Reason Tutorial and Har-Bal

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Reason Tutorial and Har-Bal

Postby har-bal » Fri Aug 19, 2005 1:30 pm

Reason Engineering and Mastering: The Beginners Guide From Final Editing to Mastering

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Reason Engineering and Mastering: The Beginners Guide From Final Editing to Mastering.

Written by blisstix

Software: Reason 2.0, Cubase VST/SX and Cool Edit 2
Hardware: A good set of speaker!!!

This is the beginners guide to engineering and mastering you Reason tune. Although Reason arguably is the greatest music program ever, it does have its down falls. Its effects, especially stereo effects aren't the greatest around and it can be very hard to get a good professional sound from some instruments. This tutorial will give you a step-by-step guide to externally engineering and mastering your finsihed Reason tune. Hopefully it will sound pretty professional by the end.

Firstly what I need to stress it that this isn't the 'perfect' way to engineer and master but as most users on Reason Station dont have a 50k studio in there bedroom it's certainly the easiest and cheapest. There are many ways to engineer and master and people have different ways of doing things but I find this technique the easiest.

Secondly engineering and mastering isn't a quick process. This technique takes along time but remember the longer you spend the better it'll sound.

Okay so lets get started:


Final Editing:

1. Once you've finished your tune in Reason you need to start thinking about basic mastering within Reason. There is no subsitute for good clean production and initial mastering within Reason. Tunes that are badly produced are a nightmare to master so you really need to try and get it right in Reason first. Getting your basic EQing right first time is so much easier than having to do it while engineering/mastering. If you're not sure what your EQing should sound like listen to a Commercial CD with similar music. EQ individual instruments especially drumbeats as well as the tune as a whole. Generally if it sounds good then keep it but be careful when EQing basslines and bassdrums, 80% of the time you need to reduce gain rather than increase it.

2. Happy? Then we'll start thinking about exporting. To get the best out of our tune we need to export each instrument individually but first we'll do a full export to check volume levels and problem areas. Make sure the tune doesn't clip at any point, we want the tune to export at about -4db. Set your 'End' bar and export the whole tune at 16bit 44100 or 48000.

3. Now open your wave editor, I'm using Cool Edit Pro 2. Firstly you need to check for problems areas in the wave. By this I mean unusual and extreme peaks in the wave usually created by low freq booms, high freq FX or quite commonly drums rolls and fills with phasers etc. This will cause major problems when you get round to mastering your wave. To fix these problems you need to go back to Reason and either adjust volume at that particular point or if there are lots of extreme peaks lower volume on the instrument. Lowering volume on an instrument will probably change the feel of the tune so you may want to compress the instrument instead or use a limiter. If youre not sure what this does or how to use it you will need to skip to the mastering section were I explain some basics of compression and limiting.

4. Once your happy with the look of the wave check your peak level in Cool Edit. It should be between -6db and -3db. If it's too low and you'll risk losing some lower level sounds and loudness from your tune later on and if too high and you wont have room to add FX and master EQ etc.

5. Open Reason again and adjust the master volume to get your tune to the right export level. Now you're ready for the hard stuff.


Exporting:

Okay lets pretend we have a simple tune with 1 drumbeat plus 1 dr rex sub-beat, 3 basslines, 3 leads and 1 lead with matrix.

1. You need to export every single instrument by itself as a 24bit wave. That includes bassdrums, snares and hihats by themselves. Make sure you mute all the other instruments on the mixer before exporting. Why do we need to do this? Because you're going to get THE best out of every single instrument and drum beat. Its time consuming waiting for each to export but worth it. I export the waves from the start of the song even if they dont 'kick in' till say bar 97, this is so much easier than inserting them at particular points and reduces the chance of putting them in the wrong position. You may want to organize the waves into specific folders (drumbeat, leads etc.) if there are alot of waves.


Engineering:

This is were we try and add some magic to our waves. This is designed for use with Cubase but you can convert the techniques for use with any Wave/Music Editor that supports wave mixing and has FX tools. I've even engineered and mastered whole tunes with just cool edit using directx but it takes alot longer.

The basic idea is to get the best out of your individual wave and believe me the more time you spend the better it'll sound. As I mentioned earlier Reason 2.0's stereo sound scopes are its weakness although it has improved immensely with R2.5 you still need to try and get the best out of your tune through external engineering.

One thing to remember when adding external effects are that it will change your existing stereo effects you programmed in reason. Not necessarily a bad thing but if you feel the original wave stereo effects sounds awesome then it may only need some stereo enhancing. Most people program their panning FX in Reason. Sometimes this is adaquate but to be honest you can get a far better sound panning with external devices, good panning devices have comb/freq filters which pan certain areas of the wave rather than the whole wave and combined with stereo delays give a much more professional 'pan'.



Okay lets get down to the nitty gritty:

1. Create a new song called 'Drumbeats' in Cubase.

2. Import the first drumbeat waves starting with the bass drum, snare then hats etc.

3. Set the right tempo.

4. I've decided our mainbeat is going to remain 'clean' without heavy effects, maybe just some stereo FX to enhance its sound scope. Adding FX such as flange or phasing on your mainbeat can change its attack or power so be careful. A subtle approach is best.

5. Lets start with the bassdrum. Bassdrums dont like stereo FX fullstop. Keep them central but you may want to try and add a minute amount of stereo width if it doesnt distort it too much. There's a good free stereo VST/DirectX instrument at http://www.pspaudioware.com/ if you don't have a good stereo widener.

6. Okay next, snares are a bit more forgiving. You can really play about with snares but again be careful not to over do your FX. A little 'Drum Plate' reverb can be good as can a little flange or metaliser. If your using Cubase most FX units have a 'mix' slider which you can use to give subtle FX. Most importantly you need to bring the snares stereo width or delay to life. Simple delay tools can be good but be careful not to delay too much and put the snare out of time.

7. Most drumbeats contain several snares so you may consider moving each ones balance. I usually have the main snare central and sub snares usually balanced between -20 +20. Experiment with them to find what sounds the best.

8. Hihats and cymbals love stereo FX and you really need to concentrate getting the best out of these. Your cymbals generally love a massive stereo delay. Try adding some stereo reverb to them. Hats too like big stereo FX, again try not just reverb but anything and everything. You'll be suprised how an effect such as lite chorus sounded naff on your cymbals but when applied to your hats sounds superb.

9. Hihats etc. can usually be balanced anywhere but be careful not to 'detach' them from the main drumbeat. You can also try some panning on certain hats.

10. You will probably have some drum rolls etc. on your tune. This is where you really need to experiment. Experiment with panning, LFO FX, step filters...basically everything. Metalisers can sound good on drumfills. The more time you spend on experimenting the better it will sound.

11. Once you're happy with everything you need to sort out your volume levels again. FX will change volume levels and getting them back to their orginal level is the hardest thing you'll probably do. This can be very time consuming and 90% of the time you get it wrong so don't be afraid to go back later to adjust your snare volumes etc.

12. Now lets import the Dr Rex. I love engineering sub beats because you can more or less apply any effect to them. Again experiment with different reverbs, mod delays, chorus, flange and panning. You have to insure it still blends with your mainbeat and if your subbeat has a bassdrum be careful it doesnt sound too distorted or too boomy especially if your adding a phaser.

You're beats should now be sounding full of life. Do more adjustments to volume levels and check for FX that are too heavy in places. You should be famlilar with Cubases Automation, so dynamically adjust FX if you have to.

13. Next we need to export this whole song. Export as 24bit with all FX on to HDD and call it 'drumbeats'.


14. Now create a new tune and call it 'Basslines'.

15. Import your 'drumbeats' wave first. This is a template for volume levels.

16. Import your basslines.

You need to be careful with basslines. Usually they stay central and dont like any FX adding to them. I usually experiment with Cubases 'subbass' or slight reverb but generally there is little you can do with them.

17. If your happy then sort out volume levels again using the 'drumbeats' as a guide. Listen to the tune several times, you may find now that a certain snare is too loud. Simply go back to your 'Drumbeats' song, re-adjust and export again.

18. Once your happy with the volume levels you need to MUTE your drumbeats and export just the basslines as 'Basslines'.

You should now have 2 waves: Drumbeats and Basslines!!!

19. Now load a new song called 'Leads'.

20. Import your drumbeats and basslines, then your leads.

21. This is where you really need to spend alot of time. You can turn a pretty dull Lead into something quite special if you get it right. Experiment with every VST FX you have especially mod delays or if your using CoolEdit, every built in effect. Amoung many tools the best I've used for Cubase are: OHMBoyz (excellent 4 channel stereo delay), Waves compilation (great 6tap delay) and GRM tools. However you'll probably find that the simple ones work best sometimes. What you're aiming for is a really good stereo scope and you need to spend time getting the best you can.

22. Also concentrate on where the lead sits in the mix. What I mean is its balance. Generally a lead wont have one set position but it will change all the time through panning etc. What you need to make sure though is whether it blends with another lead playing at the same time. It wont sound good if they pan to the same speaker at the same time or clash with each other.

23. Also consider taking effects off from Reason. Phase and chrous on Reason are pretty poor compared to some VSTs. If you want a phase but have done it through Reason then take it off and add one from Cubase. Usually it sounds alot cleaner and has better stereo effect especially with strings.

24. With the matrix lead I usually dont add any panning effect till I get to Cubase. Firstly you want to really want to get the best out of the mono single the subtractor has. Waves Compilation has a great mono-mod tool that adds phase and scope then pans the individual FX upto 360 degrees. Sounds great on some leads. After you've got the lead sounding really wide and tasty then start thinking about panning.

25. You will probably have SFX in your tunes like reverse Crashes, wierd noises etc. Here you have a free role and can try anything on them. Doppler effects are great on these (as well as textures). Remember the key is to experiment.


26. Once youre happy concentrate on Volume levels again. Then mute 'drumbeats' and 'basslines' and export all the leads as one wave called 'Leads'.


27.You should now have 3 waves that need to go to your final mix. Open a new song called 'final mix' and import all 3.

28. You should have a complete song that sounds really professional and with great stereo effects. Consider adding some external instruments to beef up your tune like those on Absnyth, great for putting in subtle noises etc.

29. Here we need to start thinking about Mastering. Do you need to compress your drums, basslines and leads individually (compression on drumbeats usually sound great if done right)? As a beginner I would say no at first till you're more adapt at general mastering. Also think about small adjustments to EQing on each wave to get a crisper sound. Remember once you've merged all the waves, changing their EQ will change everything. Later if you find your leads don't have enough mid-range and you adjust EQ then you'll also be adjusting EQ on your drumbeats which may make them sound too tinny. So you need to get the balance right before exporting your final mix!

30. Finally listen to the tune, again you'll probably find something that's too quiet or too loud. Don't be afraid to go back and make adjustments as I said earlier 90% of the time volume levels are wrong first time round.

31. When listening dont just sit in the same position. Go into another room or listen when you're making a cuppa or something, if something like a snare is too loud you'll notice it more when you're not sat directly in front of the speakers.

32. Volume levels have to be perfect. Its a real hassle once you've starting mastering to find that you need to go all the way back to change something and in my experience don't ignore it if you think it's too loud. I've done it before and everytime I listened to the tune after mastering I could only think 'Thats way too loud why did I ignore it?'

33. The importance of getting bass EQ right: Before export check for boomy basses etc. Your basslines and bassdrums need to sound clean not just bassy. I said earlier if anything, EQ needs to go down rather than up. Why is this important? Okay you've mixed the whole wave and started mastering. Your freq anayiser tells you that your tune is far too bassy due to your bassline. You reduce your low end EQ between 50hz to 300hz so the bassline sounds perfect. But what has it done to your bassdrums? Now they sound too quiet and lack power!!! Getting it right IS important and it applies not just to the basslines but the whole tune although generally its the low end stuff begineers get wrong.

34. Ready? Then export all the waves to one and call it 'Final Mix'.

Mastering:

There are loads of programs for mastering so these techniques can be applied to any program you use. This is mastering in its simpliest form but it works. There are many ways to master and many 'orders' which to apply the dynamics, every tune is different but these techniques hopefully will give you an idea.

I'll be using Cool Edit Pro for this tutorial.

Firstly I'm going to run through some of the basics of the tools we will be using:

Stereo Widener: Simlpy adds a wider stereo field to the tune.

Frequency Analyiser: Checks EQ levels and gives you a visual display. This tool is very important at finding out what frequencies are missing from your tune. A good one is important.. cool edit Pros version is okay but there are better ones on the market. You basically need the spectrum to be as flat as possible (more mid range than anything). If there is a big peak at the low frequncies then you need to reduce bass and a low peak in the mid and high range would indicate not enough EQ in that area. One of the newest and best I've seen can be found at www.har-bal.com. Look at the demo version and read the manual, its got some great advice on Freq Analysis and how to use it.

Filter EQ: Well you should know what this is!

Limiters: VERY important when mastering tunes! The theory is that you want to cut down all those peaks created by drumbeats and basslines and squeeze as much as you can up to the limit of 0db. The best I've used is Cool Edits. You can really cut loads from your tune before noticing the distinctive distortion it can create.

Compression: What the hell is it and how do I use it? A common question so lets start with the theory.

Its called compression because it compresses the top end db of your tune. How is this useful? Okay we have a dance tune that has a powerful 4 step bass drum at 0db and some leads playing at-15db. That 15db difference sounds great and you dont want that to change, but during mastering you want the whole tune to sound louder and more 'upfront'. You can't just increase volume because the bassdrum will clip and you can't raise the volume of the leads because the bassdrum wont sound as powerful in the mix. This is were you apply compression.

Add a compressor and then increase gain by 5db. The whole tune will increase by 5db but the bassdrum gets compressed and although sounds like its 5db louder will actually in theory should still only play at 0db (in theory, usually some gain is unavoidable). So now your leads play at 10db and the bassdrum at 0db BUT the bassdrum sounds like it playing at 5db maintaining that 15db difference...if you get my drift.

Basically compression squeezes the lower end volumes up without making the high end volumes sound quieter if you see what I mean. Obvisously this is the theory and you need to program the compressor well to get the best out of it. I'll explain programming threshold etc. later.

Maximisers: Ever wondered why your tune sounds quiet compared to commercial tunes even when running at 0db? Maximisers increase actual RMS loudness rather than the volume. They are very important when finalizing a tune. The best I've used are Steinburgs Mastering Edition Maximiser and Waves Ultra Maximiser. Use them togther properly and your tune will benefit immenslely.


Okay thats the theory and basics of what tools we are going to use.

1. First off load up your final mix and check the peak DB. Hopefully it should still be about -4db.

2. Add some Stereo Widener. Usually about 130-40% would be enough but be careful as some tracks may not need it. Try to keep the wave at -4db.

3. Now the important EQing. Use your ears!! You want to get a clean crisp sound with no over-riding freq. If you havent already do so check other tunes which you know have a good master and try and obtain a similar field. As I've said before too much low end bass is a common problem (between 50-300). If your initial EQing from Reason isn't good then don't be afraid be make big adjustments to high range freq (between 2000-16000). You will find that because you've listened to your tune so much at that particular frequency it doesn't sound right when you make big adjustments at first. Let your ears become accusomted to the new frequecies before deciding whether it sounds better.

4. A simple tip is to take a freq, say for example 2k, and raise it considerably so your ears can 'home in' on the sound. Then lower it all the way to the bottom and slowly work your way up till you get what you think is its ideal position it could be either lower or higher than what you expected. I'd say start from the top (16k) and work your way down the freq. Take your time and dont be afriad to go back to adjust things. It takes experience and a keen ear to get it right first time.

5. Usually between 400 and 800 you need to reduce gain as they are what I call nasty frequencies and create alot of unwanted resonance. Also be careful between 1000 and 3000 as this can effect how the snares on your drumbeats sound. Reduce all of the freq below 33 and above 16000. The human ear cant really make out these freq and could create unwanted distortion or tinnyness.

6. Once you've got what you think are you final settings save them and apply them. Now go to your frequency analyser and do a scan. Here it will tell you what freq are are too high or missing in the tune. Either write them down or if you're using Har Bal program then you can make changes there and then. Go back to finalmix and make adjustments to the EQing (undo them first if you applied them).

7. Hopefully after a few attempts you'll have a good solid freq range. The bass should be well bassy but not over powering, mid ranges should be clean and high ranges should be upfront but not too tinny or loud. Remember Eqing changes volume levels so adjust master gain so you end up with the peak still at about -4db.

8. Once you think EQing is perfect then save the wave as FinalMix+EQ or something along those lines.


Limiting and Compression:

Ahhh the bane of everybodies life. There is no particular order for dynamics. Some tracks sound better limiting first then compressing then maximising some completely the other way round. Experiment... you'll find you can get about 1-2db loudness extra by getting it right. Here though I'll start with compression first followed by limiting.

1. There are loads of compressors on the market.. even free ones. Cool Edits is a good compressor but is very complicated and you'll probably find it hard to understand at first so I'll just tell you the basics of Threshold, Ratio,Attack, Release and Gain.

2. Firstly you have to seriously consider if your track needs compression? Remember you don't HAVE to use compression and I would suggest if you're a beginner not using it. You can get just as good results with maximisation and it's a lot easier to use. Compression doesn't suit all types of tracks. Remember compression can change a feel of a track by increasing lower end volume levels so it doesn't always suit ambient or classical tunes. In my experience it doesn't suit the complex breakbeat tunes I write either. There is a fine line between good compression and shite compression. If you don't program perfectly it usually just complicate things. Also consider that you may have already put compression in Reason or when engineering.

3. Okay you ignored my advice lets get down to it. Start by finding your peak of your finalmix+eq. Our wave should be about -4db still.

4. Okay first we need to set a specific ratio for mastering. Ratio is how much compression you're adding to the wave: 1:2 will reduce signal by a factor of 2. The more ratio the more compression will be added to the wave. Mastering ratio is usually set between 1:2 and 1:4.

5. Threshold is from where your compression starts. Those sounds above the threshold will be compressed. For mastering its usually set between -5db and -12db. Remember our wave peaks at -4db so threshold will be slightly lower than for a tune peaking at 0db.

6. Attack and Release work in the same way they do on your Subtractor in Reason. The higher the attack the slower compression kicks in, the higher the release the slower the compression releases.

7. Gain increases the volume of your wave which is important because the whole theory of compression is to raise volume levels of lower end sounds. The more gain you use the harder it is to compress correctly so for this excerise we'll just use a small amount of gain.


8. A tip is to learn how each change in threshold, attack etc. changes the effect. Put threshold down to -20db and play about with attack and release to see what happens.

9. Lets set ratio at 1:3.5 to start with and threshold at about -10db. As our wave is peaking at about -4db then I'm only going to set our gain at 2db. This will in theory increase our lower end sounds by 2db and with the right programming increase our high level sounds by only a small fraction BUT will sound as though they've increased by 2db.

10. When you're playing the wave (previweing) you need to monitor whats happening. Some monitoring tools are better than others. Reasons compressors have poor monitoring tools which is why I generally stay clear of them. Most compressors have a gain reduction or compression amount tools with them, learn how they are used. You basically want as high a threshold as possible without being able to notice the reduction of gain or over compression.

11. Once you feel that threshold is set and you're not getting over compression (you'll notice drops in volume were your peaks are) start to play about with attack and release. Usually for mastering they are set about 10 attack 100 release depending what compressor you're using. Experiment though to find what sounds best. You may need to do some small adjustments to threshold and gain. Remember every track is different.

12. Once you're happy, apply these effects and listen to the whole wave to check for over compression or distortion (you shouldnt get distortion as we've only increased gain by 2db).

13. Check your peak levels again. Ideally the wave should have only increased by less than 1db. If you increased gain by 2db on the compressor then you have been successful. A small amount of compression but its worked. Basically those levels under the threshold have increased by 2db and those above have increased by less than 1db but sound as though they've increased by 2db.

Limiting:


1. Our wave should now be at about -3db. You will see that there are probably still loads of unusual and wayward peaks created by basses and snares. These can really hinder us when we come to maximising so lets get rid of these by limiting.

2. As I said earlier there is no set rule for the order you do these in and you may also find that some compressors and maximisers have their own limiting tools with them but to be honest I like to see exactly what I'm limiting and I think its 'cleaner' to do it this way. Some limiters I've used can distort bassy sounds rather than 'chop' them.

3. If you're using Cool Edit then use their hard limiter it's an excellent tool.

4. As our wave is -3db then we will probably need to chop up to 3db off depending of course on the wave. Look at the Db readings on the right hand side in Cool Edit (right click on it to change it to DB format) to give you an indictation to where you need to start limiting (probably about -5db on our wave).

5. You want to chop off as much as you can from the peaks without effecting the quality of your tune. Usually you can chop off the 'thin' peaks all the way to where the wave starts getting 'thicker' in the center of your wave.

6. Keep limiting till you start to notice slight distortion or a change of sound. You want to limit just above that threshold. You'll be surprised how much you can really chop off.

7. Your waves should now look completly flat. Don't worry about this if you've done it right you wont lose sound quality but have probably improved it as you've got rid of wayward peaks which can distort during maximising. Its a great way of increasing your average loudness of your track.

And finally...

Maiximsing:

I strongly suggest buying a good maximiser if you want that Pro Loudness in your tune. Waves probably has THE best mastering tools I've used and can be used as VST or DirectX.


1. Not much can be said about this tool to be honest. It all depends what type you're using. As I use Waves Ultra Max and ME Loudness Max I'll run you through what I usually do.

2. Open your Ultra Max and simply load up a default setting or program your own. Set the threshold (how much gain you want) and you're max output. Waves default output is -0.3db which is probably about right.

3. As our wave is about -5db (after limiting) your threshold should probably be about -5db (5db gain) which is almost perfect although you may want to squeeze a little more. Experiment so you find what sounds the loudest without sounding distorted. The ultra max has a built in limiter so be careful what and how much its limiting. Check on the monitoring bar, usually limiting upto 1db is fine.

4. Once I've applied this I check loudness or average RMS levels in the statistics option to compare with other tunes I've done. If its average is under the others then I would consider adding the ME loudness max.

5. ME loudness is a great tool for squeezing extra loudness out of waves without increasing its DB. You may get about an extra 2-3db if you program it correctly but be careful it can really distort your tunes with too much and it doesnt really like those nasty freq between 300-800hz and can 'fuzz' your tune. Make sure you use the soft/hard settings on there as this can help cut down this distortion. It will probably be better to use this first then apply the waves Ultra Max.


6. After this you should have a DB level of 0db with a 'Loud' professional sounding tune. Make some minor adjustments if you're under 0db. You may also want to convert the wave to 16bit for burning to CD etc.

7. Thats more or less it. If you find your tune still lacks power or loudness then you need to consider going back to the start and re-doing the process, maybe in a different order. The last tune I wrote, when finished I was suprised to see its RMS power 2db under my other tunes. So I went back and after several attempts of mastering decided to remove the compression I put on it. The final tunes RMS power was spot on and it sounded so much cleaner!! So it pays to experiment.
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Reason Tutorial and Har Bal

Postby Hyvver » Mon Dec 17, 2012 10:58 am

I worked at Harlequin and we put books on SOS if we had promotions planned around the release date. For the most part, booksellers were respectful of that, and if they accidentally released them early they worked to fix the problem as quickly as possible.
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