MixLogics 2.0 – An exciting announcement!

During the month of December we shut down the studio, packed it all up and left the cold harsh Winter in Toledo, Ohio and headed west.

I’m happy to report that I’m typing this here in our new studio in sunny Los Angeles, California.

We’re back up and running as of this week, and now reformed here on the West Coast as a strictly post production studio, which should help a lot more get done a lot more quickly.

I’d like to extend apologies to any clients, interested parties, potential new friends, single females from match.com seeking companionship from a mid-20s audio engineer of above average attractiveness, and breast size enlargement pill spammers who may have emailed us in the past month or so and got no reply.

An autoresponder was set to let everyone know the situation, but based on some of the confused client emails I found filling the “info at mixlogics dot com” box upon booting up the new system here this week, I don’t think it actually responded to anyone.

I’ve gone through and replied to most of the emails, but if you sent something in and still haven’t heard back, please let me know!  You can always reach me directly as well at “bill at mixlogics dot com” the main address does get checked more frequently though.

My apologies to anyone who had to look elsewhere for post production assistance during our downtime–I hope you’ll consider us for your next project!

For right now, the process of sending/receiving files and pricing structure remains the same as it was before our move.

Since from this point we’re focusing strictly on post production, our turnaround time for online projects should be significantly shorter than before our move.  I’m even here toiling away on a gorgeous 84 degree day with nary a cloud in the sky–not to mention it’s a national holiday!  Now that’s service =)

Basically, if you’ve considered working with us in the past, this is the best time ever to do so.  Especially before the extra time formerly used for recording is booked by an expanding client list and the 400% more expensive rent drives up prices.  (I guess 84 degrees in January does come with a cost…)

Don’t worry though, our focus from day one has always been to keep mixing and mastering affordable.  Even here in the land of overpriced glitz, we’ll hold on to our Mid West values and mindset.  No plans to upgrade to a Lamborghini any time soon (Although it would be nice to not have to change the timing belt in my 190,000 mile ’98 Cirrus  by myself on the residential street outside my apartment–if you own a garage in SoCal, you may have found your new best friend!)

We plan to incorporate this blog into our main site during the next redesign, so hopefully it’ll be a little easier to find and have more streamlined flow!

Just figured I’d give an update about our exciting changes.  (I’m excited about them at least!)

To those of you who came looking for mixing and mastering tips and couldn’t care less about any of this, my apologies–I’ll post some soon.

To those of you peddling breast enlargement products, keep spamming.  I’m always entertaining offers–after all, this is Hollywood!

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Audio File Compression Myths

There seems to be a lot confusion in the online audio community over file compression.

First, we need to clarify the difference between file compression and audio compression.

Compression in the audio world is an effect used to regulate dynamic levels—generally lowering the dynamic range, making quiet things louder and loud things quieter to provide more even listening levels.

That’s not the type of compression we’re talking about today.

Audio compression is completely different from file compression, which is used to reduce the size of the audio files themselves.

Many folks are of the impression that any sort of compression damages audio quality. (While some even believe that simply uploading/downloading files will damage quality)

This is completely false, but it does have an understandable basis in fact.

All digital audio is merely binary 1s and 0s arranged to recreate sound.  File size is determined by the number of bits of data (the 1s and 0s) making up the whole project.

In the early days of the Internet (and more prevalently at the time, private BBS systems), transferring and storing uncompressed audio was not really feasible on any large scale.

An standard 74 minute CD full of audio ran 650MB, which is actually 5452595200 bits of data.

In 1993 my hard drive was roughly the same size, so one’s digital music collecting abilities were limited to say the least, and my 2400 baud modem would have taken roughly 27 days to transfer all that data, in the event it miraculously was able to maintain 100% speed and could last a full month without my mom picking up the phone, getting an earful of static, and the connection dropping.

Out of necessity, the MP3 was created.  For 1993, it was actually some amazing technology.  Using a psycho-acoustic model of what humans perceive hearing wise, it was possible to keep only the necessary bits of data to recreate a reasonably close sounding facsimile while throwing away everything else, thus greatly reducing filesize, and likewise the storage space and bandwidth necessary to send them back and forth.

Much like the fax machine that bears a similar name (yes, Fax is short for facsimile!), while it’s an acceptable option in a pinch, the resulting product is merely a shadow of its original form.

The fact that the majority of the original data was thrown away made this process known as lossy compression.

For those living through that time, I’d draw an analogy to the difference between a VHS tape set to record to Super Long Play, versus today’s 1080p video.

Yeah, you could store 6 hours of Dr. Quinn Medicine woman on a VHS and watch it back at an acceptable quality, but next to an 1080p show from today it would be laughable.

While we’ve certainly raised our standards exponentially for video quality, audio still uses encoding standards that soon will be old enough to vote in an election.

Some DVDs are even still shipped out with 128kbps MP3 quality audio,synced to exponentially better 480p video data.

Where’s the love for audio quality?

Luckily, almost 20 years later, we’ve come a long way.  My home Internet connection is 30mbps, which is 13,107.2 times faster than it was back then (no that number is not made up), and you can pick up 1TB of Hard Drive space for roughly $50 if you find a decent sale.

That 1TB drive can hold 1613.2 uncompressed full 74 minute CDs.

While lossy compression technology has made steps in recent years (M4A, also known to the Apple community as AAC), it’s not really relevant or necessary any more.

While it may allow you to store more songs on your iPhone (or in my case Droid X—get one.  They’re awesome.), just as you wouldn’t send a movie you filmed into a video post production studio on SLP VHS tape, what sense does it make to send your audio in for post production work with more than 90% of the original recording missing?

The fact that the EQ, compression, etc. of the mastering process changes what you hear compounds the problem, since the MP3 is designed to only recreate what you hear in the original rendering.  Any other data on the original recording that may provide a better listening experience, especially in the high end of the frequency spectrum has fallen into the nether thanks to the MP3’s psycho-acoustic modeling processes.

Thus, the MP3 has earned the disdain of audiophiles across the interwebs, and quite understandably so.

Don’t get me wrong, I listen to MP3s and M4A on a regular basis, but lossy compression certainly has no place in the post production world.

The only time lossy compression should ever be used is to encode a 100% finished final product into something for mass consumption (just as you’d never throw away the original film cells of Star Wars because you had a copy on BetaMax).

While lossy compression still holds the torch as far as reducing file size to the masses, there has to be a way to reduce audio file size while still maintaining 100% quality, right?

Enter Lossless compression!

In recent years, Lossless codecs have come to prominence in the audiophile world.

FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) is the most well known, but many different permutations exist including APE and even Apple’s own version ALAC—I’ll let you guess what that stands for.  (Apple always has to be different).

There are even specific encoders for packs of WAV files, most notably the aptly, although not too inspiringly named Wavepack.

While specifically designed to work great on audio files, these methods are at their core are descendants of much older file archiving technologies like ZIP and RAR.

Unlike audio, which can be lossy compressed and retain a similar sound, you can’t really just throw away 90% of computer files and still expect them to work.

It’s still possible to make these files smaller by looking through the data and finding any redundancies, for example noticing “Hey, there are 1000 0s in a row here.  Why not just say ‘1000 0s in a row’ rather than storing them all?”

While this is an oversimplified explanation that I’m sure would make a computer scientist cringe and go back to watching his torrent of last week’s episode of Big Bang Theory, it gives the general idea.

In lossless file compression, no data is lost (It’s not just a clever name!) thus after being uncompressed, the file will be exactly the same as it was.

Even better, these methods use Cyclic Redundancy Checks (CRC) to verify the archives contents are 100% perfect.

While a WAV file could theoretically get cut off mid upload and have a portion of the track missing or corrupted, while using an archive any such missing or inaccurate data will immediately throw up red flags, thus ensuring what you sent is 100% what is received, just much smaller!

As lossless compression is based on redundancy, full length individual WAV tracks, which are full of repeating loops and long periods of silence benefit extremely from lossless compression.

It’s not usual to see a large project go from over 3GB of data uncompressed to as little as 200MB once archived.  Or a full length track only containing a brief vocal recording or sample go from 100MB to 3-4MB.

While it no longer makes sense to throw away data to save space and bandwidth while doing post production of audio, lossless compression, both for bandwidth and storage reasons is an indispensable tool for producers, musicians, and engineers the world round.

And no, it doesn’t reduce audio quality!

I remember growing up, I was told to make sure not to sneeze near the computer so it would stay virus free.

Much the same, compression equating quality degradation is just a myth, just like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and analogue equipment having some kind of magical fairy dust that just makes everything sound better…  (Maybe the last one will need an article of its own?)

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Tightening Up the Bass in Your Mix

Recently I’ve received several emails asking for tips to tightening up bass in a mix.  After dealing with several bass problems of our own this week on projects here in studio, I figured I’d share some of the more basic tricks you can use to tighten up a track’s low end here on the MixLogics.com online mixing and mastering tips blog.

The Mix:

Kick Drum 101

When working on an online mixing project, I start by zeroing out each track.  The first track I generally work with is the kick drum.  I bring it up to a reasonable level, and sculpt the sound with EQ.

By adding/subtracting certain frequencies you can shape the kick sound to your tastes.

In most cases, I roll off frequencies below 40hz to clean any rumbling, as most acoustic kicks have very little useful sound in this area of the spectrum. (Just a guideline–depending on the sound you’re going for and the specific recording you may find otherwise)

Next I tweak the frequencies above 40hz to create a sound I feel will fit the project best.  (Having a rough mix to solo and listen to for reference becomes very helpful in determining the sound that the song requires).

Many projects also require some compression on the kick.  Adjusting compression threshold, ratio, attack and release, is, along with EQ often all that’s necessary to get the punchy consistent kick we’re looking for.

Finishing the Mix

After sculpting the kick, I generally turn to the rest of the drums, but the order in which you proceed is up to you.  One thing I do recommend is periodically hitting the mono button on your mix, to ensure nothing is lost in phase (a topic we’ll discuss later)

Many times, the low end of a track becomes muddied simply by the amount of different sounds/instruments occupying its frequency range.  As a general rule, I tend to start by rolling off frequencies below 100hz on most non kick/bass tracks to allow the low end its own space.  The frequency to set low end roll of will vary depending on the instrument itself along with the number and type of instrumentation in the song itself.  For instance a lush multi-synth, bass, 3 guitar, strings, and vocal arrangement will probably benefit from significant roll-off, while a simple acoustic guitar/vocal may need very little if any.  (I’d always recommend rolling off a little vocal bottom end to remove rumbling, microphone stand thumps, etc.–the human voice has limited frequency, so much of the spectrum below human vocal range will just contain useless noise)

To get an idea of how this works, I’d recommend soloing the bass, drums, and one mid-range instrumental track.  Shift the low end roll-off point of the instrument up and down the spectrum and listen how the bass clarity changes.  Keep in mind though that rolling off too much will result in a hollow sound from the instrument.

Balancing the bass clarity of a mix and the fullness of the rest of the track is not an exact science–it’s usually just a matter of trial and error.

This method of EQ to create open pockets will also help improve your mixes at all frequencies–not just the low end!  For instance, scooping out frequencies from the instrumental can help create a vocal that sits well within in the track while not getting lost in the fold–avoiding the “The guitar drowns out the singer” scenario along with the karaoke type sound when a vocal is just turned up to compensate, giving it a feeling of being completely separate from the instrumental.

Once we have a good mix we can move on to the next step!

Panning

To sum things up, don’t do it!

Not to the low end that is.

Panning can give you a much more three dimensional sound, but leave the hard lefts and rights to the strings and guitars.  Panning the low end leads to serious problems. (Not to mention hard panning itself is far overused)

First off, low frequencies are the least directional to the human ear–that’s why your subwoofer 10 feet away from the television doesn’t sound strange at all, while moving a center channel dialogue speaker to the same location would drive you nuts.  Since humans have little ability to process low end sound directionality, there’s no real point to panning a kick drum or bass (at least if you’re mixing stereophonically.  If mixing biphonically (headphones) it’s still probably not a very good idea.)

Take a lesson from your subwoofer in that bass frequencies require the most amplification power for speakers to reproduce.  This power imbalance between speakers can lead to speaker and sound system damage or at the very least give the listener an imbalanced listen from Right to Left.

Bass belongs in the center.  Of course there are always exceptions to every rule, but if you’re looking for a cleaner, tighter bass sound, this is one rule you need to follow.

Stereo Image:

Stereo image adjustment is a hot commodity both in the later stages of mixing and in the mastering process.

Whether using hardware or software, stereo expansion can give a much more open sound to a track.  This process however, will wreak havoc on your low end.

A stereo imager works by increasing the difference between the left and right channel signals.  The results may sound wider and more open, but the byproduct of any such processing is phase.  Worst part for your new found tight bass sound? Low frequencies are the most notorious for being distorted by phase.

To check if phase is an issue on your track, switch playback to mono mode.  If you hear much of a difference, phase is likely a problem.

Fixing Phase Problems:

So you’ve got your mix sounding nice and wide, but the bass has become muddied, quieted and riddled with phase.  What’s to be done?

Reading a phase scope and explaining what phase is and how/why is happens is a complicated topic, far beyond the scope of this blog post of bass tips.

Oversimplified, phase is a (usually) negative result of stereo sound.

Reducing the stereo width of the low frequencies will bring the punchy clear bass back to dead center where it belongs, reducing or completely eliminating low end phase.

But how to do this while leaving the rest of the stereo image intact?

The answer is multi-band stereo imaging.  Tools to adjust stereo image based on frequency band are available through both hardware and software means, but if you don’t have access to any multi-band stereo imaging tools,  fear not!

A free VST plugin can help save your mix! (along with your hardware/software budget)

Basslane is a plugin from otiumFX which allows you to adjust the size of the stereo image with a built in lowpass cutoff.

It gives you the same low end stereo width control as any high end stereo imaging device, just without all the bragging rights, gearlust fulfillment, and credit card bills.

The best part is that there is almost no learning curve to using it.  Just insert the plugin in the main bus (or in the instrument track(s) of your choice), adjust the stereo size knob (zero is not a bad place to start) and the cutoff frequency to suit the song.  Once you find the cutoff that sounds best to you, the plugin will bring your low end back to center while leaving sounds above the cutoff frequency to ring out in all their stereophonic glory.

Basslane is available for free at:

http://www.otiumfx.com/basslane.php

otiumFX also offers several other useful plugins you may like to demo, but being that the rest of their products aren’t as universally useful or as free, (and I’m not receiving an advertising check) I’ll leave that up to you!

While there are a wide range of other tips and techniques that can assist you in getting the sound you’re looking for, building from the bass up, sculpting the sound you’d like through EQ, keeping kick and bass centered, and minimizing low end phase will definitely get you headed in the right direction, giving you noticeably improved low end tightness in your mix.

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Getting the Sound You Want From Your Online Mixing and Mastering Session

Artists new to Online Mixing and Mastering tend to be overwhelmed with all the information to take in. One of the areas I see artists struggle with most consistently is in communicating their ideal vision of the project to the mastering engineer in an effective way.

Here are a few tips to helping ensure that both you and your engineer are on the same page as far as where you would like your project to head sonically.

1. Send your engineer a list of bands, albums, or songs that you feel have a similar sound to what you would like to hear from your project.

Take some time to listen to the references you send and determine what qualities you want in your own final masters. For example, saying “I want to sound like Santana.” is far less effective than “I really like the warm lead guitar sound in Song X.”

Knowing what specifically about the reference you like will help your mastering engineer understand exactly what it is you are looking for in your final mix.

2. Send a rough mix of your own.

Uploading tracks is one of the slowest and least exciting parts of the online mixing and mastering process. That’s why so many artists cut corners by not separating stems and by compressing audio to MP3 format (more on that in another article). One of the most important things you should always include while uploading tracks for online mixing is a reference track.

Your online mixing engineer (if he or she is worth their weight in salt) will desire you to send every track of your mix completely dry (this isn’t an issue if sendingProtools Sessions or .OMF files, as all the dry recording information is still contained in those file formats).

If you want a repeating echo on a certain word, or want specific ad libs pitch shifted up or down, it’s absolutely impossible for your engineer to know that without being specifically told with exact words and time placement in the track.

Sending a reference track with those effects already rendered shows the engineer where you’d like to head, without handcuffing him with wet (effects ridden) recordings.

3. Make and send notes–The more detailed the better!

Once I received in the mail a package from a client with 8 pages of typed notes regarding his album all written in 10pt font. Single spaced. The package also contained 3CDs full of reference tracks and his own rough demo mixes of each track.

While you may think, “Wow this guy is going to think I’m crazy if I am this specific about my notes.” You would be absolutely mistaken!

As engineers, we understand this is your ART! You know exactly how you’d like it to sound. If we don’t know, we have to guess, and while we can usually make educated assumptions, being aware of exactly what you’re looking for saves us the worry of straying from your vision and saves us the time of massive remixing when you don’t like it!

When you receive the mix for the first time, most online mixing and mastering studios will solicit your input and ask what changes you’d like made, and then make them for you. In our case at MixLogics Studios, we provide up to three rounds of changes for free. If your online mixing engineer doesn’t offer adjustments as part of their price plan, run the other way!  Which brings us to-

4. When making notes about the track, TAKE YOUR TIME!

This can’t be stressed enough. As engineers, we are in no hurry to get your project off the to do list. If you’d like a week to listen to the project and let it digest, by all means do so. When making notes be as specific as possible. (Make sure to give yourself plenty of time before your deadline for post production. A rushed job is far less likely to be sonically perfect than one given careful thought and listening).

Including track names and times is essential. For instance, instead of, “Take the Background Vocals off the end of the last chorus,” you might instead say, “Drop out the Background Vocals from the word xxx at 0:45 until 1:15.” Trying to guess whether both verses before the first chorus comes in count as one verse one two will just lead to headaches on both sides.

Make sure to give the track many listens and a decent amount of time so that you can be as thorough in your notes as possible. Any online mixing and mastering engineer will tell you that they’d much rather get one round of changes with 100 notes than 4 rounds of changes with 10 notes each.

Why? Because to make any changes, we must reload the project, make the necessary adjustments, then rerender the file, remaster it (at MixLogics we master each round of mixing but not all online mixing and mastering services do), and reupload it to the server. If your online mixing and mastering engineer works with uncompressed audio (see above notes about running the other direction if they don’t!) the average song is about 40MB, all of which takes a great deal of time.

Also, this process involves listening to the track probably at least 10 times each round of adjustments, and as we hear the tracks over and over, the fresh ears that originally lent objectivity to the mix begin to miss things.

5. Solicit input from your engineer.

Most of the time, your engineer will try their best to make your track sound how YOU want it to sound. And by all rights, as it is YOUR music it should! But if you are at a loss or not sure about some aspects of the track, most engineers will be glad to give you their personal opinion, whether it be something as broad as overall direction and sound, or something as small as a particular trick of the trade they’ve picked up over the years of mixing down tracks–your engineer really is a valuable resource and in my experience most are glad to lend a bit of advice when it comes to the technical side of sound. (Now having us rewrite your lyrics for you might be a bad idea!)

Overall, the main key to getting the sound you want from your online mixing and mastering session is communication. Try to ensure that what you’re looking for is always as crystal clear as possible, and try to be specific with your notes, and you’ll be sure to get the sound you want!

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Welcome to the MixLogics Studios Blog

Welcome to our new blog.

We hope to use this tool to communicate tips and tricks to help you receive the highest quality final sound from your recording projects.

Most information you’ll find here should be applicable whether or not you choose the MixLogics Studios team to work on your project.  Our aim is to help your music be the best it can be, whether you do business with us or not.

While content should probably be focused on ways to ease the online mixing and mastering process, you may also find Music Criticism, Reviews, Rants, and perhaps even completely off topic subjects–we’ll do our best to keep everything useful, interesting and informative.

The majority of content will be provided by our Senior Mastering Engineer, Bill Lancz, who can be reached by emailing us (info@mixlogics dot com) or through the Facebook/Twitter links in the menu.

If you own or would like to recommend a useful blog or website as a resource to share with our readers on the menu bar, please drop us a line or leave a comment.

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