Today let’s dive into the sound design of a Berlin-based electronic music producer Cioz from the Stil vor Talent label. He’s using a lot of super useful techniques to create very unique and great-sounding tracks. Let’s get started!
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1. Double takes for stereo width
Cioz works a lot with analog synthesizers and drum machines - like his favourite Elektron Analog MKII. Something he does very often is recording two takes of one synth phrase, to later pan these takes left and right - which creates a wider stereo image:
Some of my sounds are really stereo, because I record the same melody twice, and since the synth is analog, every time it’s slightly different. I pan one take to the right and one sound to the left to create a very wide sound.
You can also do this with digital, software synthesizers - all you need to do is tweak one subtle parameter when recording the second take - to add slight difference between the left and right channel.
2. Minimalistic mixing
Cioz has a unique approach to mixing - he uses mostly a set of only 3 tools for the most necessary adjustments:
The 3 most important tools for mixing are:
1. Reverb - to add space. My favourite is the Valhalla VintageVerb. It's quite reliable - but you can also use Ableton’s Reverb.
2. Equalizer - to clean up the spectrum and emphasize certain frequencies,
3. Compressor - when you have a recording that is really going crazy, it’s helpful to reduce its dynamic range.
3. Simple mastering
The role of the music producer doesn’t need to extend over to the mastering stage - it can be done by a mastering engineer - and in most cases the result is better. However, it’s useful for a producer to be able to apply simple mastering in order to test the track in a club before submitting it to a label:
I'm not a mastering engineer. There are people that are much better at it and they do this as a job. Normally if I need to master something, I will always give it to a mastering engineer - but if I need to play it in the club, here's what I would do:
Before adding any adjustments, I use a loudness meter to see how loud the track is. Then, with a spectrum analyser, I see which frequencies I need to work with. You also need to check if you have enough headroom to master it. Some people say you need to have as much as -6 dB.
Cioz's actual mastering is done in three steps:
1. Adding subtle EQ adjustments
2. Compressing a little bit with the with the glue compressor and and give it some some makeup gain
3. Pushing the loudness with a limiter just to make it reach 0 dB.
"There is no magic master chain. Try not to overdo the mastering - it's really an art in itself."
4. Tuning drum samples
Cioz uses an unconventional way of pitching tonal samples. He applies an audio effect:
A nice way to to tune your drums is using Ableton’s Frequency Shifter. I also put a Tuner on tonal samples, like the toms, to detect their pitch. All tonal drums should be tuned to fit the key of the track. It's going to sound cleaner, so always spend some time tuning your your drums.
5. Hihat sound design
Cioz uses a super simple technique to create unique hihat patterns:
I make hihats with a synth - I play white noise with an arpeggiator. It's set to 16th notes, and I automate some parameters - like decay and reverb - to give it a bit of movement. Open and close the sound through macros to create rhythms. You'll end up with a long recording, and then you can choose the best part.