Thursday, January 31, 2008

Speaker Placement

Alright, by now we've probably seen the prices of good quality studio monitors. You may very well be asking: "Why are they so expensive?". To which your smart arse friend probably answers: "Because they are good quality." They are good quality because they have a flatter response than normal speakers, i.e. they output roughly the same power over all the frequencies in the audible spectrum. The more you pay, the flatter the response.

This, however, is not my point... my point is that if you spend all this money and set them up like an idiot, than its a waste. This is because the way they are set up in a room affects the frequency response. Below is a figure showing the correct method for setting up monitors.

In the figure, you are the ugly red thing and the grey squares are your monitors. The room is represented by the outer square. Firstly,you must be the same distance away from each of your speakers as they are from themselves (this is represented by distance X in the figure). Secondly, your speakers must be placed an equal distance from each wall (distance L in the figure). You can choose any distance you like to represent X and L.

Other posts you might find interesting:
Sound Proofing and Room Acoustic Basics
Tips for Recording Drums
Free Drum Lessons
How to Capture Audio from Video
Beginner's Guide to Ubuntu Recording

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

An Overview of Compression

As a newbie to recording, you may have heard of compression or even played around with a compressor. However, at first it is quite difficult to understand exactly what all those knobs do.

First things first... a compressor essentially limits all signals over a certain threshold value. When it limits these peaks or high volumes, it does not simply chop then off like a limiter. It reduces the peak's volume over a certain period governed by the attack and release times. Also, the size of the adjustment to the peak's volume is determined by the compression ratio.

Compression is useful for two things,

  1. to reduce high peaks which saturate the output.
  2. to louden the quieter bits. By reducing higher volumes and raising the make-up gain, the track volume becomes more constant. i.e. The chorus has loud drums and electric guitar and the verse has acoustic picking - naturally, the verse will be far quieter than the chorus. The solution would be to use a compressor on the master track which limits the chorus but not the verse, and then bump up the volume with the make-up gain.
The following link defines in detail what each knob on a compressor does: Compression Glossary

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Recording of Mine

I've been recording some songs for my church and below is an example of one of them:

Ain't No Rock.mp3
Please note: I did not write this song and thus take no credit for it. This recording will not be used for financial gain in any way.

It is a very simple song recorded with hydrogen drums, an acoustic, an electric, a bass and two vocals. Below is a list of the programs I used to record the song and all of these were run with Ubuntu Studio.

  • JACK
  • Ardour
  • Hydrogen
  • JAMin
Please feel free to write any comments or questions...

Other posts you might find interesting:
The Best Programs in Ubuntu Studio
Audio Recording in Ubuntu - Part 1: Plan your Project
Audio Recording in Ubuntu - Part 2: Recording a Hydrogen Drumbeat
Audio Recording in Ubuntu - Part 3: Adding Effects to your Ardour Drumtrack
Hydrogen Drum Machine Basics

Interfacing JAMin with Ardour

The easiest way to interface JAMin with Ardour is to use an insert on the Master channel of the mixer. The figure below shows an screenshot of an Ardour mixer. There is an insert (in red) on the on the output of the master channel. This can be done by right-clicking in the block and selecting new insert.

Once the insert appears, double-click on it to see its details like the figure below. If JAMin is already open, it will appear as available connections for both the input and output. Set out1 to jamin:in_L and out2 to jamin:in_R. This is done by dragging the JAMin labels into the relevant block. Similarly, set in1 and in2 to jamin:out_L and jamin:out_R respectively.

Your Ardour track should now be playing through JAMin. There is one more thing to do - go to the connect tab in JACK and disconnect JAMin out_L and out_R from playback_1 and playback_2 respectively. If you don´t do this, your track will playback from both Ardour and JAMin.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What Exactly is Mastering For?

This one goes out to Post Paint Boy...

If you are new to home recording and your tracks sound unprofessional and quiet, this is most probably due to either bad or no mastering. Mastering is essentially a process which concerns the output levels of your final musical piece. In particular, it's about trying to get your recordings to an appropriate listening volume without sacrificing the sound quality too much. It is also about getting different tracks sounding good on one CD.

You might be thinking, 'Why can't I simply turn up the output volume of my recording to get a louder track?'
Well, the answer is that by doing this, you are bound to cut off some of your peaks and create some distorted parts in your song. Also, without using mastering techniques, you are bound to get inaudible verses and painfully distorted choruses. You want a song, which your listeners can hear with ease from start to finish.

There is a fantastic article about mastering here, this is based on an even cooler article by Rip Rowan which seems to have gone missing. It is most definitely worth a read as it explains the basic idea behind mastering and how to achieve a louder overall mix. Essentially, you can achieve your louder mixes by reducing your peaks with compression. With your louder peaks reduced, your track can be boosted without saturating the output. Thus, the quieter bits become audible whilst the louder bits remain loud.

Other posts you might find interesting:
To Limit or not to Limit
Interfacing JAMin with Ardour
An Overview of Compression
Normalisation...Never heard of it!
An Example of Loud Mastering

Tips for Recording Drums

Recording acoustic drums can be extremely tricky. This is made even more difficult when recorded in a non-professional space. I found some articles which provide some decent insight into recording drums at home. Check them out:

For the lazy buggers like me, I've prepared an 'In a Nutshell' summary of these documents. I do, however, encourage you to check them out.

In a nutshell:
  • Home recorded kits sound bad because studios use far bigger rooms with better acoustics. Bigger rooms = bigger sound.
  • It is vitally important that your drum room has good acoustics (Many ways of doing this, I will write an entry on this in the future). But a rule of thumb, is that if your drums sound bad in your ear, they would sound bad in a recording.
  • Always play your bass into a giant soft thing like a matress. It stops reflections which cause resonance, bass sound be a fairly clean sound.
  • Different floor surfaces affect your sound dramatically (a hard surface provides more definition and sharpness where as a soft surface produces a dampened, warmer sound)
  • The key is a good set of overhead mics (these should be condensers as they have a far better frequency response). Also be very careful of phase cancellation.
  • Stay away from EQ!! This is a major pitfall. Focus your attention on getting a good room sound and using decent mics to record this good sound. EQ will probably hurt you more than help you. The only time I would condone the use of EQ is for compensation of lower quality mics' frequency responses.
  • You can use mics placed far away (in another room) from the kit to make the room sound bigger.
  • There are two useful effects for drums: gating and compression
  • Gating allows one to eliminate the effects of bleed in the close mics by removing any sounds below a certain volume. i.e. your hi-hat will no longer be heard in your snare mic. More info
  • Compression gives your drums power and resonance by reducing loud peaks and loudening quiet decays. Check out my post on compression.
Other posts you might find interesting:
Hydrogen Drumbeat Templates - A Non-drummer's Best Friend
Hydrogen Drumkits
My Attempt at a Hydrogen Drumkit
Pimp my Hydrogen Beats
Making a Roll Sound Realistic
Sunday Bloody Sunday Hydrogen Beat

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

To Limit or not To Limit

When mastering, is limiting a good or bad idea? Here are my thoughts...

I recently recorded some songs, they sounded fantastic in Ardour but when I mixed then down I found then slightly unsatisfying. Let me explain why... When mastering with JAMin, a limiter is activated by default. Essentially what this does is it takes all the louder peaks of your music and just chops them off. This can be seen in the figure below.

This made my music sound... well...crap. As you can see in the picture, whenever the music got louder like in the chorus, some of it was chopped off, creating slight distortion. The solution to my problem was to simply bypass the limiter (there is a button for this in JAMin). This yielded an undistorted, more pleasing recording as seen in the figure below.

One more thing...please understand that limiters have their purpose and can help you out in a tight spot, but never limit your music drastically - it is simply a bad idea.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Free Drum Lessons

There is a fantastic website called There are many instructional videos accompanied with pdf music sheets which guide one through several genres like rock, jazz, latin, and double bass drumming. Below is an example of one of the double bass lessons. If nothing else, these pdf sheets can give you some great ideas for use in Hydrogen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My Attempt at a Hydrogen Drumkit

Hey fellow Hydrogen users,

I have constructed a Hydrogen drumkit from recordings of my own Tama Superstar Fusion kit with Zildjian ZXT Titanium Rock cymbals. Below are links to both the hydrogen kit and a short MP3 demo which allows you to hear what the kit sounds like.

Drumkit: Brian_Tama_Superstar
Demo: Brian_Tama_Superstar_DEMO

The above pictures show the Tama Superstar Fusion drumkit and Zildjian ZXT Titanium Rock cymbals used to create the hydrogen kit. Please write up as many comments as you like, good and bad. I would love to hear your ideas.

Other posts you might find interesting:
How to make a Hydrogen Drumkit
Pimp my Beats
Multiple Outputs for Hydrogen
Making a Roll Sound Realistic
Hydrogen Drumkits

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hydrogen Drum Kits

Hydrogen is fantastic, but only when powered with the right drumkits. Being a drummer, I know a few things about good sounding drumkits.

Hydrogen has posted a collection of a few of their "official" drumkits. These can be found here. My personal favourite is the Yamaha Vintage Kit. Note for Ubuntu Studio users it is easier to install these kits from the synaptic package manager. The Ultra Acoustic Kit from the synaptic package is by far the best I've tried.

However, there are plenty of drumkits hidden throughout Hydrogen's forums. I figured it would be a good idea to make a nice list. Please note that I did not create these kits and have not tried all of them. With that said, here we go...

  1. A homemade metal kit: SonorDesignerKit
  2. Kawai XD-5 Drum Kit
  3. Roland JD-990
  4. Yamaha TG-55
  5. A variety of clicks and pops: ClicksAndPops
  6. A homemade first attempt: Darthvim_beta1
  7. Premier Artist Series and Zildjian Cymbals: PremierKit. More info here.
  8. Another homemade jobby: Aqoustic
That's most of the drumkits...not really, I'm just getting tired :)
Hope it helps

Other posts you might find interesting:
My Attempt at a Hydrogen Drumkit
How to make a Hydrogen Drumkit
Hydrogen Drum Machine Basics
Making a Roll Sound Realistic
Funk Hydrogen Beat Templates
Hydrogen Drumbeat Templates - A Non-drummer's Best Friend