63 posts tagged

Music production

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

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.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

May 24   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? 

Ivan

Let’s take some 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:

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

May 10   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.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

May 3   Advice   Music production   Sound design

Reverb and delay

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?

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

Apr 12   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 ;)

Arseny

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.

Mar 29   Advice   Music production

How to fit kick and bass together

Hi Daniel! This question is the biggest problem for me when producing psytrance music, how do I make my kick and bass fit together? I have a decent bassline but it really seems to go along the kick, I have used an entire kick sample pack and no one make sense together with the bass, is it the EQ, comp? The initial attack freq? This frustrates me a lot, hope u can help me :D

Alberto

First things first, make sure to use a proper kick sound in the first place whether it’s taken from a sample pack or you making your own sound from scratch. Psytrance sub-genres has very strict sub-standards on that matter, you can’t make a Progressive-Psy using a Goa Trance kick, neither make a Darkpsy using Full-on kick: they all have different transient, pitch, body, length, and overall character.

3 ways to make a kick drum

Compare these kicks, for example:

Another crucial thing is the mixdown, or simply the volume balance of kick and bass relative to each other. Although bassline plays a very important role in any Psytrance track, kick drum is actually the loudest element. To be more specific, I would suggest setting your kick drum level at 2-3 dB higher than the bassline.

At last but not least, the EQ. Usually I gently cut the kick at the frequencies of the key bassline harmonics. Let’s say, we have a bassline in A, which means its harmonics would be at 55 Hz, 110 Hz, and 220 Hz (in 440-tunning). In this case, I would slightly cut these frequencies from the kick to give bassline a little bit more space in the mix, just –1-2 dB with a narrow bell-filter.

Psytrance bassline equalization

Sometimes I also use Ableton’s built-in Glue Compressor on the kick and bass group to slightly “glue” them together, but compressor is a tricky device that can easily ruin your sound, so I wouldn’t recommend doing that unless you know what exactly want to achieve with it.

That’s pretty much it. You can hear the outcome in my productions.

Fellow producers, how do you fit kick and bass together? Post your routine in the comments box below.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

Mar 22   Advice   Kick and bass   Music production

Feedback for “Vibrations” by MKZ

Hello Daniel, my name is Adrian and I’m from Argentina. I started producing Psychedelic music about 3 years ago. I would like you listen to my track and get some advice and your opinion about my track based on you knowledge. Sorry for my English :) thanks for your time and hope you like it :)

Adrian

Adrian, I have to say this is a fantastic track I enjoyed a lot, reminds me of the good old days of Full-on Psytrance and also gives slightly reminiscent of Electric Universe. Well done! I have just a few comments.

First and foremost, the track progressed in a very strange way, sometimes by eight bars and sometimes by twenty. I can’t stress enough that most electronic music should progress by 16-bars sections, otherwise you not only make it weird but also make DJs job much harder. I’ve written about it earlier in the “Criteria of professional production” mini-series, make sure to check it out.

Criteria of professional production. Part 3. DJ-friendly arrangement

Extra four measurements at 49—53 Bars (highlighted in red) messes up the structure of the track

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I have a feeling that the kick and the bass are not quite in sync. You know, It’s like when you mix two tracks on CDJs and the beat is mismatched just a little so you hear those phassy high-end clicks? It’s like the bassline is somehow rushing (or dragging? :-).

Are you rushing or are you dragging? scene from “Whiplash” (2014)

Perhaps, you have some processing plugins causing latency of the channel? If that’s the case, I would suggest either using phase alignment plugin like Voxengo PHA-979 or manually adjust the individual track delay.

I also think that the mix can be improved. At the moment it seems like you’re trying to push everything at the front, as the result making all elements compete with each other rather than support and create several layers of depth. You can hear it especially at 2:18—2:45 minute.

Other than that, with some more effort it can be a really nice track. Keep ‘em coming!

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2017   Advice   Feedback on your tracks   Music production

Feedback for “H N Y” by Myrtillus

First of all thank you very much for your awesome site, I have to confess this is somewhat gold, thank you very much for you availability and expertise sharing in the scene with such an open mind. 

I have been persuing passionately the psytrance production for some time, and it is clear you are very passionate about your work as an artist.

Recently I have managed to finally achieve a track with which I am comfortable to share and ask for feedback and I think you are the best person to whom I can ask for that advice. Please, tell me your point of view.

Myrtillus

Myrtillus, this track has some nice melodies but overall it doesn’t hold up as a whole. The structure is very weird too: it seems like throughout the track you turning on and off different layers with no particular reason.

Let’s take a listen and look closely what happens at the first two minutes:

Bars Time What happens
33—41 0:56—1:10 Kick, bass, and textures
41—49 1:10—1:24 Snare drums added
49—50 1:24—1:26 Short break
50—57 1:26—1:38 Snare drums removed, hi-hats added
57—65 1:38—1:52 Drum loop added
65—66 1:52—1:54 Short break
66—68 1:54—1:58 Just a kick, bass, and textures again
68—73 1:58—2:06 Hi-hats added
57—65 2:06—2:20 Drum loop added
Different elements turning on and off

What’s wrong with this? Well, it’s bad for two reasons.

From the listener’s perspective, this track sounds like you just playing around with various loops turning them on and off randomly. There is no development, no storyline, it just goes nowhere.

From the technical point of view, all electronic dance music progresses by 16-bars sections. You can’t just add a new instrument layer at a 7th Bar or make a 23-Bars-long breakdown, it breaks the entire structure of the track. I’ve written the advice on how to make a proper arrangement, make sure to read it.

Criteria of professional production. Part 3: DJ-friendly arrangement

Also, maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like the track tempo isn’t a whole number. To make the track goes along with the metronome, I had to warp it at 136.50 BPM. Is that the case? If so, that’s a total nightmare for DJs, please don’t do that :-) Just remember: always use whole numbers in tempo, 135, 136, 137 BPM... whatever, but with no decimals.

There are more issues in the track, but at first I’d suggest learning more about arrangement, structure, the “flow” of the track. And the best way to it is to listen to more music around, put some reference track and try to recreate its structure, the same way like painting artists learn by copying other artists’ masterpieces.

P.S. This post is a part of the weekly “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as production, performance, management, marketing, and design in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

2017   Advice   Feedback on your tracks   Music production

Time traveller’s archive — 12

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend.

John 00 Fleming doing his first Facebook livestream
  1. John 00 Fleming Q&A talk. John gave a nice almost 1,5 hours-long Q&A session prior to his set at Avalon and people asked a lot about the Trance scene which was quite interesting to listen. I like his advice for bedroom producers: “Best advice is keep it as a hobby and stay in love of it because a lot of people think they gonna hit ‘X-factor’, like a quick romantic story. It’s like you get a track, three months later you gonna be touring around the world, and that’s how the magic happens. But it is much more than that. It only happens for certain people. You’ll get angry, you’ll get stressed if you think that. Sort your day-to-day life first, get your day-time job which pays your bills, and slowly invest some extra money in music. At some point you’ll notice that your hobby will become more serious. But it takes a long time”.
  2. Making of “The Prodigy – Voodoo People” in Ableton by Jim Pavloff. This is quite an old video but I just stumbled across it recently. Great job on sampling. I didn’t know Liam Howlett sampled so many songs back then. Watching this video makes realize how I love Ableton, working with audio channels and processing are so convenient in this DAW. Watch also the other two tracks recreated by Jim Pavloff, you can find it on this YouTube channel.
  3. The Berghain Backstory: Building Berlin’s Most Legendary Nightclub. Some nice behind the scenes of one of the most important nightclubs in the world of underground Techno music.
  4. Rewriting bad writing. Nice advice, as always from the Basecamp team. This time on writing: “While writing isn’t an easy skill, people make it way harder than it needs to be. They think choosing complex language shows skill and smarts. It doesn’t! Writing plainly and clearly does.”
2017   Music industry   Music production   Sound design   Time traveller's archive
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