make music now 100 computer music tips

computer music
To celebrate our hundredth issue, we bring you 100 essential tips with which to take your computer-based music making to the next level

Your environment
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Your working environment should be as conducive to creative activity as possible. If you find that you spend an inordinate amount of time surfing the net when you should be working, create a new user account on your computer just for music, and delete any shortcuts to your web browser. Even better, use a dedicated offline machine for your music. interface or internal card with a breakout box is useful if you often need to swap leads around. If you get a loud clicking sound through your speakers when you turn a certain electrical item in your room on or off, unplug it from the same multiway adaptor as the rest of your kit – this should solve the problem and save your speakers a bit of wear and tear. If you’re unable to use a separate computer for making music, there’s plenty you can do to make a regular computer a bit more

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musician-friendly. Consider buying a new hard drive and installing an OS on it strictly for music. If at all possible, partition the drive into data and OS halves so you can reinstall the operating system without too much hassle. Customising your computer can help speed up your workflow. Put a shortcut to your plug-ins folder on your desktop – this will make installing new plug-ins and managing existing ones much less hassle. Delete unnecessary icons from your desktop, and replace them with shortcuts to your most commonly used programs, such

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Try to keep your leads as tidy as possible to avoid electrical interference and any potentially hazardous cable tangling scenarios. If you’re in a cramped environment you may find that an external audio

1 Unclutter your desktop for a more serene working environment

| COMPUTER MUSIC 100TH ISSUE TUTORIAL

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If you stumble across an interesting instrument sound or effect setting. Select the Audio tab and click the Advanced button in the Sound Playback panel. If you’re using a PC and can’t record with your machine’s built-in mic input. 5 Make sure you’re using the right speaker setup 1 If you're at high resolution. so take the time to hide any parts of the interface you don’t use. use the documentation to find out before you get shot of it – it could be something useful.t_100tips 029 7/4/06 9:26:32 am . but even higher is preferable. Make sure the right Speaker Setup is selected – use Desktop stereo speakers if you’re not sure.ccleaner. use your computer’s font size settings to make it bigger.org/dixml. Many sequencer and instrument interfaces these days are extremely high-detail and display a lot of information at once. If you’re creating large audio files. If your computer is connected to the internet. 07 1 Get rid of all those dodgy files lurking on your HD 3 Customising your sequencer's interface will help you get more music done.com) to tidy up their registry and zap unneeded temporary files.100 computer music tips make music now as your sequencer and sample editor. PC users should try CCleaner (www. but any sample or patch libraries you have as well. so even if your house gets demolished by a meteor you’ll still be able to get your work back. so if your machine suddenly feels slower. If you’re not sure what anything is. you can quickly back up non-audio data by simply emailing it to yourself. or you could invest in another hard drive and regularly back 11 up by copying your folders over manually or using a utility such as DriveImage XML (www. Back up your work regularly – not just your projects. Most webmail accounts now offer hundreds of megabytes of storage space – more than enough when you consider that the average patch or MIDI arrangement is only a few kilobytes. If you find this makes text too small. regular hard disk defragmentation is also a must for both Mac and PC. It can be used as a dedicated mixer screen.runtime. 14 15 1 iPod: handy for more than just playing music 13 One easy method of backing up vast amounts of data is to copy it to your iPod – this enables you to take it with you wherever you go. raise the font size Time management If you work on a lot of projects at once. Head to the Control Panel and open Sounds & Audio Devices. run your disk defrag software. Save instrument and effect patches to a TUTORIAL 100TH ISSUE COMPUTER MUSIC 12 | 029 CMU100. This practice also enables you to get access to your MIDI parts and patches from other machines. Make sure your video card’s resolution is fixed at a decent setting – 1024x768 is a good start. Many computer musicians find that a second monitor helps increase their productivity. These days creating backups is cheap – a DVD writer can be picked up for well under £30. name the folders they reside in with the dates you started them as well as the titles – this will make it easier to keep track of what you’re working on at any one time. 06 Clearing unwanted programs and files from your machine can help you reclaim wasted hard disk space and even CPU cycles. save it immediately before altering it any more – it only takes a couple of seconds. or to display virtual instruments while keeping your automation tracks visible in the main screen. for example. but if you keep experimenting with the sound without doing so. And try to keep all your projects in one folder so you don’t miss any when backing up your work. it could be because it’s set up to be a subwoofer output – a strange quirk of many motherboard-hosted sound systems. you may never be able to recreate the same magic. No more excuses! 08 09 10 Most sequencers offer at least some degree of customisability.htm).

This can be loaded up instead of your sequencer’s default ‘New project’ when you begin a new 19 22 20 1 Check those levels before you start recording! Computer optimisation If you use a MIDI keyboard controller to enter information into your sequencer. | COMPUTER MUSIC 100TH ISSUE TUTORIAL CMU100. arrange your mixer sensibly so you can make quick adjustments at mixdown time. When your computer is recording audio it’s at its most susceptible to errors caused by background functions. so make sure your account is the only one logged into the machine before you start. so make sure you turn them all off before you start recording. if you’ve been really struggling with a track for a long time. Presumably you’re not going to need to change profiles on your machine during a recording session. Group sounds by category. you can save it in its entirety. and consider routing sounds of the same type through a submix channel – this will enable you to change the volume level of every sound in that category using just the one fader. Mac users can simply turn down or mute the alert volume level in the OS X Sound Preferences. allowing you to get on with composing or recording immediately. take a break and do something else. but it’ll give you a little extra CPU overhead to help you get your track finished. you can give yourself a little breathing space by increasing your audio interface’s buffer size. you might be pushing your CPU too hard. Similarly. It only takes an inopportune system sound playing at the wrong time to ruin a take. If digital clipping is present in the sample there’s no real way to reverse the damage. like Logic and Live. When you’re using a lot of instruments or effects and your sequencer’s CPU load is peaking. piece.make music now 100 computer music tips specific folder for the appropriate plug-in you’re using to create an easily accessible patch library. or delete them if they suck. In Windows. To do a similar thing in Reason. move them into the main folder if they’re good. Windows users should head to User Accounts in the Control Panel. head to the 24 If audio playback starts to break up or glitch at low 25 27 1 Silence those obtrusive system sounds 26 28 1 ASIO4ALL is a must-have for most laptop PCs 030 Sounds and Audio Devices icon in the Control Panel. If you feel a sound has tweaking potential. These days we’ve all got access to so many plug-in instruments and effects that it can be hard to know which ones to use and which are just totally superfluous. it could be that you’re using an unsuitable ASIO driver. save it out for later use. enable you to save individual instrument channels and effect chains. which could result in spoiled takes. Once you’ve 16 18 tested them out them. take a break from listening to it. delays and reverbs on send/return busses. Make sure you’re using the latest drivers for your soundcard. or Control Panel»Display»Screen Saver in Windows.com) if you’re using an onboard sound system. you need to make sure your computer’s latency is set at a reasonable level or you’ll suffer a delay between hitting the note and hearing it play. making any noise in the sample much more obvious. This can be done in Apple Menu»System Preferences»Desktop & Screen Saver in Mac OS X. 23 latency values. or if you’ve got a lot of instruments or effects loaded. for example. if it’s too quiet you’ll have to normalise it. The first thing you should do is turn off your machine’s screen saver. then reassess it. 17 1 Use Reason's Combinator to save your chains Create a template project featuring all the tools you use most often – EQ on every channel. Here. then turn off Use Fast User Switching. click Change the Way Users Log On or Off.t_100tips 030 7/4/06 9:26:37 am . Some sequencers. then select the Sounds tab. When recording live instruments or vocals with a microphone. pack your instrument/effects chain into a Combinator and save it out separately. When working on a complex project. If you find you have your best ideas away from your studio. into which you can stick all those untried plug-in files. use your mobile phone’s voice memo function to record any ideas you have – just make sure you’re in understanding company if you plan on beat-boxing into your Nokia for extended periods. This will introduce latency when recording MIDI and audio.asio4all. Make a subfolder in your plug-ins directory called New. even if it’s working on another project. Use your soundcard’s ASIO driver buffer setting to lower the latency value to an acceptable level. or ASIO4ALL (www. 21 When a track gets to the stage where you feel you’re not making any progress. check your levels before embarking on a mammoth session. select No Sounds from the Sound Schemes tab. so if you make a hot sound.

try turning it down to a lower value. Mac users can get rid of the cycling desktop background by heading to System Preferences»Desktop & Screen Saver and disabling the Change Picture option. it may be intrinsically lacking bottom end. and playing with the individual volume levels of each.kjaerhusaudio.t_100tips 031 7/4/06 9:26:41 am . The idea behind this is that the 29 secondary drive doesn’t have to cope with all the demands of running the OS. You may find you get better disk performance if you use a hard drive other than the one your OS boots from to record and store audio. and click OK.100 computer music tips make music now To claw back even more CPU cycles.sadglad. Check out the cm DVD and http://freesound. In Windows. 37 36 If you’re using a lot of effects on a channel. If you’re on a network. Unfortunately. It’s common practice for producers to layer up multiple samples of the same type in order to achieve a full sound.digitalfishphones. Alternatively. If you’re using a lot of 24-bit samples you could economise on processor usage by bouncing them down to one or many 16-bit files. If your CPU’s close to maxing out there are a few things you can do to make your project’s processor overhead a little lighter. etc. The same goes for other drums – it’s important to have a good sound in the first place before you carry out any processing. leaving it free to read and write audio info at the highest speed possible. Drums Getting the right drum sounds is key to creating a professional sounding track. so if you do find CPU usage to be an issue. Prevent this by unsharing any shared folders or disconnecting entirely. Look for another kick drum sound to use instead or layer with the sound you have already. If your kick drum doesn’t sound meaty enough. as they say 38 same note. go to the Control Panel and double-click the System icon. Experiment by loading up four snare samples triggered by the 39 This comes down to personal preference. Again. but in the meantime it’ll save you a few CPU cycles. media players.php). Some instruments feature rendering options with which you can lower the quality of the instrument’s output. make sure the Adjust for Best Performance radio button is selected. no amount of EQ will help in this situation as it can’t add frequencies that aren’t there. but if you’re using a lot of instruments. so use the best quality loops or drum sounds you can get your hands on. you may find they sound better layered up with other drums and percussion. and stop them from loading on start-up. 42 41 Dynamics tools are important when dealing with drum sounds.com/ classic-series. click the Settings button in the Performance panel. 1 Four samples are better than one. Try out a few until you find one you like – check out www. file-sharing clients.upf. try bypassing Certain internet software can really cane your computer’s processor.edu/ for drum sounds by the barrowful. shut down every bit of extraneous software you can – ie. 35 each one individually to see if you actually notice any difference to the sound when its turned off. If your sequencer enables you to change the global sample rate. so try a few different setups to see which suits you. bin it.iua. virus protection. it’s best to turn off any superfluous graphical effects. your computer could take a performance hit if it’s being accessed a lot. Select the Advanced tab. This usually results in a slight reduction in sound quality and CPU usage.com/compressor.html for loads more. you might find compressing drums individually gives you the polished sound you require. the cumulative effect could be enough to give you a useful amount of processor breathing space. but a couple of free ones we’d certainly recommend are Digitalfishphones Endorphin (www. For example. The ways in which drums are compressed vary from producer to producer and project to project.com) and Kjaerhus Classic Compressor (www. as to get the best quality mixdown you’ll have to use the 24-bit sounds. especially if you’re making dance music. Extra system resources can be freed up by closing unneeded Widgets in Dashboard and turning off the Dock’s graphical effects in the System Preferences»Dock menu. A turd is still a turd even with a liberal application of polish. PC users should shut down any non-essential System Tray items. 40 1 Get Classic compression for free from Kjaerhus If you feel your drum sounds are lacking that certain something. this is only a 32 33 30 7 Do you really need all those effects? Be honest… 31 34 temporary solution. you can TUTORIAL 100TH ISSUE COMPUTER MUSIC | 031 CMU100. so try and get your hands on the best compressor plug-in you can. If you can’t tell the difference with or without the effect. Just remember to turn it back up before you export your project as audio. You’ll save processing power and make your mixer less cluttered at the same time.

filter sweeps are all very well. try reducing the velocity of less important beats to give the impression that they’re being played more softly. 48 If you want to create synth sounds that really stand out. Compress it on a separate channel then adjust the make-up gain so that it sounds right with the rest of your beats. and the Redrum outs into the Compressor’s sidechain input. turn down your track’s tempo to get a better idea of what’s going on. Click the Sidechain Solo button on the > Compressor to hear what you're doing. On playback you should see the Gain meter on the > Compressor start to flicker. turn them on one by one to see how they affect the sound. One drum sound you’ll generally need to process on its own is the kick. Running percussion tracks through a little light processing. can help warm them up. the more apparent they’ll be. such as a tube amplification plug-in or even a subtle overdrive or degrader. 46 Synths If you’re a bit of a preset jockey you might not realise the true sonic potential of your favourite synth. The more you detune these extra oscillators. If your synth has loads of oscillators. 49 50 Effects like reverb. In Reason. and if 032 | COMPUTER MUSIC 100TH ISSUE TUTORIAL CMU100. For example.make music now 100 computer music tips create a submix to group any number of drums together on one mixer channel. By programming a more complex drum part you can create more sophisticated effects. chorus and overdrive are as much a part of the overall sound of a synth as the oscillator and filters. you can use your kick drum to trigger a compressor on a channel running a synth or musical loop. Malström and MClass Compressor to the rack. but they’re pretty familiar to the majority of listeners. 44 43 STEP BY STEP Ducking in Reason Compression plug-ins have many uses. such as Ducker or Reason’s MClass Compressor.t_100tips 032 7/4/06 9:26:46 am . 1 Initialise those parameters and get creative! 47 try automating features that most people don’t bother with. or set an envelope to control the speed of an LFO assigned to filter cutoff. If the part sounds too busy. > such as Etheral (in Pads). then add a Redrum. If this is overly powerful. Synth patches can be made to sound phatter with the addition of more voices. 45 If you’re programming your own drum parts and are having trouble getting them to sound right. creating a pumping house-style effect. but be careful not to overdo it – over-processed drums can lose their dynamics or become so distorted that they lose their groove. > 1 Unplug everything and route Malström's main outputs into the Compressor’s audio input. Program a four-to-the-floor kick drum pattern. especially those with sidechain capabilities. or you might have to load up a supplied ‘Init’ patch. There might be an option somewhere on the interface to do this. Try using automation to sync an oscillator’s pulse width modulation to the beat. > 5 Turn the Threshold knob down on the Compressor and you’ll hear the sidechain compression start to kick in. load up the default New Project. Call up a Malström patch with a high sustain level. which can then be compressed for a less clean-cut sound. You can also create your own sub-oscillator by turning a regular oscillator down an octave or two. > 2 3 1 Give your percussion some edge with a touch of emulated tube amplification Load House Kit 1 into Redrum and put it into Run mode. compressing it along with the rest of the beats could result in them being drowned out whenever it plays. For example. > 4 Make sure the Sidechain Solo button is off and record or enter a chord into the Maelström sequencer channel. Plug the > Compressor's output into the mixer. so periodically bypass any such effects to make sure you’ve not lost the original beat’s vibe. Get to know your synth’s effects section inside out. This technique is particularly important when triggering the same sample multiple times. A good first step on the road to synth programming greatness is learning how to initialise your synth’s parameters.

as well as saving on CPU usage. fullsounding track. Try using filters of the same type in series at slightly different cutoff frequencies. This makes its pitch a lot easier to discern.100 computer music tips make music now an element isn’t up to scratch. You may find you need to adjust the octave of the bass sound. To make your synth sounds more expressive. In the Master Section. say). turn the Delay and Reverb effects on and turn up their levels. and put them both into Multi. > 1 There are ways to deal with CPU-hungry synths 56 3 54 STEP BY STEP Programming a lush pad in Z3TA+ So far so unexciting – the sound is pretty basic and very synthetic. Now you can > play chords. If your favourite synth enables you to modulate its pitch with an envelope. Free mode. More expressiveness can be added by using an LFO to control the patch’s overall pitch – assign the Amount or Depth parameter to your mod wheel to control it manually. Some synths demand a great deal of processor power. depending on how the patches are programmed. Set the first two oscillators to Vintage Saw 1. or simply want to hear the notes a little better. Sustain and Release in the Amplitude Envelope panel – check the screenshot to make sure > you’ve got the right kinds of values. routing them through Filter 1. If the part you want to double is a MIDI part. especially if you only have feeble desktop speakers at your disposal. 57 If you’re having trouble getting your bassline in tune with a sample. These filter types work best when used dynamically – ie. Set both oscillators’ Bus values to > 100:0. set the Source to LFO1. change Poly to 8 and set the Render quality to Normal. simply transpose it back down again. try adding a quick ‘hump’ at the beginning of the note. though. when they’re swept using an envelope or LFO.t_100tips 033 7/4/06 9:26:56 am . and consequently makes it a lot easier to tune. so if you normally limit yourself to high. transpose it up a few octaves. at least use headphones until you can afford to buy some – these will give you a better idea of what’s going on with your track’s low-end frequencies. While there’s no substitute for a pair of half decent monitors.0. and try using various envelope settings and cutoff frequencies on either filter for interesting textures and effects. This will make the output of your synth sound more organic as the parameters are affected by your playing style. Synths with multiple filters can be useful when programming lead and bass sounds for dance music. Once you’ve got it sounding right. Now turn up the Attack. 59 60 Filling the frequency range is key to getting a good. We want this to modulate the pitch. use a separate plug-in instead. Click the Effects button. Set the filters up in series so that the sound passes through one then another. Range to 0-1. Be sure to filter out the very bottom of the sine (50Hz and below. tie parameters such as cutoff frequency to controls on your MIDI controller such as velocity. experiment with any band-reject or band-pass modes on offer. so we must turn our > attentions to the Modulation Matrix. > Time to enhance our basic pad sound with a few effects. as sonic energy that low takes overall dynamic headroom away from the rest TUTORIAL 100TH ISSUE COMPUTER MUSIC | 033 CMU100. so you might find it helps to double your bass part with a sine wave tuned to as low an octave as possible while still being audible. 55 1 Start by selecting the Initialize option in Z3TA+’s Program menu. and Destination to All Osc Pitch. Switch LFO1 on by setting Wave 1 to Triangle. 6 Bass Bass can be a difficult thing to get right.or low-pass filtering. get around this by exporting single or multiple notes as audio and loading them into your sampler. > 5 Set Filter 1 to any of the low-pass filter types and set the Cutoff to 3000Hz. Set the Modulation effect to Chorus/Phaser and you’re done.4%. Curve to U-Lin-. Most plug-in synths feature multimode filters. simply copy it onto the track that triggers your bass synth. > 2 Set both oscillators’ Phase values to 150 degrees. This can lend a more ‘immediate’ quality to the sound. Transpose > Oscillator 2 up by seven semitones. > 4 In the first row of the Modulation Matrix. aftertouch or the mod wheel. This can 51 52 53 impart a human touch to lead sounds. 58 You can emphasise certain parts of your track and make them sound weightier by getting your bassline to double them.

but they’re not always desirable. you can simply lower their volume using your audio editor’s pencil tool. This can be removed with a high-pass filter set to a low cutoff frequency – around 30Hz. but a bit random. This can add the necessary dynamics to make the start of the note stand out. > 1 Begin by selecting the SubTractor synth. for example. If your bassline and kick drum are clashing. but here we’re going to process a more mid-range > bassline using Reason’s built-in effects. you’ll probably find that adding a low-pass filter makes it sound better. iTunes can be used to rip uncompressed audio files from CD to WAV or AIFF format. Don’t set the filter too high. making it more percussive and its rhythm easier to discern. 65 When sampling from vinyl you may find that you get a lot of low-end noise.net/) and trim them down to size. but generally it’s a better idea to get the two co-existing. If there are only one or two noises in your sample. > 4 5 That’s cool. These can add character to your tracks (a la Portishead). though. > 63 64 Next comes the Unison effect. > 6 This effect works better with Sync mode on and the Rate set to 3/16.Freq. Run it through a chorus unit > with the same settings as we have here. If you prefer working in | COMPUTER MUSIC 100TH ISSUE TUTORIAL CMU100. We’ve increased both values over their default settings for > more crunch. try applying an EQ cut to the kick drum from about 80Hz down – most frequencies below this are generally only taken up with bass or so-called sub-bass frequencies. process samples in your audio editor before loading them into your sequencer.sourceforge. delay-based effects such as chorus and flanging don’t work well with really low bass parts. 1 Give us a WAV: rippin' it up in iTunes 034 67 68 Another problem you may encounter when sampling If you always max out your CPU due to over-ambitious plug-in use. you’ll find you get noticeably better quality results ripping the tracks digitally rather than sampling them through your soundcard. Next in the chain.make music now 100 computer music tips 61 STEP BY STEP Making a crunchy bass in Reason of the track without actually benefiting it in any way.t_100tips 034 7/4/06 9:27:05 am . Program a bassline in the octave starting at the note C1. 66 from vinyl are clicks and scratches. leaving you with the just the low-end groove. Beautiful! We’ve also added a Phaser before the Unison effect for more modulation mayhem. and it’s totally free – you can then open the resulting files in Audacity (also free and cross-platform – see http://audacity. This time. as you’ll start removing frequencies from the sound itself. > 2 3 That’s pretty bouncy. 62 If you’ve sampled a bassline from a record that’s not entirely ‘clean’ (ie. but we’re not quite surfing on sine waves yet. Generally. If your synth bass sound lacks mid-range punch. add a distortion unit. all we’ve done is turned up the Detune amount to give a nice thick > mid-range buzz. which is to be avoided unless you want to intentionally thin it out. Sidechain compression can be used to ‘duck’ the bassline when the bass drum kicks. 3 EQ and/or sidechain compression can be used to tidy up your basslines Sampling If you lift samples from CDs a lot. > Pukka. there are sounds present other than the bass part). but it could be cooler – turn the SubTractor’s LFO1 Amount control up to about 90 and set its mode to F. This filters out high frequency sounds. try layering it with another bass sound or even an acoustic instrument patch from a ROMpler or real-world recording.

This enables you to create fades by simply dragging the edge of > the sample. Effects processing Effects and processing are as much a part of any track as virtual instruments and audio recordings. you could loop the tail portion of the sample. > 1 To zoom in and see a smaller section of the sample more closely. percussive sounds are susceptible to timing problems if not sliced correctly. This effect puts your sounds in a virtual space. Listen to the sample and locate the part you want > to edit. pitch or filter settings using automation. save the sound using the Export as WAV option in the > File menu. By turning up the attack time you can make a sample come in more smoothly. then re-import them and turn off the original tracks. Short. use your software’s fade out/in function to apply an extremely short fade where the click occurs. check the CM Studio and Library on the cm DVD for a selection of alternatives. > 2 3 Use the selection tool (the icon above the magnifying glass) to select an unwanted part of the sample. placing them all in the same tailor-made environment.com and www. so use an audio editor like Audacity to cut them up. although this won’t sound as natural in action as our first suggestion. 76 77 Reverb is one of the most frequently used effects. so when you try to get a piece of live playing looping along with the rest of your track. and the vast majority of tracks feature at least light use of reverb at some point. for Mac and PC. you’ll need a media player that supports the format. try using a variety of samples instead of just one to create a more human-sounding 71 performance. If you get a click at the start or end of a sample on a sequencer track. you can afford to have longer reverb times and less severe damping because there’s more room in the soundscape – if you’re creating a fast piece with a lot going on. though this works best with longer. If you want the sound to fade out over time. zoom in as close > as possible. > If you need to fade a sound in or out. For the greatest editing accuracy. while turning the release level down makes the end more abrupt and snappy sounding. Once you’ve got rid of everything you don’t need. you may find it goes out of time. Live musicians can’t keep time as well as computers can. The first is to timestretch it in your sampler or sample editor. Load your audio file by dragging it from the Finder/Explorer into Audacity. too long and bright a reverb 1 Keep it real – apply some reverb! TUTORIAL 100TH ISSUE COMPUTER MUSIC | 035 CMU100. without which your track may sound unnatural. This can be avoided by cutting the sample into individual beats and playing it back along with the rest of the track. 78 If you’re creating a slow. > 4 Press Ctrl/Cmnd+X to cut the highlighted section of the sample. Alternatively. use the envelope tool to the right of the selection tool. If you want to audition a large number of 24-bit samples. This will stop the channel quickly going from silent to loud or vice versa.com). By deploying a reverb plug-in as a send effect you can use it on several tracks at once. sustained notes.itunes.quicktime. atmospheric piece. Alternatively. If you have a sample you really like but that’s too short for your purposes. but iTunes and QuickTime are available for free (www. you could vary the sample’s volume. Windows Media Player doesn’t.100 computer music tips make music now your sequencer. 73 74 72 Don’t overlook your sampler’s amplitude envelope. make sure they’re accurately edited. turn the decay amount up and the sustain value right down.t_100tips 035 7/4/06 9:27:14 am . use the magnifying glass icon at the top left-hand > corner of the interface. so if your sampler offers a ‘round robin’ feature. If your sequencer’s native plug-ins aren’t up to scratch. so it’s important to use the best quality plug-ins you can get your hands on. which is what causes the noise. export processed tracks as audio. although this option is not available in every program. there are a few things you can do to stretch it out. > 5 1 Sample looping definitely works best with notes that go on for a bit Repeating the same sample over and over again can sound unnatural. 75 69 70 STEP BY STEP Editing samples When using drum sounds that you’ve recorded or sampled yourself.

As a general rule. you’ll probably find it best to have the LFO synced to your track’s tempo. 84 83 Filters are among the most powerful effects in the computer musician’s arsenal. tweak the Q and gain levels to get the sound just where you want it. it’s good to change the track in some way every eight bars or so. With the multiplicity of media available to us these days. try putting a drum fill at the end of a bar or halfway through it.t_100tips 036 7/4/06 9:27:20 am . cut it down a little. If the filter is a plug-in it’ll probably have a ‘sync to host tempo’ option. and should be used with due caution and reverence. but keep it subtle! something as simple as changing a hi-hat part’s rhythm or adding a layered synth can help reinvigorate the piece for the listener. compare it with your work and use it as a corrective guide. ‘Can I tell the same story in less time?’. try turning up the Q value on your EQ plug-in. amp simulator and degrader effects can all be used to warm sounds up. or ‘sweet spots’. Once you’ve found a sweet spot. 90 89 | COMPUTER MUSIC 100TH ISSUE TUTORIAL CMU100. think to yourself. or turn off the EQ plug-ins and start the mix again from the scratch. 1 Change will do you good. Try removing the bassline for a bar or two at the point just before you feel it’s getting tired. If your track gets repetitive or boring. reducing the gain by a few dB and sweeping it through the frequency range. so start with a Rate value of 0. This doesn’t have to be a radical change in direction – Fills are an extremely useful tool for keeping a track flowing – if you feel a section of your track is getting stale. removing any sections that aren’t up to the standard set by the rest of it. Also. then reintroducing it with a subtle variation. You may find that this notch EQ sounds good at particular frequencies. Rather than deciding on an arbitrary resonance level. perhaps there’s a problem with your source sounds or general mix. load a well-produced track by another artist into your sequencer. Begin by using low values. 85 Overdrive. but used excessively they can do more harm than good. This will go no small way towards easing the potential monotony that repeated sections of a track can cause. you’re probably better off without it. or simply cutting the drum part out for a few beats. 1 Excite those synth parts with a bit of flanging 1 Just the Tonic: sync the LFO to your track's tempo Although equalisation is an extremely useful sound-shaping tool. turn it down a little. Think about where you drop in and take out your bassline. 80 If you feel a sound could do with more bite. it’s important to give the listener something to grab their attention as soon as possible. Mixing in some of the original signal can help take the edge off. 81 1Sounding it out: play with those Q and gain levels for added impact and bite Flanger or phaser effects can add sparkle and movement to your synth parts. Arrangement 86 Unless you’re intentionally creating some kind of long-winded ambient piece or film soundtrack. but try to keep the rate set to a reasonable level – too slow and the processing could distract the listener from other things going on in the track as the effect slowly peaks and troughs. if you’re not sure about a part or section. it’s no substitute for having a decent sound in the first place. This is an important part of most tracks – especially those in the dance music category – and introducing or removing it has a massive impact on the overall feel. When finishing off a track. so try listening to a rough version of your track on a variety of stereo systems to see which parts 79 need bringing out. if it’s part of a synth or sampler it will likely have an option to retrigger the LFO with each note played. Time to re-record.make music now 100 computer music tips will detract from the other sounds. 82 When using a filter with the cutoff tied to an LFO. If you find you have to apply inordinate amounts of EQ to your tracks when mixing. It can be tricky to know when and where EQ should be used.5Hz or thereabouts and go from there. Equalisation (EQ) is another tremendously important processing tool that can have a disastrous effect when misapplied. sweep through the available range while your track plays back – this should give you an idea or what value works best. 88 87 036 As a general rule. Too fast and it’ll just sound wobbly. don’t dawdle for too long at the intro before getting to some kind of interesting musical ideal. then gradually increase the distortion control until you get a good tone – if the sound starts to crack up.

you’ll probably want to start with the kick drum or any drum loops you’ve got going. get rid of or turn down any superfluous effects. so if you find yourself continually applying high-frequency EQ boosts. and make notes about any changes that need to be made. Analyser tools such as VST Inspector enable you to visually compare your tracks to professional pieces. When it's time to come back to it. so use one on your sequencer’s master output and another on the channel with the professional track loaded onto it. > 1 Pull the faders up one by one. 96 1 Elektrik Piano features drastic variations between soft and hard velocity settings 97 manually changing the notes’ velocity levels. as that could alter the sound in other ways. pull all your mixer's faders down to zero. For example. don’t have an instrument part play at the same time in the same frequency range. except for channels with dynamics plug-ins inserted (changing the input > volume will affect their response). you might just spot important things that need changing that you wouldn’t have noticed had you not given your ears a rest. This can be achieved by clearing some space for the vocal in the mix – ie. You might find that resetting > each track’s send level helps too. 99 94 98 Play your draft mix through a few systems to get an idea of what it sounds like coming out of a variety of speakers. Compare each mix on each stereo you use to see which sounds best. When you want to change the volume of a MIDI instrument part at a certain stage in your track. which could make it too loud. or if you must. turn it down until the vocal is nice and clear. Always be sure to give your ears a bit of a break between finishing writing a track and starting work on the mix. 95 If you feel your mix is going nowhere. reduce the sound’s overall level by turning it down in the mixer. When working with vocals. Toning down excessive EQ settings will probably help too. it’s important to make them as intelligible as possible – unless you’re a Napalm Death-style shoutist.100 computer music tips make music now Mixing 91 92 When mixing. For example. a piano patch from a ROMpler will sound tonally different when played at quiet or loud velocities. so try also adding a slight EQ peak just above or below the cut. see if you can use your sequencer’s automation to do it rather than 1 Inspector gadget: size up against the pros 100 STEP BY STEP Quick-fix mix tricks If you want your track to sound good in people’s homes as well as on their iPods. it’s important to remember that boosting a sound’s EQ increases its volume. you could try panning one synth part slightly to the left and another slightly to the right. or you can get creative with the placement of sounds in the stereo field. 93 It doesn’t take long for the human ear to get used to frequency changes in a sound. They display what frequencies are being produced by the mixer channel into which they’re inserted. This technique works in a similar way to the resonance of a filter. you could have a mix with louder drums or slightly less bass. > 2 3 If you’re still having trouble. Consider doing a few alternative mixes – for example.t_100tips 037 7/4/06 9:27:25 am . extreme compressors or muddy reverbs. If you boost anything heavily. take another break before mastering it or listening to it again in case you’ve lost the plot. If you’re making dance music. When you’ve finished the mixdown. of course. emphasising the frequencies around the cutoff point. TUTORIAL 100TH ISSUE COMPUTER MUSIC | 037 CMU100. take a break and A/B your track with a professional mix to make sure you’re not going overboard with the top-end. This can take the form of stereo effects such as delay or reverb. Using an EQ cut helps bring a sound out but can also take away from its weight somewhat. you need to get in on a bit of stereo action. such as over-complicated delay lines.

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