Saturday, November 30, 2013

HOW TO MIX ROCK / METAL DRUMS (a guide for dummies) PART 2/4




Hello and welcome to this week's article! 
Today we proceed with the second part of our tutorial about how to mix a rock drumset.
First off we must decide our drum routing; starting from the 8 tracks acquired in Part 1 of this tutorial, I would do in the following way:

1 Stereo Group track for all toms
1 Stereo Group track for all cymbals
1 Mono Group track if we have both snare top and bottom microphones
1 Mono Group track if we have more than one kick track (e.g. beater microphone and subkick)

Since we have already talked about how to mix cymbals (Click Here for the dedicated article), today we're going to focus on Toms
Let's assume we have a number of 2 or more acoustic toms (included the floor tom) on our group track: we can do most of processing directly on the group track, instead of process them individually.
First off we must Pan the toms, using the panning tool on the single tracks: I like to pan toms in order to make them be heard from the drummer's perspective, so usually with the floor tom on the right, and the other toms somewhere in the left and right soundstage, but not in the middle.
Then we can switch to the group track and apply some stereo processing (make sure that all the processors in the insert are stereo, or part of the sound coming from the panned tracks will not be affected!

Gating: this process is optional; it determinates how much "room bleed" you want to leave in these microphones. There will be some crash cymbal bleed and other sounds, and if we leave them all, the overall drum sound will be more natural, but it will also sound more "garage rock", more "alternative", and less tight. For thrash metal and other extreme genres, it's suggested to use a gate that takes out everything and leaves only the tom sound. 
Eq: the first thing to do is to apply a high pass filter starting anywhere from 40hz to 90hz, according to taste, then we must locate (using a frequency analyzer, click here for a dedicated article) where most of the energy is, and lower it. 
As for the Kick, acoustic toms are often full of low-midrange, that doesn't add too much to the sound but takes away a lot of headroom, so I'd suggest to find where the resonance lies and lower it, and it could be anywhere from 100hz to 800hz. 
Now that the low-mids are tamed we can also, if needed, raise the attack of the toms to make them cut more through the mix by raising some db in the 2 to 4khz area.

Compression: since toms can have a high dynamic excursion, it's important to keep them steady with a good compression: we can start from a 4:1 ratio and raise it, if needed, keeping 3 to 6db of compression (a good idea is to set a slow attack and a moderate release, to let some of the transient to pass before start compressing). If needed, because we still can't tame all the hits, we can also stack a mono compressor on the single tracks with a stereo one in the group track, or adding a Limiter after the compressor
Another alternative is to put a mono compressor in the single tom tracks, and a stereo multiband comp in the group track just to tame the peaks on the resonance area leaving unaffected the rest.
The idea is to be able to get the toms at a level that makes them always audible without the risk of a hard hit that suddenly covers everything else.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Bob Miller is an American Musician, singer and guitarist for the band Nimrod Wildfire, among many other projects; his influences are, according to his website, electric blues and Stax soul, 50′s rock & roll and doo wop, good pop songwriters, 60′s soul, Motown, funk, New Orleans piano, zydeco, country, jazz and latin.

GuitarNerdingBlogHello Bob and welcome to Atoragon's Guitar Nerding Blog! Introduce yourself to our readers, tell us your story!

BobMiller: I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964 and knew what I wanted to do with my life. It took me another five years to get a real guitar, but within a year I had my first band together. I had to teach the bassist and other guitarist their parts, but we had a great drummer. I was lucky enough to live in London by that time, so I came of age in a very demanding but collegial atmosphere. It was the golden age of pub bands, and my last UK band played some great gigs. I moved back to the States to go to Berklee and found a very discouraging scene in Boston, so after a couple of years I got serious about a day job and wound up running my own software business. Interestingly enough, most of the people I knew at Berklee became programmers. At any rate, I sold that business about five years ago to devote myself to writing, recording and performing my own music. I think the world still needs music that says something and I think I've got something to say.

GNB: Tell us about your career. By visiting your websites ( and ) it appears that you've already had an interesting career, taking part as both studio and live musician in different projects.
Which are the ones that you consider your career highlights? Which are the artists that influenced you the most? Is there still some collaboration that you'd wish to do?

BM: I did some session work in London and loved it. I drove to Rockfield Studios in Wales once, sitting on my amp in the back of a Ford Transit van. I thought I had really arrived at that point. Gigs at the Northern Counties were great. Lately I've played some big festivals in this area. Any time the sound is good, the band is good and the people are appreciative it's pure joy for me. Likewise working on my last CD was great - both working on rhythm tracks with the rest of the band or working out a solo or vocal in my home studio.

I have pictures of Duane Allman, Ry Cooder, Richard Thompson, Ralph Wash, Lowell George and Django Reinhardt on the wall in my studio. They're the guitarists that have most inspired me. As a songwriter, which is more and more how I see myself, I like Nick Lowe, Graham Parsons, Jackson Browne and John Hiatt. There are so many more though! I listen to a very wide range of music. I'm one of the few people I know who thinks that Chuck Berry was a brilliant lyricist.

GNB: I've heard that you are a guitar lover and that you build your own instuments! Tell us about your love for this instrument and about your favourite models, as well as your creations!
BM: To be honest, it's mostly that I'm demanding but cheap. I can't afford vintage instruments, and having watched a cymbal fall and cut a gouge in my guitar on a gig, I'd really worry about gigging with something irreplaceable. I find that between Warmoth, Seymour Duncan and Joe Barden I can put together a really great Fender style guitar for a lot less than it would cost to buy the real thing and then switch out half the parts. I build my own amps too, for the same reason. My favorite is a recreation of the 1964 Vibroverb. I took a good year to design and build but it's a really unique sound.

I suppose I'm not terribly romantic about guitars. They're tools, but I've always loved tools! I tinker with everything. I have a few Gibsons and I don't think any of them has the original pickups or electronics. I just want them to play well and sound good, and I really hate hum, so they're well grounded and shielded.

GNB: What do you think about the state of the music business? What are your thoughts about today's underground and mainstream music scene?

BM: When I was at Berklee in the late seventies the word was that the music business was nothing like it had been five years earlier and it's continued to get worse. I think the problem is that as a society we don't really value creativity. It's not just the music business - nobody gets paid for Ted Talks either. I think our values as a society are really upside down. I'm speaking mostly of the States, since that's where I live, but I think this has happened throughout the western world. I think you get what you pay for and I really worry about the culture we're creating.

GNB: What do you think about the digital music distribution? And what about the file sharing? How do you think the music business will evolve in the future?

BM: As I say, I think the problem is more societal than technological, but certainly as music is currently distributed and consumed it is hardly viable to live as a creative musician today. I believe, and I see constant evidence, that there is a hunger for the kind of passionate, genuine music that I fell in love with as a kid. I believe therefore that things will change in such a way that such music will be created and the creators rewarded. Right now I really have no idea how that will happen, but the reason I'm doing this now is that I want to be part of it.

GNB: Let's talk about live music! Which have been the best gigs you have ever played? Do you consider yourself more a live musician or a studio one?

BM: I love them both. The two gigs that come to mind are a very hot, sweaty night on a tiny stage in a packed club with a blues band, and a beautiful outdoor gig on a large stage. So the thing really is as I mentioned earlier - good sound, good players and an appreciative audience. Everything else is peripheral.

GNB: Tell us some funny story: which one has been your best/funniest experience as a musician? And your worst one?

BM: It's only funny looking back on it, but I was in one band where I'd have to go find the bassist and lead singer after every break. I would wander the streets around the gig looking for a car with a copious cloud of smoke inside and knock on the window. Programmers aren't easy to manage but I never had to do that in the software business.
The worst of it is putting myself out there and not getting a response. Sending out CD's to the wrong radio stations or nagging people for a gig only to have them offer dates I can't do. I've been in some pretty dicey musical situations but no matter how bad it gets, playing music is the good part.

GNB:  Since many readers or our blog are interested mainly in the tecnical side of the guitar world, can you tell us your studio and live equipment? Can you tell us about the recordings of your latest album?

BM: We did the rhythm tracks for Corporate Refugee in London, with Jim Kimberley and Matt Backer, who played those pub gigs with me so long ago. Then I came back and layered keys, vocals and guitar at my leisure. My studio here is digital - I use Sonar, Reaper and ProTools at various times. I get sick of the shortcomings of one and then switch to the next for a while. Guitar never goes direct - I go through an amp and mic it. I'm a fan of Oktava microphones, modified by Mike Joly. Other than that it's pretty standard stuff - Shure, AKG.
My daily amp is an Allen Accomplice and there's not much you can't do with it. It's based on the blackface Deluxe Reverb but you can put 6L6 tubes in it for a little more volume and clarity. You can dial the tone stack in or out and get a nice tweed sound out of it. And it's not too heavy. In London we used to lug around a Hammond B3 and a Leslie, in addition to the Marshall 4x12's. No more!

I have a big Pedaltrain board and a small Pedaltrain board. For distortion I use Keeley OCD's, TS808 Tube Screamers, and a Zen Drive. I have a Keeley compressor and an MXR, and I use the MXR envelope filter instead of a pedal because I generally have enough to worry about without bringing my foot into the equation. I control them all with a microprocessor based loop controller that I built myself. It's kind of like the Carl Martin Octa-Switch but much smaller. I had the Octa-Switch and it worked great, but there wasn't much room for the pedals!

I also use various preamp pedals just to compensate for the different output and tone of different guitars. I don't want to have to fiddle with my amp when I switch, so everything is preset. Likewise, especially since I'm the lead singer as well, everything on the pedals is preset and I just have four loops to choose from, with a couple of effects that will be on or off depending on the song. I make it as simple as I can and I still mess up from time to time.

GNB: Is there any advice that you'd like to tell to our fellow guitar players?

BM: This probably isn't what you want to hear, but I always think of a story I heard about Eric Clapton plugging a borrowed guitar into a cheap transistor amplifier. He plunked a few notes, turned a couple of knobs, and sounded just like Eric Clapton. The passion in your heart and the feel in your fingers is 98 percent of it. I love all the gear, but you've got to keep it in perspective.

GNB: What does the lyrics of your songs talk about? Do you think that on a song it's most important the lyrical side or the musical one?

I learned a lot more from Muddy Waters than my school teachers when I was growing up. I've had a pretty interesting life, had some great times and made some big mistakes. That's what my songs are about, and I'm hoping somebody will learn from them as I did from Muddy Waters. If you're putting lyrics to music then they're really inseparable. It's like asking whether treble is more important than bass. I try to create a compelling whole.

GNB: The interview is over! Tell us about your latest album, projects and tours! Thank you very much and we hope to see you soon live!

BM: I'm writing the songs for the next Nimrod Wildfire CD at the moment. Gigs are infrequent in this area, but we play out as much as we can. I've spent a lot of very happy time in Italy and I would love for you to see me live too!

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

HOW TO MIX ROCK / METAL DRUMS (a guide for dummies) PART 1/4

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about one of the most interesting topics of all, and one of the most complex: how to mix a drumset.
First off let's say that there isn't just one way of mixing a drumset, the variables are endless and everything changes according to the genere, the drum parts tuning, the number of microphones, and the choice of using samples or not.
If we want to use a drum sampler, in facts, we can take the drummer's playing via triggers, and then use a drum sampler to assign to each trigger a virtual drum part. Today many bands record their albums like this: the drum parts are played and the sounds are replaced by midi drum samples, and only the cymbals, the thing that sounds more "fake" when not microphoned, are tracked traditionally.

Speaking of acoustic drum tracks, instead, let's assume that we have an 8ins usb interface, and 8 microphones (click here for a dedicated article on how to mic a drumset). I would track the drumset in one of the following ways:

acoustic rock drumset

1 microphone for the kick
2 microphone for the snare (one top, one bottom)
2 overhead microphones for cymbals.
1 microphone for the hi hat
2 microphones for the 2 toms.

acoustic rock drumset alternative

1 microphone for the kick
1 microphone for the snare top
2 overhead microphones for cymbals.
1 microphone for the hi hat
2 microphones for the 2 toms
1 microphone for the room

acoustic metal drumset

1 microphone for the kick
1 microphone for the snare top
2 overhead microphones for cymbals.
1 microphone for the hi hat
3 microphones for the 3 toms

Obviously if we have more Ins in our audio interface we could really use some more microphones, like a room mike, a ride cymbal mike, a subkick or more tom microphones, if the drumset is bigger (Click here for a dedicated article on how to mic a drumset): I have decided to go just with 8 tracks because that's the standard amount of inputs most of usb audio interfaces have.
If we are planning of mixing samples with the acoustic sound, we can also use just one microphone for the snare, and use the spare interface In to use a room mike, a large condenser one. The room microphone is needed more if we are mixing a rock/hard rock song, and less if we are mixing an extreme metal tune.
If we want to mix a metal song and we are planning to blend some sample with the acoustic sound we can also just switch the snare bottom mic to an eventual third tom.

Obviously we can also decide to use microphones just for cymbals and use triggers for all the other drum parts, so that the when the drummer hits the skin the trigger sends a midi impulse to the computer, and the impulse is replaced by a drum sampler.

Since we have already covered the topic about how to mix cymbals (click here to read the article), here we will focus on the whole drumset and on the remaining drum parts: Snare, Kick and Toms.
Assuming that we have a set of 8 nice and clean tracks, recorded at the right levels, with the drum parts tuned to perfection, a drummer that played well, and all the microphones in the right place, we can start editing, until we feel that the song is precise enough to move on with the mix.

Before star sculpting the sound of the single drum parts we must make a background choice: are we using a mix buss compression? In that case we're going to keep it in mind when compressing the single elements, since the two stages of compression will stack (click here for an article about serial compression). The situation will be even more complex if we decide to apply a specific compression on the single elements, then a compression on the whole drum buss, and then a whole mix buss compression. In this case, we must lower each compressor settings accordingly, in order to balance between them and have a final result that doesn't sound over squashed.

If we are dealing with samples, since samples are 99% of the times already half-processed or completely processed, I would probably go with a soft drum buss compression (and only if the drumset needs more punch), just to glue together the elements and not to squeeze too much the transients: the ratio should be very low, like 2:1, the release should be around 100ms (it depends on how fast our track is, what matters is that that the release "matches" the time of our drums), and the attack should be slow as well (e.g. 30ms, otherwise we risk to lose the "snap" of the snare), in order to let the transient to pass and then to add tightness.
If we are not using a Room Microphone we can recreate it with Parallel Compression: we must route all drum tracks to a separate buss, and compress it very heavily (and, if we need more room, we can also add a reverb), now with the fader of this track, we can decide the amount body to add to the whole drumset.
If samples are completely unprocessed, we can also process them as if they were recorded acoustic, but obviously we won't need a Gate.

If we are dealing with acoustic drums, instead, the need of a drum buss compression depends on the amount of compression we're applying on the single drum parts (which could be enough), and if we're using a room microphone. The room microphone in facts can be used to add some parallel compression to our drumset: we can compress it very heavily (this will add a lot of body to our drum sound), and then adjust the volume of this track just to decide the "amount of body" we want to add to the whole drumset, and this is a great alternative to drum buss compression, that doesn't touch the transients of the single drum parts.

Additional awesomeness: instead of using a Buss Compressor on the drum buss (maybe because we have already used strong compressors on the individual drum parts), we can also use a Virtual Console Emulator; it is a tool between a Compressor and a Saturation device, that can give to our sound just the character we need without over compressing it.
Another alternative is to use a Harmonic Exciter, to bring out some of the high frequences we couldn't obtain otherwise, but beware because this tool can breathe life into dull mixes, but it can also really screw up everything, so use it with caution.




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Saturday, November 9, 2013

SERIAL COMPRESSION (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about a common problem during mixing, specifically when mixing instruments with a very high dynamic range, like the Bass guitar and some drum parts.
The idea behind the Compression, as we have seen on the dedicated articles, is to make the sound "stable", to avoid it to move around in the mix balance: this is particularly important for the Bass, since its low-oriented sound generates a lot of energy, therefore it needs to be "tamed" with a particular strenght.
Compression, when set with a high ratio (e.g. 10:1) works almost like a Limiter: it attenuates the peaks that surpass a set threshold with a very strong reduction (in our example every db over the threshold is reduced to 0,1db).
A Strong Attenuation generates obviously a pretty drastic cut on the compressed wave, and it may damage the Transient (click here for a dedicated article) in a very bad way, for example if a Snare track is overcompressed, we will notice that the sound will lose its "snap" and will become very unpleasant.

So How do we tame an highly dynamic sound preserving the transient from being excessively cut?

We can try using a serie of two Compressors, one after the other (thus the term "Serial Compression"): the first one will just tame part of the peaks, moving the whole sound towards a narrower range, the second one will peel off the remaining peaks, and if we set both compressors for example at a ratio of 5:1 we will notice a perceivably better transient preservation rather than using a single, 10:1 ratio instance.
The result will be a Bass sound that will never move from where we set it, and this will allow us to raise its volume without worring.

About the Drumset, the whole situation is a bit trickier: every drum part needs a different compression, but what is important it's that usually all the drum tracks are routed to a drum bus, in which is often set a buss Compression (click here for a dedicated article), therefore it's important to balance the single track compressions with the buss one, in oder to not squeeze the sound too much.

Sometimes the tracks are even compressed on a global mix buss and then compressed again in the Mastering Phase, before getting Limited.
It's EXTREMELY important to have clear in mind all the stages of compression that will be applied to the single tracks, and lower the single compressor settings accordingly, or the final result will be very unpleasant.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

The difference between Vst 1, 2, 3, and between 32bit and 64bit Plugins! a guide for dummies

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article.
Today we're going to understand the difference between 32 and 64 bit Vst plugins.
First off let's say that the older computer generation features a 32 bit processor, a 32 bit OS and a 32 bit Daw, and this is the way it has been for the last (at least) ten years, and in many studios it's still today the standard.
A 32 bit Os and Daw can only handle less than 4gb of Ram, which means that if you add more memory slots, they will not be detected from the computer.
With the increasing of the computing power needed to run the latest plugins, 3 gb of RAM weren't enough anymore to handle big projects, so lately the market has seen the blooming of 64bit cpus, often with multiple cores, that can handle much more than 4gigabytes of Ram.
With a 64bit cpu we can run a 64bit Os and a 64 Bit Daw, and this chain will let us use all the Ram we have installed, with a lot of benefits in terms of speed and stability (actually a 64bit cpu has many more upsides, but we're musicians, not computer techs so it's not our concern :D).

If we can, it's very important today to have a 64bit processor and Os, in order to be able to use all the ram we can, that is one of the most important things needed in digital music production.

What if we have a 32 bit Daw and it doesn't see our 64bit Vst plugin, or we have a 32 bit plugin that is not being loaded on our 64 bit Daw?
There is some Bridge program, like Jbridge, that helps us in this transition phase, until we will all have only 64 bit software (some Daw already features a bundled bridge program, though).

The 32 and 64bit plugins topic is also a obviously connected to the Vst standard.
Vst plugins have evolved in terms of optimization from their first standard, to the version 2, up to the latest Vst 3 version, which is specifically optimized for the 64 bit computers, and offers more routing options, along with other upgrades that makes this standard more stable and cpu-friendly.

(the video on the top of this page is a song mixed and mastered by me for Subcortical Inertia, using 64 bit Vst plugins).

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