5 Simple Ways to Boost Creativity
If you’re a musician, you understand how the typical creativity process goes. Late nights, messing with chords and melodies; waiting for that moment when the music gods smile upon you and bless you with divine inspiration. As a musician, you are very aware inspiration can be quite time consuming. This fact leaves many wondering, “Is there a way to speed up the process?” Well, lucky for you, there are plenty of ways to get those creativity juices flowing! Here are some of the strategies I find most effective:
-Take a break.
This is the most obvious strategy, yet it’s often very overlooked. When searching for inspiration, it’s often hard to simply let it go and do something else for a while. What many don’t realize, though, is that the human mind typically works in two main phases. The first phase is the absorption phase. This is the phase where you gather your ideas and process the information. A lot of the actual information processing happens unconsciously, so you actually spend most of your time in an absorption phase. So listen to some inspirational music, chill out with some coffee, and contemplate your project; let spontaneous ideas flow. The second phase is the creative phase. This is the phase where you bring your ideas to life however you intend on doing so. In short, when you feel like you’ve hit a roadblock, take a break!
This is a strategy that often seems a bit counterintuitive. If creativity should be able to flow without bounds, why would we want to put restrictions on what we can work with? The reasoning is simple. The human brain often works in very extensive and unpredictable patterns; you might be thinking about one awesome idea at one moment, then some other totally obscure idea at the next moment. So, by placing restrictions on yourself, you keep yourself more focused on your current idea. Be wary of placing too many restrictions in your mind, though, because intelligence and creativity still require freedom.
-Change your perspective.
Does everybody listen to music in the same way? Does everybody hear the same sounds and recognize them the same way as you? Probably not. In this dynamic world of ours, we all have different perspectives on everything. The whole universe, as we see it, is just one huge realm of relativity. Therefore, it’s important to look at your project in different ways. First of all, think of who your target audience is going to be; think about how they will perceive the song. Second, pay attention to the parts you put emphasis on; think about the emotional impact you intend on conveying. Lastly, consider how a changed perspective might affect your project’s structure.
-Re-conceptualize your ideas.
This goes along with changing your perspective. Basically, you shift your perspective to what’s not there rather than what is; you start asking yourself “what if” questions. Gather information and feedback from the outside world. Contemplate your new findings. Make theories, then contemplate those too. Use all of your findings to re-conceptualize your ideas; to shine a new light on your project’s potential. You’ll be surprised with what you might come up with!
This is the last, and one of the most important pieces of creativity advice I can give. Those who are optimistic tend to have more creative ideas; they tend to be more open to new information. The opposite is typically true for pessimists and “realists”. Think about it. When you’re happy and having a great day, don’t you seem to find yourself more spontaneous and creative? Being positive opens up other parts of the human mind that are otherwise discouraged. Basically, don’t worry; be happy!
These are just a few very simple, yet powerful ways to get your creativity flowing. Everybody has their own unique way, though, so go find what works best for you! Become the creative genius you want to be!
Audio Engineering 101: Making a Clean Mix
So, you’re a beginning producer or engineer, and you have been given an arrangement of sounds that need to be mixed. Where do you start? What kinds of plugins should be used? How loud should the mix be? These as well as many other questions circle the heads of those who are new to this scene. This article will hopefully help shed some light on these questions.
So first off, where should you start when making a mix? Well, that really depends on your situation. Assuming you have some tracks recorded at a decent quality (I recommend a WAVE file encoded at 24 or 36 bits with 512 point resampling), the first step would be to analyze your sounds with a spectral analyzer and ask yourself these questions: "Where does this sound fall on the frequency spectrum?" "What frequencies are unnecessary in this sound?" "How loud does this sound?"
After asking yourself these questions, cut out unnecessary frequencies in the sound either using a system of EQ reductions, or by using filters. How loud a sound appears to be might not be the actual loudness of the sound, so adjustments must be made based on the way we physically and emotionally perceive loudness. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Next, before applying our fancy plugins and dynamics adjustments, it is very wise to consider the way sound affects the energy output on an electrical device. In a digital recording system, there’s a limit beyond which the actual levels of a waveform can be increased. This is called the Digital Full Scale. If you increase a waveform past 0dB on the full scale, it will generate clipping and inharmonic distortions as a result, as well as put a much higher load of energy to your output drivers (headphones, speakers, etc.). It’s important to make sure that your mix doesn’t peak past 0dB to ensure a clean sound. Another factor affecting energy output is DC offset.
Basically, DC offset is an average amplitude displacement from it’s original zero value. This results in a reduction in volume and headroom, audible clicks, and low level distortion that can affect the mix as a whole. To ensure you don’t have any DC offset issue, analyze each track with an oscilloscope, or simply use an audio software to analyze and remove the offset (Audacity, Edison, etc.). There is usually a “remove DC offset” function in many DAWs as well.
Now you have some nice centered waveforms with their own general spots on the frequency spectrum. The next step to making your mix clean would be to use some dynamics processing. Dynamics processing is a very delicate process that can either ruin a mix, or enhance the quality dramatically.
The types of plugins that are used to process dynamics are limiters, maximizers, gates, and compressors. I tend to favor the use of maximizers and compressors to other things. Be careful with these though! It has become a very common trend among audio engineers to kill dynamics and headroom with high compression ratios and short attack times. The funny thing about this is that they’re doing it to get a louder audio signal, but they end up “squishing” the waveform and making it sound quieter to the listener. If you want to effectively boost the average levels of your sounds while preserving dynamic range, which is essential to our perception of sound, then follow this general guideline for compression: Use a multiband compressor with the same amount of gain reduction on each band to preserve natural sound. Set the compression ratio to levels between 1.5:1 and 3:1 with a moderate attack time. I prefer a ratio in the middle of that interval because it preserves dynamics and quality while giving a nice boost to the sound. Experiment with various things and see what works for you.
After you’ve messed with some plugins and started to shape the dynamics, you should analyze the audio output of your mix and figure out what sounds are spiking your levels. Typically, transients can cause a lot of problems in managing the dynamics of your mix. And no, I’m not talking about homeless people. Musically, transients are sounds that momentarily spike the levels of a waveform, such as a kick or snare. This is where sidechaining comes in handy.
Sidechaining is basically automating the volumes of other sounds in a mix to allow more space for transients to hit. There are many ways to sidechain a mix. You can automate the entire volume of other sounds to drop as a transient hits, or you can automate specific EQ bands. It depends on what kind of effect you’re going for. Either way you perform the sidechaining, it will preserve headroom and help prevent pumping caused by limiters and compressors.
Now, time for the final step before the mixdown. You have your tracks prepared with your processors, effects, and automations. Now it’s time to balance the levels of your mix. But to make the levels really “balanced”, you must first have a solid understanding of the way we perceive loudness. The human ear’s perception of audio loudness is a bit more offset than most people might suspect.
At average listening levels (approximately 83dB), our frequency sensitivity is “fairly” flat below 1kHz with an average difference of about 5 dB. Due to ear canal resonance, the human ear has a sensitivity to sounds between 2kHz and 6kHz. And above 6kHz, our sensitivity to sound dramatically decreases. The average frequency sensitivity smooths out as the SPL is increases, and separates as SPL decreases. Although, since our ear canals resonate between 2kHz and 6kHz, that part of our frequency sensitivity isn’t very subject to change with SPL. So how does this affect the balance of the mix? You must tailor the final EQ to the frequency response of the human ear. Take it easy on deep bass, since naturally it contains more energy and we don’t hear it as loudly. Give subtle boosts to high shelves, especially in the human ear resonance region. Be very careful though. Too much amplitude in the high frequencies can result in a harsh or brittle sounding mix. Finally, analyze your mix with a spectral analyzer.
As you go from low to high, the gain of each band drops approximately 3dB per octave, because lower frequencies push higher amounts of energy. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MAKE THE LEVELS ON EACH BAND THE SAME! If you do, you won’t hear much bass, and you’ll lose perception of some of the inner harmonics and overall loudness.
Finally, time for the mixdown! Make sure everything is to your liking, then render tracks together onto a single WAVE file. Keep in mind, if you are exporting at a depth of 16 bits, make sure you have dither turned on to compensate for the loss of audio quality.
Audio engineering is a very complex field that requires a lot of patience, perseverance, and fine tuning. With time, you will develop a technique that works well for you. Good luck, and happy mixing!
Music = Life
What is music? How do we define it?
Scientifically speaking, music is an array of audible sound waves that form harmonic and inharmonic signals that process aesthetically through the mind. To me, music is much more than that though. Music is not only something we hear. To me, it’s a way of life. We think music, feel music, create music, become music… We immerse ourselves in it. We express ourselves with it. We reflect ourselves through it and it reflects itself through us. It is a universal language. Music is a driving force in this universal entropy of life, so embrace it.
Music is life.