Holy Bot

······ Formerly known as Pälsen's Camp ······

Music Production. Gaming. Random Shit.

Some Thoughts on Reason 8

Where’s Propellerhead at? The company wanna help musicians make more and better music – “this goal defines us”, it says. True, that’s honorable and ambitious but is Propellerhead on the right path?

The Reason 8 upgrade ships on September 30th and brings, ehum, a new browser and drag and drop support. I’m not convinced, to say the least. Come on now, this is an insignificant achievement in comparison, and in these days of responsive user interfaces.

Then we got Propellerhead’s app Take. For real? It’s just redundant and I just can’t see the need of such for anyone.

The recent in-house racks, A-List Acoustic Guitarist and A-List Electric Guitarist – Power Chords, address to whom? One could argue that earlier racks have been tailored first of all to beatmakers, singers, sound designers. Not to mention the focus on the experimentalists with Reason’s whole modular core design of tweaking one’s own audio signal paths. But these A-List racks? I dunno… And as an electronic musician I’m neither interested in pre-fab guitars nor sounding like undistinguished commercial radio hits. Moreover, I believe real guitarists would rather record their own shit, and then layer and comp takes in the sequencer.

So what’s going on? Is this Propellerhead shifting from professional to consumer (much like Apple did with Final Cut Pro X). I might be wrong, I hope I’m wrong.

Except for a few flaws – like inability to customize shortcuts and program macros – Reason 7 has been a great DAW with its relatively versatile set of rack extensions.

It seems to me that, what we see now is Propellerhead lacking of real innovative ideas to push things further.

Greatness Awaits, I Hope

Today it’s nine months since PlayStation 4 was launched in North America.

Right off the bat, I got Call of Duty: Ghosts. Then Battlefield 4. And eventually, by the end of May, Watch Dogs. That’s three games in nine months – and only one of these titles met my expectations.

I guess my taste in video games is kinda limited, and I skipped some obvious AAA blockbusters, like Killzone: Shadow Fall and inFamous: Second Son.

Some people enjoy indie games – like Fez, Outlast or Don’t Starve – with a few exceptions, I generally don’t.

I’m counting just over a hundred releases so far on the PS4, which includes remakes such as The Last of Us Remastered or Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, teasers like Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and ports like Diablo III or Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Nine months since its launch, PS4’s roster of games is a disappointment. However, checking upcoming releases, we might be up for a treat: Tom Clancy’s The Division, The Order: 1886, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Far Cry 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition

No Need for Headroom in the Bedroom

Essentially, headroom is the space between the highest level a track reaches, and the level where clipping occurs.

If you’re a pro and submitting your mix for mastering at an external resource, you should give headroom (between -3 dB and -6 dB) on your master output. Likely, you’re also told to remove any pre-mastering processors, such as master bus compression, limiting, equalization, and to reduce frequency buildups and leave your mix dynamic.

The mix, handed over to the mastering engineer, should generally speaking be a 24-bit audio file, no dithering.

But what about us bedroom producers whom master our own shit, do we the need to care about any of this for our MP3s or uploads? No, but we could take these advices to help ourselves when mastering.

That is, when your mix is done and you’re about to enter the mastering phase (either you bounce your mix and start a separate mastering project or you do the mastering as a last step in a self-contained song project), remember these tips – your mastering process would gain from this.

Bass Divided

I already written about side-chain compression, so here’s a tip how to use it in a more subtle – yet effective – way: separate the bass in low, mid and high frequencies and then have the kick drum trigger the compression only on the low end of the bass.

  1. Make three copies of the bass (or create parallel channels).
  2. Isolate the bass in three frequency ranges; low 20-160 Hz, mid 105-950 Hz and high 550 Hz-7 kHz. It’s okay overlap some.
  3. It’s possible to pan the high and the mid slightly wider, but keep the low end in mono.
  4. Now side-chain only the channel with the low frequencies by -6 dB or so.

By doing this, the low end of the kick will be audible whilst the overtones of the bass will be kept intact.

The Death of Video Game Consoles

It’s not a prediction, but the eighth generation of video game consoles, i.e. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, might be the last.

I figure streaming devices like PlayStation TV – or even future smart TVs – will replace video game consoles in the living room (and elsewhere).

In other words, streaming games over a broadband connection is the future. And the future is now. The technology is here: the game runs remotely on hardware in a data center, and only the visuals and sound are sent in real-time to the player’s budget system.

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Sony already launched PlayStation Vita TV in Japan last November, bringing games, movies, and music and remote access to the PS4 on a shared local Wi-Fi network via Remote Play.

PlayStation TV is a small micro-console box with support for PlayStation Now streaming service (which access PS3 games), PS Vita, PSP and PlayStation One classics.

And its potential might just be the death of video game consoles as we’re used to know ‘em.

Specs and Features

PlayStation TV has a quad-core processor, 1GB of internal memory and supports video output of 720p/1080i. In essence, it’s a stationary version of the PlayStation Vita. It also supports Bluetooth 2.1 and Wi-Fi 802.11n, HDMI, Ethernet, USB and Sony’s proprietary Vita memory card slot. It supports both DualShock 3 and 4 controllers.

At launch (beta use on July 31, 2014 in the US) PlayStation TV will grant consumers access to nearly a thousand games. Device due for launch in Europe this fall.

Second coming

A blueprint of the video game console killer I’m talking of, is a standalone model – let’s call it PlayStation TV 2. It should support all the current features and then some. Send even higher resolution with no noticeable render downsampling or compression; an evolved system with relevant content. Flawless integration with PlayStation Now, that should include all future games.

Now, how does that sound to you?

Less Input Lag

Input lag occurs in every TV. Lag is the time difference between a signal input (on your controller) and the time is takes to manifest this on screen.

So make sure you got your HDTV set on Game mode when playing on console. This mode improves latency between input and picture by disabling certain image processing protocols. In short, Game mode cuts down the response time on the video feed.

But by doing this the picture quality will suffer; color processing, noise reduction, advanced scaling and such are bypassed or greatly reduced, meaning the picture will look less pretty. Still, the less your TV has to work, the more responsive your controller is.

Game mode is available on most current TVs, e.g. Samsung, LG, JVC, Panasonic, Sony, Philips, Sharp.

There’s an input lag database online you might like to check out.

Holy Bot Is Where Pälsen Camps

I don’t think too many of you give a damn, but as you can see, I just updated the blog. I programmed for two days – yeah I made the bleeding theme. (At this point, I didn’t bother designing responsively, if you’re on a mobile or such, the blog should pretty much look the same as before.)

I also took the opportunity to change the blog’s title from Pälsen’s Camp to the sexier Holy Bot (but don’t worry, even if I own the right Tumblr URL, I won’t change it and break all your links, at least not for now). And I’m still Pälsen.

So let’s continue this journey, the subjects will still be the same, they just got a new cover.

Oh yeah, the pretty girl on the banner is Sean Young from the film Bladerunner (1982) by Ridley Scott. I like that movie and I thought it was an appropriate image fitting this shit like hand in glove.

Yours,
Pälsen

Recording and Mixing Vocals at Home

This post is about recording and mixing vocal in your bedroom. As always, I’m not a pro, but neither are you reading this, I figure, and as an aspiring producer you could find this guide helpful.

With that outta the way let’s start. In most cases, the vocal is the focal point of a song, so it has to be properly heard in the mix and sound natural (if heavy effect isn’t an end in itself).

Now, the bedroom home studio might actually be a corner in a larger room or a noisy space – with no respect for your musical/scientific practice. When recording, try to eliminate reflections or at least minimize the room’s acoustic and ambient influences on your sound. The microphone not only picks up the voice but also its reflection and noises from the room and interior. Try to isolate the mic – keeping away from the walls if possible. Be creative, there are several DIY solutions with pillows and blankets and such to sound proof your room.

A Good Mic Setup

The standard of today’s professional studios are large diaphragm condenser mics. And cardioid-pattern (or unidirectional) capacitors are the most common for voice recordings. However a dynamic mic – connected to a good preamp – should work just fine. Beside that we’re not in a real studio, we’re at your make-shift little joint and we don’t have room nor money to get everything we want. Moreover, most of us bedroom producers don’t have a pool of different mic types, so we just have to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

If you’re getting a new mic, bear in mind that a condenser mic is sensitive and requires 48 volt phantom power on the preamp/mixer in order to power the mic. Whilst a dynamic mic is less sensitive, but offer a more rounded sound and doesn’t need phantom power.

It’s usually preferred to mount the microphone on a stand. (If you don’t have space for that, then keep your hands clear of the rear of the mic’s basket to avoid affecting the capturing.) Use a pop shield if you got one. If not, you need to carefully attend to unnatural pops on plosive sounds while recording, which might take your focus off-target. And if you got a shock-mount, use it to stop low end vibrations coming in to the mic.

Of course the singer ought to wear monitor headphones while recording so that the instrumental doesn’t beed into the mic.

Mic Placement

Place the mic at the right distance, 8 inches or so should be okay. You wanna capture what the voice sounds like, and capture the whole tone of the voice. If you’re too close there’s a bass response – a proximity effect – rendering more low end. There’s also an increased risk of plosives, and the level will change more noticeably when you sway. But don’t go too far away from the mic either, because it will pick up reflections of your voice in the room and color the sound.

In brief, the mounting, positioning, distance and the angle of the mic all weigh on how the recorded vocal sounds.

Gain Staging

Don’t record too hot (loud), have some headroom. Optimize your input signal levels in order to maximize signal strength while minimizing noise. Record quietly but not danger close to the noise floor, try to find a good signal-to-noise ratio. A peak record level of -10 dBFS should do it if you record at 24-bit resolution.

Some people uses a subtle compression while recording. It’s not necessary, but if you go for a that, use a compressor with neutral characteristics and aim to achieve 5-8 dB of gain reduction on the loudest signal peaks.

Never gate the vocal while recording, instead do this at the mixing stage if needed, i.e. if you use a lot of compression on the vocal (once it has been recorded), it’s possible that you’d want to gate the vocal track beforehand; this would prevent noise build-up in the pauses between phrases.

Comping and Editing

Record multiple takes of the lead vocal part, then comp (short for compositing) together different takes, that is, copy and paste different sequences from multiple takes, and assemble them to one continuos lead vocal track.

At this stage you could do some basic cleaning (editing) by removing the noises et cetera, but don’t overdo it, or it would sound unnatural. Also make some performance correction such as timing and pitch.

Get rid of excess low end using a high-pass filter; roll of the bottom end below 80 Hz. (Too much low end makes the mix sound muddy.)

EQ-ing

Use EQ as a subtractive tool rather than an additive tool; cuts are generally more effective.

However, try boost some around 2-4 kHz for presence on the vocal track. If the vocal sounds boomy, cut between 250-350 Hz, and if it sounds boxy, cut around 400-500 Hz. If the vocal sounds nasal, cut somewhere between 1 kHz and 4 kHz. To give the vocal some air, boost some over 10 kHz. If there are too sharp consonants, like s, t, p sound, try to de-ess ‘em; compress sounds of a certain frequency (usually around 4-9 kHz).

Doubling and Parallel Processing

Vocals should be in the center of attention and in the mix. To make sure of this, first turn down the other instruments/buses, strive for a good overall mix balance.

To make your vocal pop out from the mix, try doubling. That means recording the same vocals again, to make it thicker. You could treat the new vocal track differently from the original. E.g. emphasize different frequencies to shape a new combined sound. And perhaps it sounds better if the second vocal is a bit lower, well just try shit out.

You could also try copy the original vocal track to a parallel channel and process it differently (compression, distortion and so on) and then blend ‘em both together. This could add some character to the sound while keeping the clarity.

Leveling and Compression

Level the vocal to sit correctly in the mix throughout the song. To even out the dynamics, compress the vocal track. Remember to EQ before compression, roll of the bottom end so that the compressor could behave more naturally.

For strict, consistent level control, set the compressor with a threshold just below the loudest portions. Use a ratio like 4:1. Keep the attack under 10 ms. Try to get an even sounding gain reduction.

Reverb

Reverb is really all about personal taste. That being said, many popular productions of today leave the vocal fairly dry. So use reverb moderately. Still, a small amount of reverb adds some depth and a sense of space and reality to a vocal recorded in a dry acoustic environment. Some say that busy songs need less reverb than slower ones with lots of space in the arrangement.