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Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Recording My EP - Introduction

Alright guys, if you’ve been following my blog then you may have noticed that I haven't posted in quite a while. This has been mostly due to being too damn busy to even think about my artistic projects. 

Between work ramping up, moving house and various other projects, this hasn't left me much time for my own music. There’s been a lot of great things happening, but unfortunately not much to write about. 

Thankfully it’s all calmed down a bit and I'm back with a vengeance! I've started working on my original live set and set out on doing more covers shows as well. Most exciting for me is that I've started getting back into the recording of my first original EP. 

Locky Beresford’s first EP

It’s been a while since i’ve mentioned it, but this isn't the forefront of my mind in my creative endeavours. This is my main goal that I've set myself for the year and I get excited thinking about it. 

Basically I've set out the make a 5 track EP that’s been entirely written, recorded, mixed and mastered by me. I’m even going to be doing the artwork for it and overseeing every little bit of the process. 

The reason that this is so exciting for me is that I’ve never released anything that I've written myself… Or even been the main writer in. I'm usually on the other side of the glass recording the artist, or just playing guitar parts. 

This one is all me, I'm going to be picking the sounds, arranging the parts, playing, programming, and trying to create something that I can be really proud of. 

The writing of this EP started late last year and you can find my blogs on my writing process here:

An Overview Of The Writing Process

If you can’t be bothered clicking those links, I’ll give you an overview of how I went about the writing process and how I got to where I am now. 

Back when I started getting serious about writing some originals, I was fairly out of practice when it came to writing. As a result, I would often be a small way through writing a song and give up on it when it wasn't good enough. As a result of this, many good ideas were lost forever as I forgot them.

So, I decided I had to force myself to write and, more importantly, finish some songs. So I set myself a challenge of writing 7 songs in 7 days. I gave myself an hour each day to write a song and have it recorded on my computer (just single guitar and Vox). 

As a result, I very quickly got better and faster at writing songs. Things got a lot easier, I think the songs were better and it was heaps of fun. 

When I finished this project I decided it was time to start work on a recording project and get some songs together. This new way of writing songs meant that I could really get my material compiled quickly. 

So I started my process by writing 20 songs. Once finished, I listened back to the recordings and culled half of the tracks that I didn't feel were strong enough. I took the remaining tracks and spent another hour on each one, refining lyrics, melody and chords and recorded them again. 

Once I finished this process, I listened to all the new recordings I, again, culled half the tracks again, leaving me with 5 songs that I felt were quite strong and cohesive. 

So, What’s Next?

Now I'm getting back into it. I’ve started plans on getting deep into the recording phase of this EP. There’s going to be a lot of experimentation and a lot of different techniques that i’ll be trying out during this recording. 

Throughout the process in going to be keeping up to date with these blogs, trying to give you guys an insight into the process. I know quite a few tricks and tips that I want to share, however I'll also be learning quite a bit as I go, and hopefully you can learn something too. 

I've already started recording and I've already got some information to throw your way. So keep your eyes open for much more from me. 

Thursday, 18 February 2016

My New Studio Space

Good morning (or evening) everybody! I’ve got some great news! I have recently been lucky enough to move from my tiny little apartment into a nice big house. I know what you’re all thinking, “bigger studio space”.

Well, that was my first thought too. And now I’ve finished the basic setup even before finishing the bedroom… or any other room in the house for that matter.

So my better half won’t talk to me any more, but that’s cool because I’ve got a great space to make some music instead. When setting up this space it was very important that it looked good, sounded good, and was nice and functional as a creative environment. 

Picking The Mixing Position

As you may know, there’s a lot of text on the internet about where the best position is for putting your mixing desk. Most claiming that you must have your listening position 38% into the room and you should have a friend carry a speaker around the room while listening to find the optimum position.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a designated studio and has to be used for other things so I picked a spot that was the best logistically while still not being a terrible space. It’s on a short wall (which is good) It’s in the centre of the wall (which is good) and there’s not too much flat space behind me.

The other spot I had picked as a potential spot for my mixing space was alright, however there was a big open window behind me which showed a big open sky. This has nothing to do with the sound, but I knew that if I had my computer screens there, they’d be constantly washed out by the reflection of this window. No use mixing if you can’t see what you’re doing.

Second Listening Space!!!

Now, this is a feature that I think is pretty awesome. I have a great set of home sound system speakers and a nice stereo that I can hook up to my sound card out of another set of outputs. This sound system is pointed at the lounge area of the room in a nice stereo setup.

This is a great feature. Not only do I get a sound system to use for entertainment that’s hooked up to a computer with spotify and all that other stuff for personal listening and lounging about, I also get an instant reference listening position without having to run anything off or leave the room.

I believe that having ways to reference your mixes in different environments is more valuable than any set of studio monitors or headphones can be. You can spend tens of thousands of dollars on a good set of studio monitors, but you’ll always be subject to the limitations of what those monitors can provide you in the space that they’re placed.

This setup is a great way to have my setup with a permanent referencing space and also a great place to show clients how their  mixes are coming along while they chill on the couch. Plus, having the couch there gives some much needed sound absorption.

Everything At My Fingertips

One thing I really wanted to focus on in this room was functionality. While I don’t want to have everything sitting out all the time, I wanted to use the space in a smarter way so that everything that I want to use is easily accessed when I need it. 

For this reason I changed the position of my keyboard. If you’ve seen photos of my old studio, you’ll notice that I had a whopping great 88 key keyboard sitting across my studio desk. This was great in that it was right in front of me when I needed it, but it did get in the way of me accessing my preamps and was not very comfortable to play in that position… also it couldn’t have done much for the sound.

For this reason, I put the keyboard up on a stand next to the studio desk. This means that it’s still right there when I need it, it’s just a little less cluttered and a lot easier to play. I also got to keep an upright piano from the previous owner that sits right behind the keyboard which is pretty cool.

I have all my guitars set out on a 7 rack guitar stand that’s tucked away but easy to reach. On top of that I have a single stand to keep one guitar at really easy reach if I’m picking it up and putting it down a lot.

I’ve still gotta figure out how I want my amp and Axe FX set up, but that shouldn’t be hard. I want to take it slow to make sure I keep things nice and neat so I don’t end up with a messy room that’s hard to look at. 

Acoustic Treatment

Unfortunately I've got to keep this room looking like a social space and can't go all out on sound deadening. As much as I'd like to get heaps of traps, panels and clouds, it's just not too practical. 

Luckily for me the room actually has few flat parallel walls and there's blinds covering most of 2 walls (including the one behind me). These won't absorb heaps of sound but they will tame the high frequency slap back. 

I'm also lucky to have carpeted floors and couches strategically placed in the back 2 corners of the room, acting as a bit of a bass trap. 

Although I don't have plans for too much sound deadening, I would like to add some panels in the critical early reflection positions. This will likely mean having a panel either side of me, a cloud above my head and something in front of me to clean up my stereo image. 

This is a great space and an awesome opportunity to make some sweet, sweet music. I'm looking forward to modding this space to my personal tastes. 

If you have any comments or suggestions on things I sho

uld do, feel free to leave me a message in the comments section below. 

Happy mixing!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Modding My Peavey Amp

Hey guys,

I've been playing with this little Peavey Classic 20 for a while now and I've decided that she needs a little love and some upgrades. 

I'm not very technical with circuit board mods so I thought I'd focus on the easier mods that I can nice and easily. I did some research on various pages and the most popular mods on these amps is simply to replace the speaker and the tubes. 

For the tubes, I chose These guys are great because they make sets of matched tubes for different amps. This is great because you just jump on, pick the amp and pay for them. You can even request a set that are: hot, mid or with more headroom. I went with the mid level set, I wasn't looking for too much gain, but I did want some breakup there. The kit I got included 2 EL84 power amp tubes and 2 ECC83 S preamp tubes (replacing the old 12AX7A’s that were in there. Both the old and new tubes are JJ Electronics tubes, but the old ones are pretty damn old so there should be some tone change.

With the speaker, I chose to go with Jensen. Not only were they the most recommended on the various forums of people modding their amps, but Jensen's website has audio examples of each speaker, which is really handy when deciding what you want. I ended up going with the P10Q model. This is a 10", 40W, 16ohm speaker. I chose this for it's clear tone and warm breakup at higher gains.


I recorded the amp with no mods, changed the tubes and then with changed tubes and changed speaker. I also recorded 3 different parts each time: one mid gain, one low gain and one higher gain (in hindsight, I should have probably recorded the mid gain a little hotter). I used a Rode K2 tube condenser mic into an RME fireface preamp. Excuse the crappy guitar playing, I was more interested in hearing tone differences that good takes.

Low Gain  
Master: 12 o’clock
Treble: 9
Mid: 4
Bass: 4
Volume: 2
Boost: On
Guitar: Gibson BFG
Pickup: Neck P90
Guitar Volume: 5
Guitar Tone: 10 
Mid Gain 
Master: 12 o’clock
Treble: 12 o’clock
Mid: 12 o’clock
Bass: 12 o’clock
Volume: 4
Boost: Off
Guitar: Gibson BFG
Pickup: Neck P90
Guitar Volume: 5
Guitar Tone: 10 

High Gain 
Master: 5
Treble: 12 o’clock
Mid: 12 o’clock
Bass: 8
Volume: 9
Boost: Off
Guitar: Gibson BFG
Pickup: Bridge P-Rails (Humbucker)
Guitar Volume: 10
Guitar Tone: 10

Here are the files:


One of the bigger differences in the files is the volume between each one, which I was quite surprised at. I didn’t normalize them, to show how much different they were, but you can do that on your own if you’re interested.

I found that the new speaker got rid of a lot of the boxy tone that’s associated with the amp, however it came up a little too bright on the heavier tones, easily EQ’d out but I kept the levels the same for the sake of the experiment.

The tubes also added quite a bit of high end and detail that weren’t there before, which was pretty interesting. It might be too bright, but again, that can be EQ’d out. Also good to note that the tubes are brand new, so they haven’t been “broken in” yet.

I am yet to see if I’m completely sold on the mods, I’ll have to really take em for a test drive with the band and play around a bit more, but I am liking the less boxy, more open high end sound.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Singing: say it, don't spray it

I've been singing for quite some time now. I don't see myself as a very good singer, technically or otherwise. However I do enjoy it and I get some compliments so it can't be too bad. 

I do try to improve my voice and technique constantly. I'm always looking at new exercises, getting lessons and watching videos to try to get my voice sounding the way I think I should sound. 

I've spoken about this before, but I believe that recording your voice is an extremely effective way to improve. Your ability to hear your strengths and weaknesses in your performance is much easier if you can record it and listen back. 

Even if you don't have proper recording facilities at your disposal, just using the voice recorder on your phone is a great way to listen to, and analyse yourself. In fact, I probably use my phone more than my recording interface because it's easier to set up nice and quickly. 

In my time in recording myself, I often change little things in my technique and then rerecord to hear how the given technique has helped or hindered the result. There's one technique change that turned my voice world around and it’s so simple. 

Sing it how you say it

I picked this up while getting a singing lesson and it became the biggest change in my vocal sound. It seems so simple and I was already doing this to an extent, but this was the first time that I'd done it consciously. 

The technique can only really be described as “trying not to sing it, try to say it in key”. It's trying not to worry about the melody. Forget what the original singer sounds like and forget the strange pronunciation of some of the words. 

Instead you want it to sound more like you, so you sing it how you say it. Like you were saying the sentence to a friend, only you follow a rhythm and melody. Obviously, this is easy to say when talking about covers, but it works, and is probably more important, with your original music. 

An Exercise

If you are like me and you listen to yourself singing and it all sounds a bit too forced and fake, then this is a perfect technique for you. It will definitely help out. 

Start by playing the music that you want to sing to. This can either be on your given instrument or the prerecorded backing track. Otherwise you can just try this out singing along to the song. 

On the first run through, try just talking the lyrics out over the song. Forget the rhythm, forget any kind of pitch or how the words are supposed to be pronounced. Just talk it out like you were saying the sentences to your friend. 

This might seem kind of weird at first as you might be conditioned from all the other singing techniques that you’ve learned over the years. The important thing is that you try as hard as you can to speak as naturally as you can without having to think about breathing or tongue position or vowel pronunciation. The key is to relax. 

Continue doing this until you feel like you can get through the whole track naturally and relaxed. Try recording and listening back to yourself. You might be surprised with how good it sounds. It might not be how the song is supposed to sound, but because you're not straining yourself, it should sound nice and relaxed and like a voiceover. 

Once you’ve got that done, go through again and with the song’s original vocal rhythm. Make sure you keep your focus on keeping your voice in its talking range. 

When you feel like that’s sounding good, add in the melody of the song. This will be the hardest part, as you really need to keep that same talking voice that we started with, only adding pitch to it. Again, you have to remind yourself to relax. 

If you’re like me, you’ll find that the song is much easier to sing, much easier to pitch, breathing is easier and overall everything sounds better than where you started.

The Benefits

You may be wondering what the benefits of this technique are. Why would you want to sound like you’re talking when you’re supposed to be singing?

The reason I think this works is based on sounding genuine and relatable to the audience.

As humans, we respond most to the wide range of emotions that come from the tone of someone’s voice. There are so many things that are said in the way we say something, maybe even more than in the actual words that we’re saying. 

When we’re concentrating too much on pitch, melody, pronunciation, breathing, diaphragm, mouth shape, posture, vibrato, tuning, rhythm, and the countless other things that make up the multi-task of singing, it’s easy to lose those vocal subtleties that breath the real emotion into what you’re singing. 

On top of that, we replace those important emotions with a different emotion. The sound of fear, stress and overthinking of what we’re trying to do. The sound of trying to sound a certain way. Because people are so in tune with what others are feeling by their tone, suddenly the song and the words sound fake. 

You could be singing a song of love, loss and longing, but if you're head is saying “I hope I can hit this next note. How did this prechorus go? Can I sing fast enough for the next section” then your words will sound like that. 

Sometimes it's hard to block these things out, but usually thinking them won't make your performance better… Usually worse. It's best to relax and get into the feeling of the song. Sing it how you’d say it and the rest should come together. 

A lot of people will try to mimic other singers in the way they sing. Unless you are extremely good at it, it will be noticeable and will come across as fake to the audience. People want to hear someone perform as themselves, to hear how they would sing the song. They want to hear someone confident in their own voice and genuine in their performance. 

On top of all that, you'll find that the songs become easier to sing. Because we’re now singing in the way we’ve been talking our whole lives, it's easier to relax. When you’re relaxed it's easier to hit higher notes, pitching is better and we find our breathing patterns even out more. All of this equals to a better performance. 

This becomes cyclic in that the more relaxed you are, the better you perform. The better you perform, the more relaxed you are. 

Give this a try and let me know how it worked for you. Until next time, have a good one!

If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them in the comments section below. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Sidechain Compression And Gating

G’day ladies and gentlemen. Today I wanted to go over sidechain compression and gating and ways that it can be used to get some pretty cool sounds. Everything I’m writing about is covered in the video above, I just wanted to go over in a bit more detail here.

What Is The Sidechain?

Sidechain refers to the sound that is triggering the effect in your compressor or gate. When a sound source goes into the compressor it gets split. One part of the sound goes through the process of being compressed or expanded and then comes out the other side, and that’s what you hear.

The other part gets sent to the part of the compressor that senses what is happening in the sound to trigger the effect. It’s this part that hits the threshold of the compressor and causes it to reduce the volume of the sound coming out the other end. 

When you change the sidechain, you are affecting the sound that is being analysed by the compressor or gate. This means when you add EQ changes to the sidechain, you aren’t changing the EQ of the sound that you hear, you’re changing the EQ of the sound that the compressor hears.

In the example that I used in the video, I had a drum beat that was being quite heavily compressed (this was so you could clearly hear the changes I was making). I then pushed up the high pass filter on the sidechain and this meant that the lower frequencies that I was cutting out were no longer affecting the compressor.

This meant that the bass in the kick drum was no longer affecting the compressor in the drum beat. As we went higher, the snare triggered the compressor less and less and you could keep going up until only the very highest frequencies were causing the compressor to react. Of course you could do the same thing with the low pass filter.

This kind of thing can be very helpful, especially when you want to hone in on a specific frequency that you want to compress. Maybe your bass track has one note that sticks out too much, you can drop the filters in to focus on that note and only compress it.

Key Input

The key input is where things start to get a bit more fun. Now, instead of just changing the sound that’s triggering the compressor, you can put a whole new sound in. This means you can use any sound source to trigger the compression or gating on any track.

This is a very common effect used on lots of EDM style tracks. Usually the kick sound is used to trigger the compressor on the synth tracks. This makes the whole track sound like it’s pumping to the beat.

In the video, I use the sound of the kick to trigger the compressor on the bass. The sound I used was a very extreme example, but that’s just so you get the idea of what’s happening. In practice I would use a much faster release, a lower ration and a higher threshold. 

Used in a subtle way, this means that the bass track will drop slightly every time the kick is hit and then bounce back before you notice it. This means that you can have your bass nice and loud, but it won’t get in the way of the kick drum sound.

I use this same concept with guitars and lead vocals. If you put the compressor on the guitar bus that’s being triggered by the main vocals, it means that your guitars can be nice and loud but won’t drown out the singer. If you do it right, you won’t notice the guitars dropping in volume, but the vocals will seem to punch through the mix just right.


On the other side of things, you can use the gate/expander in the exact same way. Let’s say you have a bass guitar that follows the kick drum but they’re playing is inconsistent. You can put an expander on the bass that’s being triggered by the kick drum.

This will mean that the bass will punch up when the kick is hit and drop off a bit when it’s not. This trick will only work for some songs, but if it’s the right one you can get some pretty cool sounds out of it that will make it sound like your drummer and bass player are completely in sync.

You can use this same effect for heaps of other sound sources with varying degrees of success, but it’s worth experimenting with as you can really sculpt the feel of a track using this kind of dynamic manipulation.

Getting Creative

When I was at uni, I was trying to create a drum beat for a track I was creating. I didn’t have access to any of the sample plugins that I have now and was trying to rack my brain of ways to get a good sound.

From memory I managed to create a kick sound from hitting a big piece of wood with a hammer. I got the snare from flicking a piece of paper. I then used EQ and editing to get the sounds the way I wanted them. My main problem was getting a hi-hat sound.

I remember my teacher at uni saying that he liked to make his hi-hats sound like an aerosol can. So I thought, “why don’t I try to make an aerosol can sound like a hi-hat. So I recorded the sound of the aerosol can and then got the rhythm I wanted using a coin against a table.

I then put a gate on the spray can track and then ran the tapping track through the key sidechain on the gate. It took a little bit of messing about with the EQ on the can and the parameters on the compressor, but after a while I had a convincing hi-hat track.

This was great because it even had a bit more realness than the machine gun sound of a single hi-hat sample being played over and over. Plus, the sound of the hi hat was easily manipulated. I could even push the tapping track up if I wanted to get a bit of “stick” sound in there.

I have done this again since, using generated white noise and various other sources, but the point is that you can get very creative with the kind of thing. Creating semi-organic sounds unlike those that you can get from a synth or regular instrument.

Let me know if you have any comments, questions or sound ideas in the comments section below.

Until next time, have a good one!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Music, Money And Fame

Me having fun on stage with Lazarus Mode - Photo by
Gary Beresford of Snapped Photography
There’s heaps of reasons to start playing music. Some people want to be rich, some people want to be famous. Some do it to get girls (or boys), some do it to relax, or get pumped up or to be happy or sad. Some just want to create something that’s awesome.

Needless to say, if you’re in the music industry for money, you’re going to be disappointed. There ain’t much money in music. Fame is few and far between too, with only an extremely small percentage of musicians making it into the mainstream,

This is where a lot of new original bands and musicians get caught out. They feel that music will be their gateway to being a rock star and that’s what’s on their minds. It’s this same frame of mind that prevents them from such dreams.

The Rock Star Paradigm

It’s kind of funny when you hear the biggest musicians in the world talk about how they got famous. It’s usually the same thing every time, “I just love playing music, I spend my time writing and having fun playing in bands. I never expected to be famous or make any money out of it, it just happens”.

A line similar that seems to appear in almost every musical biography I’ve ever read (and I read a lot). Whether it’s just the musician being modest or it’s a stone cold truth, it seems that it’s the key to being successful in your music career.

And it makes sense. If you think about it, the people who buy music and make a person famous, they’re not stupid. Potential fans can spot a phoney from a mile away. If you’re in it just for the money and the fame, people aren’t going to wanna know about you. 

People want someone who’s genuine. People want to imagine someone who’s spent their whole lives locked in their basement crafting the greatest musical piece of all time. They want someone who travels the world picking up experience and knowledge and heartbreak and crafting it into a magical piece of art for the world to see.

They don’t want to know about someone who’s paid thousands of dollars to a producer to turn them into a rockstar because they think it would be cool. Fans tend to want the music they listen to to be made by super humans who possess a skill that they don’t have.

The Competition

Another thing to consider is that there are literally millions of artists out there trying to do the exact same thing you are. Some of them aren’t going to be as good as you, but most of them are going to be a lot better than you.

This can be a pretty depressing thought. You need only to go to YouTube to find someone who can absolutely wipe the floor with you in whatever it is that you’re trying to do. There’s always going to be someone better than you… unless you are the best at that thing. If so, congrats.

Even if you are really, really good at what you do, you need money to get started. You need gear, you need to get recordings done, you need to pay for advertising, you need to get yourself out there. Then, maybe, someone will notice you. But that’s just the beginning.

Say you get to a point where you manage to score a record deal. Job done, right? Wrong! A record deal is pretty much the equivalent to a bank loan that you can use to record, press, distribute and advertise your music. 

In this day and age of streaming media, there’s no way you’re going to make that money back, so then you’ll owe the record company money for the rest of your musical career. So you’re better off self funding your music and being able to keep control of it.

So Why Bother?

This is the big question, isn’t it? If you can’t be famous or rich or make it big, then why even try making music? You’d be better off as an accountant or lawyer or even stacking shelves at the local supermarket.

That’s the whole point. Music is supposed to be fun. In fact, taking away the money and fame aspect really brings the original meaning and soul back into what we love doing. If you’ve got fame and fortune and girls on a boat on your mind, it’s likely the music will have less soul.

If you’re making the music you love, it will make you happy. If you sit and home and create a piece of art that improves your life just by playing or listening back to it, then you’re a successful musician. Even if you are playing covers and that brings you joy, that’s the best thing you can ask for.

The best part is that if you’ve created something that you truly love, chances are that other people will love it too. It’s a big win win. And if you’re having fun performing, people will want to see you have fun because that kind of joy is contagious. 

I remember back when I was in my first band, we would fret over which venues we played and how we performed and if people would buy our songs and our image. All of these things are important to a degree, but it all got in the way of our enjoyment and was detrimental.

One day we all finally decided that we would never make money or be famous and that we shouldn’t even try. From that day on, the music was a lot more fun. Practice, gigs and every other aspect of our music became a joy to do, rather than a job.

If you can’t see the point in making music without money or fame, maybe music isn’t for you.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Making The Most Of Your Plugins

Early in my days of recording, I noticed the lead vocal was very dull in a mix I was trying to do. At this time I didn’t have many plugins, and mostly relied on the stock EQs, compressors, etc. that came with Pro Tools.

At this time I knew the main concepts of recording and mixing, however I didn’t have many tricks up my sleeve, but I was starting to rack them up one by one. So I wasn’t quite sure what to do about this dull vocal.

Making My Custom Exciter

Obviously my first thought was to use an EQ to add some high end. This fixed little bits of the vocal but I found that the highs would push through way too much at some points and still be very dull and muddy at other points.

In my quick search online, I found an article suggesting that I add an exciter to help brighten up a track. I looked up what an exciter was and another article suggested that it would compress the high end of the sound source and boost that up.

Because I didn’t have an exciter plugin at the time, I figured I’d make my own.

So I sent the vocal to an aux track. Then I added a high pass filter and pushed it way up to around 3-4kHz. I then put in a compressor, dialled in a fast attack, fast release, high ratio and set the threshold so that it was just tickling the quietest vocal parts, meaning that the loudest parts were getting well and truly squished.

When I slowly brought the plugin in alongside the original vocal channel I noticed a massive difference in the tone. Suddenly the vocal had a beautiful sense of life and air that it hadn’t had before.

Now, there are enhancers that have this kind of effect as standard, but I didn’t know much about them. There are also multiband compressors/limiters that do this too, but many of them are costly and can also be quite CPU hungry.

My version is extremely versatile in comparison to many of these plugins too, as you have all the setting of both the EQ and compressor at your fingertips. And you can change which compressors/EQs you want to use. Or you can throw a distortion or chorus in the middle to change the sound a bit.

After I got the sound on the vocal I wanted, I made another Aux track for the drum overheads and copied the plugins across. Suddenly the cymbals and snare came to life and, with a few tweaks here and there, I got a bright and beautiful drum sound.

I then did the same thing with the guitars, keys, and many other instruments with varying levels of success in the sonic results. This was very exciting for me because I felt that I’d created a whole new set of plugins out of the free stock plugins. And they were MY sound.

I still often use this technique on many of my tracks.

Bring Back That Stock Reverb

This technique of altering the sounds you have at hand is extremely helpful when it comes to delays and reverbs. Finding the right delay and reverb sounds can be quite a time consuming and costly task, but it doesn’t have to be.

Many times I have trawled through each of my reverb plugins, checking each and every convolution reverb, trying to find the one that sounds the same as I have in my head. Every time I would find one that was “close enough” but not quite hit the spot.

If you do the same, try instead picking the most stock standard reverb that you have (this technique only works if you use an auxiliary reverb channel). Pick a basic setting, something like hall or plate, whatever gets the basic vibe of what you’re after.

Now put an EQ plugin before the reverb. Put in a low pass and high pass filter in and shift them around until you get a sound that works for you. Why not try adding a bell frequency in the midrange and boost and cut it, sweeping it around until you find a sound that sounds right for your track.

It’s important to note that because you’ve placed your EQ before the reverb, you’re affecting the sound going into the reverb. Now you can put another EQ after the reverb and play with that for even more versatility. Suddenly your standard, basic reverb has a whole new dimension of sounds.

Vintage, Warm Tape Delay

There are a million Delay plugins out there and many that boast a warm tape sound. These plugins usually have a nice vintage interface look and a price tag to accompany. Sometimes they come with some fairly cool modulation effects as well.

Before you go and start shelling out all your hard earned cash on all these delays to get your songs sounding tip top, let’s have a look at what these plugins are actually doing. Most of the time there are some fairly basic processes going on that give the plugins these desirable sounds.

If you want to make the sound a bit warmer, try putting a low pass filter on the delay aux. If you want the sound a bit more “lo-fi”, put a low and high pass and bring them right in so you get a telephone sound and then compress it. Try adding a distortion sound and see what that does.

For those modulation tones, try your stock chorus, flanger or phaser and see what that does to your delay tone. It could be just what the doctor ordered. Suddenly you’ve got more sounds than you’d have if you paid for that expensive tape delay emulator. Plus, you’ll probably get the sound you wanted quicker than if you searched through heaps of different delays.

All Your Modulation Plugins

These same ideas can be used on chorus’, flangers, phasers and heaps of other types of plugins. You can easily use stock plugins to change the flavour of pretty much any modulation plugin that you want to use.

With sounds that you’re running parallel, you have to make sure that you have delay compensation so that you don’t get any dodgy phasing issues, so make sure that you have that feature enabled.

Adding a distortion before or after a chorus sound and then blending it lightly with the original track can add a type of tone that adds a whole new dimension to your sound. And the best part is that a lot of these kind of sounds have never been heard before. Some will be completely original.

So next time you feel like you need a whole bunch of new plugins to get some great sounds happening, just remember that you may not be using the plugins that you have to their full potential just yet. 

I think some of the best sounds have come from the creative use of the plugins or equipment that is at hand. Don’t forget that the basic plugins that come with your DAW are more often than not of a very high quality.

Good luck and happy mixing!

If you have an comments or questions, feel free to let me know in the comments section below.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

All Apologies Guitar Exercise

Hey guys! Today I wanted to share with you a bit of an exercise based on the main riff from Nirvana’s “All Apologies”.

It’s a great riff, however the original is in drop Db, which makes it a bit difficult if you’re playing the rest of your set in standard tuning.

When figuring out a way to play this is in standard tuning, I came up with this version of the riff. It’s actually a really cool picking exercise for the right hand that has an emphasis on alternative picking and some string skipping.

Here’s the tab for it:

As with all new riffs, try to play this only as fast as is comfortable. Once you’ve got the riff perfected at a slow speed, bring it up in tempo bit by bit. If you have access to a metronome, I recommend you use it to make sure your timing is spot on.

This is a great riff for your right hand coordination and accuracy. It isn’t exactly the same notes as the original song, but the main vibe is there and it sounds pretty good. If you’re a singer/guitarist, try putting vocals on top of it as well for some extra challenge.

I hope you get something out of this exercise and it leads you to improving your craft that little bit more.

Until next time, have a good one!

Monday, 11 January 2016

Mixing "Weather The Storm" pt. 8 - Mastering

Hey everyone! This is the eighth and final video/blog in my mixing series on “Weather The Storm”. If you missed any of the previous videos, check out these links:

Part 1 - Setting up the Session

Part 2 - Balance

Part 3 - Mix Bus Processing

Part 4 - EQ

Part 5 - Compression

Part 6 - Delay And Reverb

Part 7 - Tweaking

In this last video, we’ll be taking the mix from the mixing stage to the mastering stage and getting it ready to release.

How Is It Being Mastered?

There are a few ways to go about the mastering process of your production. You can choose to send it to someone else for mastering, you can run the track off and deal with the stereo file in your own mastering session, or you can just master it in the mixing session.
Each of these has it’s own advantages and disadvantages.

If you choose to send your mix to someone else to master, they might be able to add a fresh perspective to the final product and might be extremely skilled at mastering/have some top notch gear. The downside is that this might cost you some cash… or heaps of cash depending on who you get to do it.

If you run off the track to master in a new session you might be freeing up some much needed computer power to run the processing. Many mastering plugins can take up a lot of processing power. The downside to this is that you might have some tweaks in the mix that you want to fix and may forever spend your time changing between sessions and running off mixes.

Finally, you can just do the mastering in the mix session. This, until recently, was looked down upon because computers lacked processing power. Also, many people made the mastering process seem like an unachievable conquest that was not within reach of mere mortals. But mastering is becoming more and more accepted by home engineers.

However you choose to master your product, it is important to go through this process to save you many headaches down the track. 

Mastering In The Mix

Because we chose to do quite a bit of mix bus processing earlier in the mix, most of our mastering processing is already done, only needing a little tweak here and there. The final process to add is the mastering limiter.

I used the Maxim limiter that comes with Pro Tools. This is a very basic limiter that sounds pretty good. With only a couple of tweaks to the ceiling and release time, I could bring down the threshold until I reached a level that was comparable to our reference track. Easy!

Not So Fast!

Once the mastering limiter is put in, some significant changes happen to the mix. And these need to be rectified. They are mostly very subtle changes, but if left untouched, might leave your mix sounding very different to how you envisioned it when you finished your mix.

The first thing I noticed when I brought the limiter down was that I lost a lot of my snare. This is very common and many mastering engineers will ask for a copy of your snare track when mastering to put more in if it drops out too much.

If you remember in the mixes, the snare poked through the mix a lot… probably too much. As soon as we put the limiter on, the transient at the start of the snare is brought down and it quickly gets pushed back into the mix.

So you just have to make the necessary adjustments to get the snare brought back up in the mix. I ended up pushing it up by about 3.5dB, which is quite a big move, but that’s what it needed. The kick also needed a bit of a boost.

Another thing that needed a change was the mix bus EQ. I ended up pushing up the low end quite a bit and taking a bit more out of the low mids to keep the low end nice and punchy. 

There were other small changes, but those listed above are the main ones. If I didn’t run this mix with the limiter and sent the stereo file to someone to get mastered, many of those issues would go overlooked. Sure, mastering engineers have ways and means to make things punch better, but it’s better to knock it out at the easy point in the mix I think.

Final Words

So, I went through the videos and checked how long it took to get to where we are now. Including quite a bit of talking time, it’s taken a total of 1 hour and 40 minutes to take this mix from the very beginning of starting the session, to a finished master. I reckon that’s pretty good. 

Obviously there’s a lot more that can be done with this mix and there’s a bit I’d probably do a little bit differently if I was starting again. Having said that, I’m really happy with how the mix turned out in such a short amount of time. There wouldn’t be too much I’d change, and that’s because we focussed on the most important aspects of the mix first.

I sound a bit like a broken record, but I really think it’s important to put your mixing moves into perspective. You have to decide if what you’re doing is going to be noticeable in terms of the mix, and if so, is it going to matter.

I have spent ages on a solo’d Hi Hat track, tweaking it until it sounded perfect, only to pull it out completely because I was getting enough Hi Hat through the overhead mics. That was wasted time that could have been avoided if I’d taken care of the balance first and only addressed the parts of the mix the stood out to me. 

That’s about it for this mix, I look forward to sharing another project with you guys in the future.

If you have any questions or comments on anything you’ve seen in the process of this mix, please feel free to put them in the comments section below.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Mixing "Weather The Storm" pt. 7 - Tweaking

G’day ladies and gents. We’re coming close to the end here with the seventh video in my series on mixing the track, “Weather The Storm”. Check out the links below to catch up on all the rest of the videos that brought us to this point.

Part 1 - Setting up the Session

Part 2 - Balance

Part 3 - Mix Bus Processing

Part 4 - EQ

Part 5 - Compression

Part 6 - Delay And Reverb

In this video I’m going to be doing the final tweaking of the track. So I’ll be pulling some automation moves, muting parts that I don’t think need to be there and just doing the final touches so that I can master this track and release it.

Attack The Most Important Things First

In this video, I’ve really only done the important things, but that’s a good lesson. When you listen through the track for the final mix, try as hard as you can to not be looking for things to change. Instead, try to enjoy the track and if something stands out to you, then fix it.

This is a great way to ensure that you’re spending your time fixing the things that are the most important to making a great mix. Chances are that if you hear something wrong while enjoying the track, your audience will hear the same thing. The tiny little things are less important, and though it’s the little things that make a great mix, you shouldn’t be working on them in place of the big, noticeable stuff.

As with all the other videos in this session, I was thinking about time. I wanted to get the best mix that I could in the shortest time possible. Partly this was to show you guys how quickly a good mix can come together, and partly because it wouldn’t make for good videos having me sit there for hours on end.

Back to Balance

You’ll notice that the majority of the changes that I made in this video were volume related. This goes back to what I said in the second video that balance is the most important thing in a mix. You can have the most immaculately EQ’d compressed and affected tracks, but if the balance is out, it’ll all sound wrong.

However, in this video I was using automation to fix balances out. In the second video, in which I used the volume faders to get the overall balance of the track how I wanted, I had to use automation here to tweak the different sections of the song.

These volume moves usually weren’t too drastic, mostly bumping up or down about 3dB to either tame sections that were a bit too loud, or bring out the parts that were getting lost in the mix.

Usually these were vocal related changes because they tended to pop out too much or hard to understand. I also brought down the intro to the track so that the beat kicked in a bit harder and also pushed up the guitars in a section to give the track a little more movement.

The other part of balance is the panning. Again, these were fairly simple changes, but ones that needed to be made. In one section the vocals were arranged on tracks that I’d panned, but it didn’t make sense (main parts were panned centre and right, and the other vocal panned left), so I just swapped the parts around on the tracks so that they made a bit more sense.

Unwanted Noises

Another thing I did was a couple of mutes. These were fairly simple as well. There was a sound just before one of the vocal lines that came up in two of the channels. I simply muted those sounds as well as one vocal part which I didn’t really like the sound of.

There is quite a bit of background noise in the vocal tracks throughout the track. Sometimes I would go through and manually cut out all the sounds that aren’t vocal parts. They didn’t really bother me on this track and I couldn’t hear them when they weren’t solo’d.

Again, because we are trying to focus only on the most important parts of the mix, those bits were negligible. You can spend ages going through and cutting out every little bit of track that shouldn’t be there. but you really have to ask if it’s going to make a difference in the end, or if that difference would be worth it.

Some people use gates on vocal channels for this reason, but I feel like you have to be pretty careful when setting up a gate, as they can sometimes cut out the sounds you want to keep and can also introduce some strange stuttering. I would almost always prefer to do that kind of thing manually.

Icing On The Cake

The only other changes were purely just the little things that I thought could benefit the track. I put a stereo widener on the Rhythm guitar track to make the guitar, and song, sound a bit more huge.

I also automated some delays so that they came up at the ends of some of the pivotal lines. Very simple stuff but can be quite effective.

I also gave one of the channels an artistic panning so that a repeated lines changes sides each time. This was something that I felt the part needed to give it a little movement and make it stand out in the mix a bit. Automating panning is a great way to bring a section to life and draw the listener's attention to it.

That’s it for this part. I hope you guys learned something that you can use in your own mixes. Until next time, have a good one!

If you have any questions or comments, please let me know in the section below and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Mixing "Weather The Storm" pt. 6 - Reverb and Delay

G’day guys! This is my sixth video in my series on mixing “Weather The Storm”. If you missed the other videos, you can check them out in the links below.

Part 1 - Setting up the Session

Part 2 - Balance

Part 3 - Mix Bus Processing

Part 4 - EQ

Part 5 - Compression

In this video I’m going to be adding a bit of reverb and delay to give the track a bit more sparkle. These are just subtle effects that will be added to give the track a sense of space. Many mixing engineers like to go very heavy handed on reverb, but I feel that less is more in this sense.

Creating a space

I like to use reverb in two different ways. The first way is the most important, and that is to create a virtual space for your listener to be in. The second way is more of an effect for individual instruments, but I want to focus on the space creation for this blog.

When I’m mixing a project, I like create a virtual space that the listener is in. In a perfect world, you should be able to close your eyes and imagine that the music is happening around you. You should be able to picture where the sounds are coming from and visualise where you are.

This kind of effect is hard to accomplish if you have a different reverb effect on each channel. If you want to create the virtual space, the sounds within that space should be bouncing off the same walls. This is why I like to use one universal reverb sound for all of the channels.

On this particular track, this was a bit harder to do because the guitar and keys sounds already had reverb on the tracks, and quite a lot of it. But I could do this with the vocals and the drum sounds, and I think it worked quite well.

I like to pick a fairly medium reverb with not too much length. I’d rather a sound that’s a bit more realistic, as opposed the those big 80s gated sounds. I try to pick a reverb sound that makes me feel like I’m in the room with the instruments. For this one I used a medium size plate on Pro Tool’s D-verb plugin.

Put Yourself In That Space

So many times I’ve heard songs where the lead vocal is drowned in reverb and it usually makes the space sound a little weird. Imagine for a second that you’re sitting in a room with a band playing just to you.

I’d think that the drummer would be at the back of the room. The bass player would be just in front of him, maybe slightly to the side. There’d be the guitars and/or keys players scattered left and right, half way up the room. Finally, the singer would be right up in my face, singing at me, trying to make me listen to what they were saying.

Now imagine what that would sound like in terms of reverb levels. The drums, being far back, would have the most reverb. Guitars, bass and keys would have a medium amount of reverb, and so would the backing vocals that they’re singing. The lead singer would have the least, as he/she would be right up close to me.

If you replicate this scenario in your mixing, that’s the kind of space you will create. The more reverb you add to a sound, the further away that sound feels. So, if you’re adding heaps and heaps of reverb to the lead singer, they’re going to sound like they’re sitting at the back of the room, behind the other instruments.

This may be the sound that you’re looking for, but 9 times out of 10, I like to have the singer up front, in my face, trying to make me listen to what they’re saying.

Setting the Delay

I used a very simple sense of delay in this track. Just a ¼ note delay over the main vocals set to a very low level. If I was to be automating the delays, I’d probably bump them up at points and bring them down at other points, but i wanted a sound that wasn’t too distracting and just gave a nice sheen over the sound.

I put the delay up a little bit more on one of the vocal channels because I felt it needed something a little extra.

EQing your Effects Channels

This is very important, and many people don’t bother to do this. In fact I only just started doing this over the last couple of years, but I feel like it’s one of the best things you can do to your effects channels to make them sound good.

It just involves putting an EQ before your effect. Many people like to put the EQ after their delay or reverb, but I feel that the things you’re EQing out can still find their ways into the other frequencies that you’re keeping and drag them down.

You can go fairly in depth with creating an EQ curve for your channel, but I usually just put in a high and low cut filter. Put these in and drag them up and down until you feel like you only have the necessary information left being effected. 

Reverbs are notorious for adding a tonne of low end, muddy sound. Taking these frequencies out of the input of your reverb ensures that you have a nice clean reverb that doesn’t sound like you’ve just dragged your mix through the mud. As I mentioned in other videos, low end builds up very quickly in a mix, making your track sound dull and muddy. Low end in reverb is one of the worst culprits of that.

I also took out some of the sizzling high frequencies as they were a bit too much as well. You can play around with EQ setting for ages, finding a sound that works for you on any given song. Definitely worth the time.

With the delay, I went a bit more drastic with the EQ until I had an almost Telephone type sound going on. This is because I only really wanted a hint of the delay shining through the mix. So, again, taking out those unnecessary highs and lows means that I get the effect I want without filling the mix with unnecessary frequencies.

I hope you guys enjoyed this tutorial, I hope there were some things you learned about reverb and delay and I hope you use these techniques in your own mixes.

Have a good one guys, you’ll hear from me soon.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to put them down in the comments section below.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Recording my EP: Progress Report 1

So, this is a bit of an update on the recording of my EP. I did a blog a couple of weeks ago that outlined my plans for what I was going to do and how I was going to go about it. Check it out here:

I wanted to try a style of writing that meant that I was wasting as little time as possible and trying to get my EP done ASAP. I am notorious for spending way way too long on projects, so I really wanted to tackle this in a way that I was going to get things done.

Each song in an hour

The first part of my plan was to only spend an hour writing each song. I set out a competition a couple of months ago that was to write 7 songs in 7 days and only spent one hour on the writing process. You can see that blog here:

This was a great challenge and it really got me into a writing frame of mind. The idea behind it is that you finish the song that you started as soon as possible and then move on. If the song isn’t good, then you throw it away and you’ve only spent a little bit of your life on it… plus you’ve learnt something. And if it’s good, you’ve only spent an hour of your life on it and you’ve got a song.

So, I expanded this idea into the writing of my EP. The plan is to write 20 songs at the start, spending only an hour on each one, and then once finished all of them, listen back through the songs and pick the 10 best songs. Then spend another hour or so fixing up these tracks a bit with a fresh ear. Once all that’s done, pick the 5 best songs that work together well to use on the EP. Do some pre-production for those and then hit the recording studio.

Now, a little bit down the track, I’ve finished part 1! I’ve written my 20 songs. This was really interesting because I saw my writing style change over the time I was writing these tracks. Some tracks came together very quickly towards the end. 

Practicing writing these songs quickly meant that I started getting a lot better at coming up with parts that were needed to finish the song. Also, the parts that I put in were getting better and better.

I feel like I am coming up with the same amount of original song ideas as I was before, but now I’m quickly using these ideas and turning them into songs a lot quicker and a lot more efficiently. In this way, some of those good ideas aren’t forgotten or used in songs that aren’t as good.

The important part about finishing a track in an hour is that you get rid of all the unnecessary things that distract you from writing a song. It’s also a good idea to put yourself into the right frame of mind. When I sit down to write a song, I like to turn off all distractions. Put the phone on aeorplane mode, have all your writing and recording equipment ready and close your door to what’s going on outside. This is pure songwriting time.

Picking the Best 10 Songs

This was easy on some counts and hard on others. I ended up liking more songs than I thought I would. I had to think about what I wanted the EP to sound like and get rid of some tracks that I thought were good but wouldn’t fit in with the sound I was going for.

One thing that I didn’t think would end up happening is that I put a couple of the tracks aside in another pile that I thought would suit a different instrumentation.

My idea for this EP is to have mainly acoustic guitar and vocals dominating the sound and use piano, percussion, electric guitar and some strings to fill out the songs that need it, depending on what I felt was necessary. I’m avoiding a drum kit driven, rock n roll production… for this EP at least.

Some of the tracks that I had there would really suit a drum kit and some heavy guitars, so instead of throwing them out, I decided I’d put them aside and either record them on their own or make an EP of similar sounding tracks later down the line.

Admittedly, there were some songs that I had written that were just complete rubbish and will never see the light of day again, but at least I know that now. If anything, during this process, I’ve learnt a lot about songwriting and how to get a decent track done quickly.

Stage 2 - After The First Cull

Now I’ve gotta go through the tracks that I’ve picked and spend a little more time with them. I have all the basics down but I want to change up some of the lyrics for parts that I don’t particularly like and make sure my chord progressions are sounding alright.

I also want to get an idea of where the tempo should be for each track. Sometimes this means being a little faster than what I did the original demo at, and sometimes it’s a little slower. I have a tendency to play things a little too slow when recording, especially if it’s already quite a slow song.

So I’ll pick a new tempo and record the track again with the minor adjustments made. I am also looking at the arrangement of the track to make sure that it can’t be any better. The good thing about not having listened to these tracks since I wrote them, is that I’m coming in with fresh ears and am not feeling so attached to them.

I can pick out, on the first listen, what I think needs to go, and what I think sounds really good. Doing these changes in only an hour again means that I, once again, am wasting little time on the things that don’t matter and focusing only on what’s really important. 

There’s a chance that any of these songs could be thrown out during the next cull so it’s good not to waste time on the small stuff. 

I didn’t think I’d be doing this but I’ve also started adding little ideas of extra instruments to these tracks during this second demoing phase. I am consciously trying not to look for things that should be added, but if something comes to mind that I think “wow, that would be really cool” I add it in to see how it sounds. 

All in all, things are going really well and I’m excited to be finally recording my first EP as a solo artist. Hopefully there’ll be many more to come. 

HOT TIP: There’s a FaceBook group called “Song A Week 2016” in which each member writes a song each week to put to the community and they discuss songwriting techniques and it’s a really good, music loving community. I’ll be taking part in that.
I invite you all to try out this method of writing songs and if you have any questions, comments or music you want me to check out, let me know in the comments below.