Enough with pristine, immaculate in-the-box digital production. Let’s get back to grime and dirt.
Gorgeous distortion is on offer any time Legowelt is on a sound system live. So it’s great to see the same approach in a free sample pack. This is not a “Top Deep House Production Kit.” It’s samples Legowelt dragged off of old Amiga discs, cranked to be even more evil.
I had a quick play, so here’s a little sample of what this thing sounds like. Updated – fixed the file upload.
I love the marketing copy, too:
Introducing brand new technologies such as FLOCCULENCE, AMIGAnizer
and SKOOLY SPACE to give u a fresh spectaculair 909 experience u never had before!!!
Grab the Smackos AMIGA 909 as an Ableton Live pack (requires 9.5 or later) on the fancy, 1998-style Legowelt website: https://awolfe.home.xs4all.nl
Not a Live user? Unfortunately, it’s an .alp file, so while the sound samples are just WAV format, you’ll need someone with a copy of Live to open it. (You could also download the demo and get at the contents that way.)
In this tutorial, I’ll explain to you the concept of pay-to-play and give you ideas and techniques that you can use to turn the concept to your advantage, organise gigs and be profitable.
Pay-to-Play: Making it Pay
Pay-to-Play is a trend in live music promotions that is getting more popular especially in larger cities that are known for their live music venues.
This promotional concept is not new and in fact is essentially the same model as large-scale concert promotions businesses that rent out a stadium and then sell tickets to recoup the fees.
Many bands are afraid of approaching this set up and with good reason, as the sum of money a band must come up with to purchase tickets to sell to their fans is often more than the amount the band has saved.
In Los Angeles the average Pay-to-Play gig promoter provides 50 tickets that are to be sold at $10 apiece. This means the band must front $500 to the promoter to get on the bill.
While this sounds like an unfair scheme on the surface, the problem is that most bands don’t realize that Pay-to-Play isn’t much different than being a billboard-charting band booking a concert at a major stadium.
In fact, with a little business knowhow, a band can make Pay-to-Play a profitable venture rather than a struggle.
While Pay-to-Play may not be the most optimal choice for a brand-new band starting out financially, if an experienced band has hopes to play on a regional or national level then this is a good test to see if the band is ready to tour.
Regardless of whether you’re booking a hole-in-the-wall club in a small town, or all 18,200 seats at Madison Square Garden, the process for show promotions is the same. All venues owners want a venue usage guarantee and will require the promoter to pay this fee upfront.
Smaller venues may allow a promoter or band to share the door fee in the case they can be convinced that there will be enough of a draw. If, however, the band or promoter don’t bring in enough fans then they may still owe the venue money at the end of the night.
Clubs and promoters like the Pay-to-Play business model because it guarantees they make the money they want upfront and without any hold ups. If the band has no audience, the venue isn’t put out financially. Pay-to-Play is essentially scaled down concert promotions when you get to the heart of the matter.
If Metallica, Britney Spears or Keith Urban wants to have a concert at the Sprint stadium in downtown LA, they must pay a fee to rent the venue.
These bands aren’t going to pay out of their bank accounts, they’re going to find free money in the form of sponsorship dollars to pay the fees as well as use other marketing avenues.
The same principle can be applied to your band and, in fact, once you have a successful night with Pay-to-Play you can begin to book clubs out yourself, or apply the principles to your regular gigs and really come out in the green.
Make Money With Pay-to-Play
Your band can make money with Pay-to-Play the same way that the big name bands do, through sponsorship dollars, merchandise sales, and creative marketing techniques.
Sponsors are advertisers that want to get their brand name or product in front of a specific demographic. Some sponsors that might want to advertise to your fan base include:
Musical instrument and pro audio manufacturers
Most bands already know that selling merchandise can bring in cash, though I’m not thinking of standard tired run-of-the-mill t-shirts.
There are so many more options to make money, you don’t have to limit yourself to the expected merchandise. Here’s a few cheap—less then three dollars—items that resell like hotcakes:
Guitar-shaped thumb drives
Baby-doll tank tops for ladies
Custom temporary tattoos with the band logo
In Nashville it is not at all uncommon to see a tip girl circle the club trying to gather donations for the artist on stage in a tip jar.
Since most clubs don’t pay artist in this town, this is how a band makes money for performing. The same concept can be used in any club, and doing this at a Pay-to-Play gig is a perfect way to offset the booking fee.
Skills to Making Pay-to-Play Gigs Profitable
Managing a Pay-to-Play booking will not necessarily be a cakewalk, it will require specific skills, planning time and dedication to make this model a success.
These tasks are labor intensive and while a band might consider finding a manager to perform these duties, it is possible to do this if the band takes enough time to plan the event.
If your band is serious enough about success you might even find this process to be enjoyable.
This is the most important aspect of making a Pay-to-Play situation work.
Most show promoters give themselves at four to six months to plan an event, and so should your band when it comes to making an investment to perform.
The more time you plan, the more time you have to find sponsorship money to pay the gig fee.
In order to sell to sponsors you must have something to sell that benefits them.
You need to provide quality designed materials. Additionally you want to provide ad size options to your sponsors. Quality materials will allow your potential sponsors to perceive a value in paying to place their logo or trademark on your material.
Standard materials promoted by bands include:
Print & web flyers
Vinyl banners (hung at the show)
Your band’s email blasts to subscribers
Next you will need to be able to present other marketing factors including:
Determine Your Reach – How many people will see your material, including online and offline
Determine Distribution Channels—Online, Street team flyers, Posters, Mailing list blast, other
Determine Distribution Amounts—Consider the number of items to be made and distributed
Determine Ad Sizes—Consider the space be for the sponsors logo. Consider offering different sizes for different prices
Potential sponsors aren’t going to show up to your gigs or your practice, so you or your band manager must develop the skills to find sponsors.
There are many resources ranging from industry trade shows like NAMM and SWSX to local businesses in your own neighborhood.
Start shaking hands and making connections now that you can contact later to offer sponsorship opportunities when your band is ready to book with a Pay-to-Play venue.
Learn how to build your own wireless, visual metronome that flashes along (multi-coloured) to your music in a DAW with MIDI out. Liam Lacey uses Processing, Spark Core and a bit of DIY magic.
When recording or performing music, staying in time is essential. In the studio musicians will almost always use an audible click track metronome through headphones to help them keep in time with the rest of the music, and this technique is sometimes used on the stage too. However this may not be feasible or desirable for everyone, so what are the alternative options? Well, one option would be to use light instead of sound, and in this tutorial I’m going to show you how to build a simple wireless, light-based visual metronome that flashes in time with your DAW, as well as being colour-configurable using MIDI CCs.
This is what you’ll be building:
The main pieces of technology that we will be using here is the Spark Core—a hardware/software development platform that allows you to create wireless internet-connected devices with ease. It comes in the form of a Wi-Fi hardware board, a software development environment for programming the board, and a cloud service for connecting the board to the Internet. There are a few reasons why we are using the Spark Core for this project over alternative options:
It is a cheap, if not the cheapest, Wi-Fi development board available.
It is programmed using the same code as that of Arduino, which is easy to use.
It has a bright RGB LED onboard that we can use, averting us from needing to buy and connect any further electronic components
The Spark Core development board.
What You Will Need
A Spark Core board: These can be purchased from the Particle Store, though they are also available from a few hobbyist electronic stores. Make sure you get the ‘chip antenna’ model.
Something to power the board: If you want your visual metronome to be completely wireless you’ll need a Spark Core battery shield with a Polymer Lithium Ion Battery, or a micro USB battery. Else, simply plug the board into a USB port or plug using a micro USB cable.
A translucent enclosure: This will be a hollow object that the Spark Core is placed inside, in order for the LED to be more noticeable by illuminating something bigger. This could be one of a variety of things—some kind of translucent plastic box found around the house, an origami cube made out of tracing paper, or a custom-made box made from sheets of frosted acrylic.
Processing: As discussed in a previous article of mine, Processing is a programming language and environment for creating multimedia applications with ease, and we will use Processing to create an application that allows the MIDI messages from our DAW to control the LED on the Spark Core board. You can download Processing for free from here. You will also need to download and install the Processing MidiBus library and the Processing UDP library for this project.
Virtual MIDI port software: You will need to use a virtual MIDI port to connect the output of your DAW to the Processing application. For this I recommend loopMIDI on Windows, or on OS X you can use its built-in IAC Driver.
Step 1 – Set up your Spark Core
Setting up the Spark Core is really easy, and there is a dedicated smartphone app for doing this. The Particle website does a very good job of explaining the setup process, which you can view here. I recommend reading this whole guide, as it is a great introduction to how to use both the Spark Core hardware and software.
The Spark Core ‘Getting Started’ documentation.
Step 2 – Program your Spark Core
Next we need to upload some code onto the Spark Core board. In a nutshell, the Spark Core code for this project (shown below) sets the board to listen for certain messages being sent to it over Wi-Fi, and when it receives these messages to adjust the colour of its RGB LED accordingly. If you want to know more about what the code is doing, see the comments (lines beginning with ‘//’) in the code itself.
Uploading code is done using Particle’s online IDE (integrated development environment), which provides you with a text editor for writing code as well as controls for uploading this code into your Spark Core board, among other things.
The Particle online IDE.
Follow the instructions below to program your board:
Power on your Spark Core board, and wait for it to connect to the Particle cloud (the RGB LED will be a breathing cyan colour when it has connected).
Click on the ‘Devices’ item (2nd from bottom) from the toolbar on the left.
Click on the star next to your Spark Core board to select it.
Click on the ‘Flash’ item at the top of the toolbar to upload the code onto the board.
If no errors are shown below the text editor, and the RGB LED on the Spark Core board eventually turns to a static white, the board has now been programmed with the code. Please note that the LED will not be a breathing cyan colour once connected and running, like the documentation states, for this particular project.
Step 3 – Set up a Virtual MIDI Port
We will now set up the virtual MIDI port. Complete the following:
If you are on Windows:
Open up loopMIDI
Click on the ‘+’ button on the bottom-left side to create a new virtual port
Leave the application running
If you are on OS X:
Launch the ‘Audio MIDI Setup’ utility application
Go to ‘Window -> Show MIDI Studio’ if the window isn’t currently being displayed
Double-click on the ‘IAC Driver’ object in the MIDI window
Make sure that the ‘Device is online’ option is ticked
Close the application
Setting up your virtual MIDI port on OS X.
Step 4 – Create the Processing Application
Next we will create the MIDI-to-Spark-Core application using Processing. The code we will use here (shown below) listens for MIDI messages coming from your DAW, and uses them to send relevant messages to the Spark Core to control the LED. Again, see the comments (lines beginning with ‘//’) in the code itself if you want to know more about what the code is doing.
The Processing and MIDI-to-Spark-Core applications.
Once you have downloaded and installed Processing as well as the Processing MidiBus and UDP libraries, complete the following steps:
1. Launch Processing.
2. Copy this code into the text editor: Processing code.rtf
3. Change the IP address at the top of the code to the IP address of your Spark Core board. The easiest way to obtain the IP address is using a Serial Monitor application, such as the Arduino Serial Monitor.
a. Download and installing Arduino from here
b. Launch Arduino
c. Reset your Spark Core board by pressing the ‘RST’ button, and wait for the LED to go out.
d. In Arduino go to ‘Tools -> Serial Port’ and select the device that begins with ‘/dev/tty.usbmodem’.
e. Select ‘Tools -> Serial Monitor’.
f. In the new window there should be an IP Address at the top of the main section. This is the IP address you want. If it hasn’t appeared, make sure the baud rate is set to 9600, close the Serial Monitor, reset the Spark Core board and try again.
4. Set the ‘midiInput’ variable at the top of the code to be the name of your virtual MIDI port.
5. In Processing select ‘Sketch -> Run’. The application should now open in a new window.
Step 5 – Configure your DAW
We will be using MIDI Clock messages to make the RGB LED on the Spark Core flash in time with the transport playback of your DAW. Configuring a DAW to send MIDI Clock messages various from DAW to DAW, so consult your DAW’s documentation to find out how to do this. Once that has been done, allow MIDI Clock and CC messages to be sent to the virtual MIDI port.
Step 6 – Connect it all Together
Finally we’re ready to make your DAW control the LED. With your DAW configured to send MIDI clock messages and connected to the virtual MIDI port, the MIDI_to_Spark_Core application running and your Spark Core board on, connected and housed in its enclosure, press play within your DAW and the LED should begin pulsating in synchronization. Try changing the tempo in your DAW—you’ll notice the flashing LED changes speed too. You can also send MIDI CCs 20, 21, and 22 to the MIDI_to_Spark_Core app to adjust the red, green, and blue values of the LED—automate these CC values to create synchronized colour animations.
The completed visual metronome project.
If the LED isn’t flashing at all, try adjusting the ‘udpPort’ value/number at the top of both the Spark Core code and the Processing code to a different number between 1024 and 65535, as your computer may already be using this port for something else. The same number must be used in both pieces of code, and remember to re-flash the Spark Core board and re-run the Processing app after doing this! You may also want to check that the Spark Core board still has the same IP address, and adjust the value in the Processing code if it has changed.
If you find that the RGB LED on the Spark Core board isn’t bright enough, you could extend the project by connecting an external RGB LED as well. This tutorial shows you how this can be done using an Arduino board, however just replace the Arduino with a Spark Core board and everything will work in the exact same way. The Spark Core code above also includes some code examples for controlling an external LED.
Here is a short video demonstrating my Spark Core visual metronome, using a tracing paper origami cube as the enclosure, connected to Ableton Live.
The vocal sound is one of the most important aspect of every mix. If your vocal is buried in the mix, uninspiring and flat then your listener probably won’t care that much for the song. Your guitars might sound weird and your other instruments might be badly mixed, but that just might be your sound. But if you don’t mix the vocals well, everybody will notice.
Using the regular processors of EQ, compression and the like can only take your vocals so far. You usually add some form of effects. This usually results in a nice reverb, but it’s easy to overdo it on the reverb side. Instead, the next time you want to add some flair to your vocal sound, try out some of these delay tips.
Although the tips that follow are used on vocals, you might try them on other instruments such as guitar or other solo instruments. A nice slap-echo adds a nice ambience to a vocal, but it can also add a new dimension to saxophone solo, for instance.
Slap echo is a very distinct sound. It’s a very short delay with only about one repeat. The slap-back echo was popularized way back with the Beatles, with John Lennon’s vocal sound often drenched in a very distinct, modulated slap-back echo.
It can also be used to just add a little bit of space to your vocal sound. Use it subtly, instead of reverb, to get more depth to your vocal. Reverb tails can get messy and tend to clutter up your mix if you’re not careful whereas delays and echoes fade away fairly quickly, leaving you with a cleaner sound.
In the following example, I’m using a rock vocal with an 80 millisecond mono delay with about one repeat.
Here’s the dry version:
Definitely very dry, and will stand out like a sore thumb in a mix without some space around it.
Here’s the vocal with the short delay:
You can hear how the vocal now has some space around it. We’ve essentially constructed a small reflective room around the vocal with the delay. The vocal bounces off the virtual walls and slaps back with the vocal, creating the effect.
Using Echo instead of Delay
We can also use an echo instead of a delay. It will give you a very similar sound. The echo plug-in in Logic doesn’t give you the option of setting the echo in milliseconds, but rather in notes like 16th notes and the like. In this example I’ve set the echo to dotted 16th notes and I’ve added a little more feedback just for fun.
This is what we end up with:
Not noticeably different, except for the amount of repeats. So whether you use a delay or an echo for your slap-back doesn’t really matter. Just try out the different plug-ins at your disposal and see which one you like the most.
Use it for:
A closer vocal sound
When you just need a little bit of depth
For a bigger sound, using a stereo delay with a medium delay setting is a good way to go. Whereas the slap-echo is a “close” sound, longer delay times result in larger sounds. This is the typical rock arena delay, something that’s very distinct in hard rock and a setting I used often while doing live sound.
Once again, we’re using the same vocal sample as before, but we’ve changed the delay.
Instead of a mono delay or an echo we’re using a stereo delay with two different settings on either side. With a 200 millisecond delay on one side and a 150 millisecond delay on the other you get a bigger and wider sound. There’s also very little feedback, about 10%, or only about one repeat.
Notice how much the feel of the vocal changes just because we swapped out our delay effects?
Use it for:
That arena rock sound
A bigger vocal sound when you don’t want to use reverb
On guitar solos
In ballads or songs that have long, sustained vocal phrases, you can allow yourself to lengthen the delay. With long, sustained notes the delay thickens everything up without really getting in the way. If you mix the delay underneath the vocal then you’ll just get this thick and juicy vocal sound. And if you time the repeat with the music, the one repeat at the end will really add a different character to that passage.
Here’s a different vocal passage, without any delay.
Now, let’s add a stereo delay using a similar technique as the one in the rock delay tip. This time we’re changing the delay times to 500 and 700 milliseconds. Like before, we’re only using 10% feedback, or about one repeat.
As you can hear in the sample below, the delay swells in and thickens up the vocal throughout the phrase.
If you want the delay to blend in better you can add an EQ after the delay and filter out the high frequencies. It will give you the same thickness effect, but the vocal delay will sound darker and blend in better.
Use it for:
When you want to mix up the vocal sound in certain parts
Veteran engineer of Universal Mastering Studios West, Pete Doell
Most recording musicians, engineers and producers are well aware what a difference mastering can make to our mixes. And as we’ve discussed in previous columns (such as Audio Mastering Basics: Taking Your Music That Extra Step), mastering is an art form in itself, and is best placed in the hands of a specialist.
But even expert mastering engineers can only accomplish so much, and it’s largely dependent on the raw materials they’re given to work with. With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the top mistakes people make in preparing their mix for mastering, with the help of veteran engineer of Universal Mastering Studios West, Pete Doell.
1. Too Much Bottom
Excessive low-end is probably one of the most common problems in mixes coming from project studios. Usually this is directly related to the mixing environment. The average home studio or project room is lacking in real acoustical treatment is and rife with reflective surfaces and bass traps. The result is an uneven response across the bass spectrum, with some notes being overemphasized and others being practically inaudible. This translates to a poorly balanced low end in your mix. You’ll find a lot of info on balancing your room’s acoustics in our Studio Basics blog, Studio Acoustics and Soundproofing Basics.
Mastering engineer Pete Doell offers an important pointer: “The most egregious mistake is that people’s monitors aren’t placed properly,” he says. “Speakers need to be as far apart from each other as you are from them. So if your mix position is, say, three feet from either speaker, the speakers should be exactly three feet apart. Moreover, if the speakers are too close or too far from a wall, the apparent bass response will be off.”
On the other end of the spectrum, high-end can also cause its own issues. While not as hard to hear in the project studio environment, those high frequencies can show up differently during the mastering phase.
A De-Esser, like the Precision De-Esser Plug-In, is a good way to nip sibiliance in the bud before mixing.
“Most mixes will want a bit of ‘polish’ or ‘shine’ in mastering,” says Doell. “When this good stuff is applied, sibilance can really creep up. Do yourself a big favor and de-ess your vocals, maybe even your hi-hat just a bit, even if you don’t hear too much of an issue. Your mastering engineer will thank you.”
This is probably one of the most discussed topics in modern music mixing circles. Over the past decade or so, the quest for radio airplay has created a battle for attention that has manifested itself in loudness – the perception being that louder the track, the more it will grab the listener. It’s a mentality that started with TV and radio advertisers (notice how a loud commercial gets your attention) and is a direct result of today’s vastly improved compressor technology, which has enabled us to create “radio mixes” where everything is loud, punchy and in your face.
The problem with pumping up the apparent volume on your mix this way is that it works by compressing the dynamic range of your tracks. Dynamic range is defined as the difference between the loudest and softest sounds in your track. Ideally, the tracks you deliver to the mastering house should have peaks of around –3 dB for the loudest material (for example, a snare hit), while the rest of the track should average in the –6 dB to –8 dB area. That would give your peaks somewhere around 3dB to 5dB of dynamic range.
The problem with compressing dynamic range (or, equally hazardous, normalizing a track’s relative volume), is that you effectively rob your mastering engineer of the resources to do their job. A good mastering engineer applies meticulous use of multiband compression – bringing up the punch and presence of the bass, adding clarity and sparkle to the high end – all by using different compression algorithms for different spectral bands.
Many inexperienced mixers will apply a “mastering compressor” plug-in, using a preset that creates a loud but muddy low-end, a bright and aggressive high-end, and little room for the mastering engineer to add — or de-emphasize — anything.
“Sometimes clients desire a ‘loud’ mix, but they have done little or nothing to control the dynamics of their mixes,” says Doell. “I like the analogy of getting a super sexy paint job for your car — asking the mastering engineer to do the entire job with one ‘coat of paint’ is not the smartest move. Layering the limiting (by compressing the vocal, bass, snare, for example) will allow a MUCH more gorgeous detailed, deep shine on the final product!”
On a related note, try to avoid over-compressing individual tracks for the same reason. Often a mastering engineer will get a track that’s well within dynamic range, but with a vocal track that’s been normalized to the verge of distortion. Again, it leaves little room for mastering to bring out any subtlety or nuance in that vocal.
4. Lack of Panning
It’s important to give your mix some dimensionality by balancing different elements within a nice, wide, stereo field. All too often, people tend to pan everything at or near the center, creating a cluttered-sounding mix that lacks definition. While certain elements should typically be centered (kick, snare, vocal and bass come to mind), panning is a great way to achieve separation between guitar parts, background vocals and other parts of the mix.
“It’s always good to pan some elements of the mix just a bit off to one side,” says Doell. “If you have a blend of guitars, horns, backing vocals, etc., keeping the middle less cluttered allows your ear to hear more distinctly all of that cool production you’ve worked on. You’ll also need less EQ and effects to pick these things out in the mix.”
5. Phase Problems
With most DAWs offering unlimited tracks, the temptation to record everything in stereo is strong, and elements like a nicely-recorded stereo acoustic guitar can add depth and character to a track. But be careful to check your mixes in mono to avoid phase cancellation from poorly-placed mics. Only by soloing the stereo tracks will you be able to hear whether certain frequencies “disappear” when the two channels are summed to mono.
It’s not just stereo-miked instruments that can fall victim to phase cancellation. According to Doell, “Often I’ll get a track with ‘hyper-wide’ elements in the mix that achieve that ‘outside the speakers’ effect by making one side out of phase. Just try hitting the mono button and watch that cool keyboard, string pad, background vocal stack, whatever, totally disappear. Even if you never anticipate having any need for mono (AM radio anyone?), when you do this, your balances aren’t what you think!”
Taking a moment to check and correct phase issues as you go will
head off lots of problems down the road.
This same principle also applies to reverbs. It’s all too common to have that lush hall you placed on the vocal just vanish in mono. To learn more about phase, check out our blog article, Understanding Phase and Correcting Issues.
6. Poor Vocal Placement
It’s hard to be objective on placing vocals in a mix, particularly if it’s your song. After all, you know the lyrics, so it’s easy to forget that other people don’t. And in most cases, a track can sound equally “right” whether the vocal is sitting a bit in front or a bit behind the track. Many pros will do two or three alternate mixes of a track, one with the lead vocal a bit up, one with it a bit down, and one in the middle. It’s a luxury of choice that most mastering engineers are happy to have.
7. Misaligned Tracks
This one is a no-brainer. When you send stems (separated groups of tracks, like drums and bass, guitars, backing vocals) to mastering, make sure they all start at the same place. “This is another pet peeve of mine,” says Doell. “If the lead vocal doesn’t come in until 0:30, that stem should have 30 seconds of silence at the top.”
8. Not Knowing Your Room
“I always like to start my mixing day by listening to some records I know and love — ideally in the musical style I will be working in — in the seat I will be sitting in to mix, and over the same D/A converter,” says Doell. “Then I will be much more readily comparing apples with apples. I am blessed to work in a ZR Acoustics® (Zero Reflection Acoustics by Delta H Design, Inc.) room at Universal Mastering. But if I am working elsewhere, it’s important to know how the room I am working in is participating in what I am hearing, before I start making any decisions.”
As you might imagine, there are countless other stumbling blocks that can trip up your mix and make life challenging for your mastering engineer – certainly far more than we can list in this column. As always, the bottom line is to use your ears, listen carefully, and learn the rules before you break them. If all else fails, keep the potential mistakes above in mind, and you’ll be on your way to better results.
Seven Colors in a Rainbow It is well known there are seven colors in a rainbow… Isaac Newton, a pioneer in the field of colour, passed a beam of sunlight through a prism. When the light came out of the prism it was not white but was spread into rays composed of seven different colours: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.
The spreading into rays was called dispersion by Newton and he called the different coloured rays the spectrum. He learnt that when the light rays were passed again through a prism the rays turned back into white light. If only one ray was passed through the prism it would come out the same colour as it went in. Newton concluded that white light was made up of seven different coloured rays. They are just one part of the electromagnetic spectrum… the part (frequencies) that are visible/discernable to the human eye. There are also a plethora of frequencies and colors in between these seven colors and ones we can’t see, for instance radio ways, ultra-violet and infra-red.
Notice the first, third and fifth colors are red, yellow and blue.
Seven Notes in a Scale Anyone delving into music theory knows there are seven notes in a musical scale. Using a C major scale and an E major scale as examples we have the patterns noted above. The center section… Root, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh are the scale degrees relative to the root note (the root note can be any note). Chords are a combination of three or more notes in a scale. Major chords are comprised of the Root, third and fifth notes of any major scale. Major chords are the basis of all other chord structures.
There are also an abundance of other frequencies (tones/vibrations) in the sound spectrum, but the notes in the scale will repeat themselves the further higher and lower you go up and down in frequency. Notes of the same tone but different pitch are called octaves, for instance, “A-440” is an abbreviation for the official government standard of musical pitch in the United States. Related to pianos, it means that the strings for the “A” just above “middle C” should vibrate at 440 cycles per second. Higher and lower A’s will vibrate at 880 and 220 respectively. (notice the frequencies are equal divisors of each other… either double or half)
The light waves (electromagnectic spectrum) are also doing this, we just can’t see the higher and lower frequencies because unlike intermittent sounds, we are constantly being bombarded with light, radio and other waves. If we could actually see all of them, it would probably appear as just a big soupy mess… an analogy using sound would be like hitting all of the piano keys at the same time. I guess our brains just picked out a nice section of the electromagnetic field (the scale of light) and made it visible. So, there are seven color frequencies and seven sound frequencies used by our eyes and ears for sight, hearing, art, music, painting, song writing, etc.
The Color Wheel
A color circle, based on red, yellow and blue, is traditional in the field of art. Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colors in 1666. Since then scientists and artists have studied and designed numerous variations of this concept. Differences of opinion about the validity of one format over another continue to provoke debate. In reality, any color circle or color wheel which presents a logically arranged sequence of pure hues has merit.
Red, yellow and blue
In traditional color theory, these are the 3 pigment colors that can not be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues
Green, orange and purple
These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.
Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green and yellow-green.
These are the colors formed by mixing one primary and one secondary color
The mysterious correlation of light and sound.
The first, third and fifth colors of the rainbow are Primary colors… red, yellow and blue. The first, third and fifth notes of a major scale is a Major chord… root, third and fifth.
Something quite amazing happens when we tie all of this information together (that’s Physics, Optics, Light, Sight, Sound, Hearing, Art, Music, Neuroscience) and line up the two groups of seven up together…
Primary Colors are Major Chords!
If you could actually “hear” the extremely high frequencies the red, yellow and blue (primary color) light waves are vibrating at… you would hear a Major chord. If you could “see” the sound of notes in a major chord relative to the same “rainbow scale” used by light… you would see notes and chords in primary color just like way they are used in the chord diagram program above.
Mindtunes is a track created by Andy, Jo and Mark, 3 physically disabled music fans, using only one instrument: their mind. The track was produced by DJ Fresh. Watch the music video: http://bit.ly/18tDipD
At Smirnoff we believe there’s a creator in everyone of us. All you need are the means to get it out there, for everyone to see.
You have a mind, you can create. #yoursforthemaking
Headphones come in different shapes and sizes. For those of you who need to merely listen to music and don’t mind much about what type of gear you’re using, a simple stock pair of earbuds will do. However, we’re assuming those of you who are here today to read up on open-back headphones aren’t in that category. For true audiophiles, every minor detail counts, and when it comes to listening to our favorite sounds, we need something top notch. Yes, there is more of a difference than just price when comparing a pair of Apple stock earbuds to a nice pair of Sennys besides the price. Let’s check out our list of the top 10 best open-back headphones on earth.
The difference between open and closed-back headphones
Although you may know the difference since you’re already here, we’ll spell it out quickly just for some background. Headphone design is relatively important when shopping for a pair of cans depending on your preferred use for them. Here’s the scoop — Closed-back headphones are closed around your ear to ensure sound isolation. Open-back headphones on the other hand are open around your ears to allow some sound leak out from the earcups.
So why on earth would you want that to happen? Well for starters, although noise isolation is great and is pretty synonymous with ‘studio headphones’ and marketing, it can cause some build-up of certain frequencies after extended use within your earcups (mostly lower frequencies with bass). This is particularly bad for those mixing and mastering professionally, since sound build-up can mess around with the accuracy of your mixes. However, closed-back headphones are perfect for recording (most commonly vocals but it could be any instrument) since noise isolation is key because you don’t want any of the sound coming from your headphones to be picked up by the microphone. That’ll blur up your track and take away from the clarity.
As you can see, there is a time and place for both headphone designs. There are of course a few similarities between the two as well. In essence, they are all technically studio headphones. All designs are going to give you prestige audio quality when compared to those typical over-marketed or stock headphones you see everywhere around the gym. So if you’re looking to merely enjoy your favorite playlist with a nice pair of headphones, either design will do. Just know that there is a chance of build-up with closed, but with open you’ll have some sound leak out and others may hear what you’re listening to (just be sure to turn it down when your favorite Miley Cyrus track comes on when you’re on the bus).
For more information on the difference between the most common headphone designs, we like Forbes’ open-back vs. closed-back article.
The top 10 best open-back headphones
Now that we have a bit of background on headphone design, the following is our list of top 10 best headphones with an open-back builds available today. Be sure to let us know in the comments if you have any questions, comments or suggestions. Don’t forget that you may need aheadphone amplifier if you want to really power your pair of headphones up, unless of course you’re using an audio interface to mix your tunes.
It took some time to really decide, but we’re going with a Beyerdynamic pair of headphones here to start off our list at #1. Do some research and you’ll see that we’re not alone on this decision. If you can afford them, they’re one of the best pairs of open-back headphones in the market as backed up by numerous years of user reviews. The DT-990 give you a super soft headband pad and earcups, a well-built design that will last you years if you take proper care of them, and most importantly some extremely clear audio quality. A very well-rounded and flat frequency response as it won’t give you inflated bass or treble. In terms of price point, we’d say it’s a hike up to the higher models, but if you can afford this bad boy, don’t look back and grab it. It looks slick as well. Check out those ear-pads, they look so comfortable I could use them as a pillow.
These are one of our favorite pairs of headphones out there, especially since AKG is a brand name that you can trust. This pair may be a tad bit cheaper than our previous open-back pair listed, so if you want to save a few bucks you can go this route depending on where you look. They’re stated to be “optimized for DJ’s” but really they’re perfect for mixing in general. The build is solid so it’s going to be a smart investment, super clear sound, a 3-D form ear pad make (great for a custom fit so you can adjust them accordingly), and another well-balanced frequency response. We’re still in the high-quality models when it comes to price point, so grab this pair if you can’t afford the DT-990 but still want something prestige within the open-back world.
We’d be disappointed in ourselves if we didn’t have a pair of Sennheiser headphones, especially an HD model within the top 3 at least. They’re a bit up there in terms of price, but we guarantee more than half of the audiophiles you ask about open-back headphones are going to tell you to grab a pair of Senny HD’s, most likely this pair in particular. They’re one of the most popular pairs of open-back cans in the audiophile community. What steers some away however is the higher price point, so before you check pricing just keep in mind that they’re worth every penny if you have them. Aluminum voice coils, comfortable fit, clear and crisp frequencies of every level, detachable cable, and a metal mesh grille build for an all-around beast of a pair of headphones. If you are intrigued by the HD series by Senny, browse around the other models as you can go either lower or higher when it comes to pricing and quality.
We hope you’ve heard of Audio-Technica, and if you haven’t, let’s just say we’re slightly obsessed with their gear. This particular model has been out for quite a few years so we have some time backing it up when it comes to longevity. It has a honeycomb aluminum casing build with that self-adjusting wing system they have on some of their gaming headsets as well. Great quality in terms of all frequencies and many would be mad we’re saying this but the driver is big (we know, bigger isn’t necessarily better), but it doesn’t hurt at 53 mm. The ear-pads are velvet so this thing is going to be comfortable on your head (especially if you’re going to be going through hours and hours of use like us). It was rated pretty well on head-fi’s AD700 review.
If you’ve read any of our microphone reviews, you would have noticed there’s pretty much aShure gear model in there at least once. Their headphones are pretty solid as well. This model is a beast of a whole different level. Before you let the price point get in the way of your decision, we recommend at least looking at it if it’s a possibility. Dual-exit cables on each side of the pair, replacable veluer pads with some custom-forming foam and most importantly super clear audio-quality with high-quality acoustic drivers. Basically everything about this pair of open-back headphones is high-quality straight down to the connectors attached to the end of the cables. It also comes with a case, replaceable pads, replacement cable and a threaded adapter in the box. It’s not for the average. Here’s CNET’s SRH1840 review for some more info if you’re interested.
This open-back pair of headphones is a bit lower in cost so if you’re looking to save some money we’d say this is our favorite budget-friendly pair to grab. It has a relatively simple design with no fancy fit systems or anything like that. Reportedly super comfortable with those pretty dense ear-pads as you can see and the mid-range is stated to be very clear. A solid detailed sound with some warmth to them. It goes well with most types of music and rivals the HD 600 just coming short a bit (in our opinion — but the prices reflect that as well). Although many professional pairs of open-back headphones are pricey, we’d consider this in the middle price-point. Sony doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the build of their headphones so in terms of longevity, you’ll be good to go for years if you take care of them.
Here’s another A-T pair of open-back cans and this one was recently announced so it’s fresh in the market. We’re actually wearing a pair of M50x as we write this (listening to the new Muse) and this is their first reference pair as a part of their monitor line of headphones. You have the 3D wing support system for great comfort, dual-sided detachable cable, honeycomb mesh build and an overall natural sounding audio output. We’d grab this if you’re an A-T nerd like us and want a solid build. You can read our ATH-R70x headphones review for some more in-depth info on the pair.
We were a bit new to HiFiMan gear to be honest, but with their reputation building higher and higher when it comes to quality we had to see what these were about. Stated to be great across the broad frequency range it provides, they give you a pretty loud sound, well-built drivers and a comfortable fit (pretty snug on your head, just check the picture for how they’d wrap around your ears and fully engulf them with the sound). A very detailed sound here and although they’re great for most uses, we wouldn’t recommend traveling with them because of how big they are. It’s like a giant metal pillow that’s going to rest on your head and ears, really surrounding you with the sound you have in front of you. Engadget rated these super high in their HE-400 review.
Just another option to take into consideration here. It’s around the same price as the others within the middle range. It has a very solid metal build to it that will last you quite a long time and has 50 mm neodymium drivers. The drivers are “pre-tilted” at 15 degrees which is stated to help with “precision” when reaching your ears and the 3D mesh fit is great for a custom feel when it’s on your head. The headband is leather which is never a bad thing. Check the price and if you can somehow find it below two bills, we’d grab it since that would be a steal.
Last but not least we have another AKG model and it’s one of the more popular pairs of reference headphones in the audiophile world. The only thing we can pick at is the “semi-open” design so technically they shouldn’t be in here, but at number 10 we thought why not? Some standard features here: self-adjusting headband, 3D fit system, a solid bass and clear high frequency as well as our favorite: a detachable cable. It’s actually a bit cheaper than a lot of the headphones in this article, so if you want to go as low as you can in terms of price yet still find a reliable model, this could be it for you. They’re very affordable yet still give you superb quality.
Looking to dive into audio production but don’t know what gear to invest in to get started? Look no further! Dubspot’s Daniel Salvaggio rounds up some music studio essentials for helping you get up and running on your journey.
At Dubspot, one of the first things students new to production often ask is, ‘What gear do I need to get started?’ In this article, we’ll take a look at what we recommend for those looking to get started in the world of electronic music-making.
Well, obviously. However, the question will pertain to, ‘what should I get? PC or Mac?’ The short answer is that as far as hardware is concerned, you’ll probably be okay as long as you are not buying very old, outdated gear. Beyond that, if you intend to use Logic Pro, you’ll have to buy a Mac. Most all other DAWs work with multiple operating systems. From there, it’s all preference- I enjoy having a very powerful PC as my studio rig and doing all my work from one place. You may want a more mobile-oriented solution, and today’s laptops are absolutely capable of handling just about anything you’d be doing with a stationary setup.
There are numerous benefits to be reaped from purchasing an audio interface. In addition to increasing the sound quality coming to and from your computer, an audio interface will offer multiple inputs for recording live instruments and vocals. They also offer outputs for the use of quality studio monitors and headphones. The typical soundcard found on your PC or laptop will often contain one 1/8″ headphone jack output and one 1/8″ input for a desktop microphone. These are not ideal for audio production and, as a result, an external soundcard is one of the most significant purchases you can make for your home studio. With countless devices on the market, prices range from low to high, and these days you really don’t have to spend much to get a quality soundcard. In my home studio, and in our classrooms at Dubspot, we use the USB-powered Scarlett 2i2 from Focusrite. They are an inexpensive audio interface that offers great quality and easily meets the needs of the average home producer. Below are a few other recommended soundcards.
Studio monitors are loudspeakers designed for audio production needs where accurate audio reproduction is crucial. Ideal studio monitors offer a clear, ‘honest’ representation of what you’re creating in your DAW. One beautiful thing about audio production becoming more accessible is that the price of quality gear has come down in the past decade making it more affordable to build a home studio. The most popular near-field monitors on the market by far are KRK’s Rokit series. They are highly affordable and sound great for the price. Rokit’s have been used and hyped up by some of the biggest names in the industry as well (a guy called Skrillex comes to mind). I’ve been using the Rokit 6 monitors in my studio for the last four or so years and am very happy with them. However, like most technology, the sky is the limit when talking about how much you can spend. A pair of Genelec M040′s or Event Opals will be significantly more expensive than a pair of Rokit 5′s. Mainly because they boast a cleaner, less distorted signal, and in some cases a lower frequency response. Below are a few other recommended studio monitors that are affordable.
While it is often advised that you should not primarily work in headphones, they are a highly useful tool in the studio. Not only are headphones crucial in terms of a musician’s relationship with the neighbors when working on music at night, but they also offer a slightly more exaggerated perception of music aspects in a project. For instance, headphones will make things like panning much more apparent. Note that it’s always a good idea to listen to your music on multiple platforms such as different speakers, headphones, etc. Listening to music in different environments will give you an idea of what your music sounds like to the average listener (i.e., someone that did not drop a bunch of money on a quality soundcard and studio monitors). Headphone types vary, and there are different types of headphones for various purposes. You can get a great pair of headphones for general use at an affordable price (the Audio Technica M50‘s come to mind) or spend a lot more on something a bit more high quality like the Audeze EL-8′s. Below are a few other recommended headphones that are affordable.
MIDI controllers are always a huge topic of conversation at Dubspot as we’re all very eager to try out the latest gear. When it comes to an ever-important question of ‘what to buy,’ it all comes down to your specific studio needs and how you approach or would like to approach music-making. In my opinion, every producer needs at least a MIDI keyboard. There is no quicker way to get your melodic ideas down than with a piano. Beyond the obvious, other controllers offer functionality pertaining to how you interact with your DAW. Controllers with beat pads like Native Instruments’ Maschine or M-Audio’s Trigger Finger offer a quick, tactile way of getting your ideas down versus laboriously drawing in blocks of MIDI with your mouse. Maschine and Ableton’s Push take that functionality much further, allowing you to utilize something called ‘Scale Mode,’ enabling you to input melodic data without ever hitting a sour note! Not only is this a tremendous help in reference to the creation process, but a great way to learn scales, modes, and increase your knowledge of music theory. Below are a few other recommended MIDI controllers that are affordable.
It’s increasingly common for those who want to add an edge to their DJing to get into production at some level, either to add completely new originals into the mix or just to have a few nice edits at your disposal. The most common beginner problem for DJs entering the production marketplace is usually the time consumption required to produce; unlike DJing, it requires long periods of time with little reward before anything decent comes out. So here’s a set of tips to help you separate out your production processes and make the time you spend more effective and efficient.
KEEP ‘EM SEPARATED
In the process of production, it can become easy (if not a subconscious action) to get caught up in the minute details of a track: if you’re not careful, you wind up spending excruciating hours on a kick drum or synth line, only to come out of the process confused, uninspired, and exhausted. The easiest way to fix this mental exhaustion is to split your production into three distinct processes and stick to this division of labor religiously!
First: Creation This is where you let loose on a track; be as creative as you can be with sound design, instrumentation, orchestration, structural elements and experimental sonic textures. Instead of worrying about how the sounds are meshing, focus instead on the general thematic and structural elements of the track. Ask yourself:
What do you want the mood to be?
What sort of tempo and energy level do you want to evoke?
What sounds do you want to make prominent and noticeable?
During this entire process, see if you can manage to leave the volume faders as they are: you might redline a little (or a lot), but you’ll be surprised at how fast the track comes together when you’re not sweating the small stuff.
Second: Mixdown This section can be easily blended with the creative process if you’re not careful, so be sure to catch yourself when you find that you’re tweaking small details in the mix during the creative process. Once you’ve finished the track itself, give it a couple hours – or even a couple days – sit down with fresh ears, and just fix everything you notice. There are literally hundreds of different techniques to mixdown that aren’t coverable here, but your core focus should be 3 things: levels, EQ, and compression. If you master those components, you’re well on your way.
Finally: Mastering If you’re doing your own mastering, which is inadvisable for important releases but fine for a quick edit or club track, then repeat the steps before mixdown (take a few days off, fix everything you notice), but bounce the track so you don’t tempt yourself into adjusting the mix and the master at the same time.
Keeping your processes separate is crucial to creating a sustainable and enjoyable workflow. While not an exhaustive list, this table might help guide you through which process occurs when.
CREATE A MOOD, NOT A GENRE
It’s a frequent problem that new producers end up emulating their favorite producers or exploring the tropes of their genre to the point where their sound becomes derivative. This is mostly a product of a problematic approach to production: instead of trying to emulate a certain sound, tempo, or genre, aim for pure expressivity. It might seem daunting at first, but a much easier way of channeling your inspiration without your work sounding too derivative is to attempt to convey a feeling rather than a “sound.” An easy way of doing this is matching the rhythmic and sonic elements of your track to fit the “mood,” by incorporating things like trills or legato to give a sense of either momentum or lethargy to your tracks. Take a look at the effect of rhythmic changes in otherwise similar songs:
In the track above, the emphasis of the plucks during the main section reinforces the power of the kickdrum and emphasizes the 16th notes of each bar with nothing on the upbeat or any syncopation, giving it a plodding, marching quality.
As opposed to the earlier track, the producer has instead opted to emphasize the upbeat with sparse instrumentation on the downbeat. This gives what many colloquially refer to as a “bouncy” or “swung” feeling, and it adds a lot of momentum to a relatively minimalist track. In short, how you approach the downbeat of your track (many times the kickdrum) will fundamentally alter how your listeners perceive your track; use this as a tool for creativity, instead of trying to imitate a genre’s sound or tropes.
Quick Tip: Use triplets to provide an off-kilter, momentous feeling. They’re criminally underused by most producers.
SHUT YOURSELF OFF
Comparing your track to another, studio-quality track, otherwise known as “A/Bing,” can be useful to measure relative loudness and punch. But the effects of this can be disastrous if you do it too often or infeffectively.
Never A/B during the creative process; the result is a heightened awareness of the flaws of your track, which can leave you disillusioned and uninterested. When A/Bing to mix, drag the volume of the comparison track until it’s equal to (or below) the peak of your track. Loudness is hugely influential in terms of your perception of quality, and listening to an incredibly loud studio track versus your unmastered mix will distort your perception of the mix in general. Even during the mixdown, it’s best not to keep referencing a track, as even if the two are at similar amplitude(meaning volume) they might not have the same “loudness” (a psychological phenomenon).
Here’s an example: listen to these two sounds, then try and guess which one is louder.
If you guessed the second example, you’re in the same boat as most other people, but the trick is that these sounds are at the exact same amplitude (dB level). Which frequencies are emphasized, a key part of mastering, adds a huge but indiscernable amount to the way we perceive loudness. This is a basic, but potent realization: countless producers get discouraged or spend endless time tweaking because their song doesn’t sound as “loud” as a club track they’re listening to, even though they’re pushing compressors and limiters to their peak. Instead, ease off the volume, work on the mix, and hand the mastering over to someone else who can punch it up later.
Quick Tip: Bring the volume of your reference track down by around 12 dB when comparing; that way, it will be significantly quieter than your own track, and you’ll be forced to only pay attention to the mix, and not the effects of the punchy mastering.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
It’s totally natural to find yourself hitting a wall – nobody has an endless supply of wisdom and creativity. The best thing you can do is try to remember why you started making the track, or even started making music at all, in the first place: to have fun.
It’s easy to get swept up in the glut of competition and market saturation and think that you constantly have to be innovating beyond people and making the next hit track, but in all actuality, you’re better off doing something that you enjoy; don’t worry about other people’s tracks, don’t worry about how you think you sound, just start messing about. You’ll be shocked at how easy it can be to make something you enjoy again.