Surround Sound: Calibration

Surround Sound is a speaker system usually containing 5 to 7 different audio channels, plus a discrete LFE (low frequency effects) channel. It’s main intention is to immerse the listener/viewer into a soundscape as they experience multimedia productions (such as film, music & games) by using separate sound sources in order to create a more ‘three dimensional’ soundscape. Surround Sound is commonly used in cinemas and home theatre systems.

Not only is it possible to watch and listen to multimedia with surround sound, but it’s also possible to feel it. For example. If a car on the television screen flies past, you can hear it coming from the back left, passing, and then exiting off screen from the front right. An excellent example of a 5.1 surround sound audio mix can be found in the 2013 sci-fi space stunner “Gravity”.

SoundWorks Collection: The Sound of Gravity from Michael Coleman on Vimeo.

A very important aspect of Surround Sound is Calibration, which is a process that ensures the speakers are set up in such a way to make the viewing location also the best possible listening location, which is commonly known as a ‘sweet spot’. In studios, the ideal sweet spot would be where the console operator sits at the desk, or just a little bit behind. In theatre systems, both home and cinema, the calibration would be configured in such a way to give the majority of the audience the best possible listening experience, so the speakers will be aimed at either the middle of a couch or the middle of the cinema room.

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TurboFuture – Home Theater & Audio

Calibrating 5.1 and up in the studio is possible using a DAW such as ProTools, a signal generator, measuring tape, sticky tape, a mic stand, an SPL meter, hearing protection, and of course, a surround sound speaker system. Once your speakers are all set up, create a 5.1 session in ProTools, then assign a signal generator plugin insert on a new 5.1 audio track. Power on the SPL meter and tape it to the mic stand, then position the mic stand exactly where you want the sweet spot, at a listener’s head height. Put on your hearing protection and then start hard-panning the signal to each speaker, making sure the speakers are in the right places by checking that the distances from each speaker to the SPL meter are all equal, and that the meter is getting the same reading from each speaker. This will require moving the speakers around until the right results are achieved.

Calibration is important because it allows the console operator in the studio to accurately monitor their mix while mixing for 5.1 and up, and is especially important when it comes to moving from one studio to another, because the next studio you take your 5.1 session to could have a different monitor setup/calibration, so it is important to consider this translation between different speaker setups in different control rooms.

References:

Coleman, M. (2013, October, 4) SoundWorks Collection: The Sound of Gravity [Vimeo Video] Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/76123849

TurboFuture (2017, July, 20) How To Set Up & Calibrate 5.1 / 6.1 / 7.1 Speaker Surround Sound System [Web Article] Retrieved from http://turbofuture.com/home-theater-audio/How-to-set-up-and-calibrate-your-home-cinema-or-theater-surround-sound-system 

Surround Sound: Calibration

Switching Sides with Allday & NYNE

Tom Gaynor from Adelaide is one of the hottest up and coming modern Australian rappers today. Surprisingly, Gaynor’s roots lie within the punk genre, from when he used to be a part of a band from his highschool days entitled ‘sissycunt’. Gaynor now goes by the alias ‘Allday’ (which is a much nicer name, and easier on the ears too) and has been a part of the scene for over 5 years, beginning to produce beats in January 2011 after dropping out of university and then going on to release several Mixtapes and EPs. His debut album ‘Startup Cult‘ was released in 2014, debuting at #3 on the Aria charts. This album’s huge success helped the rapper break one hundred thousand likes on his Facebook page. Startup Cult featured the singles ‘Right Now‘, ‘You Always Know The DJ‘, and ‘Wolves‘ (featuring Sunni Colon).

But this blog post isn’t just going to be a history lesson. We’re going to take a look at some of the production techniques and aesthetics that make Allday’s tracks sound so fresh and so clean.


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Title: Sides
Artist: Allday feat. NYNE
Duration: 3:38
Release date: July 15th 2016
Album: Speeding (April 2017)
Label: Wind-Up Records
Written by: Allday & NYNE
Mastered by: Chris Athens


LYRICS (Source: Genius.com):

CH
She just wanna go downtown when the sun down
Got a couple pills and it's cool 'til the comedown
And I brought the whole damn crew but it's alright
Living every day to the fullest, never switch sides
Switch sides, switch sides
Switch sides, switch sides
Switch sides, switch sides
Living every day to the fullest, never switch sides

V1
No hit records on my demo, no talent, this is effort
Sculpting stone like Donatello of the clouds, visionary
Ray of light, ray of light, found myself out in the desert
Arizona sky like neon Nerds, system filled with venom
But if that’s their disses for me, I do not feel disrespected
I just feel young, wealthy, kind of handsome, independent
Did I mention independent? Casper’s t-shirt, Independent
Small labels with the method, whole team did this together
Oh no, oh no, they had to be a hassle
I got bigger fishes, killer whales, I know they’re really mammals
People’s morals getting lost, it's too much for me to handle
I don’t take these hoes to dinner, I would rather eat a barrel

PCH
These things used to hurt but I’m stronger now
Reps, reps, reps, reps, 'til I’m bulging out
I know the way they talk when I’m not around
That's why I only come around when it's going down

CH

V2
I’m streaking, I’m streaking fully dressed
No peeking, no peeking at my test
I'm skidding, I'm skidding through these streets
With my whole team squished into the seats
That's my old whip, kept it when I signed the deal
That's my new girl, think this one might be real
Guess I say that, I guess I say that every time
I would hate to have to settle, I need to get this right
On Bell Street going past the cemetery
Don’t bury me there, heaven help me
Ooh, having panic attacks, this stress ain't healthy
Blue like repping Chelsea, go tell them girls, "Leave"

PCH
But I’m India like New Delhi, the new Delly, I'll cross you up
Crossed with Nelly and you always find some summer
No matter what the month; Goulding like Ellie
But I'll make a bad boyfriend like Oscar Pistorius
And when all is done and said, it's me and my warriors
And she just

CH
She just wanna go downtown when the sun down
Got a couple pills and it's cool 'til the comedown
And I brought the whole damn crew but it's alright
Living every day to the fullest, never switch sides
Switch sides, switch sides (never fuckin' switch sides)
Switch sides, switch sides (never fuckin' switch sides)
Switch sides, switch sides (never switch sides)
Living every day to the fullest, never switch sides

Structure

Sides follows a very generic radio single structure, consisting mainly of verses and choruses, with an intro and a couple pre-chorus sections.

Instrumentation

Graunke & Bluff’s production on this track fully consists of electronic elements (electronic synths & drum samples), with the exception of the recorded vocals. This is a common practice in trap music, which is the style ‘new school’ Aussie hip hop borrows elements from.

The song begins with a simple plucked-style FM synth over a sub bassline – these two elements are the core elements of the beat along with the 808-style electronic drum samples. Other synths include orchestral strings-style pad, another pad that accompanies the orchestral pad (prechoruses and 2nd verse), and an arpeggiated synth. The biggest element in this track, like all hip hop tracks, is the vocals, both lead vocals and background vocal splices.

Production Aesthetics

The reason why the collective vocals are the centrefold of this track is due to the many production decisions made.

The intro + first chorus incorporate background vocal splices that are pitch modulated and also most likely time-stretched and reverberated to make it sound like a choir vocal, which gives it an atmospheric feeling and ultimately send chills down the listener’s spine. At the start of the verses and the pre-chorus sections, the drums are filtered to accentuate Allday’s main rap vocals as the focus of the song, also so the listener can get a feel for the flow before the beat drops. The outro sees the main raps take more of a background stance and puts emphasis on the vocal splices, which are pitched up, and like the lower pitch splices, are also reverberated. This technique creates something entirely new by making it sound nothing like a normal vocal – it now gives off a supernatural, enchanted vibe.

Vocal splices are a very common aspect of trap and hip-hop music, so the decision to include these into this production was partly to keep up with trends within the style of the music, and also as mentioned before to add more expression to the piece. Vocals are the most powerful aspect of not just hip hop but many other styles of music. Allday’s main rap vocals are also pitch modulated in the verses, most noticeable at 1:57 when the beats drops out for a bar – most likely done in Melodyne (or a similar performance correction tool).

Conclusion

Allday & NYNE’s Sides felt more like it’s own ‘main course’ instead of a ‘side’. It’s just one of those tracks that feels like it has a lot of gravity to it, and that’s achieved through the use of specific types of synths & sounds. Listening to the beat feels like you’ve opened the door and stepped into a chill & soothing sonic landscape, with the vocals only adding more flavour and character to the piece. Credit to the producers and engineers, because this track exceeds expectations and showcases a definitive evolution from a typical Aussie hip-hop song.

References

Bacon, E. (2014, September, 25) Where did Allday come from? [Web Article] Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/music/where-did-allday-come-from-20140925-10lrzq.html

Genius.com (@016, August, 7) Allday – Sides Lyrics [Song Lyrics] Retrieved from https://genius.com/Allday-sides-lyrics

Marsland, D. (2016, October, 6) The Changing Face Of Hip Hop In Australia [Web Article] Retrieved from http://pilerats.com/music/rap/the-changing-face-of-hip-hop-in-australia/

Wikipedia (2017, June, 17) Allday – Wikipedia [Wiki Article] Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allday 

Switching Sides with Allday & NYNE

EP with Blayde – Project Pitch Reflection

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So today I had my pitch for my major project this trimester.

The project will produce the following:

  • A 5-track EP – 5 .WAV stereo interleaved files at 44.1kHz sample rate & 24bit depth.
  • Album artwork – 2000×2000 .PNG image file.
  • Digital ArtBook – .PDF file

One major amendment that I would go back and make to my presentation would be to include Keely Menzie in the roles & responsibilities slide as an assistant recording engineer.

Another thing I did not consider at all is the budget. Budgets, in the real world, are very important, and we’re very close to being pushed out the doors of SAE and into the real world, so we’re going to have to do these eventually. Why not start now?

Something I’m thankful of including in my pitch were some “Plan B” ideas just in case the project falls apart due to unforeseen circumstances.

Overall I thought the presentation went fairly good, but I could’ve improved it by going into more detail on the risk mitigation, project management, and showcasing more of my productions that could possibly be incorporated into the EP. Like these:

 

EP with Blayde – Project Pitch Reflection

Holden Cruze Ad – Planning & Budgeting

One of my projects this trimester is to fully replace the audio of an advertisement of our choice from a list of 5 different ones. I picked the Holden Cruze ad, because I immediately had an idea for a composition for it after watching it. I got home and did a quick draft of my composition paired with the video file of the advertisement.

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Now, I’ve completed a project plan for this sound replacement – you can check it out here. I’ve dealt with risk mitigation, milestones, technical frameworks, schedules and asset lists before, but this is the first time I’ve considered both the intended audience reactions and the budget. So I did some research and found some info about both the required equipment and spaces I would need:

Spaces Needed:

  • C24 Post-Pro Studio, SAE Institute [For Dialogue Recording/Foley Recording/Editing]
    Hours: 4 | Total estimated cost: $330
  • Avid S6 Studio, SAE Institute [For Mixing/Mastering]
    Hours: 8 | Total estimated cost: $528

I came up with these estimates using the booking prices over at Salt Studios as examples (“Studio A” for the S6, “Studio B” for the C24).

  • Fire Exit Stairs, SAE Institute [For Foley Recording]
  • Indoor/Staff Car Park, SAE Institute [For Foley Recording]

These do not require any money as booking is not necessary at these places. However you do need to be a student to access these places, but generally in a real world scenario you would just use any fire exit staircase or underground car park.

Equipment Needed:

  • AKG C414 XLS Condenser Mic [For Female Voiceover/Foley Recording]
    Days: 2 | Total estimated cost: $120

Although it is tempting to pay a little bit more to get this beautiful thing for a whole week I would only need it for two, and it’s good to cut costs wherever you can. Source: Brisbane Sound Group.

  • EV RE20 Dynamic Mic [For Male Voiceovers]
    Days: 1 | Total estimated cost: $30

Using the 3 day hire price for the EV RE20 at MicRentals.com, after converting the currency, I estimated that to hire this microphone for a day, it would cost near $30 AU. I couldn’t find any Australian sources.

  • Zoom h4n Recorder [For Location Foley]
    Days: 2 | Total estimated cost: $55

CameraHire.com.au had replaced their H4n Audio Recorders with H5 Handy Recorders, and did not display the prices for the former, so I just used the H5 prices to come up with the estimate of $55 for a 2-day hire.

  • XLR Cable x2 [For Dialogue Recording/Foley Recording]
    Purchase | $19

I figured if I were to do this in the real world, I would just buy the damn things. Quick google search is all I needed to work this out. Always good to have a spare one around!

Other costs:

  • Bus fares: $35 [For Transport]

I just had to sell my car for rent money, didn’t I?

Grand estimated total budget: $1,116

That’s a lot of big ones. I’m sure for a profitable cause it’d be easy to find the funding you need. I may have to look into this further…

2016 Chevrolet Cruze

But for now, I’m fairly happy about the way I’ve planned this project.

Holden Cruze Ad – Planning & Budgeting

The May Holidays

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Apart from celebrating my birthday and drinking my weight in alcohol, I managed to work on a few things over the trimester break.

I had the novelty of working with “Media Madman Matt Ives” to record a film review for a contest run by Triple J to replace the retired Marc Fennell. Unfortunately there were 1,300 applicants and there can only be one winner (spoiler alert – it wasn’t Matt), but the project was still fun and useful to help bring me back down to ground zero for the upcoming trimester. Listen to it here:

In other news, I’ve done something that I’ve been meaning to do for a couple years now. I’ve released a collection of my Linkin Park remixes from over the last 5 years for free download. Of course it’s free – if I charged for this I’d, definitely be done for copyright, since I don’t have the correct rights to do so. I also included one of my most recent remixes, one of their February single ‘Heavy‘.

Part 1 | Part 2

Not only have I done that, but I’ve also released another original song – ‘System Control‘ – featuring a couple of my international contacts – Akira Phoenix and Voidrone. Ashton (Akira Phoenix) is on rap vocals with Jack Whitaker (Voidrone) on the unclean screams in the choruses.

This just goes to show that if the gears of university stop, my cogs keep turning. I never stop working – I’m always coming up with new ideas for music projects. I look forward to what I can achieve this trimester,

The May Holidays

Project Blob – All 4 Season BGM’s (Mixing)

Project Blob was a game that I developed audio assets for – including sound effects and 4 music loops to be used within the games 4 levels.

The music I composed was inspired the Banjo-Kazooie level called “Click Clock Wood” where players can visit the level in 4 different seasons depending on which door they walk through in the level’s hub. I wanted to capture the feeling of each season in each of the seasonal variants of the song, which at its core, is basically the same song for each version, like the reference material.

The mixing for these tracks were pretty simple, as they were just meant to be simple and background. Unlike the other two mixes I’ve had to do for this trimester, this one was entirely done in FL Studio, and dealt a lot more with MIDI than actual audio files.

Here’s a look at the “Spring” track in particular:

  • Project was created with a template that loads every time I open FL Studio 11. This template has a drum submix already set up, with the kick and snare channel being sent to it, and another reverb submix.
  • Hihats and shakers are in the same track together, also sends to reverb submix.
  • Electronic kicks and snares were sent to a drum submix, which had a limiter on it with the input gain set to +12dB.
  • EQ – +5dB Low mid boosts on kick and snare with +3dB high shelf boost on the snare. Low pass filter on ‘dark piano’ at 3.8kHz with a Q of 0.27 to dampen the piano a bit. High pass on ‘ePiano ‘at around 450Hz, with slight boosts to the highs (wanted it to be noticeable but not overpower the lead synth). Bass synth had a +6dB boost to the low shelf to bring those subs up, with a lowpass filter at 16kHz to cut out the sibilence but still retain the crunchiness of the bass. Lead and pad synths has a low pass at 16kHz on them also.
  • With my usual productions in FL Studio, a lot of the synths I typically use have auto-panning capabilities, and most samples I use are in stereo, so it makes for a wide mix – this production was no exception. The lead synth, pad synth & bass synth slightly wide in terms of stereo field, which is somewhat better than just flat mono because it makes for a dynamic listening experience. The ‘ePiano’ channel however is just straight mono, which is fine because it’s more of a background sound. The hi-hats and shakers are a bit more on the left for the fact the samples are stereo and probably were originally like that, because I did not pan them to the left.
  • I used gross beat on the bass to side-chain the bass to every quarter beat.
  • A peak controller plugin on the kick controls the volume level on the reverb channel – in an attempt to emulate side-chain compression.
  • Other effects used included a bit-crusher plugin on the lead synth and pad synth, delay on the ePiano, and a bit of reverb on the pad synth as well. I put the reverb before the bitcrusher on the pad synth channel because I also wanted to bit-crush the reverb. I dunno, I just like bit-crushers.

Of course, the master channel had my template’s maximus preset on it, and I was happy with the levels of the low mid and high bands, and it’s post-gain setting on the master at +3dB.

The tracks I made for the other seasons were all pretty similar, considering I made all of the others using this one as a base, so they’re all similar as far as mixing goes. The winter one was kinda trap inspired so I had to make sure the 808s didn’t clash with the other kick  samples.

Looking back on it, the bass seems a little too overpowering, I probably would have knocked it down -1.2dB. I received some feedback from classmates and they were saying the same thing about the Spring one in particular, but overall overwhelmingly positive feedback to whoever I showed this to. The Blob Squad ended up using the Spring, Autumn and Winter ones I made, but they ended up not using my Summer one and just used the original piano composition I gave to them when they needed something as a placeholder for their playtesting day. But overall I’m pleased at how it all turned out in the final game. I think more communication with the games team probably would have fixed this issue and a couple others that I had with it.

Click here to check out the game and hear the audio in action for yourselves.

Project Blob – All 4 Season BGM’s (Mixing)

Squishy Sound Sessions for Project Blob

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http://bit.ly/Studio2Blob

Project Plan Link

On March 29th, 2017, I had been approached by Kirsty, a games student. She wanted to know if I could help her team do audio for a game project.

On April 6th, I filled out my production plan for the project – game audio & music for Project Blob.

On April 7th, 2017, I had my first recording session for Project Blob.

On April 9th, I was working on some of the menu sounds from home.

On April 10th, 2017, I had the second foley recording session.

On April 13th, through to April 15th, I spent time working on the music.

On April 16th, I did some last minute processing to the last of the samples.

On April 17th, I gave Blob Squad everything they asked for, and on time.

On April 26th, I was invited out to an event where Project Blob was showcased.

Squishy Sound Sessions for Project Blob