UAD Plugins & Dance Music Production

So what's the deal with UAD plugins?

Are they worth it and are they worth using in dance music production?

In my opinion, yes and yes.

UAD or Universal Audio has a long history in music production. Founded by Bill Putnam a long time ago, his son has taken the company into the 21st century with the UAD platform released in the 2000s.

The UAD platform has come a long way since I bought my first PCI card around 2004 or so.

I had a UAD 1 card and didn't know what the hell I was doing.

Fast forward about 9 years and I was in the market for a studio purchase that would take my sounds to the next level.

I was unsure of the best way to spend about $1,000. New monitors, new interface, or a UAD Quad with new plugins.

I already had decent monitors, pair of the original Event 20/20 powered monitors. They were great but too big for my smaller desk and room.

My interface was adequate with a Motu Traveler Mk1.

What about plugins.

Truthfully the stock plugins in Ableton and Maschine are adequate. But the UAD stuff will get you where you need to go faster. And my gosh, that Studer tape machine emulation...I've never heard anything so awesome. I'd have no idea how to do something similar in the box.

So here we go.

Here are the ones I own.

Studer (here's a Studer Video I made a few years ago - where you can listen to it)
Empirical Labs Fatso
Lexicon 224 Reverb
EMT Plate 140 Reverb
Neve 88rs Channel Strip
API Vision Channel Strip
Upgraded LA2A
Upgraded Fairchild
Helios EQ
Maag EQ
Brainworx Guitar Amp Simulators
EP 34 Tape Echo
Bermuda Triangle Distortion Peddle
Raw Distortion
Little Labs Voice of God
Precision K Stereo Ambiance Recovery

A bunch of other free ones.

Since 2013 I spent $706, that included a custom bundle at $399 with my purchase of a Satellite Quad Card.And I have an Apollo Twin Solo interface.

Has it been worth it?

Absolutely, it's a joy to use.

Here's what I use the most.

The Fatso has found a place on my master bus. Is it great for things like NYC/parallel compression. For sure, I just don't need to use that technique often to add fatness to drums because I'm covered on that front. It's very nice for the sonic glue you'd be going for with Ableton/Cytomic's glue compressor or an SSL G series compressor.

1-2 dB of compression, with the compressor on the bus setting which has a low ratio and the input is set in the middle. A button or 2 of warmth, I can set it to ignore the lows and I'm off. Subtle, warmth, fatness, and glue. I load up a master bus preset, adjust the input and threshold and within a few clicks, bam, I'm done. I do send my mixes to mastering with the Fatso on. This is not something I just mix with.

Lexicon reverb, I don't use it ofen. Underused on my part.

EMT 140 - very nice and easy to use. I have 1 or 2 set up for cymbals and claps/snares.

The UAD Studer A800. I use this a ton and love it! I buss my lows together so the Studer always goes on that channel to give a little extra heft. Tape speeds and settings have their characteristics. I usually stick to 30 IPS on the "repro" tape formula. The input and output settings are very important long with the secondary EQ controls. I find that the HF and LF controls help me dial in just the right sound for lows and hi's of the kick.  I used the Studer tape emulation on the low-end in these free samples.

Teletronix LA2A, has been getting a lot of use on my mic input channel when recording videos, but it's also amazing synths and bass parts. Anything that's not moving too fast with tons of transients that I need to stand out in the mix a little more. There's only a few parts to move on the device so it's easy to get the right sound.

This is not the case for the API Vision Channel strip.

The thing sounds great but it's not too easy on the eyes.

I'm partial to the Neve 88rs because that was my first channel strip and it's very easy to use aside from the gate/expander thing.

The Neve 88rs. It's a great swiss army knife and channel strips definitely have their place in the mix. The legacy version is super DSP friendly because it's an older plugin.

The new one is a DSP hog but it's sounds great. I just got it so I can't speak to it in great detail yet.

The legacy version was used to EQ some of the low-end parts on my tune Friction which was tricky because I had a big kick, with reverb to make the rumbly low end, and some tom drum parts to add extra low-end rhythm. This was tricky to get right and surprisingly I was able to get it done with the 88rs instead of a surgical modern EQ like Ableton's EQ8.

The LA3A is another solid compressor, also older and light on DSP. UA also made a hardware unit of this. It's designed to emulate the best of the 1176 and LA2A. The software version is quite nice.

The Helios Type 69 EQ. Great for giving kicks a little extra punch in the 60hz range.

The Pultec EQ. The legacy free version is great! I'm sure the upgrade is nice, I just haven't gotten there yet. Great for adding to low or higher frequencies. I don't use it much for mids.

Some tips if you're considering making the leap.

Look for deals, they happen a lot. Right now accelerator cards are on a price drop. If not that they are often bundled with software. When I bought my Satellite Quad Firewire card it came with the EMt 140, the Neve 88rs, and the EP-34 tape delay.

They have nice sales when retailers promote. Like Christmas and around Thanksgiving. Summer sales and in the fall. As of March 2017, there's a March madness sale. And they are generous with coupons.

I just scored the new Neve 88rs for $49 because it was on sale and they had a $50 coupon ready for me in my account.

To wrap up, I'm not here to tell you UAD is better than other plugins out there, however the Apollo interfaces are excellent and if you need a new or upgraded interface they are great way to get into the UAD world.  For example if I was purchasing today I'd get the new Apollo Twin Quad.  If you often record synths and want the ability to print your tracks with effects, it's also solid.

The accelerator cards are also very nice, but be sure to be strategic on your plugin purchases.  Use custom bundles if your really want the latest and greatest plugins that seldom go on sale (Studer, Ampex, Ocean Way, API, Manley) otherwise you can stretch your dollars rather far with coupons and sales.

Have you ever considered UAD plugins, do you want to hear what some of them sound like in future articles?

++update - UAD just released some very cool new stuff from Moog and others, so it looks like they are starting to make plugins for us electronic music makers++


Young talent on the rise - Interview with Connor Skidmore

Connor Skidmore (aka Mikronaut) and I connected on Soundcloud several years ago, then Facebook, and he signed one of my tracks for a compilation last year.

His music is techno, very polished, melodic and high energy.  You can find his stuff on labels like Funk'n Deep and 2 of his own imprints.

All seemed to be on the up and up for the young producer & label owner and then I saw a status on Facebook that read,

"2 more remixes, 3 more EPs, and 1 more compilation, and then I'm out.

Thanks, everyone, for all of your support. It has made me realize that I still have a long way to go to become the artist I truly want to be. Until then, I'm locking myself in the studio and working day and night, you probably won't be hearing much from me, and you won't hear a trace of what I'm working on before it's ready. Thanks again! Mikronaut signing off."

So I figured I'd reach out to learn more about his planned hiatus, and studies abroad. That's right, Connor has produced a lot and isn't even 21 yet.

So Connor, congrats on what you’ve accomplished so far, to me you’ve got a lot under your belt, what do you want the world to know about IQ140 & Soul Storm and did I miss other notable accomplishments?

Thanks for inviting me to do this interview! I have a lot in store for both iq140 and SoulStorm. First, iq140 is the label I’ve been managing since the end of 2014, and I’m already very happy with where it is going. It has recently undergone some big changes. Originally we had a “sublabel” called iq140 Ltd. for more underground and experimental releases, but we recently decided to merge the two, so from now on releases on the label will go out every two or three weeks, and they will be much more of a mixed bag. I’m not trying to make this label into anything huge, so I intend always to release whatever I want, from whoever I want, no matter whether it’ll help the label to grow. That has been one of my biggest joys in running this label, discovering new talent who produce some really special music, but haven’t gotten any exposure because they’re music breaks the norm.

SoulStorm is a bit different in that it will only feature a very specific style of music, club-oriented melodic techno. I’m also using this name to brand my events, and I intend to evolve the name over the next few years (since I’m a college student, as time/money permits) to become a label, event platform, and booking agency. Releases for this label might even be as infrequent as 4-5 per year at this point, because I want to be sure every release is as close to being perfect as possible, both the music and the artwork. I am also very hyped for what’s in store for this label, as already we’re working on EPs with some of my favorite producers, and a lot of the tracks I’ve been sent are ridiculously huge.

You’re just getting back to the States from a semester abroad. Mostly in Italy, or where else did you stay?

Yeah, I spent three and a half months in Rome. At the time of writing I’ve only been back in the States for just over a month, but I already greatly miss Italy, and Rome feels like a second home to me. I did some traveling on the weekends as well, mostly within Italy, but also in London.

So you’re from Minnesota, what is the scene like there and what have you experienced?

The scene in the Twin Cities is great, full of many extremely talented and devoted DJs and producers. Techno legends like DVS1, Dustin Zahn, and Woody McBride have helped to shape the scene. I haven’t experienced a lot since I’m too young to get into the 21+ events, but the few events I’ve attended have been very special, very high energy and great vibes. My only regret with the scene here is that my production and mixing style is quite different from what most people are playing and producing here, but in a way it’s nice because it means that I’m surrounded by lots of diverse sources of inspiration. A couple of years ago I’d say I was striving for pretty much a straight festival/peak-time sound, something like the mainstage of Awakenings, and since hearing a wonderful techno radio show here which keeps things chill most weeks, I’ve been inspired to try to keep those underground, chill, and psychedelic vibes in everything I produce. You can hear that in most tracks I’ve released if you listen closely, but it’s most prominent in tunes like “Pandora’s Box,” “Acid Machine,” and “Delusion.”

I see you on the socials and you’re a devoted Drumcode fan, what was the party like that you went to, it was at Gashouder in Amsterdam right?

Oh, I wish it was the Gashouder, but I couldn’t make it out to that unfortunately because of a conflicting visit to Naples that weekend. I ended up going to Drumcode Halloween the next weekend, and it was incredible. That venue is honestly probably my favorite so far, and Boxia’s set in particular just blew my mind. I also loved being able to hear some of my favorite tunes played over a great sound system. When Marco Faraone played he dropped his tracks “Replace,” “Boost,” and “Over The Clouds” back to back, and hearing them in that context it was clear that every element of these tracks was built to work well in a club.

I’m sure this party was unreal. I’m curious, compared to what you’ve experienced in the states, what is the scene across the pond like?

There is a great scene in Italy, and I’d say techno is far better known there. The crowd felt a bit more rowdy than at a typical night in the Twin Cities. (Maybe that’s our Minnesota nice!) But my favorite thing about the scene in Rome was that it’s a big enough city that my favorite DJs came through pretty much every two weeks, and that’s something that never happens in Minnesota.

Did you have a chance to play any parties?

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to play there, though. I was working with a couple of buddies and promoters to put together a SoulStorm label night, but the scene is very competitive and I had limited funding, so it fell through.

And now on to the meaty stuff. I’ve heard your tracks and bought a few from IQ 140. You have a hard yet melodic sound and your tracks sound very clean and open. How did you develop your sound as it is right now?

. I’d say my sound started from a different angle than that of a lot of techno producers. I grew up listening to early works from Philip Glass, and I loved his melodic soundscapes that slowly evolved over the course of sometimes up to an hour. I also really enjoyed the music of Shpongle, a psychedelic duo that is still one of my favorite groups today. So when I began to produce music it was very eclectic and psychedelic.

And then I was introduced to deadmau5 and began to produce some progressive house. By the time I became serious about production I was still very much influenced by these sounds, and as a result I have a very hard time producing anything without melody. On the other side of things, when I discovered techno music it was through Adam Beyer’s Drumcode radio show, so naturally I fell in love with the heavy peak-time-style beats of his productions and label. I try to balance these two elements in all of my productions, and even have them in mind when I try to produce something softer or more minimal. Finally, as I mentioned before, particularly in the past year I’ve been taking influence for some more underground sounds. I see Drumcode techno and underground “true” techno as two fundamentally different genres.

The former has breaks and drops, just like forms of EDM and tech house. The latter is more about hypnotizing the listener rather than building and releasing the energy to keep things interesting, or it relies on the DJ to do that. I want my productions to have the hypnotic effect of the underground, but I still love breaks, builds, and drops too much to get rid of them.

What about the projects you have lined up, that’s not a small under taking. Can you share details and when can we expect them to be released?

As you mentioned, I don’t have a lot lined up anymore, but I do have three more things lined up. First, at the end of the month I’ll be releasing a remix of Disco Dirt’s “Colony” on bubblejam. The original is a track that I really love, and I’m sure you’ll hear it in my sets for months or years to come, because it’s very deep and almost has some tech trance vibes. I have one more remix coming out eventually, no date planned yet.

Finally, as my way of “going out with a bang,” I’ll be releasing an 8-track EP (four originals and four remixes from a few of my favorite artists) on the midwest-based label Kinetic Records. 3 of the 4 remixes are nearly finished, and all of them have exceeded my wildest expectations.

After that, I go into full studio mode. In the past couple of months of focusing on my sound and style I think I’ve already found the elements that I love to use most in my music. I don’t want to limit myself to using these elements in every track, so instead I’m working to make them as strong and unique as possible. That way, when these sounds inevitably show up in my productions they sound unique and interesting.

For these last tracks will you be bringing something different to the table or will you be putting your current mark on it? So the hiatus…what prompted it, why the break and what do you want to accomplish?

I’d say most of these tunes have that signature Mikronaut sound, however, bubblejam and Kinesis both have very diverse styles, so they’ve allowed me to experiment far more than many other labels would. I’m definitely branching out for my final EP, a couple of the tunes are quite different than anything I’ve tried before, and I think it’s a small taste of the major experimentation that’s going to take place during this hiatus.

Thanks Connor we look forward to what you have in store.

In the mean time check out Connor's Music Here

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Drumcode & Intec Star Harvey McKay Keeping It Simple w/ Some New Retro Kit

Here's another top star with a very simple set up, showing off a new, old toy. The Roland MC 303 groove box.  Those were very popular back in the day.  Late 90s, I'm talking about not vintage 80s.

Anyhow, as usual it's the producer not the gear.  However it's not to say you should be working w/ the dodgiest equipment.

When I see pics like this from top producers I stop worrying about acoustic treatment and other extras that just aren't needed.

FYI these Roland groove boxes were criticized because they were very heavy on using preset patterns and sounds. I don't think there was any sampling ability and it was hard to record your own stuff.  I was also very new to production when these came out, but they were really popular.

Same for the old Korg Electribes. I never owned one.  I should have been on an MPC back in the day. Big fan of the sampling workflow versus a keyboard workflow.
harvey mckay set up


If you've ever used a DJ mixer then you understand "Gain Staging" - Let's apply that to your DAW

First off, shout out to Graham over at Recording Revolution pointing out some of this in his "plugin sweet spot" video, which you can only get as a subscriber to his site.

When I watched the video I was like "Damn that makes sense and it's exactly how a DJ mixer works."  And if you never used a DJ Mixer, no worries they're pretty easy to understand.

So here's what I have for you in this post.

Want to improve your mixing so your productions sound big, crisp, and clear? I'd think so.  Then you need to understand gain-staging.

What the heck is gain staging?

Basically it's making sure audio is controlled so that noise and distortion is not introduced.  You can think of it as steps in the process where audio levels are brought down or boosted.  Most people using DAW's today don't realize they need to pull levels down - A LOT.

Here's why.

Most recordings are too hot. Most audio in sample packs are also recorded too hot.

Why? Because every one thinks louder is better. If you buy a sample pack and the samples aren't loud enough, then they must be weak, and if they are weak they are whack.

"Well so what? I can just lower them by pulling the fader down in Pro Tools yo!"

Technically you can, but it's just not that simple.

You see, when you pull the fader down in Live (or your DAW) you're just adjusting the volume of that track.  Like the volume you as the producer would hear.  It's exactly like the fader on a DJ mixer.  The fader in your DAW, no matter if it's Ableton, Protools, Logic or Studio One only controls the listening volume.  It does not control the level hitting the fader.

And that's exactly the same as a DJ mixer.  The fader controls what the audience hears.  The gain or trim knob can be adjusted to increase or decrease the amount of volume BEFORE it hits the fader.  For example songs are mastered at different levels, so you can use the trim knob to even them out.  Keep in mind that trim/gain knobs control the level before they hit the fader.

So why is this important?

Because tracks in your DAW like the one below are too loud.  My kick is peaking at -2dB.  If this were an analog console that would be OK but since it's digital we have to bring it down.  What we want is to bring the level down to an ideal range before the signal is fed into say a compressor or the first plugin in your chain, perhaps an all in one channel strip. So what is the ideal range?  -12 to -18dB.  That's way lower than I ever thought.

Here's a detailed good read on Sound On Sound

This is the short of it...

"If you take the sound with the highest peak levels and set it so that it peaks at between -12 and -18dBFS, you shouldn't run into problems with plug-ins or summing on the mix bus."

When you start mixing (if you're smart about your time this is a separate stage from say creating and arranging) you need to insert a trim plugin and pull the signal down to the ideal range before you adjust levels and insert plugins.

What About Dynamic Range in 32 Bit DAWS?

Some people think that modern DAWs offer near limitless headroom because of 32 bit float.  Because of that there's no reason to worry about clipping channels and if your master fader is too hot, one can just pull it down.

So I figured I'd check in with a pro.

Here's what Nicky Howard, owner of The Fat Mastering had to say.

"Eric, you’ve hit the nail on the head. It should be basic knowledge that channel processing takes place before the level meters, you should therefore start with a signal that's not overly-hot into your processing (Signal>Processing>Level).

Red you’re dead, not very often something sounds good when driven hard in the digital domain. On the opposite side - when driving some analogue gear hard it can take on a whole new, very often pleasing sound. 32-bit floating point does offer allot more headroom & margin for error when exporting, however if you’re using this as a crutch to stop everything maxing out, it’s probably time to go back to the mix."

 2 Reasons to Use Trim or Gain Plugins - aka Utility in Ableton Live

These days plugins are great, but they don't do as well as analog gear does with hot signals.  And again, most tracks (samples, audio rendered from synths or VSTs) prior to mixing are too loud/hot.  Digital plugins and DAWs can't handle the heat like their analog counterparts.  Basically they distort or cause noise - especially ones by known developers that emulate analogue gear - Slate, Waves, and UAD.

The other reason is that you free up headroom on your master fader.  When you send a track off to mastering you have to leave room for your engineer to work. And pulling down that master fader is not the way to do it.

If you want your mixes to sound open, clear, and dynamic you have to start with appropriate levels.  Keep in mind that trim/gain knobs are standard on DJ mixers they are NOT standard on the channels in your DAW.  So what you have to do is insert a gain/trim plugin before you start mixing and adding plugins.

I shared this tip in more detail with a course member and this is part of an email he sent:

"I really liked the tip the start with -12 / -18 db in ableton. My mixes are a lot clearer now! i also tried landr. and i think it is great. I played my tracks at a gig last weekend and they where sounding loud en equal to beatport releases!"

And yeah I do think that when you're starting out and don't yet have a go to mastering engineer Landr is a great tool to use while you perfect your mix and "car check" prior to sending the final mix to a human professional.

Lowering your input gain on tracks to the ideal range will help your mixes and your final masters.

Here's where you want to be (this is a kick drum track)

Notice that in Ableton, you have to expand the channel horizontally to see the numbers vertically.  By default Ableton does not show that so go ahead and widen those mixing channels and insert the stock "Utility" plugin.  If you're not using Ableton Live I'm sure there's an equivalent in your DAW.

For more powerful, easy to understand tips like this, plus insider only production tips, sign up today using the form on the top of this page. 




Some feedback below.

Claude Von Stroke on Native Instruments Maschine

Check this post by CVS.


OK so I'm not here to endorse Mashine, yes I'm a fan but no reason to repeat what CVS said above in his post.  The kicker for me, is what "Albert Candy" wrote about the swing/groove.

And CVS relying saying he didn't even know what it is.

Do I think CVS is lying? No, but who knows.  The point is that swing or no swing won't make or break your track. It's just a subtle effect that the old Akai Samplers did really well. But again, it won't make or break a track.

I found it kind of amazing that Barclay didn't know what it is.  He's got some soul so it's entirely feasible that however he programs drums already has enough swing and groove built it.

I love examples of how you can be great but not need to know what every bell and whistle does, be it Maschine, Ableton, Reason, Synths etc.

Till Next Time.

PS here's a direct link to the post if you want to grab some pop corn and check the comments.









Making More Music In 2017 Has Little To Do With New Gear & Software

It's the most wonderful time....of the year....the hap happiest season of all.

OK not going to Christmas Carol for you.

Here's the thing.

Retailers around the globe just pounded us with sales and that includes your favorite places for buying gear, software, samples and other musical goodies. And if you've been waiting to pull the trigger on something or looking forward to being gifted some new gear, by all means enjoy it.

But, once the season is over and we get back into the normal swing of things, our shiny new toys won't be as shiny.  The buzz of newness wears off, and it's like being at square one.  Sure a new piece of gear may help you start some cool new ideas, but what about finishing them?

You see, those that make gear want you to believe that buying their shit will do all sorts of magical things for you.  And they're right to a certain degree, but they also have to sell product to stay in business.  Because life isn't black or white, and us big boys and girls need to see the sort out that sometimes elusive middle ground.

For example both of these statements are true.  "A good carpenter never blames his tools" and "You have to have the right tools for the job."

Do you see what I mean?  It's both skill and tools.  And it's more important to master the skills before accumulating tools or gear.

Here's what I mean.

The skills are generating original polished ideas (even if they are just your own short loops)

Arranging those ideas into fully fleshed out interesting songs.

Mixing all of those individual tracks so they sound like 1 cohesive file.

And finally mastering your song so it has that professional sheen and sparkle.

These are the skills. And you can do all of this with a few choice sample packs and your favorite DAW - and maybe like 1 synth.  And you don't need to know all the bells and whistles of the DAW to do this, nor do you have to know everything a mix engineer does to mix down your own tune.  And you can totally get by with just a solid pair of headphones.

It's also totally fine to send your finished track out for mastering.  It's super time and cost efficient and this is what the majority of artists do.  Arranging and mixing can be so time consuming do you really want to give yourself more to do by trying to self master?  If you like to be smart with your time I'd think the answer is no. And if you believe in your music, spending $25 for a pro master isn't a big deal.

Taking your track from loopy loop to arranged & mixed does take some work, but if you break it into phases the whole thing is more approachable.

And here's how I can help!

For the past few weeks I've broken down what I know about each phase and made videos, and samples so you see me go through each phased of the production process.

Generating Ideas.



Final Mix and Master.

If you can master each phase the whole game of production gets easier.  Especially the arranging part, that's skill just like mixing.  You have to know what to do, and then practice it.

My course gives you skill set in each area.

This is the un-sexy but needed stuff that you don't see makers of gear and software promoting.  It's always about features and stuff.

And by and large the end result is people become masters of features but still don't have songs done.

I'm eyeing the Maschine Jam, and Native Instruments just put out some videos about how it integrates with other DAWs like Ableton, Logic & Bitwig.

And what do you see people doing in the comments? Bickering over minutia.

"Push is better"

"Ableton Better Watch Out"

"Are the drum rack pads randomly colored"

"Hmm.. I can do almost all of these things in my scripted APC mk1 P.S Basically i can do more"

And for all of these people commenting and yammering on, I couldn't find more than 1 who had their own original songs out.

Remember there's a million things you can do with electronic gear other than making music. Shit like making controller mappings takes time, which maybe be helpful to a point but in the end is fuddling w/ tech is not making and finishing music.

The good news is that these are learned skills, you just have to pony up and invest the time to learn them.

More on that coming soon.

As you make goals and plans for 2017, think about acquiring or sharpening your skills.

Here's a quote if you like that kinda shit.

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."
Abe Lincoln