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Tamas Dragon Posts

Solo is NOT your enemy

Recently I saw many blog posts, tweets, shorter and longer articles that suggest the Solo button is against us, the use of it literally ruins your mix. The reason behind this is when you listen to something in solo, you take that sound out of context while adjusting it, then try to make it fit into the mix, and this is the wrong way they say. And there’s some truth to it. Some.

Solo is your friend

In my opinion solo is actually one of your greatest ally. Or to be more precise, it can be, if used wisely. For example during a fast paced sound-check the only way you can isolate and identify problem spots is to use solo. This is probably the most obvious usage. Nevertheless it’s an important one.

During mixing as we progress towards the final mix we tend to use solo less and less and this is a very natural progress. As every building block start to achieve its final sonic shape, adding to the final soundscape it would be a mistake to overuse solo. But don’t rush it. Until that you might need it more than you think.

During a big mix solo is the fastest and most precise way to properly identify problem spots, frequency build-ups, nasty resonances, clashing instruments, phase problems. With it you can quickly check suspected problematic things like hum, buzz or other errors.

But it is not only there for using as a magnifier glass for the smallest things like instruments. It’s also very useful to quickly check groups of instruments, effect balance, stem balance. If your mix utilise some audio sub groups based on certain selection of instruments, solo is a great way to re-set internal balances or just to remind yourself what parts are coming through a particular stem. At first this might sound a bit funny, but for example on a huge score mix with 7-15 stems and hundreds of tracks sometimes things are not that obvious.

When solo becomes your enemy

With all that said solo definitely can be your enemy. The most obvious thing is relying on it too often and too much. A common mistake to judge final eq and compression decisions isolated from the mix. It is almost always bad.

Fiddling with tiny things too much in solo also can lead to loose perspective. Solo tend to be addictive make us work on things until we feel they’re perfect. But remember, what seem to be perfect in isolation might fail miserably in context. The most common issues usually too much or too little of something. You might think that you achieved the most perfect, thick guitar or kick drum sound, until you hear it in context to find out that it’s too boomy and lack clarity.

The same in a score mix situation when the high strings has some mid-hi resonance. This example may seem a bit of an exaggeration but actually it is based on many real life events. The engineer hit the solo button on the first violin and find that it has a 2.3kHz nasty resonant sound so grabs the EQ and cut a healthy 5-6dB at that frequency and the nasty part of the sound disappears. But after the moment he releases the solo, it become obvious that the other violins has that nasty resonance too. In today’s DAWs it’s ridiculously easy to copy the first violin’s EQ to the other channels. The resonant frequency now eliminated completely. Well only to find out in the next few bars that he probably killed of too much mid-hi and lost the clarity of the whole violin section. If he would have EQ the violins in context, then it would’ve been obvious that a 2-3dB cut could eliminate the most annoying resonance while still retaining ample clarity.

solo

I’ve seen fellow engineers to completely ruin otherwise perfectly fine effects fine-tuning them in solo. It’s so tempting to make everything smooth and beautiful, but it’s counterproductive.

To solo or not to solo…

Well, as in most other things the solution is find the right balance. Use it when it’s necessary but don’t overuse it. The hard part is to learn when you don’t need it anymore. It’s a moving target. Every mix is so different you can’t make a proper formula to tell anyone how much and how often it should be used. It’s bit like learning to walk, there’s no shortcut, we have to fall, stumble many times before we can safely walk. And still, there are certain days when we’d stumble on something no matter how careful we are.

Probably the best way to find the right balance is to pay attention and always evaluate the use of solo. That way it won’t be your enemy, it can become your great help in achieving the prefect mix.

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Buy only what you really need

Ok, I know, it’s Black Friday. This means every company on planet Earth try to convince you that they have the best deal in the universe, now you really must buy that gear, plugin, etc.

I don’t want to be the old wise man. I just want to offer a sane voice. Buy only plugins you really need and you’ve already thoroughly tested. Buy gear you have experience with, you’ve used in on numerous occasion and you’re certain that you’re going to use it often.

If you keep these two things in your mind, I’m sure your Friday purchase will be well thought out and necessary. Eschew impulse purchase, that’s the worst. Believe me, been there, done that.

These offers might seem a once in a lifetime chance, but there will be Christmas, New Year, etc. offers.

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Templates and presets

First a confession. I’m a maniac, I have zillions of templates and presets, literally for every possible scenario. And if it was not enough I always revisit old things to re-check, develop and make brand new ones. On the other hand this whole template and preset addiction can kill creativity if not used wisely.

Industrial tempo

I use this term when I have more thing to record or mix than what would be manageable or healthy. Of course it doesn’t really matter what I think about it because the job has to be done. This is the point when I start to heavily rely on my collection. But there’s definitely more to this than simple laziness. Actually it’s absolutely not about any kind of work shyness. It’s about these benefits:

  • get the job done in time
  • get the job done without errors
  • properly manage your time
  • spend your time on the important things
  • achieve stellar sonics rapidly

I guess some of my points may raise some eyebrows so here’s the explanation. The first is obvious. The second point become obvious when you need more coffee than water. Show up in the studio sleep deprived, your brain is still in bed and you start to appreciate that everything snaps into place, the routing, the plugins, the effects, etc.

template

The third is also important both when you’re tired and if you have no ample time for set up and check things through. A great template and some presets can save you tons of time making your otherwise impossible schedule turn into a manageable one.

The fourth. If you save time as you rely on your previously created and tested templates, you have more time to fiddle with the really important things, sonics. It’s really that easy.

preset

The last one. Sound engineers tend to be very detail oriented persons which is great but polished sound requires time. Presets alone won’t make a record sound like a finished mix but certainly can help you achieve stellar sonics much more rapidly. Probably this is why I always strive to refine my presets. This way they can really help me when I need them.

With all that said, I still encourage everyone to sometimes loose all the safety net and be brave, experiment, invent new methods and workflows. The real great discoveries comes when you don’t heavily rely on tried and true methods. However, if you don’t have time, it’s good to know we have the trusty templates and presets to help us out.

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Softube and Gobbler

I read it on forums that Softube has recently changed the way users can access their products. First I haven’t payed attention, but after a few days it was suspicious that many seemed to thought that it’s a bad move.

Today I checked if I need to update some plugins, and realised the Softube ones need update.

Meet their new system

There’s no way to access your downloads if you don’t have a Gobbler account. Period. I for one really don’t like this as I had terrible experiences with Gobbler before. So take into account that I’m biased. But anyway, generally I don’t think it’s a good thing to force us into something like this.

Once you have your Gobbler account, and that is linked to your iLok account, you have access to your Softube plugins. The app scan your plugins and tell you if you need to update your plugins, or even if you have something that is not on your machine yet.

softubegobbler

On my laptop I have 4 Softube plugins. When I tried to update them from a broadband connection it was painfully slow, but at the end it was successful.

It’s absolutely not obvious though that you still have access to your offline installers. But the one caveat is that you still need the Gobbler account. To access your installers, go to Softube’s website and log into your account. Scroll down to the bottom of the page where you can find the link to “My downloads”. And voila, it’s all there.

The year of new models

Now it’s obvious that most companies want to offer subscription based services. This is good or bad depending on your own point of view. I can see the benefits of subscriptions, yet I’m still not convinced that this is the best way to do it. One thing for sure I hate when I’m being forced into something. I sadly tweeted yesterday that I think it’s a bad decision, obviously Softube’s answer is: “Gobbler is much easier than the old system…” Well, I don’t think that registering with a third party, then downloading and using an additional third party software is easier. My main problem with this is we already use a plethora of little add-on apps from cloud services to backup apps, you name it. I’m not convinced we need more.

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I want my time back…

It seems that sometimes you have to switch to full Sherlock mode and investigate, find clues and evidence, deduct and hopefully find the solution after the process. This can be exciting, boring and anything in between, but one thing is for sure, it is very time consuming. Few weeks ago one of our rigs started to act weird, and after some investigation we’ve found that one of the RAM modules are almost dead. Great, switched back to the original modules while waiting for the replacement. No problem there, or only minor issues, but we desperately need more RAM now.

Use what we have

I thought, ok, we don’t have 64GB then use only 32GB. That’s definitely more than the basic 16GB, should be enough. As we had more and more Memory low messages in Pro Tools, as soon as I had a little time I grabbed the MacPro out of the rack to change the RAM. Apart from some cabling it is really not a big deal. Open the little padlock sign and lift the outer shell up. Push the RAM holder and it’s immediately comes out from the hidden place so you can grab the modules. I precisely inserted the two modules into slot 1 and 3. Put back the shell, connect the cables and you’re ready to get back to work. Well, in theory at least.

Mac Pro memory slots

After the boot up our rig started to behave like never before. Even launching Pro Tools caused CPU errors, the meter was constantly gliding from 40% to 100% and to red. I couldn’t open even a single, small session. To be honest I’ve never experienced anything like this. At first I tried to open one of our usual (bigger) sessions, but after a few failures to do so I tried to open really small ones without any success.

I knew the RAM modules are fine because they’d been tested. But how come we experienced only minor if any issues with the stock RAM? I have absolutely no idea. But putting the RAM from slot 1 and 3 to slot 2 and 4 solved the problem. No CPU errors, no outrageous 100% values and sessions open without any errors as before the RAM exchange.

Apple hardware test showed that everything is fine, however it is very obvious that it is far from being fine. Now we try to arrange to send back the MacPro to Apple for some thorough testing to confirm if there’s any problem. I hope they have something more deep than the regular hardware test.

If any of you experienced things like this before, don’t hesitate to write me. Any experience or advice is highly appreciated.

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