“Ahh, It’ll Be Fine!”

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Gabe Anderson, a TuneCore Artist and blogger. Check out his thoughts and perspective on music and the industry over at his site, Gabe The Bass Player!]

 

When you show up and the stage is a weird size or shape: Here’s what most likely happened…

…A few hours earlier when the people were done setting it up, they had a back and forth conversation with each other about whether or not they should make the stage less weird, because they kinda had a feeling it was a little off. But that conversation that ultimately ended with, “…ahh, it’ll be fine.”

But now you’re the one who has to deal with the consequences of “It’ll be fine.”

When the venue decides to use other green room for extra beer storage and cleaning supplies…can’t you just hear that conversation?! Also a conversation that ended with “…ahh, it’ll be fine.”

And now all 3 bands and crews, roughly a bazillion people, have to mash into a room designed for 8.

When the designated merch area is located far far away from the main entrance/exit of the venue…”…the people who want merch will still find the march table…it’ll be fine,” said the person who had to make the decision but was not well informed enough to make a good one.

But you and I both know the location of merchandise at the venue swings merch sales by a million percent.

“It’ll be fine” in so many cases usually means, “This decision works for me right now. I don’t want to work harder to figure out a better solution and I won’t have to personally deal with the consequences, so for me it really will be fine.”

Musicians and artists find themselves on the receiving end of “it’ll be fine” conversations and consequences all the time, especially on the road. And the truth is these little wrinkles in the day can literally make the whole thing crumble in an instant. I know you’ve been there, the rock in your shoe that keeps on stinging.

So per the situations above: after someone has left you with one of these “ahh, it’ll be fine” situations…you’re still the one left with a weird stage, a crammed green room and poorly located merch.

What are you suppose to do with this blatant injustice?

Well the first thing is just that…ARE you going to do anything at all?

Hold on…first things first…take a few minutes and get it out. Vent it. Because you’re right…what on God’s green earth were they thinking doing it that way? You’re right, you could have done a better job and you don’t even run a venue for a living. You’re right, the shouldn’t get to screw up while the consequences get placed upon your shoulders.

Let it out baby, I understand, it’s warranted.

Now then…If all you’re going to DO is complain, take your two minutes of rage and then shut up about it. If you’re not going to DO anything, let it go, make the most of it, move the conversation and your brain onto something else.

If you decide you are going to try and improve the situation, be realistic about the possible outcomes. You know how venue managers are notorious for being a ball of laughs and extremely helpful to artists.

But just to emphasize the idea of being realistic with improving the situations…let’s keep going with the examples from above:

  • You’re probably not going to get them to re-do the stage, it’ll just piss them off if you ask because to them it’s way too much work to pull off in a short amount of time. But you might ask to make more room on stage by putting the amps off stage, or putting the drum kit a little to the left so the keys player can squeeze in back there too as oppose to being up front.
  • You’re probably not going to get them to clear out the beer and cleaning supplies from the other green room. Don’t ask. They just did the awful work of getting all that crap in there. But you could make a deal with the other acts that each band gets the green room to themselves the 30mins before their set time.
  • You can probably move the merch wherever you want as long as YOU are willing to move it and it doesn’t violate fire code or access to the bar.

So I’ll leave you with two things to close:

When you find yourself about to utter the words “Ahh, it’ll be fine…”, remember how much it can put others in a pinch.

When you have to shoulder the consequences of “Ahh, it’ll be fine…”, as quickly as possible, decide whether or not you’re going to DO anything about it. If not, move on. If so, fight to employ a realistic approach on your part.

p.s. This could be fun: In what ways have you been on the receiving end of the “Ahh, it’ll be fine” mentality? Let us know in the comments!

A Musician’s Basic Guide to Trademark Law

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. Justin is an entertainment and media attorney for The Jacobson Firm, P.C. in New York City. He also runs Label 55 and teaches music business at the Institute of Audio Research.]

 

Continuing from our prior installment where we discussed copyright law and how it relates to the music industry, we should now briefly explore how trademark law is related to the music business.

As they say on Madison Avenue, “it’s all about the name;” and, trademark law provides protection for a particular name for a specific good or service.

Trademark registration grants the owner of a mark the exclusive right to utilize the brand in commerce to differentiate the goods or services provided by that individual or business from those provided by another. A service mark is a mark used in connection with providing a particular service (i.e. live performance services, talent management services). Trademark protection can apply to a particular word, phrase, slogan, logo, design, smell, sound or a combination of these, which are used in relation to specific goods. The general principle behind trademark law is that the mark acts as an identifier to the public of the source of a good or service. It is actually a consumer protection law based on the origin of goods and services.

There are two distinct trademark systems for acquiring rights in a name. There is a “first-to-file” system, which exists in countries such as China and France. This system provides protection to the first entity to file for a registration for a particular name for the good or service listed in the registration. Conversely, the United States follows a “first-to-use” system. This system provides trademark protection to the first entity to file an application and who actually utilizes the mark in commerce for the listed goods or services.

In order to protect a name, a federal or state trademark application should be filed with the appropriate state department or the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“U.S.P.T.O.”). In America, an application can be filed for a mark that is currently in use (an “actual use” application) or for one that the owner intends to use (an “intent-to-use” application). An intent-to-use application is filed prior to the actual use of the mark in commerce in an effort to “reserve” a particular name for a specific good or service. The applicant must then actually use the mark in commerce within six months after a “Notice Of Allowance” is issued by the U.S.P.T.O. or an extension must be filed to keep extending the deadline to file a “Notice of Use” to obtain the registration.

In the United States, a mark can only be registered if it is distinctive and not generic for the goods or services provided. A distinctive mark is one that is capable of distinguishing the goods or services provided by one from those provided by others. A mark can be described as fanciful, arbitrary, suggestive, descriptive or generic. Fanciful marks are those that have no meaning other than acting as an indicator of the source such as “Exxon” for gasoline. An arbitrary mark is one that has no relation to the goods being provided such as “Apple” for computers. A suggestive mark is one that suggests a quality or a particular characteristic of the goods provided such as “Jaguar” for automobiles. A descriptive mark merely describes the goods or services provided without requiring any additional imagination or thought on the part of the consumer.

Generally, a descriptive mark cannot be registered unless it has acquired secondary meaning. This can be demonstrated by providing evidence that the relevant consumer marketplace has come to associate this particular mark with the goods provided with the mark. Additionally, use of a mark in commerce for over five years can create a presumption of secondary meaning that an owner can use to its advantage. Finally, a generic mark is one that is incapable of acting as a trademark as it is a common word or term that identifies the products and services without specifying a particular source for the goods or services.

Since, an artist or band’s name is one of the most important, if not, the most important feature in a musician’s career, proper ownership and prior clearance of a particular name is essential. Generally, one should apply for protection in their artist or band name as soon as possible. While the cost may be perceived as prohibitive, the potential downfall due to a lack of a search or registration could be much more detrimental and costly. Since everything a musician does is based on the name, including associated social media platforms, websites, and merchandise; it is prudent to conduct a trademark screening search prior to establishing and developing these outlets to identify any potential barriers to your name and to determine the availability or lack thereof. This will ensure you are not infringing on someone else’s registered or protected mark.

Needless to say, this is a situation that should clearly be avoided as having to change a band’s name after they have begun utilizing it due to another’s mark will end up destroying the good will and notoriety that the artist has built under that particular brand.

Additionally, if an individual fails to register a band name and just begins utilizing it in a specific area or state, the individual may be later forced to only advertise and utilize that mark only in that particular area or state rather than being able to utilize the mark throughout the nation as a federal registration would permit. For example, a band who operates as “The Owls” in one area of the country may apply for a federal trademark registration if they are in interstate commerce, to protect their band name throughout the country.

It is therefore prudent for an artist or band to ensure their chosen name is “clear” prior to utilizing it in commerce, as even if one artist is bigger and more established than an already registered one, the prior registration typically trumps the non-registered entity and could prevent the artist from utilizing this name.

There are also many other benefits to registering a trademark or service mark, including a presumption of ownership and validity of the mark after the first five (5) years of registration. Second, a registration can be used offensively to prevent others from using confusingly similar marks for the same or similar goods or services as those provided by the owner (dilution). Third, the (R) symbol acts as constructive notice to third parties of the owner’s trademark or service mark rights in the particular mark. Fourth, a registration can provide the owner with exclusive nationwide rights in the mark as of the date of filing the application. Fifth, a registration certificate can also provide priority for international registration of the same name in other countries, which is extremely important to an artist in today’s global music industry.

Finally, a registration is a valuable commodity, permitting the licensing of the mark by third parties, such a record label or other merchandise manufacturer. It also permits the owner with the ability to stop counterfeit or gray market goods bearing the owner’s trademark from entering the United

States. Again, the trademark registration can be owned by the business entity created by the artist that permits the entity to easily enter into licensing agreements to license the inclusion of the name on recordings as well as on any other merchandise. (For more information, review our prior installments about business entities/taxes & loan-out companies.)

A valid trademark registration also facilitates the owner in filing infringement claims with various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, to retrieve or block potentially infringing accounts. A band with a valid registration could also potentially file an Anti- cybersquatting claim with ICANN to retrieve an infringing domain name.

Since a trademark protects a specific phrase or name for a particular type of goods, a solo artist or band should be aware of the various possible classes that they can obtain registration for a particular name in. A few of the more relevant classes include registration in Class 009: “Audio and video recordings featuring music and artistic performances,” “Musical sound recordings,” “Compact discs featuring music,” “Downloadable music files,” and “Downloadable MP3 files and MP3 recordings. Protection can also be extended to Class 041, which includes: “Audio recording and production,” “recording, production and post-production services in the field of music,” “Production of sound and music video recordings,” “live performances by a musical group.” Protection should also be considered in Class 025, which includes various types of clothing and apparel such as shirts, pants, hats, ties and bandanas (merchandise).

In addition to providing the required information in the trademark application, the Applicant (person who submits an application) must provide a suitable specimen depicting the mark being used in commerce for the particular listed good(s). For example, if a mark is for “live performances” in Class 041, copies of live performance flyers or advertisements containing the artist’s name would be appropriate specimens.

As we’ve discussed, trademark law is utilized for protecting an individual or business’s name and is an essential component to succeed in entertainment. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that all the aspects related to it are proper or the lack thereof, could lead to some devastating results.

You should always consult an experienced attorney in the field to understand the requirements and available options.

The Sneaky Way to Promote Your Music Without Actually Talking About Your Music

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Dave Kusek and originally appeared on the Sonicbids Blog.]

I know it sounds completely counterintuitive to promote your music and raise awareness for yourself as an artist without actually talking about your music – or your music career, for that matter. But it’s being done more and more and has become a really powerful way to make a name for yourself by bypassing the crowded indie-musician market.

Let me explain. The key is to establish yourself as an expert in some related topic like gear, self-releasing music, or songwriting. It’s about sharing valuable information on a topic you have a lot of experience in to draw potential fans. They find you by searching for “how to write a song,” or “how to book your own gigs,” or “guitar pedal review,” and discover your music through that connection.

Push vs. pull marketing

Traditionally, there are two ways to go about promoting your music. You can either push your message out to fans and potential fans (push marketing), or you can pull them in and get them to come to you (pull marketing).

Push marketing is those typical advertisements you see on TV and hear on the radio. They’re just pushing information out about their product to a large audience hoping to reach someone who may be interested.

Pull marketing is about giving out valuable information that you know your target audience is searching for. This valuable information could be exclusive or behind-the-scenes access to you as an artist. This kind of content will pull in current fans and deepen your relationship.

But you could also share advice on something you have a lot of experience with. This will help you reach a new audience who may not even be familiar with your music.

So let’s go through the strategy step-by-step.

1. Find your expertise

The first step is finding something you have a lot of experience and knowledge in. As a musician, you have a few really obvious routes – music, songwriting, mixing, mastering, music theory, gear, instruments, etc. These are the skills that form the very foundation of your career, so you definitely have a lot of valuable information to bring to the table here.

Many musicians, including Scale the Summit’s bassist Mark Michell, have set up online schools to share their musical knowledge and techniques. The key here is to bring this training online instead of doing local lessons. Not only will you be able to reach a much larger audience, you’ll also start showing up in Google searches for things like “online bass lessons.”

Other musicians pull on other skill sets like music business knowledge, booking gigs, or creating YouTube videos. DIY musician Ari Herstand, for example, runs the blog Ari’s Take, where he shares his experiences and the skills he’s learned from booking his own shows and generally running his own career. Other musicians like Alex Cowles share their knowledge on self-releasing music.

2. Find the right platform

If you want people to organically find you, the best option is to go online. Depending on the kind of information you share, your platform may be a little different. So, if you’re creating music lessons, videos may be your best bet. Try making YouTube tutorials, playthroughs, and lessons, and release them regularly to build an audience.

On the other hand, if you’re sharing the things you’ve learned on getting your songs licensed or booking college gigs, a blog may suit your information better. Gear and guitar pedal reviews and demonstrations might use a combination of blog posts and videos.

You could also aim to partner with other media outlets to share out your information. This will help you get your name out to a larger audience. In addition to his own blog, Ari Herstand also writes for Digital Music News. Maybe you could get a regular column in a small online music magazine or music industry blog – start small and grow from there.

3. Show up in search

Now that you have your content up, you need to make sure people can actually find it. There are plenty of SEO guides out there, but basically, you just want to think about what people are actually typing into search. There are also a lot of cool tools like Google’s Keyword Planner that can give you some ideas.

You want the keywords and article titles you choose to be relevant and specific to what you’re posting. So if you’re posting a review of a certain guitar pedal, a title like “Boss Waza Craft VB-2W Vibrato Review” will perform better than “Guitar Pedal Review.” Likewise, if you’re sharing your tips on how to set up good lighting for a music video, something like “Setting Up Good Lighting for a Music Video” will probably do the trick.

Of course, good SEO won’t instantly drive thousands of people to your articles and videos. It’s going to take a lot of work and consistent posting to build up an audience.

4. Create the connection

Here’s the most important part of this strategy: you need to make the connection to your music and drive your viewers or readers to check it out. After all, music is your main gig.

There are a few options here. You could obviously host your blog on your band’s site, or share your tutorials or gear reviews on your band’s YouTube channel. That way, your music is just a click away. This works, but it will make it more difficult to get the SEO working like you want.

If you host your content off your music website, you need to make the connection obvious. Include an “About” page that shares your story. Highlight your musical journey and your creative career as an indicator of your expertise on the subject.

You should also mention your career and bring out stories in your articles and videos.Preface an amp review by saying you brought it on tour and recorded some awesome sounding live videos with it. Include the live video to prove your point (and introduce your readers to your music).

If you’re teaching people on YouTube about modes, you could mention that you used a certain mode when writing a new song you have out. Play a short section of that song to show your point and include a card in the top right corner to link to your music video.

How To Set Up a Home Recording Studio: The Complete Guide

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by Jason Moss. Jason is an LA-based mixer, producer and engineer. His clients include Sabrina Carpenter, Madilyn Bailey, GIVERS and Dylan Owen. Check out his mixing tips at Behind The Speakers.]

Setting up a home recording studio can be overwhelming.

How do you know what equipment to buy? Which software is best? How can you make sure everything will work together?

Take a breath. This guide will walk you through the process, step by step. It contains everything you need to know, including equipment recommendations. Make your way to the bottom of this page, and you’ll have your home recording studio up and running in no time. This way, you can get on to the good stuff—making great recordings!

Table Of Contents:

Chapter 1: How To Find The Ultimate Home Studio Computer

Chapter 2: How To Choose The Ideal Audio Interface

Chapter 3: How To Find A Mic That Makes You Sound Radio-Ready

Chapter 4: How To Choose Studio Monitors That Supercharge Your Tracks

Chapter 5: How To Pick The Perfect Pair Of Headphones

Chapter 6: How To Find A DAW That Makes Recording Easy

Chapter 7: The Extra Stuff Most People Forget

Chapter 8: How To Set Up Your Room For Studio-Quality Sound

How To Find The Ultimate Home Studio Computer


Your computer is the command center of your home recording studio. It’s the brains and brawn behind the entire operation.

This is one area where you don’t want to skimp.

Recording will place high demands on your computer, and you’ll need a machine that can keep up. If you plan on tackling projects with lots of tracks or producing electronic music, this is even more important. The last thing you want is your computer to slow you down. There’s no faster way to kill a moment of musical inspiration.

Laptop Or Desktop?

Laptop and desktop computers

If you absolutely need to record on the go, a laptop may be your only choice. But be prepared to pay more and walk away with a less capable machine.

Go for a desktop whenever possible. Dollar for dollar, they’re faster, more powerful, and offer more storage. They also last longer and fail less, because their internal components don’t overheat as easily. And since a desktop doesn’t sit in front of your face, the noise from its fans will be less of an issue. (Microphones are super sensitive, so a noisy room will lead to noisy recordings. I worked on a laptop for years, and fan noise was a constant problem.)

PC Or Mac?

While my first computers were PCs, I’m now a Mac guy through and through. Macs crash less. They’re also the computer of choice for music-makers (you’ll find them in most home recording studios). Because of this, updates and bug fixes for recording software will often be released for Mac users first.

With that being said, most recording software and hardware is compatible with both platforms. Macs are also more expensive, so this may influence your decision. If you’re more comfortable using a PC, you can make it work. Just make sure your audio interface and software is compatible with whatever you choose.

4 Computer Specs That Really Matter

When you’re trying to find the right computer for your home recording studio, it’s easy to get lost in techno-speak. The following 4 specs are what count. Hit the guidelines below, and your computer will handle nearly any recording session with ease.

CPU (Clock Speed & Number Of Cores)

CPU

If a computer was a car, the CPU would be its engine. Clock speed is like the number of cylinders an engine has. The higher the number, the faster the CPU. A fast CPU will handle large recording sessions gracefully.

If the CPU has multiple cores, this is even better. Multiple cores will allow it to multitask more effectively.

It can be difficult to compare CPUs (especially those with a different number of cores). To make this easier, you can use sites like CPUBoss or CPU Benchmark.

Recommendations:

  • Good: 2.6 GHz dual-core
  • Better: 2.8 GHz dual-core
  • Best: 3+ GHz quad-core

RAM

RAM is your computer’s short-term memory. More RAM will make your computer run faster, particularly when working with large, complex projects.

Recommendations:

  • Good: 8 GB
  • Better: 12 GB
  • Best: 16+ GB

Hard Drive (Space & Type)

Hard drive

A computer’s hard drive is its long-term memory. This is where your recordings will be stored. Recorded audio takes up lots of space, so you’ll want plenty to spare. If you end up filling your hard drive, you can always buy an external one. However, it’s always better to start with more space.

But when it comes to hard drives, space isn’t all that matters. In fact, speed is even more important.

The best hard drives are solid-state. While they typically offer less storage space, they’re worth every penny. Solid-state drives use flash memory (the same technology you’ll find in a USB thumb drive) and have no moving parts. They’re much faster than their mechanical predecessors. If your computer has a solid-state drive, it will be much snappier when playing back and recording projects with large track counts.

If you can’t avoid a mechanical drive, opt for one that spins at 7,200 RPM. It will deliver data about 33% faster than a 5,400 RPM drive. This really matters if you plan on tackling projects with 30+ tracks.

Recommendations:

  • Good: 500 GB 7,200 RPM mechanical drive
  • Better: 1 TB 7,200 RPM mechanical drive
  • Best: 500+ GB solid-state drive

Ports

Your audio interface (see below) will connect to your computer using USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire. Make sure there’s a port available on your computer for it. If you plan on using a MIDI keyboard or other accessories, make sure you’ve got enough free ports to accommodate them too.

Computer Recommendations

Best Bang For Your Buck: Mac Mini

The Mac Mini is seriously underrated. This is what I use in my home recording studio, and it’s more than enough. Opt for a solid-state drive and maxed-out memory for even more power. And don’t forget—you’ll need a keyboard, mouse, and monitor too.

For Mobile Music-Makers: MacBook Pro

If you need to be mobile, the MacBook Pro is a great choice. Just be prepared for fan noise.

For Those Who Want The Best: Mac Pro

It isn’t cheap, but you’ll find the Mac Pro in most professional recording studios. Even the baseline unit is more than enough.

Additional Resources

Back To Table Of Contents

How To Choose The Ideal Audio Interface


Focusrite audio interface

Your audio interface is the heart of your home recording studio. While it may look intimidating, it’s nothing more than a fancy routing box. This is where you’ll plug in microphones, speakers, and headphones. It’s also where the signal from your microphones gets converted into ones and zeros, so your computer can make use of it.

Interfaces vary widely in features. Some have knobs to adjust the volume of your speakers and microphones. Others accomplish this through a software control panel. However, all great interfaces are transparent—they don’t add any noise or distortion to the sound. This is where high-end interfaces often differ from cheaper ones.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing an interface:

Number Of Mic Preamps

The more preamps, the more microphones you can record at once. If you’re only recording vocals, one may be all you need. To record instruments with multiple mics (such as acoustic guitar in stereo), you’ll need at least 2. To record drums or people playing together, go for 4 or more.

Quality Of Mic Preamps

When it comes to mic preamps, people get distracted by quantity. They think more is better, so they buy cheap interfaces with 8 preamps.

This is a rookie mistake.

Cheap preamps will add noise and distortion to your recordings. This will become a permanent part of your tracks, and it can add a harsh, brittle quality to your music.

Quality is more important than quantity. Avoid cheap interfaces with 8 preamps. Instead, go for an interface with 4 or 2. You’ll walk away with a higher-quality interface, often at the same price.

1/4″ Input

Bass guitar

With a 1/4″ input, you can record electric guitar or bass without an amp. You can then use software to shape the tone. This isn’t an essential feature, but it’s handy (especially if you’re a guitarist or bassist).

Pro Tip: If your interface doesn’t have a 1/4″ input, a direct box will do the same thing.

Speaker Outputs

Make sure your interface has the same type of outputs your speakers use (either XLR, 1/4″, or RCA). If there’s a mismatch, you’ll have to use an adapter or special cable to connect them. While this isn’t a huge deal, it’s best avoided.

Headphone Jack

With a headphone jack, you’ll be able to plug in a pair of headphones and listen back while recording. This is an essential feature, and almost all interfaces have one.

Pro Tip: Most interfaces have a 1/4″ headphone jack. This is larger than the 1/8″ plug on most consumer headphones. To use consumer headphones with your interface, you’ll need an 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter.

Compatibility

Most interfaces will connect to your computer using USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt. Make sure your computer has a free port of that type available.

You’ll also want to make sure your interface is compatible with your recording software. You can find this information on the interface manufacturer’s website.

Interface Recommendations

1 Mic Preamp

2 Mic Preamps

4 Mic Preamps

8 Mic Preamps

Additional Resources

Back To Table Of Contents

How To Find A Mic That Makes You Sound Radio-Ready


Microphone with pop filter

Microphones are the ears of your home recording studio. They convert sound into electricity (which gets sent to your interface).

If you’re a guitarist, you know that every guitar sounds different. You might reach for a Tele over a Strat, depending on the part you’re playing. Microphones work the same way. One might sound better than another in a specific situation. But if you’re starting out, you don’t need a dozen mics to cover your bases…

This Type Of Mic Will Always Get The Job Done

There’s one type of microphone that sounds great on just about anything (including vocals).

It’s called a large-diaphragm, cardioid condenser.

If you’re only going to get one for your home recording studio, this should be it. Here’s why:

  • Large diaphragm: The diaphragm is the part of the mic that picks up sound. A large diaphragm makes the mic better at picking up low frequencies (like the body and warmth of your voice). This means it will faithfully capture the full tonal range of sounds.
  • Cardioid: This is the microphone’s polar pattern. It dictates what the mic will pick up, and more importantly, what it won’t. A cardioid mic will pick up what’s in front of it, but almost nothing to the sides or behind it. You can use this feature to reduce the level of unwanted noise in your recordings (like air conditioning rumble, noisy neighbors, or chirping birds). Just position the back of the mic towards the source of the noise!
  • Condenser: Refers to the technology the mic uses to capture sound. Condenser mics do a better job at picking up high frequencies (like the sizzle of cymbals or the crispness of a voice) than any other type of mic.

What About USB Mics?

Avoid them. While you won’t need an interface to use one, they are of lower quality than most traditional mics. They also aren’t future-proof; if USB ports become obsolete, you’ll need to buy a new mic.

Recommendations For Large-Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Mics

Under $100

Under $250

Under $500

An Electric Guitarist’s Dream Mic For Under $100

If you plan on recording lots of guitar amps, you may want to invest in an additional microphone.

Why?

Because condenser mics don’t sound that great on amps.

But don’t worry—there’s a go-to mic that’s used to record guitar amps in multi-million dollar studios every day. And it costs less than $100.

Which one is it?

The Shure SM-57.

Shure SM-57

If you’re just getting started, this isn’t a necessity. But if you’ll be recording lots of guitar amps, you may want to consider it.

(You can use the SM-57 to record other things too, but it shines on guitar amps!)

Additional Resources

Back To Table Of Contents

How To Choose Studio Monitors That Supercharge Your Tracks


Studio monitor and LCD screen

Studio monitors are speakers designed for use in home recording studios. You’ll need these to play back and mix your recordings.

These are different than the speakers you might buy for your living room. Whereas consumer speakers often flatter and enhance the sound, studio monitors are neutral and uncolored. They won’t sound as pretty as typical speakers—in fact, they may even sound dull.

Listen on speakers like these, and you’ll hear what’s really going on in your music. Great studio monitors will force you to work harder to craft a mix that sounds good. This will lead to tracks that sound great on a variety of different speakers, not just ones that sweeten or hype up the sound.

Can’t I Just Use Headphones?

Headphones are notoriously difficult to mix on, and tracks mixed on headphones often don’t hold up on speakers. (There are, however, other uses for headphones. You’ll learn more about this below.) If you’re doing basic voiceover work, you may be able to forgo studio monitors. But if you’re recording music, it’s crucial to invest in them.

4 Studio Monitor Specs That Really Matter

When choosing studio monitors for your home recording studio, it’s easy to get distracted by frequency plots and technical jargon. Here’s what really counts:

Active Vs. Passive

Speakers need an amplifier to produce sound. If a speaker is active, it means the amplifier is built-in. This makes active speakers completely self-contained—you just need to plug them into the wall and your interface. On the other hand, passive speakers need a separate power amp to function. I would avoid them, as they add another piece of equipment to your home recording studio.

Near-Field Vs. Mid/Far-Field

Near-field monitors are built to be used in close quarters, like a home studio. Mid-field and far-field monitors are built to be placed farther away from your ears, and are more suitable for larger spaces. Go for a pair of near-fields (unless you live in a castle).

Frequency Response

Most studio monitors have a fairly flat frequency response. This means they sound neutral—the bass isn’t louder than the treble, and everything is well-balanced. However, even the flattest studio monitors will sound different in your home recording studio (room acoustics affect speakers dramatically). For this reason, I wouldn’t obsess over the frequency response of your speakers. You can always use software like Sonarworks Reference 3 to flatten things out later on.

Pay attention to how far the speakers extend down the frequency spectrum. This will often be quoted as the bottom number in a range (from 40 Hz to 20 kHz, for example). Smaller speakers won’t extend down as far. This will make it harder to hear what’s going on in your recordings. Try to find speakers that extend to 40 Hz or below.

Connectivity

Your studio monitors will have XLR, 1/4″, or RCA inputs. Make sure these are the same type of connectors your interface uses. If the two don’t match up, you’ll need a special adapter or cable to connect them. This isn’t a big deal, but it’s best avoided.

Studio Monitor Recommendations

Under $300 (Pair)

Under $600 (Pair)

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How To Pick The Perfect Pair Of Headphones


Pair of headphones

Headphones are an invaluable studio ally. You can use them while overdubbing, mixing, or to avoid disturbing your neighbors.

Like studio monitors, studio headphones are designed to be tonally neutral. While I don’t recommend mixing on them exclusively, headphones like these will offer you an accurate, unbiased perspective on your recordings.

When trying to find the right pair, here are some things to keep in mind:

Open-Back Vs. Closed-Back

Open-back headphones have perforations on the outside of each cup which allow sound to pass through easily. They typically sound better than closed-back headphones, and are the preferred choice for mixing. However, since sound leaks out of them so easily, they’re not ideal for recording (mics pick them up).

On the other hand, closed-back headphones have a hard enclosure that prevents sound from escaping. This makes them a better choice for recording, when maximum isolation is needed.

If you’re only going to buy a single pair for your home recording studio, go for closed-back. They’re more versatile.

Connectivity

Most pro studio headphones use a 1/4″ plug. This is thicker than the 1/8″ plug you’ll find on most consumer headphones. If you want to plug your studio headphones into an iPhone or laptop, you’ll need a 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter.

Comfort And Fit

You’ll be wearing these for hours on end, so you want them to be comfortable. Cushy foam padding makes a big difference. Also, look for headphones that rest over, not on your ears. And if possible, try them on before you purchase!

Recommendations For Headphones

Under $100

Under $250

Under $500

Additional Resources

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How To Find A DAW That Makes Recording Easy


Ever seen one of these?

Large format recording console

While they may look cool, consoles like these are now collecting dust in top-tier studios across the globe.

Why?

You don’t need them anymore. In many cases, they’ve been replaced by digital audio workstations.

A digital audio workstation, or DAW, is the software that will power your home recording studio. It’s what you’ll use to record, play back, and manipulate audio inside your computer. Arm yourself with a great DAW, and you’ll be able to do everything you can do on that hunk of junk above (and more).

What’s The Best-Sounding DAW?

Visit any online audio forum and you’ll find people that claim one DAW (usually the one they use) sounds better than the rest.

This isn’t true. In fact, all DAWs sound exactly the same. The differences between them have more to do with workflow than anything else.

My 3 Favorite DAWs

When choosing a DAW, there are tons of great options. Here are my favorites:

Pro Tools

Pro Tools logo

As a mixer, Pro Tools is my DAW of choice. I’ve been using it for nearly a decade.

You’ll find Pro Tools in most recording studios. This is helpful if you ever end up recording in a commercial studio, because you’ll be able to open the projects you save on your own rig. This means you’ll be able to record drums in a professional studio, for example, and then edit them later in your home recording studio.

Pro Tools excels as a recording platform. Its audio-editing features are second-to-none. However, beatmakers or EDM producers may be better off with one of the DAWs below.

Logic

Logic is the preferred choice for many producers. It features a fantastic library of sounds and plugins—one of the most comprehensive packages available. When I’m not mixing, it’s my favorite DAW.

Unfortunately, Logic is Mac-only.

Ableton Live

Ableton Live is great for loop and sample-based producers. In fact, many EDM producers swear by it. Its audio manipulation tools are flexible and innovative, and it can be easily integrated into a live performance. If I was an electronic music producer, Ableton Live would be my choice.

Other DAWs Worth Exploring

Your search shouldn’t stop here. Here are some other DAWs worth exploring:

  • Cubase
  • Studio One
  • Digital Performer
  • Adobe Audition
  • SONAR

How To Choose The Perfect DAW For You

Choosing a DAW is like dating. Download a few trial versions and take them for a spin. Explore your options and make sure things fit before committing. While all major DAWs have similar features, some do certain things better than others.

If you’ll be collaborating, check out what DAW your collaborators use. It’s much easier to work together if you’re both using the same software. But in the end, the choice is yours.

Don’t get too hung up here. Remember, The Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper on a 4-track tape machine. Even the most basic DAW has infinitely more power. Go with your gut and move on.

Save Hundreds By Avoiding Unnecessary Plugins

Too many plugins!

As you start to explore the world of home recording, you’re going to run across plugins.

These are pieces of third-party software that extend the functionality of your DAW. They allow you to manipulate sound in different ways.
Most people invest in plugins too early. If you’re just getting started, your DAW’s stock tools are more than enough to make great recordings. Master what you have first—more plugins won’t necessarily lead to better-sounding tracks.

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The Extra Stuff Most People Forget


We’ve covered the basics, but there are a couple of extras you’ll probably need too…

Cables

You’ll need an XLR cable to connect your mic to your audio interface.

You’ll also need a pair of cables to connect your speakers to your interface. These will be either 1/4″, XLR, or RCA—depending on which connectors your speakers and interface use.

Mic Stand

Go for quality here. Cheap, flimsy stands will be the bane of your existence. I prefer ones with three legs over those with a circular, weighted base. They tend to be more stable and don’t fall over as much.

What I Recommend: On-Stage Stands MS7701B

Pop Filter

A mesh screen that sits between your microphone and vocalist. It helps diffuse the blasts of air that accompany certain consonants (like “p” and “b” sounds). Left alone, these blasts will overload your microphone’s diaphragm, leading to boomy, muddy recordings. This essential accessory will significantly improve the quality of your tracks.

Pro Tip: For a pop filter to work well, there needs to be a few inches between the filter and the mic, as well as the filter and the singer. If you push the filter right up against the mic or put your mouth on it, it won’t be able to do its job.

What I Recommend: On-Stage Stands ASFSS6GB

Speaker Stands

As you’ll learn below, it’s best to get your speakers off a desk and onto stands. This is an easy move that will lead to a significant improvement in sound quality.

What I Recommend: On-Stage Stands SMS6000

MIDI Keyboard

Akai MPK49 MIDI keyboard

With a MIDI keyboard, you’ll be able to “play” any instrument imaginable. You can use it to fill out and orchestrate your recordings. If you’ll only be recording real instruments or vocalists, you won’t need one. But if you’re a beatmaker or electronic music producer, it’s almost essential.

What I Recommend: Akai MPK249 (don’t forget the sustain pedal)

Desk

You may have a desk that works already. If not, I’m a big fan of the On-Stage Stands WS7500. This is what I use in my home recording studio now. It’s a great way to get started!

Comfortable Chair

If you’re going to be logging some serious hours in your home recording studio, it makes sense to be comfortable, right?

Invest in a comfy chair with good support. You and your back will thank me later.

What I Recommend: Alera Elusion Mesh Mid-Back Office Chair

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How To Set Up Your Room For Studio-Quality Sound


Every decision you make while recording will be based on what you hear. If what you’re hearing isn’t accurate, you won’t make the right decisions. This will lead to recordings that sound good in your studio, but fall apart on other speakers.

You can avoid this by setting up your home recording studio properly. Don’t overlook this crucial step! If you follow the guidelines in the video below, you’ll be well ahead of most home studio owners. Your recordings will sound better too!

Taking Your Room To The Next Level With Acoustic Treatment

After your home recording studio is up and running, you’ll want to invest in acoustic treatment panels. These will improve the sound of your room by evening out acoustic problems. While acoustic treatment is beyond the scope of this article, I’ve put together a PDF with resources that will help you get started.

It’s Time To Build The Home Recording Studio Of Your Dreams

MacBook and mixer

There will be nothing more satisfying than hearing your own recordings play over the speakers in your new home studio. You now have everything you need to make this happen.

The next step is for you to take action. Order the equipment you need, set up your room using the guidelines above, and start recording! Remember, once you get all this out of the way, you can get on to the good stuff—making great music!

But before you go, leave a comment below and tell me—what will you use your home recording studio for?

I wish you the best of luck on your home recording journey!

3 Problems Most Lyricists Face

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog post written by Mason Hoberg. Mason is a freelance writer who covers music-related topics and is a regular contributor to Equipboard.]

 

Being the main lyricist for a band is arguably one of the most difficult positions in music that one can hold. You have to be part musician and part poet, and you have to learn a ton of rules and techniques that go above and beyond what the average musician would have to know.

Because being a lyricist and a musician is such a balancing act, there are a host of problems that can occur. In fact, there are way more than can be named in this article. However, time and time again there seems to be three main stumbling blocks that lyricists happen to run into.

If you’ve been having trouble as a lyricist, or just want to avoid running into to some all too common problems, you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you three great tips to help you on your road to being the lyricist you’ve always dreamed you could be.

Side note: Yes, there are exceptions to every rule below. No, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve found a flaw in my logic. They are the exceptions that prove the rule, and most of them are either purposefully breaking a rule as a part of a larger message (“I Am The Walrus”) and/or work because the other elements that make them up are so strong, (a lot of Bob Dylan’s work).

1. Not Simplifying Your Song

Ideally, every song you right should have one main point. Everything else in your song should work to flesh out this point (or in some cases cause the listener to reinterpret it). Think of your song like an essay. You have your thesis, a few points regarding it, and then a few supporting details.

A common problem with a lot of lyricists’ songs is that they don’t follow this. By not outlining and sticking to one clear point their song becomes almost unintelligible. It confuses the listener, and it keeps your song from resonating with your audience.

To use the essay analogy again, imagine if an essay about the history of Coca-Cola had a five-paragraph section in the middle about party clowns. This would (rightly) confuse the reader and distract from the main point of the song.

2. Inconsistent Rhyme or Meter

You don’t necessarily have to rhyme to make a good song. You can also be relatively flexible with things like meter. However, you cannot have wild swings with either element. For example:

                  The red duck is red

                  He hides under my bed

                  Next to my bed is a trunk

                  It opens with a solid thunk

The example above would be okay. The syllable count is similar enough (a deviation of a syllable or two isn’t overly distracting) and everything rhymes. This on the other hand:

   The red duck is red

                  He curls up on a blanket under my bed

                  Next to my bed is a chest

                  It opens loudly with a very solid thunk

Would definitely not be okay. It doesn’t flow well, and quickly abandoning a rhyming scheme is distracting. Again, in certain situations this could work, (for example, it could be used as a technique to increase tension or draw attention to a line), it’s just not something you should do without a larger purpose. This isn’t the most elegant analogy around, but hopefully it illustrates the point.

3. Being Overly “Artsy”

If you analyze the work of your famous poet, you’re most likely going to see that the complexity and beauty from their point comes from the subtlety of their language. They don’t use overly descriptive phrases to sound deep, because by doing so they remove the audience’s agency.

The reason that a lot of poetry and/or lyrics resonate so deeply with people is that the author leaves room for the words to resonate with the audience. They leave their work open to interpretation so that the audience can fill in the gaps with their own experiences or expectations.

There’s a famous story of Ernest Hemingway winning a bet with some friends to see who could write the best novel with only four words. His response was “baby shoes; never worn.” These four words tell a huge story because they’re so open to interpretation. The story you thought of when you read them could be about a couple who miscarried, or it could have been a variety of other situations.

The lesson to learn with this anecdote isn’t that Ernest Hemingway was awesome, (even though he was!), it’s that in order to have a piece of media that resonates with a variety of people you have to leave enough gaps for them to insert themselves into.

Bonus: Use Relevant Themes

This isn’t necessarily a tip to make a better song, which is why it isn’t getting a number of its own. Rather, it’s a way that you can help your songs become more popular.

Something you should strive for if you’re looking to appeal to a wider audience is writing songs with themes that are both relevant to a wide number of people (heartbreak, having a lame job, having a p.o.s. car) and easily identifiable in a song. There are countless examples of this, and pretty much every famous artist has at least one.

To do this, just pick something that’s happened to you in your life that happens to other people. If you have a tense relationship with your folks, write a song about it. If you had a significant other cheat on you, put your experience to music. Just make sure that the basic storyline is easy to follow.

In Conclusion

Writing a good song is hard, and writing a great song is even harder. While this article may not give you all the information that you need to start pumping out hits, it can give you a leg up on your competition.

And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun and write music that artistically fulfills you. We may not all get to be famous, but we can all have a great time playing music.

Production: Creating the Perfect Bass Sound

[Editors Note: This bass production guide was written by our friends over at Point Blank London, and was originally featured on their site. Check it out here for audio samples and more.]

 

Searching for the perfect bass patch can be an odious task. With such a plethora of synths and libraries out there, flicking through the almost endless presets to find what’s right for you is like finding a needle in haystack.

Getting something that works with any samples or chord progressions you’ve got, that sits nicely with your kick drum and still carries enough weight to shake those subwoofer cones can seem like a juggling act.

In this tutorial we’re going to explain how to create bass sounds and lines with powerful subs, thick mids and tops that cut through on any system. Download the project used in this tutorial here.

293198_2050105_spec_L

There are a myriad of dos and don’ts out there and you can spend more time tweaking than actually making music. In this article we’ll take a forensic look at how to build your basslines from the bottom up, from creating a penetrating sub bass, layering the mids and tops, getting it to bite in all the right places and processing it with your kick and rest of the mix.

Due to the low bass frequencies in these audio examples we suggest listening through good headphones or studio monitors to appreciate the nuanced programming.

Low-End Theory

Depending on which genre of music you’re working on, the bass might perform a different function; in house and techno, a weightier kick drives the track along, dictating the pace and feel. Basslines in these genres might contain more mid-range frequencies to cut through the mixes.

Drum ’n’ bass, dubstep and other bass-heavy music can contain much more bottom end and sub frequencies, underpinning your loop. Balancing your kick and bass can be an essential part of getting your track working. With weak foundations, you’re going to struggle to get the rest of the mix sitting comfortably.

To understand bass properly, there are a few key terms you will want to get your head around: amplitude, harmonics and phase. Amplitude is simply a term for volume, but it’s not to be confused with decibels (dB). It’s more akin to relative volume or power.

Harmonics are the name given to all the frequencies that go into making up a sound. The lowest, loudest note in your bass sound is the first harmonic (or fundamental). Any frequency above this will normally be a harmonic.

Harmonics are integer multiples of the fundamental frequency. If that didn’t mean anything don’t worry, the maths is simple. Let’s have a look at Live’s Operator instrument using Osc A. Below is a low A note (110 Hz) and I’ve adjusted the Waveform Editor, bringing in the next four harmonics one at a time. They are the frequencies, 220, 330, 440 and 550Hz.

First Five Harmonics

Just above Operator we can see Voxengo SPAN mapping frequency across our X-axis and amplitude across our Y-axis: you can quite clearly see each harmonic creeping in relative to the fundamental. To the right is an oscilloscope by Laidman & Katsura, this displays time across the X-axis and amplitude across the Y-axis.

The other concept we need to familiarise ourselves with is phase. There are primarily two places we’ll come up against this, the first of which is the start phase of an oscillator. Below we can see eight notes with their phase free running (the default of most synths) and with their phase locked to restart at 0º when a note is played:

Free

Free

Restarted

Restarted

As you can see without restarting the phase, each note has a different start position within the oscillators cycle, causing irregularities in volume and nasty clicks and pops.

The second instance of phase we’re likely to come across is relationship between the left and right channel. It’s highly recommended to keep your frequencies below about 100Hz in mono: any disparity in stereo spectrum here can be very noticeable, causing phasing issues when summed to mono and more irregularities in volume.

Creating a Sub Bed

While we might tend to think of basses as one sound we can sometimes separate their spectrums up further into complex composites – containing as many as three or even four layers – each requiring different programming, processing and treatment.

Flexibility with the sub, low-mids and mid range can be key in getting the right amount of punch, the bass cutting through the mix and retaining that all-important stereo image. Let’s start off with our sub frequencies.

The only way your bass is going to move air on the dancefloor is getting a good, meaty sub. Making a competent sub isn’t rocket science, as it requires very little understanding of synthesis and sound, but making a great sub just takes a little more. Let’s stay with Operator for now.

Osc A defaults to a sine wave, a waveform that contains only the first harmonic. This is good for sub bass as it’s clear and uncluttered. Ensure the phase restarts on 0º (0%) and change the Voices to 1 in the Global Shell.

Phase Restart

If you’re leaving the sub as the sole layer for the bass part then you can almost leave it untouched. I’ve added in -30dB from Osc B, which is modulating the frequency of Osc A. This adds just a few harmonics into the sound helping it cut through a busier mix and on smaller speakers.

Do this by enabling Osc B and turning the Level up to -30dB, or wherever you feel the sweet spot is. It’s good to check on a spectral analyser, though, as frequency modulation can sometimes overpower the fundamental frequency if you add too much in.

Osc B introduced

By increasing the level of Osc B we can create a brighter, sharper tone. You can shape the overall FM by reducing the sustain of the amplitude envelope of Osc B. With the level around -13dB, and changing the Coarse tuning to 4 (fourth harmonic), we can get an archetypal garage/UK house sound:

Garage Bass

Shaping the Low-Mid Tone

Once we’ve got our foundations laid we need to move on to the lower mid range, which is going to shape the body of our bass. Click on the Operator and hit cmd + G (or ctrl + G if you’re on a PC) to group the Operator into an Instrument Rack. Instrument Racks allow MIDI to be distributed to various different chains of synths and samplers and their combined signals to be processed and mixed individually.

Click on the Show/Hide Chain List and rename the Operator “Sub”. It can be muted for now while we concentrate on our midrange.

Show Chain List

Ctrl + right-click in the panel where it says Drop an Instrumental or Sample Here, click Create Chain and name it “Mids”. We’re looking for a synth that has a couple of oscillators and, while most any subtractive synth will do, I’m opting for Native Instruments’ Massive. Drag and drop it on to the Mids chain.

Massive’s default preset is using Oscillator 1 with a wave that’s harmonically halfway between a square and a sawtooth. It’s running into filters 1 and 2, and Envelope 4 is controlling our amplitude. Let’s set about getting it to a place where we can design our sound.

Move the WT-Pos (wavetable position, highlighted in green) fully clockwise to Squ and set the routing of the oscillator to F1 (yellow). Now click on the 4 Env panel and reduce the Attack to minimum and increase the Level to maximum (blue and red).

Massive Reset

You can repeat these steps oscillators 2 and 3 if you want.

In the Osc panel, click to Restart via Gate in the Oscillator Phases box. Much like Operator, Massive allows us to select the start phase of our oscillators each time a new note is received. If we were designing a pad or poly synth patch with unison detune it might not be necessary to take these steps, but for a lot of modern bass sounds it’s recommended.

Finally, in the Voicing tab, change the Voicing from Polyphon to Monorotate and the Trigger from Always to Legato Triller. These steps ensure the bass is monophonic and that envelopes won’t retrigger if two notes overlap.

Next I’m going to enable Osc 2 and load a sawtooth in. There are a few two choices here, the Squ-Saw and Squ-Sw II. Ensure the WT-Pos is in the right place and turn the amplitude up to just half way. This gives us a richer sound that is dominated by the odd harmonics provided by the square wave – plenty of middle and top end for out filters to bite on to.

Route Osc 2 to F1 and turn your attention to the filter section. I’m going to add the Lowpass 2 filter – this has a weaker slope than the Lowpass 4 giving it a smoother sound – which will sound great later on down the line when we start modulating it.

Set the Cutoff to about 8 o’clock and leave the Resonance as is. Before moving on I’ve added the Ktr (keyboard tracking) Macro to modulate our filter. This tracks the position of the filter according to the pitch, opening it as the pitch gets higher. Lastly set the >F2 to Series and the Mix to Mix1.

At this stage you can add a third oscillator in tuned up an octave or two if you want to. This won’t really add anything to the weight of the bassline but it might help it come across on smaller speakers.

In addition you could add some Sine Shaper from the Inserts. Experiment with their position before or after the filter in the Routing panel.

Filter

Filter Envelopes for Bite and Punch

Modulation comes in all shapes and sizes and by far the two most common sources are LFOs and envelopes. Let’s look at each in turn, starting off with LFOs.

LFO stands for low frequency oscillator, and this is a control value that falls within the 0.01 Hz to 20 Hz spectrum. We wouldn’t be able to hear these waves on their own, as they’re subsonic, but when applied to filter cutoff or volume we can hear their effect.

Their value is determined by a ‘rate’ and their modulation is bi-polar i.e it has a positive and negative part to the cycle. LFOs are great for tempo-synced modulation like dubstep wobbles, filter and frequency modulation as well as stereo tremolo on pads and rhodes-type instruments.

Envelopes on the other hand are unipolar and whereas LFOs are free running envelopes are gate triggered. Massive contains four envelopes and number 4 defaults to modulating the amplitude.

Commonly there are four stages in an envelope: the attack (time in milliseconds it takes to reach the maximum level from a MIDI note on signal); decay (time in ms after the attack has passed to reach the sustain stage); sustain (value at which the note sustains at); and release (time in ms the sound takes to reach zero again after a MIDI note off is received).

ADSR-2

I’ve used envelope 1 to control several parameters in our mid-layer. Here, I’ve used the shortest attack available and dropped the level (Massive’s terminology for sustain) and set the decay parameter to a value of 11 o’clock. The decay time might differ drastically depending on your tempo, where at higher bpms you might want a shorter decay time and at slower tempos you could get away with letting the envelope’s modulation breath a little more.

Decay envelope

We can add this envelope to as many different parameters as we like. Firstly let’s add it to our filter (which, if you remember, already has some modulation from the keyboard tracking). Setting the amount of modulation is key to controlling the harmonics that come through and therefore sets the tone of your transient. Having more modulation means the initial hit is brighter, and less, duller.

I’m also adding the same modulation to the Drive circuits on the two Inserts, for which I’ve used Parabolic and Sine Shapers. These add harmonics into the signal by folding over the upper portions of a waveform. One of these is placed before the filter and one after.

Lastly I’ve used Massive’s powerful Modulation Oscillator tuned up 19 semitones (one octave plus a perfect fifth above the MIDI input) and set to Phase modulate Osc 2. Sonically phase modulation is very similar to frequency modulation, and again adds a nice blast of complex high frequencies to our transient.

envelope mod

Macro Managing

We want this bass to be as flexible as possible so I’m going to set up some Macros within Live’s Instrument Rack to control our mids. Click on the Unfold Device Parameters and then click Configure.

Unfold

Configure

Now, anything you touch in Massive will populate this list. I’m going to add the filter cutoff, the drive and dry/wet from both inserts, the phase from our modulation oscillator and the level from envelope 1. If you’ve done that correctly it should look like this:

Config 2

Unclick the Configure button and assign these to Macros. I’m going to give the filter cutoff it’s own Macro named “Cutoff” and the dry/wet and drives of both inserts will be mapped to Macro 2, “Drive”.

The envelope level will be mapped to Macro 3, named “Env Mod” (because cleverly reducing the Marco to 0 will remove all of the envelope modulation), and lastly the phase will be mapped to Macro 4 named, “FM”.

colour code

Once they’re named and colour-coded, click Map and carefully set the ranges for each parameter. It’s good to have a MIDI loop running in the background whilst you do this. You want to set a minimum and maximum that are musical but allow some space for interesting automation later on down the line.

Macros

Top Layer

Now we’ve put the work into our mid-range let’s concentrate on the top layer. I’m going to duplicate my instance of Massive for mids by clicking on the chain and hitting cmd + d (or ctrl + d for a PC). Rename this new chain “Top” and solo it.

Aside from the patch being duplicated you’ll notice all of our hard work that’s gone into tweaking the Macros has been retained. Let’s edit this patch to get a more suitable top end. Firstly I’m going to disable the Oscillator Phases to Restart via Gate. I’m going to experiment with Unison Detune in this patch. Restarting the oscillator’s phases can sometimes create a nasty flanging sound when combined with unison detune.

I’m setting both oscillators to sawtooths now, matching their amplitudes and detuning them ever so slightly. The wider the detune amount, the faster beating we get. Beating is a fluctuation we hear when two oscillators are playing the same note but out of tune (you hear a similar effect when tuning two adjacent strings on a guitar together).

I’ve opted for +/- 20 cents. Next add in Osc 3 selecting the Scrim (Screamer) wavetable. Use envelope 1 to modulate the wavetable readout. I’ve gone for a range of 10 o’clock-5 o’clock.

Lastly for our oscillators, add in the Noise oscillator with envelope 1 controlling the amplitude. We want a blast of noise at the transient of the sound but having too much noise in the sustain stage will quickly muddy the sound up. I’ve chosen the Tape Hiss option here.

Oscs

Let’s turn our attention to the filter. I’ve left the settings intact but changed the algorithm to Bandpass. This works by isolating a band of frequencies, leaving us with a more aggressive but thinner sound perfect for our top layer. Set the Bandwidth and Resonance to about 9 o’clock.
In the voicing tab change the number of Unison Voices from 1 to 4 and enable the Pitch Cutoff and Pan Position, adjusting their values to taste. Pitch Cutoff will add some detuning to each voice and Pan Position will spread those around the stereo spectrum. Now our layer is starting to sound the part.

Bandpass

voicings

There’s not much more to do but turn our attention to the FX tab. I’m adding in a Classic Tube and Dimension Expander while shelving off some bottom end in the EQ tab. Keep a close eye on the Master as all of these distortions and unison effects can easily clip the sound unpleasantly.

Processing Layers Together

Now we have our three layers in place, we need to think about separating them so there’s as little overlap as necessary and each part occupies its own space in the frequency and stereo spectrum. As our sub is fine let’s start with the mid layer. Solo it and add Live’s EQ Eight.

I’ve high-pass filtered it fairly abruptly at 80Hz using the 48dB/Oct slope: this stops it interfering with our sub. I’m also going to add some compression to even out the level a little more and some limiting to deliberately clip the layer. You could add more distortions and modulations here but I’m going to reserve them for our top layer.

Solo the top and add an EQ Eight. Add Live’s Pitch plug-in from the MIDI Effects tab and tune it up an octave. This will transpose any incoming MIDI up an octave automatically – a great time-saving device! I’m again going to high-pass the sound, this time using the standard 12dB/Oct slope and high-passing at 180Hz.

I’ve also added Live’s Auto Filter (adding some extra low-pass filter envelope modulation), the Simple Delay (using short unsynced values of 30 and 80ms), some Reverb, Compression and Limiting. Here’s the top layer on its own now.

FX 1

 

Lastly I’m going to map the levels of each chain to a Macro, allowing me easier control over each layer, and the dry/wet of the top layer’s FX to my last remaining Macro.

MAcros final

Multi-Band and Parallel Processing

Now our synth is balanced internally we can think about processing it as a whole. The way Ableton nests Instrument Racks is clever but it means in order to contain any effects we now apply with our three existing layers we’ll need to re-group (cmd + G / ctrl + G) our current three layers into another Instrument Rack. Alternatively add an Audio Effects Rack after.

While we can use filters or EQ to separate frequency bands, it’s safer to use Live’s Multiband Dynamics as the bands are phase coherent and will minimise the amount og delay to any part of the spectrum. I’ve added three chains, each with a Multiband Dynamics, each soloing one of the Low, Medium and High bands. Ensure you label your chains for ease of use at a later date.

Now we can process these bands individually and adjust their crossover if you choose. STart by adding a Utility to the Low chain and reducing the width to 0%. It’s recommended to keep your bottom end in mono for nearly all applications and this plug-in can ensure that. I’ve also added Live’s Compressor with a slow attack and release with high ratio to tame the dynamic range a bit.

Mutliband 1

On the Mids chain I’ve adjusted the high crossover band to 1.5 kHz to narrow this range a little. Adding another Utility I’ve kept the Width at 60% and added some more compression with a much faster attack and release to match the quick envelope modulation of this band.

Lastly in the High band I’ve adjusted the Width of a Utility to 120% to spread the sound a little and added some light low-pass filtering around 8.5 kHz. After the Audio Effects Rack you can add in any further EQ you might want (to balance the patch specifically with your track), any compression, limiting and sidechain compression.

The patch is designed to be a jack of all trades and will require some tweaking of the Massive instruments and processing to get it to sit just right, so be liberal with adjustments. Hopefully this acts as a springboard to inspire you to create your own bass sounds too. Download the project used in this tutorial here.