Saturday, February 23, 2019

5 tips to declutter your mix

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
After 2 weeks of reviews it's time to get back to talk about mixing, with 5 tips for declutter our mix.

The purpose of this article is to find some solution to a common problem, which is our curse and our delight at the same time as amateur mix engineers: the fact that when mixing we love to experiment, try new plugins, see what happens if I add this tool on the chain, this effect, and so on, to the point that all the tracks lose their body, they become distant, a bit distorted, starts covering each other and in general the sound becomes terrible.
This happens because there is too much aimless processing going on, and because we are making too many random choices with tools we have no idea of how to use.

This is a good starting point to initiate a "diet" for our project: clean up, declutter, tidy up the routing let the original tracks breathe; just by taking away the useless processing the tracks will get back in focus and become more clear, and from there with few, well studied moves we can make them sound awesome.

1) Clean up your channel inserts: the first thing to do if we find ourselves in a plateau in which we don't like what we have but we don't know where to start to fix the mix, is to clean up all the channel inserts from the thousands of random Vst plugins we have loaded. Clean slate.
Now let's get into the order of ideas of putting as little plugins as possible in each single track, and if possible to leave them completely empty, putting everything that we need in the group tracks.
Let's try to adopt an old school approach, like with the mixing boards of the 70s, in which there was a limited number of tracks, a limited number of effect tracks and let's try to get to the result with as few moves as possible.

2) Grouping and using Buses: the second step is to create group tracks for basically everything. One for all rhythm guitars, one for all the toms, one for all crash cymbals, one for all the vocals and so on, leaving out only the tracks that are unique (for example a bass track, or if there is only one vocal track). In these groups we can process and effect our tracks together, giving coherence to the overall sound and processing with our minimal approach that hopefully will bring to our final result more focus, clarity and headroom.

3) Use Fx Tracks intelligently: create an fx track with a reverb and one with a delay, to be dosed in different amounts among the instruments (short tail delay for solos and vocals, reverb in small amounts for almost all tracks except those with a low oriented eq such as bass, kick, rhythm guitars...), this will give the impression that the song is performed in the same room, and will add coherence and realism to the final result.

4) Choose few plugins per type (better if just one): find out among your plugins the best Equalizer and the best Compressor and learn how to use them perfectly and how they behave, then make them your hammer and chisel; they are our main tone shaping tool, and we must use to clean up the unwanted frequences and give body and weight to our sounds. Using only one type of Comp and Eq in our project is another way to add coherence and making the final result less dispersive and distracting.

5) Refocus by using Bypass: as stated in the linked article, every time we add a plugin, before deciding whether to leave it or not we need to make a test; the test consists in listening to the song with all the tracks together (not in solo), while turning on and off the plugin. If we hear an improvement we keep it, if it sounds worse or if we don't notice anything different, we remove it.
Just by removing the plugins that doesn't add anything, the mix will sound much cleaner and more focused.

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review: Ignite Amps Emissary 2.0 and NadIR 2.0 (with video sample)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about the new version of 2 free plugins from our friends of Ignite Amps (click here to read our interview), a producer of amps and stompboxes that offers them in Vst version as free plugins.

After having won the KVR Developer Challenge 2018 with the Pro F.E.T. and having had a nice booth at Namm 2019, the company is already back to action with the version 2.0 of their 2 most popular plugins: the Emissary virtual amp and the NadIR impulse loader.

The Emissary features the same characteristics as the version 1.0 (reviewed here), plus it adds a completely rewritten tube simulation engine (and it can be noticed by comparing the 2 versions side by side, the new one has more harmonic richness), an improved power amp section and now there is a preset management system, which was not featured in the previous version.

Speaking of NadIR instead the improvements are even more: the impulse loader features a new user interface, a preset management system and two new controls, the resonance control, which simulates the interaction between a power amp and a speaker (for the IRs captured from a solid state power amp), and the room control, which acts as reverb.

All I can say is that these plugins kicks ass, and they keep getting better and better, so make sure to download them and to follow Ignite amps, because I think this company is one its way to become one of the best in the industry.

These two plug-ins will be released in the next few weeks, together with many other surprises, so make sure to check out their Facebook official page and the official website.

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Saturday, February 9, 2019

Review: Naughty Seal Audio - Perfect Drums (with video sample)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing a new drum sampler from Naughty Seal Audio: Perfect Drums!

Perfect Drums is a software that sets itself immediately in the high end area of the market, on par with illustrous cometitors such as Slate Drums and Superior Drummer, offering 13 kick drums, 12 snare drums, 29 toms (8 full sets), 9 hi-hats, 11 rides, 31 crash cymbals sampled on different position, 13 china cymbals (5 on the left side and 8 on the right), 8 splash cymbals, 2 custom stack cymbals, 2 bells and 1 jamblock instrument, all organized in 12 Perfect Kit presets.

The mixer is particularly interesting, since the samples are already processed, but the amount or processing can be reverted: the mixer doesn't feature a full internal fx suite to work on the samples from zero, but it lets us control (besides the classic mixer controls) the amount of overhead, room, reverb on each track, and there is also an FX knob that is the actual thing that sets this virtual drumkit apart from the others: it features several types of processing integrated (eq, comp, blend with another oneshot sample...) so that if you turn it to zero the sound is almost unprocessed, and if you crank it the drum part is fully processed and ready to cut even through the most dense mix.

Another interesting feature of Perfect Drums in the integrated Sampler: it is not common to find a virtual instrument that features an internal one on which to add other samples to fatten the drum tracks (you can also get creative and add different samples, for example a hand clap on the snare track, and so on).
This gives us a lot of flexibility, allowing us to blend together samples with extreme ease.

All in all I have been positively surprised by the quality of Perfect Drums: it's easy to use, it sounds great, it's packed with features and above all, all the presets are mix ready and very usable, without additional processing.
It's very easy to create your own kit by choosing your favourite drum parts and blending them together, and the sounds are all perfectly balanced, so I do really recommend it.

Two final things that are worth mentioning are the fact that there is an online community for sharing presets and collaborating, and the fact (which is great) that with the PD Purchase you get all the future library expansions and updates for FREE.

Perfect Drums comes also in a FREE version, called Perfect Drums Player, which I suggest you to try, to check out this cool piece of software for yourself!

Thumbs up!


- Extensive sound library, containing 67 meticulously sampled instruments

- Parallel processing Sample Group

- High End Reverb Sample Group

- Smart Instrument Loading Algorithm

- Intelligent Sampling Engine

- Also available on TCI Files for Slate Trigger Compatibility

- Cloud support of Community Sharing and Collaboration

- With the purchase you get all the future library expansions and updates for free

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

How to mix a song with free plugins part 5/5: Keyboards and Extra Arrangements!

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Now that we have taken care of all the basic elements of the classic rock band it's time to work on the additional arrangements (which sometimes are the most important part of a song, for example in case of orchestral music, edm, jazz or piano driven pop music).

Let's start by saying that those additional arrangements can be done by using real instruments (for example click here to see how to record a real string ensemble), or with MIDI instruments (click here to read our article about virtual orchestras), and within the MIDI realm we can use sampled instruments or synth instruments (click here for an article that explain the difference between the two), but no matter what those additional instruments are, the important thing is to apply the same process of carving space in our mix to accomodate them, the same way we did in the previous parts of this tutorial.

The good thing about MIDI instruments is the fact that most of the times they are pre-processed, so it's mainly a matter of finding the right sound and fitting it in the mix then a real sound processing, but on the other side if we are microphoning a real instrument (like a piano) we will have much more control and leeway when working on it to adapt it to the rest of the song, using our hammer and chisel: the equalization and the compression.

In order to process our instruments there is a variety of free software, most of it in form of Vst plugins; some of them are bundled directly in our daw (click here for an article about how to mix only using stock plugins).
If we're not satisfied with the stock plugins, here's our ultimate list of the best freeware Vst plugins sorted by type.
And here's our top ten 2018 Vst plugins, if you don't want to bother with trying and choosing among them :D

After we have processed properly our additional arrangement tracks, it's time to put the icing on the cake: we need to listen to the song very carefully, and we'll inevitably find out that regardless all of our volume balance and compression there will still be parts which are too loud or too quiet, too effected or too dry, therefore we will have to write automations until the song will flow perfectly smooth.
Now, if we feel that some track is still a bit too weak and lifeless we can route them into a console emulation plugin and let it do its magic in fattening the signal and making it more "round".
Finally, we can add some cool effect if we want to keep the listener's attention high, like inserting a reverse sound effect.

Once we have all of our tracks in place and well integrated in our mix there is still some final check to make. A good starting point is to make sure we have avoided the biggest mixing mistakes listed HERE.

After having cleared our project from the most common mistakes, it's time to do some A/B (actually this is a good habit to do at all steps of mixing and mastering, to keep our ears fresh and our perspective right) with a referencing track, so that we can rebalance our mix if we find out some major problem. You can read more about how to mix with referencing tracks in this article.

Now the last step before passing to the mastering phase is to make a test run of our mix through various playback devices (click here for a dedicated article) in order to find out whether there is some unbalance (for example some instrument can be too loud or too quiet when listened through some specific device); this will make the mastering phase faster and less frustrating. 

Let us know in the comment section if you found this serie of articles useful!





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