Best Condenser Mic For Vocals – On a Budget

Best Condenser Mic For Vocals - On a Budget

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MICROPHONES EVERYBODY! You know what, I really think that this subject is a bit overrated. I mean, yeah, microphones are super big deal of course, but today there are so many good ones, that it almost doesn’t matter which microphone to use as long as it is the right type of microphone for the current task.

Hey everybody, Avi here. I’m a music producer and sound engineer for more than 15 years.
In this post, I’ll write everything I know about condenser microphones that is actually important, and I’m also going to give you my list of the Best Condenser Microphones For Vocals.

Disclaimer:

The microphones on this list are considered to be affordable and not on the hyper expensive scale. I believe that above a certain price threshold the money is way above the value. But I’ll have another post about the very expensive elite microphones.

A Little History

The first condenser microphone was built in the early 1920’s. This microphone was huge in size and it’s goal was to pick up and record an entire orchestra. Condenser microphones use a vibrating diaphragm as a capacitor plate that converts acoustic movements to electrical information via preamplifier. This information is then transformed back to an acoustic information that we can hear via speakers.

Types Of Condenser Microphones & 48v Phantom Power

Condenser microphones are usually divided into two groups, small diaphragm and large diaphragm.
The small diaphragm microphones have a single pickup pattern that’s usually used for recording high frequency sources by nature, like acoustic guitars, hi-hats, percussions, etc.
The large diaphragm microphones come with larger variety of pick up patterns,
like cardioid directional, Omni directional, figure eight, and such.
The more popular one out of the two is the large diaphragm type condensers, and these are the ones we are talking about here.
Condenser microphones are electronic by nature, so they require either internal or external power to operate. Of course, most preamps these days come with a 48v phantom power for condenser microphones, so no problem there.

Pros & Cons Of A Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

Cons
I will start with the cons first. So a condenser microphone is very delicate because of the way it’s built. Usually you need to handle them with care. Most of the time, you won’t find large diaphragm condenser microphone on the stage because of it’s high sensitivity. Not only it is highly sensitive to humidity and temperature changes, it will also pick up the entire acoustic information on the stage and all around it in a great radius. This means a lot of unwanted noises on the channel, less control over the signal, and mostly feedback, as it is picking up it’s own signal coming from the monitors and PA speakers. So a large diaphragm condenser microphone does not belong on the stage in most cases.

Pros
On the other side, the recording studio is the natural home of the large diaphragm condenser microphone. An acoustic treated and isolated studio is the best environment for a condenser microphone, this is where it shines. Because of it’s very high sensitivity, the microphone picks up a beautiful range of frequencies on the human hearing spectrum and beyond. This works amazing with high frequency content sources and full range sources in general. Drums and cymbals, acoustic guitars, vocals, and pretty much any source you want to record in the studio.

Best Condenser Mic For Vocals

Here is my list: These are microphones that I’m personally using and have first-hand experience with them.

Neuman TLM 103
Neuman TLM 103
This is the first affordable, large condenser microphone made by Neuman. It is considered to be a work horse and it surely is. If I needed a “do it all” microphone on a budget, this would be the one, although I wouldn’t recommend using it with the wrong preamps. In my personal experience, it is very sensitive to different preamps and can sound harsh and even cheap when connected to the wrong preamp. Usually it is onboard preamps that you can find on cheap audio interfaces. In this case, the preamp will be the weak link and will determine the quality of the whole signal chain.
However, when paired with a good preamp, the TLM 103 truly shines!
It is amazingly capable of picking every type of instrument, vocal, drums, or percussions, and it does it in the most beautiful and professional manner.
So how is the TLM 103 as a vocal mic? I’m glad you asked. It is simply amazing just as expected from a company like Neuman. The TLM feels right at home in home production studios and in the professional studio environment. Some even use it for recording instruments on stage in live concerts. But what the 103 does best is picking up vocals, and especially female vocals. It adds a special bright magic to all the female vocalists I’ve ever recorded. After you’re done with the recording session and start with the mixing, the TLM 103 handles high and low boosts, compression, and other post recording processes like a real champ. 

Audio Technica AT2035

Audio Technica AT2035
I know, this one is not even in the right price range, it is cheap and too affordable, yes, but listen to me, guys. It is a brilliant condenser microphone that will not disappoint even the top productions in town. I always say that I don’t care about how much things cost, that I care only about their performance, and the Audio Technica AT2035 is a great example for that.
For years, I was using this microphone as a second microphone for all kinds of sessions.
It is truly amazing on male vocals, and again, breathtaking on female vocals. I actually had a female vocalist who preferred it over other much more expensive condenser microphones from different and much bigger companies.
One of the coolest things about this microphone is that it is not as finicky as the more expensive ones. It will sound good with any preamp. I used to record a lot of sources with the AT2035 going to the Apogee Duet 1 preamp and got a few of my best acoustic guitars of all time. I also love it on saxophone, amps, and of course vocals.
It gives me a lot of yummy details, punchy and clear midrange, soft highs, and very nice lows. Of course, it is not a Neuman u87, and you should not expect it to be, but when working with a limited budget, look no further than the Audio Tecnicha AT2035. It will last for years in and will always sound like it just got out of the box.
And if you’re looking for a cheaper version of this mic, please check out it’s little brother, the AT2020 which comes in a USB version also.

Shure SM27-LC


I first heard about the original SM27 from a friend at his studio. I think it was one of the first condenser microphones made by Shure. And, since I already LOVE Shure’s dynamic microphones, I had to give this baby a try. Listen, guys, it is a very special microphone with a very special sound. I can only give you my personal take on it, and you can decide whether it’s right or not for you. So after hearing so many condensers, cheap and not so cheap, and even “very not so cheap” I think the SM27,LC, next generation, sounds amazing for vocals. It has this soft character in it’s overall sound. It’s a bit hard to describe but I’ll try. Have you ever listened to a snare drum with a thin blanket over it? It becomes a little more soft-sounding. This is exactly what I experience with this microphone but without the drop in high frequencies. Harsh vocals suddenly become softer and round. I felt like it has that dynamic Shure signature sound. I hope you know what I’m trying to say here.
I loved the SM27-LC on acoustic guitars very much. It is one of the hardest sources to pick up, and this Shure beast does it great, too easily. With great presence, clear highs, and clear midrange, everything you record with it gets punchy, and cuts through a mix with ease. But I like it the most on male vocals.
Especially vocals that do not have a lot of mid,range and highs. It suddenly gives them the power they were missing, but in a very natural way. No need for EQ, just a low cut filter and you’re good to go. This is a really sweet microphone. You also need to check out the Shure KSM44. It is much more expensive, and I assume it will get it’s own review very soon.

AKG c214


I always liked AKG microphones but never owned them. The c214 is my first AKG.
This microphone reminded me of the older AKG’s like c3000 and such. They always sounded round and bassy to me but their highs weren’t that smooth. With the AKG c214, it’s almost the same, only the highs are more buttery smooth, and the overall sound is more accurate. This microphone handles high and low boosts in a beautiful way, which I can’t say that of a lot of condenser microphones in this price range.
The c214 is an amazing vocal condenser microphone, and it easily can be picked over all of the microphones in my list on certain vocals, especially deep male vocals. It has a very controlled low range to my ear, and it compliments deep voices. I also like it very much on acoustic and classic guitars. The c214 is very much an affordable version of the classic 414, although the 414 is more of a darker microphone. Unlike the 414, the c214 only has one pick up pattern, cardioid polar pattern. Most recording applications need only the cardioid pattern, especially vocals. So, it’s the perfect budget solution for those who like AKG’s sonic world. The c214 will also give you 414’s tone on drums. It is particularly amazing on snares. So I think the AKG c214 is a great compliment to any other microphone. It is a studio work horse and at this price, it’s a no brainer.

Audio Technica AT4040


The AT4040 is not a new microphone and is definitely my favorite Audio Technica condenser microphone. There is one word that describes this microphone the best, and it’s “Natural”. It is a very natural sounding microphone, which means, it’s great for absolutely everything. It doesn’t have hyped up high frequencies like some of the others on this list, it is not too punchy in the mid-range and fairly balanced in the low range. Maybe we can call it “Flat”. Almost boring, but this is where the fun begins. The AT4040 will sound very good on literately every vocalist.
It will pick up acoustic guitars in a very natural way and would also be very happy to accept your ״over the top״ EQ boosts. It is great on guitar amps, and especially clean electric guitar sounds. I also recorded an upright piano with it as well as brass instruments.
It is a sweet microphone, without a doubt. It doesn’t have a lot of features and options, quite the same as the AKG c412, except the little low cut switch, which is very usable in cases of proximity effect.

Best Condenser Mic For Vocals

That’s about it for this post, guys. I may add more microphones in the future.
Thank you for reading.

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How To EQ Vocals Professionally

How To EQ Vocals Professionally

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Hello, my EQing friends! If you’re looking to learn the basics of professional EQing, stay right where you are because I’m going to show you a lot of cool things that will help you improve your vocal sound by the end of this post! The EQ is like a sharp knife to a decorative salad. This is the only tool that will help you cut and arrange your veggies on the plate like a pro. Now let’s try to understand it from the basics all the way to the pro tips.

First! a quick EQ lesson from the great Dave Pensado

How Important EQ Is?

Although EQ is a very basic tool and one of the first audio tool that was ever invented, it is still to this day, the most important tool of any audio project. I can get a mix to work and even sound fantastic, using only EQ! You can’t say that about any other audio processor and I don’t care what tool it is. That’s how important EQ is.

What is an EQ?

As we all know, in our physical world, audio is made out of different frequencies. The higher the frequency, the higher the tone. The human hearing In general ranges from 20hz to 20Khz. EQ is the one tool we use to boost or cut any frequency on the spectrum and this is the only audio tool that does that. Any other tools that do the same have EQing abilities built into them. For example, with only an EQ we can turn a boomy vocal into a decent sounding one, and a muffled voice into a bright, airy and angelic vocal. The other most important tool in the audio processing world is of course the Compressor. You can learn more about that here >> How To Use a Compressor On Vocals

What Are The Main Uses For An EQ?

Cutting stuff out, adding stuff in, fixing a specific frequency problem, shaping a signal source, giving character to a flat source and even completely change the way it sounds. Much like a sculpting tool for a sculptor. We can take a shapeless stone and turn it into something we recognize and even love.

Where Do I start EQing?

A real audio pro knows that EQing doesn’t start with an EQ but with the recording method at the beginning of the process. In the case of vocals, the first thing we have to think about is what microphone are we using and what character does it have. Learn more about how to make your voice sound better when recording.

In general, Dynamic microphones and Ribbon microphones have a tendency to sound less bright, with an emphasis on the low end and a sensitivity to how close are we from it, it’s called the proximity effect. A condenser microphone in most cases will sound a lot brighter, it will be much more sensitive to every little sound we make and will sound more bright and detailed.

Basic Rules We Don’t Always Follow But It’s Good To Know Them

In most cases of using an EQ, we will cut more and boost less. It’s easier to cut out things from a source than to add things to another one. This will keep the source sounding more natural. That’s the right way to go about it, but as I said, no rules. 

The other thing we always do is filtering. The human ear has a natural filtering system. If you’re a kid with good hearing, you can probably hear all the way from 20 hz to 20Khz and in the top and bottom, you’d have your natural filter. You probably won’t be able to hear above and below that. With EQing an audio source we will cut the head and the tale of any source. 

Let’s say you have a female vocal that rarely goes lower than 100hz, you don’t need the information that’s been picked up by the microphone under that frequency. It’s the same with the top end, we usually cut the super high frequencies because we don’t really hear them and they might interrupt other critical things in the mix.

 

EQ Basic Features

  • Cut – Lowering a selected group of frequencies.
  • Boost – boosting a selected group of frequencies.
  • Low Cut (High Pass)  – Cutting out everything BELOW a selected frequency.
  • High Cut (Low Pass) – Cutting out everything ABOVE a selected frequency.
  • Slope – How many DB’s per octave we cut after the selected frequency point.
  • Shelf – A shelf shape cut or boost at the edges of the spectrum. High shelf, Low shelf.
  • Bell Width (Q) – Determines how wide will be the frequency range we want to work on.
  • Frequency Band or Select – Selecting the fundamental frequency of the range we want to work on.

Different Colors On The Spectrum 

Every area on the frequency spectrum has a different character, I’m going to give you some general guidelines for how to emphasize or to blur a certain feature in the human voice. I’ve made a basic chart just to get you in the right direction.

Low Cut –  Cut from that point and down.

1. Fullness – Boost to give low-end body to a vocal.

2. Boominess – Cut to get rid of low-mid boomy sound and mud.

3. Warmness – Boost to make a vocal sound warmer.

4. Midrange Bite – Boost to make a vocal cut thru the mix.

5. Presence – Boost to give a vocal high-frequency clarity.

6. Air & Details – Boost to give a vocal air and openness.

High Cut – Cut from that point and up.

Dynamic EQ

I won’t go too deep on dynamic EQ’s but I will talk about the basic form of it, and it’s the mighty De-esser. Many times, after boosting a vocal’s high range, there will be some side effects. The Sibilance, high frequencies that jump out every time the singer uses the letters “S” “T”, will come out and poke holes in your eardrums. This is the perfect time to drop a De-esser on the channel and set it up to compress the problematic areas. Usually, it’ll be between 5Khz and 8Khz, depending on the singer.

Mix With Your Eyes

Sometimes using a frequency analyzer can help you find a certain problem a lot faster than if you were using only your ears. A lot of EQ plugins these days has that feature and I definitely recommend using it. 

But be careful, these tools can easily get you deep into the lazy zone and before you know it, you’re trying to make a whole mix with your eyes, and that won’t cut it. Trust me. A frequency analyzer is only a tool that helps to get you in the right direction and the real secret is to work with your ears and with your eyes at the same time.

Bell Width “Q” – How Wide Should It Be?

As a general rule that’s not written anywhere, you want your boosts to be wider and your attenuations to be narrower. Somehow the when you boost with a wide Q it sounds more natural.

Shelf EQ

“Shelving” is a term used to describe a boost or a cut from a certain frequency by the same amount. Shelving is done in the higher or lower edges of the spectrum, this gives it the shape of a shelf. 

Sometimes we tend to use shelving EQ when we want to create a high-frequency boost, but that’s the wrong way to do it. 

If you want to boost the high end of a vocal, it’s smarter and more natural sounding to use a band EQ and just work with the bell width to determine the range of frequencies that will get affected by the boost. That’s how you don’t just boost a bunch of high frequencies that you don’t even hear and your mix is better off without them. Here you’ll find 19 mixing tips that you must have.

Cut When You Need To Boost

Many times we feel the urge to boost the highs to give a certain vocal more air or to make it sound more detailed. But the thing is that when you have a tendency to boost every time you lack some information on the track, you pay for it with sacrificing other precious frequencies on your track. So my suggestion is before you boost the highs, try to cut the lows first. And only then boost the highs accordingly. This will give you a more natural sound. Especially with vocals.

Always Filter

No matter what vocal you mix, you always have two ranges of frequencies you don’t want in your mix. These frequencies are on the edges of the spectrum. This is where we use the filters. A low cut filter on a vocal track alone can save a whole mix. Under a certain frequency, depending on the singer, you’ll only get that low rumble and unnecessary low-end information. It’s the same with the high edge of the spectrum. Take a look at my charts and find out exactly where to place the cutting points.

Sweep For Gold

These next two tips are very important if we want to learn how to eq vocals professionally. Sometimes boosting a specific frequency in a vocal can bring out hidden magic you didn’t even know exists. The way to find this lovely magic frequency is to do a frequency sweep. In most cases, you’ll find this hidden magic spot between 500Hz and 8Khz. How to do a sweep you ask? You just boost a certain band by 5 to 10DB and drag it across the spectrum. In the first sweep, everything might sound cool and you’d want to boost it all, don’t do it. Just pick one spot out of the whole range and give it a touch. Then click the band On and Off and see if you like the difference. If you like it, great! If not, sweep again. It’s ok to not find the golden frequency. It just means you have a well balanced vocal recording and a good vocalist.

Sweep For Dirt

The same as sweeping to find the golden frequency, you can also sweep to find problems in the vocal track. Here the problem can be everywhere on the spectrum. It can be an annoying frequency, a weird overtone that clashes with the song key, or any unpleasant tone somewhere along the spectrum. Again, you boost a certain band by 5 to 10db and you just drag it across the spectrum. If you hear something you don’t like, just cut it. In most cases, a 1 to 3db cut will be enough to balance it out. You might find more than one problematic spot on the track. Do it with as many bands as you need. I usually open a separate EQ instance just to fix the problematic frequencies on a track. But make sure to not get dragged into a “fix fest” where everything sounds like it needs to be fixed. If you do that, you can easily take the life out of a track. If it’s a decent recording, you won’t have to fix more than two or three problematic areas.

Check It On Headphones

Here you can find a lot of information about Mixing On Headphones. If you really want to be on the safe side, double check everything you do on a good pair of headphones. Sometimes an unbalanced room or the wrong monitor can cause us to make faulty decisions along the way, so always double check your mix on more than one reference source >> Best Headphones For Mixing

What EQ should I Use?

Different tasks require different tools. In general, digital EQ types are good for fixing stuff in the vocal track, Finding the gold and taking out the dirt. Every vocal track can use a good surgical treatment with a digital type EQ. For “coloration”, “vibe” and “mojo” on the other hand, it’s much cooler to use an analog emulation type EQ. So I’ve made a list of the best EQ’s that I’ve ever worked with and that I recommend using.
The list >> Best EQ Plugin For Vocals

Practice Practice Practice!

Like with any craft, practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the better you get. With EQ, at some point, you’re not even looking at what you’re doing because your intuition and ears are getting so good it becomes second nature to you. Just keep doing that more and more and the whole EQing process will get almost completely automatic.

Thanks for reading and happy EQing guys.

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BEST MIDI KEYBOARD FOR BEGINNERS Small

Best Midi Keyboard For Beginners

BEST MIDI KEYBOARD FOR BEGINNERS Large

Best Midi Keyboard For Beginners

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KEYBOARDS! How I love midi keyboards!

Hi everybody, Avi here. On this post, I give you a list of the best midi keyboards for beginners. Every beginner has its own style of music creation so I tried to touch every genre of music and which midi keyboard is best for it. I’m sure you will find a midi keyboard you like on my list.

First, I’ll tell you that the midi keyboard is the king of all instruments for music production. Most music producers are starting with a keyboard and that is a great thing. You can not play drums and strings on your guitar. If you’re a real producer, you need to be very comfortable around the black and white keys next to your computer keyboard and that is a hard fact.

What Is Midi

MIDI – “Musical Instrument Digital Interface” is a language. It is not notes or sounds, it is just data, transmitted by digital instruments and audio systems over to digital instruments and audio systems. The data that is transferred is telling the receiving device what to play and which parameters to change. A midi keyboard sends this data to the computer which sends it to the receiving instrument, whether it’s a virtual synth, any outboard device, plugins or DAW’s. A midi controller or a keyboard usually doesn’t have sounds of its own.

The History Of Midi

Midi was first developed in the 80s, which was a very interesting decade to grow up in for us music producers and electronic musicians. The midi standard was offered to all the major companies and in an act of unification and for the greater good of all of us, they started implementing it in all of their instruments. Midi has changed the music world for ever. With the introduction of Midi technology, a lot of musicians could create new styles of music and complex sequences without the need of actually playing the instrument.

Different Midi Keyboards

Basically, you can use any midi keyboard to make almost any kind of music you want. But there are some keyboards that are more suitable for certain styles of music. For example, if you want to play a piano part, it will be best if you pick a midi keyboard that most resembles the size and feel of a real piano. That’s how you can get the closest result to the original instrument. If you’re an electronic music producer on the road for example, you would want to travel light and maybe go for much smaller instruments. 
On this list you would find the best midi keyboard for your needs.

Best Midi Keyboard For Beginners

Mini Size, Mini Keyboards

Akai MPK Mini mk2

The MPK Mini mk2 is a great little portable controller that you can easily fit into any backpack, along with your laptop and take it with you around the world. It requires only a usb cable to work. It is also a brilliant controller to have on a busy studio desk. Sometimes you just want to record small and simple parts. Or just go over presets and sounds and you just need a little keyboard to trigger them and still have enough space for your coffee cup or other small controllers and instruments. The MPK Mini mk2 also has a beautiful design. I love this mix of red and black colors, hey just look at my logo. A visually good designed instrument helps you feel more creative and have more fun while making music. As for the price, the MKP is a very low-cost solution for music production on the go.

Main features:

 • 25 Mini Keys
 • 8 Backlit Drum Pads
 • 8 Assignable Knobs
 • 4-way Joystick
 • USB Powered Only
 • Software Package Included

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Arturia Minilab MK2

This sweet little keyboard is special, It is made to be the perfect companion for “Analog Lab”, Arturia’s synth software, but it works with any music software.

The Minilab is a full-featured MIDI controller designed to work with any music software that supports Midi or DAW. It has a brand new pitch and modulation touch strip controls. It takes a little time to get used to it but eventually you get it and it allows you to do things you can’t do with a regular pitch and modulation control. This keyboard has the best feeling mini keys I’ve ever tried on a mini keyboard. You can actually play complex music parts on this keyboard and get a very good feel out of it. The design is pretty special and it reminds me a little bit of Access virus snow which I LOVE. The Minilab mk1 had bigger wooden cheeks that give it a more organic look. On the mk2 version, they made the wooden ends a little smaller but they’re still there along with a few added features and upgrades.

Main features:

 • 25 Mini Keys
• 16 Endless Rotary Assignable Knobs
 • 8 Backlit Drum Pads
 • Touch Pitch & Modulation Control
 • Analog Lab Included
 • USB Powered Only

 

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Normal Size Keys, Small Keyboards

Alesis v25

Simple, built to last and super affordable. These are the Alesis v25’s main strong points.

This is a straight forward device, the design is very simple and cool. All black with blue lights. I also like the Alesis big logo on the back. First, the v25 is in the standard size keys category. It has two octaves of velocity sensitive 25 keys. It is a little bigger than the mini keys keyboards so it is a little harder to fit into a backpack but it’s definitely possible. The Alesis v25 needs its software in order to fully assign all of its controllers. The 8 backlit drum pads have very good sensitivity and the keyboard is pretty good also. Overall the Alesis v25 it’s just a keyboard you wouldn’t expect for this money.

If you like this keyboard but want more keys, you can check out the 49 and 61 versions of the Alesis V series.

Main features:

 • Compact USB controller for controlling plug-ins and virtual instruments
 • Full-sized, synth-action keys with a square front
 • 8 velocity and pressure sensitive backlit pads
 • 4 illuminated, assignable knobs and 4 buttons
 • PitchBend and Modulation wheels
 • USB bus powered
 • Includes Ableton Live Lite Alesis Edition

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Akai Professional MPK225

Now, this is a small keyboard for big boys, it is a complete midi workstation for the working producer, a professional product, it’s literally the model’s name. Although its price tag is aiming for professionals, I think this is a perfect 25 key midi controller to start with if your budget allows you. Ok let’s start with the design, the Akai Professional MPK225 is a beautiful midi controller. Again, Akai’s colors are amazing, and this mix of black and red is so cool in the studio. The keyboard is pretty big and sturdy and the built quality is superb. If I remember correctly, this is the first product in the professional series that has an LCD screen. The MPK225 has a backlit RGB drum pads, which means that they change colors according to the application they’re connected to, and work hand in hand with Ableton Live. The keys are semi-weighted which means that their mechanism is built a little stronger and they feel a little heavier. Akai’s professional series products also come with a NICE software bundle. Overall, the MPK225 is a cutting-edge production tool that will last for years to come and will have very few limitations in the studio. If you like it and you’re interested in more keys and controls, check out it’s bigger brothers, the MPK249 and the MPK261.

Main features:

•LCD Screen
•25 Full Size Semi-Weighted Keys
•After Touch
•8 Backlit RGB Drum Pads
•4 Assignable Knobs
•5 Pin MIDI In&Out
•Pitch & Modulation Wheels
•Foot Switch & Expression Input Jacks.

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Normal Size Keys, Small Keyboards

Novation Launchkey 61 MK2

Novation is a classic name in the music production industry. They are responsible for few of the most classic and famous products out there. The Lunchkey 61 MK2 has a great set of features and controls. It comes in a very cool black body and blue base and 16 backlit RGB pads. The pads support color feedback from Ableton live and they are also velocity sensitive. The Lounchkey is a great companion for your DAW. The Lounchkey has what’s called Synth-weighted Keys which is similar to semi-weighted keys and they’re also slightly narrower than the standard size keys so it may take some time to get used to. The keyboard has very high-quality keys, knobs, and faders. This is a great Midi controller and not only for the relatively low price. If you like it, you should know it also comes in 25 keys and 49 keys versions.

Main features:

•16 Touch sensitive multi-color launch pads with RGB-LEDs
•2 Launchpad control buttons
•8 Rotary knobs
•9 Faders
•LED Display
•Transport control
•Transpose-keys
•Pitch and Modulation wheel
•Backlit mode keys
•8 Mute/ solo keys
•Connections: USB
•Sustain pedal
•Dimensions: 990 x 120 x 320 mm
•Weight: 3.5 kg
•Including: Novation V-Station and Bass station software, Loopmasters Sample-Pack and Ableton Live Lite

Check latest price on Amazon

M-Audio Code 61

I am an avid M-Audio user for a long time in the studio. I always liked their instruments and the Code 61 is no different. It is a great controller for the studio producer and also for the live keyboard player. It is lighter than other big M-Audio midi controllers from the past but still built just as strong. There is something different, special in the design of the Code 61. First, it is a beautiful keyboard. The first visual thing that pops up is the square overall shape of the keyboard. M-Audio used to make rounder designs but I guess they went for a new look, and you know what? It’s very cool and I like it. The drum pads on the Code are backlit RGB pads and they are big and sturdy. The pitch and modulation wheels are located in the upper left corner of the keyboard which is a little weird for me personally because I come from the old world of synths and midi controllers but I guess M-Audio are trying to promote a new approach. In the bottom line, this is a great midi controller for the price.

Main features:

•61-note velocity-sensitive synth-style keyboard
•16 full-color RGB backlit velocity sensitive drum pads
•Eight knobs
•Nine sliders
•Six dedicated transport controls
•Pitch bend and modulation wheels
•Two Octave/Transpose buttons
•7-segment 3-character LED display
•Two Track/MIDI Channel buttons

Check latest price on Amazon

88 Keys Midi Keyboards (Piano Style)

M-Audio Keystation 88 II

This 88 keys M-Audio is a semi-weighted piano size keyboard. It is on my list because it is great for beginners, It is simple and very budget friendly. It’s relatively light and easy to take with you to live shows without breaking your back. I like it’s USB single cable operation, which means it gets the power thru the USB and you don’t have to worry about another power cable to carry on with you. The M-audio Keystation MK2 has enough features for every basic need and a little more. Features like pitch and modulation wheels and transport control for controlling your DAW without the need to reach the mouse and keyboard every time you need to play, stop or record yourself.

Back panel includes ON\OFF switch, volume pedal input, sustain pedal input, 5-pin midi output, USB plug and of course DC power input.

•88 semi-weighted keys
•Pitch, modulation and other control sources
•USB power for convenience
•Use with your computer or iPad

Check latest price on Amazon

M-Audio Hammer 88 Weighted Keys

This thing is built like a tank! The Hammer 88 is a full size, fully weighted piano style midi keyboard. With this keyboard, you’ll have a professional product with a friendly price. It is one of the smaller fully weighted midi keyboards out there so it can be great for live shows and in the studio, it won’t take a lot of important space. The interface is pretty simple, only pitch and modulation wheels, 2 buttons for changing the octaves and a volume slider. Some will say you don’t need more than that if you’re a real piano player. Another important thing with piano style keyboards is they need to be quiet and this one definitely is. Very quiet. So if you don’t care about the weight and you need a real piano feel with an affordable price, this is definitely for you. 

Main features:

•88 fully-weighted, hammer-action keys
•USB-MIDI connection for playing virtual instruments, controlling music software, and more
•5-Pin MIDI DIN port for triggering external MIDI hardware
•Pitch bend and modulation wheels, volume fader, and +/- controls for expressive performances
•Multiple keyboard zones for layering, splits, and playing 4-note chords with a single key press
•Sustain, Expression, and Soft pedal jacks
•USB-powered; power adapter available separately for stand-alone use
•Class-compliant, no drivers required, plug-and-play connectivity with Mac/PC
•iOS compatibility via Apple Camera Connection Kit (available separately)
•Included Hammer 88 Controller Editor and premium software suite
•Music rest included

Check latest price on Amazon

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How To Use A Compressor On Vocals

How To Use A Compressor On Vocals

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Let me tell you a little secret that most sound engineer will agree on, The best compressor for vocals is a good vocalist! But since we are not talking about vocalists here, I will give you some of what I know about compressing vocals and show you a few of the compressor plugins I work with.

The more I know about compressors the more I do less with them. When we’re beginners, we overdo pretty much everything. I also like to over compress from time to time and use it as an added effect to a vocals track. But it shouldn’t be our default. 

The Hammer

If EQ’s are the sound engineer’s sculpting tool, then compressors are the hammers! Sometimes a good hammer can take a vocal from “ok” to pretty much amazing. Even though I always say don’t over compress anything, the only way to learn what a compressor really does is to over compress things. It’s like putting your hand on the stove to learn that it’s hot and getting to the conclusion you don’t want to do it again. 

What Really Is  A Compressor?

When I was in sound engineering school, I remember my teacher’s (The great Yoram Vazan) first words: “A compressor is only an over glorified volume fader”. This got stuck in my brain and every time I work with a compressor I think about the statement and it helps to remind me of the most basic things about it.

Compressor – How Does It Work?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you the whole preach about the basics that bloggers usually do. All we need to know for now is that a compressor receives a signal and run it thru a few parameters when the end result is a dynamically reduced representation of the source. The compressor’s job is to compress the dynamic range of the signal. That means that it controls the channel’s volume based on a few pre-defined rules.

Compressor Features

These are the most basic features you’ll find in most compressors. Some of them will have more, some less but these are the most basic ones:

Input – The level of input gain goes into the compressor.

Output – The level of output gain goes out of the compressor

Attack – Determines how quick the compressor starts compressing since the signal goes above the threshold.

Release – Determines how quick the compressor stops compressing once the signal goes below the threshold.

Ratio – Determines how many compression will be applied to the signal once it goes over the threshold.

Threshold – Determines the specific spot on the level meter that tells the compressor when to start compressing. In some compressors, the Threshold is determined by the input Knob

Types Of Compressors

All of these compressors do practically the same but each in its own unique way. I won’t get too technical on you but I’ll give you the highlights of each type and go over their sound characteristics.

Optical compressors – (Opto Compressor) These basically work with an electrical light element that determines how much of the signal will get compressed. These have a smooth sound, slow compression and natural sounding behavior. The optical compressors usually shine on vocal tracks. With their slow features and a smooth overall sound, they’ll sound good on almost any vocal source. A good example of an optical compressor is the legendary Teletronix LA-2A, which had almost too many virtual plugin versions. Two of my favorite virtual replicas are made by Universal Audio and Waves. Use an Opto compressor if you want your vocals to sound smooth and natural.

FET Compressors – (Field-Effect Transistor) This is a compressor that uses transistors. Its characteristics are the opposite to the Opto compressor. It’s considered to be fast, flexible, colorful and punchy. The FET compressors are used a lot to control drums and any instrument with fast transients. With vocals, the FET compressor allows very accurate results due to its very fast attack and release. The most famous FET compressor is the classic Universal audio 1176 which a lot of plugins today are modeled after. Use this type of compressors if you need your vocal to be 100% dynamically controlled and full of character.

VCA Compressors – (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) This compressor is based on relatively modern technology. As with the FET compressors, it also gives you control over the attack, release and ratio parameters. The VCA is a versatile animal that can tackle pretty much everything. From shaping a snare sound to controlling a very dynamic vocal. The most famous VCA compressor is the mighty SSL G series Console Bus Compressor which is responsible for a lot of timeless recordings. These behave pretty much like FET compressors but to me, they sound a little less aggressive. So I use them when I want something to be very controlled and without too much coloration and harmonic distortion. This is just how I perceive it.

Variable Mu Compressors – These are tube based compressors. We all know tubes are characterized by warm, slow and colorful sound. This is a very old technology that was first introduced in the 50s. These compressors are commonly used for bus compression although it’s been used for pretty much every sound source we can think of. From breathing new life into electric guitars, squashing a vocal or tightening a whole mix. The most famous tube Compressor is the legendary Fairchild 670 which is maybe the most expensive piece of audio gear today. If you want coloration and vibe, this is the way to go. Most of the Fairchild emulations I had the chance to work with, sounded amazing. So it doesn’t really matter which one you use to give your vocals those majestic colors.

How To Use A Compressor On Vocals

What To Do When I First Put A Compressor On The Vocal Track?

I assume that you already know what each and every parameter does, so when I use the known terms you know exactly what I mean. Now, if you’re looking for rules and guidelines in that particular subject, to be honest, there are none. All I can do is tell you what I personally do and look for when I first put a compressor on my vocal channel. So the first thing I look for in a compressor is the initial introducing of the “character” and how it affects the vocal. Every compressor doesn’t matter if it’s a plugin or a hardware compressor, has a “sound”. Especially the ones which are modeled after the old and legendary hardware units. So I’ll try to give you a basic starting point.

1. LA2AWaves LA2A CompressorIf it’s a classic LA2A for example, I first lower the output and increase the input to hit the compression circuit harder to be able to point out the effect for myself. If I like the effect, I keep playing with it until I hit a sweet spot. With the LA2A most of the parameters are controlled by the level of the source going into the circuit so it’s relatively simple, you just play with it until you reach a sweet spot. 

2. 1176 With FET type compressors, such as the 1176 I start with lowering the output again, increasing the ratio to a high enough spot, and the input until it shows compression on the VU meter. Then I play with the attack and release knowing that I’m controlling the dynamic envelope of the vocal. It’s very important to learn what each an every parameter does so you can look for the change in the right places as you’re playing with the compressor.

3. Ratio – With LA2A type compressors you don’t have a separate ratio knob. You change the ratio by simply increasing the input gain into the circuit. With a 1176 type compressors you start with increasing the ratio. 5:1 is good as a starting point. Always look on the gain reduction meter. This whole thing is just pointing out the obvious because a compressor is a simple device, but it’s important to know what you’re doing because it’s so easy to take your beautiful vocal recording and turn it into pure shit, with a bad compression setup.

4. Gain Staging – Remember, gain staging is one of the most critical parameters for getting a good output out of any audio device. Make sure your input signal sits in a good place around the 75% more or less. This will put you in a safe place, far enough from the noise floor and not too close to the algorithm’s level ceiling where it starts digitally distorting, and we all know how a digital distortion sounds.

In the early years, I used to over think every little change on the compressor. Today the whole process of compressing vocals is much more intuitive and done almost subconsciously while I hover with the mouse over the whole plugin to find it’s sweet spot. All this will come in time as you gain more and more experience.

One Channel, 3 Compressors

I usually use more than one compressor on the main vocal channel. To be exact, I use 2 compressors with a limiter at the end of the chain. So the first compressor handles the heavy duty. The second one is there to round the edges and sometimes to add another color to make the vocal sound a little more 3D and harmonically interesting. The last compressor I use on a vocal channel is actually a limiter. I love controlled vocal channels. This still doesn’t say I compress too much. It only helps me to achieve what I hear in my mind without sounding too processed. This is usually followed by tons of meticulously crafted lines of automation all across the channel.

Digital Compressor Plugins

There are those plugin compressors that are not modeled on any hardware device. Some of them are really good and although digital in nature, they are not lacking on mojo. 

These are some of my favorite digital compressor plugins:

Waves C1 Compressor

I absolutely LOVE this compressor, it sounds great, and it has tons of character. There’s something special in how it handles transients. Very snappy and accurate. as far as dynamics go, I can get exactly what I need with only this compressor alone. I like it on side chain applications. For example, compressing a bass guitar channel that’s being triggered by the kick drum.

Waves Renaissance Compressor

Another amazing digital compressor from Waves?? hey, they’re great, what can I say? This one is even better, visually. Its design is pure genius. The gain reduction meter is brilliant, and it shows me exactly what I hear, which is amazing and not that common. It has a few modes, Electro, Warm and Manual. Each one of them makes the compressor sound a little different.

McDSP Compressor Bank CB303

AUDIOSTREETS.COM
This is an ol’ trusty dog. It’s a part of a pack of three different compressors that sound so good! I’m proud to tell you I have a lot of mixes based almost entirely on McDSP plugins. Compressor Bank is one of the most impressive digital compressors I’ve ever laid a mouse on. With all the newest plugins that are coming out each year, I can’t seem to give this old dog up. If there is such a thing as “Classic vintage plugin”, this is definitely one of the few ageless plugins out there. These days its price is so low (No justice) it’s a no-brainer. Just go out and get it!

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Electronic Drums Vs Acoustic Drums

Electronic Drums VS Acoustic Drums

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If this was 1998, I would have told you, “Dude, NO! Go to a studio and record a real drummer on a real drum set and let’s move on with the project!” But, it’s not 1998, and we are here, today, thinking about which way to go with the drums. So, if you’re asking me; 

“Electronic drum set in the studio for serious productions?”
YES PLEASE!


Hey everybody, Avi here. As you can understand from this intro, this post is leaning heavily to the electronic drums side. So, if you’re a hardcore, old timer, “acoustic drum recording in big studios” kinda type, this may not be for you. 


I won’t forget the first time I recorded acoustic drums. I had a high school-type band, and we went to this dude’s house to record our drummer. We set up the drums in the middle of his living room on a brown carpet that smelled like cat food and beer.

We recorded the whole set with only 3 microphones. One for the bass drum, one for the hi-hat and the snare, and one as an overhead mic for the whole set. It sounded like pure shit, but we were high on it! This was my first drum recording experience. Since then, I’ve recorded quite a few drummers in big studios, and although it sounded nice, I really hated the whole process.


Acoustic Drums Recording – The process from back in the day.

I used to take my drummers and drive for an hour to get to my favorite studio. We would set up the drums and microphones for an hour, or even more, and then start recording. After that, we would export the files and all the takes from Protools to my Cubase.

At the time, I was doing my beat detection on Protools before I would open the files on Cubase, but sometimes I would fix the timing on Cubase manually, which was an exhausting process that took me literally hours. After that, I sometimes replaced some drums like the snare or toms or bass drum, or just added extra samples and sounds to it with midi. And then, after all this work, I’m still stuck with one set, one sound, and one drum take for one song.


Electronic Drums Saves The Day

Around 2007, I really started exploring new continents of creation with electronic drums. I produced my first electronic drums punk rock album. It was an 8-song album. I recorded all of them with a complete toy drum set: Yamaha DD-65.

The first drum software I ever used was Addictive Drums. It took a lot of work to actually convince my client that this is the best option for the budget and that he should close his eyes and give this option a real chance. He did, and he eventually loved it and even told me that out of all of his four albums, the one we recorded with a toy drum machine and a drum plugin was his best album.


My First Real Electronic Drum Set

Roland V-drums TD-9sx. I didn’t really need more than this drum set for all of my music productions. Drummers used to come to my studio, sit on this drum set, get used to it, and then record.

 The sessions were short, the sound was amazing, and the artist and I were happy! This is exactly what I needed. After the session was over, I could change everything. From the playing, timing corrections to adding or changing whole parts. The most important thing is, I could change the whole drum set to whatever set I liked. This alone was enough for me. I was hooked.


Kill The Drummer?

No way! I’m always saying this. Electronic drums are maybe replacing the traditional instrument of the drummer, but they won’t replace the drummer. Yes, we have recorded midi parts, but they can never replace a real drummer on the set that is playing his parts for our specific song, at least in my humble opinion.

There is something special in getting a real drummer to play on our production, and this won’t go away soon. So, no, the drummer is not dead. We just added a more versatile instrument to his arsenal. I also want to say that I still think that real drum sets are cool and definitely necessary, mostly on stage, or if you just really want to record them.


The Module Sounds VS Plugins.

Today’s modules are pretty much amazing, no doubt. But, there is some magic in the plugins world. So, the way I see it: on stage, it’ll be a smart move to use the steady and trusty drum module. But, in the studio, plugins are taking the lead. As producers, we love to fiddle with interfaces, different sounds and samples, effects, and mixing components, which you can find on any drum plugin today. Here’s a post I wrote about the subject.

The Best Drum Plugins


Electronic Drums Sets

Roland really nailed it with their electronic drums technology. Everything from the modules, the drums, the looks, and the sounds of it, is amazing. So, they are on the top of my list, but they are not the only company to look for while searching for an electronic drum set.


New VS Old

This really comes down to personal preference, specific needs, and of course, budget. When I first bought my new Roland V-drums TD9sx, I bought it from some nice rich dude who didn’t know what to do with the set. He sold it to me for a very small price, and I didn’t really need more than that. It had everything I wished for in an electronic drum set, and every time I needed more, I just added extra components like cymbals, floor toms, extra pedals, and such. 

You can always extend and build your own kit, as long as the module allows it. If you’re are on a limited budget, you can really find a good condition V-Drums set for a great price. The second-hand market is full of great options. If you’re a “New everything” kinda person, you can go for a new drum set, of course.


Electronic Drums Vs Acoustic Drums

Roland V-Drums TD 25 (via Amazon)
Electric Drums Roland TD 25

This is a mid-level kit from Roland, I really like this kit because it’s relatively small and doesn’t take a lot of space in the studio, which is a big factor for a lot of us home-studio-based producers. It comes with all mash pads, which is a must for me.

It’s very important for drummers to get that real feedback from the instruments, and mash pads are the way to do it. The TD25 has a great module with great sounds, but most of us producers prefer using drum software, so modules are not the most important thing in my opinion. If you’re into bigger and more expensive V-Drums, you should really check out the Roland V-Drums TD50K.

 

Features:
• Dynamic, expressive playability and quick customization
• Advanced SuperNATURAL sound engine based on the TD-30
• Sound quality and expressiveness equivalent to the top-of-the-line V-Drums
• Logical interface for easily swapping and customizing each drum and cymbal in a kit
• PDX-100 10″ mesh-head snare pad with support for rim-shots and cross-sticks
• 3 mesh-head tom pads PD-85BK 8″ pads for rack toms, 1 PDX-100 10″ pad for floor tom
• VH-11 V-Hi-hat mounts on a standard hi-hat stand; offers realistic motion and natural feel
• 2 CY-12C 12″ crash cymbals with natural swinging motion, edge/bow sensors, and choke control
• CY-13R 13″ ride cymbal with natural swinging motion and edge/bow/bell triggering
• KD-9 kick pad with cloth head for great feel and solid playability
• Play along with WAV/MP3 songs and capture drum performances as audio on a USB stick
• Build drumming skills with the onboard Coach functions
• Quick-access metronome with a dedicated screen, on/off button, and tempo knob
• USB host port for audio/MIDI communication with a computer

 

Yamaha DTX720K (via Amazon)

The funny thing about Yamaha is that other electronic drums manufacturers are sampling Yamaha’s acoustic drum sets, and they will never tell you about it. This one is a mid-level electronic drum set. Much like the TD25, it is small and doesn’t take a lot of space in our little home studios.

 

The Yamaha models are different, mostly, in the way that their electronic drum pads are built. They don’t use mash pads like most of the others. They have a different technology called “DTX Pad”. Yamaha worked with top drummers to achieve that unique feel and natural feedback out of the DTX Pad. In my personal opinion, this is the best electronic drum pad out there.

 

The engineers in Yamaha just nailed it with the drum pads and also with the cymbal pads. They feel great, they look great, and they definitely respond great to every little touch of the stick. The DTX module has amazing sounds and some of the best acoustic snare samples I’ve ever heard on a module.

 

Features:
• Includes KP100 kick, XP80 snare, 3 XP70 toms, 2 PCY135 cymbals, RHH135 hi-hat, HS740A hi-hat stand, DTX700 module, and RS502 rack
• Textured Cellular Silicone (TCS) heads provide realistic performance
• 3-zone cymbals deliver authentic playability
• 2-zone hi-hat with edge and bow sections yields open, closed, and foot splash sounds
• Real hi-hat controller and included hi-hat stand for realistic feel and playability
• Piezo trigger sensors and dual-zone rim switches allow for expressive playing
• DTX-Pads are matched for consistent performance
• 1,396 voices include 1,268 acoustic drum sounds and 128 instrument voices
• Acoustic drum sounds were taken from Yamaha’s inventory of legendary drums
• Instrument voices include sounds taken from Yamaha’s MOTIF XF synthesizer
• Onboard mixer makes setting kick, snare, tom, cymbal, hi-hat, and click levels easy
• Load your own samples from a USB flash drive to create a custom e-drum kit
• Record MIDI into your DAW and play it back using your favorite virtual drum software

 

Alesis Strike Kit (via Amazon)
Alesis Strike Kit drums

First, I didn’t like Alesis’s electronic drum sets at all, but they’ve made a lot of progress over the years.

The Alesis Strike Kit is one of their top models. It is not a small set like the others and not that compact, but will give you the amazing feel of a real size acoustic drum set. It also has a slightly lower price. The thing that I really love about Alesis is that they give you a lot more for the money. For example, standard size snare drum, bigger floor drums, bigger hi-hat, and more cymbal pads. Alesis uses a black mash on their drums, which is very cool when you get used to it. The drum bodies are made out of real wood, which gives the set a very cool and beefy look. This set will look amazing on stage and in the studio.

The module is full of great sounds and features. More than you’ll ever need for an electronic drum set in the studio. So, if you have room for a full-size drum kit and you really want to give your drummers a good and authentic drumming experience without breaking the bank, this is the one to go with.

Features:
• Designed to look and respond like an acoustic set
• Holds its own with some of the industry’s premier e-drum kits
• Comes loaded with 100 complete drum kits and 1,760 sounds
• Wood shells and tuneable mesh heads respond like acoustic drums with low noise
• “Hammered” cymbals have a controlled bounce and good stick response
• Fusion drum sizes provide a comfortable transition between acoustic and electronic kits
• Dual-zoned toms, snare, and cymbals and a 3-zoned ride yield dynamic performances
• Includes a 14″ snare, 8/10/12″ toms, and a 14″ kick
• Includes a 14″ crash, 16″ ride, and 12″ hi-hat
• Strike drum module with 4.3″ color LCD lets you edit drum sounds with ease
• Mixer faders give you complete control of your mix into headphones or speakers
• 8 direct outputs allow for studio-quality record editing
• Strike Software Editor lets you import new drum sounds into the module over Mac/PC
• Onboard sampler lets you capture organic sounds right from the module
• MIDI and USB connections communicate with your virtual instruments and samplers
• Includes a drum rack and double-braced snare stand for dependable setups
• Included cables, drum key, and cable wraps get you up and drumming in no time


So these are my recommendations for small, affordable, and yet professional electronic drum sets for the small production studios. Thank you for reading.

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How To Produce Music At Home

How To Produce Music At Home

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Hey everybody, I wish I had this article when I first started producing music, back in the mid-90s. If you’re just starting out, the only thing you need to have on your mind is that everybody starts somewhere. Yeah, I know it’s a cliche but it would’ve never been a cliche if it wasn’t true. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy or fast, it is quite a big project to take on but these days it doesn’t have to take years for you to master it. I really believe the world is progressing much faster, and with it, the young generation of new musicians.


Who Can Produce Music At Home?

The answer to this question is pretty simple; Anybody who really want to. Real passionate people who want to be musicians don’t wait for someone to give them a pass or any validation. They just get up and go for it. That’s exactly what you need to do. Hack, These days it doesn’t even cost you money. You already have a computer, and you already have a cool microphone on your phone if you really need it. So you already own a small studio.

How Long Is It Until I’d Be Able To Make Music?

Well, as you’ve already guessed it, it’s a personal thing for each and every one of us. The pace of progress is very individual. But if you want an actual timeline, I can tell you I’ve seen people who are making music for literally years and they’re only “ok”. And there are countless examples for kids only 17 years old that are making international hits on their laptops. 

When Is The Best Time To Start?

The minute you decide it with all your heart. If you’re not 100% crazy about it, don’t start because you’d get tired and drop it forever, It should be pure fun.


Is It Too Late For Me To Start?

I have a good friend who was a Gardner for most of his adult life. He’s playing guitar here and there and loves it a lot. At age 45 he decided to start producing music and doing live shows as an engineer. Today, after 5 years, he makes his living off of music production, mixing engineering and live shows. He’s very happy about it and has mowed no lawn for a long time.


What Tools Do I Need?

First, you have to decide what kind of music you would like to create. For most cases, if you have a computer, you’re already halfway there, and I’m totally serious. If you’re planning to make electronic music that is only computer-based, you practically need nothing else more than that to start producing music.

If you want to make your first recordings, really use whatever you have around you. If you have an Apple Macbook, you already have a very nice sound card. If you have an Apple iPhone, you already have a very cool Mic setup. iPhones have a brilliant microphone! Now don’t let it sound as if I’m an Apple fanboy. There are a lot of good phones and laptops from other companies.

If you think I’m kidding about the iPhone mic, you need to know that I’ve recorded a whole song and released it to the world using only my iPhone 6s Mic. This was long after I already had my studio with very expensive microphones and preamps. “Why”, you ask? I needed to make a point to myself and for some people who don’t really understand the power of these little microphones on our cell phones. Check out this post – Use iPhone As A Microphone

After you learn to record with what you have, it’s safe to buy more advanced gear. That way you’d be more appreciative about what you buy and you’ll know the difference right away. This is also an important growing stage. If you start with the best, you sometimes can’t appreciate what you have.


DAW – Free or Paid? 

This is not about money, it’s about your relationship with the tools. Let’s talk about marriage for a second here, finding the perfect mate is a real challenge. No one can promise you the first try will be successful forever. It’s the same with DAWs. You can try three or four until you find the one that’s perfect for you. 


To be exact, the DAW is a direct extension of your creative mind. So it’s very important for you to find that perfect correlation between your mind and your DAW. When I first started producing music I started with a little DOS application called “Impulse Tracker”. It was all I had, and I loved it! After that came new and much better applications and moved on and my creation got a lot better.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, learn and try few DAWs for a while, until you find the perfect match for you. For me specifically, it‘s Logic Pro and Cubase. 

Learn To Play The Keyboards

That’s your main instrument if you want to produce music. You don’t have to be a professional pianist, you just have to learn your way around the white and black keys. Just the basics. The better you get on the keyboard, the better you’ll get at understanding music. I wrote about it more in these two articles. 
Ear Training Methods
Music Producer Requirements

Can I Produce Music On My Phone?

Absolutely! I even think that limitation is a good thing for music producers. It encourages creativity and an open mind. Today’s phones are so much more than what the Beatles had back when they first started with a 4 track tape machine…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of those producers who like to have every possible tool in their arsenal. But guess what, 90% of the times I get stuck it’s because of too many tools in my toolbox. I often get myself creatively unstuck just by limiting myself with much fewer options. Trust me, it works. Check this guy out, he produced a song for Kendrick Lamar and used his iPhone as a DAW. 

Acoustic Treatment – Does It Matter?

As a matter of fact, it does. If you want to record live instruments and use speakers, you have to have some kind of acoustic treatment. I’m not going to get too deep on this subject because there’s a lot of information outside. 

But it’ll be a good idea to think about it and definitely do something with it. If you want to build an actual studio in your house, ok, go for it, even get a professional to build something specifically for you. If you don’t want to get into too many expenses you can start with a carpet on the floor, a sofa or a bad in the room can help. In general, the more you fill your room with stuff that breaks the sound waves the less reverb you have in your space and that’s a good thing.

You can also locate your setup in different places around the room to look for a good sweet spot. Treat the corner with bass traps would also be a very good idea. Make sure that the surrounding of the speakers will be the same on both sides. The whole secret for a stereo balanced setup is what you have around the monitors.

How To Learn Music Production? 

Well, this is really all down to personal preference. Some people can do everything on their own, some need someone to show them the way, and some can mix between the two methods. This is probably the best way to choose. 

You must be able to learn stuff on your own and poses that skill, but you can also save a lot of time by just learning from others instead of just taking years to learn on your own as I did. Back in the 90s, I don’t think we had a lot of sources to learn from. The best I had was music and audio magazines and my own personal trial and error.

I recommend purchasing online courses for the specific things you want to learn and all the rest just does your own thing. Of course in these cases, big ol’ YouTube is your best friend.

Conclusion

Starting making music is exactly like starting a hobby. If you enjoy it, you just start doing it and get better as you go. Some will only get so far and some will rise to greatness. The main point of this post is to get you to understand that it is not unachievable, and it’s not reserved only for the super blessed or the very educated. Some of the biggest producers and musicians started with zero formal music education or any academic knowledge. You can become a great musician or a producer or a songwriter if you really want to do it and work for it every day. It reminds me a will smith quote:

“You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.”

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Mixing On Headphones

Mixing On Headphones

Mixing On Headphones

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Is it possible to mix a whole song and get very good results only on headphones? Yes, it is!
I’ll gladly tell you everything I know about mixing on headphones but first I have to say; 


Headphones will never replace a good set of monitors in a studio environment. Does it mean that your mixes will sound bad? HELL NO! 
You can definitely pull out a badass mix only on headphones.

Hi everybody, in this article, I’m going to give you my personal philosophy on mixing with headphones. In almost every mix I did, I used headphones at some point to have another point of view on my mix. Of course that most of my mixes were done on a good set of speakers in an acoustically treated room. But the reality is that there are things that you can hear on headphones and can hardly hear on speakers.


Let’s start with the Pros & Cons

Pros

  • With headphones, you don’t have to worry about room acoustics.
  • You save a lot of money on speakers and acoustic treatment.
  • You can work in the middle of the night without worry about your neighbors.
  • You can travel and mix anywhere, you have the same reference everywhere you go.
  • It’s easier to hear the small details on headphones.
  • The stereo information is much more noticeable.
  • Every spot is the sweet spot and you can move freely.

Cons

  • Mixing on headphones at high levels for long periods of time can cause permanent damage to your hearing.
  • Ear fatigue is more common when using headphones.
  • You don’t get the physical “full-body” experience that you get when using loudspeakers.
  • The signal comes from the sides of the head instead of the front, which is less natural in most cases.

Basic Rules

In general, if you ask me whether I prefer good speakers in a bad sounding room or a good set of mixing headphones? I would probably go for the headphones. But there are some basic rules I would follow.

What Headphones?

First, not every set of headphones are good for mixing. You probably won’t have a good mix on your Apple earbuds. You should have balanced sounding headphones with a flat frequency response, preferably a dedicated open back mixing headphones. So in the last part of this article, you will find a list of my preferred mixing headphones.

Open-Back or Closed-Back - What's The Difference?

Closed-back

These are built with isolation in mind. The objective is to isolate the listener from the surroundings and help him focus only on what the headphones are playing. This is good for recording in the studio, where you don’t want the leakage from the headphones to reach the microphone. 



This also helps to prevent noises around you from reaching your ears. Another example is if you don’t want people around you to hear what you are listening to. 

Closed-back headphones are naturally boosted in the low range, so they have more bass. In most cases, they will introduce ear fatigue much sooner and you will have to take more frequent breaks to let your ears “breathe”.

Open-back


As the name implies, the back of the headphones is open and there’s no physical acoustical barrier between the driver and the back wall of the headphones. 

This means there’s no isolation and everyone around you can hear what you’re listening to. But this is the only drawback. 

Open-back headphones give you a more natural sound, and most of the time they are aimed towards more professional uses.

Because it’s open it allows you to listen to music for literally hours before you get tired. They also give the natural feeling that you get when listening to a set of speakers. 

This is called a “Wider soundstage” where you can almost hear the location of the musical instruments in the room around you.

How Does It Feel On My Skin?

Try not to use headphones with non-breathable materials, use headphones cushions with an exposed foam covered with some sort of cloth. Similar to the classic Beyerdynamic DT 990.



If your preferred mixing headphones does not have such a foam, you can always create it yourself somehow, it’s not a big deal. This will prevent over sweating and itchy feeling on your skin.

What Levels

Never go above a certain level, it’ll help delay the ear fatigue that will inevitably show up. Once you’ve reached the point of ear fatigue, your mix is only going downhill from here. 

Remember to lower the levels all the time, because we have a natural tendency to increase the volume without even noticing. 

If you need, even write it in front of you, so you’ll never forget it. 

One good trick is to set the volume to a level that allows you to handle a conversation with a friend while the music is playing. You’ll know you’re at a good level when you won’t feel the need to raise your voice when you talk.

Don’t Use Your Emotions While You’re Mixing

Yeah I know, this is a very bold statement but the minute I stopped using my emotions, I got better and much more accurate mixes. Sometimes we feel like the music is more enjoyable when we turn up the levels. This is a lie! 



Try to be as technical and as accurate as you can be, you’ll thank me later. 
By the way, this is also true for mixing on speakers.

Tips

Reference Tracks

When it comes to audio we can never trust our memory. Always keep a few of your favorite tracks as a reference. Listen to them from time to time. That will give you a reference point, so you’ll never lose your direction while in the heat of mixing. 



The best thing you can do is pull up a professionally mixed track with the same musical key as the track you’re working on. Not a lot of people are talking about this, but using reference tracks with the same musical key will bring you much closer to your end goal.

Take A Break

Every 25 minutes of mixing, you should take at least 5 minutes of complete silence. Sometimes it’ll feel like you don’t need it but trust me, you’re going to. This is like Viagra for your ears. It’ll make you last longer!

Use More Pairs of Headphones

Just as working with speakers, you would want to have more pairs of headphones for reference.
This will give you another important perspective on your mix, so you could make small adjustments and hear stuff you couldn’t hear on your main headphones. 



This time you can use your Apple earbuds. They will give you a real-world perspective on your mix. I would also have one of those cheap Bluetooth speakers next to me to serve as a shitbox monitor.

Calibrate Your Headphones

In the old days, I used to put an EQ on my master channel in the DAW and set it to make my headphones sound flat. I usually give it a little boost in the lows, a little deep in the high mid and a little touch in the highs.

This gave me a more balanced output from the headphones relative to my hearing. 

Today we don’t have to do it manually. With the Sonarworks Headphone Calibration plugin, we can achieve a much more accurate result. We just choose our headphones from the preset list and we’re all set. Watch the video for a full demonstration.



You should also check out Waves NX which simulates an actual room inside your headphones. The plugin is working with your camera. It follows your face and head movements and makes micro-adjustments in the plugin accordingly, It’s a crazy concept, give it a try.

So, can you pull out a great mix on the right headphones? Hell yeah! 
Happy mixing guys!

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Mixing A Vocal To A Beat

How To Blend Vocals With A Beat (Instrumental)

Mixing A Vocal To A Beat

How To Blend Vocals With A Beat (Instrumental)

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Mixing vocals to an already mixed instrumental and making it sound natural is not always an easy task but if you implement all the tips and tricks in this article, you might just get there. This is really not rocket science. Recording a vocal on an instrumental is very common in Hip Hop. There are a lot of very talented producers who send beats to rappers all over the world. First, we have to understand the steps you need to take and we’ll go thru them one by one.

Note: You don’t have to execute every recommendation I make on this page to achieve a good sounding mix. Instead, just go over the titles and try to understand what issues you need to address in your mix and fix them.

Instrumental – Reduce The Level

Of course you have to lower the instrumental in order to blend in the vocal properly. The problem is that every time you decrease the level of an instrumental it’ll sound like you’re losing quality. Don’t worry about it, most DAWs of today are mathematically built in such a way that low level is not your problem.

I found that setting the RMS level around -18db is a good starting point.

 

Creating Space For The Vocal

Ideally, you’d want the instrumental only mixed and not mastered or too compressed. That way it’s breathing and still has enough room for mixing in the vocal. But most times we would get a fully mastered instrumental without the vocal taken into consideration. In such a scenario, we have to start “massaging” the instrumental a little bit.

EQ (Mid/Side)

Although it appears pretty early on the list, EQing shouldn’t be the first step you take. So let’s say the instrumental sounds amazing and it’s mixed and mastered by a pro and we don’t really need to change anything in its frequency response. We should only create little pockets for the vocal based on the vocal itself. 

I would highly recommend you use a Mid\Side EQ and start digging in only on the center channel, mainly because the vocal lives in the center.

Example, if the vocal’s main energy is located on a specific spot on the frequency spectrum, you can cut a little bit out of the instruments just in that area to make the vocal sit nicely in that pocket.

EQ Matching

The instrumental and the vocal should live in the same neighborhood in terms of the frequency response curve. For example, if the instrumental is light on low-end frequencies and your vocal is too heavy on low-end frequencies, you should boost a little bit of low end on the instrumental and cut the same frequencies on the vocal channel to match them. Every production has its frequency response curve. 

Color Matching

match the tonal qualities of the vocal and the instrumental. If the instrumental is slightly distorted, add some distortion to the vocal track. That way they will have the same “flavour” and not feel disconnected from each  other.

 You can learn more about EQing here:

 

Levels (Mid/Side)

When reducing the instrumental level in general, you can risk getting a “disconnected” effect of the vocal from it. So that is a great opportunity to utilize the Mid/Side leveling method. You can lower only the Mid channel a little bit to make some more room in the center for the vocal without taking a chunk of energy out of the whole mix. 

The best way to do it is with a mid/side EQ, this tool allows you to reduce the midrange frequencies only in the center, where the vocal usually lives. 

Dynamics

If the instrumental is only mixed and not mastered, this is great because then you can just mix the vocal in and master everything together. But in many scenarios, this is not the case. I will talk about every situation and what to do in every one of them. You can use a Multiband Compressor to gain more control over everything.

>> How to use a Compressor on vocals
>> How to use a Multiband Compressor like a ninja

Scenario #1 – The Instrumental Is Not Mastered

If the instrumental is not mastered and not too compressed, it’ll be a good idea to compress it a little bit, just to get a more controlled dynamics that will allow us to mix in the vocal more easily. This is a great opportunity to use a bus compressor on the instrumental’s channel and work that bus compression magic.

Scenario #2 – The Instrumental Is Too Compressed

Sometimes the instruments will be so compressed that you can’t add even a pins head into it, let alone adding the final master compression, you’re going to end up with a squashed, claustrophobic and a non-professional result altogether. 

Here you can use certain methods to bring back or even create some of the original dynamics with tools like Expander and Transient Designer. Or just try to get a better-mixed version of the instrumental.

Scenario #3 – The Instrumental Is Well Mastered And Sounds Good

In this scenario, where you want to preserve the dynamic properties and the overall sound of the instrumental you can use it as a reference to every process you do on the vocal. 

Start with lowering the level to where the RMS is around -18db and continue from there to processing the vocals using all the tips I gave you on this article.

 

Expander

Using simple words, this tool works as a negative to the compressor. Instead of squashing the signal and reducing the dynamics, the expander expands the dynamics buy doing the exact opposite. 

It simply means that it recreates some of the dynamics by increasing the level of any signal that goes above the threshold. You have to use the expender very lightly, or else you’re going to mess up the entire dynamic flow of the instrumental.

Transient Designer

With this tool, you can rebuild a little bit of the lost peaks shaved out by the limiter. The subtle use if the expander and transient designer can bring back the livelihood to the track and make it sound somewhat similar to the original non-compressed version of the instrumental.

Adding Your Own Samples

Sometimes the instrumental is so dynamically squashed and practically not usable and no other version of this instrumental can be found, then you have no other option than to add your own drum samples into the mix. You do it by taking some time and digging in your samples library until you find a matching kit. 

In most cases, a snare and a bass drum will do the job. But the more you do to rebuild the production, the better final result you get. If you do that, make sure your instrumental and BPM are nailed to the DAW’s grid so you can place the samples with maximum accuracy. 

I also recommend using tools to check the phase to make sure you’re not losing anything in the process. 

Automation

It’s all about consistency. A great way to “mix” a stereo channel instrumental is to ride it with automation. Levels, EQ, Send Effects and anything you need to use in order to get a more controlled instrumental. You’re practically massaging the channel with all kinds of automation to get more consistent and professional output. 

Space Matching

If the production uses any Reverb, or a room simulation, you can try creating the same space and send the vocal over to it, to create the feeling that the vocal and the instrumental are “living” in the same space. This will also help to “glue” the instrumental and vocal together. 

Don’t use that method if you’re going for the “Vocal is disconnected from the instrumental” kinda sound. You can also EQ the Reverb return to match the tonality of the instrumental’s overall ambiance. In many cases you would want to use a delay instead, or in conjunction to the reverb. 

These are the best Delay plugins for vocals.

Don’t Mix The Vocal Too High

This is a very simple and straight forward tip and yet it’s very easy to overlook it. It also works with any element in any mix situation. If the vocal’s level is mixed higher than the instrumental’s, It’ll give the sense of the disconnection between the two. Make sure the RMS levels on both of them are not too far off of each other.

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HOW TO SPICE UP YOUR PRODUCTIONS Small

How To Spice Up Your Productions

HOW TO SPICE UP YOUR PRODUCTIONS Large

How To Spice Up Your Productions

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Every successful producer out there has its own secret weapon for spicing up their productions. My secret weapon is always percussions. I buy every little squeaking toy, every wooden soundbox and every two pieces of metal that make a cool sound when you bang them together. I’m obsessed with making new sounds out of everything. I once sampled myself hitting vegetables with a drumstick and made drums sample pack. I will give you guys a download link when I find it. I took the idea from some cool and talented producer who connected midi triggers to vegetables that triggers cool sample when you touch them.

Almost in every production, there’s a little place for some percussions. A good example for a producer that use a lot of percussion sounds is Timbaland. He’s one of the more interesting producers out there. He always sounds like himself and it doesn’t matter what year it is. He never swims with the rest of the salmons.

Do You

This is what makes you who you are. You don’t have to be the most talented producer in the world for creating interesting and artistic stuff. If you have a vision, and if you have courage, you can make it. I always say that the production of a song is an adventure. You know where to start but you don’t always know where you’ll end up. I personally love this feeling of unknowingness. If you try to force the song to be something you have in your vision without letting it flow out of you and actually happen by itself, it’ll sound like you tried too hard and you won’t like the result. Every one of us has a producer or an artist or a band that we look up to and try to sound like them. This is a bit dangerous because it makes us lose our own identity. Eventually, if you do you, people will come work with you for your style and not your ability to sound like someone else.

Every once in a while a client asks me how is his song going to sound at the end, almost every time I say “Dude, I honestly don’t know” It is an adventure, let it happen to you too.

Sample Everything With Your Phone

One of my favorite thing to do is sample stuff with my iPhone and then heavily manipulate it to create freaky stuff to use on my productions. A lot of people don’t know but the microphone you have on your cell phones is a very good condenser microphone that you can actually use for a lot of things.

I wrote this article about recording professional sounding vocals with an iPhone! Give it a try. So every once in a while you’ll come across an interesting sound or a weird instrument that you can sample with your phone. I’ll give you an example. My neighbor has a dog who has the weirdest bark ever, I recorded it with my phone and used it in one of my productions as the second lair for a snare drum. It was freaking awesome! If you have a static sample that repeats itself over and over again and you don’t want it to sound machine-like you can always throw a phase morphing plugin like a Phaser, Flanger or a Chorus on the track, tune it to the minimal setting and it will come to life. Even though it’s not a thing you can really hear beneath the other production elements, our subconscious mind can pick up on things like that.

In Reverse

One of the things I like to do is to start productions with a reversed chord progression. Meaning, I play something on a synth or guitar and then I drown it in reverb and more weird effects and then I bounce it to make an audio file that I then reverse. In most cases, it turns out to be very interesting and I end up building an entire production over this weird little trick. You can hear this on a few of Drake’s songs, His producer Noah ‘40’ Shebib does this a lot.

Background Noise / Room Tone

This is a nice trick you can use in minimal productions, If you have a song that has little instrumentation, say drums, bass, vocals, something to hold the harmony and mostly air (big gaps between the notes). It can be very cool to add some kind of a room tone underneath it all. I have a small library of room tones and background noises like Humming machines, a quiet street, pink noise (with a high frequency roll off), or any room tone you record with your iPhone. You can also try to cut the high frequencies out of any room tone so it won’t interrupt the other elements on the song. You can nearly hear this in the song but when you mute it, something very crucial is missing from the overall. It’s like a sound of the air around your head, moving and morphing. It feels natural and nice and also, It takes away the urge to add more elements to the production. I found out that when you have a little instrumentation in the mix, all of the cool quiet magic that sits below the track is coming up in the mastering stage. I used this song as an example in another article but it fits just right in here also. 


I just found this nice singer on Facebook, downloaded a video of her singing to a camera with her guitar and it’s filled with background magic. I tried to keep the production at a minimum so this little magic will easily come out.

Toys you must have!

I’m a big believer in adding soul to your productions by recording live weird percussion instruments, and I’m gonna say it now, I don’t care what genre you’re into, you have to have a Cabasa!

No, I’m just kidding, but I’m also kinda not 🙂

I LOVE adding little weird percussion sounds to my productions. Shakers, tambourines, bells, rain sticks, wooden percussions, metal percussions, and weird noisemakers. These can really make your productions come alive and give your sound a quirky and unique character, just get crazy and see what you get. I’m sure you’re going to be surprised.

My List

Today’s sound is very wild, even in the most conservative productions you can find a weird and quirky instrument that fits right in. So in this list, I give you a bunch of cool stuff that you just have to have in your studio.

Cabasa

So let’s start with the wonderful Cabasa. You can add it to whatever production you have, you can play it the traditional way, and you can also find new ways to make interesting sounds with it that will be cool in your rhythm section. I really love how Tyler The Creator uses the Cabasa in his Tiny Desk Concert show (min 1:30). It’s a small rhythm part that has a big place in the groove section. Cabasa on Amazon

Egg Shaker

Plastic Egg Shaker
Wooden Egg Shaker

I find myself adding an egg shaker to my productions from time to time. If you’ve never used it, this is your chance to try. It’s made of plastic. It is so cheap that I don’t see a reason to not have it. Such a small sound with such a big impact.


Tambourine

The “tambourine man” is an old and important companion to any rock, folk or acoustic style productions. But you can definitely go crazy with it and add it to a pop production, or even electronic style production, who knows what you will get, it might just turn your song into something a bit more special. Tambourine on amazon.


Bongos

This also is a no brainer, it’s small, it’s not expensive and you have no reason to not have it. As a matter of fact, when you use the Bongos the right way and you play the right groove it can be the one special ingredient that makes your body move. Bongos I like on Amazon.


Cajon

This one is special, the Cajon can sound like a cool percussion element, and if you mic it the right way it can sound like a whole drum set. It is a beautiful instrument. You can take it with you anywhere and it serves as a whole rhythm section. I love it! Choose the Cajon you like.

Finger Castanets

It’s always the little things that make the most difference. When I hear those I can’t help but think about Timbaland’s productions. He has a tendency to use those and a lot of other little percussion instruments in his productions. Finger Castanets.


Xylophone

The Xylophone belongs to the same family together with the Marimba, Balafon, Semantron, Pixiphone Metallophone and the Glockenspiel. It is a tonal instrument so you can play real notes on a real musical scale. This instrument adds a lot of emotions to the production, even a little musical part can make a big difference. You can find it in wood and in metal. Try it. Xylophone.


Chimes

We all know it, yes it’s a little corny but I still love it. Especially for ballad songs, special effects, movie scores or just retro stuff. Gotta have it. Chimes


Claves

The Clave is the wooden knock sound that you hear a lot in Latin music. It is a very simple instrument with a lot of character that you can use in a lot of genres if you’re ballsy enough. Claves

Kalimba

Every one that goes to India comes back with one of those. I love this sweet instrument. I used it in one or two productions and it added a lot of sweet magic. Can’t recommend it enough. Kalimba

More Cool Instruments that you just gotta have and find on Amazon.
Wrist Bell | Bell Sticks

Kids Percussions Pack

I’m not kidding, this pack of kids percussions toys has so much production value. Just go for it.
Kids Percussions Pack

I’ll add more tricks and tips in the future. The main thing about this post is don’t be afraid to break the rules, do crazy stuff even if it’s not natural to your genre. If you have a crazy idea just go for it and if you have nothing you can always turn off the computer, take a day off and start over tomorrow. We are artists, it’s ok to not be brilliant every day.

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27 Mixing Tips That 113 Engineers Wish They Would’ve Learned Sooner

27 Mixing Tips That 113 Engineers Wish They Would’ve Learned Sooner

Hi everybody, Avi here. 

I went and researched in Facebook groups about the best mixing tips that sound engineers wish they would’ve learned sooner. I was expecting the same old regular things, but I was very surprised to find out how helpful their tips actually were! So this is the list I’ve made for you.

1. Learning About Crest Factor

The Crest Factor is defined as the ratio of the peak to RMS value of the signal.

In simple words, it is the distance between the highest RMS and the highest peak of the signal. When you have a high Crest Factor value, it means that the signal is more dynamic. When you have a low Crest Factor value, it means that the signal is more squashed or compressed. It affects the way we perceive loudness. Keeping a good RMS to Peak ratio might help you get higher levels while still keeping the dynamics intact.

For example, in low frequencies like bass, a high crest factor value won’t mean you have more level or more energy, in fact, when you have high-level low frequencies you might lose some of the overall perceived loudness. But low RMS to Peak value in the mid-range will increase the overall perceived loudness. A well-balanced Crest Factor across the mix will give you the best results. It takes some time and practice but in the end, you will nail it. This will allow you to get clear and loud mixes without sounding squashed and lifeless.

2. Don’t Mix In High Levels

Most of the time, we want to crank up the volume to enjoy the music while we mix. This will probably be a bad idea, and here is why:

* You get tired very soon without noticing, a great recipe for a bad mix. 

* The music gets compressed just by the physical limitations of your speakers so you don’t really hear the actual source.

* Room acoustics problems and unwanted resonances become very significant and distort your perception, leading you to wrong judgment and eventually bad mix.

* Protect your ears by mixing in low levels. Over the years you will lose big parts of your hearing that will never come back. So you better delay it by not exposing yourself to high levels daily.

3. Bus processing and Groups

This will not only save you a load of mixing time and CPU but it also makes things a lot simpler. For example, If you’ve got multiple “background vocal” tracks, for instance. Route them all to a bus and do your processing (EQ, compression, etc) on the buses instead of the individual channels, same with ad-libs, harmonies, doubles, etc.

Of course, you can always do SOME processing on the individual channels, but you won’t end up with 7 plugins on each channel and this will save you a lot of CPU and a lot of headache.

4. Gain Staging

This is something we all have a tendency to forget. Every plugin, and every outboard equipment is built to have a “Unity Gain” or a “sweet spot”. This is the spot where this particular device will sound the best. This means that if a certain device has an input, you want it to be set high enough and away from the noise floor to give a healthy signal but not too high in order to keep it far enough from distortion. This “sweet spot” usually sits between 60% to 90% gain.

Even plugins and DAW’s have these “level sweet spots”. when it comes to inputs in general, you want your signal to also live between 60% to 90%.

With outputs it’s a little different, you can even get it to 10% and still be ok. 

So when you’re mixing, it’s important to build a good gain structure and make sure every device or plugin on your chain will work at its sweet spot. This builds up along the mixing process, giving you clarity, punch, and overall more professional sound.

5. Mixing Templates

Basically, the idea is to have a template with all your routings, plugins, sends, aux’s and groups already laid out for you, so you won’t have to spend the time to create them from scratch with every mix you start. Don’t be lazy and do it on your next project. Start with a list of what you use every mix, open a new project on your DAW and start building your first mixing template.

6. Subtractive EQing

I believe that this is the right way to work with an EQ for at least 80% of the time. The idea is to listen to a source and start with taking out the frequencies you don’t like instead adding frequencies that you do like. The thing is when you subtract some frequencies from a source the things you do like about it are almost automatically come out without you having to boost them. This leaves you with a more natural sound overall. Subtractive EQ may also help create more space and room for other things in your mix.

7. Less is More

Just because you have tons of plugins doesn’t mean you have to use them. Some mix engineers feel the need to use tens of plugins to finish a mix, this can’t be further from the truth. Most of the time we can use one or two EQs, and two or three compressors and one delay and one reverb and this is more than enough as our bred and butter. It works the same for almost everything in the music production and mixing world. You don’t have to EQ or compress everything, you don’t have to emphasize any little channel in your mix, it’s ok. This is what I’m saying to my OCD self every time I start a new mix.

8. Multiband Processing

Think about it, you can do multiband distortion, multiband saturation, multiband compression, multiband delay… you can pretty much divide any source to multiple bands and shape each and every one of them separately. If this is not the ultimate control, then I don’t know what is. Back in the old days when we were using mostly hardware, it wasn’t the easiest thing to achieve, but today, when everything is virtualized, the possibilities are literally endless. even though I’m a minimalist, I can use a cool ninja trick here and there every once in a while.

9. Mid/Side EQing

The Mid/Side EQ is the mastering engineer’s best friend. Most of the applications I can think about with this method are mastering related but there are things you can use it in mixing. Let’s say you have a stereo piano channel. This piano is playing a part that is very midrange biased and it happened to clash with the vocals a little bit. Of course, we can just poke a hole in its frequency spectrum with a regular EQ and make a lot of room for the vocal. But we can also do it only on the center channel and leave the stereo’s midrange “open”. This will make room for the vocals while leaving the stereo’s midrange untouched. If this is not having our cake and eat it too, then I don’t know what is, I love cake!

10. Mixing In Mono

I refused to do this for such a long time, didn’t see the point in that. If everybody is already listening in stereo why would I care about how will it sound in mono?? Well my friends, as musicians we have to keep our minds wide open. In your next mix, try to switch the master channel to mono from time to time and stay there for a while. After a few minutes, you’d start to hear what is missing in your mix. I’ll let Graham do the rest, watch his great video.

11. Stop Overthinking

Just go with your guts, let the universe mix for you, I’m completely serious. I have hours and hours of obsessing and feeling bad about my mixing abilities and we all have that. Especially when you compare yourself to grammy-winning, world-renown mixing engineers. Don’t do that! Just mix. Use your intuition and your instincts to quickly find the right place for all the elements in your mix, it is totally possible.

Some of the best engineers I know are not even tech guys, they are using there intuition and gut feeling more than everything. Of course, you have to have a lot of experience to get to this point but trust me, if you practice enough you’ll get there in no time.

12. Invest In Good Equipment

Yeah I know, we always hear how equipment is not the most important thing and it’s true, but when you get to that high enough level you’d be able to actually understand the difference between the cheap stuff and quality gear. This is why I always suggest not to start your music-making journey with high-end equipment. If you work with cheap and even bad equipment, after a while you start to feel like it’s not enough for your needs anymore. This point in your mixing evolution is priceless! The minute you decide to buy a new preamp, or new monitors, or a new microphone, or even better cables, and developed the ability to actually hear the differences… this is exactly why we enjoy and appreciate quality gear. Some of us can’t stop the obsession and become collectors of quality gear and I know at least 4 guys that are crazy like that 🙂

13. Make a List

It seems very simple and you would think that just listening to the mix over and over again would be enough for you to remember exactly what to fix. It may be right but I promise you that writing down some things will save you a lot of precious time. So this is how I do it, I keep a pen and paper on my studio desk and making a list listening only to my exported files. You can do it with a text file opened in the background and just make a list there. This might seem like a small thing but it’ll greatly improve your workflow.

14. Keeping The Rough Mix As Reference

I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Sometimes there’s a certain magic in the first mixdown we do. It’ll be a smart move to keep the rough mix, and not just the mixdown file but the whole project. That way, if you lost your way during mixing you would always have an older basic version to roll back to. Just like time machine backup for your mix.

15. A Good Input Will Grant You With Good Output

Well, it’s kind of obvious but it’s something we need to remind ourselves from time to time. Our output quality can only be as good as the input. Making sure you check all this list will help keeping you in the safe zone.

* A good room acoustics

* Good microphone, DI or pickup.

* High-quality cables.

* High-quality connectors.

* Healthy input level into the preamp.

* Good input level into the audio interface.

* Keeping a good gain structure throughout the whole signal path.

16. Always Keep Your Sub Bass Information In Mono

The very low frequencies are nondirectional, meaning, you can’t easily detect where the sound is coming from, left speaker or right speaker. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep this information in stereo. Usually if you focus your sub 100hz information to the center channel (mono), it’ll help you get a more solid low range. better kicks, more focused bass sounds and equal distribution of energy across the stereo field.

17. Use Automation To Boost Specific Things

This is one of the best things you can do to emphasize emotions in your song. As a music producer, you create a lot of small ear candies inside the production that help increase the emotional impact of the song. These things are often get hidden behind the big and basic things. For example, a pop song is composed of drums, bass, harmony element and a melody element. This is practically what holds the song and makes it what it is, the pillar elements as I like to call them. With these basic channels, you add a lot of little things that are adding a lot of value and even magic to the song. It can be samples, percussion sounds, background vocals and add-ons, small melody parts like guitars, synths and even a cool riff in the bass channel. All these sweet things are making our song a lot more interesting and fun to listen to. With automation, you can boost these things and bring them to the front of your mix to enhance the listener’s experience and make it richer.

18. Solo Things Less

Sometimes when we mix we have a tendency to obsess over one random channel. we try to make it perfect as we listen to it in solo mode. But after a while it might lose its place inside the mix, it might clash with other elements or just get out of context. A lot of mix engineers believe that if you use the solo button less you will never lose your way inside the big picture. I like this tip because it’s not that obvious and it might have a big impact on the end result.

19. 10-20Hz Is Useless For Music When Trying To Go Louder

Ok, let’s tell the absolute truth about it, no one can hear these frequencies but the system itself. There is no benefit in keeping them, they’re only a waste of important energy that can be invested in more audible frequencies that are actually valuable to the production. To be honest, when I’m working on a master I just cut everything under 25hz without even thinking about it. And if I want to go louder I cut even more. That’s just me.

20. Listen To Your Mix OUTSIDE of Your Studio

Yeah, I’m not just saying listen to your mix on more speakers or more headphones, this is too obvious. When you get to the final stage of your mix try taking it out of your studio. Listen to it in your car stereo, try different headphones, try a friend’s studio, try your mom’s car, your girlfriend’s phone speaker, and try every possible system you have available around you. Also try to listen in different locations. It’s all about human perception. The human mind is very complicated and you always find new things when you change the viewing angle. Make sure to make a list of everything you find and want to change or fix, this alone might drastically improve your mix.

21. Good Usage Of Panning

Panning can not only create width but also consequently creates focus in the sum image. Try to create the stereo feeling with high-frequency content channels. Things you can throw to the sides are percussions, high guitars, high strings and high-frequency channels in general. 

With the lower frequency channels you should be more careful and not drift too far to the sides, this might create a “too much weight on one side of the boat” effect and throw your mix off balance.

Tip: Try to pan things to the sides based on energy. That means that low-frequency content channels won’t go too far away from the center unless you have another channel that is similar in content to pan over to the other side. This will make sure the your mix will stay well balanced.

22. Master Bus Processing

Most mix and mastering engineers will tell you to not touch the master channel and they won’t be wrong. But when you reach a certain level as a mix engineer you can allow yourself to do that with confidence and be sure your mix will sound better. If I feel like doing some master bus processing I make it very subtle. Usually, I only use a special compressor that fits my mix in character and style. And even then you can hardly see the reduction needle moving. Sometimes I might use a nice EQ to gently boost some nice high frequencies, just for the extra added color and “glue”. Remember, all master bus processing is done very lightly.

23. Parallel Compression

These days we don’t have to fiddle with complicated routing to get a parallel compression, almost every compressor has a Dry\Wet button. Life is GOOD! Parallel compression is not an obvious effect, it takes a lot of practice to actually be able to hear the differences. I remember my first time doing it, I expected a lot more. But after an hour of testing I started to really notice the differences and learned to create it the right way. The idea is to “compress very hard without compressing at all” I know this makes zero sense but it’s exactly what it is. In simple words, you create a mix between very compressed and very dynamic versions of the same signal. Somewhere in the mix, you’ll find a magic sweet spot that will allow you to enjoy both worlds, simply put, you’d have a super compressed channel with nice dynamic properties. It’s so freaking cool!

24. Range Allocation

This is a fancy name for a very simple thing. Range Allocation is one of the most basic concepts behind mixing music. The idea is to find the right place for each instrument on the frequency spectrum. I’ll let this great video explain this for me.

25. Saturation

Something very interesting and unique happens when the signal passes through a good saturation plugin. In my ears, the light distortion effect brings out some hidden qualities in the signal that you didn’t even know were there. Sometimes you’d like the effect and sometimes you won’t but you should try regardless. Some plugins are not even designed to saturate but they have this feature just because it’s a part of their overall sound. Plugins like analog emulations of old hardware EQs and compressors. There are a few dedicated saturation plugins that give you a range of different colors to choose from. You should try them and go with what you like best. Remember, we don’t have to saturate everything, if everything is special then nothing is. Use it wisely.

26. Pushing The Bass Notes Forward

Putting the bass notes forward, slightly off the grid. That helps to make room for the kick transient helping it cut through the mix a lot easier. The very short delay on the bass channel is not noticeable and that way, it doesn’t clash with the kick. You don’t have to do it on any bass part, only on the parts which the bass and the kick are playing notes at the same time.

27. Don’t Over Quantize!

When we start making music it’s so easy to hit that “Q” button and have “perfect timing”. In some cases, this is exactly what we are going for, but in most cases, especially when it’s a real player, playing a real musical part with real human groove, the quantize feature might suck out the life out of the piece. If you didn’t play tight enough, just do another take but try to get it as good as you naturally can. It makes all the difference. 



Tip: You can also use under 100% quantization. It means that when you hit that Q button it won’t stick the notes to the grid but give them a little wiggle room. So you can make it 70% accurate, or 80% or however you like it. It’s a great feature that helps you tighten up a part without completely sticking it to the grid.

That’s it my friends, happy mixing! 

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