The Electronic Musician Guide to Doing Everything Better
Don’t let your cellphone ruin the take. It’s not enough to turn off your ringer—if possible,
remove the battery so EMI caused by
background updating doesn’t get picked up by
Boost your lead guitar’s ego. Add a
slight 900Hz–1.2kHz boost before distortion
to articulate leads better; this also
adds sustain by making notes in that range
distort more readily.
Convert your open-back guitar amp to
closed-back in five seconds. To record
a closed-back amp sound with an open-back
amp, lay the back of the amp on a rug, and
point a mic down toward the speaker. (Be careful
Manage “harmonies” onstage. Using
one of those whiz-bang harmony synthesizers
on your live vocals? Monitor the dry signal,
because monitoring the harmonies is going to
mess with your mind. And your pitch.
Loosen the chokehold
a lift in dynamics
without the “sound”
of compression, set low ratios (below 1.5:1)
on two compressors, and run them in series.
Give amp sims some sugar. Add a steep,
narrow notch post-sim; sweep slowly in the
5–10kHz range and notch out any “fizzy”
frequencies. Then, precede with a de-esser to
compress the highs before going in. If you
still need more sweetness, cut a bit at 2kHz
before going into the sim.
QC your CD. Listen to your reference CD
all the way through in mono to make sure no
strange phase things will come back to haunt
you. Check the CD-Text entries for typos. Push
Play, then push the Next Song button repeatedly
to make sure there’s a track marker for
Put a nervous singer at ease. If you’re
doing loop recording, leave plenty of space
before and after the punch points so the vocalist
doesn’t feel pressured. Oh, and turn the
Work your computer like Lisbeth
Salander. Set up a dual monitor. Master
keyboard shortcuts! When you have a lot of
tracks in a project, use track icons—the mind
parses images faster than text. The same is
true for color; use a consistent color protocol
Make over your computer USB for $25.
If hard drive noise and other artifacts are
invading your audio, install a USB port card
(not a combo FireWire/USB card) and use
that for your audio interface(s) instead of
Take the “machine” out of drum machines.
Create virtual room ambience by
adding four delays in parallel as send effects,
with prime-number delay times. (Try 11, 13,
19, 23ms.) Mix these in at low levels
to support the drums. Overdub real
cymbals instead of using the drum
machine’s sampled ones. Final touch?
Adding even 52% swing can liven up
Control your gear from afar. Buy
a wireless QWERTY keyboard and
use your program’s key commands
for control—this is great for recording
vocals from a vocal booth. For
more range, add a USB extender
cable to the wireless receiver that
connects to your computer.
Save your BIOS butt. When you
get a new PC, go into the BIOS during
startup and write down all the
parameter values. You’ll be glad you
did if you ever need to reset, or the
Don’t blow a fuse on
stage. And I mean actual fuses. Some gear has a fuse inside
the case—carry a spare for those
too, not just the gear with external
Tighten your mix with one
tweak. Use a highpass/lowcut filter
on all tracks to cut lows below an instrument’s
range, to get rid of “flab.”
Remember the mono test.
Start your mix with all instruments
panned to center (mono).
This will highlight tracks that
“step on” each other, as well as phase issues.
Get levels and EQ sorted out, then exercise
Make one VSTplugins folder to rule
them all. Create one VSTplugins folder, install
all VSTs there, and set it as the sole VST search
path for all programs that use VSTs. When
you install a new VST plug-in, install it to that
folder—don’t let installers scatter VSTs all over
your root drive.
Be better about backup. Establish a regular
backup schedule. I nag my Twitter followers
the first week of the month.
Get an instant Sun Studio slapback. Set
delay time to 150–160ms. Great balls of fire!
Try some E-Z multiband processing.
Multiband compressors make great crossovers
for multiband processing. Duplicate a track
to create as many copied tracks as multiband
compressor bands, set each band’s compressor
for no compression (ratio 1:1), solo a different
band for each track, then process each track/
Kill computer noise with a faux vocal
booth. Option 1: Grab a wireless mic like the
Line 6 XD-V70, leave the noisy room, and close
the door. Option 2: Bring an SD card-based
field recorder (no moving parts!) with XLR ins
and +48V phantom power, and a premix of the
song on one track. Go someplace quiet, sing to
another track, then transfer when done.
Bump up the bass track. Compress it,
big-time. Seriously. Granted, too much compression
is worse than too little, but bass is
different, because playback systems have
such nasty bass response. The more even the
notes on your bass, the better the odds they’ll
make it through to the consumer’s ear—even
through (gack!) cheap earbuds.
Extend an Li-Ion battery’s useful life.
Storing rechargeable Li-Ion batteries either fully
charged or discharged shortens battery life. A 40-
50% charge is good. And when you use gear with
rechargeable batteries for the first time, charge
them fully before using the gear.
Remove master bus effects when
mixing for mastering. If material is going
to be mastered, don’t put any effects on the master
bus—no dynamics, EQ, imaging, nothing. That’s
the mastering engineer’s job, who has better plugins
and analog processors than you do anyway.
Get better Windows 7 performance
with your DAW. In Win7 (not XP), give priority
to “Programs” instead of “Background
Services.” Go to Start > Control Panel > System
> Advanced System Settings > Advanced tab >
Settings button > Advanced tab.
Practice safe copy protection. If you use
System Restore (Windows) or Time Machine
(Mac) to return to a point prior to where a
copy-protected program was authorized, you
may lose the authorization.
Nuke latency, seven ways. 1) Wear headphones
to avoid the delay from speaker to ears.
2) Freeze instrument tracks for less CPU loading.
3) Do a full bypass on processors (e.g., disconnect
from CPU) until mixdown. 4) Download
the latest audio interface drivers. 5) On
laptops, disable internal wireless functionality
when doing audio. 6) Use zero-latency monitoring
judiciously. 7) Upgrade your CPU.
Document your sessions—painlessly.
1) Dedicate an audio track to narrating all the
details about the session. 2) Take pictures of
settings of your outboard gear, string the pix
together in iMovie or Windows Movie Maker
(a free component of Windows Live Essentials),
render the video, and store it in your
DAW’s video track. 3) Save all your MIDI
device data as Sys Ex within your project. 4)
Some DAWs let you write really long track
names—instant documentation! 5) Aim for
having everything you need contained in one
project; if there’s a notepad function, write
the lyrics in there.
Improve MIDI guitar tracking. 1) Enable
legato mode and mono mode on each synth
channel. 2) Add a short attack time (10–20ms)
to the amplitude envelope. 3) Mute strings
slightly. 4) With magnetic pickups, make sure
they’re not getting interference from transformers,
fluorescent lights, or other “dirty”
Help your ribbon mic live long and
prosper. Although newer ribbon mics aren’t
quite as picky as older models, it’s good practice
to store them vertically so that the element
is straight up and down.