In the digital world we’ve got access to so many plugins. Which I think is great. I’m sure that in your DAW you’ve got an arsenal of compressors, EQ’s, reverbs, delays etc.
But my question is: how do you use them? Do you know exactly what you’re doing? (Please don’t feel offended if you’re an experienced engineer. Some of my readers are at the start of their careers.) Do you know the theory behind a compressor? Do you know what a threshold is and what it does etc? Or do u just start tweaking without actually knowing what you’re doing?
If the latter is the case I would definitely encourage you to do some self study (Google is your best friend), so at least you’ll get a sense of what you’re doing. But do keep experimenting, because that’s how you create your own unique techniques. In this post, I’ll cover more of a philosophy than actual techniques (I do have a few examples tho).
I love to use plugins in a way they’re not intended to be used. Guitar effects are my favorites! I use guitar effects on everything; I run vocals thru amps, pianos thru guitar chorus effects, put guitar distortion on synths etc.
Limiters and maximizers that were originally made for Master busses can also work on individual tracks–I especially like them on lead vocals.
Sometimes it can also be cool to run effects thru effects and then thru more effects to create weird original sounding effects and sounds. I’m also a huge fan automating effects! For example: run some background vocals thru a guitar chorus, put a huge reverb on it and then put a high cut filter on that on which you automate the cutoff frequency.
Like I said just keep experimenting! Keep pushing boundaries and break every rule you know!
A few days ago I published 5 quick tips to make your drum programming a lot better (part 1) so I wanted to follow up with part 2 today;
Like I said in my last post a drummer doesn’t hit each note at the same volume. So when you program your drums you should play around with the velocity/volume of each note to make some notes louder than others.
2. Ghost Notes
Ghost notes are notes you play in between the regular notes at a real low volume so you rather feel them than actually hear them if that makes any sense. When programming snares and hihats ghost notes can really work, especially if you want to create a marching kinda feel.
3. Tom as Kick
Sometimes when I want a huge kick I like to replace or layer the kick with a (floor) tom. Can make it sound huge.
To make my drum patterns less repetitive and give it more of a live feel I like to program or sample drum fills at certain places in the beat. Maybe at the end of each 8 bars or maybe before going into the hook or the bridge just to give an idea. EZ drummer is a great plugin for this.
5. Sample drum breaks
Those old classic drum breaks you hear on old soul records like James Brown etc. are pretty much impossible to re-create digitally when programming drums, so I like to sample drum breaks of old records as well (sometimes I layer them with my own drums or re-program the loop if I just want the same groove but a more modern sound). But then you always got the issue of clearing the sample if you want to release it. Of course you can choose to release it without clearing the sample but then you always got the risk of getting sued. So to avoid all that it might be better to use royalty free samples. But it’s hard to find royalty free drum break samples that sound as good as the classics. So I just create my own breaks. I record a great drummer, record that to analog tape, process/mix it on an SSL console and other gear to create that vintage classic sound myself. So if you got access to all that I suggest you should do the same. For those who can’t or just don’t got the time for it I got a sample pack with over 300 original royalty free drum breaks (that I created as I just described) dropping Friday. But if you do got access to a good studio with nice analog gear (SSL, Neve etc) and a good tape machine I would definitely encourage to create your own samples. The possibilities are endless, be creative!
1. Use the right sounds
First of all you need to use great sounds of high quality. The sounds you use need to fit your production. So before even going thru your sample libraries you should figur out for yourself how you want your drums to sound. Then you should pick your sounds carefully and tweak them till they sound the way you want them to sound.
2. Layer your kicks and/or snares
To make your drums knock more a very simple trick you can use is layering your kicks and snares. When layering make sure you at least pick one sample with a lot of body and one with a lot of attack/punch. And if it’s kicks your layering you might want to add one with some low end as well (maybe an 808). Always make sure the sounds your layering are in-phase. When your samples are out-of-phase you can always try to hit the phase button. Check out this article for more details on layering drums.
3. Program off-grid
To create some more groove/swing and to give you drums more of a live feel, like it was played by a real drummer, you should program them slightly off-grid. Kicks and snares I usually program just slightly off-grid but with hihats I play around some more till I got the groove right. Also the bass plays a big part when it comes to creating groove but even with 808 driven tracks you can make your drums groove if your program them right.
When you’re programming drum samples you don’t really create a feeling that all these drums were played in the same room. That’s why I like to put a little bit of reverb on my drum bus to re-create that feeling. You have to be careful tho, cause reverb can also push your drums to the back of the mix and I usually like my drums to be in-your-face.
5. Use a few different hihats
When a drummer plays he never hits each note the same way and at the same volume. That’s why I like to use a couple of different hihat samples that come close to each other but still sound slightly different.
Ok so I recently received a request for doing a blog on panning and stereo imaging so here are a few quick, but hopefully helpful tips;
Panning is super important and gets overlooked by many. They stack a couple of stereo synths and that´s it. I like to look at panning as a tool to place each instrument so it feels like I´m watching a band playing on stage. So maybe we got the guitar player standing on the left side of the stage, the keyboard player on the right side of the stage, the lead singer right in the center etc etc.
But with that being said I like to keep all my low end information, like kick and bass, in the center of the mix most of the time (which kind of goes against what I just said). Snares as well. Or maybe I duplicate my snare, pan 1 left and 1 right, then slightly pitch and time shift one of them to get rid of phase problems. This way I get a real wide big snare that your still hear knockin on both sides if your listen with earbuds. This is also a trick that works well on hihats. Lead vocals should be in the center as well. Everything else should get it´s own place somewhere left or right in the stereo image. Panning goes hand in hand with reverb as I like to use reverb to move instruments back and forth in the mix like you use panning to move stuff left and right, if that makes any sense lol. There are no rules tho so if you want to go for a super unrealistic stereo image and it sounds great then go for it! Be creative!
On stereo instruments I like to use S1 Stereo Imager to pan them to give them their own place in the mix. Especially if you layer a lot of synths you can really give each layer it´s own place and make the total sound real wide and huge.
1. Put effects like reverbs on main signal
Unless you’re doing this as a special effect you should never put effects like reverbs, chorus’, flangers etc directly on the main signal. Put your effect on a bus/aux and feed that with a send from the signal you want the effect on. Even if the effect got a dry/wet knob you should still put it on a bus/aux and turn the knob to 100% wet. The reason for this is that you want to keep as much as control as possible so you need to be able to control the exact amount of effects and their levels. And the only way to do this accurately is to keep them on separate busses/auxes.
2. Spam industry professionals with your links
Never spam people you want attention from with your links. Especially not without a proper introduction. The key is to build a relationship with people and you don’t do that with spamming your music. That will only annoy people. Once you already have a relationship with a person then it’s fine to share your new music with them once in a while (don’t overdo it tho!). But make sure you always address them personally if you do so.
3. Clipping in your DAW
Analog distortion can add harmonics to your sound and make your mixes richer, add more punch to your drums etc. I love to slam the meters into red on an SSL console! But in the digital world it’s the total opposite; digital clipping sounds horrible and will ruin your mix. So make sure the meters never go red in you DAW. Always keep enough headroom.
4. Eat the sample
If an artist or label can’t clear the sample you used on the track they’re releasing, or just don’t want to, never take full responsibility for the sample. Split the risk, change the beat or don’t sign the release form at all. Whatever you feel more comfortable with but don’t take the risk all by yourself. Cause if the people who own the sample will come after you then only you are screwed, while the artist might be still making money performing with the track. It can be kinda stressful especially if it’s a big placement you don’t want to lose. I´ve been in this situation myself. I didn’t know what to do so I asked my friend Bink! for advise cause he been producing a lot of my favorite sample-based records (from Jay-Z’s 1-900-Hustler to Kanye’s Devil In A New Dress) and I knew he got a lot of experience dealing with the business side of things. He called me back right away and said “Shroom NEVER eat the sample! Let them share the risk with you if they don’t want to clear.” So I took his advise and luckily they agreed so I didn’t loose the placement. At the end of the day if they really want to use the record they will try to make it work with you.
When it comes to bass I would 9 out the 10 times prefer a (sample of a) real bass guitar over a synth or virtual instrument. The main reason is that I think that it’s hard to find good sounding virtual bass instruments. The only one that I really like is Trilian. There is a wide variety of bass sounds to choose from in there and some of them come pretty close to the real thing. My favorite bass sounds in there are the old school electric bass guitar sounds. There are also a bunch of synth bass sounds in there that are pretty cool.
I love Kontakt! Native Instruments really did a great job creating this beast. I love it how they made so many different instruments for it and also got other manufacturers building libraries for it. There are new libraries for it coming out all the time. I really like the Vintage Organs from NI but also the orchestral stuff Project Sam made for it I use a lot.
Omnisphere I really like for it’s choirs and pad sounds.
When I’m using soft synths I always use Nexus. Especially for EDM type of sounds Nexus is great. Sometimes I like to layer different Nexus sounds to create one huge synth sound. Especially with chords and lead synths I like to use this technique. I compress, filter and EQ each layer separately and use S1 Imager to give each layer it’s own place. By doing this I can make the synth sound really wide and big.
A lesser known virtual instrument I like is Olga by Stillwell Audio. It’s actually one synth bass kinda sound that you can tweak with knobs within the plugin. You can set the LFO, saturation etc and create your own presets.
Here is a review video I made for my Analog One Shots sample pack. I also break down how I made a demo beat with the sounds.
I had a couple of requests if I wanted to make some videos to show some of the things I’ve been blogging about. So here is my first one! A little while I go I wrote a blog about Getting Huge Kicks and I wanted to show you the things I wrote about in my Vlog;