Blog Entry, Remixes

Chase K – Long Long Way Down Remix

One of the things I love about mixing is the exposure to different types of music I normally don’t listen to. Take this remix, it’s a pop song, not generally speaking my thing. I start assembling it by adjusting each instrument part and it’s individual sound one by one to what I think it should be. In building up each part you become really familiar with every little bit of the song. How each note or beat works in the context of the song and you can’t help but gain an appreciation for it as a result. If it’s good that is, which this one is.

For me I always like to listen to the original after I’ve finished my interpretation of it, and it always amazes me how different they sound. This one was no different in that regard. If you’re interested in such things the original is here. Below is my crack at it, which I mixed using Studio One for the first time:

Blog Entry

Trying Out The Presonus Ecosystem Part Two – Mixing

Kind of jumping all over the place here in terms of the process, but rather than starting with recording I thought I would start by mixing a track. The track I chose was a nice little acoustic number called Long Long Way Down by ChaseK.

The Gear

I thought I should really try to use whatever Presonus equipment I had for this so I used StudioLive 16.4.2 mixer, my Faderport 8 control surface and Studio One Artist version 4. I have a some other equipment as well, but for mixing really that’s all I needed this go around. I started the mix on my Mac Mini, and then continued and finished it on my Alienware laptop.

I will start off by saying, as a working environment, Presonus have created a nice little system. The way everything is recognized and integrated into Studio One automatically is pretty well flawless. My mixer and control surface were ready for me to use right off the bat, so the only thing to do is import the audio for the session and get off and running.

I won’t go through the whole process because who the hell wants to read that? Every system has it’s own little quirks and I’ll go through my experience with those.

To VST or Not To VST

The first one is kind of a big one for anyone thinking of going to any version below $550 CAD Professional version, VST/AU/Rewire plugins are not supported out of the box. You have to buy an add on for that which costs about $110 CAD alone or $137 CAD in an “Artist Booster Pack” which includes some other what you would think are standard features like MP3 import/export. Now I got the Artist version for free because it was bundled with some of my hardware, but if I had to pay the $138 CAD list price for it, I don’t know that I would be too happy about that, regardless I decided to bite the bullet and buy the booster pack because there were some plugins that I do use on a regular basis.

To be fair, some of the Presonus plugins that do come with standard are pretty good. The fat channel strip right off the bat I liked because it was a mirror of what is on the board, which I think is well laid out and most importantly sounds good. It comes with a high pass filter, Compressor, EQ, limiter and gate, which are exactly what I want in a channel strip. That being said, in this session there was some distortion and clipping that was really bothering me in the source so I wanted to break out my Izotope plugins to deal with that.

Presonus Studio One Fat Channel

This is where one issue started showing itself, that being high CPU usage when I started adding VST/AU plugins. Like I mention earlier, I started on my Mac, it’s a 2018 model with 16 gigs of RAM and 6 core I5 processor. To me it seemed a bit weird, so I thought I’d switch to the Alienware which has a 6 core I7. This is where another “problem” showed up. Some, not all, of my plugins would not load saying they couldn’t be found. I posted a note over on the community forums as well creating a support ticket with Presonus about it. Nada from the community but support got back to me a couple of days later saying the session was using AU plugins and I should switch over to the VST plugins instead. Studio One uses both, I noticed multiple instances of the plugins and never thought why that was. So I will chalk that one up to my bad, and hid all the AU versions on my Mac. Problem solved.

Now comes the BUT. CPU usage on the Alienware was also high. This I knew had to be a problem with Studio One, because Mixcraft or Protools for that matter never had problems with plugins no matter how many I threw at them. After some time researching on the net, it turns out this is indeed an issue with many people complaining about the high CPU usage of Studio One with VST plugins. This one for me is a deal breaker, and quite honestly something extremely annoying. If you are going to charge for VST support, it should work properly. So I cut the number of plugins and soldiered on.

Did I Miss The Bus?

In organizing the tracks I noticed a weird quirk with Studio One in it’s approach to bussing. When a Bus is created, it appears in the console view but not in the main mix window. Additionally there was no obvious way to add automation for busses. I think most people approach automation the way I do which is to mix tracks into a bus and then automate that rather than do each track individually so I started to worry a bit. A quick search revealed the way to automate busses, quirky but it works. The mix window could be helped by adding the bus there and then collapsing the child tracks into it to help better organize it. Not a deal breaker but it would help management of the session.

Studio One Mix Window
Studio One Console View

In The End

I know there’s been a lot of negative there, but that’s not really indicative of my view of it. Like I mentioned earlier I have a Faderport 8, that quite honestly I’ve never really used for mixing because while it works in Mixcraft, it just never quite fit into the process. With Studio One however I found myself using it a whole lot for transport, and especially for automation. What was interesting was that I found myself not looking at the screens and instead riding faders to get levels to where I wanted by listening which for me, made it a much better process. The buttons did what they were supposed to and I loved that I was listening for the right level instead of plotting it out with dots on a line.

I’ll publish the song either tonight or tomorrow. I think the results are pretty well par for the course in terms of what I would have come up with from any other DAW. That being said I’ll have to reflect more on where I go with Presonus Studio One from here. I do want to try tracking through it, so I’ll have to come up with a quick song to record. From what I’ve seen of Studio One and it’s companion piece Capture, I can potentially see those being used exclusively for tracking because the Presonus environment seems very organic and natural. That’s the thing right? When you’re trying to be creative you don’t want the technology getting in the way. You don’t want to worry about CPU load and why you hear crackling due to CPU spikes caused by plugins. I generally don’t use plugins while tracking so on paper, it sounds perfect for that purpose, unfortunately for mixing, it’s not.

Uncategorized

Trying Out The Presonus Ecosystem – Part One How I Got Here

So years ago when I started getting interested in mixing I was looking for a DAW that was easy to learn but had the features I thought I would need as I became more proficient and learned more about the process. I ended up going with a DAW called Mixcraft which honestly, I still love to this day for a lot of reasons. That being said, it is not perfect and as I’ve started becoming more proficient at this whole process some of the shortcomings became more and more frustrating to deal with. Some of those issues were with Mixcraft related, some were caused by Windows being the operating system, particularly when it came to recording. Windows does not always play nice with audio devices and it was driving me crazy.

In the back of my mind I know OS X was optimized for recording, but then the problem became what DAW to use? When I went to school for the engineering program we had to use Pro Tools, I know it’s the “industry standard”, but I HATE it.. There I said it, I know I’m not the only one that feels that way, but for me it wasn’t a solution. I tried Studio One as well and initially thought, “uh no, not for me either”, and so back to Mixcraft I went.

Well in one of the classes I took we were given a project to build our own studio if we had a 10k budget. The “console” I chose was a Presonus StudioLive 24.4.2, I loved the features it had, thought it would be great because I could use it to record or mix shows remotely, etc as well as in the studio. Well that was a few years ago and while it was a dream at the time I kind of forgot about it. About a month back I stumbled across it’s smaller sibling the 16.4.2 at a local dealer for a ridiculously low price, and after a quick consultation with my wife (aka The Boss) she gave me her blessings to pick it up. I also ended up picking up a Firestudio Lightpipe so I could tie in my other equipment to it via ADAT and a monstrosity was born.

Immediately the issue I had was using my newer (2018) Alienware laptop cropped up with it. I’m using a Thunderbolt 3-2 adapter with it to use my UAD interfaces but the minute I tried to go to firewire, audio problems manifested themselves. So I pulled out the Mac Mini and low and behold, it all worked perfectly. Thunderbolt 3 to 2 to firewire for the Presonus chain and Thunderbolt 3 to 2 for the UAD chain, plus the benefit of being able to share audio via ADAT. As a side note, Microsoft, you should really take a lesson from Core Audio, ASIO doesn’t cut it when you compare the two. Now that ugly issue of what DAW to use came up again, so I thought I would give Studio One another shot because I was at least partially working in a Presonus based ecosystem, so that’s what I did.

In the next day or two I’ll be posting the song I mixed in Studio One as well as my thoughts about the process, so basically:

To be continued………….

Blog Entry, Remixes

Steve Maggoria – Whiskey Remix

Wow I suck…. I really haven’t updated this since summer 2017? Well then, time for an update. Still playing/engineering, thought not nearly as much as I would like. Last week I had to renew a subscription I have to site called Produce Like A Pro run by this rather interesting producer I’ve been following named Warren Huart . Cool music production/engineering site that offers the original sessions of songs for people to remix, I hadn’t downloaded one in a while so I thought I would see if anything interested me, and this was the first song I listened to. I downloaded it right away based on the first 10 seconds because I knew right away this one I had to do.

I try not to listen to anymore than a snippet of the original because I like the exercise of closing my eyes, listening to the song and then mixing it according to what my head interprets it to be. This one pretty well painted a story and feeling right away. It felt like a hot humid summer night, kind of stuffy but in a pleasant way. In a bar that was basically a large screened in wooden porch with dim lighting, some tables and a dance floor. It smelt and tasted like alcohol after you’ve had a bit too much to drink, smooth and appealing and you really want to keep going with the full knowledge that it means bad news tomorrow, but who cares?

And so I start making choices of the way the guitar should sound in the imaginary bar that this all is taking place in, like a beat up old Strat playing through an older Fender amp that breaks up just the tiniest bit in a really pleasant way. I start working on the vocals and the picture gets painted even further of an ex walking into the bar, and just like the alcohol you’re drawn to them knowing there is nothing but a release and bad news ahead. It ends up in a head to head dance with the a sweet smell of whiskey on each others breath and the lyrics of the song running through your head. That of course fuels the choice to make the vocals slightly more “breathy” and to try and have the overall sound be some weird mash up of One Of These Nights by The Eagles and something by Vince Gill. So I start chasing a sound I can hear in my head but know I will never get it quite right.

Jesus this sounds like a 50 year old man’s version of a trashy romance novel. OK so enough of that, the short version is, this was a really great song that I just wanted to do. So here’s my version of the mix of Whiskey by Steve Maggoria:

Afterwards I had a chance to listen to the original as well of some other peoples interpretations of it, and really amazes me how the same song can be presented so differently from person to person. In listening back to my mix, I can still hear the little imperfections that would normally drive me crazy, but in this case they work in the context of the song for me. And the cool part is I’m actually happy with this one because it’s the way I want to listen to this song. That’s the first time that’s happened for me so I’m happy I decided to try this song.

Remixes

Lauren Taylor – Treat Me Right Remix

It’s been a while, I’ve got a couple of these on the go and thought I would throw this one up. Definitely out of my wheel house with this one, but a good exercise none the less. This is a song called Treat Me Right, by a young lady named Lauren Taylor who is best known as an actress on the Disney Channel show Best Friends. I typically like to work in the hard rock/metal genre so something like this is not in my comfort zone, but then again, most of the fun stuff happens outside your comfort zone right? I was working on it while my wife and kids and their friends were in the area of my mixing room, I got several comments about how catchy it was and they wanted to know who sang it so it’s definitely an ear worm. All that being said, here’s my remix of Lauren Taylor’s Treat Me Right.

Remixes

Dream Girl By The Gallery (Remix)

That time again, this time another remix of a country song by a band called The Gallery. This song is entitled Dream Girl. It’s been interesting bouncing around genres a little bit. What I’ve noticed is that I tend to approach songs from a rock point of view. Not really surprising because metal and rock are really what my musical DNA is based on, but part of me has a philosophical debate with myself about whether I should spend time learning about the idiosyncrasies of mixing each specific genre or do I allow the mix to be filtered through my musical preferences.

I was having a discussion with a guitarist friend of mine the other week about this, he’s allowing me to re-record and remix some of his work, and I made the comment that in a way the producer and engineers are additional band members from a certain point of view because they can through their choices dictate what the end songs sounds like. Just going through the exercise of writing this post out makes me think, it is worthwhile to learn about how certain styles like country are engineered and mixed because that knowledge is just another tool in the larger engineering box o’ tricks. Enough blabbering, have a listen to a good country song by a talented group of guys!

Remixes

Remix Time! Locked Up by London Lawhon

So I’m about half way through the engineering program I’m enrolled in, all that’s left are essentially technical courses that I’m already more than familiar with, but the actual mixing and production courses are done. My final exam was a three parter, the big part being mix a song in 3 hours, which is an insanely short amount of time to do that. Managed to do it and walk away with an A+ average so I’m extremely happy with that. So where does that leave me? Well with lots of time to practice what I’ve learned and to start building a portfolio of what I’m capable of, which leads to this post.

A while back I joined a site called ProduceLikeAPro.com run my a gentlemen by the name of Warren Huart, he’s worked with artists like Aerosmith, Ace Frehely, The Fray, Korn, James Blunt, the list goes on and on, but he also loves sharing what he’s learned, and most importantly for me, shares ProTools sessions so that guys like me can build out our own portfolios. I’ll probably do a post on these type of sites at some point, and how and why I ended up at Warren’s, but if you’re like me and want to continue learning about audio engineering and production I would recommend his site, it is well worth the cost.

So this is one of those sessions, a song called Locked up by a young lady named London Lawhon, going into this I did not look her or the original mix of the song up ahead of time, I wanted to go into it blind (so to speak) so that the end result was completely uninfluenced. After the mix was complete and I was happy with it I went back and listened to the original for the first time with my wife. Even though it’s the same song from the same source, the two versions are very different sounding and we both much preferred my mix of it. That’s not a slight against the original, music is an extremely subjective medium, and my tastes and approach to it is that less is more and that is apparent in my mix with London’s voice, the piano and guitars being the focus of the mix. So here’s my remix and I’ll link the original video just after it:

YouTube Video and Original mix by Warren Huart can be found here.

Uncategorized

Optimizing Your Windows 10 Settings For Digital Audio

Hey everyone, being from and IT background I thought I would spend a few minutes going over some tips and tricks you can use to get the most possible out of your DAW. I recently did an episode of my Five Minute Sound Study Podcast where I went over the basics of what components you need. As you can imagine, you can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the surface you’re trying to scratch in that amount of time 😉 So over time I will write a series of articles that will go into more detail about the various components, peripherals and software you can use in the audio creation process.

I’m starting off at a bit of weird place when it comes to all the pieces involved, that being optimizing an already built Windows based PC for digital audio, the reason I’m starting off here is because I spent last night doing it so while it was fresh on my mind I thought I would tackle that subject. I use a bunch of different computers in my life, but the one I would call my favorite is a PC I built about a year and a half ago, it was designed for digital audio and for Virtual Reality, and thus is a bit of a monster. I had a crash recently that forced me to start from a barebones OS again and after installing all the drivers and my DAW(s) of choice I encountered every home recording enthusiasts arch nemesis, latency.

What is latency? The time between your audio entering your computer and it reaching your ears. So, in my case when I hit a chord on my guitar there would be a half second or so delay before the result would get to me. There’s lots of workarounds for this, but I know that my computer, and most modern computers for that matter are more than capable of providing me with undetectable amounts of latency, the problem is my system wasn’t properly configured for it. So let’s get to it.

1. BIOS settings that will affect your performance. SpeedStep and Quiet N’ Cool are not your friend. Basically what these technologies do is reduce the clock speed of your CPU based on demand. For the average user this is awesome, for audio creation it is not. The reason why is there a brief amount of lag between it detecting the demand and it addressing it, and that can under the right conditions cause problems for you, so start by disabling that feature. Now depending on your processor you may see the options of Turbo Boost or Turbo Core as well. These do the opposite, they increase the maximum speed of your CPU depending on demand. So if you have a 4.0 ghz CPU, you may get a boost to 4.18 ghz when needed. I would (and do) turn that function on, but make sure you have adequate cooling installed in your system to deal with the added heat of running at higher clock speeds causes. C-States, it may also be referred to as CPU Idle State, we want to make sure that it is disabled, we don’t want cores being disabled or enabled, we want to try and keep the data path as consistent as possible. Onboard sound cards, if you have one, make sure it’s enabled and I’ll explain why in a later setting.

2. Power Settings. Open up your Control Panel, head over to the Power Options icon, and choose High Performance. Wait, we’re not done. The goal here, like in the BIOS settings is to achieve as consistent a data path as possible, so hit Change Plan Settings, the display turn off, I’m not really worried about that, but that sleep option, change it to “Never”, we don’t want a PC going to sleep because I’ve seen it cause problems with audio devices when it wakes up. Now, open “Change Advanced Power Settings”. There’s two settings in this plan I would change. First, USB selective suspend. Disable it if you’re using a USB based audio device, again predictable and consistent, though an argument could be made for wanting to suspend unused devices, but I would address that in the physical setup of the computer and we will talk about that at a future point. Next, Processor power Management, the Minimum Process State should be 100%. In audio terms, think about data like you would transients. We want to be able to be able to deal with them (if we choose to) as they occur, not, oh crap, there goes a transient, should have been ready for that. That should be it for your power plan settings.

3. Background Services. This one here is a biggie. Go to the System icon in your control panel, then to Advanced system settings and Performance. First adjust for best performance, then go to the Advanced tab and adjust for Background services. I know, I know, but my DAW is a program and I want that to perform the best possible. Here’s the thing, your audio interface, the drivers for that run as a background service, and when that is delayed for a foreground task you get latency problems. This one setting might be the best move you make in reducing latency, so make sure you do it.

4. The Sound icon in your control panel. OK I’m including this here even though it’s more than just a setting I will be discussing. Earlier on I mentioned enabling the sound card on your motherboard if you have one. Ideally what you should do is get an average set of computer speakers, connect them to your onboard audio device and set it as the default audio device. Your audio monitors should be hooked up your audio interface and used exclusively by your DAW, this way Windows sounds get routed through the onboard audio and don’t interfere with your DAW output. The added bonus of doing this is, when you do your mix down, you can listen to what it sounds like on a regular set of speakers.

5. Anti-virus, firewall, Windows Update, etc. Again we’re getting into territories here that are not strictly in the settings domain. In an ideal world I would tell you to get your software installed, patched up to the latest version and then disconnect it from the network, disable all network cards, all anti-virus, firewalls and unnecessary services. This is not always practical, but if you’re running a dedicated PC for audio, that’s the route to go. All those added pieces of software take away memory, disk bandwidth, and CPU cycles from you, but it’s not always practical or safe to disable them. I will delve into this a little deeper when I discuss system design, but it may be something to consider as well.

6. Latency settings in your DAW. You will see settings for buffer size, but not in one place. There’s two buffers you have to worry about, one used by the bus (meaning USB, firewire, etc) and then another by the device itself in it’s ASIO driver. So it’s buffers on top of buffers. There’s a formula that tells you how much latency your adding and it looks like this:

Buffer Samples/Frequency = Latency

So with that in mind, let’s say we’re recording at 48khz, and we’re going to set our Firewire buffer size to 256 samples and our ASIO driver at 512 samples.

512/48000 = 0.010667
256/48000 = 0.005333

Combined we would be talking about 16ms of latency. Our goal is to reduce each buffer until we have problems. Start at a setting of 512 samples on the bus and move it down until you start hearing problems like crackling, dropouts, popping, distortion. Then do the same for device. What you end up with is, what you end up with.

How much latency is a problem? I don’t really want to open up that can of worms because everyone has an opinion, but here’s a thought. Sound travels around 10000 feet per second. so with that example above if you were standing about 16 feet away from your amp while playing, that’s the amount of time it would take you hitting a note on your guitar to get back to you. Personally I don’t have a problem with that. Some people say they could hear that amount of latency, I can’t, so go with what works for you. If you are still running into problems with latency I would recommend downloading a product called LatencyMon from here, it’s a great little piece of software that will analyze your system and give you ideas of what needs to be addressed.

So that’s some basic optimizations you can use on your Windows 10 PC to get the most out of your DAW. Hope it helps, and if you have any questions or comments don’t be afraid to ask!

Podcast

The Five Minute Sound Study Podcast Episode 2 – Computers

Hello everyone and welcome to Episode Two of the Five Minute Sound Study Podcast discussing computers. Last episode we covered a basic description of what a sound wave is. Obviously we haven’t even scratched the surface of that topic, but rather than bombard you with science, the approach I’m going to take on this show is to mix the science in with the stuff we care about so that there’s context and you can understand why it’s important.

So with that in mind we’re going to start talking about what we need to capture and do something with those sounds waves we discussed last episode. Our focus here is recording audio, be that music, sounds, or voice like this podcast. So to do that we need a few basic things. Now I’m sure some of you will remember mixing consoles (those big boards with lots of sliders and knobs), tape machines, multi-track records and so and so forth. Recording pristine audio used to be a challenge and very expensive to do. These days it’s relatively inexpensive. All you really need is a microphone, a device to capture the audio from that, and somewhere to store it and listen back to it on. The easiest way to do that these days is something called “In The Box recording”. All that means is using your computer to do that.

Over the next few episodes we’ll spend some time going over each of those components in a little more detail, but working in the IT world as my primary job, I thought I would start by discussing the computer first. Put away any preconceived stereotypes you may have about Mac’s and PC’s, both are more than capable of doing what you need. In terms of music production, like many of you I’m learning, and as I learn I share. When it comes to computers however, I’ve been doing this professionally for a quarter of a century, and been proficient much longer than that. I use both Mac’s and PC’s in my personal and professional life, and either one will do the job you need. There is a common theme I have discovered while learning and speaking with teachers and music professionals however, that is use what works for you. Music is all about personal preferences, in the style, content and approach. The people that work in that space tend to have very strong opinions about what they like and what works for them. BUT, you are you’re own person and will need to figure out what you are comfortable with. So if you are happy with Windows based PC’s go with that, Mac’s are your thing? Go for that, what you feel comfortable working on should be what you use.

So with that in mind, let’s talk about some of the commonalities between the two platforms that will make a difference. There are some basic parts of the computer you use that will impact what you are able to do. We’ll start with the CPU. Honestly these days any basic computer will have the processing power to record and manipulate audio,but the CPU will affect the amount of manipulation you can do, if you are using a large amount of effects on your audio that will impact the performance. If you are just recording a voice and a guitar, no problem, but if you start getting into large track counts with loads of effects you could run into problems, so the more powerful the CPU, the more you will be able to do. In the early 2017 landscape, an Intel I5 based CPU should keep you happy, if you can afford an I7, you will have more horsepower than you need and the gadget junkie geek in me says there’s nothing wrong with that.

Memory of the RAM variety. This one is really important because the more your system can load into RAM, the better it will perform. I would recommend 8 Gigs as a starting point, and 16 as the sweet spot.

OK Hard disks. This one may get a little complicated, but it’s worth understanding. Basically this is the chief bottleneck in today’s systems. Your system has a main drive where it stores all the files it needs, being programs, operating system related files and even data. There are two types of popular drives these days. Conventional physical drives and SSD’s. Conventional drives use magnetic heads that go across a platter to read and write data, they provide more space at a cheaper price. SSD’s store data on a semiconductor and there are no moving parts. SSD’s are much faster, but also more expensive and don’t approach the storage capacity of conventional drives. If you can afford to go the SSD route however it is the way to go. You can get monstrous track counts without any hiccups. If you are using physical drives however, it can handle recording more than enough tracks for the average user and will give you the benefit of more storage space for your buck but I will make a recommendation. Get a separate drive to store your music projects on. If you have a low amount of RAM the system will begin swapping information to the drive and if that is the drive where your audio is you could run into problems. Personally I use SSD’s for my working drives and conventional drives for my long term storage.

Finally the connection to the interface. We will touch on the actual audio interface in a future episode but this is what will connect you to that. As of today’s date the available option are an internal card, USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt and Ethernet based devices. Like a lot of things in this hobby we love, this boils down to what you can afford and what you plan on achieving. Firewire ports have been discontinued and so have most devices based on that port. You can get those devices heavily discounted these days, BUT you may run into problems with support for them down the road. USB is pretty well the standard for entry level musicians/producers. Thunderbolt, Ethernet and internal cards are in the higher end range. Like I mentioned these tie into the interface you will be using and there is a lot more to discuss about that in the next episode, so we will do that there.

I want to end this off by contradicting everything I just said. Wait what? Ready? OK here we go. We are making music, that is the goal. You don’t need the best and the fastest stuff. I would argue that that may even ultimately hurt your music. Why? Because when you are challenged by the process, it forces you to be inventive. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon was recorded using only sixteen tracks!! Think about that. In a recent studio session I worked on, I used that many tracks just for the drums, and I can assure you it was no Dark Side of The Moon! The point I’m getting at is what really matters is the music. Use what you have and can afford and don’t get too obsessed with the equipment you think you may need. Be creative, be inventive, enjoy the process! And I will leave you with that thought, until next I’m Rob Blazik and this has been the Five Minute Sound Study.