Recent posts: Aural.Node
long time no see!
Just recently, I listened to an older episode of the excellent cd baby podcast, the DIY Musician Podcast, in which Kevin and Chris talk about 12 mistakes artists often are making with their websites – and, apparently, me included!
One of those mistakes being not to update your homepage on a regular basis!
So here it is, the sign of life. I’m still active, still making music (in fact, the remix edition of my last ep just got released). This latest release is performing quite well, it got recognition from giants like Nick Warren and even was charted by Hernan Cattaneo.
Plus, I have some unpublished tracks I’m going to put out there for you guys. I just haven’t decided wether I sign them with a label or not. So good things are happening, and even better ones are about to happen. Whoop whoop!
Ok, so why didn’t you guys hear from me in so long? The reason is as simple as it is joyful: I became a father, and parenting is my main occupation until our baby boy goes to daycare.
So hang in there, I’ll keep posting bits and stuff more regularly, or should I say regularly – period.
Talk to you soon,
No, it’s not April’s Fools, and most of you know this probably already.
The demand for Vinyl records is on the rise. That, per se, is a good thing. As unsexy schlepping the black gold to a gig was, as sexy Vinyl records are as objects for audiophile hipsters.
The problem with the continuously rising demand is that vinyl pressing plants can’t keep up with the demand because they lack capacity. In fact, this went so far that pressing shops stopped to accept new customers and record labels opening their own plants.
But there is good news! In some random warehouse in Chicago, Chad Kassem of Quality Record Pressings, found 13 vintage presses from the 90s.
This may sound like a bag-of-rice kind of news, but since new presses aren’t manufactured anymore this becomes kinda important news for vinyl lovers.
Many electronic music producers use SoundCloud these days to reach their audience. In fact almost every one of us uses SoundCloud to get music to our audience. But SoundCloud is so much more than just a simple music streaming platform, it’s a great way to get in touch with your audience and get exposure. It is such a mighty tool, you cannot neglect it.
Although SoundCloud offers much more than just simple streaming, it’s nevertheless all about the music. That’s why you use SoundCloud, be it as musician or producer or as listener. As a producer, you want your music, your product, distributed in the best way possible, you want to reach your audience with the best you can offer. That does not only apply to your song’s production quality, it applies also to the quality of the streamed audio.
This is totally understandable since SoundCloud’s purpose is to discover awesome new music and to get in touch with your audience and not providing an audiophile environment.
In this article, you will learn why streamed music on SoundCloud does not sounds as great and what you as a producer or musician can do to make up for this. In fact, you will learn what to do to achieve better sound quality for most audio streaming platforms like SoundCloud, Spotify or Pandora.
Poor Audio Quality
If you have listened to a song on soundcloud before, and if you have moderately trained ears, you have surely noticed the poor audio quality of SoundCloud’s streaming.
This is no surprise: SoundCloud state on their helpdesk that every song is transcoded into a 128 kbps joint-stereo mp3 file, and that is pretty much the worst quality imaginable (I’m talking, of course, from a 2015 perspective). Yes, if you enable the download option on your track, the source file will be made available for download, but since some of you still want to sell your music, you might not want that option enabled.
So, there’s a technical aspect to the audio quality, but it doesn’t end there. If you want to deliver the best quality to your audience, you have to think from their perspective: how do your followers listen to your music? They probably don’t do it with top-notch equipment at their hands, they probably don’t even hear your music using proper speakers. A quick look at your statistics will show everything you need to know about your audience: in my case, roughly half of my followers listen to my music using mobile devices. Probably while they are on the road and/or using the mobile device’s built-in speaker. The other half plays my music using soundcloud.com, and the chances are pretty good they don’t do it in the studio or on hifi-equipment.
Yes, I know it’s dire. We put so much effort in providing great sound, but we do have to face it: listening habits are nowadays based around mobile devices, and this will soon be the main platform where people enjoy our music apart from the club.
What to Keep in Mind
So what’s the huff, you might say, I’ll just render it as 128 kbps mp3 and upload that one! Sadly, this won’t do it. SoundCloud will transcode your file no matter what, and a low-quality mp3 file that’s transcoded a second time will only improve things for the worse.
What I suggest is that you make two masters: one for all applications where you need high quality (lossless downloads, cd/vinyl masters, etc.) and one for streaming purposes.
I don’t want to cover mastering in general in this article, I’ll stick with what differs from the usual mastering process if you produce a master for the preconditions stated above.
First of all, it’s important to have a basic understanding about how compression works with mp3 files and how this affects the sound. For starters, there are three basics to know:
- The stereo signal is analyzed and the left/right channels are compared with each other in order to join what is similar. There are several techniques allowed for mp3 encoding, but the basis of all these techniques is to find out what information is redundant and can be discarded. You can find out more about joint here.
- According to the human’s hearing threshold (Fletcher-Munson curves, see image below) parts of the audio signal within a range of reduced audibility will be reproduced with lower quality.
- Signals masked by other signals (auditory masking) will be encoded with reduced precision.
The lower the bit rate of the mp3, the more information is lost.
You can find detailed information about mp3 compression and what parts of the signal is lost in the process, including A/B comparison, on Ryan Maguire’s great homepage: The Ghost in the MP3
The second complex to keep in mind is the hardware used for playback. It’s not important if we’re talking about mobile phones or tablets here, if we’re talking about built-in speakers or bluetooth gear. It’s most likely the device used for playback doesn’t offer the frequency range a studio monitor or even a low-range hifi-speaker offers.
Mastering for SoundCloud
The first and most important thing to keep in mind is the reduced frequency range. As stated above, parts of the audio signal that are in a range of reduced audibility will be reproduced with lower quality. That is why high frequencies often sport bad, almost ear-crushing artifacts in low-quality mp3 files. Also, the mp3 codec uses a filter to cut the signal at a specific frequency depending on the bit rate chosen. At 128 kbps, we’re talking about a high-cut at about 16 kHz. But if we have a look at the Fletcher-Munson curves, there are low frequencies too that are within a range of reduced audibility. Also, playback on a mobile phone with most headphones or even the built-in speaker means a significant loss of frequency range.
So the first step would be to apply a high-cut filter at 16 kHz and a low-cut filter at a frequency you can bear without losing to much of your groove.
The second step is to reduce stereo complexity. Mono compatibility is something you should always be aware of during the mixdown or even during sound design, but if you do use a stereo imager during mastering, don’t go crazy on it.
The last step is something that can’t be fixed in mastering, so I guess it’s not correct to address it in this article. But anyways, since most of us do this as a one person show, keep in mind to keep your song clean and don’t clutter things up. Remember, signals masked by other signals will be encoded with reduced precision, so EQing properly and separating your instruments in terms of frequency is crucial. This will not only give you less artifacts and a better sounding mp3, it will help you achieve a better, pounding and well-produced sound.
After applying these steps to your song, bounce it lossless in high quality and upload that file to SoundCloud so there will be as little as possible loss during the transcoding.
If you keep these simple steps in mind, you will produce better sounding tracks for SoundCloud and in fact for any other music streaming platform.
What are your experiences? Have any hints for us at hand on how to improve your sound quality on SoundCloud? Leave a comment!
The Danger of Getting Carried Away
As I described earlier on this blog, one of the common mistakes often encountered by beginner producers just as advanced producers, is getting stuck in the process while creating new songs.
You’re loading a synth, play around a little, step through the presets, keep what you like, add another instrument, go on doing the same over and over…You`re jamming, you’re throwing together sounds you like, you’re eqing, working on the sound, create a cool bass, some drums, a nice melody… You make a nice and cool couple of bars and without even noticing it, you manoeuver yourself deeper and deeper into the realm of king Stuck-a-Lot. If you’re expert on getting stuck, it could well be that you even add a mastering processor to your master chain. In the end, you have a 15-20 seconds long hook line that rocks your house, but unfortunately, that’s about it.
So as time goes by, you produce one unfinished idea after another, and if you’re a sensitive and tender character (which is fairly common among us artists), this could easily affect your self-esteem.
„Why can’t I never finish a song? Why is making great songs so easy for everyone else?“ you might hear asking yourself.
Well, let’s at first have a deeper look on what you actually do during the process I sketched above. The process can, of course, differ from what I’ve stated above, but it’s highly probable the pattern is the same.
Why You Get Stuck
Let’s analyze what you actually do when you go through a process like the one I described:
- „You’re loading a synth, play around a little, step through the presets, keep what you like“ – that is what is commonly understood as sound design, sound selection
- „You`re jamming, you’re throwing together sounds you like, […] create a cool bass, some drums, a nice melody“ – also known as arranging
- „you’re eqing, working on the sound“ – you’re mixing
- „If you’re expert on getting stuck, it could well be that you even add a mastering processor to your master chain.“ – That’s mastering
So, you do lots and lots of stuff being actually different things, and you do it all at the same time.
This becomes even more obvious if we have a look at how music production works with other kinds of music: sound design, arrangement, mixing, mastering – those are areas with whole professions built around them and those are usually done by different people: the sound designer, the composer, the mix engineer, the mastering engineer.
With electronic music, this separation between all those different roles is no longer necessary. This is a great thing because it allows a whole new level of creativity. You have all the tools you need at hand, you can do everything yourself, and the knowledge how to it is just one click away.
But it is also very demanding and has a lot challenges of its own, one of them being mixing stuff up and getting lost in the process. Being an effective electronic music producer with a solid amount of creative output demands a high level of self-discipline and self-control.
How not to Get Stuck
The simple answer might come to mind immediately:
Don’t mix up the different roles!
As you can imagine, it is not so easy to do this as it is on the paper.
If you are designing a sound, it is very likely you touch the channel fader to adjust the volume. Maybe you add an EQ to it. Also, it is perfectly possible that you add a quick beat and sketch an idea of a melody in the process. How should you design a sound if you don’t hear it in the context of the other sounds?
You see, it is not possible not to mix up and keep everything separated. But that’s ok!
The key is to keep your focus: If you are adding just a simple low-cut and roughly adjusting the level, it’s ok. If you are tweaking the EQ to eliminate or boost a single band, you’ve switched roles.
So, constantly check what you are doing.
Yes, self-discipline, self-control, check what you’re doing – it’s easy to say that you should do that, but actually doing it and sticking to that principle is much more difficult. Is there a way to make it easier for you?
Good News: There Is a Way!
What actually helps a lot is establishing a timely separation. Establish a daily routine for doing those different tasks. We’re all human beings, and as such we can achieve the best results by cautiously listening to ourselves and doing things following a ritual.
So, get up every day at roughly the same time. Listen to yourself what time is best for you. For me, I’ve established that if I get up when it is still dark outside, neither my mind nor my body will work well. But it works the same way vice versa for me: sleeping long into the day is not good either.
Then, start with sound design. You don’t need to figure out every single sound yet, like spot fx or stuff like that, but assemble a tool kit that will enable you to create the major part of a song. Don’t worry, if you discover later in the arrangement process that you need another lead synth, or a pad, you can always go back. Think of yourself as an artisan. You will need a different set of tools if you’re going to paint a wall compared to the set of tools you need if you build a chair.
Once you’re finished with sound design, take a break. Take a break and get away from the screen, even away from your studio. I’m an outdoorsy person so what I do is go for a run in the nature for an hour or one and a half. Demanding work from my body helps me to clear my mind and to leave stuff behind me. Off course, you should not exhaust yourself in a way that you’re done for the day.
If you’re not into sports, take a walk in the nature. Getting your body to work plus a dose of daylight is an unparalleled creativity booster. Besides, it’s the most effective anti-depressant known to man 😉 If you really don’t like to be outdoors, the least thing is getting away from the screen. Grab a cup of tea, meditate, whatever does the job for you.
The key is listening to yourself and giving your body and soul what they need. Replenish spiritually.
A great inspiration for this approach can be found in this video about Minilogue.
Then, get back and start with your song. Leave sound design alone and start arranging. Try to get into flow and ideally finish the song (or at least the basic framework of the song) in one day. Working concentrated and creatively on a song for several hours can be hard and is often very exhausting, so really try to get 80% of your song done in one go. Mixing, adding spot fx, polishing etc. can safely be done the next day.
So to sum up:
Keep your tasks separated
Always check on what you are doing
Even Ice Cube knows it 🙂
You gotta check yo self before you wreck yo self
Congratulations! You decided to get into techno music production, to get into producing the most exciting kind of music. A kind of music with almost no other common denominator than the complete absence of any rules.
This, by definition, allows endless possibilities and restricts your creativity in no way. If nothing else, this is at least overwhelming. Imagine yourself having to create a whole universe with unlimited possibilities at hand. What to do first? Where to start? And should the first thing to do be buying that expensive analog synthesizer you’ve read about in that interview with dj megalomaniac the other day?
Although there are (almost) no rules, there are some best practices that can help you start your journey off the right foot.
I won’t get technical in this article, so I won’t recommend any particular software or tool to you. It’s meant to give you a basic guidance on what to focus and not getting carried away.
Most of the pros producing techno music have a serious studio with lots and lots of gear. How can you create tracks as awesome as theirs if you don’t have that kind of budget and/or gear?
The first thing to remember, and probably the most important one at all: equipment doesn’t make music. All that gear you see in large studios, all the great pieces of engineering with lots of knobs and displays… those are tools. They won’t compensate for a lack of creativity.
You’re a musician, and as a musician you need an instrument – and that’s about it for the start. What counts are your ideas, your music. A huge pile of hardware won’t make any great music by itself. Think of other arts: a designer doesn’t need more than a simple pencil to express his or her ideas.
So, start simple. What you need is an instrument – and nothing beats a computer in terms of versatility, possibilities and value for money. I don’t want to get into the discussion whether you should buy a PC or a Mac, a laptop or a desktop computer – all things considered it’s a matter of preference. If you’re on a budget I suggest you get a PC. You will simply get more bang for the buck, plus there is more free software available for the pc.
Keep it simple
Speaking of free software – there is so much available, so many free tools of high quality right at your fingertips, it can overwhelm you. But you don’t need much to get great results. Remember: it’s the musical idea that counts, not how many tools you use in the process.
Don’t get carried away. Since there are no limits, set your own limits. Like: don’t use more than 3 effects. Or: don’t use more than 3 different synths.
Restricting your possibilities is a creativity booster. It’s so much better to only use one instrument/tool and know it very well than using lots and lots of different plugins and not digging any deeper than switching presets.
Stick to the basics
What you read next may sound obvious. But as obvious as it is, it’s a common mistake I see beginners make.
If you’re new to creating electronic music, concentrate on creating music! Don’t worry about stuff you hear very experienced producers talk about, like for example mastering. It’s called mastering for a reason – it’s the last step in the process, it’s the icing, the cherry on the cake. If done correctly, it’s done by incredibly experienced people with extremely sophisticated ears and gear.
There is no plugin you can hook into your software that will turn an uninspired and boring tune into a banging smash hit. So, stick to creating awesome tunes.
Finish what you start
If you’ve started producing, it’s very likely you have tons of unfinished stuff cluttering your disk. You open a new file, start to make a nice beat, add a groovy bass, a catchy chord or melody, create great sounding 4, 8 or 16 bars – and get stuck. Better luck next time, you think, and do it again and again. Over time, this will make you feel (maybe unconsciously) unsatisfied and unproductive.
This is because every time you get stuck and start over, you fail a little. This will affect your self-consciousness and your self-esteem.
You can turn this around by finishing what you start. But how? How can you finish what you start if I get stuck in the process?
The thing is, composing is not as much as an intuitive and flowing process as you might think it is. It is, in fact, a rather cognitive and technical process. If you’ve got 8 or 16 bars that rock, it’s very likely you can make a solid 5 minutes long song out of it.
The key is to listen to songs of other people very analytically. Are all the relevant elements there from the beginning? When does the bass start? When do the hihats set in? How does the song evolve over time? Listen very carefully to the structure of the song, feel free to take notes (that is in fact what I did the first few times – it doesn’t matter if you use „correct“ terminology, it’s meant for you only) and try to recreate the structure with your song. I don’t say you should finish every quick idea you sketch, especially if it doesn’t rock you, but if you think the loop you created is good and makes you wanna dance a little, you should follow through. It will give you a great feeling of accomplishment and will boost your self-confidence.
So, when you’re producing your next song, keep in mind to keep it simple and finish what you start. Let’s get cracking! 🙂
It’s a MIDI controller, its two step sequencers and a drum sequencer. It can control MIDI devices as well as C/V devices at the same time and can be used as an USB controller on top. And still it’s smaller than one of those gigantic bars of Milka chocolate.
The best thing about it – function aside – is it’s price. 299,-! Can you believe it?
Now if I only had a Vermona DRM1, a SH-101 and say a TB-303… 😉
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Korg reveals a triumvirate of retro vibe with the annoucment of an analog step sequencer, the sq1, a keyboard-less version of the MS20 kit and a recreation of the legendary Apr Odyssey.
There really is not much to say about this as those names should speak for them selves, so I’ll keep it short and give you some pics 🙂
Modular synthesis is on the rise, and has been for quite some time now. There is a considerable market and the end of that trend is not yet in sight.
This might have been the trigger why Moog, the company that once started it all, hopped on the train and returned with their modular systems, the „entry-level“ Model 15, the midrange System 35 and the behemoth System 55.
I’m not so sure why they waited that long, but if you look at the price tags (10000 $, 22000 $ and 35000 $) the thought that the main motivation for that late market entry might not be a decision to bring awesome, new, innovative technology but rather to milk a fat cow. The corresponding keyboard and sequencer come at 800 $ and 8600 $.
So if your budget is 44400 $ and you want to invest in a keyboard, a modular rack and a sequencer, you will be able to finance a wall of racks beyond your wildest dreams, full of innovative, crazy modules – rather than a recreation of the sound of the 70s.