Mixes and masters fixed 🎛 #mixing #mastering #AI 

A few months ago I had already referred to the remastered 🍞 BROTESTSONGS. But I was still a bit mistaken. Separating the work between musician and sound mixer is actually the professional standard – and also the division between mixer and mastering engineer. Sound is an idiosyncratic wave, and until I became more involved with music recording and editing in 2016, I didn’t even know the term ear fatigue. Actually, I’m used to creative work shifts of 14-18 hours. In the case of music, time constraints, however justified, are juxtaposed with the fact that you shouldn’t spend endless hours mixing and mastering because you can get used to the nastiest sounds.

So after I had already re-uploaded tracks two or three times – which fortunately is possible in digital – I saw a need for improvement again after weeks and finally hesitated longer and longer until I could give myself the ❗️ Go for the 🖱 upload.

Besides a few rookie mistakes that I had already overcome in more recent work, I simply underestimated the effort of mastering in the more difficult cases. Many means in mixing the various instrument tracks to an output file are identical in mastering. However, their application is sometimes quite different. And it is a matter of getting to certain measured values for the Internet platforms, so that the normalized volume values there make the own piece seem just as loud as what runs before and after (“loudness war”).

Now I think that both 🍞 BROTESTSONGS as well as ➗ ROCK DOTS shine in new splendor and waft and fly along in pastel to gloomy 🔊 vibrations.

I’ve written a few 📓 school essays on digital music editing basics here on the blog before. There’s not that much general coverage on this because most listeners aren’t that interested or need to be interested in the technology. But I find it exciting to learn about it, after the piano lessons of my childhood and youth, I first had to deal with this kind of recording only in a few experiments in my school days. And there it started with a Fostex four-track device that recorded onto a conventional audio cassette. That remained tedious, and suitable processing only slowly became apparent to me when I experimented with Adobe Audition for voice recordings several years later.

You have to get through many discords until even the more difficult cases have taken acoustic shape. Still, it’s huge fun, because the step-by-step optimization feeds the brain with enough moments of reward.

And then there’s digitization: The 🎸 GRÜBELBACH project has also been an experiment with digital working tools from the very beginning – productions without an elaborate recording studio, completely in the box, as they say about this thing with processors and a screen. It’s a particularly blatant example of cost-cutting via digitization: equipment technology that you can still buy today for tens of thousands of euros and for which you need your own physical rooms is emulated as a digital plug-in for the basic programs (“Digital Audio Workstations”, DAWs, in my case Cubase Artist). And after so quite a few tutorials I watched on YouTube about it, there is probably hardly a professional today who prefers analog technology alone for editing.

I have absolutely no star-fang, but why not listen to people who can be said to know how it’s done? A chat with producer Rick Rubin and Neil Young covers the interplay of analog and digital – and concludes, as does everyone really, that you can still benefit from wonderfully warm, velvety, bouncy characteristics in recording. When it comes to post-processing, you won’t be able to do everything with analog technology that is now possible digitally – conversely, you can let blind tests demonstrate that the preference for analog mixing and mastering is more attributable to nostalgia than to perfection in craftsmanship. Even in the digital plug-in, the “Analog” setting is often the best choice – but it’s just a algorithmic replica of all the transistors and tubes that used to be a voluminous device. And these virtual replicas are now considered perfect and equal.

Moreover, those who are not in this field are amazed by the discount battles: Plugin manufacturers are constantly luring users to their websites with promotions, and the special offer ranges up to 90% off prices. Some top-notch plugins are completely free to get your brand talked about.

With the latest revamp, I hope I have the essential digital toolkit together. These are select free and purchase plugins. There was not a bad purchase in the process. Everything recommended to me in tutorials on 🟥 YouTube is incredibly practical, elegant and refined programming technique. There are programmers at work who work with the utmost meticulousness and adapt the virtual switches and knobs to the necessities and playfulness of mixing and mastering engineers.

For all these plugins there are most detailed reviews on YouTube. That’s why I’d like to take this opportunity to at least mention a few of them that have amazed me the most recently – and that help me to achieve the desired results even without extensive and expensive training just by learning by doing – finally … 😇 “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) is not a marketing gimmick either – it is, like digitalization as a whole, a fundamental upheaval of everything that has existed up to now. Some expertise can already be replaced with it today. Fortunately, I’m still skeptical about whether this will be limitless – because mixes and masters are very individual, and the appeal here remains, for the time being, what I consider to be genuinely human originality. But the fact that you can standardize certain edits, because you can at least rule out what doesn’t work, is immediately obvious. And that is a good thing. Otherwise it unnecessarily costs time by always repeating the same procedures.

iZotope Ozone is a program package (not only) for mastering, which I do not yet use in version 10, which again has more AI content:

(I tend to use the individual Ozone modules in Mix and Master rather than the AI Assistant, though. Maybe I didn’t make enough adjustments of my own, but in comparisons I tended not to get the results I wanted during the assisted run – or at any rate turned some things off again. This should certainly be somewhat different in version 10, because logically the automation increases, and also concepts of other individual products from competitors (like the ones mentioned in the following) find their way into new modules. From iZotope I also use the somewhat more for mixing designed modules of Neutron (still in the previous version).

The production of plugins is dominated by Anglo-American companies. That’s why I’m glad that for persistent problems I finally found two manufacturers from the German-speaking area.

These are once the smart plugins by sonible from Graz, Austria. With them you can read a few seconds of the mix output or individual tracks, and most of the settings are done behind the facade with very reduced controls. One can concentrate on adjusting only the measure of these settings according to one’s own hearing.

And don’t forget the free Balancer from sonible! (No paid advertising!)

A similar approach, but with slightly different parameters in the interface, represents the product simply called Equalizer by Wavesfactory:

Errors in my previous uploads were interference effects, which can quickly grow into intolerable noise, creaking and popping in the last step of mastering at maximum volume. So far, only soothe2 from oeksound, with which the equalizer is compared in the previous video, was considered the ideal solution. (I can say unequivocally: Equalizer is a very good option for individual steps of the interference suppression, but actually not to compare with the EQ curves of soothe2, which are manipulated by the mixer itself and can also be adjusted for stereo sides or center and sides, or the new competitor that follows immediately).

However, if you wait for discount promotions, you can certainly also get the new competitor on board for the normal price of soothe2. I have used both x times, and as with actually all noteworthy alternatives, I always find that both are worthwhile. The algorithms are not the same ones that automatically find this or that glitch, and then you can knead them back and forth with intuitive curves and sliders until the sound is clear. (You can’t do this without patience and care, even on a computer).

We are talking about the DSEQ3 from the German manufacturer TBProAudio.

In a whole series of versions of what is certainly the most essential tool of the equalizer, I can mention as a somewhat late discovery the Kirchhoff EQ from Plugin Alliance. I have so far renounced the likewise tempting Pro-Q from FabFilters for cost reasons. In detail, there are a few differences, but in the more complicated cases, the Kirchhoff EQ in manual processing has immediately become the first choice for me.

And then there’s RESO from Mastering the Mix. Yet another EQ, yet another concept, partially automated. Again, a few seconds of the track are analyzed, and the plugin sets a series of cuts in the frequency spectrum. These points are at positions from the mids up. Of course, you can move them around and add quite a number manually, as well as play back the extracted frequencies for all or each of them. Especially suitable for too harsh highs.

As I said, I could go on and on here, and all the older and newer products I’m using now I would describe as outstanding and insanely fun for music tinkerers.

When I review my experiences of the last months, a very special creation can be mentioned as a worthy conclusion. I admit that among the big international acts I have a faible for quite a few older and newer tracks by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which – concerning music production – led me not only to Rick Rubin, but also to the lesser-known mixer Andrew Scheps, who at times cooperates with Rubin and mixed some well-known RHCP hits.

Scheps is very forthcoming and thus (at least on the technical level 🧐) a good counter-example for secrecy in the media industry. Mixing and mastering in its individual application can only be learned anyway and cannot be copied 1:1 from anywhere. That’s why Scheps’ motto is: help people to help themselves, stimulate creative and playful interest. And by helping himself to optimize his workflow, he produced a four-module plugin with the manufacturer Waves, which had to strike me again in a different way than the ones just mentioned: the Scheps Omni Channel.

You can hear him explain this in a well-versed and nimble manner in the video. I can perhaps summarize here that one of Omni Channel’s strengths is implementing the AI trend already hinted at in a very sophisticated way: intuitive user interfaces on which a reduced number of knobs can be tried through until it fits. In Scheps’ case, the mode of automation is not least the combination of its many years of experience and the implementation of certain combinations and characteristics of preferred device technology behind a single knob. These knobs are very sensitive in Omni Channel – a small change does a lot, and a full turn of the knob takes you through the maximum range of desirable modifications.

Not to be overlooked is the fact that each module can be flipped open – and you can also differentiate the settings in the doubled control for three different stereo modes (though the plugin also comes with a mono variant).

Wow. So suddenly Scheps is involved in your own effects chain – and you can hear it (at least I hope that it has done good for GRÜBELBACH and I definitely have this impression).

Conclusion: Pardon for a few discords, which had come through there at first. Due to all kinds of life circumstances, I’ve been doing all this completely on my own so far. And the time when I decided to learn guitar and release recordings after the keystrokes of the first decades of my life had only come with this digital revolution that has been going on in the last few years. Among many worrisome developments on this side and on the other side of the screens, this is a good, productive, beautiful example of the inseparability of art and technology.

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#Mixing Essentials (0) 🎛 | Prologue

Music is made. Music from loudspeakers still in a different way than the one someone plays on his instrument in the real room.

Accompanying everything else on the blog, I’d like to share with you a few glimpses into the engine room of music production – as a series of articles called “Mixing Essentials” that will continue here over the next few weeks. The focus will be on what’s new: even the now-established means of analog recording technology have almost completely transitioned to digital (with a few points of contention among experts).

GRÜBELBACH is so far a studio project. Behind acoustic guitar, human voice, electric guitar, synthesizer and a few ‘real’ microphones, the digital world begins with a simple interface, a small case with jacks and USB cable to the computer.

We are now talking about digital program solutions almost everywhere in the recording world. Even the classical ensemble can no longer do without digital editing tools, starting with the first editing steps.

In principle, this looks like this on the computer screen:

cubase projektfenster

I currently work with Cubase 10, and industry standards are Logic Pro (for Apple users), Ableton Live and Avid Pro Tools. Newer products of this kind are Studio One and Reaper (here at bonedo an overview of such programs). These are “digital audio workstations” (DAW). They replace on a personal computer the formerly space-consuming apparatus of amplifiers, effects units, tape recorders and mixing desks. What remains are the tracks arranged one above the other with their clips (corresponding to snippets of tape), as well as all kinds of buttons to the left of them, which are used to access the aforementioned functions. Each audio track also has the so-called “Automation” fold-out, in which, in addition to volume, various effect parameters can be controlled – mostly variably on the timeline. To the effects one says equivalently “Plugins”.

The German-language term for “sound mixing” is nowadays usually called “mixing”. The same means are then applied in a final work step in usually smaller number and strength in the “mastering”. In the professional music business, these processes are usually distributed among several heads. Depending on the effort involved, there are of course specialized sound and recording technicians there who still have a lot to do with physical equipment. In terms of working time, there is also a serious difference between recording a drum kit with several microphones. The more you do digitally, the less unwanted interference effects you can expect.

Stylistically, of course, there’s a big difference, although as you go more and more analog, recorded sounds can sound more and more technical. At several points – during recording, in the transfer to the DAW, and in the post-processing of individual tracks or the entire project in mixing and mastering – a wide variety of equipment can also still be used, for which plug-ins are now available as a substitute. Some mixing engineers hear differences and swear by their traditional analog standards.

One more pair of terms is worth mentioning: In DAWs, there are two types of tracks – waveform audio and MIDI tracks. The former should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a visualization of a sound wave. MIDI means “Musical Instrument Digital Interface” and has been in use since 1982. These are signals that are transmitted mainly with keyboards or synthesizers – technically completely unambiguous indications of which tone is played for how long, sometimes with which velocity modulation. According to the almost infinite sound worlds of the synthesizers, all kinds of instruments can be emulated, from the piano to the individual parts of a drum kit.

The individual sound events are then displayed in the DAW in the clip as narrow stripes, to which the volume is annotated below as a vertical stripe:

cubase midi spur
Cubase MIDI-Spur

Since after the eras of vinyl records and CDs music is nowadays transported to the listeners mostly via the internet, a few conditions of music production have also changed in the creative-sound-technical field. The most important term is the “loudness war”. On the one hand, there are partial regressions in playback devices, so that any song should sound halfway acceptable through simpler notebook speakers or even mono speakers from mobile phones. Each platform also uses its own algorithms to adjust the supplied sound files to a consistent volume level. In order for music to sound rich and sufficiently loud in comparison under these conditions, the familiar means of mixing, which will be the subject of the following articles, must be modified and amplified to some extent.

If you are a professional with time and money, you can make such efforts as you like and have fun with them. In any case, we see a technical development that deserves the name “revolution”. It makes possible namely by simplifications in the handling, the program-technical implementation into the computer, ergo drastic cost reduction: the application by all interested ones – in the first place naturally those, which make music themselves.

The following articles in this series give, mostly with the help of individual of the many video tutorials on YouTube, an overview of the most important design tools that are used in current music production.

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