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What is the difference between a drummer and a vacuum cleaner?
You have to plug one of them in before it sucks.

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Messages - Nick

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Articles / Introduction to Arranging and Production
« on: September 16, 2014, 02:57:26 PM »
Arranging and Tracking Revisited:
To begin this guide, Iíd like to remind everyone the importance of planning the whole song and tracking things correctly. The mix is not the place to remedy poorly tracked instruments, or to try to fit things in that are not arranged properly. An example of bad arranging would be a loud rhythm guitar and organ part playing at the same time as a delicate vocal phrase. Obviously, since the thee instruments occupy a similar frequency band, they will block each other and make it difficult for the listener to decide what to listen to. And if the listener is trying to hear the vocal, which is likely, the organ and guitar parts will be hiding the vocal from the listener.
This type of thing should be sorted out before you come to the mixing stage. There are ways to fix this problem in the mix, with panning, balancing or EQ, but itís always better to not need to user the mix just to fix things. Try to approach the song making process in a planned way from start to completion. You may not be good at doing this when you first start, but getting in the habit of approaching song making in this way will get easier, and make your life easier in the long run.
Start the planning by considering the frequency areas of the disparate instruments. Then think of the important elements that need the spotlight to give your song itís identity. Usually, this will be the vocal, snare drum and guitar. There are other instruments of course, but they contribute in a less obvious way to the overall sound of the song. The listener knows they are there, but wouldnít really notice them unless they were suddenly removed. Then, their role would be obvious. Iím talking about bass, keys, backing vocals and rhythm guitar.
With your important, song defining parts, donít write parts for other, similar frequency occupying instruments that play at the same time. You could always have a stab-y guitar riff come in and fill gaps between the lead vocal lines, but writing it to play all through the verse/chorus would only present a mixing challenge later on. So, you can already see how the planning stage can be used to build a better song. The bass and kick drum shouldnít present any problems for the important elements mentioned above, but they can cause problems for each other! This is not something that can be solved through planning and treatment of these two elements was discussed in the previous guide.

Finally, you may hear people talking about never EQing instruments separately. This is because your aim is to have one balanced sound for the overall mix and the EQ to get separate instruments Ďsittingí well within this mix may be different from what they need in order to sound good by themselves. I agree with this approach to a certain degree, but Iíd also suggest the following advice.

1. Make sure the instruments are tracked as clearly and cleanly as possible. Try to capture all the important frequencies and harmonics of the instrument. Applying EQ only works on frequencies that have been recorded! You canít change something thatís not there.

2. Before you mix instruments together, play around with EQ on them and try to get them as natural and clear sounding as possible. I nearly always cut a little bit from around 400-450Hz. This usually helps to clear up a track and remove some annoying qualities. But feel free to try whatever you like.

I feel itís important to have things as clear and clean as you can to start with. In other words, remove any obvious problems before introducing the problems into a mix!

Vocal Mixing:
In the preceding guide, I discussed how to get drums and bass to sit together in a mix. Now, we will look at whatís considered by many to be the most important ingredient to any rock/pop song, the lead vocal. Having recorded a nice clear, vocal track, you can start your mix with it alone. Bring the vocal track up in volume until itís peaking at around -3dB. Try bringing in the rhythm guitar backing and see how well it supports the vocal. If they seem to clash, you may need to think about the arrangement and record a different guitar part. Or, you can make sure you keep the level of the guitar/s down when thereís a lead vocal line. The guitar will really hide the human voice, so itís very important to keep them out of each others way. You can also try bringing in the bass and drums based on what you learned in the previous guide. But of course, you are free to and should do whatever sounds best!

Go through the process of finding the fundamental and harmonic frequency zones of the particular voice track you have. Roll off any frequencies below 80Hz, as thereís nothing there that would come from a human voice, but there might be some lurking room noises or traffic or something else you donít want. Have a try yourself, but you probably wonít find much energy until the 200Hz zone. Boosting frequencies here though, will probably only make the singer sound boom-y and unpleasant. Remember the lower frequencies carry the most sonic energy, but they are not as perceivable to our ears. So even though your meters might be peaking out, the track may not seem loud. By cutting the frequencies of the voice that are not as noticeable to our ears, you can boost the vocal more and not risk getting distortion.

And donít forget about the harmonics. Finding these and boosting them will add presence to the vocal. Presence is a way to describe how Ďcloseí to the front of the mix a sound is. Cutting harmonics will place a track perpetually Ďbackí in a mix. Our ears are also tuned to certain harmonic frequencies responsible for word definition. If these are missing, the vocal will just waft off into the rest of the mix. Itíll be hard for the listener to hear definite words. Once again, there are no magic frequencies. You need to find them using the techniques Iíve described in the other guide. To quickly recap this technique, it involves setting a band of your parametric EQ high, and sweeping the frequency selector through a narrow band (high ĎQí setting). Where the sound gets loudest is itís fundamental. Not this region. Any factors of this number will be harmonics of the sound.
If the vocal lacks presence in the main mix, you can bring it Ďforward Ď by boosting a harmonic frequency range. In other words, once you have a ballpark or average frequency zone for a vocal track, just find the frequencies three or four times higher and boost those.
Any frequencies above about 12KHz will not bring any great change to what can be perceived by the audience. But frequencies above this point add an airy quality to the performance. Itís commonly just called Ďairí.

Hereís a technique you can use to get guitars and vocals to sit better. Juggle the frequency areas occupied by both a little. If the guitar is strong at 600Hz, boost the bottom half by narrowing the bandwidth parameter. This means increasing the Q amount. You can then point your frequency Ďcenterí below 600Hz at say 500Hz and boost there. For the vocal, do the same thing, but on the upper side of 600Hz. Straight away, the two will sit better together, and more importantly, they will fight less.

If youíve tracked your guitars well, they shouldnít need very much EQ work. But try the old 400Hz cut and see how it sounds. You might also want to Ďrollí off the lower frequencies, starting at around 80Hz. The guitar needs a bit of bass though, as bass helps to convey a feeling of power that comes from the amplifier cabinet. Also, you can make the guitar sound Ďbiggerí by boosting frequencies around 350Hz and 550Hz. But of course, like everything else in this pursuit, adjust to taste and per instrument.

The guitar has itís upper fundamental frequencies at around 1000Hz, but of course, itís harmonic structure extends well beyond this. You can get a guitar to sit up in a mix without boosting itís actual level, by carefully nudging itís harmonics with the EQ. Different factors of the fundamental will shine a light on different tonal characteristics of the guitar. And this concept will work for any instrument except for sine waves, which have no harmonics!

Quite often, to achieve maximum space and separation from vocals (99% of the time panned to the center), I will record two of the same guitar part and pan one 100% left and the other 100% right. This sounds great and makes you mix sound really big too. The vocal also has a place of itís own now, allowing you to increase the level of the guitars. You could also do this with a copy of the original guitar part. Doing it this way, I would shift the second guitar track by about 20-40ms to simulate stereo slightly.

General Tips for all Instruments:
Everything balances, and every adjustment one way, affects something the other way to a certain degree. For instance, if you boost a guitar part, it will cover up a keyboard of vocal. If you lower the level of a guitar part, youíll expose the vocal. If you cut a frequency, other frequencies will seem stronger.

Donít pan every stereo effect hard left and hard right. Youíll end up with too much audio information in those areas, defeating the purpose of panning in the first place. Try to use the whole stereo field. One approach is to mimic the positions of a real band on stage. You can imagine this field from the perspective of the band, or the audience. With the individual drums, maybe put the kick in the center, the highhats and snare off to the right and the toms spread across a short pan range. This would be the audiences perspective of a right handed drummer.

Make small adjustments to the faders; smaller than you think! The difference between something sticking out a little bit in the mix, and something sitting nicely can be a very slight fader movement.

Listen to a recording thatís the same style of music as youíre trying to create. Note the levels of the individual elements, the types of delay and reverb effects, the panning and anything else thatís been used to suite that style of music. Most important of all, note the arrangement. Try and work out why certain instruments play when they do. Try and notice when instruments move out of the way to let a different element stand out more.

These guides have been brief. Thatís because you should spend as much time as possible using your gear. You should take any advice as an idea, not a law. Most suggestions are ballpark estimates to get you at least in the right area. From there, you just have to practice with your own gear and your own music. If it sounds good, it is good! But if it sounds good only on your gear, youíll need to try it out on a few different systems and learn to compensate on your gear.

So get inspired, plan your attack and sustain your music in a controlled release!

Articles / Introduction to Mixing!
« on: September 16, 2014, 02:55:32 PM »
Mixing is the art of taking usually more than one recorded track, and manipulating them until they sound good. In the home studio environment, this usually means a group of wave files, a software sequencer and a stereo wave file as the result.

If youíre like me, your mixing room is your recording room too. You just have to make do with the acoustics in the mixing environment you have. You might be lucky enough to have a great room for mixing in, but if there are acoustical problems with your room, the room will influence what you hear from your monitors. We can overcome some issues, so read on!

Set up your speakers as shown in the diagram below. Make sure the speakers point towards you, and youíre not too far away. The idea is to be able to hear things properly at fairly quiet volumes, known as near field monitoring. Doing it this way, will minimise the influence of the room where youíre mixing.

During the tracking stage of your project, try to think ahead to what itíll be like to combine the tracks you are now recording, together. If you have clear recordings, your mixing task will be easier than if your tracks are noisy and/or distorted, or not well defined.
If you have the luxury of multiple instruments, try to select those that have the overall sound youíre aiming for the project.

Most importantly of all, try to keep in mind a clear idea of how you want the project to end up. Work towards this idea, and try not to be distracted by things that may seem useful, but really are only getting in the way of your Ďvisioní. Basically, you donít want to be mixing just to fix things up. Mixing should complement the tracking stage, not be a solely remedial step.

There are some common elements to most mixes. Rhythm, Balance, Panorama, Equalisation and Dimension.

Rhythm deals with not only the drums, but anything working in the same Ďspaceí as the drums. Anything that helps build the timing momentum of a song is considered to be part of that songs rhythm element. Often bass, guitars and choppy keyboard parts fit this category.

Balance describes the relationship in volume between the various tracks of your project. Thereís only so much space available to you, so itís a balancing act. Balance relates closely to equalisation, in that equalisation deals with the volume of certain frequency ranges. You can also use equalisation to help a track stand out, without boosting itís volume with the track fader.

Panorama is where you Ďplaceí sounds in your mix from right to center and left. Itís controlled with the Ďpaní control available to each individual track. Often a convenient way of separating similar sounds, panning can also be used to expand the perceived space your song occupies.

Equalisation is a touchy subject! I mentioned in the previous guide that some engineers/hobbyists discourage the use of equalisation all together! I feel thereís a place for EQ if used wisely and subtly. As we will soon see, many sounds youíll be dealing with, occupy similar frequency ranges. Without EQ, you will find it difficult to get some tracks to ífití together without your mix sounding unclear. Or, some instruments might get overshadowed by others if they share similar frequency ranges.

Also, remember that sounds have fundamental frequencies that determine their pitch and carry most of their energy, but there are harmonics of these frequencies that continue upwards with a doubling of the original. This means, sometimes you can EQ the harmonics of an instrument and leave the fundamental frequency alone, maintaining a more natural sound.

Hereís the frequency ranges of some common instruments (estimates):

Kick Drum 20 - 200Hz
Snare Drum 100 - 900Hz
Bass 40 - 500Hz
Guitars 100 - 750Hz
Vocals 1 - 16KHz
Piano 1.2 - 15KHz

You can see that things will get quite crowded around the mid frequencies of 500Hz - 1.5KHz.

Isolate the track by selecting solo on the mixer. With the transport rolling and a single band parametric equaliser selected on the track, set gain to about +5dB and sweep the frequency selector through itís full range. You should have a high ĎQí setting also, so as to be sweeping a narrow band. By listening to when the sound gets the biggest boost, you can eventually pinpoint where this particular instrument holds the most energy.

Guitars and vocals are obviously going to fight for the same space, so either pan the guitars away from the vocal, EQ the guitars to remove some of their mid frequency energy or balance the volumes of both so that only one or the other is loud at one time.
By themselves, drums are very easy to mix, as each element of the modern kit fits pretty nicely into itís own range. And even with the rest of the band present in the mix, the drums generally skirt the outside of the mix frequency.

Bass and Kick Drum:
Here, we have a delicate area. Looking at the frequency ranges of each, you can see that they overlap. This is where the harmonics come into play. If a kick drum sounds strongest at 230Hz, it will also be affected strongly by altering EQ at any multiple of 230Hz. This is the harmonic component of the sound.
When it comes to combining two sounds that share such a close range as these two, one trick can be to let them share the loud a bit. Take the energy away from one, say the kick drum at 230Hz. Then boost the bass in this range slightly. Itís no good trying to get them to both be clearly represented in the mix. Thereís just not enough room for them!

Another trick is to use different sounding instruments to begin with. Use a sharp kick drum with a smooth bass sound, or vice versa. If you get it right, they will sound like one percussive instrument. For the sharp sounding instrument, you can accentuate itís sharpness by carefully boosting some of the harmonics close to the fundamental frequency. Youíll notice much better definition when everything is playing together. Finding this frequency is explained above.

Guitars are very strong in the mid range frequencies from about 2KHz to 4KHz. But they are also a very harmonically rich sounding instrument. This means, you can sometimes cut the fundamental frequency as long as you keep some harmonic energy around. First, find the place where the fundamentals live, and then double this frequency for the place to boost. Cut the fundamental and you should be able to fit the guitar and vocal parts fairly well into the same ĎplaceĎ.

All of these settings will be approximates. Thereís no exact fundamental for an instrument thatís playing many different chords and notes. Just like a singing isnít going to hold the same note for the whole song! And you canít select one frequency on the EQ. You can select the center frequency, but those frequencies surrounding it are also affected to a lessor degree depending on how sharp the ĎQí curve is.

This brings us back to the old maximÖ If it sounds good, it is good. Play around a lot with the equalisers you have. Try to get sounds from the same frequencies to fit without resorting to panning. In the next guide, weíll look at the other elements mentioned above, Panorama and Dimension.

Articles / Wasted Time - Eagles (quick start)
« on: September 16, 2014, 12:20:06 AM »
C Major (open chord)
Strum the C, then pluck the C note on the B string followed by a D note on the B string and then open E(high) string.
F Minor
I play this directly after the open E string is plucked and it's only barred from the D string down. So you're barring the first fret from the D string down and playing an F on the D string with your ring finger.
Next comes the walk down from Bb on the A string, to Ab on the low E string and into an inverted C Major chord. This chord is weird because the G is played first on the low E string and then you're playing C on the A string and E on the D string.
Finish this part of the song on a normal open G Major chord.

"Oh my God, you can't believe..."
This part is easy, you just play a root 6 F Major barre chord, then an open E Minor and an open D Minor chord. Finish on an open G Major chord.

"Never thought you'd be alone..."
A little bit trickier! Begin this passage on an open A Minor chord, then play barre the second fret on the A and D strings and play an Ab on the low E string and a B on the G string. Then an open G Major. Next, keep the G Major, but remove your index finger and slide your middle finger (was on a G) back to an F#. This part finishes with an F Major root six barre chord into an open E Minor.

"You're afraid it's all been wasted time..."
Open D Minor to an open G Major to an open C Major.

"The Autumn (Fall ha ha) leaves have got you thinking..."
A barred root five B Minor, open E Minor and open A Minor. When it comes time to repeat, it sounds good to walk up from the Bb on the A string, into the B Minor barre chord again.

"No no, ya just, loved the boy too well..."
When you get to the third A Minor, play a G on the low E string with this chord, then play a root six F Major barre chord, an open E Minor and into then play PART IV again.

"Another love has come and gone..."
Here we play a root 6 Bb Major and an open C Major. At the end, we play some bass note trickery to get back to PART II. When you get back to C Major the second time, strum the chord, then play an open D string followed by an open E string, then go into PART II. While you're playing these bass notes, try to leave the original chords ringing as much as possible.

PART VIII (the outro)
"Ooooh ooh oh WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO hoooooo Ooooooo oo ooooo..."
Start on an open C Major and then play an open low E string in combination with that chord to start the bass walk up. Next whilst still playing the C Major open chord, place your thumb on the low E string F note. Then we move to an open G Major chord followed swiftly by a root six Bb Major barre chord. Slide the Bb chord up two frets to an Ab Major barre chord before dropping back to the C Major open chord to begin the whole process once more.

PLEASE NOTE, this is solely my own way of playing this number. I learnt it by listening to the record and trying to make a suitable solo guitar part for it. This is probably not correct and by following my guide above, you'll only be playing it the way I play it!

Video Lessons / Money For Nothing
« on: September 15, 2014, 06:54:24 PM »

General Discussion / "Pleased to meet you..." Introduce Yourself.
« on: September 15, 2014, 06:34:15 PM »
Tell us where you're from and what you do with music!

Guitars / Show us your guitars!
« on: September 15, 2014, 06:27:51 PM »
We all like to show off our stringed wonders, so you can do that right here :-)

Articles / Music Theory 101
« on: September 15, 2014, 06:23:30 PM »
The people of ancient Greece were the first to toy with the intervals between notes that we, today, call the Major scale. Although, they actually never had a seven note scale, but two four note scales called 'tetra chords', what is important to note is that they did not have accidentals (sharps or flats (there was also no need for musical insurance)). Their major scale was 'set in stone', so to speak. The best way to see this scale is to have a piano keyboard in front of you. Below is a diagram of the notes the ancient Greeks would have had to play with if they had the equivalent of a modern keyboard (they only had analogue synths):

There were more than 14 notes, but I've only shown enough range to give you the idea of the repeating nature of the notes. In reality, these notes may extend infinitely in both directions.

Our modern keyboards add the black keys, whose purpose will become clear as we progress.

A picture is good, but having something you are able to play notes on will be VERY helpful to understanding modes. If you don't have any musical keyboard, find some online free piano or synth and play along!
The white keys on the piano represent the C major scale. To produce this scale, you begin with the note 'C' (the 'tonic') and increase the pitch by a whole tone, to get to the next note, 'D' (the 'super-tonic' (able to leap whole tones in half step increments). From 'D', you increase pitch by a whole tone once more to achieve the note'E'. After 'E', we come to the first interesting aspect of the Major Scale, 'F'. 'F' is a semi-tone higher in pitch than 'E' and is a break in tradition. Why is this so? The only reason why 'F' is half as high again in pitch than the distance (pitch wise) between 'C' and 'D' and 'D' and 'E' is because that's the way the Greeks wanted it. And as you'll see in the diagram below, there is one other semi-tonal interval in the key of C Major.

As you may observe, there is another semi-tone interval between 'B' and 'C'.

It's these groupings of whole tones and semi tones that give the major scale its flavour or mood. You'll notice that there's a repeating pattern of TONE TONE SEMITONE TONE TONE TONE SEMITONE that falls between the notes. You may also notice that the semitones fall where there are no black keys. That's because the black keys provide the extra half step between intervals of a whole tone. Where the interval is only a semitone, there's no room for finer granularity.

So what's this got to do with MODES??? The answer is quite simple. You see, the Greeks had no black keys, or in more correct terms, they couldn't change where the whole and half tones fell. They could however start playing from a different position on the instrument, thus altering the pattern of whole tone, half tone intervals. Consider the notes from 'C' to 'C' from the C Major Scale:

The pattern of tones and semitones between the notes in the scale is T-T-S-T-T-T-S.

Now, see what happens to that pattern when we begin playing a new seven note scale from 'D'.

The pattern of tones and semitones between the notes in the scale is T-S-T-T-T-S-T.
The same pattern is there, but it's been shifted 'back' on place. This new pattern of tones and semitones is not a Major Scale, it is a MODE, and it's called the Dorian mode.

Below are listed the other six and their interval structures:

The Phrygian Mode - S-T-T-T-S-T-T.

The LydianT-T-T-S-T-T-S.

The MixolydianT-T-S-T-T-S-T.

The AeolianT-S-T-T-S-T-T.

The LocrianS-T-T-S-T-T-T.

The key thing to note is, having the black keys allows us to alter the semitone full tone intervals no matter where we start playing. Also, it's a great idea to play through all of these modes to hear what moods they reflect to you. Now modes really are as simple as picking your tonic note and building a scale on the fretboard based on the required pattern for that mode. Let's use the Phrygian mode as an example, and let's play in the key of G (snigger... the Greeks couldn't do this!).

Here's the noted we'll need:


And here's the pattern for the Phrygian mode:


Combine them, and you get this:

G semitone A tone B tone C tone D semitone E tone F tone

On the fretboard, find a 'G' note, then go up one fret (a semitone).

G -> G#

Then go up two frets from G#:
G -> G# -> A#

Then go up two frets from A#
G -> G# -> A# -> C

Then add another note, a semitone higher from C
G -> G# -> A# -> C -> D

Then to save on the tedium, place three more notes, each with a tone or two frets between them!
G -> G# -> A# -> C -> D -> D# -> F -> G

And that should be enough info for you to start building your own modes on your own fretboards. The topic is a large one and more than the Greeks had stuff to do with modes, but I hope this basic intro helped you picture what modes actually are and how they are constructed. So summarise, before the black keys, the key had to be changed if a different pattern of tones and semi tones was required for a song. After the black keys, the feel and mood of a scale could be recreated in ANY key, using sharps or flats.

Articles / How to Stand Out on Social Media
« on: September 15, 2014, 06:14:40 PM »

There's nothing wrong with the state of social media today! It can feel like you're swimming in a sea of similar fish, but that's because we've been caught with our pants down.
The majority of us music makers are not thinking outside the box enough, and we seem to just be settling with the most obvious and easiest ways of using this new technology. There are some obvious flaws in the common ways most musicians go about their business these days, IMHO, and I'll outline them below:

1. Posting in musicians forums and gig guides about your upcoming gigs and musical releases is probably a waste of your time. Not a lot of excitement can be expected from telling your competition that you're competing with them! Just because there's thousands of members in a group on Facebook, doesn't mean they're looking to discover new music. They're most likely only thinking what the group can do for their own music.

2. Social media is great, but it's not the only way to do things! Forums haven't died out yet and it's not that difficult to build your own website (if I can do it, YOU can!). Find somewhere that isn't a concentration of musicians and start a discussion about your music there. You can also stream live performances to anywhere in the world for free these days.

3. Venues are first and foremost a business and whilst they may support original music, they need to keep the lights on through patrons buying beer. They try to do this by getting live music, usually before (and in place of) they have put the effort into promoting and developing their business like most other businesses do. So you're always going to struggle with venues like this. The venues that have their shit together will be so successful that they won't want or need to deal with small time acts. So make your own shows. Organise a hall and enough fellow musicians and make it happen. At least there'll be less drunks!

4. Everyone can make music on their computer these days. That's a good thing for people who want to make music, but it doesn't always lead to the most compelling productions. I hear a lot of preset magic plugins and poor arranging on many home made productions and these things STAND OUT to listeners, but they wouldn't necessarily be able to tell what is standing out. Also, a lot of productions are a one person show and that person is too close to the production to be subjective on their decisions. There have not been many truly great records written, pre-produced, produced/tracked, mixed and mastered solely by one person. I'm happy to help in this regard, just ask.

So I say continue to think outside the box and do things to put your music above the pack. I've always thought of the status quo as a good thing. Without it, we would have a much tougher time standing out.

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