Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Francesca Lombardo Comes to Edinburgh

Great news for all of us deep house fans around Edinburgh way: the fantastic Francesca Lombardo (Rebellion, Crosstown Rebels) will be in town on the 1st December as Illusion presents a fine night at The Third Door.

Looking forward to this one, I’ve been playing her track Wander and Wonder a lot recently and it will be in my next Mixcloud set, which I’ll try and get up this week. Things are kicking off at 10.30pm, but, if you want to get in the mood early, catch the pre-club party at the Assembly Bar from 9.00pm.


Redwood City EP released on Deep Nota

Redwood City is the latest release from Fynn Callum. Released on Deep Nota, the 4-track EP is available now on Beatport, and is on general release from 23rd November.

Fynn’s first release on Deep Nota shows his love of the deeper and jazzy side of house music; from smooth electric pianos, lilting trumpets and soulful vocal accents inspired by the sounds of classic deep house to more progressive and contemporary driving basslines, chopped chords and breakbeats.

Analogue Summing

So, feeling compelled to write something following a post on forum regarding whether or not analogue summing was important, I thought I would publish my response here as well:

Summing is a tricky one. Back in the days of DAWs with bad arithmetic, a lot of people thought that the DAW never got its summing right. These days, the maths that drive the DAW is really pretty good, and the sum output should be the arithmetically perfect mix of what went into it. So, as with the whole analogue thing, what people look for are the imperfections.

A lot of the interviews with producers in Sound on Sound mention analogue summing, saying things along the lines of “the Dangerous 2-Bus gave us a sound that summing in Pro Tools just couldn’t”, but as with all the discussions of DAW vs analogue summing I’ve read in the past, there is nothing scientific about these comments, everything is always subjective. It would be very nice for someone to conduct a proper double-blinded comparison with sufficient replication to try and get some statistical significance (or not).

So, with analogue summing, using a regular desk or summing mixer, you’re possibly looking to impart the sound of tubes, transformers etc, rather than getting pristine quality. Additionally, you also have to consider the fact that you can end up needing a lot of D/A conversion to sum outboard, and that gets expensive and, for many producers, may not even be possible. Let’s say that I have an Apogee DA16X, giving me 16 channels of superb DA conversion. Do my productions only have 16 tracks? No. So, therefore, I’m going to have to sum internally down to 16 tracks. And if I’m going to do that and be happy with the quality for that, why not just sum to a single stereo buss and then just send two channels out and back through something analogue?

That said, from a mixing perspective, there can be advantages to doing things that way, even if you go down to 8 channels. I generally all of my mixing in the box, all automation, effects etc. What I’ll then do, is run out my kick and bass as 2 mono channels and three stereo pairs of stems to my mixer or other outboard. I’ll zero everything, then mix those stems bringing up the faders and possibly adding a bit of eq and/or compression, then print that mix back as a final stereo mixdown. Then I’ll zero the controls, and do it again, and again, maybe over the course of a week. The differences in the final mix can be subtle, but sometimes one just sounds ‘better’. Yes, you can do that in your DAW, but sometimes breaking free of complete recall of every parameter can be a blessing, if that’s how you like to work of course…

If funds were unlimited, I’d probably mix or sum in the analogue domain, but would that be for sound quality? Probably not. However, as they are very tight, I think the money is best spent on good monitors and acoustic treatment: a mix is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.

A couple of articles you might want to check out:…s/qa0604-5.htm…light-0612.htm

Deep House Remix Opportunity

I am currently working on a new deep house track, Herd of Elephants, which was started in a well-known Edinburgh coffee shop (I’ll let you work out which one…). I’m looking for a couple of Beatport genre-friendly remixes to make a three track EP, which I’ll try and get released somewhere.

I’d like to try and get submissions in by the end of May, and I’ll pick my two favourites for the release. I still have my Rebeat trial to take advantage of, so it may go through there and hopefully make it to iTunes, Juno Download etc…

Please don’t add too much compression (or any limiting) on the master buss and leave a few dB of headroom for mastering purposes. Upload submissions to Soundcloud and privately share them with me (with downloads enabled).

I look forward to hearing your submissions!

Listen to the original (still a work in progress) here

Download sample pack here

Rambla (Original Mix)- Hobonuts

Released last month on Gastspiel on the Deep Down in Paris vol. 5 sampler, this tune beings with a shaker-driven intro supporting the techy, plucked chord stab, this is a slowish building track. We add a new synth and bring the kick back in at 1.01, but we don’t get the bass dropping until 1.33, but when it does, it’s sparse simplicity allows plenty of space for the percussion and the interplay of the synths to breathe.

The arrangement of the track is fairly straightforward, continuing without too much variation other than some heavily ‘verbed vocals until a simple breakdown at 3.05 until we drop again and continue as before. We get to the main break at 5.09; we then get the introduction of the top line fading in to add some variation. When the drop hits at 6.11 things stay pretty much as they are until the track wraps up.

This is perfect bar culture deep house: might not fill the floor, but the involuntary head-nodding that you get from the groove, coupled with the repetitive, simple arrangement makes this the perfect soundtrack for those upmarket brushed-steel bar sets.

If only more deep house could be like this.

Testing Times

I read a lot of reviews of audio tech products, synths, preamps, compressors, EQs, software and hardware and the reviews I read are generally incredibly thorough. Boutique outboard is dismantled to check build quality, given the Windt Hummer test to check for potential ground loop problems and distortion and bandwidth figures quoted; and that’s all in addition to how it sounds. There is little to complain about in terms of detail.

However, is that review sufficient to make a purchasing decision? A lot of these reviews seem to lack one critical component: a blinded scientific comparison between the product under review and its competitors. I know this would add complexity to a review: it would take at least two people for a start, and other pieces of gear may not be available for comparison, but I think this type of test would really allow people to make better informed purchases.

For example, when I read a review that describes a new digital converter as, let’s say, producing ‘an open, clear sound with good separation of individual instruments and excellent stereo imaging’, I would have more confidence in that statement if the reviewer was able to tell this unit apart from its competitors, or perhaps cheaper competitors, in a blinded test.

I remember reading an article in which a number of top engineers took part in a ‘shootout’ between D/A converters, there was no clear consensus on one unit in particular sounding ‘better’. Unfortunately, these were all high-end units; it would have been very interesting if some prosumer and consumer-level converters were also included. Would the golden ears be able to choose between Apogee and M-Audio, or Prism and MOTU? I wonder, though, if perhaps the industry might be scared of the results.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the sound, and that is often highly subjective. Given that the end product is more commonly delivered as compressed mp3s, rather than CDs or vinyl these days, perhaps the arguments about squeezing every last sample of quality from the studio is less relevant now than it used to be. I’ve not heard people in the clubs complaining that the bassline is from a soft-synth rather than a MiniMoog, so perhaps I’m worrying over nothing…

The Maschine Mikro

Following the success of Native Instruments’ Maschine comes the Maschine Mikro, a stripped down piece of hardware for those with either more limited wallets, or those needing a bit more in the way of portability, but with exactly the same power of the Maschine software.

If you’ve not checked out the Maschine before it is, fundamentally, a groovebox: everything you need to make a complete tune (once you add a computer…), albeit with the advantage of a full-size screen, rather than squinting and menu scrolling on the grooveboxes you may have used before. Having myself previously struggled with a Yamaha RMX-1 and a Roland MC-303, I’m quite glad in the change of working method! However, as Maschine has no real synth engine of its own, it perhaps has more in common with Akai’s MPC range of sampling boxes, although Maschine does have the useful ability to host VST instruments and effects.

The take-home point is that the Maschine hardware is just a controller: it needs to be connected to your computer running the Maschine software to do anything. My main reason for buying a Maschine Mikro was that I was in the market for a new pad controller and percussion library anyway, so Maschine seemed like the perfect choice, with the alternative workflow of the Maschine software an added bonus. The pads have a great feel to them and have encouraged me to develop my finger drumming skills, and the smaller footprint fits in my studio setup more easily than the original Maschine.

The included sounds are very comprehensive: they range from world percussion, through 60’s acoustic kits and on to contemporary electronic kits. In addition to the drum and percussion sounds, there are also a number of synth and musical samples, ready to be mapped to the pads.

I’d almost forgotten how inspirational it was to just play some sounds in live, and add all those deep house conga fills in in real time. There are loops and grooves that I just don’t think I’d have come up with I’d been programming with the mouse. Also, as mentioned before, Maschine can host VST plugins. I’m imagining that I will be taking advantage of this in the near future, as I get to grips with Logic Pro, and may well end up using Maschine as a VST ‘wrapper’.

For me though, the most useful feature is one that allows Maschine to fit in with my workflow in Ableton Live. Before arranging, I work predominantly in the clip view. Maschine allows you to drag loops you’ve created in the Maschine sequencer plugin into an empty clip in Live as either audio or MIDI. This allows me to create a whole bunch of loops in Maschine, then work with them as audio in Live. That way, if you don’t want to mess around with learning the Maschine sequencer and its scenes and so on, you can use it solely as a loop creation tool and continue to work in your sequencer of choice. So far, I’ve had a couple of bugs with this, which hopefully NI will address in future updates, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed by moving a couple of warp markers.

To summarise then, the Maschine software is fairly intuitive and deeply powerful, with a superb range of included sounds, which can be supplemented with additional -pay for- packs. The Maschine Mikro loses some of the real-time control that you get with the original, due to the cut down encoder complement, and you’ll spend more time looking at your computer as the Mikro loses a display. For the money though, I think it’s a pretty inspiring piece of kit. I’ve had mine for three months and feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.

This article first appeared on NowThenRecords‘ website.

Of Monitors and of Monitoring…

So, you’ve been producing on your headphones or some old hi-fi speakers, and you’re ready to go out and get yourself a new pair of studio monitors. This is going to be the addition to your studio that really changes your productions: you’ll be able to hear all those little details you couldn’t hear before; you’ll eq better, compress better and pan better. You’ve got a budget of, lets be mathematical about this and say £x, so you go out and buy a new pair of monitors that cost exactly £x, the best pair of monitors you can afford. Is that the right thing to do? In most situations, probably not.

It might be easier if you think of your budget not as how you have to spend on your monitors, but how much to spend on your monitoring. Being able to hear what is going on in your mixes is perhaps the most important thing to get right when trying to make informed decisions about your productions and making mixes that translate well to other systems. What you hear isn’t just a function of your monitors, but of a whole chain, from the DA conversion in your soundcard, through any monitor controllers, the monitors themselves, how the monitors are placed and what the rest of the room is like. You may well find that you get the best monitoring environment if you apportion a, sometimes not insignificant, part of your budget to some of these other variables, rather than blowing the whole lot on the monitors themselves.

As you might guess, this is a pretty big topic, and so there will probably be a few posts on more specific aspects of the subject. I’ll try and give a bit of an overview here of some of the things that have worked for me, which don’t cost a huge amount of money and, hopefully, don’t require that you rearrange all your furniture to get yourself a decent monitoring environment.

The first thing, that has probably made the biggest difference for me, is to try and get rid of any hiss and hum that might be emanating from your speakers. Ground loops can be a big problem here. If you can, get hold of a power filter/surge protector (the latter is a good idea anyway) with multiple outlets. These don’t have to cost an arm and a leg and can help get rid of some ground loops. Different power outlets can often be at different potentials, leading to current flow when different bits of gear are plugged into different outlets. By plugging computer, soundcard and monitors into the same outlet, you can sometimes get rid of some problems, just make sure and count up how many amps you’re drawing! If you’re using a laptop, sometimes disconnecting the power and running on the battery can make a huge difference. For critical mixing tasks, this can sometimes be a big help.

Try and mount your monitors on proper stands with as much mass as possible, some can be filled with sand for this purpose. If your monitors are just sitting on your desk, you can get problems as the sound from the speakers bounces of the desk and mixes back in with the sound coming at you directly, this can cause comb filtering. Additionally, placing some foam ‘wedgies’ –the type with the pyramid patterns are good for this, and not too expensive- at the acoustic ‘mirror points’ on the side walls to try and break up as many reflections as you can is often a good first step on the road to more thorough acoustic treatment.

Additionally, if you’re using stands, it can sometimes be easier to achieve a good monitor placement. You’ll want to try to get the monitors forming an equilateral –or sometimes isosceles!- triangle with your head, pointing in slightly (if you can’t really see the sides of the monitor cabinets, that’s usually pretty good) with the tweeters at ear level or the monitors tilted slightly so a line coming straight out of the tweeters is aimed at your ear height.

If you can, try not to have your setup with speakers tightly in the corners of rooms or against a wall, although sometimes this is unavoidable. If your speakers have ‘placement correction’ controls –they often high pass filter the bass or allow cut or boost of the low and/or high frequencies- experiment with those to try and find the best settings. To do this, you’ll want some reference material. One easy way to test things is to draw an ascending chromatic scale in your DAW playing back a sine wave in a soft synth. Sit in your monitoring position and hit play, the notes should sound at equal volumes. If you hear louder or quieter notes –due to interference creating room nulls and resonances- you can adjust the settings, or at least be aware of which notes are problematic and make informed mix decisions. The excellent Sound on Sound has a bass staircase mp3 here. Additionally, playing back some tracks you know well can be a big help and never underestimate the power of listening to your mixes on as many systems as possible!

That probably covers it for the quick and easy fixes for now, but chances are good that we’ll revisit a lot of these things in future posts. If anyone has some more easy solutions and suggestions to improving your monitoring, I look forward to hearing them!

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