Tips, Advice and Ideas – Yaiza Varona
A Spanish media composer, musicologist and Apple Certified Logic 9 Professional based in London. Yaiza currently divides her time between writing music for sync and a number of other personal projects.
Logic 9 support – http://www.yaizavarona.com/logic-9/
The Malformed Creatures: http://www.yaizavarona.com/malformed-creatures/
1. Protect your ears (And your speakers and your headphones)
Experimenting is great and we will do loads of it later on, but we need some safety measures first: protect your ears!! (And your speakers and your headphones). All of them have membranes that vibrate responding to the sound waves, and if you don´t have all your faders at a reasonable level, or you just added a plugin to experiment that can affect the sound dynamic for example (a compressor is a common suspect here) when you press “play” it may happen that the volume is just too loud, loud as in “tearing a membrane” loud. You wouldn´t be the first producer to ruin his/her speakers like this!
In order to protect both your ears and your equipment, first thing you have to do when you start a project is to put a limiter in the master. This will make sure that the volume never reaches such intensity beyond a given threshold that might damage your system.
2. Compare your mix with commercial tracks
When you´re working on a project of your own, very often you will think it sounds good…until you compare it with a commercial track.
For this you can select a commercial track you think sounds great, import it to an audio track of your project, and keep it there muted. From time to time, you can solo it and listen to it against your mix, and the differences will be quite noticeable.
By comparing both simultaneously you will be checking if a) they sound different (if they don´t, hats off to you!) and b) why do they sound different? Does the commercial track sound brighter in comparison to mine? Clearer? Louder? What are the words that come to your mind as to describe the differences? Once you are able to identify the issues, the solution is already on its way.
Understanding production a bit better
When we think about production, we immediately associate it with technology, but beyond that it is the art (creative!) that allows you to enhance your music so it sounds polished and professional. Think of it like photo editing, it is that little step that transforms a good picture you take into a real work of art.
Sound mainly behaves like light; both are waves and interact (even when you wish they didn´t!).
Imagine you have a room you want to decorate with different coloured lights. You have great ideas in your mind about how to combine them but when you turn all of them on, you begin finding some issues: brighter lights completely “overshadow” the more subtle lights, so it really wouldn´t make a difference if you had them there or not, some lights if too close to each other create clashes and if every light doesn´t have its own space to shine as much as it gives, you are wasting energy.
The same applies to sounds: one must learn to distribute them in such a way that all of them have their own space (otherwise their frequencies in common will mud your mix) and for this it helps to have in mind which sounds are taking the leading role and shall go in the foreground and which are supporting and therefore shall be in the background. Some questions that you might want to have clear: which instrument do I want to stand out here and where do I want it to sound?
The imaginary stage
So you have a great musical idea in your mind. You know it´s good but when you get it into the sequencer it sounds like a demo. What can you do for it to sound as good as it sounds inside your head?
First thing you need to have clear in your mind is the special design of your track. Decide what instruments you are going to use (Voice? Bass line? Drums?) And imagine them distributed on an imaginary stage that is playing just for you. So, how are these instruments going to be arranged? The voice, is it going to sound very close to you as if it was whispering or rather in the background, as a supporting choir? As well, not all the performers on your stage can be placed in the centre (unless the singer sits on the drums and the bass player sits on the singer´s lap, but your musicians wouldn´t be too happy about it) so how are you going to place them covering all the stage surface?
Once you have this clear, you can regulate the “distance” of the instrument to the listener by using volume and reverb. The more volume and less reverb the closer it shall sound, and vice versa.
You can regulate the placing of the instruments panning them on your stage. You can even duplicate an instrument track and its content, and pan both slightly and it will sound as if the source was surrounding you.
These are simple but effective tips that can help give every instrument their own space to minimise sonic clashes.
Hopefully this can be of use.