eMusic Room - Electronic Music Thoughts, Tips and Tricks

A blog about electronic music making (and music in general - inspiration, composition, recording etc.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Layering sounds - maximum impact, less effort

Sometimes, when your looking for inspiration, it's good to just play with sounds in your sound module and see what happens.

You could get your portable recorder out and go and get some real life sounds, sample them and play them back anyway you want.

But one way to get you excited and motivated about sound itself and just having a great time jamming with it, is to layer sounds together. This is easy enough to do with a sampler of some sort and the results can be staggering.

I've found that it's best just to experiment by adding layers of totally unrelated sounds together and seeing what you get. Play with the filter cutoff and resonance control to get an even bigger pallet of sounds than you started with.

You may be more calculating, of course. One thing I try, is to take the same sound, add another copy of it as a layer and detune it slightly against the original, you can repeat this again, detuning the third layer in the opposite direction - you should be able to get some seriously phat sounds this way.

Add some chorus for more phatness and a little reverb or delay and you'll be jamming 'til the cows come home (or something).

The Wednesday Link

Not a Monday link; a Wednesday link for a change:

Yes, Music Thing will have you interested if you like your pioneering inventive new directions in instrument building, something I would love to have a go at.

This guy really finds some good juicy bits of info on the latest experiments and other news.

Go there, you won't regret it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Compression & Dynamics Processing Extra

OK, in my post on compression and dynamics processing: (Click here for the article if you didn't get a chance to read it), I stated that you can of course- and probably should- put compression over the whole mix.

This has the benefit of evening out the dynamics but the equal benefit of being able to get more level to whatever recording medium you are using, before hitting the red distortion zone.

The red zone on your meter is somewhere that's best avoided; if you were recording to an analogue medium such as tape, you have got a bit of what is known as headroom- that space just above the start of the red zone where you may get away with it and, because of the way tape interprets the sound it receives, you may get a pleasant, slighly distorted sound, which you may or may not like.

If you record to a digital medium, then you have no headroom; as soon as you hit red, you're in trouble. There's no pleasant distortion to be found here.

As most people use digital nowadays, using something to get overall volume as loud as possible, without distortion, is essential.

To make absolutely sure that you don't go into the red, you could use the most extreme form of compression available- limiting. This is more often than not called limiting as a term in its own right and not compression. You use a limiter for this purpose, (funnily enough), but it is still an extreme form of compression.

Remember the ratio control? Well normally you might set this to 2:1 or 3:1 or whatever you require, at the end of the scale sits the limiting ratio, otherwise known as Infinity:1. Infinity is represented by the figure 8 laying on its side.

This is no-nonsense compression; sound doesn't mess with limiting, it is the 'brick wall' that will not be breached.

There are no hard-and-fast rules with limiting, it may be required, it may not, it's down to the situation and ultimately you to decide.

The techniques and technology involved in dynamics processing or compression have improved over the years and would explain why most modern music is so much louder at the same volume setting than older music.

As I have mentioned before, use compression on anything that requires it, don't over-use it, you'll kill the energy in the track, but use it well and your recordings will sound tighter and more professional.

The Monday Link (03/07/06) 'The Cracklebox'

Here is an item of interest that is electronic, musical and frankly, inspiring, the link:

It's a link to an article about The Cracklebox, the article will tell you more about this fascinating looking instrument, but suffice it to say, it's a very tempting purchase.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Free VST Instrument & Effects Site - Audio Mastermind

For those of you who just love your free VSTi's and FX, here's a very welcome website that you may or may not have heard of before:

Audio Mastermind

It's chock full of them! Complete with ratings and links to developers sites.

The only problem is finding the time to try them all out!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Music/Audio Software Site Of Note

I had to reappraise this website, which was an inspiration and a joy to read a few years ago and still is now.

The site is The Sonic Spot and, as I say, it's been online for a number of years, providing info on all manner of music and audio software, which is split into many different categories.

A lot of the software is freeware or shareware and it's amazing what little niceties you can pick up from there.

Visit it today: http://www.sonicspot.com/

Monday, June 26, 2006

Compression and Dynamics Processing

Compression and Dynamics Processing are essentially the same thing, so if you see either term used in an article, you'll know they are the same and not some devious way to confuse you.

The fundamentals of compression (this is what I'll be calling it for the purposes of this post), are a bit difficult to grasp when starting out.

Every single recording you hear uses compression in some way or other, in fact radio stations use it so much that people have subconsciously come to expect it, even if they don't know what it is.

The way that I remember how compression works, is by thinking of listening to a recording of a meeting or lecture of some sort, led by a speaker or lecturer for half an hour or more.

Imagine that the speaker keeps speaking very loudly and then, without warning, very quietly; it does happen. It would be nice if he could somehow speak at a more even volume throughout.

The loud bits are known as peaks and the quiet bits are known as troughs, think of a line graph, if you will. These variations in volume are known as dynamics, hence the dynamics processing term when you use equipment to, well, process them.

The object is to even things out so that the loud bits are a bit quieter and the quieter bits are a bit louder. If you were the person recording the lecture, you would probably use a mixer of some sort with faders. Imagine using the fader used to control the microphone level as the you record the lecturer, you would have to push the fader up a bit every time he/she spoke quietly and pull it straight back down again when they speak more loudly, to get a more even recording to tape or disc.

A compressor or dynamics processor effectively does this for you and because it's a machine it responds to the peaks and troughs more quickly than your human ear and reactions can.

A typical compressor unit has, at its most basic level, a threshold control, ratio control, release control and output level control.

The threshold control tells the compressor at what level to start compressing or, if you like, move the fader down. It won't do anything until that volume reached.

The ratio control tells the compressor how much to flatten the peak by when it occurs, a higher number means more flattening. This is how much you would bring the fader down from its current position.

The release control tells the compressor when to let go and stop flattening the peak, or push the fader back up when the volume is at a certain level.

And the output control is the overall level that the compressor sends the sound back out at.

If you apply compression to a whole recording, like the lecture, you will find that it is easier to listen to as the ears get more tired when trying to listen to something with many fluctuations in volume, especially over a long period of time. This is one reason for radio stations using compression, as many people listen for long stretches; at work for instance.

As a producer, you can use compression on anything that needs it within the mix, such as individual instruments, and you can use it on the whole mix.

There's a whole lot more you could say about compression, but just experiment with compression principles in mind and you shouldn't go far wrong.

The Monday Link (26/06/06)

Here's a link to band site. The band is called Spacenoah and their site has some good info and items of interest, all music related of course.

You can get to the site from the link below:

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lo-Fi Sound in Music

What is it about Lo-Fi sounds that makes them so interesting?

I agree with many that an entire lo-fi mix is not a good idea, (unless that's what you really want), but the use of one or two lo-fi elements in a whole piece of music can really add that extra something that might not have otherwise been there.

These days you can deliberately take a nice clean sound and reduce the bitrate sufficiently enough to add that slightly dirty, grungy edge to it. Before computers were any real good at manipulating sound, it was a case of running the sound through a guitar distortion effect or valve amp, indeed people still do this; the Chemical Brothers for instance.

There are other ways:

  • Record a sound into a tape or even digital dictaphone, the tape versions even compress the sound entering them by default, ironing out a few peaks for you if the sound is a vocal or other acoustic instrument.
  • Buy a cheap toy sampler, which sports an 8 bit sampling rate and run a sound through that.
  • Record the sound into your mobile phone - the bitrate is bound not to be set at the highest.
  • phone yourself up and leave the sound as a message on whatever answering service you have set up.
  • buy a cheap children's toy recorder - pop a few sounds into that, even if the recording time isn't very long.

There are probably loads of other ways to get that lo-fi sound, if I think of more, I'll let you know, if you've got any mentioned them in the comments section.

The reason lo-fi works is because the human ear loves the 'sonic artefacts' introduced into the sound, those little imperfections that are really rather random - your subconscious mind loves them and keeps it interested.

Things called harmonics are introduced into the sound and the human ear loves to hear these, they make a sound richer. If you want an example of how popular harmonics are, just listen to any recording with distorted guitar or organ on it. Distortion introduces loads of harmonics to the sound and, as the ears love to hear this on a conscious and subconscious level, would explain why there are so many songs with distorted guitar on them.

Just another thought: the old sixties records are still popular today, not just because of the tunes and whoever it is performing them, but because of the quality of the recordings, which bby today's standards would surely be considered lo-fi. Never-the-less people still love 'em.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Recommended Free VST Instruments

Here is a list of 5 free VSTi's that I use and think deserve more than a mention:

Muon Tau - for basslines this is a truly flexible, solid sounding plugin. Pop, Trance and anything electronic, this is a safe bet. It has a very useful Glissando function which allows you to slide between notes, great if used properly. You should be able to download it here: http://www.hitsquad.com/smm/programs/MuonTau/

mda Piano - for piano lovers everywhere, this is great. It's hard to believe that it's free! You can use pianos in all types of music, so you'd be a fool not to download it:

mda ePiano - the electric piano version of the aforementioned. I know that not everyone loves the electric piano sound, it sits right with certain types of music and not others, but for a totally free, faithful to the original sound you need this:

Aska Switch - I believe this is a Japanese synth. The Japanese know their stuff. It's simple to use and sounds great used for basslines, particularly for dance/ trance or anything else electro, there are no 'bells and whistles' with this what you see/hear is what you get and what you get is a lurvley solid bass machine, different to, but just as good as the Muon Tau. Download it from here:

Big Tick Cheeze Machine - this is for those lovely, smooth, string-like chord sounds and progressions. Ideal for all sorts of music and just the ticket for making laid-back, relaxing music and those mellow moments in trance etc. Here it is:

More recommended VSTs in another post.