Thursday, April 30, 2009

Snare Drum

So now we need a snare or a clap on the second beat of your track.
Try layering multiple snares or claps to get a phater sound. Once you think you have a awesome snare sound, bounce it down and save that snare.
Ok, before you bounce it down, you mite want to tidy it up a bit. First you don't need any lows so cut below 80-100hz on all of your snares. Snare drums get that body around 200hz so you may want to boost there, but only if it needs it. You also get warmth around 2000hz and clarity around 6000-8000hz.
Be careful where you boost your snares because you may find that other instruments will cover the same frequency spectrum, which will mean that the two sounds will be fighting against each other to come through, which will lead to mudiness and loss of clarity.
Also watch your levels. You don't want any clipping (red lining).

Once you think you have eqed it to a reasonable standard, group all snares to your snare group.
Like the kick drum, add a compressor to stick all your snares together. Just use your ears again and capture the initial hit without compression and compress the body of the sound.
Once you are happy with it, you can add other fx on top to make it even beefier. You could try a vintage warmer or even adding a little bit of distortion (I mean little!!!). Distorions just add extra harmonics to the sound.
Anyways just try things out. It's good to be creative. Just be aware that it is in mono.
Just before you save it, chuck a spectrum analyser on it and see where it peaks. If it's peaking around the 200hz mark, your pretty much there. Another good habit is using the spectrum analyser to see where things are most prominent. Do it to your entire tracks and compare them to pro tracks and see where their frequencies are prominent and where it dips.
Now you should have a pretty good snare. If you are happy with it, bounce it down and save it under a new snare.

The eqing tips will differ on the style of music it is, so keep that in mind. If you are going to have a kick drum under your snare, then you will not want it fighting with each other, so boosting 200hz may not be a good idea. Once again, I can't stress to you the importance of comparing your sounds to proffessional tracks. Listen and try and figure out why they sound so good and what areas your sound is lacking.

Hope that helps. Any Q's, just leave a comment and I will do my best to answer them.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Kick Compression

Once we finish the eqing of the kick drum, it is time to compress the kick. Now there is no set rule or set settings when it comes to compression so you will have to use your ears to get it right.
So once you send your kick or kicks to the kick group channel you want to put a compressor on the kick group channel.

The reason you want to compress your kicks may differ but one reason is, if you are layering samples together, you want the two sounds to mold together to sound like one sample.

Now listen carefully to your kicks and see what you need to do to get it sounding the way you want. Sometimes you may not need to compress the kicks as they already sound full and punchy. By compressing your kicks, it will reduce the dynamic range (quietest point to the loudest point) so keep that in mind.

Also another wee tip is to always put your compressor after the eq. You want to compress the eqed sound not the other way round.

OK, open up your compressor. There is five important features to a compressor.
  1. Attack
  2. Release
  3. Ratio
  4. Threshold
  5. Knee
The attack is how fast the compressor kicks in after the level has passed the threshold.
The release is how fast the compressor dies off after the level drops below the threshold.
The ratio is how much compression is being applied. So if it has a ratio of 2:1, it means that for every 2db that passes the threshold, the output will be 1db. So this means that the sound is being squashed. This also means that there will be some gain reduction so it will sound more quiet.
The threshold is the point where it all starts. So when the level passes this point the compressor will start working. It's like the on and off point.
Now the knee is a bit hard to explain but it just means how sharp the attack is. So it could be like a square wave where it turns on and off, or the attack can be smoother by the attack taking longer to apply.

Hope you understand my rant.......

I like to start by setting the ratio first. I don't go too heavy with this so I start around 2:1. Then reduce your threshold until the compressor just starts to work. You should now see some gain reduction going on. Now play around with the attack. You don't want this to be too long but you want it to let the punch of your kick through without compression but you want everything after that to be compressed. Now play around with the release. You want your compression to be off by the time your next kick drum hits.
OK, once this is done play around with the ratio and threshold again and see if you need a higher or lower setting. Just use your ears. You may not hear much when you first start doing this but the more you do it, the more you'll hear, so keep at it. Just be careful you don't compress too much or your kicks will sound dead and flat.

So now you should have a phat sounding kick.........hopefully.......
Lets say you do. Now send the output of your kick group channel to your drum group.

Just remember, you can't polish a turd. If your kick is not sounding right, then it may be that the sample itself is not right. So go pick another kick that sounds better. Trust me, it's alot easier doing this now than half way through your song.

Next is the snare drum!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kick drum EQ

Now we got the boring bits out of the way. Lets start with the fundamentals of dance music. Now this differs with every genre but the kick drum sets the groove of the track. If you write four four tracks, especially house music or electro, the kick drum needs to be dominating the mix. If you are writing break beat, then the snare drum will dominate the mix.
Listen to your favourite tracks and listen to what instruments (just concentrate on the drums for now) are more prominent and how they sound. Listen to the kick and see what frequencies it is filling. Also compare how loud the drums are compared to other instruments (basslines for example).

It is alot easier to know how to get to a place when you know where you have to be.

So the same applies in this situation. Knowing what you want your tracks to sound like will help you get it sounding they way you want. If you don't think about it then your mix may sound uneven and it will take you longer to get it sounding right.
Trust me. It may be subliminal but your brain will work the track to sound like they way you want.

OK. So lets start with the kick drum. Get a frequency analiser out see where your kick drum peaks. You want your kick to peak around 60-110hz (for kick drum heavy tracks).
Put an eq on your kick and cut below 40hz as you do not want the sub of the kick interfering with the sub of your bass. If it needs it, boost around 60-110hz. If you are writing drum and bass, then you should cut below 100 or 80hz as the track is alot faster and sub of the kick will not be important nor will the sub keep up with the speed of the track. It is common for kicks to be muddy around 500hz so you may want to cut around there with a medium q by about 3db.
If your kick lacks top then you could boost between 6000-8000hz but be carefull with boosting. It is better to cut than boost so boost with a grain of salt (about 3db). Not too much!!!!!

OK. You may wish to lyer some kicks together to make a new an better kick!! Be careful with layering kicks though. The bottom end can cause some phasing issues so pick your kicks carefully. Pick a low end kick and a topy kick.
Once you found two kicks that work together, send the outputs of both channels to a group channel and call it kick group.

After your eqing is done, compression is next in line and it will be covered next time.

Eqing is an ongoing battle so stick at it and always compare with your favourite dance music tracks.

Basic Gear

So we talked about how being organised can optimise your work flow when writing dance music. So today we will discuss basic gear that will help you even more to produce dance music.
Producing dance music can be very demanding on your computer. So how should your setup look like??

First your computer should be of standard. You need at least 1gb of ram but 2gb of ram or more is recomended. Also you need room to store your music and samples, so at least 160gb of memory would be nice but once again, more the better. You also want to get the best motherboard and cpu that you can afford.

Now you may wish to purchase two monitor screens. This helps by having a bigger workspace. Some people like to have their arangement on one screen and have the mixer on the other screen but see what works best for you. You may also need to purchase a graphics card that has two outputs. Although nowdays computers normally come with two outputs.

The next most important thing to have is a decent pair of speakers. There is no need to purchase the most expensive set of speakers but go get one that is suited for your price range. Go into your local music equipment store and ask to have a listen to some monitors. Take a cd you know very well and play them on different sets of monitors and listen to how they sound.

Another important equipment is a midi keyboard. This will definately help you get your ideas transfered from your head to your computer. Using a mouse to write muic can be a bit of a bummer for your inspiration but you also get different ideas doing it that way, so experiment with both.

Well thats that for that session. Hope that was useful. Feel free to leave comments.

Getting Started (Be Organised)

Hey, I just wanted to share with you guys some tips on making computer music. I know how daunting it is when you first start making tunes. No matter what genre you make House, Electro, Breaks, Drum and Bass, Trance or what ever, these tip will help you progress faster. Feel free to check out my tunes.

Ok, it really depends on what software you use to write your songs/tracks but it is really important to get into a good habit by organising your workspace. The programmes I would recommend are:
  1. Cubase
  2. Logic
  3. Protools
  4. and if you have to Fruityloops

All of the above are very good but if you are a PC user, I would highly recommend using Cubase SX3 or higher.

So what do I mean by being "organised"???

We will start firstly by keeping your studio tidy. This may seem like a simple thing but keeping your studio tidy will promote focused train of thought when writing dance music. Once you have tidied your room like a good boy you want to setup a template for your tracks.

So what does this mean?

It just simply means that you can setup your workspace and save it as a template so you can use it everytime you start a track. This will save you time in the long run. It depends on what you are writing but here is a simple layout that will help you write majority of dance music styles.

You want mono audio tracks for your kick and snare. It is also a good thing to layer your kicks and snare so you may want two of each labeled kick 1 and kick 2. We will get deeper into layering in future blogs.

Next, you want stereo audio tracks for all your cymbals, open hats, closed hats, crash and any loops you may wish to add. You may wish to add breaks so add tracks appropiately. Now if you want to use a sampler, label each sampling channel the same way.

Next are basslines. So open up a couple of midi tracks and label them Bass1, Bass2 ect. You can always open up more channels once you start, so just open the average amount of channels you usually use. Just repeat these steps for whatever instruments you would usually use, lead synth, fx ect.

Once you have done this, you want to make folder tracks. You can put channels into these folders so create a drum folder, bass folder, fx folder and a lead folder. Once these are created, insert all your drum channels into the drum folder and repeat for the rest of your tracks. Now you can open and close these folders when you want which means that your workspace looks alot tidier and will be alot easier to navagate in the future.

Once this is all done, you want to create group tracks. Create a kick group, snare group, drum group, bass group, lead group, fx group and main group.

Now for the appropiate tracks, make the output of those channels to the appropiate groups.

Once all of this is done, then save your work as a template. Now you can open this template everytime and this will automatically save you about half an hour everytime and you can jump straight into writing your tracks.

Hope this has helped you. Keep coming back here as I will be posting new tips and strategies regulary. I will be covering essential topics such as compression on drums, basslines, importance of gating, grouping, mixdowns, mastering and many many more!!

Most importanly, never give up!!!