals I have on that front that I haven’t even tried to reach in a long time. It’s time to step back and refocus my attention on a way of expressing musical emotion that I haven’t explored fully yet. And it’s a chance for me to find a way to bridge these two worlds of mine; the incredibly beautiful world of traditional music making, and the hauntingly bold new sonic landscapes electronic music offers.
For those of you who just want to know why an acoustic guitar, or more specifically why a Taylor acoustic guitar, well…
I have a nice electric already, a one of a kind Parker DF724 Dragonfly. I got it for far less than it’s worth, and it’s just a joy to play. It’s the first guitar in 20 years that made me think of giving up my Ibanez S540, something I never thought I would do (HA! says the Elektron crowd).
But… it’s not perfect. There are tiny flaws here and there (really small things admittedly), largely due to the one off nature of it I’m sure (Parker never made a blue DF724 for production, this was a test unit). But still, as an admitted minimalist when it comes to gear and “stuff” in general, and I want the instruments I own and plan on investing time into to be perfect.
I also like companies who look forward and don’t get stuck in the past way of doing things. Those who find a blend of the best of the old and new, and in the process create something really unique in this time period. For a long time I thought my Ovation acoustic would be that, a guitar that used old and new techniques to create a modern day blend of the two.
And while it was impressive when I got it, I knew very quickly that it just didn’t SOUND the way I expected it would. Too much like the modern way of things, not enough depth and beauty from the past. Too bright and sharp, not enough warmth and subtlety (and I mean that in the nicest way possible, it was an incredible guitar for $600).
No, for a long time I knew it was going to be a real acoustic guitar that was my instrument of choice. That would be the path where I would find that blend of old and modern craftsmanship that would create an instrument I could spend a huge chunk of my life learning to play better.
The problem was, even though I loved the guitar, I never really bonded with traditional acoustic guitars. They were too loud (hehe), to uncomfortable, just plain too old fashioned looking despite the craftsmanship they obviously involved. So for a long time it was just a plan that percolated in the back of my brain, someday I’d buy a nice guitar that suited me and spend some time relearning that.
And then recently I was watching the (slightly depressing) movie “Musicwood”, about how Sitka Spruce forests are disappearing, and some of the most famous guitar makers like Martin, Taylor, and Gibson use these woods in their best guitars. I really recommend the movie, it’s an interesting look at a complex issue.
Anyway, it was the first time I had seen a higher end Taylor in awhile, and it struck me by how modern it looked. The more I looked into Taylor guitars, the more I realized here was a company making beautiful instruments using the best of the modern world while still doing a lot of the more intricate work by hand. So I tracked a few down at local stores here in Seattle and sat down to play a few to see what I think. I guess we know how that turned out!
Having owned my 814ce for about a month now, it’s definitely not something I’ve regretted even for an instant. Not only is it beautiful sounding and feels incredibly natural while I play it, but it’s put together perfectly. I mean literally. Every fret, every binding, all the joints and woodwork fits together flawlessly. I really can’t find a single flaw, no matter how tiny or insignificant. Truly a testament to how painstakingly these guitars are put together!
Still, I like to tinker and I couldn’t leave it completely stock. For one, I never was really a big fan of gold hardware on guitars, even though my last couple of guitars had it. So the first thing I did was swap out the Taylor tuners for some nicer cosmo black Gotoh 510’s (seen in the top pic), along with a cosmo black strap button up front, and replaced the gold truss rod cover screws with black ones as well. Much more my style, still looks classy but not so blingy!
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:
I know it’s been awhile since the last Production Q&A, but I finally had time to answer a couple of the questions producers frequently ask me, and this time I also field one for the DJs too.
1. In a lot of your tutorials and articles you mention ways to trim songs down to make them shorter and more focused. What if I want to make a song longer, any tips?
I think in general, if you’re going to go for a longer song, the the biggest thing to keep in mind is that you need enough material in the song to keep it interested to the average listener for that amount time. A lot of times as producers we like to think that a solid groove is enough for people to listen to for a long time, but more often than not it takes more than this to keep people entertained for more than 4-6 minutes. Here’s a few other ideas:
– Have two larger breakdowns in the song instead of one. Just be sure that when you come out of the break back into the meat of the tune, you bring something different into the mix each time. No sense in having two identical drops.
– Treat the song as if it had two main ‘movements’, something where the end of the track is similar enough to the beginning that people see the connection, but different enough that it really brings something new to the table. Underworld’s “Banstyle/Sappys Curry” comes to mind:
Right around the 6 minute mark, the song starts to evolve into a completely new style that still retains a lot of the sounds and feel of the beginning.
– Ambient intro or ending. An easy way out, but if you really want to make the song longer for some reason, an evolving but simple ambient section can do the job easily.
2. What RMS and crest factor should I aim for in my mixdowns? Does it matter to the mastering engineer, or if I’m going to master it myself?
I’ve been getting this question a lot lately, and I’m not sure what’s driving it. I don’t think people need to worry about the RMS or crest factor (the difference between the RMS and peak readings of the song) at all when doing a mixdown, especially if you’re going to be mastering the song later on. The only thing you really need to worry about when doing a mixdown is that you’re not clipping the master channel in your DAW. Ideally leaving roughly 6dB of headroom as a safety margin, though this isn’t a hard and fast rule.
Generally something like the crest factor is just a way to tell how compressed one piece of music is compared to another. In the mixdown stage, trying to aim for some sort of ideal here will likely just lead you to compress the track too much, or sometimes not enough given the material. In short, it’s just making you apply processing to the song that it might not need, all for the sake of some arbitrary number.
Make sure you’re not clipping the master channel, and just worry about making the song sound good. No need to worry about RMS readings or the crest factor at that stage.
3. Lately I’ve been getting more into electronic music that wasn’t written for the dance floor, and I want to start DJing that style of music. What are some of the differences when it comes to DJing downtempo music, compared to normal club music?
Well, the good news is that for the most part, it’s really not all that different in terms of the gear you’re using, or the techniques you probably already are used to for DJing. It’s still a matter of picking tracks that don’t clash in terms of key, and using EQ to blend them as seamlessly as possible. But there are a few key differences that can take some getting used to:
– No DJ friendly intro and ending. A lot of non-dancefloor electronic music will have very short intros and endings, often without any beats at all. Setting up loop points in the beginning and end of the track can help a lot, you might not get 32 bars of beats to mix with like a club track, but looping the first 4 bars when the drums come in, or right before they drop out at the end can be almost the same thing.
– HUGE range of tempos. Most club music in any particular genre is largely within a couple BPM’s of other songs in the style. Not so with downtempo, you can have tempos ranging from 70 to 130BPM, so you really need to pay attention to the tempo of your songs when you’re mixing. I name all my DJ tracks with the tempo listed first, so that songs with similar tempos are grouped together as I browse for tracks.
That’s not to say that you can only play songs that are of similar tempo in a set, just that if you do want to go from tracks with say 80 to 110 BPM, you’re likely going to need a few tracks in between to get you there. I always map a couple of buttons or a knob on my MIDI controller to the tempo of whatever DJ software I’m using (Live or Traktor these days). That way I can constantly ride the tempo throughout the set so I can progress from slower songs to faster one, or vice versa. Just be sure to change the tempo very slowly as you play, tempo changes can be pretty noticeable and distracting to some people if you do this too quickly.
– Loose timing. Unlike a lot of club music, in downtempo it’s not too uncommon to have a real drummer playing the beat, or perhaps the producer used a lot more swing when quantizing the drums. So you need to pay attention to make sure that you’re not flamming too badly the drums in two different tracks as you mix.
– Shorter songs. Your average club track can be 6-10 minutes long, but downtempo track are often a lot shorter than that. Sometimes all you’ll have time for is mixing an ambient intro with an ambient ending from the previous song as a result, don’t think you always need to be beatmatching! Great technique for jumping between tracks with larger tempo differences as well.
Well, that’s it for this Q&A. As always, if you have any questions you’d like to see answered here on the blog, put them in the comments, or send me an email.
One last note for the Seattle-area readers, the Liquid Beats gig I had two weekends ago went so well that the owner has offered me the chance to make it an ongoing thing. Great chance to come out and try some excellent micro-brews at a great price, with some sweet downtempo to listen to at the same time. Details on the next one coming soon!