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Keeping your Ears Fresh During Recording and Mixing

Your ears are the most valuable and priceless gear you have. Not only will you need to take care of them for the duration of your life but also during day-to-day life and recording sessions. There is a well known music rule in our studio that never gets broken: Above all, protect your ears!

Here are five simple tips to keep your ears fresh while producing, recording and mixing in the studio for long hours:

1) Keep an Eye on Your Levels
Volume levels, that is.. If the bump of your speakers makes your coffee cup vibrate, you’ve got your volume jacked up way too high. It’s recommended to do all mixing in levels so low you could have a conversation without shouting. The reason for this is that over time your ears get tired and this can go unnoticed until it’s too late. The goal is to reference your music at conversation volume levels and only check the low end, high end and how everything fits in the mix at increased volume levels for increments of 2-5 minutes at a time. This method will keep your ears fresh for the rest of the day so you can produce, record and mix for the rest of the night.

2) When Recording your own Vocals
When recording yourself you juggle the roles of artist and recording engineer. It’s inspiring hearing everything come together. However, don’t be a hero and jack up the level in your headphones so that you’re screaming over the top. Typically most vocalists like to have one headphone cup off their ear and one on. If you’re doing vocal stacks it’s best to keep them both on and keep the volume level really low. If your volume is too high, it is easy for your vocal recordings to be sharp or flat. When recording, make sure to allow sufficient time for breaks, not only for your throat but for your ears.

3) Keep ‘em Clean
This may seem obvious but dirty ears are not only nasty but they hinder the sound quality of your listening. In any health food store you can purchase Ear Candles. These little bad boys will clean your ear canals so well that they actually warn you not to listen to music for 3 days after. Make sure you read the directions on the package carefully and follow them. You will be amazed by how much your hearing is improved by these. Try not to be grossed out by all the yucky wax and dirt that comes out of you either. Now I have had a few responses of people who do not agree or think this is a hoax. Maybe this option will help you, maybe it won’t, however, this is from my personal experience.

4) Editing Vocals
When editing double vocals or multiple tracks for long lengths of time, your ears can tire quickly. The way to work around this is to edit one phrase at a time until finding the best take and cut and paste accordingly. Listening to the whole take, take after take can get daunting and annoying. It’s much easier for your ears to pick up the differences in each track if you play it back phrase by phrase, take by take until you find the phrase that jumps out at you. Use the highlighting tool in your audio sequencer to mark which ones you like best and keep moving forward. You can also memorize an easy color system that reminds me which one is Best, Adlib, or 2nd Best, and so forth.

5) Take Breaks
When working on a project, reward yourself by taking fun breaks. After you edit the vocals, go for a short walk around the block. Done with mixing? Have your favorite snack. Make sure you take short breaks often. You’ll come back to your station with fresh ears and a fresh perspective every time.

Tutorial: Keeping your Ears Fresh During Recording and Mixing
1) How do you produce and mix your music (Headphones, Speakers, Both)? During your next session, pay attention to when you increase the volume and how long you listen to loud volumes. How long does it take to complete the project, do you have to redo the mix the next day, what do your clients say about your mixes – do you hear anything consistently?
2) Benchmark your system. In other words, set aside some time when you’re not busy, listen to commercially mastered CDs, reference conversation volume levels and increased volume levels, note the decibel level on your volume knob and then practice with your own material.
3) Let your ears rest. After a long session or when you sleep, put ear plugs in your ears and let them rest.

If you would like more info about volume levels, recording your own vocals and editing vocals, contact us for a training consultation.


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Mixing and Mastering Myths in the Music Industry

Mixing and Mastering Myths are just a few of the mis-perceptions that plague the music industry. When this mis-information spreads like fire across music professionals and music hobbyists, there is a huge problem that results. Lack of creativity, inspiration and a misguided focus.

Mixing and Mastering cannot be done without music production…
If your music production and recording is poor, the mix and master is going to be poor…

So why are so many concerned about mixing and mastering?
Doesn’t it seem like the focus should be on music production?

My question is what’s more important: the equipment used on a project, to mix, and used to master or the end results?

Do you find yourself looking to others to fix the problem? Do you think that someone else has something your missing? Do you feel like if you had one more piece of equipment or learned one more thing you would be ready to really get serious and do something in the music business? If you say yes, to anyone of these you have been duped by the mis-information of the Mixing and Mastering Myth.

Mixing and mastering myths say “you don’t have the right audio mastering software, you don’t have the right mixing plugins, only professional results come from a mastering studio” and so on.

But today is different:
You have the tools to mix and master but may not realize it.

If you don’t have the tools, it’s as simple as they are inexpensive. However the investment isn’t the money it’s the time it takes to learn them and develop your ear training. I recommend locking the door in your studio, shutting the phones off and learn… You can have all the greatest gear but knowing how to use your equipment / tools during the music production process is the key to mixing and mastering.

Make sure first and foremost the song is different. It’s not saying the same thing that everyone else is talking about. Give the music ‘your’ touch that only you can give it. Start with great samples and great sounds. Get all instruments you choose in the proper frequency spectrum when making the track, adjust mix volume levels, use EQ settings to separate frequencies and use compression to make each individual sound come to life. The mix should sound industry standard, just quieter. That is the process of audio mixing before achieving a perfect master.

Afterwards, the mastering process is very simple. Using mastering tools such as multiband compression, eq, sonic maximization, limiting and metering tools are just a few of the weapons of choice. Whether they are hardware or software does not matter nearly as much as your ear training.

Last and most important is your ears. Making sure you can hear all the subtleties of each tool, volume level, etc. The thing that’s cool is you already know where you’re trying to get to – that is what you hear on the radio, movies, etc. So the elements are there in the pot, it’s now up to you to stir them up correctly.

The final missing ingredient is you.

You have to show up, get in your studio and figure out the details it takes to get your music productions sounding like what you hear on the radio daily. There are no results if you dont’ put the time in. Stir the pot every moment you get, keep focused until you start seeing the results you’re after.

To stay successful at what you love you must keep doing what it took to get you there.

When you reach that stage, CELEBRATE!!! …Then get back to the grind cause the journey never ends. There are many victories won, battles fought and land you conquer in the world of the new music industry we are in..

Now the last point to address is the first thing you’re probably wondering… Why does every person I speak with and every book I read on mixing and mastering tell me NOT to do it myself?

I got a reply from someone about this article that I thought was great to reference this overly common response:

“I recently finished reading a book which contained extensive interviews with something like 25 of the industry’s leading mixing professionals. These are people that make a living my doing nothing but mixing. 6 figures a year Grammy award winning people… The list of artist they have mixed for was amazing… We are not just talking about old school analog guys either. Many of today’s leading mixers are mixing “in the box”.  The average time they take to mix a song is between 8 and 16 hours. How can an amateur expect to get their results in less time with inferior equipment? None of the above mentioned mixers would even consider trying to master their own stuff.”

This is a great question. However, it only clarifies this article all the more. No one starts at this level – these professionals results started from previous successes and those previous results are what are keeping them in their current business success.. They are living their music dream.

It’s all about the results. Is your music on the level of what’s on the radio and does your music inspire everyone who listens to it?

It’s funny because for over 13 years I have read and studied all the same greats, read the same articles about not mixing and mastering your own stuff. I have read over 50-60 books on the subject… I have also engineered, mixed and mastered for over 8-9 years now and NOT worked a day job in over 6-7 years… It has taken me personally over 13 years to develop this course. I have personally done in studio/classroom style education too.

With all of this experience, I am telling you they are wrong. We have many students who will tell you the same thing.

The industry is not the same industry that those books are referencing. As a matter of fact, the majority of educational institutions today are still teaching as if the major label music industry is still profitable and studios are still in business.

These ‘industry producers’ didn’t start out recording and doing music the way they are doing it now and they definitely didn’t start with the money they were making either.

These are exactly the myths I’m talking about. EVERYONE and their mother is doing music today. I speak with 13 year olds to 30 year olds to people in their 50s on a daily basis wanting to do our course. At the end of the day the focus on these myths, the focus on gear and technical perfection are a waste of time.

I have seen so many people focus on this so much so and finally get to a perfected mix and master… but their music sucks! Getting creative, professional, radio ready results quickly and efficiently is only the beginning for anyone trying to make a career in the music industry. Anyone of those professionals will tell you the same. Success is not fame. Fame is a part of success. The definition of true success is doing what you love every moment of the day. That is where your music career must begin otherwise the path to fame will never come upon you.

I have seen so many student’s lives change from moving past these myths.
It’s these myths and SO many others are what keep many people from moving forward in their dreams…


Tutorial: Mixing and Mastering Myths in the Music Industry
1) Finalize your studio with equipment you can afford. There are some things you can skimp on and other things you cannot. Do not overextend what you purchase because ‘everyone is using it’ or ‘this guy’ who has great credentials told me to…. They are not paying for it – you are… especially if down the road you realize its the wrong equipment..
2) Learn and Grow, Period. You cannot learn by listening to others. Its important to take action while you study and learn from others. This gives the experience and ear training required for you to mix and master.
3) Stay Content with what you have and do the best with what you have. If you stay focused and don’t quit, you’ll see results. You’ll acquire new equipment, you’re ears with mature and you’ll get the results you’re after. The only way you can fail is if you give up…
Don’t let others determine your success.

If you want additional info on the subject, contact us for a training consultation.


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EQ Settings; Music Production Equalizer Settings

When thinking of EQ settings, many students are unsure of where to start. I am often asked “how do I EQ this instrument?” or “what are the rules of Equalization for drums and bass?” If you are using an MPC, Triton, Motif, or any other hardware gear, these guidelines can apply but are best left to the final mix stage in your Software Sequencer (Cubase, Sonar, Logic, ProTools, etc).

The most important aspect of music production equalizer settings & mixing is the low shelving or hi pass filter function. These functions are used for cutting frequencies and are included as standard features in the majority of Equalizers. When an element in the mix is left untouched, it may contain unheard frequencies that can interfere with the punch, clarity, loudness and energy of the mix.

The solution is cutting. The goal is to remove unneeded frequencies to create additional space for the elements in the mix. For example, the frequencies below 100Hz on a snare drum may interfere with a sub bass or kick drum.

As a guideline, I recommend cutting all instruments at 100Hz and cutting the bass instrument and kick drum at 30-40Hz. The human ear cannot hear anything below 30Hz-40Hz. This will remove bass frequencies from the entire mix that are not heard but take up energy in the mix. This ‘energy’ takes away from your overall headroom meaning it makes the overall track louder than it really is. By removing these frequencies on each individual instrument your overall mix becomes louder and punchier. In result, you’ll achieve a better mix and master.
Applying EQ less is always more. Boosting frequencies should be used as a last resort. For example, if a high hat doesn’t have enough high end, boost the appropriate frequency needed. However, if you have 2 instruments in that same frequency, you should boost one and cut the other to avoid interference. If you tend to boost frequencies often, you may need to choose higher quality sounds.

Another great use for EQ is to find the ‘sweet spot’ of a sound. Boost the EQ to the maximum decibel and sweep the entire frequency band from the lowest to highest until you find the ‘sweet spot’. This is a useful way of finding the frequency range your instrument is in. From there you can choose how much to cut while listening to the mix. For example, if you have a bassy string or synth part that interferes with the bottom end, you may want to cut it at 300hz or more. Cutting low frequencies off vocals is the biggest EQ tip of all. Try cutting vocals at 300hz for a low voice or 500hz for a high female voice. You’ll be amazed at how they fit in the mix.

Cubase, Nuendo, Sonar all have eq on every channel. ProTools does not. This can be a problem for ProTools users as EQ is used as a plugin which takes valuable CPU usage. I have found mixing in ProTools can take additional time from that fact alone. However, you can create buss or group channels to lower the amount of CPU usage.

Overall, EQ is one of the most powerful tools when mixing. There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Unlocking EQ consists of applying it to one instrument at a time and practicing. Soon you’ll develop your own technique and approach that will help nail the mix every time.

Now, apply these EQ settings in a music production you are currently working on to hear the instant results of this tutorial. This is just a small dose of instant results you’ll get when enrolling in the 7 Lesson Course: Becoming a Music Producer and Audio Engineer.

Tutorial: EQ Settings; Music Production Equalizer Settings
1) Start with a sub bass kick drum. Cut using a low shelf or hi pass setting at 30hz, then 50hz, then 80hz and finally 120hz. Use this as an ear training exercise until your ears can clearly hear the difference.
2) Now take a punchy bass line (not a sub bass) and follow the same guidelines as #1. Pay attention to how the sub bass kick drum and punchy bass line fit like a glove by only cutting frequencies. Remember, when learning eq NEVER boost – you’ll do more harm than good. If you feel the need to boost, you are better off finding a better sound that has the settings you’re looking for.
3) Experiment with vocals. Cut in the 300hz range for male vocals and 500hz range for female vocals. Again, use this as ear training and start to hear how each instrument fits ‘in the pocket’ by cutting vs. boosting.

If you need more info on EQ, recording and mixing, please take a moment and signup for a free training consultation.


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Doubling Vocals

How to double track vocals is a common question. Some recording engineers know the power of doubling vocals and others barely play with it. What are double tracked vocals? Double tracked vocals are recording the vocal twice or ‘stacking’ vocals in order to thicken the vocal sound in the recording. Vocal doubling has been traced back to the Beatles when they were on four tracks and recording in mono!

When is vocal doubling called for? In my opinion, vocal doubling can be used all the time unless you have a strong vocalist. If you’re working with Cristina Aguilera or Mariah Carey they are both very dynamic singers. Doubling vocals on a simple hook melody or to emphasize a word is recommended but vocal doubling on a verse vocal would take away the uniqueness of their vocal range.

Double tracked vocals are recommended in most hip hop, reggaeton, dance and pop music productions. The goal is to get the vocalist to execute two really good vocal takes. It’s important to get the first one perfect. If the second vocal take falls short, this is where a great audio engineer can edit the first vocal take to align with the second take. This not only saves the vocalist’s strength but leaves more time for mixing, effects and seasoning.

Vocal Stacks

Vocal Stacks

In this screenshot you can see that each of the vocal stacks are even with each other. These are four vocal stacks. Sometimes on hooks using four stacks gives a thicker sound for the hook vocals to stand out. The idea is to get all the stacks even so the listener doesn’t get distracted by an extra syllable, breath or word.

Mixing vocal recordings with stacks is the last part of how to get a good doubled vocal recording. You’ll want to set the main vocal take to your desired volume. The best way to get a vocal in the pocket is to turn the level down and then gradually life the volume until it gets right in the pocket – not too loud or too soft. Keep that setting for the first perfect vocal take. Now set the vocal doubled takes -8db to -10db before the initial lead vocal. For example, if the lead vocal is at -10db, you’ll set the stacks to be at -18db or -20db. This is a guideline for mixing vocal stacks. Around those decibels you’ll find the sweet spot where the doubled vocals thicken the sound and blend together well.

The goal in using this vocal doubling trick is to get the vocals thick, up front and in your face without hearing the stack. If you hear an echo, the stacks could be turned down. If you hear a reverb, chances are the vocalist didn’t stack the vocals consistently.

To get the best double vocal results, do what I like to call ‘a benchmark vocal test’. Just spend an hour on this trick until you get it sounded great every time. This will save a lot of time during session and give instant results every time when recording vocals.

Remember, you must apply these techniques to get results. It is not enough to read articles all day and never do the work. Applying what you have learned is your personal hands on training. Don’t fall for the hands on training myths in the industry today.

Tutorial: Doubling Vocals
1) Determine if the vocalist has a strong, unique voice and if the song calls for doubled vocals on the verse, hook or on all the parts.
2) Walk the vocalist through what you’re going to do. Get a solid first take, double check and have them listen to make sure they are happy. After completing the first take, start recording to get the stacks. Make sure to listen in detail to make sure all the parts are syncopated.
3) During the mixing phase, remember, you don’t ‘have’ to use all of these stacks. However, having them available always makes great options if the vocals need to sound full on a word, phrase, or all parts. Using these steps will help you get a great sounding vocals on every song.

If you want additional info on the subject, contact us for a training consultation.


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Best Bass Sound

This tutorial will help you achieve great bass sound in any situation on any system. The factors that make up great bass is your monitoring system, the mixing room, the bass patch, effects, compression and EQ.

Monitoring: Make sure your speakers are flat – meaning there are no eq curves, additional frequencies added so that what you hear is what you get. This makes sure your translation from system to system is accurate.

The Mixing Room: Because of technology, the room doesn’t matter anymore – and this is why.. If you are using nearfield or loud speakers, listen to mixes at conversation level. The sound will not bounce off the walls and give you an inaccurate misrepresentation. This will also keep your ears fresh for longer periods of time and will yield accurate results faster.

Bass Sounds: Using presets or building your own bass patches doesn’t matter as much as that your bass sound goes ‘WOW’ when you hear it. Either the bass will be a sub bass sound or a punchy sound. How do you tell? Frequency range. Sub bass sounds are in the 30hz to 100hz. Punchy bass can be between 80hz to 120hz. Once you choose which type of bass sound, you can get into the sound design of the patch. Depending on what hardware or software unit you’re using, start with the Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release settings to adjust the tone and depth.
Now add the bass in with your beat then further design it in the pocket of the beat. After you have the general setting, now play with the other knobs of modulation, effects, oscillators, filters, etc. – just play your way into a great sound.

On a side note, its important to choose the opposite type of kick in comparison. An example is if you choose a sub bass then choose a punchy kick sound and vice versa.

Bass Effects: Distortion, chorus, flange, phasers are great effects for bass that help enhance the initial bass patch. Use these sparingly for the final touch of your patch.

Bass Compression: Use compression to make the bass stay strong. Start with a ratio of 10:1, fast attack and slow release. Once again, play your way into a great sound. When doing this you’ll start noticing the settings that work best for your favorite patches.

Bass Eq: After compression, the last thing is EQ. A rule of thumb is never add or boost EQ. Ever. If the sound needs to be boosted, it’s better to choose or design a different patch that fits in the pocket of the beat. As a guideline, EQ is used only to cut the frequencies below 40hz. This gives the beat more headroom and dynamic capabilities. Use a low shelf EQ or hi pass filter.

There are tons of ways to approach the bass in a mix. Keep an eye on the clock during this process. Time management is essential to making great bass sounds and beats. Indecision is still making a decision. Use the outlined approach in this tutorial to enjoy the process of getting great bass the moving on quickly to finishing your beat.

As always, make sure to apply this article to your music production. Set aside some time to work on your sound design technique before or after the creative process. This will give you a chance to train your ears and also get instant results in shaping the best bass sound you are after. 

If you want additional info on the subject, contact us for a training consultation.


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