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In the world of modern electronic music production, it is critical to introduce more organic and timeless sounds into your music.

Electronic music, by nature, is digital.

And when things get overly digital, productions sound flat, predictable, even boring.

But that doesn’t mean we have to limit our productions to only digital sounds.

In fact, using organic instruments (or at the very least, emulations of organic instruments) is one of the best ways to generate some much needed analogue warmth and timbre in your music.

Pianos, somewhat obviously, are an extremely valuable tool to any producer looking to create a familiar and commercially viable song.

However, we all know how damn hard it can be to get that organic piano sound we all hear in professional mixes.

In this post, we are going to demystify exactly that - how to get a professional piano sound through proper layering, processing chains and humanization.

Which Pianos Do I Choose?

With hundreds of piano libraries out there, it has never been easier to get a great sounding piano tone without the need for a fancy studio and a $3000 grand piano.

Below is a breakdown of what we have come across as some of the best sounding piano samplers today.

Every piano library has something special about it and yields a specific tone and purpose.


  • The Giant: Great cinematic sound
  • Alicia's Keys: Amazing pop record tone
  • The Grandeur: Brilliant low end warmth
  • Steinway Piano: Logic’s best piano, well-rounded sound
  • Korg M1: Classic deep house sound
  • Waves Electric 88: Crazy cool Rhodes sounds
  • TruePianos: Perhaps the most clean & organic pianos here
  • Nexus Pianos: Our favorite presets are the Ballad Grand Piano (nice organic piano), the Dance Piano 2K7 (mimics Korg M1 nicely) and Ibiza (this, is esssentially Avicii’s piano)

By no means is this list comprehensive, but that’s exactly the point - these are our hand-selected, absolute favorite pianos.

You know, the stuff we actually reach for every time we work on a track.

Why Should We Layer Pianos?

Despite the fact that each of the pianos mentioned above is a solid choice for your music, they all tend to have certain weak points as well.

These weaknesses can be heard in a variety of ways: from the actual tone itself, to the fullness of the frequency spectrum, it is often necessary to layer multiple pianos to obtain that rich and full, modern sound.

Organic Pianos

When it comes to frequency, for instance, Kontakt pianos like Alicias Keys and the Grandeur are really frequency dependent. Alicias Keys has nice high-mids but lacks low-end weight and power. The Grandeur has tremendous low end but almost no definition in the upper register.

Free Video: Piano Workshop covering Advanced Layering Techniques [35-min]

Separately, these pianos usually fall a bit short, but together, they create a lush and full spectrum of sound that can carry its weight in modern electronic productions with little to no processing necessary.

Synthetic Pianos

Sometimes, though - it’s all about tone.

Nexus, Steinway, and Waves are all much more synthetic sounding than the Kontakt pianos mentioned above. Synthetic pianos (because of their envelope) can have significantly more attack and bite, so they are great to use in more upbeat dance music.

That said, it often helps to layer very synthetic sounds with more organic and real tones. This layering process creates a much fuller sound and brings a unique flavor to your pianos.

In short, by layering - you achieve that digital presence with the analogue warmth. And that is a beautiful combination...

Layering Techniques Made Simple

If you’re reading this and thinking - hey, this is great and all, but how do we do this in practice? How do I know which 2-3 pianos I should layer together? When do I need to do this?

Layering pianos can be broken down into these simple methods…

  • Frequency splitting
  • Stereo spacing and panning
  • Compression levels

Frequency Splitting

By determining which pianos sounds better in the lows, mids, and highs, you can utilize that specific piano for only that frequency layer.

Hesitant? Having trouble identifying frequency bands? Try using a frequency analyzer in addition to using your ears. This can often help you determine which pianos are ripe in certain frequency areas.

Stereo spacing

Stereo spacing can be used to make sure your piano mix isn’t conflicting, or worse, masking.

The truth is, most piano libraries are created by recording real pianos. When they mic and record these pianos, it is common to have the sound travel from left to right (or low to high).

You can take advantage of this because most pianos have the ability to switch this direction. This means one layer could move from left to right while the other layer does the opposite. You can kiss frequency clashing, masking, and phasing goodbye.

On top of that, simple panning can also add various benefits, like thickening a piano, making it wider or even just a perceived tonal difference.

Compression

Compression for layering? Really? Just try it

One overly compressed piano layered with a dry dynamic piano can result in added punch and clarity.

But don’t just try one of these layering techniques, a combination of all three is usually the way to go.

How Do We Process These Layers?

We could write a whole separate blog post on ways to process piano groups, but to simplify the process we’ve broken it down into 4 easy steps…

  • EQ to sculpt
  • EQ to emphasize
  • Glue compression
  • Single Reverb

EQ

EQ should be used to sculpt parts of the spectrum where your pianos could be building up in frequency content. Look for muddiness around 2-400 Hz and harshness from 2-8 kHz.

On top of that, EQ can also be used to emphasize certain sweet spots of your layers. Maybe your high-end piano sounds nice with a 1 dB boost around 750 Hz. Try boosting it there and then cutting the same spot in another piano layer.

Glue compression

In small amounts, compression can help gel multiple instruments and aid in creating one, pumping sound.

For pianos, try medium to long attack times and quicker release times with a softer knee to have subtle compression take place. No more than 2-4 dB of gain reduction with a ratio 2:1 works well here, but don’t be afraid to experiment!

For some added coloration, attack, pop, and yes, some compression as well - try playing with the depth knob of the OTT compressor.

At the end of the day, peanut butter is to jelly as the OTT Compressor is to pianos.

Watch these processing techniques in action: FREE 35-min Piano Workshop

Reverb

One of the best ways to get your pianos to merge into one super piano is to apply a group reverb to them. Having one nice reverb on the group can do a nice job placing the pianos in the same space.

There isn’t really one type of reverb you should use here, but make sure to experiment with decay times and the types of reverb used.

How to Humanize Pianos

In a digital production, your piano is only as good as how real the performance sounds.

Try changing up the velocity of different notes in your chord progression or melody. This will make the piano breath a lot more and let your composition sound much more human. (If you’re a Logic user, the humanize function is a big help here).

Bonus: Velocity also drastically changes the tone of your piano. Experiment with lower velocities to warm up the piano tone.

Note Timing

The timing of when notes start can also help, big time.

If you tend to draw in MIDI notes right on the grid you might want to change up some of the quantization of your notes. Try turning off the grid and sliding notes early and late in time.

Pedals

Pedals are also very valuable tools for any of you piano players out there. You can often assign this to the MOD wheel of most software pianos too! Using a pedal will allow your piano part to go in and out of longer release times and create a much more pleasant sounding flow.

Release

Using release variation can really help to allow the piano samples to shine through the mix and feel as if they were recorded and not just sampled.

Delay

Adding some tasteful delay can really fill up the sound of your piano, help to create an amazingly rich atmosphere and help with humanization.

Summary

Layering organic and synthetic pianos is truly the ultimate solution to solving the naturally occurring faults and weak-spots we tend to find in most piano plugins. Often times, the world of layering can lead to extremely convoluted and frankly, bad advice.

Hopefully this article has not only cleared up a lot of the mystery in working with pianos, but has inspired you to tackle piano production with some level of creativity and confidence.

If you are still struggling to wrap your head around these concepts, make sure to watch this 35-minute Ultimate Guide to Layering Pianos Workshop.

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The purpose of this video isn't to show off the bells and whistles of Pro-Q2, but rather to show what you are capable of as a producer when you get to know a plugin really well.

It's very easy to get caught up in every new plugin under the sun, but in reality, knowing just a few plugins inside and out is drastically more effective for you when it comes to making strides with your music.

It's just that classic expression, right? It's not about the tools that you have, it's about knowing how to use them.

Less is almost always more - even in the case of plugins. So, let's listen to that DaVinci quote from up top and keep things super simple.

#1 Autogain

What does the autogain feature do? Well, it automatically compensates for an increase or decrease in gain when adding frequencies.

Which means that it actually removes the volume addition when you're adding frequencies. This allows you to be able to hear ONLY the added coloration.

And this is huge because our ears love to trick ourselves into thinking that pretty much anything louder is going to sound better (which is definitely not the case).

#2 Full Screen Mode

Did you know you can use Pro-Q2 in full-screen mode?

Sure, it's a pretty simple and straightforward feature of Pro-Q2, but a lot of producers aren't aware of it.

I find it pretty useful for two reasons:

  1. For accuracy, because any detailed EQ work will be easier in full-screen mode.
  2. For creativity, because it has a beautiful graphic interface (and it get's you in the f*cking creative zone)

#3 Spectrum Grab Mode

Spectrum grab mode allows you to grab at those obvious, alarming peaks and harsh frequencies in your EQ spectrum by simply hovering over the analyzer.

When combined with frequency sweeping + using your ears, spectrum grab mode is an extremely useful and time-saving tool.

#4 Piano Display Mode

The most obvious benefit of turning on Piano Display in Fab Filter Pro-Q2, is now that every time you create a point or a node in the EQ spectrum, it tells you EXACTLY what frequency you are working.

This is super helpful because it allows you to add or remove frequencies in relation to the key of the track.

My favorite example of this? Just boost the low end of your kick in key with your track for a classic "professor move."

#5 Stereoize

These days, I feel like mid-side gets all the attention. But hey, classic left-right can be just as powerful because it allows you to add stereo differences to any sound by simple EQ-ing the left and right side differently.

This is a really simple way to make something more stereo, which essentially makes any sound appear wider and bigger.

#6 Side Chain Analyzer

This is the ultimate mixing aid.

Think of all those times you wanted to EQ two separate sounds that might have conflicting EQ spectrums. This happens literally all the time in musis: kick-bass relationships, vocals layered over heavy mid-range chords, the list goes on and on.

After some simple routing, Pro-Q2 can visually show the EQ spectrum of multiple sounds at once.

This makes separating two sounds easier than ever.

#7 EQ Matching

Generally speaking, EQ matching is a cool way to borrow or match the tonal characteristics of any reference audio signal.

So yes, you could match your master EQ to a reference track (like most tutorials out there showcase).

But you could also be a lot more specific & strategic, right? You could take the vocals you are currently mixing, and match them in EQ to an Acapella or a vocal stem you might already love.

Some final thoughts...

The reality of the situation is that most producers out there these days are suffering from the paradox of choice.

A lot of producers think that the answers to their issues lie in more.

More plugins, more samples, more synths, more technology, more hardware...but always seeking for more just leads towards an inability to act, because they are pinned down by the absurd options at their disposal (and there are tons of options...)

And look, we've all bought into this idea before. I'm sure you have, I know I have.

So let me propose a different argument today: there is freedom in limitations.

It allows you to stop being distracted by the unimportant and frivolous stuff (like, you know...the never ending flow of new plugins, synths, and sample packs...)

And instead, it allows you to spend time on what really matters. Like getting to know the tools you already have.

Happy producing!

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Build ups are an opportunity to create tension, emotion, and much-needed energy in your music - because of this, they deserve your utmost attention.

I’m a firm believer that your drop is only as good as the build that precedes it.

As a producer who has remixed some of the biggest artists in the world (Beyoncé, Tove Lo, Nick Jonas, etc.) for some of the biggest labels in the world (Universal Music Group, Island Def Jam, Sony Music, etc.) I am always amazed at how easy it is to fall short when making a build up. It's both difficult AND time intensive to pull off.

And because of that, when buildups lack detail, it’s a recipe for sounding amateur (in my humble opinion).

That said - here are 6 HUGE build up tips, tricks and techniques I’ve come to embrace and utilize in almost every single track I produce.

#1 Get Creative When Entering the Drop

Yes - the drop needs to be memorable, interesting and well-produced. But if there is an area that most producers overlook, it's how they enter the drop.

The way you introduce or present a new sound is often more important than the sound itself.

Instead of relying on the same Pryda snare or reverse cymbal for every transition - try a unique gap of silence, or introduce a sound using triplets, or get creative with drum fills.

Long story short: don't skimp on creating a unique entrance to your drop. This can be relatively time-intensive and test your creativity, but if it was easy - everyone would do it.

Want to see this in action? Check out how I entered the drop in my latest official remix for Laidback Luke on Mixmash Records.

#2 Automate Parameters on the Master

There are a few things I automate on the master of every build up:

  • Volume (lower the volume just 1-2 DBs over time during the build)
  • EQ (automate the low cut & resonance to taste to get the famed DJM effect)
  • Reverb (small amounts of reverb can create tons of depth and spacing)
  • The Mono-build trick (automate your stereo image for added drop impact)

Bonus: For Ableton users, there is a simple rack for all of this that Bass Kelph made called "Easy Wash Out". It's totally free.

#3 Program Intricate Snare Work

Intricate build ups require multiple layers all working cohesively to create one dramatic moment of tension.

This is no individual secret to making this work, but here are some things that might help:

  • Start with foundational elements (you can't make the build interesting unless the basics are there first)
  • Layer by automating loops and snare rolls in volume to slowly come up over time. This will create the perception of a much more intricate, detailed build.
  • Don't forget your basic white noise and forever/risers for background tension. These make builds a lot easier.

What does this mean exactly?

Watch this ALL in action as I use a few military snares I downloaded from a random Youtube performance to create a unique and intricate build up in my remix for Laidback Luke.

Click here to see how I made this Laidback Luke remix in just under 5 hours, entirely unedited from start to finish.

#4 Use the Splice Sounds Library

When it comes to searching for a one-off sample, don’t forget that Splice Sounds was built and organized specifically for your sample-finding needs.

There is absolutely no better way to add details to your productions than utilizing the Splice Sounds library. Want to see this in action?

Check out the video below where I use Splice Sounds to add details to an otherwise simplistic build up in my official remix for Laidback Luke.

#5 Let Samples Do the Work for You

First off - don't limit yourself to only using samples from sample packs.

Google stuff. Listen to random Youtube performances. Get sounds from the world. And then flex time, pitch, distort, and warp to get them to match your track.

There is nothing more refreshing than unique, original sounds outside of the norm of what everyone else is using. This doesn’t take too much work either - just a decent amount of experimentation.

#6 Create Unique Drum Fills

The best drum fills are a combination of self-programmed midi, alongside chopped up loops & pre-made fills.

There is an art-form to this, but generally speaking - someone spent a lot of time making those sample drum fills sound good - so take advantage of it and use them.

Combine the pre-made fills with some of your own chopping and self-programmed midi, and you’ve created a unique fill that no one else has in any track.


If you’re enjoying these build up videos, just think of this:

I put together over 60+ HD videos in just under 5 hours of footage to write and produce my latest remix for Laidback Luke.

Again, this blog post only has 3 videos out of over 60+.

To learn more, click here to see how I recorded the process of making this Laidback Luke remix in just under 5 hours.

Check out the full, completed Laidback Luke Remix below:

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Using reverse techniques in your music is a great way to add details, to add intricacies, to add energy and movement, or even just a splash of creativity.

Personally, I am a HUGE fan of using reverse sounds in my music. Again, I just see it as a cool way to put a personal spin on a melody, and on top of that, reverses just sound cool.

#1 Creating Reverse Melodies - 0:50

Hyperbits - Reverse Midi

Here is a cool and creative way to create reverse melodies in Logic X.

Steps:
  1. Duplicate your melody so we aren't editing the original.
  2. Go to your piano roll, select your midi, go to functions, midi transform, and select reverse position.
  3. Extend your region or tweak the reverse position export settings.
  4. Drag new midi in place of original melody.
  5. Bounce new midi in place, or export to audio
  6. Reverse the bounced or printed audio (this give your your original melody played in reverse)

Creative Options on what you can do with the reversed melodies:

  • Just play it as is.
  • Depending upon your sound design or sound choice, this could be pretty cool on its own. Sometimes less is more.

  • Play both your original melody and reverse melody at the same time.
  • This can get super cluttered easily - just be careful as this technique usually only works with simplistic, minimal and subtle melodies.

  • Cut up the reverse melody.
  • The answer to the previous question of cluttering your melody is to cut up your reverses. If you select tasteful, fewer instances of the reverse, the reverse melody paired with the original might sound really special.

  • Use an auto-panner
  • Sometimes I like to trigger an auto-panner to move with the reverse melody cuts, that way, each reverse transient is playing in a different part of the stereo spectrum - and that is beyond cool.

    #2 Reverse Reverb with Space Designer - 5:15

    Hyperbits - Reverse Reverb

    Instead of manually printing your reverb tails and reversing them, sometimes the reverse button in Logic's Space Designer is a cool way to spark some creative atmospheres and cool tonal differences in your melody.

    Again, this is a very easy trick, but something it can be both super powerful and subtle at the same time.

    #3 Mapping Reverses to a Sampler - 0:50

    Hyperbits - Reverse Sample Mapping

    Mapping audio to a sampler allows you to manipulate ANY sample you have on your computer as if it was a synth.

    We’re going to do that with reverse sounds using a sample downloaded off Splice, from the Bright Lights vocal pack.

    Steps:
    1. Right click on sample and select Convert to Sampler Track.
    2. Select the note of the sample to stay in key.
    3. Hit edit.
    4. Select reverse on the right hand side of the editor
    5. Increase your high and low key range.

    Try to stay within an octave of the original sound, as the further you go from the original the more degraded the audio gets, and you also start running into timing issues.

    Beyond that though - if you want to play a sound with both normal forward samples and reverse samples, I would just suggest creating two sampler instruments - but if you have to keep it all in one track, reference the video from this post and you can map the editor differently which gives you this control of each individual note.

    #4 Reverse Reverb with Stereo Movement - 7:45

    Hyperbits Reverse Reverb with Stereo Movement

    Most producers are familiar with the reverse reverb trick. It's a great way to introduce an important lead or prominent sound in the mix.

    Commonly, it's done with vocals, but it can also be done with lead synths, piano chords, big bass sounds - really anything that you want to introduce via a long reversed reverb tail.

    This is the reverse reverb trick with a bit of swagger by introducing movement.

    Steps:
    1. Put a reverb on the beginning of any audio
    2. Increase the decay time to around 8-15 seconds
    3. Bounce in place or export the audio
    4. Reverse the printed audio
    5. Clean up any pops or abrupt tails
    6. Place a tremolo plugin on the reverse channel
    7. Automate the rate to slowly increase over the life of the reverse reverb

    This means that, depending on the depth, this rate moves left and right across the stereo spectrum - and by automating the rate - the reverse audio will start off slowly moving across the stereo spectrum, and automate to move faster and faster.

    Again, just a really simple but cool trick to get out of doing things the same old way all the time.

    #5 Adding Groove & Energy with Reverses - 10:17

    Hyperbits - Reverses for Energy

    Sometimes I view composing and writing on a digital computer really, as just an effort to humanize everything as much as possible. How can we make what we write digitally on a computer sound more human, more real, and less perfect.

    Now there are tons of things we can do to accomplish that - but one little thing I've noticed?

    Use reverses.

    You’re left with a melody that feels like it spits itself out towards the listener - it's got movement. It's more dynamic, And it just sounds more alive. And 99% of the time - that is a very, very good thing.

    Make sure to reference the video for more examples of this technique.

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    Finishing music is hard.

    In fact, I would argue it's the most difficult aspect of the creative process. It's just a lot easier to endlessly tweak your music than it is to confidently put the finishing touches on a song and release it out into the world.

    I get that. Not only in my own music, but in my student's music as well.

    In teaching my masterclass over the past year or so, I realized that a lot of upcoming producers just didn't really have a good sense for when their song was actually finished.

    And look, in reality, a song is never done until you say it is, but that can get you in trouble because technically, you could keep tweaking forever.

    So as I sat down to work out this issue, I realized that there are certain steps that I take 9 times out 10 when finishing music. That's where this checklist was born. Because that endless tweaking-adjusting-refining-modifying cycle needs to stop right now.

    Nothing - and I mean nothing - is more detrimental to your growth as a music producer than getting in the habit of NOT finishing your music.

    That said, download the FREE 8-step finishing checklist here, or continue reading for some further explanations.

    hyperbits-8-step-finishing-checklist-image

    1. The 8-Bar Check

    This was one of the first techniques I was taught as a brand new producer and continues to be one of the most valuable things I've ever learned in the music production space.

    The concept is simple: listen to your track in stages of 8 bars, and make sure that something happens. The goal is to create forward momentum and interest in the listener's ears - but this can be achieved in MANY forms.

    This could mean:
    • Adding loops
    • Removing loops
    • Adding a tonal perc
    • Removing a tonal perc
    • Bringing in the bass
    • Taking away the bass
    • Bringing in the vocals
    • Sustaining a pad
    • Bringing in an orchestral section
    • Anything you want...

    In reality, I could go on forever, right? Once you've created a memorable chord progression and/or melody, there are literally unlimited options as to what you can do to create and maintain interest.

    The point is simply this: every 8 bars, something needs to happen. End of story.

    Even if you have a good composition, if nothing changes, you run the risk of creating a stagnant, predictable, and boring track. Plus, music production is WAY too hard to let this be your downfall.

    2. The Soloing Technique

    The Soloing Technique is awesome. This is something I started doing naturally in the studio over time to try to uncover problems within my mix-downs.

    Again, this is fairly straight forward, but the benefits are tremendous. Next time you are working with a full section in your mix (like a drop), go ahead and loop the measure and slowly bring in ONE element at a time.

    Start with the kick, and then:
    • Bring in a drum element
    • Bring in another drum element
    • Bring in a synth lead
    • Bring in a synth chord
    • Bring in the sub bass
    • Bring in the mid-range bass
    • And so on....

    And what you'll find is that at one point or another, your mix will start to suck. And when your mix starts to suck, that's awesome. That's what needs to get addressed. The whole point of this exercise is to uncover exactly what isn't working in your mix.

    For example, maybe when you added those 4-to-the-floor claps, all the cymbals got lost, or maybe the kick drum got swallowed. Or the vocal got drowned out.

    The point here is that when you bring in one element at a time, you uncover that exact moment when something went wrong in your mix. And if you know when that moment occurs, you can easily jump into your mix, address the problem and move on.

    3. The Muting Technique

    Another amazing strategy to incorporate into your workflow and something I've spoken extensively about in my 8-Week Masterclass, but much like the soloing technique, the muting technique allows you to play everything at once, while slowly muting one element at a time. The goal here is to identify what is unnecessary to the mix.

    For example, if you just muted a synth layer in your breakdown, but couldn't here a difference in the overall mix, just cut away that layer.

    This technique isn't for suckers - be ruthless about cutting.

    If it isn't contributing to your mix and you can't even hear it's contribution, then it's just sucking away headroom. And when it comes to mastering and getting your tracks loud, you will need all that headroom.

    So again, be ruthless - and cut those damn layers that you don't actually need.

    4. The Mono Check

    I'm not a huge proponent on mixing in mono but it's a good idea to check in mono once in a while. Most commercial stereos and club systems are in stereo these days, but if your mix makes it to TV or get's played on some older club system you'll just want to make sure it sounds good.

    It's difficult to anticipate how a mix would sound bad in mono in advance, but some things I've uncovered in the past are mostly a result of losing some side information.

    Some examples would include when:
    • The kick is too loud
    • The lead is too loud
    • A secondary melody gets lost
    • Strings/pads get drowned out
    • Percussion gets lost

    Dealing with the issues a mono mix can create is fairly simple.

    Sometimes, if you switch your mix into mono, this is a great time to pan certain sounds and elements in order to create space in a mix.

    And from there, if the sound pops in mono, you have found a sweet spot, or in other words, a great stereo slot or position for that individual sound.

    5. RMS Metering Check

    It's very difficult to only write a few sentences about RMS metering, but the basic premise here is that you can compare your overall average loudness to other commercial tracks.

    That's what RMS is (again, without getting too technical). It's the average loudness of your track.

    And the fact that there are awesome FREE plugins (like Voxengo Span) out there means we have no excuse not to learn from fully finished, professional sounding tracks.

    That said, it's a great idea to check this towards the end of your production as an additional measure of loudness to compliment the most important tool: your ears.

    6. Commercial Stereo Check

    Part of the beauty of using studio monitor speakers is that they have an extremely flat sound - meaning if your track sounds good on monitors, it will most likely sound good everywhere else. Unfortunetely, it just isn't THAT simple.

    So every time you finish a track, make sure to take a listen on iPhone speakers, car stereos, club systems, iPod docking stations, etc - literally ANYWHERE you can listen will help creating the best possible mix.

    And when you listen, take notes!
    • Did the bass get muddy?
    • Did the vocal cut through?
    • Did the synths have room to breath?
    • How does your song compare to other songs on the same system?

    Keep taking notes and listening on every speaker imaginable, until you are happy with how your track sounds across all systems.

    7. Take a Break

    This should be easy, right? Just walk away from your computer for a few minutes every hour so you can avoid putting your ears through a clinical form of torture.

    And maybe, just maybe, take this a step further and get outside.

    Go for a walk. A run. Go to the beach. Do some yoga. Whatever.

    Just do something OTHER than obsess over the tiny details of your mix.

    What you might find is that you'll return to your studio with a clear head, and a much more macro-oriented approach that helps you put those necessary finishing touches on your track.

    8. The Fresh Listen

    That leads us to the final stage of the 8-Step Finishing Checklist. After taking a significant break from your track - at least 2-3 days - you can return back to your music and almost listen objectively.

    It's important to focus on the big picture here and not get too caught up in the little things.

    Big picture stuff would include:
    • Does the song convey emotion?
    • Do the builds make me excited to be alive?
    • Do the breaks make me shed an emo tear?
    • Are the melodies catchy af?

    THAT is the important stuff.

    If all that is clicking and good to go, you've just gotten through the Hyperbits Finishing Checklist and guess what, you're song is done.

    Now go and repeat the process (not just finishing, you know - like making another song) over and over again. And if by any chance you took that last fresh commercial listen and didn't like your track at all, start the Finishing Checklist over again.

    Finishing Checklist Videos

    Ready to incorporate the 8-Step Finishing Checklist into your workflow?

    Download the PDF or watch all 8 videos for further explanations and details surrounding each step of the Finishing Checklist.

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    These are the videos that I would almost feel required to credit for the music I’ve made and the production work I’ve completed for major labels like Sony, Universal, Island Def Jam, Virgin EMI Records, and Ultra Music.

    I’m talking about the videos that, upon watching them for the first time, immediately transformed my music, my workflow, and most importantly, my mindset as a producer.

    Since all these videos are 100% free to watch out there in the depths of the World Wide Web, I thought it would be really cool to compile them and share why I loved them so much. Some of these videos are huge. Again, we’re talking serious game changers here. So don’t be intimidated by the sheer depth of knowledge that these videos share.

    IMPORTANT: This article contains first six most influential music production resources. To get the additional six videos, simply click here.

    Compare this list to the content you might find in a 4-week course and you’ll be amazed to find out how much quality stuff you’re getting for free here. Don’t try to consume it all at once. Take your time, and get ready to have your mind-blown.

    1. ill.Methodology Workshop – Chapter 1 (42 Minutes)

    We all hit roadblocks as producers. We get stuck. We lack motivation. We get overwhelmed. And when that happens, we start buying new gear, downloading new plugins, sound treating our room, watching YouTube tutorials for days – the list of potential “solutions” is never ending.

    But, according to this workshop, the answer to our production woes is actually fairly simple. It’s grounded in our psyche, organization, and workflow. I won’t give out too many spoilers because this is a MUST WATCH video. One spoiler alert, however, is this: learning to make music in the mornings will have a significant impact on your productivity.

    This tiny adjustment to my music making habits has affected my musical output indefinitely and played a huge role in helping me finish 42 original tracks and remixes in roughly a year and a half between 2014 and 2015. Coming from someone who made 12 tracks in all of 2013, I thought this was pretty groundbreaking.

    2. UKF Meets Kill The Noise (4 Minutes)

    In just under four minutes, Kill the Noise blew my mind with his vulnerability and sincere approach to life and making music in what feels like a very over-saturated market. That said, I just want to preface my next point with the fact that I truly believe that sometimes the most important production advice I come across revolves around mindset.

    Around the 1 minute mark, Kill the Noise speaks about how he created a race in his own mind that essentially doesn’t exist, and how sometimes it’s important to just remove yourself and say “Hey, I’m making music and I’m having fun – and there doesn’t need to be much more than that”.

    My takeaway? Just relax. Have fun. Making music is awesome, but you’ll have ups and downs just like in any other life pursuit, and that’s perfectly OK.

    3. Elite Session with Steve Duda at Pyramind (2.5 Hours)

    All I have to say is wow.

    Producer and engineer Steve Duda visited Pyramind in San Francisco to conduct a 3-hour workshop detailing his production techniques and his approach to electronic music production. Duda, the creator of Xfer Records and the legendary Serum synthesizer, offered up top tier information on all aspects of the music business, sound design, and marketing.

    Only in this video can you understand a musical path so obscure, starting in a cubicle for a technology help line in San Francisco, to helping out the Nine Inch Nails in New Orleans, to becoming a proficient engineer in Hollywood, to building the first realistic drum sampler, and eventually, to starting his own company Xfer Records. This video is equally inspiring as it is chalk full of technical wisdom, and really informative for anyone who thinks that becoming a touring artist is the way to make a substantial career in music.

    4. NGHTMRE Ableton Demo + Q&A @ The Loft UCSD (2 Hours)

    The upcoming electronic production prodigy NGHTMRE talks on creative inventiveness, coming up in the scene, his personal Ableton tricks, and much, MUCH more.

    NGHTMRE goes inside Ableton to demonstrate exactly what his project files look like. It’s this type of rare transparency that is beyond informative.

    And, as a short bonus, check out this ridiculously awesome 70-minute video where NGHTMRE records some pots and pans and implements it into his music:

    5. Budi Voogt – Music Marketing Academy (1 Hour)

    More info: click here

    The Music Marketing Academy is an online school that teaches you how to grow your audience and get more exposure through leveraging the online marketing. There is a set of four free videos you can watch if you sign up for Budi’s email list.

    His free video series will show you what it takes to succeed in music, deconstructing the release that kick-started San Holo’s growth to over 180,000 followers in a year. Budi’s videos gave me an almost foolproof example towards gaining traction in the industry, utilizing the importance of a strategic EP launch.

    6. Mike Monday’s Loopitis Cure (PDF)

    More info: click here

    We’ve all had trouble with Loopitis. You know how it goes… you write a musical idea and find yourself thinking that you’re onto something special – but two hours later you are still looping the same damn 16-bar idea, and it doesn’t seem to be progressing at all.

    Luckily, Mike Monday – a really smart music production coach living in Australia, made a beautiful little PDF that shows you exactly how to break this never ending loop. His method is simple, fast, and insanely effective.

    Want More?

    To get an email covering six additional music production videos that are just as powerful in sheer knowledge and inspiration, simply sign up below. Hope you guys get a lot out of this!

    Get The Other 6 Videos Here (PDF)

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    I'm not gonna lie, this is one of my favorite tips to share.

    There's just something about manipulating the perceived width of a drop that gets my engineer mind all sorts of amped up. And no, I don't care how nerdy that sounded.

    What is the Mono Build Trick?

    At its core, the mono build trick is simply the automation of the stereo image towards mono, so that a later element of the song (usually a drop) will appear wider and bigger.

    It's a sneaky little trick meant to deceive the listener. It is NOT meant to be obvious or upfront, but rather, something fairly hidden and subtle.

    And because of the need for subtlety when executing the mono-build trick, it can be easily abused. So, after you've watched the video above - here are a few additional tips so you don't fall into these amateur traps:

    1. Slowly Over Time

    A quick, sudden & drastic change towards mono will be very noticeable and sound harsh and abrasive. With this type of effect, it's best to be subtle. The listener shouldn't even be aware that it is happening. Thus, slowly automating towards mono over time will result in the most subtle, transparent effect.

    Think 4 bars at a minimum, and more realistically - 8 bars.

    2. Stereo Drops

    The entire point of sending your track towards a mono signal is to make the song appear more stereo and wider in the drop. If your drop is mostly mono, you might loose out on a lot of the benefits of the drop. As a precaution, if your drop is very mono-heavy, simply add a stereo/reverb drenched layer to accentuate the mono-build effect.

    3. Too Much Mono

    It's easy to get overly excited about this trick and try to automate your build ups to as much as 70-100% mono. That's crazy-talk. It makes the mix abrasive, harsh, and ugly sounding (trust me, I've done that plenty of times). Instead, keep things subtle here and don't go further than 40-60% at most.

    At the end of the day, executing the mono-build trick is like anything else in music production - the effect is only as good as the source material. This means we should really spend our time focusing on creating beautiful compositions, exciting build-ups, and memorable drops, and then - and only then - should we worry about an effect like this.

    That said, this trick is best applied at the absolute end of a production - like in the mastering stage.

    Want 8-weeks worth of tips like this? Check out my Masterclass.

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    In mid 2011, Audien tweeted "Why have I never used distortion?"

    This tweet might be more significant than we realize, since his next release was his breakthrough track "Wayfarer" on Anjunabeats.

    Most producers, at some point in their production journey, come across the revelation that is saturation and distortion. It's almost too simple, but these analogue emulators can really be the difference between sounding like you made your music on a laptop, using stock software, versus sounding like you made a track in a multi-million dollar studio.

    So with that in mind, here are my favorite 20 saturation and distortion tools, paired with a real-mix-example which demonstrates how I might use the plugin. Enjoy!

    Sound Toys Decapitator

    1. SOUND TOYS - DECAPITATOR

    This is pretty much the BEST saturation plugin in the game. It can produce a huge variety of analogue-style saturation tones, plus, the amazing ‘punish’ button allows you to use the saturation knob at an extra 20 DBs.

    Side-note – Hyperbits Masterclass students can receive the academic Sound Toys discount and get 50% off the entire Sound Toys suite. This is pretty much the most incredible plugin deal in the entire industry because you are getting the entire Sound Toys Bundle for roughly the cost of just one Sound Toys plugin.

    Real Mix Example:
    Next time your vocals are falling flat in your mix, don’t reach for an EQ.

    Instead, dial in some subtle drive (maybe 3-4), switch the style to the EMI (E) setting, set the mix between 70-80% and listen to your vocal gain new clarity, edge, and brightness as it starts to cut through the mix.

    Fab Filter Saturn

    2. FAB FILTER - SATURN

    The Saturn has some really powerful presets emulating some crunchy amps and tape saturators. And the fact that it is a multi-band saturator makes it one of the most malleable, tweak-able distortion units out there.

    Real Mix Example:

    Sometimes, a sub can sound great completely clean. Other times, it needs some extra dirt to sit right in a mix. Slap on the Saturn, select the preset ‘Best Of – Back in the Day’, set the mix somewhere between 20-30%. Tweak the multi-band parameters to taste. Works ninety-percent of the time, every time.

    Waves GTR Amp

    3. WAVES – GTR AMP AND BASS AMP

    For mid-range distorted basses, I've yet to find anything better for added color and weight. Absolutely love the bass amps in there.

    Real Mix Example:
    Next time your mid-range bass needs help create that ‘wall of sound’ in a drop or full section, put the Waves GTR Amp on a send-return bus, select the preset ‘Bass Mo-Town – Below & Above’ and dial in the send to taste. This should really sound full and crunchy.

    Ohm Force Ohmicide

    4. OHM FORCE – OHMICIDE

    Potentially the most powerful distortion on this list, look no further if you are going for a wow factor in terms of sheer color, depth and weight.

    Real Mix Example:
    If you are looking to make a trance 2.0 bass, something distorted and appropriate for Anjunabeats or Enhanced, apply the Ohmicide and select the Bass #4 preset. Tweak the bands until they match a reference track both in color and energy.

    Bonus! Want to see me use thing thing in action? Check out this 47 minute long video about how I use saturation & distortion in electronic music.

    Camel Audio Camel Crusher

    5. CAMEL AUDIO – CAMEL CRUSHER (FREE)

    Camel Audio seems to have fallen off the map, but at one point, this was a free plugin, so if you do some digging you can find it somewhere on the inter-webs. No excuse not to try this one - really strong and dirty sounds.

    Real Mix Example:
    In your next future-house production, try adding the Camel Crusher to your top hollow-bass layer, set the preset to ‘British Clean’ and turn the master mix-knob down to 30-45%. Assuming sound-choice and other processing is in place, this should be a nice energy layer.

    Noveltech Character

    6. PLUGIN ALLIANCE – NOVELTECH CHARACTER

    So this plugin isn't JUST a saturator, but man is it beautiful. Apply liberally to anything and everything.

    Bonus: try the Noveltech Vocal Enhancer for a slightly brighter more vocal-ready color!

    Real Mix Example:
    Pick ONE element in your mix that needs some attention. It can be anything – vocals, percussion, a lead synth, even a bus or group – throw on the Noveltech Character and turn up the character knob.

    Or, play around with the super powerful presets. Don’t over think this plugin btw – if it sounds great, use it.

    D16 Redoptor

    7. D16 - REDOPTER

    The Redopter is potentially the most underrated plugin on this list. It's got a very specific fuzziness to it that I absolutely love.

    Real Mix Example:
    Most of us don’t sing well enough to add our own vocals into a song.

    However, if you happen to write a cool ambient melody, try recording your voice 3 times (keep one take in the middle, pan one hard left, pan one hard right), and apply the Redopter on the group with plenty of reverb.

    No guarantees, but what you might be left with is a beautiful, almost British and worldly sounding vocal.

    Softtube Saturation Knob

    8. SOFTTUBE – SATURATION KNOB (FREE)

    Another freebie, but this thing is great. The Saturation Knob is an extremely powerful one-knob saturation tool and a great alternative to the Sausage Fattener, the Waves one Knob, or even the Decapitator for those on a budget.

    Real Mix Example:
    Try this baby on lead sounds – synths, guitars, saxophones, vocals – whatever. Switch the Saturation type to ‘Keep High’ and dial in the saturation knob to 30-40%. Honestly, this plugin sounds way too good to be free.

    Dada Life Sausage Fattener

    9. DADA LIFE – SAUSAGE FATTENER

    The Sausage Fattener is actually part saturator, part compressor, part limiter.

    But regardless, stop cranking the fatness knob too far. It can be very useful to thicken up a sound and squash it just right when used it in subtle amounts!

    That said, this plugin really is amazing, and super affordable. There are much better, less metallic distortion and fattener plugins out there, but at this price, it can’t be beat.

    Real Mix Example:
    If you are looking for some extra loudness in your overall mix, slap the sausage on your master, and don’t touch it again.

    I know this sounds crazy but...no drive, no color, nothing.

    Just insert it on your master channel before the limiter and leave it alone. This breaks a lot of production ‘rules’ but can add some extra edge and loudness to your mix.

    Izotope Trash

    10. IZOTOPE – TRASH 2

    I think the key word here is: versatile.

    Housing tons of drive algorithms, pre/post filters, custom wave shaping, and visualization. On top of that, the dry-wet knob gives you ultimate control, no matter how far you push your sounds.

    Real Mix Example:
    Ever throw some drum fills into your mix and find they just sound dead, dull and boring? Send all of your fills to a bus and apply the Trash 2.

    Select ‘Drive – Smooth Overtones’ and turn up the drive knob liberally, up to 50%, and then turn down the mix knob to taste (I usually end up between 5-15%).

    Those dull fills should sound pretty awake and alive at this point.

    Waves One Knob

    11. WAVES – ONE KNOB DRIVER

    Despite the single control – yes there is only one knob to turn – this plugin offers some versatile distortions at a fairly reasonable price point.

    Real Mix Example:
    This thing sounds great on vocals – the next time you want that distorted vocal effect in your track, try the One Knob Driver. Not much to explain here – just turn the knob way up until you reach the desired effect.

    Klangheim SDRR

    12. KLANGHELM – SDRR

    The SDRR is incredibly versatile.

    Sure, you can saturate your music to add warmth, depth, and character – but you can even add some movement to your saturation with the ridiculously cool and powerful DRIFT control.

    Real Mix Example:
    On your drum bus, or main loop – select the ‘DR – Bringing Out The Room’ preset, turn up the Character setting to about 40% (still more warm than sizzle), and turn the Drift knob up to 75-80%. Amazing subtle saturation with added movement, or as Klanghelm calls it – liveliness.

    Sound Toys Radiator

    13. SOUND TOYS - RADIATOR

    The reason this plugin exists – it’s sole purpose on earth – is for you to TURN UP THE HEAT.

    I’m not even joking.

    Everyone is striving for analogue warmth in their digital productions, and this might be the ultimate ticket. Turn up that input gain and listen as your production comes to life.

    Real Mix Example:
    With another simplistic interface, don’t over-think this plugin. Try dialing in small amounts of input gain on any of your groups.

    For a drum bus, try turning down the treble 1 notch, while dialing the input 2 notches. Turn down the mix if needed – this usually groups my drums very nicely.

    UAD Moog

    14. UAD – MOOG MULTIMODE FILTER

    If you are lucky enough to hear this baby in action, you’ll understand why it’s so special.

    It just sounds so damn expensive.

    Maybe that’s because it emulates the classic hardware Minimoog almost perfectly.

    Real Mix Example:
    Liberally open the cutoff slightly over the course of a build or break – I’ve yet to come across a plugin that sounds quite as nice.

    UAD Raw

    15. UAD – RAW

    This monster emulates a 1970’s distortion. Most avid UAD users will likely talk about how great it sounds on guitars, but the warm, crunchy distortions I’ve been achieving in my bass sounds is what makes this thing so special.

    Real Mix Example:
    Grab a deep-house sounding bass from Reaktor’s Monark. Set a low-pass around 600hz, and then apply the UAD Raw – keep the distortion very low, but turn up the filter and the volume.

    What you might be left with is a very Anjunadeep sounding bass.

    Fielding DSP Reviver

    16. FIELDING DSP – REVIVER

    I discovered the Reviver when one of my Masterclass students suggested this as an alternative to the famous Oxford Inflator.

    Most of the plugins on this list emulate some sort of analogue gear – the Reviver doesn’t do that, and doesn’t claim to.

    The entire point of the Reviver is to retain a very clear, un-smashed signal when pushing, saturating

    Real Mix Example:
    Turn up band #3, the ultimate ‘3rd Order Harmonics’ – also referred to as added ‘punch’ or ‘detail’ in a mix. Apply on a drum bus for ultimate punchiness.

    PSP Vintage Warmer

    17. PSP – VINTAGE WARMER 2

    If you’re like me – this plugin most likely has fallen into the ‘I own it, I use it, but have no idea what I am doing with it’ category at some point.

    While there are some great videos that might help you wrap your head around it here and here. At the end of the day, this plugin is great for subtle drive and weight on a master or group channel.

    Real Mix Example:
    Don’t even bother with the presets on this one – just add a few DBs of ‘Drive’ to the master or a bus – will give surprising amounts of character and beef to pretty much any layer.

    SPL Twin Tube

    18. SPL – TWIN TUBE

    What makes the Twin-Tube unique is the dual knobs – one for Saturation and one for Harmonic overtones.

    Use these two together in small amounts, and you have a very versatile plugin.

    Real Mix Example:
    Next time your track is suffering from some inherent dullness, try adding some ‘air’ by applying harmonic distortion via the Twin Tube.

    Apply to your pad/string group and listen to your production start to sizzle.

    URS Saturation

    19. URS – SATURATION

    If the Sound Toys Decapitator had a younger brother (aside from the Radiator) the URS Saturation tool would take the cake.

    With six vintage pre amplifier algorithms, two analog tape saturation algorithms, and two transformer core saturation algorithms – this is one powerful little plugin.

    Real Mix Example:
    There is something about the smoothness with which the URS Saturation plugin works that directs me towards using this thing on Synths – anything that sounds overly digital.

    If you have a lead that sounds generic and very ‘preset’ like – try adding some URS saturation for analogue warmth and tonality that feels and sounds expensive.

    Waves Maserati

    20. WAVES – MASERATI GTi

    Anyone who has ever tried to undertake the creation of huge Audien-like super-saws will know that the Maserati is part of the puzzle. It delivers distortion, color and loudness meant for guitars – but is applicable to so much more.

    Real Mix Example:
    When building your Audien style super-saw stack, isolate a single note lead playing the main melody. Keep the Maserati on the clean setting, and try generously dialing in the presence – this should add some crisp, guitar-like over-tones to an otherwise digital synth layer.

    And there you have it - 20 Saturation Plugins for Electronic Music, and some specific examples as to how to apply them.

    Want to learn more about saturation? Want to see me using distortion in my productions? Click here and receive a 47-minute long video detailing how I use saturation and distortion.

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    In the world of modern electronic music production, it is critical to introduce more organic and timeless sounds into your music.

    Electronic music, by nature, is digital.

    And when things get overly digital, productions sound flat, predictable, even boring.

    But that doesn’t mean we have to limit our productions to only digital sounds.

    In fact, using organic instruments (or at the very least, emulations of organic instruments) is one of the best ways to generate some much needed analogue warmth and timbre in your music.

    Pianos, somewhat obviously, are an extremely valuable tool to any producer looking to create a familiar and commercially viable song.

    However, we all know how damn hard it can be to get that organic piano sound we all hear in professional mixes.

    In this post, we are going to demystify exactly that - how to get a professional piano sound through proper layering, processing chains and humanization.

    Which Pianos Do I Choose?

    With hundreds of piano libraries out there, it has never been easier to get a great sounding piano tone without the need for a fancy studio and a $3000 grand piano.

    Below is a breakdown of what we have come across as some of the best sounding piano samplers today.

    Every piano library has something special about it and yields a specific tone and purpose.


    • The Giant: Great cinematic sound
    • Alicia's Keys: Amazing pop record tone
    • The Grandeur: Brilliant low end warmth
    • Steinway Piano: Logic’s best piano, well-rounded sound
    • Korg M1: Classic deep house sound
    • Waves Electric 88: Crazy cool Rhodes sounds
    • TruePianos: Perhaps the most clean & organic pianos here
    • Nexus Pianos: Our favorite presets are the Ballad Grand Piano (nice organic piano), the Dance Piano 2K7 (mimics Korg M1 nicely) and Ibiza (this, is esssentially Avicii’s piano)

    By no means is this list comprehensive, but that’s exactly the point - these are our hand-selected, absolute favorite pianos.

    You know, the stuff we actually reach for every time we work on a track.

    Why Should We Layer Pianos?

    Despite the fact that each of the pianos mentioned above is a solid choice for your music, they all tend to have certain weak points as well.

    These weaknesses can be heard in a variety of ways: from the actual tone itself, to the fullness of the frequency spectrum, it is often necessary to layer multiple pianos to obtain that rich and full, modern sound.

    Organic Pianos

    When it comes to frequency, for instance, Kontakt pianos like Alicias Keys and the Grandeur are really frequency dependent. Alicias Keys has nice high-mids but lacks low-end weight and power. The Grandeur has tremendous low end but almost no definition in the upper register.

    Free Video: Piano Workshop covering Advanced Layering Techniques [35-min]

    Separately, these pianos usually fall a bit short, but together, they create a lush and full spectrum of sound that can carry its weight in modern electronic productions with little to no processing necessary.

    Synthetic Pianos

    Sometimes, though - it’s all about tone.

    Nexus, Steinway, and Waves are all much more synthetic sounding than the Kontakt pianos mentioned above. Synthetic pianos (because of their envelope) can have significantly more attack and bite, so they are great to use in more upbeat dance music.

    That said, it often helps to layer very synthetic sounds with more organic and real tones. This layering process creates a much fuller sound and brings a unique flavor to your pianos.

    In short, by layering - you achieve that digital presence with the analogue warmth. And that is a beautiful combination...

    Layering Techniques Made Simple

    If you’re reading this and thinking - hey, this is great and all, but how do we do this in practice? How do I know which 2-3 pianos I should layer together? When do I need to do this?

    Layering pianos can be broken down into these simple methods…

    • Frequency splitting
    • Stereo spacing and panning
    • Compression levels

    Frequency Splitting

    By determining which pianos sounds better in the lows, mids, and highs, you can utilize that specific piano for only that frequency layer.

    Hesitant? Having trouble identifying frequency bands? Try using a frequency analyzer in addition to using your ears. This can often help you determine which pianos are ripe in certain frequency areas.

    Stereo spacing

    Stereo spacing can be used to make sure your piano mix isn’t conflicting, or worse, masking.

    The truth is, most piano libraries are created by recording real pianos. When they mic and record these pianos, it is common to have the sound travel from left to right (or low to high).

    You can take advantage of this because most pianos have the ability to switch this direction. This means one layer could move from left to right while the other layer does the opposite. You can kiss frequency clashing, masking, and phasing goodbye.

    On top of that, simple panning can also add various benefits, like thickening a piano, making it wider or even just a perceived tonal difference.

    Compression

    Compression for layering? Really? Just try it

    One overly compressed piano layered with a dry dynamic piano can result in added punch and clarity.

    But don’t just try one of these layering techniques, a combination of all three is usually the way to go.

    How Do We Process These Layers?

    We could write a whole separate blog post on ways to process piano groups, but to simplify the process we’ve broken it down into 4 easy steps…

    • EQ to sculpt
    • EQ to emphasize
    • Glue compression
    • Single Reverb

    EQ

    EQ should be used to sculpt parts of the spectrum where your pianos could be building up in frequency content. Look for muddiness around 2-400 Hz and harshness from 2-8 kHz.

    On top of that, EQ can also be used to emphasize certain sweet spots of your layers. Maybe your high-end piano sounds nice with a 1 dB boost around 750 Hz. Try boosting it there and then cutting the same spot in another piano layer.

    Glue compression

    In small amounts, compression can help gel multiple instruments and aid in creating one, pumping sound.

    For pianos, try medium to long attack times and quicker release times with a softer knee to have subtle compression take place. No more than 2-4 dB of gain reduction with a ratio 2:1 works well here, but don’t be afraid to experiment!

    For some added coloration, attack, pop, and yes, some compression as well - try playing with the depth knob of the OTT compressor.

    At the end of the day, peanut butter is to jelly as the OTT Compressor is to pianos.

    Watch these processing techniques in action: FREE 35-min Piano Workshop

    Reverb

    One of the best ways to get your pianos to merge into one super piano is to apply a group reverb to them. Having one nice reverb on the group can do a nice job placing the pianos in the same space.

    There isn’t really one type of reverb you should use here, but make sure to experiment with decay times and the types of reverb used.

    How to Humanize Pianos

    In a digital production, your piano is only as good as how real the performance sounds.

    Try changing up the velocity of different notes in your chord progression or melody. This will make the piano breath a lot more and let your composition sound much more human. (If you’re a Logic user, the humanize function is a big help here).

    Bonus: Velocity also drastically changes the tone of your piano. Experiment with lower velocities to warm up the piano tone.

    Note Timing

    The timing of when notes start can also help, big time.

    If you tend to draw in MIDI notes right on the grid you might want to change up some of the quantization of your notes. Try turning off the grid and sliding notes early and late in time.

    Pedals

    Pedals are also very valuable tools for any of you piano players out there. You can often assign this to the MOD wheel of most software pianos too! Using a pedal will allow your piano part to go in and out of longer release times and create a much more pleasant sounding flow.

    Release

    Using release variation can really help to allow the piano samples to shine through the mix and feel as if they were recorded and not just sampled.

    Delay

    Adding some tasteful delay can really fill up the sound of your piano, help to create an amazingly rich atmosphere and help with humanization.

    Summary

    Layering organic and synthetic pianos is truly the ultimate solution to solving the naturally occurring faults and weak-spots we tend to find in most piano plugins. Often times, the world of layering can lead to extremely convoluted and frankly, bad advice.

    Hopefully this article has not only cleared up a lot of the mystery in working with pianos, but has inspired you to tackle piano production with some level of creativity and confidence.

    If you are still struggling to wrap your head around these concepts, make sure to watch this 35-minute Ultimate Guide to Layering Pianos Workshop.

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