Been awhile since I’ve written a more general purpose music production blog post, as some of my readers have been kind enough to point out to me. Sorry for the excess of Elektron related posts since I’ve gotten the Octatrack, I rarely get new gear anymore so I’ve been a bit excited. 🙂
Anyway, here’s a few random production tips I thought I would pass on, hope some people find these useful!
1. Faking Bandaxall EQ Curves.
One of the more useful EQ types I’ve found over the years is the Bandaxall curve. It’s similar to a high-shelf filter type, except that instead of flattening out above the EQ frequency you set, it instead continues to rise past the upper limits of our hearing. You can see the differences below (exaggerated to make the point more obvious):
One of the best uses for a Bandaxall EQ curve is to gently boost the very upper frequencies, which can be useful for adding ‘air’ and enhancing the sense of space in a sound or song. Typically it can be very transparent to the ear, as long as you don’t go overboard and boost too much of course.
Unfortunately not all EQs have this type of EQ curve (or even a high-shelf), but it’s easy enough to fake an approximation with just about any full-range parametric EQ. Set one of the parametric bands so that the frequency is at it’s max. Ideally this will be close to around 20kHz. With the normal bell-shaped EQ curve, this means that the bell ‘peaks’ at the upper limit of our hearing, resulting in a gradual rise in the higher frequencies up to point.
As usual, the gain parameter will control how much the EQ adds to the sound, and in this case you can use the Q control to adjust the shape of the boost. Again, use it sparingly and it can be a great way to unobtrusively enhance the upper frequencies that give a song or a sound the sense of depth and space a good mix should have.
2. Apple Earbuds are the new NS10’s.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, the Yamaha NS10 speaker with it’s iconic white woofer was a staple in many professional studios. It wasn’t because it sounded good, in fact it was literally a pain to listen to. Very harsh and unforgiving, the NS10s became popular because they were known for helping mix engineers hear things the way your average listener at home would. Issues in the mixdown in the critical midrange were often more recognizable on the NS10’s, and many a mixing engineer would use these to reference their mixdowns for that reason.
Today of course, very few people seem to actually listen to music at home, and for many the home stereo has been replaced by iPods and their equally iconic white earbuds. Some might even say equally painful to listen to (count me in this group btw).
This was a point brought home to me last year when working on a mastering job for a client. He was thrilled with how the mastering I had done sounded everywhere except on his iPod headphones, so I found myself in the position of having to use a pair of those to make adjustments to the mastering.
While I definitely would NOT recommend mastering or mixing a song only with the iPod earbud as your main listening tool, it’s definitely useful now and then to check out how your work is sounding in those as well. Like the NS10, it will give you a good representation of the way most people will be listening to your music, and can help you make small adjustments to suit those listeners as well. Just try not to do it at the expense of making your song sound good on a more proper setup 🙂
3. Easy compression setup.
One of the issues I consistently hear producers struggling with, is the proper way to set up and use compression. Even though I’ve written more comprehensive guide on the subject here:
I thought it might be useful to cover what I used to find was the easiest way to approach it when I was first learning about compression myself. So, here’s a quick and dirty way to set up a compressor if you’re struggling to understand how they work. It won’t be the best way in all cases, but it’s a good starting point.
First thing you want to do is set the release to minimum, and the attack to maximum. Then, set the ratio to 3:1 with a medium or soft-knee, turn off any auto make-up functions, and lower the threshold until you’re seeing about 3dB of gain reduction on the gain meter.
Now you’re going to adjust the release and attack parameters. In general, for short and quick sounds with sharp transients (like drums), you want a longer attack phase to let that initial transient through. You also want a shorter release so that the compressor is ready and waiting to let the next transient through untouched.
For more sustained sounds like basslines or vocals (or a full mix), you generally want a shorter attack phase so the compressor kicks in sooner, and a longer release so that you don’t get unwanted pumping or distortion. This is also true if you’re trying to reduce initial transients to give a sound more consistent volume, like with an acoustic guitar or electric bass. If your compressor has an auto-release setting, it can be worth turning this on if you’re not sure what you’re doing. That way you only need to adjust the attack parameter and can focus on how that is making your sound change.
Once you’re happy with how you have these set, then you can adjust the threshold for more or less compression as needed. Keep in mind that as you add more compression though, the amount of signal the compressor is affecting with change, and thus you may need to fine-tune the attack and release again.
This is a good way to approach the order in which you adjust the parameters when you’re first learning compression. It also help you to avoid the common mistake of not having the parameters set for the material, which often just ends up turning the compressor into a simple gain boost. As always though, play around with the settings in your free time, the more you do it, the more it will make sense.
Well, that’s it for this time. Next up, more Elektron stuff! 😉