Posts Tagged ‘engineering tips’

Simple Stereo Widening Trick in Ableton

Simple Stereo Widening Trick in Ableton

Here is a simple Ableton trick that I use in nearly every song I make.

It’s often easy to overlook the simple when you expect that it’s extremely complicated to get a professional sound. In truth, a professional sound is culminated from the understanding of many simple tricks used in the right way. I hope you add this to your box of tools.

Happy Music Making,



Finding the right sounds for your music

Finding the right sounds for your music

I was asked recently in an email:

“How do you know which sounds to use that will compliment the other sounds in your song?”.

I thought this was a very good question, as I’ve struggled with this very same issue in the past & I’m sure many of you may have been challenged by this as well.

There seems to be 2 schools of thought when making music:

1. The rule followers

2. The rule breakers

I always liked to identify with #2, and it gave me loads of freedom as a guitarist in new wave, goth & indie rock bands. I thought this approach would translate well with electronic music as well, but it didn’t & I couldn’t figure out why.

Why did every idea seem to fit so well together with the more traditional band format (Guitar, Bass, Drums, Vox & Synth), while my early electronic music projects struggled?

Then it finally clicked 

The songs I made with a standard live instrument set up used pretty much the same instruments, putting out slight variations of the same sound. Each instrument, regardless of what was played, essentially stayed in it’s own frequency range, leaving room for the other instruments.

Although drums can be pretty complex, frequency-wise, each drum sound tends to take up a small frequency & is not constant. Plus the sounds have a pretty sharp attack that helps it cut through a mix. As long as each musician knows when to back off their instrument a little, to make room for other parts at times, the song has a pretty good chance of gelling together nicely with a professional mix.

Let’s take a basic look at  Frequencies for a rock band. These will be pretty general, just to make my point. Although each instrument can have a wider frequency range, I’m going to point out some of the frequencies that are prominent. If you want to argue these, please don’t. I’m talking in generalizations here:

Kick Drum 50-100hz with a snap around 1khz-3khz
Bass Guitar – 120-500hz
Snare – 600hz-3khz
Guitar – 650hz-8khz
Vocals – 500-7khz
Hihats – 8khz-20khz

So, if we take a look at these frequencies, we can see that although the vocals & guitars overlap in frequency, Everything generally has it’s space to breathe & be heard. Once a band has dialed in their sound, they can usually hit that frequency pocket fairly easily.

Not so much with electronic music

Although electronic music does have certain standards that need attention paid to, the new producer doesn’t naturally have these instincts. Since there are literally millions of sounds to choose from, the new producer typically stops on any sound that sounds great on it’s own & makes a riff, then another sound & then another, not keeping in mind that each sound has a frequency range and that there is not room for multiple sounds in the same frequency playing at the same time.

Another issue is that people’s ears tend to perk up at a specific frequency (usually mids to upper mids) while other frequencies sound dull. If you solo any instrument, you’ll tend to think it sounds better when you boost the mids. The problem is that when played with other parts that have all been boosted in the mids, you’re going to have a mess. You are also going to have wide gaps of frequencies that aren’t being properly filled up, making a very thin sounding mix.

The better approach

Think of each sound in your electronic composition as filling a space in the frequency range, like a rock band might. Sure you have different sounds representing each frequency range, but as long as you keep aware of what job each sound is playing in the overall frequency spectrum, you won’t be overloading one frequency, while neglecting another.

More means less

When it comes to electronic music (hell, any music for that matter, but I digress), there are far fewer rules about how many instruments is the right amount for a complete song. Just understand that the more sounds you have, the thinner the frequency range each sound should be taking up. If you find that 2 sounds are masking eachother because they are fighting for the same frequency, try pitching one of the sounds up or down an octave to see if it fits better in that range.

Remember, if you want a ginormous saw wave bass with a huge frequency range, you better strip down what else you put in this composition or you’ll just end up with a bunch of mud & the bass will suffer.

If you absolutely think 2 sounds in the same frequency both need to stay in your song, you can do a couple of things.

First, pan each part to a different place in the stereo field. This can often solve simple issues without too much fuss, but it certainly isn’t a “fix all”.

Second, sweep the frequency range with an EQ until you find the frequency the makes the sound most clear. This is done by boosting a fairly narrow frequency band and running it through the full spectrum of frequencies. When you find that perfect frequency, lower the gain to around +1-2db, then reduce the other instrument’s EQ in the same frequency by 2-6 db (or lower if it doesn’t negative affect the overall sound when these parts are played together.

The right sounds

Now that we understand how frequency plays a huge role in your productions, let’s get into which sounds are right for your style of music. I said earlier in this post that I considered myself more of a rule breaker than a rule follower, but as I dive into certain electronic niches, I find I am more satisfied with my results when I understand the genre I’m writing inside and out. If your goal is simply to be avante garde & undefinable, this may not apply to you, yet I still think you’ll be able to take something away from it.

For me, this has meant not only listening to relevant songs on Beatport & Soundcloud, but also going to clubs that are known for that style of music & taking note of what sounds & rhythms move you, what tones create tension, what tones give that release. Which sounds & rhythms keep occurring throughout the night to great effect and which get old quickly. This works best when you stick to one genre at a time until you’ve really internalized it.

I like to use descriptive words to sounds & patterns I like. I like to use words that describe more of the purpose of the sound instead of being too literal. This way, when I pull out my notes when writing, I still have some flexibility of how I can fill that purpose in my own songs.   Sometimes I even record parts on my iphone to reference later, especially if there is a familiar tone or rhythm that is a kind of blueprint for the style of music I am wanting to make.

Make your own rules:

Once I have found what I like within the frame of what works in a certain genre, I start to make my own list of “rules” to follow in order to keep me focused & on track. This especially helps if you are the type of person who likes a bit of everything & tends to go on unfocused tangents.

I might use descriptions like this to describe some of the sounds I am enjoying lately:

A constant drone for atmosphere & tension
Sharp overdriven percussion that hits the ears in a pleasing frequency
Sub bass that is more felt than heard
Fat dirty kick that sits perfect with the bass & drives the song
Dirty Clap on the 2’s & 4’s
Hypnotic hihat shuffle that isn’t too complex – add and subtract reverb to add tension
Simple Stab rhythm that is percussive & plays 1-3 notes tops
Filters & swishes for movement, but nothing too over the top
Classic snare fills & patterns, stick with that familiar & nastalgic vibe
Filtering the bass in and out to create breaks
Incidental fx sounds & reverse sounds to keep interest

With this list, I have made some of my own songwriting rules to make sure I am using the right sounds & rhythms when I make this type of track. Even with these rules, it still leaves things open wide for experimentation. Also, once you know the rules, you can break them more successfully.

In the same way that you can make a million different songs with the same drum beat or chord structure, I think that even when it comes to following rules, there are endless ways to explore that style of music.

I’m sure your “rules” will vary quite widely form mine. That’s of course perfectly ok. I encourage you to develop your sound from your own preferences, not mine or anybody else’s.

Save your presets

Each sound you make is going to take you some time  to get right, even after you know what you want. That’s just part of any type of creating. So when you do nail that sound, don’t forget to save presets that you can use later. It’s so much easier to tweak the right sound a bit than it is to start from scratch every time you make a new song. Soon you’ll have a template of “go to” sounds to get your started easily. That’s where the fun really starts! 

Create with confidence

Remember that at the end of the day, you will get closer and closer to your sound with practice. Don’t spend too much time preparing to write music. Get to it asap & be confident that you are improving every time you sit down to create. Just aim to get 1% closer to your goals each day & you’ll find yourself improving by leaps & bounds.

Happy music making friends,





Your Potential. Are you Reaching it?

Your Potential. Are you Reaching it?

I don’t mean to get all “woo-woo” on you, but your creative potential is pretty unlimited.

Yes YOU!

So why aren’t you where you want to be? What is it that is holding you back from completing that EP you’ve been planning to write? Why aren’t you signing your tracks onto your favorite Labels? Why aren’t you playing some of the great gigs that are happening all year round, all around the world?

It’s you..(

See, you are pure potential at every moment, but there is a huge difference between potential and making that potential your reality. Many of the things you do that you think is going to get you where you want to go are just increasing your potential energy. But that is not enough. It’s like drawing back the string on your bow & arrow, but never releasing.

Buying music books or magazines that you never read, is potential energy wasted. Reading them but not putting any of the things you’ve read into immediate action is even more wasted energy.

Watching tutorials without following along, just to cram more time into watching more videos is a waste of your time and energy.

Reading this post and not finding a way to put what you’ve learned into action is as much of a waste as “thinking about” giving that homeless guy $5 & instead walking by without even making eye contact. The “thought” might make you feel like a better person, just as much as reading about music production makes you “feel” smarter, but you are fooling yourself.

You are NOT that person you think you are until you put those potential thoughts into action. (you can tweet that, go ahead!)

I know this sounds pretty harsh, but it’s important that I snap you out of your dreamworld & let you know that it’s going to lead to nowhere unless you take some massive action toward your goals.

Where the F@&k do I start?

Now that I have made you aware that you are wasting precious time & energy, you might be wondering what steps you can take to change this. Well, I am extremely pleased that you asked :-)

It’s time to do the one thing us humans seems to have the hardest time doing….

Think for yourself

You’ve been spending so much of your time letting others think for you, that you’ve started thinking they are your own thoughts. In fact, as you read or watch new information you typically drop one approach for another. It’s like a dog who drops the yellow ball in his mouth when he sees a red ball (I was going to say blue ball, but I thought that might throw us off topic).

When you are truly thinking for yourself, you need less information input. This is because instead of looking for others to tell you what to do, you are choosing a direction and moving. The only time you hunt information is when you are stuck & need a tip to get you unstuck. You do a quick google search, watch the video or read the post that suits your needs, and then you are back to work.

This is the path to potential energy, bursting into life.

Where do I start? 

Although the better question to ask is usually “when do I start?”(hint, it’s now), I think this is a very valid question. Especially if you have several goals in mind.

You aren’t going to be able to write an album, a book & start your career as a stand up comedian all at the same time. That’s like constantly changing the target you are aiming at and never having time to lock on and pull the trigger on any one of them.

First you want to write down your several goals so you can see them. Understand that you have to get 1 goal off the ground before you can start on another. Once you are in the air, it’ll be much easier to maintain, but it starts with tons of focus on 1 goal without distractions.

This means you will need to prioritize your goals.

I’ll warn you now. Chasing money as your number 1 priority will not only kill your art, but will also kill your income. A person who only wants money & fame, will have very little value to give the world. Everything you want in life will be in trade for the value you give to people. Everything comes through people, everything.

Often you’ll find that accomplishing 1 goal will greatly assist you reaching your other goals, once the first goal is off the ground. For example, If you want to be both a DJ & producer, my greatest suggestion to you would be to take on Producing first. Nothing will raise your status faster and give promoters confidence that you can get asses into a club or venue more than a couple well respected tunes. It’s like an instant resume. If people have heard of you, you’ll have 50 times the opportunities than if you have no productions under your belt. Make sense?

Break it down 

Big goals are a double edge sword. On one hand, a big dream will inspire you enough to push through great obstacles. On the other hand, they can seem extremely overwhelming to the point where you start reading tons of books & watching tons of videos that all give you different advice. Don’t do that.

Once again, pull out a sheet of paper and break down your goal to doable actions. Each action should be a 30 minute to 1 hour task at most. If a task will take 10 hours, break it down further into 10 or 20 chunks. It might seem like breaking it down like that will make everything take forever. It won’t. If you only worry about tackling a few “chunks” a day, you will reach your goals faster than you realize & without stress. When working toward your goal, keep an eye on the big picture, but put your focus completely on the now.

If you get stuck, give yourself 15-20 minutes (tops) to learn only what you need to get to the next step. This way, all your time is devoted on taking action instead of just building potential that will never be used.


Mindmapping is a simple way to see your plan of attack visually. It’s like making an outline. What makes this important, is that you might find you left out an important step that you realize must go before what you are currently trying to take action on. This is going to happen. Your mindmap will keep things organized as you figure things out. It also is like leaving breadcrumbs to follow if you ever need to take on a similar task again.

Here’s a Free mindmapping site


This has been talked about many times before, so I won’t dive deep into this subject but just to say that 80% of your results typically come from 20% of your actions. Figure out what that 20% is and do more of it, cut as much of the 80% as possible. A great way to see how you spend your day is to (once again) get out a piece of notebook paper and write down every task you do throughout the day. Any time you change a task, even to go to the bathroom, write down the time & action. If you check your email, write it down, check facebook, write it down. By the end of your day, you’ll be amazed with just how much fluff your day is filled with that can be cut out.

Go get ’em tiger!

I think it’s time for you to release that energy that’s been building up. You’re true potential awaits you.

Keep the conversation going by reading & leaving your comments Here

happy music making,




How to humanize your drums in Ableton

How to humanize your drums in Ableton

Below is a quick video walkthrough to help take your drums from sounding repetitive & machine like to something that sounds much more dynamic, human & live. The tools you’ll need are Ableton’s  Drum Racks  & Sampler instruments. This should give you much better results in your song’s rhythm & make for a more pleasurable listening experience. Adding the human element is important in all genres of music, so don’t sleep on this tip. Enjoy!