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A Ridiculously Simple Explanation of Vocal Compression For Beginners

Last night, I was giving one of our mastering clients some mixing advice regarding vocal compression…

“Ready, Able” by Grizzly Bear: A Compositional Analysis

A rhythmic and harmonic play-by-play .

“Amazing” by Kanye West: A Compositional Analysis

A look at Kanye’s minimalist hit from a music theory perspective.

As previously mentioned, the bass portion of the audible spectrum runs from 20 Hz to about 300 Hz.  Setting aside the previously discussed sub-bass portion of this frequency band (frequencies 45 Hz and below), we can say that the bass portion of the spectrum should be reserved primarily for the fundamental frequencies of the roots of the chord changes in the song insofar as tonal content is concerned.  Of course this range should also incorporate low frequency sounds such as kick drums, toms, and even room tones.   Many of the biggest problems people encounter in tracking, mixing, and mastering occur squarely in this region.  Terms like muddy, boomy, and woofy all deal explicitly with the bass region.  We all want “big bass” with lots of thunderous kick drums and thumpin’ bass lines, but unfortunately the arithmetic is not so simple as “turn them all up.”  As many of you following along at home might have already experienced, turning up all the bass instruments in your... Read More →

If you read music news blogs you know that the music industry is going through an identity crisis trying to find “sustainable models” and other funny business terms. I just came across an online music store which seeks to capitalize on the “I knew about XYZ artist before they got big” phenomenon. Their slogan is catchy–“Popcuts.com: Buy Music. Make Money.” They sell downloads for independent artists and it works kind of like a legal pyramid scheme with social networking built in. For every person that buys a song after you do, you get a portion of what they paid. My assumption is that they’re banking on the idea that they’ll make it up in volume. In other words, by paying consumers even a nominal amount, so many more people will be buying music from Popcuts and so many more artists will be selling their music through Popcuts that it will more than pay for itself. Will this work in practice? Who knows. Humans are creatures of both habit... Read More →

From “ill” to “trill,” buzz words have been a mainstay in hip hop culture since its inception, used to associate one’s self with a particular scene or movement. A few years ago, using the word “crunk” in a lyric served as an automatic association with the South while “hyphey” was code for California (specifically the Bay Area). As a rapper, buzzwords can either earn you street cred or date your work and career. Snoop Dogg is the perfect case study on the benefits of buzz words. Like T-Pain with his Auto-Tune, “izzle” became Snoop’s brand, one which was so heavily copied and referenced that it elevated his status above and beyond his “Gin N’ Juice” days (via imitation being the highest form of flattery).* While the term “swagger” is not technnically new to hip hop, it has only recently become a movement, turning the game on its head and defining what it means to be cool in 2009. “Swagga... Read More →

Psychoacoustics plays a very important role in our everyday lives.  We are not necessarily affected by what we hear so much as how our minds interpret what we hear.  For instance, right now you might think you are sitting in a perfectly silent environment.  But listen closer:  the whirr of your computer fan, the gentle hum of the air conditioner, your neighbors’ blarring all kinds of intolerable pop songs.  We can notice all kinds of ambient noise when prompted, but often our minds just let them go unperceived.  This is a good thing because it helps us not be disturbed by all the frivolous noise out there.  Our minds filter out things for us so that we don’t get bothered by them unnecessarily   As professionals, amateurs, or hobbyists in the audio realm, we have to be more acquainted with psychoacoustic phenomena than the average Joe.  I have been discussing the sub-bass portion of the audible spectrum, which is the most demanding register in terms of its share of the power... Read More →

Following the success of my compositional analysis of “Single Ladies”, today I’m here to talk to you about a song which is equally unusual but lives in a completely different realm of music and pop culture. Battles is a mostly-instrumental, indie-math-something-or-other rock band comprised of several other influential but fairly obscure bands and Boston scene veterans.* “Atlas,” the first single from their debut and most recent LP, Mirrored, illustrates a number of interesting songwriting techniques that you can use to expand or understand your own writing. Tempo: 134 BPM Key Signature: D Lydian (same notes as A major) Time Signature: 4/4 Special Songwriting Devices Used: Shuffle groove, Modal harmony What’s most compelling about this song is that it is haunting, but not dark in a depressing way–rather it is hypnotic, like an alien army marching into a battlefield. While there is plenty of interesting stuff going on here production-wise,** this... Read More →

UPDATED: July 19th, 2011 I listen to all types of music, but I think you’ll see from this blog that pop music is what gets me excited. From years of working as an audio engineer, I’ve found that many pop songwriters (except the old school ones at the very top) have little, if any, formal music education. But the internet is changing all that, and I want to help in any way that I can. I’ve researched modes online to see what’s out there, and frankly most of it is either downright confusing or written exclusively for guitarists. So without further adieu… Keith’s Crash Course on Modes For Self-Taught Musicians You probably already know that there are two types of keys: major and minor (aka the “happy” and “sad” scales, respectively). But what if I told you that there are also 5 other exciting, sexy scales to choose from? Play a major scale. Now play those same notes, but this time start from the sixth note (or “degree”)... Read More →

Last week we discussed some of the inherent problems with sub-bass frequencies and how to deal with them.  One of the major issues is how sounds in that bandwidth lack specificity.  One instrument’s rumble, boom, and thud sound pretty similar to any other instrument’s.  For the frequency bands above the sub, we have to start talking about fundamentals, overtones, harmonics, and formants in order to properly appreciate some of the roles each portion of the audible spectrum plays in our interpretation of sound.   Since most of our clients and readers deal at least some of the time in the digital domain, chances are you’ve seen a complex waveform that looks something like this:                         In simple terms, waveforms of this type are the summation of various component frequencies.  In the illustration below, you see how a simple sine wave becomes more complex by the addition of harmonics:     The waveform starts with the fundamental frequency.  This is... Read More →

Miami-based indie rock band Ex Norwegian is a Fix Your Mix artist we’re excited about right now. They’ve been featured on XM radio, performed live on Sky News (London) and at the 2008 CMJ Music Marathon in New York City where I saw them play for the first time. Click here to check out “Sad Wonder” off their new album Standby. I was blown away by this song upon first listen. Usually when you think of psychedelic music, you think of effects, but to me, these chord changes are psychedelic. Add a catchy melody, loud-soft dynamics, and an arrangement that holds your interest all the way to the end and you’ve got a recipe for success. I knew right off the bat that I wanted to emphasize the synth pad “ahhhs,” so I mixed the chorus first. That’s how I usually begin a mix: pick a section or element of the song that excites me the most and build the rest of the mix around it. They were going for a retro sound with a modern twist. Drum samples... Read More →

Last week we started examining component parts of the audible spectrum.  Of those component parts, perhaps none is more misunderstood and mishandled than the sub.  Perhaps it’s all those cars with bumpin’ sound systems out there, but it seems like everyone wants to cram as much “sub” as they can in the mix.  Just make sure you know what you are asking for!   Firstly, I just have to provide a disclaimer that I think any car with a big subwoofer in the back sounds terrible to me.  Outside my studio someone was parked blaring some Lady Gaga tune or something like that and all I could hear was the sub.  I could hear it distinctly too despite being three walls and a hundred yards away.  I can’t help but think about how badly those people are destroying their ears.  Morever, it just plain doesn’t sound good to me.   As I mentioned last week:  for practical purposes, Sub-Bass should be anything that sounds below the lowest fundamental note of your song.  This can include... Read More →

Over the past two weeks we have been discussing items pertaining to the audio spectrum at large.  In this article we’ll begin breaking down the audio spectrum into its component parts.  Though we disagree a bit on our subdivisions, Jay’s primer has excellent listening examples to hear each section individually.   Generally speaking, sounds can be lumped into three basic segments of the audio spectrum:  Bass, Mid, and Treble.    The associated ranges would be approximately:   Bass 25 to 300 Hz. Mids 300 to 2.4k Hz Treble 2.4 to 20 kHz   Additionally, they can further be broken down in numerous ways depending on how people want to define sections:   Sub 25 to 45 Hz Bass 45 to 300 Hz Low-Mid 300 to 600 Hz Mid 600  to 1.2k Hz High-Mid  1.2 to 2.4 kHz Treble 2.4 to 15 kHz Super Treble 15 kHz to ~ 100 kHz   This Interactive Frequency Chart, much like the Carnegie Chart in the earlier article will help you understand how the frequency ranges match up with practical instrumentation.   For... Read More →

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Fix Your Mix is a mastering, stem mixing, and mixing service. We have worked with Spoon, Blues Traveler, Yo-Yo Ma, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead, Los Lobos, Voxtrot and Academy Award-nominated director Richard Linklater (Waking Life, School of Rock, Dazed and Confused).

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