Saturday, May 30, 2015

HSS Screencast 002-Adding Feeling to Your Songs

So what are you doing to add feeling and depth to your songs?

Do My Cables Matter?

This question is often presented with the wrong end in sight. For the most part the conversation leads to high dollar cables that most of us Home Studio owners would have to save awhile to purchase.
Yes, the cables do matter! I heard a podcast the other day and within the first five minutes the guy said (rather rudely I might add) that your cables do not matter. At that point I tuned out and switched to another podcast.

Now the question is what are we really looking for in a cable? Are we looking for a pretty cable, or a cable that has a major brand name attached to it? As for me, I am Scottish by heritage, and the Scott's are noted for being very frugal with their money. Or in other words, I am a cheapskate! But I also know the importance of longevity and what value that adds long term. So, the answer I am giving, as I usually do, is to go middle of the road.

What are your needs? You need a cable that is shielded. You need a cable that is sturdy and will hold up to the usual wear. You need a cable that has a good snug fit and won't fall out in the middle of recording.

As for cable noise issues. Most brands, no matter how "good" they might be, will have cable noise at high levels of gain and that noise will increase with length. It is inescapable, but is not such a big deal that you're limited to only one or two brands. (Brands that cost a fortune I might add)
For the most part, the small amount of cable noise you record will not be heard unless everything "drops out" at a certain point in the song. On some songs this might even be conducive to the sound your looking for!

So in conclusion, yes your cables do matter. But, they don't have to empty out your bank account either. Shop wisely and keep it simple!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Mixing Day!

Well Thursday proved to be eventful! I finished refurbishing two more guitars and did A LOT of mixing!

Most of the songs were already close to being done, but I decided in order to keep the creative flow going for the new album (In Pursuit), that I would get them close but not stress over the small stuff. Then on Thursday I would do a batch mix of all that I had up to this point. It actually worked out pretty good. I was a little sidetracked on more than one occasion (crawling under the mother-in-laws house to remove a skunk, repairing the toiliet in our bathroom, honey do lists,etc.) but somehow I managed to get quite a bit done.

For those of you who have been following the podcasts (itunes & rss feed is on the sidebar if not) you might know that I haven't uploaded an episode in awhile. Unfortunately, I reached my data cap and have had to wait until the next month. However, soon and very soon, I will be releasing a new podcast episode where I will be covering my “batch mixing” process and I will also be rolling out some great new, and I must say, exciting things.

If you have listened to the podcasts and you have any episode ideas, let me know! Also, please remember to rate it and leave a review, this will help others to find all that rambling as well!

Well, gonna get back to song #6 I believe it is now... Whew! Just thought I’d take a break and give my ears a rest. What are you doing with your music right now? I'd like to hear your thoughts on “batch mixing!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Playability Trumps All

Recently I had the opportunity to play some high end guitars. In fact the store I was in, “Smoky Mountain Guitars” was sort of a botique guitar shop. There was no guitar under $3000 in the building! Obviously that was way out of my price range but I was able to play one that caught my eye. It was a rare solid mahogany acoustic guitar that looked amazing! I picked it up and began to play expecting to be blown away with the ease of play. Nope. It felt awkward, the fretboard was rough, the sound was just…alright, and the feel of it in my arms was not so much that I couldn’t put it down. Quite frankly, I thought, what a bummer.
I was expecting to turn into the worlds greatest guitarist by picking that up right?! Hahaha, well not so much. The fact is, when I came home to “Beulah” (my Alvarez acoustic/electric) I picked it up and felt right at home. No, it is not a high end guitar, but I can play it and feel comfortable doing so. That trumps a price tag any day! 
The same goes with all aspects of Home Studio life. Why would we spend more money on something that we either can’t use, don’t know how to use, or may not ever use at all? Most of the time I see it as a musicians supposed quick fix. “Well, if I get _______________then I will sound good!” The fact is we must master what we have first in order to move on to something better, but better is NOT always a higher price tag. I would even venture to say that there are several mid priced instruments that play just as good if not better than the higher priced ones. These topics were covered in episode #1 & #4 of the HSS podcast in a different sense. This is my plea to all who would hear! “Don’t fall for the hype, and don’t let a salesman tell you what you like!”
Let me ask you a question, and I will leave you with this thought today…
What have you recently purchased that you can look back on now and say, “did I really need that”? Secondly, What do you own that you have kept simply because it’s expensive? And thirdly, what could you use that could easily replace that thing that is collecting dust? It’s all about the playability! If you don’t play with it, or it’s a struggle and a joy kill to do so, get rid of it for something useful.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Are my 16-bit recordings worthless?

This issue has been the debate of audiophiles everywhere. Most everyone agrees that 24-bit is the best to record in and is a great option. It also goes without saying that when Mastering, if at all possible the wave files need to be in 24-bit.
But the question is, are the 16-bit files you have now worthless? If that is all you have, is it pointless to keep recording until you can record in 24-bit? In short, no!
Let’s think about this for a minute. Most of the classics that blazed the path of radio were all recorded on 16-bit systems, Mastered on those same systems, and you as a listener just sung along and thought nothing more about it.
By all means I am not saying that it doesn’t matter what bit depth you are recording in. Obviously, you would not record in 8-bit! But what I am saying is that 16-bit was for a long time widely used by the pros and nobody was complaining (from a listeners point of view) about cruddy music.
So if all you have is the capability to record in 16-bit, you will be ok. Don’t be hindered from making music because it’s not the “right” bit depth.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mixing with Headphones!?!

There are so many "rules" to mixing that I break nearly everyday, and despite what popular opinion states, my mixes don't seem any less desirable when mixed on headphones. Much like anything else, I always check them by the "rules". (On my reference monitors) But, I don't have to adjust much usually, and sometimes not at all! 

Anytime you buy new monitors you have to get used to them, if you switch studios or move to a different room to record, you have to adjust to that as well. The same goes with mixing on headphones. Once you get used to them, learn their strengths and weaknesses, you can churn out some great mixes on them!

Here are some tips to mixing on headphones that have got me great results.

1) If you are using closed back headphones make sure to expect more bass on the mix. Open backed headphones are more accurate to represent bass levels.

2) Mix it just like you want to hear it, then reference on other sources to pick up on the discrepancies. However, don't expect bad speakers to make a good mix sound great. 

3) Keep a copy of music you love with you, music that has been professionally mixed and mastered. These songs will help you know what your mix should strive to be on the different sources you are referencing on.

4) Don't turn up that volume just because your neighbors can't hear it now. Listen at a level that won't tire your ears to quick.

5) Make sure that you invest in a set of comfortable headphones. I use the Audio Technica ATH a700's. Their re-design of the headrest, that they call wings, set so comfortably on my head that they aren't even noticeable.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Lifeless Song? Dull Mix? Try these!

Few things stir us more than relationships. Some of the top songs that have ever been wrote were songs about love. We as individuals, as unique as all of us are, share the same common thread of having been hurt, abused, loved immeasurably, or undeserving of another's affections. It helps us all to bring that one thing to the table and get it off our chest that we know everyone will not only understand but can relate to as well.

So how do we write, how do we arrange and record, and how do we produce our songs in such a way to reflect that? There are so many methods that can be used to add "vibe" and feeling into your music that are often overlooked. I have compiled a short list of some things that have helped me over the years that may be of some use to you as well. This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor could it it be, everyone's experience is different, and not everyone takes away the same thing from a relational victory or defeat. So here goes it...

1) Add darker loops, murky ambient sounds, and create a distance in your mix for conveying those feelings of rejection

2) Piano is a two edged sword that can bring cheer or drear to a mix depending in composition and the style used

3) Your audience can "hear" your feelings in your voice. When you sing that take that makes your voice break up because your fighting back those tears, you might just want to leave it in!

4) Higher octaves, higher spirits and vice versa 

5) Depending on how you play your guitar and what chord progressions you choose you can build a picture of victory or defeat

6) Harmonics can be a way of adding emotion at a key point in the song. Either instrument harmonics or vocal harmonies.

7) This sounds counter intuitive, but in order to get that punch in your build, drop out a few things, then bring them all in at the climax to create a mountain top experience for the listener.

8) Regardless of popular opinion, not everything needs compression. However, if used properly on a vocal, over compression can create a nice effect of one who sounds like they're struggling, or gritty over the circumstances.

9) Not all reverbs are created equal, some reverbs were just not meant to sound happy, and others stink at sounding sad!

10) Widen your vocals using automation on the parts you are trying to emphasize. In those parts also include some kind of repeated effect that allows the ears and the mind of the listener to, either consciously or unconsciously, feel that emphasis at those times. (Cowbell, handclaps, harmonics, bass hit, etc.)

Well, I could go on and on for days! Anyway, the point is if you want a recording full of life and character the tools are already at your fingertips. You must know how to leverage those tools though, and this is the big part, the take away if you will, do it tastefully!

Thanks for reading! Love ya all!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

5 Tips For A Killer Recording

No this is not the definitive guide, nor does it even scratch the surface, but settle down for a moment we will get to that point.

1) Above all other things within the Home Studio, regardless of what instrument you are recording, or even how you are recording it, in order to achieve the best recording possible you have to make sure that everything leading up to the source is in good working order. Your cables, your preamp if you're using one, your strings, and even something as simple as the pick you are using can all affect your recordings. In fact, a great take can be ruined by the littlest of overlooked issues. 

2) Remove anything from your tracking room that could present extra noise. A chair can be the bane of a good take, when it decides to squeak at that moment you are trying to alleviate your ( eh hem) backside. A computer fan is ridiculously louder when you're trying to get a clean recording as well. One way to decrease the noise of that Boeing B-17 under your desk is to point your microphone in the opposite direction and hope for the best. In the winter an oil heater can crackle and pop its way into your recordings if you have one in the room. I usually just take mine out of the room when I am recording, as I expel enough hot air to  defrost our freezer. Do your recordings at night, or plan them around your spouses schedule if possible.

3) Make sure your levels are hot enough to be heard but not so hot that they clip when you get excited. In fact regardless of popular opinion, you really don't need anything above -12db's to get a good signal. There are ways to limit yourself and still feel like you're cranking it. Headphones with exclusive volume control is one way, another is to zoom in on the waveforms in your DAW. This makes them appear bigger, hotter, and bolder, without losing any headroom. Let's face it, a really big portion of our performance is based in psychology. 

4) Don't  play as if you had another chance to record. Play like you were paying for it! Set yourself a timer and a set number of takes to "nail it". This will force you to play better and increase your productivity.

5) When recording anything with a microphone, take the time to get the placement right. You would not believe how much time you will save in mixing when you take a little extra placing that mic where it wants to be. Put on a set of headphones and move it around to at the least three places and vary your distances. Remember to that what may have worked yesterday, may just be a waste of time today. Although it is ok to go back to that spot as a reference, don't get married to it either or you will have dull lifeless tracks that have no edge when placed next to each other.

Hope these have helped in some way! Let me know if they have. Send me an email, or comment below. Looking forward to growing together with you in our Home Studio journey!

Have a blessed day! 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

HSS Screencast 001-Side-Chain Compression/Podcast Tips

In this screencast I cover a quick tip to get a professional, quality podcast intro. Join me as I discuss plug-ins used and an old broadcasting trick that keeps your fingers off the faders so you can focus on other things. If you enjoy this, let me know by leaving a comment below or sharing with a fellow podcast owner.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Follow Up video to the Last

Check out the follow up video to the last about guitar tone! These are the same methods only with an electric guitar. Enjoy!

What Drives You?

It is a simple question but the answer will keep you focused on what matters most. 
What is it that makes you set aside time to write that new song? What primal 
instinct is it that makes you wanna pick that guitar up as you walk by and play a 
few chords? What urge dictates to you that you want to finish that mix?
For most it can be easily answered in a few seconds, for others they may really think about it for awhile. But I can almost guarantee that the same conclusion will be reached, directly or indirectly. It is for the sake of creativity, and the love of music!

Just a little reminder today to keep it real! Remember why you are doing what you 
love to do! If it gets to burdensome, and it feels to much like a job. If it begins to 
drain you of happiness and you are getting burned out. It is OK to take a break, but don’t linger there, the longer you procrastinate the easier it gets to just simply say, “Awwww forget it”.

I have found that it is during those times when I was “burned out” and just felt to 
lazy to try, that some of the best material comes out then. It is almost like it was 
waiting till I got my technical self out of the way and just let my feelings and 
emotions take over again.

It is so exhilarating to walk into the studio with no desire to make anything happen 
and then watch it unfold right before you. It helps to ground you and remind you 
that this wonderful thing called music is never truly dormant, it is just waiting for a 
good time to shine.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

5 Quick Tips Video #2

The previous video was geared toward a beginner, this one is for the Intermediate player. Keep an eye out for the next video that will cover the same subject on the Expert level.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Lengthen String Life

In the recent video about guitar tones, I mentioned as a first tip how that new strings will dramatically improve your guitar tone. Not only are they easier and more pleasurable to play, but they add beauty to even the ugliest looking guitar. 
The problem is that, as most things in life, good things don't last to long. Strings are of no exception. It would seem that most string brands only last at the most a week before they start to sound dull and lifeless. (Based on frequency of playing) Fortunately, there is something you can do to extend the life of those little jewels.
Here are some tips to help stretch out the lifespan.
1) Wash your hands before playing
Those oils and the acids your hands produce are the bane of new strings.
2) Clean them after every session
With a clean lint free cloth wipe off your strings, on top and underneath.
3) Play with a good pick
Unless you prefer to finger pick, which presents a whole new set of problems for new strings. A good pick will extend your string life. A pick that has been over used will become sharper on one side and can cause string breakage. Also, as covered in the last video, a small tear in the tip can also break a high E in seconds.
4) String conditioners
There are many brands out there, and all of them are good in their own right. The main purpose of a product such as this is to reduce fret noise, coat strings with an oil to preserve their finish, and to generally make it easier to play.
5) Play more
This seems counter intuitive but it works! The more you play the more you keep those new strings in a healthy stretch. Also, if you follow the above steps, you are cleaning them more. 
I hope these tips have been useful. Slap some new strings on that guitar and get to playing some music! 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

New Video!

Check out the new video! If you are just starting out on the guitar this is right up your alley! If you're an experienced player it may be helpful for you as well! Enjoy!

20 Tips to a Better Mix

1. Reference, reference, reference...
Reference your mixes on as many different systems as possible. One can never stress enough how important it is to reference your mixes on a wide variety of playback systems. Yes, you come to know your regular studio and monitors very well, so you learn to trust them. Every time you reference your mix somewhere else however, you’re likely to learn something new about it.
2. Watch those levels...
Don’t monitor too loud during the audio mixing process! You shouldn’t really need to monitor at more than 90dBA because at about this level your ears are at their optimum listening capability. Go any louder and you start to tire your ears sooner and could even cause long term damage. What’s more, monitoring at levels of 100dBA and beyond will tend to give you a false sense that the mix sounds good because of the loudness!
3. Keep it quiet...
Listen to your mix at very low levels as often as possible. This tactic helps you identify general mix level problems and forces your brain to heighten your attentiveness. Get your mix to sound good at very low levels, and it'll probably sound good at higher levels. The opposite certainly can’t be said!
4. Close your eyes, open your ears...
Try to monitor with as little visual distraction as possible at least once or twice during your audio mixing process. So, turn your computer monitor off, turn the lights off, close your eyes and just listen.
You’ll be amazed at how much objectivity this can bring to the table. We tend to attach a lot of conscious importance to what we see, so when we take the visual stimulation away we allow our conscious mind to focus more on what we hear.
5. Mono check, still...
Mono reference your mix, always. There are of course fewer and fewer instances of mono playback in the world today. Mono is however still a reality, so at least make sure important aspects of your mix, like vocals, don’t get affected in unwanted ways when you sum your left/right channels. A mono check might at the very least help you spot a phase problem in your mix which could otherwise have slipped by unnoticed.
6. Stay in context...
Avoid working on an instrument in solo for too long. Whether you want to adjust EQ or compression, stay away from doing it in solo. Remember that the audio mixing process is about making many different instruments work together as one. Adjust one instrument, and you have an impact on the whole mix and the mix is after all what you want to pay attention to.
7. Step away from the L2...
Don't keep a brick-wall limiter such as the L2 on your master bus during the audio mixing process. You don’t gain anything when you limit your mix bus during the mixing process. The limiter makes it difficult to know if and when any peaks in your mix exceed digital 0dB.
A master bus compressor is fine and if it’s something you haven’t tried, I recommend you experiment with it. Master bus compression, when used right, can really help bring a mix together well.
8. Keep an ear on compression...
Avoid the overuse of compression. Too much compression on various tracks can quickly add up to a flat, lifeless and one-dimensional mix. Too much compression may also result in unwanted distortion to the final bus.
9. Group dynamics...
Try to compress instruments as groups rather then as individual seperate tracks. This can often help you achieve more natural and coherent results. There are cases of course where you want to add compression to individual tracks. I find you can often create more organic-sounding mixes when you compress instruments as groups.
10. Compress for dynamic range...
You can use a compressor to increase dynamic range of an instrument. A compressor with a slower attack time could help bring a dull instrument which lacks dynamics, back to life.
11. Think relationships...
It feels natural to turn something you want to hear more of up in the mix. This tactic may not always serve you well though. First try to work out what you should turn down in the audio mix in order to achieve the same result. This way, you keep better control of the overall levels and you also develop a more objective listening approach.
12. Pan apart...
Never have two instruments at exactly the same pan position. It becomes a lot harder to achieve good separation between two or more instruments if they are at exactly the same pan position.
13. Stereo reverbs...
Feed your reverbs from stereo sends. You’ll be surprised how much better a modern stereo reverb will work when fed this way. It can also help you achieve much more accurate placement of instruments in the stereo field.
14. Restrict the reverb...
Don’t use too many different types of reverb and effects in the same mix. Try to limit yourself to only 2 or 3 different reverbs. This way you will keep a better handle on the stereo image and spacial clarity of your mix.
15. Reverb returns EQ...
Equalize reverb returns on the mixer rather than in the reverb unit. Your mixer’s channel EQ will most often be of better quality than a reverb unit’s version. You may often also listen in a different way when you adjust EQ parameters on a reverb unit compared to when you adjust a mixer strip EQ.
16. EQ bandwidth...
Use wider bandwidths for boosts and tighter bandwidths with cuts. In general if you equalize along this guideline principle you'll tend to achieve more musical results.
17. Cut over boost...
It’s better to take out what you don’t want rather than boost what you do want with an EQ. This helps minimize distortion risks and also accomplishes more discreet and musical results.
18. High pass filter...
Apply a high pass filter to all your non-bass related instruments. This can help clean up your low end, especially with live recordings. Low pass filters are pretty much essential should you want to create a sharp, crisp and precise low-end in your mix.
19. Phase reverse it...
Don’t be frightened of the phase reverse button! Phase inversion on a particular instrument can at times improve the way the instrument interacts with the rest of the mix. This is very true for live drum mixes. Try to always listen to the effects of phase inversion on the relationship between different drum microphones in your mix.
20. Resolution...
Work at higher resolution wherever you can, as this will improve the quality and definition of the end result. You want to of course set this at the recording stage of the game, as increasing a session’s resolution after recording by converting all recorded media tends to waste time and processing better spent on other aspects of your audio mixing job.j
I hope you found these audio mixing techniques useful! Please share them on Facebook and Twitter with the buttons below should you think some of your friends or colleagues can benefit from these tips.