Monthly Archives: December 2014

How to Free Your Mind and Gain Perspective On Your Music

Spending time in the studio for long periods at once can cloud your judgment about your music as well as produce frustration which can lead to writer’s block. Every once in a while, you need to get out and breathe some fresh air in order to function.Frustration

The usual symptoms I get when I realize that now is the time to do something else than music are: hearing only “noise” and a “2D wall of sound” through the speakers, and not being able to focus on the song in its entirety or little parts. The mind gets somehow “cloudy” and it’s hard to make good decisions while producing or mixing. The creative spark gets lost and it’s really hard to create, and it shouldn’t be, as it should be fun and enjoyable.

Another problem with staying alone in the studio is boredom. Where’s the fun if making music gets boring?

Here are ways on how to free your mind and set your thoughts elsewhere between intense music production sessions, and gain new perspective:

  1. Exercise and turn your mind elsewhere

This is my favorite way of getting music totally out of my head. Just go out and do whatever you do for exercise and fun, and forget music. Personally, I like to go out skateboarding, as I have done for 15

years, and it puts me in a totally meditative, focused state of mind. The activity takes all the real estate in my mind, which is exactly why I enjoy it so much. If you haven’t found a way to do something physical and fun, I suggest you to think about what interests you and what you would like to be getting into.

  1. Take your music with you while exercisingExercise

This method is especially effective if you need a quick remedy to a problem at hand. What I often do is print the most recent versions of my tracks and put them on my iPod, and go out jogging for 30-45 minutes while listening to them. If you haven’t tried this, you definitely need to, as it could surprise you. Your mind relaxes as you get into the flow of it, and you start noticing things about your music you wouldn’t have in the studio. The brain just starts working again. Of course, you can choose an activity that interests you, and try this method while doing it.

  1. Force yourself out of the studio, every day

It is enough if you just exit your musical kingdom for a short while each day, even for 15 minutes at a time, as it makes your mind concentrate on different things and especially, you ears. Ear fatigue is very common and makes tasks like mixing very challenging. But it can be controlled too, it only demands responsibility to be able to take breaks throughout the day.

 

  1. Have discussions with your musician and producer friends

If you have friends in your life who are musicians or producers like you, try to spend time with them. They are struggling with the same issues as you are, and tackling them together can get very inspiring – as you are not alone. You will not only gain perspective on new kinds of music by enlarging your musical knowledge, your life will become easier just by acknowledging the support they have for you, and vice versa.

  1. Do other things in lifeSmile

This is very self-explanatory. If you do other things next to music, you will have better energy, more inspiration, more life experiences to write music about and most of all, you will be looking forward to returning to the studio, I guarantee you that. Taking a little break from music from time to time can influence your musicality in a very positive way. Enjoy a trip abroad or holidays without music. You’ll see what I mean.

  1. Listen to music outside of your genre

Stay open to all music, and at least give them a chance, because you’ll come across other genres and styles you will fall in love with. From a production point of view, the musical ideas gathered from other genres than your own could take your own productions to the next level. Different genres of music have their own general sound, their own dynamics, instrumentation and musicality. Listening to other music will force you out of the “trap” of your own genre. Stay alert, because you might just get influenced by something totally different and by something you never would have thought of yourself and have the inspiration to incorporate similar elements to your own productions. Now that’s perspective to you.Inspiration

Have fun with music, but remember to step away if you feel like something’s not right, and just let it be for a while. Accept the fact that your mind can only take so much. Keep that musical brain breathing!

-JP

How to Compress Vocals – Part 1 of 2

Vocals are arguably the most important part of a song. They are so important that they deserve special attention. I’ll be discussing ways to achieve an ideal vocal track, by showing you how to compress vocals in various ways.

Now, when it comes to vocals, they usually have their own special needs. Here are things I find extremely important to take into account when approaching vocal compression:

  1. Low Midrange
  2. Dynamics of the vocal track
  3. High-end “hiss”

In part one, I’ll show you how to get those wild low mids under control in your vocals.

Tackling the low mids

When I start mixing vocals, and encounter problems with the sound of them, the low midrange is causing the problem 90% of the time. Why is this? Well, let me tell you why. The low mids are an area where most of the MUD lies. And mud is bad, mud is boomy and mud goes all over the place. It needs to be set under control. You might be wondering: “If I insert a compressor on my vocal, wouldn’t it affect ALL the frequencies in the vocal, and not just the low midrange?” And you would be absolutely right. This is why we need to use a special technique to achieve this. A few methods come to mind:

  1. A single-band compressor with a side-chain filter

In this method you would simply isolate the frequency range you want to compress with the compressor’s side-chain filter, in this case the low midrange, and the compressor would only affect those frequencies. Very easy and useful. NOTE: you need a compressor with customizable high and lowpass (or bandpass) filters to isolate your frequency area, such as FabFilter Pro-C

Read my review of FabFilter Pro-C here.

The compressor is processing only the frequencies set by the side-chain filter (200-600Hz in this example). NOTE: In Fabfilter Pro-C, you need to click the "Expert" button to open the sidechain feature.

The compressor is processing only the frequencies set by the side-chain filter (200-600Hz in this example). NOTE: In Fabfilter Pro-C, you need to click on the “Expert” button to open the sidechain feature.

  1. A multiband compressor

With multiband compression you will achieve essentially the same end result as in example 1. The only difference is, a multiband compressor has more than one band of filters. Personally, I haven’t used a multiband compressor because I have always accomplished the tasks it does in other ways, but I know lots of producers and engineers use them and are no doubt an excellent tool, especially with a vocal.

Waves C4 Multiband Compressor

Waves C4 Multiband Compressor. You can spot four different filters by their crossover points.

  1. An external EQ feeding into a compressor’s side-chain input

This method is a bit more advanced. It is also similar to the method accomplished in example 1, but is more time consuming, yet more precise. The precision comes from using an EQ and very carefully adjusting the filters that are being sent from it into the compressor. With Fabfilter Pro-Q 2
 you can use filter slopes up to 96 dB/octave, which means the problematic area in the vocal can be pinned down very precisely.

To make it work, duplicate your vocal track and make sure no audio is sent from it to the main outputs. In other words, the duplicate is now playing as a “ghost” track. On the original vocal track, you should have a compressor with external side-chain capabilities, such as Fabfilter Pro-C. On the duplicate, you should have an EQ. Now, here’s the key: create a send on the duplicate track, so it’s audio will be routed into a bus. Then, open the compressor on the original vocal track, enable it’s external side-chain, and have the side-chain input routed to the same bus the duplicate was sent to. Now the compressor is only listening to the “ghost” signal on the duplicate track, which in fact is the same signal as the original, and that’s exactly the point. Lower the compressor’s threshold significantly so it starts working. Create a very narrow band-pass filter in the EQ and sweep it around to hear how the compressor affects only the range of frequencies in the filter.

1. Duplicate the track and insert a compressor with external side-chain abilities on the original, and an EQ on the duplicate track. Make sure no audio is going to the main outputs from the duplicate track (in Pro Tools done from the I/O menu).

1. Duplicate the track and insert a compressor with external side-chain abilities on the original, and an EQ on the duplicate. Make sure no audio is going to the main outputs from the duplicate track (in Pro Tools this is done from the I/O menu).

2. Send the duplicate to a bus. In Pro Tools, I have sent it to bus 128 for example's sake. Open the compressor on the original track, enable its external side-chain and choose the same bus you sent it to as the sidechain input.

2. Send the duplicate to a bus. In Pro Tools, I have sent it to bus 128 for example’s sake. Open the compressor on the original track, enable its external side chain and choose the same bus you sent it to as the side chain input. The method should be working by now.

Now just apply filters in your EQ and see how the compressor reacts to it. In this example, I have created a narrow 48 dB/oct bandpass filter targeting the low-midrange.

3. Now just apply filters in your EQ on the duplicate, and see how the compressor reacts to it. In this example, I have created a narrow 48 dB/oct bandpass filter targeting the low midrange.

The principle for this method is the same for all DAWs. If you don’t use Pro Tools, you should look into how to apply side chaining in your particular DAW. I hope this article has taken you to the next step towards achieving a great vocal sound. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Happy mixing!

-JP

Continued in Part 2.