I'm talking here from the perspective of independent music in Malaysia. More specifically, what I perceive as problems that are afflicting the independent music practitioner.

Problem #1: radio stations play popular songs. But songs become popular when played often. So how do music directors pick songs?

Problem #2: radio stations don't do enough for the local independent music scene. There doesn't appear to be anyone who is brave enough to play local content on PRIMETIME radio. It's not enough to relegate the music to the odd hours after midnight, when most of the listeners tune in during the peak hours - morning and afternoon drive.

Problem #3: there's a HUGE amount of locally made content, but there aren't enough platforms to showcase them. Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and MySpace are not sufficient. Traditional media - TV and radio - still forms the bulk of airplay time. In any case, social media is for fan engagement, not as a broadcast means.

Problem #4: nobody wants to buy local independent content. The radio, television and satellite stations don't seem to be interested in this. Surprisingly, not even the fans with the exception of the act's hardcore followers.

Problem #5: many are in the dark about how royalties work. This lack of awareness also hurts independent acts because there are legitimate revenue streams there. Without knowing how it works - the independent acts stand to lose out when their contracts with labels are improperly negotiated. The Malaysian Copyright Act provides for a lot of things, especially with the recent amendments. Everyone in the industry needs to know their rights.

Problem #6: artistes need more SUPPORTERS, not fans. There is a difference between the two! Supporters are those who buy the artiste's albums and merchandise. They attend gigs and events where the acts the follow plays. Fans are in it only for the freebies.

Problem #7: the industry does not have an established, well-planned and consistent touring circuit. Everything is too random. The few that exist are venues such as open-mic nights, but these hardly provide enough exposure to raise the acts' profile.

Problem #8: a 20% import duty imposed by government on music instruments. This actually extends not only to musical instruments, but also to components required to record the music. Import duties are established as a form of protectionism for producers in the local market (think Proton). But there is hardly anyone manufacturing these items within Malaysia - so what is there to protect? If the government can do away with import duties for electronic goods as a means to stimulate the industry and economy, why can't they do so for the music industry?

Problem #9: non-mainstream acts remain obscure. This is mostly the result of a combination of the previous problems. But, with the empowerment provided by today's social media platforms, bands need to have a solid social media strategy to engage their supporters and increase their fanbase. Twitter and Facebook are the most obvious choices, but bands need to start thinking like brands and adopt a good approach to maximize its effectiveness.

And the biggest problem: When the buying stops, then the playing stops too.
 
 
Here's a technique I sometimes use to beef up a weak-sounding bass. It's for those occasions where you just can't fix the problem with EQs. For this technique, I'm using the MDA plugins pack from mda-vst.comThe plugins I'll be using on the signal processing chain are:
  1. Degrade
  2. Sub-bass Synthesizer

The rationale behind this method: downsample the original bass track to get a grittier feel to it. Then, apply the sub-bass synthesizer which generates the low-frequency harmonics required to make this work. You can take it a step further and apply bandpass filters at the end of the signal chain, to further control the harmonics that appear.

Here's how I did it in Harrison Mixbus; you can apply the same method in whatever DAW you use:
  • Add a new mono buss (I name it BassMultiplier)
  • Create a new send on your bass track, and route the signal to BassMultiplier
  • Take the bass track out of the Master buss, so you can hear the changes to the bass sound as the plugins are activated
  • Add the Degrade plugin to BassMultiplier with the following settings:
  • Add the Sub-bass Synthesizer plugin to BassMultiplier, with the following settings:
  • Adjust the settings on the two plugins as necessary to fit the sonic landscape you're trying to sculpt.
  • Bring down the level on BassMultiplier, then bring the original bass track into the Master buss.
  • Slowly bring up the level on BassMultiplier until the mix between these two tracks achieve the desired sound.
Some additional tips:
  1. Group the two tracks together, so when you change the bass level both tracks are adjusted together.
  2. Route the two tracks into a mixbus, and apply other elements like EQ, compression etc.
 
 
Post-production for The Wknd Sessions needs to be done in a logical and easy manner; after all, there are 3 albums' worth of material that we're producing. Things can quickly go south when moving from one step to another when you're dealing with 30 tracks in one go.

First things first: directory structure. After the last couple of seasons, I've adopted the following structure:

- Season X
 - Act # X
  - Song #1
  - Song #2
  - Song #3
- Act # Y
:
:
- OUTPUT
  - 1-MIXED
  - 2-MASTERED
  - 3-WAV
  - 4-MP3
  - 5-MP3-PREVIEW

The Act # X directories will have the audio stems used. The OUTPUT directory will hold all the mixed, mastered, finalized, MP3 and MP3 preview files.

Here's a breakdown of the workflow I'm adopting:

Step 1
Mix, making sure to leave in approximately 10dB of headroom. Lead-in cues are not removed. Files are stored in OUTPUT/1-MIXED directory in 48kHz 16-bit WAV format. Cue lead-ins at the beginning of each song are not removed. No fade-ins or fade-outs.

Step 2
Use files from OUTPUT/1-MIXED and do mastering. Cues lead-ins are not removed. No fade-in or fade-outs are created, but apply silence in between cue and start of the song. Files are stored in OUTPUT/2-MASTERED directory in 48kHz 16-bit WAV format. Use this for the videos.

Step 3
Use files from OUTPUT/2-MASTERED. Remove cues, create the fade-ins and fade-outs where necessary. Files are stored in OUTPUT/3-WAV directory in 44.1kHz 16-bit format. Use this for The Wknd Sessions compilation CD audio.

Step 4
Take files from OUTPUT/3-WAV and convert to MP3 format. ID3 tags are embedded. Files are stored in OUTPUT/4-MP3 directory in MP3 format with constant bit rate @ 192kbps. Use this for The Wknd online store.

Step 5
Take files from OUTPUT/4-MP3 and create 30-second excerpts. 5-second fade-in and fade-out is created for each song. Resulting 30-second clip is saved in MP3 format with constant bit rate @ 192 kbps and stored here. Verify that ID3 tags are still persistent after the file save process. Files are stored in OUTPUT/5-MP3-PREVIEW directory in MP3 format with constant bit rate @ 192kbps. Use this for The Wknd online store previews.
 
 
NCH Software's Switch is a great tool that lets you to batch-process a bunch of audio files from one format to another. Sure you can use Audacity, iTunes etc but when you have more than two files to convert it becomes a serious hassle.

Some of Switch's features include:
  • Universal audio converter supporting all popular formats
  • Convert or compress sound files within minutes of downloading
  • Includes batch audio converter to convert thousands of files
  • Extract audio from any media file including video
And the best part: it's free!
 
 
Here's a comparison of drum tracks mixed in Ardour vs Mixbus. The first clip was mixed using Ardour; the second clip was using Mixbus; and the third clip is Mixbus with tape saturation turned on. The drum tracks a exactly as per recorded - no EQs or plugins used, just volume balancing.

Judge for yourself:
 
 
With the Foo Fighters' recent win at the Grammys, considerable spotlight has been cast towards the analog domain, and tape-based recording in particular.

If you think about it, there's probably a large chunk of people in our industry who were "born" in the digital era - engineers and producers who started out with, and were weaned on, ProTools/Cubase/GarageBand/whatever. These are people who got their feet wet in their home studios and perhaps never had the chance (or budget!) to work with tape.

So when I read that more and more people are seriously considering re-using tape - and even vinyl as a release platform - I can't help but wonder whether this is just a bandwagon that people are jumping on. Is analog (at this moment in time) nothing more than a fad? 

Or is there a serious and deliberate movement to move back into the analog domain?
 
 
Post-production work has started for The Wknd Sessions season 6. There's a total of 30 songs to mix and master - THREE albums' worth!

As mentioned before, here at the Wknd Sessions we use Ardour for our recording DAW of choice. When it comes to mixdown, this season we're trying out a new DAW that's got a lot of old-school analog feel: Harrison Consoles' Mixbus.

Why a different DAW? Well, Mixbus is not really new - it's actually built on top of Ardour. Harrison Consoles - makers of fantastic, high-end mixing desks mostly used in film post-production - have taken their design approach and sensibilities, and retooled Ardour to make it more like working on a traditional hardware mixer. There's a lot of intuitive controls and knobs, much like what you'd get on a normal mixing desk.

There's also a lot of other nice features - a new summing architecture, built-in tape saturation controls and many nice touches that put the gloss on top of the already fantastic Ardour software.

Two mixes already done to date - and they're sounding a lot better compared to what we did in Season 5! Have a listen:
 
 
Picture
We've been fortunate enough to be able to rent a Ceriatone head and cabinet to be used for Season 6. This is a Malaysian-made guitar amp, and is centered around a DIY culture. It's a custom tube amp with a great sound. 

Close-miked with a Shure SM57, on-axis and slightly off of the center.

On a couple of acts, we also used the Audio Technica AT2020 instead of the SM57.

 

Gear gear gear

02/28/2012

 
For The Wknd Sessions season 6, we're fortunate to have some of our own gear. It's a big step up from the past seasons, where a lot of the equipment was rented/borrowed. It definitely feels much better when you know the equipment you're working with.

Here's a breakdown of the stuff we used:

Recording backline
Microphones
So far, the results are pretty impressive. The Focusrite interfaces performed flawlessly and was a godsend in terms of monitoring and routing options. The Beta 52A gave me an awesome punchy kick tone, and the AT2020s surpassed all expectations as a vocal mic (I was pretty blown away by what it could do).

Wishlist for next season: in-ear monitors for the performers.
 
 
Today we recorded six acts in total, and at the end of it I think season 6 will carry the most diverse range of acts to date. Definitely something worth watching out for.

We had two acts today that tested our gear to its limits - all 16 channels were used and the dynamic nature of the music they played meant a lot of problems with the monitors. Tried hard to minimize the bleed from monitors to the mics, but sometimes there's a tradeoff between getting a good sonic signal and getting a good performance. At the end of the day, The Wknd Sessions is visual first and foremost. Which means we sometimes have to bend over backwards to make sure the artists can perform well.

Also had a chance encounter with a Roland Space Echo (but forgot to snap a photo, drat!) from sometime around 1973. That's a unit that was built close to 40 years ago. FORTY YEARS! Back then, things were definitely built to last.

I also had the chance to mic up a fantastic Marshall stack using our Audio Technica AT2020. That mic is built to withstand up to 144dB SPL so it was a good mic choice. Will write about that particular experience in another post later.

All in all, over the the course of the weekend we capture a grand total of thirty songs from ten acts. That's enough material to release THREE albums. Now begins the exciting part - mixdown.