Alex ja Armottomat (Alex) visited my recording studio in February. We had five days total to do a fully mastered CD, make promo photos of the band, and record live video footage in the studio for later editing. I’ll describe here how one of the six songs was recorded and mixed.
Drums, bass and the electric guitar were recorded live with one to three takes. Acoustic guitar and demo vocals were recorded, too, but they were re-recorded later over the backing tracks. The drummer was the only one to hear the metronome (standard SONAR audio metronome, time signature set to 1/4); the others had eye contact with the drummer. Although the guitar amp was in another room (the bass was recorded direct), there was no spill other than a faint demo vocal in the drum room mics.
Time is always an enemy when you have to record many songs in a limited amount of time. I decided to make decisions before pressing the R (record) button rather than leaving everything to the mixing phase. I applied EQ to kick drum, drum room and the acoustic guitar before A/D conversion. One of the phrases I hate is: “This sounds like crap now but it hasn’t been mixed yet.” Some people really think that everything can be fixed in the mix! (Although to be fair you often can, because in SONAR we have VocalSync, built-in Melodyne, built-in drum trigger, and AudioSnap).
And although it sounds incredible, now it’s even possible to upload songs from SONAR to the LANDR online mastering service and instantly hear a preview of how the song would sound as mastered. Hearing the demo master may help you to improve the project’s mix. Continue reading panup: Studio Session & LANDR Test
At some point, nearly every mixer has experienced this:
“My mix sounds great, but this mix by (Bob Clearmountain, George Massenburg, Joe Barresi, etc.) sounds so much wider… How do they do that?”
Aside from the highly classified mixer voodoo magic that they still swear isn’t real, there are a number of techniques you can employ to get a little more width out of your mix.
I already know what you’re about to say: “But I pan my parts hard left and right, and it still doesn’t sound wide enough.” I struggled with this for a long time myself, but trust me, panning is listed first because it’s the first step toward a wide mix.
If you’ve got things hard-panned, you’re already halfway there. One trick to making this work is contrast; if everything is hard-panned, there’s no point of reference for what is narrow or wide.
EXAMPLE: In a rock or metal mix, it’s fairly common to find extremely wide guitars. What many folks don’t notice is that the drums are not always quite as wide.
A pretty standard template for me is: guitars panned hard, drum overheads panned at about 50%, and if applicable, the drum room track at about 60-75%. This makes for a full stereo field and helps isolate the parts, creating a very wide image of the guitars while still having good stereo separation for the drums. It also helps prevent distorted electric guitars from eating up all that gorgeous drum ambiance you worked so hard to track perfectly.
Contrary to the above, I’ve heard a lot of folks swear by what’s known as “LCR Mixing,” or Left-Center-Right mixing, where – you guessed it – everything is either panned, hard left, center, or hard right.
I personally am not a major advocate of LCR Mixing, but I highly encourage everyone to try it out. It might work for one song or one style, but not another. If nothing else, it’s an excellent starting point in helping you quickly decide the rough stereo placement of each mix element .
And of course, never forget about automation–the most important part of any mix, in my opinion. Try panning a stereo track to about 80% width, and then at an appropriate point in the song, bump it up to 100%. I guarantee this will add apparent width to your mix.
This goes back to contrast — you’re listening to the song and at its widest point, it’s at 80% width. Your ears believe that everything is as wide as it can be. Suddenly, everything gets wider and the apparent stereo width seems enormous! I’m not saying go crazy and use this trick all the time, but try it out and hear the effect for yourself.
Sometimes EQ can help you make your mix sound wider. And you’re probably thinking, “how is adjusting frequency content going to expand stereo width?” Well, technically it’s not…
It’s a psychoacoustical phenomenon that causes a bit of separation of the parts, making their perceived width much greater. That’s right, it’s not real. But we can fool our ears into thinking we’re actually adding width.
Here’s what to do: take a look at your left guitar track and find a place in the midrange where you might like to boost. Let’s say just for example’s sake, that we’ll add 2dB at 600Hz. Now we’re going to find another frequency and cut it: -2dB at 2.8kHz (again, just for example).
Now, go to your right guitar track and do the opposite: -2dB at 600Hz; +2dB at 2.8kHz.
Be careful — I wouldn’t add or subtract any more than about 2 or 3 dB here lest altering or totally destroying the tone (trust me, the guitar player will hear it and reveal his or her darker side very quickly). Make an adjustment that’s just enough and you’ll trick the listener into hearing an expanded stereo width.
This is how you get a mix to sound like it’s actually wider than the speakers themselves. It became ubiquitous in the 80s, but much like gated reverb, it’s used more tastefully in modern mixes.
First, a word of warning: this can completely dismantle the mono compatibility of your mix — proceed with caution!
The technique is quite simple, and is another one of those psychoacoustical tricks (come on, you didn’t think you could actually get your mix to be wider than the speakers themselves… did you?).
Insert a stereo delay plugin on your stereo track or bus (IMPORTANT: make sure the delay plugin has independent controls for the left and right sides) and set the mix to 100%. You could also use the Channel Tools plugin, which has this sort of functionality built in. Just add a few milliseconds of delay to one side of your stereo track or bus, and you’ll hear quite a difference right away.
Of course, there’s always the question of how much is enough. Here are some tips:
Does it sound like one side is playing before the other? Too much. You’ll definitely want it below 20-25ms, or it’ll start actually sounding like, well, a delay.
More delay time will not always make it wider. The effect is caused by the phase relationship between the two sides, so you may find a sweet spot with hardly any delay at all.
Collapse the track/bus to mono. Does it sound terrible? Try making it a little narrower.
Does the tone change too much? Move the delay time up or down a little bit and see if that helps.
Remember, phase can truly make or break your mix, so again, tread cautiously when applying this effect.
There are a few different ways reverb can help increase the apparent stereo width of your mix.
The first way is quite simple: Applying reverb to an already-wide signal can make it sound even wider. This has to do with those phase relationships we were just talking about.
To take things a step further, try panning your reverb sends to the opposite side (Hard Left Audio w/ Hard Right Send; Hard Right Audio w/ Hard Left Send) to see if it makes any difference. If nothing else, it makes for a pretty cool creative effect.
The second way is also quite simple. What is reverb but a few thousand delay signals right after one another? What we’ll do is apply reverb to only one side of the stereo track or bus.
What this is doing, in addition to the delay trick mentioned above, is making one side sound slightly more distant. It’s ultimately creating a distinction between the left and right side (again, in your mind) that creates the illusion of greater width.
This is a bit of an advanced technique. There are plug-ins out there that will do all the thinking for you (The Hoser XT, for example) by allowing you the option to make separate adjustments for the individual “mid” and “sides” channels.
However, there are a few ways to make this work, even without a “smart” plug-in… I’ll keep this as simple as possible.
The best way to set yourself up for Mid/Side processing is to use the Mid/Side microphone configuration when recording. This is what I consider a true Mid/Side configuration, and I feel it balances better, has better mono compatibility, and is more “true to the source” when it’s being modified than its “fabricated Mid/Side configuration” counterpart.
If you don’t know how to do Mid/Side recording, I’ve provided you some resources here, here, and here.
Now, as for converting a standard stereo track or bus to Mid/Side tracks, you’ll have to do a bit of extra work…
Clone your stereo track or bus.
Collapse the original to mono with the interleave button. It should look like this: [mono interleave button]. This is now your “Mid” track.
Insert a plugin like Channel Tools, or any comparable plugin, on the cloned track.
Flip the phase on the left side (or the right side; one may sound better than the other). This is now your “Sides” track.
What we can do from here is process these tracks individually. A good starting point would be to apply some fast compression to only the “Sides” track, somewhat eliminating the dynamic peaks and valleys and making the sides seem louder, thereby increasing the apparent stereo width.
Similarly, you can add some upper-midrange frequencies to the “Sides” track, increasing their presence, and/or reduce the same frequency range in the “Mid” track.
Try all these techniques and take note of the qualities that each impart. Remember, the more techniques you have in your arsenal, and the more practice and experience you have with each of them, the quicker you’ll be able to make creative production decisions.
Last summer, Peppina—a young female artist from Finland— plunged herself into the NYC music scene for two months. With the help of renowned NYC entertainment attorney Steven Beer who discovered her, she managed to head back to Finland with a major-label sounding EP. The project was recorded in different ways, in different locations all over the city—and with budgets being slashed, these days it’s pretty much hand-to-hand combat when making a low budget recording where anything goes. But the upshot is yes, you can record a commercial-sounding record on a budget—so here are some of the techniques we employed to accomplish that goal. SONAR Platinum was instrumental in saving time on this EP. Between the Drum Replacer, VocalSync, onboard Melodyne, Speed Comping and general speed enhancements, I got to the finish line a lot faster than previous records. I highly recommend anyone who’s on SONAR XX to take a close look at what the program has brought to the table in the last year.
This all started when Steven Beer called about an artist he’d heard sing at a film festival, and invited me for a meeting at his office. Interestingly, there were two other producer/writers there as well—a bit unorthodox, but pretty much anything goes these days, so nothing really surprises me anymore. We discussed the artist’s interests, influences, and other variables, and then listened to some of my reel as well as music from the other producers. It turned out the lawyer’s master plan was to bring the three of us together to co-write, record, and mix a five-song EP before she went back to Finland in 45 days.
Peppina already had some momentum in Finland from a loop she wrote and uploaded to a site called HITRECORD (owned by actor and director Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Her upload was so popular that Gordon-Levitt flew her to California to perform the piece at the Orpheum in LA during one of the show’s TV episodes. This all sounded good to me, so I signed on to a production team that would share in the production duties and heavy lifting. As to budgets…well, there was enough there for us to take it on as a challenge.
With so many different reverb options available, it can sometimes be hard to know where to begin. This series will focus on helping you make your reverb decisions more efficiently by identifying the function of every component, one at a time.
In convolution reverb, microphones capture the sound of an environment’s response to a full spectrum of frequencies, known as an Impulse Response (IR). Then, the resulting .wav file is introduced back into a convolution plugin – in this case ReMatrix Solo. The plugin plays the incoming audio, say your drum track, “through” the IR. This type of reverb is great for adding realistic ambience to dry sounding tracks.
Depending on the shape and material of the walls, ceiling, floor, and furniture in the sampled environment, different frequencies may be absorbed or reflected faster or slower than others. This is what gives any reverb its own characteristic sound. For example, a concert hall with hard, dense walls and plastic seats will have a much longer decay in high-frequency content than a living room with relatively soft wooden walls and a cushioned couch.
ReMatrix Solo recognizes 5 different categories of IRs: Hall, Room, Plate, Early, and Special. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of each of these.
The first thing you’re likely to notice about Hall reverbs is that they’re usually longer than other types–about 2 seconds or more. This is because halls are rather large spaces with lots of room for sound to bounce around. Like great prose or a fine wine, reverb has a beginning, middle, and end. For reverb, we’ll refer to these as “Early Reflections,” “Body,” and “Decay (or Tail).” Common Hall reverb characteristics include an audible array of early reflections (more on this later), a dense, sustained body, and a smooth, often dark decay.
Here are some sonic examples of applications of Hall Reverb:
If you listen carefully, you’ll notice the snare’s attack is quite present in the reverb itself.
The guitar in this example loses some presence due to the heavy wash of conflicting frequencies.
In the vocals, most of the consonants are lost to the diffusion, resulting in a reverb body consisting mostly of vowel sounds.
Room reverb times are much shorter than halls, due mostly to their smaller size. These will normally range between about a half-a-second to a few seconds. Rooms are often a bit “darker” sounding than most halls, since the size and materials are prone to more high-frequency absorption. However, any variations in size and material are going to have a large impact on the resulting reverberations, so you can expect much variation from one Room sound to the next. One may have almost no early reflections, a smooth body and quick decay, while another might have a booming attack, and thick body that slowly fades away.
Here are the same tracks as above, but with some Room reverb applied:
The snare sound gains a presence boost from the stronger midrange information of this reverb.
The guitar fits nicely with this reverb due to the dense and diffuse body.
Notice how the vocal reverb now sounds like each word smears together, rather than just the vowel sounds in the hall example.
A plate reverb is a mechanical device that vibrates in response to an audio signal being passed through it. It has transducers that send and receive the signal, and a damping pad to adjust the length of the reverb. These reverbs are often a half-second to a few seconds in length, and have almost no early reflections, but a substantial body and gentle decay. Because of this, it’s not uncommon to see large amounts of predelay added to this reverb type.
Once again, the same tracks as above, but with Plate reverb applied:
This reverb is quite bright. The snare gains a lush high end that otherwise is rather lacking
You’ll notice that the guitar sounds a bit harsh running through this particular plate sound.
The vocals have a bit of an “airy lift” to them, but sibilant sounds (S’s and T’s, for example) might need to be carved out with an EQ to avoid a similar harshness to the guitars.
This one is sort of unique to ReMatrix. Nearly every type of reverb has early reflections, but this particular category isolates them as their own entity. Early reflections, as shown in the diagram below, are the sounds that you hear most immediately after the direct signal, usually within the first 60-80ms. For that reason, they have an almost imperceptible body and decay. Don’t let the short time fool you, though; these reverbs can introduce very unique and desirable sonic characters to any sound.
Here are some examples of early reflections applied to our drum, guitar, and vocal tracks:
Short and sweet, Early Reflections are fantastic for bringing a sound to the forefront while still maintaining a sense of depth and “live-ness.”
This is where all the outliers are found. These IRs include reverse reverbs, modulated sounds, and more. The modulated sounds are typically .wav files that have been modified in some way with another effect like an automated filter, a delay, some kind of pan effect, or just about anything else. Since there are no real rules to this IR type, there’s not much explaining to do here, so let’s jump right into some examples.
The snare, high in transient information, also yields an interesting result with the panning echoes.
The busy guitar covers up much of the effect, and you’re just as well reaching for a more suitable reverb program
The vocals play quite nicely through it, sounding like a high-feedback slapback delay with some sort of weird FM filtering.
This type of reverb may not fit so well in every mix you do, and the effect may not always be apparent, but it can bring a bit of spice to an otherwise dull part.
This is the length of the reverb. Whenever you see a time control on a reverb, it is measured in RT60, or amount of time it takes for the reverb to be 60dB lower than its original level. Note that when you load a preset or IR in ReMatrix Solo, this setting adjusts to the IR’s original intended RT60 time. Be careful when making adjustments to this as it can sometimes make the reverb sound “chopped” or produce undesired artifacts.
This is the Pre-Delay, or amount of time before the reverb signal is produced. For example, if your song is 120bpm and you want an eighth note’s worth of time between the dry snare hit and the wet reverb signal, you would set this value to 250ms. This is useful for when your original signal starts to sound oversaturated by the reverb. Providing a bit of time between the original signal and the reverb signal gives a sense of distance and depth.
Helpful Hint: 1 ms of pre-delay is equal to about 1 foot of distance from the source.
This knob controls the stereo width of the reverb. A value of 0% will be “mostly” mono. A value of 100% provides an extremely wide stereo image, and dipping into negative values results in an extremely collapsed reverb sound. Try a variety of settings–this parameter has an incredible ability to create a very realistic and controlled sense of space for your reverb.
This is, quite simply, the amount of gain applied at the EQ Freq setting. This applies only to the reverb return signal itself, so adding a high shelf to the snare reverb does not add the high shelf to the snare, just the snare’s reverb.
If you would like to apply a band of EQ to your reverb signal, this is the place to do it. This setting will determine the center frequency of your EQ adjustment. This is useful when you want to modify the coloration of the reverb, or to help it fit more neatly into your mix.
As with any Q setting, this is the width of the EQ band you’re applying to your EQ signal.
— Hi-Shelf affects frequencies at and above the EQ Freq setting
— LPF (Low-Pass Filter) cuts all frequencies below the EQ Freq setting
— Numbers indicate a Band Pass filter — your standard bell-curve EQ. A smaller number creates a wider bell curve, and a larger number creates a very narrow curve.
This is the blend of original, unprocessed signal and “wet,” processed reverb signal. A common workflow would be to create a send on the track to which you wish to apply reverb. Set up the send to go to an aux track, and add the ReMatrix ProChannel module to the Aux Track. Set the Dry/Wet slider to 100% wet. Now, your original track is still totally dry, and the aux track is only the reverb signal. To blend, simply adjust the send level from the original track. More send level = more reverb.
No question, there are a lot of compressor plugins out there, and they all have their unique layouts, quirks, and sonic qualities. In the video below, we line up 15 different compressors and demonstrate these differences.
Below the video, you’ll also find a helpful updated list of key features, a downloadable chart, and links to learn more about the compressors that do not come standard with SONAR Platinum. If you’re not familiar many compressor plugins, I recommend starting here.
It’s worth noting that this video demonstrates a limited scope of each compressor’s capabilities. Since the compressor is being used to level out a vocal performance, each one has been set up optimally for the application, usually with a low ratio and fairly fast attack and release wherever applicable.
Every possible measure was taken to keep the responses and output levels of each compressor as uniform as possible so that the shootout makes for a consistent apples-to-apples comparison. In the future, keep an eye out for more of these shootouts, as the same tools might have totally different effects on a snare drum, acoustic guitar, electric bass, or saxophone.
A few years back, we showed you a bit about Parallel Compression in SONAR. Now that we’ve introduced Patch Points in the Jamaica Plain update, you can do these same things with a much more efficient workflow.
Let’s quickly define parallel processing: In parallel processing, a signal is duplicated into two or more signals. Each copy of the signal is processed differently but plays back simultaneously with the original. The copy/copies are then mixed together.
Parallel Compression, aka “New York Compression,” is most commonly used on drums to add body to the drum mix without flattening the snappy transients.
Check out the video below to see just how easy (and great sounding) this technique can be:
Compiling or “Comping” takes is relatively new to sound recording. With the increased ability of technology has come the increased desire to comp with excruciating attention to detail, sometimes all the way down to a syllable or note, to create “The Perfect Take.”
The Acoustic and Electrical Eras (1877-1945)
When audio recording was first introduced, it was an entirely mechanical process. Comping did not exist. In fact, neither did mixing as we know it. Everything was recorded in one take, and level adjustments were made by moving musicians closer to or farther from the horn–essentially the microphone of its time.
In the primitive stages of this recording format, it was not uncommon to have copies of the same record that sounded entirely different. This was because if a band wanted to release 1,000 copies of a song, they would have to record it 1,000 different times, each take resulting in its own uniquely-performed copy. Continue reading The Evolution of Comping
Looking for some advanced, interesting, or downright weird ways to use the new Patch Points feature? Here you go:
Suppose you want to split one track to several outputs, for example to do multiband processing. Here’s how:
The Dry track output goes to Patch Point 1 instead of the master bus. Five tracks, each of which filters a different band of frequencies, have their inputs set to Patch Point 1. The Dry track now feeds all five channels simultaneously. Placing all these tracks inside a track folder makes it easy to fold them up when you want a tidier setup. Continue reading Five Reasons Why Patch Points Rock
With the advent of digital audio, some feel a certain quality associated with the analog signal path has been lost. While that may have been true at one point, analog emulations have come a long way since first introduced. Let’s find out how to add that “analog sound” using some of SONAR’s plugins. (Note: Many of the following examples use features are exclusive to SONAR Platinum, so if you don’t already have this version, you can try a free demo by clicking here.)
#5 – ProChannel Tape Emulation
Tape does some pretty magical things to audio, so SONAR Platinum includes tape emulation as a ProChannel module. Best of all, you can use it as much as you like without having to clean the heads!
Here’s how tape emulation enhances the sound:
Emulates the “head bump” of analog tape to enrich the low end, adding subtle warmth
Smooths response by slightly rolling off lowest lows and highest highs
Increases sustain by smoothing peaks
Saturates the signal in a non-linear, analog manner
Optionally introduces high-frequency hiss
For a basic application, insert the Tape Emulator in the Master Bus ProChannel. You’ll immediately hear a more cohesive mix. Increasing the REC LEVEL increases the overall saturation. The REC LEVEL knob, TAPE SPD switch, and BIAS switch all interact in unique ways, so try out different combinations to hear how they affect each other.
After hearing how the Tape Emulator affects your sound, try applying it to individual tracks (your drums will sound particularly fabulous). This will be a more subtle effect, adding a sense of depth to the overall mix.
SONAR Platinum artist iLan Bluestone’s career trajectory is moving fast. The jet-setting EDM producer is touring the world, but was kind enough to share not only his time with us discussing his music production techniques, but also his new single collaboration with mogul-producer BT titled “All These Wounds.” We caught up with iLan in Chicago at the Spring Awakening Festival, and then again down the road at Sweetwater’s Gearfest: