Redout is an Anti-Gravity Racer from 34Big Things, a company from Turin, Italy. My first experience with AG Racers was playing Extreme-G on the Nintendo 64. Every race felt like riding a futuristic roller coaster at a breakneck pace. Later on, I became re-acquainted to the genre as an adult with WipeoutHD. I spent a lot of time with Wipeout and really loved the imagination that went in to the design of the racecourses. When I discovered Redout I felt as if I reconnected with an old friend I had nearly forgotten about. The words to describe what it’s like roaring down a track at over 1000kmph, on a track that could only exist in the dreams of the bravest hyper-coaster architects, are hard to find. “Fun” doesn’t do the game enough justice.
While Redout does a lot of things incredibly well – namely, racing fast – it’s sound design unfortunately falls a bit short. With just a few small improvements, the developers can leverage the sound design of the game to truly complete the experience.
It’s that time of year again! That glorious time where I get to throw out my opinion out there and pretend like it matters to you. It’s time for my Best Albums Of 2016 List! Now, full disclaimer, I mostly listen to metal, and this list is almost exclusively metal. If I broadened out to include game soundtracks, film scores, or even pop records, rest assured it would change dramatically. But metal is what I’m good at and metal is what I love, so metal is what you’re getting.
Let’s start with the Honorable Mention Albums, in no particular order:
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason: An amazing record, but, frankly, not different enough from previous releases to warrant inclusion on the list.
Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us: A great record, but the hype machine, combined with the mean-spirited antics of the band definitely impacted my impressions on the record.
Violet Cold – Magic Night: A solid showing from Violet Cold, but I felt like other bands kind of did what they were doing better.
Vektor – Terminal Redux: A solid effort from a great band, but Vektor has never really been my style and so I don’t see myself really getting much more mileage out of this record.
Gojira – Magma: Like Meshuggah’s outing, it’s a solid record with no real fault except for not being distinct enough from it’s sibling albums.
10. Alcest – Kodama (Prophecy Productions)
I’m a sucker for concept albums. When I heard Kodama, I knew it was going to wind up on this list somewhere. Kodama is directly inspired by legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. It’s dark and brooding, and brimming with emotion. It’s not quite as impactful as I found Les Voyages de L’Ame, but it’s an amazing and wonderful album in it’s own right, that really encapsulates the black-metal-meets-indie-rock-meets-shoegaze sound that they helped popularize.
9.Nine Inch Nails – Not The Actual Events (The Null Corporation)
I don’t care about the opinion that this is an EP and not a full length album. It rips. It’s only the second EP that the band has ever released, and everyone considers Broken to be a NIN classic, so why can’t this be? This one is unique: It’s the first time Trent has another bandmate. Atticus Ross now shares the spotlight and NIN is officially a two-piece band. It’s a short twenty-minute EP with very little frills. It’s a bit more The Fragile than The Slip and I’m more than okay with that.
8. Fleshgod Apocalpyse – KING (Nuclear Blast)
If you forgot that KING released this year, I would forgive you. The Italian titans of symphonic death metal released the first single, The Fool, on Jan 1st 2016 and then dropped the full length KING in February. It’s been out for a while now, and lots of other great albums have come into focus since. On this album, I think Fleshgod finally gets the production perfectly on point. There’s a finely tuned balance between the symphonies backing the band and the pounding death metal blastbeats. There is no reason for fans of either aspect of the band to feel like they have been forgotten about.
7. Harakiri For The Sky – III, Trauma (Art of Propaganda)
Harakiri For The Sky, at times, comes across like a lo-fi Darkest Hour, or Alcest if they took form from more traditional metal bands. I only relatively recently discovered them, and had I spent more time with this album I have no doubt that this album would be in the top 5 or even higher. There’s just so much melody buried in the music and it makes repeated listens all the more rewarding. My only complaint with it is that a few of the songs seem to drag a bit longer than necessary. I’m not entirely convinced, however, that I want to change that.
6. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation (Party Smasher)
The most bittersweet album I’ve ever listened to. The Dillinger Escape Plan is one of those bands that appeared to be immortal. They could suffer lineup change after lineup change. Death-defying injuries didn’t seem to faze them or throw them off their groove. Yet here it is: Their swansong. Like everything they’ve ever written, it’s bombastic. Full of fire, and heavy grooves, but with the same mind-twister riffs that they’ve had since Calculating Infinity. This is a band that will stay with me until the end. I only wish that they would stay too.
5. Car Bomb – Meta (Self-Released)
One would have to be daring to write an album that begins with a song titled ‘From The Dust Of This Planet’ and ends with one called ‘Infinite Sun’. Car Bomb can only be described as inaccessible and impenetrable. The music is meant to be enjoyed as much as it is meant to be solved. ‘Nonagon’ and other similar tracks are more like puzzleboxes of rhythmic patterns than contemporary metal songs. Nonetheless, the songcraft is waiting to be explored, and fantastic melodic leads are buried in the staccato riffs. With Meta‘s release, the comparisons to their legendary peers in bands like Meshuggah and Gojira are stronger than ever. And with The Dillinger Escape Plan soon to leave us, Car Bomb may become the new standard bearers for the mathcore genre.
4. Every Time I Die – Low Teens (Epitaph)
The difference between being cryptic and being ridiculous is that to be cryptic requires offering a cipher. And Low Teens has several ciphers with which to decrypt the riddles that are Keith Buckley’s lyrics. His struggle with alcoholism, fear of the “what-if”s around his wife and her pregnancy complications, his reflections and musings on the early days of the band, and millions of tiny fragments of his life colliding together are all represented. It clocks in at nearly an hour long, making it a marathon as far as punk and metalcore albums go. The album itself seems somewhat self-aware of its own indulgences as Keith croons, “I want oblivion all of the time.” Low Teens bears all the hallmarks of being yet another masterwork from Every Time I Die. This is a band that continues to explore the territory of hardcore and metalcore without ever a misstep.
3. Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner (Indie)
Julie Christmas, the former vocalist of Made Out Of Babies, is more just than a guest; she is a primary force on this album, appearing on all but one of the five tracks. Her voice morphs between her trademark child-like whispers and sultry cleans, all the way to piercing shrieks and back again. It’s no easy feat, but she pulls it off while maintaining a sneer that you can almost envision. Mariner continues the thematic tradition of Cult Of Luna’s previous albums. Somewhere Along The Highway explored an organic and rural aesthetic, while Vertikal paid homage to the hyper-mechanical and urban themes of the movie Metropolis. Mariner continues this tradition and explores outer space, drawing textural inspiration directly from 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s something beautiful about the way that these albums unfold and unravel over the course of an hour. Mariner is no exception.
2. Trap Them – Crown Feral (Prosthetic)
I feel like Trap Them’s effort went sorely unappreciated by the music community in 2016. Ryan McKenney is fierce, barking as frantically as ever. He promises to “bring the fucking battering ram,” and delivers, with the band engaging in a full-on assault that doesn’t let up for just over a half hour. It’s a bit difficult to talk much about this album: If you enjoy Trap Them, you know what you’re getting, and you’re getting it in spades. Far less of the frills found on their previous record, Blissfucker, are present. There are no seven minute slow-burners like ‘Savage Climbers’ here. If you don’t know Trap Them, well…expect them to bring the fucking battering ram. The production is dense, yet still melodic, despite the violence. It’s a non-stop onslaught, and one of the few albums with such ferocity that could ever hope to live up to the name Crown Feral.
1. Oathbreaker – Rheia (Deathwish)
I’m a fan of the post-Deafheaven metal scene. But it’s hard to keep up with the deluge of “blackened” bands ever since instant classics like Deafheaven’s Roads To Judah and Liturgy’s Aesthethica were released at the beginning of the decade. There’s a new one every week. But Oathbreaker truly stand out from the crowd with Rheia. It opens slow and sepulchral with the spoken word of Caro Tanghe in ’10:56.’ Her acapella aria is soon set against what can only be described as the sound of an oncoming train as the band roars to life just before ‘Second Son Of R.’ begins. The music evolves, and for just over an hour, the listener is carried between every musical extreme imaginable, guided as much by the meandering exploration of the guitars as it is by the howling vocals of Tanghe. It works, and it’s beautiful. Even at its most reserved moments, where a simple acoustic guitar is playing, there are undercurrents flowing in the background. Rheia is an album that rewards repeated listens, and it’s for that quality that I listened to this album regularly for nearly weeks on end following its release.
So let’s talk plugins: The sheer expense of getting into sound design is one of the largest hurdles that beginners must overcome. But, it doesn’t have to be a dead end! If the Sound Design Santa didn’t leave all the plugins you wanted under the tree, I’ve pulled together a list of free and cheap plugins to get your sound design juiced up without breaking the bank. These are some great tools, at an affordable $50-or-less price point. It’s important to keep in mind however, that the plugins don’t make the designer! These are tools, and at the end of the day, how you use them is more important than what you’re using. Nobody ever got a gig simply because they owned the Decapitator. With that in mind, and without further ado…here’s what I’ve got for you!
Off the bat, here are some excellent vendors who have generously given out either cheap or freeware bundles of their software:
Blue Cat Audio – Blue Cat Audio has a superb freeware pack that includes 6 plugins. Among them, the Frequency Analyzer is particularly important to any toolkit, and the 3-band EQ also boasts a frequency response chart. I also appreciate the Gain Suite for the ability to link multiple instances of the plugin together, providing easy control over multiple tracks.
Melda Production – Melda Production also has a generous freeware pack. The pack includes a whopping 30 plugins, with some standouts: the MCompressor, a 6-band EQ, noise generator, tuner, and an excellent utility rack. It can be upgraded for €49 to add a few extra features.
Variety of Sound – VOS offers sixteen free plugins. Of note, the FerricTDS tape saturation and ThrillseekerVBL compressor are great. Most importantly, the preFIX preamp/alignment tool should not be missed if you ever work with mic arrays.
Toneboosters – For about the cost of a large two-topping pizza, you can grab the Toneboosters Essentials Suite. It includes a saturation module, all-in-one modulation plugin, bitcrusher, 6-band EQ (with spectrum analyzer!), de-esser, noise gate, reverb, and compression unit. An absolutely outstanding set of plugins for only €20.
Willing to pay for a subscription service? The Slate Digital “Everything” Package costs around $20 a month as well. I love being able to turn off my subscription when I don’t need it at a given time. It’s also nice to purchase perpetual licenses for the plugins that are consistently relied upon. I also HIGHLY encourage checking out Stillwell Audio. Stillwell offers an impeccable lineup of tools that are both fairly priced and cripple-free. Of course, though, please do the right thing and pay for them if you like them.
EQ is arguably the most important category of them all. There’s a ton of stuff out there, as you’re probably aware…but here’s a few that caught my eye, and that I rely on on a regular basis.
Tokyo Dawn Labs “VOS Slick EQ” (Free / $30) – the VOS Slick EQ is an excellent 3-band EQ with 4 different modes, covering some of the major colors of EQ: American, British, German, and Soviet. You can upgrade it to the Gentleman’s Edition which offer some extra saturation modes, a tilt-EQ, and some additional filters.
Photosounder “SplineEQ” ($29) – Up to 60 bands on a colorful linear phase EQ. Double click to create a band, drag it into place, adjust the handles to change the curve. Couldn’t be simpler. You get up to 60 bands with up to 60 decibels of cut or boost at your disposal to create razor-precise edits.
Sonimus “SonEQ” (Free / $59 upgrade) – The free version of the Sonimus SonEQ is a perfectly serviceable, 3-band EQ. It includes high and low cut filters, a soft Drive knob for saturation and supports a resolution of up to 192kHz. Definitely an excellent addition to any sound designer and music producers virtual EQ shelf.
If EQ is the most important category, Dynamics is certainly hot on its heels. There’s no shortage of options out there, ranging from musical emulations to imaginative and physically impossible models:
Stillwell Audio – “The Rocket” (Free / $39) – Stillwell makes some great stuff, and this 1176 clone is no exception. It’s what you’d expect out of an 1176: Extremely quick attack and release times, with four ratios to select from. As a bonus, you also get the famous “All Buttons In” mode, and a convenient mix knob for instant parallel compression. Like everything else Stillwell offers, it’s on the honor system. Free to take, cheap to buy.
Klanghelm – “MJUC” (€24) – This is a variable mu compressor, emulating the behavior of vacuum tubes to limit the signal. As the input hits harder, the compression ratio deepens. The MJUC exudes a bit of a great, old-school, vintage vibe, for a ridiculously low cost.
Audio Damage – “Rough Rider” (Free) – Unlike the other two, this is not an emulation of a real processor. The Rough Rider is capable of an insane 1:1000 ratio, and really highlights the name of the company: Audio Damage. It’s fairly transparent at the lower ratios, but is absolutely ruthless when cranked.
Reverb is my personal favorite category of plugin. So much that can be done with the right reverb. From gluing together a mix, to creating an otherworldly sense of space, reverb is an essential tool. There are two major kinds of Reverb out there. Impulse Responses (or “Convolution”) reverbs record a transient or sine sweep in a space in to measure its natural resonances. The measurement is then applied as a reverb to a new source. Then there are algorithmic solutions, where the developer has painstakingly programmed all the nuances of the sound into the plugin. Algorithmic reverbs can seek to emulate real units, or fabricate new ones from scratch. Here’s a few options that I love:
SIR Audio Tools – “SIR1” (Free) – Freeware from SIR Audio Tools. This is an Convolution reverb, where you load your own impulses. You’ll then have access to standard envelope tools, pitch stretching, and EQ as well. The newer SIR2 Reverb introduces a zero-latency mode, a higher-quality engine, and Mac support. Websites such as OpenAirLib and EchoThief have put together incredible free collections of spaces for use in your convolution of choice, and thousands more are just a Google search away.
TAL – “TAL Reverb 4″ (Free) – Togu Audio Line’s Reverb 4 is well venerated. It’s incredibly simple with just a few knobs, but produces a great effect on synths especially. The unit is taken directly from the TAL Sampler instrument. It’s not quite capable of subtlety, but it’s still a wonderful reverb.
Valhalla DSP – “Valhalla Shimmer” ($50) – The name of the company is a tip-off. Shimmer is ALL about huge, airy effects. It produces an lush wash that shoegazers everywhere would be proud of. If you’re not looking for that kind of hugeness, the Valhalla Room is an excellent alternative, sure to fit your taste.
Distortion is somewhat antithetical to everything that is studio sound design. Studios are pristine – attempting to capture every nuance of the sound perfectly and without blemish. Enter the distortion, intentionally clipping and breaking of the signal so hard fought for. When done well, distortion can enhance the sound, giving life and character. When done wrong, however, it saps your bottom end, destroys your clarity, and can reduce your tone to something resembling white noise. High quality distortions are hard to come by, but I’ve collected a few a few cheap-ish and free plugins that I enjoy:
Variety of Sound – “FerricTDS” (Free) – As mentioned above, the Variety of Sound package is absolutely exquisite. This unit is something I’ll reach for time and time again, especially when I need to saturate more than I need to distort.
Klanghelm – “SDRR” (€22) – Stepping up the gain a little bit is another Klanghelm product, this time the SDRR. If you want a free option, the IVGI is also available. The IVGI breaks off just the saturation module from this channel strip and let’s you use that on its own. With both units, you can dial in an asymmetric distortion that ranges from subtle warm to a nearly overdriven state. If you find the IVGI useful, the extra utility of the SDRR is well worth the cost of admission.
TSE Audio – “R47” (Free) – Klanghelm wasn’t enough? Need some full-on audio destruction? Look no further than TSE Audio. TSE R47 is an emulation of one of the most important guitar distortion pedals of all time: The ProCo RAT. There is also a phenomenal rendition of the Ibanez Tube Screamer (The “808“). Bassists aren’t left out in the cold either – the “BOD” is a Bass Overdrive based on the TECH21 Sans-Amp.
Delays don’t get enough respect, despite their utility. Put the wet signal up at full blast and introduce a short delay with one repetition of around 75ms. You’ve now created a unison shred guitar solo. Drop the level a bit and increase the delay time to about 85ms and you’ve got a tape echo. Up the delay a little more, add a few repetitions and you have a reverb-like wash. Poly-rhythm junkies know the power of setting different delays to different clicks. Delays are great! Here are a few of my favorite:
Valhalla DSP – “Valhalla FreqEcho” (Free) – Another fine plugin from Valhalla. You can coax out anything from tape delay to glissandos. I like Valhalla because the simplicity of the user interfaces encourage deep experimentation. Feel free to slap this on a track and see what comes of it.
Variety of Sound – “NastyDLA” (Free) – The NastyDLA is already a staple on my VST rack. It’s got a variety of settings, offers a ton of different modes, and most importantly, it just sounds good. You can get a variety of chorus and echo type effects, with a nice type-style filter on two independent delay lines. VoS has a penchant for quality, and the NastyDLA is no exception.
Genuine Soundware and Instruments – “WatKat” (Free) – Feel like getting a bit weird? The WatKat is an homage to the famous Copicat delay. Only four knobs, emulating the real thing. It’s definitely a bit noisy and lo-fi – fairly unpredictable, too. Because it models such an old unit, it doesn’t include a tempo button or anything of that nature – you’re locked to the position of the three tape heads. Still, it’s possible to get endless repeaters and fairly vibrant delays. I’ve found it to be wonderfully inspirational when just fiddling with it.
Modulation is where all your phasers, your filters, choruses, flangers, and etc. live. This is a super broad and expansive category of plugin. Here’s a few of my picks:
Togu Audio Line – “TAL Filter 2” (Free) – On this page you’ll also find the free TAL Filter 1. The TAL Filter 1 is an algorithmic filter, controlled by a few knobs and an LFO. Conversely, TAL Filter 2 is graphical and lets you draw in a filter curve by hand. Both are excellent additions to your lineup!
FLUX – “Bittersweet v3” (Free) – The Bittersweet is a transient designer, and it really couldn’t be simpler. If you need to sharpen the attack on a source, turn the big knob toward the “Bitter” side. If you need to mellow it out, swing the dial toward the “sweet” side. Simple.
Distorque Audio – “Azurite” (Free) – The Azurite is one of the best chorus plugins ever made. It generates up to 8 voices, which can be synced to tempo, and provides for up to 7 LFO shapes to choose from. It features a dedicated feedback knob, and over two dozen presets built in. There’s also a control randomizer to help you find some extra inspiration.
Phuturetone – “Filteroid” (Free) – The Filteroid is a monster. It’s can cleave out either as huge a swath from your audio, or as fine a frequency, as you please. Controls for two resonant filters, harmonic offset, AM and FM modulation, plus LFO controls are just the tip of the iceberg. It also accepts external input and has a variety of built-in mod sources to choose from.
Smart Electronix – “SupaPhaser” (Free) – Developed by Bram at the Smart Electronix group, the SupaPhaser is a combined saturation/distortion/phaser unit all rolled into one simple plugin. Notably, it can have a ridiculous 23 phaser stages added.
A small disclaimer here: I rarely use pitch shifting plugins outside of the one offered in my workstation. There are some nifty plugins out there like the QuikQuak Pitchwheel with some great features to them, but if you’re just looking to fill out your plugin’s list on the cheap, you’re likely not interested in spending money on them.
Aegean Music – “PitchProof” (Free) – I like this plugin for it’s Keyboard Force mode. This mode bends every incoming pitch to the pitch of the last-pressed MIDI note. Combined with the blend knob you can get some really great and wild not-quite-a-harmony drones. It’s excellent for sound designing as well! I’ve had some great success using it on monster voices. It also works just as you’d expect if you just set it up like any other pitch shifter, attempting to modulate an incoming signal into the notes of a given scale.
Restoration is not just a plugin, it’s an indispensable necessity for the DIYer who doesn’t have clean audio coming into their system. It may be true that you just can’t take a Shure SM58 and have it compete with a Neumann 87. But, what you can do is make sure that your SM58 comes into your workstation as cleanly as possible. And you do that with restoration tools. This is the one plugin area that should not be an afterthought. Can’t afford the iZotope RX5 package? Here’s my recommendation.
ACON Digital – “Restoration Suite” ($99) – At a hundred dollars this is by far the most expensive plugin on the list. But, considering you’re getting four plugins in the pack, they’re still cheap. You’ll get a DeNoise, DeHum, DeClick, and DeClip. Use the DeNoiser to sample a few seconds of noise from of your audio to create a filter that can be used to cancel the noise out, leaving your audio much cleaner. Use the DeHum to clean up ground hum loop noise and other noises created by poor electrical conditions. The DeClicker can help remove impulse noises like bass thumps from an accidental mic stand bump, or errant cable crackles. DeClip is for times when you’ve accidentally red-lined and really can’t afford to redo the take.
If, for some reason, you’re dissatisfied with whatever Dither is included with your particular D.A.W., or just want to try a new one, you have a few options. (Disclaimer: Unlike pretty much everything else on this page, I’ve not used either of these, however!):
ToneBoosters – “TB Dither” ($20) – This is not included with the TB Essentials Bundle I linked to earlier. I can’t say I understand the (optional) feature for drawing in the noise-shaping curve as if it were an EQ, but it’s there for you to use. Much cooler, in my opinion, is the availability of 7 (!) industry-standard curves for those of us who are really picky. I imagine that they would also be a great starting point if you decided to dial in your own curve.
Goodhertz – “Good Dither” ($20) – A simple interface goes a long way. Goodhertz backs up their software with numerous charts explaining why Good Dither is Best Dither. Between these two options, I’d probably lean toward this one. Additionally, it includes preset support and auto-blanking.
Another underdog category, since we’re nearing the end of the list now. The Harmonic category is meant for things that change the harmonic content of a signal without modifying the underlying fundamental frequencies…or something like that. Typically, you’ll find dedicated saturation units and harmonic sweeteners in this category.
Softube – “Saturation Knob” (Free) – One knob. One switch. One Effect: Saturation. Can’t get any simpler than that.
Fine Cut Bodies – “La Petite Excite” (Free) – La Petite Excite is a harmonic exciter. It brightens up your top end and helps tracks cut into and through the final mix. Use with caution because putting this on multiple tracks tends to hype your mix up quickly.
Dada Life – “Sausage Fattener” ($40) – A downright ubiquitous plugin in most EDM and Metal circles. It’s similar to the La Petite, but much more aggressive. Put it on your track, make the sausage angry, and damn, that’s a fat sausage. Like the La Petite Excite, make sure you’re using this one with care. It’s very easy to over-process a track and lose sight of the overall production you’re going for.
Again, this is a category so wide that I could not possibly hope to reach any sort of depth with it. But here’s a few nice-to-have plug-ins that don’t fit the other categories quite as much:
VescoFX – “FreeHaas” (Free / $5 suggested donation) – The Haas effect is a psychoacoustic effect whereby two sound impulses that are sufficiently short appear to fuse together. It’s great for thickening up the sound of a guitar or making mono sources sound a bit bigger and wider.
HOFA Plugins – “4U+ Blind Test” (Free / €40 upgrade version) – Having trouble discerning which distortion you like better? Is this EQ better? Or is that one? Which Reverb do I actually like better? Take your pick. I especially love using the Blind Test for auditioning different microphones on instruments.
VescoFX – “FreeOutsider” (Free / $5 suggested donation) – The Outsider is a phase inverter. The single control switch selects a root channel, and the dial let’s you mix between inversion states. Not particularly useful in music, but for sound design, occasionally an inspiring tool to have.
iZotope – “Vinyl” (Free) – Need to impart some magic from the golden age of music? Add Vinyl and you’ll instantly add some of the vinyl hum, dirt, scratches, and artifacts that every critical listener knows is essential for proper and professional music production.
Plug-Ins aren’t just limited to manipulating audio. They can also be full instruments in and of themselves. Enter the VSTi! Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite free/cheap VSTis to peruse:
Artifake_Labs – “Redtron_SE” (Free) – This is less of a VSTi and more of a sampler. The Redtron uses actual samples from a 500 series Mellotron and lets you load two units at once, with the ability to crossfade between them. ADSR parameters, global pitch and reverb are all accessible. Overall, a decent (and free) representation of the unit if classic vibes are what you’re after.
Togu Audio Line – “TAL Noisemaker” (Free) – I’m a fan of TAL if you haven’t noticed 🙂 The TAL Noisemaker is a versatile instrument if lo-fi is what you’re after. 3 Oscillators, 2 LFOs, a filter, an envelope, a few effects, and a master section – doesn’t get much simpler than this.
Sound Guru – “The Mangle” ($20) – The Mangle is a granular synthesizer. Drop a sample into the editor, and upon playback, the synth creates tiny “grains” of audio. Those grains are then stitched together to create a new texture. You can sculpt out an endless variety of sonic ambiences from short samples, or absolutely mangle (heh) a drum loop. I use it religiously in my sound design.
ChordSpace – “ChordSpace” (Free) – I am particularly bad at music theory. If you are too, ChordSpace is a great assistant for you. It allows you to generate MIDI chords for use in *other* VSTi synths or samplers. It takes a minute after working through the manual, but it’s a useful piece of software in the right hands.
Mastering is the art of putting the finishing touches on a record. It’s a bit nebulous, but to me, Mastering is about taking your mix and gluing it all together. It’s increasing the levels to a commercial, standardized volume, and giving the entire work just a sense of cohesiveness and clarity. What mastering is not is simply smashing your mix through a limiter and making it loud as you can go. Here’s some tools I’ve used in my chain in the past:
Tokyo Dawn Labs – “TDR Kotelnikov” (Free / $40 Upgrade) – The Tokyo Dawn Labs stuff is really good stuff. This particular wideband mastering compressor is notable for it’s clean sound. It also oversamples to avoid inter-sample peaks, and has a “Delta” mode to compare affected and original signal. The modest $40 upgrade adds an equal-loudness mode and high-pass filter option. This is a must-have plugin.
Vladg/sound – “Limiter №6” (Free) – An excellent limiter system. I call it a system because instead of just having just ONE limiter, this unit is actually several, each with a different character and function. The idea is to use each module in sequence to slowly ramp up the amount of gain applied. This is opposed to doing it all at once in one stage and potentially getting some nasty artifacts.
Variety of Sound – “Baxter EQ” (Free) – Yet another Variety of Sound plugin makes the list. The reason I like the Baxter is that it offers both L/R stereo or M/S mid-side modes, switched between with the flip of a switch. Need to a bit of excitement to the high end of the overheads? Need to boost that central kick drum? You got it. A great sounding EQ available for a very, very affordable price.
More Is Always More?
And there you have it. But I feel the need to reiterate what was said at the beginning of this article. Sometimes, inspiration doesn’t come from having 200 different compressors at your fingertips. Sometimes, inspiration comes from being limited and stretching those few tools you have to their absolute limits. But either way, with that word of warning: Get cranking!
You’ve got no excuse to not have the tools for the job now!
So, it’s been a good long while. I’ve been working on a ton of projects, handling the day job, etc, etc etc, you know. Life. This blog kind of fell (guiltily) by the wayside. I’ve dutifully responded to as many questions as I’ve gotten via email (which I’m grateful for, by the way!) and with GDC around the corner one more time, I figured it’s really time to get my ass in gear and spruce this place up. So I’ve relaunched my main portfolio site and combined it with my blog, all on one spiffy wordpress website without any hacky code from me. Learned a lot about CMS and customizing CSS along the way, and so here I am, again, to talk about whatever I learn about along the way. Expect something shortly. Maybe a mini review of something I’ve heard recently, or a recording or two. 🙂 We’ll see!
Lately, I’ve been working through drafts of how to best write code modifying parameters in FMOD through Unity C# code, but, honestly, I’m way out of practice and I still don’t have the best answer yet. To re-familiarize myself, I wrote this up for some of the folks who have been emailing me about how to work with Parameters in code. I suspect that many of those questions have to do with not completely understanding some of the best coding practices with FMOD so I wrote this up using the included FMOD Tutorial file. It is a heavily commented, re-organized and restructured version of the FMOD StudioEventEmitter.cs document which is imported into your project as part of the Unity-FMOD Integration package found on the FMOD website. Please forgive any formatting errors – I tried to pretty-ify this as much as possible to ease in readability, but I’m painfully aware that other desktop monitors might display this differently. In any case, without further ado here is the FMOD Example Code, re-structured and described in detail:
“The Theory and Technique of Electronic Music” – Miller Puckette, Chapter 1
Hey folks! I recently came across the phenomenal book, available for free online, “The Theory and Technique of Electronic Music” by Miller Puckette, renowned designer of Pure Data the open-source cousin Cycling ’74’s famous Max/MSP environment. It’s a fascinating subject and I highly recommend checking it out here! I wont lie, a lot of this book has the tendency to go straight over my head in a lot of places if I don’t read and reread sections of it, so I’m doing the exercises here, publicly, so that I can hopefully make sense of what Mr. Puckette is saying and to maybe elicit feedback and correct the places where I’m not understanding some of the mathematics and relationships being presented, since there’s no answer key given. I’ll attempt to work through the answers in as long a form as possible to break it down to the simplest level and explain/show all of my work along the way.
Though the book appears to be geared more toward using the concepts in the context of PD or Max, I’m more interested in more wholly understanding digital audio, so just for the heads up: somewhere down the line, I may skip a PD-centric question or two 🙂
Alright! Now it’s REALLY been a while since last time! I think it’s finally time to start wrapping up these lessons by answering the one question that everyone has: “Alright Chris, I’m now a master of FMOD thanks to you, but now I need to shove this thing into Unity and make them work so that I can be the master of Interactive Audio!”
Well first, that’s not a question, but point taken – to the folks who have e-mailed me, prodding me into finishing up, I can only offer my sincerest apologies because life has gotten way busy this past year. Thanks for the outreach. 🙂 We’re gonna do this. Right here, right now. If you’ve followed along with the set of tutorials so far, you should be able to efficiently bring your ideas into FMOD using the tools available to you. If you need a refresher, you can check out the overview of all the lessons at this link here or hop back to the very first one here. Unlike the last four lessons, this lesson will not build on previous concepts directly since this lesson will focus on integration concepts in tying FMOD into Unity. However, it is still crucial to know the inner workings of FMOD before you try tackling integration, so review if you need to. The instructions are the easy part – it’s knowing the concepts that will take you far.
Hello again, and welcome to the fourth installment of my lessons on using FMOD! This lesson will focus on mixing in the FMOD Studio environment. As always, you can jump on back to lesson one by clicking here, or see the entire list of lessons over here. Up until now, we’ve been focused on getting things to play in the editor, and to get the events that contain those things to play the way we want them to. We’ve covered the interface, parameters, and logic function. The next step, naturally, is getting all those fancy sounds to play nice with one another. Just like in any other music situation, you can’t just turn all the dials up to eleven and call it a day (caveat: unless you’re Motörhead and “everything is louder than everything else”). It just doesn’t work like that. You need to have control.
Now, before we begin, I want to mention that mixing is very, very much an art in of itself. It takes years to master when sitting behind a traditional mixing desk, and I make no claim to have mastered the art myself. But even more so than the wizard-like job of engineering in a traditional studio, the work of mixing interactively is even more nebulous. There’s a LOT of ground to cover – much more than is in the scope of an overview lesson attempting to teach the fundamentals and paradigms underlying a single computer program. As a result, this lesson might feel a bit more disjointed, and might be less intuitive, when compared to some of the others I’ve written thus far . The reason for that is because the primary purpose is not to teach you the basics of mixing, but rather how to do it in FMOD. So, like in our introductory lesson, this will very much focus on the core ideas of facilitating a great mix, and the tools used to create those great mixes. With that said, please do not hesitate to send any questions my way regarding FMOD! Feel free to leave a comment here, email me at Hello@ChrisPrunotto.com, or shoot me a message on twitter @SoundGuyChris!
So, with that said, grab some coffee and read on to continue.
How To Think Like A Time Lord, And Other Useful Tips For Everyday Sound Design
Welcome to my third lesson on the Audio Middleware Engine known as FMOD. If you’re new here, jump on back to week 1 by clicking here to get the basics down. This week will deal with how to further control FMOD events using the Logic tracks. It bears repeating the analogies I’ve been making (that are hopefully apt!): Everything in FMOD is an Event that details something. Parameters are sort of like adjectives. I don’t have any parts of speech up my sleeve to describe the Logic track, but if Parameter’s provides a description about an event, then the Logic control describes when it happens in time, and how often. Remember how the Timeline in FMOD is just another Parameter, as we covered in the second lesson? Did knowing that bother you a little bit last week? As a Parameter, shouldn’t we have some sort of control over it, like the rest of the Game Parameters we can create? Last week’s lesson dealt primarily with controlling events which spanned just one single scenario. For instance, explosions were the primary example, and while we were able to create a nearly infinite amount of variations of that explosion, they’re only good for whenever you have…well…an explosion happening. While useful, our game will also have events (such as music) that need to work to move fluidly back and forth between different states and levels of action. This is most tidily accomplished by skipping around the Timeline of your events, sort of like skipping back and forth between tracks on an album to suit your mood. The good news is that FMOD does allow you to control the Timeline Parameter. The bad news is that just letting you run wild by stopping, rewinding, and skipping around in time at will would create paradoxes and could literally ruin the space time continuum and tear the fabric of space and time itself…it’s just a LOT of responsibility, for even someone so well disposed as a sound designer. But you DO get some tools. And this week, I’m going to focus on explaining the concepts behind how you can utilize the timeline itself to offer some more advanced and complex control of how the game deals with events that span that can span many different kinds of scenarios (like, say, footsteps, which can happen on dirt, gravel, wood flooring, carpet, etc.) or single, constant events that need to react fluidly depending upon a scenario (for example, music tracks which react to the parameters of the game.)
So, read on to continue, and as always – if you have any questions, require further explanations, or wish to suggest further topics, email me at Hello@ChrisPrunotto.com or reach out to me on twitter @SoundGuyChris!
Hello! Welcome back! This is part two of my Introduction to FMOD. Now that we’re done with the absolute basics, things should start moving a bit quicker. The first part of this look at FMOD focused on breaking down the Event Editor and helping a new user find their way around the program, as well as how to lay out samples and modules on the time line. If you missed it, you can find it by clicking here, or check out all of my FMOD Lessons here. I closed the last lesson by mentioning that it was absolutely okay if things felt a little bit linear in the last segment. With any luck, by the end of this one you’ll start seeing the power of the parameter and how to really start making the world a bit less predetermined. The parameter is arguably the most important part of FMOD, so if you desire to make a living working with FMOD, make sure you understand what is being presented here. Before stepping forward, please know that I use the words “Game Parameter” specifically to refer to parameters that supply information to, or get information from, your game. “Effect Parameter” refers to the various knobs, levels, and faders in your effects chains and throughout your routing signal path. “Parameter” is sometimes used interchangeably, but most often refers to Game Parameters, especially in this lesson. It goes without saying that if you have any questions about any specifics regarding FMOD, feel free to leave a comment here, email me at Hello@ChrisPrunotto.com or shoot me a message on twitter @SoundGuyChris! Knowledge is power, so ask away!