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February 1, 2005

78. The free Windows spectrum analyzer.

To analyze how a song’s energy is distributed over the audio spectrum, open Windows Media Player and go View > Visualizations > Bars and Waves for three spectrum analysis screen options. There’s also an oscilloscope view. (Note that to see visualizations, you need to check “Digital Audio” under Playback Settings at Tools > Options > CD Audio.) None of this is calibrated; still, it’s useful to see how your music compares to commercially available CDs. And if the bars stay at the top a lot, you know there’s a ton of compression being used.

79.Fixing doubled vocals.

With doubled vocals, sometimes the overdubbed vocal will “fight” the original vocal on an occasional word or two. Rather than recut the doubled vocal, copy the same section from the original (non-doubled) vocal. Paste it into the doubled track, but delay it by about 20-30 ms. Short segments (a few words) will sound fine; longer segments will sound echoed. This may work, but won’t sound as much like two individual parts being played.

80. Sends: Don’t just set and forget.

A person commented after hearing a mixes that used a lot of delay on voice, that the delay never seemed to “step on” the vocals or muddy things up. This is because we like to vary the send control in real time to pick up just the end of phrases, so that when the phrase stops, the echoes continue — but just before the vocals return, the send goes back down. This is an ideal application for a control surface, but the patient among you can draw in curves for the send level.

81. Speaker switching.

Set up two or more monitor systems so you can easily switch among them during mixdown. That way, you don’t have to wait until you think you’ve finished a mix and burned it to a test CD, only to realize it doesn’t translate to other systems.

82. Mono good.

When you start mixing, pan everything to center, and sort out the levels and EQ. Then deal with the stereo placement. You’ll find that if the mix works in mono, then it will work even better in stereo. Also check the overall mix in mono to make sure there aren’t any phase cancellations going on.

83. Double your (metering) pleasure.

Want to monitor peak and average levels at the same time on your master bus? If your metering doesn’t allow this option, there’s a simple workaround, assuming your host has assignable buses. Assign all the tracks to be mixed down to a bus, set its level to 0, and adjust its metering to average (RMS) response. Now assign that bus to your master bus, and adjust its metering to peak. Arrange your window so the two sets of meters are close together, and you’ll be able to see what’s happening in peak-land and average-land at the same time.

84. Parallel effects with DAWs.

Even if you don’t have an effects matrix like BIAS Vbox, don’t worry. Make two copies of the track you want to process, then add one line of effects to one of the copied tracks. If the effects have wet/dry mix controls, set all of them to wet (processed sound) only. Next, add a parallel line of effects to the other copied track, again with all effects set to wet only. The original track serves as the dry signal; use the DAW’s mixer to set the correct mix of the three tracks.

85. Preset management for effects.

Preset files take up virtually no space at all — typically a couple kilobytes, if that. Because there’s no penalty in saving lots of them, any custom preset I use in a song gets saved under the name of the song. I find it’s easier to remember a sound that’s associated with a song rather than just giving it a name like “BrightTelePreset” or whatever.

86. Why two measure loops are better than one measure loops.

When you create loops, avoid one-measure loops and do at least two-measure loops. Make the second measure a variation on the first measure. That way, if you want a loop to keep repeating and sound the same, just split the loop in half, and copy the first measure repeatedly. When you want the variation to come in, use the full loop so it plays through the second measure.

87. Latency as a tool.

When it comes time to mix, increase the latency on your computer a bit, say from 5 to 10ms. This will let you use more plug-ins during the mixing process.

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