Posted tagged ‘Logic Studio’


November 21, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 38 Mixing

Last week we embarked on the mix stage of the multitrack process, by briefly looking at mixer and monitoring considerations, automation and the importance of resting your ears prior to a mix as well as saving and backing up your work.

This week we’ll look at a few different types of mixing consoles and mention a few more mixing tips. Then get into setting levels, adding signal processing and consider where to place the various instruments in the stereo field, next week.

Allen & Heath GS-R24 Analog Mixer.

For most Home Music Studios, space is often limited. So the favourite options for mixers are compact analog or digital consoles; a Studio-In-A-Box (SIAB) type system, sometimes called a Portastudio; or software mixers which are controlled by your computer mouse and keyboard.

Tascam DP-03 8 Track Digital Portastudio And Boss BR800.

The facilities provided by SIABs can vary considerably, from basic to reasonably sophisticated. Most provide the facility to record, overdub, edit and mix. There are a few manufacturers who provide various models on the market…..Tascam and Boss are popular makes.

Remember, you only get what you pay for. It’s an awful lot to ask for in a small portable unit, so if you are aiming for the best possible recordings and mixes, you need to consider consoles, DAWs and programmes that can handle the highest quality and complexity.

Software mixers can be extremely sophisticated, but controlling that degree of sophistication with a mouse and keyboard is challenging when you have a complicated mix.

3 Control Surfaces By Mackie, Behringer & Digidesign (Avid).

A good alternative is to connect a ‘control surface’, which interfaces with your software and allows you to mix with real faders and control knobs for adjusting various parameters of your mix. Mackie, Behringer and Digidesign (Avid) produce popular units.

Some include an audio interface too, which allows I/O options. Certain control surfaces work better with Pro Tools others work better with Logic or other software programmes. Use the  hyperlinks above but also do your own research! 🙂

Analog Behringer SX3282 – 32 Channel Mixer For Approximately $1000.

The stand alone mixing consoles often provide the most comprehensive facilities. Digital mixers have the advantage of being able to perform the same tasks as analog mixers, but often take up much less space. For example, the fader sliders can often be switched to handle tracks 1-8, 9-16 or 17-24 etc, very quickly. Therefore, you don’t need a dedicated fader for each of your tracks.

Digital PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2 – 16 Channel Mixer For Approximately $2000.

Combining automation with a quality digital mixer or control surface gives you immense power when mixing…..from providing a huge number of I/O options, send and bus configurations to remembering the smallest fader or EQ adjustment. Mixing your music is under your total control.

Before we get into discussing an actual mix, considering specific EQs for instruments and looking at the uses of other signal processing, I’d like to suggest a few more generic tips in addition to the ones I offered at the end of the last Home Music Studio blog. But remember, these are just suggestions based on many years of mixing. They’re not rules.

  • Set your mixer to neutral…..trim pots to unity, faders at 0dB, EQ flat, aux sends down, routing to left/right etc. Mute any tracks/channels that are not in use.
  • Initially, listen through to your mix without looking at or being influenced by the meters for each track, so that you can concentrate on the overall balance between the instruments. Get a rough level setting for all the tracks, then pull levels down if tracks are peaking too much.


Labelled Tracks In Pro Tools.

  • Before you start mixing, label your tracks…..this can be done directly on the track in a software programme. Or if you are using an analog console, place a strip of artist’s tape across the base of all the channels in use and label them with a felt tip pen.

Label Your Music Tracks On An Analog Console.

  • Subgroup tracks that naturally work together e.g. the drums. Get relative levels and EQ sorted on the kick, snare, hi-hat and overheads then subgroup them to a single or a stereo pair of faders. Make sure any effects (e.g. reverb) are routed to the same subgroup.
  • Use commercially released recordings as a reference. Pick a song that you like, are familiar with or that inspires you. It’s arrangement or production values may help steer you towards your goal or it may simply sound the way you want your song to end up. Your ears don’t always tell you the truth. So a reference CD can help to bring you back towards the sound you’re aiming for.

An Array Of Effects Plug-Ins.

  • It’s hard to resist all those effects processors, but don’t overuse them, especially reverb. Too much reverb will just confuse and muddy the mix. Instruments and vocals will lack clarity. In general, reverb or echo will distance an instrument, whilst a drier sound will place the instrument more upfront. Except for those ‘special effect’ moments, most effects you add should only be noticed when they’re removed. You can test the validity of an effect and how much of it should be used, by muting and unmuting the effect.
  • Try to EQ instruments while the full mix is playing. If you apply EQ to an instrument in isolation, it may lead you to make an adjustment to that instrument, which does not work when it’s played in the whole mix. This suggestion also holds true for applying other types of signal processing e.g. chorus, flange or reverb.
  • And remember compressors are for controlling dynamics, not for increasing volume.

Cutting Frequencies Can Often Produce Better Results Than Boosting.

  •  If you hear a problem that is frequency related, try to fix it by cutting EQ rather than boosting it. The ear is less sensitive to cuts. Plus, cuts are less noticeable if you are having to use cheaper EQ units.
  • Panning and EQ… most cases the kick drum and bass guitar will sound best, placed in the centre of the stereo image, where they will reinforce each other giving plenty of punch. Natural dynamics in the performance are good, but don’t alter the levels of drums or bass.
  • Certain instruments can find it difficult to establish their presence in a mix, if there’s a lot going on in the same frequency range and/or stereo position. For example, acoustic guitars can often get lost or confuse the low-mid in a big rock mix. Reducing the emphasis on the low-end will usually produce more definition and remove any muddiness.

Command 8 Close Up – Showing Control Room Monitoring Section.

  • At various times during the mix process, monitor your mix in mono. Most mixers will have a mono switch which if depressed will sum all the channels together, placing the sounds in the centre. You may find that instruments which sounded clear and loud enough in stereo, become lost in mono. The reason could be a phasing problem or simply a level issue.
  • Check your mix on headphones. You will hear things that just don’t register when monitoring on speakers. I’m not suggesting actually mixing with headphones, they are unpredictable at low frequencies. Just use them to focus on a problem or catch a mistake e.g. an out of tune vocal. Another useful trick is to listen to your mix from outside your room. Putting distance between you and the speakers will sometimes show up level imbalances, that you don’t hear when you are right in front of your monitors.
  • You may find the best mix is produced in the first hour or so of mixing, so save regularly. As you spend more time on the mix, making finer and more subtle adjustments, you and your ears get tired, often producing no discernible improvement in the mix. Leaving the mix and coming back to it later, gives you more objectivity towards your own work. But always, always, always save everything and back up your mix sessions, including all effects settings. You may want to do a remix in a week, a month or a year.

Next, we’ll look at vocals and specific instruments and how to best treat them in the mix. We’ll also consider the use of automation.

TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering provide full recording, mixing, mastering and production services from their facilities in the UK and Nashville, USA. For more information, click here.



October 31, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 35 Music Editing

So far the TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series has covered room setup,  gear purchase, microphone techniques, how to record various instruments, signal processing and has now reached the multitrack process itself, which today is at the heart of many music recordings. We’ve discussed the recording and overdubbing stages. Last week we considered the different editing functions…..copy, paste, cut, delete, erase and insert. This week we’ll look at the ‘how to’ of editing, using digital technology.

Multitrack Tape Being Lined Up for Editing.

If you still use analog tape, you’ll know that it takes time to acquire the skills of editing. Partly because the physical act of handling and cutting the tape will eventually result in the degradation of the audio if lots of edits are made. So getting it right first time is important.

If any of you are interested in how tape was edited, click here for an article which explains the process. The only thing I’d add to this article is that multitrack tape was indeed edited, despite what the article says. Other than that it explains the technique very well.

Whilst we’re on the subject of tape editing…..those of you who are Doctor Who fans (and I know there are many, both here in the UK and in the USA), may find this video of interest.

As a music editor in my first job, even if I made a great sounding edit, a client could ask me to try an alternative edit. Which meant pulling apart the tape at the splice, re-inserting the edited out section and cutting the tape again. It could get quite messy!

Digital editing allows you to make several attempts to get an edit right without harming the original audio. Consequently, you can experiment and try different versions of songs until you get the desired result.

Most systems have an ‘Undo’ function. Some early or basic systems may only provide you with one level of undoing an edit. But today’s top programmes usually give you several levels of undo. Which means you can try a complicated sequence of edits to achieve the desired result and if you don’t like what you hear, you can undo your edits to the position prior to editing. It’s also worth mentioning that if you used the Undo function by mistake, you can ‘Redo’ to reverse the Undo.

Some digital systems allow you to edit either aurally or visually. That is by either listening to the audio or looking at the waveform of the audio. I recommend systems that use a combination of both.

When editing an analog tape, the editor ‘rocks’ the tape back and forth over the playback head of the tape machine, so that he/she can hear and determine the exact point to mark and cut the tape. A similar technique has been adopted in many digital systems.

Pro Tools Scrubber Tool – Loudspeaker Icon.

For example, Pro Tools uses this technique and employs a tool which allows you to rock back and forth (or ‘scrub’ as it is termed) over the audio section you want to edit.

With the waveform visible on the edit page – as you scrub, you will hear the audio. Moving the scrubber tool from left to right will play the audio forward, from right to left will play it in reverse. The speed with which you drag your mouse will determine how fast and at what pitch the audio is delivered.You can also zoom into the waveform graphic which allows greater accuracy when trying to find a specific point in the audio.

With practice, you’ll identify the correct point to edit. It will take a little time, but eventually you will be able to listen to a piece of audio and look at a waveform and know exactly where a particular sound starts and ends.

Pro Tools Scrubber Tool – Scrubbed Left To Right Plays Audio Forward, Right To Left Reverse.

Once you have found the right point in your audio, you can either trim the audio from the front or the end to the edit point. Or you can make a ‘cut’ at the edit point. Then find your next cut or edit point which then allows you to remove the unwanted section or region (as it is termed in Pro Tools), or copy it to paste somewhere else in your song.

And remember, in Pro Tools and most other top systems this editing process is non-destructive. You can always go back to your original audio file and start again.

Reminder: We use Pro Tools in a lot of our examples because it is a very sophisticated system, reasonably priced and popular with many world-class studios and musicians.

Logic Pro – The Scissor Tool Allows You To Scrub Then Cut Audio.

Scrubbing works slightly different in other systems, but the principle is basically the same. And in some Studio-In-A-Box systems, editing functions can be quite basic or non-existent. So, if you think editing is an important feature for you, choose your system carefully.

If you are still deciding on which system to buy, these features and others are worth playing with, before you purchase.

Pro Tools is very popular for obvious reasons, but it’s not for everyone.

Let’s look at a couple of examples where editing is useful…..

Pro Tools Edit Page – Showing 8 Drum Hits.

Example #1 – The picture above shows 8 kick drum hits. Note how each hit is quite distinct from the next. If, for example, one of the drum hits had an annoying squeak from the pedal, it would be easy to edit out the offending hit and replace it with a good hit.

A Closer Look At The Drum Hits, With One Good Hit Highlighted.

All we’d have to do is isolate/highlight a good drum hit. Copy it and paste it over the bad hit in the right position.

We’d do this by scrubbing  to find the very beginning of a good hit. Then make an edit point. Scrub to find the end of the good drum hit. Make another edit point. Highlight/select the edited, good region (see the picture above). Copy it – this places the good drum hit in the clipboard. Then find the exact start point of the bad hit. Make an edit point and paste the good hit at that point. This would cover the bad hit with the good whilst also leaving the good hit in its original position.

Of course, after you have finished an edit, always listen to it. If the timing is not quite right, you can nudge the region earlier or later until it sounds like it’s placed in the right position for the song’s tempo.

Pro Tools Smart Tool (In Blue) Consists Of The Trimmer, Cursor And Grabber Tools. To The Left Of The Smart Tool Is The Zoom Tool, To The Right Are The Scrubber And Pencil Tools.

You may still hear a portion of the bad drum hit, if its physical length is greater than the good hit. If that’s the case, in Pro Tools you can extend the good hit to cover the bad hit by pulling out the front or end of the copy/pasted file until the bad hit is completely covered, using the trimmer in the smart tool.

Example #2 – When vocals are recorded, an explosive pop can sometimes be heard on some hard consonants like ‘P’ or ‘B’. You could re-record the vocal in the hope that the singer would correct the problem.

Alternatively, if the mistake is noticed after the singer has left the session, you may have to try to fix the pop by editing it out or using signal processing.

The first picture below shows a magnified, waveform graphic of a ‘P’ popping at the beginning of the word PIECE. Pictures two and three, show the ‘pop’ part of the ‘P’ highlighted. It can then be edited out and a very quick fade-in applied to the remaining word. Or, gain reduction can be applied to minimize the audible pop to acceptable limits.

The High, Narrow Peak At The Left Of The Waveform Is An Explosive ‘P’ At The Beginning Of The Word PIECE.

The Picture On The Left Shows The Pop Of The ‘P’ Highlighted. This Can Be Cut Out And A Quick Fade-In Applied To The Remaining Word. Or The ‘P’ Can Have Gain Reduction Applied (Shown On The Right), Which Should Lessen The Audible Pop To Acceptable Limits.

With digital editing technology, you can literally perform microsurgery on your music – editing out the smallest click or ‘pop’.

Next week we’ll conclude our look at the editing stage by considering the use of some signal processors as editing tools. And we’ll discuss how editing can be much more than a tool for fixing problems.

We’ve been getting some great comments and feedback for the blog series, so thanks to those of you who contact us. If there’s a topic which you’d like us to cover, have any questions about the blog series so far, or any queries about the whole recording/mixing process – get in touch, by clicking here.

Do you have a project that needs a session musician, producing, mixing or mastering? – TCM Music Group are offering some really incredible recording and online mastering packages.


October 24, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 34 Music Editing

We started looking at the multitrack process in detail in TCM’s Home Music Studio Part 29. Over the last few weeks we’ve considered multitrack setups, signal paths, recording and last week – overdubbing.

This week and next we will continue looking at the multitrack process by discussing Editing.

When I started in this fantastic business, my first job was as a runner/teaboy. But within weeks I was promoted to Chief Editor (the only music editor as it turned out).  The company I worked for was very small, so somebody had to do it!

Cutting Tape Was The Method Of Editing Until Digital Came Along.

I had no idea how to edit music but I learnt very quickly. Analog reel to reel tape was the format. You edited the tape with a razor blade and stuck the edited sections back together with adhesive tape. If you made a mistake or the edit didn’t work, you had to retrieve the edited out section from the floor, stick it back in and try again.

Of course as I became more skilled, I made fewer mistakes and took on more complex projects. However, there were always going to be downsides to editing tape. The more you handled the tape, the more likely it could get damaged. Also handling tape with your fingers left behind oils which could lead to sound degradation.

24 Track 2 Inch Wide Tape Moving At High Speed. Editing Multitrack Tape Required Great Skill And Sometimes A Large Dose Of Luck!

If you only wanted to edit a single track of a multitrack tape – it got worse. You had to cut a hole or scrape the oxide off the back of the tape in the area of the track that needed editing.

Frank Zappa…..An Early User Of Digital Technology, With His Synclavier. It Was Not The Most User Friendly System, But Extremely Powerful (And Very Expensive).

Flash forward to the present day…..we now have digital editing. Some systems offer quite basic editing functions. Whilst the likes of Pro Tools, Logic Studio and other top systems offer facilities to manipulate your tracks in many ways.

Powerful Apple Logic Studio 9, Running On A Laptop.

As we have mentioned in earlier blogs, sound can now be edited much like the written word in an MS Word document. It can be copied, pasted, cut, deleted, moved, erased and inserted. If you include effects processing, you can also stretch or reverse it as well as a whole bunch of other things too. And any changes you make to the audio can be undone, because the original recording is not altered.

This is termed non-destructive editing. The various different audio parts (or regions as they’re known in Pro Tools) are accessed rapidly on the hard drive to produce the sequence of audio that is required. So this approach allows you to try out multiple edits without harming the original audio.

Pro Tools’ Smart Tool Combines Three Separate Tools.

In Pro Tools you select and edit audio using the ‘smart tool’. This combination tool allows you to grab audio and move it, trim the fronts and ends of regions (making the regions shorter or longer) or simply select a point in the audio to play from or highlight a region.

When you record sound into a digital system like Pro Tools, it gets stored as an audio file on the hard drive…..there are various file formats (.Wav, .Aiff, .SD2). It also gets drawn as a waveform in the edit page.

Audio Waveform & MIDI Displayed In Edit Page.

When you trim or edit the audio file in the edit page, you are basically telling Pro Tools to only look at and playback the part of the audio file that is on the page. The unedited version of the file still exists in its entirety on the hard drive.

Below, I describe the various common editing functions, first in summary then below the diagram, in more detail.

The 9 bars to the left represent a track of audio, that has been edited in different ways.

#1 Is the track before editing. The grey shaded area is the section to be edited.

#2 This shows the track after using Cut, leaving a blank hole (some systems).

#3 Cut on some other systems.

#4 Track after Delete.

#5 Track after Erase.

#6 Shows the audio track before editing, showing Insert point.

#7 Track after Insert.

#8 Track with edit point prior to using Paste.

#9 The Paste function places the Copied audio from your clipboard over existing audio.

Now the various editing functions in more detail…..

Cut, Delete and Erase – these three functions all do the same thing to a selected piece of audio. They make it disappear…..but, they differ in how they treat the audio once it’s gone.

Cut removes the audio section and places it in your clipboard for further use. Some systems leave behind a hole where the audio resided. Others, may close the gap by moving forward, everything that’s later in the timeline, so that the hole is filled. Some systems allow you to choose one or the other.

Delete gets rid of the selected audio on the edit page and does not allow the placement of it anywhere else. The audio still exists on the hard drive, just not on the page. The later audio material is usually moved earlier to fill the hole. Again, some systems may give you options.

Erase is similar to Delete, except that the audio after the removed segment, stays put.

MIDI Editing – Many Of The Functions Used For Audio Editing Can Be Applied To MIDI Data Too.

Insert – effectively allows you to squeeze a section of audio between edit points. Let’s say you’ve finished recording a song. It’s got an intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, a middle 8 or bridge, and end chorus. But you feel it would sound better with a longer bridge or another verse. You could copy the backing tracks for the bridge or verse and insert them into the appropriate point in the song. Then play an extended guitar solo over the longer bridge or sing the newly written vocals over the added verse.

This technique can be used for single tracks or multiple tracks, as long as care is taken to make sure the tempos are the same, you are copying the correct number of bars and placing them at exactly the right point in the song…..and again, this saves you having to set up mics and instruments to make a new recording.

Copy and Paste – these two functions are often used together, just like in a Word document. Copy does what it says, it makes a copy of whatever you select and (usually) puts it in your clipboard. It leaves the original where it is. But then allows you to paste the copy somewhere else.

Shaded Area Shows Section or Region To Be Edited.

So let’s say the above picture represents a region of a guitar track. Later in the song the same guitar chords are played but there’s a mistake. Editing could allow you to copy the good section of guitar chords and paste them over the bad section. Providing you placed them in the correct position (sync), nobody would know you’d done an edit. It saves getting the guitarist back, besides he may be on tour in Japan by now!

Next week we’ll get into editing aurally and visually, fixing bad notes or phrases and discuss some effects which are used in editing eg. pitch change, stretching and reversing.

If you have any questions so far, our contact details are here. We love to hear from you.

And don’t forget, TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group provide a professional, fast and affordable service to musicians of all genres.

So if you have some songs that need producing, recording, mixing or mastering contact us for details on our rates and some incredible recording packages.


October 3, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 31 Multitrack Recording

At TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group we love what we do. We love music. So if you have any questions please feel free to drop us a line or call us. Our contact details are here.

We started outlining the multitrack process in TCM Mastering’s Home Music Studio Part 29. Then last week we discussed basic setups (MIDI or Live band) and signal paths.

Before we embark on the Recording stage, it may be useful to refer back to a few earlier blog posts.

Mic Selection And Polarity Patterns.

If you want to read more on microphone types and techniques look at parts 5 and 6.

The Glyn Johns 3 Mic Technique For Recording Drums.

Check out parts 9 and 10 for recording guitars…..followed by strings, horns and woodwind, then drums kicked off in part 18 going through to part 23 for percussion.

Signal Processing – Dynamics And EQ Plug-Ins.

Signal processing started at part 24 and the multitracking process came in at 29.

 TCM Editor’s Note: In order to keep the blogs to a reasonable length every week, we have to make some assumptions. But if you have questions – please let us know by dropping us a line.

Assuming most of you are working in the digital realm, to start recording you will need to open up a new session in your software programme or Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

Pro Tools I/O Setup Matrix Page.

If we use Pro Tools on a Mac as our example…..when you first open up a new session, there are no tracks or mix channels set up. You have to create ‘new’ tracks, set up input/output (I/Os) routings, set your sampling (44.1/48/96 kHz) and bit (16/24 bit) rates etc.

If you are setting up the same parameters, inputs/outputs, plug-ins, tracks and instruments for each session, you will want to put together a Template session. Pro Tools 9 offers several ready to use Templates (see pix below), but it’s also easy to make one to your own specific requirements.

Pro Tools Offers Various Ready To Use Templates.

For example, you could have a Template setup for a 4 piece band or a MIDI setup depending on how you work.

It’s a similar concept to the Word Processing Template, this will pull together all the common things you want in your session, so that you don’t have to start from scratch every time…..a huge time saver.

There will be slight differences for a PC. And other programmes will be different again. But most offer this facility as well as many other time saving options, which you should explore to make your recording experience easier and more efficient.

Remember each system is different, so for specific details read your user manual.

Recording Electric Guitar In Home Studio.

So your DAW is set up and ready for recording. Make sure your input and mixer fader (real or virtual) are turned down all the way. This is just good practice to prevent any unwanted clicks or snaps damaging the speakers (and your ears) when connecting anything.

Plug in the mic or instrument into the correct input of your mixer or interface. Remember an electric or bass guitar will probably need to go through a DI box or into the Hi-Z input and condenser mics will need phantom power.

Providing You Have Setup Your I/Os Correctly, You Should See Your Track Meter Registering Some Activity When There Is A Sound Source Present.

In your programme or DAW, choose the track you want to record to. Providing you have set up I/O routings (as part of your Template) you can then arm the track for record. In Pro Tools you can arm your track in either the Edit or Mix page.

As mentioned in last week’s blog, take care to set the optimum level at each stage of the signal path. Remember your aim is to record the best quality sound signal into your DAW. You want the highest level at each stage with as little noise as possible (a high signal-to-noise ratio) and without distortion or clipping.

There Are Various Types Of Meters To Measure Sound Levels.

Instruments and voices have dynamic range, so you need to allow for the highest peaks and transients from them. Recording in the digital realm is nowhere near as forgiving as analog tape. So if your system allows, always use 24 bit rate over 16 bit, this will give you better signal-to-noise, and remember to peak your recording level no higher than about minus 6-8dB.

Whilst recommending the higher bit rate, I should mention that a 3 minute song with say, 16 tracks recorded at 24 bit rate and 44.1 kHz sample rate will  need about 360 MB of space on your hard drive. If you choose a 96 kHz sample rate you’d be looking at double this amount.

I also recommend you use a separate hard drive from your computer system drive for storing all your audio files and session data, with as much storage space as possible. Audio sessions can use up an awful lot of space.

And whilst we’re on the subject of equipment, don’t under-estimate the importance of a good pair of monitor speakers. To record and mix effectively, you need a pair of monitors that do not colour the sound. Some speakers may accentuate high frequencies whilst some enhance the bass.

KRK VXT6 Active Studio Monitors.

Monitor speakers are available as either Passive or Active. Passive monitors require a separate amp to power them, much like speakers in a Hi-Fi. Active monitors have their own built-in amps. There are plenty of choices on the market in all price ranges. So go for the best you can afford.

A Single Analog Mixer Channel Strip, Split Into 3 Sections For Easy Viewing: Section A – Input Pot & Preamp Plus EQ…..Section B – Aux & Monitor Sends…..Section C – Fader, Pan, Mute, Solo & Bus Assigns Switches.

Meter levels can often be monitored at different points in the signal path but not all systems are the same.

The Prefader Input Level shows you the level of signal entering the mixer channel before it passes through the fader and channel EQ. How much level the meter registers depends on how loud or soft the sound source is and the adjustment of the trim pot (or input gain pot). If you’re using a separate preamp you can make adjustments on the preamp’s trim pot. And if you’re recording with a mic, the position and proximity of the mic will affect the level of your sound source too.

Logic Studio And Cubase Record Pages, Both Systems Offer Excellent Facilities.

The Postfader Input Level shows the signal level after passing through the channel strip including the fader and any EQ adjustments that have been made. The level you see here is different to the prefader level only if the channel trim pot is in a position other than unity gain or if EQ has been adjusted in some way.

The Prefader Track Level is the level actually being recorded on the hard drive or recorder. If you’re setup uses a separate analog mixer and a stand alone recorder, this level is shown on the recorder not the mixer.

The Postfader Track Level displays the level after you have made changes to the track channel’s fader and EQ. This level will only be different to the Prefader Track Level if adjustments have been made to the track fader level and/or EQ.

The Meter Level On The Pro Tools Master Track Represents The Sum Of All The Tracks Being Fed To It.

Master Bus Levels need to be monitored very carefully when mixing. In a typical session there will be many tracks being routed to the Master Bus. Which means that this level represents the sum of all those tracks.

The reason I mention these various points in the signal path is to make you aware that a problem with the sound could be at any one of these stages. If you hear distortion when recording, systematically check your various levels and trust your ears.

It’s also important to mention that in Pro Tools, a track’s channel fader only affects the track’s output level, it does not affect the input (record) level. That is set earlier in the signal chain at the sound source itself or the mic’s preamp.

If you want more information and are using Pro Tools, click here for an excellent article on headroom and the use of the Mix Bus. If you’re using MIDI with Pro Tools you might find this article useful too.

Next week we will continue with the Recording stage by discussing the use of EQ and Effects, recording your first take, punching in and the importance of saving your work.


August 15, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 24 Signal Processing

The TCM Home Music Studio series of blogs has so far covered – setting up your room, choice of essential gear, microphone techniques and recording various instruments.

There’s still lots more we’ll be covering in future blogs – signal paths, MIDI, the recording process, overdubbing, editing, mixing, mastering…..the list goes on. So if you have any questions on what has been covered so far, please drop us a line or get in touch with us. Contact details are here.

Each Channel Strip On The Mixer Comprises A Trim Pot, EQ, Aux Sends, Pan Pot, Solo, Mute, Assign Switches and Fader.

At some point, whether it’s in the recording process or the mixdown stage you will want and sometimes need to use some signal processing.

Technology has advanced so much that you can now alter your recording in so many ways, that the end result can bear little resemblance to the original sound.

Various Plug-Ins – Equalisation and Dynamics above,

Effect Bundle And Amp Farm Below.

If you want to get creative, there is a vast selection of tools available. The options are almost limitless – just don’t get too carried away. Adding too much or too many effects to an instrument or a mix can ruin the sound completely. For a small selection of what is available, click here.

There are three main categories of signal processing.

  • EQ or Equalisation. This is where you make adjustments to the frequency balance of voices and instruments. Either to clean up unwanted buzzes or hums in the recorded signal or to enhance the sound of an instrument, so that it sits comfortably in the mix. EQ can be applied whilst recording or in the mix stage or both.
  • Dynamic Processing. Compressors, Expanders, Limiters and Gates are used to control the dynamic range of instruments (smoothing out level differences), reduce the level of unwanted noise or add much needed punch to a drum track for instance.
  • Effects Processing. This category covers everything from enhancing a vocal performance with an Aural Exciter to putting a guitar through an array of FX pedals that include fuzz, distortion, chorus, delay etc. Typically effects are added to improve the sound of an instrument or make it unusual/more interesting.

A ‘Typical’ Fx Pedal Setup For A Guitarist.

Some engineers will use EQ or apply an effect to an instrument whilst recording it. For example, if an echo or wah-wah effect is an integral part of the player’s sound on a solo then you (and the player) would most likely want to record that effect with the performance, at the recording stage.

To allow flexibility at the mix stage, you would want to record the clean instrument to one track and the effect on the instrument to another, but you would record both at the same time. This enables the player to hear the full effect of the sound and possibly adjust his/her playing accordingly but also allows you as the engineer to use as much or as little of the effect in the mix stage.

Old But Still In Use By Yours Truly – Korg A5 Multi FX Outboard For Guitar.

There will be other instances where you decide to record an instrument clean (without EQ or effects) and then add any desired signal processing later in the mix stage. You will need to determine which approach suits you best for each voice or instrument you record.

The way you connect your signal processor in the audio chain is important.

If you connect it directly into the channel strip of your mixer (line/insert) you are placing it directly in the signal path. This will result in the clean instrument signal and the processed signal being added and mixed. This method is most useful for equalisers and dynamic processors.

Logic For Mac – Showing Several FX Sends On A Drum Setup.

The alternative is to split part of the signal into an auxillary bus (send/return). This essentially sends the signal down a different path, where you can route it through an effect processor like a reverb or chorus, allowing you to record both the clean and the effected signals on different tracks.

If you’re working in the analog world with a multitrack recorder, you will access signal processing either through your mixing desk/board or specifically designed outboard gear. Connecting most outboard gear will be done with patch cords.

However, if you’re using something like Logic or Pro Tools then you will have access to various ‘plug-ins’ that are usually supplied with the programme. Connections will be made internally within the programme, so there is no need for patch cords unless you decide to use a specific piece of outboard gear that gives you a particular effect.

See your Pro Tools or programme specific manual for details on how to set up busses, sends and returns.

Of course you have the option of adding more plug-ins/effects, but the various EQs, flange, chorus, compressor, reverbs and delays that come with even the most basic Pro Tools set up are usually enough to get you started.

The principle is the same whether you are working in analog or digital. As most Home Studios (due to cost limitations) will be digital and Pro Tools is so common in both Home and Professional Studios, this is the system we will use in our discussions.

Ultrabeat – Drum Synthesiser For Logic. One of many Superb Software Instruments Available.

Incidentally, Pro Tools is available for Mac and Windows platforms, whereas Logic is now only available for Mac – it used to work on both platforms prior to version 6.

Next week we’ll continue looking in more detail at the various types of EQ (parametric and graphic), dynamic processors (compressors, expanders, limiters and gates) and effects processors (reverbs, delays, chorus, pitch change etc). Then follow on with specific tips on how to use the various most common processors.

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If you already have a working Home Studio and have some music tracks that need that final polish. Check out the TCM Mastering site. Or contact us with your questions by clicking here.


March 28, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 4 System Setup & Multitracking

The setups and procedures I’m about to describe are common to a lot of Digital Audio Workstations or DAWs. So I’ll use Pro Tools as the DAW example, as it is one of a few digital systems that are used widely by professionals, semi-pros and amateurs alike.

Incidentally, TCM Mastering (both here in the UK and our studio in Nashville), is not affiliated with Pro Tools in any shape or form. We just happen to think it’s a great digital system.

Refer to your DAWs manual for specific information relating to your system.

In Pro Tools (and many of the other popular DAWs) you can configure the System Settings which affect the system’s capacity for processing, recording and playback of tracks. For most sessions the default settings will be fine. But if you need to there is the option, for example, to change settings for particularly large sessions with lots of signal processing.

You can also alter Hardware Buffer Size which affects monitoring latency, audio processing and effects. In addition the number of voices affects Digital Signal Processing usage and overall performance.

Before you start a session you should decide on the desired bit rate and sample rate.

Bit rate – the size of the audio sample in binary digits eg. 16-bit or 24-bit.

Sample rate – the number of times incoming audio is sampled per second during the conversion from analogue to digital eg. 44.1 kHz-192 kHz.

Creating a session template (similar in some respects to a MS Word template) will save you having to set up several parameters from scratch every time you start a session. You can include the number of tracks, mixer setups, signal routings, insert and send configurations, plug-ins and any MIDI instruments you might want to have as a starting point for most of your music sessions.

As you can see, there are several settings to personalise your system. So the setup of a system only needs to be done once followed by minor adjustments for each new session.

If there are any terms that seem unfamiliar to you, your DAWs manual should explain them and the steps you need to go through to achieve the result you’re after. Alternatively, here at TCM Mastering, we’re always happy to answer questions you may have about recording, mixing or mastering.

What is Multitracking?

When a certain band called The Beatles recorded their first songs, the whole band would rehearse then record the song in one complete take. In those days it was essentially a live recording. By 1963 the first 4 track recorders were being introduced to the recording industry. This allowed musicians to experiment and build up songs a layer at a time. Overdubbing as it became known changed the art of recording completely. Five years later 8 track multitrack recording became available. Recording would never be the same again.

Todays top DAWs can offer over a hundred tracks for audio and more for MIDI. Each instrument or group of instruments can be assigned its own track or tracks. The whole band or orchestra can record simultaneously or separately and then be assembled later. Sections of a song can be copied and pasted or deleted and replaced. Tracks can be recorded in your home studio and mixed in a professional studio or vice versa. Pro Tools certainly allows this versatility and compatibility as well as many other top software packages. So when buying your digital system, consider which facilities are important to you.

Let’s say you’re a one man band. You might choose to record a simple click track first as a guide on track 24. Whilst listening back to the click track, you then record a stereo piano on tracks 1 and 2. A bass line on track 3. Rhythm acoustic guitar on track 4. An electric guitar on 5. Lead vocal on tracks 6 and 7, backing vocals on 8, 9, 10 and 11. You then decide to record drums and assign a track each for kick, snare and hi-hat. A stereo pair for cymbals and another stereo pair for toms. That would take the track count up to 18. Any effects you might want to use on the instruments (eg. reverb, chorus, delay) can be assigned to a separate track so that those effects can be mixed separately to the instrument level.

Make sure when you record anything that you adjust your input levels to optimise the dynamic range of whatever you’re recording. If you were to record ‘hot’ onto an analogue tape deck the resulting clipping might be perceived as a warm sound due to the tape compression. Unfortunately, digital is not as forgiving and any clipping of the sound would result in undesirable distortion which is to be avoided at all cost. So remember to peak your recording level no higher than about minus 6 to 8db.

The technique of overdubbing doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Playing along to yourself is something that may need a little practice. It’s made even more difficult if the tempo of the original track varies. So recording a basic click track first may be useful.

Also, when you overdub, hearing certain instruments you recorded previously may throw you off tempo… could be a strident keyboard or a syncopated percussion track. If this appears to be the problem try turning the volume down of those parts in your headphones or even removing them from the headphones completely. Just listen back to the parts which help you perform the overdub.

Whilst The Beatles produced some of their best music on 4 and 8 track recorders, one cannot turn back time. Multi-tracking with the availability of 100s of tracks is here to stay.

One thing that is probably worth mentioning is the subject of track or multitrack abuse. It’s very tempting if you have 100 audio tracks, to use them…..all! The same goes for all the signal processing that’s available eg. delays, reverb, flanging, pitch shifting and eq.

Having a 100 tracks of instrumentation with heavy signal processing on lots of them will not only slow your computer down (it may even bring it to a grinding halt!) but could result in your track sounding so full and muddy that it becomes difficult to listen to. In other words don’t assume that ”more” is better. If the track is produced and arranged carefully…..thought given to choice of instruments, how many instruments should be playing at any given time, microphone technique and the use of effects…..there’s no reason you shouldn’t end up with a tight and colourful recording. The beauty in a song is not just down to the lyrics, melody and harmonies but also dependant on how the various components are all put together.

Next Monday I will continue by discussing microphone types.

Do you want to be sure of receiving this series of blogs as they come out? Then why not subscribe to them. Just fill out your e-mail address in the box near the top on the right.

We absolutely hate spam, so we will never share or sell your details to anyone!

If you already have a working Home Studio and have some music tracks that need that final polish. Check out the TCM Mastering site. Or contact us with your questions by clicking here.


March 21, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 3 Analogue or Digital?

Continuing from my last Home Music Studio blog, today I want to discuss a few of the pros and cons for analogue and digital recorders.

At TCM Music Group and Mastering we’ve all grown up with recording technology over the years. So we all have our favourite pieces of equipment and ways of working. But that doesn’t mean that we are biased towards one approach or the other. Analogue multitracks still have their place in recording today, even though digital audio workstations have become common place.

With the equipment and resources available today, most musicians can now create music in a Home Studio that can compete on a truly professional level.

Remember, in my earlier blog post, I mentioned that technology was just one part of making music….solid engineering skills and a good pair of ears are equally important. Knowing what your equipment is capable of and its limitations is essential too.

One thing is for sure, we are bombarded with new equipment every month with special offers that entice you to part with your money. So it always pays to take your time at the outset during your initial planning stage. Make informed choices that will serve you well in terms of quality and longevity. Gear choices will also depend upon whether your studio is going to be private or commercial. Do you intend to use it for you and your friends only or will you be hiring out your studio to other musicians?

If you do hire out your studio commercially, you will most likely have to equip it to a much higher specification than you would if it were just for your personal use. Clients often like to see and are used to using well known equipment brand names, which can cost a lot more than other less ‘famous’ brands. There is an expectation involved with hiring your facilities out to paying clients.

If you are considering equipping your studio with an analogue multitrack, be aware that the wider track formats (2 inch, 24 track) are very expensive. They also require regular cleaning, maintenance and alignment. Plus every time you copy a ‘tape’ recording, the quality deteriorates a little. And if that wasn’t enough, the tapes themselves are getting harder to obtain.

Don’t get me wrong, I love multi-tracks. Analogue tape is much more forgiving with high audio levels than digital. And I’ve spent years working with them. But for the home musician (especially if you have a limited budget), digital technology is more compact, less hassle, a cheaper option and will allow you to compete with the big guys. So do your research and budget accordingly.

By the 1980s I was mixing and started using digital workstations, specifically the AMS Audiofile and NED Synclavier (a truly amazing piece of kit). I still used an Otari or Studer 24 track multitrack as my main recorder however, as confidence in digital technology was lacking.

Recent technological advances have made the digital choice a reliable and cheaper option. Some musicians still prefer using analogue tape decks, because tape produces a much ‘warmer’ sound compared to digital but there is now a whole new generation of digital plug-ins coming onto the market that claim to equal or faithfully replicate the tonal quality of analogue tape. At the end of the day, you either choose a studio setup with an analogue recorder with all its pros and cons or you go digital.

Digital options fall into two main categories…the Studio In A Box (SIAB) or Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

The SIABs are a popular, relatively cheap and compact digital option. Several manufacturers offer products…Roland, Tascam and Fostex to name a few. Things to consider other than price are reputation and reliability, available bit rates, ease of use, number of tracks, onboard processing, plug-in options, audio file formats and compatibility with other systems or studios.

DAWs are pretty much the standard in most pro setups these days. But manufacturers keen to capitalise on the Home Musician market have made less expensive products that are amazing value for money, which offer many of the same features as the pro models.

The main advantages of the DAWs are that they allow the user to record and keep almost unlimited takes (not necessarily a good thing), access a take almost instantly with no rewind time, edit non-destructively and then perform top quality mixing in the workstation (often with built-in signal processing). In addition, the whole process has now become a visual experience. The audio tracks are viewable in waveform. Pieces of audio can be moved, trimmed, copied and pasted just like a text document without losing or degrading the quality which makes removing that bum note, or copying that chorus to another part of your song very easy.

So it handles a lot of the different steps involved in the production of a song within a very compact space.

If you decide to take the digital route there are several great programmes and workstations on the market. A favourite of mine and many professional studios is Pro Tools. You can get into the world of Pro Tools LE for a few hundred pounds/dollars, although, full blown HD systems are more expensive. Logic Studio is another brilliant programme favoured by musicians and Cubase is a popular choice for many home studio systems especially for dance music. Other popular options are Cakewalk by Roland, Sony’s Acid Pro and Mark of the Unicorn’s (MOTU) Digital Performer.

Some DAWs are good for audio and MIDI. Some are better for one or the other. And remember some software packages are designed for Mac or PC or both. So choose carefully.

The choice is huge so covering a selection of digital workstations and programmes is beyond the scope of this blog. But there are certain common characteristics to most of them that musicians will need to get familiar with. I’ll discuss them in the Home Music Studio blog, next Monday.

After that I’ll go into microphones, instruments, mixers, signal processing and monitor choices. Later blogs will cover recording, overdubbing, editing and mixing techniques, MIDI and what to do with those tracks once they’re mixed and ready for the world to hear.

Do you want to be sure of receiving this series of blogs as they come out? Then why not subscribe to them. Just fill out your e-mail address in the box near the top on the right. We absolutely hate spam, so we will never share or sell your details to anyone!

If you already have a working Home Studio and have some music tracks that need that final polish. Check out the TCM Mastering site.

Have a specific question regarding the recording or mastering process? Then please feel free to contact us here.