As promised, I’ve finally put together a comprehensive video about using Propellerhead’s ReCycle software and how to create your own REX loops. ReCycle continues to be a wonderful tool for slicing and dicing loops. It’s a true music production classic software program. The video pretty much explains it all. Enjoy!

In lesson 2 of my Remixing with Pro Tools and Reason course I ask students to cook up a comprehensive rewire session that will work as a template for remixing. Needless to say, we go over all the details and really get deep into it. But, often, because there are so many possible ways to build your environment (the Reason rack and the Pro Tools tracks) students are often left questioning whether their setup is really the best. Well, the only way to know for sure if your rewire session setup will work well for you is to jump in and start using it. This way, you’re actually working with your setup instead of just thinking about it. No doubt, you’ll be making changes and improvements over time.

In the spirit of sharing and knowing that a really good example is worth a thousand words (or more), I’ve cooked up a rewire session template based on what works well for me when I’m composing and mixing. I’m attaching it here as a Zip containing the Pro Tools 8 session file, the Reason 4 song file, and a Word document listing my suggested rewire inputs. The rewire session is for all of you to study, use, and modify. There’s a short demo in the Pro Tools session that’s just there as a sound check. Erase the demo before you start writing your own music so that you can start with a clean slate.

Have fun and keep finishing your productions!

ReWire Session Template

ReWire Session Template Zip

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…”

The usefulness of a good sampler in your production toolkit can’t be overlooked. It’s great for everything from developing your own custom sounds to consolidating your favorite samples into a single instrument. Back in the 80s, dance and hip-hop pioneers could put together an entire track using a hardware sampler with just 2 MB of memory (that’s MB not GB). On it they’d have all of their drum samples, bass and keyboard sounds, even guitar phrases and backing vocals. Working this way, with just a few MIDI sound modules and very limited RAM really forced you to be creative, to write solid beats and killer songs. Unlike today, you weren’t in a position to dazzle listeners with layers upon layers of neatly produced sounds because, frankly, you just didn’t have the tools. Instead, you had to focus on the basics, where every part that you played was integral to your song’s arrangement.

There’s a lesson to be learned here. It’s such a privilege to have all this production power in our computers at our fingertips, but having all of this power is no guarantee that we’ll be able to write good music. As an exercise in my Producing Music with Reason course I demonstrate the unbridled power of Reason’s NN-XT Sampler and what you can do with it when you truly understand how to milk it for all it’s worth. Students generally find the lesson to be an eye opener, but because it’s such a different way of working and thinking about arranging it can be a confusing lesson. So, in addition to the online lesson material, and the assigned reading, I’m posting a 9 minute video that follows me through the entire process of constructing a custom NN-XT patch.

Those of us that ran up a credit card bill in the 80s buying just one Akai or Roland sampler for around $2,500, well, we were determined to get the most out of our new hardware. We had excellent incentive, we had to write a “hit” to pay off our credit card bill. There’s much less incentive nowadays, beyond the personal challenge, to write an entire track using just a sampler. But, I’d strongly encourage you to give it a try because besides the fact that it’s a lot of fun it will force you to learn a sampler inside and out and to stretch your production chops and think in new ways.

Now, here’s some incentive: Imagine if you will that you’ve been caught in a temporal vortex and transported back in time to 1982 and the only way for you to get back home is to write a satisfactorily slamming beat with your Akai S900 sampler and 2 MB of memory. Now there’s a challenge, are you up for it?

Here’s my attempt to get back to the present, written entirely using Reason’s NN-XT sampler and a few effects devices. And, just to make things even more realistic, I did this in Reason Adapted, the limited features version of Reason.

Big Samples MP3

Big Samples Reason Song File

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…”

By grasping the concept of velocity layers in a sampler you will be able to better use and more easily create your own dynamic and exciting sampler patches. Digital samplers, like Reason’s NN-XT, are an essential tool for creating your own unique sounds and audio effects (such as stuttering) and have been a secret weapon of hit producers since the early 80s (especially in hip-hop and dance music).

In my Producing Music with Reason course I have an entire lesson dedicated to the NN-XT Sampler. It’s that powerful and that deep to warrant a whole week of study. Yet, the assignment at the end of the week, to build from scratch your own NN-XT patch, is for many a serious struggle. Consequently, the way I figure it, I can’t have enough material explaining the finer points of the NN-XT. That said, here’s a video tutorial I did on understanding the power of velocity mapped zones in the NN-XT Sampler.

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…”

Reason Song Template

Sep 06 2008

Many students have asked me for a Reason song file template to be used as a starting point for their own projects. This sounded like a good idea to me so I’ve cooked one up that’s especially suited for most forms of popular electronic music, from hip-hop to dance. It’s not meant to be used verbatim, instead, you should modify it to your liking and save it as your own Reason song file template. It’s also pretty complex and if you’re not an advanced Reason user there may be some sections of the routing that you might not know how to use yet. Many of the techniques presented in this template are thoroughly covered in my Berkleemusic course, Producing Music with Reason.

Remember that after you create your ideal song template, you can have it loaded automatically whenever you launch Reason. This way, you’re always ready to start writing, with no time spent setting up your rack. In Reason’s Preferences, under the General tab, set the Default Song to Custom and choose your song file template. And, remember to set your song file to Read-Only. This will ensure that when you save a song it won’t write over your original template file.

Reason General Prefs

Here are some highlights and tricks (in no particular order) for using my song template and making it your own:

· Several instruments are set up as combinators. The instrument Inside the combinator is routed through compression and parametric EQ processors for mixing. To browse for any instrument while still maintaining all of the connections, find the instrument inside the combinator and use its Patch Browser. And, when browsing for patches, select the Show All Instruments option so your patch browsing is not restricted to a single device type.

· You can control either the combinator itself or the device within the combinator from a track in the Sequencer. I have both types of control tracks set up. The main advantage of using the combinator track to control a single instrument inside the combinator is that you can automate the combinator’s knobs and buttons from this track. Of course, you’d need to assign the combinator’s knobs and buttons to some device parameters for them to be active. (Keep in mind that I’m not talking about a multi instrument combinator patch here, for which you’ll always need to use the combinator track to gain control over all of the instruments inside the combinator.)

· There are several labeled clips on the Song Markers track in the Sequencer. These can be used as song markers to organize your song structure. Modify them and make your own as necessary.

· There’s a mastering combinator set up and ready to roll in the rack. Only, it’s set to Bypass because, as a rule, it’s better to produce and mix your track without monitoring your work through active mastering processors. In short, this is because the mastering processors are coloring your mix prematurely, before you’ve completed your production. Instead, save the mastering for after your mix is completed. (I’ll cover this topic in more detail in a future blog.)

· Not only are all of Redrum’s individual outputs routed through compression and parametric EQ processors, for the best control possible over each drum part in your mix, I’ve also connected Redrum’s sends to some extra parallel drum effects (a DDL-1 for delay and a Scream for lo-fi). You can use Redrum’s sends to send a drum signal to these effects before the Drums sub mixer. The effects themselves are returned on Channels 8 and 9 on the Drums sub mixer.

· I’ve set up parallel compression for your drum mix by splitting the output of the Drums sub mixer into two signal paths, one that is compressed and one that is not. Both sub mixes come up on Channels 1 and 2 of the Main mixer. This way you can easily mix in the parallel compression effect on your drums to taste.

· After the Main mixer, I set up a Sub Master mixer for some fun with global effects. The Main mixer’s output is split off to the following effects: there’s an MClass Compressor for parallel compression, an ECF-42 for that classic filtered sound, and a PH-90 for that classic phasing sound. The returns for these effects are muted on the Sub Mixer. Mix their levels to taste and automate how and when they drop into your mix (don’t leave them on all the time).

That’s the scoop. Have fun with this Reason 4 song file template.

Reason 4 Song File Template

When enabled, the Elastic Time plug-in analyzes two dimensions of your audio in order to calculate the recorded performance’s tempo. It looks at the audio region’s duration in bars and beats, and it looks for transients that represent a regular periodic rhythm in the recording. In theory, if the rhythmic content of your recording is clear, with distinct transients, Elastic Time can figure out a performance’s tempo regardless of whether the audio region is trimmed to a perfect loop or not. This is really neat when it works, but it doesn’t perform miracles (nor should you expect it to, that’s not producing your own music).

Instead of relying blindly on Elastic Time to perform your beat matching (as in, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best), there are several simple steps that you can take ahead of time to prepare the audio and ensure perfect results every time. Performing this pre-processing, even though it’s a tedious task, helps to preserve the audio quality and the groove of the original performance after your tempo change.

The easiest way to demonstrate my pre-processing approach is to take you step by step through the process. This is the best way to understand not only the steps in the process but the logic behind my approach. (Try it a different way and you’ll find out just how quickly you can end up with a train wreck.) The DRM (Digital Rights Management) free stems being offered for your remixing pleasure by Radiohead, of their song “Nude”, on iTunes is perfect for this example. The stems are $0.99 each and you only really need two of the five available, the “Drum Stem” and the “Voice Stem”. But, it’s nice to have all of the stems in your session, even if you don’t use the “Bass Stem” and “Guitar Stem” they’re handy for finding the key of the original, and the “String FX Etc. Stem” contains several sounds that are perfect for a remix.
iTunes Nude

Remixing Radiohead

1. Create a new Pro Tools session and import all of the “Nude” stems. When prompted, select the import Destination as New Track with a Location of Session Start.
step 1

2. Arrange the tracks in the Edit window with the Drum Stem on top and the Voice Stem just below.
step 2

3. Mute all of the tracks except the Drum Stem. Use Tab to Transient to locate the very first downbeat in front of the vocals (approximately 1946229 samples in from the session’s start) and separate the regions.
step 3

4. Select the Edit Group, double click on the latter Drum Stem region and separate all of the regions.
step 4

5. Select the Shuffle Edit Mode and delete the first set of regions so that the downbeat of the second set of regions scoots to the beginning of the session.
step 5

6. Disable the Edit Group and using Tab to Transient find the downbeat every two bars in the Drum Stem and separate the regions. (The only region that I left as 4 bars is the drum break, having 2 bars before the break itself.) In some instances, you can make the separations every 4 bars, but with “Nude” there’s a lot of human tempo variation and every 2 bars will produce the most precise overall beat match.
step 6

7. Select the Edit Group and double click on each 2 bar Drum Stem section and separate the sections.
step 7

8. Select each 2 bar section and apply Identify Beat to generate a tempo map for each section. This will beat match and lock each 2 bar section to your session’s tempo grid. (You could use Beat Detective to generate a tempo map, but my method preserves the original performance’s groove every two bars, while simultaneously guaranteeing that the original’s downbeat is locked exactly to the grid every two bars. This way, your beat match never drifts.) At this stage, it’s also helpful to create a Click track in order to audition your tempo lock.
step 8

9. Change the Timebase selector for all of the tracks to Ticks. This will lock the regions to their relative bar and beat positions so that they stay in beat when you make your tempo change. Then, enable the Elastic Time plug-in for each track. Set the Drum Stem to Rhythmic, the Voice Stem to Monophonic, the String FX Etc. Stem to Polyphonic, the Bass Stem to Monophonic, and the Guitar Stem to Polyphonic. Give Pro Tools time to analyze the audio. (For now, leave the Elastic Time plug-in set to Real-Time Processing.)
step 9

10. In the Transport bar, disable the Conductor and enter a new tempo in the Current Tempo field, or experiment with the Manual Tempo Slider. Since the original tempo is about 42 BPM, it’s nice to bring the tempo up to about 62 BPM. At this tempo you can then record drums in double-time (124 BPM) and be at a dance tempo! (Once you decide on your remix target tempo, if your computer is running short on processing power, your can set the Elastic Time plug-in to Rendered Processing.)
step 10

Here’s what the final results sound like, using all of the stems at 62 BPM, some effect processing, and backed by Digidesign’s Strike virtual drum instrument playing in double-time at 124 BPM:
Nude – The Strike Remix (by Erik Hawk)

Using EQ Effectively

Mar 31 2008

A common question that students ask is, “How do I use EQ? What’s the best way to EQ each instrument in my mix?” Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to this question. Unlike a compressor plug-in, most EQ plug-ins don’t have presets—if only it where this simple. Instead, EQ curves vary from mix to mix, and from track to track. Even the same instrument, recorded during the same session, but in a different song, will be treated differently. This is because no one instrument is ever heard in a vacuum, and every arrangement is unique. Consequently, each mix requires its own set of individual EQ curves to make it sparkle and shine.

That said, here’s the rub. The secret to efficient EQ processing is twofold: an ability to hear the frequencies that you want to change, and a working knowledge of the EQ controls with which to do the job. Both of these orders are easily accomplished by themselves, it’s putting them together that can be challenging.

In order to accurately hear your music you must have a good monitoring system, professional studio monitors, and, preferably, more than one set of speakers. (See my earlier blog on Setting Up Multiple Monitors for Better Mixing.) Your monitors must be positioned properly in your room and your room should be tuned to achieve the best possible listening environment. (I’ll discuss how to tune your room in a future blog.) The bottom line is this, if you can’t hear what you’re working on because all you own for monitoring is a pair of headphones and computer speakers, you can’t expect to become an EQ master.

Next, you’ll need to understand all of an EQ processor’s parameters. For example, the difference between Frequency and Q controls, and when to use a high-pass filter versus a low-shelf EQ. Such details are explained very nicely in the PDF document that comes with Pro Tools 7.4, and can also be downloaded directly from the Digidesign Web site, the DigiRack Plug-Ins Guide (version “v74”). (Some versions of the DigiRack Plug-Ins Guide without the “v74” appear to be missing the DigiRack EQ plug-in chapter.) Consequently, I won’t waste space trying to explain all of these parameters here, just read the manual.

Now, let’s jump to the chase, how to go about finding a particular set of frequencies in your signal that you can hear needs help (and you can hear this because you have properly set up monitors and a fine listening environment). My favorite technique is to insert a parametric EQ, and to use it like an EQ magnifying glass in order to find my troublesome frequencies. This is a technique that has been in use ever since the invention of parametric EQ, so I’m sure it has several other names, but I call it the “magnifying EQ trick.” Here’s a video I made on how the process works.

Of course, just because you don’t understand compression doesn’t mean that you’re mentally challenged. As a rule, the compressor, and how it controls a signal’s dynamics, is one of the more challenging processors to grasp. Learning how to effectively apply compression in your mix can take a significant amount of study time, patience, and good old fashioned experience.

Now, I could explain what each parameter of a compressor does and how it affects the signal. I could even give you some compression presets to get you started. But, this approach would be old hat and does nothing to help you actively hear compression and how each of its components work. You see, without the ability to hear in your mind how compression colors a signal, and to then know which parameters on a compressor to reach for in order to achieve your sound, you’re just fumbling blindly.

The skill necessary to properly operate a compressor is comparable to the ability you developed as a toddler to recognize and apply colors. You learned to visualize what color you wanted to apply to the flower in your coloring book, and you learned which color to reach for in your box of crayons to achieve your objective. The trick with compression, as with any type of processing or synthesis used in music production and sound design, is to know, instinctively, which parameters to reach for in order to create the sound you’re hearing in your head. It’s a deceptively simple process because it’s so easy to quantify, but as we all know from experience, it’s tough to put into practice.

With all this in mind, I’ve cooked up an interactive compression lesson to help you better hear compression, and learn to associate compression colors with specific compressor parameters. It’s a Reason song file full of MClass Compressors, with each Compressor adjusted slightly differently, but applied to the same snare drum signal. Each compressor’s label reflects its parameter change (such as “More Attack” or “Less Attack”), so that you can easily identify the Compressor’s parameter that you’re hearing, in relation to a base compression setting (the “Basic Compression” device). And, since a sound is rarely heard on its own, but, instead, always with accompaniment, I’ve included the rest of the drum mix as a stereo stem on Channel 12 of the mixer.

Here’s How You Work It
Press Play to start the drum pattern, then, to hear each compression setting, solo each snare drum signal on the mixer (Channels 1 to 10), one channel at a time. Leave the drum mix on Channel 12 in solo mode so that you can hear how the different compression settings make the snare “sit” in the drum mix.

Many of the changes to the snare drum’s sound are subtle and a challenge to hear, especially if you’re new to this sort of critical listening. Accurate monitors are also key in being able to hear the differences in the drum’s sound. So, if you’re not hearing the differences right out of the gate, not to worry, below is a description of what you’re listening for in each compression setting.

Channel 1: “No Compression”
This is the snare drum dry, with no compression processing.
Channel 2: “Basic Compression”
This is a decent snare drum compression setting. It is the starting point from which a single parameter is changed in the following Compressors. For example, on the “More Attack” Compressor, all the parameters are identical to the “Basic Compression” settings except the Attack parameter.
Channel 3: “Less Threshold”
Increasing the Threshold means that less of the incoming signal will be compressed. Another way of putting it is that the threshold at which the signal will begin being compressed is higher.
Channel 4: “More Threshold”
Decreasing the Threshold means that more of the incoming signal will be compressed. Another way of putting it is that the threshold at which the signal will begin being compressed is lower.
Channel 5: “Less Ratio”
There’s no easy way to explain the compression ratio. It’s math, there’s no getting around it. Ratio sets the amount of input signal necessary to cause a 1 dB increase in output signal. For example, with a ratio of 4:1, an 8 dB increase in input will produce a 2 dB increase in the output. So, less Ratio means that an increase in input signal will sound louder at the output, less compressed compared to the original “Basic Compression” setting.
Channel 6: “More Ratio”
With more compression ratio applied, more input signal will be required to produce a 1 dB increase in output signal. Consequently, the output signal will sound more compressed when compared to the original “Basic Compression” setting. At high compression ratios, limiting occurs, where, at the most extreme settings, the output level stops increasing no matter how loud the input level becomes (referred to as “brickwall” limiting). In situations where the output level is very low in volume, you can use the Compressor’s Output Gain control to turn it up.
Channel 7: “Less Attack”
The Attack parameter sets how quickly the compression will begin. So, turning the Attack up means that less of the signal’s initial transient (the very beginning of its waveform) will be compressed. This is good if you want to retain the crack and pop of the waveform’s start.
Channel 8: “More Attack”
Turning the Attack down means that more of the signal’s initial transient will be compressed. This is good if you want to diminish the crack and pop of a waveform’s start.
Channel 9: “Less Release”
The Release parameter determines how long it will take for the compression effect to fade out. So, less Release equals a shorter release time and the signal’s waveform will be compressed for a very limited duration. This is good if you want to retain the natural decay of a waveform.
Channel 10: “More Release”
Turning the Release up means that the time it takes for the compression effect to fade out will be longer. This is good if you want to compress the natural decay of a waveform, like increasing the volume as the signal fades out.

After you’ve listened carefully to each compression setting, try describing the changes in the sound that you hear. This will connect what you’re hearing to a concrete idea in your mind. And, ultimately, help you to associate a compression color with a specific compression parameter. Once you master hearing what each compression parameter can do on its own, then you will begin to hear how all of the compression settings work together to create a variety of compression effects and sonic colorations.

Here’s the Reason song file. Remember to press Play before you begin soloing each snare drum signal, and only audition one snare signal at a time.

Compression Lesson (Reason 3 Song File)

It seems like the Pro Tools Accelerated Videos (http://www.digidesign.com/accelerated) are often overlooked as an educational resource. Sure, they’re clearly for promotional purposes, extolling the virtues of Pro Tools. But, at the same time, they are an excellent overview of Pro Tools centered music production techniques and features, both new and old. The videos aren’t nearly as in-depth as our twelve week courses here at Berkleemusic, but if what you need is a quick blast of information, an overview of a feature or technique, the Pro Tools Accelerated Videos are just perfect.

The Pro Tools Accelerated Videos can also be seen on YouTube. Here’s one on using Reason Adapted with Pro Tools and setting up the ReWire connections: