I often get asked to share more of my music with readers of my site and blog. Here's a new song from my latest recording project that I recorded in LA a few weeks ago, called "I'm Gone".
A huge thanks to my producer Gary Gray who mixed, mastered and orchestrated this one. Oh he also sang background vocals and played drums too!
I'm singing lead vocals and playing all the guitars....
Let me know what you think in the comments. Happy New Year!
In this blog, HowToLicenseYourMusic.com’s resident producer Gary Gray, based in Los Angeles, lists 3 excellent tools you can use immediately to get better sounding tracks and increase your chances for Music Licensing Success.
Over to you Gary. . .
Thanks Aaron! I know most people who spend time trying to improve their mixes for Music Licensing have limited time, so we’re going to get right into it:
Here are three mixing tools that I have found invaluable in getting music licensing deals actually closed.
⦁ MAGIC AB
Magic AB is a plug-in made by a company called Sample Magic that allows you to instantaneously compare your current mix or master to commercial recordings. You can load up to 9 commercial recordings into the plug-in. For details on how to use this plug-in (or any questions concerning this blog) feel free to email any of your questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
There are some incredible tips and tricks that I use while using the Magic AB Plug-In that I would more than happy to share.
⦁ Mid-Side Recording Techniques and Plug-Ins
If you already fully understand what Mid-Side means and have successfully used this technique with two microphones during the recording process, and are familiar with mixing and/or mastering with Mid-Side plug-ins, congratulations! You can move on to #3. If you are not fully conversant with this technology, Mid-Side technology, techniques and plug-ins can open up a whole new world for you which can immediately make your tracks sound more like commercial tracks and increase your odds for licensing success.
In fact, I devote two entire chapters of my 30 chapter book, “The Home Studio Bible” to just Mid-Side Technology, Techniques and Plug-Ins – Chapter 26 “Unraveling The Mystery and Unveiling The Secrets of Mid-Side Technology,” and Chapter 27 “A Summary of Mid-Side Technology and Techniques for the Home Studio Producer/Engineer.”
Teaching the microphone technique itself would require much more than a single blog. But the good news is this, you don’t need to know a single thing about the recording techniques of Mid-Side technology in order to understand and immediately start using Mid-Side techniques for mixing.
Using Mid-Side techniques, and even talking about Mid-Side technology is often shied away from for one simple reason. The name of this technology and technique is, in and of itself, extremely confusing and misleading!
It’s unfortunate that this technology was not named correctly – describing what it actually is and what it actually does.
Technically speaking, this technology and technique should be called:
MIDDLE-SIDES or CENTER-SIDES.
RATHER THAN MID-SIDE.
Let me help you unravel this subject, as I do for all my interns and students, so that you don’t get caught in the confusing trap that many producers, engineers and musicians find themselves in regarding “Mid-Side” technology.
First of all, as shown above – MID in this case does not refer to the same MID that we normally use in music production and audio engineering – namely Low, Mid, High: referring to EQ or frequencies, such as the mid frequencies. We are NOT talking about mid frequencies when we are using the term MID-SIDE. We are not talking about ANY frequencies when we talk about MID-SIDE.
MID in the term MID-SIDE means THE MIDDLE, OR CENTER, OF THE SONIC PICTURE. It means precisely: The actual space between two speakers in a stereo set-up, and the mind’s perception of that center space.
When you use the term SIDE in MID-SIDE Technology, you are actually referring to a plural – TWO SIDES, not one singular side. You can see in the illustration above what MID-SIDE really means visually.
It means you can split the sonic picture of what you are mixing or mastering into two parts:
A – The Middle or Center. The space between the two speakers in front of you.
B – The Sides (PLURAL) – BOTH the Left AND Right SIDES of the stereo picture in front of you – literally the two spaces outside the speakers – both to your left and to your right. It’s important to understand that we are talking about something that you cannot divide or separate – the SIDES are not something you can “pan” to the left or to the right. The left and right SIDES in MID-SIDE are always equally strong, equally loud – BOTH the left and the right together – excluding the center or mid picture.
If you sat in front of your speakers and pointed to each speaker, and then moved your arms outward to the left and the right, that would be the SIDES picture we are talking about.
For instance, did you know that with MID-SIDE techniques, you can boost your Kick and Bass Low Frequencies in the MIDDLE – in the center space between the speakers, and cut the lows on the SIDES? This focuses the kick and bass, adding punch and clarity in your face, while taking the low frequencies out of the SIDES, taking away a muddy aspect of your mix, where you can focus nicely on things such as guitars, or synths or background vocals and get a really nice wide commercial sounding mix!
AND – you can use MID-SIDE techniques on many things, such as reverbs, delays, parallel compression, side chaining – the list goes on and on. The more you experiment, the more you can discover techniques to use for your mixes.
But it all comes down to understanding the exact meaning of the term MID-SIDE.
Among other great plug-ins utilizing this technology is a plug-in many top pros use – Izotope Ozone. This can be used for mixing and/or mastering. If you’re on a tight budget, there are some really good free mid-side plug-ins available as well, such as the Voxengo MSED.
⦁ MUSIC THEORY AND THEORY WEBSITES
You might wonder why I’m listing Music Theory as a “tool” that you can use to improve your mixing and/or mastering.
The more I produce and engineer, the more I mix and master, the more I teach and the more I learn – one thing becomes crystal clear. The more you understand about Music Theory, the better your mixing and mastering will be.
In fact, that’s worth repeating:
The more you understand Music Theory, the better your mixing and mastering will be.
It is ALSO true that you don’t need to know everything about music theory to improve your mixing and mastering. So, don’t worry if you never went to school or if you don’t know a thing about music theory. You can STILL make a great living with music licensing if you don’t.
What I’m pointing out here, is that you can do BETTER the more you know about music theory. I saw this happen in my own career, and I see it happen with every intern or student I’ve ever taught.
If you want to be different and “break the Music Theory rules,” that’s totally ok. But you won’t even know when you’re breaking the rules if you don’t know what they are.
Every student I teach learns more about music theory, no matter what else we work on. And when I listen to their mixes, it’s undeniable how much that knowledge helps. And this is true in every genre.
And here’s some incredible news that can put some amazing tools right into your hands so that you can immediately increase your knowledge of music theory in such a way that your mixes and masters will improve starting right now.
Here are some excellent websites you can use right now to immediately increase your knowledge and application of Music Theory:
Knowledge and discipline will result in boosting your confidence in mixing and mastering – and it’s the confidence that will increase your odds for success. I’m all about increasing your confidence. That’s my passion and my labor of love in the music industry. Anything that cuts your confidence down, that lessens your drive and ambition, I am 100% against. If I see something that causes confusion, or someone spreading incorrect advice, I’m all over it. My personal mentors and teachers, such as Phil Collins, Ramnad Raghavan, Phil Ramone, Quincy Jones, and others have passed that passion and labor of love to me, and because of it – it’s only right that I pass it on to others.
With just the three tools above, you can immediately improve your mixes (and/or masters) and increase your odds for music licensing success. Good Luck! And write to me and let me know if you have any questions and tell me about your successes.
Los Angeles, CA
13 December 2015
This blog features the first in a series of free video tutorials by HowToLicenseYourMusic.com’s resident producer Gary Gray, based in Los Angeles. The series is called “7 Minutes To Better Sounding Tracks.” This premiere video features 3 excellent tips you can use immediately to get better sounding tracks and increase your chances for Music Licensing Success. You'll also get a sneak peek of one of my new songs Gary is currently mixing and mastering.
Gary is giving away a free hour long Skype session and also mastering one track for free, to everyone who signs up for my upcoming 180 Day Music Licensing Challenge by December 14th. Learn more here.
Over to you Gary. . .
Thanks Aaron! I recently moved closer to Hollywood (I’m now an hour south) and so built a new studio. Three months after I moved, I had no other choice but to build another studio and hire two people to keep up with the work. One area that has really taken off in a big way is teaching producer/engineers world-wide how to properly mix and master for Music Licensing.
In fact, I have a large case-study of music licensing successes being delivered to me in January from students who have signed up for HowToLicenseYourMusic.com and who have taken the music production courses we offer – laying out the number of licensing deals landed and money made.
One of the reasons teaching has taken off so much, is that I’ve had the fortune this year to work directly with Music Publishers and Music Supervisors in the studio. This was the direct result of face-to-face networking (including some very effective networking with Aaron Davison in Los Angeles & Hollywood while he and Michael James were here to record Aaron’s upcoming EP at my studio).
Aaron’s first single I produced was picked up for an exclusive licensing deal with a major publisher in L.A. – within 24 hours of release.
Almost every person I speak to who submits music for licensing has a common frustration – not only do they rarely find out exactly why a track gets rejected when it does (so they can correct what they are doing and improve), but they sometimes don’t even know why their tracks get accepted! (So they can strengthen their successful actions!). Working with Music Publishers and Music Supervisors in the studio has now given me a constant “finger on the pulse” of why tracks get accepted, and why they get rejected – in the music licensing world.
As a result, I’m able to give you an “insider’s look” at why tracks are accepted or rejected for licensing. With this new perspective in mind, I’m launching a new free blog/video series called “7 Minutes To Better Sounding Tracks.” This series concentrates on how to mix and master music in order to increase your chances for lucrative licensing deals.
This blog can be read on its own, or better yet, acts as a guide to the video. You can watch the video below:
Let’s get right to it:
1. Using The Tone Generator To Create Commercial Sounding Mixes
Most recording programs (D.A.W.’s) come with a Tone Generator. For those that don’t, legitimate free plug-ins are available, such as those on the KVR Audio website.
A Tone Generator is just that – it’s a plug-in that generates tones of specific frequencies and volumes, and sometimes this includes white noise and pink noise. A Tone Generator can be used musically. One way to use a Tone Generator musically is with lower frequencies -- to increase the quality of the low end of a recording.
I watch students (and this happened to me as well) progress in their career and move up to higher levels as they pass certain milestones in their mixing and mastering careers. One important milestone is:
Becoming proficient and confident in matching commercial recording quality standards - in the low end.
It’s all about that bass.
Beginning and intermediate mixers tend to conquer the mids and highs relatively quickly. It’s the low end that can be a real challenge.
Adding a Tone Generator “Bass” track to your mix can be a big step towards conquering that challenge.
2. Carefully Adjusting The Volume & Energy Level of Each Bass Note
The low end frequencies cause a speaker to move back and forth a lot more than higher frequencies. You’ve seen videos showing how bass speakers can move physical objects like sand and particles and create some amazing geometric patterns in doing so. Depending on the source of the sound, certain bass notes can “sound louder” and “feel more powerful” than other notes using the same synth patches or acoustic instrument sources. You can even “see” this phenomenon in those same videos. What you are seeing visually is the concept of “sound pressure” in action. It’s what causes you to literally feel bass notes on your body. The more distance the speaker moves back and forth, the more sound pressure.
Even though designers and manufacturers of instruments, synths and speakers have done all they can to even out the volume, energy and sound pressure of all notes, one cannot assume while mixing, that this will be the case. This is because the way low frequencies react with
⦁ Other higher frequencies in a track,
⦁ The listening environment, and most importantly,
⦁ The mind. (Psychoacoustics)
Certain phenomena occur in the physical universe and in the mind of the listener when it comes to low frequencies that can make your tracks sound inconsistent, and anything but competitive with commercial tracks – unless understood and controlled with precision by the person mixing.
There is no “one size fits all” or “magic button” approach to mixing – especially with the low end.
Basically, you want to be able to put a steering wheel on that “low rider.”
Each song or instrumental piece you compose, arrange, record, edit, mix and master – is like a snowflake. No two are alike. Nor is any single recorded instrumental track or vocal track fully predictable in terms of how it will react with other tracks and/or other effects within this unique relationship. And so mixing requires experimentation, patience and some knowledge of what to listen for. The more knowledge, the less time it takes.
But, again, there is no shortcut.
The higher the rewards (pay) for the licensing deal, the more meticulous the mixing needs to be executed (with rare exceptions).
Music for a reality television program requires less meticulous mixing than film score sound track music or music for a trailer.
When it comes to your work ethic, part of that meticulous work should be done with your eyes closed, sitting or standing away from your computer and mouse. Hit play, and then step back or sit back and close your eyes and listen – and feel (literally) the low frequencies in your track. Then do the same with similar genre commercial tracks, and compare the two. One great tool you can use to do this instantaneously is the plug-in Magic A/B, where you can load up to nine commercial tracks with which to A/B. My mixing reached a much higher level of quality by using that one tool.
Sometimes, I’ll A/B the low end with just my subwoofer turned on. (By the way, it’s best to have a subwoofer, or at least good studio monitors that can generate decent bass frequencies). It’s quite a challenge to conquer the low end with headphones, though it’s not impossible. Just ask Skrillex. (Hint: you’ll need to use really good headphones). It is pretty much impossible to conquer the low end through laptop speakers or smartphone. Those speakers just don’t move back and forth enough to allow you to hear all the lower frequencies. You should definitely check your mixes on ALL systems, but conquering the bass fully requires a system that efficiently demonstrates the sound pressure levels actually occurring in the lowest end of the sonic spectrum. (From 20 Hertz [cycles per second] and up)
The point is, if you relax and take the time to listen (preferably with your eyes closed) over and over while A/B’ing, the quality of your mixing will increase greatly. Being impatient or overly anxious about finishing your mix (I know it’s sometimes hard not to move on to the next thing) can keep you from reaching your licensing goals. The good news is, the more you do it, the faster the process gets – but – remember there is no substitute for attention to detail.
It’s amazing to think how simple it is -- that the one thing you need to do more of in order to reach the highest level standards of mixing in our industry requires no education, no training and no tutorials – yet most people don’t do enough of it:
Listening. Only listening. Hands on nothing. Eyes on nothing. Just listening. And comparing. By Listening.
In the video, you can watch as I use a tone generator in an actual mixing session to set up a sort of “shadow track” in the low end. The root tones of chord changes, and/or the exact notes played by the regular bass guitar or bass synth(s) can be automated in the tone generator by inputting the frequencies of the desired notes. You can search online for charts showing frequencies (in Hertz) and corresponding notes. Here is one such chart:
What you want to do is to fill out the lowest frequencies in a pleasing and consistent way. You do this by first adding the frequencies with the Tone Generator, then meticulously adjusting the volume and energy of each note, (this could require automating more than just volume – things like EQ, Soft Clippers, Maximizers, etc) and finally carefully mixing in the other bass elements of your song or composition. When you do this correctly, the result is a great feeling of confidence that doesn’t go away, and hearing people say “wow, I wish I could get my low end to sound like that – it sounds like a commercial release!”
3. “Performing” The Mix With Meticulous Passion And Musicality
I use the phrase “meticulous passion” – which may seem like a contradiction -- because every famous person I have ever observed, whether they were involved in sports, business, education, music, cooking, etc. – had these two things in common. They were meticulous. And they were passionate. At first I thought these two things were separate actions – first they planned and prepared meticulously. And then they executed passionately. But taking a closer look, I saw that they carried out these two traits simultaneously.
Before digital recording, whenever a band recorded in a studio equipped with a mixing console that was not automated, the mixing process often required the entire band to “perform the mix.” It was “all hands on deck” literally. And if you were in the room watching the motions those band members went through while hitting mute buttons, sliding faders up and down, and calling out cues, you would swear you were at a concert! There was that much passion going on. And, yes, it was all done with major attention to detail (meticulous execution).
I used to think my mixes were fully done before I learned about “performing the mix” – and then I realized there was a lot more I could get out of the entire mix – and not more “sonic perfection” -- No. We’re talking about emotional content, dynamics, soul, passion, heart, spirit, whatever you want to call it – it’s the raw stuff that artists are made of – the blood, sweat and tears of art itself. If you go back through your “finished” mix, and simply “perform” each instrumental track (at least the most important tracks in the mix) and the vocals, by automating aspects of each track such as volume, reverbs, delays, eq’s & other effects, the results can be night and day between the “before” mix and the “after” mix.
NOTE: This isn’t something that should be overdone, because small adjustments can make a huge difference!
I don’t think this needs more explaining. I think you got this one clearly. Try it out and let me know what kind of results you get!
Some of the greatest mixing engineers and producers in our industry have all shared the above “icing on the cake” procedural tip with me. In fact, when I spoke with Steve Lillywhite (Grammy Winning U2 Producer) in Hollywood two years ago, he told me that basically, this is pretty much ALL he does during a mixing session. He doesn’t dive deep into other aspects of the mix. He makes sure the recording is solid, and then he meticulously and passionately “performs” the mix.
And know this: it’s not because musicians don’t perform passionately or that recordings aren’t done well. It’s because the media of speakers and electronic sound reproduction require attention to detail and intense dynamic human interaction to create an emotionally moving and satisfying experience for the listener, one equal to an actual live performance. This holds true in all genres. And that is your goal.
It’s not how many notes you play or sing. It’s how much passion and heart you bring.
Write to me if you have any questions and with any successes you achieve from applying the tips above!
Los Angeles, Ca
5 Dec 2015
Gary teaches a select group of students via Skype and Teamviewer (a free app for you) that allows him to securely control your computer remotely from Los Angeles while you “watch over his shoulder” as he demonstrates mixing and mastering techniques on your mixes – on your computer in your home studio, while communicating on Skype. He then has you demonstrate the techniques yourself right then and there, until he can see (and hear) that you fully understand what you are doing and can consistently mix and master with confidence. To get a free hour long Skype session with Gary, register for the upcoming 180 Day Music Licensing Challenge by December 14th. More Details.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.