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Category Archives for "Mixing"

The “Boom” And The “Knock”

Daily Blog - June 22nd 2021

The low end of a kick drum can make a song feel big, loose, tight, fast or slow. Finding the right frequency balance is crucial.

The “Boom” And The “Knock”

"Sub bass" vs "mid bass" vs "upper bass"

I'm throwing around a couple of terms here that are neither scientific nor "correct". But they are commonly used and can be helpful for understanding the concept and thinking behind shaping the low frequency content of a kick drum.

So what the heck am I talking about? We're basically dividing the low end (bass) into three parts.

"Sub bass"

The very low part of the frequency spectrum, let's say 80Hz and below (again, there's no rule for this) is what we call "sub bass". This is where the fundamental of your kick drum typically sits, unless you've tuned it very high. A lot of energy in this part of the spectrum typically results in a rather "slow" feel, but it also feels big and adds a pulse and a "rumble" to the song that you can not only hear but feel (on big enough speakers). This is what I call the "BOOM". Can you feel it?

"Mid bass"

"Mid bass" could be the area between 80Hz and 150Hz, for example. This is where you'll find harmonics. Let's say your kick drum fundamental is at 50Hz. The octave of that will be at 100Hz. This part typically feels much more punchy and tight. It makes the song feel faster and more aggressive. A lot of energy here will sound like the drummer hit harder. But it will also sound smaller if you shift the balance from lots of "sub bass" to more "mid bass". Think "more punch, less rumble".

"Upper bass" 

"Upper bass" could mean 150Hz-250Hz. Depending on how you look at it, you could also say this is low midrange. Whatever you want to call it, this is where you'll probably hear a "knock" in the kick drum that will jump out of the mix even on small speakers. This can be cool, especially when combined with a lot of "sub bass", while carving out some "mid bass" to make room for the bass guitar and to keep the kick drum feeling big. But it's also dangerous, as it can clash with lots of other elements, like guitars, bass and even the lower part of the vocals. It can also quickly overload crappy speakers and jump out too much if not controlled properly. The "knock" can also turn into an audible "note", depending on the tuning and dampening of the kick drum. This note can be distracting or simply annoying. 

So, the key is to figure out the right balance for the song 

And this is not only a mixing decision. It all starts with the drum selection, drum head selection, the tuning and the player. Then you need to choose a microphone that features (or hides) certain frequencies just right. While making those decisions it helps immensely to use a frequency analyzer to confirm what you think you're hearing. Judging the low end can be very difficult, especially in less-then-ideal rooms or on headphones with an uneven low end response. Watching the changes on an analyzer as you go helps you learn really quickly. You'll get a feel for the different parts of the low end and learn which tweaks really make a difference.

Two popular examples of kick drum mics with completely different low end characteristics: 

An AKG D112 will give you just enough "sub bass" (you'll probably want more), a very punchy "mid bass" and a lot of "knock" and "wood". It sounds fast and tight, but also "boxy".

An Audix D6 will give you tons of huge "sub bass", just enough punchy "mid bass" to make it audible on smaller speakers and very little "knock". It sounds huge and modern but also slow and "loose".

You can choose or combine. Whatever serves the song. Once you've chosen the right combination of drum selection, drum head selection, tuning and mic to enhance the feel of the song, you need to make those same decisions about the bass and every other low end element in your arrangement.

Yes, getting the low end right is difficult

But it's the key to making people move and making people feel the energy and impact of your song. If you get it right it's magical. Get it wrong and the groove falls apart.

-Benedikt

PS: If you're looking for an amazing community to get feedback from and provide your own expertise for, check out The Self-Recording Band Community. It's 100% free and can be the growth accelerator you've been missing all the time.

PPS: Downloading one of our free guides and joining our email list is also a great way to connect with your peers, as we will invite you to events and keep you in the loop about what's going on in our community. We just had an amazing video meetup last weekend and together we helped 5 people improve their recordings, arrangements and mixes by listening and giving collective feedback live on the call. Join us now!

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The Essence Of A Great Guitar Tone

Daily Blog - June 18th 2021

What's a great guitar tone and how do I achieve it? How do I know it's good? There's only one thing that really matters and that you should learn to listen for.

Dynamic Vocal Mic Or Condenser?

What's The Emotion, How Is The Song Supposed To Feel? And Which Roles Do The Guitars Play In That?

These are really the only two questions you need to answer. 

When it comes time to engineer a guitar tone for a song, most people start with thinking about amps, microphones, EQ settings, etc. But all of these things are useless and all of your decisions are pointless until you're able to answer the questions above. You need to know where you want to go.

So where do you want to go?

We tend to answer this with things like "I want lots of distortion" or "I want a clean, shimmery and wide sound", or a more detailed answer like "I want a full, but tight low end, plenty of attack in the upper midrange and not too much gain to preserve definition and clarity".

Unfortunately, none of these really answer the question above. At least not completely.

Instead we could answer "where do you want go?" with:

"I want this song to feel aggressive and angry, so the guitars can't be too pleasing sounding. They need to be unruly and loud. They'll have to fight the vocal a bit. They need to be clear, bright and upfront and have a nasty type of distortion."

Or:

"This is a sad song, but there's also some hope in it. The lyrics are super important. So the guitars need to be mellow and smooth. They also need to be dreamy, wide and not step on the vocals. Clarity is not super important here, it's the desperate atmosphere and deep sonic landscape we need to create."

Now these are great answers that help us make good decisions! And if you've spent enough time with your gear, you'll immediately know what to choose and how to set it up to create those emotions. You know what it can and can't do.

It's all about broad strokes at this point. You can always refine later. The tone you're getting quickly and intuitively should work and make you feel a certain way without a ton of filtering, EQ moves, or detailed tweaking. If you nail it, you're 90% there, if you fail to convey the emotion of the song, no amount of processing will give you the right tone.

Don't create guitar tones in a vacuum

It doesn't matter how the guitars sound on their own, so you need to make all decisions in the context of the whole song and arrangement. You need to make sure the song feels a certain way, not just the guitars. They serve the song, so you ned to define their role and find a tone that works for that.

Guitars are midrange instruments

They are clear and loud in the frequency ranges we are most sensitive to. This means they impact our perception of the overall sound a lot. This part of the spectrum is audible on every playback system and it's what we react to first. It's also where the vocals live. This is why guitar tones matter so much when it comes to how a song feels. 

To say it one more time:

It's not as important to get every technical detail "right", whatever that means. It's also not important how they sound on their own. It's how they work within the song and how they make us feel.

Here's what to do Step-By-Step:

  1. Figure out what it is in a guitar tone that makes you feel a certain way. Try to put it in words.
  2. Learn every detail about your gear and experiment as much as possible to find out what it can and can't do. That includes not only amps, pedals, cabs and guitars, but also strings and picks.
  3. Learn everything about playing techniques and how your fingers affect the tone.
  4. Define the emotion you want to convey through your song.
  5. Define the role of the guitars in conveying that emotion.
  6. Use the knowledge from step 1-3 and create tones that serve the song.


That's your starting point and the most important thing to get right. Only then it is time to get technical and refine even further. Nothing else will matter if you get this part wrong.


-Benedikt

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Distort Everything

Distort Everything
Daily Blog - May 19th 2021

I received this amazing sticker from Scott Evans (antisleep.com) and it's right in front of me everyday. My daily reminder to have fun with the audio I'm working on and to constantly try and find ways to destroy sounds in a musical way.

My Love-Hate Relationship With Stem Mastering

Distort Everything. Seriously. It tends to make things better.

A little bit of harmonic distortion, a little drive, a subtle push, some extra density and overtones. It rarely hurts. It usually makes things better. It means you need less compression. And it makes things interesting, exciting and unique.

You gotta be very careful (and tasteful), especially during recording. But you can literally distort everything if you try hard enough and find pleasing ways to do so. 

And of course, you can always completely mess things up and create the most obnoxious, nasty tones ever if that's what you like (I often do!). No rules.

Have fun. Distort everything. I live by it. Thanks Scott.

-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

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My Love-Hate Relationship With Stem Mastering

Daily Blog - May 18th 2021

Sometimes I feel like stem mastering is the best thing ever and then other times I promise myself never to do a project like that again. Why is that? And what's wrong with stem mastering in the first place?

Attention: Before you read on, please remember that "stems" are not individual tracks, like kick, snare, lead vocal, bass, guitar etc...! These are called "tracks" or "multitracks". "Stems" are groups of instruments that belong together or go together well, like all drums,  all guitars, all vocals, all bass instruments, etc. A mix might have 120 "tracks", but maybe only 5-6 "stems" will be sent to the mastering engineer for stem mastering. People get this wrong all the time for some reason and we finally need to end this. You can do better than that, so stop using "stems" when you're actually talking about "tracks". Thank you. 😉
My Love-Hate Relationship With Stem Mastering

I guess it mostly depends on whether the client actually wants and needs mastering or not. 

Today I mastered a project where this was absolutely the case. The band had done a mix, was happy with it and sent me stems that gave me extra flexibility to correct and enhance things. But they didn't want or expect to get completely different sounding songs back. Awesome! That's the type of stem mastering project I love! A relatively quick and intuitive workflow where I can be objective and follow my initial reaction to the mix (one of the main reasons to hire a mastering engineer). Plus, it's a MASSIVE transformation for the client, because I can correct and improve things without damaging other things. Great!

Sometimes, though, what people want and need is mixing. Looking for a "cheaper solution" for their problems they then ask for stem mastering. Danger zone.

This approach is problematic for various reasons.

  1. (Stem-)mastering is not mixing. A mastering engineer has to respect, serve and celebrate the mix. not change it. It's a different mindset and there are different goals to be achieved in mastering. Creative mixing decisions, like choosing effects, shaping the tones of individual tracks, riding faders or finding a balance that works for the song have to be made during mixing. At this stage it's about things like translation, quality control, minor corrections, a final polish, perception, focus, energy, overall frequency balance and dynamic control, loudness and technical requirements. 
  2. Managing expectations becomes hard, very hard with an approach like this. When someone sends me 10 stems, it does not mean I have to change or do something to all of them. But they might expect me to. I have to assume what they've done in the mix was on purpose, while they might be very insecure about it and don't really like it that much. They say they need stem mastering, but they actually expect a mix.
  3. It's hard to resist the urge to "improve" every stem. Even if the client understands the difference and actually likes the mix, it might be me who's causing problems. Because I feel like I could do so much with the stems to make the mix a lot better, but it's just not my job in those projects. It can be hard to remember that I have to stay in mastering land and not start mixing. I have to respect the mix and not abuse my power. It's not my songs, not my creative expression, not my record, my "mixing taste" doesn't matter and I'm not the producer or mixer.  

So, what's the conclusion? I don't know. I'm probably hoping you read this and ask yourself: "Do I need mastering or mixing?" before you think about hiring someone to do stem mastering for you. Stem mastering is an upgraded mastering service, not a downgraded mixing job.

If you understand that and feel like the extra flexibility would be great to achieve your desired end result, go for it! Stem mastering can be truly awesome and absolutely worth it - or ruin your mix and make your mastering engineer want to jump out the window during the process. 😄

-Benedikt

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

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Background Vocals-s-s-s

Daily Blog - May 17th 2021

Aaah, nothing like nice, silky, airy backing vocals. Shiny harmonies to add some extra sparkle in the chorus. Until it happenssss.... 😫

Background Vocals-s-s-s

I get it, some people don't like editing and don't think that the timing of their performances needs to be super tight. 

Fair enough, I like raw and "real" sounding productions, as well and nobody should ever tell you what you should like when it comes to art.

But all that aside, there are some things that are non-negotiable if you want to make a record that doesn't sound amateur or annoying . There are some problems that are exactly that - problems. With ZERO benefit for the listener. 

One of those problems are backing vocals that are out of sync with each other or with the lead vocal.

It may not be obvious or annoying right away, but as soon as you brighten them up, compress them a bit, pan them apart for extra width, the "s-es" and "t-s" quickly become unbearable. Especially on headphones (which are what the majority of people listen to music on these days).

There's absolutely NO reason to have out-of-sync "s-es" coming from left and right, distracting the listener from the song, making the lyrics less intelligible and sounding simply annoying. 

Here's what to do about it:

  • Perform as tight as possible, matching the original timing of the lead vocal super closely.
  • Edit the performance to be perfectly in sync with the lead vocal and the other backing vocals. (Editing is not the devil. If done right it can be the difference between an awesome production that feels just great and an amateur sounding mess that doesn't help the song, at all)
  • Tame the sibilance. The brighter the vocals are, the more annoying this becomes. You can choose a darker mic for background vocals. You can roll off some of the highs. And if you want airy, bright backing vocals, you can make them shiny and then de-ess them like crazy. Even to the point of causing a slight lisp. It won't matter, as long as they are in sync with the lead vocal and as long as the "s-es" in the lead vocal are clear. If they are, you'll be fine and the backings can be bright without making you feel like Samuel L. Jackson in "Snakes On A Plane".

-Benedikt

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

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