What Makes Great-Sounding Music for Me (and not necessarily you)

I have found that I like a certain kind of music from a mastering and quality point of view, and I set out to determine why I like it based on several factors that I think could be relevant.

I used the Youlean Loudness Meter to make the measurements. I took downloaded song files from Bandcamp or ripped from CDs, of the music I find best-mastered, or best-sounding, and measured each.

Here are the factors that I measured:

  1. Integrated LUFS (Long-term LUFS)
  2. Loudness Range LU
  3. Average Dynamics (PLR=”Peak to Long-Term(Integrated) Loudness Ratio”) = (Integrated LUFS – True peak Maximum dB) in LU.
  4. Momentary Maximum LUFS
  5. Short-Term Maximum LUFS
  6. True Peak Maximum dB

There was one additional calculated value that I took from the measured values:

  1. PSR = “Peak to Short-term Loudness Ratio” = (Short-Term Maximum LUFS – True Peak Maximum dB) in LU.

What I found was a bit astounding to me:

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Field Recording

I like recording ambient sounds of nature, locations, equipment, and other assorted noises. When I play my recordings back, I want them to sound exactly like when I was there. Here is the technique, equipment, and settings I use.


Last updated: 06-September-2022

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Intervals and Chords

Intervals in music are important for understanding the sounds of chords and dyads. Even melodies can benefit from a clear understanding of intervals. Unfortunately, a lot of the information I have found out there is confusing. I’m trying to unravel it for myself and you may get something out of it as well.

Last updated: August 23rd, 2022

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Album, EP, or single – what defines each?

Definitions of Single, EP (extended play), or Album (or LP, long play):

  1. Single = A single is considered 1-3 songs, each less than 10 minutes.
  2. EP = An EP is considered 1-3 songs with one song of at least 10 minutes in length and a total running time of 30 minutes or less. Or, an EP is considered 4-6 songs with a total running time of 30 minutes or less.
  3. Album = An album is considered to be 6 or more songs running, over 30 minutes in length, and is considered to be one product.

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Xfer Cthulhu MIDI Out to Piano Roll in FL Studio

Xfer Records Cthulhu program creates arpeggios and chords like none other. Lots of patterns when used with the correct synths, can sound a lot like deadmou5 and this makes sense as Joel Zimmerman has been known to use Cthulhu made by his associate, Steve Duda.

I find that often it is desirable for me to get the actual notes Cthulhu creates out to the piano roll in FL Studio so they can be edited individually and outside of Cthulhu.

I’ll start by showing you the basic set-up and then the one where you can get at those individual notes.

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Psychic Modulation’s Phonec Synth (vst) Presets: “Boards” – Free Presets

Psychic Modulation has made a synthesizer that combines that “lo-fi” sound with vintage tape and synth type of processing, for a synth that sounds remarkably similar to artists such as Boards of Canada and others of that type.

It comes as a low-cost vst file type of plugin that works in your DAW (digital audio workstation). I use it in FL Studio.

Simple to use and fun to adjust, Phonec2 shatters the learning curve usually associated with many soft synths out there today. I like it in my music because it gives me the sounds I need that fit my genre.

I have made my sound bank of presets for Phonec version 2 available to everyone that owns Phonec2.

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Boards of Canada Chords and Variations in Xfer Records Cthulhu – Free Chord Presets

Listen to the chords in the video above.

Some of what makes Boards of Canada’s songs (or for that matter, any artist’s songs) interesting for me are the chords. If you know the chords, you can get a feel for how to make your own song sound similar or “in the flavor of” so to speak. From the chords, you can often get a melody you like by building off of them or playing along with them. You can even arpeggiate them.

I took the chords from Boards of Canada songs and put them into Xfer Records Cthulhu. From Cthulhu, you can make variations, add low notes, and change to major/minor/suspended. This gives a lot of inspiring chord progressions from some of my favorite Boards of Canada songs. I put them into a zip file of chord presets that you can use in Cthulhu for yourself (see below).

Updated: 1/5/22

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How to Replicate Biosphere’s Shenzhou Track Using Loops and a Few Effects

I like Biosphere’s (Geir Jenssen’s) music very much and one of my favorite albums is Shenzhou. The album is made up of repeated looping of Debussy orchestral track samples. The title song is particularly interesting to me as I like the depth and width of the sound. I was able to figure out how to remake it and I’d like to show you how I did that.

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On Musical Loops

Making music with loops is not a new process. However, after thinking about it, I was surprised at how many different ways there are to loop samples to make music. I’ll add to this as I discover more, but the list is long right now.

Last updated: 26-December-2020

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TAL Sampler Presets with a Boards of Canada Sound – Free Presets

I have been building presets for TAL Sampler for awhile and thought I would share some of them that I particularly like. These have a sound that reminds me of Boards of Canada. I even named a few with telling names based on Boards of Canada tracks and titles.

They are free for you to use in your commercial works. Yes. Free. (Not that you would, but please don’t resell them or anything crazy like that.) You can download them in one Zip file (see below).

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Adding Interest by Using LFOs

To make my synths and drums more interesting, I sometimes use a simple trick – adding a LFO.

I learned this whilst studying Boards of Canada’s music. It often has a wobbly frequency or envelope to it, and I can often replicate this without hardware, but within a DAW using LFOs.

Here’s a simple method that takes less than a minute to apply and gets great results.

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Looping in FL Studio

Loop recording in FL Studio is one thing I would like to master because it means I can potentially create Eno-style tape loops. In the following months, I will be adding to this post with whatever I can find that can enable me to get some good loops going.

I have put my method for getting perfectly seamless loops from Edison and FL Studio in here also. I divide this post into my research first and then my practice section after where I have tried various things.

Updated: 21-September-2020

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Modartt Pianoteq Piano Presets (FXP files) – Free Presets

I use the Modartt Pianoteq vst plugin as one of my main piano instruments and frequently modify or create new presets. This is my page for sharing those presets in the form of FXP files (.fxp).

Updated: 1-June-2021

I have used many piano vst plugin instruments and have a page dedicated to that: Getting Authentic Piano Sound in a VST Plugin and DAW

In the post below, I have provided all of the presets that I am using and what each sounds like. Feel free to download and use these as you like.

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The U-he Diva Synthesizer


Diva by U-he is a fantastic analog-emulating synthesizer. It is a vst or soft-synth plugin for DAWs. While incredibly versatile, it is also intimidatingly complex.

Here are what I have learned about this synthesizer. I will be updating it as I learn more, so check back.

Last updated: 18-April-2020

Diva emulates several popular analog synthesizers. Here is a rough guide to the ones that Diva emulates:

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Getting Beautiful and Realistic Sound From a Piano Simulation

Simulating a Real-World Piano


After having been to Budapest and found an 1896 C. Bechstein piano in the lobby of The Continental Hotel, I’ve learned much more about how I can make the same sound of it or any other piano within Pianoteq or via other vst instruments and effects. But, in fact, I aim to make it sound even better. Here’s what I have learned so far.

Last updated: 04-October-2019

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The Music Process: Getting Started

Wondering how to get started making music? It’s not hard and I can tell you what I did. Read on and you’ll be able to know my experiences and can adapt these ideas for your own.

My background is not music. For me, I had a little piano experience when I was a kid, but that was it (and not really very useful in itself.) I just, in the last few years, had this need to make music. A desire. I wanted to make music. Somehow.

So I did. Here’s how:

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Creating an OTT-like Preset Using Pro-MB

Last updated: 3-December-2021

I had the goal of creating a great multi-band compression/expansion scheme using Pro-MB. Fortunately for me, Xfer Records gives away a free plugin effect called OTT that is a three-band compressor. It performs upward and downward compression and is a recreation of the Ableton Live OTT setting  (Over the Top) in their compressor.

I like it because it gives a bright and vibrant sound quality to any track it is applied. Also, it is free.

But, I wanted more control like I can get from Fabfilter’s Pro-MB multi-band compressor. So, I set out to replicate it (kind-of). While not the same as OTT, I found it quite easy to get the sound I was after once you know what the OTT is doing:

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Brian Eno’s Sound

Brian Eno is, to me, the undisputed king of ambient music. He coined the term, “ambient music” in his groundbreaking album “Music for Airports.”

Here I will revel in his sound-creating process and offer some captured bits of what I know of it – not as an attempt to deconstruct, per se, but more as an aspiration to his greatness.

As I learn more, I will post more, and update this one.

Last updated: 1-March-2019

Read onward…

Deconstructing Hans Zimmer’s Sound and Music

Cinematic music is fascinating to me. It moves the story of the movie along and the movie itself is nothing without it (at least it is a completely different movie).

I’m interested in deconstructing the sound of cinematic music and Hans Zimmer is one of the composers at the forefront.

Here I have assembled what little I have learned about Hans Zimmer and his music.

Last updated: 4-February-2019

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Spitfire Audio’s Gwylim Simcock Felt Piano Microphones

There’s not a manual with the Gwylim Simcock Felt Piano by Spitfire Audio, so here are my notes about the microphones used to record this wonderful piano. This piano is excellent and I highly recommend it.


Microphones recorded the sound with Neve pre-amps and Cranesong AD converters at 96k. In the interface, the microphones can be involved more or less by sliders with letters beneath them. Here are what those letters mean:

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Glitchmachine Plugins and How to Use Them

Glitchmachines makes some fantastic plugins for making music. Their plugins are generators and effects or combinations of each. They are packed full of features and are intimidatingly complex while being simple to use. I find that I experiment for hours with them.

I am trying to learn how to use them effectively in my music process and will be updating this post as I progress.

Last updated: 06-March-2019

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Deconstructing the deadmau5 Sound and Music

I really admire deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) and his excellent music, including his use of chords and arps. He has a knack for it. I’ve watched him create on Masterclass and he just absolutely knows what he is doing. Moreover, he seems to be a guy who is limitless in his thinking while still knowing what he likes and dislikes. He doesn’t put out a ton of crap that is not up to his standards. Admirable.

Well, I wanted to know more about his producing talents, so I deconstructed some of his music, his chord progressions, and arpeggios. I’ll be adding more as I learn more, so stop back and check the “last updated” text below.

Last updated: 1-February-2019

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Proper Levels and Metering for Sound and Music

There are a lot of ways to measure the levels of sound in your music production. Meter scales vary widely, and there are many misconceptions about what are the correct levels. Here below is what I have found currently works best for me.

Last updated: 09-January-2021.

There’s another, more current post about this: Levels in Mastering for the Various Streaming Platforms (and what happened to the K-system of metering)

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Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Rights to Children Album Cover Blurred Faces

The Boards of Canada “Music Has the Rights to Children” album cover.

The blurred faces on the album cover of Boards of Canada’s “Music Has the Rights to Children” evokes an old, nostalgic, feel.

While the album cover may have been intentionally blurred (it is not known for sure), the same blurred face effect can be seen in old television commercials on VHS tape.

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Fracture Sounds Woodchester Piano Presets (Kontakt Snapshots only)

Fracture Sounds makes an outstanding Kontakt instrument called Woodchester Piano for NI Kontakt.

Listen to it here:

These below are presets, or as Kontakt calls them, “snapshots” that are various settings of the Kontakt instrument. These are NKSN (.nksn) files that need to be placed in your Kontakt snapshots folder for the Woodchester piano.

You must own the full version of Native Instruments Kontakt and also must own the Fracture Sounds Woodchester Piano Kontakt library/instrument in order to use these Kontakt Snapshots.

I have used many piano vst plugin instruments and have a page dedicated to that: Getting Authentic Piano Sound in a VST Plugin and DAW

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U-he Satin Preset for Giving Air to Synths


Air is a term used to describe that high and lofty feel to a mix. Sometimes your mix may get muddy or you just want to get a bit more high frequency into it. “Air it out” so to speak.

The U-he Satin plugin is based on tape and there is an old trick that studios did to air out a mix using tape. It was to record at a high speed and playback at a lower one. I’ve made a preset for it and you can download it. Here is what I did to replicate it and how I use it.

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U-he Satin Preset for Simulating Cassette Tape Recordings


Cassette tape is a medium that many bands recorded their sound on before mastering them. I wanted to reproduce this effect using U-h Satin so I made a preset that approximates that.

The U-he Satin plugin does not come with a preset for this, but I can choose the cassette speed of 1 and 7/8 inches per second (i.p.s.). I’ve made a preset for it and you can download it. Here is what I did to replicate it and how I use it.

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U-he Satin Preset for Simulating Dolby HX Pro

Dolby HX Pro Headroom Expansion was a method used in tape recordings in the 80’s to give an improved signal-to-noise ratio. As a result, the recordings were much more powerful-sounding with clarity and presence as well as low-end strength. It did this by introducing a bias signal at the high frequency to push the recording out of the inherent non-linearities of tape.

I had one of the tape decks that could record in HX Pro and it made every recording just shine. I wanted to achieve this with today’s vst plugins and I believe I finally have with the U-he Satin tape simulating plugin.

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Creating the Xfer Records Dimension Expander in FL Studio

Xfer Records Dimension Expander is a free vst plugin effect that makes any synth or instrument sound much “wider.” This means more presence and stereo effect.

I wanted to create this in FL Studio using the stock plugins, so first I had to understand what the Dimension Expander plugin was doing. It seems to be modeled on an old trick where the incoming signal is split and the split-half is phase inverted and then fed back into the main signal that is not. Then there is some delay added. This is what powered the Roland Dimension D, a piece of hardware from the 80’s.

Fortunately, you can get something that sounds quite similar, and maybe even better, from FL Studio. I used the Fruity Stereo Shaper plugin. Continue reading