CREATIVELY USE EQ WHEN LAYERING TWO LOOPS. One way to really pump up the motion of a song is to use several loops (of the same tempo hopefully) at once. But what if they both have a nice top end that works together, but the kick drums conflict on certain beats? One way around this, besides chopping up the loop, is to use creative filtering. In this application, try filtering or cutting the low end at around 200Hz (or higher). This will let the kick from the first loop be heard while leaving the midrange and top of the second loop — without muddying up the low end. Try the same method for the high end by cutting frequencies around 7kHz on one while leaving the other alone. As always — experimentation is king.
GET A GREAT GUITAR SOUND WITH AMP FARM. While I’m a big fan of tracking real guitar amps and cabinets, it’s not always possible to do so. Line 6’s Amp Farm can get some vicious tones and with a little extra effort, you can take the sound over the top. Just call up your favorite setting and lower the Master Volume a little to prevent clipping. Adjust the GATE’s Threshold and Release so they only open and close when you’re playing — this allows you to have a little extra DRIVE on the channel. Now place a good software EQ such as the URS N-Series ‘Neve’ EQ and follow it with a Universal Audio 1176 limiter to balance it in the mix. Next create a pair of stereo Aux Inputs and assign one to a Line 6 Echo Farm or Soundtoys Echoboy (or other delay). On the second Aux, call up a real Amp Spring using an Impulse Response reverb and mix and match the two. You’ll think it was recorded live at Madison Square Garden.
ADD A TOUCH OF PERCUSSION TO SPICE UP LOOP-BASED SONGS. Loops are a common and well-used aspect of many of today’s modern productions. However, they don’t always provide that natural feel that can really help out a song. Try recording some live percussion in the feel of the hi-hat (if it has it) to add some human touch. Those small percussion eggs work great, as do shakers and/or brushes on a snare. If you find a great pattern, you can even cut and copy it, but try to keep it real for the whole tune. Mix it in so it barely peaks through, and with a single channel, you’ll have kicked your song up several notches.
CREATIVE USES FOR SONY’S TRANSIENT MODULATOR. “What the #@%* is a Transient Modulator?” you may be asking yourself. This handy Sony plug-in does just what it says — modifies transients to either provide extra attack and presence or take them away. Working on the Pro Tools LE-HD Accel and TC PowerCore platforms, it radically changes the dynamics of instruments or whatever you run through it. There are only four sliders, four knobs, a few meters and an IN button— so it couldn’t be any easier to use. Place it on an aggressive drum loop, pull the RATIO below zero and push the OVERSHOOT above zero and you’ll hear more room and less attack. Do the opposite with a mellow bass part, and it somehow gives you attack you didn’t have before. It’s great for “sitting” loops behind the beat to provide a chilled out feel, or putting life into a mix that sounds flat.
USE THE SCROLL WHEEL ON URS PLUG-INS. Unique Recording Software (URS) plug-ins feature a cool function called Mouse Scroll Wheel Support for Mac OSX Panther and Tiger. For those of you who have scroll wheels on your mouse, it allows the mouse scroll wheel to control knobs, buttons, and numeric value windows. Working with all eight URS EQs and their four compressors, you simply place the cursor over the selected knob and without clicking, scroll with the wheel to change values. Each click of the wheel moves the slider or knob .1dB, and holding the option key will enable a 10X multiplier. I use a Kensington Turbo Mouse and use the function constantly. It’s a nice touch of hardware interacting with software.
USE BFD IN ALL MULTI OUTPUT TO DO A “CYMBAL PASS”. FXPansion BFD is a great tool for adding cymbals to a track. Ranging from 18" K-Series Zildjian Dark Crashes to Paiste 8" Accents, they can liven up any tune. These are real cymbals recorded with great mics through quality preamps, at 24-bit resolution. There is full natural decay on all samples with up to 46 velocity layers per. You can load up to three individually selected cymbals per kit, so I usually find a nice ride, crash, and splash to start with. It can run as a stereo plug-in, but try using the multi-output version. This gives you individual channel control over not only each cymbal, but also the built-in Overhead, Room, and PZM mics. Now you can mix them to your needs, and EQ and compress them separately. If you’re short on processing power, just print the tracks and remove the plug-in.
DROP A FULL RESOLUTION AIFF INTO YOUR IPOD. You gotta love the iPod. Since it is a drive, it can store data files separately from your music. You can even install a copy of your System Folder onto it, and use it as an emergency boot drive. One of the least known iPod facts is that it will play back uncompressed AIFF or WAV files at 16-bit up to 48kHz. This function is amazingly useful for us audio folks. What this means is that the same drive that stores your portable session info can playback your mixes. In addition, these mixes are dated in the iPod for easy update tracking. So go ahead and drop some full resolution 48kHz mixes on your iPod and see how they sound on your daily commute.
WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, MAKE SOME ENCODED MIXES FOR YOUR IPOD. Once the full resolution bounces are in your iTunes folder and/or iPod, you may as well also create MP3s out of them. iPods can playback MP3s or MPEG-4 AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) files at up to 320 kbps. We know that most audio professionals don’t care to have their songs encoded at all, but the economics of online distribution cannot be ignored. By checking your mixes as MP3 or AACs, you can judge what the average iPod/download consumer might hear.
USE PRESETS ON PLUG-INS FOR INCREASED EFFICIENCY. As simple and logical as this sounds, not everyone takes advantage of it. When you dial in that perfect reverb or vocal EQ on your favorite plug-in, save it as a preset! Even though you say to yourself, “I’ll remember the settings,” chances are good you won’t. This way, next time you call up that plug-in, you can just pull down the preset menu and call up your favorite hard-earned setting. I have literally hundreds of presets across a whole range of plug-ins, and call upon them almost every day.
USE WAVES PAZ ANALYZER TO HELP EQ PROBLEM SPOTS IN A MIX. The Waves PAZ Psychoacoustic Analyzer is an amazingly useful tool for many things — especially mixing. With one plug-in screen, you can look at the Stereo Position Display for evaluating the “spread” of your source material, view a 52-band graphic display that changes in real time and see stereo RMS/Peak meters. When I find a problem spot in a mix, usually with bass, I’ll solo the instrument and call up the PAZ Analyzer from the Master bus. By viewing the graphic display, I use the Peak Hold to find out the exact offending frequencies— simply by clicking on their peaks. Then I will cut them with a good graphic EQ and play back the mix. For super-fine resolution, you can even view in 10Hz steps from 250Hz and below.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE CENTER CHANNEL IN SURROUND MIXING. What goes into the center is an often debated and ever controversial subject among those who produce multichannel recordings. Many engineers will use the center channel to “lock in” the image of a vocal, kick drum, snare drum, and bass guitar, while also mixing some of each into the left and right stereo channels. That’s typically done in case a consumer has no center speaker. Certainly if you’re mixing classical music that scenario doesn’t apply and the center may be used to create the feeling of sitting in front of the mid orchestra position.
But some mixers don’t use the center channel at all, and the consumer may feel slighted or confused if there is nothing there on playback. With vocals on a live concert DVD, I’ll use the center channel to create a strong mono image, relying on the left and right speakers to carry most of the actual signal. I will also use the center in the same fashion with the kick, snare, hats, and bass (if there are any) — again relying on the rest of the speakers to carry the mix. The center should simply help you present a stronger image in the front of your mix than you could achieve with plain old stereo.
TRY USING A DELAY ON VOCALS IN THE SURROUNDS WITH A 5.1 MIX. Another technique I use for the center channel imaging mentioned above is to use the power of the surrounds. Try creating a short (50ms or under) stereo delay on a stereo aux send and pan it to the Left/Right surround speakers. Then, as you gradually increase the send from that mono vocal, the image will begin to envelope you. If you dampen the frequency of the delays’ returns, the overall effect becomes less noticeable. When adding in the rest of the mix, it creates a nice sense of vocal space. This technique can be applied across any instrument, and I often send guitars and snares through the same treatment. Send just enough to the surrounds so that you can actually hear the effect, then back it down slightly until you don’t notice it. If you mute the effect, you’ll hear a difference. Now you’ve got a nice sense of depth on a vocal using the surround field.
PRINT YOUR DRIVE CONTENTS AND TAPE THEM TO THE TOP FOR EASY STORAGE RETRIEVAL. Multiple hard drives are a simple fact of life in todays music production world. But when they sit on the shelf, you can’t look inside them to view the contents. A simple but effective trick is to take a screenshot of your drives’ contents, shrink it down if need be, and print it out. Then tape the screenshot to the top of your drive. Now, when you go hunting for that mix you can’t seem to find, you don’t have to pop the drives onto the computer to find out if it’s on there. Just look at the label printed right on top. Piece of cake!
WATCH YOUR SCREENSAVER WHEN LISTENING TO A MIX. If you’re like me, you get tired of constantly staring at the screen when checking a mix. A quick way around that is to set up your computer to play a screensaver by using an Active Screen Corner. On Macs, just go to System Preferences > Expose. Then choose a corner (I use lower right) and set the pull-down menu to ‘Start Screensaver’. This way, when I have the software window open and start a mix from the beginning, I just jam the cursor down into the lower right part of the screen. The screensaver starts up, and I’m no longer looking at waveforms or faders: I’m focusing on the sound. If I hear something I want to fix immediately, just moving the cursor will bring the mix window back up. Try it, you’ll like it.