2011 began my exposure to the digital audio workstation known as Pro Tools. This computer program is of the most revered audio production tools in the industry. This feat of technological advancement brings the entirety of audio engineering into a digital realm. Pro Tools is on the forefront of a digital audio revolution. Today, more than ever, the musical art form is refined on a digital platform. Before the innovations of modern technology – the efficiency we have grown ever so accustomed to – the art of music production was a purely analog endeavor; meaning it was achieved by means of hardware units that performed singular, specific functions. Today, digital audio production has compiled all of those outdated, inefficient tools of the past into a unified work space. Pro Tools has not only shaped my personal musical endeavors, but has ultimately enabled me to produce at a quality higher than I ever imagined possible. The following will elaborate on my experience over the years; mastering the art of digital audio production in the underground metal scene.
My initial exposure to Pro Tools in 2011 was with other musician friends at the time. Those people were new to using the program, but were on their way to efficient use of the workstation. Although I had little hands on experience with the program in early years, just the experience of watching another performing various functions on that work space was eye-opening in itself. The backseat driving, or so to speak, was the most important precursor to beginning my journey with Pro Tools.
It took nearly three years of secondhand experience with Pro Tools before I finally made the move to ownership of the program on my personal computer. After I bought the program and began personal use, there was definitely a significant learning curve. In spite of the knowledge I had accumulated from watching others use the program in close proximity, personal use from the ground up was a drastic change. For example, experienced users have developed templates for the various types of channels they use for the processing of different instruments. My beginning on my personal Pro Tools required building my own templates from scratch. I had to learn how to shape channels that best suited the types of instruments in the genre of music I was producing.
Over the course of developing specific templates for my various channels of instrumentation, I moved from utilizing my colleagues for reference to using the multitude of YouTube tutorials as a tool for refining my skills. As I became more self-sufficient – in that I relied less and less on others around me – I learned how to attain necessary information regarding specific endeavors by means of reliable YouTube sources.
It took somewhere in the ballpark figure of one and a half to two years to refine my channel templates to a point of near perfection. The process of shaping templates over time was made easy by the various YouTube tutorials. For instance, when I had first began using Pro Tools, I had only an inkling of the extent to which equalization, compression, or other dynamic processing tools are able to make drastic differences in the richness or integrity of each piece of digital audio. There are tutorials on YouTube for every type of digital audio workstation. There are also tutorials for specific audio shaping tools (such as equalization), but differ depending on the instrument being processed and more specifically the genre of the production that instrument is being mixed into. A detailed example of this would be as follows.
The guitar is not simply a guitar. There are acoustic guitars and electric guitars. Even within the difference between acoustic and electric guitars there are vast differences in the type of acoustic or electric guitar. There are acoustic guitars such as standard, 12 string, steel guitar, or banjos and they all sound vastly different. Within the spectrum of electric guitars there are differences depending on what style of rock (i.e. blues, alternative, and metal). These genres differ greatly and consequently the build of the guitar and the specifications of electronic components must also differ greatly. For instance, if one wished to play blues, they would want a hollow body, classic style electric guitar. The blues guitar is so incredibly different in personality than a metal guitar.
In my case, I play aggressive metal music, which is comprised of a multitude of sub-genres. The specific style of metal music I perform is a very modern form of metal known as Djent. This type of metal differs from say progressive metal, which requires much more dexterity in the hands and travels broadly across the neck of the guitar. My genre of metal is considered simplistic to other metal musicians, but requires a richer interest in complex rhythmic intervals. So, in turn, to record and produce the style of music that I prefer to perform, I need an instrument designed for such a style.
To achieve the best possible tone for the music genre known as djent, one would need a high gain, metal guitar. There are many brands that build guitars for high gain metal, but it comes down to the specific pickups used, string tension, tuning, and hand positioning (more specifically, playing style). The brand of guitar I use to achieve the proper tone and character for my style of music comes down to preference. I use Schecter guitars, and specifically, 8 string. I own a Schecter Blackjack SLS C-8. This high gain, metal monster of a guitar comes stock with Seymour Duncan pickups, which are great for many types of metal music. For my sub-genre of metal – and because of personal preference – I opted to swap the Duncan pickups for another brand of high gain, metal pickups known as EMGs. I use a pair of EMG 808X pickups in my guitar to achieve the desired sound.
The combination of guitar, pickups, string gauges, string tension, hand positioning, and even playing style is only half of the picture. To get the best sound in production of Djent music, you need the right template for the guitar channel. This template consists of the proper gating, compression, equalization, and other various effects, depending on what type of phrase you are performing in the song.
Although this may sound like a hefty toll to pay for such a minuscule piece of music, this too, is only a small fragment of what goes into digital audio production. I could write volumes based on the seemingly infinite aspects of music production. Hopefully, though, this has been a significant insight into what goes on behind the scenes of underground metal music production.