Experimentation of Music Production

I produced a short 30 second first attempt at producing an electronic dance music track using the techniques that I have found in my research so far. The digital audio workstation software I used is Ableton Suite 8. I chose this software because in many of the interviews I watched and read, the producers commonly used Ableton or Logic and I have more experience using Ableton so it was the logical decision to use this software. I also used samples from the Vengeance Sample packs – these were mentioned by almost every producer I researched and appear to be the industry standard. Here is the track here;

Drums

For the drums I created three separate channels; the kick, clap and snare, high-hats. I then bussed them all to the one channel. I then applied -2 to -3db gain reduction of compression to the group channel and set the attack and decay to allow the instruments to punch through. I layered a few clap and snare samples in order to get a thicker and fuller snap sound. I applied the same technique to the high-hats.

Bassline

I created the bassline using Ableton Suite 8’s Operator synthesizer. This was the most challenging aspect of the music production as I don’t have a lot of experience programming synthesizers and required a lot of experimenting to get it to sound the way I wanted it. I applied the processes in this order;

  1. Some chorus to add a little depth and shine
  2. Auto-filtered the high frequencies so that it was just the low end that was punching through (255 Hz)
  3. A low-cut EQ to cut out the frequencies below 30 Hz (which creates muddiness),
  4. Side-chain compressed the bassline against the kick to create a ducking effect. I applied this because the bassline and the kick are playing in the same frequency range and they both need their own frequency space. It was also used as a compositional tool to improve the groove by bending the bassline around the kick.

Vocal Effects

I found the vocal effects from a Future Magazine samplepack CD. I chopped them up and looped them to fit in time with the track. I low-cut below 230 Hz to reduce the unnecessary low end energy.

Fills

I found the fills on the Vengeance sample pack and place right before the end of every 4 bars to keep the groove interesting. I panned them wide stereo left and right as like Umek demonstrated in his studio interview.

Mix-down / Master

I low-cut all the channels using the EQ eight and tuned the instruments (samples) using Ableton’s spectrum analyser. I applied a couple of db gain reduction using the Ableton Limiter.

[This image shows the structure of the track and the master bus channel. As you can see, the master channel only has a spectrum analyser and limiter inserted]

Finally I normalized the track to 0db in Wavelab.

Here you can see that the limit I applied in Ableton has considerably compressed the track. However by looking at the wave shapes of other house tracks, it is possible to see that this amount of compression is an a technique that is identifiable in modern electronic music production.

Although this track does not sound as appealing as the music in the Beatport top 100 charts, it contains all the core components that make a electronic dance music track identifiable. My next task will be to produce an electronic music track that contains elements that make it identifiable within the specific sub-genres that I am studying.

Project Aim Development

I considered the original aim of my project and I decided that it would be an unfair investigation to categorize all music as formulaic if I am only studying ‘electronic dance music’. After discussing the project aim with my lecturer Dr Kenny McAlpine, we decided that guarantees is too strong a term to use for this type of investigation due to the fact that we are dealing with people’s personal opinions which can never be guaranteed. We also agreed that influenced was not accurate enough and I settled on ‘generates’. I am still contemplating the use of this word and this could also change to render it more accurate. Therefore I have changed my project aim to this;

“The aim of this research is to conclude if it is possible to create a formula for the production of electronic dance music that generates appeal from it’s intended audience. Electronic dance music has numerous sub-genres and I intend to analyse three of these sub-genres for the purpose of this project.”

Reference Tracks: Commercial Viability

In order to decipher the dominating factors of an appealing electronic house
track, I thought the most logical place to start would be looking at the most
commercially successful music tracks. I constructed a marketing questionnaire asked
over 100 electronic dance music consumers where they would most likely go to
buy their. The question was tailored to [I found these consumers by going asking;
clubbers at Musica Club Night in Edinburgh, electronic dance music djs,
producers and record label owners / employees]. The two sub-genres of music
that were selected for analysis were;

  • Progressive House music
  • Electro House Music

This is the results from the questionnaires (top 5);

Where do you buy Electro House Music

Beatport

75

Track It Down

24

Itunes

8

What People Play

4

Spotify

3

Where do you buy Progressive House Music

Beatport

77

Track It Down

26

Itunes

8

What People Play

2

Spotify

3

Although this data does not represent the majority of music buyers, it does suggest that Beatport is the preferred store to buy progressive house and electro house music withJuno, Audiojelly, Juno and dj download following closely.

Following these results, the top 100 progressive house and electro house charts were used for analysis. However, Paul Emmanuel, electronic dance music producer, explained in Future Music Magazine DVD issue 242 (2011) that electronic dance music charts are so volatile that a track can be popular for just a weekend and never heard
again. This is a strong indication that the appeal of the track is not very strong and could be the result of promotional hype. To combat this issue I analysed the Beatport top 100 over a two week period and selected tracks (within the two sub-genres) which had stayed in the top 100 for the whole two weeks. I chose three tracks from the top 10 of their sub-genre chart and two from the top 100;

Electro House:-

1.0       Moguai,
Fat Boy Slim – Ya Mama (Push The Tempo) (Moguai Remix) [2011 – Beatport
No.1]

2.0       Bingo
Players – Rattle (Original Mix) [2011 – Beatport No.2]

3.0       Spencer
& Hill, Nadia Ali – Believe It (Club Mix) [2011 – Beaport No.3]

4.0       Lucky
Date – Ho’s & Disco’s (Space Laces Remix) [2011 – Beatport No.9]

5.0       Dada – Happy Violence (Original Mix) [2011
– Beatport top 14]

Progressive House:-

1.0
Coldplay – Paradise
(Fedde Le Grande Remix) [Beatport No.1]

2.0
Eric Prydz – 2nite (Original Mix) [Beatport No.2]

3.0
Basto – Again and Again (Extended Mix) [Beatport No.3]

4.0
Calvin Harris – Feels So Good (Extended Mix) [Beatport No.7]

5.0
Florence And The Machine – You’ve Got The Love
(Mark Knight Remix) [Beatport No.18]

Once the commercial popularity had been established, I looked at alternative indications of popular music; award winning tracks, underground success (popularity in clubs). These tracks supplied me with abroad idea of the music that is contemporarily popular.

Research: The History of House Music

In order to define house and it’s components, I thought it was essential to look at it’s roots and identify exactly what it’s core components are and examine how much they have changed. I started my research into the history of house music by watching ‘Pump Up The Volume: A History of House Music’ (2001) directed by Carl Hindmarch.

Brief History of House Music

The first part of the documentary gave a detailed history of the genre’s origin from it’s humble beginnings in discos to when it was re-branded in Chicago and New York as ‘House’ music. The documentary interviewed Jesse Saunders and Vince Lawrence, two musicians credited with producing the first ever house record with their single ‘on and on’. The narrator described that many house music producers consider this as ‘Year Zero’ for the house music movement. Producer ‘Chip E’ described the basic 4 on the floor formula of an old house record;

“The first thing you have to do is start off with a strong kick drum, then you have to have a bassline and from there you build on it. You build on it with snare drums, you build on it with the high-hat you build on it with the rim shot, with the claps.”

Another vocalist takes over explains how he added his vocal in after the track was produced. These are the fundamental components of a house track which is still the same today. Even the order of the processes hasn’t changed according to the interview with Seamus Haji and Paul Emmanuel as this is the same methodical approach they took. However house music producers during the beginning of this movement were very limited by technology compared with music producers today. Music productions have became a lot more complicated with the advances in technology and the huge amount of resources available make endless possible creative approaches to the production of house music.

Pump Up The Volume – Part 1

Pump Up The Volume – Part 2

Pump Up The Volume – Part 3

For more information, search these sources;

http://www.trugroovez.com/history-of-house-music.htm

http://www.tagg.org/others/Hawkins/HawkHouse.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Saunders

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_music

Research: A Guide To Music Analysis

In order to help me to establish an analytical framework for my project, I read Nicholas Cook’s ‘A guide to music analysis’. I read the first two chapters and skimmed through the rest of the book but I decided that the book was too irrelevant. The author described analytical approaches that related to the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and other classical composers which is too different a style of music to apply it to the genre of music that I am studying. He analyzed the tracks by using extensive musical theory which I think is too in depth for the style of music that I am looking at which is more based on electronics and audio processing. The book was not written in a structured analytical guide that I am looking for, but was written as a description of the methods that the classical composers used – geared towards the author’s chosen subject and not his approach to developing an analytical method.

Research: Interview with Seamus Haji and Paul Emmanuel

I watched an interview of Seamus Haji and Paul Emmanuel (on future music magazine dvd issue 242) as they talked through the production of one of their latest productions. They explained how they arrange and produce their tracks and described the process of how they know when a track will be successfull – if they can remember the tune of the track the next day. This is interesting because I also spoke indirectly about this method with my lecturer Dr Kenny McAlpine when he mentioned the ‘Crazy Frog’ mobile phone ringtone that became insanely popular a few years and is still a very memorable tune – whether we like it or not. I intend to include this theory in my critical framework for the reference tracks.

They also mentioned that an essential important compositional process is tuning the drums. They expressed their oppinion that tuning your drums is essential for a clean sounding mix – as Paul Emmanuel pointed out that the kick drum is vital as it could clash with the bassline. I did not know how I would go about tuning the drums in Ableton as it is a process I am not familiar with so I searched and found this video tutorial by Joey V explaining the whole process:

Joey V describes how to tune drums even without an experienced musician’s ears by simply looking at the spectrum analyser and looking for the frequency of the tallest peak. This frequency corresponds to the key of the sound being played. This can then be altered using the transpose to fit the track – he explains that all the elements of the track should be in the same key.

Note Taking: Guerilla Home Recording

I read Karl Coryat’s ‘Guerrilla Home Recordings’ (Second Edition) – How to get great sound from any studio. Unfortunately I did not find this book very relevant to my project as it was mainly aimed at recording bands and much of the information that was relevant I already knew so it was not worth note taking. However, some of the chapters were useful in that they rejigged my previous knowledge of some important factors that I had started to forget. This is some of the notes I took that I thought could prove important during the production stage of my project:

Cable Types

Cables are the link between a source and a direct input. If the source has a strong signal (such as a light) then a simple cable will be used. If the source has a weaker signal (such as a microphone or instrument without a pre-amp) it will require a different type of cable to carry the signal in order to keep the signal strong and the noise low. So there are different types of cables to carry different types of signals.

The Shielded Cable (Simplest ): This has two conductors – a “hot” or (positive) and a “ground”. The hot conductor carries the signal and the ground acts as like a tube-like sheath around the hot conductor to stop interference. However this does not work with audio when the signal is too weak such as a microphone because the signal is too weak and therefore there is too much noise interference. The noise interference enters the cable between the source and the direct input, the ground can protect the signal from small amounts of noise interference but not if the signal is already weak.

Balanced Cable: The balanced cable consists of three conductors – a “hot” (positive), “cold” (negative) and a “ground”. The hot and ground act in a similar way to the shielded cable but the cold conductor acts as a mirror of the hot conductor and is flipped and added to the signal in order to send a stronger signal to improve the signal to noise ratio. When the signal is flipped, the noise entering the signal is played against itself causing phase cancellation – this is called “common mode rejection”. Typical examples of a balanced cable are;

XLR

You can see on the XLR cable that it has 3 rods on the male (right) cable. Having positive, negative, and ground connections, XLR connectors are usually used for transmitting microphone or balanced line-level signals. (XLR is the original trademarked name from Cannon Electric, and does not correspond to the three connections.) In audio, you will typically see XLR cables connecting microphones to mixers, and connecting various outputs to powered speakers. Unlike most cables, XLRs have male and female ends which allows them to be easily daisy chained.

1/4 Jack

On the right hand side is the unbalanced 1/4 inch TS jack. TS is the abbreviation for “Tip, Sleeve” and refers to a specific type of 1/4″or 1/8″ connector that is set up for two-conductor, unbalanced operation. One insulator ring separates the tip and sleeve. The tip is generally considered the “hot,” or the carrier of the signal, while the sleeve is where the ground or shield is connected. TS cables are best known as guitar or line-level instrument cables.

On the left hand side is the balanced version of the 1/4 inch jack called the 1/4 inch TRS Jack. TRS is the abbreviation for “Tip, Ring, Sleeve.” It looks like a standard 1/4″ or 1/8″ plug, but with an extra “ring” on its shaft. TRS cables have two conductors plus a ground (shield). They are commonly used to connect balanced equipment, or for running both “left” and “right” mono signals to stereo headphones. You will also find TRS connectors on the stem of Y cables. These are used for mixer insert jacks where the signal is sent out through one wire, and comes back in through the other.

RCA

“RCA” (also called coaxial connectors) is the common name for phono connectors used to connect most consumer stereo equipment. (They were so associated with the RCA Corporation in the early 1900s that they became known as the RCA connector.) Typically, you will see tape or CD inputs and outputs using RCA connectors. In the digital audio realm, RCA connectors are also used for S/PDIFF connections.

More information on cables here: http://www.sweetwater.com/shop/cables/cables_buying-guide.php

Dynamic vs Condenser Microphones

An important decision when recording an instrument is choosing the correct microphone. The two main different types of microphones can be categorized as follows;

Dynamic

Dynamic microphones are used for high SPL (sound pressure levels) because of their durability and ability to record sounds at these high levels without distorting. They are not as accurate as condenser mics and do not record high frequencies to the same quality. They are often used for electric guitars, bass guitars, kick drums. Examples of industry standard dynamic microphones include:

  • AKG D112
  • AKG D5
  • Red5 Audio RVD35

(Taken from: http://home.earthlink.net/~rongonz/home_rec/microphone.html)

Condenser

Condenser microphones are not as durable as the dynamic mics but produce a better quality recording. They can represent high frequencies far better than the dynamic microphones and are often used for vocals, high-hats, cymbals etc. Because the condenser signal is much weaker than a dynamic microphone, it either needs a microphone pre-amp or phantom power on the mixing desk / sound card. Examples of industry standard dynamic microphones include:

  • AKG C 451 – The “classic” small-diaphragm condenser mic. An old favorite on piano, acoustic guitar and as drum kit overheads.
  • Neumann KM184 – A truly professional recording mic, used in the best studios.
  • Earthworks QTC-1 – A newer professional mic with extremely accurate frequency and transient response.
  • Shure SM-81 – Very flat frequency response; commonly used on acoustic guitars and as drum kit overheads.
  • Audio Technica AT-3528 – A cardioid model that is sort of a ‘poor man’s KM-84’.
  • AKG C 1000 S – A good all-around budget favorite.
  • Oktava MC-012 – From Russia, this is another mic made to be similar to the KM-84 but for a lot less money.

(Taken from: http://home.earthlink.net/~rongonz/home_rec/microphone.html)

For more information on microphones: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr98/articles/mic_types.html

De-essing and Parrallel Compression

Following on from my research of using de-essers and the parrallel compression technique in Owsinski’s ‘Mixing Engineer’s handbook’, I found this video tutorial explaining the two processes using Ableton:

Parrallel Compression

De-esser

Quick and effective de-esser setup. from Andrew Huang on Vimeo.

Task 4: Exhibition Research

I contacted the members of my group regarding the presentation which will take place on Wednesday 30th November at 15:30. I will be presenting my findings alongside Paul Fullerton, Jason Hadlow, Gillian Halliburton and Scott Hilton. I thought about how sound is exhibited and how this has changed over the years;

The exhibition of sound has proved vitally important in the promotion of artists and musicians from traditional methods such as radio and gigs to later methods using the modern technology such as the internet. The internet has arguably revolutionized the music industry providing a new platform for musicians to be heard without the financial backing of a major record label, however radio is still a very important promotional tool used by Record companies and musicians to exhibit their music to masses of people. BBC Radio 1 is one of the leading radio stations and plays to thousands of listeners everyday. 

Spiralling Echoes

In 2009, Bill Fontana opened an exhibition which displayed the effects of acoustics on sound. To demonstrate his experiment he used the San Francisco city hall which is a huge old building with interesting acoustic characteristics due to it unusual shape. The massive main oval space at the entrance is the ideal room for acoustics due to its oval shaped ceiling which reduces modes and creates a even spread, the pillars act as diffusors and the vast space acts a reverb chamber. Their experimented was designed to showcase the effect of acoustics on sound and how it changes depending on where the visitor is situated in the room. As Fontana describes it “Every spot in city hall is the best place to hear it” – he meant that every inch of the city hall has its own unique sound and is an individual experience for the person visiting. It can be viewed in the link below:

http://files.artbabble.org.s3.amazonaws.com/embed-player.swf?0.31701556674826303

I thought about the places we could visit to gain ideas for presenting our own exhibitions at the end of this course. Useful places I thought could include;

  • The Dundee Discovery
  • Museums on sound / audio
  • McManus Art Gallery

After searching online for museums specializing in audio, I found that there are some but are unfortunately located too far away to travel. These included

  • Motown Historical Museum (Detroit)
  • Alabama Music Hall of Fame (Alabama)
  • Delta Music Museum (L.A.)
  • Stax Museum of American Soul (Tennesey)
  • Country Music Hall of Fame and Music (Tenessey)
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (Cleveland)