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General Advice

Video Tutorial: Subtractive Synthesis Explained

Friday, September 14th, 2012

This video tutorial is related to an article I wrote here a few years ago. It’s a brief explanation of the principles and schematics of the most common synthesis method: Subtractive. Oh yeah, it’s time to learn!

Easy Guide: Synth programming & Preset tweaking

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

The glorious Korg MS-20

By Daniel Rothmann –


So, you’ve made it this far. If you’ve read my previous articles in the EGE series you should have a pretty good overview of how electronic music actually works. In addition, you should also be able to put together some pretty cool beats for your tracks! So, what’s missing? You guessed it: Synthesizers. Electronic music is all about synthesizers. You may be wondering how the heck these things work, right? I can understand that many people are intrigued by synthesizers; all those knobs and buttons can certainly seem very confusing! In this article, I’m going to give you a basic overview of how the common synthesizer works and what important parameters you need to know of in order to produce the sounds you want. (more…)

What does pro audio have to do with chess?

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Pro audio is like a game of chess; the best player always plans ahead

“Planning ahead pushes you toward victory” – Sun Tzu

In the life of a sound-tech, you’ve got your mixers, your cables and your mics. You’ve got your patching, plugging and playing to do and if I told you it’s a lot like chess you’d probably just point a microphone in my face and say “Does this look like a Rook to you?”.

In chess you have to be able to think more than one move at a time. It’s a game of cunning strategy and if you don’t think one step ahead of your opponent he will Sun Tzu you and you will lose the game. Working with audio is similar. You have to think ahead and keep everything in mind. Signal flow doesn’t start and end with you plugging in a cable, or adjusting the gain levels.

You have to think things through right to the end or feedback will win the game and taint your reputation. As Sun Tzu said: “Estimating completely creates victory”.

Thinking ahead and keeping all the factors in mind greatly reduces the “troubleshooting brainstorm” that goes on when something doesn’t work.

It also enhances you ability to think quickly on your feet, getting the show or the recording back on track in no time.


Dealing with the artist (in a performance venue)

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

“The artist is always late”

by Björgvin Benediktsson

There is considerable tact involved when dealing with an artist. Whether it be in a hectic live setting where everything is running late or recording sultry vocals in a cozy recording studio. If some of the below statements offend you engineer/artists remember that I also whine when my vocals sound bad.

The artist is always late

When I started mixing live concerts, underground bands were notorious for always being late. When I said the soundcheck would start at five, this usually meant the first bands showed up at around six. After a while I got used to this as I could use the empty time to set up and linecheck at a relaxed pace. It’s amazing what you can do in an hour if there is no stress involved.

So when the artists finally showed up I had everything set up perfectly without having to show up early to get everything done.


Create bigger sounds using layering

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Layering sounds

Download this tutorial as a PDF

Listen to these tracks to see what you will be creating in this tutorial:

Layered Bass:

Layered Chord Synth:

By Daniel Rothmann (T7)


At some point in your career of music-making you might encounter the problem that your synthesizers just aren’t sufficient for creating sounds big or fat enough for your tracks. This could, for example, be a really heavy bass or a big lead synth. Luckily, there is a technique of achieving these sounds. That technique is layering.

What layering is all about is pretty obvious, yet many electronic producers fail to apply it to its full potential. In essence, layering is “stacking” synths on top of each other, having them produce different sounds to more precisely achieve output in the areas of spectrum you desire. Let’s say, for instance, you want to produce a really heavy bass sound. This could consist of a sub-bass (clean sinus waves at low frequencies); a middle consisting of distorted saw waves with some filter modulation and possibly a 3rd synth playing high octaves to the middle waves. Very few synths come with more than 2-3 oscillators (the oscillator is the component of a subtractive synthesizer that produce raw waves from which sound is built), and in this particular case, we will need 5-6 or more. That is why we will need to layer our synthesizers to produce the sound we’re looking for.


Layering can be achieved in a number of ways: The first, and (possibly) most obvious, is to put 2-3 keyboard players next to each other, playing the same melody on different synthesizers. Naturally, this is a very imprecise and probably inefficient method of achieving the sound you want.


“Killing your darlings”

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

guest article by John P.

It’s a rainy day, perfect for holing yourself up in your room to work on a new song—and if you’re like most of the music-making world, that means firing up your Mac or PC, connecting your MIDI keyboard, hunching your neck and shoulders, and playing endlessly with your virtual drum machines, pianos, and saxophones.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Computer power has liberated home music producers in too many ways to list in this short article. Pair up some modest multi-tracking software with a basic six-hundred dollar PC and you can create sonic wonders. But this very blessing can be a curse. How would “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” sound if Eno and Byrne recorded it today? It would sure be easier for them. Maybe too easy. Without limitations to overcome, artists get lazy and bored.


Top 10 signs your electronic music is amateur

Monday, August 11th, 2008

I’ve gotten a few requests to make the top 10 signs your track is amateur for electronic music instead of acoustic music. Well, here’s my list of things you should learn to avoid if you want professional sounding tracks.

  1. As I’ve written about before, the most common thing that prevents amateurs from getting a full sound is not filling the “box” that is volume, panning, and frequency. The typical dilemma is this: as more sounds are layered together, the audio may start to clip. And so, you turn the gain down on the each channel of the mixer so it doesn’t clip. But then, it sounds quiet. In order to fix this, you need to learn about compression and mixing. If used properly, compression reduces the variations between one audio channel’s highest and lowest gain levels throughout the track, which allows you to turn the volume up without clipping.
  2. Muddy sound:

    When too many frequencies are overlapping in a mix, the result is “muddy”. To prevent mud, you must consciously keep in mind what range of frequencies you are adding with each new part. Inevitably, frequencies will overlap, no matter what instruments you choose. For example, two bassy sounds on top of each other will interfere, resulting in weird phasing issues. If you want to use two instruments that use up the same frequency spectrum, you’ll want to carve out the highs on one and carve out the lows on the other (through the use of EQ, you will eliminate too many overlapping frequencies and clear up your mix) The end result should be consist of many different parts that all cover different ranges of frequencies, which all add up to a full, clear sound.


10 ways to get your music into film and TV

Monday, August 11th, 2008

10 ways to get your music into film and TV
download “10 ways to get your music into film and TV” (60kb PDF)


There is one basic fact about the film and television music industry that drives much of what you will read in this guide: it is a very, very competitive business and there are many more songs and instrumental music pieces than there are openings and places to use them in film and television. In Los Angeles on any given day, hundreds, maybe thousands of people are marketing their music for film and television productions. This guide is designed to show you how you can successfully compete in this industry, whether you live in Los Angeles, New York, or in a small country town far removed from the major music cities.

Location, Location, Location! The tried but true real estate mantra is definitely applicable to the film and television music business. A simple fact: being in LA or NY can make it easier to compete for work. While film and television shooting locations can be found worldwide, the infrastructure for post production, which includes music, is still centered in Los Angeles. Although this is changing rapidly as cheap digital editing equipment becomes available in other cities, in film work, the city that the director resides in can also be a major factor in underscore work.

It’s useful to note that song placement is much less location-oriented than score composing. Score composing requires a weeks-long cycle where it can be very helpful if the director and composer are in close physical proximity so demos can be heard. Song placement is much more easily done from locations outside of LA since once the director or music supervisor decide they want to use a song, the physical location of the songwriter is not that important.

That much being said, if you’re in LA or New York, make the most of it and seek out personal relationships with people in the business. Film directors, television producers, and music supervisors are among the most important people you can meet in terms of getting your music into film and television projects. By putting a face with a name,” you can increase the chances of your music being heard.

Digging deeper: examining good music to discover techniques

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Cheesy stock imageHere at emusictips, I’m always on the lookout for fresh new electronic sounds. Artists such as Shulman, Bluetech (Evan Bartholomew), Kilowatts, Pitch Black, and Shen have piqued my interest because of the technical mastery evident in their sound. Here’s a short list of the things I think make their music great:

Conscious use of space: just like any good graphic designer will tell you, space is important. In design, space comes in the form of white space, which is one of the most important elements in creating aesthetic compositions. The same thing applies for music. Allow your listeners to breathe, so to speak. You give them space and they will appreciate it.

Conscious use of effects: One of my favorite things to add to any synth is a series of effects and processors that polish the sound and make it pop out of the track. Delays are great for filling in empty space that you’ve created between elements in the track. Try adding a 3/16th delay to any sound and then adjust the feedback to your liking. This will create a sound that repeats every third sixteenth note, and will gradually fade out. But do not overdo it! If you have a lot of feedback, only play a note every so often so that you can still retain that space that is so important. Also, if you’re going to add effects such as phasers, flangers, distortion, etc., make sure that not all of the instruments in your track are layered with these kinds of effects. The purpose should be to make a particular sound stand out from the rest to create contrast.

Automation: To keep me interested as a listener, you need to develop movement in your song. Movement requires changes along time. The best way to achieve this is to automate knobs and sliders in your software sequencer. When you’re tweaking knobs on a synth or sampler and you find that turning a certain knob sounds cool, hit record and then record those knob movements in real time. Go back over the song and repeat the process as necessary to create a multi-faceted track with lots of movement.