10 Audio Tips from the iZotope Community

July 24, 2017

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A few weeks ago, we asked the iZotope community on Facebook to comment with their best audio tips for a chance to get published in an iZotope blog. We received many awesome tips—some more actionable than others (thanks, iZotope employee, Matt Hines).

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Smart-aleck iZotope employee comments aside, here are ten of the best audio tips you offered.

1. Patrick Baird: “EQ dos and don’ts for recording and mixing vocals: Before diving in and trying out EQ settings on your project, it’s important to remember how much the way your Vocals were recorded affects their sound. For example, recording vocals with a condenser microphone will result in more top-end frequencies being present in the recorded audio than if recorded with a dynamic microphone. The quality of your recording method plays a big part too—vocals recorded using the built-in microphone on your Mac/PC will sound very different from vocals recorded through a studio-quality XLR microphone. That being said, there is one frequency area you will need to look at regardless of how your vocals were recorded—the low end. Specifically, anything under 125 Hz, in my opinion, can be chucked completely. Down here is where your kick drum and bass frequencies reside. All that you’ll find in the 20—125 Hz range of your vocal track is some gnarly sounding hum and irrelevant audio debris. Get rid of it!”

2. Maat O'Hara: “For compressing drums to the groove: Relying on the beats to millisecond conversion never really works, as most compressors aren't compressing to the millisecond they say they are. Run a 500 Hz tone into the compressor along with a level-matched, one-sample-long MPC click (which is playing every beat in the bar or the main accented groove beats), and set your release time so that the compressor pumps the sine tone in the groove of your MPC. Now take said compressor and stick it on your drums; it should now make the groove breathe and pump more in rhythm. For more cohesion, you can also stick the same compressor on the bass or any other groove-essential parts.”

3. Anish Menon: “For film score composition: Be a good listener, be attentive, and make sure you can tell a story with each and every instrument. There should be a reason for using each instrument; never go with what you see on the screen—go with what goes in the character's head. It might be an amazing action scene, but the character might have a lot of struggle and pain in his life, so make sure while you compose it, you add some element to depict pain and struggle and not just the what-they-normally-see action. You want to make the audience ‘feel’ and not just listen.”

4. Dan Smith: “We are storytellers! Ask yourself, ‘Who is the main character at this point in time? Who deserves the focus or the spotlight? What am I trying to communicate? How can I serve the story?’ These types of questions will lead you to approach your work from the perspective of ‘why’ rather than ‘how.’ Oftentimes we get caught up in the ‘how’ or the technical standpoint. For example, how to EQ kicks and snares. How to de-noise dialogue. How to make your mix LOUD! How to tune a vocal. It’s easy to get caught up in this and forget the entire reason we are doing it at all, which is to tell a story. Just like in a theatre play, someone will take center stage. The leads will be there most of the time, but at certain points other actors will be the focus and brought to the front to enhance the story, give perspective, provide depth, or give a counterpoint. You are controlling spotlight, what color and shape it is, and who is in it. This is all to help push and pull the audience in the direction you desire: showing them what you want them  to notice and distracting them from what you want to obscure. As you do more projects, you'll tell new stories, each with their own challenges. You'll build up a repertoire of techniques that you've found to work in a particular situation to accentuate the story in a certain way. There is a time to learn techniques, study new plugins, or keyboard shortcuts; but it all is a means to an end. We learn all this is so that when something in a story moves you, you can react in a way to support and enhance that story beyond its current state, without being bogged down with the ‘how.’ The ‘how’ comes with time and practice, but never, ever lose sight of the ‘why.’”

5. Johan Kaukinen: “As soon as you get your ideas and (sound) tweaking done, bounce your VSTis/MIDI instruments to audio. This helps you not to derail from your original vision and saves a fair amount of CPU. Also, save MIDI files of tracks to a project folder so you can draw them straight back to your project if needed.”

6. Craig Wood: “Less is more. Instead of rushing to EQ boost a track that seems to be getting lost in the mix, try some subtle notch cuts on other sounds/tracks that are occupying similar areas in the spectrum.”

7. Vi Ta Lee: “Right tuning of instruments can change all feeling of your track. My trick is using VocalSynth on drums to make them in tune. Think out of the box. Nobody said it's just for vocals. Same for Nectar 2. It's great to use it as pitch corrector on samples, or use it as effect processor on synths, drums, etc.”

8. Felipe Pacheco: “Always make copies of files, just in case you overcook your audio.”

9. Chris Wyatt: “I reckon the most important thing for any engineer is to develop your taste in regard to what great music sounds like. You can learn all there is to know about EQ, compression, gain staging, and whatever other tech skills you can gather but if you have no target, no idea of what a great mix sounds like, you might as all be sailing without a rudder. Sit back and listen closely to great music that inspires you, go see a good band in a superb venue, an orchestra, and take note of what great music sounds like. Build your mental catalog, learn your monitoring setup inside out, and then go apply it to your mix.”

10. Ndumiso Xulu: “Don't overthink it. If it feels right, it probably is. Set targets for mixing and mastering. Have a goal. Explore the knobs and buttons on your plugins. Don't be afraid to break the rules—you might be surprised (in a good way or bad way). Try to learn something new every time you make a mix. Once you learn what not to do, it'll help you focus on what you should do. We all make mistakes, so don't be afraid to put an EQ before compression or compression before EQ. Every mix is different, so just go out, get your cup of covfefe, and explore. Mixing is an art. Don't hesitate to wave your paintbrush.”

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