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I think I've hit the production wall.....

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I’ve reached a cross-roads in my advertures into production – you could say I’m feeling a bit lost…



I have an iMac and Logic at the heart of my studio together with the FM9 and Battery 3 from Native Instruments and Rob Papens Blue.


The challenge I’m now facing is how to take my productions to the next level in terms of the final mix, specifically eq’ing and compression etc. I know this is the holy grail for many producers who are just ‘starting out’ but I’d like to hear how some of you guys went about this? Are there any books (or bibles…) you would suggest I could read etc ?


I wonder whether I should be investing in some outboard gear for this stuff and maybe a mixing desk, as using Logics onboard plug ins doesn’t seem to be cutting the mustard – or maybe I’m not twiddling the right knobs.


I’m also wondering whether I should upgrade my monitors (currently Tapco S5’s) as I really can’t seem to work out where my frequencies are crossing over but my mixes do sound a bit muddy, or whether I should be trying to find the right AU – I find FM9 is good, but a bit cold and spiky. Rob Papens Blue is cool, but the sound quality doesn’t seem to stack up and causes distortion when used with other AUs. I like Battery 3, but always tend to go for a sub kick as it’s nice and warm and deep – an example of the rut I seem to find myself in.


My style is essentially melodic tech house with a groove – think Audiofly meets Bookashade meets Ulrich Schnauss, and my head is somewhere around there! It would be great to hear from producers of a similar style which AU’s work well for you and maybe some tips on studio set-up ?


I’m in the ‘studio’ (back bedroom…) most nights and love it, but I need to refresh things a bit I think – just not sure where ?!


Feels like I’m seeing a shrink, but any help you can give is much appreciated !!

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Lots of questions.


Now, getting a good sound is a life-long learning experience.


Having good reference monitors help, if you can't hear good from bad, hard to polish anything.


FM9 is a good synth.


If you want warmth, there are all kinds of plug-in tricks to introduce more warmth to pure digital production systems, Logic's tube distortion plugins or PSP VintageWarmer comes to mind. As with spices, you need to use those sparingly.


If you are going for an Ulrich Schnauss sound (who is actually using Logic and external synth gear), delays and reverbs is the key ,for example I would use the Tape Delay quite a lot to get the eighties vibe.


... there's more but others could chime in. Best thing is to try and experiment, the more hours you work in the studio, the better you will become.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Hi, I make a similar style to you, house/tech house/techno. You've raised a number of points, and this is how is I see it.


You could get some outboard gear, it undeniably sounds better than software running straight out of your mac. Or you could get a high end audio interface which will REALLY improve the sound of everything coming out of your mac. Or sample the AUs off into a high quality hardware sampler. I guess it's all about the output stage quality in both cases.


In terms of AUs there are loads of god ones out there, all the Gforce stuff is good, as is NI stuff, also AAS stuff sounds really sweet, solid and warm! For drums, you say you always use the same ones, how about starting a sample collection? Any drum sounds you hear and like, sample it. Then you can either just use it, or mess around with it to get an even better sound? Starting your own drum library is always a good idea... mine's been (very slowly) building for 10 years now, but now I have my own drum library filled with drums that I love and that work for me.


To get thing warmer, I wouldn't bother with software. Just introduce analogue input and outputs along the way. This could be done by getting an old Mackie anaolgue desk to run the sound through, getting an old tube compressor to run things through (but don't over do it!), getting an old reel to reel to bounce things onto and then off again... or even a decent normal tape deck with dolby, bouncing sounds back and forth! It all works to different degrees. Also don't make everything too clean.. start introducing noise, the brain loves random noise, like from a tape machine or whatever.


You could get better monitors, but it depends on what you want to spend. EQ is like riding a bike to me, I know exactly where difference sound's frequencies are and should be without thinking about it, so I normally cut all other freqs out, so even if I can't hear everything (cos my monitors aren't the best either) I know what will come through on better monitors. This is just experience though and will come.


Also remember, that getting a well balance mix isn't just about EQing, but also about placement and also how the use of FX affects the psychoacoustic side of things. FX can really muddy a mix and should be used sparingly and specifically. Remember, placing sounds physically apart in the mix gives them space and room to breathe, as much as placing them in their own space on the spectrum.


Also I think a lot of people think their productions should sound like professionally mastered tracks. REMEMBER all artists have their work professionally mastered and we have people who master professionally for a reason... they know what they're doing to really bring out the best in a track... plus they have the top end equipment to do it.


This is really important to remember because if your stuff gets released it will be mastered and if you've already EQed and compressed the hell out of it first, it will never sound as good as the pro could have got it if you'd have left it all to them.


I have used a lot of gear over the years, but my setup now is like this: Mac running logic with FM8, Tassman and Minimonster, Akai sampler (filled with loads of multisampled hardware synths that I like and my own drum library), Bias Peak, oh and tape deck.


I use the Akai for everything and only use Logic for sequencing, getting some sounds out of the AUs if I fancy and pre-mastering mixing at the end.


I record anything I like to my tape deck as I like the noise and slight randomness... then straight directly into the Akai before I do anything as I like the sound the ADCs give. I then grab the files back into the mac, edit, EQ and generally mess around with samples until I've got something I like in Bias Peak. Then I build programs/multi for the Akai with the samples.


Then all the samples back into the Akai ready to use, then I sequence them in Logic using FX and filters etc all in the Akai (don't really use AU FX that much). I do this various times over the course of making a track as I add new parts etc. Then once track finished I record all tracks individually out of the Akai (using the DAC output stage because it sounds nice!) and back into logic where it's multi-tracked.


I then leave it, no more EQ, no mastering, nothing... if a track gets released it will go to the pros for mastering who will EQ/compress etc properly.


This process works for me, but won't work for everyone!


This turned out quite long! Anyway, if your ideas are good and music is good your demo won't get overlooked because it doesn't sound sparkly and amazing. Anyway just concentrate on the ideas and the rest can be done by pros later!


All the best :)


Thanks for a great (and very helpful) response! I do like the idea of using samplers, I've never really got my head around them though, so time for some long(er) hours in the studio I think.


The mixing desk is a good shout too and it's on the list for when the next pay cheque arrives. I want to get more hands on. The Remote SL is pretty good for that in terms of control, but I like the idea of hardware faders as opposed to mouse clicks - sure I'm not alone on that one.


Thanks again :D

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  • 2 weeks later...


Thanks for a great (and very helpful) response! I do like the idea of using samplers, I've never really got my head around them though, so time for some long(er) hours in the studio I think.


The mixing desk is a good shout too and it's on the list for when the next pay cheque arrives. I want to get more hands on. The Remote SL is pretty good for that in terms of control, but I like the idea of hardware faders as opposed to mouse clicks - sure I'm not alone on that one.


Thanks again :D


I concur with hardware samplers, I've been playing with sampling some of my NI synths, FM9, Massive, Absynth into my E-MU EIIIxp and playing back the sounds with the E-MU magic, sometimes down-sampled to 12bit for the old emax feel, I also have an EmaxSE, an E-6400, ESI-4000T, E4xt, I am new to Logic, but an old synth programmer stuck in 1992 technology save for the Mac and the Tascam Firewire interface. I too find it amazing just how powerful the AU effects and instruments are, but after awhile I begin thinking I got a better sound before using (Lexicon PCM70) or something like that. Though I think much of what I'm currently hearing is due to my rooms acoustics and monitoring, (amateur hour compared to my old set-up in the 1992. Back when I owned a house I built up the master bedroom with sound treatment and awesome monitors (Urei 813b's and a JBL PA system). We got pretty loud as I was working with some guys on an industrial band collides with Queen act, recording and practicing for live in that room too. So definitely don't exclude the audio quality of your recording and mixing areas. Room acoustic treatment is something to work on sooner than later.


Sampling I find is fun, and there is a unique timbre imparted into every sampler, some work, others don't, for but the sound does change, and many times, I think for the better.


On a side note - if using older samplers for extremely precise rhythm tracks go with Akai. Akai is known for staying true and tight with clocking and triggering. Akai IMHO is usually better for percussion, I do use my E-MU's for percussion too, I just don't rely on them the way I do with Akai units. My next sampler for the collection will probably be the Akai S-5000 with USB, just to keep away from SCSI - the hidden nightmare one puts up with when using vintage sampling gear.


Plus side is it's really cheap now, got my EIII on eBay for $150.00 shipped, the E-6400 & E4XT for around $100.00 each, the ESI for under $100.00 all came with zip/cd-rom drives or both, extra memory, outputs, etc. Oh yeah, and your Mac won't have to use valuable processor time on sample playback.


The minuses are SCSI gremlins, order of device power-ups, signal flow interuptus - when it worked minutes early and nothing has changed, random freezes occasionally, and really scary to use in a live setting. though once touted as blazing fast they are in today's standards mediocre in the transfer speed of data.


For E-MU samplers http://www.emusonacid.com is a great site like LPH is for Logic. Hope my ramblings helped, feel free to PM me if you have specific hardware sampler questions, and I'll try to help if I can.

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