The Fickle Plugin

Take 16 raw studio tracks and mix them into something that sounds good is the basic premise.  The recording is a band with members most of them know from school.

It’s as if for 1.5 years these kids have been willing to explore ambient soundscapes, replace soundtracks and foley for movie clips, and remix the heck out of whatever is out there, but when it’s their friends they’re mixing it’s a different story.  They simply do not want to risk screwing this up (even though it’s already been mixed for realz.  See here.)

Take the vocal part for instance.  It’s a female vocal part which was sung well enough, if not perfectly.  Let’s think of the basics here: add compression, EQ out any stuff that sounds like proximity effect, auto-tune to fix any pitch problems and bam! you have an instant hit.

Compression is easy enough – basically turn it on and you’re pretty close.  Auto-tune is easy enough to understand, though I have a feeling a lot of the mixes are going to turn out a lot like Cher meets Kanye meets T-Pain now that I taught them that trick.

EQ seems to be the big hurdle.  There’s something intimidating about this highly fickle plugin.  Tune the right frequencies and you’ve turned “OK” into “YEAH!”  Tune the wrong ones and you’ve destroyed something that used to sound acceptable.

So far, I think the trick is going to be teaching gimmicks, and using that to break them into EQ in the same way I use Ambient music to break kids into using keyboards again.  Let’s learn how to EQ the vocals so they sound like a telephone conversation.  How about sounding like they’re underwater or behind a door?  These are special EQ’s that aren’t used very often, but like the “T-Pain” effect with Auto-tune, it’s going to prove a useful way to break kids into mixing and using this important tool.

(P.S. if you want to hear an example of OBNOXIOUS amounts of Auto-Tune check out this rapper we just gave the royal treatment to.)

(P.P.S. if you’re a GarageBand-only person and you want to get the T-Pain effect just double click your vocal part and select “Enhance Tuning.”  Bonus shawtyness if you select “Limit to key”)

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.

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