Category Archives: Class

Introduction to Music Production, Assignment 3

Hi. I’m Richard Lee from San Francisco.  This is my 3rd peer review assignment for Berklee College of Music‘s Introduction to Music Production Coursera Class.

For this assignment, I’d like to talk about submixes.  I REALLY enjoy the idea of using submixes.  It really gets deep into the plumbing of busses and audio flow.  As it turns out though, my DAW of choice, GarageBand does not have support for submixes, so I’ll have to keep the assignment largely conceptual.

stringsSo what is a submix? Imagine you’re setting up to record an entire orchestra.  It’d be very convenient to have an individual mixer board for every set of instruments playing a distinct part.   In the example to the right, you see three distinct mixer boards, each one handling an individual type of instruments.  Each mixer handling a “part” then feeds into an overall “string instruments” mixer.

This setup allows you to adjust the gains on each individual performer (say, player 2 of the violins consistently plays decibels below the others).  On the “Strings” mixer, you can adjust the level of all violins as a whole.   This allows you to adjust violins in relation to other instruments, say the cellos.   Each of the individual instrument mixers could be considered a submix of the Strings mixer.

Let’s continue to think about submixes in terms of physical devices.  Imagine now, we’re setting up the audio to record a modern rock band.  We have significantly fewer instruments.  Let’s assume we have a drum kit, an electric guitar, a bass guitar, and a vocal.  The drum kit has 3 inputs.  A bass drum mic and two hanging mics.  Each of the other instruments/vocals have one input.

As far as submixes go, it would be nice to have all three inputs from the drums individually adjusted as a submix.  It’d also be nice to be able to individually adjust each of the guitars, but also change levels of both guitars relative to vocals or drums, so we should have a submix with both guitars.  It might also be useful to have a submix of both the drums and guitars so that instrumentals can be changed relative to vocals.  Finally, we’d like to have everything flowing through a master, where we can apply some global effects to.   If we were to set this up like we did for the orchestra, we’d have to find ourselves four very small mixer boards, each representing a submix.  The submixes will cascade until they converge to a single output.  This means a LOT of cable, a lot of “self noise” and a lot of opportunity for human error to ruin the recording.

What we’ll do in this case is use a single 10-input mixer board (see diagram below).  Here, we’ll feed the outputs of the physical channels into the inputs of other channels; sometimes combining the input of multiple channels.   The combining of multiple channel outputs into a single channel input is called a “bus”.  To achieve our 4 submixes, we’ll use 4 busses.


Here you see the details of which channel outputs feed into what input.  The busses are denoted by color.  Our drum submix is made up of the two hanging mics and the bass drum mic.  The guitar submix is made up of the bass guitar and electric guitar.  The instrumental submix is made up of the drum submix and the guitar submix.  Finally, the master output is a mix of the instrumental submix and the vocals.  Thankfully, instead of running lots of cables between inputs and outputs on a physical mixer board, we can use a full featured DAW.

This is a very basic layout with no aux-sends or effects.  Naturally, that stuff would add more complexity to an already cluttered diagram; so I skipped it.

This week, I would have really liked to have tried this out on a DAW.  Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have the time to try out some of the free DAWs that feature busses… Garage band kind of has a notion of a bus, but it’s really just for effects… not for combining inputs or channeling outputs.

I hope that my examples were able to illustrate the need for and usefulness of submixes. Thanks for reviewing my work.


Introduction to Music Production, Assignment 2

My name is Richard Lee from San Francisco.  I’d like to welcome you to my second peer reviewed assignment for Berklee College of Music’s Introduction to Music Production Coursera Class.

My topic for this assignment is to efficiently record audio in my DAW, documenting both the project setup, and creating the tracks.

garageband-guitarFirst, the Digital Audio Workstation software is GarageBand. Since it came free with my iMac, I decided to give it a shot, as it’d likely have a massive community of users who, like me, are just starting off in making nois*ahem*music.  If I ran into a problem, it’s likely 1000 other people have run into the same problem and their solution would be posted a mere google search away.

garageband-file-newWe start our journey with creating a new project.  This is accomplished by either hitting the COMMAND-N key combination or clicking on File | New on the top menu.  In this case, I used the menu to create a new project.

You’ll now be presented with a new project dialog (see image below).  Choose where you’d like your project files to be saved.  In my case, I decided to create the project in Coursera \ MusicProduction \ Week 3.
Once you’ve chosen a directory for your project to live, you’ll be greeted by the main GarageBand window.  By default the project is populated by a “Grand Piano” track.  I have seen a workflow where you’re able to choose a first track type up front, but going through File | New menus seem to skip that initial choice.


garageband-delete-trackIf your goal is to record a MIDI grand piano, you can go ahead and use this default track.  For the case of this assignment, however, I want to record using an electric guitar; specifically my Epiphone LP-100.  To do that, we want to delete the default track and add a new Electric Guitar track.  To do that, select the Grand Piano by clicking on it then select Track | Delete Track (or Command-Delete).


garageband-new-trackTo create a new Track, click the Track menu and select New Track. This will present you with a choice of “Software Instrument” or midi track, a “Real Instrument” for recording directly from an audio device, or “Electric Guitar” which is like a “Real Instrument”, but allows for guitar specific special effects.  Here you see, I chose Electric Guitar.



IMG_0507My next step was to set up my audio interface.  The Audio Interface that I’m using is an M-Audio M-Track Plus.  On the right, you can see my interface and it’s got nothing plugged into it yet.  I’m going to be using input 1 for this assignment, so I turned the gain all the way down prior to plugging anything in.

IMG_0514My monitor is a Sennheiser HD202 headset.  I’ll plug it into the headphone jack of the interface.  The headset is natively an 1/8″ jack, but comes with an 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter.

I make sure that input 1 has “Guitar” selected instead of “Mic/Line” and plug the TS Cable from the guitar into the “Guitar/Line Input” jack.I strum my guitar aggressively while slowly increasing the gain until the signal starts to peak in the yellow.

Once my levels are set in the interface, It’s back to GarageBand.  Toward the bottom of the window, there are a cluster of controls which are used to start and stop recordings, switch between Project, Tuner, and Time modes.  For this assignment the most important view is Time.  To enable a metronome tick during your recording, be sure the metronome icon is highlighted  as it is below.


Hit the record button to begin your recording.

Just for the heck of it, I exported the strumming.  Not particularly good guitar playing, but it *is* pretty loud!

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In reflection, a lot of this assignment seems very simple; intuitive even.  Without the class, however, I wouldn’t have known the utility of the audio interface.  I had tried several times before to plug my guitar amp into my computer via some 1/4″ jack to USB cable, but the recording was always noisy and of low quality.  My original plan was to create a video… but as it turns out, it’s very difficult to film yourself doing tight actions such as adjusting gains or plugging in cables.  Perhaps I’ll be inspired by the creativity of my classmates and give it a shot next week.

Thanks for reviewing me.