REAPER – A NEW HOPE



For me, REAPER is superior to any DAW I have used, and although I use others too (Ableton, Harrison) I do all my editing and the majority of mixing in it. Frequently, I speak to a lot of busy engineer/mixer friends who have it on their radar but either consider the initial learning curve to be too daunting, or that it would be too time consuming to set up.

I agree.

I remember I took a week out of my schedule in 2014 to learn it, having put it off for months. I scoured the internet for videos and blogs and went through forum posts for quick answers to make the transition as painless as possible. It’s worth noting that there is a manual you can download, but I found forums offer newer advice as I believe the manual is only updated through major versions (or when the author has time).

Over the years I have compiled information and links in a document which I send to people looking to get into REAPER. Not that I am an expert by any means, but I thought it would be good to offer some general advice to anyone thinking about delving into REAPER.

The points below make the assumption that anyone approaching REAPER have the same questions as I did when I decided to make the switch. This is by no means an extensive, or definitive list, but will hopefully answer some of the important questions and provide a foundation to build upon.

You’ll find once you get into it, that the user-base for REAPS is very supportive too, and I would suggest creating a profile on the forums as well as joining a few FB groups and the like. This should provide you with all the answers you need.

The two main sites I recommend for REAPER videos are;

The REAPER blog – loads of great content, including Q and A, Podcast and point version upgrade walk throughs.

and Kennymania – which has a video series which will make you a Jedi-master in no time.

Lastly, If you like it, pay for it. They operate on a trust-based licensing system and for a non-commercial license it costs $60, which takes you through two full point versions before you have to buy another one. Given what they offer, they could charge more and point-version upgrades sometimes come on a bi-monthly basis with some huge additions.

Installation

This is very easy and the entire software package installer is only 15mb. It also comes with an optional smaller app call ReaMote, which allows you to run plugin processing on another computer on a local area network. Although, I’ve never tried this, as my studio computer is more than capable.

First opening

First time you open REAPER you may get prompted to go to your Audio Device settings and select your soundcard. It should guide you there from the prompt, but if not, preferences is under the options drop down menu.

So, on we go…

#1 Right-clicking is your best friend.

If you get stuck, or don’t know what something is, right-clicking on anything will give you options/preferences for the element you are right clicking on. If you get stuck, it’s good to look in the right-click drop down menu. See? Easy beginnings.

# 2 Use the preferences search box.

Under the Options drop-down on the main menu you will find REAPER Preferences – last in the list. There is a lot going on in here but the search box in the bottom left will help you find the most important settings (such as, Audio Device settings) so you can get to work as soon as possible. Did I say work? I meant FUN.

You’ll also see VST in Preferences which you will need to navigate to to scan your plugins. Once there hit ‘Auto Detect’ populate the plugin-path box, as well as scan those folders. You can store plugins anywhere, but you would need to tell REAPER the plugin-path here.

# 3 REAPER only has one type of track.

Sort of, but not exactly. REAPER tracks are what you make them, and it doesn’t have individual mono, stereo or MIDI tracks. In fact, tracks in REAPER are ALL of these things and more. You can drag MIDI onto an audio track, and vice versa. REAPER even has basic video editing capabilities and can import images such as JPEG and PNG.

*When you finally figure out where the Media Explorer is, you may have trouble with images showing up here, in which case you can drag them from their respective folders straight onto the timeline. Hopefully this will be sorted in a future update.

# 4 You can group items and tracks independently.

Selecting tracks and hitting Shift + G will bring up the “Grouping” dialog, where you can group functionality such as panning, volume, mute and solo etc, and set up VCA faders. You can also select items on the timeline and group them together, enabling things like multi-item editing, which is especially good for multi-miked instruments such as drums.

Shift + option/alt + G will toggle all grouping on and off.

*Note; audio clips in the arrangement window are known as ‘items’ in REAP-world.

# 5 Busses are good, but folders are usually better (and quicker).

All tracks in REAPER have a small greyed-out folder on them which can be used to group together multiple tracks in a Parent/Child hierarchy. For example, if you have some multi-miked drums and want to add EQ or compression; create a new track above the drum tracks, then select them all and hit the folder icon on the newly created track, now they are in a folder and can be processed together.

Put selected track(s) in folder which you can assign to a key (you’ll probably be doing it a lot). Instructions in the .txt file. You’ll also need to install SWS extensions before action works (I cover this in # 10).

# 6 Comping no longer has to be “comp-li-cated”.

REAPER records multiple takes into lanes, similar to Logic, and Command+L on a mac toggles between opening up the lanes so you can view all of your takes and comp between them. The way to use different sections of takes is to cut the audio, using the split function (this is the S key by default) and select from the lane you want.

And on we go…

# 7 The legend of Keystroke(s).

Setting up keystrokes (or keymap as it’s formally known) in REAPER is easy. Pressing Shift + ? will present you with an actions list of all the available commands. You are even able to assign ‘Custom Actions’ (string together multiple actions – as I mentioned earlier with folders), which is really good for speeding up workflow. The actions dialog has a search function too, labelled ‘Filter’ and right next to it is a ‘Find Shortcut’ button which allows you to find out easily which action is assigned to which key.

The one take-away from Pro Tools for me was that I thought that some of the key commands were laid out intuitively, so I have my keyboard set-up similarly. And I would advise that you set up your keyboard close to what you are used to for starters, but only for the most-used functions. As you get more into REAPER more you’ll adapt this to suit your workflow better.

In Preferences you’ll see a section for ‘Mouse Modifiers’ which allows you change the behaviour of the mouse in combination with keystrokes. It can get very advanced, so it’s worth looking into over time, especially if you need to be up and running as quickly as possible.

# 8 Configurations and celebrations (because your life just became easier).

In Preferences > General you’ll see two buttons for configuration, export and import. This allows you to export your current settings and save a back-up all neatly bundled into a configuration file. Very handy. I have mine on a USB key so I can use REAPER wherever I am, with my settings, and so I can get to FUN immediately.

# 9 MP3(PO).

By default REAPER doesn’t export MP3’s but you can use a third party extension to do this, which is available here. Once you have REAPER Installed you need to go to User>Library>Application Support>REAPER and there you will find a folder call ’User Plugins’. Paste the .dylib file in there and you will have MP3 as an export option.

# 10 SWS Extensions.

As if REAPER doesn’t have enough functionality you can add something called SWS extensions which opens up the features of REAPER and are a must-have, its a simple DL and and install. Get them here.  Installation instructions are in the download.

As you will soon discover, this is not even the tip of the iceberg as to what REAPER is capable of. At this stage Luke is still trying to bullseye womp rats in his T-16.

But hopefully it’s a good foundation.

I do think that people like a lot of VI’s and samples ‘out of the box’, and although there are some great stock plugins here, there are no loops or samples. However, if you have been doing this for a long time, like me, you’ll have more Virtual Instruments and samples than you can shake a very big stick at.

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5 Ableton Live Tips

I decided to write this post after spending the last few weeks with creative technology students during their exams here at BIMM Berlin. The performances were great overall, but there were a few technical challenges  in the changeovers between sets. So, I put this list together based on the issues that came up the most. The tips here are not new but can be essential to workflow for both recording/mixing and live performance.

#1 Buffer size

Buffer
These settings can be adjusted from the Ableton preferences under ‘Audio’. Freeze

The buffer is mostly for temporary processes and uses RAM to allocate real-time tasks such as audio plugin processing. If the buffer setting is too low this could result in audible clicks, pops, dropouts and/or crashes. A lower buffer setting is necessary when using input monitoring in the DAW during recording/or live performances, and a higher one is required for mixing or when more plugin processing or automation, is needed.

#2 Freeze

freeze2r

Very handy for when finishing off a heavily processed mix running a lot of plugins – even at a high buffer size, but also very useful when putting together live sets.

Also, if you move your session to another computer running Ableton, as long as tracks remain frozen, your set will play as it’s only loading audio from the Frozen folder. No messing around with plugin installations.

Unfortunately, you cannot freeze tracks with sidechain routing.

#3 Options File

plugins
Why this doesn’t come as a standard feature I’ll never know…

“Out of the box” Live has extensive features but for me is missing some vital functionality. For example, being able to see what plugins or virtual instruments are running on each track.

Luckily, you can extend the features by creating an additional file in the Live preferences folder. First you have to create a plain text file called “Options.txt” and put it in the same folder where Live’s Preferences.cfg file is located.

Windows XP; \Documents and Settings\[username]\Application Data\Ableton\Live x.x.x\Preferences\

Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10; \Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\Ableton\Live x.x.x\Preferences\

Mac OS X; /Users/[username]/Library/Preferences/Ableton/Live x.x.x/

*make sure to put it into the folder which matches the version you are using and it’s probably worth adding a shortcut to the file somewhere for easy editing.

Now you can add simple line commands to change features. Here are a couple of examples;

-ShowDeviceSlots

With this command you can show or hide the plugins in session view just as you would typically see in the mix window of other DAWs, such as Pro Tools or Logic. Great visual aid when playing gigs (so you don’t get lost).

and the one relating to live performances…

-EnableArmOnSelection

There is a way to make sure only one track is record armed at a time, which is called ‘Arm Exclusive’ (enabled using right click on the record enable button) but unfortunately you have to click the record arm button to do it. With this command, record arm is enabled for the track you select which means you can navigate tracks more easily using a controller and be assured that your selected track is that one that is record armed.

More advanced commands here.

#4 Multiple sessions open at one time (Mac Only)

open
You don’t have to stop at two, just keep going until you get bored…or your computer crashes.

Many other DAW’s allow you to have more than one session open at a time, but this is not standard in Ableton Live. Here is a quick work-around; With one session already open, open the Terminal app and type ‘open -n’ in the pane, then navigate to your applications folder and drag the Ableton icon to the Terminal window. This will open a second instance of Ableton and you can jump quickly between the two.

#5 BPM

BPM

Last but not least, a great tip for changing tempo in a Live sets session view without automation. Simply right-click and rename the scene you want the tempo to change from and type the the BPM e.g ‘108 BPM’ , now when you launch that scene Live will adjust to the desired tempo.

Enjoy!

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Music Box Virtual Instruments

NEWBRUTTOGUIweb

I’m glad to announce the addition of a new virtual instruments section to the website and two Kontakt sample sets (or is it packs?) The first instrument, Monotür, is free and a collection of sounds created with a Bass Station 2, and the second instrument, Brutto, features samples from a Volca Bass.

Late last year I was messing around with my Akai S1000HD for a 90′s style dance track and thought it would be cool to save some of my patches into it. Up until that point I was using it mainly to overdrive drum samples and wanted to make a drum sample pack first, but was too deep into sampling the synth to go back (the drums will come soon).

Here I am messing around with the S1000 and a Teenage Engineering PO12..

Eventually I decided to would make five small instruments all using the AKAI S1000. The Kontakt instruments are designed to be really simple and have a high and low pass filter section, chorus, IR section, LFO on the modulation wheel and then an output effect (Drive and Bitcrush). I wanted them to be minimal as every DAW these days comes with a range of plugins you can use to manipulate the sound of your audio or VST’s, but you can get some interesting sounds out of them on their own when you start manipulating them with their FX.

Brutto, features samples from a Volca Bass, programmed with my own sounds, and again sampled using the Akai, it includes two versions of each sound recorded through different pre-amps. The differences are subtle but at least offer choices to help you cut down on processing when mixing or writing.  The raw sounds have that lovely tone you can only get from the S1000 and make a great foundation in tracks for bass and lead lines.

I have a Lexicon outboard reverb that I plug in from time to time, and will do something with eventually, but I still love my old guitar pedals, especially the boss DD5 delay which seems to be permanently plugged in to the sampler these days. So, I added three IR’s from that pedal.

I plan to update the GUI’s and FX in the future and add a secondary FX panel with ADSR.

Check out the sound examples in the virtual instrument pages and contact me, or leave a comment, if you have any questions.

Enjoy!

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Routing REAPER through Harrison Mixbus using Soundflower

A step by step guide to help you incorporate Harrison into your REAPER workflow.

This requires the installation of Soundflower originally developed by Cycling 74 for use with Max MSP. Soundflower is available here and is now developed by Matt Ingalls. A few things to add, in case they aren’t clear in the video, I have my individual instruments setup in folders in REAPER and each parent master send is turned off. These are sent to one of the of the four stereo busses, labeled Drums, Bass, Vocals and Guitars, which I then send to Mixbus.

The Soundflower routing can get a bit fiddly, so I hope that it is clear here. REAPER has alias names for Soundflower channels whereas Harrison doesn’t, which is why I don’t show the name mappings in the video.

At the end of the video I solo some tracks in Harrison, but not REAPER. If you want to solo in REAPER you must remember to include the Mixbus return track in your soloing otherwise you won’t hear anything.

Just remember that when routing between the two DAWS to turn your monitors or headphones down in case you route something incorrectly and get feedback that could potentially damage your hardware, or your ears!!!

If you want to do this on a PC then follow this link. This technique uses Rearoute, an ASIO driver that comes with the REAPER install.

REAPER Harrison Comparison

In the pursuit of fairness I pulled two versions of the same mix in REAPER, one a straight REAPER bounce and the other running through 4 stereo mixbusses with the tape saturation drive set at 0 and level matched them to -16LUFS.

HR
As you can see here the two files do not completely null, which could be down to additional harmonic content added by Harrisons’ tape saturation as well as other non-linearities from the audio engine, which is internally dithered, ramped, and gain ­staged so that sound quality is preserved as close to analog as possible.*

Here are the two comparison tracks in full for you to listen to. The differences are extremely subtle, some may say negligible, but that is for you to decide.

I would agree that this is quite a laborious process for such tiny changes, but you also get access to the Harrison EQ and Compressors, which I didn’t use in any of these examples but do sound great. Mixbus 32C has an updated engine too and includes the 32C EQ.

I do find some of the Mixbus features to be lacking however, and the track management for me is not intuitive (yet), as most DAW’s allow you to freely drag tracks at will. Also, utility busses are not delay compensated which makes little sense to me.

Hopefully some of these issues will be ironed out in future updates.

Enjoy!

The tracks I use in the video demo are free from Produce like a Pro and the song is called ‘Wasting Away’ by Alexx Calise.  The comparison track is called ‘Vintage’ by the artist Pablo and is a free download. You can grab the raw tracks from David Glenns page here.I would suggest you check out both of these subscription services. The tutorial videos for each monthly track are worth the admission price alone and you get a mountain of free content. Also, you can use these tracks for your resumé to attract new clients.

*There are a lot of similar comparisons online, most famously the one from Spectre Sound Studios. One video shows a REAPER bounce and a Harrison bounce nulling, but it is worth pointing out that in that particular example the mix exported from Harrison is not running through the mixbus saturation stage.

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Level matching reference tracks

LUFS

Last year I wrote a blog entry about using Magic AB to reference mixes or masters against commercial recordings. You can see the original post in the side pane but having reviewed it, I realised I had left out one vital piece of info; making sure the reference material was appropriately level matched for accurate comparison.

Magic AB seems to have become the standard for referencing, which makes a lot of sense given its ease of use, as well as the ability to load multiple tracks independently of the session and save presets etc. It makes referencing fun (an achievement in and of itself) but unfortunately, the RMS and peak metering on Magic AB can leave you in the dark when trying to frequency match commercial music against our own.

If you are a member of the production advice forums, you will have heard Mastering engineer Ian Shepherd talk about how crucial it is to have level matched reference material, and how even half a dB difference in volume can affect your judgement when trying to match frequencies.

Over the years his videos have helped me enormously and you can check out his production advice site here.

LUFS (loudness units relative to full scale) is the measurement system used to gauge the overall, or integrated, loudness of audio. It takes an average reading over time and provides an integrated, short term and momentary level reading, something that can’t be deciphered manually using traditional peak or RMS meters, which Magic AB has.

This means that level matching in the plugin can only be rough, and not as accurate as if you used an LUFS meter to level match reference tracks to a set target loudness, before importing them into the plugin for AB’ing.

So, here is a short video showing how I level match my reference material. I master to a target level of -16 LU, but you can set it however you like. The most important thing is that the integrated loudness levels are matched to your material when referencing.

I use the LUFS plugin from Klangfreund, which has great metering and auto level adjustment (as well as an extremely handy grouping feature), all for $49 (there is also a $24 version with a few less features).  I use this particular meter because the auto adjust speeds up my workflow, but a meter alone is good enough and something like Toneboosters EBU Loudness meter is a pretty affordable option. As long as it works according to the specifications laid out in ITU-R BS. 1770 it’s fine.

I use auto adjust, but you can do it manually by taking a reading (using the offline render like in the video) and adjusting according to your target.

Enjoy!

Garry.

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Portastudio 488 Mk2 8 Track Cassette Recorder

PS
Everything in the past was black and white, like this picture – which I took yesterday.

Usually when you invite a friend for dinner, and they ask if they can bring something, you might get a bottle of wine. Probably the last thing you expect to receive is a Tascam Portastudio 488Mk2, which did happen last week thanks to the kindness of one Mr Simon Horn (BIMM Berlin, KMR Audio).

I have been after one of these for a while and admit to being ‘sniped’ more than a few times when trying to bid on one on eBay. I eventually admitted defeat and got a Zoom R24 (as an easy mobile recording solution), an intend to grab a 500 series lunchbox and the DIY recording Distortastudio colour module, a design based on the channel of a late 80′s TASCAM 464 (You can read the whole story on their site), in the next few months.

As fate would have it, I managed to get the real thing  - even if only for a short period of time – and thought I would go nuts while I had the chance, putting my findings on this ‘ere blog. I may even do a full recording and mixdown on it.

488 MK2

The Tascam Portastudio 488 Mk2 came out in 1995 and cost £1299! Which seems like a surprising amount, until I got to spend some time with it and realised that this is a well made, great sounding piece of kit with pretty impressive features. It is solidly built (although a little too heavy to make it a practical mobile recording solution) and the trims and channel strip EQ sound great.

The 488 is capable of recording 4 channels simultaneously, with mic inputs on channels 1-4 and insert points on 1 and 2, for an effect or compressor. Each channel has a low and high (100hz and 10khz) shelving filter and a sweepable mid band EQ (250hz to 5K) that sounds smooth and warm to my ears.

There isn’t a per channel phantom power switch (it’s either on or not) which could be tricky if you wanted to combine condenser mics with non-active ribbon mics, and although the monitoring and output section is good, there is no direct tape out.

According to the manual, the 488 runs tape at 3-3/4 IPS (2x faster than normal cassette players and recorders) and its eight track functionality allows recording on one side only. That means that you only get a quarter of the cassette running time, so you might be lucky to get four takes of a song on a typical SA90 (22.5 mins of recording time if you were wondering).

Also, its tape speed makes it useless for mastering purposes so is designed to be used with mastering machine such as the TASCAM 122, and it even has designated outputs for this. Looking around on eBay you can get a broken 122 Mk3 for about £100 and a working one between £300 – £800. Pretty pricey.

With that said I have no intention of getting into the cassette mastering racket, even though there has been a resurgence of late, and I thought I would mainly use it as a lofi effect to drive the pre amps hard on drum or synth tracks and run few mixes through it.

Tape bounce

Cassette was the first format I loved. I bought all my first albums on cassette in the early 90′s and even though the sound wasn’t pristine, it had character. Best of all, the more you played it the more the sound deteriorated,  and somehow this made it even more appealing.

For that reason I wanted to hear what a full track would sound like through the 488 and had just finished off a mix of the track ‘Chosen’ by Jeris Cole from The Mix Academy.

I decided to do three; one is a straight bounce from Reaper, the second summed through channel 1 and 2 on the Portastudio using Reainsert (with the trim/drive set to about 30%) and at the same time recorded to tape (a TDK SA60 Type 2 with Dolby NR on) then brought back into Reaper.

The track was hitting the tape at pretty moderate level of between 0 and +3dB VU and each of the three tracks were level matched afterwards with Perception. Here are the results…

..pretty interesting, with the version summed through the channels being my favourite of the three. I think this could change if I had decided to leave Dolby NR off and there was a little more audible hiss. The tape version loses some low and high end clarity, adding some mid range distortion and low-mid boominess, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

The loss, and compensatory distortion, in the high and low end make perfect sense given the overall frequency response of 40Hz to 14Khz when recording to tape; however, its worth noting that each channel responds between 20hz to 22Khz individually, so the version summed through the channels has the sonic characteristic imparted by the 488 without any (or much – It is old after all!) of the signal loss of the tape version .

Drum Crush

I occasionally use distortion on my drum buss when mixing, or as a parallel effect, so I was pretty excited to run some drums through the preamps. I decided against running to tape in this example to avoid unwanted timing artefacts of the wow and flutter, as well as speed fluctuations of the (now 21 year old) capstan motor. Instead I did three variations of the same drum recording; first the original digital recording, the second summed through channel 1 and 2 of the 488 with the trim at 50%, and the last one summed at 100% (smashed to death). Each version was then level matched in Reaper using Perception at an integrated loudness of -16LUFS, the default setting for Perception).

…and the results are very pleasing indeed. Lovely crunchy analogue distortion which will undoubtedly appear somewhere on one of my next mixes.

Synth

Last but not least, I decided to sample the little mono synth I have on my desk and make it into an EXS instrument. I recorded 4 octaves of the synth onto tape with Dolby NR, and the trim at about 20%, and recorded it back into Reaper, chopped and edited the samples and imported them into Logic.

The point of this was to have a variation of the synth at hand that I use very often (to beef up bass lines mainly), should it be required quickly. It does add an extra layer of grit to the already pretty dirty sound. I also tweaked some of the settings in the EXS24 to fatten up the low end.

Here is a short video of the synth. Listen in HD on good headphones or decent monitors and if you want to download the EXS instrument to try it for yourself, go here.

*this riff is from the Mogwai track ‘remurdered’. I didn’t write it, I just punched it in. I wish I had though, but instead, Mogwai did. If you don’t know the band, or the song, you should.

As promised I went a bit crazy here but hopefully you get a good idea of what the 488 is capable of. I still haven’t gotten around to using for its actual purpose as a multi-track recorder but hopefully I will get the opportunity soon. I doubt any clients will be welcome to my suggestion that their next song should be tracked this way, but you never know. If anyone is up for experimenting, please get in touch.

Given how long I have been after one of these, it seems a slightly extravagant piece of gear for the sole purpose of an analogue distortion effect. This makes me feel like the Distortastudio module from DIY recording would be the best way to go. I just wish they had modelled the EQ too.

Thanks for reading,

Garry.

*Thanks to David Glenn Kulp and Jeris Cole for allowing me to use the track ‘Chosen’ for this blog entry.

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Using EXS instruments in Reaper

AUi Sampler main screen
AUi Sampler

If you have transitioned from Logic to Reaper on a Mac then it is possible that you, like me, miss some of the EXS instruments that were previously available.

For that reason I thought I would put together a very short video showing how to use the AUi Sampler in Reaper. This allows you to open EXS files from your Logic sampler instruments directory on Mac HD. For people who use it regularly, you can store the samples anywhere on your computer as long as the EXS files themselves reside in the correct directory which is MAC HD>Library>Application support>Logic>Sampler Instruments.

You do get a lot less features than with the EXS24 (and good luck finding a user guide for it – let me know if you do) but it’s great to have even a tiny part of its functionality available.

Also, not a user guide per se, but there is some extra info on the dev page here regarding compatibility.

It states that all Logic Pro 9 factory instruments are supported, as well as, a large number of the factory Logic Pro X EXS24 files, however some complex instruments may not work. Also compatible are any EXS24 instrument created in Logic Pro 9, or Logic Pro X.

Free Sample

Over a year ago I posted a free EXS Instrument of an accordion I made with a friend, so here it is again. If memory serves me correctly we used a modded Apex 205 Ribbon Mic and the ISA One to capture it.

Feel free to download and use as you wish.

Here is a little demo we created in Logic…

Have fun!

Please comment or email

Thanks
Garry

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Drum Compression

As I have mentioned a few times before, of the many books that have been invaluable to me over the years ‘Mixing with your mind’ by Michael Stavrou has to be at the top of the pile.

He has a very creative approach to sound engineering and worked at AIR studios in London for over 10 years.

For this video I dusted off my copy for a quick reference but have been using this step-by-step method for compression since I discovered it. In the book he describes this as a way to get that ‘expensive sound’ you hear on so many commercial recordings and promises that this will help you compress individual instruments (or an entire mix) quickly and decisively.

He likens the technique to cracking a safe, with the order being extremely important so to fully hear the effect of each parameter when tweaking. Also, it is designed in such a way that you adjust each parameter and move on without the subsequent adjustment affecting your previous move. So, a faster workflow with less back and forward.

In the video demo I use the Slate FG Red because I like the sound of it on drums, but it is the technique that is important, so you can use any plugin or hardware compressor you prefer.

Give it go, and get your hands on the book, which you can order directly from his site at www.mixingwithyourmind.com

More videos and posts to come!

Please comment or email

Enjoy!

Garry

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Reference CD’s

Magic AB from Sample Magic. Simple and effective.
Magic AB from Sample Magic. Simple and effective.

Ever since I stumbled across the concept I have become obsessed with putting together a reference ‘CD’ for checking mixes. I have to admit that I spent the first couple of years mixing without them and suffered many torturous days wondering why I couldn’t get my mixes to sound like the records I was listening to at the time.

Fast forward many years and as a freelance producer/mixer I mostly work from home for mixing and mastering, although I do occasionally work in other spaces.  In those cases I take my reference ‘CD’ with me (inverted commas because my CD is actually a rugged drive) as well as some of my own work to play there. This helps me to get an immediate feel for the room and ultimately speeds up my workflow.

Good monitoring is very important but it is impossible to entirely eliminate unwanted frequencies and bass build up from a space that also serves as a practical living space (not to mention extraneous noise) and there will always be some compromise. Reference tracks can go along way to help you in this area and allow you to judge the space and set up your desk and monitors optimally.

It’s expensive, but if you can find (or even get a copy from the library) of the book ‘Mixing with your mind’ then this offers more conceptual approaches to getting the best out of your room and monitoring  - all you need is an assistant! (If you read it you’ll understand the reference).

I always talk about the Mike Senior book as a great resource for home mixing and he has a lot to say about the importance of reference CD’s in all small mixing environments. He even goes to the extent of creating small 30 second blasts of sections of songs with a specific sound or part that he can access quickly.

No matter what mixing level you are at it is important to note; referencing is used by everyone, it should be something you devote time to doing every day (whether this is compiling tracks or just actively listening) and if you are still in doubt of it’s importance, remember that most, if not all, of the professional tracks you listen to were made using reference material.

The best part is that you don’t have to start at square one. Active listening may be a new approach but thanks to passive listening (something we do a lot more frequently) your subconscious has already done most of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, the moment you realise you are passively listening then you aren’t passively listening anymore, but as a long-term music lover you have the benefit of years of practice.

One could argue that all songs make good reference tracks but it is important to make a clear distinction between which tracks you have chosen for which purpose. It may seem obvious, but if you want to check your bass guitar compression against a song, pick one that has a strong reputation for a good bass sound, rather than something you just like. Even if you only produce your own music it is good to have a diverse range of tracks on your reference CD. I’m going to stick my neck out here and say this should include Gangnam Style (although I draw the line at Robin Thicke for moral reasons).

Typically reverbs and delays can be hard to judge (how many times have you set up your reverb or effects bus, mixed a track then listened in your car and/or on headphones and thought the reverb was too loud?) Its much easier (and speeds up your workflow) to pick a song that you know has the same type of reverb you are after and reference against it.

Also, when referencing walk around your room, you’ll soon discover where the bass builds up or perhaps the main elements of the track lose focus. Sitting in the ‘sweet spot’ makes sense when mixing but the moment the track is in the real world no one will listen to it this way, so it is worth trying listening in as many ‘places’ as possible.

I work with a music critique service and a question I get asked a lot is how to make better, and faster, judgements when mixing or writing. More often than not the answer lies in using appropriate reference material. However, in order for reference material to be incorporated into your work flow you need to be able to access it quickly.

I use Sample Magic’s Magic AB plug in and save presets for specific genres or instruments, for quick recall. Balancing against your mix is easy too.

Also, Meterplugs have Perception which can be set up in a similar way, but takes a little more fiddling about.

A few things to remember; Use high quality (cd resolution or above) material for referencing, and if you get the opportunity to work in or visit other studios don’t forget to take some of your own current mixes to play as well as your reference material. It’ll be an eye opener :).

Lastly, don’t chicken out of referencing your mixes against professional ones for fear of disappointment. Being objective about your own work is hard, so although referencing can be a little soul-crushing initially once you get over that hurdle you’ll learn to become more objective and create professional sounding mixes you can be proud of.

Please email or comment.

Happy referencing.

G

P.S The Mike Senior book I mention is called ‘Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio”.

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Angéline Morand – Back to Pike Place

angy

One thing is for sure, I’m very consistent in the inconsistent manner in which I post on this blog, and for those that do read it, I apologise and promise that new things are coming.

I have spent some time on videos which I will be posting soon and have a few reviews and some more music to upload. I’m working on some secret things too, which require a little planning, but I hope will come to fruition around November time.

Late last year I moved away from running a facility and have been enjoying the freedom of working freelance ever since. I still get to work in other studios from time to time but usually I mix my own projects from home and record wherever I am asked. Mostly, I work with independent artists and spend a lot of time in their practice rooms and homes.

Such was the nature of my work on the most recent project by French artist Angéline Morand, ‘Back to Pike Place’, which is officially released today (Sept 18th).

This is her second EP and was written, arranged and recorded between March and May 2015 in London, with mixing and mastering completed in early August.

The vocals and acoustic guitars were tracked between our flats in London, with a day here and there at Tileyard Studios in Kings Cross in late July, mainly for drums and the odd vocal overdub later on.  Although the drums for ‘Black Butterflies’ were tracked in the living room of guitarist Stas in Fulham.

Ange used a Zoom iQ5 for field recordings in London and Havana and for the beginning of the song ‘While I Was Away’ (or WIWA, as it is colloquially known), which has her singing the pre-chorus on a rainy Sunday on her balcony in south London.

The songs existed prior to recording as multiple demos and we spent time on arrangements and individual sounds before moving on to the final recordings. Even at the demo stage we wanted to keep the arrangements minimal and ‘swapped out’ a lot of traditional percussion for sounds we recorded using ‘found objects’.

We did use cajon, agogo, shakers and bongos but we slapped tables, acoustic guitars, there was some walnut shells involved (check the chorus on Ghost Dance), mouth clicks…we even slapped ourselves (although thankfully not each other!).

In a lot of the demos we found sounds we liked using sample percussion packs but made the decision to record the real instruments for the EP early on, even if they were just going to be triggered in the sampler. Black Butterflies was the first song we recorded and in the bridge there is a heavy percussion track that lacked feel when arranged with samples. This helped us to make the decision and so began the painstaking task of recording individual hits on instruments. Mostly with a C214 and a U87 clone.

We used the SE Tube Mic for vocals to start with but halfway through tracking, and with timing against us, it became possessed and died. It turned out to be the power supply but I was happy to let Ange believe there was a ghost in the microphone. So, we had to find something else quickly. I had bought an SE Magneto for £39 at the beginning of the year and lent it to Angéline who subsequently fell in love with it (anyone who hasn’t used one, give it a go, you’ll be surprised). To this day I haven’t mentioned to her that her performances immediately got better, which I put down to how much she enjoyed the sound of her voice with the mic. Its great when the cheapest mic you own does the best job. It just goes to show that matching a mic to a singer is very important. It doesn’t sound as warm as the tube mic but it has a very smooth top end, not harsh at all, and most importantly sounded good with Angélines voice.

Ange liked it so much that it now belongs to her. It may have been the cheapest mic I ever bought but the depreciation for me was 100% (somewhere around the £39 mark I would say).

Most of the vocals, bass guitars and drums were recorded through the ISA 110 pre amp but we also used a Duet and an ID22. My favourite vocal on the EP in terms of sound and overall feel was tracked through my MBOX 2, which was rescued from a skip and repaired in 2012, but that is a story for another day.

The EP was tracked and mixed in Reaper, apart from ‘WIWA…’ which was tracked/mixed in Logic 9 and I used Harrison Mixbus V3 for tape saturation pre-mastering.

Reaper is hands down my favourite DAW, and v5 has just been released and has some amazing new features (including VCA faders) and is a steal at $60. If you enjoy the feel of mixing on a console then Harrison Mixbus v3 intro price is $79 and the sound is incredible. You can demo Reaper, unfortunately not HMB, and for half the price of Logic (and a fraction of the price of Pro Tools) you can own both.

I will leave you to listen to the EP and thanks to everyone who supported this project and those who pledged money on Kickstarter.

Back to Pike Place is Available on iTunes and Bandcamp (link at the top), or to stream on Spotify or Deezer.

For news, gigs and reviews visit angeline-music.com.

(You get the digital booklet if you buy on Bandcamp)

More to come soon!

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SB2 Summing Box Kit

SB2IMG6
Plugged in and ready to go!

These days the market seems flooded with software emulations claiming to add depth, analogue saturation and “colour”. Mostly they work on the principle that for a fraction of the cost of the hardware you can have multiple instances in your DAW, which *enter producer/mixers name here* say are almost indistinguishable from the real gear.

Of course, I do own some of this software but usually if a plug-in costs three times what my DAW does (I use Reaper so most plug-ins DO cost three times what my DAW does )I tend to look for another similarly priced solution. For example, I own both an RNC and RNLA compressor and would much rather use one of them than a plug-in compressor of similar value, even if the plug-in in question is emulating the sound of a compressor ten times it’s value.  And there are companies like Lindell Audio that make a much praised 500 series 1176 style compressor which you can grab for just over £200. Ok, so it might not sound like an original 1176 but to me it seems better than using a plug-in version of an original 1176 compressor for the same price.

I’m not arguing analogue vs digital here, I use and like both, but in my experience even a cheap hardware compressor used properly will always be worth putting in the chain somewhere for the extra dimension it can add to a mix. I also find it helps with fast decision making, If I get a compression sound I’m happy with, I print the track and move on, then I can use the compressor somewhere else, rather than constantly tweaking a plug-in.

So in my search for affordable hardware alternatives I was extremely happy to stumble across DIY Recording Equipment, a small company based in Philadelphia that offers cost effective analogue kits for building your own hardware.

Founded in 2009, the guiding principles of the company are to introduce audio enthusiasts to the word of building and designing their own gear and to offer an open platform for further development. They also encourage you to use their designs for free even if you don’t buy kits from them.

The company was started by Peterson Goodwyn at a time when he was struggling to pay for the equipment  he needed for his recordings, and instead took to designing and building his own.

I have a similar story, and a few years ago began researching as much as I could and looking for simple how-to guides online I could follow. After a few false starts I put together a sub kick mic, then I started making my own cables (I might be stating the obvious here but if you are prepared to spend the time on assembly you can have the best cables, with the best components, for a fraction of the price of the like-for-like pre-assembled off the shelf ones), next I built my mobile set-up including the repair and testing of a broken power conditioner, as well as microphones (see mini mic post for the £4 omni), which I have used on a lot of recordings.

I only wished I had discovered DIYRE sooner. They make the whole process very accessible to beginners and have guaranteed support on all of their kits too, of which there are many to choose from.

SB2

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My first acquisition was the SB2 summing mixer. I had always wanted to try out a summing box but could never really justify the expense. Instead, like most, I opted to use a console emulating plug-in on my mixes so was very happy to discover that DIYRE added the SB2 to their line of products this year.

The SB2 is a passive summing box that can be used as an 8×2 or 16×2 channel summing mixer. The main physical difference between this and other “off the shelf” passive summing mixers is that the SB2 has no panning switches (meaning it can fit into a much smaller enclosure). 

SB2IMG4
The SB2 “outsources” the panning to your DAW. Each of the SB2′s inputs is hard-wired to one of the output channels: odd-numbered inputs to the left, and even-numbered to the right. This keeps the cost of the unit low.

The passive resistor network inside the SB2 has essentially no “colour” of its own and the only sound it will impart is the thermal noise of the resistors, which is very low level white noise. This means that the sound is dependent on the the pre amps you feed the signal back into.

Each channel is fed to a bus via two 10k resistors (one for each half of the balanced signal) and a single 150 ohm resistor across the buss sets the output impedance to mic level. As the box has no separate power or gain of it’s own, once the signal is routed back to the pre-amps 45dB of gain is needed to bring it back up to line level.

After emailing Peterson for more info about the box, he told me that the design is nearly identical to the circuitry that many consoles (including Neve, etc.) use for summing the individual channels to the master buss and whichever pre-amp sound you would like to add to your mix, you can.

He explained that most active summing mixers are just a passive summing mixer followed by dedicated makeup gain amplifiers, something DIYRE offer some tasty options of their own for. The colour modules designed to fit the 500 series palette have a growing range and I already have my beady eye on a pair of TM79′s, designed by Eisen Audio.

A close comparison to the SB2 would be something like the RMS216 FOLCROM passive summing mixer available from Roll Music Systems. They both have similar features; passive circuitry, 150 ohm output impedance and DB25 input connectors, however, the small difference of panning switches and pre vs self assembly gives an overall price difference of almost $700, making the SB2 even more desirable.

Building

I ordered the box as soon as it became available on the site but Royal Mail thought it was better to return it to the states when there was no answer. It took 4 days to arrive the first time and almost three weeks to return! Anyway, second attempt was successful and it came within 5 days.

 The kit includes; SB2 Case Foam Pad SB2 PCB Front and back panels Input D-sub connector Output XLR jacks (2x) 10k bus resistors (4x) 150 resistors (2x) Screws (15x)
The kit includes; SB2 Case, Foam Pad, SB2 PCB, Front and back panels, Input D-sub connector, Output XLR jacks (2x), 10k bus resistors (4x), 150 resistors (2x), Screws (15x). (Stanley knife not included).

There are quite a few connections to solder but it took me about 25 minutes all in all, so as the website states it is a good beginners kit. Take it from a very recent novice, soldering gets better with experience and if you are new to it the step by step guides on the website are easy to follow and include pictures and soldering tips. As for support, given how responsive they were with emails when my order disappeared I can personally vouch for their speed and attentiveness.

In terms of price this is great value, especially if you are new to building and want quick results. To put the price into perspective, the cable I bought to connect the SB2 to my interface cost more than the box itself (I draw the line at soldering my own DB25 cables as suggested in the FAQ..).

actually, the clippers I have to clip the excess from my solder joints also cost more than the SB2.
…I just remembered, the clippers I have to clip the excess from my solder joints also cost more than the SB2.


What does it sound like?

I suppose the quick answer is it sounds like the pre amps you run your mix through. In the examples below I’m using channels 1-8 on the SB2 and running the mix back through the ISA 110 pre amps I have in my home studio.

The outputs from the DAW are set as;

1/2 Drums
3/4 Guitars
5/6 Bass Guitar/SH101
7/8 Piano

As the ISA’s are transparent, the differences are subtle, so I’ll let you listen and make your own mind up. Even so, I know that it’ll be used in a lot of my mixes from now on, especially given the endless sonic possibilities with the addition of different and more “coloured” pre amps to sum through.

In a digital version such as VCC, the process is intended to be cumulative with the more tracks you mix into the plug-in the more you hear the effect of the processing. In the example above I run an almost finished section of a mix through the box, which is fine for an A/B comparison, but if I had mixed into the SB2 from the start and added channels to my stereo sums as I went, just like summing through the master buss section of a console, I feel it would have slightly changed my approach to the mix.

I have only good things to say of my short time with this box, it is easy to put together, and at a fraction of the price of a similar “off the shelf” model, perfect for those (like me) who have considered using an analogue summing box and previously thought the price to be unjustifiable.

I love what the company does and I look forward to buying more kits, especially from the colour range, and I hope to revisit this thread once I have invested in some TM79′s.

Check out DIYRE here and get your hands dirty!

Garry

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Pink Noise

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pink noise in the JS zoom analyser plug-in

I recently re-read  ‘Mixing With Your Mind’ and it inspired me to write this post adapting a technique Mike Stavrou describes in his book.

The book strikes a good balance between technical information and a more creative, or conceptual, approach to working in the studio (pro or home). I often buy a book for reference, but this one I read (and re-read) cover to cover, although I do go back to sections all the time.

In MWYM, Mike compares mixing to meditation, and lays out simple ways to use compressors and effects. The book seems to ooze his personality too; for example, in one section when struggling between the choice of two room reverbs for your mix, he suggests you A/B them while holding a phone book next to your head, then choose the setting that makes phone book feel the lightest.

Although I am unable to confirm the efficacy of this, It’s refreshing to read such a creative approach to sound engineering. This along with the Mike Senior book ‘Mixing secrets for the small studio’ have been invaluable to me over the years.

You can get the Mike Stavrou book here. Mike Seniors’ book is available from Amazon (but it smells better if you buy it from a shop).

So, the section I wanted to look at is ‘Revealing the Reverb’ in which pink noise is used to adjust settings on a (unfamiliar) digital reverb.

Pink Noise is applied throughout the book for varying tasks, but in this chapter it is designed to work with a metronome and gate to trigger a reverb in order to hear the nuance of different parameters of a reverb unit.

I feel this technique helps with a few things. It lets you know what each reverb parameter is doing, even on a very transparent sounding unit or plug-in like a Lexicon PCM (spin, anyone?).

Also, If you time your reverbs to the song but they sometimes feel too ‘rigid’, this technique can help you fine tune the pre-delay and decay to make them sound a little more fluid.  It’s also really good for getting instruments to blend better.

I usually time my reverbs as a starter and work from there but I’ll be the first person to admit that I can sit and twiddle for too long on a reverb or delay without hearing  much difference from one parameter to the next. Remaining objective when mixing is hard enough (and I will do a post soon about ways to keep from losing judgement) but whether or not this technique gives you the desired result, it certainly offers a different perspective. This can only be a good thing.

So, try it for yourself.

Here is a little info about pink noise;

Pink Noise is a signal that contains the frequencies from 20hz to 20Khz. Unlike White Noise, which has equal power (or gain) at all frequencies, Pink Noise has equal power at each octave in the spectrum, which reduces by 3dB per octave as it moves up through the frequencies maintaining equal power at each octave. As the human ear is more sensitive to high frequency information, the gradual reduction in amplitude as the signal moves up the spectrum, approx 30dB over 10 octaves, exposes more of the low frequencies which is good for practical application in the studio.

Setting up a sidechain

I’ll explain how to set up the gated pink noise in Reaper, so apologies if you are using a different DAW and have never done this before. You should be able to pretty much the same way in any DAW and save the channel as a preset for future use (but doing it a few times manually at first does help you to understand the process). Also, Reaper has a JS pink noise generating plug-in which I use so if it isn’t offered in yours you may need to find a third party plug which provides this.

Short bursts of pink noise sent to the reverb unit (fast attack and release on the gate) help you hear the decay, diffusion, delay and attack parameters more clearly, and with longer bursts (slightly slower attack, longer release or hold and adjusting the threshold sensitivity) you hear the dampening, HPF, LPF, pre-delay, size and other parameters.

It might seem strange at first, trying to choose the reverb for a vocal and instead listening to bursts of pink noise, but when you do switch the reverb onto the auxiliary of whatever instrument you are applying it to, with a little tweaking you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Have fun!

Garry

*Just to be clear (and so I don’t get sued) this concept is 100% from the book ‘Mixing with your mind’, the only difference being that there he explains how to do it in the analog domain and here it is completely in the DAW.

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Music Production, Mixing, Composition

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