Social Isolation Freebie: “Secret Weapon” Racks.

While we’re going through some crazy times right now, it has been heartwarming to experience how humans have upped their compassion game in response to shared crisis. I’ve seen more freebies and crazy deals going on this past week than any other time i remember, which seems because people want to help each other, share and be nice (well, not so much a certain political faction in the usa who seems to prefer that regular people suffer as much as possible. But that’s another topic). With graciousness and care for their fellows is how humans should act, rather than trying to take advantage of each other sleazily—which happens all too much.

In this spirit, i am offering up my super secret stash of “Sweetie Pies”—a small collection of effect racks for Ableton Live Suite 10, each crafted to address a specific need in a sweet manner. These are highly practical yet fun racks with the primary purpose of “getting stuff done”.

i WAS planning on releasing this pack eventually anyways once it grew a bit more, but to expedite the process of getting you the goodies, i’ve decided to simply omit the not-quite-finished devices, give everything a good once-over, and release the pack for free as it is now.


Acoustic Guitar Shimmer: go-to for brightening up that sparkle of an acoustic strummed instrument. It adds tube, saturation and glue to a slice of the upper top end in an attempt to add brilliance without getting tinny or harsh. I’ve also used it on vocals or drums from time to time.

Anima EQ: Dead simple, this was made after analysis of my older work against a range of commercial material, meant to counteract my personal tendency to mix too much low-mid around 250Hz and not enough mids around 1k. I find that twisting the knob can help to remove muddiness without sacrificing much if any punch. I’ll apply touches of it by ear to various tracks in a mix, after most other processing has been done. If you also tend to mix a bit on the dark side, maybe it will help you too?

Banshee: i wanted to make a rack to be able to play Ableton’s newish Echo device like an in-track performance dub delay. This one is crazy, awesome fun. You can obliterate sounds to the extreme, with distorted, filtered, glitched, infinitely sustaining delay repeats and the levels always stay under control. The amount of possibilities of sound textures it can create with different combinations of settings, especially with modulation, is insane. Just go wild with it.

Channel EQ++: i really like Ableton’s new Channel EQ device, but sometimes i want more than one of those mid bands, you know? This rack provides you with three adjustable mid bands plus the usual low and high. Good for EQing by ear to help things stand out in a mix without worrying about the specifics.

Drum Rack Endcap: Quick fix for any/all drum kits. I get annoyed when drum racks that are loaded from my treasure-hoard library are either way too loud or way too quiet. So this was designed to slap on the end of such boastful or insufficient drum racks. Too-loud kits are instantly curtailed to a more manageable level, and controls are also provided to “juice up” weaker kits.

Dynamic Tone Pumper: An EQ bump that pumps up and down with a combination of tempo-based and audio-reactive flux, using a Shaped Envelope Follower tied to a Channel EQ. Great for adding a dramatic rhythmic pulse to tracks, enhancing a choice frequency in a non-static manner, or for automating special effect sweeps.

InstruClip: Kinda like the Drum Rack Endcap but more simple, InstruClip is designed to simply put in place after any instrument rack. With no adjustments needed, it ensures that peaks never surpass -6.00dB with tasteful soft clipping.

Irrational Compressor:
This one is based on the concept of using irrational numbers for the ratio values, rather than the rigid integers our simple minds tend to go for. It provides a selection of four Ratio choices: φ, π, δ, and , which can between them cover pretty much any compression need. The ratio will be set to the chosen irrational number, with values precise to the furthest decimal place possible (even though you can’t tell by looking at Ableton Live’s text display which rounds the numbers). Irrational numbers exist all across nature, so maybe these ratios harmonize with the universe or something. It’s hard to say… but they do have a very natural sound to my ear at least.

φ (“Phi” aka “The Golden Ratio”) gives light compression, almost subliminal, with ratio of 1.61803.

π (“Pi”) is easily audible but not super intense; a good choice for melodic instruments, with a ratio of 3.14159.

δ (“the Feigenbaum constant” aka “functions approaching Chaos via period doubling”) is a tad more grabby than π, with a ratio of 4.6692. Try it on drums!

e² (“the exponential constant” aka “the natural logarithm squared”) provides very deep compression; not quite at the point of limiting per se, but fairly intense with a ratio of 7.38906.

I tested out how much approximate gain reduction was occurring (and therefore how much makeup gain would be used) at each ratio at various thresholds on a hip hop drum loop (with a loudness of -24iLU):

RATIOGR @ -24GR @ -32GR @ -48
φ “Golden”2.5510
π “Pi”4.5918
δ “Chaos”51020
e² “Exponent”61224

Mordgrim Bass Contour: Implements a tonal contour inspired by analysis of the frequency response of my first ever instrument which i still absolutely love: a black Epiphone P-Bass named Mordgrim. The rack provides adjective controls to adjust various aspects of the tone in musical, intuitive ways. Great for all sorts of bass from bass synths to DI bass guitar, or maybe to make something that’s not a bass sound more like a bass. Bass.


Neutral Dry-Wet: i already wrote about Ableton Live’s Chain Fade Problem and offered this device. But it’s contained here as well, because i use it all. The. Time. Many Ableton Live users haven’t yet realized that when crossfading between two chains in a rack, it causes a progressive volume bump, maxing out at +3dB in a 50/50 blend. This is not good for times when we need gain-neutral precision during in-track parallel processing, so i made a solution. Use this as a blank template to apply perfect parallel processing to whatever, anytime. You’re welcome.

SafeRedux: Ever notice that when you turn Redux’s Bit Depth down really low, the volume level gets… really, really loud? This can be problematic if you are messing around with knobs and all of a sudden your speakers explode. To solve problem, me make better version of Redux which give you even volume levels no matter what BitRate be. Not only is this safer, it also makes it way more usable for things like sound design or live performance, since you can freely sweep all the way down to 1 Bit with no fear. It’s quite liberating! Crunch time!

Skylark Studio Reverb: A fine-sounding custom reverb built from six mathematically-calibrated reverberation bands, roughly based on the acoustic properties of my project studio (a fairly large room comprising most of the basement level). Originally built to model the ambience in my room when mixing on headphones, i found myself using it in actual productions a bunch. Due to the multiband modeling, with different tonal regions having their own calculated settings, it exceeds the stock reverb’s usual flat & bland 2D quality with a more realistic sense of dimension, and thus has become one of my most-used room style reverbs. It includes “natural tone” and “natural width” controls which, instead of brute-force post EQing or adjusting MS, alters how much of which band gets sent through where.

Tube DC Filter: This is super nerdy shit right here. Ableton’s “Utility” effect has a built-in DC filter switch, but it’s non-adjustable; it’s either on or off. One day i realized that you could use Dynamic Tube’s dry/wet control to fine-tune the percentage of DC filter applied, to be able to shave off exactly how much subsonics you want or think you need. So if you really want to cut 1dB at 5Hz, you can now. You almost certainly will never need this, but at some point you might think that you do.

Tube DC Filter set to 10%. Notice the dB & Frequency scales. Yep, that’s -1dB @ 5Hz.

Tuned Sub Kicker: Go-to sub enhancement for drum loops. Another one spawned from analysis of lots of songs, realizing that it’s very common (particularly in hip hop) to have a sharp bump in the sub bass that doesn’t exactly fit within the “goldilocks curve”. Tuned Sub Kicker provides a way to create this sub bass boost from a drum loop or a kick drum in a super sick manner, with the ability to set the root key signature. Infuse resonant sub boost covering targets below 100Hz, plus add in a touch of softer, rounder thump to the low bass 1 to 2 octaves above the sub.

That’s it. Enjoy your free Sweetie Pies. Peace!
(I mean it. Don’t be a greedy hoarder or a selfish brat. We’re all in this together…)

Visualizing Bus Compression As… a Bus.

You may have heard many varying descriptions of the difference between track compression and bus compression, usually including vaguely-defined, mysterious terms like “punch” and “glue” which don’t really help us understand anything.

Well, i have a kinda dorky yet effective way to think of the difference between track and bus (aka buss) compression for you.
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A Simple Rule for When to Use a Dynamic vs a Static EQ.

So you’re working on a song and you’ve found a frequency which you want to adjust. Let’s say you want to nudge down 4.4k a little bit to reduce a bit of harshness. Now you ask yourself: what type of EQ should be used?

As time passes by, there becomes more and more dynamic EQ plugins available. Besides, in Ableton, Bitwig, and other DAWs, it’s easy to make any automatable EQ plugin act as dynamic by the use of envelope followers. On the other hand, when using a dynamic EQ plugin, there may be times when you want to use the bands as typical, with no reactivity.
So, we have a pretty much open choice of whether to use a static or dynamic EQ on a track we’re working on. So what to do?

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Narrow Down Your Plugin Needs

So Many Plugins

Brand new plugins… promotional sales on plugins… they are SO tempting. But do you really need that new compressor plugin that just dropped?

In order to assess which plugin types are lacking in your toolbox, i recommend making a spreadsheet of all the plugins you own by category. You might discover, as i did, that you have such a vast variety of compressor options to choose from, it’s likely that you won’t benefit a whole lot from purchasing any more of them. You also might discover, like me, that you’re somewhat lacking in gate plugins, and could indeed benefit from picking up a few new models. Etc… Continue reading

An Alternative to True Peak Limiting: Not

True Peak Limiting is a method by which a limiter adjusts for how the digital waveform will be reconstructed by playback systems which can result in actual peak levels above 0dB even when the digital peak level is technically shown at below 0dB.

Implied Curvature

Basically the way intersample peaks occur is that the quantization points of a digital waveform can at times imply a curve between them which goes up a little bit higher than those actual sample points, resulting in a louder-than-expected actual peak level coming though.

To imagine it, just draw two dots in your mind, and then instead of drawing a straight line between them, draw a slightly curved line. The two dots are at a height of zero, and the curved line connecting them is bumping a little bit above zero. See?

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All About Ableton’s Gate—A Pragmatic Guide

I found some old notes i had taken (for my own reference) about the parameters of Ableton’s Gate audio effect plugin and figured others could use the info as well, so i’ve polished ’em up, expanded on them a bunch, and dropped them here for you.

I’ve found that getting to know exactly how each parameter works with gate plugins leads to attaining desired results exponentially easier, and in particular learning how the more exotic parameters such as lookahead and hysteresis work facilitates sophisticated gate optimization.

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A Limiter Tournament

So i set up a Limiter Tournament (using a variation on single elimination style) to decisively rank my Clipper/Limiter/Maximizer plugins against each other. Unlike with compression, which i often like to use for adding character, injecting density, and enhancing groove, my primary purpose for limiters tends to be to increase headroom by curtailing short transient peaks, leading to a consistent, clean output. For this reason, it is not so impractical for me to classify some limiters as “better” than other (unlike with compressors). This is also the reason why i am including clippers and limiters both in the same tournament. Limiters tend to pump and Clippers tend to distort, but lots of plugins have characteristics of both, and the basic purpose is the same for both: to reduce the pokiness of peaks which are so fast we don’t really hear them anyways. Maximizers? What the fuck are those? There is no consensus as different developers release things they call “maximizers” which do different things, but in general, they combine peak limiting with either low-level compression or saturation.

4 limiter/clipper/maximizer models at a time were pitted against each other in contests using HOFA BlindTest with clips gradually pushed into 35dB of limiting, gain-matched using Melda’s MAGC to be able to hear only dynamics, tone, and distortion characteristics without loudness levels affecting perception.

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