Sunday, 28 June 2015

I'm Back !

Catch Up

So I haven't blogged in a long time. I used to use this blog purely for imparting audio knowledge and ideas but, like my youtube channel, I want to talk more about ideas I have in general. Some will be audio, others will be something else.

Happenings (Overall)

Since the last time I posted on this blog I have now got a Phd, a job as a software engineer, a family and a bought house. The big lesson I learned from all of the above is that you often don't know where life is headed. You can do things and try to control things but life will happen around you, probably in ways you didn't expect. I've lost count of the number of times that i've had things happen that I never expected, wanted or even thought about. What you can control is how you react to life and how you live each day, even if the bigger picture will happen with or without you.

Leaving Facebook
One of the things I did recently was to close my Facebook account. I had been aware for a while that there was something about Facebook I really disliked. It turns out there was quite a lot of things about it that I didn't like. My main issue is the lack of focus in their offering as a service. You can use it to put up music, but its not really that effective for that. You can use it to talk but larger posts are generally ignored, because the standard format is smaller posts, much like twitter (which I also don't use, and never have). What do you use it for mostly? Fucking around. Its a stream of unedited, unfinished, raw thoughts of the people in your social circle, fed right into your everyday life. To me its the internet's version of small talk. Anyone trying to have a longer conversation is discouraged, and in my opinion its not really a positive thing in society. I have kept the internet services that I feel have some focus or some definite format or idea, something that encourages content creation, but I refuse to keep anything that's organising principle or driving force is purely encouraging people to be "faux social". I have my friend's numbers and emails and I will call them when I need to chat.

Happenings (Recent)

So yesterday I went to see a friend who had been sick and we basically decided that we need to do more gaming nights. Often I go to his and we just sort of sit and chill, but we used to really enjoy actually having a focus for our time together. With this in mind we picked out Lylat Wars on the N64 and hit it solid until it was done. Pizza, soda pop and a good old school game. A good night. It struck me as we were playing that although we were both rusty as hell the game wasn't as difficult as we remembered it being. Afterwards we moved onto Prince of Persia:Sands of Time and found that to be much more challenging on the whole, to the extent that we couldn't finish it in the few hours we got through Lylat Wars. I think the lack of a save-game state could have something to do with it, because i've played long games on the N64 that challenged me, its not just the system.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Ear initialisation

One of the things you constantly read online is that as home recordists we should always use a reference track when we are mixing. I couldn't agree more but I think that a stage is often missed regarding this and that's the stage before we start making music.

So picture this, you sit down and get ready to start making music. You make some music and it sounds good to you. Then you listen to your preferred reference mixes and you sound......terrible. At this point you start mixing and try to fix the issues there. Nothing is working. What is the problem. Well I have some suggestions.

If you are anything like me you listen to the vast majority of your musical input on headphones. I have a couple of pairs of cans that see the most action, my bose in ears at work and my bose noise cancelling quiet comfort 3's out and about. The problem with this is that we get our reference of music from these. Chances are, the sound of this same music in your studio on your monitors is very different. In my case it certainly is as my headphones are nowhere near flat but my studio monitors are.

Now im not proposing that you bin either your headphones or your speakers or that you stop using either. That would be crazy. What im suggesting is that before you sit down and start recording a new track, take maybe 15 minutes to a half hour to listen some of your favourite mixes in a similar style through your studio monitors. This does two things, firstly it resets your ears from your headphones and secondly it also inspires you, listening to great mixes BEFORE you start making your mix is uplifting. Listening afterwards and feeling that your mix doesnt stack up actually has the opposite effect, you end up feeling down about your work !

Hope this top helps and stay creative,

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Mastering with headphones.

Probably not the world's most popular idea but recently I've been mastering with headphones. Why? Well a number of reasons.

  •  Familiarity

I listen to pretty much all my music on my headphones. That is a whole lot of mastered, finished, polished, professional music.
As a result, I know my cans inside out. I know how much bass they should respond with, how much treble there should and
generally I know what music should sound like through them.

  • Perfect listening environment

People tend to complain that headphones dont give an accurate responce, certain frequencies are hyped, stereo placement
isnt good etc etc. But the one advantage they have for most home studio owners is that they dont suffer from
reflection issues or peaks and nulls in an inconsistent way. If your room is quiet, headphones sound the same wherever
you are in the room. As for the disadvantages, i've usually sorted the vast majority of those issues already by the time
I come to do my mastering. Im really just making a few final eq changes at this point and doing a little bit of mastering
compression and limiting.

  • The microscope effect

Because headphones typically put the sound right at your ear, you can generally hear tiny details in the music. This is generally
what you are looking for when it comes to mastering, the details, the small things that polish a track. As such headphones really
are perfect for this task.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Making decisions

Sometimes we cripple ourselves with decisions. We um and ah about the relative merits of one thing or the other. We convince ourselves that one option or the other is the "best" and worry excessively about picking the non-optimal thing and the negative effects this will have. Often its actually the case that neither option is "better" and we actually just need to make a decision as the only bad thing to do is to do nothing at all. Making a decision allows us to forget about the other options this time and move forward with whatever we are working on.

This isn't just advice for the music world either, often in life the multitude of decisions can be crippling. Im not arguing against having options, because I think options are good and total minimalism isn't the way to go. I just think that the ability to pick and deal with options is important. It allows us to learn, grow and move forward.

Friday, 19 October 2012

On limiting and stereo depth

The main complaint that people have about heavy limiting in the mastering stage is that it reduces dynamic range. This a perfectly well founded complaint but this heavy limiting also has a detrimental effect on other factors in the mix. One of the more overlooked side effects is the way that it damages stereo imaging.

The main way that we perceive a stereo signal is differences in the left and right channels (or speakers). If a sound is identical in both channels and our listening setup is relatively sane, we hear that sound from a, ghost, central position (mono). As if there was only a single speaker centrally playing the sound. If we add changes to the two sources individually and with different values (time shifts, pitch shifts, different eq etc) we hear the signal as stereo. A well crafted mix will have many of these differences and will make use of all of the stereo field to put the sound across.

Now if we consider what a limiter does, it essentially chops off peaks in the signal when it reaches a certain threshold of volume. So lets say that the left side has a signal which fluxuates around -6db and the right side a signal which is simply just a single sine wave hit at -3db. For the period that they are both over a threshold of -7db, both signals will simply be a flat-line at -7db. Not only have we lost dynamic information from either side but we'v lost that important difference between the two, and as we discussed earlier, this is what triggers our perception of a stereo signal. This is why simply slapping a limiter over a mix at the mastering stage can often lead to a more mono sounding mix.

As a side note, this also applies when using a brick wall limiter, and even aggressive compression, on stereo sources within the mix as well as at the mastering stage.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Incremental Improvements

A concept from my mixing kind of bled into a general thought on life recently, the idea of incremental improvements.

When we mix all to often we are looking for the golden bullet, that one thing we can do that will fix the mix, that will make that track hang together perfectly. The truth is, a good mix isn't acheived like that, its sculpted from many smaller steps that incrementally improve the mix as a whole. They might be tiny, they might seem insignificant at the time. e.g. Limiting a bassline by half a db so that it has a small amount more headroom. In time though, these small improvements mount up and the end product is significantly better for it.

I firmly believe that the world around us operates in this way as well. We are bombarded with the idea that we need to make massive changes, that everything needs to be done insantly and be huge in nature and far reaching in effect. Everything is sensationalised and everything is hyped up to the point where we are literally crippled against any action because it seems so insignificant im comparison. The truth is that if you are making small improvements all the time, little changes that leave things in a better state than they were before you started, you are making a big difference, over time. And even if the difference you make is only small over time, the fact that you are making something better, creating a better world than the way in which you found it, or doing something positive in nature, that's a good thing and not something that should be easily overlooked. In fact, in my opinion its the point of all of this. Do something positive, even if its only a small thing - It matters!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Compensatory EQ

I dont know about everyone else out there, but I have some bad habits. One of them is applying too much much in my EQ when I'm mixing. I do this EVERY time I do a track and then have to go back and hack away at it after the fact. Its really bad.

I used to think it was because I was a bad mixer or because I was trying to make bad mixes etc. The real reason is that I listened to a lot of music when I was younger that had a lot of bass (dance, industrial, death metal etc) so my ears are trained to like certain kinds of EQ decisions (abuse). As such I've developed a good habit recently of placing an EQ on the master channel while I mix that compensates for some of these bad habits by exagurating them. For instance in the image below you can see my basic EQ that I use for this purpose. Its a 3db boost of the bass shelf from about 150, a 3db boost at 400 and then a 3db cut shelf of the hi's from about 10k.

I find that using this method, when I remove the eq afterwards, my mixes hold together a bit better. Then if I need to boost bass slightly when I reference them against other mixes, I have much more space to make that decision.