Music and Songwriting/Man/Machine - A Guide to Gear and Music Technology

This is a collection of notes on learning audio engineering, the goal of which is to make it as easy to learn whatever you need to about audio engineering with free resources.

Recording Software (DAW's) edit

Digital Audio Workstations are a core software genre in the music industry. They are often a combination of recording software, editing/mixing functionality and live performance tools. Most DAWs have the same core functions, but specific tools vary from program to program, and most DAWs are works in progress that have modified release every umpteen months.

It is often wise to start with a simple/free DAW or a light version of a pro DAW. Audacity, GarageBand, Cubase LE, and ProTools Lite are some examples. They are better for beginners because they are less confusing and make it easier to get started, although it's advisable to spend a little time with someone who knows DAW's since even light DAW's can be challenging.

As you work with them more, you may hit some limitations in light DAWs. Talented performers can make great records in any DAW, but some common tools are often missing from the light DAW's that make the job much easier. Audacity uses destructive editing which saves work for the computer processor but makes it impossible to undo more than a few changes to your sounds. GarageBand has most of the major tools you need, but has slightly toy-sounding software instruments, many of the plugins are simplified and lack deep control, and it doesn't have the ability to sidechain which makes professional mixes very difficult. REAPER is not technically a light DAW but it doesn't come with a large number of bundled plugins or software instruments, though the ones it has are very powerful if you know how to use them. As you get more advanced, you'll start to appreciate more advanced plugins like multi-band compressors, large software libraries and advanced analog effect modeling; at this point you'll start to appreciate the power of a pro DAW and become more willing to learn its complex workflow. In general, expect a learning curve with any DAW, since working quickly in it requires knowing its tools and keyboard shortcuts by heart, and switching between DAWs can be challenging even for advanced users.

Soundfly's Article on getting started with low-cost DAW's -

Compression edit

Compression is a powerful but also elusive tool in the mixing world. The essential idea of compression is simple: compressing the sound! You bring low sounds up, and high sounds down. That being said, the settings of a compressor have an intimate and unique interaction with any sound you put in, so their behavior is less predictable than many other effects. Furthermore, the wide breadth of possible settings give you a lot of power to shape different sounds to create different effects, but without having some idea of how the compressor is working it's more likely that you'll apply the compressor incorrectly and get what are called "artifacts" of compression. Artifacts are unnatural sounds that result from unintentional effects of compressors.or other effects.

Summary of Compression Techniques edit

good way to learn compression is to get a quick overview of the uses of compressors and the known techniques. Here's a quick list.

  • Direct compression (putting a compressor right on a main track) can be used to tame dynamics in a bad performance. It can work if the signal is right for the tool, but direct compression is a bit risky in that it often does not possess the right tools to affect a track correctly, and it is easy to overcompress a track and make it sound unnatural
  • Serial Compression is a slightly more subtle technique that is less likely to produce peaking in the compressor (yes, compressors can peak) by using two compressors; one to tame the dynamics, and another to reshape the wave and bring the transients back. This can be used on any individual instrument where you want to tame the dynamics but keep the shape and phrasing.
  • Parallel Compression is a more creative compression technique which can enhance the natural dynamics of a performance. Parallel compression takes a dry track and carefully mixes in a highly compressed version of the same track. The effect is that the more subtle sounds of the track get enhanced more than the bigger sounds, and the track appears to have more detail. This is very useful to add more color to lead vocals. Adding a heavy EQ after the compression onto the compressed track can be used to make drums sound much bigger and fuller.
  • Sidechain compression, or ducking compression, is used in radio voiceovers as well as a tool to make drums pop out of a mix without heavily EQing other tracks. Sidechains cause a compressor to be triggered by a track which is not the track they are acting on. This allows you to cause one track to 'duck' out of the way of another without babysitting a volume fader. Often you'll find that in a full mix, a percussive instrument gets covered by other instruments in a mix, and that it requires heavy EQ to give it space in the mix. A sidechain will compress the other instruments only when needed, and if done correctly it will give the drums lots of space to sound full in the mix without a noticable effect on the other instruments and without compression artifacts.
  • Multiband compressors are like EQ's that focus on certain areas of the spectrum. The difference is that EQ's often sound unnatural when used for this purpose where compressions can be folded in more subtly and work only on the parts of the sound that need treatment. They can be used to tame an instrument where certain notes sound out of control but where other compression techniques squash the performance too much. This is also a very useful tool for mastering a full track to sound good on a variety of sound systems.

Compression tutorials edit

Squeeze to Please: The Basics of Audio Compression - Excellent intro to basic uses of compression -

How to use Mulitband Compression in MIxing and Mastering -

WickieMedia - Intro to a detailed, very simple and clear series on how compressors work -

The ultimate compression tutorial/Mixbus TV - a 15 part series that covers basics and specific applications of all the common compression techniques

B & H Audio - Free 3-part series on compression techniques, very high quality and clear.

Parallel Compression - used to fatten the thump of drums

Serial Compression - used to control dynamics while keeping initial attack -

Sidechain Compression -

Advice on how to set compressor attack and release settings -

Short, practical explaination of sidechain compression for drums and vocals -

Sidechain settings for garageband - &

One Hour Masterclass in the Pro-Fab Filter compressor plugin, which is one of the more advanced compression modeling plugins.

Detailed post on parellel versus serial compression -

Mastering edit

Mastering is the process of taking a semi-final mix, often one master track, and applying the finishing touches before the track goes to market. Some of the purposes of mastering are

  • To prepare the track for various delivery formats (different types of speakers, data formats, etc.)
  • To create a final sound that is appropriate for the market. For popular genres, this often invovles compression and limiting to created a 'glued' sound where the goal may be more transparency and detail if it is a classical recording
  • To create a continuous experience for the listener in their anticipated listening situation. If the track is a concept album, the main goal is to make a smooth flow from track to track. If the intended audience is radio. the goal is to set the level appropriately so listeners don't have to adjust the volume after every song

Mastering is a subtle art form and notoriously challenging for novice mix engineers. Some reasons for this are...

  • Small and nuanced adjustments are required since there is considerably less control on a master track than there is in the whole mix and it's easy to ruin the sound of a master with too many or to serious changes
  • Mastering engineers have to have the foresight to consider how the mix will be experienced by end listeners who to not have as great an understanding of music/sound or as good of audio equipment, and prepare the mix for them as well as potentially an audiophile crowd
  • The environment and equipment used for mastering has a profound effect on the result, so mastering engineers ideally need to have more gear and work in a professionally designed room.
  • Mastering engineers have to be aware of the temporary biases that occur in the ears of listeners, including themselves, and think with a broader perspective in order to ensure they don't throw the mix out of balance. This is often the reason why mastering is usually undertaken only by more experienced engineers.

Mastering in Garageband -

Look inside a Mastering Engineer's process -

Collection of Mastering tutorials -

What's out there for learning Audio Production? edit

There are lots of courses and teachers available for Music Production with a wide range of prices. If your goal is just to learn and you have money, it can be worth it to invest in a course. The problem with paying for a mixing class is that, as an investment, it is unlikely to produce immediate financial return unless you're already working as an engineer. It's a luxury many folks also can't afford, and often you don't realize you can't afford until after you've paid. This project is meant to be a collaboratively organized pool of free information and a community to help you learn what you need ASAP and put it to work making music!

Berkeley has a number of free MOOC's which are very high quality and are structured like traditional school courses. If you're not sure where to start, these can be good places. has a ProTools course you can access with a with free trial

Justin Coletti Courses range from $69-$279

Berklee online art of mixing, includes college credit $1200-1400

Mix Master Wyatt – compression masterclass for a "like," working industry professional with a lot of nuanced advice about how mixing tools are used in the field $30-1570

The Garageband Guide -

Michael White – Has an extensive and wonky history of mixing. Somewhat raw in terms of production, but free and very long/in-depth has a free live class? Go to

* Logic Pro X Beginner's Tutorial - * Play With Your Music - - FORUM, FREE

* Wickiemedia - - FREE VIDS

Unfiled Notes edit

When to mix vocals? Playing with compression and EQ. Using songs as reference points.

If quality is the priority, emphasize the dry mix. If speed is the priority, lean more on software fixes. A master knows how to use both.

Using a recording to learn how to improve your sound is huge. The idea that the record could reach millions of people makes people focus a bit more on sound.

Wyatt's technique of guessing on settings and them adjusting. My thought is to try to turn it on and off sometimes to clear your head of bias

It would be nice to have a preset library of sounds to mix with to practice particular skills. The DAWbstacle course

Berklee's Art of Mixing Syllabus -!syllabus

Names of DAWs: ProTools. Cubase, FruityLoops (FL Studio), Abletone Live, Studio One, REAPER, Logic/Garageband, Audacity, Sonar, Reason, Digital Performer, Ardour, Samplitude, Mixcraft, MuLab, Renoise

Excellent explanation of the value of an independent mastering engineer -

Great advice on how to start getting your music in front of an audience -

10 acoustic guitar micing techniques -

Stereo routing forum post -

GarageBand Tutorial: Built-in Audio Unit Effects: