Tag: budget

Adding width to the main vocal or solo instrument with harmonizers

I don’t always go back to listen to records that I have released, but I do always tend to regret or wish certain things I have done differently in my mixes whenever I do listen back to them. One of the things I wish I had done more in my earlier records was experimenting with the use of harmonizers. I’m not talking about using a harmonizer to play a certain interval of the scale of a particular instrument, but more of the micro pitch (usually measured in percentages) effect that became a common studio trick in the last couple of decades.

What it does is take your vocal or main solo instrument, have one of the right/left channels play the same thing but a couple of percentages sharp, while the other side with a couple of percentages flat. The effect would be so subtle that it make things sound as if the solo instrument/vocal has gone from a small instrument in the middle to something that expanded out towards across the speakers. It’s an effect similar to chorus, but it’s meant to be very subtle widening effect, rather than a chorus effect in any shape or form.

Here’s an explanation by Tony Shepperd (skip to the 2:05 mark)


Here’s an explanation by Andrew Scheps (skip to the 43:45 mark)


While I did some of that in my latest record, I felt that I wasn’t doing it properly (the plugin lacked certain features) and that I was tuning the effect while it was playing in solo, rather than in context of the whole mix. This made the effect a bit too subtle, and something I would need to look into improving on my next mixes.

Taking my most recent acoustic guitar post for example, I felt that I could have done that to make the main instrument sound wider and more natural sounding. I went online and spent a couple of days experimenting with various free (or very low-cost) non-iLOK harmonizer pitch shifting plugins. I found many that could only tune the instrument flat or sharp one way, but not the stereo thing of both sharp and flat. Some would not allow a different percentage between the different channels, or the option to add delay. I even found one that were buggy, where a +5% shift was more than a couple of semitones sharp. I also looked at various free (or low-cost) delay plugins but didn’t find one that could detune in both directions for both left and right channels.

Finally, I found a harmonizer plugin named CMX by StillwellAudio that had the above options available and sounded good. It’s not completely free, but the evaluation copy is free and the company’s philosophy is that they do not cripple evaluation software once a certain trial period is over.

After browsing through the pages, I recalled that I had heard of the company before when my friend Jon from Audiogeekzine/ Reaper Blog/ Home Recording Show had done a video demoing their other plugins.

In Tony Shepperd’s video, he explained automating the effect and only kicking in the effect on certain sections of the song, to give them contrast and listener’s interest. It’s something I should look into experimenting too. Now I just need to write more music… the hard part…

More Cool Interviews with Legends by MakeWeirdMusic.com, Plus my personal rant on my decision to gravitate towards writing weirder music

Here’s my newest favorite show/site MakeWeirdMusic.com, one that features interviews with unique legendary musicians with genuine talent, uniqueness, musicianship (be it composition-wise and/or playing techniques) – musicians playing in genres that aren’t exactly perceived as ‘mainstream’, and might be considered as ‘weird’ by the general public.

Their recent interview with Steve Vai was another spectacular one, particular the first portions of it when he said that if you need to ask/question yourself why you’re making music, then don’t do it, and that you need to write as if you don’t have any expectations of anyone ever going hear the music, if your ultimate goal is to be true to yourself and sounding unique.

[Rant Alert]

This resonated with me because that’s the way I started to look at things after my first album myself. While I was proud that I was able to release a record on my own and I did some experimentation with playing styles that I wasn’t yet comfortable with, there were a number of pop-ish songs that I was not entirely genuine to myself, because I was constantly second guessing and wasn’t sure whether or not an audience would like my writing. When it was time to make the second record, I figured that be hell with it. Who knows who will ever listen to my music out there and if I don’t have work that I could stand behind and be fully proud of, then it’s not worth the financial budgets, months and years of blood, sweat and tears (and other sacrifices) to make my records. Unlike artists that fully depend their surviving finances on creating music that serves the liking of their audience, I have the advantage of having a day job that would supplement that portion. That advantage does matter… especially since I don’t really have an audience, don’t have my own band and have the ability to play all the different instruments in a live setting (there are ways around that, but you get my point), or have the same number of hours in a day to practice/play and get better on my craft. It takes me longer to mix (or write for) a record since I’m only able to fully immerse during my days off work, and rate of my releasing records and incoming generated from those don’t really justify the recording gear that I get and session players that I hire. It’s almost impossible to come up with something that’s truthfully 100% unique and sounding musical at the same time. As I remember my favorite bassist Bryan Beller has said many times that we’re all sums of what we listen to – and I fully agree. But coming out with something that’s truthful to yourself isn’t exactly easy and does take a bit of effort, but the results are so, so, *SO* worth it when everything just clicks and the ideas that you have built on sound the most exiting and genuine at the same time. It’s like having coming up with the coolest cross-over move in basketball or craziest thread-the-needle-unexpected-assist. I get asked all the time by doubters why I even bother making records. I think I have my answer right there.

[/Rant Alert]

Ranting aside, if you’re still reading… do check out MakeWeirdMusic.com’s interview with Steve Vai.

In case you have missed the one with Mike Keneally, which I think was the best interview with any I have watched ever (and I watch TONS of interviews of my favorite artists.. total fanboy/junkie) – you can check it out here. The site has video/audio/stream/download options available.

Offtopic: I also found this video of Mr. Keneally on youtube playing a number of Zappa songs. You can generally find many of the youtube videos of him, but many are rough bootleg quality and don’t always exactly sound or show the real genius in that man. I feel this one here really shows a cool glimpse of that. That’s just on the guitar, and he’s equally outrageous on the piano too.


$300 Dollar Home Studio Budget Breakdown

Recently there’s been a lot of discussions/debate on the interwebs on whether or not a home studio could be built with $300. While I agree on both fronts that gear does matter, while minimal budget gear should not prevent you from creating and recording music, the more important question is what would one really spend that $300 on?

I remember when I first started out, the audio interface and the microphone alone had cost just about that much, but there’s a lot more variety of options at lower costs with better quality available now (such as with audio interfaces and headphones).

Let’s ballpark it in numbers. Keep in mind that one may need to hunt in the used market to keep within budget.

  • DAW: Reaper ($60)
  • Microphone: SM57 ($70 Used)
  • Mic Cable: XLR ($15 Used)
  • Audio Interface (USB-interface): $100
  • Headphones: $40-60
  • Mic stand: ($15 Used)

Total: $300-320

You may decide to get a used pair of monitors for $100 instead, but that would also require purchasing of 2 more cables for that. (Headphones come with cables) – adding more to what’s already over $300.

The great thing about this list is that Reaper’s a great DAW for a great price and contains far too many features than some of the DAWs costing 8-10 times more. Its stock plugins are very useable. SM57 is a classic used in most electric guitars and snare drums for the last couple of decades. Most of the gear on the list would come at a one-time cost but chances are, that you would likely not need to upgrade those in the future.

This whole list assumes that the person already contains all the instruments needed for recording, and not need to make any additional purchases. Otherwise there’s no way to meet that $300 mark.

While there’s a lot of quality gear that don’t come expensive, there’s also a lot of poor quality things out there (<$99 audio interfaces, <$100 made-in-Asia condenser microphones) that one needs to look out for. While a bit of a stretch indeed, it’s not entirely impossible.

On the subject of gear vs technique – my dear friend Ronan explains it best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPLqA7jEF1