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Separating Kick And Bass

Sometimes in a mix, kick drum and bass guitar tend to mask each other, which results in a muddy and undifferentiated low end. If separating these two signals frequency-wise just won’t help. you can try this little trick to make both instruments more discernible: Plug in a compressor with side-chain option onto the bass guitar’s channel strip. Now choose the kick drum track to be your side-chain trigger. This way your compressor will no longer be controlled by the bass signal itself but is activated everytime the kick drum hits. As a result, your bass guitar signal will get compressed (and therefore reduced in level) whenever the kick drum hits and gets pulled up again shortly after. In other words, the bass guitar signal makes way for the kick drum’s attack to get through which eventually lets you hear and separate both signals more clearly.

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Layering Beats

When producing beats for hip hop or electronic music, a commonly used technique is to layer different drum sounds to get ultra-fat and punchy sounding drums. Of course, there are a lot of great sounding drum samples on the market which are already processed heavily, but by creating your own samples,  you can not only find your very unique sound, but you can tailor your drums to fit to your track. In order to create a deep and punchy bass drum for instance, browse your drum sample libraries and pick sounds that occupy different frequency ranges or dynamics. For example: choose one kick sample that sounds very low, one that is rather short but has a strong attack, one that has a lot of mid frequency punch and maybe an additional sample that sounds heavily distorted. Within the drum sampler of your choice (e.g. Battery or Ultrabeat), load your sounds and assign them to one key on your keyboard/piano roll. Now you can create your very own, complex bass drum sound by mixing all your single samples into one massive, groundshaking kick sound.

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Bigger Room Sounds

When recording drums, sometimes you may not have the time, space or equipment to set up additional room mics. Here’s a little trick to carve out the ambience of a drum track without using room mics or reverb: When you recorded the drums, chances are you used a pair of overheads. In your DAW, take your overhead track(s) and create a duplicate. On this new track, plug in an instance of an envelope shaper like SPL’s Transient Desginer or Waves’ TransX. Most of the time, your DAW will already have a stock plug-in on board for this kind of application (e.g. Logic’s ‘Enveloper’ or Cubase’s ‘Envelope Shaper’). Within the plug-in, pull down the attack and boost the release quite strongly. Feel free to try out drastic settings. Now your duplicate overheads track sounds somewhat washed out, but the recorded room information is now featured heavily which sounds similar to a room- or ambience-track. To intensify this room sound even further, plug in an instance of any compressor after the shaper, then set it up with a fast attack and slow release. Now blend your duplicate ‘room track’ to taste with the remaining drum tracks. Et voilà! There you have big drums with little efforts.

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Legato String Samples

When working with string libraries, it happens quite often that your melodic lines or chordal pads always feel a little bit late or ‘behind the beat’, even after you’ve quantized them to death. This is due to the rather long attack phases these string patches usually bring along, especially when using sustained or legato articulations. A simple workaround to let the played notes start on time while keeping the evolving nature of the sound, is to select all notes of a given passage in the MIDI editor and to nudge them just a little bit before the grid. This way, the notes may seem to start too early, but the actual tone is heard right on the spot. Of course, the value by which you have to nudge your MIDI notes, varies from string library to string library.

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Mixing with Automation

Professional and amateur mixes can often be distinguished by the use of automation. Many mixes done by beginners sound rather static and don’t build up dynamically over the course of the song. Naturally, level adjustments can also be made using a compressor up to a certain degree, but sooner or later you’ll most likely find that one static setting won’t do for the whole song. So instead of searching desperately for the magic compressor (setting), reach for your volume automation and draw in your level changes manually. This method is much more intuitive and controllable since automation can be recorded on the fly. Just assign a controller (fader or knob) to your level automation, play a particular passage of the song and start writing data. If no MIDI-controller or -fader is at hand, you can just as well draw in the needed automation lines with your computer mouse.

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EQing FX

In almost every mix, sooner or later a variety of fx-returns like reverbs and delays will come together. Since most spacial and modulation effects occupy quite a wide stereo spectrum, they can contribute to a muddy sounding mix if they’re not being processed somehow. Reverbs, delays and chorus effects can cause serious problems in the bass frequencies which can hardly be perceived as such in the context of a full mix. Main reason for this being the sound of the effect is blending with the original and therefore makes our ears perceive it as one complex sound. The addressed problems are likely to become more apparent by soloing your fx-return and folding it down to mono. This way, you’re not longer distracted by a broad stereo image and now can focus on the bass range. To simply prevent those problems from the get-go, make sure to always plug in an EQ with a low cut (maybe around 70-150 Hz) behind each and every effect.

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