Monthly Archives: March 2015

Creating a Custom DAW Template – Maximize Your Workflow

Creating a custom DAW template is a wise move to make in order to create an efficient workflow for yourself. Repetition is great, but after you’ve reached a point, it’s only smart to create a set of tools that exist in a blank project and are ready to go. Read on about creating a DAW template for yourself and customizing it to fit your needs.

A DAW Template?

Basically, a template is a pre-configured project file that includes instruments, effects and other customization. These templates are made to quickly jump on the creative-wagon and start making music. Templates greatly reduce the stress and energy-usage of the mind, because a majority of the technical “nonsense” can be skipped.

In the simplest form, a DAW template could include a few instruments, such as a sampled piano and a synthesizer, a delay and reverb and a couple of drum hits, such as a kick drum and snare.

Of course, making a fully customized template for yourself is probably going to be more advanced than that, but that’s the point. When you have carefully constructed a custom template, it’s always there and you can use it to start every new project.

Whether it's a new production or a mix project, there's a template for it - easily loaded when creating a new session.

Whether it’s a new production or a mix project, there’s a template for it – easily loaded when creating a new session.

The Advantages

Speed, efficiency and workflow are the keywords for custom templates. The time you will spend on creating the same old plug-in and instrument chains will be massively reduced, and you’ll have more time producing music.

You will save hours and hours of precious time monthly. If you are anything like me, then you understand that there is a point in making templates. I tend to load the same instruments and plug-ins all the time into my projects – which is why I decided to create a template only for myself to use, and so can you.

Where to Start?

First, you’ll want to create a brand new, empty project. Then you need to think about what kind of instruments you tend to use in your productions.

Myself, I always have an instance of Native Instruments Kontakt dedicated to drums only, and another instance for melodic instruments. These are pre-loaded in my template with a few of my favorite patches in them, such as a Rhodes and a piano, ready to play and record.

Favorite effects and plug-ins are pre-loaded into a template and ready for usage.

Favorite effects and plug-ins are pre-loaded into a template and ready for usage.

The drum channels in Kontakt are always left blank, because I always load fresh drum samples into them. But that’s my workflow. You could have some hi-hats, kicks and claps already loaded into your template. The point is, have some sampler channels ready for some drum action.

After the basics are set, you could add a few effects buses to route instruments into. I always have a stereo delay set up so I can route pianos, pads and other melodic instruments into it.

Even with a simple template like this, you’ll have an easier time diving into the music mode, which can sometimes be hard if there’s only a blank slate available, bringing you back to the technical set-up barrier.

Advanced Routings

When you have configured your basic template, you could create some buses for all instrument groups. This workflow is incredibly efficient and logical in the long run.

You could create a bus for all drums, all music, all sound effects, all basses and so on. Then you will have to route the outputs of each specific instrument to their rightful buses.

The advantage of grouping instruments like this is, you can use the powerful mute-button to silence certain groups of instruments. Muting is an important mixing and arrangement tool, because it will bring ideas that wouldn’t surface otherwise and pinpoint problematic frequency areas.

After the busses are set, you could dedicate certain plug-ins for the buses if needed. A tape machine for all the drums, for example, or automated filters to bring some modulation to the table.

The master bus cannot be forgotten either. It’s of course smart to leave the master free of plug-ins if uncertain of what they do to the whole mix, but if you know how to use them and think that certain plug-ins contribute to your sound, then go ahead and place them there.

For my master bus duties, it’s always the SSL-style master bus compressor, 99% of the time. It’s always sitting on the master in my template, and when it’s time to switch it on, it’s only a click away, since my favorite settings for the compressor are already configured!

Master fader, instrument groups and 8 stereo tracks of drums are ready for some production action.

Master fader, instrument groups and 8 stereo tracks of drums are ready for some production action.

It’s Your Template

Remember, you are doing the template for yourself. You don’t need to listen to what I am using in my templates, because you are not me, and vice versa!

Along the years of music production, I have discovered certain plug-ins and instruments as well as workflows that are right for me, and I have included these in my templates.

You need to think and plan a little. Think about what you use in a repetitive manner in your music, and include those things in your templates. Because ultimately, it’s your sound. Your sound, which should be unique to stand out from the crowd in the first place.

So when creating your own custom DAW templates, think about that.

-JP

Is the concept of templates new to you? Have you thought about creating them but thought it’s too much of a hassle? Have you downloaded third-party templates to use in your own music? What are your thoughts on custom templates? Leave all comments below and I’ll get back to you.

Advanced Compression – 5 Audio Mixing Tips

Using compression correctly demands experience. If compression is needed, there is always a reason to use it. That reason is what keeps you focused on the outcome. Here are five audio mixing tips using compression, and something to think about next time you’re pulling your compressor plug-in of choice.

  1. Leveling

PSP OldTimer working as a leveler. (Click for larger images)

PSP OldTimer working as a leveler. (Click for larger images)

Using compressors as a leveler is a smart move to squeeze out some dynamic range while keeping audio from sounding “squashed”. The point of leveling is to “massage” the incoming signal, both gently or moderately, whatever the need might be.

The trick is to use a medium-slow attack and release. If the attack and release are too slow, the compressor is unable to act quickly enough to cause the pleasant-sounding leveling “grab”.

Try it. Set your attack and release to about 2 o’clock and crank the ratio up to 8:1. Turn the threshold until you have a decent amount of gain reduction. You can do a lot too, and if your meter hits close to 7-10dB of gain reduction, don’t be scared.

Leveling sounds killer on vocals.

Setting up a compressor act as a leveler is handy for smoothing out a dynamic vocal track for a tighter performance. If you have a hardware compressor lying around, use it as a leveler in the tracking phase and record vocals through it. You’ll have an easier time mixing.

 

  1. Limiting

FabFilter Pro-C doing a limiting job on the peaks (=see yellow circle).

FabFilter Pro-C doing a limiting job on the peaks (=see yellow circle).

Lots of dedicated limiter plug-ins can be found in the audio market, but most compressors are capable of limiting when they are calibrated properly.

Limiting is a handy mixing tool to use when unnecessary peaks are wanted to get rid of.

Such scenarios could include a fast rap vocal, with sudden increases in volume during certain words, or a drum recording. Limiting is a good option to tame down these peaks because it is quite transparent.

A wise man would manually ride the volume of the source audio to achieve the same effect, but sometimes there is no time for such actions.

To make any compressor act as a limiter, turn the ratio up all the way (10:1 is considered limiting, but the effect is better with an infinite ratio), and set the attack and release to the fastest.

After the compressor is set, look for peaks in your audio files, and adjust the threshold to limit no more than 6dB of gain reduction, because if you go past that, you could very easily lose the transparent effect – which is the whole point here.

  1. Make It Go Red

Waves CLA-76 smashing a signal. Notice the famous "All" ratio mode is turned on for massive compression.

Waves CLA-76 smashing a signal. Notice the famous “All” ratio mode is turned on for massive compression.

Sometimes all you need is some character. And boy, are compressors the right tool for the job. Forget about the rules and subtleties and go all the way.

For some really explosive and popping compression, try this: Set the release to the fastest, but leave the attack as medium-slow for some transients to punch through. Set a really high ratio, such as 20:1 or above and push the threshold.

I guarantee you’ll have no dynamic range left after this.

You could take advantage of this trick to create a killer parallel compression setup by simply feeding back some of the dry signal. In-your-face drums and vocals – right at your door.

  1. Bus Processing

PSP BussPressor gluing a finished mix for finalization and cohesiveness.

PSP BussPressor gluing a finished mix for finalization and cohesiveness.

One of the best uses for a compressor is to stick it on a bus, or the master bus, hands down.

The objective here is to gain some cohesiveness and so-called “glue”. This method will truly make your tracks shine if done correctly.

Now, lots of amateurs smash their tracks with badly-calibrated compressors. Let’s stay stylish, shall we?

We’re going to want to choose an attack that is very high. A good choice would be at least 30ms, or above. The release is usually safe around midway. Go for a small ratio too, such as 2:1, or 1,5:1.

Here’s the important part: your sweet spot is going to be somewhere around 1-4 dB of gain reduction. So use your ears when you set up a bus compressor.

How do you know what your sweet spot is going to sound like? Well, that’s just the thing about compressors. You just need to understand when your music starts to dance with the compressor. That’s where the sweet spot is. Experiment and learn.

 

  1. Bring Out the Low-Level Details

The same audio file. Uncompressed version on top and compressed below. Notice how the small details are emphasized in the compressed version.

The same audio file. Uncompressed version on top and compressed below. Notice how the small details are emphasized in the compressed version.

This works especially well for dynamic drum loops, room/ambience microphones and other sources with low-level details. These could include vocal breaths too.

Sometimes the vibe lies in the background details and they need to be brought slightly forward to achieve a better effect.

Go for medium attack and medium-fast release. Set the ratio and threshold to taste.

Remember, it’s all about the goal we’re trying to achieve.

Need more intimacy? Bring out the vocal breaths. Need bigger drums? Squeeze the room ambience a bit. Want a more articulate acoustic guitar performance? Just bring all those beautiful string picks and slides to the front so they’re heard.


 

Okay guys, I hope these five compressor techniques have boosted your learning once again. Hopefully you’ll find uses for them in your music!

Next time.

-JP

What are your favorite uses for a compressor? Are you always goal-oriented when setting up a compressor? Leave your answers below and let’s discuss.

5 Stereo Widening Techniques – Get Stereoized!

Stereo widening is a somewhat mystical subject. The term “wide” is widely used (pun intended) by mixing engineers all over the world. Though when listening to a wide-sounding mix, it’s not entirely clear how the mixer achieved such a sound to impress the listener. Here are 5 stereo widening techniques to help you take your productions and mixes closer to the pro level.

The Basics of Stereo Widening

1. The Pan Knob

Every mixer has a pan knob [in yellow].

Every mixer has a pan knob.

The easiest route to stereo widening is the pan knob in a DAW’s mixer. Simply, pan mono tracks around the stereo field to place them in different spots or “pockets” in the sound stage.

Panning is an artform, so there are no hard rules on how to do it. I like to pan things hard left and right (100%) and midway (50%). Sometimes, I will insert instruments at three quarters (75%) and a quarter (25%). Most of the time, I just set my pan values to these positions, and leave them there.

Of course, certain instruments should be left at the center (0%) for most impact. One of these is definitely the kick drum as well as sub bass. The snare usually lies in the center as well.

2. Automatic Panner or Tremolo

Automatic panners or stereo tremolos work similarly to the pan knob. The only difference is that the motion is automated, creating a sense of movement for a certain instrument. The movement is done by modulating the pan with an LFO (low frequency oscillator). A classic, but effective trick.

The great thing is, the stereo action can be adjusted in detail, controlling the width, the rate of the movement and even different kinds of waveforms for the LFO to characterize the sound of the movement.

SoundToys Tremolator provides automatic stereo tremolos. Use the width [in yellow] to control the stereo effect.

SoundToys Tremolator provides automatic stereo tremolos. Use the width [in yellow] to control the stereo effect.

You could make an instrument move only subtly around the center, to remove some staticness from it, or make a super-wide stereo tremolo effect to create interesting motion for an acoustic guitar for example.

Advanced Stereo Tricks

3. The Haas Effect

Ah, the Haas effect.

This is my absolute favorite when it comes to creating ultra-wide drum hits or doubling instruments. The way it works is, a signal is panned to either side of the stereo field, and a duplicate or similar version (such as another vocal take of the same vocal) is panned to the opposite side. Note that they are hard panned (100%) left and right.

To achieve the Haas effect, you need to delay one side in relation to the other by an amount between 7-21 milliseconds. This is done easily on the DAW’s grid by simply moving the other waveform forward by a small amount, and listening to the effect while doing it. Alternatively, you could use a stereo delay.

The Haas effect achieved by nudging a duplicate of the same waveform further.

The Haas effect achieved by nudging a duplicate of the same waveform further in time.

What you should hear, is a very small delay between the two channels (left and right), but short enough so it’s not really noticed as a delay, but instead as a “Wow! That thing sounds WIDE!

4. The Microshift Effect

Adjusting the pitch in opposite directions for the same waveform will create the Microshift effect.

Adjusting the pitch in opposite directions for the same waveform will create the Microshift effect. [Click for a larger image]

The classic Microshift effect is somewhat similar to the Haas effect. It also has two (same or similar) signals panned hard left and hard right. But instead of delaying them apart from each other, they are pitch-shifted to opposite directions by a small amount.

For example, the left channel could be pitch shifted downwards -3 cents and the right channel could be pitch shifted upwards 4 cents. This is a very small amount of pitch shifting, hence the name microshifting, but it is enough to provide an impressive chorus-like sound.

This trick is very effective on creating huge stereo vocals and guitars.

Let’s Phase It

5. Flip The Polarity

Sometimes it might be nice to create something truly “pop out”, sounding like something was coming from “beyond” the speakers. For this, we need to use the polarity-flipping trick to enhance a stereo sound even more.

What you need is a piece of audio that is in stereo. You then need to duplicate this stereo track and pull its fader down so only the original track is audible.

Then, you need to flip the polarity of the duplicate track by using a plug-in, or by using the mixer’s polarity flip switch (it looks like a circle with a line going through it).

In Pro Tools, a plugin called Invert will do this. Alternatively, you could use a plug-in such as an EQ which usually have a polarity flip (also called “phase, phase flip or flip”) button.

PSP McQ has a polarity flip switch [in yellow].

PSP McQ has a polarity flip switch [in yellow].

When the polarity is taken care of, the last thing you need to do is invert the stereo image of the duplicate track. Simply, you need to pan the left channel right and the right channel left.

Pro Tools has dual pan knobs in the mixer which can be easily inverted. Alternatively, you could use a plug-in, such as the Utility plug-in in Ableton Live which as a “stereo swap” function, or Stereo Tool by Flux::, with which you can do all the steps listed above.

After all the hard work is done, you can start bringing the fader up on the duplicate track and hear the effect. Bring the fader up midway, and what you should hear is your sound being expanded into the stereo field in a very wide way. Adjust the fader to taste to find the sweet spot.

For best effect, have only certain instrument(s) processed like this in a mix, otherwise there could be phase problems and too much “washiness” caused by the effect. Use it with great taste!

Stereoized already?

By using these five stereo widening techniques, you should have most of your stereo needs covered, and your mixes will start to shine by using them. As always, experiment and give time and thought to what you are learning to master them.

Go wild with your stereo effects, today we have two speakers to hear music from!

-JP

Did you learn something new or were all these tricks already up your sleeve? Share some of your favorite stereo techniques below, and let’s discuss!

Create Your Own Natural Drum Samples – It’s Fun and Easy!

Drums are probably the most sought after sounds in electronic music. Everyone wants the punchiest and coolest sounding drums to use in their productions. Instead of using the same drums everyone else is using, you can create your own natural drum samples instead – and stand out from the pack. It’s not as hard as it sounds either, so listen up!

What You Need

You need a microphone to capture your drum hits. Photo Credit: Leandro Arndt via Compfight cc

You need a microphone to capture your drum hits. Photo Credit: Leandro Arndt via Compfight cc

Basically, the only things you need are a microphone, an audio interface to record sound through and a DAW software to record into. That’s it. You might also want to have yourself available as the drummer.

As for microphones, pretty much any microphone will work: a vocal mic, a dynamic microphone or small/large diaphragm condenser microphones. Condensers are especially nice for capturing all kinds of drum sounds from huge lows to sizzling highs.

Sound-wise, you could record anything and everything. You don’t need a real drum kit either. You just need things that make a sound. These could include metals such as silverware and tools, pieces of wood, a salt shaker, groceries, your hands for snaps and claps, etc.

Create instruments from familiar, everyday things!

Anything you can find that you think would make a cool sound is fine. If you have access to real drums, that’s a bonus, as it could be hard to get a true snare sound elsewhere for example (though I have successfully created a badass snare from a half-full water bottle, and shaking the bottle in various ways to make the water slam against the “walls” of the bottle, so use your imagination).

The Process

Hand claps are the shortest way to personal drums. Layer them together for a massive sound! Photo Credit: chrisjohnbeckett via Compfight cc

Hand claps are the shortest way to personal drums. Layer them together for a massive sound! Photo Credit: chrisjohnbeckett via Compfight cc

Let’s say you are working on a track that has a specific tempo. You could then set up a click track to aid you with recording drum hits straight on the grid, if you don’t have some kind of beat going already.

After all is set, it’s go time. Just set the gain from your microphone preamp to a comfortable level (peaking at -6dB max), arm the necessary track for recording and press record!

Think about all your drum and percussion sounds you have gathered as instruments, and play them while recording, and you’ll get a musical result.

When you are done recording, you should have a bunch of sounds and hits available to you and ready to be chopped up, re-arranged and layered.

Now remember when I told you to establish a click track so all your hits would fit the tempo? It will ease your workflow exponentially when you advance to the phase of cutting the audio, arranging it to other parts of your song and layering drum hits with each other, as they’ll all fall to grid beautifully.

You could use an automatic transient detection tool such as Beat Detective in Pro Tools that automatically finds the first transient of all drum hits in the selected region and chops them up automatically. This is especially handy if you want to bounce your freshly-made drum sounds as individual audio hits for your personal drum library.

At this point, you could take it a step further and pull your fresh samples into a sampler, such as Native Instruments Kontakt, for further mangling and processing, and affecting the pitch, the ADSR envelope, velocity and other functions in it.

To put the cherry on top of the cake, you could insert a tape machine plug on your sounds to make them really pop out, adjust EQ and compression, apply stereo effects and polish them further in any way you want.

Use tape machines such as SoundToys Decapitator to finalize your recordings.

Use tape machines such as SoundToys Decapitator to finalize your recordings.

You Have The Edge

Creative drum recording is too much fun - and this baby knows it. Photo Credit: yukatafish via Compfight cc

Creative drum recording is too much fun – and this baby knows it. Photo Credit: yukatafish via Compfight cc

When building your own personal drum library, one thing is for certain – nobody in this world possesses the sounds you have. Nobody. Think about that. Your sound will become truly unique when you create your own drums.

While there’s nothing wrong in using the sample packs that everyone else (unfortunately) is using, making your own sounds WILL bring you an edge. I strongly recommend at least giving it a shot, as I personally find the whole process too much fun, and genuinely inspiring.

Nothing beats the feeling of satisfaction in creating totally killer hi-hats or claps sounding cleaner and better than anything else out there.

I hope I have injected a bit of inspiration into you and set you on your path in creating your own drum samples, as it sure does inspire me, every time.

-JP

What do you think about creating your own drum samples? Do you think it sounds challenging, or easy? Do you use third party sample packs in your music? Discuss below and I’ll join in!