fbpx

Category Archives for "DIY-Production Basics"

Presets & “Fully Mixed” Sample Packs

Daily Blog - June 14th 2021

In our podcast and other places I've said a couple of times that you have to be careful with certain processed and widely used drum sample packs if you want a unique sound. After thinking about it for a bit during the last couple of days, I need to clarify and apologize. It's not that there's anything wrong with certain sample libraries or companies and I didn't want it to come across that way.

Presets & “Fully Mixed” Sample Packs

It's not about what you use, it's how you use it.

Many of today's virtual drums or guitar amps truly sound amazing. We all have to agree on that and I've been a fan of these tools for a long time. Most of them can give you impressive results pretty quickly. That's cool and makes writing so much fun! But that's also why I say "be careful".

I've made hundreds of records and I've witnessed dozens of sessions and mixes done by others. This includes everything from local bands to major label artists. One thing I never do and never see others do (there's always the rare exception, of course) is just load up a preset in some virtual instrument or amp sim and use that on the record, as it is.

Why? Because a "fully mixed" preset or sample pack can never be "fully mixed" without context. In fact, you don't mix a guitar or a drum kit. You mix a song. 

What might sound amazing on its own or in the context that it's been made in will probably not work with the tempo, key, tuning, vibe, energy and arrangement of your song.

And it doesn't start with the mix. You have to make production decisions and define your sound from the beginning.

That's why most producers use those tools, but they

  • tweak them to fit the song
  • blend them with other samples or "real" instruments/amps/cabinets
  • create their own samples/IRs and load them into those tools
  • create their own presets and templates for certain situations or genres (as starting points!)
  • do whatever serves the song to create a unique sonic landscape that carries the emotion and energy in the best way possible

Can you choose a couple of tools that you really like, use them for quick demos and to accelerate the writing process, but then only view them as starting points and take it from there?

You don't want to sound like everyone else. You want to define your sound. You want the sonics of your record to fit the musical content and lyrics. You want your record to have a unique, recognizable vibe, not recognizable samples.

Keep using the tools. We all use them. Just try putting more effort into it and make them yours. 

-Benedikt

PS: I love to use raw, unprocessed drum samples for all those reasons above. I still use presets for writing and demos, but in my mixes and productions I usually go raw. My favorite sample packs that can do both, and that give me tons of unique features and options that I can blend (if I want to) are made by Room Sound Drums. I use many of the others, as well, but Room Sound samples tend to work most of the time without giving away which library I used.

PPS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

learn how to transform your DIY recordings from basement demos to Releases That Connect And Resonate With Your Audience

Get the free Ultimate 10-Step guide To Successful DIY-Recording

Which questionable music production myths are you still holding on to?

Daily Blog - June 11th 2021

"Most people don’t want accurate information, they want validating information. Growth requires you to be open to unlearning ideas that previously served you." – James Clear
Energy And Excitement

Are you looking for information or validation?

When you browse YouTube for information to improve your skills as an engineer or musician, do you gravitate towards certain channels or people? Why is that? Is it because their information is truly and objectively amazing and accurate? Or is it because they confirm what you've already suspected or hoped to be true? It just feels good to hear some authority validate our beliefs, so it's easier for us to follow the advice of people who already agree with us. 

But what if that information turns out to be false or misleading? What if it's true for some people, but not a good idea in your specific situation?

Can you recognize that, unlearn your ideas and let go of your beliefs?

An example:

You might have recorded a bass track with old strings once and you liked the dull, "warm" tone it produced.

(Chances are it wasn't truly good, but you couldn't hear the problems back then, had no idea how to get that warm, round tone with fresh strings and didn't want to spend money on fresh ones, so you convinced yourself that using the old strings is probably a good idea.)

But for now let's assume that for some reason you really liked the tone, had no tuning problems, could fit it in the mix perfectly and it wasn't just because you didn't want to change.

You have that positive memory now and believe that using old strings is perfectly fine.

Then one day you research bass recording techniques and come across a lot of people online who tell you that 99% of all professional records are recorded with fresh strings and that you should change them every couple of hours in the studio. Even if there's clear evidence that this is true and even if all benefits of doing that are clearly explained to you, you doubt it, because you have that memory of you liking the sound of old strings. 

So you keep searching and finally find someone who's telling you that on record "X" the famous artist "Y" used old strings and it turned out phenomenal. Boom! There's your validation. You now have an ally and can share that video or article with everyone telling you to change strings more often.

It's clearly an exception, it's probably not applicable for what you're trying to do, it might even be in a completely different genre, but it's the "information" you've been looking for. What you hoped to be true has been confirmed.

Can you unlearn it ? Can you discern myths, exceptions and the truth? Can you be open for other ideas? 

Can you objectively assess whether a piece of information is accurate, applicable in your situation and actually helpful for what you're trying to do? Regardless of your previous beliefs and ideas?

That's how you grow. That's how you improve fast. That's how you reach your goals. Be flexible, be open minded and stop justifying bad ideas with questionable examples, just because it's the easy path.

I know that it's very hard to do a 180° and let go of things you've always believed in. Especially if you've already shared those ideas with others. Your band mates, other bands, clients, the public on social media, etc. I'm struggling with this all the time, myself.

But holding on to something, just because you're afraid to admit you were wrong won't get you anywhere. It's ok to be wrong, it's ok to change your opinion. You can do it. Adopt this new mindset and you'll only benefit from it.

-Benedikt

PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

learn how to transform your DIY recordings from basement demos to Releases That Connect And Resonate With Your Audience

Get the free Ultimate 10-Step guide To Successful DIY-Recording

Energy And Excitement

Daily Blog - June 10th 2021

„I saw this band and the energy was just insane!“ „How can we make this part more exciting?“ 

Have you said or heard on of these sentences before? Probably. The energy of a song or a performance is always more important than the sonics. We want to listen to exciting stuff rather than to boring music. What we feel when we listen to something is what we really care about. But what is it that makes us feel the energy?

Energy And Excitement

What makes you enjoy a song (or a certain part of a song)?

What is it that makes you freak out, smile and crank the volume to the max?

Is it the groove? The melody? The chord progression? The lyrics? The snare sound? The low end of the kick drum? The bass line? The crazy distortion? The weird effects? The break before the actual part? The build-up? The breakdown? The intimacy? The incredible voice? The timing and feel of the performance? The overall sound of the mix?

Have you ever analyzed your favourite (and least favourite) songs and figured out what it actually is that you like or dislike about them?

Do it. Listen carefully. Think about what it is. It can be one thing, it can be a combination of many things. Write it down. Compare the results.

It’s worth it. It might help you create something really exciting yourself.

-Benedikt

PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

learn how to transform your DIY recordings from basement demos to Releases That Connect And Resonate With Your Audience

Get the free Ultimate 10-Step guide To Successful DIY-Recording

1 Keep The Faders At Zero

Daily Blog - June 9th 2021

What does your song sound like if you bypass the plugins and put all the faders at zero? Hopefully like a well balanced rough mix! Here's how.

Want To Reignite Your Passion For Music? Read This.

Treat your preamp gain (the mic input on your interface) like a volume knob

There's absolutely no need to record super hot levels. As long as you're recording in 24 bit, the noise floor will be so low, that you could record crazy quiet, like -50 dB, turn it up digitally after the fact and you wouldn't have a problem. 

In fact, the noise floor will be higher, and potentially audible, if you turn the mic preamp gain up a lot on a cheap interface. Those budget preamps tend to get pretty noisy at a certain point.

Why am I telling you this?

Because for some reason many people still seem to be trying to get as close to zero as possible on every track when they record, instead of focussing on a great balance from the beginning.

It's very rare that I can just throw the faders up and be like "this sounds awesome!" I typically have to create a rough balance first, making pretty drastic moves, before I can even listen to the song.

This is the norm, but there is a much better approach that solves so many problems, prevents issues down the road and lets you focus on what's really important. Not on noise floor and levels.

Record your source tones at the correct level. It's as simple as that. Your ears and taste will tell you what "correct" is. You simply balance your rough mix, as you record it.

What to do step by step:

  1. You start with setting the level for the first element of the song you're recording, for example a kick drum. Set the fader to zero and turn up the mic pre (interface input) until you hear it clearly at a reasonable monitoring volume. Leave plenty of headroom, so that you can add more tracks later without overloading the master output/fader of your DAW. Peaks as low as -15dB or -20dB are perfectly fine.
  2. Then set levels on the next input, for example a snare drum mic. Again, set the fader in your DAW to zero and adjust the input gain, so that the relationship between the kick and snare sounds right to you. It doesn't matter what the meter says and if you started low enough with the kick, you shouldn't have any clipping problems.
  3. Then set the levels for the other drums, the bass, the guitars, keys, vocals, etc. accordingly. Leave all the faders at zero and simply adjust each track's volume with the mic gain knob as you keep adding things. Use the pan knob in your DAW to find the right spot in the stereo image and if something is being masked, solve the issue at the source (mic choice, mic position, strings, drum heads, etc.), instead of just turning it up super loud and throwing the balance off.

You will find that at some point you'll want to adjust something and reach for the fader. Don't do that! Insert a simple gain plugin instead or use clip gain to bring the track's volume up or down.

When you're done recording, commit and consolidate the best takes and any clip gain moves you made, keep the faders at zero, check the panning, hit play and... there you have your rough mix!

Some tracks will need to be recorded super quietly, others pretty loud and that's totally fine! It's just important to start low enough with the first track to not overload and clip the master output.

These are only some of the advantages of this approach:

  • You can very quickly recall and play your rough mix if you screw up along the way. Faders at zero, and let's go again!
  • You can easily export all your tracks and send them to someone else without having to worry about levels and clipping.
  • Collaborators can easily listen to your rough mix and have a great starting point for additional recordings, mixing, etc. Import, faders at zero, there you go!
  • Fader resolution is best around zero. So when it comes time to mix, you can make subtle moves and fader rides. You can go in 0.1 dB increments if you need to. Further down on the fader you might be turning up or down 1-2 dB at a time making the exact same move.
  • It makes it very unlikely to cause unintentional clipping during recording. Again, no need to record super hot.
  • You'll have healthy levels and an easier time gain staging properly in your DAW. So your plugins won't distort unintentionally. You can always turn the level up or down from one plugin to another, as long as the last plugin in the chain brings the level back to where it was without plugins.
  • You'll have to listen carefully and make tone decisions carefully, as you record. You'll notice issues quickly and whenever you're having a hard time finding the right level for something, maybe the source tone isn't right. Or it's being masked by something else and you need to fix that. If your levels are all over the place during recording, you can easily miss problems like that.
  • You'll hear your song come together as you go and always have a reference point. If you're not changing levels a lot, but are listening to a consistent level, adding one thing after the other, you'll get a great feel for the overall balance and vibe very quickly.


Try this next time you record and let me know how it went!

-Benedikt

PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

learn how to transform your DIY recordings from basement demos to Releases That Connect And Resonate With Your Audience

Get the free Ultimate 10-Step guide To Successful DIY-Recording

The Final Master Files You Need (One Master To Rule Them All?)

Daily Blog - June 8th 2021

Do you need a separate master for each streaming platform? Which format goes where? What about vinyl and CD? Read on as I try to answer these and end the confusion.

Want To Reignite Your Passion For Music? Read This.

You should at least get two different files from your mastering engineer

The minimum I send out to my clients and the minimum you should request from your mastering engineer is:

  • one WAV file for streaming and download (16 Bit / 44,1 kHz) 
  • and one WAV file for video and hi-res streaming (24 Bit / 48 kHz or 96 kHz)

This covers most, if not all of your digital needs. Whenever a platform allows a 24 Bit upload, you can use the hi-res file, for everything else use the 16 Bit file and you'll be fine. The 24 Bit file should also be used in your videos. 

Both of these WAV files are lossless.

Many mastering engineers will argue that one properly created master, or the two mentioned above, will be enough for streaming/download and everything else is not worth the hassle.

Others will recommend making different masters for at least some of the major platforms. So I'm going to explain what else you can do.

Youtube

YouTube is one of the most important music streaming platforms and of course the place where we all watch music videos. You can make a master that's specifically created to sound best with YouTube's encoding and processing. It's up to you to decide whether it is worth it for you, but it can't hurt to ask your mastering engineer for it. You can always use the 24 Bit WAV if you don't have a specific YouTube master.

Spotify

You can try and make a master that's specifically created to sound best with Spotify's encoding and processing, but one of the main problems (with any platform) is that it is constantly changing . Most people agree that one proper digital master will work perfectly on Spotify, but again, asking for it doesn't hurt. You can always use the 16 Bit WAV if you don't have a specific Spotify master.

Apple Music

"Apple Digital Masters" or "Mastered For iTunes" is a standard and set of specifications that Apple provides, so that mastering engineers can make masters specifically optimized for Apple Music / iTunes. Not every mastering engineer is convinced that it is necessary or actually sounds better, but if you want the "Apple Digital Masters" badge to show up on your release, you have to ask your mastering engineer to provide this specific file for you.

CD

For CD manufacturing you'll need a DDP image. This is a folder that has the actual audio files in it and also the meta data, like codes, song titles, gaps, song order, transitions, etc. Send this to your pressing plant instead of individual WAVs and you'll prevent errors in the manufacturing process. The actual audio file format for CDs is WAV 16 Bit / 44,1 kHz. So no need for a separate master here. Just make sure the sequencing and DDP creation is done properly.

Vinyl

For vinyl manufacturing you'll need one WAV file per side, not per song. So one file that has all the songs of one side on it, including the transitions and gaps. You'll also need a cue sheet that tells the pressing plant how long the songs and gaps are, where each song starts and ends, etc. Send this to your pressing plant instead of individual WAVs and you'll prevent errors in the manufacturing process. The audio file format for the vinyl pre-masters is WAV 24 Bit / 44,1 kHz (minimum, you'll likely get a master with a higher sample rate). In this case, you'll probably need a different master, though. It's not only about sequencing. Typically the mastering engineer will also adjust those vinyl pre-masters sonically. Loudness, sibilance, stereo widening and sub bass content often need to be controlled a bit more in order for a vinyl master to work properly. Sometimes the digital master will work just fine. Simply ask your mastering engineer for it and she'll take care of whatever needs to be done.

Don't convert yourself!

None of these files above can simply be created by converting one file into another! This is critical and super important to understand. So whenever you need any of those files, you gotta get them made from the original source mix and you should never just use a converter or online tool to try and create them yourself from the master you got! That won't work and likely degrade the sound of the master.

Choose a good mastering engineer

It helps to know this stuff, so you know what to ask for and where to upload the different formats. But at the end of the day it's a mastering engineer's job to provide you with the right files for what you're trying to do and to explain to you how and where to use them. You should either be given the option to choose what you need or you should just get a complete package that has everything in it. Different engineers handle that differently, but if they know what they're doing they should always be guiding you through the process and provide you with everything you need in the end.

-Benedikt

PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

learn how to transform your DIY recordings from basement demos to Releases That Connect And Resonate With Your Audience

Get the free Ultimate 10-Step guide To Successful DIY-Recording

2 Can any stranger work on your song?

Daily Blog - May 27th 2021

Could you send your session or multitracks to a stranger for collaboration and they would immediately know what's up? No? Please read on.

Can any stranger work on your song?

Your session might seem logical to you, but it could be completely confusing for everyone else.

Make it a habit to keep your sessions organized from the beginning and all throughout the writing, pre-pro and actual production process, so that anytime you need outside help, feedback, or want someone to collaborate with you, you can quickly and easily transfer files or sessions.

That includes: 

  • Constantly committing and getting rid of everything you don't need (redundant files, bad takes, etc.)
  • Consolidating everything you need (e.g. takes of the same instrument with the same sound spread out over multiple tracks without any overlap)
  • Color coding and clear labeling (your names, number of takes, any notes etc. don't matter. What's on the actual track does! So use "rhythm guitar left mic 1" instead of "James_078_(D)_final")
  • Making sure that all exports have the same starting point and line up perfectly when imported to a session.
  • Printing any amp sims, virtual instruments, MIDI stuff, samples, etc. and sending the raw files in addition to the printed files.
  • Reading and following any export & transfer checklists you get from people you're working with. They send you those for a reason.
  • Creating and frequently updating an info sheet that has all the relevant information about the project on it. You can send that along with your session and everybody immediately knows what's up.

There is more you can do, but even if you "only" do those things above, collaborating with other musicians and working with audio professionals will be so much smoother and lead to much better results. With less headache for everyone.

-Benedikt

PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

learn how to transform your DIY recordings from basement demos to Releases That Connect And Resonate With Your Audience

Get the free Ultimate 10-Step guide To Successful DIY-Recording

>