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Win Friends and Bet On Yourself

Oct 12, 2018 by [email protected] - Comments Off on Win Friends and Bet On Yourself

Everything is an investment; your time, your money, your energy. Everything has an opportunity cost, in that doing one thing prevents you from doing another thing. If I go food shopping at 8:00, I can’t host a recording session at 8:00. If I have $7 and I buy a burger, the cost of the burger is not $7. The cost of the burger is everything I could have bought with that $7.

Let’s take the idea of opportunity cost and flip it. Lets turn it into opportunity reward. Let’s not examine the cost of every action, but the reward from these actions. This is a quick hack to get out of “scared money” mindset. If you’ve got millions, you’re not worrying about the price of a burger. If you’re a dozennaire, you’re thinking about everything in terms of its cost.

What happens when we think of the value of things instead? The value of picking up a new pair of speakers. The value of putting in the work to write fantastic songs. The value of betting on yourself, and showing up prepared.

If you’re walking into the studio with no lines written, expecting to pull something out of your ass last minute, you’re not betting on yourself. You’re betting on your engineer.

This becomes a problem when you go to the studio with a bunch of people. No one wants to watch you fumble over your words, and pick out random phrases, gauging the room to see how people react to them. Do you think Jay Z ever did that? Kanye? Eminem? Beyonce? Hell no. You can bet all your money on the fact that each and every one of these artists walks in to the studio with either a song in mind, lyrics written, or the intent to write and vibe while other people are laying their parts down.

Now, I’m not hating on creative experimentation. I think it’s part of the game, and it’s also extremely necessary, but there’s a time and a place for it. That time and a place is in your own home, on your own time.

That being said, if you’re paying your engineer, you’ve got every right to sit there, getting take after take down, getting your ideas down. But is that really what you want to do? Couldn’t you do that on your own, without paying an hourly rate? What exactly are you paying your engineer for at this point?

Here’s my advice for anyone struggling with this kind of situation, and please understand I’m not hating! People have strengths in different areas, and that’s something to rejoice, especially in today’s inter-connected lifestyles we live. If you’re writing your lyrics four words at a time in the studio while you’re in front of the mic, this is for you.

  1. Hire a ghost writer- Drake does it. Everyone does it. There’s a whole profession built around writing lyrics for other people. They’re sometimes cheap, and you can modify them as needed! Check out some freelance websites like Fiver or Upwork, and hire a great writer! Or just find a passionate friend who doesn’t like to rap, but is happy to help you write your stuff. Just make sure you’re both on the same page about song credit. You should be able to pay them some bills, because they’re going to save you TONS of time in the studio, where time is money.
  2. Write bars every day- When you wake up, open up your phone’s notepad, and write a quick 8-16 bars. While you’re waiting for your toast to pop from the toaster, write another 4. Stuck in line at Market Basket? That’s another 8 bars. If you’re showing up to the studio with nothing written, you’re not doing your homework, and everyone knows. Everyone knows that you showed up to baseball practice without a glove.
  3. Use a formula- When all else fails, there’s a hack for writing songs that is kind of the black magic of the artistic world. We know how songs are structurally arranged, and because of this, we can reverse engineer what it is to be a song. Songs rhyme, they have a certain flow to them, and they tell a story (ideally). So what if we start with the rhymes and the story?…

Introducing “The Rhymezone Hack” for writing songs. I’m sure this is someone else’s method as well, but I came up with it on my own, and when people get stuck in the studio, it’s served as an instant breakthrough for them. The hack goes a little something like this.

Step 0: Go to Rhymezone.com

Step 1: Pick a word, any word! Preferably one that you just generally like the sound of. Like “terse”.

Step 2: Type that word into Rhymezone and reap instant rewards. Behold! A ton of words that rhyme with “terse”!

Step 3: Pick 8-12 words from the Rhymezone list that you also like the sound of and write them down (on the right side of the page will make it easier).

Curse

Hearse

Burst

Terse

Step 4: Fill in the blanks. Once you see the end goal, it makes it very easy to create a story behind the words.

Try to hit me with a curse

Then you end up in a hearse

Sucks to have your bubble burst

But when I spit I always keep it terse

Of course, the depth and creativity of these four lines is pretty lack-luster, but you get the idea. This took me about 20 seconds, and it seems pretty creative. Burst and curse aren’t really words I would default to, but I found them on Rhymezone, they’re not super random, and they fit the scene nicely. The possibilities with this technique are endless! If you’re having trouble thinking of new ideas, you keep defaulting to old lines you wrote a year ago, or you just don’t really have anything to talk about, this is a quick fix.

To wrap things up, remember: bet on yourself. Don’t count on someone else to make your art for you. The opportunity reward is infinite! If you bet on yourself, you become more valuable, and by becoming more valuable, a growing demand for your time will begin. You’ll be invited to more events, you’ll be able to talk to higher status individuals, and you’ll be confident in yourself, and you’ll grow and develop in a way that directly benefits you.

For all you Pokemon fans out there — everyone knows that a Pokemon you trained at the Day Care Center won’t be as strong as one you trained yourself in the wild. Train your Pokemon yourself so that you can depend on them when you need them. Train your skills so that they’re sharp when you need them.

@mastr.productions

How to Stack Vocals

Oct 05, 2018 by [email protected] - Comments Off on How to Stack Vocals

When it comes to vocals, even some singers and rappers don’t know what to do with their own takes. Through years of recording artists, the best method I’ve ever come across for recording and arranging vocals was inherited from Epic Nation the Label’s Juggman Shizzy @entlceo_juggman and it goes a little something like this:

Take 1: “Preliminary Take” – Obviously try to get a good take, but this first take is more for structure than anything else

Take 2: “Double”- After you have a skeleton recorded (patch as many times as needed), record a “dub” take. The idea is, by keeping the skeleton on, we can get a take with more confidence from the vocalist. It’s reinforced by their own semi-mixed voice.

Take 3: “Main”- Record one more take, using the dub take from Take 2 as the new skeleton. Mute the original skeleton. Take 3 will be the main vocal, so try to get the whole verse/chorus in one complete take.

Now that we have a great main vocal track recorded, we need to spice it up by stacking takes.

Take 4: “Ins and Outs”- Add energy to the track by doubling the end of each phrase throughout the entire track. Alternatively, re-cut a full double track and fade in as needed, but this can get tedious.

Take 5: “Adlibs”- Sound effects, general chatter and talking

Take 6: “Adlibs 2”- More sound effects, character noises, etc.

You can choose to stop here, but this is a great setup for the mix engineer. You’ve got multiple takes to work with, in case a couple words aren’t fitting right, and you’ve also got plenty of arrangement material to work with. It’s easy to take stuff out later, but it’s not easy to capture the vibe again, so the more full takes, the better.

Now we need to mix all these vocal takes! The main focus of this blog post will be stereo imaging and EQ, so if you’d like more in-depth vocal mixing material, check out the Secrets of the DAW eBook!

Take 3 should be mixed completely mono. Gate, EQ dip at 400hz, 1500hz, compress 4-6db, high shelf +2-4db at 1khz, reverb and/or distortion sends

Take 4 should be mixed nearly the same as Take 3, but we want to make it a little wider. I LOVE using Soundtoys Little Micro Shift set to about 30-40% on ins and outs. It doesn’t make them super ridiculously distractingly wide, but gets them out of the way of the main, while blending in a great way. If you’re getting phasing issues, mess with the wet/dry, and consider taking out some lows 250hz-500hz.

Takes 5 and 6 should be again, the same as Take 3, but we’re going to pan Take 5 25% left, and Take 6 25% right. Now take a big chunk out of 2khz on each of them, and saturate to taste. I love to add a decent amount of reverb on the adlibs. If you can’t keep the adlibs pretty loud, you probably have too much lows/mids. The libs should be light and bright. We really want these out of the way of the main vocal’s body, so don’t be afraid to wash them out with reverbs and use drop delays.

Getting your vocals to blend is going to make or break your track. Panning and EQ is the most important way to get a great blend! If you’ve got any mixing questions, don’t hesitate to hit up the MASTRs on IG! @mastr.productions

ANIMATE: Plugin Review

Sep 22, 2018 by [email protected] - Comments Off on ANIMATE: Plugin Review

So let me get this straight… there’s an expander, a transient designer, a saturator, and an imager? And it’s all in one plugin? And they all have adjustable wet/dry filters? I’m sold. In fact, I’m so sold, I went ahead and made a custom drum kit inspired by and crafted with Mastering the Mix’s new plugin: ANIMATE.

Download the kit for FREE!

ANIMATE first caught my eye on Mastering the Mix’s Instagram channel. The idea of a transient designer with a wet filter was enough to attract my attention. I absolutely love the Softube Transient Designer for its ability to shift focus to high or low frequencies, as well as its ability to tighten or widen the frequency range of the wet signal, and I found a similar ease of control with ANIMATE’s “Punch” module. In the visual example below, I bring out the meaty part of a hi-hat with “Punch”, and I actually automated the threshold a tiny bit to wiggle back and forth, giving a little motion to the overall groove of the hi-hat. I like keeping the wet/dry relatively tame (ANIMATE allows up to 300% wet signal!) and just getting the added bounce that’s needed. The threshold function of these modules is great for automating, but also for dialing in the perfect bounce”

The ability to choose the band which is affected by the “Punch” is huge! This allowed me to get the snap in the high frequencies of the hi-hat without burying the crispiness with tubbiness. Used in combination with the “Ignite” module, I was able to get my Hip Hop hi-hats sounding SUPER THICK! I found the end result to be similar to FabFilter’s Saturn, but with more transient emphasis. There’s something about ANIMATE’s “Punch” and “Ignite” that brings out the low frequencies of hats and snares- this might be my go-to transient designer for these instruments from now on!

Speaking of snares… There’s a fine line between a nice crunchy snare, and one that makes your ears bleed. By bringing out the mid frequencies in a subtle way, “Ignite” is a handy tool for thickening up a snare. I’ve been using two instances of ANIMATE and setting up two bands for “Ignite” to work with (maybe a multi-band ANIMATE should be on the docket for future projects!)

For the juicy mid-high frequencies of the snare, I’ve been using “Ignite” to bring out the SNAP sound. You can’t really tell in this poorly-timed screenshot of mine, but the threshold is set to activate near the peak of the signal. “Punch” and “Grow” are also enabled on this particular snare (Hey why don’t you download the whole pack for FREE?) to give the attack some more smack and not-so-subtle width.

For one of the hi-hats in the ANIMATE kit, I used “Grow” to give some more thickness to the top end of the hat. I don’t like mono hats, to be frank, but I also don’t like thin hats that lack power. With the Width knob set somewhere between 1-5ms, and the filter set to around 8khz+, it’s a matter of dialing in the sweet spot and using your ears to find a spot where the mono integrity of the hi-hat isn’t lost.

Hi-hats that sit will in mono is an integral part of Hip-Hop drums! Ronnie J’s hi-hats are obscenely massive to the point where they take over the mix. If you want to achieve that type of hi-hat, automating the threshold of the “Grow” module might help you avoid that monotonous, ear-splitting sound of the mainly-mono, super-saturated, ultra-transient hats!

As far as kicks and basses go, I’m not huge on this plugin. I can see synth-wash type basses being a fantastic pair with “Grow”, especially when automating that parameter, but I found that the threshold knob was a hindrance to the effectiveness of the plugin. With the custom samples I was creating, I wasn’t really vibing to the results I was getting from dialing in a threshold, and actually found it more effective on kick and bass to pull the threshold parameter all the way down, and go from there.

Using this strategy, I was able to achieve an absurdly powerful square bass, and some crunchy-but-thick kicks. I cheated a little bit and used a soft-clipper after ANIMATE for these, because I wasn’t fully satisfied with how they were coming out of the plugin natively.

Here’s my final verdict regarding ANIMATE from Mastering the Mix:

Pros:

  • Wet filter- The ability to easily choose which frequency band gets blended into the original signal is deceivingly powerful!
  • Threshold- Great for adding subtle transients and very useful for unique automation.
  • Mid-Side Modes- When working with melodies, mid-side control is highly useful. When working with drums, activating the Mid channel is probably the way to go!
  • Variety- The all-in-one nature of the expander, transient designer, saturator and imager is very handy! I like how takes over in some sense (it’s a very powerful, dynamic plugin), but also leave you in total control! I hesitate to compare this to other plugins like Schepps Parallel Particles or Infected Mushroom Pusher, where there’s a lot of mystery going on behind the scenes, but there’s definitely a little bit of mystery going on with the “Ignite” module. I get a real Decapitator type vibe from the saturation/compression that’s going sometimes, but I do wish there were some more parameters to fiddle with other than attack and release.
  • The “Grow” module is super simple, very effective, and in my opinion the most unique and useful of all the modules.
  • Real purty (heatmap filter is really cool)

Cons:

  • Noticeably heavy on the CPU – I’ve had to forego using ANIMATE at the end of heavier sessions.
  • The “%” knob can be annoying to grab- Sometimes it doesn’t register that I’m trying to click and drag the wet/dry knob.

Overall, I think this plugin is great, and I’ll surely continue to use it in future mixes and sound-design projects.

If you’d like to pick up this plugin for yourself, head over to Mastering the Mix! If you don’t have a go-to transient designer or saturator, this is a great choice!

Are You Ruining Your Mixes With Reverb?

Sep 21, 2018 by [email protected] - Comments Off on Are You Ruining Your Mixes With Reverb?

We’ve all been there. You’re done arranging your track, you’ve done some EQing, you add a reverb here and there, and before you know it, your mix is slipping out of control.

The key is to stay organized.

Essentially, there are two ways to apply reverb:

  1. Create a send/parallel track, and apply the reverb to the beginning of the chain. This will allow you to customize the reverb with other effects, and leave the dry signal without reverb processed as-is.
  2. Put the reverb effect directly on the track, and adjust the wet/dry knob and other parameters to get the sound you want.

There are advantages to both ways, but in my opinion, using sends is the way to go. If you’re in Ableton like a BOSS, you can use an effect rack (ctrl+G) to split off a dry and reverb signal chain! This lets you EQ, compress, distort, and flange the reverb with your favorite VSTs in addition to the reverb you’re using. It also allows you to EQ the reverb without affecting the original sound. This is a BIG advantage to using this method, and I’ll often use mid-side EQ to aggressively cut the low-mids of the MID channel.

When I work with vocals I often use multiple reverbs for different purposes. I often run a send from the main vocal to Manny Reverb Mono, and fade in a very very soft reverb that’s tilted with EQ to chop off the highs. I love when the clean high end of the vocals shine above the mix, so I like to add back a tiny bit of low end as reverb. You can only really hear it when the vocalist isn’t singing or rapping.

Sometimes, when you’re working with vocals, you want to emphasize certain individual words with effects. I do this with effect drops. Create a new audio track, put a reverb on it (I like Valhalla Reverb for drops), and create a secondary room or chamber that you can throw individual words into. Make it lush and wide.

Take it to the next level and make ANOTHER drop track for a second reverb drop! This will let you further vary your mix, and bring a new element into the world of the listener. I often will use the stock Ableton Reverb effect as a secondary throw. Here’s some semi-typical settings for what I’d use on it. Notice the big scoop out of the low end of the diffusion network.

For a similar effects, try a 16th note delay as a drop. I love this effect, it’s all over Travis Scott’s work, and I think it’s super entertaining to listen to as a listener.

When all is said and done, and you have your reverbs sitting right (you cut out 400hz in the mid channel, right?), it’s a good idea to use an imager or width plugin to time how wide each sound is. For instance, If you have reverbs on all your pianos, and they’re all set to be very wide, like most reverbs are, they’re going to clash and sound washy. Which may be what you want. I find it much easier to convey depth when one of my reverbs is fairly thin width, maybe 40%, and the others are 80% and panned. The S1 Imager from WAVES is amazing at doing this very quickly.

If you enjoyed this post about reverbs, let me know! Hit me up on Instagram! @mastr.productions

Pick up the eBook, “Secrets of the DAW” if you want more in depth mixing knowledge like this to be instantly transferred to your email! 95 pages of dense, screenshot-ridden golden nuggets of mixing knowledge.

How to Achieve Ridiculously Loud Tracks

Sep 15, 2018 by [email protected] - Comments Off on How to Achieve Ridiculously Loud Tracks

Have you ever wondered how Travis Scott (@travisscott) and Mike Dean (@therealmikedean) get ridiculously loud tracks? Yes of course they clip here and there (and everywhere in between), but there’s more to it than that. There’s certainly an art to tracks that clearly clip, but still remain listenable.

It all comes down to what’s called dynamics, or the difference between loud and quiet sounds in the mix. Ideally, you don’t want a track to be at maximum loudness for an extended period of time, but you DO want your track to be consistent, and have depth. There are a few key concepts to keep in mind when considering dynamics:

  • Transients
  • Compression
  • Saturation
  • Long Term Perceived Loudness

Transients are sounds that are very quick, like a snare, hi-hat or kick drum. More specifically, transients are the BEGINNING of these sounds. The first initial 5ms that reach our ears. A track that is relatively dynamic, and not crushed by a limiter/compressor is thought to have clear, crisp transients. This is the first step to achieving stupidly loud tracks: make your transients nice and clear. If they’re not punch enough, consider using a transient shaper to really dial in the snap of your individual drum tracks.

To further make the drums stick out of a track, consider using a transient shaper to DECREASE the punch of the sample or melody line. This will accentuate the difference between static and dynamic elements of the composition.

Compression is what makes a track sound THICK. When applied properly, it can add loudness and fullness to a mix, as well as color, or texture to sounds. This is especially useful in parallel. By having one heavily compressed (-8db gain reduction) and one dry track, we are able to maintain the transients of the sounds, and ensure the presence of the sound in the mix. Different compressors add color by bringing up the softer parts of a sound in a unique way. One thing I keep in mind when I’m looking for “loud and punchy” is using a long enough attack time to let the transient parts of the drums cut through. if the compressor is enabled too quick, it will squash the attack of the drums, leaving a lackluster final product.

Just how a compressor eliminates the dynamic range of a sound vertically, saturation makes the wave form thicker horizontally by bringing out harmonic overtones or changing the shape of the wave. Saturation is a GREAT way to make something sound more full, and typically louder, even if you gain match the input and output of the saturator. This is useful for making things sound loud, even if they aren’t that loud! If a synth element is distorting and crunching a little as if it would through a maxed out speaker system, it tricks the ear into thinking it’s louder than it actually is.

We can take this concept and apply it to a variety of elements of the mix. Need your kick to be more upfront in the mix? Maybe dial in some hard curve saturation at a 20% wet/dry. Does your snare need more body? Saturation is a great way to get crazy snare sounds (use Fabfilter Saturn if you want the ultimate snare saturator).

To seriously ABUSE the power of compression and saturation, I love to set up a send track in Ableton that has WAVES CLA-76 (-8db gain reduction) -> Ableton Saturator (hard or medium curve) -> Manny M Distortion (just a touch of lowpassed distortion). I end up running the main elements of the track (drums, bass, melody, sometimes vocals) through the send, and blending it in with the normal mixbus signal as it goes to the master bus. Just look at how this process brings this simple horn hit to life visually!

THE MASTER BUS

Anyway, after getting my mix where I want it, I start messing around with the master chain. I don’t mix into anything on the master bus, I think it’s misleading, and can make it less apparent when you’re making bad decisions.

I like to feed into my master bus at around -8db, and I usually start off with the Slate FG Grey compressor. I turn the wet/dry to about 30%, and have a pumping 2-6db of gain reduction, which is then restored in a little makeup gain. I use a medium attack to let transients remain in tact, and auto release because I like how it sounds.

After light parallel compression, I like to saturate the master bus with a medium or hard curve saturation setting at 10-20% wet/dry. I find this to bring some added loudness which is nice, but also an increased depth. Kicks sound more punchy, everything has just a bit more life.

From here on out it’s limiting. I love to use the FG-X from Slate to get the transients dialed in, and get the RMS sitting at a clean level. I BARELY use compression with the FG-X, it seems to add a weird shift in dynamics sometimes.

After the FG-X, I’ll often add a clipper, like KClip to give an extra smack to kick drums, and extra fizz to snares, and more excitement to the entire track. I only soft-clip 2db with the “Crisp” setting.

One of the most important things about your final master is the perceived loudness over time, measured in LUFS. Lots of people advise that you master your tracks to -14LUFS, and I’m going to tell you right now, that is WEAK. YouTube and Spotify might “turn you down”, but you still get an edge in loudness at the end of the day. Trust me. I’ve experimented a lot. -14LUFS might be good for classical music, or something of the like, but Drake’s “More Life” album sits at -9LUFS consistently. Travis Scott’s “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” album reaches -4LUFS in some places (which in my opinion is too much). I’ve found a good middle-ground between “too loud” and “not powerful enough” to be between -7LUFS and -9LUFS. Nav’s tracks from his last couple of albums sit at around -8LUFS consistently, often times pushing up to -7LUFS.

Keep in mind I’m coming at this from a heavy hip-hop perspective, and am a proponent of the loudness war. I love it. I think the more creative we get with pushing the limits of audio engineering and tricking the human ear, the better off music will be. There’s a couple final steps I put on my mastering process, and it involves more limiting!

I love the Ozone Maximizer for its ability to add colorful gain, so I use this to push my signal to about -9LUFS, using IRC IV and leaving .5db of headroom for the final step:

The Vintage Limiter from Ozone! Turn on that True Peak button, use -.3db of headroom, hop over to Analog mode, and pull the slider down until you have a consistent -8LUFS. Then adjust the Character knob to ensure that vocal “ess” sounds aren’t distorted, and the snare is clear.

That’s it! Bounce in 48k/24bit, and listen to it on a bunch of different speakers! This method of creating loud tracks has served me well, especially when making beats for hip-hop artists. They want something punchy and competitive, and I found the above steps to be a homerun process almost every time.

I’d love to hear your opinion on the outlined method above! Shoot me a DM on Instagram, or drop a comment on my latest post!

@mastr.productions

@talljonnymusic

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