( Warning : You may need a Red Bull....or Two, this Article is a Beast. Happy New Year ! Make 2016 One to Remember...)
There are good songs
There are great songs
Then, there are the OMG...that chorus is bringing tears to my eyes song.
To me the perfect chorus, at the perfect time, with the perfect build/ lead up can be life changing ( ... at least for like 20 seconds )
Let’s face it, if you want your song to “make it” in
- Best Labels
- High Volume Downloads/ Sales
Then your chorus must have certain elements to it. Period
No, I am not talking about just making it loud as fuck, that super dope new niche synth everyone is using or having a killer master.
I am talking about the behind the scenes/ secret sauce tricks to make your chorus WOW your listener.
This isn’t a simple matter of volume automation, this isn’t a simple matter of just adding more shit( which ironically, creates more issues than it helps).
I will be blunt and to the point here, a GREAT song, a song that catches people's attention and hooks them instantly ( which IMO you need in the age of Hyper short attention spans ) needs to flow like magic, the volume, width and elements MUST flow.
How can a track flow?
The track expands and contracts in volume AND width as it progresses. ( or the illusion of width)
Remember when you where new and you learned to NOT make a brick of a track? You mainly focused on the volume. This is one flow element, the simple one.
The harder one? Width and the Illusion of width
Uber Basic Run Down ( NOT A TEMPLATE)
Intro : Low Volume, Narrow, No Width Illusions ( aka bright hats/ white noise/ noisey saws etc)
Verse : Higher Volume, Bit Wider ( brighter as well), Slowly bring in width illusions
Chorus/Drop : Loudest, Wide as Fark, Brightest
Now, I know you guys are saying, no shit Nyonyxx, dynamics, duh.
Everyone knows the chorus needs to be the biggest baddest most emotional part of the song.
(clicking X and leaving......)
But dynamics are a TINY part of the issue, dynamics are like stage 1, when your end goal is stage 10.
Let me put it this way, I master over 1,000 tracks a year, I can FIX the dynamic swings sure, but does it ALWAYS make the track flow perfectly, Hell NO ( and if I sell less master’s so be it) As I said, FLOW has a lot more to it than simple dynamics, if any engineer says that mastering is ALL that is needed to create a great flow they
1. Are lying to you
2. Haven’t mixed enough tracks to realize there are WAY more important factors that come into play.
When it comes to having a epic flow, your track needs to have a "mix plan".
Plain and simple, if you aren't AWARE of why your adding something you are going to run into a LOT of problems.
Let's jump back into my early days of production, this was my mindset then
- Add as many layers as possible ( wanted to be unique)
- Didn't check the range it was in ( aka 90% of them where like 1.5k to 15k)
- I didn't even know what range the song needed anyways
-I would "preset hunt" through 1,000's of sounds trying to find the magic one, when I didn't even have a fucking clue what would fit best there.( aka didn't know what timbre/ ADSR/ Texture ETC would best fit my current elements)
- I added reverb/ delay/ effects randomly, based on what sounded cool for THAT SOUND, not what fit in the mix
- I had no idea about width, nor gave it any thought what so ever. ( other then my tracks sounded like narrow poop)
- I thought LOUDNESS made the track "flow" I assumed it was the magic sauce to great tunes.( remember when you thought loudness fixed ALL problems, I've been there as well)
- I didn't understand how brightness effected "bigness"
-I didn't understand how to gain width, or why you even needed width.
The list goes on and on...
Pretty much I can sum up my mindset like this
I just added whatever I thought sounded cool, with NO FUCKING plan of attack what so ever.
Now I will be honest with you guys, I truly feel you DO want to do this for a year, maybe 2 or 3 depending on how often you practice.
This "mindset" def isn't something to start on day one as you have SO MUCH basic stuff you need to hear* that your best bet is to make 10-15 full tracks, THEN start to think about mindset etc.
If you've been in the game for a bit, then the time is now to STOP the preset, does this sound good, where does this go, why do I add this mindset and set up a plan of attack !
( I am serious as shit about this, I would honestly just " fuck around and have fun" for 6 months to a year when new. Just make a bunch of " songs" and learn the basics. If you've never finished a full track, never made your own preset, never used EQ properly etc, having this mindset will ROADBLOCK YOU. The number 1 issue people message me with is they try to do more advanced stuff, when they have never even outputted a full song in their life. Simply put, make 15 full, 100% done songs THEN hit up the mindset stuff)
Here is my current mindset when building a track, mainly, its just questions I ask MYSELF ( obv I answer them as well).
The questions help me figure out where everything goes. ( I know asking yourself questions sounds lame when in the zone, but the end outcome will be well worth it)
Remember, a LOT of learning any skill, is knowing the RIGHT questions to ask.
These Mindset Questions, will help guide your track to having a killer flow. Even if your volume/ width etc are on lock, simple issues can crop up, hopefully these questions point you in the right direct.
Basic Mindset Questions
1. What does the song need RIGHT NOW Frequency Wise
2. What does the song need Element Wise( synth/ drum/ etc)
3. What is the IDEAL ADSR for that element. ( in relation to the REST of the elements in the track) What will give me the cleanest overall interaction. THIS IS FUCKING HUGE. If ALL your elements have a slow attack, or if all your synths have a long sustained release, it's going to be a fucking nightmare. This would be like having a LONG sustained sub kick, then trying to put in a long sustained sub bassline( sub melo, not just adding a sub to the drum), it CAN'T be done, you need to mix up your ADSR settings across the board. Just mentally taking note of EVERYTHING'S rough ADSR will help a ton.
4. In the section I am building currently ( chorus, verse etc) how is the width compared to other sections ?
5. In the section I am building currently, how is my brightness compared to the other sections?
6. Is this element going to interfere with another element? How am I going to fix this?
7. Is this element in the correct flow order ( remember uber basic run down from above)
8. How much of the SIDES of the mix is this element consuming, do I even want it to be in the sides?
9. Is this element meant to be up front ( louder/ drier) or in the back ( lower/ wetter)
10. Most importantly, do I even NEED this sound? If so why is it HELPING MY SONG.
Cool, now I understand a lot of these won't have one answer, most of them don't even have a right or wrong answer !
The key here is to simply STOP PLACING SHIT RANDOMLY, stop adding reverb/ delay etc randomly.
While teaching lessons recently, the client asked " what do you THINK OF while producing now, that you didn't 6 years ago"
The above questions are what I NOW think of. I know this seems fairly lame, but these simple questions ( or anything else you come with) can really help your track improve leaps and bounds mix wise.
Yes I can " hear better" now
Yes I know tons of " little mix tricks" now
But most importantly I know WHAT questions to ask, then how to fix them.
Now that there are some basic mindsets in place, it's time to jump into the FLOW of your tune directly.
To slam this point home, the GOAL of this post is to teach you a few ways to have an AWESOME FLOW.
Remember, flow IS the track, your telling a story in one section, jumping into another section, building your track's volume, building your tracks width, building your tracks brightness, bringing new elements in and out of play etc.
Mid-Center vs Side -3.5 Ways to Make your Tunes WIDTH FLOW like the Pro's. ( w Audio examples)
Flow Concept 1 : Width
Width is an often misunderstood concept in EDM and production in general. In fact I HATE posting or talking about width, because people will send me a dozen messages trying to tell me that "making a track wide is wrong"
Let's drop some FACTS real quick before we get into this.
1. When I am talking about width, I am simply COPYING the style the pro tracks are built, I am NOT saying pan something 100% to the right, I am NOT saying use stereo tools on every single element randomly, I am NOT saying phasing isn't an issue. If you disagree with a width concept, totally cool, just understand my ONLY goal is to explain some of the elements the pro's are using.
2. ALL WIDTH ADVICE taken to the extreme ( using to much) is bad.
So when I am talking about this, remember, TINY AMOUNTS. Again, I hate bringing width up because it will most likely fuck up more peoples tracks then good (because they will over do it). Keep it simple with width, simple simple simple.
3. Lastly, people tend to bring up the mono club system width issue, again, I am NOT making tracks or saying to make tracks ANY different then pro tracks. In fact, every piece of advice I give is based on what designs people currently use that are topping out on the charts, I am not using width just because I like to, I use it because you have to in order to get the best sounding tracks.
4. Width is VERY VERY hard to judge on headphones, and some monitor systems. I personally can NOT judge width on headphones what so ever, so if you are new to width concepts, try to get a few different playback systems in place, so you can double check everything, as I think the majority of width problems come from over use and not knowing how width should sound* on the device your using.
Yes, that was a bit of a rant. I just want to cover my ass when the questions come in ( and when people royally fuck up their tracks by over doing it). Again, I 100% base my width info on PROFESSIONAL Charting tracks. While the info is obv going to be me trying to explain it to you. Realize in the end, I am simply telling you " do what the pro's do".
If you can hear a pro track and copy its width/ style and bigness, then you don't even need to read this article.
One last point...(yes this is why I hate talking about width because it needs 5 pages of intro to even get there....)
Different People, judge the "mid-center" and the " sides" differently. I have been in studios where one artist would call it one thing, the engineer would call it another thing, I would call it something different.
I like to keep it simple, I call the "sides" the content that you hear when you solo a side eq unit ( ozone for this demo) . I call the mid-center the content you hear when you solo the mid of the unit.
HOWEVER, and this is big...this is only one way to look at it. I have seen people look at it COMPLETELY DIFFERENTLY, they judge the content different, and different ranges then I do. IMO one person isn't right or wrong, I learned different concepts from different producers ( both billboard topping dudes to boot) so its not fair to say one way is better then the other.
Once you learn how "side content" comes into play, you will never hear the mix the same again, just realize, it isn't as simple as just...placing a clap 20% to the right side. When you solo that clap in the "side" its not going to be outputted the way you think it is...
Yes, this is why there are a few examples below, this concept is a beast..... keep reading.
For this article, let's break your song up into FOUR PARTS, these are going to be.
Center/ Mid ( Front)
Sides ( Front)
Center/ Mid ( Back)
Sides ( Back)
Now, typically I break these down way farther, but I feel its a bit overkill so lets keep it simple. What do I mean by these?
Center/ Mid Front = Middle of the mix, main lead element, it will be loud, it will be drier then other elements, it could be a huge kick, it could be a main vocal, it could be the main lead etc( all of these at the same time as well). Center Front simply means the stuff you hear in the FRONT and center of the mix. This is the main bulk of the mix, all the power comes from the center, and the majority of your track will be mid/center. If your listening to a pop dance tune, typically the vocal will be at the top of the mix ( most up front) with other elements being placed farther and farther behind it based on volume and effects.
Center Back = Same as above but BACK in the mix, this means lower volume, more effects ( like verb) etc. These are still in the center, but not FRONT of the mix. When you add effects like delay and verb, this can * push things more to the back of the mix ( and also to the sides as well). Louder= More Up front, Softer = More in the back. Again, this center, and center front will be the BULK and majority of elements that make up your tune.
Sides Front = For this article, sides are simply going to mean the "side" content as shown by most * Mid/ Side EQ units. If you have a mid side EQ ( or even compressor) . Open it up RIGHT now, click on the SIDE section, and solo this. Play your FAVORITE PRO track and listen to what is " in the side". The key here is soloing the side and the mid to hear what is what.
( please note, sides can be taken MANY WAYS, my version of sides may not be yours. For reference, everything in the article is based on the processor in Ozone's Mid / Side EQ. Your results may very based on what you use.)
Sides Back = Same as above, but lower volume then the sides front content.
If you DIDN'T do the above, here is a Knife Party Example, Normal ( full track), then Mid/ Center Only ( 8 seconds), then Sides Only ( 15 Seconds)
I can guess what you are thinking now
WTF...the sides did NOT sound like "sides" what the fuck is this shit.
Yes, soloing these units doesn't typically sound like you assume it would.
Now, you may say " yea, I get it, but the sides content just sounds weak and hissy, how much can it REALLY improve my track if I get this width shit handled.
Let me just say, when you learn to PROPERLY do this, it will be MASSIVE.
So after listening to the above ( normal/ full track, then Mid/Center/ Sides) what can you hear?
( PS : PLEASE TAKE HUGE NOTE on to what you DON'T hear in the side content. Aka what frequency ranges are loud, and what ones are almost ( or 100% not there at all). Simply A-B your favorite pro track to figure out what they did. Please don't start shoving your 100hz bassline in weird places.)
1. First you can tell how the "sides" and "center" alone aren't black and white cut off points, there are huge grey areas in this concept ( which is why it's bloody hard to explain)
2. You can tell that the Mid/ Center only sounds " small and powerful" and you can tell the sides only is missing a shit ton of sounds/ frequency and is bright and hissy.( aka it sounds horrible if I am honest)
3. However, if you see how the Sides of the track layer on top of the center, you can see where the full, bigness of the tune comes from.
I feel, the BEST way for you to ever learn the " proper way" to have a good balance is to get your favorite tune, solo the center/ solo the side, compare to your track etc. About 50% of new producers will be MASSIVELY missing side content, but as you can tell, you want a certain " kind" of side content, and don't need to go to crazy with it.
( I can't say this point enough, please please please listen to pro tracks and COPY what they are doing. Solo their mid and solo their side. Match yours based on your track design. Side content will NOT SOUND GOOD solo'd, this is why you MUST learn how the best tracks go about it). This is 110% not a case of MORE SIDE IS BETTER. Some side content is great, too much is just as bad or worse then not enough.
Simply put, you ideally want your track to start with LESS side content, and then on the "biggest" parts have more side content.
Again, as your track GROWS, your side content GROWS ( in most situations, obv not all).
What creates "side" content?
Now just a heads up, this seems UBER basic, and it is in a way, however most producers simply slap on effects and hope for the best, this will help guide you. Even if you think you know everything about these effects, try to see if you can start using them in a IMPROVED way.
AGAIN, you most likely know what the hell verb and delay are...this is simply a NEW way to look at them, in the long run for the BEST mixes, you will need to realize how these effects change the entire mix.
#1 Effects/ Delay/ Reverb etc
The most basic concept that everyone already knows is how reverb and effects create side content. It took me years to realize why reverb made stuff " sound better" but basically, if you have a dry sound, and add verb, the verb may carry over and bounce around in the "side of the mix".
Delay can also be the same way. ( and other effects)
Let's take a listen to a BASIC Saw Synth
The order of the sounds are
1. Basic Saw- Mid ONLY SOLO'd- No Verb/ No Effects
2. Basic Saw- Side ONLY SOLO'd - No Verb/ Effect ( please note, this is very very low in volume, pretty much no sound.
3. Basic Saw- Mid ONLY SOLO'd- Verb + Delay
4. Basic Saw - Sides ONLY SOLO'd - Verb + Delay
Now I realize after that example most of you are going to go
" wtf he added verb, and it sounded wet...this is stupid "
Hear me out for a second.
The ONLY point I want to make with this example, is to show how the SIDE content changes when wet, there is no panning/ no stereo tools, just simple verb and delay.
Let me say that again, by adding verb and delay there was a HUGE BOOST in side content. While this is good with 1, 2 elements, when you start to have 10 things playing at once you need to REALLY MONITOR what is going on in the sides of the mix. I am NOT saying you need to keep checking with a Mid/ Side EQ or whatever, but you need to mentally be aware of what's going on.
If you notice, a lot of new producers tracks will sound like
- Compressed, muddy, blocks of death. Nothing POPS out of the mix. ( no judgement, as always, this was me for a number of years)
While some of this is over compression and poor sound design, IMO a LOT of it is over use of effects, creating a muddy WASH of side content over the entire song.
Next time you go to add an effect just MENTALLY REALIZE what this effect is truly doing to the sound. Both how its effecting the sound it self AND the side of the mix.
Deadmau5 once said on his live stream the #1 problem he heard was verb/ delay that " went no where" aka was just bouncing around for no reason, and hurting the mix. He was listening to demos and going " WTF MAN, the sides of your mix have NO CLARITY and the delay is bouncing to no where.
I feel its safe to say he was talking about this issue, and the OVER USE of effects in most producers mixes. The true problem is this over use is bloody hard to hear when you are new...
When you add ANY EFFECT think to your self, how is this effecting the mix? If you add verb, remember that is going to interact with the other elements in your mix, just not the main range you intended.
I know most people ( I did for years) didn't see the value in something as simple as delay/ verb etc, but when it comes to a GREAT flow and clean mix, these two are so utterly crucial it is insane. They can legit be the make or break factor. ( along with ADSR and Textures...but that's another day)
PS : every time I say verb or delay...you could insert a number of FX, I just use verb and delay as examples as they are the most common.
The basic gist of panning is it places stuff to the left or right in the mix. Typically you will find, non main leads, hats, claps, fill elements and "fluff" elements being panned. Rarely will you pan anything crucial to the song.
With panning, the key is to pan things FOR A REASON, don't just pan to pan. Have something panned to increase your flow width on that section, have something panned because there isn't " room" in the center of the mix etc, but don't pan for shits and giggles.
The way I like to view panning is
- Background , fluff leads ( with lots of verb for "back of the sides ")
- Hats and other super bright noise elements can sound great panned.
- Panning for some vocal pump ups ( like yeaaaa, ohhhh, laaaa's etc) sometimes these vocal "fills" sound best panned.
Pretty much, there aren't many " rules to panning" other then most likely you won't pan anything under 500hz, sometimes even 1.5khz or higher, really depends on the genre and concept.
Now, you may be saying, how does panning effect the " side content"
Like the above example, let me show you with a basic saw( dry, no verb aka mid only)
1. The Clip starts off with SIDE ONLY playing, ( aka the saw is in the center, sides only solo'd , so no Mid/ center content is coming through. Hence why there is little volume at the start.
2. As the clip progresses, I automate the panning, to pan to full tilt ( please note this is ONLY FOR EFFECT, I'd never come close to panning this much.
Recap, Sides only solo'd, panning automating , sounds like its getting louder, when ALL I am doing is panning it more and more.
More panning= Louder sides, since ONLY sides are playing this makes sense.
Like the other examples, it most likely did NOT SOUND like what you thought it would. I simply panned the sound fully to the side. Most would assume it would have outputted MUCH differently.
( I know I am going to get 20 emails saying " dude, that is not panning...but when you have the SIDES ONLY SOLO'D on a Mid/ Side Unit, that is what panning does.)
Again, as I said a million times now, its NOT what you would assume it would be. Using mid side IS NOT cut and dry.
There are two points I want to make
( remember, you are BREAKING up your track mixes now in center/ mid content and side content. You want to view these DIFFERENTLY. While you will still produce the same way, you want to say to your self " how is this effecting the side of the mix)
So the points I want to make are.
1. The "side processor" in this Mid/ Side EQ, doesn't just make the sound go extreme right or left. You would ASSUME that panning to the side massively would cause this, but its not usually the case.
2. I wanted to show how you can have a DRY element have NO SOUND in the "sides" then panning brings in the sound...though most likely NOT how you would assume it would.
Cool, so while you USE both of the above, a lot of you may not " know" or monitor what adding effects or panning does. Yes there is the audible difference you hear when adding stuff, but there is a LOT more to it.
I used to simply add shit to my song. The song was just, one unit and I put stuff into it. I didn't break it down into sections, now...
I break it down into these mental sections
( Mid/ Center Front)
( Mid/ Center Back)
( Left Front)
( Left Back)
( Right Front)
( Right Back)
( Left and Right - Aka some stereo tools or separation knobs that push sound to the sides and decrease sound in the middle. I kinda think of it as panning L and R at the same time, but that's not really what it's doing per say)
These are the BASIC and SAFE Options for Width Flow
Now, are there other width tools ?
Yes, yes there are
- Mid Side EQ
-Mid Side Compressors
-Mid Side Distortion
- Mid Side Hamronics
- Multi Bands of some of the above units that can go MS
- Stereo Tools ( ton's of these, that all work a bit different)
- Stereo Separation Knobs ( I prefer this SIMPLE knob on most DAW mixers).
I am most likely even forgetting something off the top of my head.
While I could go talk about these in depth , there are a few reasons I am going to hold off for now.
1. The MAJORITY of peoples problems lie in proper use of effects, proper use of panning. This will " fix" most problems. ( I know its hard to believe)
2. While Mid / Side units are GREAT for mastering tracks( and I urge you to use them, or have you engineer use them !) they aren't massively needed in the Mix of the track itself.
Yes, you can use them, yes I have used them, but this is like the LAST thing to worry about. The problem is when people learn about it, they don't fix the REAL PROBLEMS in the mix, and assume Mid/ Side units will magically solve their issues. They then put them on EVER SINGLE ELEMENT and start adjusting shit all over the place, not knowing what it's really doing.
Since this article had examples of Mid solo'd and Side solo'd ( from a Mid/ Side EQ) if you do want to use them on your tracks/ master, simply use them like a NORMAL EQ, and just realize how the side is effecting your mix. However, the tools won't help you if you don't know what elements are causing what issues, or what needs to be adjusted.
Pretty much, the reason why you need to learn everything else first is the Mid/ Side Units won't fix huge issues in the track...
Here are a FEW places I WOULD USE Mid/ Side units, again, these are like the FINAL piece of the puzzle, 90% of the time they aren't needed.
- In the mastering stage, I want to add a harmonic noise boost above 12k via a multi band harmonic unit. The reason I want to go side ONLY is the hats are in the sides, and they need the boost. The main center lead doesn't need it, as it changes it's texture too much.
-In the mastering stage, I want a bulkier "side" in the 2khz range, so I go into the side of the EQ unit and do that.
-In the mastering stage, I need to scoop out some of the tracks mid range, but I ONLY want to scoop it out of the mid of the track, so I use the MID EQ unit to pull from that.
- In the mixing stage, I am being REALLY PICKY with a lead sound and I want the lead to "wrap" around the vocals, so I open a mid side EQ unit and boost some of the mid/ highs on the SIDE ONLY, to see if I can gain a bigger lead while maintaing the vocal. This is AFTER I have used effects and other tools the best I could.
- In the mixing stage, I have a huge pad that I want to fill more of the side content then can be achieved via normal effects, so I slap on a EQ unit and boost the ranges I need in the side content
So, as you can see YES doing stuff in mid side can be helpful, but for the majority of producers they simply don't need to worry about it.
What you DO want to worry about is what is happening in the sides of your song ! However, more often then not you will FIX the issues via effects/ ADSR/ Textures etc. Again, go to the ROOT of the problem first.
A note about mastering Mid/ Side
When I master OTHER PEOPLES MIXES, I always use mid/side units.
Why? Because I need to be able to adjust stuff IN THE MIX in better detail. Like, boosting those hats in the side in the above example. ( while keeping center content at a lower volume)
If I do the mix....
I don't need to use much or any mid side in the master.
Because I fixed and adjusted ALL the issues in the mix originally.
All I am getting at with this is fix EVERYTHING YOU CAN in the mix, then if you master it yourself and you think you need* something adjusted , always go back and fix it IN THE MIX if you can.
I am going to say this twice, if you MASTER YOUR OWN TRACK, and you have a " mid side issue" just go fix it IN THE MIX.
The beauty of mastering is
1. Having someone DOUBLE CHECK your work and fix issues you can't hear ( esp if your working outside of a studio without monitors/sub's/high end audio cards etc)
2. To put a nice layer of " awesome" on your tune ( again if some one else is doing the work)
If you master yourself, don't use it as a band aid to fix your issues, while it CAN fix a ton of issues, why aren't they being fixed in the mix?
( Yes, this sounds like a sales pitch, truly tho I just want to help you. I have been getting a LOT of emails lately saying, " Hey ! I have this issue with my mix, how do I fix it in the master? "
AKA, they are trying to fix HUGE mix issues, in the master. If you can HEAR the issue prior to mastering your own track, go back and fix the damn thing in the mix itself. Unless you 100% can't go back to the mix ( corrupt files of doom) then your mastering should be REALLY SIMPLE when you do it yourself.
If while mastering your own track, you have HUGE EQ boosts or cuts, or ton's of compressors slamming into place, there is a good chance the issues could be addressed in the mix down.
3. I am not a huge fan of stereo tools ( unless you really know what the fuck you are doing and most importantly WHAT THEY ARE DOING to your mix).
I will sometimes use them in the mastering stage, but again I am not slapping stereo tools on every single channel and seeing what happens.
( Added Note : While editing this piece today I am working on 3 mixes( clients mixes), 2 of the mixes have a BUNCH of stereo tools on them. Why don't I like the over use of stereo tools? Because in both of these mixes, the stereo tools are placing the elements in " weird places" . It's a bit hard to explain until you can hear it, but in layman's terms there are good places to place things and weird/ not normally used places. Stereo tools have a horrible habit of using this weird artificial sounding stereo field, the fact is pro tunes DO NOT have this weird placement, and when people that have been producing awhile, or even labels hear this stereo spacing they are going to go NEXT. It's simply annoying and not normal. This is why I recommend either NOT USING stereo tools, or if you use them, PLEASE be able to truly hear where it is placing stuff in the stereo field.
Years back I used to put the stock FL stereo tools on EVERYTHING, while it made shit sound " better" to my un trained ears,years later I learned the chaos that this was causing. Simply put, these tools can cause a TON of issues, and most people over use them.
( IMO, I think* these tools are the main reason why " width" got a bad name, since they can do weird shit to the mix)
So, I am not saying they are bad, I am just saying do EVERYTHING ELSE PERFECTLY first, then if you NEED them, and KNOW what they are doing to your mix, be my guest.
I can safely say, that ALL of my problems I used to use those tools for 5 years ago, got " fixed" but just having all my other shit sorted like we talked about above.
4. Lastly is stereo separation knobs ( I prefer the simple, basic turn knob on most DAW mixers). While I DO use this in the mix down stage, it is usually in tiny amounts and I am VERY AWARE of what it is doing to my mix. I know how it effects the sides, I know what issues could crop up and what to listen for.
This is another one of those things that if I tell you to use it, most people will over do it. This can and will cause more harm then good if you can't hear whats going on. I REALLY do like to use this in small amounts for SPECIFIC reasons
- Want a big lead, and big vocals, push the stereo of the lead to clean up the middle vocals, while boosting up the sides of the lead. ( you can hear some form of this on most* big saw tracks with vocals sitting on top)
-Slightly placing things in different spots up or down in the mix etc. ( using tiny amounts of it)
Like everything else, in small amounts when used properly its great, crank it all over the place and its going to royally fuck you up.
Cool , just a fair warning
The things directly above, Mid/ Side Units, Stereo Tools, Separation Knobs and anything else that artificially boosts width CAN BE AWESOME.
But to the un trained ear, they will destroy your track.
If you can't 100% hear and KNOW what they are doing, don't use them.
I feel this is mainly why width get's a bad name, people just slap the fuckers all over the place, adjust a bunch of shit randomly and their mix now sounds like a one sided hissy phasey mess of a track.
I can safely say, for the first 3+ years ( when I used to use some of the above) they made everything I touched WORSE.
I created SO MANY issues over using width tools in my early years, only later to find out they aren't even really* needed but in tiny amounts for SPECIFIC reasons.
Funny Side note, I remember like 6 years ago, listening to a WolfGang Gartner interview, and he was making fun of him self for putting chorus and width tools on EVERYTHING. He said in his early years, he used to put width on everything and even had chorus on the MAIN channel. At the time, I didn't get what he meant, but looking back I realize I 100% did the same thing he did...width !...Width all the channels like WolfGang ! No kidding obv, but its a common issue so your not alone. Width can sound cool when you are new...but beware.
PS: If you want an advanced article on the above let me know( in the comment section on the bottom), if there is honestly people that post up they are interested I will do it. Otherwise, I am just going to assume most people don't care. Usually, when I post blog posts that are " more advanced", people stop reading after about 10% of the page.
Flow Concept 2 : Brightness
The next 2 concepts will be much shorter, as most people will realize these fairly early on, HOWEVER they are still a huge factor when it comes to having your chorus SLAM into place.
To make a long story short, typically * as your song progress's, you will slowly add brighter and brighter elements, with the drop/ chorus having the biggest/ widest brightest elements.
Now this isn't ALWAYS TRUE, in every genre, so please adjust based on what you make, however
1. Typically, Intro's Will have a bit of brightness, to make the track have some "bigness" to it, but there won't be a ton of content above say, 12khz.
2. The verse will slowly start to add in brighter elements, and elements on top of the intro elements. The song is slowly getting brighter as it moves along.
3. The chorus will bring the brightest elements, with noise blasts, noisey synths, open hats, big bright claps etc.
4. Assuming the song has a drop, the drop will typically be AT LEAST as bright as the chorus, usually a bit more so.
Again, not all genres follow this format, but it's a good place to start none the less.
To hit this point home
- The brighter the track, the bigger it will sound ( up to a certain point obv) I am not saying go crazy , as always copy the pro's. Also, make sure the rest of the track is up to snuff as well, simply boosting the brightness won't fix your drops power if it's lacking in other areas
- Adding noise and distortion to synths ( even hats/ claps) etc is a GREAT way to add brightness and shine to the track. Sometimes even little things like, having an open hat with distortion above 12khz will be enough to " make it sound big".
- Even on genres that don't have massive bright synths, they tend to do other things to get that brightness boost. They may have a fast attack closed hat hit on top of the synth line ( following the notes) to give the synth a brighter/ faster attack. I've heard people add tiny synth plucks ( mainly just creating their own style of bright hat hit) too follow the notes as well. There are many ways to go about it, just try to figure out what everyone else is doing, and make it your OWN way.
As most of you know, I am a HUGE Knife Party Fan ( go check their latest work if you haven't), they are a GREAT example of how to use hats to make your track HUGE. Mentally take out the hats on their drops, and you will notice how much smaller the tracks sound.
For a quick example, here is Tiesto's Secrets ( I grew up on Tiesto's In Search Of Sunrise Mixes...anyone else?)
I have cut out most of the track minus the highs. Notice how the highs and brightness increase as the tune goes along. ( also notice the straight up noise elements on the drop, these noise blast elements give it its upward bigness.
( most of you know what I am talking about, so feel free to skip. I just cut out the mids/ lows to make it easier to hear. Also note how much of the top beater comes through the mix , goes to show how much room the kick takes on dance tunes.)
Cool, if you checked that out hopefully you could easily see the massive increase in highs as the tune progressed. Again, many people do this by default, but the most common issue is having intros and verses too bright, and having no where to go on the chorus / drop.
Remember, your track can only get " so bright" before its bad, you NEED to have a brightness swing just like you need a width swing.
Flow Concept 3 : Elements
Elements Nyonyxx? Seriously ?
Yes I know I know, this is a DUH, OBV, WTF type of concept.
Typically, as the song progresses and flows you ADD more elements.
However, simply adding elements is going to lead to one huge problem
Way to much shit playing at once.
While adding elements is a simple concept, I have a few tips and tricks to make it easier for you.
1. First, when you are starting out work IN THE MIDDLE of the range. I like from 300-2khz to be the main starting point more often then not. This gives the song a nice base to place elements above and below it, it also makes the listener know you mean business.
What I mean is, the common newbie issue and a issue I had many years ago, is I'd start the track above say, 4k, like I'd have the main elements 4khz to 12khz.
Doing this the track would ALWAYS sound week, so then I'd add bass content. This lead to a track that had bass content, high content and NO middle.
Right off the bat you want to hook your listener, most tracks will pick mid range content to do this ( with other ranges at times as well) but rarely will you hear say and intro above 5khz only, or an intro below 300hz only etc. At least in a commercial genre of modern music.
This was an issue that killed me for years, it's hard to hear the mid range and most people over look it when starting out.
2. Another trick when placing elements and bringing them in is placing the elements right on top or right below the mid content.
For example, if I have a mid range guitar, when I bring in a vibrato sqaure synth in the 3-12khz range, most likely I am going to place this directly " on top of" this guitar.
This is why starting out in the middle is helpful, you can then place EVERYTHING else around the mid element.
I do the same with bass elements, placing them directly below the mid element.
( yes, if you are new you won't be able to figure out if it's above or below it, and no, this isn't a DB level thing) it's simply above or below it in the mix, based on how it sounds.
3. When adding elements you want to keep ALL the above we talked about in mind, width and brightness, the entire reason we talked about those was that when you ADD elements to your track, you can add them in a positive way.
This means your NOT starting your track out super bright and wide, this means you are keenly aware of your "side content" and how each sound is affecting it.
4. While there will be parts of your song that keep adding elements, sometimes when you add a new huge element you will need to REMOVE old ones.
I hear ALL THE TIME artists that start off fine, then add 5 things during the verse, 5 things during the chorus, then continue to try to build on this wall of sound in the drop.
If you notice, most pro tracks will drop elements in and out of the song, they rarely just keep building and building and building.
While adding to your track, remember less is more !
Last thing I want to note on elements is this.
Typically producers will Loop their tracks SO LONG, and for so many days, that it sounds boring.
You then add more layers, more layers , more layers.
You then send it to a label, or send it to me for a master and wonder why the feedback is " the song has too much going on".
If your track DOES NOT SOUND BORING to you when your done with it, you have a huge problem.
If your track still sounds exciting, and you still can't remember what is coming up next ( because you have 15 synths playing at once) I PROMISE you it will make 0 sense to anyone else.
People will listen to 15 seconds of your track if you are lucky, if it HOOKS them in that 15 seconds, you may have a new fan...
If it does not hook them, if it doesn't make sense they will be GONE.
I know people want to be creative, and I truly understand that, just remember this is DANCE MUSIC, it's supposed to be simple.
Just because you have 8 synths playing on the drop that YOU understand, doesn't mean anyone else will.
Picture your favorite dance track, now add 5-8 sounds to the drop, this is typically what I did ( and what I hear) on most producers tracks.
The best tracks are uber simple, like it or not this is what works.
For what it's worth, when you are new most pro tracks sound complex, they sound like 10 layers of synths etc, when you progress and break them down, you will realize there is FAR less going on then you thought a few years ago, at least this was the case with me.
What I assumed was 6-8 layers 4 years ago, turned out to be 2-3 that I can clearly hear now. Just something to keep in the back of your mind.
Flow Concept 3.5 : Volume
I wanted to very quickly touch on volume, hence the .5.
If you've been producing for awhile, most likely when you mix your volumes are pretty much on point.
What I mean is your intro is lowest in volume, your verse next, you chours next, your drop the loudest etc. After awhile, this is what naturally for the most part will happen when you mix properly.
However, I used to ALWAYS get the dreaded brick of death back in the day.
There are two ways to fix this
1. If you mix everything ( using volume automation when needed) just do whatever is needed to make sure your volumes flow right.
If I mix a drop and it's too low in volume, I just raise all the drop elements up. If I make a intro to loud in volume, I simply lower all the elements. Yes this is a pain in the ass in the mix stage, but IMO it's the BEST way to go about it.
I know this sounds stupidly simple " just adjust the volumes" but when the mix is solid * it should almost always work out
[ The problems start to happen when the mix isn't solid, if your new to mixing, you may have to have a ton of automation to get things in place. For now, just volume automate all the elements if you need to to fit them in place]
2. You can also fix volume in the mastering stage.
I do this because I want each section at a certain level, and since I didn't mix it this is the best way to do it.
However, if you HAVE ACCESS to the mix, try to keep your volumes in check the BEST you can on each section, you will end up with the best possible outcome this way.
What I mean is, having good natural volume flow, is a lot better then having a compressed brick of death that is artificially shoved into place.
I should say though, after mastering ton's of tracks, as long as there is headroom, waiting till the mastering stage usually works out just fine.
So yes, volume is the most basic of all concepts, and I was going to leave it off as I didn't want to insult some of the vet producers that read this, however, it is obv an important aspect !
[ I also should note, DO NOT MASSIVELY use limiting and compression to tame your volume, every day I hear tracks that are SLAMMING AGAINST LIMITERS. Yes it takes a bit longer to draw out the volume automation's, but having your main drop lead gained reduced to hell is NOT a good sound. It may take you a few years to hear the the negative aspects of your limiting, so just go LIGHT LIGHT on it, or not at all.]
I am finally bringing this post to a close, it may be one of my longest ( the un edited version was 4 times longer).
I know there is going to be a LOT of questions on this and people sending me messages, if you could kindly ask ALL your questions in the comment section below I WILL ANSWER YOU.
I usually get 5 of the same questions via email, so I am hoping people will read the comments to look for answers as well.
This was a dense post, there is a TON of content and a lot of it was very out there if you are new.
My best pieces of advice are
- Your tracks volume, width, brightness and elements must flow
- Your main tools for width are reverb/ effects / panning
- You can also use stereo tools, stereo separation, and Mid Side Units ( eq/ comp etc), however I would not over use them, and they won't work magic if the rest of your track has issues. Learn the basic's first.
- Club tracks need to have SOME WIDTH, yes you aren't going to aggressively pan things like you would in a rock track, but you must monitor your width at all times.
- Start to use the MID/ SIDE EQ as a "check", use it to check how the side changes when you add stuff. Typically, producers will over use effects which leads to build up of verb and delay ( which was the most common problem Deadmau5 talked about on his live stream)
- Use the Mid/Side functions to A-B with your favorite tracks ( soloing the sides and mid). THIS WILL GUIDE YOU as the side can sound " weird" when new.
- Understand that units can sound different and have different cut off points.
- Understand that brightness plays a HUGE impact on track flow
If you read this entire post, congrats ! There won't be a ton of people that make it to the bottom, pat yourself on the back...( then start working on that track ! )
Hope this post helps you guys out, let me know if you need anything.
Ohh and Happy New Year , make 2016 the best one yet !
keep killin it
PS : Is this the year your ready to take your music and career to the next level? Want to rock 2016?
Get on a new label?
Gain a bunch of fans ?
Most importantly GET YOUR TRACKS HEARD??