And…..Done. Final Blog Post

2016 Avatar Full 1MB

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:

BEST BITS OF THE BLOG (Zip File)

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.

Thanks again everyone!
Tarekith

Ad Infinitum – Video Walkthrough

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 7.16.40 PM

I wanted to create a video walking through all of the Ableton Projects that made up my new album, as well as talking a bit about hwo it was created in general.  There’s a few tips and tricks in there as well, hope you find it useful!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Electribe2 Tips & Tricks Video

A quick video showing some tips and tricks for the Korg electribe2. Some of these are briefly (or poorly) mentioned in the manual, and some were discovered by other users on the Korg forums or electribe Facebook group. I’m not claiming to have created these all, just demonstrating them so others can learn some new techniques for studio and live use.

Enjoy!
Tarekith

New Dither Examples

A few years ago I produced some audio examples of different types of dither, so that people could more easily hear what dither does and what a couple of different dithering options sound like.   As there are even more options for dithering algorithms these days, I figured it was time to update my examples and talk a little bit about what seems to be one of the more confusing aspects of music production for people.  You can download all of the audio examples and graphs I’ll be talking about here:

http://innerportalstudio.com/files/DitherExamples.zip

For these examples, I used a 24bit sample of a ride cymbal with some reverb applied.  I then converted this to 16bit wav files in various DAWs using the dithering options they offer.  Specifically:

– Rectangular, Triangular, POW-r1, POW-r2, POW-r3 from Ableton Live 9.

– The only dithering option in Presonus Studio One.

– UV22HR from Apple Logic Pro X, though it also offers the same POW-r options that Live does.

– Goodhertz dithering from Audiofile Engineering Triumph.

In addition, I also created a 16bit wav file version using no dithering at all, this is called truncating.

The next step was to cut off the all but the very end of the reverb tails of these files, and normalize the remaining portion to -0.5dBFS.  This was done because dither noise is extremely quiet, with all but it’s very peaks around -96dBFS, well below the noise floor of most playback equipment.  Boosting only the tails of the audio files allowed me to raise the overall level of the files to make the dither noise itself audible at normal listening volumes.  These files are located in the folder called “Dithered Ride Tails”.

I recommend listening to the truncated version first, so you can hear what it is we’re trying to achieve with dithering in the first place.  At the very end of the truncated sample, you can hear what sounds like digital noise as the least significant bit toggles on and off trying to replicate the very quiet end of the reverb fading out to silence.  By adding dither noise, we make this last little bit of fade out much smoother and more natural sounding, at the expense of a very tiny bit of noise.

Remember, in these examples I’ve boosted this noise A LOT just to make it audible, in normal use, it’s so quiet as to be almost completely inaudible.  Plus there’s some tricks with dithering to reduce how much of it we hear even more, which I’ll talk about shortly.

I included the full length ride samples without trimming or normalizing as well, in case anyone wants them to hear how dither sounds in more real world situation.  You’ll find them in the folder called “Original Rides”.  Though I highly doubt that many people will be able to hear the dither at all, even on what is arguably one of these best examples for demonstrating it’s purpose.  It’s just extremely quiet, just imagine trying to hear it on a full mix!

In addition to the ride cymbal sample, I also created a 24bit sample of nothing but silence.  This was also converted to 16bit using the above dithering options, but in this case it was so I could provide FFT analyzer images of just the dithering noise itself for visual comparison.  I used DMG Audio’s Dualism plug-in for the FFT analysis.  The scale was set from 20Hz to 20kHz, and from 0 to -144dBFS (effectively 24bits) to make the shape of the dithering algorithms easier to see.  Keep in mind that a 16bit file has only a range to -96dBFS when you look at the graphs, so anything below that will be discarded.  All the graphs are unsurprisingly located in the folder labeled “Graphs”, and you can see them below too (click each for full-sized versions):

UV22HRUV22HR

Studio One Dither
Studio One

Live TriangularAbleton Live Triangular

Live RectangularAbleton Live Rectangular

GoodhertzGoodheartz

POW-r 1POW-r1

POW-r 2POW-r2

POW-r 3POW-r3

Why are they shaped differently?  That’s one of the tricks I mentioned earlier.  Since our ear is most sensitive around the 2kHz range, the dither noise in the various algorithms is created to be stronger in the frequencies away from this sensitive area.  Most of the time it’s boosted way up by 20kHz, beyond the range of most human hearing, but the actual shape and slope of the boost varies depending the algorithm.

Each manufacturer has what they consider the ideal way of doing this, sometimes, in the case of POW-r, with different options for different kinds of music. You can hear this in the subtle tonality of the noise in some of the different dither examples, as well as seeing the exact shape in the graphs I provided.  Some of the options like Ableton’s Triangular and Rectangular dithers are almost perfectly flat, however that doesn’t mean they are less effective.

Ideally this gives the producer the flexibility to choose the dithering that best suits their material on a song by song basis.  But again, this noise is so incredibly quiet that for most music, you’ll never hear it.  Which is ideal anyway, as dither was created to be as inaudible as possible in the first place.  I’ll admit that as a mastering engineer, even I rarely audition different dithers, since with most material there’s no audible difference anyway.

Once in awhile I’ll get a very dynamic song with lots of quiet passages, certain ambient or even orchestral songs fit this category.  In those cases I might try out a few different dithering options, though even then the differences can be almost impossible to hear, even in my studio.

The point of all this is make you realize that while dithering does fulfill a useful role in the audio production process, it’s arguably the least important aspect and isn’t something people should worry too much about.  Certainly add dither if you can when you’re rendering your mixdown or master to a 16bit file at the end of the writing process, but don’t lose sleep over which dithering option is the best.  The differences are incredibly subtle, even to those people with well-trained hearing, and in almost all cases the dither is so far below the noise floor of any playback chain that no one will hear what dither you used, or even if you used it at all.

I hope this helped you not only understand why we use dither, but also highlight some of the differences in the various options available to us.

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

The -6dB Rule

6db

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!

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…..)

NewPedalboard05

The Recharge

IMG_1472

Well, I’m finally back from a nice long vacation to Luxembourg, Paris, and London, and it was something I needed more than I realized.  Though in a way vacation is a bit misleading, as one of the main reasons Hallie and I went was to see if Luxembourg was someplace we would want to move to.  Yes, Hallie has been offered the chance to transfer to a new position in Luxembourg and it’s something we are seriously considering.  Still a lot to weigh before we decide though.

It did give me the first chance in a long while to just get away from the studio for a couple weeks, something I haven’t done since…. well probably 7-8 years.  I have to admit it was pretty nice not really thinking about music making for so long, especially as now that I’m back I find myself recharged and more excited than ever to get back to mastering.

I guess we all need a break now and then, even when you’re lucky enough to love what you do for a living!

The first thing I wanted to do was update all of my audio production guides, and host them on my Inner Portal website, as they just feel more appropriate being housed there.  So, some minor updates to all the guides, which you can now find here:

http://innerportalstudio.com/guides

I also have to admit I made a bit of a mistake recently, concerning my recent abandoning of Facebook.  It didn’t take long for a lot of people to reach out and tell me they really missed getting blog updates and reading other interesting articles I’d find via Facebook.  So, after thinking about it quite a bit, I decided that I’ll rejoin the madness and still use that as an outlet for people to get notifications related to the music stuff i find and post.  So, if you’re not sick of the flip-flopping, feel free to friend me if you want:

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006775729027

Sorry for the hassle, sometimes it’s a struggle to manage my time versus providing useful options for people.  I’m learning, what can I say  🙂

Stay tuned for more to come shortly!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

Promoting Yourself

image

Recently I had a friend send me an email to ask me how I went about attracting clients, as he was trying to get work doing audio engineering and was struggling a bit. It’s one of the many variations on a question I get asked all the time, how do I get work in the audio field? While this guide in general tends to stick with answering that question in terms of audio engineering, I think a lot of the things I recommend can apply in other fields too.

Someone told me when I was starting up my business that it’s 90% getting the work, and 10% actually doing the work.  It took awhile for that to really sink in, but over the last 5 years that I’ve been a full-time mastering engineer it’s really hit home how much time you need to spend to attract new people to work with. These days there’s just so many more “audio engineers” online promoting their businesses, so I’d say it’s probably more like 95% – 5% actually.  Not trying to be discouraging, there’s just a lot of people out there wanting to be audio engineers, mastering engineers, mix engineers, etc. It’s almost as crowded and competetitive a field as being a musician these days!

My start was slow, but I also didn’t really plan on doing this full-time initially. I was just having fun and making some extra money at the time, and I think that’s the best way to start. You don’t need to graduate college or some audio engineering school (ahem) and instantly be a booked-solid engineer. It’d be nice, sure, but that’s a rock star pipe dream. Happens to a few, but it’s definitely the exception and not the rule, so at least have a realistic plan in place for the long haul.

I did mastering on the side along with a normal day job for 10 years before I felt I had enough clients to go full-time, and even then it can still be pretty close some months.  I’ve tried all forms of advertising, web banners, forum signatures, Facebook, print ads, Google ads, you name.  The ONLY thing that has ever worked in my case was word of mouth from happy clients.  Everything else was just a huge waste of money.You need to make people see what you do as valuable, and they need to trust that you know what you’re doing with some many other people they could choose instead.

My blog and my production guides are a huge asset for me in this area, because a lot of people know me for those initially, and then find out I do mastering (usually).  By then I’ve already established some minimal trust, and hopefully shown I know what I’m talking about.  It makes people more comfortable in taking that initial chance on handing over their money.  I’m not saying you should do the same, just that you have to leverage everything you do to help nudge people towards working with you. And to not over do it at the same time, something that’s more of a struggle than most people realize.  Nobody pays attention to someone constantly pushing something at them 🙂

Oh, and always act like a professional online, people can google anything you ever wrote at any time these days, and trust me they do when researching you.  Avoid the flame wars, be nice to people (even trolls), and generally be as easy to get along with as you can.

I guess the core of what I’m trying to say is, you need to put your efforts into making people want to work with YOU. Having the right tools, experience, all that of that is certainly important, but those things should be a given if you’re serious about what you do. And the competition will have those things in place too, so it’s not really a selling point. It’s like trying to talk someone into buying a car by saying it comes with 4 wheels. 🙂

Stay positive, and Most of all, don’t give up!

Optimizing Sound Quality In Ableton Live

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 7.48.10 PM

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

Hanon

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!