Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mixing with Headphones: Avoiding Disaster

Talk to most engineers about mixing with headphones and you’ll hear a familiar refrain: “don’t”. That’s generally pretty good advice. You have to be really careful with headphones as they will “lie” to you about many aspects of your music. Sometimes, though, it can’t be helped. Maybe you’re on the road, maybe you can’t get into a studio, maybe you’re just making a rough mix for someone. If you absolutely must mix with headphones, here are some tips to help avoid the biggest mistakes people make.

Keep It Dry

Headphones don’t contribute much acoustic information to the sound you’re hearing because they’re so close to your ears. Everything sounds very close. You’ll be tempted to make things sound deeper, wider, and more lush than you should with headphones because of the flatness of the soundstage. The best advice is to keep it dry because you have no frame of reference. A dry mix is far more likely to sound good on speakers when mixed with headphones than one with a lot of delay and reverb. Otherwise you’ll run the risk of a washed out sound devoid of impact when you add the acoustics of an actual listening environment and distance from speakers.

Keep It Simple

Fancy effects such as flanging, phasing, and their ilk will sound very different with speakers because their positioning will contribute natural phase shifts. If you start messing with phase in your headphone mix you have no way of knowing what will happen when you add speaker distance into the equation. Again, play it safe and keep things simple.

Use the Whole Stereo Image

While this is true when mixing with speakers, it’s especially true with headphones. Headphones are two points of sound which typically generate three major lobes: left, center, and right. These lobes will be loudest and things will sound especially huge when panned into these positions. Remember that you have all the space in-between those lobes to use and that headphones will probably sound most impressive with things panned hard. Be aware of that and avoid the temptation to make everything live there.

Lean On Your Mastering Engineer

You are going to master this material, right? When in doubt, cut and boost less. Compress less. Headphones will seldom have flat frequency responses and generally have very different transient response than speakers. For one thing their drivers are generally smaller and lighter, meaning transients will snap more aggressively. Do yourself a favor and be conservative with EQ and compression. Any equalization will introduce phase shifts and will degrade the inherent quality of the source material. If you EQ too far the mastering engineer will have to EQ the other way, doubling the detrimental impact. It’s best if you don’t compress the stereo bus at all. A good mastering engineer will be able to turn a solid mix into a great mix if you give them room to do their work. Their familiarity with their monitors and room will help compensate for your lack of monitors and room in the mixing process.

Use Multiple References

The same rules that apply to mixing with speakers apply to headphones: the more references you have the better. In addition to your standard headphones (I use Sony MDR-7506) check on something very different (like I cross reference on Etymotic ER-4P canalphones). Don’t forget consumer-grade headphones like plain white iPod earbuds! If it sounds great on all of these, you’re more likely to have a solid mix.

If there’s any way you can mix on real studio monitors, do it. Otherwise follow these tips and you just might be able to pull of a slammin’ mix with your headphones.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Producers: How To Find Music Submission Opportunities On Twitter!

Have you ever wanted to know how to find people to send your music to on Twitter? Look no further. Through the power of the most powerful search engine in the world, aka Google, you can easily find the latest and greatest music submission opportunities on Twitter. Keep reading for the details…

First thing first, you need to understand a few simple Google search tricks that will help you refine your results…

#1 Searching within a specific site

This first tip will allow you to choose a particular site (in this case Twitter) and receive search results ONLY from that site. In order to do this you must type “site:” then the domain you want to search immediately after it…

#2 Phrase search

The next step is to add a “phrase search” to your search. When you add quotes to a group of words in Google, you are telling Google to consider the exact words in that exact order without any change. So in our case, we can add phrases like “send beats”, “send tracks”, “your best beats”, etc. Think of phrases nobody would use, unless they wanted some music…

#3 Refining your search with the *wildcard

This last step is very useful for broadening your search results. When you place a * in your search phrase, Google trades the star as a placeholder for any unknown term or terms and finds the best matches for them. So if you search for “send * beats”, you will get results like “send me beats”, “send your best beats”, “send more beats”, etc…

#4 Getting the most recent search results

This final tip will help you get the most up to date results. AFTER you search, you can click on “More search tools” , on the left side of the search results. This will open up options to show results which have popped up over the last 24 hours, week, month, year, or whichever time period you want to search through.

The power of Google Search

With these tips you are well on your way to finding the latest submission opportunities. The thing that is great about this, is that Google automatically sifts the results in order of importance. So pages that are links to higher profile (aka more famous) Twitter accounts usually come up first. On the opposite spectrum, artists such as “Lil Baby D” and “Juggalo Strangla”, will be towards the end of the results. Google can be a great ally for your e-grind. Try thinking outside of the box and maybe you can find some more opportunities outside of twitter… hmmmm……..

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

15 Ways You Can Instantly Improve Your Music

You want to take your music production to the NEXT level? Well I've put together a list of things you can and SHOULD do to improve the quality of your music NOW.

1.) Listen to more music.

Obvious? I don’t mean listen to the same music you’ve been listening to every other day. I mean find and source NEW music. The sound click charts don’t count. Listen to music and genres you wouldn’t normally listen to. Listen to music from the past.

Find the music that inspired the artists you love, and hear their influences. Delve into a broader range of tunes. Even if you don’t make that kind of music, widening your ‘musical peripheral vision’ will definitely have an influence on the music that you create. Remember to treat it as an art, and like all art inspiration is key. Be inspired by music you haven’t heard before.

I try to make it a goal of mine to search out new music and new genres that I haven’t heard before, rather that stick to the same artists. You may have to wade through some bad music in the process, but trust me the widened knowledge you gain will be worth it.

2.) Focused practice

More specifically, practice specific areas of your production. Take a few hours to improve your drum programming, with no intention of creating a full track. Spend some time exploring different EQ settings or mixing techniques you haven’t tried, or going through those plugins you have but never use.

A lot of people make beats regularly, but don’t improve (Or improve at a high rate) because they’re stuck in the same patterns over and over. Focus on improving specific areas of your production, whether it be drums, mixing, chord progressions, percussion, sound selection, sound creation, arrangement, and the list goes on… There’s always specific areas that need improvement, identify some of yours and get to work, NOW.

3.) Experiment

This means stop using those same tired drums, that same chord progression you used in the last 5 beats, the same sounds, etc. Act as if this is your first beat ever, and you’re trying new things. Try to step out of the self-imposed rules you’ve developed for your music, and push the boundaries a little.

This doesn’t mean go crazy and make everything sound spastic, but it does mean intentionally trying things you haven’t tried before, and making an effort to go outside the patterns that you usually follow.

4.) Learn synthesis (sound creation)

Stop relying on presets and learn how to create your own sounds! So what if you found a preset Danja or B. Cox used. If you truly want to be great you have to do things that other people aren’t willing to, and that includes learning how to craft your own sounds.

Once you get into it it’s not as hard as it looks, and having the ability to make your own sounds is great. In the long run it will save you the time of going through your presets looking for that ‘specific’ sound you hear in your head. This way you can just make it yourself.

5.) Learn your tools

This means stop looking for the next best thing. With the influx of technology advancing as fast as it does, it’s easy to get lost in all the options, and constantly be looking for the next ‘tool, gear or piece of software’ to bring your production to the next level. Now obviously as producers we rely heavily on technology, and I’m not saying that it’s not important to have good gear or software, but choose your tools carefully and stick with them, to get the most out of them.

If you keep looking for the next DAW, the next best VST or whatever, you’re only going to skim the surface on everything you use. Take the time to learn and master your tools, before you go looking for something better.

6.) Make your music for the right reasons

Don’t start producing as a way to make money. Do it for love and passion of creating. Just because you downloaded a copy of FL Studio doesn’t mean you’ll be making Timbaland money within a year. If your focus becomes money and not creating art then your craft will suffer.

That doesn’t mean DON’T make money off your craft if you can, but always remember that you’re doing this because you love it first, not because of money.

7.) Collaborate

Collab, collab, collab. Find rappers, singers, other producers, friends, WHOEVER to collaborate with.Collaboration inspires creativity. I guarantee you you’ll come up with ideas you never would of thought of by yourself by working with other creatives.

Other creative minds will see things from different perspectives, and in turn will open you up to new ideas. It might be a melody or chord progression, or even a whole new genre that you never would of tried. The greatest music was made through collaborative efforts. Think Quincy and Michael.

8.) Embrace critique

These days, critique of music or different opinions is quick to be labelled ‘hate’. If you really are committed to improving your craft, you will be open to critique and feedback. This doesn’t mean ‘YO LISTEN TO MY BEATZ THERE DOPE’.

This means seek out people to TELL you where your music is lacking. Stop looking for an ego boost and try find people who will tell you where you need to improve. Stay humble, and stay learning.

9.) Layer your drums

A lot of people say this, but even more people don’t do it. Layering your drums is a great way to give those sounds extra punch. For your kicks, find a ‘primary’ sound, this will be the main ‘hit’ or ‘punch’ for your kick and will provide the main lower end.

After that find a few more kicks to layer, with more mid-low punch to give your kicks that extra crispness. Also layering percussion sounds like such as toms, congo’s etc with your kicks can be used with great effect. Another tip, if you layer two kicks and they don’t seem to be hitting together right, pitching the ‘secondary’ kick up or down a few semitones until you find the sweet spot can often fix the problem.

Once you’ve done this a few times you’ll develop a sense on how to pitch your drums right to get them hitting well with each other.

10.) Learn an instrument

Piano helps a LOT, but it could be guitar, drums, the triangle, whatever. Learning an instrument will greatly improve your knowledge of writing and creating music. I was lucky enough to of been learning piano since a young age, and I can tell you having that skill has improved my production more than I can say.

You don’t have to be the next Mozart, but learn your chords and scales at the very minimum. The extra effort you put in now will be worth it when you’re improving crazy melodies on the fly, and coming up with chord progressions with ease.

Even if you don’t want to get lessons with the internet now, there are tonnes of way you can teach yourself, just do a you tube search or a Google search.

11.) Save your drum sounds

Easy, but not everyone does it. Up until a few months ago, I didn’t. If you’ve just layered and EQ and made yourself an amazing kick or snare, don’t just leave it in the current project. Export it as a .WAV so you can re-use it in future projects. Or so you can use it and layer it with more sounds to create even crazier drums.

The possibilities are endless. And eventually you’ll have a bank of custom made, EQ’d and layered drum sounds that you can access with ease.

12.) Studio monitors

Invest in some studio monitors! If you don’t have some already, you’ll be able to hear the difference straight away. You’ll hear things in your tracks that you didn’t notice before, flaws, EQ clashes etc. Most desktop speakers are designed to make music appear better than it actually is.

This is great if you’re a general listener, but if you’re someone who is creating music you want to be able to hear every detail, every flaw, and hear the music exactly how it sounds. Studio monitors will allow you to pick out errors in your mixing and fix them.

13.) Beat battles

A great way to push you to improve is by joining beat battles. This not only puts your music in the public eye and gives you valuable criticism and feedback, but the act of competing will push you to become more creative and put more effort into your tracks, because you know they’ll be going in the public view.

14.) Organize your drum sounds

This is one I’m guilty of not really doing, but I know I should. Organizing your drum sounds will improve your efficiency and workflow. There’s nothing worse than having a great idea and having to search through hundreds of drums to find the ones you’re looking for. Organize your drum sounds so when that great spark of inspiration hits you, you can lay it down STRAIGHT away. Who knows if the inspiration will still be there once you’ve spent half an hour looking for the perfect drum sounds.

15.) Share this blog post

Well this may not help your music, but it will help me! If this article was useful to you it would be much appreciated it you’d hit one of the ‘share’ buttons below!

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed. If you need anything clarified feel free to leave a comment and ask! And feel free to add any more personal tips you have of your own, I’d love to hear them.