I once told a councillor (training me in motivational interviewing) during role-play that the main reason I found it hard not to drink was because it helped me with inspiration in my creative endeavours. I said this in complete fantasy as I’ve never considered myself dependant on alcohol (especially for making music).
Earlier this evening I really wanted to make a track. Now, I’m not one to get writers block anymore because when it arises when I have the rare time to make music I just battle through it & if the result turns out poor then it’s not the end of the world; I can abandon it and come back to it at a later date to reassess.
Only lately I have not been biding my time to get into making music. It’s something I love doing, it’s something I’ve always associated my personality with being connected to, but lately for the first time ever in my life I have been second-guessing it.
Frankly, I’m annoyed that I’ve not reached the levels of success I’ve wanted to be at at this stage in my life. I’m sad that I’m not getting the attention I was a couple of years ago although my technical skill and heart in the music has gotten so much better. I am starting to feel like I’ve failed at succeeding making my art my vocation.
Because I’m training (in Karate) nearly every day weekly, trying to find time for my social life and have to allow time for my mind to rest I don’t really allow time for music anymore. It’s one of my key purposes in life and priorities but because I’m not finding this time I feel like I should be closing the doors on it; which would kill a part of me inside - a huge part. I am an artist.
It’s definitely not all a downer musically, some great things are happening with my music life lately I just let the logical, ‘right now’ & monetary areas of my mind attack and numb my creativity.
But then I had a glass of wine for the first time since last Saturday. It’s almost exactly like when you’ve not had sex or masturbated for a period of time and you come back to it and everything feels (or tastes) amazing and you unleash a major pent up energy.
I could almost instantly feel the creative buzz flowing through me, there was no second thoughts about starting a new project it just had to be done.
My subconscious spoke to my councillor. Why does it take alcohol for me to become what my soul beckons I do?
Feel like I’m making music on a whole different level this year. I’ve never had a problem with writing loops and allowing for melodic fluency from my vocalist partners or sample cutting in the past, and still don’t, but lately I’ve taken to writing constantly evolving melodies throughout whole tracks as I’m making them. I’m not going to lie it’s more of a ‘pop music songwriting’ take on making music but fucking hell it’s challenging to the brain and the projects I’ve started through doing it are taking a long time but I’m going to feel so proud when they’re done!
Sometimes you set yourself to a task, you commit and everything just falls into place. You’re on a winning streak with your projects or objectives, you feel at the top of your game and your energy levels are soaring. I’ve seen it mentioned as a few different terms, memorable ones are:
- "the state"
- "the now"
But I’ve (and so does Kanye) always called it ‘the zone’. When you’re in the zone, you’re immortal. Nobody can stop you, all of your senses are heightened, your mind is clear, you’re creative, you’re free, you’re quick, you’re full of energy.
This morning it dawned on me, we should aim to always be living in the zone. This is the key to success, with everything!
Too often I head fuck myself and don’t trust myself to do the things that I am good at. I lower my own self-esteem as a result of [over]thinking. I question myself if I can still do things if I haven’t done them for an amount of time, so I get obsessive and compulsive about practicing. This is something I do in everything in my life. I lose trust and confidence in my own abilities.
Why do I do this? It’s a result of years of mind conditioning for defence and comfort, until the past year I’ve never known the skill of witnessing my own thoughts in a mindful and analytic way. Whenever I’ve considered my thoughts in the past I’ve thought about them, spiralling into more thoughts and more considerations. A clouded mind full of thoughts (which aren’t even real), there’s no room for clarity, no room for spontaneous thoughts to occur.
When you allow your mind this space I’m talking about, by spending time NOT thinking [meditating], you naturally somehow occasionally get thoughts pop up which wouldn’t have occurred if you were in an escalator of non-stop thought.
"The mind then gives form to the creative impulse or insight. Even the great scientists have reported that their creative breakthroughs came at a time of mental quitetude." - Eckhart Tolle
But this clarity and mind space doesn’t only happen when you meditate. Meditation is practice of obtaining this clarity by focusing on nothing but the present moment, letting your thoughts be and then letting them leave by witnessing them. When you start practicing doing this on a regular basis you start to bring the techniques into everyday life.
'The zone' is coming from a state of mind without thoughts interrupting your flow and fluidity. You can succeed, be creative and be physically expressive without hindrance because your thoughts are not there to tell you not to or that you're not good enough to.
I’m now going to start focusing on living in the zone as much as possible.
- I’m going to trust myself that I can do the things I’m good at.
- I’m going to start practicing being brutally positive about myself. I have no reason to have a low self esteem, I’m confident so shouldn’t let my mind have these periods where I stop believing in myself and let my thoughts control me.
- I’m going to continue practicing meditation to ensure I’m giving my mind room to be quiet and clear.
- I’m going to continue practicing all the things I enjoy and am good at so that I’m always staying on top of my game.
- I’m going to continue looking after my health and aiming towards a stronger & more powerful body. It’s important I remain strict about health choices & training so that I don’t give myself an excuse to let my mind tell me I’m being lazy and becoming less than my potential..
I was recently having a discussion about getting tracks finished. I’ve now realised a lot of it for me is leaving it looping all night and doing other shit. My mind trances out to the repetitiveness & it starts imagining melodies etc that aren’t there and that’s how I progress with the track… I just add those sounds in at different parts of the structure, take bits out here and there and then make mid sections where I can really go nuts with longer melodies rather than just loops.
Should I let experiences harden my defences against emotions? I don’t know if I should try to disconnect from emotions in order to grow. So often we’re told that bottling up emotions or ignoring them is not the answer, but I’ve seen men fail and weaken and their paradigm and actions change as a result of their emotions.
As an example, I have a never-ending battle with the ‘romance’ in melancholia. I feel it is a key component to my artistic nature, I feel it is a key component to my sensual nature and my personality. I feel like without this sad side to romance it’s just not as heartfelt. I listen to a lot of melancholic, soulful music. I don’t ever want to change that, I’m a sucker for that shit.
But when I couple this ‘hopeless romantic’ fantasy with real life it can be quite damaging. Although it’s quite refreshing to feel sad sometimes, I don’t want to go through life having really passionate infatuations that always end & leave me lonely again so that I can make art about it. I want to eventually find my girl and settle down and be happy, drawing on only past experiences, the odd inevitable sad time & external views of other peoples experiences & feelings.
Sometimes we need to detach from our personality to go deeper into our personality. That sounds a bit like inception but what I’m trying to outline is that you’re always subconsciously aware of who you are and who you want to be, so conscious changes to live or think differently will not damage your core virtues or personality, you’re never really changing yourself; just disciplining your weaknesses more & changing bad habits as you learn they’re damaging to you. Being emotionally vulnerable is not something I generally am (although I have my times being so, which as I said is all down to my passionate nature & longing for romance), so I am going to learn to not let it dictate my actions & feelings outside of controlled environments. I want to start channelling my more vulnerable energy into something I’d only let express itself pissed up listening to loud music, locked away in the studio, or occasionally with a girl I could trust. I don’t want to be sharing loose emotions where I’ve headfucked myself in weak moments and I’m not being myself. I know I’m a strong person & if I want to be strong for a girl as well as myself then I need to be more in control of how my emotions dictate my actions. A girl already has a pussy, she doesn’t need two.
Essentially I’m working towards being a more passionate man, less emotional.
As a slight counter-argument, part of me believes it’s moments of weakness that makes you battle to be stronger because without that weakness you’d have no desire to heal and get stronger. That weakness may be looked at as your driving force, what gives you strength, what gives you purpose. It’s balance again.
This is only a reflection of thoughts, not a conviction to myself that “I’m not going to let myself feel any emotion any longer, I need to be strong & cold.” It’s just different ways of looking at how sometimes I’ve been out of character due to emotional clouding of my thought process & how I can think about staying true to myself in such circumstances.
I recently had a conversation with a female friend about finding a ‘sticking partner’(I know, it’s like asking a fish about fishing!). We were discussing how younger girls are ‘less mature’ and after a time period of messing around with ‘bad guys’ they eventually seek out a more secure partner. But she also made a point to say that age gaps are relevant because once that girl has found that ‘settled down’ mindset, a slightly older guy might be more ideal for her.
This made me contemplate some of the things I’ve learnt about maturity. I think maturity is an overrated concept. It’s just people knowing more about themselves as time goes on, experience and wisdom coupled with a suppression set on people by society. As you reach your mid-twenties your prefrontal cortex (logical brain) becomes more active, whilst your limbic system (emotional driven brain) takes a back seat. This is why a lot of 27 year old rock stars lose faith and have breakdowns and kill themselves, because they become ‘too mature’, lose their immediate sense of creativity and appreciation for external beauty. When you reach this sort of age you have to start practicing being more emotional and detached from your mind, you have to work up to having fun & getting excited - it’s not quite so easy to be in 'that zone' straight away. I think this is especially true for men, because being stuck in your head and boring is not attractive to women, women being a key element to one of the primary needs for most men.
I also read sometime that girls age quicker and feel more inclined to settle before they feel ‘expired’ and their beauty starts to decline. Men have less of a problem with this, we don’t have set expiry dates, we can keep going as long as we can keep a stiffy!
So, later in life if single, I could be enjoying a flux of girls getting scared they’re going to lose out before they start aging and because I look younger than I am but would have the experience and 'maturity' of somebody older, I could be onto a winner.
I’m majorly inspired at the moment, even to the point that I’m not worried that I’m not spending as much time in the studio as I like. It’s so strong I’m confident as soon as I get in the chair shit just flows. My head has been in a bit of a spin lately, but it’s spun a yarn of artistic subconscious psychedelia that’s just flooding out like my soul is bleeding a spunk of expressive life. Feel like a true artist at the moment.
Some lyric/poetry is not to be taken at face-value & that’s where the character of the artist comes through. It’s like the heart speaking without the brain interfering & trying to translate it into something logical. Instead, sometimes, the raw and organic feeling is allowed to express itself freely. This is why some in lyrics you can’t understand the metaphorical message the artist is giving, but somehow you’re attracted to it anyway like your soul secretly understands it but your mind just can’t work it out yet.
The magic of art is that you can compensate down to the most minimal of tools if you practice enough.
I’ve been working on a track tonight, and tonight as is the case many other nights I’ve been working on what I consider a shit tune. You know a tune is shit when it just doesn’t groove properly, the vocals sound cheesy as fuck, the chord progression has too many major chords so it sounds like a kids program theme, you can’t be arsed to mix it and it’s just generally something you’d turn off if somebody else sent you it.
But I carried on making it, and different to previous times when I’m carrying on out of determination to make it better, I carried on for a different purpose tonight. I was enjoying and chuckling to myself over the fact it was so shite. It was good just to have a jam and not worry about the perception of the music itself and focus more on the enjoyment and moment of making it.
In theory it’s all beneficial… Smiling and messy around experimenting (even knowing the track is going nowhere) is still progress. I’m confident that when working in my comfort zone I could have made something much more productive, polished and preferential to my ears but working outside of that comfort zone will be what helps me expand it so that my music doesn’t get too repetitive and samey.
Tonight, as a first I think, I naturally appreciated and embraced making shit music, rather than dwelling on it. It’s the continued ability to learn new things that keeps life and what you do in it exciting and interesting. Although I wish I could be spending more time on music, tonight has helped me realise that as long as I’m inspired to make music and the result is shit, it will still result in better music eventually. I no longer consider ‘the shit music stages’ writers block.
Using Compression Creatively As An Effect
In the previous section I explained how to use compression in a mixing sense to even dynamics and make things sound more even and crisp. This section basically tells you how to make things sound big and loud using compression in a slightly different way!
As well as evening transients and dynamics, compression can also be used to fatten sounds up or adjust the tonality of a sound, most of this is done with the attack and release settings, but the ratio and gain also play a big role.
In this article I will be going over two different examples of compression which are different from normal compression and focus more on making things perceivably louder than making things dynamically even.
Parallel (or New York) Compression is a type of compression used to ‘beef up’ sounds. In my opinion parallel compression is for those times when you have no need, or limited time, to be technical with your production & give more of a nod to the old school when engineers & producers didn’t have analysers etc. and you just based everything on the sound you’re hearing (as it should be, really ;)).
The concept of parallel compression is having two identical signals, each with a different level of compression on. One signal will be compressed to the balls (i.e. high ratio, fast attack and slow release) with a high level of gain to make up for the compression, and the other will be subtly compressed to not compressed at all. The result will be one signal which is extremely squashed in the transients but full in the sustain, and another signal which is nice and punchy and transient whilst not loud as a whole. The balance of these two signals are then mixed to make up to the level the original signal’s peak level was at, except now the sound will have a more consistent RMS level so will sound a lot more full and essentially louder as a whole.
As an example, you might have a drum signal which is peaking at -6dB (as in all of your drum sounds have been bussed into one channel fader - on Logic this accomplished by changing all of the outputs of your drum sounds to a bus input - and the total peak amplitude on the bus is -6dB). The next step is to split this signal into two duplicate signals so that we can apply parallel compression. On Logic there is two primary ways of doing this, I’m sure most DAW’s will have similar ways:
The first way is to send the signal 100% (or in Logic’s case 0dB) to another bus. The important thing to do here is make sure that your signal is sent pre-fader. This means that the signal is being sent by the percentage you’re sending it regardless of what level the fader is at on the original channel, it separates the send pot from the level fader. When the signal is sent post-fader, if you turn down the amplitude of the channel down, the sent signal will also be turned down, whereas in pre-fader if you turn the amplitude completely down in the original channel, the secondary signal will still be turned up. Sending signals in pre-fader does still include any effects or processing you have on your original fader, so that’s something to keep in mind.
Next we’ll apply the aggressive compression to the duplicate signal. The first thing we’ll adjust is the ratio, we want this excessively high as we really want to squash the shit out of our transients so that we can really raise the overall level of this signal. Experiment a little, but you’re not going to want it far off full. 30:1 is a good starting point. Next you want to pull down your threshold setting until your gain reduction meter tells you there is a substantial amount of compression taking place, I like around -9dB as a personal preference. If you can’t see how much gain reduction is taking place on an analyser, use your ears to decipher when extreme compression is taking place. Next you want to adjust your attack and release settings. As a rule, you’re going to want very fast attack and fairly slow release settings so that the compression really has time to batter down those transients. Finally you’ll want to add up the gain back, the settings you’ll want for this will either be just under the gain reduction amount (so add 8.5dB when 9dB is being reduced) or use the gain to make up to the peak amplitude the signal was at when the compressor was bypassed. You will now have an extremely compressed signal, in fact you essentially just limited it; but more on that later.
Finally we’ll mix this signal with our un-to-minimally-compressed original one until the peak of the combined signals meets -6dB. The idea was to fill in the gaps in between the transients to make the audio sound more full as a whole, so we’ll start by turning down the original signal (whilst our compressed signal is muted) a little to allow for some ‘headroom’ (turn the fader on the original signal down until it’s around -8dB). Next bring up the heavily compressed signal from inaudible to a level where the overall peak of both out[uts is reaching -6dB again. The two different signal levels can then be altered to taste depending on whether you want the final result to be more ‘fat’ or more ‘punchy’.
Another way of achieving parallel compression in Logic is using the mix setting on the standard compressor, this can be found by clicking on the little triangle in the bottom left corner of the compressor.
Using this will wield different results to the previous method. Basically the idea is the same as the previous section, but instead of using dual signals you can use the mix parameter on the compressor to mix between two signals (a dry uncompressed one & one with compression) but from inside the box. I find that the results from using this method for parallel compression is often more subtle than the previous, so I use this method on things that just need a bit more ‘thickness’ (often ‘airy’ synth leads, pianos and sometimes vocals).
As you can see, there are a few other interesting parameters on the drop-down menu of the compressor, but I will maybe cover them in another article.
Sidechain compression is an effect resulting when a compressor is used to reduce one sound when another is played.
Sidechain Compression For Mix Purposes
When using sidechain compression for mix purposes the aim is to ‘duck’ a sound to make room for another in the mix whenever it plays. To be honest it’s very rare that I use this particular technique for this purpose as I find if you’re mixing your elements properly and the track is properly composed then there shouldn’t be a need to duck one thing when another plays, but I understand that many producers/mix engineers do see the benefit and in theory it is a great technique to know.
A frequently used example of where sidechain compression may be necessary is if you have a sub-bass heavy kick drum and a sub-bass sound playing in your track at the same time, so I will use this as an example to talk through how to achieve the effect in Logic. Obviously the way this is achieved will range in the different DAW’s, but hopefully the theory of this tutorial on Logic will easily translate to your DAW. If all else fails, there are specific plug-in’s out there made specifically for sidechain purposes. If you can’t work out how to sidechain on your particular DAW, YouTube will likely have a video for every DAW explaining how to achieve it.
The first thing you’ll want to do is create a BUS in Logic and turn the output off so that there is no output coming from the bus. The reason for this is that the bus will just be acting as a ‘thru’ for your audio signal, so you don’t want to hear it. Next you should go to the sound you want to be controlling the sidechain, which we’ll call the trigger. In this instance we want the bass to duck whenever the kick is audible so the kick is our trigger. On the kick channel, set up a pre-fader send 100% to the bus we just set up with no output. We want this send in pre-fade because when we mix the kick down we still want it to be acting as loud as possible to control the sidechain, a quieter signal would effect our sidechain compression less because there will be less audio to be compressed.
What we need to do next is go to our sub-bass channel and add a Logic compressor onto the signal chain. Depending on the desired sound, choose whether you want the peak or RMS of the bass ducked when the kick plays (in this case RMS will likely be your boy as you don’t want the ducking to sound too blatant, you just want it to prevent levels getting too high when two sounds play or tidy up a little clashing in the frequencies). Next we need to go up to the top right corner of the compressor and change the ‘Side Chain’ parameter to the BUS you previously set up and sent the kick drum to. You should now see that the compression is working as your kick drum is playing.
You’ll now want to go through the other parameters on the compressor until you get the desired amount of ducking you require. It’s best to solo just your kick and bass sounds to begin with so you can hear how they’re working with each other, then readjust if necessary in the whole mix. Start with the threshold, a good starting point I find is around 8:1 to get a nice amount of ducking but not so much as it makes the ducked sound almost inaudible. Now adjust your threshold to duck the sound about 8-16dB. Add some gain back in (2dB-ish) so that a little bit of gain is applied to the sound when it’s not being ducked to bring it out a tad to match your kick sound. Now adjust you attack and release parameters. You won’t want your attack too slow as you’ll want the sound to be ducking quickly as the trigger plays, ‘7 o clock’ might be a good starting point. The release will be totally down to personal preference as this determine when the level of the bassline starts coming back up after the initial transient from the trigger. I find a good starting point is around ‘11 o clock’.
You should now have successfully sidechained your bass to make room for your kick drum.
Sidechain Compression As An Effect
Essentially the same process as sidechaining for mixing, the main differences are that you may want to sidechain the peak level as opposed to the RMS for a more sudden sound. I believe the main difference between sidechain as an effect and for mix purposes is the ‘sucky’ sound achieved when the sidechain is used blatantly. The way to produce this effect is largely to do with the attack and release of the compression sidechaining your sound. The attack should be fast, but not instant so that it sounds like the trigger is slowly pulling the sound down. A good starting point is around ‘9 o clock’ then make it faster or slower to taste, depending on the swing and groove of your track. The release is the same ideas as the attack but in reverse. It determines how quickly your audio springs back up to its original level, again you’ll want to judge this on the swing and groove of your track and how it sounds good. I tend to start at ’11 o clock’ release & adjust from there. You’ll want your ratio nice and high, to at least 11:1 to really get those parts with the trigger pulling right down, you’ll also want the threshold down a lot so that there is a gain reduction of around 16dB or more. Finally bump your gain up to a place in the mix where it is pulling through nicely on the parts that aren’t compressed. You may need to apply some normal compression afterwards to make it sit more nicely in the mix and stop those parts that aren’t compressed jumping right out and spiking your overall peak level.
The final thing I will mention with regards to sidechain as an effect is the fact that you might not always want an audible trigger in place when you want something else to ‘pump’. There’s more than one way of achieving this such as using LFO’s, but sticking with sidechain compression I’ll give you a brief run-through of how it’s achieved. Firstly set up a new audio channel with a fast high transient sound such as a kick drum or hi hat where you want your sound to be ducking, it doesn’t matter what it is - it isn’t going to be audible. Turn the level fader all the way down to 0 and then send the channel to a bus set up the same was as in the previous examples. You can now go about sidechaining the same way as before, it’s as simple as that. It works because you have turned the trigger all the ways down so the sound is inaudible but you’re sending the sound to a bus 100% pre-fade so the level being turned down down not effect the send. Your bus has no output so the sound isn’t audible there either, but the level coming into the bus will still effect any compression you sidechain to this bus!
Limiting is still compressing, but it’s the most aggressive form of compression there is. The ratio is on its highest point and the attack speed is as fast as possible so once the designated threshold is reached the signal will be so reduced that it won’t exceed the threshold what-so-ever.
The primary difference you should notice between a compressor and a limiter is that there is no ratio parameter on a limiter, the ratio is always fixed at the peak amount. The purpose of the limiter is to completely flatten a signal when it reaches a threshold so that it never exceeds that threshold, whereas on a compressor you have more control over how much the signal is reduced when the threshold is met.
Limiting is handy when you want something to not exceed a certain peak level and want to bring up the entire level of the audio to meet the peaking amplitude. For this reason it is often used in modern (and especially digital) mastering. Limiting is the primary cause for what is now being known as ‘the loudness war’, which is a term used to describe the increasing RMS levels of records and the decreasing dynamic range.
When limiting a single sound the first step is to make sure that it’s already the loudest it can possibly be without distorting from the source (i.e. turning it up in the synth or on the sampler), my reason for this is because we’ll be adding gain from the limiter which may bring subtle distortion into the signal even before it reaches the threshold point. Once this is done I will set a threshold of -0.3dB (this is a habit from mastering, as with mastering you should never allow your signal to reach the full 0dB because it can introduce artefact’s into the signal after being burnt to CD). If the signal is currently below the maximum peak level I will bring up the signal to meet its highest peak level before redlining. On the Logic Adlimiter there is a parameter called ‘input scale’ which is the one I use for this task, on other limiters you may need to turn the gain up on something in the signal chain before the limiter. Once the signal is at its highest peak point it can be before redlining I will begin to introduce gain into the signal. In doing this I will be greatly compressing the peak transients of the sound whilst bringing up the troughs to meet the same level. The idea here is to bring up the quieter parts of the sound to meet closer to the highest, whilst not turning up the higher points because they’ve been stopped at a desired threshold.
I now have a sound which is pretty close to the same consistent amplitude throughout! I can now mix down the sound in relation to my other elements of the track knowing that it’s never going to exceed a certain level.
Because a lot of my music is particularly dependant on the dynamics I take great care to try not to limit tracks too hot when using limiters for mastering. To help me with this task I use two particular pieces of software to help graphically analyse my signal. I don’t usually like to cheat and use graphic analysis because it’s not really very accurate (you can’t explain what you hear with your eyes), but these are pretty mathematical figures I wouldn’t be able to know from listening, especially in the environment I produce & mix in - which is not at all designed or transparent/flat enough for mastering. The problem with limiting is that all the time you’re bringing up the gain after the peaks have met the threshold, you are distorting the signal more and more as it flattens the peaks. This is often referred to as a signal being ‘too hot’, so I use these pieces of analysing software to help me determine whether I’ve under or over limited.
The first is s(M)exoscope by SmartElectronix, a live waveform display plug-in, which I use to check that when I am turning the gain up on my limiter, only the exceptionally loud parts of the audio passage are often being squashed. I try to limit only to the point where it’s rare that things are being squashed, only when the peak really sticks out compared to the rest of the track.
You can see in this image above that only the really loud peaks are being ‘squared off’ when they meet the threshold I’ve set on my limiter.
The next is Logic’s own MultiMeter which I use when mastering to check that my overall general RMS is meeting around -10dB, which is the industry standard RMS for a recording.
So after setting my limiter threshold to -0.3dB I watch these two analysers whilst turning up my gain on my limiter to reach what feels and sounds like the best amplitude. The limiter is always the last processor on my signal chain, followed by my analysers. Obviously there are other analysers on the Multimeter, pretty much all of which I use when mastering but the one mentioned is the only one I use particularly for limiting. I may do a complete digital mastering basics article at some point. :)
You may have noticed in the above image that my signal is actually redlining! This is not something I’d ever include in my mix (unless I was making a Lo-Fi track which required distortion on the signal). What’s happened here is I have placed my MultiMeter before my Adlimiter in the signal chain for the use of this example image. In a real mixdown that redline wouldn’t be there regardless of where the MultiMeter was in the signal chain as I’d have already pre-mixed the sound so that it wasn’t exceeding 0dB.
So this concludes the articles that I’m covering on compression. If there are any questions at all, subjects you’d like me to cover next or advice how to better explain things please visit my homepage & click the ‘ask me anything’ button and ask away! :)
Although phase is often seen as an evil thing when mixing audio, it does have its advantages when you’re aware you’re using it. The important thing is to learn to recognise what phase sounds like and the effect it has on your audio so that you know whether you want it there or not.
Signals - Stereo Vs Mono
With regards to phase, your main warning is that if something is too far out of phase it means that it’s not going to be properly audible when listened to in mono.
Some people might question why that matters in an age where the majority of home systems and headphones are now stereo? Your answer is specifically two ways that people still listen to music in mono: firstly is through mobile phones and mono laptop speakers (obviously these people are evil, but they do exist and if they’re listening to your music out loud through a phone or laptop, you want the mix to sound good!) Secondly is on mono sound systems in clubs and music venues.
When creating music in a digital audio workstation you have one channel of which all of your other channels are linked to, this is called the master channel (also known as Output 1-2 on Logic, the reason being because you can work in surround sound and still link to a master channel which is more than two channels in total).
The master channel is (generally) a stereo channel made up of two separate signals panned hard left and right. Now when you listen to this stereo in mono you have to consider that anything that’s hard panned 100% left or right will not be audible, and even when it’s partly panned it’s going to sound quieter in mono because mono will be playing everything that is 100% centred in the split signal properly then anything panned is essentially turned down in volume by the pan pots.
For this reason I make sure the key parts of my drum sounds i.e. kick and snare are 100% centred, as well as my sub bass. As a rule, anything below 500/600Hz is generally 100% centred and I am a bit less strict with my high mids/highs (above 4000Hz essentially) and let them have a bit more stereo space as they’re the ‘pretty’ parts of my tracks which will be more applicable to home listening.
Many producers and mix engineers recommend that ALL of your sounds are mono before effects as they would be when recorded in the analogue world and then use subtle effects to add stereo space afterwards. This isn’t always ideal now as so many plug-in instruments have stereo sounds, but there are ways you can make sure that your sounds always sound prominent, regardless whether they’re playing on a stereo or mono system, as I will go on to cover.
Phase is a result of two identical or similar sound waves overlapping one-another at a slightly different time interval. The audible effect is that some of the signal will sound louder and others will sound quieter, which happening quickly causes a slight ‘flutter’ in the left and right channels.
When a sound is in-phase it will have two of the exact same sound overlapping and the sound will be doubly as loud audibly.
When a sound is completely out of phase you will hear absolutely nothing as each of the signals will counter each other out.
Phase Invert / Reverse Phase
Unless you’re trying to cancel out noise or something in a sound you don’t want to hear, phase can be very annoying, so this is where phase inverting or reversing comes into play. The purpose of phase reverse or inverting is to swap the direction of one of your signals’ waves around so that it then becomes in phase with the other wave.
There are very powerful plugins out there which will put only certain parts of the wave back into phase so that when you have a signal which is slightly out of phase as opposed to completely, you can effectively make an out of phase stereo signal in-phase so that it will be audible on a mono signal, or just if you want it more prominent in the mix altogether.
Phase As An Effect
Chorus, flanger & (obviously) phase are all effects caused by phasing. They work in different speeds of which the two signals go out of phase and how far they go out of phase, creating dips and rises in audio in each signal which can give sounds a wider feeling across the stereo field.
More info on these effects in later tutorials.
Too much time spent being unproductive and uninspired whilst listening to my idles in awe like “fuck man, some inhumane force fucking guided them, this is more than the music of any human being”… If I was a rock star at the moment, these would be some drugged up fucked times… Instead I turn to a couple of sorrow and stress drowning beers each night and reflect on plans to try to make that high rollers stake… The things I’d do to be free to live in a status, economic stance or world where I could happily get fucked up and make outer-influence-inspired music without the after effects of capitalistic life stress or paranoia. My artistic and creative nature is being thoroughly suppressed and eaten away as I’m too busy being a slave to the ‘essentials’ and not spending any time on the ‘necessary’.
I wish my music was as fluent as my words have been of late, the sense they make is potentially irrelevant… What matters is the ease they flow and the emotion they carry.
P.s. This is not a suicide note.