audio engineer

Today’s Best Tips on Music Production

10 essential tips… 20 mistakes… 30 production secrets and so on, such lists seem to be really popular these days. Although many of them are just full of crap. Especially forget about the longer checklists – even if you could find some good advices there, most tips are just nonsense, like “don’t mix bass with headphones”.

Anyway, to you aspiring producer, here’s a few things I think you should care about:

  • Limiting yourself can help drive creativity. Don’t use all of your instrumental arsenal at once, don’t try to cover all music styles in one track.
  • Listen to different styles of music and try to identify what you like and what you dislike.
  • Analyze your favorite artists’ work in great detail. Theorize with both feet on the ground.
  • Go ahead and copy other artists, but don’t settle there – tweak and add your own style and flavor.
  • Cover, remix and remake your favorite tracks, it’s a good and fun way to learn about music.
  • Use reference tracks, compare your shit to others, but don’t get paralyzed when your track doesn’t bang as loud as them.
  • Learn about synthesis and learn how to sound design different kind of instruments, e.g. strings, plucks, percussion (make synthetic drums using waveforms, a noise generator, filters, envelopes and such).
  • Check your music productions on several systems; from high-end studio monitor speakers to iPhone earbuds.
  • Sleep on it. Let your track mature over night and return to it with fresh ears.
  • Go hardware, get tactile if you are growing tired of a software-based environment. To actually play an instrument or to turn a real knob is really something else.
  • Get inspiration from collaborations with other artists. Just reach out to people you admire – this is globalization, this is the time of teh internetz.
  • Try to keep passionate about creating music, but don’t be afraid to make some demands of yourself, just to push things forward.
My kid does 13K in damage to studio equip, we handle it like lunatics.

[Part 1]

Some background:

I’m an audio engineer and score arranger full time in my self-owned business. It’s how I provide for myself, my fiancée (also CF), and my mother. I record, mix, and master for bands, voice-overs for local commercials, and write music for people’s weddings, college films, indie games, etc.. It was my passion since I was a child and every day I ask myself why I get paid to do what I do.

You know, until today.

I had a woman schedule to come in because she wanted me to record her monologue for an acting class. I thought it was going to be easy enough. I set up a mic and a music stand in the sound booth and got my workstation prepped for tracking. She was supposed to show up at 3:30, so when 4:00 came around, I called her to ask her if she was still coming. It was my last contract for the day and I was wanting to get home to my fiancée, dogs, and dinner.

“Oh, sorry sweetie, I’m going to be there soon. I just had to get my son from ex-boyfriend.”

Uh oh.

4:12, she showed up with her child.

To preface, I’ve never really wanted kids, and don’t really hate them either. But I’ve been childfree of mind for a decade now in league of several bad child experiences in public.

Anyway, I sat her down at the conference table and tried to talk to her about the contract and billing, etc., and just couldn’t because of the six-years-old pile of ovary droppings next to her.

“Mommy it’s cold in here.” “Mommy, I’m bored.” “Mommy, that guy has girl hair.” “Mommy, I want to play on the phone.”

The incessant whining went on for the entirety of the discussion. She did nothing about it. I had an ache in my stomach that this might be a rough session.

I was right.

I showed her to the sound booth, positioned the mic at face level, told her the basics of mic use, and then she floored me with a question.

“Can my son stay in there with you while I do this?” I insisted that he wait in the conference room (across the hall from the control room) because the control room wasn’t a very kid-friendly place considering the 120K of equipment at arms reach.

“But he’s a little angel.”

I shouldn’t have taken her word for it. I SHOULD NOT have taken her word for it. This kid was ANYTHING but. I let him in, told him to sit in one of the office chairs and don’t touch anything. Needless to say, he touched. I queued the recording arm and signaled her to start. She got three lines into her take before I hear a deafening screech and crash.

That little shit machine had just knocked over a $4,000 Korg into a rack with $9,500 of equipment. Completely shattered the touchscreen on the Korg, busted the dials off of half of the effects, and totaled my distressor that I use for almost all the vocals I track.

All of this, by the way, was the room’s length apart from where I told the crotch goblin to stay.

The kid, because of the loud noise, started full-lung screaming. Not crying. Not yelling. Screaming.

The mother, with no hesitation, ran over to the control room and DEMANDED to know what I did to her child. She cussed at me and accused me of hurting her little snot monster. Threatened to sue and even swung at me. When I told her that her precious angel had just racked up at least twelve grand of damages, she said “good”, spit on me, then stormed out, slamming every door on the way. So I pulled the security camera footage and had filed a police report. Grand total: $13,504.25. I also mailed her the bill for her session for good measure.

Of six years in the studio, this is my only truly terrible experience. Fuck mombies. Fuck having children. Thanks for making my vasectomy decision that much easier on me.

[Part 2]

Keep reading

About Drum EQ

Firstly everybody would tell you to have a minimalistic approach towards EQ-ing and to cut rather than to boost. They would say that subtractive EQ avoids adding unnecessary gain to the signal and such. But by doing so, you might need to increase the volume of the instrument you’re working on, because cuttings are essentially lowering the gain.

That was the first tip, and now there are a few frequency ranges that you should pay attention to.

Kick Drum

Usually you’d like the kick drum to have both a thick bass thump from the low-end and a driving click from the mids. So to add some extra weight (that is low-end punch or bottom depth), boost at 50-150 Hz. Don’t overdo it as it can clutter up the low-end. And don’t boost the extremely low frequencies as this will mostly cause a muddy sound. If possible, use bell mode on the EQ to better isolate the frequencies.

To reduce boom, or tighten and clean up the low-end in general, set a high-pass filter around 50-60 Hz. (20 Hz and below only adds unnecessary energy to the total sound.)

If the kick drum needs more body, boost some in the 90-120 Hz range.

Apply cut somewhere in the 150-600 Hz range to treat muddiness, while boxiness is most prominent near 400 Hz. Also apply a notch filter at 250 Hz, that can add thump or slap attack to the kick drum.

Push between 2-4 kHz to add attack, and also boost a bit between 4-7 kHz to make the kick drum snappy.

Remove extreme high (for a kick drum you shouldn’t need anything over 10 kHz) and low frequencies (at least kill everything below 20 Hz) with a high- and a low-pass filter.

Snare

You can, more or less, use the the same tips as for the kick drum above with a few changes and additions.

Cut at 80 Hz to remove rumble.

If the snare sounds thin, boost at 125-150Hz for a little weight and a full snare sound. And to give the snare some punch, boost around 250 Hz.

The body of the snare should be around 500 Hz, adding there will give a rounder sound.

Boost around 2 kHz for some crispy edge and add at 2.5 kHz for extra snap and attack. Also add clarity and even more punch by boosting around the 3 kHz area.

You might want to give the snare some air and presence by raising somewhere between 6-15 kHz, like at 10 kHz.

Hand claps and rim shots can mostly be treated as snares.

Toms

For the floor tom that needs low-end fulness, add some at 80-100 Hz, and for the smaller rack tom lift somewhere closer to 250 Hz.

Increase thump and add attack around 250 Hz.

Cut the mids around 400 Hz to reduce boxiness.

Add attack by boosting between 4-7 kHz (depending on the size of the tom).

Hihats and Cymbals

When you’re done mixing the volume level of the hihats, you usually don’t really have to boost or cut anything. Still, the clank or gong sound is around 200 Hz, but if you want definition, then roll off everything below 500-600 Hz using a high-pass filter. By doing so, you clear out low-end information that is nonessential for the hihat.

If the hihat is sounding thin, boost around 400-800 Hz.

Cut at 1 kHz to remove jangling, and treat clangy sounds by cutting between 1-4 kHz.

A small boost with a wide Q at the 3 kHz range will add presents to the hihat.

Add brightness and get sizzle by lifting at 10 kHz. And if the sound is too harsh, then make a high-shelf cut around 16 kHz.

That’s it. Next time I’ll guide you through the creation of synthesized drums.

Note: processing sampled sounds can turn hihats pretty harsh, therefore use a de-esser to affect the problem frequencies without messing with the overall volume or clarity.

Books for Sound Designers

 A comprehensive list of useful sound design and audio engineering texts

Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook

Master Handbook of Acoustics - Fifth Edition

Mixing a Musical - Shannon Slaton

Sound and Music for the Theatre - Deena Kaye, James LeBrecht

Show Networks and Control Systems - John Huntington

Sound Systems: Design and Operation - Bob McCarthy

Sound Reproduction - Loudspeakers and Rooms

Room Acoustics - Fifth Edition

Fundamentals of Acoustics - Fourth Edition

Audio Engineering: Know it All


Feel free to add more texts and/or provide links to PDF’s of the texts above if you have them! Lets help young designers and technicians like me get access to the education they want

Straight Outta Bedroom

So I’ve had this blog for a year and a half now – yay! I’ve primarily focused on music production methods and tips. If you’re into that, making music, then here are a few (not all) old posts that could interest you. Now, did you ever wonder… 

You’re welcome.

Helpful Resume Tips:

And by that, I mean that I’ve been reading a lot of resumes recently, and there are several things that I see people doing constantly that are really grinding my gears. So, I’m going to vent about resumes for a minute. 

EXPORT YOUR RESUME AS A PDF. 

I don’t have time to put the pieces together of your .DOCX resume after it has been chewed up and spit out. You can’t trust that the formatting will remain the same, you can’t trust that they’ll be viewing the document on a full size screen. You can’t trust that they’ll have all of your fonts and what nots.

USE ACTIVE VERBS.

Don’t make me dig for your verbs in your descriptions. Avoid the passive voice. Don’t downplay your experience. 

AVOID REDUNDANCY. 

Space is at a premium. If you have an education section that says when you attended and what your course of study was, then you don’t need a subsection under education detailing when you graduated and the types of courses you took. You’ve already covered that. And now you’ve made me read it twice. 

DON’T LIST EVERY SINGLE JOB YOU’VE HAD. 

Unless they specifically asking for a CV, they’re not looking for much beyond your relevant experience. I’m not super interested in your two years as a barista if you’re applying to be an audio engineer. 

SAY WHAT YOUR REFERENCES DO AND WHERE

That helps your future employer to know what sorts of questions to have prepared when checking your references. And for the love of god vary your references. Try to avoid having several people that you worked with all together or more than one professor from your college.

KEEP IT TO ONE PAGE

Especially if you’re passing out a physical resume (like at USITT, SETC, or a cattle call). Keep it simple. Keep it short. Bullet points. Active, decisive sentences. Boom. Boom. Boom. Save the flowery shit for your personal statement. You can go into more depth for the interview.