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.

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