Transforming Music with Subtlety

Transforming Music with Subtlety

It’s too easy nowadays to get carried away with overcrowding a piece of music, whilst developing it, with multi effects, multi-tracking, thousands of drums, loops and effects – even in home studio environments – because of the mass of complex but good, cheap technology at your disposal with today’s software packages, but sometimes it may help to go back to a more basic approach to see if your particular riff or idea can still become an atmospheric, listenable piece without overcooking it into mediocrity or running out of ideas. I already experienced that first hand with my last track


I think, as part of my learning curve.

I’m going to look at the basic preset effects that are already available in the multi-track window of Magix Hip Hop 3 version software, as I’m pleasantly surprised with what is available there, and how these “easier to use” effects can radically change a piece of music without needing a degree in sound engineering.

These effects are available as a drop down menu, with all the presets hard work done for you:

I’ll show an example of simple development using the current idea I’m working on, and how it is developing from an old finger style guitar piece idea, that I didn’t think would “flesh out” very well in a software environment, to what it has become now, after only a few hours work, and show how something plain and thin on its own on guitar, (but musically valid in my view of course!) can improve nicely without losing too much original mood or identity, without that much work.

The original electric guitar part, complete with errors and digital noise , recorded dry on the Fostex MR8 using the click track at 92 BPM, copied to the PC, and normalised in Audacity is this:


Being a bit lazy and easily frustrated with re-recording stuff because of errors, especially this piece, as, even though it’s mine – it has an awkward F#min to Gdim/maj7 chord fingering at the change, which I still can’t play fluidly – I thought I would just record the same piece 4 times on other tracks, using a different pickup setting each time, and hopefully errors in one track would be hidden sufficiently by the others.

This does work (depending on the degree of errors of course and how much you balance perfection against a short life! – Eric Johnson, Venus Isle comes to mind,
where I believe he spent a year on producing that album – OK it’s fantastic, but we don’t all have that luxury, patience…or talent
), and is a good general recording technique without using FX, as it has a natural chorusing effect with just clean instruments/vocals, as the sound fills out:


OK – why not just chorus 1 guitar and save yourself the work? Fair question, but:

A:     You won’t learn unless you go with an idea and experiment.

B:     It would not have the multi-timbrality of 4 pick-up settings

C:     It would not conceal the errors of any 1 guitar so well, as mentioned before.

D:     I just learned, by writing this up, and preparing the example .wavs for this page, that I can import all the 4 guitar files in one go into Audacity, render them as one wave there, then normalise it, and it will save me 3 tracks in Magix, where I am now using 4 – so this write up has paid off already!

OK – onto the Magix track dropdown effects…

I found a bongo sample I liked that worked as a backing for the guitars:


I decided to look at the drop down effects this time, as I had only used the effects rack kit (right click a sample for the menu) before.

This menu, for Guitar, contains CleanFX: chorus, delay, wahwah and solo.

Adding chorus and delay to all 4 guitar tracks transformed it to:


Notice that the delay is automatically a timed fraction of the 92 BPM tempo.

This worked nicely, so I played with more settings for the bongos also.

The great thing is you can just reset to dry with a click if you don’t like what you hear, and it is quicker than fiddling with mouse dragged knobs in the Effects Rack kit.

The drums_percussion menu has 13 different FX options, but I want this track to be an Ambient type style overall, so I went with a combination of the

Vocal FX Delay:long,wide echo

Vocals: longer reverb

for the bongos to get:


Putting the two parts together:


I have already done a bass line and some keys parts for this track on the DJX last night, sampled them and dragged them into Magix, but wasn’t sure if I’d bother to continue with this track up until discovering these drop down effects. At worst, with what I have learned, I can always redo the guitar parts to fix bum notes etc. using these techniques I discovered, with more care.

Now I will continue developing this piece, but being careful not to fall into the trap of addition for the sake of change, but to try keeping to the minimalist, atmospheric idea that I have in my head for this guitar piece.

In summary, it goes to show that if you bothered developing a musical idea on your instrument in the first place, then there must be something worthwhile in it – for you at least – to have struggled on, writing it to a certain point. It may just be a case of treating it in a certain way to bring it to life, and give you the incentive you need to develop it further.

To highlight this point, this track is at this stage below now because of this experimentation, with the same guitar FX delay and reverb used on all tracks for “environmental consistency” except the bass line (I don’t want delay on that, just reverb):


Are the guitar errors so noticeable now buried in the overall mix? I don’t think so.

It is enough to know that I can redo this track from scratch properly if necessary, with more care now that I’m happy it would work for me as an overall concept.

As usual, in music, less is more…