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  1. I'm an amateur producer. I have two interfaces at my disposal: the Tascam US1641(USB 2.0) and an Allen and Heath ZED 14 Mixer w/ USB to DAW. I've been recording with both but am not quite sure which is better in the studio in terms of audio quality and overall professionalism (not sure if that last part makes sense). I want my audio to sound as pristine as possible given my limited means. I basically use a Presonus Studio Channel to shape my signal before going into either the US1641 or the Allen and Heath. I prefer working with the latter but am not sure if my ears and general ignorance are keeping me from noticing some radical difference between the recording quality. Thanks for your feedback and insights!
  2. Hey! Is this forum just for sound engineers or wannabes like me get to be here too? Well, anyway, just got two questions! 1st - What's the difference between the producer and sound engineer? 2nd - I know in UK there's a lot of degrees in Sound Engineering. Is there any in Portugal? Thank you so much!
  3. This article is by no means a source of authority, and I am by no means an expert of audio engineering, however I did want to share some of my experiences when I started out writing music years ago. The content of this article should be taken with a grain of salt, some of the more established audio engineers around here may not agree with some sections, other parts they might. This article is just a reflection of what I have observed from my years of amateur music production. There is literally tonnes of information and technical details to be found on the internet, but none of which actually spoke of real life terms, and real factors people might face when they start out in production. This article isn't a technical article, there's hundreds of resources out there that can provide you with technical details better than what I can. This article was meant for beginners to read and possibly help them spot some of the pitfalls that the magazines and books wont cover. This is Part 1, Part 2 may come in the near future. Lets just see how this one goes first Where To Start? A pretty standard question, but one I see people asking a fair bit. The answer isn't always straight forward, but the general theme is to just absorb as much information as you can. Get onto public forums (like this one) and get talking to people, ask questions, look at what other people are doing and ask how they did it. Be a sponge, suck up as much info as you can. Depending on what you're looking to get into, there are lots of very good books out there to read which can really jump start your production skills, there are also a plethora of books out there that will probably just confuse you and go way too deep into theory, you just want to write music right? Right, but you'll need to arm your self with some theory first, it will save you headaches further down the line. I personally read and can recommend The Dance Music Manual - By Rick Snoman | Buy From Amazon Here The Dance Music Manual Vol 2 - By Rick Snoman | Buy From Amazon Here Mixing With Your Mind | Mixing With Your Mind is probably more targeted for people looking to record and mix bands ,real drum kits, instruments, mic placement etc, the traditional sound engineer, but it's still extremely useful to people just working on home studios. The Dance Music Manual however is very much targeted for people looking to create dance music, of all sorts. It covers topics in depth, but not so much as to lose you in technical jargon. Read the manual to your sequencer (DAW), and the tools you’re using. Knowing what all those strange knobs and dials mean really helps, even if they're no use to you, knowing what you need to touch and what you don't is very helpful. Even on a superficial level, just having a feeling as though you understand everything that’s going on in your software is beneficial for creativity and you're overall enthusiasm to create music. Nothing ruins your creative vibe and writing experience then when you're staring at a screen full of dials, and you bump one then the sound completely changes and you don't know why. Learn enough about your software that you feel comfortable working with it, don't just learn enough to achieve what you need to do at this current point in time, you'll just pigeon hole your self into the same repetitive procedures this way, read about how people use the tools, even if its not relevant to what you're doing right now. Buy The Best Gear You Can Afford Not to be confused with"buy the most expensive gear you can find", by no means should you go and buy the absolute best gear on the market when your starting out, but you should buy the best within your price range (and maybe slightly above). If you’re about to fork out for some new monitors and the next model up is $80 more but has better sound, hold off for another week and buy those. If your about to buy a new audio interface, and the next model up comes with more IO, better preamps etc and its only $100 more, save a little more, it will pay off in the future. Good gear will last you a long time. The cost of selling your old gear and upgrading to new gear will be much more painful than just forking out those extra hundred dollars in the first place. As previously mentioned though, you need to approach this sensibly, if you're starting out, then you don't need the latest and greatest $ Mackie mixing desk. You're better off spreading your money round and improving other areas of your studio, instead of buying kit that you'll never use to its potential. A good methodology is to buy gear that you think you'll need 3 years from now. You might not need all those in's and out's on that audio interface now, but if you plan on buying more gear, you will eventually. Make Music, Not Headaches After you initially start writing a few tunes, you'll naturally start progressing to more complex techniques and configurations. This is a good thing, although you should be careful to not become consumed by the technical aspect, and keep focused on the creativity and musical elements. I my self have fallen into this trap several times, spending days on end tweaking knobs and dials, trying to understand every single thing that’s happening on my synthesizer, trying to perfectly balance all the frequencies like my books told me to, only to find that I haven’t written any music at all. I practically stopped writing music for over a year because I found I was too caught up in the technology and I just wasn't enjoying it anymore. I returned with a different attitude, write more, and configure less. Sure it isn’t going to win any awards, but I’m enjoying it again, and my ideas are coming to life in a matter of days, not weeks. Once you know what it takes to make a technically brilliant track, it can sometimes destroy your creative flow as you endlessly search for the perfection that you have read about in books or magazines. Sometimes it’s just not as easy to pan a few things and add a few Q cuts like the magazine said in order to mix your track. Sometimes you have no other options but to use a less than perfect sample or recording in your track. The important thing is to keep focused on the music you want to create, not the perfectly balanced, panned and mixed piece of art you’ve read about. That’s not to say you should forget about these things, you MUST mix, master, EQ etc without these, your music will never come to life, but you need to do that to compliment your music, not as a means to create the music. Don’t let the technology consume you, instead use it to help you, to bring your ideas to life. Plug-in Chaos For many people starting out, finding the right instruments and plug ins can be overwhelming. You might read the magazines and see 5 or 6 plug-ins you want. You might want a simple tape delay plug-in and find 20 of them out there with great reviews. For many beginners out there you may find your self downloading pirate plug-ins at a rapid rate or installing every single free VST you can find. I did this too, but try to restrict the amount of plug-ins you use. Trial download those 5 delay plug-ins, sample them and remove the 4 you don't need, buy the 1 you like best. I have countless projects from my earlier years that can’t be opened because I get a flood of "Plug-in Not Found" messages when I try to open the project. Having an extremely large array of plug-ins and effects may seem like a good idea at the time, but once disaster strikes and you find your self reloading your operating system you'll be back to square one. You'll have to re-install all those plug-ins again, many of which are virtually duplicates of other installed plug-ins that could of done the same job. Seriously, how many reverb or tape delay plug-ins does one need? 12? 8? Aim for 1 or 2, Keep it minimal. Your sequencer will love you that much more when you're not choking it with dozens of different plug-ins. Keep in mind, many freeware plug-ins are freeware for a reason. They may have been written by a single person in his spare time and the code base might not be the finest tuned piece of software. This can cause instability in your sequencer and random crashing, or at very least way too much CPU consumption. I'm aware cracked and pirate software is reality for some people, for those using it you should be aware that a crack will generally modify the core plug-in code, potentially becoming unstable, several cracks on several plug ins multiplies the chance that you may run into issues. Avoid this, and buy your software. Be sure you’re using the latest version of the code the author intended. Use your sequencers built in plug ins where possible, you can be assured they'll work well with your sequencer and shouldn't introduce any instabilities. You'll generally get the maximum performance from your sequencer using native plug ins. Keep your plug-in repository lean, keep only your best and most frequently used installed, avoid the temptation to drag an instance of every little plug-in you've ever installed into your projects, because 2 years from now when you want to retouch that old track you wrote, you'll have a nightmare of a time finding and re-installing them all again. What you'll end up with is a track that sounds nothing like what you remember because you're synth isn't being run through some old widener plug-in, or your shakers are missing that 30% send to some free ware reverb plug-in you got from a Computer Music magazine back in 2009. Walk Away, Reset Your Ears This one is essential, let me explain. Nearing the end or even the middle of a new track you'll probably find you've listened to your new tune hundreds of times over and over, your mind fixates on certain elements, maybe you've been working on that bass line mud, or making those shakers sparkle, you've been concentrating real hard on fixing those outstanding issues that you've completely missed a whole other problem that’s occurred. Quite often that ever so slightly out of sync shaker or tiny LFO problem drives you nuts when you've been fixated on it for hours, your ears are completely tuned into that particular sound and its almost as though you've cut out all the other sounds around it. On the flip side, you may be nearing the end of a track and it sounds great, you’re happy with it. You've heard the same 4 minute track now 347 times over and you know every bar and beat, you know what’s happening at every 1/16th of a bar. When you find your self in this position, stop, save and walk away. Reset your ears. Don't return for a minimum of 24 hours, personally I give it a couple of days. When you return, open the project, set the cue point to the track start and hit play, now turn away from the monitor and look at something else, don't watch the cue pointer or the arrangement view, just listen to the track, with any luck you would of forgotten what you were obsessing over previously and you can take in the tune with a whole new set of ears. This process I find the most beneficial, so many tracks iv been dead set happy with, and ready to bounce down , only to give it a few days and re listen, discovering hordes of silly mistakes, or horrible mastering that I previously had thought was complete silk. It can be disheartening when you've spent days on a project, and in your mind it's complete, until you hear it with fresh ears, but it’s better than being told by your friends when you play it back to them. So remember, when your ears are picking apart the sounds down the finest grain detail, walk away, reset your ears. Feedback: Strangers Before Friends Your new track is about finished, and you can't wait to show it off, you decide to get a little feedback first before you get ready to export the gold master copy. Resist the urge to email it out to all your friends or Facebook feed. Post it up in a public forum (like SoundPunk) first, and get feedback from people you don't know. Why? Because your friends aren't going to give you the feedback you need. If your friends are anything like mine, there are only 2 possible responses you'll get. or But .... That’s good, right? Well, sort of, except Good generally means they don't really like it, and Really Good means they do. You rarely get the good constructive criticism you need from your friends. Iv learnt to roughly read what people really think of my music when I show it to them just by means of vocal expression, body language and accents in their voice when they tell me their opinion. Public forums and semi anonymous feedback can be harsh, but useful. People who don't know you aren't afraid to tell you what they really think. If they think you're bass line is crap, they'll tell you. If your drums are weak as piss, they'll tell you. If they downright don't like the track, they'll tell you. Sometimes it can be a bit brutal, but if you roll with it, you'll come out with some real information on what's working and what's not working. If you pass the cruel test of public opinion, then you're about as ready as you can be for the social network self promotion and the passively spoken feedback from your friends. All Speakers Great And Small So you've got a cracking $3,000 set of studio monitors. They're the absolute nuts, you've written a track and you're walking around the studio nodding your head in satisfaction at your fine piece of work. That's great, but how does it sound in the real world? You've probably had hopes and dreams of big clubs and festival sound systems, but when starting out, that's not reality. The real world is $50 Logitech speakers, sound leaking iPod ear phones, bass heavy car stereo systems, blown out woofer Hi-Fi setups and tinny laptop speakers. Your music has got to pass the tests of terrible hardware. Word of mouth means a lot when you’re an unknown producer, you want people to hear and like your music. Getting your music into people’s hands is a key part of self promotion, and you can be pretty sure that means your track will end up on iPods, home stereo systems. car stereo etc. What sounds fantastic on your studio monitors will sound completely different on your mates living room stereo system. That sparkling high end that you worked on and threw exciter plugins over sounds dull and lifeless when played back through your car stereo. That perfect bass line that had you slapping your head back and forwards, pulling cum faces to in your studio, sounds like complete mud and sloppy when listened to on a normal stereo. Always make sure you listen to your tracks on as many different sound environments as possible before you start putting the finishing touches on it. I usually burn a CD, or move the track to my iPhone along with another track from some established artist for comparison and walk out to my living room, or down to my car and listen to both tracks on that system. Ill usually start with the established artists track, turn my stereo up to a particular volume level I’m happy with and listen to the end, then ill play my own right after, leaving the volume and EQ settings where it was. Generally you'll find instantly, your track is too quiet, your track lacks punch, your track lacks high end sparkle, your track has frequency clashes etc. Listening to a track you know is perfect, then your own highlights what’s lacking in your own. Granted, you may not be able to meet the level of quality of your favorite artist, but that's fine, just fix the big problems. If you decided at the end that your tune still wasn't popping like it should and you really wanted to try and promote your tune, you can always pay someone to fix the rest up for you. You Are Not A Beautiful And Unique Snowflake Chances are, if you’re starting out in production, you probably were into DJ’ing previously, and chances are you probably used sites like Beatport, no doubt you’ve noticed the sheer magnitude of artists there are out there, and that’s just the ones listed on Beatport. A common thing iv noticed in a few beginners is that they have these grand idea’s of becoming rich, and living off their production work, travelling the world DJ’ing their own tunes like rock stars. The problem with this approach is that you’ll get a reality check very quickly, and it’s the wrong reason to get into the industry. Becoming famous and travelling the world in a constant shower of champagne and girls is reserved for the extremely talented, and the extremely lucky. I honestly don’t know why some producers are famous and others much more talented can hardly scrape enough to pay the rent, but you’d imagine it has a lot to do with people networking, being in the right places at the right time, and an element of luck. Of course, if you become “that” good, and you write the tunes everyone wants to hear and love, then yes, it can be expected that you’ll make a career out it, but you have to think that there’s thousands of other people out there trying to do the same thing. Many of which would be completely deserving of it, but it just doesn’t play out like that. I bring this up because it’s all to often you see people starting out, become very active on the music forums, spending big on equipment and constantly promoting themselves only to see them a few years in, sell up all their gear, and basically give up on the whole idea because their music career never really got off the ground. It’s these people I think got into it for the wrong reasons to begin with. It should be for the love of it, as a creative outlet not as a means to become famous or as a purely money making venture. You can very well make a career out of it if you really want to, however what you’re envisioning in your mind and what may actually come out of it, may be two different things. You should also keep in mind that if you’re chasing the money and trying to use your music as money making venture, than your music will be dictated by what you think the masses want to hear, and you’ll never truly be creating your own ideas. My attitude is, do it for the love, for the creative outlet, and if it should take you down a path that leads to fame and a full time career then consider that a bonus for all your hard work. It’s a privilege, not a right About The Author Cheyne Wallace is a Sydney based knob twiddling enthusiast who writes music simply for the enjoyment. You can find some of his tracks here
  4. Whats the first thing I should download to help me start making beats? I know I'll have to spread into hardware eventually, but as a starting point i'd just like to dabble in software. If anyone can recommend one free and one paid program it'd be great. Maybe even some tutorials on the basics of music making/music theory.