Depending on your level of involvement with music, you’ve at least heard about musical keys. I don’t mean your piano. I don’t mean the makeshift percussion in your pocket (or are you just happy to see me). I mean the restful sound of the (typically) last note or chord played in a song. That peaceful ending called the resolution.
Did you know there are twelve basic keys; minor and modal versions notwithstanding? What the hell are you supposed to do with them all?
There are a few basic reasons people pick keys. One is out of negligence – that’s just the key they wrote the song in or the only key in which they know how to play. Another is instrument-specific. Some instruments, including the human voice, sound better in one key over another due to how their registers output timbre. Or, if you’re an EDM artist, maybe you want your sub to sit in a certain range between 30-50Hz; the right key will help you there. A less common reason to pick one key over another is due to it’s inherent absolute quality i.e. for people with “perfect pitch”. I’m told A major sounds brighter than Eb major, for instance.
However, there are certain advantages to sticking to just one musical key for your composing, performing and audio work. I’d like to give you five right now.
5 Reasons To Stick To One Musical Key
Your writing will improve.
This is if you do ear training. Some ear training advice is to play intervals and chords in all keys. I think this is advanced advice. What I suggest you do, and what’s helped me, is just pick one key. Pick one in which you can comfortably sing; or at least vocalize. Singing what you’re trying to hear is building another neural pathway. “As they say, if you can sing it, you can hear it.” What is the purpose of ear training? To write and perform better. The better you can hear the qualities, and hence emotions, of musical elements the better you can evoke those feelings in listeners. So do your ear training in one key only and you’ll be on your way to better melodies and chord progressions.
Your playing will improve.
Naturally, if you walk to school or drive to work down the same route every day, repetition will make you more efficient. The first day you’re distracted by the novel stimuli. After awhile you start to zone out and before you know it you’ve arrived at your destination. Similarly, if you’re playing the same chords and scales on your instrument (or programming them in your DAW) you’ll become quicker and better at establishing what you’re trying to say. In contrast, if you’re always in a new key, constant technical variation takes mental resources that could be better spent being musical. During woodshedding or experimentation, playing in different keys is great. When you’re trying to increase efficiency in communicating an idea, simplified repetition is best.
You’ll sing better.
I know not everyone is a singer. But like I mentioned above, singing is an important part of being a musician. Just because you have no ambition for being a front person or an American Idol contestant doesn’t mean your vocal cords are redundant. Singing helps you to internalize the sound of music. Alternatively, if you are a singer, having a home base key that you’re very familiar with is a great start. Having a home key should go hand-in-hand with knowing your range, fach and stylistic preferences. By doing so, you’ll be able to decide which key in which to perform as to bring out, not only the best in your voice, the best in the song and the feeling of the listener. This is way better than randomly guessing where to transpose a song based on the popular version of it or from where it was written.
Your creativity will blossom.
In some ways it might seem that autopilot-like efficiency would be the opposite of creativity. That would be true if it wasn’t for our ability to recognize contrast and get bored. They say animals never get bored. Well, you’re a special type of animal my friend. By doing the same thing all the time, you’ll start to seek out new ways of doing them. This is especially true of creative type people. Always staying in one key necessarily limits your options. Cliche time: limitations breed creativity. You should always be looking for ways to limit yourself when creating. Given that most instruments only have so many places to play a C chord, finding various articulations becomes the challenge. Listen to a band like Steely Dan and watch for the ways they bring back repeated parts; there’s almost always some subtle variation. They don’t radically change the part they just make subtle alterations to hold interest and portray development. By always using the same chords you’ll eventually think of new ways to utilize them.
You’ll be more self-reliant.
I don’t know how far back it goes, probably before Punk, but theory hate has always been around. Believe it or not, when I started play guitar I used to think chords were for pussies. I literally thought that. I could not conceive that Metallica would use fucking chords. It wasn’t until I started playing “Master of Puppets” that my retarded view was eviscerated by the very first musical event of the song. Granted, it’s more of an extended interval (root-fifth-root power chord) but it was still multiple notes played at once. I eventually realized that almost all music, in some way, is, or can be made to be, polyphonic and layered in harmonies. Therein lies the problem – comprehension. There’s only 12 notes but I’ll be damned if they aren’t put to some creative use. Understanding progressions, resolutions, modulations and all that Jazz is taught at University level for a reason. By sticking to one key, you’ll be forced to transpose eventually. Transposition means, unless your ear is fantastic which, if you don’t do ear training and hence know theory, it’s probably not, knowing roman numeral analysis. It means knowing accidentals, intervals and every other thing theory entails. It’s way more than knowing the white keys make a C major scale. By going so deep into the muck of theory, you won’t have to ask your older, more knowledgeable, bandmate for answers anymore. Especially for EDM guys, who seem to hate theory the most, this is critical. EDM people typically produce alone. Who you going to ask at 3am on a Tuesday which note fits with what and how to make it resolve without sounding like shit? If you’ve been playing awhile, this might no longer be an issue. I’d be damn surprised, though, if these types of problems don’t crop up in every writing musician’s life more than once – at least for almost a decade. So ya, it might seem ironic but, sticking to one key will improve your theory tenfold.
I have to give credit where it’s due. There’s another site which proposed this idea first. Since I’ve implemented it, I’ve reaped the former benefits. The one thing I didn’t mention in my video was that, even for audio-based musicians, remaining in one key is great especially if you use harmonic EQ. If you don’t know what that is then hmu and I’ll make a video on it.
Thanks for watching and reading. I hope it was helpful. Please sub on YouTube, share with your friends and I’ll see you next week.
Ok, so we won’t be playing any slip n’ slide or slide guitar today but I got reason to be so slick. Open tunings are used in Blues, often with a slide, to make certain sounds more accessible and to distinguish one guitar player from another. Typical tunings are open A major and open G major. We’re not going to discuss either of those today! I got open G minor for you. The only difference between open G major and open G minor is that the B string (second string) is detuned one half step.
The reason I’ve been tuning to open G minor is because I’m writing all my new material in Bb major. I might use other modal keys like C dorian etc. but staying in one key has several advantages over just picking whatever key whenever. I’ve already shot a video on what those advantages are so look out for that to go public in the next few weeks. The great thing about open G minor is that any open string will be in the key of Bb so no weird notes for being lazy.
If you want to brush up on open major tunings ala your favorite Blues artists then here are some of the guys with songs that use open A or open G:
Now that you’re hip to your roots and got the Blues in your boots let me hit you with the seven diatonic chords you’ll need to get started playing in this tunage.
There you have it. Open G minor tuning. It’s unusual but useful. If you’ve got a lower voice or are looking for something different this is a nice tuning to play with. If you’re more of a C type player then just move all those chords up a whole step (two frets) and you’ll be able to play your beloved “Mary Had A Little Lamb” in it’s original key (actually I linked you to the cool one). As a bonus, you’ll be playing in the middle of the fretboard where the guitar is best intonated.
I realize this flow series is not my most popular to date. This is the last one I’ll post until I can improve it. If you have any suggestions, let me know.
I’m working on a video (series?) showing how I use my mixcube. I’m going to set up a linear omni and create/mix a 4 bar loop. You’ll be able to see and hear me switch between my speakers. This should help you if you’re interested in buying a mixcube or if you already have one. It’ll be similar to a flow video but I’ll put a cam on my face and we should get some better audio.
If you enjoy these flow videos, let me know. I’m currently preparing to start my third mix (“Lightbulb”) for the upcoming Uncomfortable EP pt.2. You can check out pt. 1 here. I figure it takes me about three weeks to finish a mix so I’ll need four videos minimum in the chamber before I start.
Like always, thanks for reading and watching. Let me know what you’d like to see from me in the future, sub on YouTube if you haven’t and I’ll see you next week 🙂
Balanced jacks – Thankfully, these babies come with a TRS/XLR combo jack so whether you like your connectors pointy or sheathed, the mix cube will accommodate. Implied in the name is that these are balanced connections. This means any RF interference is cancelled leading to a more noise-free connection.
Ground lift switch – Further eliminating your noise problems is this handy feature. A small, but well-built and aesthetically pleasing, switch on the back will lift the ground (impressive feat for a small switch, really) and eliminate any hum you might have going on coming from your power supply. Being that I’m not an electrical engineer, I have no idea how this actually works. Suffice it to say it’s a switch, it works and I like it a lot.
Indented volume knob – I mentioned this feature in my last post. This is a great feature to have for several reasons. Whether you use a calibrated monitor level, such as the K System, or not, it’s handy to keep your mix cube at the exact same level should you ever want to change it’s volume. Being that it’s an analog piece, I do feel it has a sweet spot in the middle. You can hit it perfectly by feeding it a controlled signal from a digital source – such as your computer.
Illuminated power switch – It’s so lit. Custom-built by the illuminati – or so I hear. It’s plastic, kind of retro orange-y and pretty damn hard to flip to be honest. Power switches are handy but I rarely use it. I leave this thing on all day all night and it’s always there ready for me in the morning.
Custom power connection – This isn’t your standard three-prong connection like you get on most monitors. It’s a six-pin connection and has a screw-on collar which keeps it intact. The cable leading up to it is sufficiently long and is hard-wired to the external power brick. The power brick itself is quite big, heavy and cool looking. The brick has a 230-115v selector switch on it so no matter where you get your power it’s gonna be alright. Going to the wall outlet is your standard power cable with the aforementioned detachable standard black three-pronged cable.
So that’s it guys – five features round the outside of this nifty little addition to your stu. The balanced connection and ground lift switch are going to keep you hearing those reverb tails while the on/off switch, power connector and voltage selector are going to ensure you’re powered up and ready to go at all hours of the night.
Turn up the kick drum, you’re effectively turning down everything else. EQ for clarity then the reverb makes it muddy again. When you’re learning to juggle, it helps to start with fewer pins. That’s what mixcubes do – they eliminate variables.
It’s a common mistake to begin mixing before the production phase is over. You’ll make your loop then balance it to perfection before you’ve even begun arranging. Even worse, you’ll spend hours detailing your kick’s low end before you’ve even added your bass. Let’s explore how a mix cube can help you get focused.
No ports. I originally stated that ports are problematic. That may have been true at one point. However, current designs are apparently fabulous. Regardless, there do appear to be different characteristics between ported and sealed enclosures. I’ll just stop before I hurt myself.
Midrange. Because these speakers have no tweeter or sub, all you get out of them is the midrange. It’s uncertain what their response is exactly but I can tell you in my room they’re reliable between 90Hz and 6kHz. This is where you’ll get clarity from your EQing to ensure no vocal/guitar/synth masking is happening.
Mix translation. The mids are most important because this is the range which most speakers have in common and where your hearing is most sensitive. When you go to a cafe, restaurant or listen on laptop speakers, you’re getting mids. There’s no sub bass at Starbucks and there’s no 16kHz at Subway – or even big clubs more than likely. Get your mix right here and you’ll be 80% there – and no running out to the car to check 🙂
Imaging. The phantom image which appears in the center between two speakers is usually faulty. Why? Because to create a perfect center image, you need to exactly matched speakers in a perfectly symmetrical room. The “mid” (as in Mid/Side, not midrange frequencies) is what’s the same in both speakers. Well, if both speakers aren’t the same then effectively there’s no mid. As a result your center image isn’t as sharp or as centered as you might like. With a central mono speaker, there is no phantom image – it’s actually the center. Now yes, your sides will be summed there as well but if you just need the center, you can use M/S processing to get it.
Legacy. Lots of hits, such as “Thriller” were mixed using these speakers. Now, of course, we’re in 2017 where 50Hz is a thing. Despite modern music’s use of extended frequencies, fundamentals never change. Voices are still in the midrange and people still will compare your mixes to every other mix they’ve ever heard. So long as people love Motown, your work is relative to those sounds. If you’ve ever considered a pair of NS-10s then you should consider a Mix Cube. The Yamahas were prized because of their accentuated upper mids. See the trend here?
Mono. The best mixes from the Beatles and Beach Boys were mono. Portishead’s “Sour Times” is practically mono. All that stereo stuff is cool but, if it doesn’t check out in mono, most people will never hear it. Actually, most people will never hear it unless they’re using headphones. How many people do you know that actually sit down to listen to music in a well-treated, symmetrical room? I’m guessing <1% of the population does that. The majority of people walk around their homes, listen casually in public places or experience music live where the PA is mono. S1 Imagers are cool but mono is God.
Limitations. Like I mentioned in the intro, juggling too many pins to start is not helpful for development. Similarly, if you’re worried about panning, sub bass, hi hat sizzle or other ear candy too soon, you’ll bog yourself down with details. The mix cube is all about workflow and focusing on the essential. By narrowing down your field of view, you’ll just see what everyone will see; hence which is most important. You might have the aural equivalent of a rabbit’s 360 degree field of view but if your whole your audience sees like a dog on a chase it’s all for naught. Getting the midrange aspect of your elements correct is the right way to go. Get the details together later.
Rooms. Rooms are a bitch. They can be great (Sound City) or shitty (your room). They can either enhance your bass (even modal response) or make it completely unusable. Mixcubes help because they only go down to 90Hz. That means as long as your room is 6.2′ in any direction, you’re not going to get continual, axial resonances when you use this thing such as you would at 70Hz with an 8′ ceiling (fact-check welcome). In other words, no matter how bad, small or misshapen your room is, using a mixcube is going to be the best you can do barring treatment.
Looks. These things look fantastic. Compared to my Yamaha HS-50 setup, these are royalty. Where the Yamahas have some kind of plastic covering, the Avantone Mix Cube has a black piano lacquer finish. It’s got a beautiful padded bottom (reminds me of my ex), red heat sink and chrome accents surrounding the cone and on the rear. The power supply is virtually military grade and has a heavy braided cable leading to the mains input. The volume knob is indented at 1dB increments – and grippy – which is great if you’re using the K System or other calibrated monitoring. It’s a class piece. There’s other details which make it superior to the Behritone but I’ll leave that for another day.
Steve Aoki. He uses two in his studio.
Skrillex. He’s got one too, apparently.
Owl City. From his Instagram account:
Richard Devine. Idk who he is but he’s got taste enough to own some:
Neighbors. Neighbors, roommates, family – babies, wife etc. All these people hate you and your beat hobby. Music is just one of those activities that you can’t practice whenever, wherever. Due to sound transmission and the exorbitant expense and effort required for true isolation, everyone can hear you work. The good news is that bass is the main culprit. As a result of the mixcubes’ limited bass, you can now freely produce at night and/or at higher volumes with a reduced likelihood of disturbing those in close proximity. If you’re a part-time night owl like me, this is a godsend.
Frequency response. It’s pretty flat. The below (and above) image is a result of me randomly putting the cube further away without any foresight into specific treatment (although my room is treated). I can’t get exact info on it’s exact response but it’s acceptable between 90-5000Hz. Another thing to consider is lack of crossover. Crossovers screw up frequency response. Since this thing doesn’t have one, you’re good there. Consequently, these speakers make a great second pair to compliment your main full-range setup.
Because I said. These things have my thumbs up. I wouldn’t have put in all this effort if I didn’t actually love mine. It’s common opinion that the quality of your mixes goes up once you start using these. It’s a world-class single driver. Whereas for other loudspeakers you need a woofer, tweeter, EQ options, power supply, maybe a sub and two of everything, with this you just need one great driver. You’ll be able to hear a lot more in the critical midrange that you aren’t hearing now. It’s over-engineered, beautiful and useful. It might take awhile to get used to them but the refrain is, “Once you get a mixcube, that midrange ain’t no issue.”
I made this track almost two weeks ago and I didn’t even make a post about it. Getting my YouTube channel and this blog working together is something that’s going to take time. I hope you appreciate the effort 🙂
This song was made to help diminish the virgin population. Actually I made it to test out my new Ableton mixing template. I’ve been watching alot of Andrew Scheps videos and wanted to implement some of his ideas.
He uses a lot of parallel compression. I was using that before but not in the same way he does. He likes to group different types of musical elements together and compress them as interworking systems. For example, not only is he not insert compressing individual snares, he’ll take the kick and the snare and compress them in parallel as one. There are other tricks I hope to go into in another post.
This song has some of that parallel compression going on but it was also used to test between Sonimus Satson and Airwindows Console4. These are console emulation plugins which are supposed to help your mixes sound more analog. I’m not really sure what that means but those effects do have an impact on the end result. You can check out my shootout of them here.
The last feature I want to mention is the way I wrote the chords. I did it deadmau5 style where I just drew them in instead of trying to play them. This method helped me come up with something I ordinarily wouldn’t play.
We got different reasons for that but I’m pretty sure we share the common fantasy of going to the studio, sitting behind the console, snorting blow while getting blown by height-challenged groupies.
Or maybe that’s just me.
Regardless, that image just doesn’t seem as cool if the console was replaced with a laptop – much less a mac mini like I have now.
I guess I’ll just have to cope. But, alas, there’s hope. To my rescue, there are plugins designed to emulate the console sound.
“Yeah, but can I snort cocaine off it?” I can hear the advanced guitarists asking. The answer is no; at least not directly. But who cares! They’ll make your mixes sound better and you need to lay off the nose candy anyway.
So in this video I shot out Sonimus Satson vs Console4 in a plugin comparison shootout. I had been using Satson CM (free download with Computer Music). I had also been using Console 4, perhaps incorrectly, on a previous mix. One of these puppies was going in my mix template and I had to decide which once and for all.
The Hexspa YouTube channel and brand has become more simplified. No more vape or acoustics stuff. It’s just going to be music, related tutorials and reviews and personal rants.
I’m currently mixing the Uncomfortable EP Pt. 2. It’s got “Lightbulb” (which I’ve been playing for about 10 years) “Poetry Without Words” (already mixed, sounds great) and a purely electronic one called “Keep Your Head Up High (previously released but this is a new mix). It should be out by March 2017.
I’m still using OSX 10.8.5. I’m going to have to update to macOS Sierra. Also, no more Pro Tools as they failed to fulfil their contract. I should sue but fuck it. I’m mixing on Live now which is ok.
I’m going to become a Syntorial affiliate this year so look out for related vids.
Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see from me. Requests welcome!
Cool. Hope you enjoyed the stuff I’ve done. Sub and follow to keep up.
That’s the kind of thing I’m hearing on Facebook groups regarding deadmau5′ new Masterclass. Whether it’s expectations or attitude that’s driving that negativity, I’m not sure. Regardless, I empathize with those sentiments a bit.
I’ve been granted early access to the class which I received for my birthday. I’m a fan of mau5′ music and was stoked to hear he did one of these masterclass things. There was no way I was missing out. But, after watching a few videos I was feeling let down.
Maybe it’s because it seems geared toward noobs. Maybe it’s the way he seems to withhold info. Maybe it’s his lack of clear English or using improper terminology for musical and technical things. There’s definitely a lot that could’ve been done better.
However, the reason I’m not getting a refund is because not only do I enjoy the lessons but I think I can learn things with multiple viewings.
Like I mention in my video, though he’s not revealing any brand new techniques that anyone who’s been producing for more than a year doesn’t know, it’s kind of cool to realize he’s doing the same thing we are but on a completely different level.
It’s like, we all know about using outboard, saving our unfinished projects and arranging loops but the fact he’s doing all that and making a living says a lot.
I figure there are 21 lessons. If I can take one thing from each video – and apply it – then in six months time I’ll be glad that I (my gf actually) spent the $90.