Generally Perplexed About Pc Music Creation ...

Hi there. I’ve been going through the Renoise forum here for a while now, so I thought I’d finally register myself. I must say that everyone here has been very forthcoming and helpful (and really quick might I add) to respond to one’s queries, no matter how inane or trivial that the question might appear to be — In the words of The Crow: “Nothing is Trivial!” And I apologise in advance for the length of this post, but desperate times call for desperate queries.

Anyway, I am in a state of perpetual anxiety atm regarding many facets of creating music on the PC today. I will say now that I have had a lot of classical music training behind me, so I already understand many of the theories involved in musical structure, composition and performance. I also come from a MOD-tracking background (from a decade past!) in which I have had quite some success in developing good sounding 8-bit 4-channel Amiga tunes. Also, my desire is only to use the PC itself for 100% musical creation at the moment, so the only hardware I am willing to purchase is maybe a dummy keyboard at this time.

What I DON’T have right now is the technical knowledge required to properly do PC-based sound generation, mixing and mastering (again, because I’ve been AWOL from all this since the early 90s). THIS is where I am falling down with my self-education on how it all goes together nowadays - I am literally scrounging around for information here and there, trying to make sense of what I must do and when. This creates an extra layer of doubt about the whole process with the limited information I have discovered so far.

What I need more than anything is some kind of “A-Z Starter’s Guide / Tutorial” that houses some good demonstration examples (like how to build up a song mix) so that one can examine how a soundmix is built up from scratch. I feel that the problem lies not in the fact that someone can just tell you what an EQ, filter or effect does … but HOW and WHY they are used to develop certain qualities for one’s eventual “soundscape”. Surely there must be a common direction that nearly everyone follows when they want to establish some of the defining parameters in their mix?

I think what counts more than anything is :-

  1. how to properly balance the instruments (albeit temporarily I assume) … ie the method of relegating different sounds to the foreground or background (via EQs, filters or effects) and maybe the reasons for this?

  2. how and why the various “sonic environments” are created to acheive certain characteristics within the soundmix … ie improving upon basslines, drums, harmonies or melodies in terms of “wet / dry” combinations, if not allocating stereo separation techniques? - (something I read about once earlier)

  3. the technical side of mixing these sounds (such as dB levels, compression/limiting and final mixing and mastering) … ie to not overdo anything and maybe how to make the job a little less complex when sorting it all out?

  4. anything else that I haven’t thought of yet.

Is there a decent enough educational package out there somewhere that can go through the main steps involved for the budding beginner? Whilst this may already be common knowledge to all you experienced musicians out there today, you must still had to have learned some of the “basics” involved in maximising what you have generated. I know there are an infinite number of sounds and styles that one can create, but they must all still be adhering to specific standards of the soundmixing process.

I am near my wit’s end right now trying to do everything right and correct the first time out. I’d rather not delve into an avid musical masterpiece creation, only to find out that my efforts were wasted not knowing about a particular element that would have made a world of difference. Then again, I’m sure that certain “mistakes” can be fixed later on in the final mixing.

I wish to do mainly electronica, rock-y and even some orchestral music in my projects, but I also want to do it all 100% inside the PC (ie only using software-based sound generation). Therefore I need to establish which software package(s) will best suit my needs (Renoise will be one of course, but I have heard many good things about Propellorhead’s Reason suite). I will also have to use all manner of samples/loops, VST sounds and effects as well as any other sound-making utilities on offer to create my sonic masterpieces.

Again, I am really after some sort of self-contained tutorial package (be it a generic explanation or something specific to a particular software package - either way, one that goes through the tedious process of generating a song mix from start to finish). I am planning to upgrade to something like a 2.8Ghz wonderbox with plenty of RAM and HD to boot (of which recommendations to the best kind of one I should buy would be very helpful indeed).

Any advice, tips or tricks of the trade on what I have asked above would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Warwick (aka WarGaet).

dear warwick … some questions of yours running thru my mind times ago. so much how-to’s in theroretical thermes. but you will not find a complete handbook for mixing or what ever … coz not only your notes and music is in you hand or better ears ;) … also the sound / the mix. listen to cd’s / other mixes … how a song is build, how it sounds … you know something about music creating … now try to do a good sound / mix. use your ears and you personal imagination.

ok there are some basics like what fx makes the sound louder, what can i use for stereo-sound enhancement on instruments … but search the net. experience makes your knowledge … i’m mixing my songs since years - only now i can say: i can do a fine good mix … and i’m increasing my knowledge on every new song and mix …

simply - start, try and do it! you are able to use some build in basic fx in Renoise - listen to the changes of sound by playing around with these fx.

(for basic stuff like what is a compressor … search the net, look for some basic books of music creation … the world of digital music is so big …)

maybe somebody has the time to post all his knowledge and can describe in a good simple way how e.g. a compression works … but how e.g. a bass-line should sound is finally your turn!

I advise you to visit a large library near you and loan some music production/engineering books.
The majority of modern publications go deeply into PC music production and VST instruments etc.
I learned most of my mixing and mastering skills from books.

You should check out the “Grid” forum at
It’s primarily a Drum’n’bass production forum, but the amount of knowledge that the guys there share is awsome. Just go there and do a search on anything you have questions about, and you will find the answers there.
Here’s a direct link:

good luck

play with it and resist the usrge to give into frustration. :yeah:

also, be willing to abandon all your notions of music theory (getting stoned helps there)

You can find some free tutorials here:

Thank you for your speedy responses again.

I do play with things such as delay, reverb and filters, so they do make a difference to the individual sounds … nonetheless, my biggest concern is that I have no idea what I am meant to acheive in the overall soundmix.

I am not actually asking for anything specific - what I really need is something to start things off with, such as a package that has a few sample sound files and a complementary tutorial which tells you how to fiddle with the various features to create some soundmixes. This way, at least you are getting a “hands-on” approach and hearing the results of such fiddling, instead of trying to “imagine in your head” what on earth a book is trying to say.

The other thing that has me worried is simply the fact of understanding whether a certain “boosting” that I implement is actually the right one. When I only have a choice of a few (like reverb, delay or echo), I’m almost positive that using these on a thin-sounding bassline or set of drums is probably overloading it all in the actual mix and is not actually a credible way of acheiving a certain “effect”. Many a time I have come across a wonderful sounding analog bass, only for it to not “puch through” far enough over the rest of the mix - but when you simply amplify the sound, of course this becomes way too much for the listener, so there must be better way of making it stand out without making it “stand out”.

As with most beginners out there, I am just using a standard set of hifi speakers and an amp (the good ol’ 20 y.o. units with separate componentry which are more “hi-fi” than today’s crap all-in-one joke-a-rama’s). Anyway, this too I’m sure can have an impact on what you are mixing, but at least it’s better than shitty unpowered desktop ones. btw, can anyone recommend a good all-round “monitor reference” set of two speakers (preferably powered, or let me know of a good amp to go with them), because I wouldn’t mind doshing out the cash for such an important element in one’s musical creation.

Any help, and I mean ANY help, would be great. My philosophy in life is that “Any advice is good … I just sort out all the junk later and I am left with the really good stuff” ;). Thanks again for your attention in this matter.

Waves, a maker of Mix/Mastering plugins have released a book accompanied with 6 full song projects (no RNS’s unfortunately <_< ). I havnt tried it, and it cost $80. Production - Mixing - Mastering with Waves

That’s okay. As I said before, I’m not after anything that covers a specific program (although it would still be nice to know the intricacies of one), the main objective for me is to gain an understanding of all the basic concepts from A-Z. Then again, I think that I have been trying to jump the gun as it were to get a handle on everything before I even commit to making a tune. So far, I have been coming up with some ideas in the Renoise tracker for a tune, but I have been so hung up over “how they sound” in the compositional stage that I haven’t wanted to go any further until I know they are all working together 100%. Maybe this is what is wrong with me atm … I am worrying about the wrong things at the wrong time.

Anyway, here’s a different take on what I may be after. What business should I be taking of and when? I can only guess that when I am generating a multi-timbral (multi-instrumental) composition with both foreground and background harmonies etc that I should only be concerned about getting a “general outline” of what I want to acheive. However, I at this stage I keep wondering if all this stuff I am building up is actually too much in this rudimentary mix, so I then start getting hung up over what I should then make softer or louder etc.

I think I’m just a perfectionist who just can’t get anything perfect the first time over, so I start fretting over things that maybe I don’t even have to concern myself about at certain stages. That’s why I need something that can take me through some of the basic steps (even if they only apply to the tutorial), because I am still guessing at what is actually necessary at particular parts of the music creation process.

Anyway, thanks for putting up with my yapping, and I’m sure that when I get this all together properly, you won’t be hearing from me nearly as much (except maybe to help other people like myself in the near future). Peace. WG.

(disclaimer : I am not a mastering genius, I had not enough coffee today, there are alot of typos and this is highly unsorted)

a few things I learned in the past and which might be the things you want to know :

  • know your setup. play tracks that are known to be mixed in a good way for hours and pay attention to the way it sounds on your setup. for example I did listen to hiphop-beats with known-to-be-fat basedrums on my setup for hours, just to learn what a fat basedrum sounds like on my system. (this ofcourse means you have to have a setup with an atleast okayish frequency output … if you use some of those crappy multimedia-cardboard-speakers (“brüllwürfel”) it wont do you any good.) also pay attention to the mids and highs and then try to mix your songs so they sound comparable to that. for example, I can do fat basedrums blindly now, because I know how they have to sound, they are never too low or too thick when I am done mixing my songs (its another thing for the other parts, but heck.)

  • delay and reverb for me are effects for making up a song. they are not essentials for mixing/mastering. as a matter of fact, I almost never use any reverb, I think its totally useless. the only times I ever use it is to add a tail to a ultrasmall hihat or sometimes to fill the gaps in self-made drumloops. Delay is an effect I use often (all the time actually), but as a part of the songstructure itself, not as an mixing/mastering effect.

  • get some basic mastering plugs. Namely a good EQ, a good limiter and maybe one of those mastering-exciter-things (I dont know whats the real name for it, I will explain later what it does.)

  • an essential thing to know is that every instrument should have a frequency range devoted to it. this thing can be done to total exhaustion, for me there are only two things I do : the first thing is that the basedrum and the bassounds have to be seperated, because if they share the same low frequencies the mix begins to smear and the lows are a terrible mess wobbling out of your speakers. (You know you did something wrong when the bass and base play at the same time and you dont hear the base and the bass but some low “blobb” crawling out of your speaker.) This is something important in all those styles like hiphop/D&B/techno etc. (basically everything with an synthed, fat bassline and very fat basedrums).
    This is something that can be done with total mathematically precision, by measuring the basedrums and the basses frequency range and calculating stuff and eqing them right, however I dont have time for this shit, so what I basically do is to leave the basedrum as it is and put a renoise-hipassfilter (the 24db version) on the bass-track, put resonance to zero and slowly close the filter by clicking on the right-arrow until I sounds okay for my ears. (and dont pay attention to the frequency being displayed, there is something wrong with that). sometimes (!!!) its also necessary to cut the basedrum abit.
    also, a very valuable thing I once read somehwhere is the mixing of basssounds. most people boost the low frequencies (like under 150 Hz) if they think their bass is too thin, however, a good way is to boost frequencies around 250-350 Hz first, because most basses have enough bottom, you just need more of the mids and highs of the bass so its more audible.

the other thing is with samples or any other sound, simply use an bandpassfilter or an EQ to dim/remove unwanted frequencies. Like if you sample some strings that you want to be high, cut all the lower bottom frequencies, because you dont need them. same goes for a padsynth, just kill all the low stuff, you dont need it.

  • compress stuff. I have to say I dont really know much about compressors, I also dont use my compressors with my ears but my eyes (mostly atleast).
    there are two main uses for compressors for me : make quiet parts louder and clip highly dynamic samples.
    first of all, I can really recommend brams exoscope, its a really great vst-oscilloscope, you will need this.
    making quiet parts louder is achieved by making the loud parts more quiet and raise the overall volume. clipping highly dynamic stuff is similar, you just “clip” the high parts so they dont take up too much dynamic space in the overall song (an example would be percussion-loops).
    I cant give you much advice here, its a question of trial-and-error and learning over time. maybe load a sample, the compressor and exoscope and try fiddling with the settings of the compressor to see what happens.

  • basedrums give some people headaches (or makes them not care about it). the thing is, if you use drumloops you sometimes end up with a base which sounds like someones hits cardboard-box with a wooden-stick, it makes “pop” but not boom. a few ways I found out in the past years to deal with this :

  1. Elogoxa have done a great plug called baxxpander, which does boost low frequencies. if there are any leftin the original sample, this plug will make them bounce again. its pretty hard to handle though and you may need to spend some time on EQs.
  2. MDA has done a plugin called “Subsynth”, which is a great thing. load a drumloop, add the subsynth VST and set it to : “KeyOsc” mode, “tune” about 50 Hz, “release” to 50ms, “level” at somewhere 50%, dry-mix to 100% and try “tresh”-slider. the plugs works like a gate that triggers the synth, what happens now is that whenever the gate is opened subsynth plays a tone, with those tones you should end up with a very clean and low basedrum sound being played whenever a base is played in the drumloop. you need to fiddle around abit with all the settings (mostly tune and release) so it blends to the loop, but you should get a very nice bottom “boom” added to your orignal drumloop.
  3. a similar approach is to add another basedrum, you can either try to add it by playing a sample in renoise, which wont work 99% of the time because the loops will have some very subtle groove, but if you have money you can get a plug called aptrigga which is made for that purpose. (there is no warezed version of it and the developer is a nice guy, so buy it if you want it). Its kinda like mda subsynth, but you can load a basedrum-sample and it also works for snares. (I did infact a reaktor-patch some time ago which worked like this plug, but was very hard to handle and had some major problems). With this plug you can add a basedrum (those short 909 basedrums work best) or completely replace it.
  • what I also learned is that you have to change the volume of a track sometimes during the song. never touch the drums and the bass, thats the backbone of your song, but if you have for example some melody-line playing than you might need to change its volume during the song, because it might be to loud during quiet parts and too low in full-action parts. I put a gainer as last effect in such tracks and use the trackcommands to make it louder/lower when needed.

  • do not finish a track and mix it right away. sleep at least a night before you do that.

  • the way how I mix is this : finish my song, try to get decent levels on all tracks (does not have to be perfect), then I render all tracks to seperate files and then it simply helps me to go away from my musicprogram (renoise) to something else. I used cubase 3.7 for that until I found out about Kristal-studio, a multi-track program which is freeware and devoted to mixing stuff. (
    In kristal I do the last finishing touches, mainly proper leveling of the single tracks, sometimes a few EQs and such.
    to do this, grab a few important parts of your song, like the middle of the intro, the part where the beat starts, the break if you use on, a part where all samples are playing and so on and mix by listening to those parts.

the only mastertrack effect I ever use is one of those exciter-things, which basically is a big EQ where you simply shift the balance of low and high frequencies. (so it sounds sparkling and not dull). then I try to get the overall master volume somewhere at -2 db and export the mix to a 32bit wav.
the next and final step is always mastering/limiting/whatever its called, meaning maximizing the dynamic range.
this takes abit of experience, and you need to try alot until you can do this easily.
I do it in audition with the built in “hard limiter”. first I play some parts of the song (those I used to mix) and look at the vu-meter. if the peaks reach for example -3 db, but the meter itself is mostly wobbling around -6 db, then I try settings to get it 5db up (thats the -6db minus one db for safety purposes). in most songs this means that the only thing that gets compressed are the peaks of the basedrum and the snare (because these are most of the times the signals that create the peaks). but, you really need to try around, sometimes too much compression damages the bass, or something else.
for example, my track pacemaker (in the song section of this board) has its peaks at -2db, except for two or three times where the basedrum and the snare hit at the same time. when I mastered this I first gave the song those -2db extra, but suddenly the whole effect of snare/base was gone because the base pushed the snare completely out of the mix.
also note that there was a time where everyone tried to get his stuff as loud as possible, killing all dynamics (fun-fact : the second album of HIM (this disgusting north-european rockband) had tracks with 60 (!) clipped sample-words in a row). however, we are away from this now, its seems things get back to a state where people appreciate dynamic levels and you are not called a lamer because your song does not look like a solid brick in a wave-editor.

-also, on the master (in renoise or any other program), apply a highpass with 40hz (or maybe even more). everything below is useless, you dont need it, on a vinyl-record it gets cut anyway and it might be the reason why you simply cant get basedrum and bass together.

okay, I hope this is any helpful, however, a few things I might add : I am not into this stuff, I guess there are alot of things I dont know. However, keep this in mind :
-If you ever get a recorddeal (if thats what you after), your songs will get a proper mix before the CD is manufactured.
-a terrible mix is not good, but a good mix cant make a bad song a good one and a good song wont become bad just because its not properly mixed.

  • there is a reason why there are musicians and mastering engineers, and there is a reason why they are called engineers.

I am out to make me another coffee.

I myself am still trying to figure out a better way to compose, since i know it can be really fast and simple.

For years i’ve been trying to optimize everything while composing, wanting to be certain all instruments fits together so the song sounds well composed. This leads one to spend too much time, and energy, on things that should’nt matter much in this stage of the process, which is composing… I also end up stuffing all kinds of effects in, which later in the composition does’nt fit, which eventually makes me throw it all out… so…

I’m beginning to realise that you really need to keep things seperated, only spend energy on one thing. First compose the music, with only necessary FX like reverb, delay or things that’s needed for the tune. Then to the art of mixing (which i really whish i could do properly), this is apparently not easy. As Alexander said, it takes alot of do overs to learn (feel) the right settings since each song is different.

We’ll get the hang of it some day. I think Nike’s slogan “Just do it” is more applicable to musicians than athletes :)

The search for songwriting tips on google.

PS. Holy shit Looza… i better plant a smiley here to make my post a bit longer

Also I have a lot of documents/guides/pdf’s about various topics. Feel free to contact me.

Very nice post Looza, learned alot :)

And thanks for the nice plugin-links too!


Thanks especially to Looza, Blaster, Garf and Jarr for their weblinks and personal experiences on the art of soundmixing. And before I say anything else, I will let you know that I have twice, yes twice, managed to stuff up my replies to this posting (involuntary PC resets for one thing) - so all the things that I have managed to come up with in my head in the past two hours have pretty much wittled away to the depths of no-return. At least now you won’t have to plod through another one of my infamous excessive verbal diatribes (er, maybe not actually), although Looza sure beats my all time world-record on this front.

Again, thank you Looza for taking so much time to present an informative yet very helpful series of “guides” as seen through your years of experience. This is very much like reading a novel rather than trying to decipher a technician’s manual, which is what I’ve been after all along. It is one thing to have all the software, effects and sounds at your disposal, but it is another to know what you are meant to do with them all. Having someone guide you through some of the pitfalls can save you a lot of “trial and error” time that someone else has already been through, so that you can hopefully avoid some of the more common mistakes that I’m sure many budding musicians unwittingly make in their learning curve.

What I would still like to see is some kind of all-in-one manual with a supplementary set of example sound files to create a mix from. With this, it can give you some practical experience in developing different kinds of mixes (with example settings issued by the tutorial) to give you a feel for what tends to work and what doesn’t. Again, this is only to help demonstrate to someone like myself about some of the common methodologies employed in developing a soundmix - in other words, to help you recognise what a few clever “tunings” to each instrument can make so that the overall sound is pleasant to the ears. Of course each person has their own impression on what “sounds good”, but at least something like this would yield welcome hands-on knowledge for the newcomer.

I am beginning to understand how a “less is more” approach is probably the best approach to the art of soundmixing - this must be better than trying to boost everything until you can’t hear anything apart from a jumble of gibberish. It’s knowing how to employ these techniques that is definitely the hardest thing to teach, but I have always said that the best way to teach is by example (hence my suggestion in the previous paragraph).

One other resource that I have found some informal documentation is at - this only brushes upon the many concepts involved in developing your own mix. However it does come up with some helpful hints such as some of the common EQ settings that you can apply to each instrument so that one sound may not conflict with another, as well as the subtle art of stereo panning to breathe life into a composition. Again, this helps in coming up with some practical solutions to common problems instead of you trying to disseminate and disect a humungous technical document that makes it hard for a newbie to decipher what are the most important concepts involved overall.

Anyway, thanks again for all your help in this matter. I have found this Renoise forum to be one of the few, if only, places where people actually take the time to respond to one’s queries. And I can tell that some people don’t pull their punches either when it comes to expressing opinions on certain issues, including Renoise itself. I’d like to think that this is all “constructive criticism” even at the worst of times.

Keep all the suggestions coming as I have yet to come across one comment that hasn’t been helpful in some way. And let’s hope the world is still around after the tumultuous events to come for this century ;). Peace. WG.