My New CD is Out!

Aug 09 2010

I’m very excited to announce that my new CD is out, Erik Hawk & The 12-Bit Justice League. If you like electronic dance music fused with orchestral elements, I think you’ll enjoy this CD. Plus, the physical CD contains remix stems (WAV, REX, and MIDI files) for your remixing and DJ-ing pleasure. The physical CD can be purchased through CD Baby, and digital only downloads are widely available, from iTunes to Amazon.

Here’s the official press blurb:

The new album by Erik Hawk, Erik Hawk & The 12-Bit Justice League, plays like the soundtrack to an action movie. Every song could underscore a scene, from the opening action of “Introductions”, to the heroics of “On a Mission”, and the closing images of “Into the Sunset”. So, it comes as no surprise to learn that Hawk’s alter ego is composer/producer/remixer, Erik Hawkins. His music has been featured in countless film and television shows (from The Informers, to Ugly Betty, and CSI:Miami).

Joining Hawk on his musical adventures are several critically acclaimed musicians, including Gilli Moon (vocals), Christine Wu (violin), Lygeia Ferra (vocals), Craig Seganti (trumpet), and the album was mastered by pioneering hip-hop producer/engineer Michael Denten. Hawk wrote/co-wrote, arranged, and produced all of the tracks. He plays guitar, keyboards, and sings throughout the album.

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And, here’s my official YouTube announcement:

A common question I hear from students is, “Do I need to hire a mastering engineer?” The answer is, it really depends, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re just making some homemade CDs to pass out to friends or sell at your gig, you don’t need to spend the money on a mastering engineer. If you’re submitting your songs to a music library, your songs need to be mastered, but you might be able to do this yourself using some of the awesome mastering software programs available. I’m certainly no mastering engineer but I’ve mastered a lot of my own songs that have gone on to be featured in T.V. shows and movies. However, if you’re planning on pressing up 1,000 or more mass produced CDs for worldwide distribution, and the album is important to you, spending the cash to hire a great mastering engineer is essential.

After writing, producing, and mixing the fourteen songs on my upcoming album I had seriously had it with listening to my own tracks over, and over, and over again. So, when I finally made the decision to spend a couple thousand to hire an experienced mastering engineer, I breathed a big sigh of relief. Even though it would be a significant dent in my pocketbook I knew the right mastering engineer would be worth the price.

My choice of a mastering engineer was Michael Denten at Infinite Studios (and, on Myspace). Uploading my project to him was an exciting moment because I knew he would listen to my project with fresh ears, in a completely different studio, and give me some honest feedback on my mixes. Having worked with Denten for a few years in the 90s, I knew how he liked his mixes, phat and present. I knew that with his extensive experience working with some of the biggest names in hip-hop, from Digital Underground to E-40, that he would naturally bring this big, round, bass heavy sound to my project. And, I was confident that my project would benefit from this sound. It’s critical to choose the right mastering engineer for a project, because as much as the right mastering engineer can blow up your sound, the wrong mastering engineer can totally screw up your sound.

Denten was busy so it took him awhile to get to my project, but when he did take his first listen he opened up my eyes and ears to some mistakes that I had made in my mixes. I figured he would have some suggestions, and I figured there was no way I was going to nail all my mixes right out of the gate, so I was able to listen to his feedback with an open mind. You’ve got to remove your ego from the equation in order to hear blunt feedback on your own material, especially material you’d been working on for months and months. You’ve got to remember that this is about what’s good for the song, not what’s good for your ego. Denten didn’t disappoint, he took me to school and made suggestions that where spot on and really helped me to improve my mixes. Let me paraphrase some of his suggestions so you understand what I’m talking about.

“This song is muddy in the 500 Hz range, you need to clean this up.”

“What happened to the kick drum here, it’s leaning to one side.”

“The lead vocals are way to dry on this song, they’re not sitting in the mix right.”

“The drum loop in this song isn’t punching through the mix enough, you need to split it out to different tracks so that you can treat the high, mid, and low frequencies separately.”

“You need to add some sub bass here for more bottom end. You should use the Waves MaxxBass plug-in.”

“Your mixes aren’t very wide. Don’t be so conservative on your panning, spread things out.”

Some pretty blunt criticisms, and those were just the main ones. There were many other smaller, equally helpful suggestions that he made throughout the process.

After receiving his initial feedback I went back to my studio and made the changes. My mixes sounded so much better, and, as a result, my masters sounded a whole lot better, and my entire album sounded better. Thank you Mr. Denten! This is what a great mastering engineer can do for your mixes before they’ve even touched them, they can be a second set of ears and give you crucial feedback to help you improve your sound. Then, when they actually do their job and master your music, your songs are going to sound a whole better than if you had skipped this step and gone straight to mastering all of the tracks on your own. So, if you’re serious about releasing an album worldwide, and you plan to spend the money on physical CDs, don’t skip this step, hire an experienced mastering engineer to take your project to the next level.

Some of the control room monitors at Infinite Studios.

This blog contains very little in the way of a production lesson. Instead, it’s mostly for entertainment. However, without a doubt, there are some amazing production techniques that go into producing a great sounding mashup. I talk a bit about what a mashup is and give you an example of a mashup in a Reason song file in my blog, More Than a Mashup. That’s my take on a mashup. Now, Party Ben has taken it to a whole other level and is mashing up not only songs but the video too! Check this out, it’s skillfully done and way too funny.

Ever wish that you could do take after take in a session without having to look at the clutter of tracks piling up? How about the ability to turn one take on at a time and listen to it without having to turn all of the other takes off? The old school term for this sort of function is, virtual tracks. These were widely employed in the first hard disk recorders to hit the market because they had a limited track count but a not so limited storage capacity. For example, you had 24 voices that could sound simultaneously, for 24 track playback, but each track could have up to 99 virtual tracks associated with it (dependent on the size of the internal hard drive, of course). This greatly expanded production power, giving you more options in the number of takes you could record, or create through editing, per track.

Even today, with our powerful computer based digital audio sequencers, virtual tracks are still very useful. To this end, Pro Tools features a type of virtual tracks function called playlists. Each track (MIDI and audio) in your Pro Tools session (LE and HD) can have as many playlists as you need attached. These might be different vocal takes, different real-time groove settings applied to a MIDI performance, or different arrangements of the track’s audio or MIDI regions.

A sound designer I know in Los Angeles who has developed sounds for many movies and TV shows uses playlists to quickly audition different treatments of sound effects for the director. He uses AudioSuite to process the sounds ahead of time, and when the director comes to listen he can fluidly play different versions of his effects while locked to picture. Pretty darn cool.

Here’s a video I made about using playlists in Pro Tools to easily record and manage different MIDI takes.