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Music Production and Mixing Tips and Tricks

Ian Waugh Waugh

What makes a pro recording pro? What is the "sound" that the pros get and how can you make your recordings sound more professional?

The simple answer is - there`s no simple answer. But with careful listening and a little experience you can create excellent results with modest equipment.

Good mixing starts ear

The first and most important item of equipment is - who knows? Anyone? It`s your ears! Sorry to tell you this, but listening to ten hours of Rave at 110dB will do nothing for them and you might as well give your mix to a turtle as try to mix with misused ears.

Listen to commercial recordings of mixes you like, analyse them, listen for the effects and get to know what constitutes the sort of sound you`re after.

Mixing secrets

There`s no hidden secret to getting a good sound, but if we had to sum up the secret of mixing in two words it would be this - EQ and compression. Okay that s three words.

These are probably the two most important tools used

That`s where your ears and experience come in. Here we have assembled some production ideas, suggestions, tips and tricks but they can only be guidelines and need to be adapted to suit your material. There are no presets you can switch in to make a bad recording sound good. And if your original material has been poorly recorded not even Abbey Road could salvage your mix. But follow these suggestions and see how much your mixes improve.

Get the level right

You can`t push the levels when recording digitally as you can when recording to tape but you still want to get as much signal into the system as possible. This means watching the levels very carefully for clipping, and recording at an even and constant level.

Some recording software lets you monitor and set the input level from within. Some expect you to use the soundcard s mixer while others have no facility for internally adjusting the input level and expect you to set this at source.

Monitors

Your ears are only as good as the monitors they listen to. DO NOT expect to produce a good, pro mix on tiny computer speakers. It may sound fine on a computer system, but try it on a hi fi, in a disco and through a car stereo.

Oddly enough, you don`t necessarily need the most expensive Mic. Many top artists use what some might call "average" Mics because they work well and get the job done. You can spend a wad on a large diaphragm capacitor Mic (yes, they`re good for vocals) if you have the lolly but check out dynamic Mics which are much more affordable and can be turned to several tasks.

Mixing MIDI and audio

One of the great things about computer-based recording is that the parts can so easily be changed, edited and processed. It`s also so easy to combine MIDI and audio tracks and many musicians use a combination of sample loops, MIDI parts and audio recording.

Audio recordings are generally guitar and acoustic instruments such as the sax and vocals. Incidentally, the best way to record guitars is

It`s not necessary to record drums live and, in fact, it`s difficult to do and retain a modern sound. You can buy off-the-shelf MIDI drum riffs and audio drum loops, or program your own. The quality of the gear which makes drum noises these days is such that anyone with a good riff can sound like a pro.

Mixing MIDI

As MIDI and audio parts appear on the same screen in modern sequencers, it`s very easy to arrange them into a song. However, when you come to mix everything down there`s another consideration. If you are recording to DAT you can simply route the audio and MIDI outputs through a mixer and into the DAT machine.

However, if you want to create a CD you must first convert the MIDI parts to audio data. The entire song can then be mixed to hard disk and burned to CD. Converting MIDI to audio can have another benefit and that`s the ability to process the MIDI tracks using digital effects.

Effects

There are three positions for effects known as Master, Send and Insert. Use the Master for effects you want to apply to the entire mix. These will often be EQ, compression and reverb.

Although giving each channel its own Insert effects is kinda neat, each one uses a corresponding amount of CPU power. So if your computer is struggling and if you`re using the same effect on more than one channel, make the effect a Send effect and route those channels to it.

Many pieces of software let you apply an effect Pre or Post fader. With Post fader, the amount of sound sent to the effect is controlled

EQ

EQ is the most popular and the most over-used effect. Yes, it can be used to try to "fix a mix" but you can`t make a silk purse out of a sow`s ear as me Gran used to say and what she didn`t know about mixing could be written in the margin of the book of honest politicians.

But before you start messing with EQ - or any other effect for that matter - make sure you have a decent set of speakers. Have we said that already? Oh, must be important, then.

There are plug-in effects such as MaxxBass which can psychoacoustically enhance the bass frequencies to make it sound better on smaller speakers. However, this is

EQ can enhance a mix to add gloss, fairy dust, shimmer, sheen, a sweetener or whatever you want to call it to the final production. It can be done with enhancers and spectralisers, too, although these tend to mess with the harmonics which some producers don`t like. However, don`t dismiss them out of hand.

General EQ lore says that you should cut rather than boost. If a sound is top-heavy, the temptation is to boost the mid and bass ranges. But then what usually happens is you start boosting the upper range to compensate and you simply end up boosting everything and you`re back where you started - only louder!

The reason why cutting is preferred is that boosting also boosts the noise in the signal which is not what you want. Try it. Boost every frequency and listen to the result. If you think it sounds okay, fine. What do we know?

But when you`re fiddling, do keep an eye on the output meter. Boosting EQ inevitably means increasing the gain and it`s so-o-o-o easy to clip the output causing distortion which does not sound good.

Finally, check EQ changes to single tracks while playing back the entire piece. In other words, listen to the tracks in context with all the other tracks. It may sound fine in isolation but some frequencies may overlap onto other tracks making the piece frequency rich in some places and frequency poor in others.

Reverb

Reverb creates space. It gives the impression that a sound was recorded in a hall or canyon instead of the broom cupboard. Recording lore suggests that you record everything dry, with no reverb, so you can experiment with a choice later on. You can`t un-reverb a track once it`s been recorded.

The more reverb you apply, the further away sound will seem. To make a vocal up-front, use only enough reverb to take away the dryness. Vocals don`t want to be mushy (lyrics can be mushy) so use a bright reverb.

A common novice error is to swamp everything with different types of reverb. Don`t - it sounds horrible!

Mixing down

You`ve done all the recordings, done the edits, applied the effects and now it`s time to mix everything into a Big Number One Hit! Before you do, go home and have a good night`s sleep. Have two. In fact, sleep for a week.

Yes, we know you`re hot and raring to go but your ears are tired. They`re falling asleep. Listen carefully and you might hear then snore!

There is a phenomenon known as ear fatigue and consistent exposure to sound, especially the same frequencies, makes our ears less responsive to them. Goes back to the bit about spending your life in a Rave club - you`ll never be a master producer. If you try to mix after spending a day arranging, your ears will not be as responsive, so do them and your mix a favour

Now, go forth and mix! And don t forget - you get better with practice. For more information about mixing, pick up a FREE copy of Creating The Perfect Mix at www.making-music.com

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Ian Waugh is one of the UK`s leading hi tech music writers and creator of www.making-music.com. He has written for most of the major - and not so major - hi tech music magazines in the UK and many general computing titles both offline and online.

Indian War Drums: Rushdie, Naipaul, and the Subcontinent`s challenge - authors Salmn Rushdie and V.S. Naipaul and Hindu-Muslim relations in India

National Review , April 8, 2002 by David Pryce-Jones

Like most British writers, I willingly contributed to the fund to defend Salman Rushdie when Ayatollah Khomeini issued his notorious fatwa against him. But as I read The Satanic Verses, its so-called "magic realism" struck me as a cop-out from the writer`s primary task of getting at the truth of life as it is. Rushdie, I understood, is another spoiled British leftie, determined to attack the privileges he enjoys. It was disappointing that even with the round-the-clock protection provided by Mrs. Thatcher he did not have the courage to tell the Muslim fundamentalists to go to hell, but instead made a point of abasing himself with public assurances that he was a good Muslim. The principle, however, stood firm-that though one might have disagreed with him, one had to defend to the limit his right to say what he had to say.

On September 11, a previously submerged campaign of Muslim terrorism against the West-and by extension free thinking everywhere-came out into the open. The campaign will have profound and long-lasting ramifications in many countries of the world, bedeviling relations between Muslims and their neighbors. India is especially vulnerable, as it has some 140 million Muslims, about the same as the entire population of Pakistan. Pakistan-backed terrorists last December attacked the Indian parliament, killing security guards and almost setting off a full-scale war. As it is, a million men are mobilized along the India-Pakistan border, with nuclear weapons in reserve. There seems no obvious way to stand these armies down. The immediate hope is to ward off war and communal massacres of a type frequently experienced since the British left India.

But in this fraught context, in an op-ed piece for the Washington Post about the current tensions in India, Rushdie claims that Hindu fundamentalism is out to destroy that country`s secular democracy. He goes on to say that the writer V. S. Naipaul, "speaking in India just a week before the violence erupted, denounced India`s Muslims en masse and praised the nationalist movement." Thus, in Rushdie`s eyes, "Naipaul makes himself a fellow traveler of fascism and disgraces the Nobel award."

Literary London is a small city. It so happens that recently I sat next to a publisher who had invited Rushdie to lunch last October. On the very morning of that lunch, the news broke that the Nobel prize had been awarded to Naipaul. A dejected and angry Rushdie, the publisher told me, spent the meal railing against Naipaul, and bemoaning that he himself would now not be receiving the Nobel for ten more years. It further happens that in the month of February Naipaul and I were together in India for an international conference on the subject of contemporary Indian writing. As the recent Nobel winner, Naipaul was the star of the occasion. It may add to Rushdie`s sour grapes to learn that there was no mention of him or his work at the conference. I was surprised by this, and said so-to be told that Rushdie was not considered of much interest.

For almost three weeks I was in the uninterrupted daily company of Naipaul. After the conference in Delhi, we did a tour together, to famous sites both Muslim and Hindu. The conference received an unimaginable amount of publicity. With hype at the Hollywood level, Naipaul was obliged everywhere and all the time to sign copies of his books, to autograph any available sheet of paper, and to run the gauntlet of photographers. On one day, at Neemrana, a couple of hours outside Delhi, over a hundred journalists turned up to hear him. His least doings and sayings filled the columns of the newspapers. Had he ever denounced India`s Muslims "en masse" or associated himself with Hindu fundamentalism, it would have been very big news.

A novelist through and through, Naipaul is interested in stories rather than politics. For him, narrative is the key to behavior. But narrative is a tricky business. People think that they have an identity or a past, and will explain sincerely who they think they are. But for all sorts of reasons having to do with culture or the lack of it, most man accept the simple narrative about themselves that they have picked up from those around them, and often it is too simple to be true. Look for the story behind the story, Naipaul kept repeating, and then you`ll understand India.

The story that most Indians believe about themselves is that one fine day British imperialists occupied the country, exploited it, and bled it dry. The nationalist movement then threw them out and restored national integrity and pride. At Neemrana, a grand Indian lady with impeccable nationalist credentials was putting forth this view to the assembled conference, when Naipaul cut her off in mid-sentence. This story, he told her summarily, had lost whatever purpose or authenticity it might have had. Look at India, its democracy, its rule of law, the supremacy of the English language, the way the whole shaky subcontinent survives against all the odds-and you will understand that the British did Indians the favor of bringing them into the modern world on equal terms. India`s great achievements, then, are at least in part Britain`s. So much for Hindu fundamentalism. Needless to say, Naipaul`s opinion sparked a storm of press comment, some of it warm, some of it hostile. One editorialist compared him to P. G. Wodehouse.

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