Archive for the 'Music' Category

Ableton Live 9: additions and wishlists…

A few weeks ago, Ableton announced the latest update to their Live studio and performance DAW, Live 9. Having  been a Live user since version 1.5, I am always interested in the latest update to the DAW I find most inspiring; although, after all the bugs and issues I had with Live 8, I might wait for a dot update before upgrading. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve all seen the new features, but I thought I might list a few of the things I’d like to see in the next update…

I’m aware that I do not know Live as deeply as I possibly should, once I find a way to do what I need -no matter how convoluted- I tend just to use that rather than look for alternatives. So, if there are things in my wishlist that I Live can do already, please comment and let me know!

The wishlist:

While all these updates are nice, there are a few things that I’d like to see in forthcoming releases:

Mono tracks. I don’t need all my tracks to be stereo. I’d like to select whether a particular channel is mono or stereo so that I’m not using twice as much processing power when I’m running effects on that channel.

Groups within groups. Yes, there are ways to route things, but I’d like to be able to nest a few things. For example, I often use two or three different tracks for the bassline. I’d like to be able to group those, then have that group in another group with the kick drum so I can compress the low end together.

An easier way to turn clips into songs. I always start out in session view, separate channels for different sounds and instruments, then a few variations within each channel. Once I’m there, I’d love to have an easier way of getting those variations into the arrangement view would be nice. A ‘paintbrush’-style tool in the arrangement view that allows me ‘paint’ sounds down on the timeline from the ‘palette’ of sounds that are available in the session view of that channel would be absolutely fantastic.

‘Pinging’ an external effect to set up device latency. How fantastic would it be if the external effect device just had a button that said ‘ping’ or similar, which would then send a test tone to the external effect and learn how long it takes for the audio to make the round trip, ideally to within a tenth of a millisecond or better. Perfect.

There are a few more little niggles, but that should cover it for now. As for what is in Live 9, I bought the full version of Cytomic’s The Glue quite a while ago (excellent plugin, can’t recommend it highly enough!), so the new Glue compressor is just typical of my musical investments, but reassuring that I backed a winning horse I suppose! The audio to MIDI feature is what I think will make the biggest difference to my workflow though: looking forward to recording those solos and ear candy ornamentations with the guitar, changing them to MIDI and playing about with synths, electric pianos and anything else I’m not very good at playing! Bring on the release of Live 9!

Oh, and Push as well, that looks handy…


Fynn’s Autumn to Christmas Sounds

It has been long overdue time for a new chart on Beatport, so, without further procrastination, some of my favourite tunes of recent weeks that will likely be the cornerstone of my net mix and upcoming gigs:

Para Mis Amigos featuring Omegaman (Instrumental) – Omegaman, Empresarios – Fort Knox Recordings

Can Get Witcha (Original Mix) – Dimitry Liss – Eyepatch Recordings

NYC Sunset (Original Mix) – Jonny Bee – UM Records

Dharbour (Original Mix) – Animal Picnic – Delicious Recordings

No Sympathy (Original Mix) – Maya Jane Coles – Elite Records

Brotherman (Original Mix) – Detroit Swindle – Freerange Records

Deep is All You Need (Evren Ulusoy’s Cosmic Deep Dub) – Edmund – I Records

Child (NY Stomp Remix) – George Fitzgerald – Aus Music

Sunday Gathering (Dyed Soundorom Remix) – Hanfry Martinez, Terence:Terry: La Vie En Rose

Twisted Sister (Original Mix) – M.A.N.D.Y. – Get Physical Music

Hope you all approve!

Impedance, Hi-Fi, Headphones and Guitars

Impedance is an important part of audio technology, all the way from plugging your guitar into your amp, your amp into your cab, the cabinet microphone into the preamp and all the downstream connections, both digital and analogue, right the way to your listening experience, from speakers to plugging headphones into your mp3 player. However, how much do we know as producers and music listeners, and how much do we need to?

In all actuality, most of us don’t really need to know that much about it, previous generations of telecom, audio and electrical engineers have addressed a lot of the issues for us and, generally, if we plug something into something else, everything has been designed so that it will just work. There may, however, be a couple of things you may want to consider…

What is impedance?

For those of an electrical persuasion, impedance (Z) represents the total resistance of a particular circuit including, not just the resistors, but also the resistive contributions of other components such as capacitors and inductors. Like resistance, it is measured in Ohms. Voltage (V), current (I) and resistance (R) are related following Ohm’s law: V=IR; power (P) is the product of the voltage and the current so P=VI or P=V^2/R if we do a bit of substituting and rearranging. From that, we can see that resistance/impedance can affect our power output. And that is probably as far as we need to go here.

What does this mean for my hi-fi?

Most hi-fi separates equipment that connects using RCA/phono connectors has been designed with appropriate output and input impedances, so there isn’t usually anything to worry about. However, there might be one area where it pays to think about impedance: you can generally ignore marketing copy that tells you to spend a fortune on hugely expensive speaker cables, for most purposes, using thick, 2-core mains cable will be fine. What you are aiming to do is to reduce the resistance of the cable to ensure maximum power transfer to your speakers. Resistance is proportional to the length of the wire and inversely proportional to the cross-sectional area, the thicker the wire, the lower the resistance. The cheap doorbell cables that come with a lot of mini systems is often quite high resistance, and you lose a lot of the power as heat. Most hi-fi separates equipment that connects using RCA/phono connectors has been designed with appropriate output and input impedances, so there isn’t usually anything to worry about.

What does this mean for my headphones?

Something you may have seen in the specifications list while headphone shopping is the impedance rating. Generally speaking, higher impedance headphones will be quieter for a given volume setting on your device than lower impedance headphones. However, you do need to consider the efficiency of the driver (you may see it in the specifications as a number followed by dB/mW). Generally though, if you have your mp3 player at 100% volume with the included earbuds (possible around 16 or 32 Ohms, you’ll probably deafen yourself, but plug in some 250 Ohm ‘phones, and you may find you’re able to listen quite comfortably. You’ll also draw less current (as V=IR), so the battery might last longer, but remember you’re trading off volume: you don’t get something for nothing.

Higher impedance headphones are often used for more ‘professional’ audio applications. The increased number of turns of wire can lead to a better ‘motor system’ in dynamic headphones, improving the general sound; also, the reduced current draw can reduce distortion in the amplifier. So, for ‘pro’ applications when you’re plugged into a powerful amp, high impedance is the way to go, for portable devices go with low impedance if you like volume.

What does this mean for my guitar?

If you’re recording your guitar DI, then make sure that you are plugged into a high-impedance (Hi-Z) input. A good rule of thumb is an input impedance of more than ten times the output impedance. Guitar pickups usually quote the DC resistance figure (there is a lot of wire when you start to add a lot of turns!) and are also inductive. Direct inputs for guitars are often rated to 1 mega ohm and higher to present a large load. Additionally, make sure that you use a reasonable quality guitar cable, as some cables can exhibit sufficiently high capacitance to cause problems. And what are these problems? A loss of high end frequencies (the output impedance and cable capacitance act as a high-cut filter) and a reduction in the guitarist’s beloved sustain.

The other area the guitarist needs to pay attention is when plugging a speaker cabinet into their valve amplifier. Valve amplifiers can be very sensitive to inappropriate loads on the output transformer. Without an appropriate load on the secondary coil, the energy in the magnetic field of the primary coil can’t be completely transferred, collapses back and sends that energy back to the valve as a ‘flyback’ voltage. This is usually not good. For that reason, use appropriately rated amps and cabs (a number of amps have different rated outputs for connecting to different cabs) and contact the manufacturer if you are unsure.

Deadmau5 says: “We all hit play”

Whether you are a fan of Deadmau5 or not, his success and high profile mean that people to tend to take notice when he says something, particularly if that something may be seen as courting a bit of controversy.

Deadmau5’s recent comment in his united we fail blog post regarding big name EDM djs and producers not really doing much more than hitting play for their live sets led to a flurry of opinions on Twitter, followed up with plenty of articles and blog posts. Here’s mine.

First and foremost, as I’ve said in a couple of previous blog posts (here and here) all I care about is the music; if all you do is press play, I’m not really going to complain, just keep the good tunes coming. As a solo EDM producer, my live sets in the past have been based on triggering pre-programmed clips in Ableton Live using a Livid Block controller, bringing pre-made kick loops, basslines etc. in and out. I did start to get a bit more sophisticated when I got my Machinedrum and then my Monomachine, but, for me at least, trying to program sounds in real-time just slowed the development of the set right down. I’d rather have more pre-made sounds and loops, and keep things moving along.

A lot of the comments on Deadmau5’s blog posts seem to be mixing up live sets and dj sets; I don’t think Deadmau5 was suggesting that djs turn up with a prerecorded 4 hour mix and hit play. However, I do disagree with his comment about beatmatching not being a skill. There is more to it than ‘counting to 4’, although it is a skill that most people can learn quite quickly with practice; take a look at this episode of Faking It (may be geographically restricted).

That being said, I have no problem with people just hitting the ‘sync’ button. I learned on vinyl, but those sync lights are always glowing on my X1. All the modern developments in technology simply change what the digital dj can do with their time; they can remix tracks on the fly and start to blur the line between a live performance and a dj set.

All in all then, what difference does Deadmou5’s blog post make to the world of music? Probably none. While a bunch of people were arguing and debating his comments, they were mostly djs, producers, music magazines or blogs. Will his comments stop people going to his gigs or end the continuing penetrance of David Guetta into the pop charts? I doubt it.

Going Live- PA and performance sound for the DJ

Now, given that this site is predominantly about house music, I don’t want to head into ‘mobile disco’ territory here. If you’re playing music out, then chances are that you are plugging into an existing system in your venue. If you’re playing big clubs, there will already be an installation waiting to go, and all you need to do is get set up with your tunes in the booth.

What I want to talk about here, are some of the situations in which the deep house dj might find themselves, where you are playing in small bars, really providing a background soundtrack for the night, rather than taking over the entire room. And it is these situations that can often require a bit more thought and preparation.

First of all, make sure what is expected of you and be clear on what your role is for the night. Talk to the manager and try and get a feel for what sort of atmosphere they want for the venue. If it is a bar, with people sitting talking, think about your volume carefully. I have heard a lot more people complain that the music is too loud than complain about it being too quiet.

Find out (ideally several days in advance) what the venue’s music setup is and work through a checklist of questions:

Do they have a built-in set up with an amp you can plug into direct from your mixer?

What type of connections?

How far from the amp will your setup be?

How long do your cables need to be?

How is the in-house system set up? Is it summed to mono or does one part of the bar get the left while another gets the right? (This actually seems to happen quite a lot…)

In some venues that are basically bars, there may be a small space suitable as a dancefloor, but without additional sound reinforcement there. One solution I have used in the past is to use a single powered PA speaker on its side, much like a monitor wedge for a foldback mix on stage. Many modern PA speakers are designed so that they can be turned on their sides like this and angled up.

In the case of deep house music, you can’t really skimp on your low frequency extension, so look for speakers that extend down to 50 Hz or below. In a lot of cases, this means looking at 15″ woofers supplemented with a high-frequency horn. Normally, this would cause problems as, once woofers get to above 10″ or 12″, the cross0ver frequency ends up in the middle of the vocal range, reducing intelligibility. However, for most styles of EDM, this shouldn’t cause too many problems, as the rest of the venue system should cover this range well, and the point of this speaker is purely to supplement the bass frequencies in one specific area.

You will also need to consider how to add this additional speaker to your setup. If your mixer has an additional set of outputs, you can sum the L+R pair using appropriate cables to your powered speaker. If not, using splitter cables is perhaps not the best option. If you use one pair of outputs to feed multiple destinations, you will change the impedance load seen be that output, this will attenuate the output, with the amount of attenuation varying by frequency. If your situation requires splitting the signal, consider using an inexpensive small-format mixer, most of which will offer multiple outputs in the form of main, control room, tape outputs and auxilliary sends. An additional useful purchase is a stereo graphic equalizer, allowing you to tailor the sound to the characteristics of the room. Remember that if you soundcheck early, the sound of the room will change as it fills up with people.

Perhaps the most useful tips are the basics: do your homework and find out about the venue system; take many more cables than you need, as well as a box full of adapters; ‘Greal’ your setup, using different colours of electrical tape to label your cables so you can quickly find your way around what can quickly become a complicated nest of wires; buy the best cables you can, the quality of the wire isn’t as important as the connectors and good ones will survive a lot more plugging and unplugging; always carry duct tape and a good few electrical extension cords and multiways.

Hopefully, in most situations when you dj out you won’t have to worry too much about the setup, and any additional equipment you add won’t be nearly as complicated as if you were engineering a live band performance and having to worry about monitor mixes, stage boxes, phase issues etc. However, reading about large concert live sound engineering is never a bad way to spend your time, and it’s always better to know a little too much than not quite enough!

Tell Me (Instrumental)- Andre Crom

The instrumental version was my pick of the three tracks on this release from Andre Crom, which dropped on the 28th May 2012 on Freerange Records. At a head-noddingly reassuring 120 bpm, it was never going to be a late-night dance floor stomper, but I can’t think of another tune I’ve heard recently that sent me away to another place in my head, a place I would much rather have been…

For some reason, the original vocal mix didn’t quite work for me in the same way. I think perhaps that extra addition to the track just tipped it towards being too prominent and attention-grabbing, whereas the instrumental just gets on and does its job quietly in the background.

Equally suited for late night play in a bar as you escape Britain’s rain-infused summers for the warmth of a drink and a leather sofa or for a nice spot next to a Balearic beach, this one will definitely be getting a lot of play and will be appearing in my next mix…

Take a listen at Beatport.

The DJ Collector

I am a big fan of 7” singles. For me, they represent the perfect meeting of form and function and are the greatest ever format for singles. I have too many of the things cluttering up the place in an assortment of random boxes; most of them from bands of whom I’d never heard, picked up on a whim from indie websites, car boot sales and charity shops. I’ve discovered a lot of great bands this way, and some that probably shouldn’t give up the day job.

The one thing I would say about the 7” format though, is that I’m not overly ‘precious’ about it: it, like many other media, is simply a device for transporting music. If I’m out somewhere and hear a great early 70s funk tune, I’m not going to go up and check that the dj is playing an original pressing, it’s the song that counts.

My first residency was playing soul and funk at a Northern night. I was, comfortably, the youngest dj there: being born many years after the Wigan Casino earned its reputation. The combination of my age, my fondness for many genres and my limited student income meant that I wanted access to the most tunes possible, for the smallest outlay, and it seems I committed a terrible sin: I bought compilations.

It didn’t matter that the compilations were on vinyl themselves, it didn’t matter that the compilers had tracked down rarities that were virtually impossible to afford, or even find, on 7” that the other djs hadn’t heard of. All that mattered was that I wasn’t playing original pressings, so I was second-rate.

All I know is that I loved the music, and so it seemed did the people who’d paid their money to get in and skate on talcum powder around their handbags. For the record, I do have a reasonable collection of 45s: original pressings, limited coloured vinyl etc, but they don’t leave the house. They certainly don’t get played on club 1210s set up with so much down-pressure on the stylus that each play eats halfway through the disc.

I’ve said this in previous articles, but for me it’s all about the music, it can be CD, mp3, vinyl, if you play good music I’ll hang around. And if you can find some of those rarities on a compilation that the hard-core collectors don’t have, more power to you. The irony of the situation for me is that it seems I bought some good compilations that, given what they’re going for used these days, seems like they’re becoming collectable themselves…

Audio ‘Engineering’?

In the April 2012 issue of Sound on Sound, the Sounding Off article –a regular column in which people can raise issues and air their thoughts- was written by Jez Wells, a lecturer in music technology. Jez currently has a fellowship with the Royal Academy of Engineering and is interested in collating the training, experience and skills that those who might currently be called ‘audio engineers’ have. It is an interesting read and makes some interesting points. You can find some of the responses to his column on his blog, and they do make interesting reading. Below are some of my thoughts (you might want to read the column first!):

My training is in research science, but I’ve always had a keen interest in music; starting from the childhood piano lessons, through playing guitar in indie bands, until I discovered deep house music and moving more into production and putting together a home studio. I was an assistant professor in viral immunology, but now work solely on music.

To begin with, I have no problem with the use of the term engineer in an audio recording context, regardless of whether someone has a degree or attained chartered status. You can be a great artist without going to art college, and look at the great science that has been done in the past by hobbyists, and the clergy in particular.

I also think that the quote in the article that said “the audio ‘engineers’ you describe are generally not scientifically trained” was perhaps off the mark. I don’t know of any engineers who are scientifically trained; that is not their job, and it shouldn’t be.

Science is an abstract concept, which uses experiment to derive a set of conclusions, which establish a working theoretical framework. Engineering is concrete; engineers take this framework and apply the knowledge to a tangible output. The scientists come up with the rules of fluid dynamics, the engineers build the plane, the scientists work out the laws governing transmission of forces, the engineers build the bridge. Building a bridge is not a place for experiment.

As for the comment about miking a guitar amp, for from being non-scientific, that is the essence of scientific discovery. Pure experimentation is what science is. If you look at the philosophy of the scientific method as put forward by people like Karl Popper, knowledge can only come through experience. If you don’t try that other mic at that other distance at that particular angle off the axis, you can’t know if it will sound better or not.

The major sticking point I see with the term ‘engineer’, is that is purely, and perhaps arbitrarily used to define the people either side of the glass. You can make a very convincing argument that hearing a guitar part and knowing that it needs a 3 dB peaking cut at 2.6 kHz and that compression from a Distressor will sound better than from an 1176 is an artistic skill, rather than an engineering one.

My own personal thoughts are that the recording engineer is artist, engineer and scientist; it takes intuition, technical knowledge and knowing how to experiment to do the job. Engineer is just a job title. They may not be able to play the musical parts, they may not be able to build a mixing desk, they perhaps inhabit the middle ground, maybe they should be ‘artineers’…

The Art of Noise

For the rest of the time when we’re not trying to introduce some form of hiss or distortion to make our tracks sound like they were recorded to tape sometime in the 1960s, it seems like we’re trying to get rid of it. In particular, location and field recordings are often particularly problematic: as soon as you start recording outside of your nicely treated acoustic environment, acceptably quiet recordings become harder and harder to achieve.

While this may not be a problem for a lot of music production where, either the noise will be masked by other sounds, or the noise may be an integral part of the production and the reason you set foot outside of the studio in the first place. Where background noise, hum and hiss can really cause problems though, is in location recording of interviews and dialogue for broadcast, podcasts etc.

This post will cover some of the ways you can use the tools of the modern audio editor to try and reduce the impact of noise on your recordings. I currently use Steinberg’s Wavelab 7 as my audio editor, but you should be able to work in any program that can host VST plugins. Before you start solving problems though, you need to take the time to listen to your recordings and work out what the problems actually are…

Reducing Hum

Ground loops and other issues can often lead to the characteristic 50 or 60 Hz mains hum (depending on where you are) being present in your recordings. The advantage of hum problems is that you generally know what the frequency is; it can sometimes drift around by a few Hz, but it’s quite straightforward to locate and quite narrow band. Buzz is related to hum, but, as there are peculiar distortions involved, can be harder to pin down as some of the frequency content can be enharmonic.

The easiest way to start to deal with hum is by using a parametric eq. For 50 Hz hum, add the first band at 50 Hz with perhaps 12 dB of peaking cut with a very high Q; if the hum moves about a bit, you may need to reduce the Q. As the hum will also be present at the harmonics, you will also need to cut in a similar way (although with smaller gain reductions) at those harmonics. So, if you are in the UK and have 50 Hz hum, cut at 50, 100, 150 & 200 Hz etc. One side effect of using very high Q values is potential phasing problems around the corners, so you will need to listen for artefacts in your signal, to make sure that your not causing more problems than you solve.

Reducing Hiss

Hiss is perhaps the most common of problems, and more difficult to solve than hum, as it can often be very broad-banded, rather than the specific frequencies seen with hum. As such, if you try to solve these issues with eq cuts, you may find you are taking away much more of the signal than you would like. A better solution is to use bespoke broadband noise reduction algorithms. My personal choice is the Sonnox Denoiser (part of their Restore bundle, although the Wavelab versions are cut down from the full plugins) that comes with Wavelab 7, but the freeware Audacity also includes a noise reduction process, which requires the sampling of a noise ‘fingerprint’, which is then applied to the file. If the audio with which you are working has already been edited, you may be able to work with the gaps between words, although noiseprints of >1s often yield the best results.

For most of these processes, their use is always a balance of noise reduction against damaging of the wanted audio: dulling of the high frequencies is a common problem associated with noise reduction processes and, at some point, you just have to make a judgment call as to what degree of noise or quality reduction you are prepared to accept. Perhaps the easiest thing to suggest, at least where the signal to noise ratio is good, is to use an expander with a medium to long attack time to push down the level between words. I prefer to use an expander over a noise gate, as I find gating leaves the results sounding too unnatural. Adding some wide eq cuts at the higher-end of the spectrum can help, but this again can lead to dulling of the wanted sounds. Also, be wary if you use any compression to even out the vocal levels, as this can bring up the noise level between words.

Suppressing other noises

The noises we have covered so far are, in some ways, easier to deal with as the noise is constant, reducing the requirement for complicated detection algorithms. Dealing with sounds such as doors closing, passing traffic, digital clicks, air conditioners switching on, vinyl crackle etc can be much harder to deal with. Some low-end rumbles can be dealt with a high-pass filter or some low-end eq work, but things may not be this simple…

Automating eq’s and filters in your DAW and dealing with these things manually may well be the best solution if you can’t justify, or can’t afford the expense of specific tools such as CEDAR Audio’s products for Pro Tools, BIAS SoundSoap Pro 2 or the Sonnox tools etc. One more affordable VST Plugin for some of those random noises is Waves’s W43 multiband plugin, an emulation of the Dolby Cat43 processor: an invaluable tool for location dialogue editing, which is, at heart, a multiband expander. At the cheaper end of the spectrum, Magix Audio Cleaning Lab or BIAS’ slimmed-down SoundSoap LE 2 or SoundSoap 2 may suit you, but perhaps the most complete package at a price that can be justified outside of the pro-studios is Izotope’s RX2 package.

Summing up

There are many types of noise that can interfere with your recordings and can cause problems with either reducing them, detecting them in the first place, or both. As with many audio processes, there is always a balance to be struck between a problem-solving edit and negatively impacting the wanted audio. One strategy is to chain multiple processes -perhaps a filter, then a noise removal plugin, then expander- to remove noise, rather than try to do everything in one step.

Noise removal and audio restoration is, unfortunately, like so many things in life, the best tools often cost the most; you will get better results with bespoke tools than from using freeware. If you do spend a lot of time editing audio such as location dialogue/interviews for podcasts etc., I do recommend Steinberg’s Wavelab Elements 7, a cut-down version of the full Wavelab, but which still includes the Sonnox tools for noise removal. I would also recommend reading this outstanding article from Sound on Sound on the various noises that can creep into a recording and how to remove it. I also recommend this article (with audio examples); although it focuses on Pro-Tools, the techniques are broadly transferrable; there is a good post on noise removal using Audacity here.

Perhaps the best solution is to try not to record noise in the first place: check your studio set up for ground loops (unplugging laptops and running from the battery can often make a huge difference); record using a pop shield; if you’re recording interviews, stand to shield the hot side of the mic from traffic noise and wind by standing in the way and try and use an appropriate microphone windshield. This, unfortunately, is often easier said than done, and some cleaning up is required, while there area number of almost miracle-working tools available, use your ears to make sure you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Good Ol’ Days (Frank Sebastian Remix)- Alex Deep & Alistair Gillespie

Released at the end of last month on Gooseneck Records, I’ve spent a good amount of time listening to this over the last few weeks, as I wasn’t quite sure whether I was a fan of it or not, or if it would languish at the back of the virtual record box. However, I now have a decision, it’s a grower, and I love it.

At first, I wasn’t sure about that extra kick drum hit at the seventh eighth note in each bar that kicks in (please excuse the pun) from the first bar. I’ve never been a fan of mixing that, it always sounds, to my ears, a bit less than smooth. The acoustic bass elements add an edge of uneasiness as well when in isolation, and uneasiness isn’t something I usually want from my deep house.

Everything changes when the filtered EP chords and vocals come in though, and we’re back in familiar deep house territory. The EP chords are the big switch for this track: when they’re there, you have classic, smooth house music; when they go, you’re back to that harder-edged uneasiness.

All the time though, my foot kept tapping and my head kept nodding, and I suppose you can’t ask for much more than that…

Find it here on Beatport.

fc on Flickr

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