Dancing Astronaut Studios: Episode 6: Phasing and Flanging
Welcome back to Dancing Astronaut Studios with Dubspot! We’ve reached our last Dubspot Online Mixing and Mastering lesson dealing with the use of effects to modify and lend movement to various elements within a track. Our Dubspot instructor Daniel Wyatt prefers to use the strangely named but undeniably effective PhaseMistress plug-in made by the good folks at SoundToys.
Phasing is a funny thing to try and explain. The majority of DJs and producers are pretty well aware of it, as it has become a staple in most DJs’ arsenals of live effects. But if prompted, how many of its users could actually explain what’s going on there sonically? Until this course, I would have pretty much drawn a blank. Legend has it that phasers were created to simulate the effect of two tape machines playing the same song simultaneously, but slightly out of sync by a constantly shifting amount. Phase shifting causes some frequencies to cancel each other out, which creates peaks and valleys in the frequency spectrum and very cool sonic effects. Don’t worry if that still sounds a bit confusing. It’s another example of an effect that is easier to mess around with than to explain, and even casual music fans will recognize phaser sounds when they hear them. Artists ranging from Eddie van Halen and Billy Joel to Queen and Daft Punk have made ample use of it, so why shouldn’t you?
Similarly to the other Soundtoys effects, PhaseMistress has an abundance of different parameters and presets that are useful in modifying the phasing effect. Throwing PhaseMistress on an otherwise static element can instantly transform it into something ever-shifting and far more dynamic. Check out how a couple different presets completely transformed the sound of this synthesizer loop.
Synthesizer Loop (No Effect)
Synthesizer Loop (PhaseMistress #1)
Synthesizer Loop (PhaseMistress #2)
Although it has been treated as a separate effect by most modern music production and performance tools, the effect known commonly as flanging is actually just a specific kind of phasing that uses a delay line. Once again, this is a signature wooshing sound that you’re bound to recognize from pop music over the years. According to many rock historians, flanging was first used by Abbey Road engineer Ken Townsend while working with the Beatles on Revolver in 1966. Apparently John Lennon was looking for a more efficient way to record double-track vocals and coined the term based on a nonsensical explanation of the effect offered by their manager George Martin. One of the first songs to use flanging was “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and the transformative effect on Lennon’s vocals is a major reason why the album closer is now regarded as one of the group’s most groundbreaking recordings.
Digital plug-ins can now be used to emulate this classic analog effect, which is now more often used on guitars (ever heard of Jimi Henrix?) than vocals. Flanging can also be useful for resampling elements in dynamic genres like electro house and dubstep. Take a listen to the following guitar loop and the ways in which flanging can completely change its sonic character.
Guitar Loop (No Effects)
Guitar Loop (Flanger #1)
Guitar Loop (Flanger #2)
That concludes the effects-oriented curriculum of Level 2! Next time we’ll be taking a look at some select tips and techniques for applying these effects within a stem mix, before we move on to the mastering lessons. Finally, we’re going to have a Q&A session with our mixing and mastering guru Daniel Wyatt in the coming weeks ahead to provide answers to any production-related questions you might have. Feel free to include them in the comments below!
Check out previous episode of Dancing Astronaut Studios here.