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Learn How To Mix In 3D: Steve Hillier Tips on Mastering Reverb

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Master the use of reverb and your lifeless, two-dimensional mix will become a three dimensional panorama, says Steve Hillier.

Things that people do wrong with their music:

1. Write a composition starting with the drums. This is madness. Can you imagine Lennon and McCartney waiting for Ringo to set up his drum kit before writing their next Beatles smash? Obviously not.

2. Compress everything. At least twice. Anyone doing this in their mixes should stop now. Modern DAWs have an internal dynamic range that’s comparable to a pin dropping versus the sound of the big bang. Try using it, rather than squashing your music to the flatness of a pancake being sucked into a black hole . Compressors are like guns…only the sane should ever pick one up.

3. Use reverb badly, or not at all…


Pro Mixing Series: Episode two: The Haas Effect

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Ableton Live’s Simple Delay Haas presets

For some of us this may be a very mysterious image: “panning” presets in a delay device of a sequencer DAW…

Well it IS a mysterious image until you check this article about the Haas effect.

Have you ever been so frustrated with a mix that doesn’t have life, wide stereo image and airy, “natural” space? Are you not getting enough depth in your mix? Have you added so much stereo reverb to add “space” to your mix that you end hating what you have done? Well… I have…

It is truly horrible getting every track in a mix sounding so “mono” after panning left and right different lines or instruments. It feels truly like there is something in the way from the original tracking to your final mix. The panning of some tracks helps very much to make a clear mix but sometimes that is just not enough to make things clear and certainly deeper, spacious, open and rich-sounding.

There is a solution to this lack of depth: The Haas Effect . It can take a simple mono instrumental or vocal line and give it presence or take it to the back of the mix, depending on how you use it and what other effects you add to the chain.

Basically, what you are doing with the Haas effect is making the listener’s brain to interpret the sound coming from a certain direction and angle in a way that is more natural to the ear than a simple panning adjustment. The Haas effect takes full advantage on the fact that we have TWO ears.

In real life, when a sound comes from the left it is received by the left ear BEFORE the right ear, so the brain interprets this difference as “a sound coming from the left”. The interpretation depends on how long is the delay between the two ears the less the delay, the more centered is the sound. This very short delay can be interpreted as a phase shift because the sound reaches first one ear and then the other. So, when there is no phase shift, no delay between the two perceived signals together are interpreted as dead center, with no panning at all.

We CAN use this psychoacoustic effect (the Haas effect) to print more depth and directionality into our mixes without even moving the panning control of the console! That’s why I put the snapshots from Ableton’s Simple Delay. You can make your own Haas effect presets in any delay that permits very, really shot delay times and also inserting a time shift between the two channels. The Haas effect is performed delaying one of the two channels (left or right) just a little bit, from a couple of samples to no more than 30 milliseconds (more in depth scientific info in the article from Wikipedia referenced above); the channel that reaches our ear first is the one that dictates where is the sound “coming from”, the later channel is interpreted as the natural tail of the sound.

Haas panning presets in Live 6.0.10


Pro Mixing Series: Episode one: Monitor Gain

Sunday, August 24th, 2008


We love Mixing (at least I do). Mixing is always challenging and fun, it’s a stage where you can take some creative licenses (that you didn’t or couldn’t when composing) in the type of sound and expressive response you want to print in the final representation of the work. You become the director of the project, while you still have to take care of not ruining the composition and it’s first, original intention. It is truly a universe of its own in audio creation.

In my experience I have to say that when anyone begins the process of mixing for themselves or for someone else, they do it (and I did it too) thinking about mixing as a simple volume and panning tweak. Wrong!

Both volume and panning are the very main pillars of mixing since stereo audio was possible and since traditional analogue mix consoles were invented, but, as we all know, there are dozens of other factors that get into the picture and change it when you are trying to take your program into the next level.

One of these factors is Monitor Gain and its relationship with the way you may mix your records in the analogue console or DAW faders.

A very frequent mistake for every beginner in mixing (a mistake I committed a long time ago) is to try to “balance” the volume of the summing buss so it stays close to 0dB. I think this happens because we try to get the “finished-CD” sound quality out of the box without thinking about mastering.


Secrets of the Mastering Engineer

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008


by Bob Katz

Mastering requires an entirely different “head” than mixing. I once had an assistant who was a great mix engineer and who wanted to get into mastering. So I left her alone to equalize a rock album. After three hours, she was still working on the snare drum, which didn’t have enough “crack”! But as soon as I walked into the room, I could hear something was wrong with the vocal. Which brings us to the first principle of mastering: Every action effects everything. Even touching the low bass affects the perception of the extreme highs.

Mastering is the art of compromise; knowing what’s possible and impossible, and making decisions about what’s most import and in the music. When you work on the bass drum, you’ll affect the bass for sure, sometimes for the better, sometimes worse. If the bass drum is light, you may be able to fix it by “getting under the bass” at somewhere under 60 Hz, with careful, selective equalization. You may be able to counteract a problem in the bass instrument by dipping around 80, 90, 100; but this can affect the low end of the vocal or the piano or the guitar – be on the lookout for such interactions. Sometimes you can’t tell if a problem can be fixed until you try; don’t promise your client miracles. Experience is the best teacher.

Think Holistically

Before mastering, listen carefully to the performance, the message of the music. In many music genres, the vocal message is the most important. In other styles, it’s the rhythm, in some it’s intended distortion, and so on. With rhythmic music, ask yourself, “what can I do to make this music more exciting?” With ballads, ask “is this music about intimacy, space, depth emotion, charisma, or all of the above”? Ask, “How can I help this music to communicate better to the audience?” Always start by learning the emotion and the message of the client’s music/ After that, you can break it down into details such as the high frequencies, or the low frequencies, but relate your decisions to the intended message of the music. Some clients send a “pseudo-mastered” demonstration CD illustrating their goals. Evin if you don’t like the sound on their reference, or you think you can do better, carefully study the virtues of what they’ve been listening to. During your mastering, refer back to the original mix; make sure you haven’t “fixed” what wasn’t broken in the first place. There is no “one-size-fits-all” setting, and each song should be approached from scratch. In other words, when switching to a new song, bypass all processors, and listen to the new song in its naked glory to confirm it needs to be taken in the same or different direction than the previous number. Likewise, as you gain experience, you may want to “tweak” the “presets” in your equipment. Presets are designed to make suggestions and provide good starting points, but they are not one-size-fits-all and should be adjusted according to the program material and your personal taste.

To continue reading, download the PDF for Secret of the Mastering Engineer