Category Archives: Recent News

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!

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!

Mic mods

My love for microphones started when I was doing my degree, and it was a little while after finishing it that I was able to work and afford to build up a collection.

At the time the compromise was to build or modify my own mics and it is still something I do now. About 50% of the mics I own are modified or home made, and the other 50% are yet to be modified.

So, this week I decided to work on two microphones to add to the collection. One I built from scratch, and the other (a mic I had already worked on), I modified.

The first was a  U87 clone, built using the casing and PCB from the Rode NT1-A mic. If I had thought ahead I would have done a before/after sound comparison but as they are fairly common place (I know a few people I can borrow from) I might do one soon.

Røde NT1-A
The mic even looks cheap on top of the Neumann U87 schematic!

The original capsule was swapped out for the RK-87 ‘dual-diaphragm’ capsule from Microphone Parts which costs about £70. The Røde I got second hand off eBay for about £50 and the switch was £1.50. This is the most money I have spent on modding a mic.

I don’t like the headbasket and I’m still looking for a decent one to fit to this but removing the inner mesh opened the sound, although serious pop filtering is required when close miking. Also good to keep it covered when not in use to keep excess dust from gathering on the diaphragm.

I had the mic in a cardioid pattern for months and with the help of a friend fitted a sub-minature switch this week, to add an omni pattern. Although definitely not a Neumann, this modification improved the sound of this mic a lot.

If you are into it, here is the frequency chart for the RK-87 capsule…

image courtesy of microphone-parts.com
image courtesy of microphone-parts.com

And for the Rode NT1-A…

NT1-NT1A-frequency
image courtesy of recording hacks.com

And the finished mic!

Finished Røde NT1-A
…with lovely stickers made on a label maker (this is a temporary measure until I find something better)

Mini Mic

The second, was the Mini Mic; a small omni condensor made with an electret mic element, 100K resistor, a 1mF 50v capacitor and some heat shrink tubing, all lovingly stuffed inside a Neutrik XLR male connector.

I stumbled across this looking for omni capsules for my MXL 603′s and came across Henry Spragens site, www.audioimprov.com. The site is a great resource if you are interested in making and ‘modding’ your own mics (and I really love the Apple 2 music section). Full instructions on how to build the mic are here.

IMG_1778
Due to it’s size this is a bit fiddly, so use a magnifying glass when soldering.
IMG_1786
Hard to see, but I added some heat shrink to the soldered connections for extra strength.
IMG_1787
Once the circuit was complete (and tested) I used some more heat shrink to keep it all together and tidy, and to make it easier to get into the XLR connector.
IMG_1792
Voila! That went a lot smoother than I had anticipated…
IMG_1793
I also used a bit of an old sock (a clean one!) to make a tiny windshield for the mic.

So, the end result is a phantom powered omni electret microphone small enough to fit in your pocket. It took me about 30 minutes to put this together on Saturday and the parts cost about £5 from ESR in Cullercoats.

When I tested them out last night at the studio we were all pretty surprised at the results, and I’m so impressed that I’m going to make another one this week.

Here are the WAV files of an acoustic guitar. Both mics were positioned 6″ from the guitar pointing at the 12th fret. They were recorded through a Soundcraft desk and a pre-Avid M-Audio fast track  into Reaper.

Enjoy!

 

Free plugins that I use on almost every mix

I am a big believer in less is more, and can get overwhelmed by a lot of the new software products that come out EVERYDAY. That is not to say that I don’t find some of them useful, fun or interesting, but yes I much prefer to spend time getting good recordings and save myself plenty of time at mix down, than I do fiddling around with plugins once the session is a distant memory.

Unfortunately, that seems to be coming more of a luxury as a lot of music I work on has a very tight time constraint usually due to limited budget (even if I do like to throw in a deal every once in a while..;), and even though I am very thorough, I do still occasionally find myself listening back to a part and thinking “if I only could have spent a bit more time with placement…blah blah.”, and in those moments it is reassuring to know that I have some indispensable software that I can turn to in a moment of need. Even better, when I know that I haven’t had to pay a fortune for the privilege. As I have become more aware, recently spending a lot more time in the control room mixing than anything else, a lot of the plugins I rely on to do my work didn’t cost me anything at all!

So, with that said, here is a list of 5 plugins that I use pretty much everyday, and the best thing? They are all free!*

SPOILER
*except the last one.  Sorry.

Elysia Niveau EQ

I have a lot of Plugin Alliance stuff; Vertigo is my go to for transparent compression (although not entirely without colouration or tonal character – it is an emulation of the hardware after all) and the MAAG fixed band EQ is great for acoustic guitars and adding ‘air’ to vocals or strings without being too harsh; However, the one plug-in I use on every session is a free one, the Elysia Niveau EQ (which comes separately, or bundled with the Brainworx bx_cleansweep, Brainworx bx_solo, SPL FreeRanger).

ElysiaNiveau

As the website states, this is the EQ section from the Elysia Mpressor plugin and the centre frequency can be shifted between 26 Hz and 2.2 kHz, or when the x10 button is activated, between 260 Hz and 22 kHz.

I also really love that the EQ can be used as a high or low pass filter by setting the EQ gain to it’s most extreme setting either left of right, respectively.

The one thing I use it for is vocals and the image shows a typical setting I would use (usually somewhere between 50-60Hz) to push a vocal forward in the mix. In a track with an intimate vocal, that wasn’t recorded quite close enough, I have found that this EQ helps to close that gap, and then some, in a quite magical way. And did I mention it was free?

Available from Plugin Alliance. Don’t forget it comes in a bundle with other free plugins. Which leads me onto my next freebie…

BX SOLO

BX SOLO

A very simple plug-in which lets you solo out any section of your mix (L + R, Mid or Side) to give a perfect picture when working in M/S modes.

Usually when I’m coming to the end of a mix I will pop this last in my chain on the master out, checking in stereo and mono for any weird noises or phasing issues. I do tend to do a little mid/side processing with a linear phase EQ or gain but this all usually comes off before a track goes to master (occasionally followed by the preset file).

Comes in the Plugin Alliance bundle, or separately.

Blue Cat’s Gain (dual)

BC GAIN

I love the Blue Cat stuff (especially the freeware), this being the one I use the most. A very simple gain plug-in available in mono, stereo or M/S modes.

Also, you can link multiple plugins in a session together using the link or group feature which means you can control the gain of those tracks simultaneously using only one knob!

The plugs are available separately or as part of a bundle of freeware.

Pensadia Sor8

SOR8Compressor plugin from the elusive Cocell Productions and based on the 8X (or Distressor EL8X) from Empirical Labs.  To be fair to Cocell, it does state on the website that this was a Facebook group project with Pensado’s (Dave?) students, so I’m sure if I used Facebook at all I might have more information about the plug-in, and not be so easy to portray them as some sort of subsidiary of the Umbrella Corporation.

Anyway I digress, at no point on the website do they say this is an emulation of the Distressor, the key word being ‘based’, and at first glance the plugin controls don’t seem to mirror the EL8X’s that closely at all; however, it does have a NK ratio setting which I am taking to mean ‘NUKE’.

So, I’m not even going to attempt a like for like comparison here.

As this thing is sensitive and can get aggressive really quickly, I rarely use it on a ratio higher than about 4:1 (I did use on a parallel compression buss a couple of times), and never more than -2dB gain reduction. It can impart a nice tonal characteristic and even at a moderate setting does add something nice to instruments, especially programmed drums with dirty high hats, giving them a firm and focused up-front sound. I especially like the Distortion settings D1 (odd harmonics) and D2 (even), and the High Pass filters D and A come in handy to reduce the amount of low end harmonics added by the distortion.

Not for everything, and probably not that close to the sound of a real EL8X, but pretty good in it’s own right.

To say it is free is a white lie as the free version resets when closing and reopening the session. They ask for the donation of $1 to get the ‘full’ version, which I did, and I haven’t looked back. Check it out here.

Eventide Ultrachannel

Eventideultrchannel

Ok, this one is a bit of cheat, so I apologise in advance for leading you down this path (*you led yourself a bit too; see above). The Ultrachannel WAS free for a few months but now it costs $249, a pretty clever promotional offering on behalf of Eventide, and when I’m using it sometimes I do consider myself lucky that I added myself to their mailing list last year. Having missed out on Soundtoys Little Microshift and Devil-loc in the previous two years, I feel that this makes up for it (but only slightly).

I like this plugin a lot, and really just for the microshift from the H8000 (as opposed to the Soundtoys little microshift plugin based on the H3000 hardware). Actually, if this had only been a free microshift plugin I would have been happy just for that, but it is much more. It includes; a 5 band EQ, gate, compressor, o-pressor, stereo delay and output transformer,  which I use quite often to add some saturation to the signal, and these can be moved into any configuration in the signal chain/channel strip in order of preference.

Anyway, I’ll stop going on about it. It isn’t free anymore. I don’t work for them, and to prove it I will leave you with this; I demoed the Ultrareverb the other week and found it pretty bland and uninspiring.

Conclusion: Lots of great free plugins out there, including the stock ones that come with the DAW. Logic beats Pro Tools for the stock plugs IMO, I love using the Tape Delay on a 0 setting for the saturation and Bitcrusher is all over the cymbals and high hats in any mix I do.

Please feel free to comment or contact me by email.

Take care and thanks for reading!

G

 

Making your own sub kick microphone

Hey everybody,

Thanks to a recent email conversation about setting up a tone generator to enhance the sub frequencies (around 50Hz) of a kick drum, I remembered a while ago I posted some photos of my home made sub kick mic on the Facebook page, but didn’t do a blog post about it.  So, here it is!

I really made this microphone for my own pleasure (not because I’m a cheapskate) and it was suprisingly easy to do with only a little research. Now I use it on every session.

You could argue that a sub kick mic is pointless given that it is possible to get this effect in the DAW in a couple of minutes and with stock plug-ins, but I’ll let you decide.

*edit*
Since posting I have had an email conversation with another subscriber asking about using this technique on bass guitar as well as kick drum. To add extra harmonics to the bass and sub bass frequencies I would personally use a designated plug-in like Maxxbass other than a gated sine wave. The reason being, if you have a 50Hz wave the note is a G1, 51Hz – GSharp1 and 55Hz – A1 etc which can cause note clashes depending on the key of your track. If it fits, great! But it wont work on every mix. Same if you use a frequency to enhance the kick drum, clashing can still occur, especially with the bass instruments such as bass guitar or synths.
*edit*

Save yourself the headache, it’s good to have these tricks up your sleeve but there will be times when it wont work and you need a quick fix to get a mix finished by a deadline or so you can quickly move on to another task.

For your pleasure I have included some audio samples of the two techniques to listen to side by side.

Enjoy!

On the drums for this session I used a sub kick and an M88, so the first sample is the kit with just the M88.

The second clip is the kit with a 50Hz sine wave added using the signal generator and expander/gate plug-in in Pro Tools.

Lastly, the kit with the home made sub kick microphone.

Here are some photos of the sub kick making process, using;

a 10″ 30 watt Celestion Greenback – about £60;

skback

an old, but decent, balanced mic cable – free because I had one lying around;

skstarting

an inline attenuator with -10, -20 and -30 dB pad – £6.00 eBay;

skmaking

a 10″ rack tom – this is from a pearl session custom I have in the studio but you can get a cheap or free one easily enough. In the last year I have had so many people trying to offload their drumkits on me!

finished-SK

some acoustic foam – £.40

Please feel free to comment, or email.

Take care.

G

Saffire Mix Control 2 – Routing

Apologies for the delay (no pun intended…well, sort of..) but I finally found the time to do the follow up for my Saffire Mix Control video.

This one shows some more of the routing capabilities of Mix Control, specifically using the line outputs and inputs as send/returns for hardware effects.

One thing I didn’t mention in this one, even though I rambled on for 12 minutes!!, is how to set up Pro Tools for the lowest ’round-trip’ latency. Unfortunately, even in low latency mode in Pro Tools and Mix Control it is still fairly audible. There are work arounds however, and 99% of the time I do end up moving the new clip (or region….damn you Pro Tools!) manually to line up with the original part.

Hopefully you find this video helpful. If so, please feel free to leave a (nice or constructive) comment and you can email me at garry@gatesheadmusicbox.com if you would like to get in touch.

Lastly, a big thank you to Angéline Morand for allowing me to use one of her tracks (below) for the video. This one, plus four more, will be available from all good online retailers, and a few offline ones, from the 9th October.

Check her out at www.angeline-music.com

All the best

Garry