Written by Irrenoid - June 8th, 2022
Production can be the most daunting part of your project, especially if you're a solo musician or a local band working independently without the funds to hire a producer. However, there are ways to work around having a non-existent budget in almost any DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to up the production values of your projects. So, let's get started! For this article, I will be using my main DAW, Acid Pro 9.0; however, most standard DAWs, including Ableton, FL Studio, etc., all have the features that I will be using here. I'll use a random piano sample clip from my production library for this article's information and examples. We'll learn about the basics of applying stylistic effects to your clips and how you can creatively use stylistic effects of any kind to get unique options for your mixes.
Part 1: Parametric EQ (Basic Effects Applications and Processes)
Effects can give your track just that extra little "kick" of personality, whether it be only in the first few seconds of a song or throughout the track as a whole. Let's take a look at the intros of two modern songs; "Doctor Doctor" by Lil Lotus and "The Two Tongues (Screaming Salvation)" by As It Is.
In the intro of "Doctor Doctor," before the guitars kick in, the vocals and electronics sound faded and washed out intentionally, as if they were coming through a phone line. Likewise, in the intro of "The Two Tongues (Screaming Salvation)," the vocals sound intentionally washed out with crackles as they fade behind the slowly ascending guitar feedback. Just that little splash adds more character to each song; in Lil Lotus's case, it provides a nostalgic throwback reminiscent of the 2000s / 2010s Alternative Emo Rock and Post-Hardcore trends of the time. As It Is's radio style gives a generalized retro vibe of aural sounds of the early to mid 20th century. To summarize, each song is immediately given a specific flair from less than 10 seconds of a production element.
You can achieve such an effect in your productions using Parametric EQ. To best summarize Parametric EQ, I'm going to defer to this quote from Gary Altunian's article in Lifewire, "A parametric equalizer lets you control three aspects: level (boosting or cutting decibels), the exact frequency, and the bandwidth or range (also known as Q or quotient of change) of each frequency" (Altunian, Leger). Altering these qualities will allow you to tailor a specific section of your sound, so let's split a track. Generally, in most DAWs, you can click exactly where you want to separate the track, then press a combination of two keys, "CTRL + S," or sometimes even just one key, "S."
Then you can go to "Event FX" (usually named something similar in other DAWs) and search for Parametric EQ or directly click on it and apply it to the split section. A menu should then pop up similar to this one.
You can see a few options here, including output gain and band width, to name a couple. For this example, I will adjust the slider options to make our clip sound like it's coming in through a telephone.
We made three quick changes; we changed the center frequency from 650 Hz to 800 Hz, we changed the band width from 1.0 oct to 2.0 oct, and we lowered the amount from -4.0 dB to -25.0 dB.
I've found that the best approach to learning what works best for your project is to play around with these settings and keep testing the sounds. Maybe take these specific settings I've posted, and change a few things. What would happen if you set the center frequency to 1400, for example? Once you start registering the change in sound auditorially, it will become a lot easier to memorize what exactly will work for your mixes. Of course, this type of experimentation applies to many other effects in audio production.
Now we will use this knowledge to try something a little more off-kilter.
Part 2: Octavers and Sub Quints (Creative Applications for Mixes)
So for this example, I will be using a free downloaded VST (Virtual Studio Technology) that is compatible with most DAWs that anyone can download, called Auburn Graillon 2. You can find Auburn here, along with an installation guide (don't worry, it's practically effortless to install). Auburn Graillon 2 is a form of pitch-correction software, so if you feel a bit overwhelmed looking at it, that's completely okay. We're not going to be working with vocals or diving into any complex specifics here. But wait, why would we be working with vocal pitch-correction software if we're not working with vocals? It's simple, creative effects applications.
Once you've applied the effect to your clip, you'll have a menu open up that looks like this.
For an example of a creative application, let's say that we have a slow piano sequence that you want to give a haunting or demonic quality. We can achieve something like that by applying a Sub Quint. In the drop-down menu, click the "Sub Quint" option. Once you do that, your menu will look like this.
Listen to the clip you've chosen again with the Sub Quint applied. You should notice a "dark" undercurrent of sorts as if there's a lower-tuned second instrument playing the same note at the same time. Now look between the "default" menu and the "sub quint" menu and see what has changed in the menu options. If you notice, not much has been changed to give it this effect. We can use this same process with a Simple Octaver. Go ahead and click Simple Octaver from the drop-down menu.
So now we've got multiple changes compared to the default and the Sub Quint, but the effect is more subtle. As a result of the effect being more subdued, it has more practical applications in various mixing situations. So now, you should play around with the options in the Auburn interface and see what comes from them. Imagine what kind of fine-tuning you can perform by messing around with these settings and what types of unique sounds you can apply to your productions.
Production can be frustrating and can feel very trial and error at the worst of times. However, it can also be fun and give you additional creative inspiration to explore your options without any set goals. Most DAWs, especially more advanced ones, have hundreds or even thousands of built-in effects options. If one looks exciting to you, open it up, grab a random clip and give it a whirl! I hope you enjoyed reading this article!