So it’s been over a year since I posted my last article on music production and I still get lots of traffic and emails about doing the next one, so lets get into it.
In the previous article I talked about some issues such as staying motivated, getting DJ gigs, and things of that nature, now I would like to dig a little deeper with some more lessons I learned in the last year.
Listening back to my earliest productions the biggest audible change/improvement I have made in the last year and a half is with my drums, I would like to go over drum grouping/busses, drum tuning and eqing on this edition of the tutorial
A Buss is simply a stop off for your audio signal before reaching its final destination, its also known as a group channel, they are used interchangeably in my experience and are ostensibly the same thing
(Here is an example of a sequencer layout using buss tracks to control various elements of your production)
It is actually embarassing how long I produced without even using a buss and what a huge difference it made in my mixdowns, I am now Bus crazy, I have an FX buss, drum busses, Synth busses, and I can’t emphasize what an improvement it makes in your productions. It also has practical uses, such as freeing up loads of CPU usage, so instead of applying insert FX to every channel on your mixer you just apply the insert fx to the similar sounds in the buss. Another practical use for grouping drums is being able to mute and automate them all at once, so doing the very common low pass on drums before the drop technique is especially simple when you have a drum buss.
The greatest advantage of “bussing” audio signals is the effect on the bussed signal, especially on drums, it “glues” them together, add a little compression or perhaps a maximizer to achieve this and you will hear the difference. When bussing synthesizers in a dance track its also a good idea to sidechain groove elements into the synths, to get that classic “pumping” technique.
Group/buss processing made a huge difference in my mix-downs and I am sure it will for yours too!
[Nomad Factory Blue Tubes Compressor CP2S]
(This is my favourite compressor, it isn’t the best, but I know it like the back of my hand, use it at least 10 times on every project)
Another thing I cringe about with earlier productions is how badly my drums are out of tune, and unfortunately I just don’t have an easy fix for this, tuning drums takes a good ear, You just have to hear that they work together, and in turn work with your melodic elements, this just takes practice and I promise you will understand it with time. The way I learned to do this is to keep it simple, start with a kick drum, add a snare, go step by step until you develop a kit that works together, as well as in the mix, I usually use a combination of Battery and the Cubase sequencer to program my drums, and I assign my midi controller knobs to the pitch, as the beat plays I just try different settings until it sounds good.
Here’s another topic I have read up on a lot and put into practice in the last year, I used to be really careful about how I boosted and cut EQ, I used to look up tables that give suggestions on what frequencies to boost (much like this one), and that was counterproductive, looking for shortcuts like this will often set you back instead of moving you forward.
Another mistake I often made was to solo tracks when applying EQ changes, which in retrospect doesnt really make sense because Surgical EQ work is to make the element sit better in a mix. So in the past year I have dumped the reference tables and started using my ear by working out the EQ alterations in the mix. One technique I like to use is what I call the “roll through”, I boost the gain of a fairly narrow band, and drag it from left to right along the spectrum,, I listen for the most dramatic changes in the sound and then find which boost helps bring up or tone down the element in the mix. These changes have helped my tracks become a lot cleaner and well defined, and it was all from just listening and avoiding frequency clashes.
Another EQ related point I would like to make is that if you are spending a lot of time compressing, eqing and the like, it might just be the wrong sound, sometimes you have to just find something different, there’s only so much you can do. so don’t kill yourself trying to perfect a snare, it might just be a bad sample, sleep on it.
I started doing a lot of vocals in my home studio, and talk about uphill battles, I still am not even close to getting a professional recording, at this point I think its my gear and my room, its a small carpeted room in a house, I am not going to discuss this too extensively as I am still a newbie when it comes to recording vocals, but I can assure you that you definitely want to record the vocals (and instruments for that matter) as close to dry as possibly because you never know what you will add to your mix or remove. This not only means that you should record the signal without any inserted effects, that you should try to obtain the cleanest signal possible, this is important to me because I do not always have a vocalist at disposal, and when I finally get someone in, the goal is to get the cleanest recording possible so I can experiment with effects. I have seen many products that help you achieve a clean recording, including this $21 portable vocal booth, pretty cool idea, I have something similar to this that I purchased at my local music store.
Stereo Vs. Mono
Another mistake I made way too often when I first started producing is just inundating my productions with stereo tracks, the more you spread out your sound in the stereo field, the less room there is for other elements to shine through, initially I had everything stereo, and that was just a mess. The reason for this is because Mono focuses the instrument into one area of the spectrum, when you pan a stereo track, it raises the volume of one side while lowering the other, however, when the element is mono you can distinctly locate it in the stereo field , it is much clearer and apparent. Stereo tracks “diffuse” the sound making it hard to locate, and much less clear in the mixdown. Now when I don’t use stereo tracks unless its absolutely necessary, things like drums I usually keep mono and if needed I will use a stereo enhancer/widener out the Buss/Group Track (usually the drums and percussion in the higher frequencies).
(Waves S1 is an excellent stereo widener that I use often to spread a sound out across the spectrum, use sparingly or you will encounter phase issues with your mix)
Exclamation point on this one, in the last 3 years when I have started taking music production very seriously I have amassed an extremely large sample library and have spent hundreds on sample libraries, one VERY helpful thing I have done is copied my favourite samples into a master sample folder, there I have the snappiest snares and the most thunderous kicks all in their respective folders, I have been adding to this folder every so often, and I rarely have to leave the one folder, it is a major time saver and I highly recommend it for keeping your workflow moving forward.
My projects are a mess, im still looking for a better method to arrange the files, due to the nature of Cubase and the various plugins I have in the program, it can sometimes get unstable and crash. I have learned to live with its quirks, and now made it a habit to not only turn on autosave every 15 minutes but also save as to be able to revert to different versions of the project, something in the vein of “housetrack_1, housetrack_1.1 etc..”. I know there must be a better way to do it but I just grew accustomed to it, so it works for me
I dabbled with a lot of technical lessons this time, but as a psychology student I am always fascinated with the creative process and the various ways I can facilitate creativity.
Sometimes I just really do not feel like being creative, maybe something bad happened and I am in a bad mood its actually proven by various scholarly studies that people are most creative when they are in a positive mood (source). In the instances where you just cant get out of the funk, I will just do administrative type activities such as arranging my massive sample collection, doodling on synths, or something else related to making music. if you set aside the time, don’t waste it, because these small tasks will make you more efficient when the mood strikes.
But when you do happen to be in a good mood, and the ideas are flowing out of you like white water rapids, I have established 4 elements of facilitating creativity, which I like to keep in mind when I am on a roll.
1) Set intention and keep it
What is the purpose of this track? a goal is important to have, I can mess around with various things and spend hours lost inside Cubase, but unless I have a goal in mind, I wont actually get any work done. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of good things happen by accident, but you need to keep the big picture in mind, if you’re working on a project that is for your house E.P and you come across a riff or make a sound that will sound great in one of your hip hop productions, stay at the task at hand and shelf the new and exciting idea for a later time (“Save as” is your friend!)
2) Don’t resist the unfamiliar
Part of making music and the creative process that is so fulfilling to me is that I am making something new, use other music as references, and even copy the sound of that individual completely if you must, but make sure it has your own unique interpretation to it otherwise it will sound dated in a few months, artistic merit is what sets apart the great from the good.
3) Learn to let go and move on
Sometimes you just wont get to where you are trying to go, learn to let something go and move on, don’t consider it a failure, but a lesson learned.
4) Understand your positive creative habits and hone in on them
When I make a track that receives great feedback, I always try to revisit that moment, and you know what I always find, I am always in a relaxed positive mood, there is no pressure to create, that’s what works for me, try to find these patterns in your work and recreate them to achieve similar positive results.
So those are my four ways of facilitating creativity, I hope to expand on these one day, and I hope you find them useful in your creative process, feel free to comment below and let me know what you think!
There are many steps you can take to facilitate creativity, but in the long run a consistent work ethic and passion to create music will take you where you want to go.
Thanks for reading!