Cheat Sheets

I’ve never really liked the term “cheat” when it comes to learning and doing things. When I was young, the expectation was to memorize everything, be tested on it and the more you remembered, the better grade you received and, I guess, the better person you were.

We were taught that using any kind of aid was cheating, and cheating was wrong. It was an automatic fail if you got caught finding a way to complete the questions you couldn’t remember the answer for.

At my first “real job”, I remember frantically trying to remember some piece of SQL code I had learned when a Dev said to me:  “Jesus, dude, just look it up”. I seemed to have forgotten that when I was building websites on my own, I constantly referred to my HTML and CCS books. By myself, this was ok. Being an actual employee made me believe I had to know everything. They hired me because I was smart or something so how dare I cheat?

Turns out that in the real world it’s called using a reference. It took me a long, long time to shake the mindset that not using reference material was the only way to go. There is simply too much to know at any given moment to be expected.

This is true with anything, including music. Whether you’re just starting out, or have been at it for most of your life, there is so much to know and remember.

Those people out there who seem to know their craft by heart? They’ve been doing it for a long, long time and they will always refer to resource materials as there is always more to learn.

It’s not cheating. It’s experience.

The Experts Guitar and Bass Cheat Sheet. This is a good one. It gives you the basics on what to cut, boost, or roll off for guitar and bass while also giving the simple reasons why. For example, on guitar cut a little  around 250 Hz to reduce overlap with the bass.

No-Name Music EQ Cheat Sheet. Graphical page showing the main frequencies between 50 Hz to 15 kHz and what a cut or boost on each will do for guitar, bass, and drums.

Drum EQ Cheat Sheet. I love this one. It’s a perfect starting point for mixing drums. I’ve used this cheat sheet to setup personal presets in my EQ plugins and always start with them tweaking (usually a lot) as I go.

EQ Cheat Sheet for Over 20+ Instruments. Need something a little more comprehensive? This one is for you. It covers general EQing as well as all manner of instruments; not just guitar/bass/drums.

The Frequency Spectrum… I use this one when I have keys of any kind in the mix. A good, quick glance cheat sheet.

As with anything, these are not magic and will not turn you into a professional mixer overnight. What they will do is help you get started and are great as a resource while you work. Bookmark them. Print them. Make use of them.

Remember to listen as you make changes to EQ. Don’t just boost and cut exactly where the cheat sheets tell you to and call it a day. Pay attention to what is happening to the sound as you work.

The Second Linux Recording

This one is all Linux. No WINE, no recording on Windows or Mac and bouncing over to this computer.

It’s Reaper and Linux native plugins running on Fedora

This few seconds is raw and not anywhere near a final mix. The drums are completely dry. The guitars are run through ToneLib. There are no plugins loaded on the tracks, buses, or master channel. I just “threw up the faders” and hit render.

All mics and DI were plugged into my beloved US-16×08.

Drums were miced as follows:

Still a work in progress, but it turned out much, much better than I anticipated when I started this whole experiment.

Working Around Issues

A few weeks ago I posted a small bit on Low End Tricks. One of those suggestions was to “Freeze/print tracks that are plugin heavy. In fact, freeze/print any track that has a set and forget plugin.”

This works fantastically. Here is a screenshot of the Reaper Performance Meter playing back 18 tracks and 2 groups/buses of a new tune I’m finishing up:

While there is not a ton of effects being used, each of those guitar tracks is being run through ToneLib GFX which I know from Mixbus can start using a good amount of CPU. So freezing (or printing or whatever you want to call it) helps out.

That being said, this can also come in handy for working around certain sticky situations.

While I love (love, love!!) ToneLib GFX, for some damn reason Reaper only seems to want to allow it on a single track. If I dare add GFX to a second track, Reaper crashes.  I’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on – the best I got was this long thread on the Reaper forums that didn’t amount to much, and that’s it (for now).

In the meantime I can use it on a single track without causing issues so I’ve been freezing tracks as a workaround. It’s not difficult and it doesn’t add any frustratingly unnecessary time to what I’m doing.

Here’s a look at some guitar tracks:

You can see that the FX toggle on the G-Clean01 track is enabled I have ToneLib loaded on that track and am actively working on the sound. The other tracks have greyed out media, lock icons, and say “freeze” on them. Those locked tracks are, for the most part, completed and I can’t do anything with them in this state past volume, pan, and playback unless I unfreeze them.

In its current state, if I unfreeze one of those tracks, it will bring back the ToneLib plugin and Reaper will crash. So if I do need to change something on, say, G-Heavy02 (tweak a sound, make a cut, etc), I have to freeze G-Clean01 and unfreeze G-Heavy 02. And so on and so forth.

Ideal? Not at all. This shit should just work. However nothing ever works 100% of the time, especially software. So instead of stamping my feet and whinging about it, I’ll just make do 1.

At some point a fix will appear. Or maybe not. Whichever happens, at least I can still work on my little projects relatively unhindered.


1: No, this is NOT because I’m using Linux. I’ve had just as much weird shit happen on Windows and Mac.

My Recording Rules

This is a picture of my music project binder:

The cover is a print out of this little note I made for myself in 2019 while I was in the midst of self inflicted mixing crisis. I no longer have the original note (or, rather, I have no idea where it’s hiding) but I still do my best to follow these simple rules when I’m working on a project.

      • Use the DAW as if it were tape.
      • Don’t overthink, never over edit.
      • KNOW YOUR PARTS.
      • 350.0 Hz is ugly.
      • If possible, no more than 24 tracks.
      • No more than 4 plugins per track.
      • Serve the song at all times, and at all times serve the song.

While it’s impossible to adhere to all of these all the time; perfection is the enemy of the good and whatnot, this list has served me well especially working on older equipment.

Remember that less can be more and working with your limitations will always help see you to the end of whatever project you’re working on.

Impulse Responses

*Updated 10/15/2022 to include Linux Studio Plugins.

When I first really got started recording instruments, I began hearing about something called IR’s and had to dig to find out what they were. I was a late bloomer it seems.

IR stands for Impulse Response. Essentially an IR is a recording of a sound (like a guitar) played though a speaker (cabinet) in a environment (ie: studio live room) through a specific microphone. The final recorded file is just a wav or an aif with wav being much more common.

You load up your IR file into an impulse response loader, which is added to a track that contains a DI guitar and an amp sim of some sort, and the IR mimics the sound of the cab/microphone/room that was recorded.

IR’s are a must have if you’re using straight up amp sims on your guitar tracks. Normally amp sims on their own don’t sound super great; they’re very dry and don’t have a ton of “character”. Stick an IR of, for example, a Fender Tweed Champ 58 on the track and you’ll notice a big difference right away.

IRs can also be used for reverb. Similar to the idea of capturing a sound of specific amp/mics/rooms, reverb impulses capture the ambiance of specific places be it a famous concert hall, the space under a bridge, or even a school hallway.

While there are a ton of IR loaders out there, both paid and free, as with everything else, a good percentage of them are for Windows and/or Mac.1

All is not lost and there are Linux options, and they’re damn good.

Continue reading “Impulse Responses”

The First Linux Recording

Here is thirty seconds of my first, official, render from Linux.

Notes:

      • Current hardware setup: Tascam US-16×08 into HP EliteBook 850 G3 running Fedora Jam 36.
      • Drums were recorded via Reaper on Windows the week before I started moving everything over to Linux. No processing was done to the drum tracks after the initial recording.
          • Once I got Reaper running on Linux, I exported the raw stems and imported them into Mixbus 32c
          • Plugins used: ACE EQ and Compressor on the drum bus and the kick and snare tracks. All other drum tracks were mixed using only the inline Mixbus EQ and Compressor.
              • Reverb bus 1: ACE Reverb.
              • Reverb bus 2: Gverb 1
      • Some guitars (base rhythm tracks and some melodies) were recorded via Reaper on Windows (DI run through GuitarRig 6 Player) before the move.
          • Like the drums, the stems were exported and brought into Mixbus.
          • I kept the GuitarRig processing on these tracks because they sounded good, and I wanted to use them as a reference while I dug into ToneLib GFX.
      • Remaining guitar tracks (additional rhythm and melodies, bridge guitars) were recorded via Mixbus (DI straight into the Tascam) and run through ToneLib GFX.
      • Bass recorded via Reaper on Windows before the move.
          • Bass was not a DI, it was recorded by micing the amp (Ampeg PF-350, TC Electronic BC212, SM-57).
          • No processing on it before the stem export.
          • Once in Mixbus, the tracks were touched up with ToneLib TubeWarmth and the Mixbus inline EQ.
      • Slight EQ, compression, and saturation on the master bus; no plugins, just the track controls.

All tracks that had plugins, especially guitar tracks with heavy hitters like ToneLib GFX, were frozen/printed to cut back on system resources.

The full song, music wise is finished and recorded. Lyrics were completed this past week and I’ll be laying down vocal tracks over the coming days.

It’s been well over year since I completed When Something Appears so it’s nice to get something done even if it’s just a single song.

 


1: I think Gverb is included either in Mixbus or Fedora Jam. I do know it’s by Juhana Sadeharju and I can’t find anything on it other than this bit at RTcmix. No matter where it came from, it’s fantastic.

Software Alternatives

Is there a hard and fast rule on what software you need to use? According to big tech, yes. There is only Windows or macOS! There is only Photoshop! There is only Office!

As Big Tech gets bigger and swallows up smaller companies, the landscape for software can seem pretty one dimensional and expensive unless you’re willing to do some digging and be skeptical about how you procure these products.

I’m already a little off the beaten path with software mainly because I loath the subscription model when it comes to applications. I don’t mind subscriptions for services such as music/video streaming or online storage; I subscribe to Spotify and Netflix (the originals!). I also have online storage and password manager accounts.

For apps though, I just don’t agree with the subscription model. I like to pay for an app and be done. Some subscriptions are kind of ok; Microsoft 365 is good because you get Mail (sans advertising), all the Office apps, and a terabyte of OneDrive 1 storage for a decent yearly price so you’re getting a full package of stuff. Some are meh (Adobe), and some are downright awful (I’m looking straight at you, Pro Tools).

The bright side to all of this is that you can still  buy apps that are just as good, or often times better than the flagships.

Continue reading “Software Alternatives”

Universal Stupid Bullshit

There has been some ballyhoo of late over the EU’s regulatory decision to force phone hardware companies to use strictly USB-C connectors for charging.

The quick and dirty is that the EU wants to force hardware manufacturers to make charging ports on all phones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers, and handheld video game consoles USB-C.

Uh-oh. Sounds like they’re trying to stamp out innovation, kill competition, and shut down Christmas all at the same time.

Continue reading “Universal Stupid Bullshit”

Low End Tricks #1

When recording and/or mixing music on lower end or older computers, the following tricks are important:

      • When mixing, increase your buffer size to around 4096 or so depending on how many tracks you’re working with. It may need to go a little higher.
      • Freeze/print tracks that are plugin heavy. In fact, freeze/print any track that has a set and forget plugin.
      • If you need to record a last minute track (a vocal harmony or a little guitar weedly-doo) disable/mute everything but the bare minimum needed for reference and drop your buffer size as low as possible.
        • As an example of bare minimum: disable all drum tracks except the overheads and disable all guitar except the base rhythm tracks.

The Easy Part Is The Computer

I’m going to add a little more to my post from last week. Yes, yes I’ve whinged and kvetched about computers here many times but I’ve been rethinking my relationship with technology quite a lot over the past few weeks.

Up until the past year or so, I’ve been what you would call a die hard Mac user and had been since around 2007. Apple was my jam. The house is filled with MacBooks, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV’s, Apple Watches, and HomePod mini’s.1

I still have two Macs but one is at deaths door and the other is so slow it’s been relegated to being a lowly media server.  In the meantime, I’d been researching new machines and using my work computer, a Dell XPS running Windows 11, as a stopgap – and we all know that using your work computer for personal shit is never a good idea.

While I’m somewhat interested in MacBooks, I’m no longer the fanatic I once was. Apple made some design and pricing decisions over the past few years that soured my taste. Touchbars, USB-C, shitty keyboards, $500 wheels, $1200 monitor stands … you get the picture. Some of their recent designs are good (well the MacBook Pros anyway), and the Apple Silicon chips are interesting. Yet while I was considering saving and getting a MBP, in the end I simply could no longer justify the prices Apple is asking for their computers. So instead of spending a small fortune on a new MacBook Pro started looking at the PC market.

After years of deriding Microsoft, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Windows is actually really good now. Especially Windows 11. Sure, there’s cruft, legacy garbage, and weird design decisions hanging out in the background, but there is cruft, legacy garbage, and weird design decisions hanging out in the background of any operating system.

The work Dell I’ve been using would be a really nice computer if it wasn’t so prone to hardware issues. At the beginning of of the year I had to run the gauntlet with Dell Support. Three motherboard replacements later and currently the trackpad doesn’t work if the laptop is plugged into power – and this is a $2500+ laptop.

I also am partial to Lenovo ThinkPads but one of those would also run me a couple of thousand dollars.

And then I got to thinking: do I really need to part with that much money just to get a computer, any computer, that can handle basic music production and light video editing?

“Marketing, marketing, marketing. Everything is Better! Faster! Thinner! Lighter! New new new! Forget about what was out just a few months ago! Check out what we have right now! It’s better!”
– Every Tech Company That Exists.

So I started looking at the second hand and refurbished market.

Here is what I found:

      1. Companies market to us in order to get us to buy new and stigmatize anything second hand/refurbished.
      2. Thanks to this, people rely on new items way more than we should which, in turn, is creating massive amounts of e-waste.
      3. There are way more second hand/refurbished options out there than I think anyone realizes.
      4. It’s all good stuff.

So count me in. Here I am on my refurbished HP laptop and everything is going just fine.


1: I’m severely disappointed with the HomePod mini’s.

Pros:

    • They look good.
    • They sound great for their size.
    • They pair and work ok with the Apple TV. Sometimes.

Cons:

    • Siri is just  as useless as it is on the iPhone and it’s the only way you can control the HomePods.
    • The setup and settings in the the Home app is non-intuitive garbage.
    • They only work half the time when mirroring a Mac to the Apple TV. 
    • When starting a move on Apple TV more often than not, they’ll forget they’re connected and there is no sound for nearly two minutes. Then they’ll remember the ATV and sound kicks in.
    • They constantly lose connection with each other or the Internet.
    • They only work with Apple Music. As luck would have it, I was trying out Apple Music this summer and let me tell you, calling up music on the HomePods was shaky at best. It would ether play the wrong thing, or try and play it on the TV. More often than not, I’d hear “There is a problem with Apple Music please try again later”. I canceled my Apple Music subscription because I found it in no way better than Spotify and it never worked as advertised on anything past my iPhone. It sucked on the HomePod and the Apple TV and my computers. The Mac app is merely ok. There is no dedicated Windows app so you either get iTunes or the Apple Music web interface (both of which are garbage). You know what Spotify has? An app for Windows, Mac, and Linux. And they’re all fucking great.