To celebrate the birth of my son on 15th March 2013, I am releasing an instrumental hip-hop single for free download.
I did a lot of crate digging in 2012 and came across 'Horn Culture' by Jazz saxophonist, Sonny Rollins. There is a really rich and chilled track called 'God Bless the Child' with some very tasty Sax improvisation. I chopped the track into various samples and loaded them into Logic's EXS24 sampler towards the end of 2012. It remained unused, until the sample came to mind about four weeks before the birth of my son, for obvious reasons. It seemed right to make a track using it.
Musically, my version of 'God Bless the Child' represents the influences I was listening to at the time I produced it and I now feel a personal connection to the track name. I hope my son finds at least some of the enjoyment in listening to this in years to come, as I have had creating it.
Go, get 'em, kid, this one's for you!
You can listen to the full track in the player below.
Mixing can appear to be a black art to the uninitiated. In this article I will break down how I have used EQ (Equalizer) in my remix of ‘Memory Lane’ by K.I.N.E.T.I.K. I will focus my attention to application of EQ on the main sample, drums and bass.
Before I get into the breakdown of my use of EQ in this track, I should briefly point out what EQ permits you to do and how it’s often used. EQ allows you to change the tone of an instrument. It’s used to remove unwanted frequencies and boost desired ones. In the context of a mix it allows you to carve out pockets in the frequency spectrum (20Hz-20kHz) for instruments to reside in. EQ will need to be used on the majority of your parts to help blend them all together to create a cohesive mix. When you understand EQ and how to use it effectively, you should notice immediate results in your production work.
One more point before we dive into the mixing analysis: It is always worth noting the lyrical content and ‘feel’ of the track. Establish this first, as it will affect your mixing decisions (as you’ll read later). For this track, I started with the acapella and worked backwards to create the beat. ‘Memory Lane’ is about reminiscing back to the days of childhood, when life was simple, you listened to Hip Hop, played video games and your world was turned upside down when you were told wrestling was fake. This nostalgic theme had an impact on how I used automated EQ.
Application of static EQ
Using EQ is more about reducing and removing unwanted frequencies than boosting pleasant ones. Therefore, the biggest tip I can offer when using EQ is to always have a HPF (High Pass Filter) on all tracks that have no need for low frequency content. Essentially, this is everything except the Kick drum and Bass. There is more often than not unwanted low frequency content on signals. This will build up without you realizing, and take valuable dB of your mix. You can use 100-150Hz as your starting point.
In “Memory Lane,” I applied a HPF at 165Hz to the main sample. I have done this as I have then added my own sequenced bass line underneath. This prevents both signals from fighting for the same space and creates a cleaner mix. The sequenced bass is comprised of 2 tracks playing the same riff. One played by a bass guitar software instrument and the other a sine wave. The sine wave is very low in the mix, but helps boost out the fundamental frequency of the bass line. I have a LPF (Low Pass Filter) on the bass guitar at 530Hz (see image below) removing the higher harmonics, as I wanted the bass to sound ‘round’ and ‘full’.
Listen to the audio examples below of the bass mix, with and without EQ.
Bass without EQ:
Bass with EQ:
The drums have a modest amount of EQ, just enough to bring out the sweet spots of each drum sound. Below is a list of the EQ applied to each drum and what it is achieving.
• Kick: Peak boost of 8.5dB centered around 100Hz. This is the key area to be boosting if you want more ‘boom’.
• Snare: HPF at 65Hz, a peak boost of 7.5dB at 200Hz (add fuller tone) and a high shelf boost of 6.5dB (for more ‘slap’ and brighter tone) beginning at 4.1kHz.
• Hi Hats: HPF at 160Hz, high shelf cut of 4.5db beginning at 8.4kHz. I used this because I deemed the raw hi hats too bright for the track.
• Shaker: This is used in the chorus and has a HPF at 350Hz and high shelf boost of 9dB beginning at 5.4kHz (for brighter tone)
• Toms: HPF at 47Hz and wide Q peak boost centered around 200Hz (add fuller tone)
• Cymbals: HPF at 200Hz and high shelf boost of 5dB beginning at 5.3kHz (for brighter tone)
Listen to the audio examples below of the drum mix with and without EQ.
Drum mix without EQ:
Drum mix with EQ:
Application of automated EQ
At the end of the chorus I have used the “Synthetic Substitution” drum break by Melvin Bliss. I included this break as it is used on many hip hop records and projects that takes the listener back into an earlier golden era of hip hop. I have added a LPF with the cutoff being automated (moved over time) from 20kHz down to 700Hz through the duration of the one bar break. This helps the transition down into the verse and also emphasizes the nostalgic lyrical content mining the depths of your memory.
In addition to this I have a LPF on the sample chop that opens and closes through automation during the verses. It generally opens at the end of every 4 bars, then is reduced again. Artistically, this adds some tonal movement to keep interest in the beat during the verses. Practically, it creates space in the frequency spectrum for the vocals so they don’t compete for the same space. The LPF opens up into the chorus giving the desired lift for the hook.
(Image below shows the automation of the LPF for both the sample and the break)
Full Beat Comparison
Listen to the audio examples below of the full beat with and without EQ. I haven’t done much more than use EQ appropriately, but the difference is obvious. There is a noticeable lack of clarity and unwanted low frequency rumble on the version without EQ. When EQ is added, the mix is clear, tight and sounds alive.
Full beat without EQ:
Full beat with EQ:
You can listen to the full track in the player below.
Drum production in hip hop is about more than selecting the right sounds and putting them in the right places. Having a wide range of mixing techniques at your disposal goes a long way in helping you get that overall drum sound that you’re after.
This article explores two mixing techniques that I often use along with my drum production techniques. These techniques will help give your drums clarity and punch. For example, I used these techniques on my remix of “Tower of Cards” by Mr J Medeiros, which I include below, along with accompanying audio and images to help you understand the processes involved. The images are taken from Logic Pro but the principles apply to any DAW.
Compression is one of the most commonly used processors, yet it is commonly misused. (You can make or break a track with compression!) Essentially, compression reduces the dynamic range of a signal, making the louder things quieter and the quieter things louder. For further reading on compression and parameters go here: http://www.beattips.com/beattips/recording-mixing-and-mastering/
A compressor begins reducing the volume of a signal when the input source goes above the threshold. The input source is typically the signal you want to compress. However, most compressors have side-chain (sometimes called ‘key’) inputs. A side-chain input allows you to use another channel to control the compressor, as opposed to the channel the compressor is inserted on. Side-chain compression is heard on the vast majority of dance records with a compressor acting on the whole mix, and being controlled by a side-chained kick drum. This ducks (reduces the volume of) the signal of the entire mix when the kick drum plays. To hear this in fully effect listen to Daft Punk’s ‘One More Time’
Low frequency muddiness is always an issue in hip hop. You want to get the most out of your kick drum and bass, without them having to compete against each other for space in the mix. Side-chain compression can be really helpful in cleaning up the low end of your mix and providing that space. A common application is to use a compressor with a side-chain input from your kick drum to duck the bass. This enables the kick to poke through the mix and not be masked by the bass.
First off, add a compressor to your bass channel and select the side-chain input from your kick channel. In Logic the side-chain input is selected in the top right corner of the compressor. To ensure the compressor reduces the signal of the bass quickly, use a fast attack (under 10ms) and set the response to peak level not RMS (average level). The release time is important in deciding how quickly you want the bass to return to its original volume after the kick drum has stopped playing. I have used a quick release time of 9.5ms. By juggling the threshold and ratio the bass signal is reduced by 5dB when the kick plays. This is a subtle amount of gain reduction, but enough to ensure the kick is not masked by the bass. Listen to the examples below to hear the drum and bass mix with and without side-chain compression. Notice how the kick pokes through the mix when side-chain compression is used.
Bass without Side-chain compression: BASS_S-C_CompressionOFF.mp3
Bass with Side-chain compression: BASS_S-C_CompressionON.mp3
Parallel processing is another technique used to creatively add punch to your drums. It allows you to have a dry (unaffected) signal and a wet (affected) signal playing at the same time. In hip hop, it’s common to utilize parallel compression (also known as NY Compression) on the drum stem (sub group), or even entire mix during the mastering stage. If applied to the drum stem the result is extra power and RMS level without losing the dynamic variation and transient attack of the drum hits. Some producers will also add shelving EQ in conjunction with compression to bring out the low and high frequency content.
Parallel processing isn’t limited to compression. You can use all sorts of processors and effects creatively to blend in with your unprocessed signal. In this remix I have used parallel processing on the drum stem, to compress, distort and EQ the signal. To set this up in Logic Pro, I sent my individual drum channels to a stereo aux channel (labeled ‘Dry Drums’) to create the drum stem. Via a bus send, I have routed the drum stem to another stereo aux channel (labeled ‘Para Drums’) ready for parallel processing (see image above/below/left/right).
The compressor on the parallel processed channel is reducing the dynamic range of the drums by 15dB. This is heavy compression and is used to increase the average level of the drum track. Distortion is then added through Logic’s inbuilt guitar amp simulator ‘Amp Designer’. This is giving the drums the crunchy character needed for the track. Using EQ, I have scooped out 12dB centered around 1.5kHz as the Amp Designer is adding unwanted resonances in the mid-range. The volume fader of the parallel channel is lowered; it isn’t intended to dominate the drum mix, rather add depth, character and reinforce the unprocessed drum stem.
Listen to the examples below to hear the drum stem with and without parallel processing. Notice how the average level is louder and the distortion adds texture, depth and crunch to the drums. This is all achieved without losing the dynamic range and transient attack of the drum hits.
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