One of my favorite things about Reason is that you never need to worry about updating your DAW’s third party plug-ins.  This is because all the virtual instruments and effects you need are built right into Reason.  In other words, you can open a song from two years ago and it’s going to open perfectly, every time, without any missing plug-ins.  Too cool!

However, an obvious complaint about this system was that there weren’t enough virtual instruments and effects to choose from.  End users couldn’t pick up a Korg virtual synth or a McDSP compressor plug-in and add these software devices to their music production toolkit.  Fortunately, this has all changed with the brilliant implementation of Rack Extensions (REs).  Basically, a plug-in system for Reason, but without giving up the original idea that you should never find yourself in the frustrating position of trying to open an old song file only to find missing and out of date plug-ins where there used to be sound.  Trust me, not a fun situation.

Today, in the Propellerhead REs store there’s a cornucopia of fantastic devices available for your Reason Rack. This includes synths by Korg, Rob Papen, and Synapse, and effects by McDSP, Softube, and u-he, just to mention a few.  Indeed, there are so many awesome REs now it’s getting hard to choose.  In this video I share with you a few of my favorites, broken into the categories of: synths, effects, and utilities.  And don’t forget, if you’re a Berklee Online student you get 30% off a select number of REs until the end of this month.

It’s super easy to sidechain compress in Reason.  And this is the key to producing that classic, pulsing synth pad sound you hear in dance music.  You know, the synth pad that throbs in time with the kick drum.  Here’s a video on how to set this type of sound up in Reason.  Plus, I show you how to keep it going even when your song’s main kick drum drops out, so you can produce inspirational breaks in your arrangement without ever losing the pulse of the kick.

Here’s the completed combinator patch that I demonstrate in the video so you can explore how it’s put together right in your own Reason Rack.

Combinator Patch [COMING SOON]

 

I’ve received many requests for tutorials on writing/producing a hip-hop or dance beat. In theory, this is a nice idea. In reality, there’s just no way you can encapsulate all of the creative and technical know-how that goes into writing and producing a great sounding beat in a single tutorial. Fortunately, that hasn’t stopped me from trying, because even if I can’t pack all of the relevant information into one tutorial, it’s still worth doing for the information that I can share in about a ten-minute video.

So, I threw on some clothes, my Remix Miami T-shirt, didn’t bother to shave, set up the camera (top view down so you could see my hands on the control surfaces), and wrote a hip-hop style beat off the top of my head. It took me around 40 minutes, but I edited the whole process down to about a 12-minute video. Obviously, there are some parts missing, such as playing with MPC backdrops for Kong, or running the hi-hats through a compressor. But, if you watch carefully, it’s all there, because in addition to the techniques I describe as I’m working, you can also see all the device settings and the connections when I flip Reason’s rack over. The video is in HD so you can totally see all the details. I used Reason 5, Kong for all the drum sounds, and Thor for the bass line. Enjoy!

Sidechain compression is a wonderful production trick. Originally, it was used to duck music behind an announcer’s voice on the radio. Each time the announcer would speak the music’s volume would be automatically lowered. Today, it’s widely used in dance music to create that “pumping” sound in the mix.

Sidechain compression works by using another sound to trigger, or key, a compressor rather than the signal on which the compressor itself is inserted. For example, you could set up a bass line to be compressed each time the kick drum plays. The compressor is inserted on the bass channel, but the kick drum keys the bass compression. This is how you create that ubiquitous pumping bass sound heard in dance music, where each time the kick plays the bass is automatically ducked so that the kick drum isn’t drowned out by the bass tone. It’s a great effect that sounds like the bass line is breathing with the kick drum.

You can also set up sidechain compression using a key sound that won’t be heard in your actual mix. For example, if your kick drum pattern isn’t four-on-the-floor (all quarter notes), but you still want the bass line to have that pumping four-on-the-floor feel. To accomplish this, set up a MIDI track that plays a drum sound (such as a kick drum sample) playing only quarter notes. Then, use this signal as the audio that keys the bass compression, but don’t send this audio to your main mix. In Reason, it’s a snap to set this up using Redrum’s step sequencer to loop a four-on-the-floor pattern, and then send Redrum’s audio directly to an MClass Compressor’s Sidechain Input. I’m attaching a Reason 5 song file for you to check out how this is set up. (You must have Reason 5 or higher to open this song file.)

Most professional DAW programs feature at least one compressor that has a sidechain input. For example, Pro Tools has its Compressor/Limiter Dyn 3 plug-in, Logic has its Compressor plug-in, and Record features the MClass Compressor. While setting up a keyed compressor will vary a bit from one DAW program to the next, the basic operating concept is always the same. You want to send an audio signal to the compressor’s sidechain input, and you may need to enable this input function. Often, you’ll use a bus to send signal to the compressor’s sidechain input. And, you’ll want to set the compressor’s parameters for heavy compression to achieve the most dramatic effect possible. For example, a high Ratio with lots of gain reduction. Here’s a video of how to set up sidechain compression in Pro Tools using its Compressor/Limiter Dyn 3 plug-in.

Click to hear sidechain compression on synth bass.

Reason_Sidechain.zip

Most of my compression tutorials focus on recognizing what compression can sound like in your mix. Because, if you can’t imagine what properly applied compression will sound like before you reach for the compressor’s controls, you’re working in the dark and your results will be, at best, hit and miss. That said, you do of course need to understand the common controls found on most compressors: Threshold, Ratio, Attack, and Release.

Nick from PrimeLoops does a great job of explaining these four basic controls and their relationships to one another. I discovered Nick’s tutorials as a video response to my How to Use EQ Like a Pro video tutorial. His video tutorials are promotion for Primeloops, a company that sells royalty free loops and samples. They’ve got some good sounds on their Web site. And, some of Nick’s other tutorials look quite good as well. Definitely worth checking out.

Just one thing to mention about Nick’s Compression tutorial, it looks like he’s using an old version of Reason because his demonstration is done using the Comp-01 device. The information is still relevant, because the controls are universal on most compressors, but, if you use Reason, use the MClass Compressor device rather than the Comp-01. The MClass Compressor is a much better compressor in terms of sound and controls.

Wondering how much compression you should use in the mix? Maybe you’re skeptical that compression really makes a difference? It’s a difficult effect to get a handle on and to really use effectively. It starts by being able to hear the difference between a mix that has compression and one that does not. To this end, I’ve cooked up a phat drum beat and given it a mix with lots of compression. In this video, I switch all of the compressors on and off while the beat is playing, so you can seriously hear the difference. And, at the same time I flip through the compressors on each channel so you can peep my settings. Enjoy!

PS — This video can be seen in full screen HD if you go to YouTube. Double click on the video above to jump directly to the full screen version.

The Reason Bass Line Battle was a wonderful chance to flex your drum and bass production skills. Just 8 bars of rocking drums, funky bass, and swanky percussion using Reason’s Factory and Orkester Sound Banks and the Reason Electric Bass refill (or Electric Bass Demo refill, given away for free as part of the contest). And, you weren’t limited to just entering one bass groove, you could enter up to three!

This all sounded like too much fun and I couldn’t help myself, I entered two bass grooves. My entries are titled “Fat Spaghetti Funk!” and “Jungle Biscuit Bounce!”, under the username, “muzicali”. CLICK HERE to vote for me, this link will take you to a page where my submissions are right at the top. (Voting ends Dec. 5th, 2008.) There are about 338 entries, many of which are absolutely amazing. It just goes to show you how much talent is out there! Truly inspiring. (All of the bass line entries are auditioned as streaming audio, so you don’t need Reason to hear the entries on the Propellerhead’s Web site, you only need to log into the Web site.)

Besides having fun writing these grooves, I figured it would be useful to have these song files as production tutorials. Not only do they stress the importance of having a solid drum and bass foundation for your songs, they’re a good demonstration of how to mix drums in Reason (heck, how to mix drums period), and show off how great the Electric Bass refill can sound when used creatively and with purpose.

“Jungle Biscuit Bounce!” is a straight up groove, meant to demonstrate how tight a drummer and bass player can sound when they’re both sitting in the “pocket”. While “Fat Spaghetti Funk!” is a more flamboyant performance, meant to show how great a drummer and bass player who are communicating and really playing off of each other can sound.

That said, here’s a Zip containing both of my Reason song files and the Electric Bass Demo refill which I used to produce the grooves. After you’ve unpacked the Zip, simply move the Electric Bass Demo refill next to your other factory refills and the song’s NN-XT devices will find their samples fine. Have fun exploring these Reason racks and don’t forget to vote for me!

Click here to link to a page where you can download the Zip (about 26 MB).

Download directions:
Right-click PC and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”
Control-click Mac and from the pop-up menu choose, “Save Link as…”

When it comes time for students to mix their final class projects, a common question I hear is, “Should I put the EQ before or after the compressor? Which way is correct?” There’s not actually a right or a wrong way here. Instead, it’s about the sound that you’re going for, the sound that you hear in your head. Each position, EQ pre (before) or EQ post (after) compression produces a distinctly different sound, a different tonal quality and coloration. As a rule, using EQ in front of your compressor produces a warmer, rounder tone, while using EQ after your compressor produces a cleaner, clearer sound. So, the question you need to ask yourself for each channel in your mix is, “Do I want to EQ the compressed signal or do I want to compress the EQed signal? What sound do I want for this signal?”

I find that in most of my mixes about 80% of my EQ is post compression. I usually start with all of my channel EQ set up post compression, but in Pro Tools it’s a snap to drag and drop the EQ plug-in to a different insert slot and hear the difference. To facilitate this workflow I have my compressor plug-in inserted in slot C and my EQ plug-in inserted in slot D. If I then want to hear the EQ pre compression, I simply drag it to insert slot B. This works great even when I’ve already created my EQ curve post compression, I simply drag the EQ plug-in pre compression and Voila! I can immediately hear how my signal sounds when I’m compressing the EQed signal, versus EQing the compressed signal.

It’s also fine to insert your EQ pre and post compression. But, you should employ this technique sparingly because over doing will likely lead to an over EQed mix that sounds harsh and grating. An acceptable way to apply EQ pre and post compression would be to employ a single High-Pass EQ band pre compression, to sculpt your signal at a macro level before compression, and a multi-band parametric EQ post compression to really fine tune the sound.

EQ Pre and Post Compression

Of course, I can talk about how EQ sounds pre and post compression until I’m blue in the face. Carefully listening to the difference between the two positions is what will cement the sonic image in your mind and allow you to reach for the appropriate color in your mix. Below is a rather heavy handed EQ job pre and post compression for you to hear the difference. However, don’t just take my word for it—especially since streaming Web audio and computer speakers lack the clarity necessary to hear this level of fine sonic detail—you should also experiment with these two EQ positions in your own DAW software program in order to hear the difference on your own system.

Copycat Cool

Apr 15 2008

There’s a saying, “Copying is the highest form of flattery.” Copying is also one of the best ways to hone your production skills. Taking the time to pick apart and recreate a song done by your favorite producer is almost like being an intern for that producer. You’re getting the benefit of dissecting the techniques used to produce their unique sound without the hazards of being an actual intern (you’ll never be shackled to the coffee maker nor asked to clean up after the band).

When selecting a song to copy, make sure that it is full bandwidth audio (like what you find on an audio CD), not a compressed audio file format (such as MP3 or AAC). You need to be able to hear every nuance of the original production, and a 128 kbps MP3 file just isn’t going to cut the mustard, there’s just too much audio content missing. You can audition MP3 files to find the song that you want to copy, but when you’ve identified the song, you should buy the audio CD to ensure that you’re listening to the best quality audio available.

The object of copying a song is to get as close to the original sound as possible. However, even though this is a great bar to shoot for, it’s not usually possible from a technical standpoint. For example, the producer used a $20,000 Lexicon 960L reverb unit, and all you have to work with is D-Verb (the Pro Tools LE factory reverb plug-in). Obviously, their sound isn’t going to compare. Fortunately, simply going through the process of copying the song as closely as you can is practice enough. Even if your copy isn’t a dead ringer, you’ll still be going through the steps and experiencing the techniques required to create the producer’s sound. Of course, ultimately, the idea isn’t to become a clone of your favorite producer, it’s to learn a variety of techniques and then to apply them in your own unique ways.

Neither is it necessary to copy an entire song, from start to finish. It’s fine to copy just a short section of the song. For example, the chorus, the bridge, or simply the intro beat. The production elements that you’re wanting to emulate are, more often than not, contained in only a few bars of the music. Copying just a section makes it convenient to loop the part, then beat match your session’s tempo to the loop. This also makes comparing your copy to the original song, right in your session, a total snap. Plus, with your session beat matched to the original, it becomes possible to extract the loop’s groove (using a tool like Beat Detective in Pro Tools) and apply it to your own tracks.

Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself when you copy a production:

copycat questions

Attached is a Pro Tools session in which I’ve imported and looped a short drum loop from Missy Elliott’s “Sockit2me” (produced by Timbaland). Then, I’ve used Xpand! and the Pro Tools LE stock plug-ins to copy the song’s basic production sound. It’s not perfect because of the limited palette of sounds I had to work with, but it certainly captures the flavor of the original beat. In fact, I even picked up an interesting production trick along the way: hard panning a gated reverb return to the left speaker, and then hard panning the original dry signal to the right speaker. See if you can hear this effect in the original loop and then find how I recreated it in my mix.

Copycat Cool Pro Tools

There’s a lot that goes into producing a convincing drum track, especially when your drummer is a software sampler (such as Reason’s Redrum and NN-XT, Native Instrument’s Battery, or MOTU’s MachFive). Indeed, the shear number of techniques employed to create a great drum track would keep me writing blogs for months to come. But, rather than go on and on about how to produce realistic sounding drums, let’s cut to the chase and look at how it’s done in a Reason song file.

Using Reason 4, I’ve cooked up a song file that demonstrates how to produce and mix realistic sounding drums. I’m using only samples found in Reason’s Factory Sound Bank and Redrum as the sample playback device. You can do much more with the NN-XT in terms of the shear number of samples and velocity zoning. However, since most beginners reach for Redrum first, I decided to hold off on the NN-XT. The mix is not mastered (there’s no Mastering Combinator or Maximizer in the rack) so that you can see and hear how your drum levels should be hitting before mastering. (Mastering should be used to make a great mix sound awesome. Unfortunately, mastering is too often used to make a poor mix sound passable. But, that’s a subject for another blog.)

If you have Reason 4, you can open up this song file and explore the connections and settings. Of course, your drum tones and compression levels will vary with each individual mix, in relation to the other instruments in your song. For example, you might want your snare to have less compression on the initial attack of its waveform, for greater snap, or your kick to exhibit more mid frequency pop around 8 kHz. Fine adjustments such as these are easily accomplished when your devices are properly set up and routed, as they are in this song file. Alternately, if your drums aren’t properly routed, fine tuning your drum mix can be an exercise in frustration. Many of the techniques employed in this drum mix are the sorts of things that I teach in my Berkleemusic course, Producing Music with Reason.

Here’s a list of the production techniques used to produce this drum track:

· Compression and parametric EQ inserts
· Parallel compression
· Group effects
· Individual outputs
· Gesture sampling
· Proper levels and gain structure
· MIDI performance sample (a drum sequence created by a real drummer)

Turn your speakers up and have fun exploring this song file!

Redrum Drum Mix Demo

Shot of the Drum Mix Rack