Monthly Archives: January 2015

How to Work With Inspiration – Translate Your Ideas Into Music

Inspiration very often occurs when you’re not in your studio, being outdoors and doing something else. This doesn’t mean inspiration wouldn’t strike you in the studio as well. The most important thing is to be ready in both situations. In this article, I’ll show you various ways on how to work with inspiration when you find yourself struck by one, wherever you are.

Get Inspired

Inspiration can occur anywhere and at any time. Having an inspiration is such a natural, creative process which needs to be taken full advantage of and satisfied. Inspiration could strike when listening to music that you like, doing sports and exercising, traveling the world or simply taking a walk outside.

Inspiration will strike anywhere. Photo Credit: Robin Otto via Compfight cc

Inspiration is a sudden strike. Photo Credit: Robin Otto via Compfight cc

Emotional issues such as relationships are a great source of inspiration as well. The important thing is to listen to yourself and feel your inner emotions, and let them guide you musically.

No one can ever predict how and when and inspiration will strike. All you have to do is be prepared for it, because if you are, you’ll get something out of it and it won’t be for nothing.

Inspiration arrives in many forms. The usual are:

  • A strong will to create music, in any form
  • A melody or chord progression appearing in your head
  • Lyrics or parts of them appearing in your head
  • The need to create music representing a certain emotion

Out of the Studio, What To Do?

Everyone’s got a smart phone these days, which makes the whole process of capturing natural inspiration so much easier. In our cell phones, we’ve got the ability to record sound and write down our notes for later use. If you don’t have one, at least carry a small notepad with you.

Which bulb of inspiration will be lit up? Be prepared. Photo Credit: Bat Israel via Compfight cc

Which bulb of inspiration will be lit up? Be prepared. Photo Credit: Bat Israel via Compfight cc

Should a great melody start playing in your head, the best you can do is to try to sing it out loud and record it with your iPhone, smart phone or equivalent.

In my experience, melodies don’t stay in our heads for too long, so the vital thing to do here is act as quick as possible. Sing it and listen to it over again to memorize it.

Sometimes you might create a drum pattern by beatboxing it, so it’s important to capture this groove by recording as well. Don’t worry about how “primitive” it might sound – it’s all about saving the idea for later so you can replicate it in the studio with proper sounds.

In the end, great music and musical ideas come from us when in a very humane state, meaning not trying to force the music out of ourselves.

Use tools to capture inspiration. Photo Credit: lucywatson- via Compfight cc

Use tools to capture inspiration. Photo Credit: lucywatson- via Compfight cc

In order to write down lyrics quickly, use the notepad application in your phone or an actual notepad and pen, for more intuitive action. Just like with melodies, lyrics can be easily forgotten.

In my experience, just by thinking over daily matters, situations or relationships, a lot of information goes around in our heads which can be translated to song lyrics.

Capturing chord progressions can be trickier, especially if you don’t have much experience with chords and scale degrees. But if you do know your chords and what they sound like in your head, you can easily write them down.

For example, I find the key of C the easiest to visualize in my head (probably because of the white keys on the piano), which is why I always use those scales as starting points when thinking about chord progressions. When I have a progression written down, it can always be transposed to other keys.

To practice chords and scale degrees, learn all the chords that belong to a certain scale, like the C major scale.

In the Studio – Bring It On

If your studio is in your bedroom, home or in an actual studio building, and should an inspiration strike, stop all else you would be doing and get rid of any distraction. It’s go time.

Pick up your favorite instrument, real or software, or any of your favorite musical tools used to create music. This one’s extremely important: make sure you record everything. Then just go on an jam!

To reduce any roadblocks, create an “Inspiration” template in your DAW which has your favorite instruments and effect pre-loaded and ready to record, so you’re always ready to go.

Genuine inspiration needs to be captured - don't let it run away. Photo Credit: *jhay via Compfight cc

Genuine inspiration needs to be captured – don’t let it run away. Photo Credit: *jhay via Compfight cc

The goal here is to capture that musical feeling or idea that runs through you. When genuinely inspired, it can evolve into a state of flow, in which you pour out anything you feel the need to express, into physical form. If you’ve experienced flow before, you know it feels like flying.
Nothing lasts forever though, and inspired moments of flow usually arrive as momentary rushes, lasting from minutes to even hours. So you need to focus on the task at hand and stay efficient and quick. Think of this as a gift from the universe – do not waste it.

Great, you’ve done it!

Sometimes when you don’t have a chance to capture the fruits of your inspired moments, you’ll have to learn to save the inspiration for later use. This demands determination and strong faith.

Sometimes it's good to analyze matters with care. Photo Credit: maxhebditch via Compfight cc

Sometimes it’s good to analyze matters with care. Photo Credit: maxhebditch via Compfight cc

You know, from time to time it could be only healthy to analyze matters further and dig deeper into the core of your inspiration. It will grow within you – if you let it and don’t touch it right away.

Take this lesson as one of the important ones in your musical life. The greats know what to do when struck by an inspiration, and so can you. Don’t overlook it – grab it by both hands.

Real music is about honesty, and honesty is inspiration.

-JP

When did you last have an artistic inspiration? What was it about? What kind of emotions did you feel – powerful, sadness, energetic?

Don’t forget to drop your comments below and I’ll be more than happy to get back to you.

How to Tune Electronic Drums – Tuning Samples

Tuning your drums is an essential practice, just like tuning your guitar before you record any serious material with it. It’s important to understand what the tuning of drums is all about and make it a routine, for the sake of musicality in your songs. Read on to find out how to tune electronic drums, or as they are called in the computer music world – samples.

Introduction

Polish your drum sounds by tuning them. Photo Credit: Saint-Gobain Abrasives EMEA via Compfight cc

Polish your drum sounds by tuning them. Photo Credit: Saint-Gobain Abrasives EMEA via Compfight cc

Why does a drum kit sound so great? For the most part, because of an exceptional performance. For the rest, it comes down to the sound of the drum kit and its tuning. Even the greatest sounding drum kit will remain good at most, if not tuned. Tuning is like polishing a rough sculpture to its final form, where it will be adored.

In electronic drum sample tuning, there are certain methods which make the whole process easier.

Catch the resonance

Finding the resonant peak for drum hits is essential for tuning. This is especially true for kick and snare drums, and toms.

The principle is this: the resonant peak lies somewhere in the frequency spectrum, and as you might have guessed, frequencies equal to note values. Note values are key in tuning.

What you need is a spectrum analyzer, such as Voxengo SPAN, which is free by the way, or an equalizer that has a built-in spectrum analyzer with a piano keyboard such as Fabfilter Pro-Q 2.

Lower frequency drum hits, such as kick, snare and tom, always have a clear resonant peak. This is the largest peak in the sound which dictates the dominant frequency or tonality – in other words, the note value.

A resonant peak.

A resonant peak. (Click for larger images)

You can manipulate this peak by moving it around using a pitch or tune knob in a sampler, or by using some kind of pitch manipulation plug-in as an insert.

Let’s say we are writing a song in F. We have our nice sounding snare drum sample already, but want to tune it to support the musicality of our song. By looking at a spectrum analyzer, we notice that our drum sample is tuned at around 160Hz.

This snare's resonant peak lies at 160Hz.

This snare’s resonant peak lies at 160Hz.

By using FabFilter Pro-Q 2 equalizer, we can switch to the “Piano Roll” mode – my favorite function of this plug-in.

Notice the piano keyboard below the spectrum analyzer. This is a handy function in FabFilter Pro-Q 2.

Notice the piano keyboard below the spectrum analyzer. This is a handy function in FabFilter Pro-Q 2.

To see the peak more clearly, we can zoom in and see the relation to the piano notes with better resolution.

Let's zoom in a little on the peak, shall we?

Let’s zoom in a little on the peak, shall we?

By looking at this chart, we notice that 160Hz equals the Eb or E note. In order to get to F, we need to pitch the sample up a bit to around 175Hz. Let’s do it next. Since I’m using FL Studio 11 for this example, I’ll use the default Sampler within FL Studio.

In FL Studio 11, my snare sample is inside the Sampler, where I can manipulate the pitch as shown.

In FL Studio 11, my snare sample is inside the Sampler, where I can manipulate the pitch as shown.

Let’s switch to the EQ to see what has happened after the pitch correction of the snare sample. Take a look.

As you can see, our peak has moved to F at 175Hz, and it is now in tune.

As you can see, our peak has moved to F at 175Hz, and it is now in tune.

That’s it, our kick is now nicely in tune. Use this method to tune your lowest drum sounds to their right notes. By lowest I mean the ones that have low resonant peaks, usually below the mid-range area.

Tuning cymbals, claps and higher drums

Higher sounding drums are a bit trickier to tune, because they don’t necessarily have a simple tone to them, and could be very harmonic in their frequency content. This barrier can be overcome by using some aid.

First, you should create some kind of tuning tone, so you have something to tune to. This could be a simple sine wave coming out of a synthesizer, for example. Let’s take a sine wave and make it play a long, sustained note on F6, which is about 1400Hz on the spectrum analyzer. I’m using FL Studio’s own 3xOsc synth for this.

The 3xOsc synth in FL Studio 11 is a simple way to generate a sine wave. MIDI triggers the F6 note.

The 3xOsc synth in FL Studio 11 is a simple way to generate a sine wave. MIDI triggers the F6 note.

And here’s the synth sound in Pro-Q 2.

The sine wave at 1400Hz in the spectrum analyzer of Pro-Q 2.

The sine wave at 1400Hz in the spectrum analyzer of Pro-Q 2.

Now, we have a “guide”, constantly playing in the background. What you will have to do next, is play your sample you want to tune and adjust its pitch up and down until you feel you have reached the right tone. If your ear is “trained” enough, you will find this task quite easy as well.

The spectrum analyzer might provide additional help too, in moving your sample to the 1400Hz range.

You will eventually land at a comfortable sounding pitch with your sample. At this point, you might not be exactly sure which note the sample has landed on. You can try adjusting the pitch further in fourths, fifths and octaves to help you find a final pitch for the sample. These are 5, 7 and 12 semitones respectively.

Check out the first two parts of my 10 Electronic Music Production Tips –guide, for more insight on tuning drums.

In tune

It's in tune, great job. Photo Credit: freevectors via Compfight cc

It’s in tune, great job. Photo Credit: freevectors via Compfight cc

You might hear some people say tuning isn’t really that important in making music. I have to respectively disagree. I think tuning drums makes all the difference between a good and a great song. The professionals do it, and so should you. Why wouldn’t you?

Learn to tune your samples using your favorite sampler, plug-ins or DAW tools. Personally, I tune every little drum sound in my tracks, from the biggest kick drum to the smallest hat or percussion. There is a difference in doing so.

Generally, people won’t notice the tuning of drums like “Oh, I see how you tuned your snare drum to the fifth degree, clever.” How they will notice it though, is in the form of “Wow, those drums are really great sounding and punchy.” Get it?

Alright guys, I hope this little pro-tip will find its uses in your studio.

What are your thoughts on drum tuning? Do you think it’s a necessity – or “I might do it, if there’s time”? Let’s discuss.

Don’t forget to drop your comments below.

Keep ‘em tuned,

-JP

Modes in Music Theory – Spice Up Your Music

Modes in music theory can be a somewhat tricky concept to fully grasp, because to be honest, it could sound quite intimidating to the average musician. However, they are not that complicated to understand, and when learned, they will enrich the music you write greatly as your ear becomes accustomed to them. Let’s begin, shall we!

A little history

Modal music can be traced back all the way to ancient Greece, followed by the Medieval times and the birth of “church” modes – the name which is derived from the Church of Rome. Later on, by the modern times, the modes became of equal temper. Okay, enough history. Let’s get to business.

Ancient Greece. Photo Credit: Rol247* via Compfight cc

Ancient Greece. Photo Credit: Rol247* via Compfight cc

The “church” modes

Alright, I will list the modes used in Western music below.

  1. Ionian (Major)

  2. Dorian

  3. Phrygian

  4. Lydian

  5. Mixolydian

  6. Aeolian (Minor)

There is also a seventh mode, which is called the Locrian mode. I choose not to include it in this list because it is virtually never used in music. We’ll just stick with the six of them.

 Photo Credit: photosteve101 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: photosteve101 via Compfight cc

You might wonder what the differences are between all of them. You might also wonder why Ionian is called major and Aeolian is called minor. I’ll tell you.

The Ionian mode is the major scale! Yes, the major scale is a mode. Same applies to the minor scale, which in other words is the Aeolian mode. These scales are just the modes accepted as standards in western music.

To put it simply, modes are scales.

The Colors of Modes

Now, for the differences. There are major differences in character of each mode – they sound very different from each other and have their own “flavor”. I’ll use the same list to characterize each a little bit, and hopefully you can make use of it in your music production and songwriting.

  1. Ionian = happy, relieving, energetic

  2. Dorian = dreamy, melancholic, tense

  3. Phrygian = dark, powerful, evil

  4. Lydian = magical, mysterious, anticipating

  5. Mixolydian = praising, majestic, relaxing

  6. Aeolian = sad, sensitive, emotional

As you can see, all modes have their own feeling and uniqueness to them. Next time you’re making music and feeling a bit sad about something that’s recently happened in your life, you might as well take advantage of the Aeolian mode and build your song around it. Neat, right?

But how do I know where to find all these different modes then? How do I get to use them? Follow on and I’ll explain.

Constructing the Modes

Modes are constructed from the major scale. Photo Credit: pni via Compfight cc

Modes are constructed from the major scale. Photo Credit: pni via Compfight cc

The easiest way to think about modes is that all modes can be built from a major scale – the Ionian mode. I’ll refer to the Ionian mode as major scale from now on, as well as the Aeolian mode as the minor scale.

Yes, that’s it. You can create any other mode from just the major scale. Before we go any further, I’ll include yet another list showing the rules that apply to each mode. This time I’ll write down the scale degrees and how they vary in each mode. As you see, in different modes certain degrees are either flattened or sharpened.

The mode formulas:

  1. Ionian – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

  2. Dorian – 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7

  3. Phrygian – 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

  4. Lydian – 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7

  5. Mixolydian – 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7

  6. Aeolian – 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Let’s utilize this list and have an example, where we take C-major and create other modes from it.

  1. C-major (Ionian) – C D E F G A B C

  2. C-Dorian – C D Eb F G A Bb C

  3. C-Phrygian – C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C

  4. C-Lydian – C D E F# G A B C

  5. C-Mixolydian – C D E F G A Bb C

  6. C-minor (Aeolian) – C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

See? Play these scales out on your piano, guitar or whatever instrument you might have to find out what they sound like. The great thing is, we can take any major scale and build any mode from it.

Want to write a song in A-Dorian? No problem!

The A-major scale is A B C# D E F# G# A, and A-Dorian therefore would be A B C D E F# G A.

The Major Scale – how do I get it?

At this point, you might be wondering, “How do I form the initial major scale then?” Here, let me show you. The major scale has a certain formula to it. We’ll have to look at notes chromatically to form it, using semitones and whole tones.

Here’s the formula to the major scale (W = whole tone, S = semitone):

W W S W W W S

For example’s sake, here’s the formula of the minor scale:

W S W W S W W

Okay, you should now be able to form any mode you want, and with little practice, you’ll master them eventually.

Whole tones and semitones. Photo Credit: VillegasLillo via Compfight cc

Whole tones and semitones. Photo Credit: VillegasLillo via Compfight cc

The Piano keyboard

Here’s a fun fact. The piano is constructed in the way so each mode can be played using only the white keys. The piano is built around the C-note, which is where we start.

Now, just disregard the black notes and don’t touch them, play only the white notes.

Play a few octaves up from the middle C, and you might notice you are playing the major scale – the Ionian mode. Great. Let’s move on and start from the note D, which is next to C. Now you are playing the Dorian mode. Let’s move on to E. That’s called E-Phrygian. You get the idea?

The piano is an incredibly easy tool to play modes right away, without worrying about flats or sharps. Of course, the white keys only let you play D-Dorian and not C-Dorian for example (because the white keys are built around the C-major scale), in which we would have to use the construction method as I’ve described above.

The modes are hidden within the white keys of the piano. Photo Credit: MPhotographe via Compfight cc

The modes are hidden within the white keys of the piano. Photo Credit: MPhotographe via Compfight cc

With the white keys only, you’ll be able to play the following modes of the C-major scale:

  1. C-Ionian

  2. D-Dorian

  3. E-Phrygian

  4. F-Lydian

  5. G-Mixolydian

  6. A-Aeolian

As you can see, D-Dorian is the 2nd mode of the C-major scale. E-Phrygian is the 3rd mode, and so on.

Aside from the “white keys only” -principle, in the scale of Bb-major (B-flat major), C-Dorian would be the 2nd mode of that scale, and so on. Get it?

Reserve some time for yourself and study the modes. As confusing as they might initially sound, they are not that hard in the long run. As you study them, you’ll begin to hear them in music all around you.

That’s it!

Learn modes and use them to spice up your music and make it genuinely interesting. Modes are great fun to improvise with and provide inspiration – they certainly have brought my music to a whole another level.

Use modes as musical "spice". Photo Credit: Cocoabiscuit via Compfight cc

Use modes as musical “spice”. Photo Credit: Cocoabiscuit via Compfight cc

Perhaps you could impress some people by including modes in your music, as they definitely show maturity and deep understanding of music.

Have variety in your music. As almost all modern music concentrate either on the major or minor scales (the Ionian and Aeolian modes respectively), the usage of not-as-common modes such as Dorian, Lydian or Mixolydian could provide “just that” extra twist needed.

And they sound awesome.

I hope this lesson has been useful to you and my explanations simple enough to understand.

 

 

What do you think about modes? Have you had experiences with them? Let’s discuss! Please leave your questions and comments below and I’ll make sure to get back to you.

Until next time,

-JP

How to Make Your Music Sound Professional – 5 Principles

How to make your music sound professional – is the question everyone wants the answer to. “Professional” as a word has a certain reputation to it, representing great quality and value. To open the subject up, I’ll show you a few ways you can get closer to the professional sound in your musical endeavors. Let’s jump right in!

  1. Be organized

 Photo Credit: Ryan Leighty via Compfight cc

Navigate your DAW with ease – not with pain. Photo Credit: Ryan Leighty via Compfight cc

While staying organized won’t directly affect your sound, it is the right path to walk along in your road to the professional sound.

When working inside a DAW, things can get a little bit messy, especially during a creative phase. That’s totally fine, as long as you fix everything before the beginning of the next session.

I’m talking about naming your tracks, color-coding them, grouping similar instruments next to each other in the mixer view, routing instruments into groups and buses, and so on.

Staying organized is important because the less time you spend hassling with your DAW, the more time you will have to spend to actually work towards making your tracks sound good. It’ll also speed up your workflow remarkably.

The pros work with speed, efficiency and clarity – and so should you.

  1. Clean things up

Mop the floor of your waveforms. Photo Credit: Wonderlane via Compfight cc

Mop the floor of your waveforms. Photo Credit: Wonderlane via Compfight cc

You might record instruments or vocals with microphones. That’s great. Just make sure you clean the waveforms of clicks, pops and other artifacts, so you’ll only be left with the actual sound you want to include in your music.

A big one is the hiss or background noise that recording introduces. It’s fine while the instrument is playing – you can’t really get rid of it, but when the instrument is not audible, remove the parts of the audio that include the noise.

In short, don’t have any extra, unnecessary artifacts in your music, unless planned on.

The basic tools you have for cleaning your audio are EQ and gate. With these two, you will go a long way. The magic of EQ are the high and low-pass filters.

Have a low-end rumble in your guitar track? No problem, just put a high pass filter on it. What about an annoying high frequency noise? Insert a low pass filter on it and adjust it to the right frequency. Problem solved.

Gates are useful when dealing with low-volume artifacts such as background noise, hiss or pops and crackles. In a vocal track, these artifacts exist 95% of the time. Just configure the gate so it starts working when the vocalist starts to sing. Other than that, the gate should create dead silence on that track. Handy!

  1. Use Fades

Introduce your music by using fades. Photo Credit: just.Luc via Compfight cc

Introduce your music by using fades. Photo Credit: just.Luc via Compfight cc

Yes, fades are used as a clean-up tool to remove clicks in the beginning and end of audio, but to me they are more than that.

With fades, you can control your arrangement in a very dynamic way. It might be a bit dull and boring to make an instrument appear from silence, going directly to full volume.

With fades, you can introduce elements in your songs, such as a long, evolving pad or a guitar loop, to create and keep up interest.

Fades could be short or long, it’s up to you. The character of a fade is dictated by its shape. Try all the different shapes and see how they sound like when faded in or out.

Fades are also a highly creative tool. Use them to create interesting effects to sustained sounds and even tremolo-like effects.

A classic example of using a fade is to fade out a whole song into silence, usually from the last chorus. You’ve all heard this effect. Yep, that’s just a simple fade, adjusted with great taste.

Don’t underestimate the simplicity of fades!

  1. Timing is everything

You’ve heard this saying before, and it applies especially well to music. Timing is indeed everything if you want your music to sound great.

Naturally, great timing comes from great instrument players, such as guitarists or drummers. It can be done in the electronic world too with the right understanding of time and concepts such as the “pocket”.

The pocket is something that happens when the timing of a certain instrument’s performance just feels right. With the rhythm guitar such as in Daft Punk’s hit song “Get Lucky”, it’s definitely in the pocket – which has a positively extending effect to the groove as a whole.

When working with MIDI and programming instruments, such as drums, make sure to put all the drum hits in their right “pockets”. You can use the grid of the DAW for your advantage, as well as parameters such as swing or velocity.

When I talk about the grid, use it as a framework. Some hits are beneficial to keep locked directly on the grid, such as a kick drum hit. But don’t keep everything straight on the grid. Humans are not robots. It’s nice to be able to hear the humane factor in computer music too.

Stay sharp with your timing!

  1. Keep it simple

When thinking about bands in the traditional sense, the instruments present usually are drums, guitar, bass, keyboard and vocals. That’s five different instruments. In electronic music, it’s easy to go overboard with instrumentation as the possibilities are vast.

Here’s something to try: create a drum kit, one or two bass sounds, a keyboard and a few pad sounds. When you limit yourself to fewer instruments, it forces you to make the most out of them. With tricks such as fades, as described earlier, you can introduce them in and out during your arrangement.

The key here is to have fewer instruments, but have them play different kinds of melodies and chords throughout the song, so it doesn’t approach the gates of boredom.

Simplicity is beauty. Photo Credit: freestock.ca ♡ dare to share beauty via Compfight cc

Simplicity is beauty. Photo Credit: freestock.ca ♡ dare to share beauty via Compfight cc

A crucial point here is the modulation of sounds throughout your song. At one point, you might want to introduce a slight chorus effect to your keyboard, and at another you might want to bring in some reverb for it. When you modulate your sounds in different ways, they will always sound interesting.

The advantage of a fairly simple instrumentation is, the song will sound bigger. Why? Because instruments do not get in the way of each other. It’s that simple. Of course, to achieve this you will also need to arrange your songs in a clever way, so they actually don’t.

Sound like a pro yet?

As you go along your path of a music maker, make sure you take these five areas into account. All knowledge will accumulate, and you’ll make your music sound professional as time passes. Stay persistent and don’t give up, it will be worth the pain.

What do you think about these five principles? Have you used them in your music already? Discuss.

As usual, leave your questions and comments below, and I’ll be more than happy to get back to you.

Be a pro, act like a pro.

-JP

Digital vs Analog Sound – What’s the Buzz All About?

Analog sounding mixes are highly sought after in the era of in-the-box music creation. Tape recorders and expensive analog gear are a luxury for few. Virtually everyone is now working in the digital realm, which is great, but the interesting fact is that people crave analog. What are the advantages of digital then? This is a look into digital vs analog sound. Dig in!

It’s all digital

Photo Credit: Paulo Colacino via Compfight cc

Digital. Photo Credit: Paulo Colacino via Compfight cc

I’m just going to throw it out there – digital is awesome. The possibilities we have today as computer musicians are endless, because the limits of analog gear are nonexistent.

Think about plug-ins. You can insert any amount of a plug-in on multiple channels in your DAW’s mixer, as in the analog world you probably only owned one hardware unit, such as a compressor or EQ, which you could set up on one channel at a time. Have you ever thought of this?

Another good example is recording. You don’t need to waste valuable tape to capture a take of guitar or vocals. All you need to do is set a track to record and you can do it over and over again, without wasting anything else but time. It’s so easy and effortless too!

As you can see, the advantages of working in the digital realm are real. But what about the sound?

The digital sound

Okay, the workflow of digital environments is great, but how does it sound? I’ve heard a lot of people describe digital as “clinical”, “too clean” or “lifeless”. In a sense, this is true.

The digital sound is very clean indeed, and it is exactly what the recording engineers of the 50s-70s could’ve only dreamed of. Now all we want to do is go back to analog, sound-wise. Ironic, right?

What made analog gear so special, is the fact that they do not consist of zeroes and ones. Real tubes and transistors exist inside the gear, that physically affect the sound. The distortions and the non-linear nature of the gear also seem to “warm” the sound up.

I think recording digitally is great, because you always get a clean signal, which can be degraded later if wanted. The clean digital signal demands some work to truly replicate the characteristics of analog. The good thing is, it is quite easy to do (as well as overdo) with the right plug-ins and skill.

Is digital too clean? Photo Credit: Alexander Rentsch via Compfight cc

Is digital too clean? Photo Credit: Alexander Rentsch via Compfight cc

I need my analog fix!

Analog is generally preferred because adjectives such as “warm”, “authentic” and “musical” are widely used to describe its sound – and who wouldn’t like to have those attributes in their own music?

In the past, engineers used tape instead of a hard drive. Nowadays you just need a virtual tape plug-in to emulate the effects of real tape. There are a bunch on the market, which is great. And they do a pretty great job.

Photo Credit: matthewvenn via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: matthewvenn via Compfight cc

Top mixers use their expensive mixing desks to get “that” sound which the desk itself provides. Now, you need to use a plug-in emulating the characteristics of classic mixing desks. This is a very desirable sound, which is also an attraction for top mixing studios who have the actual desks.

The classic compressors and EQs in the rack in the back of a mixer’s room are also available as plug-ins. Great!

Plug-ins for the rescue!

Some of my favorite analog-modeling plug-ins have certainly taken my digital recordings to another realms in sound. Here are a few:

decapitatorSoundToys Decapitator is hands down my favorite analog saturation modeler or tape machine. I love how this thing beefs up anything I put through it. It’s very easy to go overboard with it though, but sometimes that’s the point.

Another great one from SoundToys is EchoBoy, an analog delay modeler. The delays in EchoBoy are so authentic and sound great, which is why I think it is the only delay that I would ever need. Not only is it easy to use, it’s a bundle of fun.

vccWhen mixing, just like top mixing engineers, I want the sound of classic mixing consoles in my music. Slate Digital’s Virtual Console Collection offers exactly that. A variety of classic desks are modeled in it, such as my personal favorite – the SSL 4000 –series desk.

What the plug-in does is, it takes out the “harsh” digital edges of audio in a very subtle and elegant way, and adds some sweet movement and “grab”. This is easily one of my favorite plug-ins.

nobleqThe sound of classic equalizers and compressors is a big one also. While digital EQs are perfectly good for any application, the midrange you can get out of a classic Pultec emulation such as PSP Audioware’s NobleQ is something sweet indeed.

The rock’n’roll vibe you can pull out of a Waves CLA-2A compessor is something you need to hear to appreciate. Once again, any compressor will do the job, but the mark of the sonic characteristics of this classic compressor is something special.cla-2a-compressor-limiter

Now, it might be a good time to mention, none of these plug-ins are actually needed to make good music. Music is always in the melody, harmony, songwriting and arrangement. I’m just talking about the sound, which also is down to the personal taste of the creator.

Enough Analog?

Alright, is it enough to have all the analog tools available to us in digital format in our search for an authentic sound, you might wonder. The answer is yes and no.

It is beyond awesome to be able to have these options today to make our music sound more analog-like. But the real question we should ask is are they at the same level as the true analog gear. I think they are pretty darn close.

Does it matter if they don’t replicate the original sound one with hundred percent accuracy? Not if you accept them as they are and value the fact that we have them in our toolboxes.

True analog might have a slight advantage in the “warmth” –department, but we shouldn’t forget that digital actually sounds great too. In fact, digital doesn’t sound bad at all – that’s the thing! All we do is create an illusion for ourselves that “analog is better”.

In the end, it is a matter of taste. Shouldn’t we just accept digital as digital and not try to force it become analog?

Analog warmth? Photo Credit: nuztorad via Compfight cc

Analog warmth? Photo Credit: nuztorad via Compfight cc

Ending thoughts

I love being able to work digitally because it’s convenient and efficient, and I adore my plug-ins that are modeled after analog gear. They inspire me.

I think if we would just embrace digital working environments and use analog-modeling plug-ins with great taste, good things will happen.

When it comes to analog emulation, who knows when it will actually reach the same level as the hardware. A few years? Ten years? Never?

To be honest, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If you work in the box, do your best to love it. Don’t go into war against your best friend – the digital audio workstation, because it wants to help you.

We need to be thankful of all the beautiful software we have today, which ultimately enables us to make better music.

I hope this has opened your eyes about the digital versus analog debate.

Please do and leave comments, feedback and questions, I’ll be more than happy to get back to you!

-JP

Koss PortaPro Headphones Review – Affordable, Portable, Real Sound

Good consumer headphones aren’t necessarily easy to find. While the market is flooded with different kinds of headphones for music consumers, bad decisions can be made easily due to falling into the trap of marketing. Read on to find out about a classic and a great alternative to music listening as well as track referencing. Welcome to my Koss PortaPro Headphones Review.

Back to the 80s

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The Koss PortaPro

The PortaPros by Koss are teleported straight from the 1980s. Just look at them! At first sight, I’m quite sure people are divided by their looks. You either love them or hate them. Well… I love them!

In fact, the first versions of the PortaPro were developed in the eighties.

The headphone earpieces have a cool retro-look on the outside. The earpieces are flexible on the inside because they are connected to the outer part from the center by a clever attachment “clip”, which makes the earpieces move freely adjusting itself to its wearer’s head. Sweet, eh?

The PortaPros are unique-looking because of the raw-looking metallic headband they have, which I think looks pretty rad. These can be collapsed for portability and ease of carry.

On the side of the PortaPros is a “Comfort Zone” switch which is used to achieve a comfortable, secure fit. Honestly, I’ve never used this feature. Perhaps they just instantly fit my head?

Because the PortaPros are actual headphones and not in-ear buds, you’ll save your hearing as well when you listen to your music through them (click here to find out why it’s important to protect your hearing).

Good thing to note is the PortaPros are not in any way isolated. This means when you wear them you can still hear everything that happens outside. In other words, they are open.

In Use

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The PortaPros can be easily folded into a “package”

The PortaPros are very portable, as they are labeled. You can fold them up into a very small “package” which is pleasant because they can be stuffed into a very small space. If you want to use the case provided, you can insert the headphones there.

When you put the PortaPros on your head, you’ll know they never fall off. They are firm because of their light construction and the tight metallic band which you wrap around your head.

This is why I love to wear them while jogging and listening to my favorite tunes. Trains and public transportation are a favorite as well in using the PortaPros.

I’ve done quite a lot of skateboarding while wearing them, and they never fell off even when I put them to the test by jumping down stairs and listening to music with them. The PortaPros are excellent for extreme sports for this reason. For even a tighter grip, wear a hat and put the headphones on and they’ll never fall off.

Airplanes can provide a challenge because of the background noise. If you need headphones for airplanes, I would recommend you to look into closed, noise-cancelling headphones.

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The carrying case – or bag

The PortaPros are very long-lasting in their performance. I’ve owned two pairs over the course of eight years. I had to buy new ones after four years of continuous use because the left speaker quit working, and I’m still not sure why. Probably because they had to endure the rough usage I put them through.

I’m quite sure my second pair will live over the lifespan of my first pair. Even if you would buy a new pair every four years, I’m not exactly sure if 30-40€ ($35-45) would send you to your financial doom.

The Sound

The PortaPros sound really awesome. They have a very warm, inviting sound which makes them a pleasure to listen to. The sound is very real.

The bass is really tight and punchy, but never overwhelming. The midrange where instruments such as guitars, pads and vocals lie is clear and separated, and full of warmth which a lot of headphones in the same price region lack.

The high end is something special in these headphones. The highs are kind of toned down and not very bright, but in a surprisingly positive way. The decision Koss have made about the high end of the PortaPros enables me – the listener – to be able to listen to music for longer periods of time without any hearing fatigue.

Also, the fact that the high end isn’t overbearing makes the midrange and bass shine in these headphones. With other cheap headphones, the high end can get annoyingly cold sounding and unpleasant – this is not the case with the PortaPros.

When needed, you can easily turn up your music without torturing your ears with unpleasantly loud highs.

Usage as reference headphones

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The PortaPro is a great music reference headphone

In music production, it is very important to make sure your music will sound great everywhere. To actually make it sound great everywhere, you need to hear your music everywhere. And by everywhere I mean on everything – headphones, speakers, club speakers and so on.

In real life, people don’t listen to music with expensive studio speakers or headphones that much. This is why it is important to have a source representing the “general sound” people usually hear when they enjoy music.

Because of the consumer-grade sound the PortaPros offer (though it is excellent), I like to reference my own tracks with them to see where they sit in the ocean of commercial mixes. They provide great perspective to studio-grade gear by offering the chance to see how people actually listen to music in day-to-day life.

I especially like to go outdoors while referencing, to get the full effect. By switching between my own tracks and commercial tracks I get the idea of what I need to do to make my track sound better, in comparison to them.

The PortaPros offer a great, cheap chance to do some headphone referencing, which you should be doing if you’re serious about your music.

In conclusion

Priced around 30-40€ ($35-45), the Koss PortaPros offer great value for anyone looking for portable, great sounding music listening headphones to buddy their iPod, laptop or cellphone.

The package includes the headphones and a carry case. The PortaPros are covered under the Koss Stereophons Limited Lifetime Warranty.

The Koss PortaPros truly are the cheapest route to real sound.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I’ll be more than happy to get back to you.

-JP

(Porta)Pros

  • Incredibly CheapReview-Score
  • Great Sound Quality
  • Tons of Value – they last forever
  • Good reference headphones

Cons

  • Retro looks is a potential no-go
  • If you prefer in-ear buds, PortaPros are not for you
  • Not isolated headphones – you can still hear through them

You can get a pair on Amazon, where I also got mine. Check out the PortaPros, you might notice these are the last pair of consumer headphones you’ll ever buy.

10 Electronic Music Production Tips – What The Pros Know

In this post, you’ll find 10 electronic music production tips you should know if you are willing to step up your music production game. Some of them are advanced, yet all of them essential. Keep on reading to find out what the pros know…

  1. Tune your kick drum1-bassdrum

Always tune your kick drum to the key of your song, or other notes in a musical scale. If you do this, your music will sound better, trust me.

The kick drum could be tuned to the first, fourth or fifth scale degrees for best effect. Why? Because the first degree is the tonic and the fourth and fifth form a very harmonically rich interval in relation to the tonic.

In order to avoid confusion, let’s have a look at an example:

In the key of A, we could write a song in A-major. The following notes are included in the A-major scale:

A B C# D E F# G#

Now, these notes are the seven scale degrees in an A-major scale. We can easily count from the beginning to find our notes for tuning the kick drum:

A = tonic (first degree)

D = subdominant (fourth degree)

E = dominant (fifth degree)

Now we know which notes are the best to tune a kick drum into in an A-major scale. They also apply to A-minor scale as well because the fourth and fifth degree notes stay the same.

In short, tuning the kick drum will have a positive effect on the tonality of your song. I recommend you learn to do it, because once you get the grasp of it, it’ll become second nature.

If you don’t tune the kick drum, it will “fight” especially with the bass in a very unpleasing, non-musical way.

Have tuning your kick drum become a routine in your music production.

  1. Tune the rest of your drums

2-drumkitJust like the kick drum, tune all other drums as well. You’d be amazed how big of an effect this has on the overall musicality of your song.

You can use the whole musical scale to find different “flavors” for the rest of the drums. In our example, the A-major scale.

For example, the high hat could sit on the tonic, toms on the third, snare on the fifth, and a ride cymbal on the seventh degree.

You can even form intervals and chords by tuning different drums into different notes. Think about that.

This is a very powerful technique in music production and while quite advanced, it is well worth learning.

  1. Place instruments in different octaves

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Octaves are easily visualized by a piano

By placing different instruments in different octaves in the frequency spectrum, you’ll make your music breathe and at the same time not make it cluttered.

In a way, you’ll already be “mixing” while you do this and your actual mix will fall into place with no effort.

For example: The kick and bass will take care of the lowest frequencies, while a piano will create power and presence in the low-mids and midrange. A guitar will take care of the upper midrange and the cymbals will create a satisfying high-end to your song.

In this example we have covered at least six different frequency ranges, and a certain instrument dominating each.

Of course, instruments will overlap but just by assigning instruments to their own little spaces in the musical octaves or the frequency spectrum, each and every one of them will be heard clearly in the context of a song.

  1. Think about the low end

When creating the low end “home” to your tracks, you need to think about the relationship between the kick drum and bass. Which one do you want to dominate?

Which should dominate the low end - kick or bass?

Which should dominate the low end – kick or bass?

In a real world example, you could have a shorter, punchy kick together with sustained bass, which is often the scenario in pop and rock music.

In  another example, you could have a long, decaying 808 kick with little additional bass instruments, to have a humongous low end. This production method is popular in dance and hip hop music.

In electronic dance music, such as house, very often both the kick and bass are big. They can be made to “avoid” each other by good songwriting, arrangement and mixing techniques, such as side chain compression.

In the end, a lot of the low end problems can and should be overcome by clever arrangement and simply not making the low end instruments fight with each other.

  1. Use a sampler to fine-tune performances

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The ADSR envelope

What I mean by this is you can use the sampler to your advantage in making great drum and melody patterns, or anything you could imagine.

The most important functions in a sampler would have to be the ADSR envelope, which stands for attack, decay, sustain and release. If you have quite a good hi-hat pulled in your sampler, you could take that “good” and make it great.

If the hi-hat feels too loose, pull down the sustain and release and adjust the decay to achieve the right kind of “tightness” for it. If it’s too sharp, create a bit of an attack curve to soften in up a bit.

In addition to the envelopes, you can easily naturalize a performance by using the velocity functions inside a sampler.

You can also tune your samples with the sampler’s tune functions.

Basically, you can take a “dull” sample, and make it a full blown musical performance by using the sampler as a modulating and creative tool.

Of course, you would still have to perform with whatever you have loaded in your sampler to actually make a musical piece from it. By performing I mean recording a MIDI performance or creating the notes in the MIDI editor.

  1. Resample your material

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    Recycle your trash – and your audio!

Exactly what it says. Take your carefully-crafted samples and recycle them through a sampler or a processor once again, to evolve your sounds even more.

Keep resampling your audio and you’ll notice you need less and less source material in your tracks.

The beauty of resampling is, there is no end to it. You can sample the same source sound again and again and transform it into any direction each time.

For best effect, use different kinds of samplers and processors to mangle your audio beyond recognition. Be the mad scientist of your own sound.

  1. Print MIDI to audio

This is a big one. Whenever you are satisfied with a MIDI performance you have made, transform it into an audio file. When working with big projects, you’ll save up tons of CPU.

Also, since audio is permanent, processors such as compressors tend to work better with it. Sometimes if you have complicated synth sounds coming out of a software synthesizer, you really can’t predict how the sound will “act”.

Personally I try to print all my MIDI performances to audio as fast as I can. I might have a creative day with multiple MIDI instruments, and at the end of the day, I switch off the creative mode and just print them all to audio.

  1. Use the stereo field

Go wild with your stereo effects. Don’t listen to people preaching about mono too much. The stereo field is a wonderful thing, and sounds awesome.

Pan things around, create stereo delays and reverbs. Just play around with stereo! Your tracks will get so much wider and bigger if you take advantage of stereo sound.

Think about the stereo field as a baseball court

Think about the stereo field as a baseball court

Listen to your favorite tracks and see what they did with stereo, you could easily pick up a trick or two from them.

One of my favorite stereo tricks is the Haas effect.

  1. …But keep certain things mono

Of course, certain things are best kept in the middle, such as kick drum and sub bass. Bass instruments in general sound good in mono, but there are no hard rules, as stereo bass could sound really awesome as well.

You could think of mono as a creative effect too. Parts of a song could be made completely mono, for a nice effect – then “exploding” back to stereo. Use your imagination.

  1. Learn your DAW inside out

    The DAW is your teacher

    The DAW is your teacher

Last but not least, learn what your DAW can do. When you do, you know what you can do with it. When you learn your DAW, you will understand how it works and develop methods to get things done with it.

Learn all the audio and MIDI editing functions because they take you a long way. Learn how the mixer works. Learn how to record. Perhaps most importantly, learn the shortcuts!

Seriously, if you learn how to navigate your DAW using only shortcuts, your workflow speed will multiply exponentially. Less clicking, more intuition.

In the end, the more you make music, the better you will get in knowing your DAW.

Sometimes you might not be aware of the full capabilities of your DAW. I recommend you go to YouTube and watch an introduction video or review of your particular DAW and see if you have missed something.


 

I hope these tips have been a useful read, and maybe you have learned something new about music production. Feel free to drop me a question or comment below, and I’ll get back to you.

Do you have a tip to share? Leave them below and let’s discuss.

-JP

FabFilter Pro-C Review – Modern Compression With Style

FabFilter is an Amsterdam based plug-in developer company known for their great sounding, innovative and workflow-friendly audio plug-ins. In FabFilter’s own words, they have “never been afraid of reinventing the wheel”.

This is the FabFilter Pro-C review, which is their workhorse compressor plug-in. If you’re on the lookout for a compressor, read on to find out whether FabFilter Pro-C is for you.

Let’s dive in

FabFilter Pro-C

FabFilter Pro-C

At first sight, FabFilter Pro-C strikes me as a very modern-looking compressor plug-in with its clear design and visuals. Everything seems to be laid out in a neat, crisp way.

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The Preset Menu

On the top, you can find the Preset menus, which are full of usable presets to get you going as well as an A/B button to switch between two different compression settings.

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Hovering the mouse over a function will open a help pop-up

To the right you can find the Help menu, which can be of use if something is unclear about the compressor, or if you just need to learn about some of its functions. Additionally, by hovering the mouse over a knob or function, an interactive help pop-up will appear (which is awesome!)

The compressor is divided into five main sections, which I’ll present to you next.

The Basics

  1. Input Gain, Threshold, Knee Setting, Ratio and Compression Style selection

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    Input, Threshold, Knee, Ratio and Style

The Input Gain controls the volume being sent into the compressor. This is useful if the incoming signal is either too quiet or too hot for the compressor to process effectively.

It also includes a pan ring to adjust the panning for the incoming signal (if the Expert mode is on, which is discussed later on in this review).

The Threshold sets the level above which the signal will become compressed. In other words, turning the knob towards the negative values will enable more and more compression.

The Knee buttons switch between Hard Knee and Soft Knee. With Hard Knee compression, the compressor starts working only until the signal passes the set threshold. With Soft Knee, the signal will be compressed gradually as it approaches the set threshold.

The Ratio knob can be thought of as controlling the subtlety or aggressiveness of the compression. With a 1:1 ratio, nothing is compressed. 1.5:1 and 2:1 ratios are subtle, 3:1 and 4:1 are noticeably punchier and 8:1 is already very aggressive compression. Anything above 10:1 can be considered limiting.

The small dots around the Ratio wheel are presets for certain ratios, ranging from 1.10:1 to 10:1. They are useful for browsing through to find a satisfying ratio for your material. 2:1 to 4:1 are usually good ratios for regular track compression.

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Compression Styles

The Compression Styles include three options: Clean (allround), Classic (vintage) and Opto (slow).

Clean and Classic are program dependent which means they will act accordingly to the signal you feed through the compressor. The character of the compression and the attack and release times might vary while using these modes.

The advantage of program dependency is the compressor will automatically become more “flexible” when it needs to. For example, when compressing a whole song: during a fast, percussive section of a song the short release which is set to suit the flow will change to a longer release when a slow, gentle breakdown kicks in.

  1. Attack and Release

    Attack and Release

    Attack and Release

The Attack value can be anything between 0.5ms to 500ms, which is a good range to find the optimal attack for the compressor. Basically the fastest attack time is very fast, and the longest half a second long.

The Release values range from 50ms to 5000ms (five seconds). At the fastest setting of 50ms, the recovery time of the release is effective for even the fastest material, such as drums or quick vocals.

Above the Release lies an Auto –button. This changes the behavior of the release to automatic, which is an excellent function in the compressor. It can be set from fast to slow.

The auto release sounds very beautiful and transparent, and is excellent in processing full mixes or instrument groups. Sometimes a fixed release value just won’t work, especially if the source material is very complex.

  1. Output Gain and Dry Mix

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Output gain and parallel compression

The Output Gain knob works as the makeup gain of the compressed signal. When compression is applied, the signal gets quieter because of the gain reduction. Use the Output Gain to get the signal back to its original level. As with the Input Gain, the Output knob also features a pan ring, if Expert mode is enabled.

The Dry Mix knob is used for parallel or “New York” compression. How it works is, you introduce some of the original signal back to work together with the compressed signal. This technique is useful if you need to retain the transients of the original signal, which are of course being “squashed” by the compressor.

In practical terms, parallel compression can be used to create punchy and big sounding drums or a tight vocal take. By default, the Dry Mix knob’s gain is set at zero, and only the compressed signal is passing through. Just pull up the gain of the Dry Mix knob and off you go.

The advantage of the Dry Mix knob is parallel compression can be done within the plug-in and no mixer routing is needed to create alternative tracks to become compressed in parallel to the original.

The Dry Mix also has a pan ring around it after Expert mode is enabled. You could use the pan rings of the Output and Dry sections to pan the compressed and uncompressed signals to the opposite sides of the stereo field, to get an interesting stereo image (in left/right mode of course, but I’ll get to these later in the Expert mode controls).

Above the Output Gain is an Auto Gain button. When enabled, it will automatically adjust the makeup gain without any need to touch it. This is a handy and time-saving function for setting up a good compression setting quickly.

But… The Looks!

  1. Visual Aid

The number one thing about Pro-C is the visual section. The compression and the behavior of which can be visualized very effectively. Together with focused listening, the visual cues can be used to your advantage.

The Visuals

The Visuals. Ratio, threshold and knee are on the left, gain reduction is shown as pink graph and yellow meter on the right together with input gain in green.

You can easily see the incoming signal passing the threshold point, the “hardness” of the ratio and knees and the gain reduction. The gain reduction can be observed in two ways, through the scaled digital meter or through time, which is visualized by a transforming graph.

Sometimes I know I don’t want to compress a certain part by more than, say, 3dB. With the visual readings, I can easily make sure I get the compression where I want it to.

The dB scale set to 8dB. Notice also the transparency of the gain reduction graph, which is reduced by a fair amount.

The dB scale set to 8dB. Notice also the transparency of the gain reduction graph, which is reduced by a fair amount.

The gain reduction graph also shows the attack and release curves through time, which is helpful for observing and setting the right attack and release values. You will basically see what you hear.

The digital meter will also show the input gain of your source material, which is nice.

You can set the scale of the gain reduction meter by clicking on the button below with dB values on it. Most of the time, I use the 8dB scale because I rarely do more than 8dB of compression to anything. But if I do, I have the options to choose from 8, 16, 24 and 48dB scales.

As an extra feature, you can tweak the transparencies of the visuals with the three little knobs below in a linear fashion. You could for example turn down the transparency of the gain reduction curve a bit so it’s barely visible, so you’d have to use your listening to judge the compression, but still be able to see the curve if you wish.

Or if you want, you can turn off the visuals completely by clicking the “Power” –button on the bottom left.

The guys over at FabFilter really have thought about everything, which makes Pro-C such a special tool.

Getting Physical

  1. MIDI Learn

    MIDI functions

    MIDI functions

Yes, you can use FabFilter Pro-C physically by using a MIDI controller, such as a knob or slider on your MIDI keyboard. You can assign physical knobs to any function inside the compressor.

All you need to do is enable it by clicking on the “Enabled” button, click the “Learn” button to enable MIDI learning, click a function you want to use (such as Attack or Release) and move a physical MIDI control. That’s it!

For making the MIDI functions work in your DAW, have a look at the Help Topics included in the Pro-C via the Help –menu – should you have any problems with it.

The MIDI functions of the Pro-C have made me use it almost exclusively in compression duties because I can just close my eyes and apply compression just like in the analog world, touching the hardware. Mixing with the eyes is a trap to fall into. I love the fact I can have a physical connection to my sound and shape it by feel by twisting a knob , and not a clumsy mouse.

For the Expert

A sixth section is accessed by clicking the “Expert” –button under the visual section. The Expert mode is not initially visible until enabled.

  1. Side Chain options and Mid/Side Compression

The Expert settings

The Expert settings

The Expert –button will reveal the advanced controls of the Pro-C. By clicking it, you can notice pan rings appear around the Input and Output Gain and the Dry Mix knobs, as I told you earlier.

The controls include Internal/External side chain options, Left/Right or Mid/Side processing, the side chain gain knobs for the two processing modes and a side chain filter on the bottom featuring an Audition –button.

The two gain knobs essentially act as “sub-thresholds” for the left/right or the mid/side channels. The pan rings around them are used to unlink the channels, so the compressor will process them individually.

When both the pan rings are centered, the channels are linked and the compressor will process them equally. If you hold down Shift on your keyboard and pull the left or mid pan ring to the left, the right or side pan ring will move to the opposite direction an equal amount.

At the furthest position, the channels are completely unlinked and will work in either dual-mono or total mid/side control modes. Any other position between the centered and the furthest will provide a mixed value towards linked or unlinked.

Pro-C in unlinked Mid/Side control. Take a look at the yellow gain reduction meter, the mid channel is hitting -7dB whereas the side channel is touching -3dB.

Pro-C in unlinked Mid/Side control. Take a look at the yellow gain reduction meter, the mid channel is hitting -7dB whereas the side channel is touching -3dB.

This might sound complicated, but when you try it yourself on the Pro-C, you’ll get the hang of it.

The digital gain reduction meter will show individual left/right or mid/side gain reduction, when unlinked.

With these advanced controls, you could do tasks such as compressing the left and right channels individually in dual-mono mode, or compress the mid and side channels individually

With mid/side compression, you can essentially compress the mono and stereo components of the mix by setting individual thresholds to both – meaning individual amount of gain reduction to either. Or you could leave either completely untouched.

Bear in mind the attack and release and ratio values stay universal.

Pro-C in mid-only mode. Notice the side channel's gain is set so zero, therefore gain reduction occurs only on the mid channel.

Pro-C in mid-only mode. Notice the side channel’s gain is set so zero, therefore gain reduction occurs only on the mid channel.

Let’s say I have a full mix where the vocal is just a little bit too dynamic and loud. As the vocal lies in the center of the stereo field, also known as the mid, we can only enable compression of the mid component of the stereo signal and therefore make the compressor only process the vocal.

Of course, there are other elements in the middle as well, such as the kick and snare drums and bass. But this is where the filter comes into action. We can isolate the frequency area of the compressor’s side chain so the compressor will only be processing those frequencies – the vocal in this case.

Another case would be if the left side of the mix has a guitar that is too loud compared to the piano on the right side, we could simply enable the dual-mono mode and compress the left channel a bit to tame down the guitar and therefore enhance the balance of the stereo image.

By clicking on the Audition –button below the filter, it lets us hear only the area the filter is affecting. Handy for fine-tuning the filter cut points.

In mastering, the side chain filter is very useful for making sure the kick drum doesn’t make the track pump for triggering the compressor with deep sub energy. Simply by adjusting the high pass filter up to 80Hz we take care of the matter.

With the filter, you could also accomplish some advanced vocal mixing techniques, such as shown here.

Side chain filter

Side chain filter

What does it sound like, then?

Pro-C is a very transparent compressor

Pro-C is a very transparent compressor

FabFilter Pro-C is an incredibly transparent compressor, meaning it doesn’t add any additional coloring or saturation to the sound, unlike some vintage compressor emulations do. But that doesn’t mean Pro-C wouldn’t have vibe.

Of course, sometimes color and character is wanted, but it could be added afterwards with tape saturation and distortion plug-ins.

By experimenting with combinations of the knee settings and the compression styles, you can easily find the type of compression you are after.

By enabling hard knee and the Clean style, you’ll get a really snappy and poppy compression, which could be great for drum kits or kick drums.

A soft knee and the Opto style will give you a gentle but “grabby” compression which would sound great on solo piano and slower pieces of music.

The Classic style with soft knee combined with fast attack and release will give you a fast compression, great for rock drums or fast hip hop vocals. Experiment with the different modes and you’ll find great settings for your music.

Conclusion

Pro-C is a great track compressor to control the dynamics of instruments, vocals and busses. It’s even suitable for mastering as well because of the built-in parallel compression and the dual-mono and mid/side modes, aside from a great, transparent sound which is essential for mastering.

FabFilter Pro-C is a true desert island compressor in my opinion. What I mean by this it’s pretty much the only compressor you’d ever need. It’s easy to use, has high quality and transparent sound and is very intuitive to set up thanks to its great visual components and MIDI controls.

Would you take Pro-C to a deserted island?

Would you take Pro-C to a deserted island?

Sure, I use lots of other compressors too because I like having lots of different sounding compressors in my arsenal. But if I had to make or mix a track using only Pro-C, I’d be happy to.

Pro-C offers anything and everything you would need a compressor to do.

If you’re looking for a clean, transparent compressor with tons of features and functionality and great sound quality, this is it.

If you have any questions about this review or about FabFilter Pro-C, leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

-JP

FabFilter Pro-C is available as 64-bit VST, VST3, AU, AAX Native, AudioSuite and RTAS (32-bit only) and is priced at 160€ ($190) including VAT.

Pros15-result2

  • Great sound quality
  • Clean and transparent compression
  • Deep functionality and customizability
  • Visuals are intuitive and helpful
  • Equally suitable for beginners as it is for experts
  • MIDI functions

Cons

  • Expert mode requires a bit of a learning curve

FabFilter Pro-C is available to buy at PluginBoutique.com.
You can’t go wrong with this one, as it’s a keeper in your music production toolbox. Download the trial and see for yourself!

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro Review – Studio or Leisure, Your Pick

Beyerdynamic is a brand extending its roots all the way back to the year 1924 during which it was founded. Perhaps best known for their studio-grade headphones, Beyerdynamic also produces microphones and conference technology, such as tour guide systems. Therefore Beyerdynamic is a company with a great history and reputation.

I bought a new pair of headphones in late 2009, which makes it five years today from my purchase. Those headphones happened to be the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro’s. Read on to follow my Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro review and find out why I stopped looking for proper headphones.

DT 990 Pro

5The DT 990 Pro’s are an open diffuse-field studio headphone, which means they are not closed headphones such as those designed for airplane usage. With open headphones, the sound remains dynamic and, well, open! It is exactly what’s needed in studio use.

The frequency response for the DT 990 Pro headphones is 5hz to 35kHz, which covers the entire frequency spectrum of human hearing and beyond.

The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro’s are of very solid build quality. Throughout these five years, I haven’t had a single problem with them and they work like they have never even aged. The headband is made of metal and has a comfy cover around it which can be removed for adjusting the band to fit one’s head.

The earmuffs are very comfortable as well, and there are no signs of wearing fatigue whatsoever by using them for long periods of time. The speaker covers are made of hard plastic which are enough to provide protection for the valuable parts inside.

The audio cable that connects the headphones to your sound card or amplifier is also surprisingly pleasant to use, as it’s very flexible and long, and built to last. The connection is made via 3.5mm headphone jack plug or ¼” adapter which is supplied with the package.

The headphones are easily serviceable as all parts are replaceable, according to Beyerdynamic’s official website.

In a nutshell, the DT 990 Pro’s are designed for critical listening in a studio monitoring situation, and that is something they do well.

The Looks

1Beyerdynamic has really nailed the looks on the DT 990 Pro’s. Since the headphones have roots in the 1980s, they look exactly like they are from that era. I love the fact how they look, and they somehow bring me a dose of nostalgia just by having them on my desk.

The DT 990 Pro’s are simple yet elegant, and best of all they look professional, which is a wanted trait in a serious studio environment.

Sound Quality

Ever since the first listen, I have been superbly impressed with the sound quality of the DT 990 Pro’s. The detailed, dynamic, natural and vibrant sound qualities make the DT 990 Pro’s an enjoyable listening experience, whether it’s listening to music or creating it.

With these headphones, the listener can spot the smallest details in sound, which are not heard as easily with studio monitor speakers. Delay and reverb tails can be heard beautifully fading into the distance, which makes it even easier to fine-tune them in music production and mixing.

2Bass reproduction is solid and dynamic, without any excessive bass boost other than what is actually included in the audio, unlike a lot of consumer headphones which emphasize the bass. I have always disliked the fact that some headphones alter the audio way too much. The DT 990 Pro’s do no such thing.

The high end is also not in any way “excited” which results in a natural sound, exactly what’s needed in critical listening of audio.

The stereo width is impressive with a wide sound stage where different instruments can be pinpointed with ease and accuracy.

Personally, I have yet to find  better sounding headphones than my trustworthy Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro’s.

In Use

4I use the DT 990 Pro’s mainly for critical studio listening in production and mixing. Whenever I need a second opinion apart from my main studio monitors I put on the DT 990 Pro’s. They are very useful for analyzing the bass response, especially in untreated rooms.

These headphones are perfect for fine tuning small, subtle details in your songs.

I have made and mixed full songs only with the DT 990 Pro’s in the past, and they are totally good at it. In addition, they are ace for late night music production if neighbors are concerned.

Aside from production, I like to kick back and just enjoy music with them. The sound is so good that once you get to try them and understand top grade sound,  you are addicted.

I recommend using the DT 990 Pro’s with medium volume settings as it’s where the “sweet spot” of these headphones seem to lie, in my experience. The dynamics are revealed better that way by hearing the differences between quiet and loud sounds with more accuracy.

By not cranking the volume of the headphones, you also avoid hearing fatigue which is caused by continuous listening of the same material at louder volumes.

Conclusion3

The Beyerdynamic 990 Pro’s are a wonderful product if you are looking for studio headphones of excellent quality. Whether for music production and mixing or listening for leisure, they are a perfect match.

If you are a singer looking for monitoring headphones, you should look for closed-back headphones such as the DT 770 Pro, also in Beyerdynamic’s DT Series, so the headphones won’t cause spill in the microphone. Open-back headphones such as the DT 990 Pro do not completely isolate the sound in them.

In studio use, they are simply brilliant.

The price of Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro’s ranges from 138-160€ ($165-190) which makes them very affordable for musicians and music enthusiasts all around the world.

I highly recommend the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro’s.

-JP

P.S. Don’t confuse the DT 990 Pro‘s to the DT 990 Edition‘s, which are HiFi headphones!

ProsReview-Score

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Affordable, long-lasting value
  • Comfortable, joy to use
  • 3.5mm and ¼” connections

Cons

  • Not suitable for vocal recording due to audio spill

You can get yourself a pair on Amazon right now and put an end to your search for headphones! The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro won’t let you down.

In Search of the Best Compressor Plugin – Top 5 Compressors

The music technology market is filled with different kinds of compressors, ranging from the cleanest to the most abusive – and everything in between. You might be looking for the best compressor plugin out there, as we all are. Read on to find out about some of the gems on the compressor market today.

I’ve used lots of compressors in my music production career, and I can tell you right now you won’t find one magical compressor which will take care of all your needs. The key is to know which compressor can affect your sound in certain ways. I think they all have their own share in the music game – as well as their sound.

I will list my top five favorites below and tell you a little bit about each of them.

Clean, clean, clean

FabFilter Pro-C

Read my review on FabFilter Pro-C here.

Fabfilter Pro-C

Fabfilter Pro-C

This compressor is my favorite one to reach for if transparent compression is needed. For example, to tighten up the dynamic range without adding any color or excessive character.

I also love the customizable side chain filter on it, to compress only a certain area of the frequency spectrum, such as only the high end or the low midrange.

Some of the highlights of the Pro-C include: three compression styles (Clean, Classic, Opto), automatic make-up gain which is very useful for tuning in the right amount of compression quickly, mid-side controls and parallel compression.

The mid-side feature is very useful if only the mono information needs to be compressed and the stereo information left alone, or vice versa. For example, a vocal is usually in the center of a mix so the compressor could be set to process only that.

Even though the Pro-C is a “clean” compressor, you can get some more characteristic results from it by using the Classic and Opto styles included. This is a great go-to track compressor for “everyday” use.

Bring on the SSL

I am a big fan of SSL-style compression. It has a very unique feel to it (and you’ve heard it on loads and loads of records). I am of course talking about the classic bus compressor from the SSL 4000 G Series console.

There are many emulations made of this particular compressor, and while I’m sure they all get the job done, there are slight sonic differences to them. My favorite of the bunch would be:

SSL Duende Native Bus Compressor

SSL Duende Bus Compressor

SSL Duende Bus Compressor

Quoting Solid State Logic: “It is a simple unit with a simple purpose, it makes complete mixes sound bigger, with more power, punch and drive.” And I think the people over at SSL know what they talk about – they were the ones that made it. I agree with their statement as well.

The Duende Bus Compressor is a very special plugin and I think it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, gluing a mix together. Here’s how to use it: stick it on your mix bus, aim for 2-4dB of gain reduction on the meter, and adjust attack and release to taste. Done!

In order to be truly impressed with this plugin, you need to understand what the compressor should sound like. The Duende Bus Compressor might be “too transparent” to some or its effect might not even be heard.

The way I see it, this thing will “grab” your audio in a very special way – unique to the SSL sound. And whether you like the sound of SSL, is up to you.

Highlights of the Duende Bus Compressor are: amazing on the mix bus (but use it wherever you want as it’s a plugin unlike on the actual console) and very simple to use. Legendary sound in your toolbox.

Here are a few albums known to be mixed with an SSL 4000 Series desk:

What about vintage?

PSP OldTimer

PSP OldTimer

PSP OldTimer

The OldTimer by PSP Audioware is inspired by the sound of vintage circuits, and boy does it deliver them to the table.

My absolute favorite use for this compressor is vocals. The tube sound you can get out of the OldTimer is incredible. At the same time it removes any digital “coldness” and levels vocals out beautifully. It’s like the instant mojo you would be getting out of expensive analog gear.

The OldTimer is very easy to use with only a few knobs, the most important of which are the Time and Valve controls. The Time knob acts as the attack and release, tied into one knob – which I like very much. The Valve control being the small secret to this plugin of course, adjusting the amount of tube sound to your signal.

To summarize the OldTimer in a few words: pleasant and rich, sought-after tube sound. Easy to use with only a few knobs, an analog-sounding track compressor that works especially well on vocals. I looove it!

Waves CLA-2A

Waves CLA-2A

Waves CLA-2A

There are many emulations out there of the classic LA-2A compressor, and the Chris Lord-Alge signature CLA-2A by Waves is one of the great ones.

The sound of the CLA-2A is lively, smooth, detailed, sparkly and very pleasant. There is just something about the attack and release wired to this compressor, as you can’t change the values yourself. The way the CLA-2A reacts to incoming sound is something unique – it just knows how to massage the signal that’s fed into it!

There are only two main knobs to this compressor, the Peak Reduction which is used to compress, and the Gain knob to boost the gain of the compressed signal. Very easy, huh?

It’s the sound that counts. I love it on vocals, keyboards and pads the most. Put a piano or vocal through this thing and you’ll have an instant “a-ha” moment. Likewise with the SSL compressor, you’ll hear an LA-2A on records everywhere.

Modern Favorite

Waves RVox

Waves RVox

Waves RVox

The Waves RVox is a special little unit, designed to be used solely on vocals. Of course, you can break the rules and use it on whatever you wish (and I’m sure it will be awesome as well), but I’ll be discussing it on vocals here.

The RVox has a very distinct, radio-like sound to it. When you crank it and if you speak to a microphone through it, you’ll sound like a radio broadcaster. This is of course one use for it, should you need that kind of sound in your endeavors, but I like to beef up my music vocals with it.

As you might guess already, I like simple tools. The RVox has three controls, a noise gate, the compressor section and an output gain. Simple enough? The gate could be useful, but I rarely use it. That leaves me with two controls.

Sometimes, I might use this as the first plugin on a vocal to fatten things up, or the last plugin to finalize a vocal sound. It’s handy for leveling out all the excessive peaks and getting an even vocal.

The RVox is a little bit similar to PSP’s OldTimer, but has a different flavor. The RVox, too, has a tube-like driven sound. In a nutshell the RVox will bring you an in-your-face vocal sound with zero effort.

Found the best yet?

As you can see, these five are only a scratch to the surface of plugin compression. But they are the ones I have found to be amazing and the ones I will keep using. You should check them out if you’re looking for a new compressor to spice things up in your music.

Keep up the drive,

-JP