Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Treating Your Drums Right

One of the easiest ways to bring the production quality up in your home studio recordings is to record each individual drum sound on its own track, thus allowing you to process each one individually. Of course, there's something to say for taking a less precise approach (read up on the recording of the drum track for Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" for a good example), but if a clean, punchy, and clear drum track is your aim, read on.

So, today's post will be about how best to effect each part of your drum track. Remember, at the end of the day, the only real rule is if you think it sounds good. If it sounds right, it is right. Rules were made to be broken.

Kick Drums
Unless you are making a style of music that depends on the more extreme ends of the bass spectrum, the first thing to do is to apply a highpass filter to your kick. Filter everything out below around 50Hz or so. This will clean up your low end significantly and give your mix more headroom by getting rid of frequencies most of your listeners won't hear on their systems anyway.

The next step I usually take is to add some compression. How you compress your kick really depends on the style of music you make. A good starting point, however, is to set your ratio to 4:1, set your threshold so its reducing your signal by about 6db, then set you attack and release to taste. If you make more hard-edged styles of music like French House or EBM, you might like to use a bit crusher (12-bits sounds great on kicks) or an overdrive on your kick. This essentially works like a limited and will add some extra harmonics that will help give your kick a harder edge.

You can use an additional EQ to emphasize different frequencies and further shape the tone of the sound. Try boosts between 60-80hz to add some clubby subs. Need some more smack to the attack? Try a boost somewhere between 1800hz-4000hz.

Kicks are generally kept pretty dry these days, but if you're going for a more retro sound, try adding a little gated reverb for some 80's flavor.

Again, I find it a good idea to begin the processing chain for cymbals like hi-hats and crashes with some subtractive EQ. Even though cymbals are generally very high-frequency sounds, you'd be surprised at how many errant low frequencies that are present in some of them. Filter these out with a highpass filter set to eliminate frequencies below 500hZ or so. If you need some extra air and crispness, try a slight boost in the region above 10kHz. Don't overdo it, just boost by a db or two.

Adding space to the track depends on the sound you're after. Consider adding a little room reverb with a 20% wet level to give your cymbals a more "live" sound.

If you're doing certain styles of dance music that requires chunky sounding cymbals, you might want to add a little bit of bit-crushing.

Begin yet again with some subtractive EQ, rolling off the frequencies below 100Hz or so. The "body" of a lot of snares is somewhere in the 200-300Hz range, so boosts or cuts to this region will generally help you shape how heavy a snare sounds. Boosts in the 3000-700Hz range will help add a little punch and brightness. Want to add some air and crispness? Boost in the 10kHz+ range. Keep boosts subtle. If you need to EQ too much, you might be better off finding a different snare.

Compression is a good choice next. Start with the same basic settings that I recommended for kicks and shape it until you have something you like the sound of. The recommendations about bit-crushers and overdrive apply here too.

Next up, try applying some reverb. To be current, you generally want something pretty short here, such as a room reverb. Keep the wet level around 20%. For a retro or dub sound, try using a spring reverb setting.

Apply the same general settings as you have applied to your snare, but allow more lower frequencies through, EQing it more like your kick drum. Compress as your snare and shape to taste.

These are some general hints to get you started processing your drum sounds individually. How you apply this to your own material will depend mostly on your own taste. One trick many producers like to use after producing all their individual drum parts is to send all of their drum sounds to a bus, and compressing the entire kit together by a small amount (try 2:1 ratio, and 2-3db reduction on your threshold). This gives the effect of "gluing" the individual elements together into a coherent sounding mix that sounds like it came from a single kit.

Anything you feel I've missed? Any valuable drum processing secrets you think your fellow Waveformless readers might benefit from? Share them in the comments!

Yamaha CS-15 on eBay

Info at the listing...

Korg Wavestation EX on eBay

Info at the listing...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bit of a Break...

Hey, just a word to let everyone know the blog will be on a bit of a hiatus until next Monday. I've got a mini-tour happening this week and the preparations have been absorbing most of my time. I'll try and post if anything earth-shattering in the world of electronic music happens, but most likely, we'll have radio silence here until I get back.

• August 24th, Portland, OR @ Fez Ballroom
• August 25th, Seattle, WA @ El Corazon
• August 26th, Edmonton, AB @ Starlite Ballroom
• August 28th, Calgary, AB @ Dickens. Spread the word!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Free Sample Friday: Processed Drums

Today's free samples are 11 heavily-processed drum sounds. There's no real rhyme or reason here other than I started with a basic drum sound and just piled on the plug-ins until I heard something I found interesting. Hopefully you will, too! All samples are 24-bit stereo WAVs. Just over 2MB in size.


Oberheim Strummer on eBay

Info at the listing...

Oberheim OB-8 on eBay

Info at the listing...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tomorrow: Assemblage 23 in Tucson, AZ

My band will be playing a 1 hour set at the Surly Wench in Tucson, AZ in honor of the 40th birthday of our friend (and promoter) Erick. Tickets are at the door and are a mere $7. Let's pack the place and send him off into senility in style!

[photo by Harriet Malcom]

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blue Roland SH-101 on eBay

Info at the listing...

Roland System 100 Model 101 on eBay

Info at the listing...

Roland SH-7 on eBay


Steve Duda Releases Free Drum Utility Program for OP-1

Steve Duda has released a free utility for Mac and PC that assists in creating drum kits for the Teenage Engineering OP-1. The OP-1 uses a modified AIF as its file format, so The OP-1 Drum Utility lets you build custom kits and export them in the proper format for the OP-1 to read.

Review: CFA-Sound DSP Drums

Product: DSP Drums
Format: Downloadable 24-bit WAVs and instruments for Kontakt, & EXS-24
Genre: Anything that needs analog-sounding electronic drums
Developers site:
Price: $22.50
Demo: Audio demo and free samples available

DSP Drums is the latest sample set from developers CFA-Sound. It consists of 540 drums & 40 loops in 24-bit WAV format sourced from u-he's popular ACE Softsynth, as well as mappings for Native Instruments' Kontakt and Apple's EXS-24. What makes this collection somewhat unique is that it includes both processed and clean versions of all the samples, allowing you to choose the version that is most useful to you. In a hurry and don't feel like messing with compressor settings? Then the processed versions will be right up your alley. Are you a pro at mixing and want to effect the samples your self for a more custom approach? Fire up the clean samples.

The sounds are helpfully divvied up by category with folders for claps, clicks, closed hats, open hats, kicks, loops, misc, perc, snares, and toms. If you're unfamiliar with it, ACE is u-he's easy to understand version of a modular synth. That bit of info should tell you a bit of what to expect from the resulting sounds... very analog and very electronic. If you're looking for acoustic-sounding drums or extremely modern workstation-type drums, best look elsewhere. But if you love the throb of an analog kick and the snap of an old school drum machine snare, this collection is well worth a look.

The processing done here isn't the wild sort of processing the name DSP Drums sort of suggests, but is very well done and tasteful EQ and compression aimed at making the sounds ready to fit into a mix as-is. The processing is all very well done, and I didn't find any sounds I thought sounded over-compressed or poorly put together. The clean samples offer the same great sound quality, but with more dynamic range and a flatter tonal palette.

Not all the sounds come across equally as useful, though. While I really enjoyed the kicks (a nice variety here especially), percussion, and loops (which are very nicely done with a slight IDM or tech house influence to them), the snares and claps were less inspiring. I think this is not really CFA's fault so much as it is the limitations of what can be put together with ACE. Snares and claps are notoriously difficult sounds to synthesize convincingly. Don't get me wrong, the snares and claps are recorded very well and have an excellent presence and snap, they just don't seem as varied as the other tracks and are light enough in feel that they'll only work for certain kinds of music (although further processing of your own would undoubtedly yield other variations).

So what genres does this suit best? I could hear any of these sounds working really well for minimal and tech house, not to mention retro synth-pop styles. The percussion would work great in electro house and anything looking for a high quirk factor. There's a lot of creativity in the sound design, the sound quality is top notch, and the price is very reasonable. Have a listen to the demos and download the demo samples first to see if these are a good fit for the kind of music you make. I'd love to see a future volume include some wilder, more sound-design-y use of effects, as it would really stand out. As it is, this is a great collection, very professionally done. [9/10]

Monday, August 15, 2011

Roland Alpha Juno-2 on eBay

More photos at the listing...

Metallic Casio VL-Tone on eBay

Never seen one like this before. The classic VL-Tone, but with a metallic body.

MFOS Sound Lab Semi-Modular Synth on eBay

Info at the listing...

Great Video Tutorials on Mastering

Here's a great series of video tutorials from Dubspot's Daniel Wyatt. He's using iZotope's Ozone 4, but the concepts should translate to whatever your personal weapons of choice are...

[via Dubspot]

Melodyne Tutorial: Creative Use of the Amplitude Tool

Celemony just uploaded a new video tutorial highlighting some of the less conventional uses for the amplitude tool in Melodyne.

How to be a Great Opening Band

It doesn't often occur to us that gigantically popular bands such as U2 were not always that way. We get blinded by the celebrity, the massively expensive stage sets , and the top ten hits, and we forget that just a few short decades ago, U2 were just a bunch of Irish guys playing the same crappy venues we all do when we first start out, most likely opening up for some band that never made it.

There are lots of factors out there that determine who make that leap from garage band to international success such as having a great stage presence, great songs, and raw talent to spare. But it's also important to remember that you have no opportunity to make that leap if you can't get gigs. More bands than I can count have derailed their own careers by being terrible support acts. And by "terrible", I don't mean untalented, I simply mean they play the role of an opener poorly and burn bridges in the process. Then the gigs dry up, and everyone wonders what happened to them, or, more likely, forgets them entirely.

So today I want to talk about some of the things my own band learned from our own time as a support act, and things we've watched happen again and again on the road with other bands. Following these guidelines doesn't guarantee you success - nothing does - but they just might help tip the scales in your favor, and at the end of the day, that's all you can ask for.

1. Keep It Short, Keep It Sweet
Of course you're anxious to take the stage, kick ass, and let the audience hear all the great songs you've been writing over the years. That's the whole point. But it's important to remember than no one but the band's significant others are there to see the opening band. Play too long, and you're going to annoy the other bands, the audience, and probably the promoter as well. So, it's always a good idea to get a clear set-length from the promoter ahead of time and stick to it. If you don't get a specific number, anywhere between 35-45 minutes is a good opening set length. It doesn't matter if you have a kick ass show and the audience loves you. It's not your show. Leave them wanting more, and there will be more demand for you to come back.

2. Shut Up and Play
There's nothing wrong with a bit of stage banter (so long as you're good at it), but try to keep it to a minimum. At this stage, people don't yet care to hear the long, rambling story about how clever you are and why you wrote a particular song. We once played with a band who, no lie, talked between 5-8 minutes between each song. I actually timed it. Of course, this extended the length of their set to well over an hour, and by the end, the audience was getting visibly restless. This is sort of related to point #1 in that you need to keep in mind that some venues have hard curfews that cannot be broken. So if your set goes on too long, the headliner might not be able to play a complete set. Not the way to make friends.

3. Be Gracious
Even if it's not the headliner who got you on the bill (and it usually isn't), be sure to introduce yourselves and thank them for the opportunity. I can't tell you how many friendships and business relationships started for my band simply from the words "thank you". This can be rare in the music business, so people tend to remember it when they encounter it, because, let's be frank, no one wants to work with assholes. Which brings me to number 4...

4. Don't Be an Asshole
Unless you just completely unaware of social norms, this should be a no-brainer. Don't be a jerk to the promoter even if he's a jerk to you. Don't throw an epic, profanity-laden tirade at the sound guy just because he messed up your sound. Don't trash the backstage, don't slag the venue during your set, don't abuse the venue's sound equipment, don't hit on the other band's girlfriends, don't post nasty stuff about the gig online... do I really need to go on? You wouldn't think so, but I see all this stuff happen CONSTANTLY. Stop it. You know better.

5. Go Above and Beyond
This one really isn't hard, because honestly, people generally don't expect all that much out of bands. If a promoter decided to take a chance on your and put you on a bill, return the favor. Offer to distribute fliers and promote the show, help the sound guy wrap up cables at the end of the night, just do something a little extra to make you stand out as good people to work with. Doing the same with the headliner is a good idea too. We once played a support show where the venue was refusing to fill the band's liquor rider. My keyboard player suggested we run to a liquor store around the corner, grab them a bottle, and break the ice. Not only was the band extremely thankful, but we became friends and remain friends over a decade later.

6. Be Professional
If you want to realize your dream and make music your profession, you need to treat it like a profession. Show up on time, fulfill your obligations, and act like you are at a job you really don't want to get fired from. I know this doesn't sound very "rock n' roll", but you're not frigging Oasis, and you're not going to get the second, third, or fourth chances they've gotten despite bad behavior because you're not making someone millions of dollars. Nothing is a given, so make every decision with that in mind.

7. Slow Down There, Keith Richards...
Almost all bands have to learn this lesson first hand. I know we certainly did. Of course you're excited and want to party and have a wild time. That's part of the appeal of playing live. But keep it in check. No one is going to impressed by how drunk you are. And no matter what you THINK you look like onstage (witty, charming rock star), you probably look pretty stupid. There's nothing wrong with a drink or two ahead of time to calm your nerves, just know your limits. After your set is done, knock yourself out. Have a great time. Just remember no one goes to a gig to see a band get trashed. They want to hear some damn music.