Linear vs. Non-Linear Music Editing: Or Why It's Easy to Polish a Turd in the Studio

Linear is destructive editing. Non-linear is non-destructive editing. What's that mean?

If you need to make a cut to your track, will you use a razor blade on magnetic tape, or a right click of a mouse? If you mess up on the computer, no big deal, press undo. However, if you cut the tape in the wrong spot, you better think of a creative solution, because there's no going back now.

Imagine a life where you could just press undo if you made a mistake. Wouldn't it be great?

Probably not. Sure, it would be much easier, but also much less interesting. Say goodbye to crime dramas, comedy improv, sports, and probably most children. 

The implications of non-linear editing have been staggering on music production. Why? Because you can always press undo and fix your mistake. Because of this, many imperfections of music have been weeded out. But it's the imperfections in the recording process that add drama, soul and nuance to the track! Great examples of mess-ups in the studio are Peter Townsend and Roger Daltry singing "it's an Eminence Front" at different rhythms, Sting laughing after accidentally sitting on a piano while recording Roxanne, or Ringo Starr shouting "I've got blisters on my fingers!" after recording the umpteenth take of Helter Skelter.

Because splicing tape was such a pain in the ass, it put extra pressure on the musicians to perfect their craft before entering the studio, thereby producing a greater performance in the studio. And yes, sometimes this also meant keeping in mistakes if the performance was too good to scrap. Let's call these mistakes "artifacts." These artifacts become cherished little moments the 30th time you listen to the track.

These days, you can easily polish a turd in ProTools. A great performance is no longer required. Just press undo.

How to Make Spotify Sound Awesome: Setting The Disco Smile EQ

Here's a tip: you can adjust the EQ setting in your Spotify account to boost the bass and treble frequencies to get that classic Disco sound -- full bodied bass and some extra "sparkle" in the high frequencies to guarantee the dance floor is hopping.

If you look at a graphical EQ that's set to the Disco Smile EQ, it will appear to make a smiley face. The lower and high frequencies are boosted, while the mid frequencies are lowered or "scooped." The Disco Smile EQ is also known as the "mid scoop."

Try it out for yourself and tweak the frequencies to what sounds good to your ears and body.

Go to your account settings gear icon and tap on "Playback."

Next, tap on Equaliser (what's this, England?)

Choose a preset or set a custom preset. Use your ears and body as a guide. :)

Why you need to record in a studio instead of "in the box."

Like most aspiring music producers, I purchased Ableton Live, watched YouTube tutorials and tried my hand at producing tracks at home, "in the box."

I came up with a few finished songs that I thought were good. That is until I listened to my finished tracks from the studio and compared them side by side. The result: my recordings sucked.

Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) like ProTools, Cubase, Ableton Live and Logic are becoming more accessible and more musicians are choosing to produce music at home, "in the box" using their music production software. 

But the proliferation of most "in the box" music is lacking character, nuance, originality and yes, musicality. Especially music being produced that's entirely dependent on pre-recorded loops (like FL Studio). How are you going to stand out when you're using the same tones, loops and beats that thousands of other people are using? 

To stand out and have an original sound, you're going to need to think "outside of the box" and head to a recording studio. Here's why:

1. They have much better equipment than you ever will – a recording studio has everything you don't have in terms of music gear. Can you afford a Telefunken microphone, Hammond organ, Marshall stack, Fender Rhodes, Ludwig drumset, Moog synthesizer, mixing console and mic pre-amps? It would take many, many years (and thousands of dollars) to acquire all of this gear. When you go to a record studio, all of their equipment becomes accessible to you.

2. Their recording engineers are much more experienced – The best part about working with a studio is being paired with a recording engineer. These guys are masters of music and technology. You can describe a tone or a sound you want for the recording and they know how to achieve it. 

These guys also have trained ears to hear any unpleasant frequencies, bad notes, bad performances, and phase cancellation, something your buddy with ProTools and some microphones probably isn't familiar with yet.

They also have worked with so many bands and different genres that they act as producers as well. They'll recommend instruments and effects for you to use that you've never even heard of before. 

Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon wouldn't have been the same album if Alan Parsons hadn't worked on it. Not at all. 

3. It's a "real space" where you can capture "real sounds" – What bothers me about using VSTs and pre-recorded samples is that you're missing out on the magic that happens inside a studio. I've had many happy accidents in the studio that turned out to be golden nuggets in my tracks.

4. Legitimacy – Tracks completed in a studio have a professional sound that is nearly impossible to achieve at home with limited gear and expertise. The combination of mic placement, room acoustics, hi-end equipment, mixing and mastering achieve that polished studio sound. 

5. It feels cool – It's just cool to record your music at a studio. There's a certain prestige to it. It feels more real, more professional, more serious. And non-musicians and musicians will take you more seriously because of it.

There's a term called "studio magic." It's a pejorative term, usually implying that a studio can make anything sound good. I disagree with this term. Studio magic is real, and it's the collection of all the tiny mixing decisions, equipment, engineers and inspiration you get inside the studio that creates a magical track. 

And you're not going to get that magic "inside the box."

Deadmau5's rant on creating ballsy synth tones

Deadmau5 is probably the best electronic music producer in terms of sound quality, mixing and finding great synth tones.

In his rant, he complains about the lack of unique synth tones, and goes on to explain why many haters of EDM dislike the music -- because the synth sounds are dull, unoriginal, mechanical and cold sounding.

This can be fixed by adding compression, reverb, using distressors and routing the MIDI data into an external hardware synth and then routed back in. 

By using these effects and external instruments, you can give your synth "balls." A tone that has character and life -- not a dull, lifeless preset.