Saturday, March 18, 2017

How to build the perfect tracklist for our record PART 2/2

(Nine Lives, from Aerosmith, another excellent example of tracklist picking)


- After the wave has crashed we can slow down in the fourth position with a slower, more reasoned song, also to create a change in the album dynamics and to give some rest to the listener's ears: this is a good place where to put some ballad or anthemic mid tempo.

The fifth song (or in general the last song of the first half of the album) is the one that in the vinyl and audio cassette era was closing the first side of the album, therefore concluding a chapter and forcing us to get up and change side. This today has no meaning anymore but in terms of strategic disposition of the songs in the tracklist this could be a good place where to put a song that is not so strong (I don't want to say a filler because the ideal album should have no fillers), considering that it will be statistically one of those songs that will be noticed the less.

The sixth song (or in general the first song of the second half of the record), similarly to the fifth song, had in the past a special role: being the first song of the second side it had to be almost as captivating as the first song of the first half. We need to win back the attention of the listener and navigate him through the second half of our record, since he trusted us enough to spend one hour of his life in listening to our music, therefore this position could be good for a nice, melodic uptempo that energizes the listener.

The seventh song, similarly to the second, should make the listener recover from the blast of the sixth and prepare him to the final part of the album: this position often is reserved to mid tempos, or songs that can have the listener relaxing a bit.

The eight place is probably the last one we can use for a second "single", intended as a song that came out particularly well and that we could use as a business card for our album: it is the moment of the album in which the listener that has arrived so far is deciding whether to stop listening or not, and we need to give him a good reason to keep going: this is a good position for a nice ear-candy, and statistically, if the listener finds a reason to arrive this far and he likes the eight, he will much probably arrive to the end of the record.

The ninth song is the song in which we can experiment: do we have a song very different from the rest of the album, like sang by another singer, or played unplugged, or performed in a way that is very different? We can put it here as a gift for those who have arrived until here with the listening, without the risk of giving a wrong impression to those who were casually just giving a listen to the beginning of the album.

The last song, finally, should be decided since the beginning. The idea would be to close the album with a reason, like the ending credits of a movie, so this is a good place for a song that is particularly long and articulated, or with a long fade out ending that gives the impression that the band will keep on playing that part forever. Some bands likes also to put here some connection to the beginning of the album, so that if the listener would play the album in loop he would find a circular connection between the end of the last song and the beginning of the first one.

Do you have other interesting tips? Let us know!


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Saturday, March 11, 2017

How to build the perfect tracklist for our record PART 1/2

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will go on with our songwriting tips talking about the best ways to create a tracklist for your record: how to decide the order of the songs to make them effective and to keep high the attention of the listener.
Let's start by saying that a tracklist is a concept of the past: those of you coming from generations in which internet was not yet mainstream will remember creating compilations on tape or on cd, carefully picking the perfect tracklist in the perfect order to be the ideal soundtrack of our life, or to be a gift to our significant other.
Today people listens to music often by the phone, the computer or the car stereo with an usb drive, so they are not tied as in the past to a certain tracklist to be forcefully listened in order, but nevertheless an artist should create and suggest still today a certain sequence for his album to be listened, if he wants his message to be delivered in the way he intended it to go; then if his songs ends up in some Spotify playlist.... It's not a problem.

P.s.: why did I choose Painkiller of Judas Priest as a cover image for this article? Simple: because I think it is a perfect example of excellent tracklist creation skill.

Let's begin by saying that there is a difference between a single (usually 2 songs), an Ep (usually 4 or 5 songs) and an album (usually around 10 songs): the album lenght is different, the attention span in the first 2 cases is not a problem, because if the album is 20/25 minutes or less the attention of the listener remains high, therefore there's more freedom in choosing a tracklist: the important is to have an impactful beginning and an ending that sounds as a conclusion, that doesn't leave the work incomplete.

For a full lenght album as we have said the situation is more complex, and in this psychoacoustics can come in our aid, helping us in picking the right song order, making them flow one into the other gracefully.
Let's say we have 10 songs, each one 5 minutes long for a total of 50 minutes of music: our aim is to keep high the attention of the listener, to not bore him and to not make him change album; let's add also that in this example we are not talking about a concept album in which the songs needs necessarily to be played in a certain order because of the lyrics.
Last forewords: as always these are not fixed rules, it's just a collection of tips I've gathered through my years in songwrting experience, and by making reverse engineering on some of the best tracklists in the history of music.

- Obviously we should start with the introduction, if we have one, or with the song with the most attention capturing first 20 seconds. Since the first song will be the one listened the most and will decide whether the listener will want to proceed in playing also the other ones included in our record we must consider it as the shopping window of our album; the first impression is crucial, therefore we must showcase the best that the album has to offer: the best impact, the best melodies.

- The second song is often overlooked, like the second page of Google: people is often still thinking about the first song, so the main purpose of this position is to be pleasantly connected to the first one, to consolidate the good impression to and prepare the listener to the big wave.

- The third song should be the heart of the album: we have done our introductions, now we can get into the real business. There is a reason why in many pop-rock albums the big single is at the third position: the listener is already hooked in the album, and this is the moment to serve the main course. In this position it is a good idea to place the best song we have, maybe a nice uptempo with a very catchy chorus.


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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Review: Randall RH50T

Hello and welcome to this week's article! 
Today we're going to talk about a currently discontinued tube amplifier that is still easy to find at a very affordable price in the used market: the Randall Rh50T!
This is a small, lightweight, 50w tube head which pioneered the current trend of downsizing tube guitar amps to play nicely both in a home environment and in the stage-rehearsal room.

The amp is 2 channel with independent eq, each one with two modes, the normal and the boosted one, so that in total we can choose between a clean, a crunch, a rhythm and a lead sound.
A spring reverb is also included and does its job beautifully.
I have owned this head for six months, and during this time I have been able to appreciate the incredible sturdiness of the build quality, probably one of the most solid-feeling amplifiers I've ever owned, and the warmth of the EL34 tubes, which adds a lot of harmonics and mid range to the tone.
This is a double edge blade: the characteristic EL34 tone is present, and if you like it, it's a blessing, but if you don't, be prepared because it will permeate all the four channels.
The Clean and crunch channels are very pleasant, with extremely creamy clean-slighly overdriven tones, the sound is rich and bassy, and for pop, rock, hard rock, punk etc this head is absolutely a good bang for the buck, if you can find it used.
Unfortunately if we want to push it towards modern metal tones, which was something I needed, the gain did not have a nice texture: at the levels required for metal it tends to get muddy and fuzzy, probably due to the combination of tubes and low wattage, and it takes quite an effort and some good pedal to achieve a satisfying tone.

My bottom line is: for low to mid gain genres this head is a good compromise between price, wattage, tone, and it is 100% tube. For genres like metal, it will need to be boosted and carefully tweaked because otherwise probably you will not obtain the tone you are looking for.
Either way, a head that definitely deserves a try!


- 50 w tube amp, 4 12AX7 Tubes in the preamp, 2 EL34 in the power amp
- effects loop
- 2 channels (Clean / Overdrive) / 4 modes
- Spring reverb
- 4 switches footswitch included

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

RMS levels in mastering (with free Vst metering tool)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going about Mastering, and in particular of RMS levels when using the last plugin of our chain in the stereo bus: the limiter.

As we know, a limiter is a tool that prevents any peak to surpass a certain ceiling, and does this by applying a strong gain reduction that blocks the loudest part of the signal.
We have also already talked about the Loudness war so I won't repeat myself here, what I think is an interesting addition is though the reading of the RMS meter.
In order to introduce this concept we need to explain the difference between Peak Level and Rms Level.

Peak level: this is the loudest peak reached by our track. When mixing it could be -12db, but when mastering we can use a Limiter and stop it at -1db, or -0,1db.

Rms level: root means square level. This level is the AVERAGE loudness of the master, and the difference between the peak level and the rms level is an approximation of the amount of headroom left in our master.

What is a good compromise between a mix that is loud enough and that is not squashed?
A good starting point is to limit not more than 3/4db of peak, but keeping ourself at around -9/10db Rms.

In this interesting article Ian Shepherd on his mastering blog compares several recordings, showing the average (raw) rms levels:

-6.2 Oasis - "Some Might Say": Severe clipping distortion
-4.9 Metallica - "The day that never comes" (CD): Massive distortion & clipping
-7.7 Feeder - "Pushing The Senses": Heavy clipping distortion
-10 Katatonia - "Consternation": Awesome (clean) sound, massive choruses
-13.1 Sugar - "Fortune Teller": From 1993
-16.9 Metallica - "The day that never comes" (Guitar hero 3) Needs to be louder !
How do we measure the Rms level? A good free tool to monitor our Rms level is Sonalksis Free G, which offers a master fader and a serie of metering tools (place it after the limiter in the post-fader insert).

And you? What Rms level do you like to master your music? Let us know!

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review: Toneforge Ben Bruce (with mp3 sample)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing (with a bit of delay since its initial introduction) a new virtual guitar amp: Toneforge Ben Bruce!
This amp simulator tries to combine the key elements of the tone of Ben Bruce, guitarist of Asking Alexandria, a well known british metalcore band produced by Joey Sturgis, which is also the man behind the Toneforge brand.
The sound of Ben Bruce is based on the classic Peavey 5150 tone, which is an amp very popular in metalcore for its definition and its tightness, and it can be head in the Asking Alexandria's song "I Won't Give In".

As for the other Toneforge amps, the Ben Bruce includes two channels (clean and overdrive), four stompboxes (an overdrive, although the head sounds already so gainy on itself that probably you won't ever need it, a stereo delay, rotary and reverb), a Cabinet simulator with the emulation of four microphones (a condenser, an SM57 on axis, an SM57 off axis and a Sennheiser Md421) and Ir Loader, a chromatic tuner, a parametric eq and a peak limiter.

By testing it I have appreciated as always how Toneforge plugins are so lightweight on the cpu and straightforward to use: the UI features a pleasant scheumorphist interface (which means that it recreates the interface of hardware products) and sound good right away, without even needing to dial anything, which is honestly pretty rare in the world of virtual amps.
The amp has a very pleasant and usable mid range, very mix ready, and it is very tight, perfect for metalcore, making it probably the easiest Toneforge virtual amp to mix with so far, for the genre.

Here is a small sample of an album I am working on for my band, Strider, done using Toneforge Ben Bruce, check it out!

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

How to build a home studio for less than 500$ in 2017

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to see how to start recording quality music on the tightest budget possible, keeping in mind that a chain is as strong as its weakest link, so I have suggested products that respects a minimum standard of quality (as there are surely even cheaper ones, but they in my opinion don't guarantee a reasonable result) to obtain a good product.

Let's start by saying that obviously a pc is required, but if you are reading this, it's very likely for you to have one. This pc should have a decent amount of ram (I'd say that 6/8gb would be a good starting point), and a processor not too old. For the software side, both the audio interfaces that we suggest have a basic version of a Daw and some plugin, which are absolutely enough to start working right away, so for a budget studio there shouldn't be need of much else.

For the sound interface, in my opinion the best quality to price ratio in 2017 is the Presonus Audiobox Vsl 22: this is an amazing sound interface, very complete (it has usb 2.0 connection, Midi in and out, 2 combo Xmax preamps etc.). Some people says it is better a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, in my opinion the Focusrite sounds a little more thin and some models have gain problems when recording guitar, but in doubt I paste both links, since they cost the same and are pretty much equivalent. Another pro of the Presonus one is that it comes with a Free copy of the Daw Studio One,
but on the other hand, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 comes with a limited version of Pro Tools and a set of plugins made by Focusrite itself.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Now moving to the monitors, we can choose between a set of monitors and/or a pair of headphones. For monitors the choice is hard, because there are very few monitors capable of letting us mix properly at a very entry level price. The choice boils down pretty much only to Presonus Eris e4.5 and Tascam VL-S5, both of them for about 200$, or around 150€. On one hand the Presonus ones comes also with two stands and a smaller size and weight, on the other the Tascam, at the same price, offer you a 5 inches speaker instead of a 4.5 one, which means that it will have a better response in the low end area.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Speaking of headphones, instead, it is also hard to find a budget pair that can be considered mix-capable, but always moving in the same price area there are some that are considered to be quite usable, both for mixing and recording, in the 100/150$ area.
Let's start with Beyerdynamic Dt990, which are an industry standard in the 150$ area, and if the budget is tighter (around 50$), there are the Akg K240 Studio, which are probably the most widely used studio headphones in the world.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Finally we need some microphone. I'd suggest in this beginning stage a dynamic one and a condenser one that can serve more or less all purposes, and that can be used also together to capture a wide range of details also for acoustic instruments.
If I would have to buy just one microphone I would go for a Shure Beta 58: it is dynamic, great for vocals, guitars and and all around amazing microphones for about 150$.
For lower prices (around 100$) we can check out the smaller brother, the Shure Sm58, which is another great all purpose dynamic mike. Finally, among the condenser microphones, one that has a great quality-to-price ratio, good both for music and for radio-podcast streamings, is the Audio Technica At2035, the evolution of the legendary At2020, that comes in a bundle (for 150$) with also a shock mount, an anti-pop filter and an xlr cable.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

As for the accessories, there are very few things which are really essential, and they can all boil down in some jack cable, xlr jack cable, anti pop filter and a microphone stand. I will just post one link for each type, as there is no need to invest too much on these, in the beginning.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Hope it was helpful!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review: Peavey 5150 / Peavey 6505 and all its variants

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review a legendary guitar amplifier, the Peavey 5150, known since 2004 (as Eddie Van Halen has moved the rights for the 5150 name from Peavey to Fender and eventually to an EVH brand) as 6505.

For those of you (few I hope) that doesn't know who Eddie Van Halen is, a brief recap: he is the guitar player of Van Halen, a Hard Rock band from California, which has produced some of the most famous hard rock songs of the 70s and 80s, as "Jump", "Ain't talking 'bout Love", "Panama", "Hot for Teachers" and "Running with the Devil", just to name a few.

Eddie Van Halen is also known for being one of the first Guitar Heroes in history, having contributed in innovating the rock guitar sound in many ways: introducing an extensive use of tapping and legato in guitar solos, creating a trademark sound very creamy and mid focused that is known as "brown sound", and basically making guitar shredding mainstream and appreciated from a wide audience, not only from guitar geeks.

Eddie in his incredibly long career has experimented with many amps and guitars, by modding and customizing them until they were completely different from the original model, until arriving to 1992, year in which Peavey offered him a signature model based on his requests, and this model is today, 25 years later, the standard in in heavy metal guitar tone: the most used amp by metal bands and metal producers, even the most extreme ones, due to its extremely tight tone and massive gain.

The head is 120 tube watts, a monster in volume, and it gives its best when pushed over the half of the volume knob, meaning that in order to really enjoy this amplifier you need to play it extremely loud, it has a low gain and a high gain input, and two channels that shares the same passive eq section.
The preamp section has six stages of gain (just to give you the idea, the Marshall jcm2000 DSL is Dual Super Lead, meaning that it has two stages of gain), it is loaded with five 12AX7 tubes (one is in the effect loop), the power amp has four 6L6, and the two channels shares also the presence knob (which decides how narrow or wide is the control of the entire eq section) and the resonance one (that adds some oomph to the lower area).
The head, finally, has also two separate gain knobs, one inside and one after the preamp section, and two switches that affects only the clean channel: bright (that adds some sparkle if the tone is too dark) and crunch (that adds additional gain turning the clean channel into a rhythm one).

Although this head is created to produce huge amounts of gain mantaining an exceptional clarity and definition, the amp has been used also for its creamy crunch tones: the interaction of the tubes creates a very warm harmonic richness and sustain that makes it extremely pleasant to play also for lower gain situations, although the amp is not famous for producing particularly pleasant pure clean tones (they are, in facts, rather cold compared to other amps).

When presented in 1992, this amplifier was revolutionary due to the six stages of gain, which meant a big amount of gain from the preamp section that goes into a powerful power amp section with tubes (the 6L6) which are famous for the tight low end and for mantaining a lot of headroom compared with for example the El84 of many Marshall Amps: the result is that the tone is less saturated than a classic Marshall tone, it's more defined and the gain structure is much more compact, perfect for palm muting, that's why this amp is today a standard for thrash and death metal bands, even more than for hard rock.

From 1992 the Peavey 5150 (from 2004 called 6505) has grown very much, and today it offers several variants, all with the trademark original tone but with some interesting twist:

- 6505 Plus (formerly known as 5150 II), a version with the eq separated between the two channels and a slighly brighter tone

- 6505 combo, a 60w combo version of the amp

- 6505 mini and micro, two smaller versions of the big one, one 20w all tube and the other one 20w transistor.

Over the years Peavey has also produced other versions, such as one with EL84 tubes, but they have been discontinued.


- High and low gain inputs
- 120 watts (rms) into 16, 8, or 4 ohms (switchable)
- Rhythm channel: pre-/post-gain, bright and crunch switches
- Five 12AX7 preamp tubes and four 6L6GC power amp tubes
- Channels share 3-band EQ
- Presence and resonance controls
- Switchable post-EQ effects loop
- Preamp output
- Lead channel: pre-/post-gain


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