Dave Edwards

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I'm a Music Producer, Remixer, and DJ based out of NYC. This blog is devoted to everything and anything that inspires me, and I hope you enjoy the ride.

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Posts tagged audio production

The same guys who did the amazing TDR Feedback Compressor (which I featured in my post of the best free AU/VST plugins) have just released a free EQ and its just as good.  

This isn’t for surgical cuts or boosts, but you already have your parametric EQ’s in Ableton or Logic for that.  This is one of the better ITB EQ’s out there for radically reshaping a sound or sweetening a mix.

http://www.tokyodawn.net/tdr-vos-slickeq/

Production Tip #11 - The Best Free VST/AU Plugins Right Now

One of the most frequent questions I get asked by other producers is what my favorite plugins are - anyone who’s ever been in the studio with me knows I’ve tried or bought just about everything out there, from Synths to EQ’s and Compressors.  One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is that the price of a plugin rarely has anything to do with it’s quality, and with that in mind I give you a list of the absolute best plugins you can get for free that will substantially improve your mixes if you learn how to use them well.  

1 - Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR Feedback Compressor II

  This thing might be the best compressor I have, even better than my Slate Virtual Buss Compressors, Vintage Warmer, Kush UBK-1, and some of the other more expensive plugins I’ve bought.  It’s absurdly good on the mixbuss, and has the kind of weight only hardware typically has.  What makes this plugin unique (definitely read the manual on this one!) is it’s dual release stages: unlike your typical compressor, the TDR II uses a blend of both short and long release times to give you super smooth compression that’s a blend of Peak and RMS.  It’s got a parallel channel built in, High Pass Sidechain,  and by far the coolest feature to me is the “Delta” button - click this and the plugin will only play you the compressed component of your audio signal, so you can literally hear exactly what the compressor is touching and what it isn’t.  Especially when you’re new to compression, that can be very hard to figure out, and this plugin is as good as it gets for any price.

2 - Klanghelm IVGI Saturator

                      

  If you’re deep in the plugin game you know Klanghelm dropped one of the best (and cheapest) compressors last year with the DC8C.  The IVGI is a free version of their upcoming Console/Saturation plugin, and it is ridiculously good.  Set the trim knob so the loudest part of your synth is just tapping the red part of the meter, as you would on an analog desk - and compensate up or down with the output knob.  Turn drive to between 1 and 3, set Asymm to 7-10 (Asymm is basically a “transparency” knob - the higher you set it, the more subtle and clean the saturation will be), and turn crosstalk up if you want to enhance your stereo field a bit.  The best part?  The Frequency Response knob on the lower right hand corner.  Turn this a bit to the right, and you’ll hear your highs saturate and come to life in a way no EQ can do - turn it to the left and it will do the same for bass frequencies.  

3 - Vladg Sound Limiter no6

  I can’t say I use this as my master limiter, because FabFilter’s Pro-L and a good clipper are better.  But for a free plugin, it’s excellent.  It’s got a master buss compressor, and most importantly, a good hard clipper with oversampling.  A few dB’s of clipping (not clipping your DAW’s output - using a proper hard clipping plugin) before your master limiter will help you retain punch and squeeze an extra couple dB’s of loudness out of a track without pumping.  Unlike limiting, clipping does not destroy or round off your transients - in fact a good clipper distorts and saturates transients in a pleasing way - so it allows you to retain punch.  

4 - Flux Bittersweet 3

  Flux makes probably the best plugins around - their multiband compressor Alchemist is from another planet - but most of their plugins also run upwards of $500 a pop.  Luckily they decided to give away the transient designer section of Alchemist, called Bittersweet, for free.  If you’ve never used a transient enhancer before, I’d say they’re almost as essential for electronic music as compression and EQ.  Unlike a compressor, which can enhance transients if set correctly, a transient designer does not modulate the amplitude of a sound above a certain threshold - it just enhances the attack or release phase of a sound’s envelope.  Put this on any sound you need to get some more punch out of - drums, sharp synth cuts, pluck sounds - and turn the knob right to increase the attack of the sound.  

5 - TAL Reverb II & Chorus

                    

  TAL makes a lot of awesome plugins, and their new synths are some of the best you can buy.  Luckily some of their effects, including their reverb and chorus, are completely free.  Their chorus is hands down the best one you will find anywhere - free or paid.  Their reverb isn’t the best I have, but it’s really really good, CPU efficient, and by far the best thing you can get for free.  It’s easy to set unlike a lot of reverb plugins and it’s got a great overall width and tone to it.  

                              Follow me for more tutorials and tips @

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Production Tip #8 - Signal Flow in Logic 9

For today’s production tip I want to talk to you guys a bit about how to manage a big session in Logic and some techniques I personally have found very helpful regarding signal flow and routing.  Although I use Logic, this is really applicable to just about any DAW that has busses and flexible routing.

One thing that you’ll find as you progress in your production, and you’ve probably had this happen already, is that your sessions in your DAW become increasingly complex.  More advanced productions that use things like parallel compression, parallel processing, vocal production, and so on, will complicate your projects.  One of the necessary skills for being a really great producer is being comfortable in a complex project, and really having a good grasp of signal flow and some basic good practices.  Since I plan to cover some of those topics like parallel compression soon, I figure this is a good place to start with some basics.  

Click here to download a screenshot of my basic template setup in Logic so you can see what I’m talking about.

The first thing you’ll see to the right of the basic audio/instrument tracks are some effect busses - 3 delays, and 3 reverbs.  In my experience I find this to be a good starting point for just about any project.  Generally you’ll find that something in your project will need a long delay, other elements will do better with a shorter delay, and sometimes you’d like to use a mono-compatible delay.  The same goes for reverbs - I typically use one short, medium, and long, for various elements in the mix.  These are of course just starting points, and a lot of times I’ll change things up during a project, but I just find it helpful to have this all sorted out from the get go.  

A very important thing you should make note of- notice how there is a high pass EQ (logic’s built in EQ is fine for this job) on all effect return channels.  This is really important!!  Reverbs and delays do not need low end frequencies to benefit a mix, and in fact, delays and reverbs in the low frequencies will really cloud up your bass and drum mix.  I typically cut the low end of all these effects below 200hz or so, sometimes adjusting that number just based on sound.

Next you’ll see 4 channels dedicated to parallel processing.  Since I end up doing parallel processing of some sort in every session, again I just find it useful to get this out of the way with my template.  

Moving along to the right, you can see that then I have three busses dedicated to drums - one for kicks, one for snares/claps, and one for loops, hihats, percussion, etc.  I find this to be extremely important as you typically have to layer multiple sounds (for example, layering several snare samples) to get a really snappy, big sound thats appropriate for a good production.  The problem with using multiple samples without routing them to a bus is that they tend to lack some cohesion.  By routing all of your snares, for example, to a common bus, you can eq and compress them together a bit before sending them to your drum bus, and it will make for a better final mix.  This also gives you more freedom to apply effects to certain parts of your drums - like a stereo spreader to hi hats or snares - which would not be appropriate for a full drum mix, as stereo effects will mess up your low end and kick.  

The same applies to bass.  Notice how I have two bass busses- one for low bass, like sub bass, and one for high bass sounds.  Again, by routing my high bass sounds to a separate buss, I can do a lot of extra processing and stereo trickery that is not good for a full bass mix.  For those of you interested in producing electro house, this is really important, as your typical electro bass is made up of a couple of layers, typically one low that really carries the weight of the sound, and some high layers that have lots of effects and processing applied.  

From there, you can see that I separate the entire project into stems - these are labeled with the dash in front and behind the track name - for exporting for mastering.  This is another thing I can’t stress enough - never try to do a final mix in the same session where you composed the track.  You will be amazed how much cleaner and better your mixes come out when you export stems to a new, clean session, and just chop things up and process them from there.  By sending everything to stems from the beginning, its very easy to do this when it comes time for a final mix, and it’s also very easy to solo certain parts of a mix very quickly.  If you have 7 synth channels and everything is just routed to the master output, it takes you much longer to solo your synth section than it does if you’re working with stem busses.

Also, note that I have a stem bus called “-DNB-” where both my full drum mix and full bass mix are routed to.  The idea is just to route your drums and bass - which in dance basically are the whole track, or at least the most important part of it - to one bus where they can be compressed, limited, and sculpted together.  It’s hard to explain this beyond saying that you should just try it, but what you’ll find is that when you compress and limit your drums and bass together, they just work together better than when processed separately.  Groove is a little better, punch is increased, and the whole low end just glues nicely if you mix it well.  

The final thing to notice is that everything in the session is routed to Bus 64, or a “submix” bus in Logic, which is then routed to the master channel.  In my experience I find it to be very helpful to have a submix bus in dance music, particularly for filter effects.  As an example, let’s say as you’re working on your track you want to use a high pass filter to sweep up just as a break or transition in the track is coming to an end.  Although you could just put a filter on the master channel, the problem is this forces you to filter everything in the track - sometimes a filter effect will sound better if it just is applied to certain elements, like maybe vocals and synths, and a few elements remain normal in the mix.  Using a submix allows you to do this without needing to put a filter on every channel you want the effect applied to.  In practice, to follow along with this example, you could simply route anything you want filtered (synths, vocals, and fx let’s say) to the submix, and have all the other busses routed to the master output.  Now you can apply effects for transitions or whatever just to certain busses, without needing to duplicate plugins over and over and re-draw automation.  

I hope this template and these ideas at least give you a few things to try out with regard to keeping your sessions clean and manageable.  You should use a template that suits exactly how you like to work, and there’s no need to view anything I do as the “right” or only way to do things.  As always you can keep up with all my news and updates on my Facebook or Twitter.

I’ve been a huge fan of FabFilter plugins for a while now, and it looks like they have a new stereo/mid side multiband saturation/distortion/amp plugin coming this Friday.  From the video it looks to be their best plugin yet, which is saying a lot.  If you’re into production and haven’t checked out Volcano 2 or Pro-G yet, definitely get the demos.

Production Tip #3 - Filter Every Channel

First off I want to say I’m glad these tutorials have been getting good feedback on Twitter and Facebook and I’m very happy you guys are finding them helpful!  Also, my new original track featuring Silver Medallion is nearing completion and will be mixed by the end of this coming week.  If you missed it I put up a brief preview of the drop which you can hear at : American Girl Preview

Now, onto the mixing stuff!  Today I want to pass along a piece of mixing advice that I got a while ago but didn’t really apply to my work until fairly recently, and it has made a world of difference.  That advice is simple- filter (high and lowpass) every track in your mix.

Some of you may already do this, and some people may disagree with this advice, but I have found it to produce excellent results when you apply it across a whole mix track by track.  The principle is basically this: especially with soft-synths, there is a lot of unnecessary frequency information in a track- most AU/VST synths produce a lot of high frequencies that go well beyond 20,000hz which is the upper limit of human hearing.  The problem is, these frequencies (even the ones that are not audible) eat up headroom in your mix.   You will also find that when using typical chord voicings, synth leads will produce frequencies below 150hz, which begins to interfere with your bass section.  When you have these frequencies building up across every channel going into the master, that’s a lot of headroom you’re losing.  

Additionally, it becomes more than a headroom issue for dance music.  If you’ve ever been to a club and heard a poorly mixed track, you know it’s not fun.  One of the worst things you can have is a track which is searing and overly bright in the high frequencies, because on a main room sound system this will get harsh to people’s ears very quickly.  Low frequencies are a big issue too.  The key to a great low end is not every track in the mix having bass in it- the key is that you have a very focused and powerful bass section and your chords/vocals/synths sit above it without excessive frequency overlap.  I personally try to highpass every non bass instrument around 100hz or so, unless it really removes power from the sound or makes it sound weird.  Even in that case, I will usually try to reconsider the arrangement and layering of sounds, because a well produced track should rarely have chords/leads/vocals that are interfering with the kick and bass- I’ll talk more about how this applies to songwriting and chord voicing in a future tutorial.

When applied across a whole mix, this technique will greatly reduce frequency buildup in the very low and very high areas of your spectrum.  Frequency buildup is what happens when a certain part of the frequency spectrum is overpopulated by numerous sounds in a mix- remember, the goal when mixing is to put each sound into its own frequency space, because otherwise we get buildup and masking.  

Below is an example of this principle at work using a basic chord track sequenced with Sylenth 1.  This is a basic chord progression (vi-I-V-IV) played in C.  You’ll notice in the untreated sound that it has a lot of power, which might be nice for a breakdown where there’s less competing instruments, but let’s consider plugging this sound into a drop or busy section of the mix:

Although this sound doesn’t have a ton of extra bass information, it has loads of high end buzz which will not help us attain a nice mix and will eat up headroom.  Now I’ll use the DMG EQuality EQ (Analogue Phase Mode) to strip out the lows and highs:

This aggressively takes out some of the bass, which in this case is a good thing because if we’re putting this instrument in a drop or busy section it will have a strong bassline and kick below it.  I’ve cut the highs above 20k to save headroom and remove a bit of harshness, and as the mix goes on I could easily roll off the highs some more as the sound is still a bit bright.  The big thing to understand here is that this is just one channel of our mix.  If our drop has 20 sounds, between drums, fx, bass, leads, vocals, whatever, competing for space, imagine how much of a difference you get if each channel is filtered so it’s at least somewhat isolated in the frequency spectrum.  Dealing with full on overlap in instruments and sounds is a much bigger topic, but this begins to address the issue.

One further application of this is to things like sound effects (sweeps, white noise, etc), hi hats, cymbals, and lots of instruments or sounds that have a very specific frequency range.  You can be even more aggressive than I was here when filtering such sounds: I often highpass hi hats or cymbals well above 200hz (depending on the sample, you can sometimes lop off everything below 2,000hz and still have a solid sample), and again, the more unnecessary stuff you cut out, the more easily every sound and track can gel together for a wholesome mix.  Sound effects like risers, sweeps, and the like are also very good targets for cutting highs or lows depending on the sound- it’s all about asking yourself what’s the point of this sound in the mix (like, ok, this sub impact is here to accentuate a drop off on the low end) and cutting everything in the sound that doesn’t contribute to that goal.

Also, experiment with different EQ’s/Filters as each has their own sound and sometimes will just work better for a certain instrument.  I like EQuality a lot, as well as FabFilter Volcano and Satson Channel by Sonimus for more gentle filtering- Satson has by far the most analogue and incredible sounding filters I’ve ever heard in a plugin.

You can hear the untreated sound, DMG filtered sound, and the Satson version here:

http://soundcloud.com/davedwards/sylenth-eq-test

There’s been a few attempts at turning the iPad into a full fledged recording/producing device (GarageBand, FL Studio Mobile), but I’ve never seen anything like this.  48 tracks @44.1k, a custom wrapper for VST plugins (Fab Filter and other major manufacturers already on board), and a full 64 bit mix engine through the whole audio path.  A lot of desktop DAW’s aren’t even there yet.  It isn’t shipping just yet and so nobody’s actually gotten a hands on review, but if this is legit it’s a game changer.

via CreateDigitalMusic

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