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Saturday 11 July 2020

Q&A - Volume Two

Hi Everyone!

I apologise for being away for so long! As I am awesome human, I have decided to post up a few of the Q&A emails I have received over the last couple of months. Hopefully these questions are some that you have had/having at the moment while being locked up in Quarantine. If you have any questions, please drop a message over so I can help with any recording/technology issues you’re having!

Catch you on the flipside!

“Which omni mics are best for small ensemble recordings?” – Carl, age 33.
My personal preference would be for the Microtech Gefell M221s. The Josephson C617SET uses the same capsule, of course, and their electronics are fractionally quieter, but the Acoustic Pressure Equalising spheres which are supplied with the Gefell mics give them a significant edge in versatility to my mind.

Earthworks make some very nice, neutral-sounding mics, but they tend to be noisy in comparison with the Gefell (22dBA versus 15dBA) because of the very small capsule size. That’s something that’s necessary to achieve the extended high-frequency bandwidth which Earthworks prioritise, but I didn’t feel that the Gefell lacked anything in the upper regions.

The DPA 4060 microphones are astonishingly good for their size and price but are inherently slightly compromised on the self-noise front, again, and have a tendency towards brightness that I don’t think you would appreciate. DPA’s dedicate range, reviewed in last month’s issue, now includes the MMC2006 omni capsule, which essentially contains a back-to-back pair of 4060s internally (with a self-noise advantage). This ‘twin-diaphragm’ technology is presented as a lower cost alternative to the classic MMC4006 capsule, but the MMC2006 is not compatible with the company’s range of APE spheres.

As for other alternatives, I remain a big fan of Sennheiser’s MKH20s, which I think still sound slightly better than the newer MKH8020. I like the ability to switch them from nearfield to diffuse-field equalisation, to suit different applications, and I relish their amazingly low harmonic distortion, ruler-flat frequency response, and very low self-noise.
Does pan placement change if I place my speakers further apart? – Micheal, age 19.
The maximum image width is obviously determined by the physical separation of the speakers, so switching to the 55-inch set moves the outer edges further out, as you’ve noticed. The whole stereo image has been stretched from the centre outwards in both directions. Imagine an elastic band, with the centre pinned in the middle of your sound stage, and the outer edges fixed to the monitors. If you mark the positions of different sound sources on the band and move the monitors outwards, the elastic band stretches and so too does the spacing between your marked sound sources. So, if the saxophone is panned 30 percent left in the image, then that’s where it will always be. When you switch to the wider speakers ‘30 percent left’ is actually going to be physically further left than it was with the closer speakers.

Don’t get your percentages confused with absolute measurements! When setting your speakers further apart, the placement of a panned source will inevitably change in degrees/distance, but not in terms of the relative distance from the centre to the extreme of the stereo panorama.
I’ll assume you’re listening position is at the apex of an equilateral triangle, with the other two points being at your 40-inch spaced speakers. Rough trigonometry calculations suggest that with the closer speakers the sax will appear roughly 10 degrees left of centre. Switch to the second set and this perceived angle increases to about 14 degrees. But it is still panned 30 percent left within this wider overall image!
Can I use an effects pedal for vocals? – Sam, age 21.
There will be people who tell you to track clean and add this sort of effect to a vocal only while mixing — but it can be both fun and inspirational to try mangling things while tracking can’t it? Still, they have a point: the sort of fuzzy distortion a Big Muff Pi can be responsible for is not something you can undo. For that reason, it makes sense to track a clean part alongside your distorted one, and there are a few ways of doing this. If you have a small mixer (or even a large one!) you could simply multi the clean mic signal out to another track and process that. You could try patching the pedal in as an insert effect on that channel, and this will work to some extent, but there’s likely to be both a level and impedance mismatch, which means the pedal probably won’t operate quite as it would on the instrument signal for which it’s intended. Whether it’s working, though, is a subjective matter — use your ears, and if you like what you hear then great! If not, then you need some way of overcoming those problems.

Using the Big Muff as a send effect might improve things, as you can change the level going into the pedal using the mic channel’s aux send control. If that doesn’t work, what you’re looking for is a DI/re-amp box. The re-amp signal goes to the Big Muff’s input, and its output goes via the DI to a line input on your mixer or recording device. If you have no mixer, you could do pretty much the same thing, but beware of latency. You’ll need an interface with zero-latency monitoring with which the input signal can be routed straight to an output without passing through the A-D/D-A converters. The incoming mic signal is routed both to your DAW and to a physical output. That physical out goes into the Big Muff (the same level/impedance considerations apply) and the output comes back, either via a DI box to a mic input, or straight into an instrument input if your interface has one. Alternatively, you could just use the processed part in your monitor mix and ‘re-amp’ the clean signal through your pedal later, when you might have a little more control over the tone.

Why would I want to bounce out mixes for referencing? – Mike, age 25.
This is an interesting question that I’ve been asked on a number of occasions, but I’m not sure I’ve ever written down my answer to it before! I realise that it’s perfectly possible to compare a mix in progress with commercial releases using something like Magic AB, Melda MCompare, or Meterplugs Perception — or indeed just using a multi-channel switcher plug-in within Reaper, which is my own normal method. However, I do still prefer to bounce out my mix as a WAV for referencing purposes most of the time, for several reasons — although not, funnily enough, for the reason you suggested!

On a practical level, I like the flexibility the DAW offers in terms of editing out and looping the most relevant pieces of each reference track, and the way it lets me easily adjust the time offset between my mix file and each reference track, something that I’ve not found as straightforward in the referencing plug-ins. I also often experiment during referencing to see what impact loudness processing might have on my mix, but mastering-style processors can cause CPU or latency-compensation problems when applied to an already heavily loaded mix project, and I can do without glitches or crashes while mixing. Besides, anything that encourages people to apply mastering processing to their mix project is a bit hazardous in my view, because I’ve seen a lot of people come unstuck that way, effectively trying to master a quick fix to complex mix problems.

However, the main reason I like to bounce out the mix is purely psychological. You see, when I reference using a bounce-down in a separate project, I can’t change the mix while I’m listening, so it encourages me to take decisions much more rigorously before acting on them. In other words, I’m reminded to cross-check each decision across several different references and several different listening systems before actually tweaking any mix settings. It’s enormously tempting when referencing within your mix project to hear, say, that the hi-hat’s too loud in comparison with one of your references over your main monitors and then to immediately charge off and change it, without checking whether that hi-hat’s also too loud compared with another of your references, or on a different listening system. Referencing within the mix project is therefore all too often a recipe for tail-chasing, in my experience, and I prefer to remove that temptation from my workflow.

The other psychological advantage of the ‘separate reference project’ approach for me is that it makes me more confident of when the mix is finished. At each referencing iteration, I’ll build up a properly cross-checked list of tweaks I want to do, and then check the effectiveness of those tweaks at the next iteration. Once everything’s crossed off the list, I can feel pretty confident of signing off the mix. If you reference in a less structured ‘hunt and peck’ kind of way, I find it’s a lot trickier to know when you’re actually done.

The last thing to say is that while referencing I prefer to step back mentally from the technical details of a mix and listen more like a typical punter, which is far easier to do when I’m listening to a bounce-out. Because I can’t change anything, my whole mindset changes. Thanks to pure paranoia, I actually do most of my bounce-outs in real time, and I’m constantly amazed at how often I’ll spot some glaring oversight even during the bounce-down itself that I haven’t noticed for the last five hours of mixing, simply because of the change in mental perspective that occurs once I think “now I’m bouncing down the mix”. Also I’m more likely to transport the bounce-down to the car, the office PC, iPod or wherever.

Sure, you could work around all of these issues when using a referencing plug-in on the mix project, but you’ll need a whole lot more self-discipline than I have, frankly! And besides, I think the little breaks you’re forced to have while bouncing things out and switching projects are good for perspective in their own right, but that might be the Luddite in me speaking.


Tuesday 12 May 2020

Friday 10 May 2019

Preparing for Mixing

A lot of engineers never prepare themselves for mixing, especially those who are just starting out in the industry. If you identify as a newbie to sound creation and manipulation and have just finished a song and want to mix it yourself, follow these steps!

-       Export all the tracks from your project; it’s always great to work with stems in a fresh session.
-       Sort all the tracks and create groups and subgroups for Bass, Drums, Synths, Percussions and so on.
-       Colour Code these groups, it is always a great idea to locate the layers of your mix. Example, bass gets red, drums blue etc.
-       Create Sends for Reverb throws and Delays.
-       Create group tracks for Drums and other instruments that way if you want to apply compression to the elements, it will glue them together nicely.
-       Have a “DEMO” Mastering Chain ready, but disable it when you send out your mix to a mastering engineer (this one is a kindness, and will benefit the master).

How to Save CPU Power

-       Freeze or Bounce your tracks, especially on synths that need a lot of power.

-       Lower the voice count on your synths and samplers. If your 808 plays monophonic notes there is no reason to use your sampler in polyphonic mode.

-       If you don’t need direct monitoring with latency increase your buffer size in the driver of your audio interface.

-       Create two send tracks for reverb and delay, this way you won’t need to use a new instance on every track.

-       Instruments that need the same processing are better of on a group bus, where you can process them all with only one instance.


Saturday 24 November 2018

Phase Cancellation Coffee’s Guide to Music Technology eBook

 My eBook is now live!

I can’t believe I have my own book, something for the world to experience with me! The past few days have been insane!

I have no idea where to start…

I created this book for anyone who has experienced that ‘feeling’ about music. It’s the book you can go to when you need help understanding music jargon, it covers all the terms required in studio recording, sound creation and manipulation exams - as well as for professional musicians, those learning the fundamentals of acoustics, live sound and audio production. It will also be a useful quick reference book for concert-goers, CD-collectors, music journalists and radio listeners.

A-Z entries range across a spectrum of subjects, among them: acoustics, auxiliary sends, balance, bass response, BPM, clipping, decibel, equalisation, frequency, fidelity, gain, hertz, impedance, MIDI and many more.

It is your guide, your key to understanding music industry etymology. A must have, for all aspiring music technologists.

If you wish to purchase ‘Phase Cancellation Coffee’s Guide to Music Technology’ please choose a desired format for download below…

For everyone who has shared, liked, and pre-ordered 'Phase Cancellation Coffee’s Guide to Music Technology', I cannot thank you enough for your support. I’ve had a lot of happy tears the last 24 hours.

I am beyond grateful, thank you.

My love as always,


Tuesday 9 October 2018

Tomb Raider: The Dark Angel Symphony - Remastered

Peter Connelly is a video game composer and sound designer, best known for the action-adventure Tomb Raider Series. Many of us know the game and have spent various hours from the 90’s exhausting a controller, kicking ass as Lara Croft. Not only do we love the legend of the series, we love the journey the score takes us throughout it.

Peter contacted me recently and asked me to invite you to his Kickstarter campaign; Tomb Raider: The Dark Angel Symphony - an epic remake of Connelly’s original Tomb Raider soundtrack. Not just one, but all three, The Last Revelation, Chronicles and The Angel of Darkness. Also, if that didn’t get you excited maybe news that the brand new arrangement will be featuring Tina Guo and Julie Elven!

“The core of Tomb Raider: The Dark Angel Symphony is a suite of two albums: one recorded by an 82-piece orchestra at the prestigious Air Lyndhurst Studios, London, and produced by a world-class professional team led by Dr. Richard Niles (an world-renowned orchestrator for Paul McCartney, the Pet Shop Boys, Trevor Horn and more), for the most beautiful and moving Tomb Raider sound you will ever hear. The second is for an album of Peter Connelly’s original Tomb Raider scores remastered for the highest-possible sound quality.” – Peter Connelly

  Many of you who are new to Kickstarter, I’ll give you a little heads up!

Kickstarter is an online crowdfunding platform for creative projects. People ask for investment towards their project (in your case, a studio album called Tomb Raider: The Dark Angel Symphony) by showing off what they want to do, how they plan to do it, and what the “funding goal” needs to be to make it all happen. Individuals across the world can then donate money towards the project by “backing” a certain amount, called a “pledge”. These pledges include special goodies called “pledge rewards” – the more you donate, the more/better/more expensive the pledge rewards will be. the funding period (usually 30 days) is finished, and assuming the funding goal has been reached, the project organisers can then get on and create the item/service that they wanted funding AND produce the pledge rewards for their backers. Kickstarter is not a shop: products are not immediately available at the end of the funding campaign. The project managers will state exactly when they expect to deliver both the pledge rewards and the final product on their project page. Money is only debited from backers if the funding goal is reached. In other words, it’s “all or nothing”.
Supporting a Kickstarter campaign can have ups and downs. If the funds for the project are not reached then yes, the project is ended and will not commence further unless there can be changes to make it more effective. However if you have a goal that’s core is personal, the likelihood of it succeeding is imminent.

A fan of Peter’s work asked him what would happen in the event of the project not get funded in time after he and his team have put in a lot of time, money and effort...

Peter replied;

“We had an amazing couple of years trying to bring something great for classic Tomb Raider fans and retrogamers. At the very least we'll have memories and experience.”

Regardless of the outcome, there will always be a home for this incredible composition.

Not only does your pledge help fund this campaign it also rewards you for your generosity! 

A simple start off pledge at £5.00 will gift you a personal email from Peter thanking you for your support. Any pledges from £10.00 or up will receive a download of specific soundtracks, thank you credit’s in the soundtrack booklets, signed posters, surround sound DVD’s (you can listen to “Dance of the Lux Veritatis”, “By Moonlight”, “The Accused” – and all the rest of your favourites – as they were meant to be heard!), special edition vinyl records and custom handmade memorabilia!  

You can also add additional items to your pledge level by simply increasing your pledge too!


Listed below are the various pledge rewards you will receive by backing this campaign!


The team behind this project, making every effort to ensure it is piloted are;

 Tina Guo

Guo is an internationally acclaimed, Grammy-nominated virtuoso acoustic/electric cellist, recording artist, and composer. She is a frequent musical collaborator with Hans Zimmer and has toured with him as part of the Hans Zimmer Live tour.

Julie Elven

Elven is an award-winning Soundtrack and Filmscore Vocalist based in Munich, Germany. She has featured alongside James Newton Howard and multiple orchestras. She is best known for her soloist vocal work on triple-A gaming titles such as Horizon Zero Dawn, World of Warcraft: Legion (plus many other famous titles by Blizzard Entertainment), Riot Games’ League of Legends, and more.

Dr Richard Niles

Niles is a world-famous Orchestrator / Arranger / Musician. He has worked with a veritable who’s-who of pop, such as Paul McCartney, the Pet Shop Boys, and Trevor Horn CBE.
The team also includes Ben Fenner (Mastering Engineer), Isobel Griffiths (Orchestra Contractor), and Iain Mackenzie (Vocalist and Choir Master).

 Please click the following to access this Kickstarter campaign and make a pledge towards Peter Connelly’s magic…

Tomb Raider: The Dark Angel Symphony

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