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66 posts tagged

Music production

Composing, production, mixing, mastering, and all that stuff.

Check the low end

How can I improve my mix and make the kick and bass sound clean?


Quite often upcoming producers send me their tracks for a feedback and ask how to improve a mix. Today, I’d like to share a simple, yet one of the most effective tips for improving a mixdown that beginners seem to forget about — check the low end.

You see, when certain frequencies overlap each other, they might create some phasing issues or a muddy mix especially in the kick-bass area.

What is sound
Phase cancellation explained

The problem is many samples that you most likely use in the production has a lot of unnecessary frequencies in the lower end. For example, let’s take a listen to a typical TR-909-like hi-hat:

Sounds like a mid to high-frequency range hat, right? Well, take a look at its spectrum:

Picture 1. Hi-hat spectrum

There’s a lot of low-end frequencies too! And the same applies to snare drums, ride cymbals, noise sweeps, and many other sounds that appear to be a mid to high, but in fact, include a lot a lower end as well.

The solution is simple.

First, make sure to actually check the spectrum of a sample you use. Second, if there is anything unwanted — cut it with a high-pass filter. Like this:

Picture 2. Hi-hat EQed

You can absolutely feel free to cut below 200 Hz in most cases and sometimes even below 500 Hz. You probably won’t even notice this audibly, but it does make a huge difference for the kick and bass mixdown.

It’s safe to say that I use EQ on pretty much every channel (or a group of channels) in my projects and I would recommend doing this too.

Oct 4   Advice   Mixdown   Music production

Time traveller’s archive — 15

Cool stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend

Ableton explains the difference between electronic and acoustic sounds
  1. Get Started Making Music. Ableton launched this cool little website with some basic music production concepts. I like the interactive tools here, pretty fun and useful at the same time.
  2. Laurent Garnier DJ set at Boiler Room, Lyon. This isn’t a new video, but still such a pleasure to watch (and listen!) such a master behind the decks. These two are my favourite moments: 1:20:03 and 2:29:39.
  3. Futurephonic Live with Chris and Regan. A cool live Q&A with two very influential people in the Psytrance festivals scene. I highly suggest watching the full video, but just in case, I’ve made a quick summary and highlights.
  4. No Sleep: NYC Nightlife Flyers 1988 to 1999. A nice collection of party flyers from the previous century, I like that. Check also my Psytrance flyers 2005–2007.
  5. Horror Musical Instrument – The Apprehension Engine. This is genius and creepy. I would probably use some of these sounds in my production!
Sep 29   Ableton   DJing and performance   Music production   Psy scene   Time traveller's archive

Creating a weird psychedelic lead

How to emulate a typical psychedelic glitchy sound you hear in tracks from the artists like Imagine Mars, Tristan, Ajja, etc?


Zahaan, I don’t know for sure how these guys making their sounds, but I’ll share my thoughts on how to achieve something similar.

Formally speaking, this sound is very simple and it’s made of two key components: a bandpass filter and an LFO with a “Sample and Hold” waveform, all the rest is a processing. Special thanks to my colleague Evgeniy Dolgih for hinting that specific LFO type, I probably wouldn’t figure it out myself.

Let’s try to recreate it from scratch. I going to use Sylenth1, but you can use any other synthesiser you have as long as it has an LFO.

Recommended synths

Initial preset. Single oscillator with Saw wave and one voice. Filter bandpass filter type and assign modulation envelopes to the filter cut off.

You should get something like this:

Initial preset with a few tweaks in the filter and envelopes sections

Now in the LFO section, assign it to the filter cut off and choose “Sample and Hold” waveform in the dropdown menu. Tweak rate and gain knobs up to your taste.

Here is what we’ve got:

Choosing LFO waveform in the dropdown menu

That’s pretty much it. You can play around with the LFO rate, add distortion, reverb, frequency shifter, or any other audio processing effects.

After spending a couple of minutes tweaking it, I’ve come up with this really weird sound:

And here’s how it sounds like in context:

Effects processing chain

Have fun tweaking yours!

P.S. I had a personal chat with Zahaan sharing these tips, and he eventually made the following sound using an extra phaser and distortion:

Well done!

Aug 23   Advice   Music production   Sound design

What do you need to play a live set

I have a couple of questions about playing a live act because I’m quite confused now about this topic. What do you need to do if you finished a few tracks and want to play them as a live act?

I watched some videos but I only saw people launching a few clips in ableton but I don’t understand how to play for example an hour long live act with many of your tracks. How to prepare your tracks? Chopping into kick, bass, leads etc? What about the arrangement? Sorry for the loads of question but I got lost in this.

Thanks for your help and also for this amazing advice blog I think it helps a lot for us!


Viktor, I cannot answer your question in details saying like “chop it here” or “map this to that” because there are a plenty of things I don’t know, giving any specific advice without knowing your music or setup as least would be unprofessional.

First of all, the question is what do you want to achieve. Why do you want to play live sets in the first place? How exactly do you want to make your tracks played live different from playing a record? How would you like to build up the set, both musically and energy-wise?

The next big question is the musical genre you playing because there are some differences too. For example, is it a Techno or Progressive that slowly builds up over time? Or it’s a fast-paced Psytrance with several melodic layers played simultaneously? Compare these two snippets:

I would say, the more intense, complex, and fast-paced your music is, the less freedom you have on the stage. Well, no surprise: supposedly you have only two hands, so the numbers of things you can manipulate in a given time are pretty limited. And it’s important to understand your limitation because it allows to think of possibilities.

The next is equipment. Various gear allows to play and map things differently, hence your Ableton setup would be different as well. Let’s say, do you have a drum machine, sequencer, sampler, synthesiser, effects rack? Or you have just a MIDI-controller with 8 rotary knobs and that’s it? I’m not saying that having a MIDI-controller isn’t enough to play a live set, but again it’s a limitation that you have to be aware of to prepare the set accordingly.

At last but not least, where are you going to play a live set is another thing to consider because live sets require a certain type of event and audience. Most clubs don’t give artists time for changeover and sometimes there are simply no space in the booth for any extra piece of equipment. You have to negotiate and discuss it with promoters first, these are the real things you have to deal with if you are going to play live, it’s even more important that thinking of what button you should map on a controller to launch a clip.

I’m sorry that this blog gave you more questions that answers. We can theorycraft about preparing tracks for a potential live set of course, but I’d advise answering these questions to yourself first to get a bit of real-life sense.

P.S. Watch this amazing video by Minilogue playing a live jam studio session. They also have another video explaining this setup: what each piece of equipment does, how the signal flows is set, what’s going on in Ableton of each of their computer, etc. I find it inspiring. Perhaps, it’ll answer some of your questions.

2017   Advice   DJing and performance   Music production

EQing individual bass notes

After reading your bassline equalisation advice, I’m curious because of the different harmonic positions relative to the note frequency, if you have a baseline that changes notes, should you / would you gain any benefit from having each note on a unique track with separate EQ, or automating the EQ to respond based on the note sequence? Or is that just overkill?

Michael Roy

To EQ or not to eq each individual note depends on the genre you working on and the results you’re aiming for.

For example, if you have a kind of a soft, smooth, and groovy bass like typically used in Full-On or House music, it’s probably not worth it:

On a contrast, if you aiming for a really crispy and punchy bass that typically used in Progressive-Psy or Uptempo Psychedelic, then I would say a yes to extra EQing:

Now I would like to share some tips on how to use different bass notes with each individual EQ.

First of all, having several MIDI channels with different bassline notes is certainly an overkill. For every tiny change in the bass sound you would need to change it manually on the other channels as well. It’s also not convenient working with MIDI that way and not efficient for the computer resources.

Picture 1. Having multiple MIDI channels for each bass is a bad idea, don’t do like that

And what if your bassline MIDI pattern is going crazy with changes every 1/16th notes? In case of having a unique track for each bass note, it’s simply impossible:

Picture. A pattern like this is impossible if you have several MIDI channels for the bass

A good solution that I’ve been personally used for years is using resampling. Just put an EQ on the bass channel, resample that one note as a piece of audio. Then put an EQ with different settings for another note, resample it. And repeat for any other notes. I know it sounds like a huge amount of work when you read it, but in fact, it takes just a few minutes tops if you know your DAW well.

Eventually, you should audio samples for each note. Like this:

Picture. Resampled notes, each with EQ tailored for its frequency

Now create a new MIDI channel and add these samples into a new Drum rack:

Picture 4. Bass samples loaded in the Drum rack

And now create a new MIDI clip and draw any pattern using these samples, as easy as it gets:

Picture 5. MIDI pattern played by different samples, all within one clip

You can hear this technique in action in any of my productions which has that kind of “jumping” bass pattern, for example like in Structured Chaos:

I hope it makes sense.

2017   Advice   Kick and bass   Music production

Phase cancellation explained

Earlier in the blog you mentioned “phase cancellation” as one of the reasons why bassline may sound flabby and not punch enough. Could you explain that please? 


Let’s take a simple audio sample. I’m going to use a kick drum from some sample library. Just a regular kick, nothing fancy:

Now I’m going to duplicate the channel, add Utility tool to reverse the poles of the phase, and flatten this channel into a new piece of audio. Here is what’ve got:

Two audio samples with inverted phase

Take a closer look at the waveforms: their peaks go in the opposite way. And now listen what happens when I’ll playback both of these samples at the same time:

No, your speakers are fine. The result of these two samples playing together is silence — no sound, literally. This is what called a phase cancellation.

Typically, in the real production your sounds’ phases won’t be exactly the opposite causing silence like in the example above, but even a subtle miss-phase will cancel some frequencies out. You should keep it in mind especially when dealing with low-frequency signal such as bassline.

Watch also this excerpt from Lynda course. It demonstrates phase cancellation of an acoustic signal but the principle applies pretty much in every production:

2017   Advice   Music production

Making a robotic texture sound in Spire

Could you explain how you got to producing that arp on Machinery (Preview) at 0:02 sec?

Mohammed Sharook

I’m glad you asked because I love that sound and quite satisfied with it :-)

In few words — it’s all about a comb filter. That particular filter type is what make the sound so badass and “robotic”. But let’s try to recreate this sound entirely from scratch.

Comb filter

First things first, we need to use a synthesiser that has a comb filter. For instance, Sylenth1 which I know many Psytrance producers use a lot, won’t work in this case since it doesn’t have that filter. So, for this example I’m gonna use Spire.

Recommended synths

Let’s create a new MIDI channel, put a new instance of Spire with initial preset, and draw a MIDI note. Keep in mind that actual note on a piano roll doesn’t matter because we gonna use noise as a waveform which obviously doesn’t have a tone.

Picture1. A new instance of Spire synthesiser with init preset

Now let’s do some tweaks. In the oscillator section, change Classic mode which is set by default to Noise. Right next to it, turn off oscillator key tracking and turn the Wide knob all way to the right.

By default, Envelope-3 in Spire is mapped to a filter cutoff. We don’t need it here, so set it to “Off”. Here is what we’ve got so far:

Picture 2. A simple noise with no envelopes

Nothing fancy so far, just a basic noise sound. Now, turn on the arpeggiator at 1/16 notes to add some rhythm. Map Envelope-1 section to the filter resonance and crank up its amount to a maximum position, and also slightly adjust the Release parameter for 15~20% of its total volume.

Now comes the most interesting part: in the filter section which is off by default, choose the combo (Mono+) filter type. You should notice a pretty dramatic change as soon as you done it. What’s interesting about this filter is that its cutoff frequency determines the actual tone of the sound. For example, at cutoff about 235~240 (Spire’s value, not Herz), we get the sound at G# — that’s the root key of Machinery since you asked about that track:

Picture 3. Arpeggiator, comb filter, and filter envelopes

That’s pretty much the basics. Now you can add EQs, compression, delays, reverb, more filters, play around with arp gate parameter, and more. With this in mind, you should be able to make something like this:

Or add any twist to this sound, as you like. I hope it helps.

2017   Advice   Music production   Sound design

Using reverb and delay: send-return vs. insert

I have a question about reverb and delays. In Psytrance, a lot of the atmosphere of a track is created with reverb and delays. Can you give some advice on using these effects and answer some specific questions?

Which devices do you use with what settings, do you use them on a send or on each channel, do you ever use reverb on kick or bass, do you ever use reverb on the master, any other tricks or general advice?

Hamish Strachan

I like to think of an effect, whether it’s a reverb or a delay, by its purpose. I ask myself: “What I am trying to achieve with this particular device?”. And with this in mind, I came up with two sorts of categories: general and creative effects.

The general effect is an effect basically used for mixing, you know, to put instruments into the proper space. Typically, I used built-in Ableton devices for this kind of reverb and delays because there is nothing really fancy about it, you can use pretty much any device or plugin for this purpose.

For general effects, I want all instruments to share the same settings. For example, if a bongo’s delay repeated every 3/16th notes, then a crash cymbal must be repeated on 3/16th as well. This is why I prefer to use this kind of effects via Send-Return channels: it gives more consistent mixdown, it’s easier to tweak some settings if needed, and it also saves CPU usage quite a bit.

I can’t recommend you specific settings simply because there is no one ultimate preset that works every time. I’d like to give one little tip, though, because I see many upcoming producers do this mistake: when adding a device on a Return channel, be sure to turn the Dry/Wet knob all way up to the 100% Wet, and then adjust the needed amount of effect via Sends knobs, not vice versa.

My typical Return channels are: a simple delay, short reverb, and medium reverb (coloured in green)

The creative effect is where all crazy things come in: special effects like a huge reverb tail with a sidechain compression on it panned across the stereo field. That kind of things. Check my advice on creating atmospheric effects because this is exactly the type of processing I’m talking about.

Since this kind of effect is unique for every instrument or an SFX I do, I add those reverb and delay right on top of the channel and then Freeze it. I like to use Native Instrument’s Replika for that because it has some creative features that Ableton built-in devices don’t. See also my recommended processing plugins list.

As for the other two questions. No, I typically don’t use a reverb on kick-and-bass because it would put them further in the background while should be the opposite, at least in Psytrance music. And putting a reverb on the master channel would put pretty much everything on the background, so no, I don’t think you want this either :-) Probably someday I’ll write about mixing basics to give a better understand of that concept.

The only case when I do use reverb or delay on the kick-and-bass group, occasionally, is for creative purpose as a special effect. For example, like here in “Pangea Proxima”:

Fellow producers, how do you treat reverb and delay?

2017   Advice   Music production

Time traveller’s archive — 14

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend

Aleksey aka Sonic Elysium on sound design
  1. Ultimate Kick and Bass Tutorial by Sonic Elysium. Kick and bass are probably two of the most frequently asked topics, people asking how to synthesise it, how to EQ, how to fit them together. And I’ve written pretty much all about it, see “Kick and bass” tag. However, if you prefer to watch rather than read, I highly recommend watching this tutorial by Sonic Elysium, he nailed it.
  2. TechMuze Academy podcast with Budi Voogt. Interesting talk about marketing, promo campaigns, and automations. “Do you see a benefit in paid ad campaigns for producers? I’m actually inclined to say no to Facebook and Instagram [...] Revenue streams in music are very indirect. ”
  3. Is DJing just about beat matching? Great blog, as always from John 00 Fleming. I’ve also written about it before, see Vinyl vs. Sync button.
  4. A Beginner’s Guide To Audio Cables. If you don’t know what is balanced or unbalanced cable or what the difference between RCA and XLR — this article on DJ TechTools is right for you.

“Can you review my bassline?”

First of all, thank you for your awesome and very helpful blog, and also for your music – love your latest album!

I’ve just read your most recent post about making kick and bass work well together. I’m producing some psytrance for a couple of years, but still my kbbb is very far from perfect. Can I ask you to briefly review my latest attempt? (it’s a short 1 minute snippet, some synths and percussion added for context). Just like the guy from your post, I feel the kick and bass refuse to work well together for some reason. Also I would greatly appreciate if you say something about the bassline itself (the frequency balance, the groove and stuff).

I’ve also read your posts about how you were involved into Russian psytrance scene. I’m from Russia and remember Psyplanet ;)


Thanks for your words, Arseny!

This bassline is fine. However, If you want to match your bassline to the current Psytrance sub-standards, you need to clear the mud and tweak up the filters. Clarity (or should I say, the lack of it) is the main issue here.

I suggest using a reference, it really helps a lot. It’s especially true if you working on headphones which I personally not recommend to do. Here are few tracks by other producers, also in Cm key. Compare these basslines with yours:

Train your ears

Do you hear these crispy, sharp, punchy basses? That is what you should aim for.

Earlier I’ve written about pretty much everything that could be said about the basslines, so rather than repeat myself I’ll put for you these four useful links here:

  1. Psytrance bassline synthesis
    Filter envelopes, resampling, MIDI-notes
  2. Psytrance bassline equalisation
    Boosting harmonics, clearing the mud
  3. How to make a punchy bassline
    Phase, layering, processing
  4. How to fit kick and bass together
    Read about the volume balance in particular

By following these tips you should be able to make a nice punchy bassline. But if none of this helps, let me know what exactly do you struggling with the most in the comments below and we’ll try to fix it together.

2017   Advice   Feedback on your tracks   Music production
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