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Slate VCC 2.0 Review – Good Just Got Better

In the era of digital perfection, the music we make tends to lack so-called “vibe” or “analog warmth” that is very much sought after by every music producer and mixer in this modern day. Slate Digital brings exactly these features into the DAW of every music maker in the form of iconic sounds of six legendary mixing consoles. This is the Slate VCC 2.0 review.

VCC 2.0 with the Virtual Mixbuss and Virtual Channel

VCC 2.0 with the Virtual Mixbuss and Virtual Channel

What’s new?

  • Integrated into Virtual Mix Rack
  • A brand new console: Brit 4K E
  • Minor refinements for all algorithms
  • US-A console has a new, improved bottom end
  • Improved RC-Tube algorithm
  • Noise Reduction button
  • Grouping made easy
  • Simplified user interface

The Consoles

Brit 4K E (SSL 4000 ‘E’ –series)

VCC 2.0 includes 6 consoles to choose from

VCC 2.0 includes 6 consoles to choose from

My favorite of the bunch is the Brit 4K E –console. It’s very upfront, energetic and has tons of presence. Great for any kind of music.

Brit 4K G (SSL 4000 ‘E’ –series with G-series upgrades)

The Brit 4K G has a very wide soundstage while having a certain grit that gives it tons of attitude. The 4K is an ideal match if you need some aggression in your mixes.

US A (API)

The US A is shouting “midrange!” This console has a very tight midrange full of excitement. The low end is also very punchy. The US A is a great choice for any midrange-heavy music, such as pop and rock.

Brit N (Neve)

Did someone say bass? Brit N has a huge bottom end that is extremely usable on low-end instruments. It is also a very vibey and sizzling console, though not as snappy and punchy as the SSL or API. Brit N is ideal for fattening up kick drums and bass.

Symbol (Trident)

The Trident is a special console, having a bright and wide top end, with a punchy low end. The midrange is slightly “scooped” compared to the lows and highs, which makes for the classic “smiley-face” EQ-curve. The Trident can work wonders on any kind of music.

RC-Tube (50’s Broadcast Tube)

The RC-Tube is probably the most colored of them all, especially heard when driven hard. The distortions and midrange crunch will leave no one in doubt. This is my favorite for vocal processing, before any compression is applied to give the vocal a tone.

Features

VCC 2.0 includes two versions of the same plugin: the Virtual Mixbuss and Virtual Channel. Ideally, the Mixbuss is designed to be used on the master bus, and the Channel on individual tracks and groups.

Some of the features include:

  • VU level calibration screw, right below the VU meter, to set the reference level

    VU level calibration screw (red arrow)

    VU level calibration screw (red arrow)

  • Input and output trim knobs which can be linked to compensate for the gain changes
  • Console selection knob
  • Console Drive –knob which doesn’t affect the output level but adds some character
  • Grouping function, letting you assign certain instruments to their own VCC groups
  • Noise reduction button – you can disable the modeled console noise
  • Group bypass button, bypassing the processing of the selected group

Visuals

The visuals of VCC 2.0 are very cool and modern-looking, compared to the earlier version. “Look the part, be the part” is a phrase that certainly applies to VCC 2.0, giving the impression that this plugin can introduce some analog vibe into your recordings.

Overall, the visuals are easy to look at and navigate. It’s a breeze to use the plugin.

Before and after - VCC 2.0 on the left, VCC 1.0 on the right

Before and after – VCC 2.0 on the left, VCC 1.0 on the right

Engineers and Musicians United

One of the most amazing things about VCC 2.0 engineers and musicians alike will appreciate, is the beautiful distortion it creates when sound is driven hard into the console using the input gain.

Kick drums and snares, for example, will profit from the added punch and pop when overdriven a little bit.

Another creative advantage of VCC 2.0 is the fact that instances can now be stacked easily inside the Virtual Mix Rack, and you don’t need to waste any insert slots of the DAW’s mixer to achieve the same effect. It’s more intuitive this way.

The flexibility offered by creating custom console chains right inside Virtual Mix Rack enables the user to first drive a signal into an SSL, and then finishing off by injecting a hint of smoothness from a Neve. Since the Virtual Mix Rack isn’t limited to VCC only, you could stack any module in your chains, such as (the free!) Revival and Trimmer plugins.

If you decide to purchase some of Slate’s compressors and EQs, you could have a full-on mixing solution right inside the Mix Rack.

Stacking modules is easy inside the Virtual Mix Rack

Stacking modules is easy inside the Virtual Mix Rack

Conclusion

If you’re a fan of console sound and appreciate the added depth, energy and “life” they provide in your music, then Slate VCC 2.0 is something to consider. It’s very hard to NOT use it after getting accustomed to it in music production and mixing.

Slate VCC 2.0 is a very special and luxurious plug-in, that certainly isn’t a necessity to make music – but if you want the extra 10% in your mixes, I don’t see why you shouldn’t at least try it out.

 

Have you used any analog-modeling plugins such as the VCC 2.0? Leave your comments below and let’s discuss analog modeling!

-JP

Electronic Music: 25 Mixing Tips for Modern Electronic Music Production Book Review

Electronic Music by Roy Wilkenfeld is a book containing 25 different mix tips on how to mix music, aimed exclusively at electronic music producers. The book is essentially a small mixing handbook for modern electronic musicians who need help in mixing. Read on to find out more…

Electronic Music: 25 Mixing Tips for Modern Electronic Music Production

Electronic Music: 25 Mixing Tips for Modern Electronic Music Production

Electronic Music: 25 Tips for Modern Electronic Music Production is an Amazon Kindle Book, containing 25 hand-picked mixing tricks to improve the sound of our music. Let’s hop straight on in to learn more about the book…

The Categories

The book is divided into five different categories in mixing: Mix Essentials, Mix Clarity, Drum Sweetening, Special Stereo Width and Advanced Mixing Techniques. As a result, the categories are very logically arranged to help the reader in the easiest manner possible. Each category also contains 5 tips.

The table of contents showing the different categories.

The table of contents showing the different categories.

The Mix Essentials and Mix Clarity –categories focus on the fundamentals of mixing, such as achieving proper gain staging, mixer fader balance, EQ’ing out unwanted frequencies and cleaning up audio tracks. These categories set a solid foundation for any mix.

The Drum Sweetening –category dives into drum processing, which is highly regarded as the most important part in electronic music production. You’ll learn how to tune your kick drums properly, how to create huge claps and snares and process your drums with punchy parallel compression. Drums can make or break an electronic track – listen to these tips and you’ll stay on the right track.

The Special Stereo Width –category focuses on the widening of the stereo field with different techniques, craved by producers of today. Tricks such as the Haas effect and micro pitch shifting are revealed in this section. I found the tips in this category a good, refreshing selection.

Finally, the Advanced Mixing Techniques –section discusses topics such as achieving musical side chain compression, which is a very interesting subject as it is, to automating fader levels in your mix. Special, cherry-on-the-cake tips belong in this section.

Overall, the categories are very well chosen and divided to offer a spectrum of great mixing techniques.

A deeper look…

Every one of the 25 tips is laid out in similar manner. They all have descriptions explaining the technique with a short tutorial on how to achieve it inside a DAW. My favorite part of the tips is the bonus “Pro Tips” -hints below each “basic” tip, revealing some mixing secrets and extra information about each subject. Very nice touch!

To our pleasure, links and suggestions to certain plugins are provided together with the tips, as well as special websites aimed to help in the mixing process.

The visual look of the tips is clear and clean, pleasing the eye while letting you get straight into the mixing action.

Pro Tips can be found under every "basic" tip.

Pro Tips can be found under every “basic” tip.

Highlights from the book

Here are some of my favorite tips from the book:

#01 Gain Staging

I think getting your gain staging correct is one of the most important steps in any mixing job. Gain staging is clearly explained in the book, as it shouldn’t act as a roadblock for anyone searching for a great sound in their mixes.

#08 EQ the Send Effects

This caught my eye because it is an important one, hence a great addition in the book. In my past years of making music, I never used to EQ any of my send effects, such as reverbs or delays. And that came at a cost. Nowadays, I carefully EQ all of my reverbs, delays and any kind of effects that I might have – for absolute clarity and impact in my mixes. Well chosen tip.

#11 Tuned Kick Drum

As you might have read from my post, tuning kick drums is crucial in electronic music productions, since the kick acts as the lowest musical foundation. That’s why it’s important to tune the kick drum into the right frequency or musical note. Great tip.

#21 Musical Side Chain Compression

This one has been one of my personal secrets for a long time. It can’t be emphasized enough what a difference a well-tuned compressor can make, especially when it’s side chained to an element, such as the kick. This is one of those cutthroat techniques that separate amateurs from the pros.

To conclude

Electronic Music: 25 Mixing Tips for Modern Electronic Music Production is a great little book for beginners and intermediate music producers. It also has quite a few more advanced tricks, so the experienced users won’t be disappointed either.

I like the handbook-style format it’s written in. You can get it on Amazon for Kindle, or read it on your PC or Mac, or any other platform of choice.

For inspiration and fresh mixing and production ideas, highly recommended! And at the price of a soft taco ($2.99), it’s a no brainer.

-JP

Best EQ Plugins – Top 5 EQ Plugins You Need To Mix a Song

Different EQs have different purposes. The best EQ plugins are the ones you know inside and out. While “best” is always subjective, to truly make an EQ the best choice for yourself, you need to know what they can do and what kind of signals they are designed to massage. Here’s my personal top 5:

  1. FabFilter Pro-Q 2

    Fabfilter Pro-Q 2 takes care of all aspects of EQ'ing.

    FabFilter Pro-Q 2 takes care of all aspects of EQ’ing.

You might have noticed from my earlier posts that I vouch for the FabFilter Pro-Q 2. Workflow-wise, it is the greatest EQ plugin I have found. In addition to a stellar workflow, the sound of Pro-Q 2 is superb. The EQ works in Zero Latency, Natural Phase and Linear Phase modes, which offer great options for tracking, mixing and mastering duties. Fabfilter explains these modes in detail.

The area where FabFilter Pro-Q 2 truly shines is in cutting frequencies. For this task, Pro-Q 2 is an excellent choice due to its stealthy filters that truly earn the title transparent. The bad frequencies just seem to disappear, like they weren’t in the signal in the first place. If I had to choose only one EQ to work with, Fabfilter Pro-Q 2 would be it.

  1. Maag EQ4

Maag EQ4 is a special kind of beast.

Maag EQ4 is a special kind of beast.

The Maag EQ4 is a totally special beast. You could use it as a tone-shaping tool, carving delicious EQ curves for your instruments, but I personally like to use it to bring that final stardust into a signal. Each six bands of the EQ4 are fine-tuned to specific frequencies each. To my taste, the Maag EQ4 shines in the lows, low-mids and the very highs. By boosting the 160 Hz low-mid band, you will instantly get those giant low mids heard in countless professional records.

The Maag-exclusive Air-band brings the most sparkling highs heard in any software EQ. It’s good to know though, that even a 0.5dB boost with this EQ will do a lot. The Maag EQ4 is an excellent choice as a secret weapon in EQs. While it is certainly not a necessity, it is a luxury.

  1. PSP McQ

    PSP McQ is great for tone-shaping.

    PSP McQ is great for tone-shaping.

The PSP McQ is a great, easy to use tone-shaping EQ. It has great low and highpass filters and plenty of different filter shape options for each of the bands. The mid and high-mid bands sound especially good, and can bring out specific instruments in a mix easily with tons of clarity. My favorite use for this EQ is to boost some creamy vocal frequencies in the high midrange.

Try this for a vocal with this EQ: apply a 2-6dB cut at around 1kHz in the Mid1-band and a 2-6dB boost at 6.4kHz in the Mid2-band. Did someone say vocal clarity?

  1. PSP NobleQ

    PSP NobleQex is cream for the low end.

    PSP NobleQex is cream for the low end.

PSP NobleQ is like a Pultec with some custom modifications, such as the adjustable valve saturation knob, a high pass filter and an extra midband filter found in the NobleQex version of the plugin, which is also shipped together with the original when bought. The NobleQ has a very special color which can be heard when boosting or shaping the low end with the two interacting filters. The color could be described as gentle, warm and tube-like.

For the low end and bass instruments, the NobleQ is killer. The two low filters can be used to create bass sounds that are so warm and gentle you’ll know exactly why this EQ is no joke. Also, don’t be afraid of boosting the hell out of this EQ – it can handle it. Transparency is not a word associated with the NobleQ. Love it!

  1. Your DAW’s Stock EQ

    Avid EQ3 is the default EQ in Pro Tools. It takes care of business.

    Avid EQ3 is the default EQ in Pro Tools. It takes care of business.

Okay… Forget about all the EQs I mentioned above. The only EQ you really need is the stock EQ plugin that is supplied in your DAW. Why I chose to include the stock DAW EQ in this list is because it’s so easy to get lost in the EQ and plugin jungle while the real tools already exist under your nose. Any stock EQ will get the job done with good results and the rest is just bonus. If you decide to invest some money into third party EQ plugins, you are free to do so, but ask yourself whether you really need all the different EQ plugins, because need is a totally different matter than want.

(With that said, I totally love all the EQs I have purchased over time, but at least I did so with careful consideration and evaluation!)

In the end…

Mixers can easily get off with only one EQ in their mixing duties, but it’s always great to have a selection of a few EQs if there’s a budget for them. The good thing about EQs is that they bring instant inspiration when applied to sound. That’s why I love EQs so much and even though I understand I necessarily don’t need all my EQs, I want to because they lift my spirits in music making and mixing – ultimately letting me make better music.

As long as you’re having fun, right?

I hope my selection of EQs will shed some light to you, perhaps in the situation if you’re looking for a great all around EQ or a more specialized weapon in EQs.

Leave a comment below and share some of your favorite EQs, and what is it you like about them!

-JP

What Is the Best Music Production Software for Beginners – Get Started

Unlike 20 years ago, the amount of music production DAWs almost goes through the roof nowadays. When starting to make music, it is very important to choose the right kind of DAW to stay on the right track, because it is an investment for the future. Read on for tips and thoughts about what is the best music production software for beginners.

Getting Into It

Music production takes time. Photo Credit: I can't believe it's Fabio via Compfight cc

Music production takes time. Photo Credit: I can’t believe it’s Fabio via Compfight cc

Progression in music production doesn’t happen over the weekend. You’ll need to be prepared to spend years of your life learning music production and the software associated with it. This is exactly the reason why it’s important to choose a quality DAW for yourself to avoid the following situations:

  1. Change your DAW every once in a while
  2. As the DAW grows within you, you realize that it doesn’t have the features you need
  3. Working with the specific DAW is not fun

Do Some Research

Just like prior to any purchase, you wouldn’t want to blindly spend your money purchasing anything important to you. This is why it’s wise to take a few days and do some background research about DAWs. While doing this, you’ll want to consider the following features, and which ones of them are important to you:

  • Features
  • MIDI and audio capabilities
  • Recording
  • Visuals
  • Workflow
  • Mixing and plugins
  • Virtual instruments
  • (Ease of) Usage

Visit websites of DAW developers, watch Youtube videos, read reviews and even better, if people you know are using a certain DAW, go watch them work with it and ask to try it yourself.

Make sure the DAW is right for you. Photo Credit: Reel Youth via Compfight cc

Make sure the DAW is right for you. Photo Credit: Reel Youth via Compfight cc

You’ve Got Two Options

There are fully featured DAWs and there are stripped back DAWs. The former is the “pro” version and the latter is the more beginner friendly one, usually missing some features.

For some, it might be easier to choose the “light” version, to avoid all the confusion about every single feature and tool inside a DAW. These versions are probably relatively easy to use and to get started, too. These versions are fully capable of making music, but they miss some of the more advanced features. The flipside is, of course, after a point you might need to move on because you’re ready to take the next step, and get a “pro” DAW.

Which road will you choose - hobbyist or pro? Photo Credit: SergiooAF via Compfight cc

Which road will you choose – hobbyist or pro? Photo Credit: SergiooAF via Compfight cc

Now, choosing a fully-blown professional DAW from the beginning might be intimidating and slow at first, but on the other hand you’ll grow into it and learn everything little by little. The advantages of the pro versions are, they have everything you’d need in terms of features. By choosing this option, you’ll skip the hassle of having to upgrade your DAW, spending more hard-earned money.

Many DAWs have different versions. Let’s take Ableton Live for example. The differences between the Intro and the Suite versions are quite dramatic. The Intro is lacking the majority of synthesizers, plugins, and the audio and MIDI tracks are limited to 16. Of course, there is over 500€ ($540) price difference between the versions, but at the end of the day, you still might want to make the upgrade.

Just like Apple offers GarageBand and Logic Pro, it is up to you to choose. Neither is a bad choice. It’s always intimidating to learn new software anyway. If you’re a hobbyist and just want to record some music for yourself, you’ll probably be well off with a simpler DAW. But if you have bigger plans for yourself in music and have great passion for it, I’d recommend choosing a full-featured, pro DAW.

List of Common DAWs

DAWs are similar from the core, but have their differences. Photo Credit: alschim via Compfight cc

DAWs are similar from the core, but have their differences. Photo Credit: alschim via Compfight cc

…and many more!

Personally, I use Avid Pro Tools. Though I have friends who use Ableton Live and Apple Logic Pro, among others. Ultimately it’s a personal choice, and could be very hard to “nail it” right from the beginning.

Go ahead and start researching and downloading trials of the DAWs mentioned above to get started!

I hope this post will help you finding a great DAW for yourself for many years to come. Good luck!

-JP

Are you a total beginner? Or do you have at least minimal experience in DAWs? Are you having a hard time finding the right one? Drop your comments below.

Which Is the Best Software to Make Music – The Perfect DAW

To the question, which is the best software to make music, is no simple and easy answer. This is true because people are different, and so are the software designated for music making. If you’re lucky, you’ll instantly stumble upon the DAW that you’ll stick to, until the end. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll have to do some research and work to find the perfect one.

The Search

It is challenging to find a perfectly suitable package of software for your own musical needs. Usually, it takes years of experience to go through various pieces of DAWs and see which ones you constantly go back to. Let’s start with a few questions:

  1.  Photo Credit: rhome_music via Compfight cc

    Do you want to record your instrument? Photo Credit: rhome_music via Compfight cc

    Do you play an instrument and are you planning on recording it?

  2. Are you just sketching ideas or producing full tracks?
  3. Do you want to mix your own music?
  4. Do you need to use virtual instruments?
  5. Are you in need of good audio-editing capabilities?
  6. How important is working with MIDI notes to you?
  7. Do the looks of a DAW matter to you?
  8. What kind of a workflow do you prefer?
  9. Are you more engineer-oriented or creativity-oriented?

Think about these questions, as they will help you ultimately land the perfect DAW.

The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)

I’m just going to say this first. You can do everything you need to do in virtually any modern DAW. I’m also not listing any DAWs here because one is not better than the other. The main differences between them concern matters of workflow.

 Photo Credit: soft Picasso via Compfight cc

Which is your priority – audio or MIDI? Photo Credit: soft Picasso via Compfight cc

So you truly need to think of issues such as whether you prioritize recording actual audio or do you compose by clicking on MIDI notes. Do you need a mixer with advanced mixing features and routing capabilities or is it enough for you to be able to pull faders up and down? Do you want to look at a “pretty” DAW or do you prefer function over beauty?

Choosing a DAW greatly comes down to the question of what you need to do with it. All subjective issues aside, it is the smart starting point. Do research about different DAWs and see how they and their features are being marketed.

If your friends are using a specific DAW, go watch them use it. Download demos of DAWs and make a song with each of them, and see which one is the most pleasant for you. All DAWs have their own “logic” of getting things done, and you just need to find the one that clicks with your own personal logic.

Myself, I am currently using Pro Tools as my main DAW, because it happens to click with me in ways that just are right for me. Probably because Pro Tools is a more engineer-driven DAW. Well, it basically is a “digital tape machine” and mixing platform with great audio editing capabilities.

Know this though, I have gone through various DAWs throughout the years, and even though there are similarities between DAWs, I find them all unique in their own way. There’s a certain “feel” to each DAW, which is hard to describe without experiencing it yourself.

What DAWs to look at, then?

Take a look at the giants, and research their features. Ableton Live, Apple Logic Pro, Cubase, PreSonus Studio One, Propellerhead Reason and Avid Pro Tools for starters. There are many other DAWs in the market as well, but I’m fairly sure one of these would be a good fit.

Just download demos of each, spend a day of two with each you’ve chosen and mess around with them, making some music. I’m quite sure you’ll have some positive “a-ha!” –moments with some of them, which will eventually lead you to potentially stick with one.

Don't be scared by the complexity of a DAW Photo Credit: piddy77 via Compfight cc

Don’t be scared by the complexity of a DAW Photo Credit: piddy77 via Compfight cc

Don’t be intimidated by the initial impression of the DAW when you first set your hands on it. They’re not that hard to use, and they all have the same core functions.

In the End

If you already have a DAW and are happy with it, stick to it, because what’s the point of switching in that case? I have switched DAWs because my needs have changed. The workflows I had visualized in my mind could be only achieved with another DAW, or at least more efficiently, so I had to switch.

If you're happy with your DAW, stick to it Photo Credit: William Brawley via Compfight cc

If you’re happy with your DAW, stick to it Photo Credit: William Brawley via Compfight cc

And that is pretty much the only reason to jump to another DAW. So think about these if you are looking for your first piece of software to make music with, or if you have something you would like to change about your current workflow.

To conclude, no DAW is better than the other. It is always subjective. You can always make it work the way you want to, by using your imagination. Because when you think of something you need to accomplish, you can do it.

-JP

Are you having trouble finding a suitable DAW for yourself? Do you find yourself jumping from DAW to DAW? Or did you find the perfect DAW immediately? Drop your comments below.

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!

How to Stem Mix – The Art and Advantages of Stem Mixing

Stem mixing is a mixing technique concentrating on the macro level of a mix. Stem mixing, if applied, is usually the final stage of a mix before bouncing the stereo mix to audio. There are many advantages in stem mixing. Read on to find out how to stem mix your music in a proper fashion.

Stems?

Stems? Photo Credit: bradleygee via Compfight cc

Stems? Photo Credit: bradleygee via Compfight cc

You might wonder, “what is a stem?” Well, a stem is a stereo audio track consisting of multiple instruments of the same kind. Stems are also known as a submix, bus, aux or group. To clarify more, a drum stem would be a stereo track where you have routed all your drum sounds in your mixer. When you mute this track, you would hear drums no more in your mix.

Stems could be used to organize a mix, to route everything in their rightful groups. In the usual mix, you could have drums, guitars, vocals, keyboards, pads and sound effects for example, in their own stems. The instant advantage of using groups like this is the ability to mute any one of them, which offers perspective between instruments.

How to mix using stems

Basically there are two ways to stem mix:

  1. Mix using stem buses in a full project context
  2. Bounce stereo stems out of a project and import them into a new mix project

It’s a matter of preference how to approach stem mixing. Personally, I like to mix within a project I am working on as I go, so to speak. But bouncing out all the stems to form your full track could be very useful, especially if you’re planning to get your track stem-mixed or mastered elsewhere, or get your track summed using analog gear.

Bouncing out stems could also be useful for yourself for applying final polishing or tweaking to your stereo stems. It’s easier to get the right final balance with only 5-7 stereo tracks, by making adjustments to them each. And in a clean new project, it’s a breeze.

Mix stems in a project, controlling different instrument groups.

Mix stems in a project, controlling different instrument groups.

Mixing with stems can be anything from subtle tweaks to exploring borders of creativity. Here are some ways to work with stems:

  • The fader! Adjust the overall balance of your song by tweaking the stem faders.
  • Use broad EQ boosts and cuts to shape the tone of an instrument group
  • Use surgical EQ cuts to take out clashing frequencies between stems, clarifying a mix
  • Use filters to cut unneeded frequencies from the whole group
  • Apply compression to “glue” things together, such as the drums for cohesiveness
  • Apply parallel compression to add excitement while retaining the original sound
  • Use one reverb for a certain group to place them in the same “space”
  • Apply special effects by automating plug-ins on and off in certain parts of a song, giving the impression that a certain instrument group is effected, while the others are not

As you can see, there are various ways to work with mix stems. The rule of thumb is, always approach instruments individually in a mix, using their own faders and mixer channels. When you get the desired balance with individual faders, you can play around with the stems to fine-tune and polish the mix even more.

You could even group multiple stems together to process them together. You could send all the keyboards and guitars to the same bus to apply effects to them, or bus the drums and bass together and compress them. There are no limits, so take advantage of the technique of stem mixing. Be creative!

Processing drums and bass together using a compressor.

Processing drums and bass together using a compressor.

The End Result

A stem mix is the cherry on top of the well-built "mix cake".

A stem mix is the cherry on top of the well-built “mix cake”.

Think of stem mixing as the cherry on top of the cake. The mix should already sound good before approaching the mix at stem-level.

Sometimes a simple rebalancing of the stem faders by 1-3dB will do the trick, sometimes a few surgical EQ cuts here and there. The goal here is to make the mix clearer, cleaner and pop out even more.

You will also want to try applying exciters, tape machines and other “character” plug-ins to your stems. With an exciter, you could bring out the high-end sizzle in a drum track, or the sparkly midrange of the music track. A tape machine, however, could beef up a vocal stem or bass stem. See?

As in mixing in general, and as said before, there are no limits here. Try different things, and you’ll find plug-ins and settings that will make your stem mix pop out.

I hope you gained some new information in mixing from this article. Have fun with stems, and happy mixing!

Please leave all your comments below, and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

-JP

Have you used stem mixing before? What are your favorite stem mixing techniques, plug-ins or even hardware? You can share them below. Let’s discuss!

What Are the Best VST Plugins – Stop Looking Now

Alright, to those of you looking to find a list full of the “best” plug-ins available, you can stop reading right here. To everyone else, I will tell you why such a list doesn’t and never will exist, and why you should stay away from the temptation to always look for better and better plug-ins, never being satisfied with what you already have in your arsenal. Quit asking yourself the question “what are the best VST plugins”, and read on…

Plug-ins, plug-ins, plug-ins…

No doubt, lots of plug-ins on the market today are of different quality. There are great plug-ins and not-so-great plug-ins. But generally speaking, every plug-in available to purchase is “good” and will do its job properly. Every decent DAW has its stock plug-ins pre-loaded into the software, too.

Any EQ will get the job done, as will any compressor. They are pretty much identical in their core functions.

The Best Plug-ins

Are you sure you need a new plug-in? Photo Credit: Images_of_Money via Compfight cc

Are you sure you need a new plug-in? Photo Credit: Images_of_Money via Compfight cc

The market is filled with plug-ins of different kinds, and while it being a very positive thing, there is also a negative side to it. Plug-in developers have large-scale sales all the time, which is good for business, but makes it worse for the consumer. Why do we need to throw our money away like that, thinking we “gotta catch them all”?

In addition, new plug-ins are developed all the time. We constantly need to update our best plug-in to even a better one, right? Unless you really have the money to spend like paper, then I say no.

Just as I have in the past (and I’ll have to admit I sometimes still do), everyone is always looking for better and better options in the plug-in realm. It can be addictive, because new is hot, and as humans, we love anything new.

This is a battle against our own mind – and it can be beaten.

The Process of Forming a Toolbox

The key is this: when you find a certain plug-in you absolutely love, stick with it and make it your default.

Create your own plug-in toolbox. Photo Credit: Philip McMaster PeacePlusOne_!/ via Compfight cc

Create your own plug-in toolbox. Photo Credit: Philip McMaster PeacePlusOne_!/ via Compfight cc

There will certainly be a process involved in forming your own toolbox of plug-ins. You might have to go through various plug-ins before you find a suitable one.

Here’s an example: I went through various delays throughout the years, never being fully satisfied with any that I used. I used stock DAW delays and third party delays – until one day. That one day I happened to try EchoBoy by Soundtoys, and I don’t see myself looking back ever again. EchoBoy is all I need in a delay, and it’s my personal preference for any delay duty.

Understand, that you might prefer a different one, so keep on the lookout!

Know your toolbox – the advantages

When you know your plug-ins inside out, you’ll always have an edge to everyone else, who are constantly searching for new plug-ins. When you understand what every knob, button and function does in a plug-in, you will instantly know what you need to do, and how you get it done with that specific plug.

Navigate your plug-ins with speed. Photo Credit: Victor Svensson via Compfight cc

Navigate your plug-ins with speed. Photo Credit: Victor Svensson via Compfight cc

Advantages? Speed. Workflow. Intuition. When you know your plug-ins, your workflow and speed will be turbo-charged.

You’ll start to use your plug-ins in creative ways you wouldn’t have thought before. This is because the basic functions and operations have already been “carved in stone” in the back of your head. You’ll start to think of advanced ways to use a plug-in, such as automating it creatively.

A Few Principles

Here are a few good starting points and questions you might want to ask yourself whether or not you need to expand your range of plug-ins:

  • Am I satisfied with what my DAW can offer me?
  • What’s wrong with my DAW’s stock plug-ins?
  • Is my DAW missing a certain kind of plug-in that I need?
  • My DAW has the plug-in, but the plug-in itself doesn’t have a function that I need.
  • Can my needs be satisfied with third party plug-ins?
  • Am I satisfied with the sound that my current plug-ins offer me?
  • Do I work efficiently enough with my current plug-ins?
  • I want to find a plug-in that suits my workflow.
  • Does this plug-in inspire me?

    You should be satisfied with your plug-ins... Like this cat. Photo Credit: CaptPiper via Compfight cc

    You should be satisfied with your plug-ins… Like this cat. Photo Credit: CaptPiper via Compfight cc

So…

In the end, choosing and using plug-ins are a matter of preference. So if you like to use a plug-in a lot, stick to it and don’t try to find alternatives for it. Your personal goal should be to find only one plug-in from each category. One equalizer, compressor, delay, reverb, saturator, and so on.

Of course, you can have different equalizers and compressors because they each offer a different sound. But be reasonable, and limit your selection to a few – and learn them well.

Ultimately, good music doesn’t need insane amounts of plug-ins to be brought to existence. When you use less and a select few of handpicked plug-ins, I guarantee you will start making better music, and make it faster than ever. As you might have already guessed, our minds can function more efficiently when they aren’t occupied by a flood of information.

I hope this article has helped you in becoming a more efficient and productive music producer, and hopefully you have learned something from it about using plug-ins.

Please leave your comments below and I’ll be sure to give you an answer.

Do you have the “new plug-in” syndrome? Do you work with stock plug-ins or 3rd party plug-ins? Have you found any plug-ins that you’ll never replace with another one?