May 27, 2009 by DJ Elroy
DJ Hero’s V-Theory of Production
I see a lot of aspiring producers on the web nowadays and thought it would be cool to share some of the ideas I keep in mind while I’m producing and engineering my tracks, remixes, and other peoples work in Solitude Studios. Disclaimer: Obviously these are only ideas and are my point of view, but they have been tried and tested in the industry for going on a decade. If something is not clear or you’d like more detailed information, please ask.
The V-Theory is a simple formula I use to make a track wide, bright, and full. It starts with the shape of the “V” and:
-The bottom point of the “V” is the low end of the spectrum sounds that typically take up the most space in your mix.
-The tips of the “V” represent the high end of your track. And obviously the transition from the point to the tips is the transition from the low end to the high end.
If you look at the “V” the top end is wider than the lower point.
As I produce I make each frequency range starting from the lowest to the highest a little wider, with respect to stereo width.
For example, the kick drum, the root of most dance music, is a low end instrument (typically). Because of the space a kick requires and the low-end nature of the kick, I keep it directly centered in the mix (normal stereo width, not mono).
The next level could be the snare, which generally falls somewhere in the middle of the “V” with respect to the frequencies it uses. That particular range I like to widen, usually half way (if we think of width as being 0 to 100%). That sets the snare wider than the kick, but not as wide as it can be widened.
Next I’ll move to the top of the “V”, which for this example I will use the high hats as an example. The high hats I’ll widen 100% to keep them from sitting directly on top of both the kick and the snare. The result is that it requires less volume to achieve the presence needed to push through the mix.
Obviously I have only covered three sounds in this very basic example, but if you take all of your instruments and evaluate what the main range of frequency is, you will be able to sit more sound into your finite space. In most cases, there is a bassline, a lead synthesizer, perhaps an acid line, open hats, closed hats, various background percussion, and various string-like instruments (pads) to fill out the mix. Each sound has a range of frequencies which they occupy most. If you think of each instrument as an average frequency range — and stick to the V-Theory — you be able to really fill out a mix, keep your production from sounding flat, and allow your stereo effects to really breathe and move.
Remember, the V-Theory is only a general rule of thumb and in just about every song you’ll find finer nuances that call for different techniques. For instance, your song may have two similar sounding high hats. If one is set to 100% width, perhaps it may be more intelligent to set the second to 50% width (to better give them their own space). Space management like this can be thought of the space between the two points at the top of the “V” and the point at the bottom of the “V”.
While you are placing sounds in certain widths, you may find that the sound isn’t sounding any wider when you open up the width. That can be because the sample or instrument is set to mono, or was originally recorded in mono (as a lot of percussion samples default to in sample packs and CDs). You can get around this using a chorus set with very little detune so as to not distort the sound any, or a stereo enhancement tool which will give you the ability to place a sound in a specific space easily. I tend to use either the Waves Bundle’s Stereo Imager, Waves Doubler, or the Sonitus Surround Module, but it can be achieve with a variety of tools (which most DAWs come with).
When you start widening sounds, you’ll want to pay close attention to two things:
The first is “is the sound too wide?” If you’ve made a sound too wide, you’ll risk losing it on a stereo, PA, or sound system that is set to mono.
Secondly you’ll want to listen to your work in headphones to avoid any room variances that may prevent you from hearing the actual width, or equally importantly, what that width is doing to any stereo effects you have on the sound, such as ping-ponging delays, chorus, flanger, etc.
Once you have successfully (or to your satisfaction, at least) placed all of your sounds where you want them with respect to stereo width, or stereo panning, you’ll notice it takes less volume to achieve the presence required to push through the mix like I said earlier. The end result is you’ll be able to turn the over all volume of the project up louder. That fact right there will play an integral role when you master the song, as you will be able to achieve a much more present final project. Where overall maximum volume cannot be increased past a certain db, you’ll be able to push of the frequencies to have a much louder relative volume, as heard by the human ear (or any other life form’s ear for that matter)!
I hope the V-Theory proves effective for anyone looking to kick out another great tune!
Aka DJ Hero
Velcro City Records