Mixing tips with Voxengo Span

Here’s a Quick Tip tutorial I’ve done for Loopmasters demonstrating how to setup and use the great FREE Voxengo SPAN spectral analysis plugin. I like using this plugin to help visually see elements in your mix and how they interact with each other.

The Ableton Project for this video can be downloaded here.

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The Politics of Dancing

If you know anything at all about House music, you’ll know that its roots are based in both revolt and inclusion. From the early days at the Warehouse, House music provided a place where people were able to go and express themselves collectively in a way that the strict segregation of standard clubs did not allow. “Spiritually and aesthetically, it developed in the U.S. out of the need of oppressed people, African Americans, gays and Latinos, to build a community through dance”(reference).

From very early on, the rise of dance music in the UK was also part of a rejection of what many considered to be repressive social policies. Thatcherism, which involved privatization of previously nationalized industries and the weakening of trade unions, led many to dance not only to release their tension and frustration but also to collectively reject the status quo. Dance music offered an alternative, more inclusive, an outlook that rejected an emphasis on capitalism and the individual vs. the collective.

That’s what House is about.

Some thoughts on the DJ as “performer”

Soundcraft Signature 12 MTK

I recently posted up the following to Facebook and got quite a response:

“For me, the vibe at a House music party can often be expressed as a ratio, which is people freely dancing/people facing the DJ.

If the ratio is anything less than one, it’s an event, but it’s not a party.

I think clubs should start putting up curtains in front of the booth and let the music speak for itself. It would stop all that wack theatrical stuff, get people focused on what’s what, and cut out the ‘celebrity DJ’ B.S.”

I’ve been thinking a little more on this, and I think a lot of what went wrong happened around the time that the “superstar DJ” came into play.

It’s a tough one because many of those DJs deserve the respect they are given. Unfortunately, we also live in a celebrity culture where people are conditioned to treat those people as “stars”. This all plays into swaths of people showing up for reasons other than to dance to music, and it puts the DJ above the party in many cases.

Ironically, it’s been good for many financially and career-wise, but I’m not sure it’s been the best thing for the culture.

What do you think?

Detroit Techno history – The Electrifying Mojo

One of the things I think a lot of newbies lack is a foundation based on understanding where the music has come from. I am no historian, but I think all of us should have a general understanding, and therefore respect for, those who paved the way. I’ve read a bit about the Electrifying Mojo and his influences on Detroit Techno artists, and he always seems like an amazing character. Red Bull have done a nice piece on him, well worth a read. I hope you enjoy.

House History – The Crazy Frenchman

If you like digging into the vaults of House Music like I do, you’ll enjoy this post about The Crazy Frenchman, aka Reynald Deschamps.

His early releases are definitely at the roots of the tree that the general public now calls “dance music” generally, and well worth exploring if you’re not familiar.


I’ve had a bit more time to do some digging this week, so to follow on from the post about Pal Joey, here’s a bit about the guy that gave him his first break on Kool Groove recordsReynald “The Crazy Frenchman” Deschamps!  Despite Reynald’s reputation for being a bit out there, it’s not been easy to find out much about him – for a long time I could only find a few bits of info on Discogs and this 2004 post on the DJ History forum.  I knew of a few of his tracks from the early to mid 90s, but apart from Jazz It Up, released under his CFM Band moniker, I have to admit nothing much particularly grabbed my attention

Then, while looking for Pal Joey records, I noticed his name kept coming up again and again and thought I should dig a bit…

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Old-school sampling techniques

Akai MPC - sampling legend.

Sampling continues to play a big part in all current forms of club and classic Hip-Hop production, and with the resurgence of hardware/software based counterparts of the classic sampling kit of vintage samplers (notably Maschine and the MPC Rennaissance), a whole new generation of sampling is on its way.

As a part of this re-kindled interest in sampling, many younger producers are also looking for sampling techniques to emulate the sound of early classics and get the sound of the “golden era” of Dance and Hip-Hop.

While many new samplers come with the option to switch to a “vintage” mode, simply doing this is only a step in the direction of achieving this sound. One of the main reasons for this is down to modern gear itself and how it affects the whole production process. We work with very little limitation from our gear these days, and while that seems great, it’s actually the limitation early producers faced that contributed to the sound we associate with early classic Hip Hop and House. Let’s go a little deeper.

Sampling Time

These days it’s likely you don’t even think of sampling time – there’s no reason why most of you couldn’t sample a whole track without any issues. Cheap memory and powerful computers/drives make it a non-issue. It wasn’t always so. In the early days of sampling, this was a huge issue. I am going to date myself here and say that my first sampler – an Ensoniq ASR-10 which I still lovingly own – shipped with 2MiB of internal memory. This was expandable to 16MiB. This translated into a default sampling max time of about 20 seconds, with the upgrade pushing you to the nose-bleed heights of about 2 minutes. This limited sampling time resulted in a creative workaround that many of us wouldn’t even consider today – and this contributed to the “classic” sound.

Speeding Up The Sample

With the limited sampling time, time literally was of the essence – so any way to shorten sampling time was good. One creative technique early vinyl samplers used was to sample the record at a pitched up speed – often sampling a 33rpm record at 45rpm – so that the sampling time was shortened. Once inside the sampler, the sample could then be pitched back down to its original speed. This imparted some subtle artefacts in the sample, giving it a less clean more “sampled” feel. Subtle, but there.

Mono Sampling

Another restriction of early sampling gear was that it could only sample in Mono. The MPC 3000, which came out in ’93, is the first of the well-known samplers to sample in stereo and it’s doubtful that many tracks were made on the 3K until 94 or 95, and obviously none before 93! So, once again, a limitation of early sampling gear contributed to the way that samples sounded.

Even with the ability to sample in stereo, many early producers would still opt to sample in mono because of the way samples could be edited. While today’s producers are used to being able to quickly and easily visually hone in on the desired start and end-points of a sample (or even have the software do it automatically with very little error), early editing of start and end-points to create a seamless loop was a science in and of itself. If you’ve never tried to get a seamless loop quickly with just your ears and a click-track, give it a try and you’ll soon see how it can be difficult.

So even if you could sample in stereo, the minute you started changing/ editing start and end points on stereo samples, phase problems could appear making the samples flange (interpolation/quantising error). This would mess up Drum Loops/ Instrumental Samples.

Production Techniques

Of course, producers wanted to give their productions a stereo feel, so a raft of techniques developed to accomplish this.

There were all sorts of techniques people dreamed up to overcome the limitations inherent in their setups.

A common technique would be to track out each sample on it’s own in a mixer and process each track to taste. EQ, reverb, compression, limiting etc. would be applied to each. Then the entire instrumental/song was mixed with some tracks panned left or right (slight or hard) and some tracks ducked, others pushed to get an overall conglomerate balance.

End Product

When the mix engineer was finished, the signal from the Main Outs (L/R) of the mixing console was printed.

It should be noted that all of this would be done out of the box – no DAW. Analogue mixers would be used with outboard processing or onboard processing from the sampler, all of which imparts a unique feel depending on the gear configuration. Not to mention a healthy amount of noise.

Finally, the “bounce” would be recorded to most often : (a) a 2 inch (reel) mastering tape; (b) a 1 inch (reel) mastering tape; (c) a DAT tape; or even (d) a cassette tape.


This hopefully gives you an insight into some of the early sampling techniques and most importantly gives you an understanding of a simple concept that today is often overlooked – limitation in the studio is often one of the best creative forces.

Try some of these techniques out yourself, making use of your own sample library – make them mono, pitch them up and sample them and then pitch them down again, add some dirt and noise to your sounds to emulate the dirt that outboard gear imparts, and so on.

Have fun getting your own sound.

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Taking the time…

Recording studio setup takes time!

If there’s one thing I can’t stress enough it’s taking real time to get things properly configured in your studio setup so that time is spent creating as soon as you sit down and not “setting up”. It’s no small feat and getting things right definitely doesn’t happen over night. But, in the end, putting off those creative moments for a while and getting things right with your setup will ultimately lead to more music. It’s called deferred gratification. I recommend it.