The HTC VIVE is widely regarded as the ‘Rolls-Royce’ of VR systems. It’s also the most expensive, weighing in at around £500 for the VIVE and £800 for the VIVE Pro. The involvement of Valve is very beneficial, too – its Steam gaming platform is immensely popular with PC gamers, and has given the VIVE a strong foothold in the hearts and minds of both developers and users.
Oculus was the first to market with its Rift hardware and it remains a very good system. The Rift is currently being phased out in favour of the more advanced Rift S and the simpler Go system. However, at the time of writing, Rift is no longer available in the UK and Rift S is yet to launch. The Go, which is available, is different again – it’s a ‘standalone’ HMD, so doesn’t require sensors or a host computer, but as such is focused primarily on cinematic VR, lacking the heavy-duty power demanded by game-engine VR.
Unsurprisingly, Microsoft has been working on its own HMD tech, but the company seems more convinced by the potential of ‘mixed reality’ (another name for AR). HoloLens is as much a specification as a device, meaning manufacturers other than Microsoft can get in on the act of producing HoloLens devices. In keeping with Microsoft’s ‘for business’ positioning, HoloLens is marketed as much as a professional productivity tool as a gaming accessory – as such, and with support ingrained in the Windows OS, HoloLens is well on the way to being a viable platform for an AR-capable music-making DAW.
If all you want is to watch some VR videos, then your mobile phone may well be up to the task. If so, then you will need a head-mounted holder for it. This will secure your phone’s screen in front of your face, and include lenses that focus each eye on either side of the screen in the required manner. This sort of phone HMD relies on the phone’s built-in accelerometers and sensors for head tracking, which works well enough. Google Cardboard is the cheapest of these phone HMDs, costing only around £6 for a build-it-yourself kit.
The latest versions of Nuendo and Cubase have built-in support for Ambisonics. This support consists of various elements: Ambisonic configurations can be set for the main output buss, from which a stereo monitoring output can be generated. This monitoring output can work with an HMD for head tracking, or you can use a control panel to adjust the listening position manually. You can also sync Cubase to a VR video player, either running locally or on another computer on your network. Various Ambisonic encoder and decoder plug-ins are also included, giving all you need to work with audio for VR.
There are a number of affordable Ambisonics microphones around right now, the aforementioned models from Sennheiser (Ambeo), RØDE (NT-SF1) and Core Sound (TetraMic) are notable examples, as well as the spherical 19-capsule Zylia ZM-1. Brahma Microphones offers a number of more pro-end solutions. Some models in its range are designed for mounting on sound booms; these are specialist mics that are made to order.
Learn how VR is changing the way you make music here.
Unless you’re going to keep your precious musical creations trapped in a little bubble, sooner or later, you’ll need to create a finished mix so you can get them out into the real world. There are two methods – the first is to play through the arrangement in real time and capture it into a tape machine or some kind of digital recorder, or – more likely – export it as a stereo file to the same computer you created it on! At various times, this process will be called export, render, or bounce, but they all mean the same thing.
Slice and dice
If you want to render just a section of your arrangement, click and drag in Live’s Arrangement View to highlight the selection, or type the bar values in the Export Audio/Video box. You don’t have to highlight anything if you’re exporting the entire arrangement, but often it’s best to use the Select All function to highlight the whole thing, so you can visually check what’s happening at the end of the song. This is a fast way to find out if there are any forgotten bits of clips or automation hanging around at the end.
In many cases, the default export settings work fine; they’ll provide a CD-quality stereo file that contains the entire mix, with any relevant effects and automation. If you intend to do further mixing or mastering, then avoid normalising at this stage (that’s when the loudest part of the file is boosted to the maximum without incurring distortion and brings everything else up in proportion).
Before exporting, make sure your mixer settings, including solos and mutes, are correct, because that’s how they’ll come out the other side. Export formats include AIF, WAV, and FLAC, and MP3, if you want a lower-res version for faster file sharing/uploading purposes. Do not use MP3s for mastering, or for live performances. Really.
The Rendered Track box is where you choose what gets saved to disk. The options here are Master, All Individual Tracks, Selected Tracks Only (my current favourite), Groups, and Returns. If you’re working with somebody using another DAW (shame on them!), select All Individual Tracks. Every track in your project, including returns, will be exported as stereo files of the same length, so they’ll match up easily later.
Most of the export settings are fairly self-explanatory, but dithering might not be so obvious – this is a process that introduces imperceptible noise to your audio, which sounds like a weird counterintuitive idea, but it helps avoid audible artefacts when converting audio to a lower bit depth. If in doubt, leave it at the default Triangular setting. If you’re rendering from Live at 32-bit, you’ll see that Dither is greyed out, because no reduction is taking place.
Another thing that further complicates audio export is when you’ve used external hardware instruments or effects in the project and they’re routed through Live tracks. You have to make sure everything is properly connected and configured, then it’ll be included in the mix as you’d hope, but it’ll have to export the song in real time – it’ll have to play through the entire thing. It works fine, but can be tiresome if you’re the impatient sort. Time for a cup of tea.
If you’ve done tweaking those parts, you could freeze and flatten the tracks that rely on hardware, resulting in an audio file-only version that’ll be faster to work with and won’t require the other gear to be connected. ReWire, which we talked about in a recent tutorial, also comes into effect when rendering, but it’s actually very simple, and smoother than when you’re using connected hardware; when you render from the ‘master’ application, everything in the ‘slave’ project will automatically be included.
When it comes to video projects then serious video editing is best handled with dedicated software such as Adobe Premiere or Apple’s Final Cut Pro, but Live has a handy little utility for stretching video if necessary, and doing it the other way round, that is stretching audio to fit the video. It’s sometimes quicker to import a low-ish resolution version of the movie and work to that, then add the audio to the master version in FCPX.
Working with video is a whole different ball game in terms of computer hardware. A computer that works fine for stereo mixes and laptop jams can be grossly underpowered for regular heavyweight video rendering. We’re using an iMac and a MacBook Pro here, but it’s advisable to shop elsewhere if you’re doing video all day every day; a faster computer will save you hours of waiting around.
That aside, Ableton Live 10, in particular, has the audio quality and all the tools you need to mix and master your music, there are world-class mixers and mastering engineers out there who use nothing but Live now. It can be done!
Exporting from Ableton Live: step-by-step
1. Let’s begin by exporting audio from Live’s Arrangement View. We’ve provided a Live setwith some example content for you to play with. Use Tab to switch to the Arrangement View if necessary, then type shift-cmd-r to see the Export Audio/Video box.
2. If you don’t highlight a specific section of the timeline, Live assumes you want to export the entire contents of the arrangement. We can use the default export settings to get a standard CD-quality stereo file reflecting the master track in the project.
3. If you want to create an MP3 file at the same time, just enable that in the Encode MP3 checkbox, and you’ll end up with two files. You can also upload to a SoundCloud account simultaneously – you’ll need to sign in, the first time you do this.
4. How long export takes depends on what’s in the project. If you have a long piece with a lot of tracks, instruments, and effects, or even video, then it’s going to take longer. The newer and faster the computer, the less time this will take.
5. It’s also possible to export from Session View. The procedure is similar in terms of making settings, but only the active clips will be exported (the ones with the play button illuminated). Looping clips will be repeated across the length of the specified bars/beats/16ths.
6. Still too slow? Once again, if you want fast export, click on the chosen clip and drag it straight to your desktop. This’ll give you just the raw audio sample, without any effects from the track, although processes such as cropping and reversing are included…
BIN PEAKS Are you bored with people telling you to avoid red peaks in your audio? Well, stop doing it. You should be extremely careful with unwanted distortion. With digital audio, you can generally record quiet for rendering, then boost it during mastering and it shouldn’t create any further noise.
7. …because they create a new sample when applied. There’s another limitation to this very direct method – you can’t drag more than one audio clip out of Live at a time, which might limit the usability, but it’s good for a quick one-off!
8. You can also drag an audio clip straight into a folder via Live’s Browser, but this behaves a little differently – you get a new folder, containing an .alc (Ableton Live Clip file), as well as another Sample folder containing the actual sample.
9. Most of Live’s MIDI-related excitement derives from the MIDI effect and routing possibilities rather than deep traditional composition, so exporting MIDI clips reflects that. It’s quite rudimentary, sometimes frustratingly so – like how it’ll export individual MIDI clips but not an entire composition…
10. …which is really not cool or user-friendly if you want to get the MIDI parts to other software or hardware. In Arrangement or Session View, you can right-click a MIDI clip, or use File/Export MIDI Clip, to export individual clips only.
11. A few steps back, we mentioned dragging audio clips from Live’s Session View straight to the computer desktop – well, that doesn’t work with MIDI clips either, I’m sorry to say, and there’s no way of embedding Live’s MIDI effects in any kind of export situation.
LIVE AND LET LIVE There are many third-party mixing and mastering applications you can use and some of them even work. However, what we’re doing here comes before the mastering stage, and it’s also a good discipline to practise using only Live’s built-in audio-effect devices.
12. More positively, Live can import multitrack MIDI files – type 0 or type 1 – and preserve the track separation, which is great when you’re reviving an old project maybe, or working with hardware. And those MIDI effects are killer for production or performance.
13. Live is great for fitting audio to video, especially if you need to do a bit of sneaky time stretching. Then, of course, you’ll have to export the result, containing the audio and video in one file and maybe the audio separately as well.
14. You’ll be using video in Arrangement View – because it doesn’t work in Session View. The export process begins as usual with the Export Audio/Video window. As well as making all the usual audio-export settings, you can specify video export requirements as well.
15. Click on the Create Video button near the bottom of the Export window, then you can choose the video encoder and the relevant settings. What you see here depends on your computer hardware and operating system and what you do depends on your project’s needs.
16. The Video Encoder list shows a selection of export formats such as ‘QuickTime Movie’, ‘Apple TV’, ‘DV Stream’, and so on, reflecting your hardware/software setup. Most of these will let you use the Encoder Settings button to view and edit the export settings.
PreSonus has launched a huge 4.5 update for its Studio One software, adding over 70 new features and improvements. The upgrades range from user-requested features to new, advanced MIDI editing tools.
Here are the highlights:
Reduced CPU load
This was one of the most requested tweaks from Studio One users. With the update, PreSonus claims to have reduced CPU load by 70% for all virtual instruments within a multi-instrument, and by 50% for third-party instruments (e.g. Kontakt). Additionally, PreSonus virtual instruments like Mai Tai, Presence XT, SampleOne XT and Impact XT have undergone CPU optimisation.
New MIDI editing choices
Studio One v4.5 is designed to speed up MIDI editing. This is achieved by a fresh Note Actions menu that is touted to be cleaner and more intuitive when it comes to editing and composition. On the refreshed menu are also new note editing options for instruments, including Randomize, Apply Scale, Mirror and more. For quicker access, these editing options can be assigned to keyboard shortcuts or used as part of a Macro command, according to the brand.
Versatile input channel
Hardware controls in Studio One 4.5
The new-look input channel mixer is designed to grant you more flexibility and control when gain staging. It achieves this with updated hardware preamp controls – not on all PreSonus audio interfaces – as well as new input gain and polarity controls for each software input.
With both hardware and software gain controls at your fingertips, you’ll be able to drive a hardware preamp harder while still maintaining control over the levels actually recorded to disk, the brand claims.
V4.5 improves on the import/export capabilities of Studio One. You’ll now be able to export video – yes, video – in different formats while simultaneously having the mixdown embedded. On the audio front, Studio One now supports variable-bitrate encoding for MP3, AAC and ALAC, and also lets you export in mono.
As a nod towards creative sharing, you can now import/export entire I/O setups, which should make collabs on mobile or multiple interfaces smoother.
Here’s an overview of the update’s new features:
Introducing Studio One 4.5 - YouTube
For download info and a rundown of all the new features, head over to presonus.com.
Beatport has struck up a licensing partnership with Denon DJ, a deal which will see the Beatport Link subscription service and its proprietary locker technology fully integrated with Denon DJ’s Prime hardware by the end of 2019.
With the agreement, DJs will soon be able to stream tracks from Beatport’s catalogue straight from Denon DJ units – no laptop needed. Besides streaming, the collaboration between both parties has also yielded a brand-new service, Beatport Link Pro, which lets DJs save offline tracks to Denon DJ hardware. The service will be available in two plans: Beatport Link Pro (save up to 50 tracks) and Beatport Link Pro+ (save up to 100 tracks).
Streaming from Beatport Link on the Denon DJ SC5000M
The Denon DJ units most likely to take advantage of the new streaming and storage features include the recently launched Prime 4 smart controllers as well as SC5000 and SC5000M units. These three devices have WiFi capabilities and are Ethernet-ready.
Beatport’s partnership with Denon DJ isn’t the subscription service’s first venture into hardware integration. Beatport Link had previously been integrated with Pioneer DJ’s WeDJ app, allowing users of the DDJ-200 controller to stream tracks from the device itself.
Pioneer DJ has teamed up with renowned fashion designer and occasional DJ Virgil Abloh on transparent versions of the CDJ-2000NXS2 and DJM-900NXS2 mixer. These exclusive units debut at Abloh’s Figures Of Speech exhibition opening next month at Chicago’s Museum Of Contemporary Art.
According to Abloh, these ‘skeleton’ models were designed to “inspire a different sound while DJing, and perhaps a new way for music technology and human interaction to equal a different result”. Pioneer DJ also adds that the transparent devices were specifically created for the “Pioneer DJ c/o Virgil Abloh” project, which may just see more unique DJ gear birthed forth.
As mentioned earlier, the transparent units will be on display during the Figures Of Speech exhibition, which takes place from 10 June to 22 September 2019. For ticket details, head over to mcachicago.org.
My studio is inside an office building located at the centre of Bucharest, Romania. It’s just one room, but there’s enough space for me to work on sound design for games and animations, music production and voice recordings. Lately, I’ve been using the studio for some mentoring as well. This is my third year here and it’s very convenient as I live nearby. My clients can reach me easily, too.
What’s your favourite DAW to use?
I use Ableton Live 10 and have been doing so for the last decade. I keep an open mind and have tried – and learned almost all DAWs (including Pro Tools, Logic, Studio One, Fruity Loops and Reaper), but I kept coming back to Live. Its unparalleled ease of use allows me to finish projects very quickly and it doesn’t stand in the way of my creative process. However, I sometimes mix and work in Pro Tools if I receive projects from other studios.
What’s your favourite piece of gear that you own?
I absolutely love my Roland Juno-106, even if I haven’t used it that much in my projects lately. Last time I fired it up, I realised it lost a voice, so I’m pretty bummed about that. It’s been my dream synth and used in so many of my favourite songs! The pads are simply ethereal and hitting up the chorus makes it magical. My second favourite is my curvy ultra-wide monitor. Some people have big mixing consoles as the centrepieces, but I have this awesome monitor which actually turns heads more than anything else around here.
How often do you use your studio?
I keep a strict 10am to 7pm work schedule, rarely staying back after hours unless my clients require it. I used to not have this discipline and would work over the weekends and I couldn’t tell workday from leisure day apart. But now, weekend jobs are an exception.
So how do you use your studio?
My main work is doing sound design for games and animations. I’ve been gaming for much of my childhood, so this became an obvious extension of that. I produce, mix and master for other artists and for my own project as well.
What’s next on your gear shopping list?
Well, I’ve got quite an extensive list. Mainly, I want to get rid of the subwoofer in my monitor chain and replace the Neumann KH 120 with the bigger brother, the KH 310. The studio is well treated acoustically, so I hope the bass end will be enough. I also plan on getting the classic U 87 and a Neve preamp, so I can have more options while recording.
Is there anything about your studio you’d like to fix?
After sunset, the interior light is rather dim and tiring. There were some wiring issues which kept me from using bigger bulbs when I moved in and I haven’t had the chance to fix this yet.
What’s your dream piece of gear and why?
I wish to get a Moog Voyager one day. I’ve never had a Moog, and while I could easily get a Taurus or a Sub Phatty, I want the complete Moog experience so that I can get the most sounds out of it.
Can you share your best production tip?
There’s no magic ‘make great music’ button. Even if you have a musical background, you still have to sweat it out and put in a lot of work until you get a usable, consistently good product. That also means working on a lot of songs that won’t make the cut. But you have to fight your way through this and keep motivated!
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who’s starting up a studio?
Get the best speakers you can and the best acoustic treatment possible from the start. Anything else you can do in the box. I’ve seen countless examples of people improving their songs just by upgrading their monitoring medium.
What are the main components of your studio?
Custom Mac (4770k, 32GB RAM, 1.5TB SSD and 4TB HDD), Neumann KH 120 A, Adam Sub 7, Adam A7X, UAD Apollo Silver Quad, UAD-2 Satellite Duo, Pro Tools HD Omni, Juno-106, Yamaha DX7IID, Access Virus TI, Ableton Push, Ableton Live 10, Pro Tools 12.8.3, M-Audio Code 25, PreSonus FaderPort, Audio-Technica 4047/SV, Universal Audio LA-610 MkII, Samson S-patch plus, LG 34UC98-W monitor, Takamine G-Series acoustic guitar.
Do you use a studio that we all need to see? Send a photo or get in touch via the MusicTech Facebook page and your gear could be featured next.
Making a name for himself initially as a remixer alongside Paul Oakenfold, Steve Osborne subsequently grew into one of the UK’s most in-demand producers. He has worked with an enormous roster of clients that includes Placebo, Suede, KT Tunstall, Doves and, crucially, Happy Mondays. Their dance-rock record Pills ’N’ Thrills And Bellyaches epitomised the ‘Madchester’ sound in 1990 and, as Steve reveals, was a remarkable – and memorable – recording experience.
Steve’s career was kickstarted by an early role as a ‘tea boy’ at the legendary Trident Studios. During his initial time there, he sought to make himself an indispensable font of knowledge regarding production equipment and was soon required to step in and help out with sessions. Today, Steve still espouses the value of making yourself a resourceful asset in the studio to the next generation of producers during his masterclasses at BIMM. He currently operates from Peter Gabriel’s beautiful, gear-packed studio Real World, close to Osborne’s home city of Bath – which is where we meet the seasoned producer…
What sparked your interest in music production?
Well, I think it was probably when I heard The Dark Side Of The Moon for the first time. It was at my sister’s 16th birthday. One of her friends put it on and I was just totally blown away. Before that, I’d only really heard the early Beatles records and a few more mainstream things. But my parents didn’t have an extensive collection. That was definitely the point where I noticed sound.
I was in a few bands when I was younger. I used to study the art of recording in magazines, however, I dropped out of university and spent a long time on the dole. I teamed up with a few mates eventually and we set up a little 8-track recording studio. We’d record local bands and borrowed the local university’s Portastudio.
I taught myself recording and mixing skills during this time. Then eventually, I got a job as a tea boy in Trident Studios in London. Once you’ve got your foot in the door, it’s a question of taking advantage of the situation and proving your worth. I learned everything I could when I was there; I’d sometimes stay overnight at the studio and just play with bits and pieces that weren’t being used. After a month of working there, I knew a hell of a lot about the gear, so if a tape op was ill I could easily step in. They’d say: “Oh, we’ll get Steve” – it was my job to be that person. I soon began working as a tape-op and worked every day, seven days a week. I’d only get a day off if we’d done a 24-hour tape-op’ing session. For me though, it was absolute heaven!
So was it during your time at Trident or after that you met up with Paul Oakenfold?
Well, Trident Studios got sold and I left. I worked with a production team for about a year straight after and they were doing dance music-type stuff. It was quite clubby, but more on the pop side. I was their engineer.
I met Paul because he was starting on the whole house scene and wanted to find someone to work with. He was managed by someone who managed a friend of mine and he said that he should check me out. We did a trial run together and we got on pretty well. So shortly after, I left my job with the production team and started working with Paul full time.
It didn’t start out as Perfecto Records – we were just working on projects and it started to eventually make sense to set up a label for all our stuff.
So in those days, the tech you used to remix projects must have been quite different to what you’d use now?
For me, when I go in the studio I don’t plan to ‘do’ anything per se. You just go in and you look at what you’ve got to work with. You then get on with it. I think we’d finished Wrote For Luck – our first major-label project – and thought, well, we quite like it [Steve and Paul’s Wrote For Luck remix, re-titled W.F.L. (Think About The Future Mix), is often credited as being a significant milestone in the dance/rock (or ‘baggy’) sound of late- 80s Manchester bands – Ed].
I think it’s quite interesting to talk about that mix. We had a 24-track tape and no automatic click track. I had an SRC which is something that will take timecode off the tape and generate MIDI timecode, so we could lock a sequencer to the tape. On the first day, I spent about six hours just sorting that out. I had to take the kick drum from the tape and build a rudimentary click track. I’d calculate the rough tempo of the track, feed into sort of an 8th-note delay then bounce that directly onto the tape. I then fed that kick back into the SRC to generate the MIDI timecode. Then I’m in a situation where I can program straight to tape. That could take a full day of preparation.
Happy Mondays - Wrote For Luck (Official Music Video) - YouTube
In terms of the equipment we had to program, we hired in a Roland R-8 and I used my Juno-106. The lead line is the 106. All the synth stuff was done with the 106. The drums were just the R-8 and then Paul would spin in the samples live off his decks. I’d be mixing on an SSL so I could program the cuts, so I’d program the way the cuts would work on the decks. We’d have the decks plugged into the desk so Paul would live perform the scratching straight into the track. It took about three long days. I always worked like 14-hour days. I’d stay up till 2am in the morning. You want to get it done right and do good work.
Choice toolsLooking around your studio here at Real World, it’s packed with classic gear. How much does this kit get used?
My Moog needs to go to hospital – it’s got two oscillators working and is a bit rickety. This is actually signed by Bob Moog himself. Someone from Portishead interviewed Bob Moog at Moles Studio [in Bath] a few years ago. I was working there at the time and I was asked by the studio manager if I minded them coming in to use the studio for an interview. I said: “No problem, but could Bob sign my Moog?” And he did!
The biggest difference between hardware and software is that I could get a bass sound within 30 seconds on the Moog or the Juno. I can get sounds up really fast. If I plugged the Jupiter in and I’m building some sound, then I’m definitely going to touch the filter and get expressive with it. I’m going to do something reactive.
People can have overload with the amount of things you can do now. If you’re starting out and you’ve got Logic for example, then I don’t think you should be buying anything else. That’s got way more gear than we ever had back in million-pound studios. The amount of stuff in that program is astonishing. If you spent two years learning every single part of everything in there then you’re probably ready to add to it. But you’re probably going to think, ‘well, that’s probably not that great because it came with the software,’ but honestly, the stuff in there is phenomenal.
When did you first get established here at Real World Studios?
It was about six or seven years ago. I got to that point where studio costs were getting higher and higher. People were offering me work and studio costs became too much.
When me and Paul were remixing we did everything at Eden Studios. So that would be around £850-£900 a day and we’d be there for a week doing remixes. It ate into our profits. It wouldn’t work at all. I’ve always preferred to go to different studios, but having your own room is a necessity.
What kit in here is essential to the way you produce?
I’ve had the UA Apollo since it first came out. It was an ideal solution. I use Cockos Reaper and I have Pro Tools on my laptop, too. If I’m tracking, I use Pro Tools, but if I’m mixing or overdubbing, I’ll use Reaper. I find it really fast to work on. I was looking for an interface and wanted to get more plug-ins, especially from UA, so the Apollo was perfect.
Reaper just does everything straight away. It takes the routing out of everything, so you don’t have to route through busses. It’s just a simple drag-and-drop process. The folder system is so simple. I can put things together and work really fast with it.
There’s certain UA plug-ins I use quite a lot. Soundtoys’ range is great, too. Sonnox plug-ins are very professional and help me out so frequently with different problems. They do what they say on the tin. I also love all the Brainworx stuff. I’ve just got their bx_Console SSL plug-in in a recent sale and that’s it now – I’m done! I started on SSL at Trident, so I’m back to where I started. It just sounds like an SSL. I know exactly what’s going on. You can switch between the different EQs. It’s got saturation and the randomiser thing that makes all the channels sound different. Now, if I’m mixing, I’ll put one of them on every channel.
Steve finds the Doepfer modular system a tighter addition to the bottom end than the Moog
I bought the Doepfer Modular System back when I worked with New Order. Pete Davies, who was programming for us at that time, had one and I liked it. It’s got two additional inputs and VCAs. It’s kind of got two of everything, but only one filter. I use it to put sounds through to distort and mess sounds up. It’s a superb mono bass sound. The Moog can be a little overbearing on the bottom end, whereas the Doepfer is just tight.
Call the copsLet’s talk a little bit about the recording of one of the most important records you produced, Happy Mondays’ Pills ’N’ Thrills And Bellyaches…
People always say to me: “Oh, that must have been mental and chaotic,” but really, it wasn’t. It was actually quite a disciplined session. They’d done a lot of work with Steve Lillywhite and Martin Hannett, who was obviously a genius, but from what I hear, he had a pretty unorthodox approach. So me and Paul Oakenfold were in Capitol in LA and had 12-hour days booked at the studio for six days a week. The band were quite happy to have some structure I think at that point. From my perspective, we were just getting things done.
I’d tell Shaun to get in at 6am every day, then he’d turn up at 9 or 10am. I’d try and get some vocals done with him every day and we’d have a bit of banter. Sometimes, it was a case of just getting one or two lines every day and just gradually building the vocals up.
Shaun was always super supportive all the time, he said to the band: “Steve’s the producer, do what he says,” and we ended up with a great record, we did it in its entirety in about 10 weeks.
When you worked with Suede, Placebo, KT Tunstall, etc, did you find them or did they come to you?
I’ve been quite lucky, because my career started pretty fast after meeting Paul. I had management soon after that and they’ve always found me work. I’m not the sort of person that would say to someone: “You need to work with me.” I’ve been lucky that people have approached me and asked to work with me. An exception to that rule was when I produced Placebo’s Without You I’m Nothing – I pursued those guys after hearing their debut album. I loved the sound of that first record, but they really weren’t that keen.
KT Tunstall is an interesting one. When I produced her very first album Eye To The Telescope, there ended up being a lot of me on there, to be honest. That whole record was sort of me and KT. We had the musicians there for 10 days and we got loads of stuff down. We had a very small budget and KT stayed with me and my family at that point. We spent a long time mixing, just pulling bits apart and redoing it.
We did a bit of work on those tracks and then the label came down to hear what we’d done. It was complete silence. I played them what we’d done and you could hear a pin drop. Really bad vibes.
I think what’s interesting, comparing the business then and the business now, is that now I’d have just got sacked. What I explained to the label was just that what I had at that stage was not what I would have at the end. It’s part of a process to get to the end point.
When you’re working with a solo artist, I think it’s perhaps the hardest production you can do. You have to find their sound. If you’ve got a band, then you’ve got a better idea of how they sound and perform as a collection of musicians. They have a sound. So you have to record them and fix any minor problems. With a solo artist, you can make them sound like anything. But you’ve got to give them an identity to make it cut, though. You can’t find that in a week, or two weeks, or even four weeks! It’s going to take a period of time and a period of trust.
The sound for KT came from the way she strums a guitar. Every recording of KT is vocals/guitar at the same time. We never recorded vocals on their own. We built everything rhythmically around that framework.
Passing the torchYou’re tutoring at BIMM. How did working in music education start for you and do you intend to carry on with this strand of your career?
I did a few masterclasses for a few colleges and really enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed one I did in Dublin, at Windmill Lane Studios where I worked with U2. In the afternoon, I did an afternoon with the students and they each played me their project; I would then give a critique of it, offer some suggestions. I just really loved it. I really enjoyed the whole day.
I’ve always got an opinion. I can hear something straight away and tell you sonically or arrangement-wise what I think should be altered. It’s kind of fun to use that. There were a couple of them, though, that I heard and just said: ‘That sounds fucking great – no comment!”
So following that the opportunity came up at BIMM’s new college that opened up in Birmingham. I had a chat with them and I’ve been teaching there this year and I’ll probably do that again next year. What’s been interesting about that is that I’ve had to sit down and think about my own process and just what I do. It’s been really interesting, analysing how I’ve done things over the years.
What’s your advice for this generation of producers?
If I was 18 now, I’d go to BIMM or somewhere like that to learn as much as I could. Within the first two weeks, I’d learn how to use every single piece of gear in the studio and I would book the studio every day. I’d record every single other student and anyone who wanted to record anything. I’d be driving the lecturers mental with questions and saying: “Can you give me some stems to mix?” That was kind of my approach back when I was at Trident, just learning everything I could.
You want to be the guy that people want to talk to about recording. Simple as. You have to make yourself a visible person. Make yourself known and seen to be talented. If you’re passionate about something then you should invest time into it.
There are hundreds of thousands of kick-drum samples to choose from and many, many more instruments capable of generating kicks. but scouring through all of the samples often isn’t enough. You might find one kick sample that has a deep, low-end weight you like, but doesn’t cut through the mix strongly enough, while another kick sample might cut through with plenty of energy, but not carry the low end. By layering multiple samples into a single sound it is possible to combine the relative strengths of two or more samples, to create your own, new sound, something unique to you, with the perfect characteristics for your mix.
The simplest way of doing this is simply to layer one kick on top of the other in the mix, aligning the start time of each, such that the two samples play at the same time – being very careful to check that the polarity of the two samples is aligned. This will give you something of the sound of the two signals. The only problem is that as well as giving you the best of both worlds, you’ll get the worst bits of both samples, too.
But will it blend?
Instead, what we have to do here is to blend the two samples together, removing the parts of both that we don’t like, and leaving only the best of both. This can involve chopping the samples up a little, altering the amplitude envelope of each in the process; or it can be a simpler task of simply EQing the two samples to leave only the best parts.
In this tutorial, we’ve crafted two kick samples, one with a sharp attack and long tonal tail, while the other has a shorter tail, but a deeper, more weighty body. We want to try and use the attack of the first sample, along with the body of the second to make a single kick drum that kicks harder than either of the two samples alone.
We start by altering the envelope of the two samples, such that we instantly lose some of the long tonal tail from the first kick sample, being sure to keep all of the attack. Pro Tools allows for incredible control over the amplitude envelope, in ways that no sampler can come even close to. For now, though, we’re just using simple fades. Feel free to dig in with volume automation if you want greater control.
Once we’ve shaped the two kicks we’re going to add EQ to both, to further isolate the sounds we want from each, using a high-pass filter to remove the low-end from one sample and a similarly placed low-pass filter on the second sample to remove any high end that could be clashing between the two kicks.
Holding it together
Finally, we try to glue the kicks together a little to bin them together as a single element. To do this, we’ve bussed the two samples to a single Kick buss channel, and added an instance of the Avid Channel Strip plug-in. Experimentation doesn’t have to end here, though: if the two samples you use are pitched apart, you could try pitch-shifting one to more closely match the other. However, any heavy processing like this can also have the effect of altering the characteristics of the kick that you liked in the first place, so be sure to experiment with a variety of different pitch-shift algorithms to try and keep the parts of the sound that you like most.
Of course, while kicks are the obvious choice for this kind of treatment, you can perform similar actions on other, similar sounds within your mix, most obviously snare hits – but we’ve also seen this done with crashes, chopping together the wash from one sound with a more aggressive attack.
In fact, it’s not even necessary to stick to a single sample type when performing this kind of sound-design activity. We’ve had great results adding the attack of a wood block to a deep kick drum sound, to create a sound that sounds more like a traditional kick drum than either of the samples we began with. Once you get the hang of designing your own sounds like this, it’s hard to go back to just using one sample.
Layering kicks in Pro Tools: step-by-step
1. Open the Pro Tools Workshop file. The project contains two single kick-drum samples, named Kick A and Kick B. Solo each one in turn and take a listen to them.
2. We’ve bussed the two samples to a single master buss and turned the individual channels down by 3dB. This is because while neither sample peaks on its own, they do push the master buss into clipping when played together.
3. We want to use Kick A for the attack, and Kick B for the body. So let’s start by altering the envelope of Kick A. Place the cursor just after the end of the waveform and press [S] to quickly edit the end of the sample. You can do the same at the front by pressing [A].
4. Now apply a fade over the end of the sample by highlighting a region you would like to fade over and pressing [F]. You can fine-tune the length of this fade with the Trim Tool [F6].
5. Double-clicking on the fade with the Grabber Tool selected [F8] will open the Fades dialogue window. From here you can further edit the shape of the fade, using linear, curved or S-shaped fades as you see fit.
6. You can do something similar to the second sample, however, remember we want to try and keep the body of this sample as strong as possible.
CLASSIC TRICK Kick drums don’t have to be layered with other kick drums. A classic drum ’n’ bass trick is to layer the kick with a 40Hz sine wave gated to the attack of the main kick. A great alternative to this is to use a triangle or sawtooth wave instead of a sine wave for greater low-end weight. Be sure to mix it in low.
7. Add an instance of your favourite surgical EQ to both channels. We’re using the simple one-band version of Avid EQ III here as an example, but you could use any EQ with high- and low-pass filters.
8. On the EQ for Kick A, apply a 12dB/octave high-pass filter at around 100Hz and with the channel solo’d and looping, listen to how the kick sound responds. We want to pull out all of the low-end energy without spoiling the energy of the attack.
9. On the EQ for Kick B, apply a 12dB/octave low-pass filter at around 300Hz. Again, solo the channel and listen to the effect the EQ is having on the kick sound.
10. With both samples playing over each other, fine-tune your EQ settings. It is critically important that you do any fine-tuning in context, not with the channels in solo, as the overall sound will be very different to the sound of either one sample.
11. As well as fine-tuning the EQ balance of the two samples, you can also fine-tune the overall balance between the two samples at this stage, simply by adjusting the faders. To our ears, there is now too much attack to this kick, so we’re going to drop Kick A slightly.
REVERSE THE POLARITY Pay very close attention to the polarity of your samples. You can test this by regularly flipping the polarity of one sample and listening for which way round has the strongest bottom end. Remember, applying EQ will alter the phase relationships of the remaining audio, so even if it was in phase before you applied EQ, it might not be afterwards.
12. Finally, buss the two channels to a single channel and add an instance of Avid Channel Strip plug-in to the buss channel.
13. In the Channel Strip, we’re going to add additional glue using a very low-ratio compressor with a fairly low threshold.
14. It’s imperative that you get the attack and release settings right when setting this, or your kick could turn into mush. We’re using a moderately slow attack of 20ms, which should give the front end of the kick plenty room to breathe, with a fairly fast attack of 40ms to shape the texture of the body and tail.
15. At this stage, we like to export our sample as a single WAV ready for use in this and many more projects. By setting the output of the buss channel to a mono location, we can bounce that as a single mono file, rather than making a mono file out of the summed stereo buss.
16. In the bounce window, be sure to set the Bounce Source to the same place as the output of the kick buss channel.
17. Alternatively, if you want to use the kick straight away in the project you’re working on, group the two samples as a single clip group by highlighting both clips and pressing Ctrl+Alt+G (PC) or Cmd+Opt+G (Mac).
18. You can now copy the clip group and paste it to create your rhythm inside your project without bouncing the new sample out and reimporting it, enabling you to further alter the sound further down the line.
For more Pro Tools tutorials and workshops, check here.
Universal Audio has released an update for its UAD software. Version 9.9 brings with it a new plug-in called Capitol Chambers and MkII of the Tube-Tech CL 1B compressor plug-in. Here are the details:
This plug-in is touted as the world’s first authentic emulation of Capitol Studios’ legendary subterranean echo chambers. The original chambers, designed by none other than Les Paul himself, were coveted for the lush ambiences, extended decays and smooth response they provided
For an accurate representation of the chambers, UA paid a personal visit to four of them – 2, 4, 6 and 7 – and relied on schematics from the early 60s to map microphone and speaker/horn arrangements. These old-school derivations were complemented by new mic/speaker combos created by Steve Genewick, UA and Capitol’s chief engineer.
Capitol Chambers also features the same room-modelling technology used on the popular Ocean Way Studios plug-in. With this in place, you’ll be able to shift and rearrange mics inside the virtual chamber, affording you what UA calls “next-level ambience control”.
Retails at $349.
Tube-Tech CL 1B MkII Compressor
This fully authorised emulation of Tube-Tech’s popular vocal compressor, used by the likes of Kanye West and Jennifer Lopez, has been upgraded with new features. The model of this modern opto compressor now boasts a stepped control for cutting low frequencies from the sidechain signal. It also now allows parallel compression via a variable wet/dry knob and has hi-res graphics tailored to both 4K and Ultra HD displays.
BandLab Technologies has released version 2019.05 for Cakewalk by BandLab, and with it, support for ARA 2 plug-ins.
The update will be welcome news for users of the free DAW, who’ll now be able to integrate pitch- and time-adjustment applications such as Melodyne 4 and Synchro Arts’ Revoice Pro 4 into their workflow.
Melodyne has become the defacto pitch-correction plug-in in many professional studios thanks to its transparent algorithms, while Revoice Pro has found favour in post-production for its incredible time and pitch-matching features for dialogue and music work. Both use the Celemony-developed Audio Random Access 2 (ARA 2) technology.
Here are some new ARA 2-centric features in Cakewalk by BandLab:
Single plug-in view
This view mode gives you oversight of all ARA 2 plug-ins used in a project. This layout aims to make working with numerous ARA clips smoother since you no longer have to open and close plug-in views for each clip.
Track and clip selection
Another noteworthy ARA-centric feature comes from the selection department. Selection states for both track and clips will now be automatically reflected in ARA plug-ins. If the plug-in of choice supports this selection function, you’ll be able to see regions of tracks and clips selected in Cakewalk instantly appear as highlighted segments on the plug-in.
Plug-in UIs can now also be colour-coded, with the layout dependent on available Cakewalk track and clip colours. The plug-ins themselves will also be able to access the user-assigned descriptions of tracks clips and projects, potentially making the search for the appropriate plug-in easier.
To commemorate Cakewalk’s advancement into ARA 2 specification, BandLab Technologies has teamed up with Melodyne’s makers, Celemony, to give away a free copy of Melodyne 4 studio – worth $849 – and five Melodyne Essential licenses (each worth $99). Details on how to enter the giveaway can be found on Cakewalk by BandLab and Celemony’s respective Facebook pages.
[Editor’s note: Cakewalk by BandLab is owned by BandLab Technologies, which also owns MusicTech.net]