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make music now 100 computer music tips

computer music
To celebrate our
hundredth issue, we bring
you 100 essential tips
with which to take your
computer-based music
making to the next level

Your environment
01 Your working environment
should be as conducive to
creative activity as possible. If you find
interface or internal card with a
breakout box is useful if you often need
to swap leads around.
musician-friendly. Consider buying a
new hard drive and installing an OS on
it strictly for music. If at all possible,
that you spend an inordinate amount of partition the drive into data and OS
time surfing the net when you should
be working, create a new user account
on your computer just for music, and
03 If you get a loud clicking
sound through your speakers
when you turn a certain electrical item
halves so you can reinstall the
operating system without too
much hassle.
delete any shortcuts to your web in your room on or off, unplug it from
browser. Even better, use a dedicated
offline machine for your music.
the same multiway adaptor as the rest
of your kit – this should solve the
problem and save your speakers a bit
05 Customising your computer
can help speed up your
workflow. Put a shortcut to your plug-ins

02 Try to keep your leads as tidy

as possible to avoid electrical
of wear and tear. folder on your desktop – this will make
installing new plug-ins and managing
interference and any potentially
hazardous cable tangling scenarios. If
you’re in a cramped environment you
04 If you’re unable to use a
separate computer for making
music, there’s plenty you can do to
existing ones much less hassle. Delete
unnecessary icons from your desktop,
and replace them with shortcuts to your 1 Unclutter your desktop for a more
may find that an external audio make a regular computer a bit more most commonly used programs, such serene working environment


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100 computer music tips make music now

as your sequencer and sample editor. space and even CPU cycles. PC users
should try CCleaner

06 Clearing unwanted programs

and files from your machine
can help you reclaim wasted hard disk
( to tidy up their
registry and zap unneeded temporary
files. If you’re creating large audio files,
regular hard disk defragmentation is
also a must for both Mac and PC, so if
your machine suddenly feels slower, run
your disk defrag software.

07 Many sequencer and

instrument interfaces these
days are extremely high-detail and 3 Customising your
sequencer's interface
display a lot of information at once. will help you get
1 Get rid of all those dodgy files lurking on your HD Make sure your video card’s resolution more music done. No
more excuses!
is fixed at a decent setting – 1024x768
is a good start, but even higher is
preferable. If you find this makes text
too small, use your computer’s font size
settings to make it bigger.

08 Many computer musicians

find that a second monitor
09 Most sequencers offer at least
some degree of
customisability, so take the time to hide
Make sure the right Speaker Setup is
selected – use Desktop stereo speakers
if you’re not sure.
helps increase their productivity. It can any parts of the interface you don’t use.
5 Make sure you’re using the right speaker setup
be used as a dedicated mixer screen, If you’re not sure what anything is, use
for example, or to display virtual the documentation to find out before
instruments while keeping your you get shot of it – it could be
automation tracks visible in the something useful.
1 If you're at high resolution, raise the font size main screen.

10 If you’re using a PC and can’t

record with your machine’s
built-in mic input, it could be because
it’s set up to be a subwoofer output – a
strange quirk of many
motherboard-hosted sound systems.
Head to the Control Panel and open
Sounds & Audio Devices. Select the
Audio tab and click the Advanced
button in the Sound Playback panel.

Time management
11 If you work on a lot of projects
at once, name the folders
they reside in with the dates you started
up by copying your folders over
manually or using a utility such
as DriveImage XML
14 One easy method of backing
up vast amounts of data is to
copy it to your iPod – this enables you
them as well as the titles – this will ( to take it with you wherever you go, so
make it easier to keep track of what even if your house gets demolished by
you’re working on at any one time. And
try to keep all your projects in one
folder so you don’t miss any when
13 If your computer is connected
to the internet, you can
quickly back up non-audio data by
a meteor you’ll still be able to get your
work back.

backing up your work. simply emailing it to yourself. Most

webmail accounts now offer hundreds 15 If you stumble across an
interesting instrument sound

12 Back up your work regularly –

not just your projects, but any
sample or patch libraries you have as
of megabytes of storage space – more
than enough when you consider that
the average patch or MIDI arrangement
or effect setting, save it immediately
before altering it any more – it only
takes a couple of seconds, but if you
well. These days creating backups is is only a few kilobytes. This practice keep experimenting with the sound
cheap – a DVD writer can be picked up also enables you to get access to without doing so, you may never be
for well under £30, or you could invest your MIDI parts and patches from able to recreate the same magic. Save
in another hard drive and regularly back other machines. 1 iPod: handy for more than just playing music instrument and effect patches to a


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make music now 100 computer music tips

specific folder for the appropriate piece, allowing you to get on with tested them out them, move them into
plug-in you’re using to create an easily composing or recording immediately. the main folder if they’re good, or delete
accessible patch library. them if they suck.

16 Some sequencers, like Logic

and Live, enable you to save
18 When working on a complex
project, arrange your mixer
sensibly so you can make quick 21 When a track gets to the
stage where you feel you’re
individual instrument channels and adjustments at mixdown time. Group not making any progress, take a break
effect chains, so if you make a hot sounds by category, and consider and do something else, even if it’s
sound, you can save it in its entirety. If routing sounds of the same type working on another project. Similarly, if
you feel a sound has tweaking potential, through a submix channel – this will you’ve been really struggling with a track
save it out for later use. To do a similar enable you to change the volume level for a long time, take a break from
thing in Reason, pack your of every sound in that category using listening to it, then reassess it.
instrument/effects chain into a just the one fader.
Combinator and save it out separately.

19 When recording live 22 If you find you have your best

ideas away from your studio,

17 Create a template project

featuring all the tools you use
most often – EQ on every channel,
instruments or vocals with a
microphone, check your levels before
embarking on a mammoth session. If
use your mobile phone’s voice memo
function to record any ideas you have –
just make sure you’re in understanding
delays and reverbs on send/return digital clipping is present in the sample company if you plan on beat-boxing into
busses, for example. This can be loaded there’s no real way to reverse the your Nokia for extended periods.
up instead of your sequencer’s default damage; if it’s too quiet you’ll have to
1 Use Reason's Combinator to save your chains ‘New project’ when you begin a new normalise it, making any noise in the
sample much more obvious.

20 These days we’ve all got

access to so many plug-in
instruments and effects that it can be
hard to know which ones to use and
which are just totally superfluous. Make
a subfolder in your plug-ins directory
called New, into which you can stick all
those untried plug-in files. Once you’ve 1 Check those levels before you start recording!

Computer optimisation
23 If you use a MIDI keyboard
controller to enter information
into your sequencer, you need to make
latency values, it could be that you’re
using an unsuitable ASIO driver; or if
you’ve got a lot of instruments or effects
result in spoiled takes. The first thing
you should do is turn off your machine’s
screen saver. This can be done in Apple
sure your computer’s latency is set at a loaded, you might be pushing your CPU Menu»System Preferences»Desktop &
reasonable level or you’ll suffer a delay too hard. Make sure you’re using the Screen Saver in Mac OS X, or
between hitting the note and hearing it latest drivers for your soundcard, or Control Panel»Display»Screen Saver
play. Use your soundcard’s ASIO driver ASIO4ALL ( if you’re in Windows.
buffer setting to lower the latency value using an onboard sound system.
to an acceptable level.

25 When you’re using a lot of 27 Presumably you’re not going

to need to change profiles on

24 If audio playback starts to

break up or glitch at low
instruments or effects and
your sequencer’s CPU load is peaking,
you can give yourself a little breathing
your machine during a recording
session, so make sure your account is
the only one logged into the machine
space by increasing your audio before you start. Windows users should
interface’s buffer size. This will introduce head to User Accounts in the Control
1 Silence those obtrusive system sounds
latency when recording MIDI and audio, Panel, click Change the Way Users
but it’ll give you a little extra CPU Log On or Off, then turn off Use Fast
overhead to help you get your User Switching. Sounds and Audio Devices icon in
track finished. the Control Panel, then select the

26 When your computer is

recording audio it’s at its most
28 It only takes an inopportune
system sound playing at the
wrong time to ruin a take, so make sure
Sounds tab. Here, select No Sounds
from the Sound Schemes tab. Mac
users can simply turn down or mute
susceptible to errors caused by you turn them all off before you start the alert volume level in the OS X
1 ASIO4ALL is a must-have for most laptop PCs background functions, which could recording. In Windows, head to the Sound Preferences.


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100 computer music tips make music now

29 To claw back even more CPU

cycles, it’s best to turn off any
superfluous graphical effects. In
secondary drive doesn’t have to cope
with all the demands of running the OS,
leaving it free to read and write audio
Windows, go to the Control Panel and info at the highest speed possible.
double-click the System icon. Select
the Advanced tab, click the Settings
button in the Performance panel, make
sure the Adjust for Best Performance
32 If you’re on a network, your
computer could take a
performance hit if it’s being accessed a
radio button is selected, and click OK. lot. Prevent this by unsharing any shared
folders or disconnecting entirely.

30 Mac users can get rid of the

cycling desktop background
by heading to System 33 If your CPU’s close to maxing
out there are a few things you
Preferences»Desktop & Screen Saver can do to make your project’s processor 7 Do you really
and disabling the Change Picture overhead a little lighter. If your need all those
effects? Be honest…
option. Extra system resources can be sequencer enables you to change the
freed up by closing unneeded Widgets global sample rate, try turning it down
in Dashboard and turning off the Dock’s to a lower value. Just remember to turn
graphical effects in the System it back up before you export your
Preferences»Dock menu. project as audio. temporary solution, as to get the best each one individually to see if you
quality mixdown you’ll have to use the actually notice any difference to the

31 You may find you get better

disk performance if you use a
hard drive other than the one your OS
34 If you’re using a lot of 24-bit
samples you could
economise on processor usage by
24-bit sounds, but in the meantime it’ll
save you a few CPU cycles.
sound when its turned off. If you can’t
tell the difference with or without the
effect, bin it. You’ll save processing
boots from to record and store audio.
The idea behind this is that the
bouncing them down to one or many
16-bit files. Again, this is only a 35 Some instruments feature
rendering options with which
you can lower the quality of the
power and make your mixer less
cluttered at the same time.

instrument’s output. This usually results

in a slight reduction in sound quality
and CPU usage, but if you’re using a lot
37 Certain internet software can
really cane your computer’s
processor, so if you do find CPU usage
of instruments, the cumulative effect to be an issue, shut down every bit of
could be enough to give you a useful extraneous software you can – ie, virus
amount of processor breathing space. protection, file-sharing clients, media
players, etc. PC users should shut down

36 If you’re using a lot of effects

on a channel, try bypassing
any non-essential System Tray items,
and stop them from loading on start-up.

38 Getting the right drum sounds
is key to creating a
professional sounding track, especially if
same note, and playing with the
individual volume levels of each.
This comes down to personal
preference, but a couple of free ones
we’d certainly recommend are
you’re making dance music. A turd is
still a turd even with a liberal
application of polish, so use the best
40 If your kick drum doesn’t
sound meaty enough, it may
be intrinsically lacking bottom end.
Digitalfishphones Endorphin
( and
Kjaerhus Classic Compressor
quality loops or drum sounds you can Unfortunately, no amount of EQ will help (
get your hands on. Check out the cm in this situation as it can’t add classic-series.php). Try out a few until
DVD and frequencies that aren’t there. Look for you find one you like – check out
for drum sounds by the barrowful. another kick drum sound to use instead
or layer with the sound you have for loads more.
1 Four samples are better than one, as they say
39 If you feel your drum sounds
are lacking that certain
something, you may find they sound
already. The same goes for other drums
– it’s important to have a good sound in
the first place before you carry out 42 The ways in which drums are
compressed vary from
better layered up with other drums and any processing. producer to producer and project to
percussion. It’s common practice for project, so try a few different setups to
producers to layer up multiple samples
of the same type in order to achieve a
full sound. Experiment by loading up
41 Dynamics tools are important
when dealing with drum
sounds, so try and get your hands on
see which suits you. For example, you
might find compressing drums
individually gives you the polished
1 Get Classic compression for free from Kjaerhus four snare samples triggered by the the best compressor plug-in you can. sound you require. Alternatively, you can


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make music now 100 computer music tips

create a submix to group any number of

drums together on one mixer channel,
which can then be compressed for a 44
less clean-cut sound.
43 One drum sound you’ll
generally need to process on
its own is the kick. If this is overly
Ducking in Reason
Compression plug-ins have many uses,
powerful, compressing it along with the especially those with sidechain
rest of the beats could result in them capabilities, such as Ducker or
being drowned out whenever it plays. Reason’s MClass Compressor. For
Compress it on a separate channel then
adjust the make-up gain so that it
example, you can use your kick drum
to trigger a compressor on a channel
1 In Reason, load up the default New
Project, then add a Redrum, Malström
and MClass Compressor to the rack. Call up
2 Unplug everything and route Malström's
main outputs into the Compressor’s audio
input, and the Redrum outs into the
sounds right with the rest of your beats. running a synth or musical loop, a Malström patch with a high sustain level, Compressor’s sidechain input. Plug the
creating a pumping house-style effect. such as Etheral (in Pads). >> Compressor's output into the mixer. >>

3 Load House Kit 1 into Redrum and put

it into Run mode. Program a
four-to-the-floor kick drum pattern. Click
4 Make sure the Sidechain Solo button is
off and record or enter a chord into the
Maelström sequencer channel. On playback
5 Turn the Threshold knob down on the
Compressor and you’ll hear the sidechain
compression start to kick in. By programming
the Sidechain Solo button on the you should see the Gain meter on the a more complex drum part you can create
1 Give your percussion some edge with a Compressor to hear what you're doing. >> Compressor start to flicker. >> more sophisticated effects.
touch of emulated tube amplification

45 If you’re programming your

own drum parts and are
having trouble getting them to sound
46 Running percussion tracks
through a little light
processing, such as a tube amplification
right, turn down your track’s tempo to plug-in or even a subtle overdrive or
get a better idea of what’s going on. If degrader, can help warm them up, but
the part sounds too busy, try reducing be careful not to overdo it –
the velocity of less important beats to over-processed drums can lose their
give the impression that they’re being dynamics or become so distorted that
played more softly. This technique is they lose their groove, so periodically
particularly important when triggering bypass any such effects to make sure
the same sample multiple times. you’ve not lost the original beat’s vibe.

47 If you’re a bit of a preset
jockey you might not realise
the true sonic potential of your favourite
try automating features that most
people don’t bother with. For example,
filter sweeps are all very well, but they’re
has loads of oscillators, turn them on
one by one to see how they affect the
sound. The more you detune these
synth. A good first step on the road to pretty familiar to the majority of extra oscillators, the more apparent
synth programming greatness is listeners. Try using automation to sync they’ll be. You can also create your own
learning how to initialise your synth’s an oscillator’s pulse width modulation sub-oscillator by turning a regular
parameters. There might be an option to the beat, or set an envelope to oscillator down an octave or two.
somewhere on the interface to do this, control the speed of an LFO assigned to
or you might have to load up a supplied
‘Init’ patch.
filter cutoff.
50 Effects like reverb, chorus and
overdrive are as much a part
1 Initialise those parameters and get creative!

48 If you want to create synth

sounds that really stand out,
49 Synth patches can be made
to sound phatter with the
addition of more voices. If your synth
of the overall sound of a synth as the
oscillator and filters. Get to know your
synth’s effects section inside out, and if


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100 computer music tips make music now

an element isn’t up to scratch, use a impart a human touch to lead sounds.

separate plug-in instead. More expressiveness can be added by
using an LFO to control the patch’s

51 To make your synth sounds

more expressive, tie
parameters such as cutoff frequency to
overall pitch – assign the Amount or
Depth parameter to your mod wheel to
control it manually.
controls on your MIDI controller such as
velocity, aftertouch or the mod wheel.
This will make the output of your synth
sound more organic as the parameters
55 Some synths demand a great
deal of processor power; get
around this by exporting single or
are affected by your playing style. multiple notes as audio and loading
them into your sampler. This can lend a 1 Start by selecting the Initialize option in
2 Set both oscillators’ Phase values to 150

Z3TA+’s Program menu. Set the first two degrees. Now turn up the Attack, Sustain
Synths with multiple filters can more ‘immediate’ quality to the sound, oscillators to Vintage Saw 1, and put them and Release in the Amplitude Envelope
be useful when programming as well as saving on CPU usage. both into Multi, Free mode. Transpose panel – check the screenshot to make sure
lead and bass sounds for dance music. Oscillator 2 up by seven semitones. >> you’ve got the right kinds of values. >>
Set the filters up in series so that the
sound passes through one then
another, and try using various envelope
settings and cutoff frequencies on either
filter for interesting textures and effects.

53 Most plug-in synths feature

multimode filters, so if you
normally limit yourself to high- or
low-pass filtering, experiment with any
band-reject or band-pass modes on 1 There are ways to deal with CPU-hungry synths
offer. These filter types work best when
used dynamically – ie, when they’re 3 So far so unexciting – the sound is pretty
basic and very synthetic. Switch LFO1 on 4 In the first row of the Modulation Matrix,
set the Source to LFO1, Range to 0-1.4%,

by setting Wave 1 to Triangle. We want this to Curve to U-Lin-, and Destination to All Osc
swept using an envelope or LFO. Try modulate the pitch, so we must turn our Pitch. Set both oscillators’ Bus values to
using filters of the same type in series attentions to the Modulation Matrix. >> 100:0.0, routing them through Filter 1. >>

at slightly different cutoff frequencies.

54 If your favourite synth enables

you to modulate its pitch with
an envelope, try adding a quick ‘hump’
Programming a
lush pad in Z3TA+
at the beginning of the note. This can

5 Set Filter 1 to any of the low-pass filter

types and set the Cutoff to 3000Hz. In
the Master Section, change Poly to 8 and set
6 Time to enhance our basic pad sound
with a few effects. Click the Effects
button, turn the Delay and Reverb effects on
the Render quality to Normal. Now you can and turn up their levels. Set the Modulation
play chords. >> effect to Chorus/Phaser and you’re done.

57 Bass can be a difficult thing
to get right, especially if you
only have feeble desktop speakers at
58 If you’re having trouble getting
your bassline in tune with a
sample, or simply want to hear the
59 You can emphasise certain
parts of your track and make
them sound weightier by getting your
60 Filling the frequency range is
key to getting a good, full-
sounding track, so you might find it
your disposal. While there’s no notes a little better, transpose it up a bassline to double them. If the part you helps to double your bass part with a
substitute for a pair of half decent few octaves. This makes its pitch want to double is a MIDI part, simply sine wave tuned to as low an octave as
monitors, at least use headphones until a lot easier to discern, and copy it onto the track that triggers your possible while still being audible. Be
you can afford to buy some – these consequently makes it a lot easier to bass synth. You may find you need to sure to filter out the very bottom of the
will give you a better idea of tune. Once you’ve got it sounding adjust the octave of the bass sound, sine (50Hz and below, say), though, as
what’s going on with your track’s right, simply transpose it back depending on how the patches sonic energy that low takes overall
low-end frequencies. down again. are programmed. dynamic headroom away from the rest


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make music now 100 computer music tips

of the track without actually benefiting it

61 STEP BY STEP Making a crunchy bass in Reason in any way.

62 If you’ve sampled a bassline

from a record that’s not
entirely ‘clean’ (ie, there are sounds
present other than the bass part), you’ll
probably find that adding a low-pass
filter makes it sound better. This filters
out high frequency sounds, leaving you
with the just the low-end groove.

63 If your bassline and kick drum

are clashing, try applying an
1 Generally, delay-based effects such as
chorus and flanging don’t work well
with really low bass parts, but here we’re
2 Begin by selecting the SubTractor synth.
Program a bassline in the octave starting
at the note C1. Run it through a chorus unit
3 That’s pretty bouncy, but we’re not quite
surfing on sine waves yet. Next in the
chain, add a distortion unit. We’ve increased
EQ cut to the kick drum from about
80Hz down – most frequencies below
going to process a more mid-range with the same settings as we have here. >> both values over their default settings for this are generally only taken up with
bassline using Reason’s built-in effects. >> more crunch. >> bass or so-called sub-bass frequencies.
Sidechain compression can be used to
‘duck’ the bassline when the bass drum
kicks, but generally it’s a better idea to
get the two co-existing.

64 If your synth bass sound lacks

mid-range punch, try layering
it with another bass sound or even an
acoustic instrument patch from a
ROMpler or real-world recording. This
can add the necessary dynamics to
4 Next comes the Unison effect. This
time, all we’ve done is turned up the
Detune amount to give a nice thick
5 That’s cool, but it could be cooler – turn
the SubTractor’s LFO1 Amount control up
to about 90 and set its mode to F.Freq.
6 This effect works better with Sync mode
on and the Rate set to 3/16. Beautiful!
We’ve also added a Phaser before the
make the start of the note stand out,
making it more percussive and its
mid-range buzz. >> Pukka, but a bit random. >> Unison effect for more modulation mayhem. rhythm easier to discern.

3 EQ and/or sidechain
compression can be used to
tidy up your basslines

65 If you lift samples from CDs a
lot, you’ll find you get
noticeably better quality results
66 When sampling from vinyl you
may find that you get a lot of
low-end noise. This can be removed
from vinyl are clicks and scratches.
These can add character to your tracks
(a la Portishead), but they’re not always
ripping the tracks digitally rather than with a high-pass filter set to a low cutoff desirable. If there are only one or two
sampling them through your soundcard. frequency – around 30Hz, for example. noises in your sample, you can simply
iTunes can be used to rip Don’t set the filter too high, though, as lower their volume using your audio
uncompressed audio files from CD to you’ll start removing frequencies editor’s pencil tool.
WAV or AIFF format, and it’s totally from the sound itself, which is to be
free – you can then open the resulting
files in Audacity (also free and
cross-platform – see
avoided unless you want to intentionally
thin it out. 68 If you always max out your
CPU due to over-ambitious
plug-in use, process samples in your

1 Give us a WAV: rippin' it up in iTunes and
trim them down to size. 67 Another problem you may
encounter when sampling
audio editor before loading them into
your sequencer. If you prefer working in


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100 computer music tips make music now

your sequencer, export processed
tracks as audio, then re-import them
and turn off the original tracks.
69 Live musicians can’t keep
time as well as computers
can, so when you try to get a piece of
Editing samples
live playing looping along with the rest When using drum sounds that you’ve
of your track, you may find it goes out of recorded or sampled yourself, make
time. This can be avoided by cutting the sure they’re accurately edited. Short,
sample into individual beats and playing percussive sounds are susceptible to
it back along with the rest of the track. timing problems if not sliced correctly,
so use an audio editor like Audacity
1 Load your audio file by dragging it from
the Finder/Explorer into Audacity. Listen 2 To zoom in and see a smaller section of
the sample more closely, use the

to the sample and locate the part you want magnifying glass icon at the top left-hand
If you have a sample you to cut them up. to edit. >> corner of the interface. >>
really like but that’s too short
for your purposes, there are a few things
you can do to stretch it out. The first is
to timestretch it in your sampler or
sample editor, although this option is
not available in every program.
Alternatively, you could loop the tail
portion of the sample, though this works
best with longer, sustained notes.

3 Use the selection tool (the icon above

the magnifying glass) to select an
unwanted part of the sample. For the
4 Press Ctrl/Cmnd+X to cut the highlighted
section of the sample. Once you’ve got
rid of everything you don’t need, save the
5 If you need to fade a sound in or out, use
the envelope tool to the right of the
selection tool. This enables you to
greatest editing accuracy, zoom in as close sound using the Export as WAV option in the create fades by simply dragging the edge of
as possible. >> File menu. >> the sample. >>

71 Repeating the same sample

over and over again can
sound unnatural, so if your sampler
performance. Alternatively, you could
vary the sample’s volume, pitch or filter
settings using automation, although this
73 If you get a click at the start
or end of a sample on a
sequencer track, use your software’s
offers a ‘round robin’ feature, try using a won’t sound as natural in action as our fade out/in function to apply an
variety of samples instead of just one to first suggestion. extremely short fade where the click
1 Sample looping definitely works best with
create a more human-sounding occurs. This will stop the channel

notes that go on for a bit
Don’t overlook your sampler’s quickly going from silent to loud or vice
amplitude envelope. By versa, which is what causes the noise.
turning up the attack time you can
make a sample come in more smoothly,
while turning the release level down
makes the end more abrupt and
74 If you want to audition a large
number of 24-bit samples,
you’ll need a media player that supports
snappy sounding. If you want the the format. Windows Media Player
sound to fade out over time, turn the doesn’t, but iTunes and QuickTime are
decay amount up and the sustain value available for free ( and
right down., for Mac and PC.

Effects processing
76 Effects and processing are as
much a part of any track as 77 Reverb is one of the most
frequently used effects, and
all in the same tailor-made environment.

virtual instruments and audio

recordings, so it’s important to use the
best quality plug-ins you can get your
the vast majority of tracks feature at
least light use of reverb at some point.
This effect puts your sounds in a virtual
78 If you’re creating a slow,
atmospheric piece, you can
afford to have longer reverb times and
hands on. If your sequencer’s native space, without which your track may less severe damping because there’s
plug-ins aren’t up to scratch, check the sound unnatural. By deploying a reverb more room in the soundscape – if
CM Studio and Library on the cm DVD plug-in as a send effect you can use it you’re creating a fast piece with a lot
for a selection of alternatives. on several tracks at once, placing them going on, too long and bright a reverb 1 Keep it real – apply some reverb!


CMU100.t_100tips 035 7/4/06 9:27:14 am

make music now 100 computer music tips

will detract from the other sounds. need bringing out. Also, load a
well-produced track by another

79 Equalisation (EQ) is another

tremendously important
processing tool that can have a
artist into your sequencer, compare
it with your work and use it as a
corrective guide.
disastrous effect when misapplied. It
can be tricky to know when and where
EQ should be used, so try listening to a
rough version of your track on a variety
80 If you feel a sound could do
with more bite, try turning up
the Q value on your EQ plug-in, reducing
of stereo systems to see which parts the gain by a few dB and sweeping it
through the frequency range. You may
find that this notch EQ sounds good at
particular frequencies, or ‘sweet spots’.
Once you’ve found a sweet spot, tweak
the Q and gain levels to get the sound
just where you want it.
1Sounding it out: play with those Q and gain levels for added impact and bite
1 Excite those synth parts with a bit of flanging

81 Although equalisation is an
extremely useful
sound-shaping tool, it’s no substitute for 82 Flanger or phaser effects can
add sparkle and movement to 84 When using a filter with the
cutoff tied to an LFO, you’ll
having a decent sound in the first place. your synth parts, but try to keep the rate probably find it best to have the LFO
If you find you have to apply inordinate set to a reasonable level – too slow and synced to your track’s tempo. If the filter
amounts of EQ to your tracks when the processing could distract the is a plug-in it’ll probably have a ‘sync to
mixing, perhaps there’s a problem with listener from other things going on in host tempo’ option; if it’s part of a
your source sounds or general mix. the track as the effect slowly peaks and synth or sampler it will likely have an
Time to re-record, or turn off the EQ troughs. Too fast and it’ll just sound option to retrigger the LFO with each
plug-ins and start the mix again from wobbly, so start with a Rate value of note played.
1 Just the Tonic: sync the LFO to your track's tempo the scratch. 0.5Hz or thereabouts and go from there.

83 Filters are among the most

powerful effects in the
85 Overdrive, amp simulator and
degrader effects can all be
used to warm sounds up, but used
computer musician’s arsenal, and excessively they can do more harm
should be used with due caution and than good. Begin by using low values,
reverence. Rather than deciding on an then gradually increase the distortion
arbitrary resonance level, sweep through control until you get a good tone – if the
the available range while your track sound starts to crack up, turn it down a
plays back – this should give you an little. Mixing in some of the original
idea or what value works best. signal can help take the edge off.

86 Unless you’re
intentionally creating
some kind of long-winded
something as simple as changing a
hi-hat part’s rhythm or adding a layered
synth can help reinvigorate the piece for
This is an important part of most tracks
– especially those in the dance music
category – and introducing or removing
ambient piece or film the listener. it has a massive impact on the overall
soundtrack, don’t dawdle for feel. Try removing the bassline for a bar
too long at the intro before
getting to some kind of
interesting musical ideal. With
88 Fills are an extremely useful
tool for keeping a track
flowing – if you feel a section of your
or two at the point just before you feel
it’s getting tired, then reintroducing it
with a subtle variation.
the multiplicity of media track is getting stale, try putting a drum
available to us these days, it’s
important to give the listener
something to grab their
fill at the end of a bar or halfway
through it, or simply cutting the drum
part out for a few beats. This will go no
90 When finishing off a track,
think to yourself, ‘Can I tell the
same story in less time?’. If your track
attention as soon as possible. small way towards easing the potential gets repetitive or boring, cut it down a
1 Change will do you good, but keep it subtle! monotony that repeated sections of a little, removing any sections that aren’t

87 As a general rule, it’s good to

change the track in some way
track can cause. up to the standard set by the rest of it.
As a general rule, if you’re not sure
every eight bars or so. This doesn’t have
to be a radical change in direction – 89 Think about where you drop in
and take out your bassline.
about a part or section, you’re probably
better off without it.


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100 computer music tips make music now

91 When mixing, it’s important to
remember that boosting a
sound’s EQ increases its volume,
96 When working with vocals,
it’s important to make them
as intelligible as possible – unless
which could make it too loud. If you you’re a Napalm Death-style shoutist, of
boost anything heavily, reduce the course. This can be achieved by
sound’s overall level by turning it down clearing some space for the vocal in the
in the mixer. mix – ie, don’t have an instrument part
play at the same time in the same 1 Elektrik Piano features drastic variations between soft and hard velocity settings

92 Using an EQ cut helps bring a

sound out but can also take
away from its weight somewhat, so try
frequency range; or if you must,
turn it down until the vocal is nice
and clear.
manually changing the notes’ velocity
levels, as that could alter the sound in
also adding a slight EQ peak just above other ways. For example, a piano patch
or below the cut. This technique works
in a similar way to the resonance of a
filter, emphasising the frequencies
97 Analyser tools such as VST
Inspector enable you to
visually compare your tracks to
from a ROMpler will sound tonally
different when played at quiet or
loud velocities.
around the cutoff point. professional pieces. They display what

93 It doesn’t take long for the

human ear to get used to
frequencies are being produced by the
mixer channel into which they’re
inserted, so use one on your
99 Always be sure to give your
ears a bit of a break
between finishing writing a track and
frequency changes in a sound, so if you sequencer’s master output and another starting work on the mix. When it's
find yourself continually applying on the channel with the professional time to come back to it, you might
high-frequency EQ boosts, take a break track loaded onto it. just spot important things that need
and A/B your track with a professional changing that you wouldn’t have
mix to make sure you’re not going
overboard with the top-end. 98 When you want to change the
volume of a MIDI instrument
part at a certain stage in your track, see
noticed had you not given your ears
a rest. When you’ve finished the
mixdown, take another break before

94 Play your draft mix through a

few systems to get an idea of
what it sounds like coming out of a
if you can use your sequencer’s
automation to do it rather than
mastering it or listening to it again in
case you’ve lost the plot. 1 Inspector gadget: size up against the pros

variety of speakers. Consider doing a

few alternative mixes – for example, you
could have a mix with louder drums or
slightly less bass. Compare each STEP BY STEP Quick-fix mix tricks
mix on each stereo you use to see
which sounds best, and make notes
about any changes that need to
be made.

95 If you want your track to

sound good in people’s
homes as well as on their iPods, you
need to get in on a bit of stereo action.
This can take the form of stereo effects
such as delay or reverb, or you can get
creative with the placement of sounds
in the stereo field. For example, you
1 If you feel your mix is going nowhere,
pull all your mixer's faders down to
zero, except for channels with dynamics
2 Pull the faders up one by one. If you’re
making dance music, you’ll probably want
to start with the kick drum or any drum loops
3 If you’re still having trouble, get rid of or
turn down any superfluous effects, such
as over-complicated delay lines, extreme
could try panning one synth part plug-ins inserted (changing the input you’ve got going. You might find that resetting compressors or muddy reverbs. Toning down
slightly to the left and another slightly to volume will affect their response). >> each track’s send level helps too. >> excessive EQ settings will probably help too.
the right.


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