Keith Everette Smith

Producer, Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist

Filtering by Tag: articles

My favorite resources

I find myself frequenting many blogs and websites throughout the week as I work. Sometimes I’m looking for a specific solution for a problem I’ve run into, sometimes I’m looking to be creatively inspired and sometimes I’m just looking for some light reading (where I accidentally pick up on new tips and tricks). I’m sure there are lots of sites I’m forgetting and I’ll surely come across new sites as I continue to scan the web!

Here’s just a few…. - I mentioned Gearslutz in a post earlier this week. Gearslutz is a public forum for anyone into music production and in particular, GEAR. The people who post on GS tend to be gear fanatics and spout their opinions freely. You can learn a lot on GS. In particular, read through the Expert threads from producer/engineers like Bruce Swedien, Dave Pensado, Al Schmitt and Tony Maserati! (note: Watch out for all the crack heads who speak with no actual knowledge on a subject. It’s actually kinda comical) - This may be kind of obvious at this point but you’ll be surprised what you can come up with in terms of a quality education on audio by searching for topics on youtube. Some of my favorite - This magazine is fantastic. I particularly love their “Secrets of the Mix Engineer” column. They interview all kinds of mixers and analyze current hits all the way down to EQ and compression settings, types of FX and how the mixer overcame certain challenges along the way. GREAT stuff. If you subscribe to the magazine you get access to the all past issues digitally for free! (BLOG) - I just found this blog and am about to dig in and read through all the posts. I enjoy blogs like this because it gives you some insight into the mind of a mixer. (BLOG) - Another great blog about all things recording. I enjoy the title of the blog too (I genuinely love pro tools! I still think it’s funny) (BLOG) - TuneCore is a fantastic resource for digitally distributing your music. They have a passion for educating as well. Their blog features tips and tutorials as well as discussions on issues presented to the record industry. Fantastic! (BLOG) - A blog by music genius Charlie Peacock. This one is pretty new but promises to be very educational! Charlie is definitely someone I’m excited to learn from!

There are certainly more. As I find them I’ll blog them. Please, please… if you have a resource that you think others would enjoy go ahead and post it in a comment! Don’t hold back. Share what you know!

Family Force 5

I’ve become a big fan of these guys. Family Force 5 is really unique, blending tons of influences. Their stuff has energy!!!! It’s so entertaining. In the spirit of producing great records, take a look at this article on how they produced their record. There’s a major focus on how they tracked guitars. Hopefully you’ll get a picture into how they made the record. (Pay attention to the comment about using small amps for big sounds… even a cigarette mini amp!)

Happy guitar tracking!

Tips for tracking guitars…. using microphones and don’t forget to use strings!! ;)
(on a serious note, I love SM57’s blended with a Royer 121 or an ADK S7 through API 512 pres into a distressor or LA-3A limiters! Peace out!)

REPOST: Buss Compressors and Parallel Compression

This post was published originally on May 3rd, 2009 but I realized that the link was bad. It was worth posting again. Check it out and learn :)

There are SOOOO many ways to use compression. I consider Michael Brauer a genius when it comes to mixing with compression. He is unbelievably innovative and has worked long and hard to develop his fantastic technique.

I remember hearing Coldplay’s “Violet Hill” and being so impressed with its unique sound only to find out that Brauer mixed it (he’s mixed a LOT of Coldplay stuff). I found this article where he talks about the process of mixing this fantastic song. Check it out…

Also be sure to check our Michael Brauer’s website and try to read through all of through and contemplate all of his Q&A stuff. WOW!


I grew up an instrumentalist. For me, that was enough… then I realized that the only way to truly succeed in “the biz” was to become a songwriter. Luckily, I’ve dabbled in songwriting since I was a young lad. :) I’m still learning but it has been an extremely rewarding journey.

Here’s a great article on my favorite songwriting approach… co-writing. Check it out!!

P.S. My blog will be moving soon. I’ll keep you posted on the details soon!
P.S.S. I LOVE hearing your thoughts on my blogs. Feel free to comment often!

Buss Compressors and Parallel Compression

There are SOOOO many ways to use compression. I consider Michael Brauer a genius when it comes to mixing with compression. He is unbelievably innovative and has worked long and hard to develop his fantastic technique.

I remember hearing Coldplay’s “Violet Hill” and being so impressed with its unique sound only to find out that Brauer mixed it (he’s mixed a LOT of Coldplay stuff). I found this article where he talks about the process of mixing this fantastic song. Check it out…

Also be sure to check our Michael Brauer’s website and try to read through all of through and contemplate all of his Q&A stuff. WOW!

The difference between the talented and the talented and successful

I have the pleasure of calling some VERY successful people in the music industry my friends. These friends teach me a lot and I thoroughly enjoy being around them. I covet their friendship because we always have something to talk about. They are often recording geeks like myself. They can talk for hours about music like I can. I learn a lot when I’m with them. They are just great people to be around!

I’ve invariably asked myself “what makes these people so successful?” “What have they done that I can do?” I’ve determined the answer…

You see, there are TONS of talented musicians in the world. You can hear some of them playing for coins on a city street or subway terminal. You can meet them while they work the day shift at McDonalds. Talent is not the determining factor to success. If it were, there would be a “talent threshold” and anyone who’s talent exceeded the threshold would achieve fame and forture based on their musical genius. No, you can find some very mildly talented people finding success in the biz. There are many exceptions that allude to the fact that talent is not the determining factor.

The determining factor is DISCIPLINE! A musician/producer who can meet deadlines, prioritize and “deliver the goods” has that unique factor that brings success. This is the secret sauce of making it in the music industry. It’s what divides those with talent and discipline from the ones that are simply talented alone. I once asked a successful producer, “So, are you the kind of guy who always meets your deadlines?” He answered (with a smirk), “I never miss a deadline. This is very important to me.” … telling don’t you think.

There are exceptions to this, sure, but there are very few lazy people truly finding success in the business. I guess you could say that this is why there are managers. True. I’d still be willing to bet that the laze musician who finds success will enjoy it for a much shorter time. The disciplined musician has a greater chance of enjoying long term success. Discipline allows a person to work within a set of rules that allow for efficiency. These rules also allow a person to adapt and chance course when needed. Thus lengthening the career of a disciplined musician’s career. I know many artists turned producer turned manager turned successful record label owner.

You might say, “but wait, I spent years of my life being disciplined about studying music. I must be disciplined!” OK, I hear you. But, wouldn’t you say that most of that “discipline” came from the love of music? Personally, I never considered my music study a discipline. It was a form of discipline, but I played because I loved it! I played because I enjoyed getting better. I loved being creative, not being disciplined!! Studying business, leadership and time management is very hard for the creative person.

If you think about it, it makes TOTAL SENSE why many musicians (and artists) have such a hard time building disciplines in their business. I personally spent 24 years of my life almost exclusively developing the right side of my brain. My brain has to be very lopsided! The discipline I was creating by studying my trumpet was creating a very creative person, but not a well rounded person. I think this is the case for most artists. We find it very hard to be disciplined, show up on time, etc.

For many of us, our talent has carried us too far. We’ve been allowed to coast through life… like the charismatic gentlemen who gets his way with women with little effort. He doesn’t learn to nurture relationships correctly. It’s far to easy for him. When the going gets tough, this man can cave in and leave the relationship prematurely. Creative people are much the same way. We get scholarships to school, get our picture taken with fans, free meals on occasion. Perhaps if if were hard for us, we would have worked harder.

The above is my story! It wasn’t until I came to Saddleback that I realized that my success would be determined by my ability to get things done on time and deliver the goods to my clients. My successful (disciplined) musician friends painted a clear picture of who I would have to become in order to achieve my goals. I probably spend as much time reading leadership books as I do reading music books. It’s a new life-long journey!

Check out this blog by Seth Godin. He touches on this subject. Seth is a marketing/business genius. His blog is worth subscribing to!

Have to post this...

If you’re not a major audio nerd just LEAVE NOW. I had to post this because it had a lot of sense and I had not heard (read) this.

The topic is harmonic distortion. Harmonic distortion is added by tubes and transistors and adds harmonics on top of the sound fist in octaves, then in fifths…

Even order harmonics are more pleasing and add a thickness to the sound. Odd order harmonics introduce more dissonant colors and can be less pleasing. This would come in handy when dealing with your EL Distressor which has a distortion option (DIST 1 is even order and DIST 2 is odd order).

What I was excited to learn was about the pleasing and not so pleasing qualities of these two types of distortion. This was new to me. Thanks to Jim Roberts for posting this post. Check out his blog. It’s great.

You can read more here.

Have to post this...

If you’re not a major audio nerd just LEAVE NOW. I had to post this because it had a lot of sense and I had not heard (read) this.

The topic is harmonic distortion. Harmonic distortion is added by tubes and transistors and adds harmonics on top of the sound fist in octaves, then in fifths…

Even order harmonics are more pleasing and add a thickness to the sound. Odd order harmonics introduce more dissonant colors and can be less pleasing. This would come in handy when dealing with your EL Distressor which has a distortion option (DIST 1 is even order and DIST 2 is odd order).

What I was excited to learn was about the pleasing and not so pleasing qualities of these two types of distortion. This was new to me. Thanks to Jim Roberts for posting this post. Check out his blog. It’s great.

You can read more here.

TOP 10 PRODUCER MISTAKES (I know, I've done them all!)

I notice things about producers… things that people do over and over again that I notice. I notice them because I used to do them, or struggle with these things myself. I thought I’d compile a list of some of these things. Here we go… my top 10 producer mistakes… (in no real order)

#1) Caring more for creating cool, technical band arrangements at the expense of the song and lead vocal.

** Guys, c'mon… it’s about the song! it’s about the vocal!

#2) Leaving bad edits in your song, not cross-fading and checking things before they head off to mix.

** I notice this because some producers do this to me! They leave bad edits, don’t cross-fade those edits and general leave things “unfinished.” This stuff could make it to the final mix! Don’t chance it. Your mixer is not your editor.

#3) Picking the wrong tempo for a song.

** I’m aware that this is preference but I hear a lot of songs that are simply to slow or too fast for the style. If it makes the song sound awkward, then it’s the wrong tempo.

#4) Not being patient enough to get good vocals!

** It can take a lot of effort to get a good vocal take. It takes a lot of psychology to coach an inexperienced or nervous vocalist. What is worse is hearing a poor vocal performance but a killer guitar solo.. THE VOCAL IS KING! Be patient and get the vocal! Nothing else matters.

#5) Over-tuning or not being careful when tuning vocals.

** This takes time, but listen carefully and make sure you can’t hear the auto-tune working. You might have to dig into manual mode and get picky but it’ worth it. I like hearing out of tune vocals more than I like the sound of auto-tune! YUCK!

#6) Double tracking everything!

** To many guys, double tracking is the key to everything. It makes things bigger, covers mistakes, and gets you excited about guitars! Double tracking everything can also make for a boring mix! Double what is necessary. Leaving some stuff un-doubled (does that work to say?) makes the stuff you did double sound bigger in contrast!

#7) Putting high-pass filters on everything.

** I know some people that put HPF’s on everything including kick and bass guitar. Now, this can be necessary but it sound be determined by YOUR EARS not what you think you should do. Use HPF’s on when you have instruments competing for low-end real estate. Your mixes will sound thin otherwise.
NOTE: check stuff on small speakers. If you blow one up, you have too much LOW END :)

#8) Phasing issues with Overhead mics and guitars!

** There’s one thing that my poor hearing has done has made me listen in mono more. What you’ll notice is phasing issues. It is very easy for guitars to be out of phase because of the complexity the wave form (particularly distorted guitars). If you check your work in mono and the gain is decreased and everything falls apart you know you have phasing issues (I say “the mix folds into itself! that’s what I think phasing sounds like.) Search google for ways to avoid phasing.

#9) Using synth pads all the time!

** Sometimes you need space in a mix. I much enjoy it! Pads can make things muddy and ACTUALLY they can make stuff sound dated and lame! Sometimes it is actually the right thing to do, sometimes it’s not.

#10) Not using me as your mixer!

** I’m affordable and good looking. I’m sure to do a good job on your next record :) ha!!

UNTIL NEXT TIME "Stay classy San Diego!”

Composers and Inspiration

I played a concert for the Presbyterian Church of the Master Sunday night. It was fun. It was pretty much a classical gig playing trumpet. I really miss classical music. That used to be most of what I did. I played in orchestras, concert bands and many brass ensembles growing up. Though my personality ultimately didn’t fit in with this crowd, as a trumpet player, I am probably best at this style. For this reason, it’s nice to play this music on occasion.

The conductor’s name was John Elg. He was a FANTASTIC conductor and really had the church choir sounding fantastic. What I noticed about John was his inspiring personality. His gestures, smiles, and attitude begged you to play with the emotion that he was portraying. This got me thinking about record production. I consider myself a good producer in part because of the conductors I sat under through the years. I watched these men (and women) turn a bunch of individual musicians into a single unit, making beautiful music together. It was amazing.

One thing I remember is how 2 conductors specifically would use word pictures to describe the emotion for which a part should be performed. It was amazing how an emotion could be imparted on someone else and an emotional musical performance would result. I’ve tried to use this technique on several occasions in the studio. Correct notes has never been good enough for me. You MUST inspire me with the notes. With vocalists, I may say “Sing beyond the microphone, like you’re singing at a rock concert in front of 50,000 people!” Or I might say, “Sing delicately as if you were whispering to a person you love.” These things really work. When the mind is focused on the record button or the microphone in front of them, I’d venture to say that you will never received the most powerful performance possible.

All that to say, if you want to produce exciting, emotional music, head to your local college and watch a conductor interact with his ensemble. You’ll learn very useful tips for inspiring the musicians you are producing!

What Mastering Does

Ah! (deep breath… slowly exhale). I just returned from a fantastic trip to Europe. Switzerland, Croatia, France and Italy. It was truly an amazing trip.

A few months ago I began work with a local Orange County rock band called “

The Bolts

.” These guys are a lot of fun and put on a great show. We headed into the studio to cut a song called “Our Love Can Change The World.” Mattie, the band’s drummer, is a great videographer and he documented the event. I thought you might enjoy checking it out. The song was recorded at

Sonikwire Studio

s in Irvine, California… they have lots of great gear including a great Neve Console full of 1073 mic pres, Pultec EQ’s, LA-2a compressors… (check out the studio website for a list of all the gear.)

Check it out… and you can download the final version


(mixed by Shane D. Wilson, Mastered by Richard Dodd)

Gear Heads Don't Get It!

Jeremy Cowart is one of the most gifted commercial photographers around. I am not a photographer but I do have many friends who make their living at photography and graphic design.  I do enjoy going to Jeremy’s site to see who he’s shot lately. It will most likely be the artist soaring at the top of the pop charts or the stars from ABC’s newest hit show.

While looking through Jeremy’s blog I was drawn to a title “GEAR HEADS DON’T GET IT.” Automatically I am interested. I mean, I am a gear head after all.

You’ll want to take a quick glance at this article as it is a simple explanation as to why creativity comes before gear.



I am still a gear head, though, I feel as though I’d recovering. I can admit that I have a problem and I am facing my addiction head on! I have a decent amount of gear… larger than most home studios and smaller than most commercial studios. I have plenty of gear to make my recordings. Gear is one thing.. A TOOL! If you are an engineer/producer you should know your gear inside and out for 2 reasons: #1 - so you know what each piece of gear is capable of and #2 so that you can use your gear quickly.. so you don’t interrupt your creativity.

CREATIVITY! - I noticed something a few years ago. When I would ask another professional to critique my work, I never heard comments about the quality of my recordings. I heard critiques of the song itself or the vocal performance. Things like that. I also noticed that when listening to hit songs, the common denominator was not audio quality. The thing that every song had in common was that it was a great song that had character and life!

To quickly get to the point. I hope that all of you are seeking for hone your craft as a musician before crafting developing your craft as an engineer. Even engineers should consider themselves musicians first. Buy only the gear you HAVE to have and learn to create art within the creative walls of your current setup.

10 things you can do to fuel creativity/musicianship…

#10 - Don’t compare your work critically to others

#9 - Create things that have nothing to do with your music

#8 - Take music lessons

#7 - Look at nature, don’t move, breathe deep and stay a while

#6 - Create something truly unique… something only you may enjoy.

#5 - When being creative, don’t compare your work to others’ work.

#4 - Share your work with others… often! Share the bad stuff too!

#3 - Be willing to truly hear the opinions of other. You don’t have to agree.

#2 - Don’t be afraid to have your own taste and your own opinions.

#1 - Smile at your work!

Birthdays and Music That inspires

Yesterday was my birthday. It was a good birthday. I went up to LA and played in a reading band… it’s a big band where musicians come sit in and play through music… jazz, funk, contemporary stuff mostly. It was a lot of fun and a good way to spend the 26th anniversary of my birth! Without going into details, the circumstances surrounding the rehearsal were a little difficult.  You know how that can be… tense and frustrating. After spending a few hours in my car (without AC!) I was greeted by my friends and family and we had a great evening!

I mention this story because it illustrates something very powerful about music. That is this:

music is much more about tension than it is about perfect harmony.

You don’t notice blissful moments without some tension to remind you that you are actually in a blissful state. Tension is the reason why I love cluster chords rather than simple triads, the reason why I love distortion, the reason why I love an emotive performance and the reason why

perfection is the enemy.

Creating tension can be especially hard in Christian music. I mean, the end result is a Savior who loves us and would do anything for us. We have to look for creative ways to add tension to our music in order that it is something compelling. Christian music is BETTER than it was 20-30 years ago, not just different. Christian musicians, I believe, have become better artists and have found ways to add tension to music. Music in the 90’s was GREAT at this. It was raw and edgy and bands like Audio Adrenaline, Jars of Clay and DC Talk were creating great music that included tension.

Here’s the problem… digital editing has allowed us the “luxury” of releasing too much tension from our music. We can perfect every hit and tune every note until a very important part of our music is tension free. It is the element of human performance. The answer to this is to

use your ears, not your eyes

when editing. Musical tension does not happen with your eyes anyway, it happens with your ears. To use your eyes while editing is pretty ridiculous. When you listen, you will listen for actual mistakes and fix those instead of sucking the life out of your music.

Now, I will say that there are some times when you will say, “I’d like to tighten this up more.” The feel is not flawed, but certain genres call for a tighter feel. Electronic and Pop music is pretty rigid these days… on purpose, though it can be very FRESH to infuse live performances unaltered within your electronic or pop songs. That’s what many producers have done with R&B and Hip Hop. You’ll hear a lot of groove on R&B albums these days. Very cool!


  • don’t over-tune vocals
  • don’t over-time align vocals
  • don’t alter your groove too much
  • take the time to record GREAT performances
  • Never say “I can fix it in the mix”
  • Don’t over-compress
  • DO over-compress sometimes
  • release the tension every now and then so you notice it when you’ve got it
  • make music that inspires you to sing along, bob your head and dance!

Check out

Tristan Prettyman’s song “Hello”

for an example of a song that would have been utterly RUINED had it been auto-tuned to death. An amazing vocal performance!

I’m off to over-tune some vocals :)

Michael H. Brauer - Multi-Bus Compression

Ever wonder how some mixes just sound SOOOOOOO BIIIIIIIGGGG!!!?!?!?!?! Well, one way mixes sound big is by using something called the New York Compression Technique (also called Parallel Compression.) NY Compression involves taking an uncompressed audio source, duplicating it and then compressing the snot out of the duplicated track. THEN take the compressed track and tuck it underneath the uncompressed track. What this does is allow the instrument to have the dynamics of an uncompressed sound with the thickness of a compressed sound. Get it? The results can be incredible.

Michael H. Brauer is a stunning mixer. He’s mixed for all kinds of artists of all styles and genres. I was rummaging through Michael’s site and I noticed a wildly extensive Q&A section. I thought this could be a benefit to you all. Check it out and try grasp the ideas he presents about NY Compression.

Compressor Wars

Compressors are perhaps the most mysterious of audio processors. You either admit that you don’t know how to use them or you are always learning how to use them more efficiently and to every extent that they are capable. I guess what I’m trying to say is that compressors are deep.. WAY deep. There’s a lot to learn. Even once you understand their concept there seems to be hundreds of ways to use them.

Different ways to use a compressor (there may be more… I’m still learning too)…

  • Control dynamics
  • Add “thickness” to an audio source
  • make something “punchy”
  • make something “pump”
  • control sibilance
  • control EQ of an audio source
  • add “color to an audio source
Like I said, there are more ways than this to use a compressor and within these functions there are plently of ways to achieve the same goal.

Honestly, the sound of modern recording is the sound of compression. I’m not just talking about a dynamically squashed sound (although this can be the result of the following) but compressors thicken and add color to anything it’s applied too, especially in heavy doses. Rock music often adds compression generously, thus giving the listener the illusion that a mix is louder and thicker. Consoles like the SSL E Series console offer dynamic processing on every channel allowing mixers to use as much compression as was needed. Today, most mixes are performed inside of a DAW (digital audio workstation.) This offers the mixer even more control over dynamics.

I want to talk about the common controls that a compressor utilizes. We’ll talk about the different ways to use a compressors and possible settings for different instruments later. For now, the basics.

INPUT - controls the amount of gain that enters the compressor.

THRESHOLD - the point when the compressor kicks in. i.e. If the threshold is set to -10bd then any audio louder that -10db that enters the compressor will be compressed. Anything under the threshold will be left alone (except "soft knee” compression… see below.“

ATTACK - I like to rename this "attack speed” because I feel it accurately verbalizes what the attack setting does - Once an audio source rises over the threshold the compressor can kick in at different speeds. A fast attack would turn the compressor on very quickly (keeping harsh peaks at bay) where a slow attack would let the first transients (the first part of the audio source) pass through before the compressor reacts (this setting will let any percussive sounds keep their “punch”

RELEASE (or “release time”) - The release setting determine how fast or slow a compressor shuts off after the source has gone below the threshold. The release time may be determined by the speed of the rhythmic-ness of the instrument. A release time that is slower that the next transient peak may sound lifeless and flat.

RATIO - Without a doubt the most complicated part of the compressor. The ratio decides by what ratio is an audio source reduced. You'lll see settings like 3:1, 4:1, 6:1. A 3:1 ratio means that an audio source will be allowed to raise 3db before 1db of compression is applied. This allows there to still be dynamics in audio even when the audio is being compressed. To complete this definition. A source that has risen 6db above the threshold and has a 3:1 ratio will be reduced by 2db. In the same manner, an audio source that has risen 12by above the thresh. and has a 4:1 ratio will be reduced 3db. It is actually very simple.

OUTPUT (or “make-up gain”) - It’s true, any time you add compression you are lowering the dynamic range of at least some part of the sound. The output knob simply adds gain where the compressor has taken it away. A good way to put it would be if you turned down the volume of your TIVO but turned up the TV to make up the volume loss. OR when your ipod is too loud in playing through your car stereo and it distorts… you turn the ipod down and turn up the car stereo to make up the difference.

SOFT-KNEE COMPRESSION - Soft knee compression basically makes it so the compressor is actually working a bit below the threshold. It gradually begins working harder as source nears the threshold. You might use this setting if you want the source colored in general, not just at the peaks.

HARD -KNEE COMPRESSION - this type of compression is the “normal” way of using a compressor… the compressor begins working only above the threshold. You would use this setting when you desire for only the peaks to be reduced.

That’s it… the basics. I’ll be touching more of compression soon. There is so much to cover. If I could offer one tip… when you’re first starting to use compression, try using a LOT while you’re messing around with your gear. Like any gear, take it to the limit. It is at this point where you find out what your compressors can do and what they sound like. When you learn the sound of a compressors extremes you will learn to hear when it is applied in small doses.