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Author Topic: Introduction to Arranging and Production  (Read 2109 times)

Nick

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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.

Guitars:
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!
« Last Edit: September 23, 2014, 01:50:59 PM by Nick »
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