At Digital Media Academy’s Academy for Music & Video Production, students compose and record an original song, mix and master it, and create a music video and DVD to accompany the music. At DMA tech camps, students use the best software tools for the job. First, let’s talk a bit about mixing music in Logic Pro, the audio software DMA uses.
Logic Pro is one of the industry-standard audio software packages used in recording studios. Logic is easier to learn than many of the other programs, but it is just as versatile and powerful.
Mixing & Mastering
There are several steps to recording a song. First, you write the song, and decide what instruments will play which parts. Then, you record the parts, and input those parts for the software instruments. After that, you mix and master the song.
Mixing is mainly just setting the volume levels of different instruments so they sound good together. When you go to a concert, the engineer standing in front of that huge board somewhere in the back-center of the audience is the sound mixer. In that case, the mixer only gets one shot at mixing it right, since they are mixing a live show. Recording studios are great because we have plenty of time to get the song to sound exactly the way we want it to sound. (And if something sounds entirely wrong, we can just re-record it!)
We can also use automation to simulate live mixing. If we have a guitar solo, we can push the guitar’s volume slider up to make it louder, and then pull it back down after the solo is over. Automation lets us do this automatically exactly the same, every time we play our song.
Tricks of the Trade
There are other tricks we can use. When we record an artist playing or singing a part, we call that a “take.” We usually record several takes so we can get the best one. If none of them are perfect, we can actually stitch multiple takes together and use the best parts from each take. For example, if the guitarist botched one chord, but the rest of the take was perfect, we can substitute in a chord from another take to fix it. Logic makes splicing clips together very easy. In the project pictured below, we had two substandard takes, so I used different parts of each take to create a better one. (You can hear the song at the bottom of this post).
We can also add Equalization to a track. “EQ” lets us change the volume of specific ranges of frequencies. In other words, if the vocalist’s track sounds “muddy,” we can boost the higher frequencies and take down the lower ones to increase the clarity of the voice. If we have a high-pitched whine in the background, we can take out just the offending frequency.
Here are some examples of problems we can fix by mixing the song. I recorded this song with musician Misha Byrne. For all three examples, we’ll play the unmixed version before the mixed version, so you can compare them.
In the first clip, listen to the volume levels. The vocals get a bit quiet on “Maybe I’ll never see…” Then in the second clip, you may notice a high-pitched noise in the background. Also, the “t” in the word “heart” gets lost in the unmixed clip. In the third clip, notice the error in the guitar playing on the last chord. In the mixed version, I spliced in another recording of Misha playing that chord correctly to make it sound better.
Where Music and Video Come Together
I’ve only mentioned a few of the tools recording engineers and mixers use to arrange and mix songs. They are all covered in DMA’s Academy for Music & Video Production: Come Together, which is co-sponsored by the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. There is so much to learn, and this class gives every student the knowledge they need to get started in both audio and video production.
Misha Byrne is a singer, guitarist and songwriter in Queensland, Australia.
In the Cartoon Creation class, we’re using Toon Boom Studio to teach animation techniques, this software is very flexible and fun to use.
At the core of all animation are “keyframes”. We find them in other animation applications, video apps, compositing apps, and even audio editing applications. Keyframes are what allow us to move our characters, animate them, change the lighting, move the camera, and make their lips move. Without keyframes, there would be no movement or change. In other words, we’d just be working with still images without keyframes, and that’s not nearly as much fun!
Keyframes simplify animation by allowing us to modify our drawing over time, instead of manually drawing every single frame individually. Animating with keyframes is kind of like cutting out your character from paper and pushing him around the table. He moves smoothly, and you can reuse objects you have already drawn. The alternative is frame-by-frame animation; this is like making a flip-book, and redrawing the character on every page.
We also cover frame-by-frame animation. This is how they made the classic Disney cartoons. Toon Boom Studio has an onion-skinning feature built in to help with this kind of animation. It outlines the drawing from the previous frame, which gives you a good reference for the position of the next frame’s drawing. Unfortunately, animators didn’t have it this easy back in the ’70s!
Toon Boom Studio has many powerful drawing tools built in. Even things like shading are easy to manage. In the picture below, the darker shading on the left side of her face was created with the shading tool. Adding shadows for characters is as easy as dragging and dropping a shadow in. The shadows even automatically update. Once we put the shadows in, we don’t have to worry about them anymore. We can even draw with gradients, instead of plain colors. Check out the star in her hair. It’s a smooth ramp from orange to yellow, and gives the character a subtle touch of realism.
Toon Boom Studio has a lip-syncing engine built in. This lets us record an audio track and sync the lips of our characters to fit our recorded dialog. Toon Boom Studio takes the monotony out of lip-syncing. We get to make the character speak with our voice, and the software does the tedious part of the process for us! That’s pretty exciting!
One of the most exciting things about Toon Boom Studio is its compatibility with file formats that animators already use. We can import Adobe Illustrator vector files, Flash .swf’s, all kinds of raster image formats, video formats, and sound formats. This means that we can use almost any source material that we can find to animate. Do you know any artists who use Adobe Illustrator? You can bring their work right into Toon Boom Studio, with no loss in quality, and no conversions!
And even more exciting is the export formats. Believe it or not, the projects you create in our course can be exported to Adobe Flash files! Flash is the industry standard for animations on the internet, so this is extremely exciting. This means that everyone with the Flash player installed can view your animation. (98% of computers with internet have Flash installed, so that’s a big deal!) You can put your animations online for the world to see, or to share with friends and family! You can also export your animations to video, for use in a DVD, or a video project.
I’m very excited to see this Cartoon Creation class offered this summer. We get to create dynamic and rich animations that we can share with anyone and everyone, and our animations will play on almost any computer. It’s a blast!