A great explanation of how bit depth, sample rate and dither affect digital audio recordings.
I’m sure some studio rats who hang on certain forums will argue that they can feel more presence and air in soundstage recording at 192Khz or some other ridiculousness, this video pretty much explains what most of us knew; that it’s a waste of disk space.
When I’m working on mixing songs I always check my mix against a variety of setups to ensure that it’ll sound decent on as wide a variety of systems as possible. My workflow will usually proceed as follows:
Mix on studio monitors
Run through pre-lim mastering process
Check mix again on studio monitors
Check mix on car stereo 1
Check mix on car stereo 2
Check mix on laptop speakers
Check mix on ear-bud headphones
Check mix on over-ear headphones
Check mix on shitty boombox
Repeat steps until mix is refined to final state
In my opinion, the car mixes are the most important as that where the majority of people tend to listen to their music. With such a large number of listening environments things can get disorganized pretty quickly unless you have a process in place. I used to carry around a paper notebook specifically for mix notes but I noticed that it tends to get a bit messy. Sometimes I forget if I’ve already made a fix I took a note on, sometimes I don’t have my notebook with me, etc. While I still keep the notebook around for quick notes now I’ve switched over to using Evernote. I first heard of ever note when I went out to SXSW in 2011. I used it at the conference to take notes on my iPad while on the go. Evernote stores all of your notes in cloud storage so you have access to them from any computer, tablet or smartphone. This is much better than copying files back and forth from a USB drive, you never need to worry about if you have the most recent version if you are making changes on multiple computers. They have native applications available for desktop, iOS and Android in addition to the website interface. Since Evernote worked so well for me at the conference I decided to start using it for other things as well, such as taking notes down on mixes when listening in my car. I can just update the mixnotes notebook from my smartphone and then look it up later when I’m in the studio. As I make the changes I just take them off the list. Next round of mix listening I take more notes from my phone or desktop and repeat. The free version only limits the amount of data you can transfer per month, since most of mine is text I have yet to really run into going over my allotted bandwidth.
Found this great video on YouTube today about the making of The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” and how you can reproduce the track using some samples and Ableton. Pretty crazy to see just how many samples went into the creation of this song, little snippets used here and there that the average person would never spot. The video is pretty spot on, I know that Liam used a Korg Prophecy run through an envelope filter (possible a wah pedal for this) for the acid bass line but here they show you how to accomplish the entire track strictly in software.
Keep watching, at the seven minute mark he shows the final track.
Once you’ve amassed a large collection of samples properly cataloging all of these sounds is critical for optimum workflow during a studio session. On Mac I’ve found a great program that handles this, AudioFinder. AudioFinder lets you catalog all of your sounds by genre, type, or project. You can then quickly search through for a particular sound, for example “hi-hats” and it will retrieve a listing of all the hi-hat sounds on your system. You can then right within the app preview the sound at any pitch or BPM and if you like it just drag and drop it right into Logic, ProTools or Ableton.
Hardware compressors such as the Universal Audio 2-1176 are a favorite among studios.
Mix-buss compression can be a confusing for those who are unfamiliar with how it works. Some producers throw it on every track to make it punchy, others prefer to keep the buss pure.
If you are going to use mix-buss compression don’t just throw it on at the end, start from the beginning of your mix process with compression on the stereo buss. Each fader change will affect the overall sound, if you throw on compression at the end of mixing the overall balance of your track can be thrown off.
Hardware or Software?
If you prefer to go the hardware route there are some great compression units out there. Just like how different mic pre-amps lend their own sonic character during recording, compressors also impart their own signature on a track. I’m a fan of Universal Audio’s hardware and software compression plugins. These aren’t “transparent” in color but for the type of music I usually work on they add a pleasant sonic quality.
A good way to find your initial compression settings is to watch the meters on your compressor, they should bounce nearly in time with the tempo of the track. If they are going faster you release time may be too short, if they are staying pinned the release time is probably too long. Attack time is a little more straightforward, the faster the attack the sooner the compression will kick in during the attack portion of the sound. Having a slower attack time will let more transients slip through but it may not work for the material you are mixing. Conversely, too fast of an attack can often leave a track dull and flat sounding. Once you are used to listening to how compression works you can trust your ears to tell you if there is too much. You’ll hear an audible pumping, if you hear this you’ve often gone too far unless it’s for a special effect.
For overall stereo buss compression you can usually leave the ration pretty low, 2:1 or 1.5:1 are a good place to start. Then adjust the threshold so you get a minimal amount of gain reduction. Less is more when compressing the mix buss.
A common mistake most inexperienced mixers make is just throwing on stereo compression to the mix to make their mixes louder to match commercial recordings. If you are going to get your finished tracks mastered I highly recommend against this. Mastering engineers usually add additional compression during mastering and if your mix is already brickwalled it makes it much more difficult to get a decent mastered track. Instead of having one massive stage with lots of compression, split it up. Put some slight compression on the individual tracks. Then some mix buss compression. Finally in mastering put on another level of compression. Three smaller stages of compression will always sound better than one massive stage. I would also avoid throwing on multi-band compression on the mix buss. If you find your track needs it, you’re probably better off going back and fixing the EQ and compression settings per individual track first.
I hope this gives a little insight into how compression on the stereo buss should be used. Happy mixing.
Nuendo 3 has been frustrating me to no end. I’ve had a myriad of MIDI time code problems with it and my hardware devices just don’t want to play nice with it. I think I’m going to switch over to Cubase 5 and start from scratch.
For those of you writing electronic music there are some tricks of the trade that will help your track sound a little better. Besides the obvious arrangement tricks, compression is a very important tool. However, compression is often a misunderstood and misused.
For dance music the bass and the kick are two very important elements that both need to sound clear and loud to get people moving. A lot of times people will just compress the fuck out of both but then you just have a square wave mess. The kick especially will sound crappy if you over compress it just because of how speakers work, you need that big initial THUD, not a sustained wave. Often times you’ll end up having to reduce the level of the bass track to get the kick to pop but then your bass sounds weak.
How do you get around this tricky problem? Side-band compression.
Have some side-band compression setup so when the kick track hits (you DO have a seperate kick track right?) the bass gets compressed. Use a ratio of about 4:1or maybe even 8:1. Make sure the attack time is very fast so it will trigger right when the kick hits and use a fast release time as well, that way the bass has time to breathe in between kicks.
This trick will give you some more overall headroom out of your track so you can get a little louder without clipping and your bottom end stays clear instead of distorted.
I’ll also use some gentle multi-band compression along with EQ in the mastering phase but this is something that can easily be abused.
Less is generally better. Also the mastering process changes a bit depending on the genre of music you’re working with and the target delivery medium.