Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Behind Steg Rex: Finances

I want to thank two of my friends, JC Miguel and Diane Velasco. They saved my worthless skin.

Before I go on, let me explain to you: money is tight these days. (No shit, Sherlock!)

As you no doubt know, the American economy is in a recession. Bernanke, chairman of the Fed has made a bunch of unprecedented moves in the history of the institution in order to avert the economic situation from overwhelming the civil society.

Jobs have been hard to find, people are less willing to spend money, and selling music has been very tough.

It didn't help me at all, because I had no money to finance Steg Rex (equipment, general capital, promoting, marketing...)

I graduated from Cal in December, just when people were realizing that the job market was cooling down, and things became pricier. Being unemployed and burnt out from writing massive amounts of papers, I had a lot of time and energy to work on Stegosaurus Rex. During those few bleak months, I was employed part-time as a contractor for, which brought in just enough money to cover rent, and a small bit of food. At the end of every month, I had very little money to spend or save. Trying to promote Steg Rex was stressful because I had no capital, no room for error. If I didn't judiciously budget every dollar I spent on Steg Rex, that would mean I lost that dollar, and that meant that I would probably have to make a meal more meager.

I applied to full-time jobs left and right, often sending my resume to 10 sources a week. Less than 5 contacts actually got back to me in those past 6 months.

I was losing hope, because I definitely wanted to eat better, and I wanted some more money to spend on Steg Rex.

Come late April, an opportunity fell into my lap unexpectedly. My friend Diane Velasco sent me an email one day about Yahoo; they were hiring some contractors who could work full-time.

I jumped right on it immediately. This could be the big break in the job market that I had been looking for all those 5 months!

Diane's boyfriend and my good buddy JC went through the interview process and got hired. I was pretty happy for him, and I was ready to join, too.

The interview process for me was riddled with hiccups. Someone lost my emails, someone else misspelled my email address, there were lapses in communication...

In short, I had no clue if I would be hired.

Last week, I got an email telling me to meet at Sunnyvale to take care of business on Tuesday, May 27th.

My heart skipped a beat. Could I have finally made it?


The past two days working at Yahoo have been tiring. Training is tedious and the coffee doesn't hold as well as I would like it to.

But it has been fucking worth it. I'll now make enough to cover more than just rent and food.

I can go ahead and further fund Stegosaurus Rex. Let's hope that I can take both my career and my music as far as I can go.

Once again, thank you, JC. Thank you, Diane.

--Steg Rex

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Steg Rex RSS Feed

The Stegosaurus Rex RSS feed is now up. Just pop this little link into you favorite newsreader:

Steg Rex RSS Feed


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sea Breeze

I just finished cutting a new disco-house track called Sea Breeze. The last time I made any disco or house was around early June of 2007.

It's been almost a year, but I still got it!

When I first began formulating the concept behind the Stegosaurus Rex project in 2005/2006, it had been roughly 2-3 years since I last made any music. I began making music around 2001 in high school, and due to the limitations of what musical equipment I had (basically, nothing) I made only trance music. Trance (the cheesiest kind) was still kind of big amongst some crowds in school, and that's all I made. It was easy, because everything revolved around 140 bpm, everything was in a major scale, and finding trance synth sounds was an easy job.

I worked under the moniker of MiXCHure in those days, and I produced the cheesiest pop trance.

However, in the back of my head, I always wanted to make disco/house music, which I began listening to around the age of 9 or 10 with an old mono channel Magnavox radio. I would keep the radio by my pillow and listen to old disco jams on Saturday nights while I drifted off to sleep.

It bugged me; why couldn't I make any house? Nothing sounded funky. Every attempt at house music ended up sounding like crappy trance.

I stopped the MiXCHure project in the summer of 2003 as I prepared to go to college. My computer died, taking with it all my source files for my music, and along with it, my desire for making music. The first two years of college were times of restlessness for me, because I had no outlet.

In 2005, I began making music again, under no moniker, because I did not intend on making a new musical project. At this point, I had studied some jazz and blues theory and understood a little bit better about the scales and chords that are related to disco and house.

I was, of course, pretty rusty, and I had with me a demo version of Fruity Loops, which did not allow me to save any of my source files. All my music in those few years sounded extremely amateur and simple, yet the main structure for house tracks became embedded in my mind.

I began to seriously pursue a music project again in late 2005, early 2006. I dubbed this project Stegosaurus Rex, and I began focusing on hip-hop and electro-house. Most people understood the hip-hop part. Most people didn't understand electro-house at all. To them, this was just "porn music" and they got a kick out of seeing what I could produce.

My experimentation with house music, however, was not limited to seeing this wonderful stuff as just "porn music" because I grew up loving the disco music aesthetic. I loved the thick, lush, layered sounds of classic disco. I loved the stripped and chopped-up elements of electro-house, as heard in the work of Daft Punk. I also loved it because it was just funky, plain and simple.

2006-2007 was a year of great strides with the house music, as I began sampling as well as learning how to program my own custom patches in different software synthesizers. I could control the texture of a dance track, making it hard and glitchy, or smooth and mellow.

I had conquered house music.

By this time, I had begun recording live instruments such as guitar and drums, and quickly moved off to producing experimental rock and more hip-hop because I was no longer limited to just synthesizers.

In the past few months, sitting down to make house has been hard, because something that started off funky would end up as hip-hop or rock, because I was compelled to slow down the tempo and then add samples or add guitar.

I decided to sit down and really stick to making a house track this weekend, because I wanted to see if I still had those disco-making skills.

I started out with some nice chords and string pads, and a nice funky bass. I layered the 909 over it all, for a great little beat.

Next, I fired up REAPER and stuck in some subtle, muted guitar arpeggios.

A little reverb here, a dash of delay there.

Voila! A deep-house track! Something a bit different from the other types of house music I had done before. It sounded so sublime, so subtle, so sexy, I had to call it Sea Breeze.

I guess I did the roots of Steg Rex proud. If only young little Max Chen in high school, making his trance music could hear what he would be doing in just a few years' time.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Love Multiband Compression

Ashi sent me an email this week, letting me know that he might need a track to be mastered. I don't do as much mastering as I do mix engineering, but I do like to tweak a final render here and there.

He sent an mp3 through the email for me to kind of look at.

Whoever mixed the track was incompetent as hell.

Usually when I work with a final render, the tracks are mixed fairly well. Everything that needs to be compressed, is, and everything that needs frequency balancing is EQed to sweet goodness.

Not this track.

It seems like a lot of producers these days love the muddy bass. They're under the impression that bass fills clubs. OK, so it does, but not muddy sub-100 Hz, 3-second release bass. That kind just sounds like sludge. This track that Ashi sent me sounded so fucking muddy, that I could barely make out anything about 200 Hz. Time to get to work.

For those of you who don't know anything about mastering, let me tell you about the multiband compressor. It is the greatest tool on earth. There are a lot of different multiband compressors out there, but they generally all do the same thing. They separate the audio signal into three different frequency bands (low, mid, high) that you can compress independently of each other. A de-esser is sort of similar to a multiband compressor in that it isolates the highs and then compresses those frequencies while leaving the rest of the music alone. What happens is a nice natural rounding off of harsh hissing sounds.

When you have a multiband compressor, you can isolate any problem frequencies in the audio signal, and squash it out. In this case, the bass was too muddy, the levels for the bass was way off the charts, and on top of it, had a nasty long bass release that bled into the track, causing it to sound dull with no punchiness. Instead of sounding like "boom, boom-cha," it sounded more like "thuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud thuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud!" The snare, the instruments, the high hats, everything was obscured by this problem bass.

So how did I fix this one?

I first cut out the low end. Usually, this is not too necessary and it's good to get rid of the most offensive bass rumbling. Everything below 100 Hz, I just cut out. That fixed half of the bass release problem. With one knob turn, I could actually tell rhythm that the bass drum was playing.

Next, I separated the 3 bands. The muddiest bass sits around 0 Hz to about 300-500 Hz. I set it to about 300. At this point, the 0 Hz to 300 Hz frequencies were isolated, so I compressed it. I compressed the shit out of it. I put in -20 dB as the threshold, set the ratio to about 5:1, and tweaked attack and release. I basically wanted the bass drum to sound like "biff biff biff" instead of "bleeeeeh bleeeeeh bleehhhhh." I wanted some definition in that sound.

A few knob tweaks at the low end just did the trick. The bass was nice and tight, and everything worked out well. I tweaked the mids and highs just a tiny bit since those frequencies were OK, but damn! That bass annoyed the hell out of me.

Some more compression here, a bit of brickwall there, and I had something that became 10 times more listenable than the original file.

So remember mix and mastering engies: recording and mixing well is important! If you record and mix well, you don't have to mess around with this kind of fix at the end of the road. But if you have to fix stuff up, EQs, compressors, and the amazing multiband compressor are your best friends.

OK, done with this post. Time to work on more music.