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Understanding Audio Effects: An Overview of Types and Uses

This guide to understanding audio effects aims to provide an overview of commonly used audio effects and basic ways they can be used to enhance your music.

An Overview of Audio Effects

In this guide, we’re taking a step back to the basics in order to give our beginner students and readers an overview of commonly used audio effects and how they can be applied to enhance an audio signal. If you’re just starting out on your audio production journey, you’ve most likely come across several effects in your gear or software such as delay, reverb, distortion, compression, phase, flanger, pitch shift, ring modulator, filters or various other effects. This article aims to get you familiar with these terms and provide examples of general uses. In future installments of this series, we will get a bit deeper on specific types of effects. For now, we begin at the beginning…

What are Audio Effects?

Audio effects are analog or digital devices that are used to intentionally alter how a musical instrument or other audio source sounds. Effects can be subtle or extreme, and they can be used in live or recording situations. A good example of audio effects are the “stomp boxes” that many electric guitarists use to achieve their desired sound. By chaining together many different types of effects, a musician can sculpt a unique tone and enhance their music in many ways. Almost all popular music benefits from the creative use of effects, especially electronic music which makes liberal use of these devices. With proper treatment, audio effects can really bring your music to life and take the listener to new sonic spaces.

A Brief History of Audio Effects

Modern day effects are all a result of the evolution of technology and the advent of recorded sound. Around the Mid 1940′s recording engineers started to use reel to reel tape machines to create delays, echoes, and sound effects. In addition to tape, microphone placement and movement were found to create sounds that had not previously been recorded. In 1948 Harry DeArmond, creator of the first guitar pickup created the first stand-alone effects processor called the Trem-Trol by running the electric current of the signal through liquid to create a tremolo sound. This device was used by Bo Diddley and led to more development in the guitar industry of the 1940′s and 50′s where guitar amplifiers started to introduce vibrato and reverb effects. Reverb was initially created by driving an electrical signal into a metal plate or spring to create multiple echoes or reflections of a sound.

Back in the studio, recording engineers started to use echo chambers to create echo effects or a unique tone to their recordings. Echo chambers were usually long, low rectangular spaces made from sound-reflective materials such as concrete. They were fitted with a loudspeaker at one end and a microphone at the other to create an echo effect that was used on many recordings to enhance vocals. As they were often custom-made, these echo chambers became the sound signature of a given studio at that time. As technology developed, many reverb devices allowed for an electronic re-creation of the echo chamber effect. Equalizers and compressors arrived in the studio in the 1950′s and 60′s with the Pultec equalizer, which defined the sound of many recordings of that era.

Hardware and Software Effects

Today’s audio effects devices come in both physical and digital form. Audio signals in an electrical format are processed by physical analog hardware whereas audio signals in binary format (digital) are processed mathematically by software. Both methods can achieve similar results. In the physical world, effects are usually rack-mounted devices that have cables running to and from a mixing board or they can be something like guitar effect pedals which receive a signal from the instrument and then alter the sound as it flows to a mixer. On the digital side, you can find effects in most music recording software packages. DAWs such as Ableton, Logic, Cubase, and ProTools all come with audio effects built-in. Other software packages like Reason, Maschine, Traktor, Audacity, Peak, and Soundforge come with audio effects as well.

Ozone 6

Audio effects are often simple devices that do one specific thing to a sound, although multi-effects processors are also popular for those who want many different effects in one package. It is also worth noting that many instruments, such as synthesizers come with effects built-in to the machine.

Dynamic Processors

Dynamics effects alter an audio signal based upon its frequency content and amplitude level; hence the term “dynamics” since the processing is program dependent and ever changing. Dynamic effects can greatly enhance your mix, but they are sensitive devices that require attention to detail. The four most common dynamics effects are compressors, limiters, gates, and expanders.

LA2A

Compressors

Compressors reduce the volume of loud sounds or amplify quiet sounds by compressing an audio signal’s dynamic range. Compressors are often used to make recordings and live mixes sound more polished by controlling maximum levels and maintaining higher average loudness. In addition, different hardware and software compressors have their own signature sound that can be used to introduce pleasing coloration and tone into lifeless tracks. Compression can also be used to subtly massage a track to make it more natural sounding and intelligible without adding distortion, resulting in a better sounding mix.

Limiters

Limiters are a type of compressor designed for a specific purpose — to limit the level of a signal to a certain threshold. Whereas a compressor will begin smoothly reducing the gain above the threshold, a limiter will almost completely prevent any additional gain above the threshold. They are commonly used to increase perceived loudness or used as a safeguard against signal peaking (clipping). Limiters are often used in conjunction with a compressor — the compressor provides a smooth roll-off of higher levels, and the limiter provides a final safety net against very strong peaks.

Noise Gate

A noise gate or gate is used to control the volume of an audio signal. Comparable to a compressor, which attenuates signals above a threshold, noise gates attenuate signals that register below the threshold. In its most simple form, a noise gate allows a signal to pass through only when it is above a set threshold. They are often used to reduce noise artifacts like a hum, hiss, and vocal pops.

Expanders

Expanders are used to increase the dynamic range of an audio signal. They perform the opposite of how compressors work by reducing the volume when the signal level falls below the threshold and increasing the volume when the signal level goes above the threshold. Expanders are often used to make quiet sounds even quieter on mixes to fix noisy recordings.

Distortion

Distortion effects are great to recreate the harmonically pleasing sound of analog or digital distortion. Distortion or saturation effects typically simulate the sound created by vacuum tubes, transistors, or digital circuits. Vacuum tubes were used in audio amplifiers before the development of digital audio technology, and they are still used in musical instrument amplifiers today. When overdriven, they produce a type of distortion that many people find musically pleasing. Analog tube distortion adds a distinctive warmth and bite to the signal.

IZotope

There are also distortion effects that intentionally cause clipping and digital distortion of the signal that is sometimes gritty. These effects can be used to to radically transform any type of audio to produce an intense, unnatural effect, or to create sound effects. Applying distortion or saturation is an excellent technique used to fatten up sounds and help them cut through a mix better as well.

Time-Based Effects

Time-based effects alter the timing of a signal which can create short or long bursts of sound. They are often used to shape the depth and dimension of sounds within the mix. Common time-based effects include delays and echoes, reverbs, choruses, flangers, phasers, pitch transposers, and harmonizers.

Each type of effect manipulates and modulates the signal over time in their own unique way. Essentially, they capture a portion of an input sound, delay it slightly, then play it back. The lengths of time for which they delay the sound, as well as in the complexity of the resulting delays are the main differences between the various types of time-based audio effects.

Filter Effects

Filter effects are simple, ubiquitous audio tools that should be a part of every producer’s arsenal. Their purpose is to alter the frequency content of an audio signal. They are used to emphasize or suppress frequencies in an audio signal, resulting in a change to the tonal color of the audio. There are a variety of advanced filter-based effects that can be used to creatively modify audio. There are also a variety of filter types including lowpass, highpass, bandpass, notch, and special morphing filters.

SoundToys

Lowpass

A lowpass filter (LPF) attenuates content above a cutoff frequency, allowing lower frequencies to pass through the filter. Lowpass filters are used to remove high-frequency content.

Highpass

A highpass filter (HPF) attenuates content below a cutoff frequency, allowing higher frequencies to pass through the filter. Highpass filters are used to remove low-frequency content.

Bandpass

A bandpass filter passes frequencies between its two cutoff frequencies, while attenuating those outside the range. The opposite is a band-reject filter which attenuates frequencies between its two cutoff frequencies, while passing those outside the ‘reject’ range.

Note: Equalizers (EQs) are also a type of filter. However, they are typically not used as creative effects, but rather a tool to refine the frequency spectrum of a sound or mix.

Modulation Effects

Modulation effects are more complex and are often used to add motion and depth to your sounds. Modulation involves modifying a source signal by another source. Effects such as chorus, flanger, phaser, ring modulator, and frequency shifter are well-known examples.

U-he

Modulation effects typically delay the incoming signal by a few milliseconds and then use an LFO to modulate the delayed signal. The LFO may also be used to modulate the delay time in some effects. There are also modulation effects that involve pitch. The most basic types of pitch modulation effects are vibrato and tremolo. These type of effects use an LFO to modulate the frequency of the sound.

Pitch Effects

Typical pitch and time effects include pitch shifters and harmonizers. These effects modify the pitch of a sound by adding new frequencies to a signal or by simply altering the pitch by a pre-designated musical interval (transposition). Pitch shifters are used to raise or lower an audio signal by octaves or a range of interval alterations. For example, a pitch shifter set to increase the pitch by a fifth will raise each note seven intervals above the notes being played.

WavesTune

A harmonizer is a type of pitch shifter that combines the “shifted” pitched note with the original pitch to create a two or more note harmonies. Pitch correction is another common use of pitch shifting used by auto-tune effects to correct inaccuracies in a vocal recording or live performance.


Mixing and Mastering Program

Transform rough ideas and basic compositions into dance floor bangers and sonically pleasing commercial quality masters. Learn the well-kept industry secrets of EQ, compression, panning, level balancing, reverb and special effects.

Mixing and MasteringAbout This Program

This program gives you everything you need to refine tracks into a clear commercial quality release, including special mixing and mastering techniques for dubstep, techno, house, trance, downtempo, hip-hop, and the gamut of electronically-produced music.

You will learn to mix and master your tracks using the same plugins that top industry engineers use every day, including plugins by Izotope, Soundtoys, Sonnox, Altiverb, and more.

What’s Included

  • Mixing & Mastering Level 1: Mix
  • Mixing & Mastering Level 2: Modify
  • Mixing & Mastering Level 3: Master

Additional Information

Visit the Mixing and Mastering course page for detailed information on this program here.

If you have questions, please call 877.DUBSPOT or send us a message.

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IMS College Malta Round Up with Pete Tong, Eli & Fur and More

Nine years since its foundation in Ibiza, International Music Summit has become a global institution. While the homegrown conference continues to be the landmark event, its spread its wings around the world, setting up shop in Singapore, Los Angeles and now one of electronic music’s new homes: Malta.

Taking a slightly different slant, IMS College Malta focussed on education, and who better to head up the programming than Point Blank? We were invited to host panels, workshops and networking sessions with the next generation of music industry elite.

IMG_2315Sound Advice lawyer and industry veteran Robert Horsfall gave the opening speech to a
packed room at IMS College Malta

Music lawyer and industry veteran Robert Hosfall was first to take the podium, quoting his peers with some excellent advice around the Five Pieces of the Jigsaw to success. Next up was PB’s Declan McGlynn interviewing dance music legend Pete Tong for the keynote opener. He talked the early days of his career, what radio means to him, what he looks for in a demo and where he sees the future of the industry. Stay tuned to the PB YouTube channel for the full interview coming soon, and for those looking to get into the music industry check out our full range of courses.

7e9c5fa9-fc0b-4066-a200-73b1723f1216Pete Tong MBE talked about his long career, the early days of radio, A&Ring hit records, discovering Frankie Knuckles, signing Goldie and much more

Eli & Fur joined us on stage for the second of our keynote interviews. They spoke about their time working with Brian Higgins and the pop powerhouse Xenomania before breaking away and starting their own production duo. They also passed on their advice for anyone starting their own label and how to recover from a bad gig.

b1db2393-cdb6-4bac-88ee-c877df40f31aProduction and DJ duo Eli & Fur took to the stage for an interview with Point Blank’s Declan McGlynn

Later Point Blank lead course developer and instructor Ski Oakenfull deconstructed Duke Dumont’s summer anthem Ocean Drive using Ableton Live and Push 2 before an industry panel featuring Pete Tong, Eli & Fur, CAA Talent’s Laura Newton and PR company Listen Up!’s Lucy Allen. In it we talked about highs and lows on the music industry, artist development and the importance and power of team work. It was an inspiring talk – subscribe to  the PB YouTube channel to watch the video in full.

IMG_2768PB’s very own Ski Oakenfull took his world-famous deconstructions to IMS College Malta, taking apart Duke Dumont’s summertime smash Ocean Drive in Ableton Live

IMG_2773L-R: Laura Newton (CAA), Lucy Allen (Listen Up!), Pete Tong (BBC Radio 1), Eli & Fur 

To wrap up the busy day, we invited DJ, producer and PB instructor Stefano Ritteri to give a masterclass on Creative Workflow. We spent the previous day exploring the island collecting various samples to then create a groove from using the Teenage Engineering OP-1 and Ableton Live. Watch the video below to see what we got up to and make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel to watch the full masterclass.

What would a dance music event be without a party? Once the day had wrapped up at the Dragonara Westin, it was time to head to Uno Village for a very special b2b set from Diynamic don Solomun and Pete Tong himself. It was a brilliant party, highlighting both DJ’s eclectic tastes and the growth of Malta’s dance music scene.

IMG_2626Behind the booth for a special b2b set from Pete Tong and Solomun at Uno Village, Malta

The first IMS College Malta proved that you never stop learning, with attendees young and old coming together for an inspiring day. With graduates and current students from all over the globe making their way to St Julian Bay, it was great to see so many familiar faces and an honour to curate the event. See you next year, and for those looking to find their own way into the music industry, check out our full range of courses.

IMG_2655

Register to Access Free Courses, Plugins, Projects, Samples & More

When you register with Point Blank, you access an array of free sounds, plugins, online course samples, access to our social network Plugged In and much more! Simply register below and visit our Free Stuff page to get your hands on a range of exclusive music-making tools and tutorials provided by the team. Fill your boots!

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Prevent Hearing Loss: Musician Earplug Advice

Dubspot’s Michael Walsh explores the importance of hearing loss prevention and offers some earplug recommendations for musicians and music fans.

Musician Earplug

Would you trade your perception of sound for one night in front of the speaker stack?

Excessive exposure to loud levels of noise is often hard to avoid in today’s society, especially for us who enjoy music. I don’t know about you, but I’m always finding myself just a few feet from the bass bins at most music events. How many times have you been over there as well shouting at friends for 30 seconds before deciding to move? I’ve tried to change this behavior but like many of you, I’m a slave to the rhythm, and without realizing it I always end up in front of the speaker stacks. As a result, I’ve slowly but surely started carrying earplugs with me to help prevent irreversible inner ear damage. As a producer and a DJ, that’s a scary thought. In an effort to push hearing loss awareness, we will explore some different ways to help prevent hearing loss.

H.E.A.R. is a non-profit group that was created by musicians and serves as a hearing education resource for the public. They have some good information on their site that I recommend reading over when you have a moment. In the meantime, I’ve grabbed some essential knowledge on sound exposure from their website.

dB Level Awareness

When you notice a difference between loud sounds and quiet ones, your ears are perceiving changes in sound pressure level. Intensity (or volume) is measured in decibels (dB). Zero (0) dB is the softest sound that can be heard. Pain from hearing is subjective. Often, levels above 125 dB may be painful to some individuals. One way to reduce hearing damage is by paying attention to noise levels and realizing when they are too high. According to the United States Safety and Health Standards, we should not be exposed to more than 90 dB over a period of eight hours. If you work in a noisy environment, check out the decibel level you are being exposed to and take the proper precautions. There are several phone apps available that measure noise volume in decibels (dB). Another recommendation is to have your hearing evaluated at least once a year by a hearing health professional. In addition, turn down the volume, or remove yourself from the noise area when possible. It’s also recommended to give your ears a rest for 24 hours after exposure to dangerous levels of noise.

Hearing Protection

There is a variety of ear protection devices available today designed for different uses. For all you party and clubgoers, earplugs are the best protection for an event with a loud sound system. Like you, I love it loud. However, over the years I have experienced pain, ringing (tinnitus) and popping in my ears after long exposure to loud music. As a DJ and producer, I’ve made the mistake of turning up the monitors at events to heighten the feel of the music. At first, your ears will “bounce back” and you’ll be able to hear again after a couple of days. But over time the damage will compound, and your ears won’t bounce back the way they once did. Earplugs are a necessity these days for several reasons. Have you noticed how hard it is to work on your own music after a night at a club? It hurts… save your ears and be more productive with a proper pair of earplugs.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The good news is that there is more for your ears these days than conventional foam plugs that you find at the drugstore. These types of plugs are especially hard to play or mix music with because they block essential frequencies we enjoy when listening to music. Over-the-counter earplugs range from foam variety to rubber, silicone, and wax. They’re all affordable, comfortable, disposable, and provide important help in reducing the dangers of exposure to excessive levels of noise. H.E.A.R. explains the problems that musicians have with these types of earplugs:

  • Existing earplugs attenuate more than necessary for much of the noise in industry and the environment.
  • Regardless of their exact construction, existing earplugs produce 10 to 20 dB of high-frequency attenuation, and the result is that people often reject them because they can’t hear speech clearly.
  • Conventional earplugs make the wearer’s own voice sound hollow (known as the occlusion effect).
  • Many people risk their hearing by either wearing earplugs loosely or wearing no protection at all so they will be able to hear voices, machinery or music more clearly.

Earplugs for Musicians

Custom fit earplugs are recommended for musicians because they are comfortable, easy to insert correctly, and filter sound better than disposable plugs. They are made from an impression of the ear canal taken by an audiologist or other hearing health professionals such as Etymotic and HearNet.

Instead of cutting out the high frequencies and sounding muffled like traditional plugs, musician’s plugs attenuate all the frequencies evenly in relation to your hearing allowing you to hear a wider range of sounds while still protecting yourself from extreme levels. From personal use, I can tell you that they are a lot better than foam plugs.

Musician  Earplugs

The ER-20XS, Musicians Earplugs, and MP 9-15 models by Etymotic are popular custom high-fidelity earplugs for musicians that feature a special filter that lets the listener hear music at a safe level without sacrificing quality. They feature a flat-response attenuator that can be adjusted to set different levels of sound reduction while following the shape of the natural frequency response of the open ear. They both use a diaphragm, similar to a passive speaker cone as well to achieve the desired response curve.

Another popular set of earplugs are the Mack’s High Fidelity Hear Plugs, which replicate the natural response of the ear canal so that sound is heard clearly, just quieter and are a low-cost alternative.

Who Needs Musician Earplugs?

There are two types of people who could benefit from musician earplugs. The first type of people are those exposed to 90-120 dB sound levels for various time periods who need to hear accurately such as DJs, live performers, musicians, sound crews, recording engineers, nightclub employees, and other music industry professionals. The second type of people are those outside the music industry such as loud-music listeners, people with tinnitus or hyperacusis, spectators, construction workers, etc.

Musician earplugs offer better sound quality that is clearer and more natural. They also help to reduce fatigue associated with noise exposure as well over long exposure times. For example, DJs and live performance acts are subjected to loud levels of sound which can not only cause hearing damage but can also cause a shift in their perception of sound causing them to mix poorly or make bad decisions in a performance as a result of their hearing not functioning properly.

One mistake I’ve noticed many DJs make is turning up the headphones or monitors to compensate for a loud sound system when cueing the next track. The better solution is to turn down your monitors and your phones to let your ears rest and get used to the sound of the room. When the headphones are too loud you may confuse yourself in a mix in two ways – you will lose track of what is happening on the floor, and you will start hearing the track in the phones as running faster in the mix than it actually is. If you ever find yourself confused in a mix, turn down the headphones and ride the levels slowly until you hear the mix clearly. Try balancing the headphone levels down and up (keeping them low) before you touch the pitch and you’ll keep control of your mix.

 


EDU Summer Sessions

Music Foundations Program

Unravel electronic music’s origins, build your chops, learn musical language and theory, and make and play music the way you want. Students will develop a deeper understanding of the roots and lineage of a variety of electronic and dance music genres, strengthen their keyboard skills, and learn valuable music theory, deepening their creative practice and facilitating effective collaborations with musical partners.

Click here to view the embedded video.

About This Program

The best producers, DJs, and musicians in the world strive to be well-rounded. So should you. In Dubspot’s Music Foundations Program, you’ll explore three major aspects of music: rhythmic theory, melodic theory, and critical listening.

Most pioneering early electronic musicians had years of conservatory training in theory and performance but had access to very limited technologies. In today’s musical world, it’s the opposite: we have a powerful and versatile array of electronic music making tools at our fingertips, but often fall short in our theoretical understanding of how electronic music works.

Our Music Foundations program is designed to fill this gap and provide training in fundamental skills and concepts with the electronic musician, DJ, and producer in mind. In this course, you’ll build your chops and learn the basics of musical language and theory so that you can make and play the music you want. You will also develop a deeper understanding of the roots and lineage of a variety of electronic and dance music genres, and explore compositional techniques and song structure. The weekly homework lessons for all three courses have been designed using Ableton Live, and along the way you’ll also learn the basics of Ableton and how to use it as a powerful tool to improve your musicianship in a variety of ways.

What’s Included

  • Music Foundations Level 1: Pads & Rhythmic Theory
  • Music Foundations Level 2: Keys & Melodic Theory
  • Music Foundations Level 3: Critical Listening

Additional Information

Visit the Music Foundations course page for detailed information on this program here.

If you have questions, please call 877.DUBSPOT or send us a message.

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Club Recommendations: July 2016 (Anthony Naples, LCD Soundsystem + More)

Welcome to Point Blank’s monthly club recommendations column, where we trawl the listings to bring you the essential events taking place in London and Los Angeles. London may not be having much of a summer weather-wise, but fear not, there’s plenty of parties – outdoors and otherwise – promising to raise the temperature. Festival fans are particularly well catered for, with the brand new electronic music event Sunfall hitting Brockwell Park and the much-loved Lovebox taking over Victoria Park this month. For Los Angelenos, there’s also plenty to entertain this July, including unmissable appearances from Audion, Galcher Lustwerk and DJ Richard.

For those of you dreaming of seeing yourself included here, heading up the next big summer festival or slaying clubs around the world, you can find out about our range of courses in LondonLA and online to kickstart your journey there.

Sunfall Festival w/ Anthony Naples, Ben Klock, Fatima Yamaha, Donato Dozzy + more – Brockwell Park – Saturday 9th July

Sunfall

This being July, there’s no let up in outdoor, all-day parties for those willing to turn a blind eye to the weather forecast. However, new festival Sunfall is orchestrated by the people behind XOYO, Dimensions and Phonox and has enough tasty names to cut through the festival fatigue. Brockwell Park in Herne Hill may seem an unlikely centre for all things electronic and underground, but for two days it stakes its claim: Anthony Naples, Donato Dozzy, Josey Rebelle, Zomby and more line-up for what promises to be a big one… and when the sun goes down things move to Peckham’s The Bussey Building. Prepare to get messy. Details here.

Lovebox w/ LCD Soundsystem, Major Lazer, Run The Jewels, MØ, IZZY BIZU – Victoria Park – Friday 15th – Saturday 16th July

LCDsoundsystem

If Sunfall is pitching itself to the underground, Lovebox aims to please the biggest crowd it can. The main draw here is surely the recently un-retired LCD Soundsystem who, fresh from conquering Glastonbury, look set to storm the main stage on Saturday. Elsewhere, Diplo pops up both in his own right and at the helm of his party-starting supergroup Major Lazer and Swedish pop weirdo Mø is certain to hold her own. Don’t miss PB alumna Izzy Bizu, last seen soundtracking the Euro 2016 coverage on the BBC. Details here.

Find Me In The Dark w/ Future Times x Mood Hut w/ Beautiful Swimmers, Pender Street Steppers, Hashman Deejay + more – Saturday 30th July – Corsica Studios

Beautiful Swimmers

For their summer edition, London party Find Me in the Dark have roped in standout North American labels Future Times and Mood Hut for a seasonal showdown. Expect warm house and new age vibes courtesy of Vancouver’s own Pender Street Steppers, Hashman Deejay and the perma-chill Neo Image. On the Future Times side there’s Berlin-based oddball PLO Man, Jordan and label head Maxmillion Dunbar comes correct as one half of Beautiful Swimmers – whose DJ sets are things of beauty – and on his own in his Max D guise. Details here.

Lights Down Low LA w/ Galcher Lustwerk and DJ Richard – Friday 8th July – TBA [Los Angeles]

Galcher-Lustwerk

Californian promoters Lights Down Low have exceptional taste, as demonstrated by their recent Fatima Yamaha and House Meat Disco bookings, but this White Material throwdown looks to be knockout. NYC’s Galcher Lustwerk will be bringing his characteristic deep, textured house – and surely some of his brand new Road Hog material – to the proceedings whereas NY-Berlin transplant DJ Richard will keep things strange and, very likely, noisy. Unmissable Details here.

Inception w/ Audion (Live), DJ Three – Saturday 16th July – Exchange LA [Los Angeles]

MatthewDear

In June, Matthew Dear returned to his overtly techno moniker, Audion, some ten years after last releasing a full-length under that name. The resulting Alpha suggested a newfound restraint, on record at least, but then, Audion has always been the master of tension and release. Even so, the wise will reserve full judgement until hearing the new material in a club context – we reckon this live set is going to go off. Support comes in the form of LA’s DJ Three. Details here.

Register to Access Free Courses, Plugins, Projects, Samples & More

When you register with Point Blank, you access an array of plugins, free sounds, online course samples, access to our social network Plugged In and much more! Simply register below and visit our Free Stuff page to get your hands on a range of exclusive music-making tools and tutorials provided by the team. Fill your boots!

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“It’s Too Hard!” When Your Struggling to Complete Your Unfinished Tracks

Its too hard

If you are anything like me, you’re likely to have hundreds of unfinished tracks lying around on
various MacBooks, PCs and even mobile sequencers. You probably have countless unused chord
progressions, patches and samples that you came up with in the heat of the moment and then
forgot about because you got distracted, lost the inspiration or simply felt it “wasn’t good enough.”
This is a common challenge of producers: we operate in a medium where our own inspiration is the
driving force and because there is nobody else to carry the load and we are typically such hard task
masters, it’s very easy to shut down the project in its early or even later stages. But as the old cliche
goes, creation is one percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration. The following is a guide
to what to do the next time you find yourself ready to throw in the towel.

Focus on the process and the result will come: If the idea or concept you had was so
amazing that it inspired you to pick up your Macbook or synth or bass guitar and start laying down
a groove for twenty minutes before you lost your mojo, then its probably worth pursuing. It’s kind
of like riding your bike down a hill, the first bit is easy and you don’t have to do any work,
(momentum does that for you) but as the ground levels out you eventually start paddling. Let me
tell you, most of music production is pedalling. Thinking that your just going to breeze through
every track totally unassailed by boredom or difficulty is a fantasy – it’s damn hard work. But it’s all
worth it. Once you have your basic idea, refuse to deviate from it. Just keep plugging away at it,
you’ll get there, or at least far closer to where you want to be than you were before.

Keep learning: You gotta’ learn to love learning. In his excellent book Mastery, author Robert
Greene talks about about an escalated cycle of returns that occurs once you reach a certain degree
of competency in a task. In this case we’re probably talking about mastery of your DAW of choice. If
you’re just starting and don’t know what automation or phase cancelling or any of that technical
stuff is, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and just go “It’s all too hard! I can’t do it!” And maybe
that’s true, you can’t do it all right now. But you can get really good at learning how to do it. Pick
something that you really want to emulate. Say you’d like to know how to side-chain your whole
mix to get that ‘pumping’ sound, start digging around online for how to side-chain. BassGorilla is
an excellent place to start and you will surprise yourself at how easy it is to make huge leaps in
changing your sound. But the results should be secondary – focus on getting better and reward
yourself for pushing your own envelope (no pun intended.) Once you get to a point of loving the
process of making it better, and a bit better still, not only will your sound production skill have
increased tenfold but you will be able to work for longer periods of time. The initial spark of “This is
the greatest thing since Scary Monsters and Nice Spites” will be replaced by a quiet intensity of
focus and willingness to get the job done which is ultimately far more satisfying and more likely to
get your track to completion.

Learn to create a ‘scaffold’ for your track and then build around that: Plenty of
producers forget that arrangement and songwriting are completely different skills. The style of
music that I create is predominantly song form based but even if you are trying to create Beatport
bangers, you need a scaffold to work from. The number of times I’ve been half or a third of the way
through a song and then thought to myself “I have no idea where to go from here…” Motivation
obliterated. You always need a next step. Learn to break it down into small chunks so that if you
ask yourself “What am I trying to achieve here?” you can answer it in a sentence. For example: “I
am trying to write a bassline for this verse,” or “I am EQ-ing the vocals so that they don’t clash with
the lead synth.” You must be as specific as possible. Once you know exactly what you want to do,
you will be amazed at how easy it is to get it done. It sounds simple but do not underestimate this
process.

As well as specificity you have to be working towards something significant in terms of your track.
You must work from the outside in: get your structure, basic beat, vocals, basslines chord patterns
and melodies down first and DO NOT OBSESS OVER THEM. They don’t have to be perfect just
yet. Remember it’s better to be roughly right than precisely wrong. You don’t want to spend 6 hours
on something that is ultimately going nowhere because you painted yourself into a box. At the end
of the day, it doesn’t really matter if your hihat is -4.5 dB’s or -4 dB’s so don’t spend 20 minutes
agonising over it. I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. I suggest you start to make a habit of
pulling yourself up on how significant what you’re working on is. It may be fun to tweak for hours
at a time but you may need to delete that section if it doesn’t flow properly into the next one so
don’t waste your time on the specifics if the big picture isn’t sorted. Don’t bother making the icing
until you’ve baked the cake, which dovetails with my next point…

Focus on the hard bit: I know you will happily spend two hours making a perfect super saw
patch on Massive that sounds like it’s going to split the world in two. Me too. But if you’ve been
doing that for years, your time and energy is likely better spent on things that you aren’t as strong
on, especially if they’re important. For example, I like to record virtually all my own vocals because
I am a control freak, but quite frankly I’m often a little insecure in my vocal abilities at times.
Consequently, I put off doing them until the last minute. And we all know what happens when you
try and lay a vocal melody over a finished track – a lot of the time it doesn’t fly. This can be very
frustrating. What I’ve started doing is recording a guide track with a guitar and just me singing so I
know that the vocals will work on top of the chords (Madeon recommends this as well on his
Reddit AMA which I make a point of reading every month or so). The point is, get into doing the
hard bit as soon as you can, whether that be focusing on structure, making sure your sounds gel
together in an EQ sense or focusing on sound design. Once you’ve sussed that bit, the rest of it will
be easy so if you know your going to butt up against it at some point you may as well confront it
while you have the inspiration and energy to tackle it.

Even if you HATE it, finish it and call it a learning experience: Working on a track for
weeks or even months and realising that you just don’t care about it anymore is an experience we
all go through. Its all just too hard, the baseline is crap, the drums sound like they were recorded in
a paper back and the vocals are dull and lifeless. But you know what? Do it anyway. Finish it and
put it out. Bach finished all his work and subsequently he is one of, if not, THE most highly
regarded musicians of all time. Once you’ve finished it and put it out you may never want to hear it
again but I promise you, you will be proud that you finished it. Completing a track will give you
valuable experience, not only in mixing and mastering if you self master it, but the act of
completion itself will setup a valuable precedent in your mind. You’ll also have a reference point for
next time, not to mention some sweet patches to call on.

Set yourself a reasonable deadline and decide you won’t seriously work on anything
else until it’s done: They say necessity is the mother of invention, and nowhere is this more true
than creative endeavours. If you have a goal and decide that no matter what you’re going to have
that rack done by Thursday, you will get it done. Of course, if it’s Wednesday and you haven’t
started don’t make that goal. Steve Jobs had a theory called a ‘reality distortion field’ that if you
really need to get something done and make it the number one priority, you could do it. This
certainly worked for him (a few distraught employees aside) but remember to take this in
moderation. How many hours do you take to finish a track? I read Porter Robinson and Madeon
take about 50 hours to complete a track, Wolfgang Gartner takes about 40. It really depends on
how much detail you want to put into it; if you’re just making a beat for a rapper, you could
possibly churn one out in 90 minutes. Personally, I tend to spend about two and a half weeks on a
track, assuming perhaps two hours a day (so maybe 30 odd hours) but it really depends.
Remember if your basic structure and melody is off, it doesn’t matter how much time you sink into
it.

Work to your own rhythm: Some people like to wake up first thing in the morning and make a
beat. Others find inspiration at 2am in the morning and work until dawn. Some people make music
on their lunch breaks. Some people wait until they get home from work and then go until dinner.
Any of these approaches are valid, however, it’s unlikely that all of them will work for you. Develop
a habit of producing at a certain time. I tend to get up in the morning and due to the nature of my
work, I will work for two hours from maybe 10 until midday. Ideally you want to be working on it
every waking minute (and once you get into the habit, believe me you will want to) but obviously
that’s not a viable reality for most of us.

Keep listening to and viewing things that inspire you: Hard work may be the fuel that
drives your track, but inspiration is the the GPS guiding you to your destination. You can get
inspired by all sorts of things: movies, video games, music, books. Even a strong cup of coffee can
get you in a creative mood. I went to an art gallery the other day and it made me realise how much I
appreciate fine details in things – suffice it to say, I went home and made a very complex beat.
Knowledge and inspiration is what keeps us hungry when we’re feeling dejected so don’t neglect it.

Stick to your original vision, but don’t obsess on perfection, it is a mirage: We
sometimes have a perfect version of a song we’re making in our heads and exactly how we want it
to sound, or at least a similar track or style. You should use this as a guiding force, however,
experimentation is just as important so don’t get carried away making car alarm style sirens when
you’re trying to make a deep house cut. Until you hit the point of mastery a la Skrillex, Flux
Pavillion or Knife Party, it just won’t sound quite like it does in your head. Eventually, you can get
pretty close, but that sort of ability takes years and years. Accept that it will never sound “totally
perfect” and learn to work with what you have and love it for what it is.

Believe in yourself and your abilities: Make no mistake, you have the capacity to make really
great music – music that people around the world will love. The only difference between you and
anyone else making music right now is the size of your dream and time. It is a long, difficult road,
but if you stay on it you will get to where you want to be. And the only person who is going to allow
you to stay on that road is you. So get to work, you can do it.

The post “It’s Too Hard!” When Your Struggling to Complete Your Unfinished Tracks appeared first on BassGorilla.com.

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Point Blank on Pioneer DJ Radio: Matty Gray

One of the many reasons to learn the craft of DJing at Point Blank is that you get the chance to have your mixes played exclusively on Pioneer DJ Radio alongside the likes of top artists like Slam, Sante and Eats Everything. We get a real kick out of showcasing our students’ talent and seeing it reach an audience of thousands each week. What’s more, because PDJR also features shows from some of the biggest and best labels out there including Cadenza, Get Physical and Defected, you never know who might be listening.

DJPoint Blank’s brand new DJ Studio in our second London facility is sponsored by Pioneer DJ and features all of the latest top-of-the-range kit – including CDJ2000nxs, DJM2000nxs and the DDJ-SX controller

Stepping up this week is London’s very own Matty Gray. The up and coming DJ and producer recently completed the Music Production Certificate at Point Blank and is quickly establishing a profile here in the capital. A resident for NoExcuse Records and their regular party at Egg Club, this tightly crafted hour-long mix demonstrates his flair for no-nonsense tech- and deep house. “I’ve learnt so many new techniques and skills over the six months and met some fantastic people,” he says of his time at Point Blank. “I particularly enjoyed the Sound Design module and learning how to really get to grips with lots of synths. I couldn’t recommend the college enough.”

Want to hear more from Matty Gray? Check out his Soundcloud to listen to his productions and mixes. Feeling inspired? Why not make like Matty Gray and join us at Point Blank. You can find out more about our DJ courses in London here, or, alternatively, you can speak to a course advisor or give us a call on 0207 729 4884. If you’re calling from outside of the UK, call +44 20 7729 4884. And remember, If you’re studying with us and want to join Matty in getting your DJ mix played on Point Blank’s show on Pioneer DJ Radio, get in touch with Louise at Point Blank.

Register to Access Free Courses, Plug-ins, Projects, Samples & More

When you register with Point Blank, you access an array of free sounds, plugins, online course samples, access to our social network Plugged In and much more! Simply register below and visit our Free Stuff page to get your hands on a range of exclusive music-making tools and tutorials provided by the team. Fill your boots!

The post Point Blank on Pioneer DJ Radio: Matty Gray appeared first on Point Blank’s Online Magazine.

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