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Saturday, May 26, 2018

6 Strategic decisions to make before starting a mix Part 1/2



Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This article takes the basic guidelines of how to define the focus of a mix and tries to adapt them to different types of song, because every music genre gives its best when the mix engineer has clear in mind the final result and knows the steps that lead there.
Obviously there are many more approaches than those in the list, and often the song we're mixing is somewhere in between two or more of these mixing styles, but these are in my opinions some of the mix archetypes we can come across when we approach a new project, and each of these types is made to draw the attention of the listener towards the main element of the song.
It's important to clarify our vision with the band before starting mixing because we need to make sure we know what the client expects, and they must know the direction we imagine for the final sound to avoid misunderstandings.


1) Vocals / keyboards driven mix: this is a type of mix that is usually very common in pop and rock songs, for example many classic Queen or or Elton John tunes. In these type of mix we need to carve in the eq of the other instruments (guitar, bass, drums) the space to leave the vocals or keyboards as full as possible: their position in the mix must be prominent compared to the other instruments, which should have a lower volume. Once we have nailed the sound of the most important element in the mix (for example in the case of vocals we can fine tune it in terms of eq, find the compression sweet spot and play with effects until we find a satisfying result), we can place the other instruments in the space that's left, for example we must not be shy in equalizing the guitars to make them less invasive, even if this means pushing them into the background, or making the snare drum transient less "poking".

2) Guitar driven mix: this type of mix is very different from the previous one, and it is very common in '80s and '90s heavy music, from hard rock (Van Halen) to classic metal (Iron Maiden) to thrash metal (Megadeth) up to the various forms of extreme metal (At The Gates).
That was the golden age of guitar heroes, and everyone wanted the guitar, both rhythmic and lead, to be the main focus of the mix.
A mix focused on guitars relies on thick layers of rhythm guitars, one for each side or sometimes two, and this wall of sound requires us to push the bass in the lower part of the spectrum and squeeze the eq of vocals and drums to make them thinner and with a very strong transient, this way they will cut through the noise and avoid frequency masking.

3) Rhythm driven mix: This style is more suited for edm and certain aggressive styles of funky,  rock, pop and rap music.
In this case we need to put in the spotlight drums and bass, because they will be the main driver of the song, and hopefully they will get the people moving.
In this style vocals are still important, but a powerful beat and bass line will share the same level, (unlike what happens in a vocals driven mix), leaving to the arrangement (synths, guitars, keyboards and so on) a background role. It's very important to nail the drum tone, especially to have a snare and a kick sound in line with the modern commercial productions, and a low end that will perform well also with the p.a. of a club (in which it is strongly emphasized both in terms of volume and frequences), therefore a very accurate monitoring and testing will be pivotal to avoid unexpected results.


CLICK HERE FOR PART 2/2


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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Free guitar tablature and notation software: Tuxguitar



Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about a free, open source songwriting tool: TuxGuitar!

Tuxguitar is a notation, tablature writing and songwriting tool, similar to the more famous Guitar Pro, but free and open source.
The software lets the user write in staff format (the one for classical music) and in tablature format (for guitars and bass), letting us choose tuning, number of strings and so on, and it features a real time midi engine that allows multitrack playback, so that the user can write also complex, multi instrument songs, using a variety of General Midi sounds (drums, classical guitar, distorted guitar, orchestra and so on).

The software lets us visualize a guitar keyboard or a regular keyboard and see the notes played in real time, import and export midis, and export the music sheet in a variety of formats, from to ascii, to pdf, letting us also import Guitar Pro files (but not the latest version ones).

I come from a generation of musicians that still likes to share the songs with the other band members by writing a drum track with a VstI and tracking on top of it the guitar and bass parts, and handing them also the tabs exported via pdf with this tool (here is a guide on how to make rough mixes super fast), but there is a new generation of guitarists that writes songs directly on these notation tools and hands the files to the other band members in order to give them directly the tabs and notations of all the instruments, using the integrated sequencer to create a song structure by copying and pasting the various song parts.
For some of these guys using a software like Tuxguitar is faster, more complete and easier to share, and probably it is the most rational solution.

Recording the guitar and bass tracks, on the other hand, gives us a clearer vision of what we can do and what we cannot, and the risk of not recording real instruments is to write parts that are completely beyond the musicians skills, so it's important always to keep in mind the band members when writing their part, or letting them write the part on their own.

Finally it's important to add that a drum track exported in midi format from Tuxguitar can be imported in any Daw and used with a Drum VstI, if someone feels more comfortable in writing it with the notation tool instead of the piano roll.

Thumbs up!


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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Review: Schecter Jeff Loomis JL-7



Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are talking about one of the most popular 7 strings guitars on the market for metal: the Schecter JL 7 Jeff Loomis!
Schecter is a legendary american brand that counts several artists on its roster (The Cure, Avenged Sevenfold, Abbath, Type 0 Negative, Keith Merrow and so on), and that has the core of its production on rock-metal oriented guitars, basses and related accessories, and it has started producing instruments in 1976: the company went through a series of highs and lows, and today there is an American headquarter and a Japanese one (the latter one controlled by Esp) that are two separate companies which shares the same brand.

Jeff Loomis instead is one of the most influential extreme guitarists / guitar heroes of the 90s and early 2000s, one of the few artists that succeded in mixing shred, great melodies and heavy, articulate riffing with a tasteful songwriting, as guitarist of Nevermore, Arch Enemy, Soilwork (as a session player), Sanctuary and other projects. Basically some of the best bands in modern heavy music.

The union between Schecter and Jeff Loomis has produced one of the few signature guitars that doesn't feel like a signature guitar (like a Les Paul), that has enough character to break out from the niche of the fanbase and be adopted by a broader audience, due to its high playability and features.
The Schecter JL-7 is a seven strings guitar with body in swamp ash and a baritone (25,6 inches) maple neck with cross inlays, it has locking tuners, signature active pickups (the Seymour Duncan Blackout Jeff Loomis) and comes with a hipshot hardtail bridge or with a floyd rose.
The neck is particularly interesting, because it's a set neck guitar with easy access to the higher frets (which are 24), and the shape is "ultra thin C", with a radius of 16", which means extremely flat and shred-friendly.

In terms of playability the guitar is quite heavy (some source says 4.5kg) and the neck is very long, so it takes some time to get acquainted to, but the fretboard is just perfect, the build quality is very good and so is the hardware.
The sound is just impressive (even in the earlier models, which used to come with EMG 707 pickups): it's thick, but has a strong midrange capable of poking through very dense mixes, and it's very reliable both in studio and on stage.
If you will come across one don't miss the chance to play this guitar, you will find out why it's one of the most appreciated 7 string guitars for metal, and probably you'll end up buying one :)

Thumbs up!


Specs taken from the website:

- Tuners: Schecter Locking

- Fretboard: Maple

- Neck Material: Maple/Walnut Multi-ply

- Inlays: Metal Crosses

- Side Dot Markers: Glow In The Dark

- Scale: 26.5” (673mm)

- Neck Shape: Ultra Thin ‘C’

- Thickness: @ 1st Fret- .748” (19mm)/ @ 12th Fret- .787” (20mm)

- Frets: 24 X-Jumbo Stainless Steel

- Fretboard Radius: 16” (406mm)

- Nut Width: 1.889” (48mm)

- Body Colors: Vampyre Red Satin (VRS)
- Arched Top

- Set-Neck w/Ultra Access
- Body Material: Swamp Ash

- Bridge: Hipshot Hardtail (.125) w/ String Thru Body

- Volume/3-Way Switch

- Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan 'Jeff Loomis' Signature Active

- Neck Pickup: Seymour Duncan 'Jeff Loomis' Signature Active


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Saturday, May 5, 2018

What is MIDI? a guide for dummies




Hello and welcome to this week's article!
I have realized that during those years we have been talking a lot about MIDI, but we have actually never made an article with a brief explaination of what it is: here it is.

First off: MIDI is an acronym: it stands for MUSICAL INSTRUMENT DIGITAL INTERFACE, and it is the standard protocol for interaction between electronic music instruments, and between them and a computer.
This standard was created in the '80, but somehow it got so popular and widespread that still today it's the standard for electronic instruments (and not only, also for routing the signals and creating patches that controls also analog devices, through a dedicated hardware, or for controlling lights in a concert etc.).
Some of the biggest perks of this protocol that granted such a long lasting success are in facts the reliability, the lightweight of the data and the low production costs, that allows every hardware and software producer to work with it, also because it's supported by an infinity of freeware tools.

So the basic concept here is that MIDI is a Standard: no other standard has been able to replace it so far (even if the technology has advanced and in theory Midi could have been improved in several ways), and at the beginning in the early 80s there has also been a sort of a war similar to the Vhs vs Betamax one, but the Midi standard got the upper hand and was adopted by the majority of music instrument producers (Yamaha, Roland, Kawai and so on).

Without the need of getting too technical the connection is a 5 poles DIN cable, which was commonly used in the early 80s, only 3 of which are actually used by the Midi, and these cables are able to connect to the serial ports in 3 ways: In (to send the signal to a Midi device), Out (to send out the informations), Thru (to allow the device to send its signal to the In port of another Midi device).

The Midi data that flows through these ports contain the informations that must be received from a device like a Synth, a Sampler or a Sequencer, which can be hardware (for example an electronic keyboard or a synth) or software (a computer), and the information is contained in a Midi File, a file that supports up to 16 channels (meaning that can send at the same time notes that can be played for example by up to 16 virtual instruments at the same time). Modern Daws can play hundreds of Midi tracks at the same time, using as many virtual instruments as the computer can support, leading to an infinite amount of sound possibilities that until few years ago was unimaginable.
A Midi file can also send for example the lyrics of a song synchronized with a music, and it is a standard widely used also for Karaoke, or it can be used to control the lights in a concert.

A Midi can be played in real time through a Midi controller (for example a keyboard), or it can be written in a Daw via a notation software (the best Daws allows also to manipulate it modifying the variables from a minimum value of 1 to a maximum of 127, creating automations and articulations), or it can also be programmed in a sequencer.

For more informations about the Midi standard you can visit the official website Midi.org, which has an infinity of resources for those who want to go more technical or in general to have more knowledge about this formidable tool.


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