Over the years I've seen a lot of confusion out there about levels and clipping during mixing - but only recently I came to realise that the confusion was so deep that people were altering their mixes to avoid clipping that wasn't even really happening! Once and for all, I thought I'd lay out for people in highly technical terms, but hopefully still keeping it fun too, everything they need to know about digital audio and clipping so that they can finally realise how little they really need to know. If your the type of person who has found themselves worriedly watching the meters more than your listening to the sound, this tutorial will put your mind at rest and your concentration back to the fun part: making music.
Sidney Miller III, also known as Speakerbomb, is a record producer and musician from Los Angeles, USA. Sidney has worked with artists like Lupe Fiasco and The Knux and has also released albums and toured with his own band Malbec. Recently Sidney worked with rap artist Freddie Gibbs on his critically acclaimed 2015 album "Shadow of a Doubt". We spoke with Sidney about producing in Reason and he also shares his favorite Reason production tricks!
How do you use Reason in your music making? Do you have any examples of where you've used it?
I use it in a variety of ways but the main way that I use it is for starting musical ideas from scratch and if I’m not going to be recording any vocals on the idea yet, I usually finish the entire beat / idea in Reason.
On the Freddie Gibbs’ “Shadow Of A Doubt” album I used it to produce tracks from scratch, to enhance sounds from other existing tracks, to create sound effects and I also used it to put together some vocal ideas. On “Mexico,” I took the existing 808 track that was in the Pro Tools session and ran it through the Scream in Reason. Specifically on “10 Times,” which features Gucci Mane and E-40, I did everything in Reason except for record the verses. I started off with a Gucci Mane a cappella verse, put it on the grid and then built up a whole beat around it. Then I took a catchy piece of Gucci’s verse and chopped it up so that I could repurpose it as a hook, using delays, pitch shifting and stuttering effects.
When you load up a brand new Reason song, what’s the very first thing you do?
I like to be open to all kinds of inspiration, so there isn’t one way that I always start a song, but if I already have an idea in my head, I usually go straight to the ID8 and load up a stock piano or rhodes. I like to write my chords, melody or both with a basic unflattering sound so that I know I have a good foundation start with before reassigning that MIDI to a cooler sound.
What’s the hardest thing about making music, what do you struggle with the most?
I would say that the hardest thing about making music is the ever-growing decline of people paying for music. There used to be so much more money poured into the music industry, but now although music is more popular than ever and more of a part of our daily lives than ever, people spend less money on it than they ever have before.
The hit song button doesn’t exist in any DAW
What's the best music making tip you ever got?
Don’t spend too much time jumping around trying find some program that’s going to automatically make hit songs for you. The hit song button doesn’t exist in any DAW. The best thing you can do is focus on one or two programs and master them inside and out so that you can become an expert.
Do you have any special Reason production trick that you always use?
One of the biggest tricks that I use all the time is reassigning MIDI. Once have a MIDI clip that I feel works, I love reassigning it to different instruments and patches to see what other colors or textures that I can add to the part. You never know what you are gonna get when you go reassigning MIDI and the magic that comes from doing often is what makes a track special.
One of my other favorite trick would be the “body” section of the Scream distortion unit. I was told that it is supposed to be some sort of speaker cabinet emulator, but the important thing is that it makes things go boom! Just turn the body on and start playing with “type” knob.
The most basic production trick that I use all the time is just stacking sounds. Whether it's drums or synths, I stack complimentary textures and sounds to create bigger more complex sounds that catch the listener's attention. I also apply the stacking concept to the mixer. One of my favorite additions to Reason in the past few years is the “create parallel channel” shortcut. Parallel channels allow me to use parallel compression to layer more texture and more importantly punch to my sounds.
Crushing a parallel channel with the built in compressor on the mixer is one of the best tricks that I can suggest for getting great sounding drums.
What do you do when inspiration just isn't there?
When inspiration isn’t there, I like to fall back on my REX file library. I have an amazing resource of a couple hundred GB’s of REX files that I have compiled and chopped up over the past 15 years. I usually just pull up a Dr. Rex player, start thumbing through samples and I usually have song inspiration soon after. The folder is all organized by the artist sampled and so it makes it really convenient to find stuff.
What’s your all-time favorite album?
Tough to say but as an album you can’t really beat Prince’s “Purple Rain”. It's just the perfect album, no lulls and everything transitions into each other so seamlessly like a singular piece of art. It doesn’t hurt that all nine songs on it are hits as well.
The three most used devices in your Reason rack?
One would have to be the Redrum. I have at least 6 running on every single song that I make and sometimes as many as 30 of them running. I like to have one Redrum for every drum sound. It keeps things organized and it also automatically makes sure that I have a fader on the mixer for every drum sound. Unless it's a drum loop out of the Dr. Rex, I do every single drum sound in my songs using the Redrum, and even with with Dr. Rex Drum loops, I always use Redrums to stack more sounds on top of the loops. Sometimes I use a MIDI controller to write the drum parts, but I usually just program everything in the Redrum step sequencer.
The second one would be the Synchronous Effect Modulator. The design of the modulation matrix on it is just genius and so easy to use. I like all the effects on it but honestly the one that I use 99% of the time is the lopass filter. You can modulate it so easily and it really instantly gives you that filtered vibe that is so popular in today’s urban music.
The third one is a new addition to my setup but it's getting a lot of use, the Hydronexius ROM Workstation from DNA Labs. It's a combination of a ROMpler and a Oscillator based synth. The presets for it are awesome and DNA Labs keeps designing more of them. It's definitely my first go to synth.
Honorable mention has got to go to the RV7000. It's just so versatile and I use it for both extreme, obvious effects and for adding subtle space or depth.
All the algorithms sound great but most of the time I don’t even get past the standard Hall setting. It's the only reverb that I like to use on big snares too.
I use the combinator all the time too, but I feel like including it is cheating because it can contain anything. I do use them all over the place though, as instruments or on channel strips or as a send/return effect on the mixer.
What motivates your creative ideas and creative activity?
I get motivated just hearing any music that was put together well. I definitely get a lot of motivation and inspiration listening to classic records but I also get just as much, if not more, inspiration from listening to new music. Once you’ve really studied every aspect of music creation, there is always some element in a song that can give you ideas. Everything from a lyric, a melody, a chord, a drum sound to just simply an arrangement can inspire me to start a song.
Nothing can elevate a beat to sound like a catchy real song faster than a good vocal. But on the other hand, nothing can sabotage an otherwise great beat to sound like an amateur mess than a bad vocal. And sometimes, all that stands between one thing and the other is mix technique.
In this video, Ryan shows us how he added vocals to his own song and went about making them sound every bit as polished and perfected as the instruments that make up the beat. You'll see how to make your vocals pop out of the mix, get natural tuning, and find that balanced with effects that are audible without being overpowering.
So glad to finally have the new version of the Rigs out the door!
Ever since we first launched the first series of Rigs a year ago we planned to keep these new and fresh, by adding new products every year. We wanted to help customers to find a good selection of Rack Extensions and Refills that would complement each other. We wanted to target them to different users - an acoustic, a synthetic and a "Outboard Rig to rule them all”. The Rigs have been hugely popular and a great success for participating companies. So, it’s with great joy that we now launch the second generation of these Rigs. 50% more products have been added to each Rig. The products in Rig 2 are some of the most well loved REs out there.
The Rigs also gave us an opportunity to crete Refills on a different level than we’ve been able to in the past. For the first time, we could create ReFills that uses more than one RE as we know precisely which REs and ReFills the user own. This creates opportunities for some really nice Combinators. Employing the best sound designers and mix engineers we could find to create tremendous presets - J Chris Griffin and Kevin Schröder have really done an amazing job. This is a great opportunity to glimpse over the shoulder of these professionals.
Outboard might not have been the best name as it wasn’t self-explanatory what it actually contained. So, we renamed it to Mix & Mastering Rig. The focus of the Mix & Mastering Rig as much on the tutorials on how to mix and master a song as on the included Rack Extensions and presets. The included video course combined with the presets makes it possible to drastically improve the sound of your songs.
And speaking of video tutorials, one aspects of the Rigs that we felt didn’t get enough attention were the video tutorials that AskVideo prepared for the each Rig. Each participating product gets one video on how the RE is actually working and one video of how it’s used in a song. The course is laid out so you gradually build up a song, so by the end of the course you’ll hear a finished song. In total, AskVideo produced 137 videos, that’s more than 8 hours of tutorials for the three Rigs!
For more information, check out the video below or go here!
Here's a nifty trick that might not have a occurred to you before. It comes - again - from my nasty shameful habit of using hardware, where often necessity can be the mother of invention.
We're going to use the RPG-8 arpeggiator to randomly generate a melody. You might think of this as a tool for inspiration, or perhaps even some kind of semi-generative, or algorithmic method of composing. I like to think of it as cheating.
The long and the short of it is that we're going to set up the RPG-8 to play a very slow arpeggio using a random pattern, but then we're only going to allow it to play the first note of the arpeggio. Essentially, for every note in the melody, instead of specifying a single note, we suggest several possibilities, and leave it up to chance which note is played.
First, decide the shape of your melody - where do you want the notes to play? Then decide which notes you want to select from. In this example, I've used the Akebono scale, quite common in traditional Japanese music. At each position on the grid where I want a note to sound, then, I've added all of the notes in the scale starting with A: A, B, C, E, F, and A. Where I felt the melody should descend, I used the same notes, but discarded the top A and played the E and the F an octave lower - see the screenshot below.
This clip is repeated throughout the piece - as you can hear, it plays differently each time.
The next part of the trick is setting up the RPG-8 to choose one of the notes to play at each step in the melody. Set the arpeggiator mode to random and decide on your range. If you want the melody to use ONLY the notes that you've entered, then leave the default range of one octave. I've selected two octaves, so that not only will the melody use the notes I've laid out on the grid, but also notes an octave above.
The most important step, though, is this: make sure that the step interval you choose for the rate is the same as the shortest gap between the notes in your melody. In the example here, no two notes are further than an 1/8 note apart, so I've selected a rate of 1/8.
It's adaptable, too. As noted above, if you feel that at a certain point the melody should descend (or ascend), you can shift your block of notes - all of them or just some of them - down (or up) an octave, almost like an inversion of a chord. You can add or remove notes from your block. Or, rather than leaving things up to chance, you can even remove all notes but one if it's important that a particular note plays at a particular point. And it doesn't need to be limited to melodies only - you could use the same technique to add some unpredictiability to your rhythm patterns, for example.