►Introducing: “Music from my friends”

Finally had the time to finish production of the first track that’s not composed by myself, so it also is the first track to go on the new page I added to my site some time ago and which had been empty until now.

It’s an instrumental track, more precisely classical chamber music (string quartet and flute), with a dreamy, slightly sad but beautiful melody, composed by Rita Faleiro and produced by me (production environment was ReNoise, using samples and the final mix was done in Audacity).

Go to this page to listen to the track, a free download is also available.

Hope you enjoy 🙂

►Let’s talk Dynamics!

Did you ever wonder why some electronic music (or even some acoustic music) sounds so terribly “uninterestingly equal” along the whole track?  No emotion at all? No surprises? That’s because it’s lacking dynamics.

It’s a fundamental part of interpretation in all kind of music, already for several centuries, and yet in many a track (except for classical music) that’s produced today, it gets completely forgotten.

One culprit is the phenomenon of excessive compression, that first appeared towards the end of the 90’s and was (fortunately) at least partially eliminated over the course of the last few years. It happened to all kind of music, just listen carefully to some tracks from the 70’s or 80’s , compare to a similar genre but from mainstream music from the mid-nineties and you’ll get what I mean.

The reason was simple: everybody wanted to get his mix as loud as possible, so that it would “outstand” the others, so they started to use more and more compression, and if you add that to the compression that’s already natural to find on every radio station (to allow easy listening at low volumes or in noisy environments), a total loss of dynamics was the result, at some times even a kind of permanent soft-clipping.

But at least this seemed to have been noticed by conscious listeners and received enough criticism to have been slowly abandoned over the last few years, at least when talking about quality productions.

Still there’s another reason: the heavy usage of electronic means to produce music, especially the computer. Theoretically, most good music production environments on whatever computer system do support dynamics (even MIDI, in form of the velocity parameter). BUT: many people out there just DON’T use it at all.

And that’s terrible, and any real musician who has a minimum of musicality and feeling will recognize that.

So, let’s talk about how to do it. The’re obviously several ways, and a miriad of programs out there (from the big, well known to the small, almost unknown), so I won’t go into details. But I’ll try to give some ideas.

Sequencers (based on MIDI): use the velocity parameter that is available for every note. Your program might have useful functions to automate, or at least  facilitate (crescendos, etc) this.

Trackers: they normally have some parameter that is called volume or similar and works like the velocity parameter in midi, just use it. Some of the better programs even support humanizing this parameter, that’s a good idea to use AFTER having set basic dynamic references, to get it to sound less “square”.

Multi-track DAWs (like ProTools, Logic, Ardour, etc.): if you use a tracker or sequencer, allied to sampling or soft-synths to compose your music and then a DAW (digital audio workstation) to put the parts and tracks together for easier cutting/mixing, then you have three options here: or you do all the dynamics in your tracker/sequencer, or you do it all in the DAW using gain automation or envelopes, or – and in my humble opinion that’s the best solution – you opt for BOTH.

Why’s that? Because you prepare the base of your dynamics while composing already – easier to understand and work with – and later on, while mixing and adjusting all the details in your DAW, you increase the effect or adjust it, just as your ears and musical instinct demands.

Regarding adjusting the dynamics in a DAW, I’d like to give you some ideas here:

  • use the envelope of your track waveform directly to adjust the dynamics. This has a huge disadvantage, though: you can only do this when you finished the mixing, because you’ll be unable to easily correct the base volume of that track. So it’s bad, because you might change your mind about that, especially after doing the dynamics…
  • use gain automation on the affected track. This solution has exactly the same problem: you won’t be able to change the base volume in the mix, unless you manually redo all the points. Still it might be a good solution if you’re sure you will maintain the volume or do a mix later on in a different program or after bouncing it back to disk, because it’s the easiest and quickest way.
  • add a new stereo bus and feed your track’s output to it, and then do gain automation on the bus, not on your  track. This is, in my opinion, the perfect solution, because you adjust your track’s volume to whatever you want, for mixing, and the bus you start out with 0dB, drawing whatever gain automation you want, allowing you to continue changing the reference volume of that track easily in your mixer panel after it.

So, as you see, the last solution I presented, allows for adjusting whatever dynamics you want, and still you’ll be able to change the mix afterwards so it get’s exactly as you like. All this without any bouncing or exporting or whatever.

This can be used for panning automation aswell, by the way.

Ah, and very important: apply your compression AFTER doing the work with dynamics, but DON’T exaggerate! Don’t be another LOUDNESS-FREAK! Because if you do, all the work was for nothing (remember: compression is “anti-dynamics”).

So, I hope I have given you some ideas to facilitate the employ of dynamics or even got you to try it out, if you never used it before.

Regarding “total newcomers” in the area of dynamics: how to do it, how to feel where the music should have more or less volume, how to pass from one to the other (crescendos and decrescendos or subito (sudden change))?

I suggest you listen to classical music. Generally it’s where you find the most dynamics and you can most easily understand the reasons. Get a score to look at while listening, that’s best.

Still I will mention a few common situations to get you started:

  • Dynamics often follow the melody’s line, I mean, if notes are getting progressively higher (like in a scale, for example), volume might also increase progressively in a certain amount. If instead they are going down, volume might reduce progressively (decrescendo).
  • Usually dynamics go down towards the end of a musical phrase, UNLESS it’s a point of TENSION, then it might go in exactly the opposite way.
  • Talking about tension, normally the volume is reduced when a chord or melody note has the function of “resting”, I mean, after that preceding situation of tension, the resolution usually will have less volume.
  • Dynamics might follow tempo changes, if they exist in a composition. But note it’s only an option, and sometimes it might even sound bad. Again, it has to do with tension (increasing speed might create this sensation, so you might want to increase volume aswell).

That’s all for now, but I might get back to this some time. Oh, and spread out the word so to improve quality of music in general, start talking dynamics, too! 😉

►Chill-out music, episode 2

Even though summer is close to its ending, I thought it would be a good idea to make it last a little longer by writing a post about chill-out music, remembering all those long, warm nights, on a beach or some other nice place, just chilling out in good company.

Also, it might be interesting for those among you who’d like to start producing music in that genre.

About its origin and history, I’ve already written, you can find the article here on my site.

But I didn’t get into details of the music or present any listening examples, so that’s what I’m going to try this time.

First, one should mention that chill out music is meant to be listened to in an only half-active way, sort of what happens with ambient music, but maybe with a little more attention. That’s how it manages to have such a chilling and relaxing effect on the listener.

There are no fixed rules for what material can be used to write a chill out track, nor with what means.

It can as much consist of acoustic material, like some melody played on an exotic instrument on a strings background, that could almost be called world music, wouldn’t there be an electronic break-beat in the background, as it can be a fully electronic track, combining mysterious, slow melodies with synthesizer effects and drum samples.

You can find your inspiration in Latin American tunes, or music from Middle Orient or Asia, using some ethnic instrument, as well as you could prefer to create something totally free, played on some nice lead pad, for example.

Feel free to create whatever rhythms you like, also the structure of the track can be totally free, as well as the duration of the track might vary from 2 minutes to 30 minutes.

One thing to keep in mind, after you have your musical material done and are starting to mix and add plugins and effects, is that you’re looking for a warm, relaxing and “airy” sound, so allow instruments to have enough space between them (be it with delays and different reverbs, simple panning or equalizing), give the whole mix a slight cut between 1kHz and 2kHz aswell as make generous use of reverbs and “warming” plugins, like tape saturation, for example.

Even if you’re creating everything on your computer, think analogic, not digital.

If you want to use strings as your harmonic base, choose wisely which samples you’re going to use, they have to have little attack and sound warm, also be sure to compose in a way that chords have easy transitions (think common notes and always stay in legato). Stay within the natural register of each instrument and create physical space by panning the four of them (violin, viola, cello and contra-bass) in a logical way, forming a half circle: more treble to the left, more bass to the right.

If you’re looking for something exotic to use in your song or just for inspiration, here are some suggestions:

  • Indian music (from sitar to religious chant)
  • Gregorian chant and choral music (remember Enigma?)
  • Shakers and other acoustic percussion instruments from all around the world
  • Fusion with metal solos or classical music.
  • Effects and background sound recorded directly from our natural environment (like wind, rain, the sea, etc)
  • Vocal parts with poetic lyrics or at least enigmatic meaning (be sure to look for breathy and airy voice capture)
  • Be creative, think out of the box, don’t limit to your synthesizers or samples and effects or plugins, look for sounds all around you.
  • Combine electronic parts with live recordings of you or other musicians who you invite
  • Look for the essential, go after the idea of “less is more”, leave space for each instrument and don’t use too many at the same time, not more than five.


Now that we have talked about some basic ideas, here are some listening suggestions to further improve your inspiration or just chill out:

Vangelis – Conquest of Paradise (remember him from the film Blade Runner?):


Thomas Newman – Soundtrack American Beauty


Jean Michel Jarre – Oxygéne  (several parts, one album from 1977 the other from 1997)


Conjure One – Center of the Sun (Solar Stone’s Chilled Out Remix)


Morcheeba – The Sea


Chris Coco – Holiday

CHRIS COCO – HOLIDAY by chris coco