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PRODUCTION TIPS

This page will hopefully become monstrous in it's size and scope over time. We plan to offer tips and ideas for mixing, synth production and synth programming. Entire books have been written on these subjects so our aim here is to share some things that we have learned over the years without burying them in pages and pages of creative writing.

 

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< T H E  M I X >

Kick Drum and Bass Volume Balance:

Solo the kick drum and set the kick's fader so the peak level on the master bus is at -6db. It doesn't have to be exactly at -6db every time it hits. More like an average of -6db. Then solo your bass elements along with the kick drum. Adjust the volume of your bass until you add another 3db to the level on the master bus. So if the kick is mostly hitting at -6db all by itself, the combined volume when the bass is added should be around -3db. This will only balance your kick and bass relative to each other. Once you have this set up, treat the kick and bass as one element when adjusting volumes against the other elements of your mix.



Focus of the Mix:

Make sure that some element of your mix is always in the spotlight. This gives the listener something to focus on and helps a bit with separation. If everything is at the same volume it can become a tedious listening experience. The spotlight could be a vocal, synth lead, bass solo, drum break etc...Volume and pan automation are your friends here. Tonnes of amazing mixes have been crafted with only volume and pan automation.



Why Does My Mix Sound Different at Different Volumes?:

First of all, never mix at full volume.
Listening volume can affect how we hear certain frequency ranges. (bass, low mids, highs etc) This is called the Fletcher Munson Curve.

Example: Listening at low volumes can make the bass and high frequencies seem distant or too low in volume. You adjust the EQ and volume until the mix sounds better at the low volume. Then you turn it up and suddenly the bass and higher frequencies are harsh and overpowering. So...EQ and volume changes should be made at higher, yet safe volumes. Then when you listen at lower volumes, here comes Mr. Munson to make the bass and brightness diminish somewhat. This is normal and can be helpful. It actually invites the listener to turn that motha up.

In other words, turning up the mix makes the bass and higher frequencies seem louder and brighter. So you want to make EQ and volume settings at a reasonably loud yet safe and comfortable listening volume. You know your mix is almost there when you want to crank up the volume and when you do, it just gets better...Not harsh and bass heavy.
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Reverb and Ambience on Drums & Percussion:

Adding some reverb to your drums and percussion is almost a given. Reverb and early reflections can add sparkle and space to even the most lifeless percussion sounds. Once you have a basic reverb set up don't forget to add a bit of pre-delay to the reverb. The pre-delay time can separate the reverb from the dry sound a little and give it a sense of distance. I like to start with about 50ms of pre-delay. Reverb is usually set up as an aux send effect. So you have your dry source on one fader and the reverb return on another. Don't be shy about adding some compression to the reverb. 1176 style compressors are great for this and they can really give the reverb some needed character and impact. In fact, don't be afraid to send the dry source along with the reverb channel to a compressor bus. A fast attack with a fast release can bring lots of pop and sizzle to the reverb. This can also help to "glue" the reverb to the sound and make the 2 more of a single element rather than a sound that you added reverb to.
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Color Coding is Your Friend:

Working with large track counts can be daunting depending on your monitor/display real estate. Color coding and grouping your tracks by instrument type can be very beneficial here. Our system works like this:

Drums & Percussion = Red

Bass Elements = Blue

Guitars = Green

Vocals = Orange

Synths = Turquoise

And so on...This will speed up your work flow and keep you from pulling your hair out.

 

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< S Y N T H   P R O D U C T I O N >

Double Tracking Synths:

 Sure, you've probably heard of recording 2 tracks of the same synth part and setting the fine tuning and panning slightly differently. Guitar players do this constantly with rhythm parts and chord progressions. But there are many other ways to differentiate the 2 tracks. Sometimes setting them a whole octave apart can work great. If you're synth part is comprised of chord progressions, try using different chord voicings for the 2 tracks. This can be dramatically wide and tight if done properly. Change the modulation rates slightly on one of the tracks. Changing the overall brightness of one of the tracks can also be a great way to set the tracks apart. If you really want to get crazy...Triple track the synth part. The first take is unaltered and panned to the center. The second take is detuned slightly and panned to the left. The 3rd take is detuned and panned to the right. The options with synths are infinite when it comes to slightly modifying a sound against it's double track.

 

Auditioning Sounds in Different Octaves:

Say you already have a killer part recorded as a midi track and you want to hear the same performance with different sounds. It's easy enough to step through presets in real time while listening to the playback. But don't forget to try the sounds in multiple octaves. We have key commands assigned to quickly transpose midi parts up or down by an octave at a time for this very purpose. Sometimes a synth patch is just in the wrong octave for a given song or section of a song.

 

Learn How to Quickly Display and Edit Your Controllers:

We have key commands assigned to display the midi controllers that we use most often. "Shift+F1" shows velocity only. "Shift+F2" is for working with orchestral sound sets and displays all available articulations as well as velocity and modwheel. "Shift+F3" displays modwheel values only. "Shift+F4" displays the pitch bend values. "Shift+F5" removes all controller lanes. (helpful when you need more screen real estate for the actual notes) "Shift+F6" shows all used controllers at once. "Shift+F7" displays aftertouch only. The point is...You need to be able to see the performance, controllers and all, quickly and clearly. You will thank us later. We use Nuendo by Steinberg but any DAW worth it's weight will allow you to assign key commands to these very important functions when working with midi.

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Synth Percussion:

Some synths have faster, snappier envelopes than others. This can be a huge benefit when programming most synth percussion sounds. However, even the slowest of envelopes can be useful.

Start with a basic triangle or sine wave on one oscillator only. Assign an envelope to modulate the oscillator pitch. Go ahead and set the depth to a healthy amount so you can hear the result clearly. (Sometimes octaves, sometimes just a few semitones) Now set the attack time and the sustain to zero. Set the decay time to 50% or a little less. The release time can be fast or slow for now. You should hear a fast-ish pitch ramp in the attack now. Adjust the envelope decay time until you achieve a tight bump in the attack. You don't really want to hear the the pitch ramp, you want it to create a sharp pop in the attack. Set your envelopes to trigger on every new note. (Legato isn't very useful for percussion in most cases) You can also set the amp envelope with similar settings to produce a bigger bump in the attack. Remember to assign velocity to the volume or amp envelope for some dynamics. You could also assign velocity to the filter envelope and the pitch for a slightly higher, brighter tone when using high velocities. If your synth's envelopes respond to key tracking it can be helpful to use this to speed up the envelope times as you play higher notes on the keyboard.

 

Synth Filters and Resonance:

Most ladder filters, such as those found in the majority of Moog instruments, will start to sound thinner as you increase the filter resonance. This is normal and has been forever. If your synth has some type of distortion fx or external feedback function you can increase this to add a little of the heft back to the sound. A little goes a long way here. The external feedback circuits on most newer Moogs can alleviate this lack of bass to some degree but this will also change the character of the sound when cranking it up. So start with zero distortion or feedback and raise the amount slowly until you start to hear the girth return without changing the character too much. It's usually a trade off  between the tone and the amount of bass in the signal. The Sequential Prophet Rev2 has it's stock distortion fx that can be used for the same result. We love the distortion in the Rev2 as it seems to act as a compressor/distortion fx at lower settings. (Before you actually start to hear the distortion) At lower to mid values it compresses the sound a bit and adds a firmness to the low end.

 

Envelopes Modulating the LFOs:

Try using an envelope with a slow attack and decay to modulate your LFO rate and depth. Set the sustain to 50% so the envelope climbs to it's peak and then slowly fades back down to the sustain level. This can add a very organic quality to a simple LFO doing vibrato. A good singer will usually vary the rate and depth of vibrato naturally. Assigning an envelope to control these 2 parameters can really add to the life of the sound once you get the timing right for the performance.

 

Envelopes Modulating Envelopes:

This technique can be used to change an envelope's response times. Interesting curves can be produced by using one envelope to modulate another's attack or decay time. Experimentation is the best way to figure this out so go ahead and get your hands dirty with those envelope knobs.

 

LFOs Modulating LFOs:

Definitely an "oldie but a goodie". This technique is lots of fun for many reasons. It is particularly useful for creating evolving textures that never seem to repeat, especially if your synth's LFOs have a random shape! For starters, set up an LFO with a medium rate and depth of modulation. Point it at the filter cutoff or oscillator pitch so you can hear the changes clearly. Then set another LFO to a slower rate and a medium to high depth. Point this LFO at the first LFO's rate and depth. Enjoy the random sonic mayhem.