The end of the year list you’ve all been waiting for is finally here. Forget Best Albums, Greatest Moments, or Best Selling lists– this is the only one that really matters. And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… Welcome to The 2nd Annual Audio Hertz Super Duper Really Great Audio Engineer and Music Producer Meme Awards.
Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Like it or not, the holidays are upon us again. Where did the time go? Oh yeah, I remember; they were spent locked in my apartment, gripped with fear and crippling anxiety. Well, hopefully, the holiday season will be the start of something new and better. For one thing, we know we are close to the end of the year, and it couldn’t come any sooner. Regardless of how you’ll be spending the holiday season, it’s always a good idea to show the people you love that you’re thinking of them.
Is one of your loved ones a music producer? Do you need to buy them a gift? There’s good news! I’ve put together a comprehensive guide that will take all of the thinking out of it. Everything on this list is guaranteed to make any recording musician, audio engineer, or music producer excited. You can’t miss!
Here’s my list of the best gifts to get for music producers in 2020!
Improve their room
I’m sure if you were to ask most people what the best gift was, it would never be something that the recipient has to spend time building… but these wooden diffusers are extremely easy to put together as there are included instructions, and everything comes pre-cut. If you want to be an even better gift-giver, you can build it for them! Diffusers of this quality will typically go for up to 3-4 times the cost of just one of these kits.
Studios can get messy! Anything that will help me organize my space, so I don’t have to worry about cleaning up as often is something I’m extremely interested in. I found this nifty cable hanger randomly and thought it was a great way to easily store cables. I currently go with some cheap cup hooks, but this design is pretty genius and makes a great gift for any musician. We all have a ton of cables lying around our room. It’s part of the job.
Recording studios have cables. Lots and lots of cables. It’s more difficult than it should be to store them easily. This wall-mountable cable hanger solves that age-old problem by making it easy to hang and retrieve your most used cables of all sizes.
There’s no replacement for treating a room properly, but these portable reflection filters definitely help and are great to have around any studio. These things make it easy to set up and record quality sounding vocal tracks anywhere you want. With a good reflection filter, you can be confident that your tracks will definitely be useable when it comes time for mixing. I also like these when I record vocals without headphones, as they do a great job of blocking out the sound from the speakers. They are well worth it for the price, and any producer with a home studio would benefit and appreciate having one of these around.
Scott Iulianelli has been making some absolutely killer analog inspired art merch for the last few years. His work never ceases to amaze me, and I would buy it all if I could. You can’t go wrong with anything in his store.
This classy, sleek synth poster would look great on the wall of any studio or music room.
You really only see them in old movies and television shows, but I’ve always wanted one of these to hang in my room. This is the perfect accent for any home studio, and it’s something most wouldn’t buy for themselves, which makes it a great gift.
A musician’s solution to the classic dilemma that is misplacing your keys. These are handmade in the good ol’ USA and include 1/4″ plug keychains. Plug in your keys when you get home and unplug them when you’re ready to head out. The cherry on top is that the jewel light really works when you turn it on.
Improve their workflow
External Hard Drive
You can never have enough hard drives. Give the gift of more storage space this year. The Samsung T5 and the WD My Passport are solid-state or SSDs. Solid-state drives are more reliable and have much faster read and write speeds than your standard hard drives. These are best used as work drives to save projects and sample libraries. The 5TB WD Elements is a standard hard drive, which, although it has slower read and write speeds, is more affordable and a better option for long term storage.
This is one I included on my list last year, and it will probably be on my gift guide every year for the rest of entirety. If you couldn’t tell from my emphasis on hard drives, backing up files is important for all audio engineers and producers. Unlike painters that have to store large canvas, as musicians, our art lives in the digital realm, and services like Backblaze make it easy to preserve our most valuable creations.
$5 a month for unlimited cloud storage! $5 lets you back up as many files as they can throw at it. The desktop application allows you to seamlessly back up your drives as well as set up an upload schedule. Whoever gets this will never lose another session again!
Shortcuts or hotkeys are a combination of keys on a keyboard that perform a task on a computer or, more specifically for musicians, a digital audio workstation. Using hotkeys speeds up workflow drastically. Someone that is well versed in the hotkeys of their DAW of choice looks like a magician while they are mixing or editing, easily jumping from different tasks where it might take two or three times as long if they had used the mouse to do the same task. The only hard part about hotkeys is remembering them. It’s like learning another language. These keyboard covers put the hotkeys right in front of you. Not only is it a convenient reference tool, but it also teaches you hotkeys you might not have known before. If you’re buying this for someone, make sure you know what DAW they use and what type of computer they have.
The Stream Deck is the future! Originally developed for streamers and content creators, the Stream Deck can be utilized to map tasks in applications to buttons. You can make your own shortcuts in your DAW of choice and map them to the 16 configurable LCD buttons. You can even put custom graphics or text on each of the buttons. The possibilities are endless with this thing. You have to see it to believe it. Check out this demonstration video below.
Protect their gear
Cases and dust covers. We hate to buy them, but we all need them, which means they make a great gift.
Take them to school
David Byrne is a musical Yoda. In his book “How Music Works,” Bryne elegantly explains how music is shaped by our surroundings. He also gets into the beginning of recording technology and the profound impact it has had on the world we live in. If you’re looking to open up a musician’s mind and have them look at their art form in a new exciting way, this book is the perfect gift.
My favorite book on mixing. It’s one of the only books I will go back to over and over again. Even after reading it multiple times, I’ll still pick up something new. Books make great gifts, and this is one every mixing engineer should keep on their shelf.
This might be the most valuable resource for any recording musician, music producer, or audio engineer. These well-made tutorial videos allow you to work right alongside some of the greatest minds in the industry.
Tools of the trade
Everyone needs a Leatherman. And by everyone, I mean every single person that exists in the world. Receiving your first Leatherman is a right of passage that all audio engineers need to experience. Trust me, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience; imagine walking around with a single tool that could do as much as 13 individual tools. Can you imagine the power you would wield? No, you didn’t just become Superman; you’re only holding a Leatherman. You can even store it in the included sheath and attach it to your belt, like it’s Excalibur.
This guitar multi-tool has everything you need to adjust guitars. Great for having around the studio in case any guitars need some fine-tuning.
Stringing a guitar is annoying. This tool makes it less annoying.
This spray can be found in just about every studio around the world. A little spritz of this stuff helps protect, lubricate, and improve the conductivity of electronics. It also helps reduce intermittent connections, arcing, and RFI, as well as wear and abrasion. Not the sexiest gift but definitely something useful that anyone with a lot of gear could use.
This cool little gadget tells you if your AC adapters are working properly. Simply plug in a synth or guitar pedal power adapter to the hot tip, and it will light up if it is receiving the correct amount of power to the device. If you have a lot of AC adapters, you know that they don’t always last forever, the hot tip allows you to quickly check if an adapter is working properly.
Improve their productions
This guitar effects router allows you to use any guitar pedal as a piece of outboard gear. That means with this little orange guy, it’s possible to send anything you want out of your DAW to your favorite delay, distortion, or any other guitar pedal you may have lying around. Start putting those pedals to use on more than just a guitar!
This 500 series module lets you use the reverb tank on a guitar amp as a piece of outboard gear. Use the Tank Driver to send anything to a guitar amps reverb tank, and record it back into a DAW for a truly authentic-sounding spring reverb. Pretty nifty.
This badass palm-sized, battery-operated synth is a real workhorse. The synth is made up of a ribbon keyboard controller, 5 knobs, and a single switch. The simplicity makes it easy to get started, but the unit’s more advanced capabilities are truly remarkable. The included delay and original MS-20 filter put it over the top. I also love that it has an aux input, so you can use the filter on any source external source. It’s an incredible value and insanely fun little go-anywhere synth.
This little battery-operated amp sounds better than you probably think. Connect the amPlug to the input of your guitar and use the headphone output to hear that sweet vox tone. With this thing, practicing at night will no longer be a problem.
The Jammy G might have the worst name ever, but it is a great idea and extremely well done. This digital midi guitar can be used to control any software instrument or device in a DAW. The guitar has 15 frets with sensors that track finger position, string muting, and bends. The built-in USB port allows you to connect it to ur computer easily. But the best part about this thing is that it has nearly zero latency, which makes playing it much more seamless.
It’s definitely not a replacement for a guitar as the feel of the sensors takes getting used to, but once you do, it’s hours of fun and a legitimate production tool. It’s a new world being able to play my synths and software instruments like a guitar. As a composition tool, the Jammy G gives me a fresh approach to writing chord progressions and melodies. I’ll often find myself creating things I wouldn’t have been able to if I was using a standard keyboard or using my mouse to click in notes on the piano roll.
This 4-track portable recorder makes it easy to record anywhere on the go. Capture any sound you want quickly and easily. The built-in Stereo X/Y condenser microphones sound remarkably good, and there are also analog XLR/TRS mic and line inputs.
Can’t miss industry standards
Everyone needs two of each of these. The Shure SM57 and 58 dynamic microphones are staples of recording. Every recording musician would be happy to have more of them! The Sony 7506s are the classic closed-back over-ear headphones with a pronounced mid-range. They can be found in just about every recording and broadcast studio around the world. The Radial Pro DI is a little green box that does its job and does it well, whether you’re using it to DI a bass guitar or a synth; there’s nothing I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting through this bad boy.
Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Whether or not you’re a fan of the Beatles, if you’re into audio or music production, you need to appreciate the groundbreaking recording and production techniques used at Abbey Road. Geoff Emerick is the audio engineer who was behind the console while the Beatles were recording many of their most famous tracks. His memoir gives a first-hand account of what it was like to work with the four mop tops in the heyday of their popularity. His life story is fascinating, having begun working at EMI studios when he was just 15. By 19, he was tasked with recording the biggest band in the world, eventually becoming one of the most influential audio engineers of all time.
Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust: Off the Record with The Beatles, Bowie, Elton & So Much More, Hardcover Book by Ken Scott with Bobby Owsinski
Ken Scott was another one of five people that had the privilege of standing behind the desk for the Beatles. He also was responsible for engineering David Bowie’s famous Ziggy Stardust and has worked with artists like Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Elton John, Supertramp, The Rolling Stones, Harry Nilson, Kansas, Lou Reed, America, and many more. Like Emerick, Scott rose to prominence as a staff engineer at Abbey Road. He was displeased with Emerick’s portrayal of The Beatles and their producer George Martin which led to him refuting some of his stories in this book.
Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, the Faces. . . by Glyn Johns
Glyn Johns was one of if not the most sought after audio engineers in London during the 1960s. Johns specialized in working with the original artists and finding a sonic character that complemented their music. He was also a pioneer in creating new techniques and, most notably, for his drum mic technique, which many engineers still use today. This book is as close as it gets to being a fly on the wall in some of the most famous and monumental recording sessions there ever were.
Are We Still Rolling? Studios, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll ‑ One Man’s Journey Recording Classic Albums By Phill Brown
Phil Brown might not be as well known as some of the others on this list. Still, his story is not any less impressive. Brown started his career as a junior technician in 1967 and learned by working under such audio geniuses as Glyn Johns and Eddie Kramer. Eventually, he was recording some of the most prominent artists, such as Mott the Hoople, Bob Marley, David Bowie, Talk Talk, Steve Winwood, Dido, and Robert Plant. The book covers much of Brown’s time spent in the studio, including techniques and gear that he used. The reader is also given an intimate look into an audio engineer’s life during this time period. Brown talks very candidly about his struggles with balancing his home life, drug abuse, and dealing with the industry’s challenging social and political aspects.
Al Schmitt is a living legend in every sense of the word. A true master of the craft that is respected by every single person in the industry. His incredible story begins in New York City as a young kid visiting and eventually working at his Uncle Harry’s studio. He went on to apprentice under the godfather of audio engineering, Tom Dowd. His first real session was with Bing Crosby when he serendipitously was the only engineer available to run the session. You can only imagine everything else this man has seen and been a part of– He has worked with Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Madonna, and Paul McCartney, to name a few. Schmitt has engineered over 150 albums and has over 20 Grammy awards, more than any other engineer or producer. He was also the first person to win both the Grammy and Latin Grammy for Album of the Year.
Phil Ramone has worked with everyone. Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Billy Joel, Paull McCartney, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, and Stevie Wonder. He established one of the earliest independent recording studios, A & R Recording, with Chief Engineer Bill Schwartau in 1959. He was sought after for his impeccable sounding records and innovative use of technology. Ramone has been nominated for 34 Grammys and won 14 of those, including a Technical Grammy for a lifetime of innovative contributions to the recording industry, Best Engineered Recording. He’s produced the Album of the Year, the Record of the Year, and in 1981 won Producer of the Year. In his later years, he transitioned into an executive role for The Recording Academy.
Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album by Ken Caillat with Steven Stiefel
Ken Calliet was the man behind the glass and turning the knobs when recording some of the most significant songs ever produced. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors sold over 45 million copies and went 20 times platinum. Making Rumours gives you an insider look at what it was like to work in Los Angeles with the Mac in 1976. On top of the musical significance, there was no shortage of drama, as sex and drugs were aplenty. There was also some drama stemming from multiple romantic relationships between band members ending shortly before the recording of the album started. Calliet tells his side of the story and gets into the more technical information about the recording and mixing process. If you’re a fan of this album (and you’d be crazy not to be), you’ll enjoy the read.
Learn about how a young kid from Brooklyn moved to the UK and became a pivotal part of launching an entire genre known as Glam Rock. Visconti was one of the most influential music producers of the 1970s. Most famously known as the producer behind David Bowie’s records, he has also worked with other famous artists such as T. Rex, Moody Blues, Joe Cocker, Thin Lizzy, Morrisey, Paul McCartney and Wings, and many more. Visconti’s nonjudgemental, honest and straightforward storytelling makes this one of the most readable memoirs on this list.
The Latin Hit Maker: My Journey from Cuban Refugee to World-Renowned Record Producer and Songwriter by Rudy Pérez
If you’re not familiar with Rudy Perez’s name, you’ve, without a doubt, heard some of his music. Perz has produced over 70 albums and written over 1000 songs, of which over 300 have reached the top 10 charts. He has worked with world renowned Latin artists such as Julio Iglesias, Marc Anthony, and Luis Fonsi and mainstream artists such as Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and many more. His music accolades aside, he has a fascinating and true rags to riches story. He was born in Cuba and fled the country to escape the political regime. His family eventually made it to Miami, where they were forced to live in a refugee camp before they were able to settle in Florida. He quit school at 15 and worked his way up to working with some of the most prominent artists of all time. This is one that you’re guaranteed to enjoy, and it will be difficult to put down.
Ted Templeman, who is most famously known for working with Van Halen, The Doobie Brothers, and Aerosmith, was a hitmaker for Warner Brothers in the late 1970s and 1980s. Templeman generated worldwide sales approaching 100 million albums. Templeman’s story has an appropriate amount of sex, drugs, and of course, rock and roll; he’s also able to sprinkle in plenty of the technical information of the recording process.
Disclosure: Audio Hertz is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
You’ve probably seen plugins, guitar amps, or stereos that replicate a Baxandall circuit, or maybe you’ve heard of the popular Dangerous BAX mastering equalizer. Peter Baxandall designed the Baxandall tone circuit or EQ in 1950, and they were then implemented into millions of audio systems around the world.
So what is a Baxandall equalizer circuit, and what makes it different than other equalizers?
The Baxandall equalizer is a shelving EQ, but unlike traditional shelving EQs, which have a steep rise or fall above the set frequency, the Baxandall shelving curve has an extremely wide Q curve, which creates a gentle slope. The broad curve can adjust a large portion of the frequency spectrum, but the gentle slope allows for a more natural sound and minimal phase distortion. The minimal phase distortion enables users to make more drastic boosts and cuts without imparting negative artifacts into the signal. This results in a wide, open sound that enhances the source’s sonic character that’s already there rather than imparting its own sonic character. These equalizers offer a subtle yet remarkably effective way of adjusting the frequency spectrum, which is why you’ll often find them being used on the mix bus and for mastering.
During World War II, Baxandall consulted for the Telecommunications Research Establishment in the Circuit Research Division. It was there he spent his time working on many different types of projects, including frequency transformers, powered loudspeakers, oscillators, high-speed tape duplicating equipment, and high precision microphone calibration methods, among many more things. His hero, Alan Blumlein, who you might know for his stereo micing technique, also worked for the TRE.
Lucky for us, Baxandall was enormously generous and patient with passing on his knowledge. He was also remarkably good at conveying very complicated topics in a simple and easily understandable form. He published his tone circuit in a 1952 article in Wireless World magazine. Have you ever seen the Bass and Treble knobs on a stereo? That’s likely a Baxandall EQ circuit. He never collected a single royalty, while even a minuscule percentage would’ve made him an extremely wealthy man. This might be the greatest testament to his generosity; he genuinely wanted the world to sound better.
The term equalization was likely derived from the various operators’ requirements at the time (phone, motion picture, broadcast, etc.) that were attempting to get their audio back to a flat frequency response or equal. Equalization, or filtering as it was also called, has been part of audio equipment since the beginning of the technology. Early radios came equipped with high frequency or top cut filters to remove unwanted noise or artifacts. Early telephone lines used equalizers to put back the high end that was lost in transmission. These equalizers were not fully adjustable like the parametric equalizers you’ll find in your DAW today.
Do you want to try a Baxandall EQ?
Accumulating plugins is addicting, and if you’re not careful, it can get expensive. Luckily there are a lot of great software developers offering their plugins to the music production community for free. Here are a few incredible sounding compressor plugins that, if they weren’t free, I would gladly pay for.
All of these plugins are 100% free and available in VST, VST3, AU, and AAX formats.
- Emulated Variable-Mu circuit injected with ear-pleasing saturation.
- Loosely based off of the legendary Fairchild 660.
- Extremely good looking GUI.
- Easy to use with a straightforward vintage design consisting of only Input, Output, and Time Constraint controls.
- A more extensive version with added features and two other modeled circuits is available for less than $27.
- Vari-mu compressors offer a unique compression style not commonly found in many plugins. With a variable-mu circuit, the ratio of the gain reduction increases as you hit the unit’s input harder, which can yield very musically pleasing results even when you lay into it aggressively.
- Two knob compressors are f*cking awesome.
- Go from a light, clean, gentle squeeze to heavy pumping with crunchy distortion with only two knobs.
- Negative mode offers upward or over compression. Downward compression is what everyone calls compression, but upward compression increases the level of the signal when it falls below the threshold, which leads to embellished dynamics and a unique sound.
- Deep mode adds a high-pass filter to the sidechain input.
- Mono mode compresses each channel independently.
- Relax mode changes detection from Peak/RMS.
- Built-in mix feature for quick and easy parallel compression.
- Designed as a mastering compressor
- Original design, not a vintage emulation
- Able to tame transients and still sound transparent.
- Unlike many free compressor plugins out there, this sounds great on the mix bus.
- Parallel dynamic equalizer
- Parametric equalizer with an added dynamics section.
- Sounds excellent on a wide range of applications. A few common are de-essing, repairing clashing frequencies without effecting overall tonality throughout the entire track, frequency-selective compression, or changes in the movement for only specific frequencies.
- The difference between a dynamic EQ and a multiband compressor is with a dynamic EQ, you can adjust Q curves, while multiband compressors have overall frequency ranges.
- If you’re new to Acustica, then this is the place to start.
- Classic VCA compression style similar to an SSL compressor with added vibe
- The unique ShMod control.
- “ShMod” (Shape Modulation) is a shape control for the attack curve of the compressor: it allows you to fine-tune the attack shape so that you can optimize the attack behavior for the specific source.
- Smooth, silky compression reminiscent of the most well-known compressor ever made.
- Compare to Waves CLA-2A and UAD LA-2A.
- One of the sexiest looking GUIs I’ve ever seen.
- Additional features that are not found on the original hardware include a mix knob and more sidechain filter options making this classic even more versatile.
Link to the developers Patreon,
- Gritty and aggressive style compression.
- Although designed for a “pumping effect,” this compressor is very capable of achieving sonically pleasing results on a variety of sources.
- Lack of metering may seem like a negative, but it makes it a good plugin for training your ear.
- Extremely straightforward and easy to use with an intuitive GUI.
- The soft clipping feature keeps me coming back; great for adding knock to drums. If you don’t know what clipping is, you can read all about it here.
- RMS or Peak detection modes offer two different styles of compression. In peak mode, the compressor will react when any peak crosses the threshold. In RMS or Root Mean Squared mode, the detector calculates and responds only when the average level of the signal crosses the threshold. RMS is excellent for overall leveling.
It’s a lot harder to procrastinate your to-do list when it’s staring you in the face every day. When you wake up, there it is; when you change your clothes, there it is; when you go to sleep, there it is. These boards make it easy to write out lists or draw things to help plan projects or visualize techniques or concepts. Sometimes words are confusing, and it’s easier to draw a picture. Dry erase markers make it easy to add and change things as you go, and the scented ones smell good. I like to use whiteboards to track the progress of projects. It usually will take multiple sessions to complete projects. Adding a list of things I’ve done and things I still need to do makes it easy to stay productive and complete tasks.
No cable shall be left untied! That is the vow I make every single day I step foot into the studio. It is my duty as a qualified, experienced audio engineer to wrap my cables properly and make sure they are tied!
But seriously, make sure your cables are tied! Velcro cable ties help you organize and manage cables, which makes things look cleaner. Managing your cable clutter keeps your studio looking a little less messy. I’m not a massive fan of having an immaculate studio, but I emphasize cable management, as I’m a firm believer that a poorly run cable is an unhappy cable. Look up ways to neatly organize and manage your cables in your studio so you don’t have to look at a big rat’s nest on the ground all the time; you’ll thank me later.
Wrap your cables and velcro them together for optimal storage and transportation. No more tangled wires!
You get a label! And you get a label! Everything gets a label! I’m the Oprah Winfrey of labeling things. I love knowing exactly what is in a box when I look at it. You’d be surprised how much time it saves when you’re looking at something and can tell what it is right away. Labeling can save seconds or even minutes, and those can add up. I also like to label any switches or buttons. For instance, I have a passive speaker switcher from Coleman Audio, so I label each button with the corresponding speaker. Now anyone that comes into my studio knows what button engages which pair of speakers. Labeling everything is especially necessary if other engineers or producers are going to be using your studio.
Another beneficial way of using the label maker is to label the ends of cables. Labeling both ends allows you to know where each cable goes quickly, regardless of which side you look at. This is extremely useful when making long runs, where it can get confusing fast.
You might think this looks like regular old masking tape but go and try and use masking tape to label your gear. Good labeling tape is thick enough to write on with a sharpie and isn’t completely translucent; it also doesn’t leave a residue when you take it off.
I use labeling tape for obvious uses, such as temporarily labeling a mixing console, switches, cables, and other gear. I also use it to write passive-aggressive notes around the studio, such as “HANDS OFF” or “DID YOU PUT IT BACK WHERE YOU FOUND IT?”
I don’t know what I did before I found gaffer tape. If you’ve worked in Live Sound, Theatre or Film, you’re likely already familiar with the magic that is gaffer tape. I literally will use the stuff for everything. If anything needs holding in place, I grab the gaff tape. Gaff tape is like duct tape, except it’s way better. The main difference is gaff tape is made with cloth instead of vinyl, and the adhesive comes off easier and leaves little to no residue. One of the most common uses of gaff tape is to adhere cables to the floor so they’re not tripping hazards. I recently had some blinds on my bedroom window that didn’t want to close all the way– a little gaffer tape and that problem was solved quickly and easily, albeit maybe not the most attractive.
Because you can never have enough sharpies! Sure, you can label things with your new label maker, but you’ll also need to mark things on the fly that are temporary. After applying artist tape to the console, I use sharpies to label each channel. I also use Sharpies to label the end of cables. You can see I like to label things. Labeling helps you stay organized, and being organized saves you time and helps you work more efficiently.
Control rooms and recording studios can get weird. You never know when you might have twelve percussion instruments, a vintage tape delay, and three laptops that you need to put somewhere. Foldable tables and chairs of all sizes are lifesavers when it comes to times like these. It also prevents accidents when someone decides to put something expensive on a window ledge, and it falls as soon as the drummer hits the kick drum.
Because everyone needs light! I like to keep my studio somewhat dark and vibey, and clip-on lights allow me to easily grant my clients the ability to illuminate whatever they want at the drop of a hat. Throw one on a music stand, desk, pedalboard, amp, or synth. Whatever needs illuminating, one of these babies has got you covered!
We’ve all been there– you have two pieces of gear that need power and only one outlet. Do you play the ol’ ‘let me unplug the one I don’t use as often now, and then when I need it, I’ll figure it out’ game? Just kick the problem down the road to the future you? No! No, you don’t!
With one of these 1 to 4 outlet power splitters, you can turn a single outlet into 4. It also helps when you have a couple of fat wall warts (fat wall wart shaming is allowed) that need extra space that your surge protector, power conditioner, or UPS doesn’t have. They also make these 1 to 2 or 1 to 1. I like to have a few of these lying around, so I never have to worry about fat wall warts spoiling the party.
Turn anything on or off from your smartphone using an app. You can control these devices when you’re not at home or put them on a schedule or timer.
I’ve found a lot of uses for these. I have one connected to a fan in the live room, and now when someone forgets to turn it off, I can do it from my phone. Instead of asking one of my clients or an intern to go into the live room to turn it off before we start recording, I can open an app on my phone and tap a button. It’s incredibly convenient, and I’ve found other one-off uses for these as well that have made them a handy tool to have around the studio.
I don’t think many people know this, but indoor security cameras are incredibly cheap and work pretty damn well. If you have people at your studio, especially if your studio is in your house, it’s not a bad idea to get a few of these so you can monitor what’s going on remotely. This one even has a motion detector, so you can set to start recording when it detects movement, and it will then immediately upload it to a cloud storage service. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t dealt with many thieves or dishonest clients. Still, it’s always good to plan for the worst, and a camera is an excellent way to ensure your studio and possessions’ safety if anything does happen.
Maybe it’s the cable? I’ve probably heard that a million times in my career. Spoiler alert! It’s usually not the cable, but at least a cable tester will give you a quick and easy way to find out if it is. These are also especially vital if you make your own cables and check to ensure everything is wired correctly. I’ve wired a few XLR cables backward in my day. The cool part about this tester is it does 12 different types of connections commonly found around a recording studio. This device can test for other types of connections: USB, RCA, Speakon, Banana plugs, DIN, RJ45, and more.
Microphones can be heavy. I like to have sandbags around to help weigh down any stands that may seem a little less stable than I’d like. A few sandbags on the bottom of a stand will help ensure your stands stay where you want them, so you don’t go slamming the original Neumann U47 on the floor of your studio.
Backup your files, back up those files, and then back up those files. I used to be really careless when it came to storing old projects and files. It turns out those files meant a lot to me and having them in just one place wasn’t a good idea. There is nothing worse than losing a project or session. You’ll never get it back.
It would be best if you always had everything important backed up at least three times, with one of those backups being in a different location than the other two. If any of your data is only in one place, you’re at risk of losing it. It’s essential to have not only local backups of your files but also off-site or cloud backups. If there is ever a fire or natural disaster and the location where your drives are stored is damaged, you won’t be able to retrieve your files, no matter how many copies you have. This is why having a cloud storage service like Backblaze is so crucial if you’re serious about keeping your data forever.
Backblaze is a cloud backup service that automatically backups every one of your drives for only $5 a month. If you ever lose a hard drive or a file, you can download it or have them send you a hard drive with the same files on it. I’ve lost some of my old music that I wish I still had. I will never make that mistake again. With Backblaze, I’m guaranteed to have my files no matter what happens.
If you’re not familiar with Valhalla DSP plugins, then you either just started recording yesterday, or you live under a rock. For the last 13 years, founder and head reverb and delay algorithm mastermind Sean Costello has been putting out some of the best sounding and most widely used plugins available. From the massive list of famous musicians and producers that are believers of his reverbical prowess to the fact that you’ll find all of his plugins in just about every recording studio around the world, it’s obvious he makes some of the best-sounding plugins out there.
On the Valhalla DSP website, Costello talks about his obsession with digital signal processing algorithms and his immense passion and desire to produce immaculate sounding reverbs. His passion, combined with a background consisting of over ten years of experience, are the ingredients that allow him to create some of the best and most highly regarded reverb and delays.
If you mention the name Valhalla to producers, you’ll almost always be met with a resounding nod of approval, usually accompanied by a few kind words delivered in an excited tone. Not only are they practical, intuitive, and easy to use, but they are also incredibly affordable– all of their paid plugins are just $50. If you can’t afford something regardless of how fairly it’s priced– Valhalla DSP is generous enough to offer a few plugins for free to anyone that knows how to click a link on a website. That’s right; not only is Valhalla giving it away for free, but they aren’t asking for anything in return, not even an email address or a follow on social media. It is a truly admirable way of marketing and an incredible asset to producers and audio engineers.
Valhalla’s second free plugin, Supermassive, takes reality and throws it on its head. Costello thought it was silly to only focus on realistic sounding algorithms. Before Supermassive, his primary goal was to preserve the natural characteristics of reverb you’d find in real environments. Realistic reverbs are familiar to our ears, but then he started thinking, ‘what about delay lines that didn’t and couldn’t exist in the real world?’ In walks, Valhalla Supermassive.
Now let’s get into what exactly this new plugin is all about. According to Valhalla’s website, Supermassive is based around feedback delay networks and designed to create reverbs and delays that sound massive. Feedback Delay Networks consist of a set of delays and a feedback matrix through which the delay outputs are coupled to the delay inputs.
Supermassive includes all of the features you’d expect in a standard delay but what really sets it apart from the pack is the Warp control. The Warp knob allows you to change the length of the delays in the network relative to the set delay time. The more you increase the warp value, the more delays in the network spread out. The results can range from simple echos, resonant delays, smeared reverb tails to massively lush reverbs. Another unique parameter in Supermassive is the density value. The density works by altering how the delays are mixed. 0% density means that the delays are completely parallel and not mixing at all. As you increase the density, the more the delays will be mixed together with 100%, meaning each network is completely mixed. 100% density usually yields a more familiar conventional sounding effect.
As with all Valhalla plugins, there is a built-in LFO that’s used for modulation, allowing users to create unique chorus and flanger sounding effects. The mix lock feature is nothing less than genius and something that should be built into all plugins; this feature allows you to set a mix percentage and lock it in so as you scroll through presets, it stays the same. If it were up to me, there would be a control lock feature for every plugin parameter.
On top of all of the previously stated features, eight different delay/reverb modes offer different characteristics and flavors.
- Gemini: Fast attack, shorter decay, high echo density.
- Hydra: Fast-ish attack, shorter decay, low to high echo density (depending on the DENSITY control setting)
- Centaurus: Medium attack, longer decay, medium to high echo density (depending on the DENSITY control setting)
- Sagittarius: Slow attack, longer decay, high echo density
- Great Annihilator: Medium attack, very long decay, medium to high echo density (depending on the DENSITY control setting)
- Andromeda: Slowest attack, very long decay, very high echo density
- Lyra: Fast attack, shorter decay, low echo density
- Capricorn: Fast attack, shorter decay, medium echo density
There are so many unique new sounds and textures you can create with this one of a kind plugin… and it’s free! It’s a no brainer. Download this plugin right now! Supermassive is available for Mac or PC in VST/AU/AAX formats.
We’ve all heard of the more commonly used audio effects, compression, chorus, reverb, delay… You get the idea, but what about the ones you repeatedly skip over when scrolling through your list of plugins? The ones you don’t see a million YouTube tutorials on because they’re just not as cool or fun. Does that mean they aren’t as useful?
I’ve always had a hard time branching out into the unknown, changing things up, altering my workflow, and trying to implement new techniques and tools. This has been a constant struggle. I’ve had to force myself to use techniques and work with tools that I haven’t used before or that I’m not as familiar with. This is the only way I’ve been able to grow and expand my palette. It took me way too long to start using some very powerful tools just because they were foreign.
Don’t make the same mistake as me!
You can read the first part of the series here,
Here is my list of 5 effects you’ve probably heard of but don’t use enough.
Say it with me,
“Sally sells seashells by the seashore.”
Now say that into a microphone five times fast without a de-esser, and you’re likely to hear a lot of sssssssss poking out of the speakers. Are you wondering how professional engineers and producers get such smooth vocals? Well, besides having a great vocalist, microphone, preamp, compressor, and EQ, it’s also getting rid of those sssssssss’s with a de-esser!
A de-esser is basically a compressor that’s sidechain input has a very sharp bandpass eq. Most de-essers allow you to change this frequency, and you’ll need to adjust it depending on the vocalist. Each vocalist will sssssssss at a different frequency. Vocalists with a higher-pitched voice are going to sssssssss at a higher frequency than a vocalist with a deeper voice. The sssssssss is most commonly somewhere between 3500-7000 Hz.
The most effective way to set a de-esser is to monitor the side chain input. Most de-essers allow you to listen to what the side chain input is being fed. Highlight and loop a section of the vocal where there is a very noticeable sssssssss. Now while listening to the side chain, sweep through frequencies and figure out where you hear most of the sssssssss poking out. Now switch back to monitoring the regular output and adjust your threshold to taste. Another extremely effective method for de-essing a vocal, albeit extremely more time consuming is manually locating all of sssssssss on the track and lowering the clip gain. This method takes time and isn’t possible in certain scenarios, which makes a de-esser a lifesaver.
These short reverbs often go overlooked… but start looking down (bad short joke) because they can be extremely useful. Short reverbs are more often felt rather than heard. When you think of reverb, you’re probably more likely to think of a nice long-tailed vocal reverb from one of your favorite slow ballads. Short reverbs are not that. I like to think of and use these more as room simulators or vibe injectors. You can get great sounds from short time-based effects without having to push the sound too far away.
If you solo a short reverb, it might not feel dramatic enough, but when you put it on multiple sources and listen to the mix, you’ll notice things tend to gel better. I’m an avid practitioner of using reverbs and delays to put instruments in a similar space. In my mixing template, I have a room reverb on a bus, and I like to send multiple instruments through it. I”ll mix the return in slightly, which adds a nice gluing effect. I like to think of this technique as giving myself the ability to put these sounds in the same room, which makes them feel and sound more familiar to the listener.
Since I’m often producing hip hop, I find myself working with a lot of samples. Using the same samples that everyone else is using can get boring. I want to change the sounds that I’m using so that I can put my touch on it, so it’s not just the same thing that everyone else is using. I’m always looking for fun new ways to add dimension to these types of sources.
Speaker simulators are an effortless way to alter the tone in exciting ways. Along with affecting the tone, it also helps put the source in a different space, which can help seat these often sterile samples in a mix better. Most DAWs include stock speaker simulators that you can throw on and run through dozens of different speaker types, cabinet models, and microphone impulse responses to choose from.
Slap a speaker simulator on one of your tracks, go through some of the presets and see if you like what it does. You might not end up using it every time, but there’ll be a time when it makes everything better.
Favorite speaker simulator plugins,
Stock Ableton Cabinet
Stock Logic Cab Sims
Get those tracks moving!
I’m a big advocate of adding movement to mixes in very subtle ways. These small fluctuations in volume and rhythm add up to create a push and a pull effect that can significantly enhance the groove of a song.
You can check out an example in this quick tip video on the Audio Hertz YouTube channel.
There are many ways you can make things move in your mixes, but one of my favorites and most often used is auto-panning. Automated panning is a great way to spice up your production and keep things interesting. If you’re like me and you don’t like to get too drastic with panning, most auto-panner plugins have a wet/dry knob that makes it easy to dial in the intensity to taste.
Dynamic EQs are equalizers that have a threshold, once the signal passes the threshold, the volume is attenuated. The difference between a dynamic EQ and a multiband compressor is with a dynamic EQ, you have the ability to use and adjust Q curves, while multiband compressors have general frequency ranges.
I probably still don’t use dynamic EQs enough. I learned this craft mostly in analog studios where dynamic EQs weren’t used. Dynamic equalizers didn’t exist until not very long ago. Plugins made it possible so everyone can now have a dynamic EQ at their fingertips. There’s even a great free plugin from developer TDM called Nova. That’s right, what wasn’t even a thing 20 years ago is now available to everyone with a computer and a DAW, for free.
I think one of the more difficult parts of getting in the habit of using a dynamic EQ is recognizing when’s a good time to use one. Oftentimes I’m used to grabbing something else to fix an issue that could be fixed more effectively or efficiently with a dynamic EQ. There are a million ways to skin a cat in this game.
One great way of using a dynamic EQ is when you have two instruments or tracks clashing. When this happens, standard EQing will completely change the tone of whatever you’re working on for the entirety of the song. By using a dynamic EQ, you’re able to sidechain the conflicting track into the main track. You can then set the EQ to cut a specific band of frequencies only when the other track is playing. This technique leaves the tone exactly the same except when the conflicting track is playing with the main track.
Make sure you’re always pushing yourself to work in situations that make you uncomfortable. Adding new tools and using techniques that aren’t familiar can be scary, but ultimately, it will make you a better audio engineer and producer.
Now go try some of these effects out, and let me know how you’re using them in your productions. Did I miss anything? Are there some effects that aren’t on this list that you think engineers and producers don’t use enough? Reach out to me on Instagram or Facebook and let me know!
Some people join a gym but never end up going
Some people start a book but only read the first chapter
Some people buy a guitar but never learn how to play a single chord
Some people create an artist Instagram account but never release any music
Let’s say you’re going on vacation to Spain, so you want to learn how to speak Spanish, but after one lesson, you decide it would be easier to just hire a translator. Sure, you solved the problem of not being able to speak the native language while on vacation, but you’re also succumbing to your tendency not to finish things.
Giving up on something you set out to do when it stops being fun or relevant saves time and frustration, but it also reinforces an extremely detrimental habit. I’ve never been good at finishing things. I don’t think I completed a single self-motivated project until I was well into my adult years. And at age 30, it’s still something that I struggle with.
I decided to change when I realized that not completing projects was taking a drastic toll on my self-esteem, confidence, and, ultimately, my happiness. That may sound dramatic, but it’s true. It was almost like I was living a lie, and my brain knew it.
I knew I could actually do the things I wanted to, but I still didn’t have much of anything to show for it. Time and time again, I would set out to do something and be unable to mark it complete and share it with the world. At the time, it was hard to correlate my unhappiness and feelings of self-worth to my ability to complete projects, but looking back now, it’s blatantly obvious.
I realized that finalizing and sharing my music was the part that scared me the most. I was afraid. I was afraid of marking something complete because then I would have to answer to my own work. I could and would be held accountable for the result, which my perfectionism was never going to be happy with. If I was going to wait until I was 100% happy with something, I was going to be waiting a very long time. But sharing what we create with others is the whole reason the majority of us make things. We create to inspire, invoke emotion, entertain and teach and that doesn’t work without an audience.
My whole life, I was coming up with excuses as to why I didn’t finish things, and since these were mostly personal endeavors, there were no immediate consequences. The consequence eventually caught up and arrived in the form of my inner turmoil. My soul couldn’t stand being a phony anymore. My brain subconsciously was trying to protect my ego at the cost of my happiness. If I don’t finish something, it can never be judged, and if it can never be judged, then I’ll never have to answer to the true quality of my work. If people can’t judge my work, I can continue pretending I’m better than I really am.
The truth is talent has nothing to do with any of it. I was being held back by an extremely detrimental habit. It took a deliberate change in my mindset and a newfound dedication to self-discipline to snap out of it and begin to realize my potential.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick, easy way to break a bad habit. It’s a long, drawn-out, and uncomfortable process that requires taking a lot of small steps. I was going to have to do the one thing I was most afraid of, declare my projects complete and send them out into the world. The main thing I needed to work on was changing my mindset. I needed to stop judging the quality. My goal needed to change from completing a great song to completing a song.
One trick I’ve started to adopt that’s extremely helpful is giving myself smaller checkpoints to reach. According to PsychologyToday.com, “It’s possible to manipulate your dopamine levels by setting small goals and then accomplishing them” Keeping a list of small things that you need to do that will lead you towards completing whatever you’re working on will make you feel good when you go to cross them off. This keeps me motivated with daily tasks.
For instance, if you want to be an artist but can’t finish a song. Start small. Give yourself a task of completing a 10-30 second piece of music with no vocals. Make a list of the instruments you want to include, then give yourself a reasonable time limit. When the time limit is up, stop. Mark it complete and share it with the internet or even just a friend. Pretend you’re being commissioned by a client, and you have a deadline that can’t be missed. In the real world, deadlines are a very real thing, and it’s extremely rare you’ll ever have an unlimited amount of time to work on something. So why give yourself that kind of freedom when working on your own projects? This was my problem. I was giving myself an unlimited amount of time to work on things, so I was using it! A lot of us work better with restrictions. Leaving tasks open-ended and giving ourselves too many choices can lead to being less productive. If you’re struggling to finish your songs, try giving yourself fewer options. Leaving projects open-ended makes things feel daunting and difficult to complete.
Start treating projects like they are jobs. Be a professional. Professionals don’t need motivation or inspiration. They show up to work and do their job. Start treating your projects, whatever that is, whether it’s writing a book, starting a youtube channel, or learning a language, like you’re a professional and it’s your job. You’re not always going to be motivated to work on something.
Whenever you first start something you enjoy, it’s fun and exciting, but that feeling doesn’t last, it will fade away, and you’ll realize there’s hard work to be done. Projects aren’t always going to seem fun, exciting, or even relevant. You might not get an immediate reward, and it might be difficult, annoying, or strenuous, but there’s a reason you started them.
Embrace failure. Focus on completing your art rather than judging the quality.
“Art is never finished, only abandoned”– Leonardo da Vinci
Plugins have been drastically increasing in quality over the last 10 years. We are at the point now where we have some very innovative developers creating some truly remarkable sounding plugins. Not just digital emulations of classic analog gear but also new types of processors that wouldn’t be possible in the real physical world.
Unlike hardware, plugins require the use of complex algorithms, and the sound of the plugin is dependent on the coding of the developer. The better coders will be able to achieve better-sounding plugins much like a better electrical engineer can design a better circuit for a compressor. Trained ears matched with talented developers allow software companies to turn out some very high-quality plugins.
So, what is oversampling or upsampling?
Oversampling is when a plugin converts the audio to a higher sample rate for processing. Processing at the higher sample rate usually removes some of the negative artifacts associated with processing digital audio, mainly aliasing. Aliasing happens when information outside of the frequency response range of the digital converters and the sample rate you’re using are interpreted by the converter to be different frequencies.
Oversampling mitigates issues, including aliasing, and will usually yield smoother, more pleasant-sounding results at the cost of using more CPU power. But all oversampling algorithms aren’t made equal, and some are better than others. You may even find that you prefer the sound of a plugin with the oversampling turned off. It’s not necessarily guaranteed that oversampling will make the audio sound “better.” If you see a plugin or DAW that offers oversampling and you have the CPU power to spare, try it out and see if you prefer the way it sounds. If you are short on CPU power, you’ll probably want to keep oversampling off unless you decide to freeze the tracks.