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Here I have chosen 10 really great synths which are not only pretty decent for various sounds, but also free for you to use. I haven't written anything about each one, but I have tested and used them all out myself and I wouldn't put them here if I didn't think they were useful for use in your own music. Personally I feel the more VSTi instruments that you can call on to use in your music the better and these should be some of the first that you try out.

Click on the name of each one to visit the homepage where you can download them for free. I have provided a screenshot of each one for you. If you are new to VST Instruments then check out our Beginners Guide to Using VST Instruments, if you need a free VSTi Host check out SAVIHost.

Enjoy your new collection of soft synths, by using this wide variety you should be able to make some pretty good sounds for use in your music.

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VSTi instruments (also known as Softsynths or Virtual Instruments) are plugins which are run by a VSTi host. A VSTi host which usually comes in the form of a sequencer and some of the most popular VSTi hosts are Cubase, Ableton Live, FruityLoops Studio and Cakewalk Sonar. The VSTi instruments add a new instrument to the VSTi hosts which allows for more and different sounds to be produced. If you can't get your head round it then the best way to look at it is to imagine the VSTi host acts like an operating system such as Windows which runs programs which are the VSTi instruments.

VSTi instruments come in different forms but are usually in the form of a softsynth, a synthesizer made in software as opposed to the classic way of making a synth in hardware. Some softsynths can be just as good if not better than their similar hardware versions as softsynths allow for unlimited saving space for presets and sounds as well as the ability to run multiple instances of a single synth allowing two sounds to be played simultaneously.

To allow for ultimate control over a softsynth it is best to use a MIDI controller which allows the softsynth to be used with a hardware interface. This allows for ultimate control of both playing and adjusting the sounds. Settings can be controlled on the screen using a standard mouse easily enough but playing the notes you want will be a bit more tricky.

The great thing about VSTi instruments is that they are cheaper than hardware and you won't have to find more room to store them in the place you use for music making. You don't need any extra cables, plugs or stands. The downsides are that they can take up a lot of system resources on your computer so lots of ram and a good processor are needed, especially if you plan on running multiple VSTi instruments at the same time.

VSTis designed for Windows come in the the form of a .DLL file and for the MAC a .VST file. This file needs to be placed or installed into your VSTis plugin directory or into an appropriately named folder within that directory. Your VSTis plugin directory can usually be set in the preferences of your VSTi host which will then be able to be located and load it up into its own channel ready to be sequenced.

If you don't currently own a VSTi host then I would suggest trying a small piece of software called Savihost created by Hermann Seib. This free software enables you to basically run a VSTi in a standalone state. Whilst this is not the most ideal way to run a VSTi host compared to a sequencer, it does allow you the chance to try out VSTi's before investing in a sequencer or to run them in standalone mode without loading up a full sequencer . To use Savihost just rename the Savihost.exe to the name of the .DLL file of the VSTi Instrument you want to use which should be located in the same directory as the Savihost.exe file.

Download Savihost

If you want to try out a brilliant and free (yes free) VSTi Instrument then you can't go wrong with The Claw from ReFx. You can download The Claw for the ReFX links below.

Download Claw For Windows
Download Claw For Mac
Download Claw Manual

You should hopefully now be well on your way that you can start using VSTis in your music, there are some great ones available and it opens up new doors to lots of new sounds.

Tutorial written by Edward Cufaude for Rhythm Creation.

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Recently I completed a remix as an entry into a remix contest. I haven’t done too much remixing before but I think I did pretty well with the track I remixed and thought I would share my thoughts, tips and ideas about the remixing process and what seemed to work well for me when remixing.

The track I remixed was called Nude - Dreams for their remix contest. You can hear the end remix that I came up with on my MySpace Page.

I found myself approaching the remix very differently to the way I would normally go about making a track completely from scratch. The reason is that most of the musical ideas are already there in front of you in the original and it is less about musical creativity and making sounds and more focused towards musical arrangement.

The main aim I started with was to take the track, try to keep the main elements and feel but add my own style to it. It is a balance I think you want to try to get right. You don’t want to sound too much like the original mix, but you don’t want to stray too far from the original that it wouldn’t really be classed as a remix. To achieve this aim I think it is a good idea to limit the amount of times you listen to the original. Listening too much could slow your creativity as the original might stick in your head.

In the contest I took part in, you were given the loops of each part/instrument of the track and the vocals. The first job I did was to cut these loops up and save individual hits of drums/instruments ready for import into Reason. For example I took kick, snare, and hat samples from the drums, a few bass notes from the baseline etc. I then cleaned all these individual hit samples up slightly by fading in or out the first and last few milliseconds to remove any of those nasty clicks you get.

Next I decided I wasn’t keen on the original 135bpm as I found that speed slightly too fast for my style of drums so I slowed it down to 124bpm. I noticed that most of the other current entries had stuck to the 135bpm and that is just fine, but if you do want to change the bpm your going to have to do either some time-stretching of any loops or your going to have to cut up each note in the loop and retrigger the samples.

It’s probably best if your using the loops to decide on a bpm and stick to it, otherwise it can be a real pain going and re-timestretching loops later. Timestretching can introduce some unwanted effects such as echos so you don’t want to go too overboard with huge changes in tempo (unless you want these effects).

I found that cutting loops into phrases allowed me to be a bit more experimental as you have more control over when each phrase will get triggered. It’s better than just putting the full loop over the top as you can start to add your own timings and variations of these phrases much easier later on.

Once I had the loops and samples in the shape I wanted them in, I started to import them into Reason. Using a sampler such as those in Reason which allows multiple samples to be allocated to different keys on the keyboard really worked well here. You can set out all your cut up loop phrases so they can be played in order. You will also find it easier if you tune any of the individual samples to their appropiate keys at this point too.

As you can see I spent lots of time preparing the samples and importing them before even trying to lay any sort of track out. I had basically setup every part of the original mix and made it possible to play every part easily on the keyboard too. This can be a bit time consuming at first but once this is done the fun begins.

I started to play with the drums as this is where I usually start with my own tracks. I wanted to try and keep as many of the original drum samples in as possible, I think this is a good way of trying to achieve the aim of not go too far away from the original but the drum tracks is the place in a remix where you can really give a remix your own style. I only introduced a few new drum sounds when I couldn’t get the sound I wanted by layering these new samples with the originals.

For each of the instrumental parts I was to play along to the original track and then to go and play along to my own beat and try and vary it slightly in both timing and note sequence but sticking to the same set of notes used in the original. It seemed to work for me and the track built up reasonably quick.

Adding your own parts to make the track stand out from other remixes in a contest is I think a good idea. Use the same scale/notes as the other instruments and try to make it fit well. As long as you don’t make it too different and have enough sections from the original you should be ok. I added two new main sections that were not in the original.

Firstly a synth line that just went for 16 bars, it is smack in the centre of the track but it fits well, uses the same scale, it’s short as I don’t think you should make any personalised sections that stand out too long as that would have broken my main aim. Next I added a guitar sound but I faded it back into the mix a lot to disguise it. Putting a sound further back in the mix allows you to make a section go for longer without going too far off track.

When adding your own sections it is a good idea to not use any copyrighted samples that you don’t own if your entering a remix contest which has the possibility of release. It saves hassle later and there are loads of great sites for free sounds.

Effects is where you can again add your own mark to the track so you will want to do this similarly to how you would normally. Careful not to add too many effects especially if the samples you were given already have a lot of effects on. During mix down stage try to emulate the original in terms of overall frequency levels, if the original mix down sounds brighter than yours, then your remix is going to sound dull. Same goes with overall volume, use a limiter to bring your track up to the same volume levels without distorting your track.

Anyway those are my thoughts on producing a remix that came out of personally doing one. If anyone has anything to add that they think is important or different views on remixing please add them to the comments of this post. If your looking for a remix contest to have a go at, try our other site RemixComps.com.

Article written for Rhythm Creation by Edward Cufaude.

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I used to make a lot of hard house music and one of the most common sounds in hard house and similar types of hard dance music is the hoover sound. Even though it is used a lot (sometimes too much) some people have trouble recreating this sound themselves and end up using samples. The original sound was made on the Roland Juno Synthesizer and I’ve even heard of people buying that synth just to create this type of sound and spending hundreds of their hard earned cash in the process. In this tutorial I’m going to show you how to make a basic hoover without a Juno. If your not sure what a hoover synth is then play the sound below.

Click Here To Listen To The Final Hoover Sound

I made that hoover style sound above as an example for this tutorial using the Malstrom and the NN-XT sampler in Reason within a few minutes and I’m going to show you how to get that style of synth sound so you can make all the hoovers you require without a Juno and also so I don’t have to hear a hoover sample that I’ve heard hundreds of times before next time I listen to some new hard house/dance tracks.

The following tutorial is done in Reason but you should be able to reproduce this sound using any synthesizer or softsynth which is good at making some sort of nice fat lead sound.

Creating the Starting Sound
First we need to create a fat lead type sound, I shall leave you to choose one yourself here as most synthesizers should be able to create sounds which are good enough. Here is the sound I used, so you can get an idea of the sort of sound that you need to start off with.

Click Here To Download The Starting Sound

As you can see it’s nothing special, it is in fact just 2 x Sawtooth like waves with one of them an octave lower than the other. There is nothing special about this sound and you can find samples of this sort of sound all over the internet for free. Experiment with different sorts of lead synth sounds as your starting point for the hoover, but to get a real fat hoover you need something that sounds quite fat to begin with. You want to aim for lots of high and low frequencies in there as it will make the hoover sound fatter and more Juno sounding.

Making The Hoover
This is the bit which most people who try to make hoover sounds and fail don’t know about. We need to use a sampler such as the NN-XT in Reason which allows you to use a mod envelope (ADSR) to control the pitch of the sound. I’m sure that there are many other samplers that can do this too.

For this you need to first export the sound from your synthesizer and save it as a sample to reload into your sampler. You want to create a very long sample or create a loop in the sampler so you can hold the sample down for a long time without it ending.

Once you’ve loaded the sample into you’re sampler, you need to make the mod envelope affect the pitch of the sample. For the example I set the mod env to pitch setting to +600cents (about the 2-O-Clock position) on the NN-XT. I increased the attack on the mod envelope to about midway up and the decay just that bit higher than the attack. The sustain, release and hold were set to none.

I also made the sound play three notes at one time to give it more substance, these were C3, C4 and C5 on the MIDI keyboard and placed a notch filter on the sample with the frequency set about half way. Now we have the basic hoover sound, you can now go and add some effects on if you want to make it sound even better.

See it isn’t that hard to create a hoover once you know how it’s done. Hopefully this has shown you that you can create Hoover type sounds very easily and quickly within Reason. You don’t need a Roland Juno or other fancy kit to create one. You can also achieve this with most synthesizers and a sampler with the mod envelope to pitch ability. Experiment with the hoover sounds too by starting with different starting synths, there are loads that can be made. If you use Reason there are some great ones that can be made with the Subtractor and Malstrom as a starting point.

Tutorial written by Edward Cufaude for Rhythm Creation.

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In part 1 I talked about the equipment you will be needing to start music production and in part 2 I talked about the software needed. In this section we are going to bring together both our equipment and room together to set up our working area up for good all round performance. There are two main aims here:
  1. Get great sound quality from our equipment and work area.
  2. Create a great working area which is comfortable and productive.
In this part of our beginners series I don’t want to get too technical, I more want to point out common mistakes that beginners will make with setting up your equipment and room. You shouldn’t have to spend any money with the tips I’m going to give here, just some hard work moving some of your stuff around and getting your area to an “advisable” way to have it, allowing you to make much better use of the tools you have available.

Your Room
For a home music production studio you are more than likely looking to transform an existing room or area such as a bedroom or study into your personal studio. Whilst this is not an ideal solution for a studio, we have to make best with the area that we have got. If you are lucky enough to have a choice of rooms available to set-up in then your first thing to do is choose which one your going to use. Here are a few things you should think about when choosing a room:
  • Your Neighbours - If your studio is going to placed where your neighbours can hear you then you will end up annoying them or not being able to work with much volume. The further away from any neighbours the better for both of you. When making your tracks the neighbours are going to hear the same track being played over and over as you change things and this will drive them crazy.
  • Unwanted Noise - The room should have no or as little unwanted noise as possible especially if you are going to be recording using microphone. Unwanted noise could be for example traffic, neighbours, pets, heating, air conditioning etc. Remove the unwanted noise or choose a room away from this noise.
  • The Shape and Size of The Room - Your room should ideally not be square as square rooms will have certain frequencies which will resonate more than rectangular rooms have. With very small rooms the sound will bounce more around the room, so maybe choose the bigger room if you have the choice.
Guitar Strings - Image from Stock Xchng (www.sxc.hu) User:elussichIf you are going for a more recording based setup you might want to think about having a completely separate recording room to your equipment/mixing room if this is possible. This means that your microphones will be away from any noise created for example by the computer or if you play music as a band, the musician and instrument being recorded can be away from the rest of you. This is not a requirement and is not suitable for everyone and you may also need to buy extension cables and thread them through your wall, so you can plug in your microphones in quickly and easily without wires going all through your house.

The Sound Of Your Room
The sound of your room needs to be good for recording and mixing too, basically we want to be hearing the sound of your music directly from the speakers, and not the sound the has bounced off the walls of the room. If you have ever removed all items from a room when decorating you will know how the room changes in sound. The less furnishings that are in the room the more reverberation can be heard. Some people like some sort of room reverberation on their recordings but most of the time you won’t want any at all. Reverberation can be added later on in your mix via the software (or hardware), this gives us more control over the final sound. Some reverberation in the room is fine, we just don’t want too much.

You can test what the room sounds like by clapping your hands. If you can hear the resonance just after you clap, you may want to add some more soft furnishings such as curtains, rugs or cushions which will all help to soak up these reverberations (dampen the sound).

Reverberations tend to happen more with sounds with higher frequencies, the problem you will have with lower frequencies is vibration from objects around your room. To solve this once all your equipment is set up, turn it on and turn it up very loud. Set up your MIDI controller to control a very low bassy sound or anything else that is capable of creating a big bass sound such as a bass guitar. Now go up each of the notes from the lowest you can hear and listen for objects that vibrate around the room. You need to locate these objects and remove them completely from the room or if you can’t do that then you need to stop them from vibrating somehow. These vibrations are adding unwanted noise to the sound of your room.

Speaker - Image from Stock Xchng (www.sxc.hu) User:therysma Speaker Locations
Your speakers need to be placed well for you to get the most out of them. They want to be facing towards you at ear level with some distance between the left and right speakers and some distance between you and the speakers creating a triangle shape. It may specify optimum distances in the manual that came with your speakers or monitors and you should use these specified distances. If not I would go for something like 1.5 metres apart from each other and 1 metre away from you, use your ears and set them up what you feel comfortable with.

The speakers should not be placed in corners of the room as this will accentuate the bass and there should be as little surfaces and objects between you and the speakers as possible as reflections (called early reflections) will bounce from the speaker on these surfaces to your ear.

The Rest Of Your Equipment
Your equipment needs to be set-up to give you a comfortable and productive environment. Everything needs to be within easy reach, you want to place your MIDI controller somewhere so you can still see your screen and play at the same time. Getting up and going across the room to play your music in is not what you want to be doing.

If your computer or equipment makes any noise from fans, make sure you put it as far from recording microphones as possible. If you have a uni-directional microphone (a microphone that picks up what is in front of it and not much from behind it) make sure that you place the computer behind it so that it will not be picked up as much. Placing your computer on the floor may also reduce the noise recorded too.

Microphone - Image from Stock Xchng (www.sxc.hu) User:maphler Other Stuff To Do In Your New Studio
  • Keep Your Studio Tidy - A room which is tidy will not only make you feel better, it will make your music better because you will enjoy being in your room and you will also be able to find things when you need them.
  • Reduce Hum - Other electrical items can create hum in your equipment and cables such as microphone or guitar cable. So remove these from the room. Dimmer light switches are particularly bad for this.
  • Remove phones and distractions - Especially if your going to be recording a lot. You might be coming to the end of the your greatest take ever when suddenly someone rings you.
  • Get a Comfortable Chair - One that doesn’t squeak :-), If you are comfortable you will spend more quality time on your music and your music will benefit from it.
Part 3 Conclusion
Hopefully this section of our beginners guide has given you a bit of an insight into creating a room for recording and mixing your music. This isn’t everything you can do to improve the sound of your room, this is just the basics that don’t cost much. Obviously there is loads more acoustic treatment which can be done but this costs money and can be unnecessary for a beginner. Following the examples set out in this part of the guide will eliminate any common beginners mistakes when setting up your room and equipment and give you a good start to work from. The benefits will be heard in your music especially in the mix down, your music will sound better on a wider variety of players as you won’t be compensating for problems in the room so much and will hear the music from the speakers and not from the room.

Written by Edward Cufaude for Rhythm Creation.

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