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64 posts tagged

Music production

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

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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.

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

Feedback for “Renaissance” by Euphoria

Hello Daniel, my name is George and I deal with music production the last 2,5-3 years. The DAW that I use is Ableton. It would be my pleasure if you hear a track that I have in process and tell me how it sounds based on my knowledge and your experience of course. I really hope to enjoy it.

George 

Track overview in Ableton

George, this is a very weak work. I like how the bass and the high hats sound like, and that’s probably it.

The biggest flaws in your track are detuned samples. While the bassline is in Dm, some of the samples I hear are in G and other tones, producing those musically unpleasant moments.

I suggest tuning all your samples to Dm to match the bassline: plucks, synths, background effects. I’ve written about tuning earlier, be sure to check out that advice.

How to tune samples harmonically

Maybe I am wrong, but it looks like you just put a bunch of samples and synth presets together without particular meaning. For example, that acid riff at 2:18 and 4:09 — is it supposed to be the main theme? If so, why did you put it in the middle, where is anticipation?

Or that arp melody at 0:01—0:20, why it doesn’t appear anywhere on the track after the intro? What was the point of putting it there? You see, that kind of randomness I’m talking about.

And speaking about that arp in the intro, it seems that all of you, Zyce, and Flegma have used the same sample from the same sample pack, which is not cool. There is nothing wrong is using samples, but at least use it wisely — tweak and change it, otherwise you end up like a clone.

Attack of the clones

I suggest thinking what you’re trying to achieve first, what story do want to tell your listeners. And only then make the track accordingly. Take a read to my album behind the scenes to get an idea what I mean by that.

2017   Advice   Feedback on your tracks   Music production

Controlling parameters in Ableton using modulation

How to make a non-destructive editing of automated parameters so I could change it one place and apply to the entire clip’s length?

Ilya Birman

Let’s say, we have some bassline with a cut-off automation recorded using a MIDI-controller:

The automation curves recorded for the bassline’s filter cut-off parameter (highlighted area)

It’s only an eight bars long loop and we want to stretch it out for the entire track’s duration. Then problem is when you stretch out the clip, the automation didn’t follow along the way:

The automation curves are not stretched out along with the clip (highlighted area)

The obvious ways of make the automation keep going are:

  • Flatten automation into a solid piece of audio
  • Copy-paste automation manually throughout the entire duration

As you can guess, both of these methods aren’t perfect: flattening is a destructive type of editing meaning you cannot go back to fix it if anything is needed, and copying-and-pasting manually is just not very productive. Besides, if you want to change anything in this automation, you would need to copy-paste all the changes again and that’s not what we want.

But here is a better way to solve this — using modulation.

Modulation is pretty much the same as automation, but with two key differences: it controls parameters within the clips (not on the global timeline) and relative to the defined parameter value.

Modulation vs. Automation. Ableton Live knowledge base

Do the right-click on the parameter you want to control and select “Show Modulation”:

Filter’s cut-off in Spire synthesizer is the parameter we what to modulate

You’ll see a MIDI editor with the Envelopes tab opened. Copy and paste there all the curves from timeline automation to this area. Like this:

Now delete the automation since we don’t need it anymore. Do the right click and select “Delete Automation”:

Deleting the automation which is no longer needed

Now all you have to do is to drag the parameter (the little black triangle) up to its maximum value. Remember that modulation controls parameters relative to their volume:

Dragging the parameter up to its maximum value

And that’s it. Now you can stretch out your MIDI-clip as long as you want, and the modulation will follow. I’ve recorded a quick screen video just to show it in action:

2017   Ableton   Advice   Music production

Time traveller’s archive — 10

Some stuff to read (and watch) on the weekend

Millennium Falcon. I love this ship since I was a kid.
  1. Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive malfunction SFX. Nice and funny insights from sound designer Ben Burtt. It’s also a great example of the layering technique.
  2. The Truth About Popular Music. “The diversity of transitions between notes, chords, melodies, and other sounds has diminished over the last fifty years. [...] The study also found that producers are baking volume into songs at the production stage making them artificially louder. This over-compression has the effect of sucking all the dynamics out of a song. Everything is beginning to sound the same. [...] Now any stupid fucking bimbo or brain-dead twag can be dragged-off a reality show, chopped into a recording studio and have their shrill wobbling auto-tune for mass consumption.”
  3. The Biggest Home Studio Lie We Tell Ourselves. Good points from Graham Cochrane on being lazy: whether you’re composing, doing arrangement or mixing, never say “I’ll make it better later”. It’s like taking a bad picture on a smartphone hoping that Photoshop will fix it. You got to get it right in the first place.
  4. If you want to follow your dreams, you have to say no to all the alternatives. This is something I have problems with: I want to achieve so many goals, so sometimes I feel like I’m going nowhere. This article shows why you should focus on only one big dream in a funny visual way.

Feedback for “Rocketship” by Vernski

Can you give some feedback on my new work-in-progress track? What to improve?

Vern Junior Jones

Vern, I certainly hear a lot of improvements since your last track: there are more clarity now, better soundscapes, and arrangement. Well done!

But as you can guess, there are some issues as well. Let’s go through each of them.

Bassline

The first thing is about the bassline: I feel it has a lack of pressure, it’s too “weak”. I can’t know for sure what caused it since I haven’t seen your project file, but there are few possible reasons: volume balance, equalization, or phasing issues.

Psytrance bassline equalization

Phase cancellation explained

I want to remark that this is not a problem generally speaking, but it is a problem for this particular genre’s sub-standards. Take a listen to few other tracks’ basses, which are in the same Am key:

If you don’t hear any difference, I bet you’re listening on headphones — it’s a common problem because headphones can’t give an accurate low-frequency response. I suggest checking the bassline on monitors.

Percussions

Take a listen to the offbeat hats that starts at the Bar 41:

It seems that velocity of each hat is set pretty randomly, causing a weird stress pattern. The offbeat hats are one of the key rhythmic element along with the kick and snares, so I would suggest keeping them in a more predictable way.

Rhythm structure basics

Now take a listen to the closed hats starting at the Bar 65:

These driving closed hats, on a contrast, could have a slightly stronger variation, it sounds almost straight at the moment. Besides, the samples of the both hats are very similar to each other making almost no distinguish — the offbeat hats are getting lost here.

Nikola and Dalibor are the masters of groove:

Snares

Now let’s go back to the Bar 49 where snare drums starts:

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that these snares have too much “body”, some unnecessary harmonics in the low-mid range. Try to sculpt your own snare by layering few different samples or just cut the low-end with an EQ.

Making a layered snare

Build-ups

My main concern is the lack of energy and overall progression. Even when the track does progress, it’s hard to notice because there are no time indicators for this: some build-ups or at least a crash cymbal on a strong beat every sixteen bars.

I’d suggest adding some noise sweeps, cymbals, snare fills, and other elements that would tell listeners “okay, something new is happening here”. This would make track more interesting and will help to keep listeners’ attention throughout the track. Here is what I’ve quickly made just to give an example:

Making build-ups and drum fills

Progressive music is all about building a tension and then release it, a balance between the “dry” and “wet”. It’s good to learn how producers in other genres do this, especially in Techno.

Listen to these two tracks, they’d be completely boring but Spektre and Alex Di Stefano are the masters of the tension-and-release game:

Keep them coming.

2017   Advice   Feedback on your tracks   Music production

Kick, bass, and missing drive

Hey Daniel, I’d like to share my ongoing project though a lot of work needs to be done, the track is in F# and somehow I don’t like how the kick and bass sound together. Also if you could give me insights about the overall arrangement so far and the mix, I think something is missing for that drive in the track. Feedback would be appreciated. Cheers!

Zahaan 

Zahaan, this is a really nice track with some decent sounds and atmosphere. Well done!. But you’re right, there are few that can be improved.

First of all, kick and bass. These two elements should sound as one, but in your track, I feel that bass is a bit lost: it could be due to phase issues or simply because of the volume balance.

Try to adjust volume levels first, see if there is a room for making the bass slightly louder in the overall mix. Or try to slightly boost second and third harmonics instead to emphasize the root key.

How to make a punchy bassline

Psytrance bassline equalization

Now speaking about the missing drive, I’ve noticed the lack of crash cymbals and offbeat hi-hats. Try to add these and you’ll see the difference. Like this:

Rhythm structure basics

Extra crash cymbal, snares, and hi-hats on top of the track

Listen to a track of mine called “Arrival”, for example. It has a huge accent on the offbeat hats, and probably that’s why the track sounds so high-energy:

Arrival is a new single that is coming out on December 19th

I hope it helps.

2016   Advice   Feedback on your tracks   Music production

How to freeze Ableton channel with sidechain

Hello, Daniel. I make music in Ableton Live running on a pretty old PC. I always have to freeze channels in order to save up some CPU resources, but it doesn’t work if I have a sidechain compressor on a channel. Any advice on this?

Elijah 

I used to make music on a laptop so I feel your pain on computer resources. It may sound obvious, but first of all I suggest revising your plugins and keep using only those which you really need for that particular project. Less plugins — less resources usage.

Less is more

However, I like to use Freeze function regardless of CPU usage. To me it’s kind of a way of moving forward, otherwise I can stuck on tweaking and more editing all day long. But just like you said, Ableton can’t freeze a channel if it has any kind of sidechain routing on it:

Computer audio resources and strategies. Ableton Reference Manual

A typical error that pops-up when you trying to freeze channel with a sidechain

Luckily, there is a trick.

Let’s start off by putting some sound supposing that it is your arrangement that you would like to freeze. I’ve put some kind of synth pad sample for this purpose:

Audio channel with our sound source

Now let’s add a sidechain routing. I’m going to use a sidechain ‘pumping’ compression effect to make it sound obvious:

A typical sidechain compression with a kick as a modulation source

This stage is exactly where we usually see an error when trying to freeze channel. And here are a couple easy steps to bypass this:

  • Turn on a tiny I·O button on the right panel to show routing section.
  • At the signal source channel, seek for an audio out dropdown menu, it shows ‘Master’ by default. Click to choose a new Audio channel you’ve created instead.
  • At that Audio channel, look at the monitoring section with In, Auto, and Off buttons, with Off being turned on by default. Choose ‘In’ instead.
Routing our signal source to a new Audio channel

From now, sound output of the signal source channel goes through the Audio channel, named ‘Signal Out’ in this example. All I need to do now is to cut-and-paste compressor to this channel and freeze the original channel.

As the result, we’ve got a frozen channel whilst having a sidechain routing going on. Quod erat demonstrandum.

2016   Ableton   Advice   Music production

Making build-ups and drum fills

Hey Daniel, again I would like to ask you about an advice. I wanted to know if you have any good tips for kickdrum build ups / fill-ins, like for example in Electric Universe’s remix of “Insidious” at 2:11 and the big one starting at 4:20. 

Normally I make my build-ups with a sample cutting and coping or sometimes with the appreciated, but it’s very hard for me to get something like in that example. I’m trying to use triplets as well and it sounds actually not to bad, but not as powerful as I would like it to! Best regards.

Alex 

Alex, there is no tried-and-true way of making such build-ups, it’s a matter of your overall skills, creativity, and hours of a hard work.

Let’s try to make some short build-up here. I’ve pre-made some simple arrangement, it’s two 16-Bars long sections with a 1-Bar long break which we gonna fill. Here’s how it looks and sounds like:

Initial basic arrangement

Usually, I use a specific color for each group of instruments, but in this particular case I grayed-out everything but the drum fills which we’ll start making in a bit, so you could clearly see what’s going on in the project.

Organizing music project

And before we get started, don’t forget that electronic dance progresses in 16-Bars sections, and you have to make these break within the 16-Bars section, not outside of it.

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

I’m gonna start off with some simple tom sound just to define the rhythmic pattern. This pattern could be anything you’re up to, I’ve decided to make it like this:

Rhythm structure basics

Making rhythmic pattern with tom sample

Nothing fancy so far, but that’s okay, we’ve got the structure. Now I going to replace the first two tom hits with a kick drum, and also swap the sixth tom hit with another tom sample::

Adding two more sound sources

Now the first three tom hits sound too repetitive, let’s put on different octaves to get some variations. I’ll also replace the last tom for a big snare hit:

Same pattern played by different sounds

Notice that this is the exact same pattern as it was on step 1, just played by different sounds. Now let’s add some pre-build-up sounds to make the break more sense. I’m going to add a simple noise sweep sounds, a few kick drums right before the break, and also I’ll filter-up the main kick and bass. This is what I mean:

Adding some pre-build-up samples

Nice, but I feel that overall the break sounds very “dry”. Let’s add some tonal reversed atmospheric effects, I’ve written about it a couple of weeks ago. I’ll also add a couple of “zap” hits to give it extra texture. It sounds like this:

Making atmospheric effects

Making the break more “wet” and texture

We’re pretty much done, but I feel we can add few more tweaks: a snare fill prior to the break and some extra effects. Here’s overall view on what we’ve done:

Adding a finishing touch

Obviously, you can tweak it as long as you like almost infinitely, but I think it’s good enough to stop on this as I’m pretty satisfied with the outcome. Scroll up and back down to listen where we started and what we came up to.

So, that’s it, this is how I do such kind of build-ups. Remember that it’s not “the proper” way of doing this, it’s just one of million of possible ways which I personally use. Feel the groove and be creative to do yours.

2016   Advice   Music production

Making atmospheric effects

Hey Daniel, I’ve always wondered how does well-known psy-producers (such as yourself) create atmospheric SFX? This also includes complex zaps, squelches, just the overall SFX that you often hear in today’s psy-trance. How is it made? Do you make it from scratch? Or use samples? Thanks :)

Timothy Bourne

Timothy, I can’t speak how other producers do their atmospheric effects, I can only tell how I do this. It’s also hard to say how to make some sound without knowing exactly what kind of sound do you mean by ‘atmospheric effects’, so I’ll go over general idea.

In my opinion, two things are crucial for making effects: knowing how to use audio processing devices and creativity. If you know how to use reverb, delay, gate, compressor, phaser, vocoder etc, you can turn pretty much anything into an effect.

Here are a few examples how I do atmospheric effects in my production.

Reversed ‘woosh’ with gate

A simple detuned chord stab:

Adjusting ADSR envelopes and adding a long reverb:

Then I reverse it and add some gate:

Making a reversed and gated “woosh” effect

Rolling texture

Now something different, with more texture. I’ll start with some simple saw wave stab with a bandpass filter:

Then I turn on the arpeggio to add some rolling pattern, and also add some long delay to keep this roll going longer:

This already sounds good to me, but we can make it more interesting by adding a high-pass filter and a pinch of metallic flavor:

Making a rolling texture with reverb, delay, panning, filtering, and ‘metallic’ flavor

Pitch-shifted gate pad

For this example I’ll take some ordinary string:

We can achieve some interesting pitch-shifted effect simply by modulation Pitch-bend wheel on top of some extra reverb:

Let’s make this effect more driving by adding gate:

Making an atmospheric pitch-shifted gate effect

Background atmo lead

Now let’s try to change some ordinary lead into a smooth background atmospheric effect:

Tweak the synth a bit, add reverb, filter automation, and auto pan as a ‘sidechain’ effect, and we’ll get this:

Just to put into perspective:

Making a background atmospheric lead

This is it, that’s how I usually do effects. This is not a ‘how-to’ guide, but rather just one of the way of making it, approach.

Some of these examples are taken from my forthcoming album

Zaps and squelches you’ve mentioned have slightly different approach, it’s more about synthesis rather than processing and maybe I’ll go over it next time.

2016   Advice   Behind the scenes   Music production   Sound design
Earlier Ctrl + ↓