How to grow a podcast

How to grow a podcast

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17 APRIL 2021

written by Mike

HOW TO

GROW A PODCAST

After over five years of working in the podcasting space, we grew our main show Casefile to hundreds of millions of downloads and consistently feature on top of the charts. We also successfully launched several podcasts under Casefile Presents umbrella and hopefully continue to do so for a long time.

Exact success is never replicable because there are too many variables to copy. However, there are a few general rules that I think can help in achieving long term success. At least they worked for us.

I want to go through 3 of them and break them down further.

CONTENT

Content is and always will be the king. Podcasting is no different, and the content will always win in the long run. I want to discuss what I think is relevant to podcasts.

The first one is the voice. Podcasting is all about the audio and developing the connection through sound. And just like with radio the host or hosts’ voice is crucial.

The voice needs to be likeable, easy to listen to, soothing or fun, or dramatic – there are many angles to it. However, no matter the style, people have to like the voice and want to listen to it, sometimes for hours.

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The second part is storytelling. The most important part of the whole podcasting thing is the story – the rest supports this centrepiece. The voice, the production, the team – everything exist to help the story. 

It could be a comedy story, a true crime, fiction, an interview with guests, a chat show – whatever. However, there needs to be a point to the episode, a narrative and a timeline of what’s going on.

If it’s just two buddies talking about nothing, then it won’t be easy to keep the listener interested.

The story needs to grab from the beginning and hold the listener until the end. Don’t take anybody’s time for granted – it is our most precious resource.

And the third one is consistency. There are so many channels and platforms that a person who clicks on your show needs to know why they are here and what they will listen to. If you want to talk about true crime in one episode and then comment on movies in another and games in the third it will be pretty challenging to build a dedicated audience.

Big personalities or celebrities are exemptions to the rule and people tune in just to hear them talking about whatever.

However, for most of us, consistency will be the key to growth and developing a listenership.

Let’s now talk about

AUDIO QUALITY

Podcasting is all about sound. There seems to be an opinion, at least in some corners, that podcasting is easy – you record, upload and people will listen to whatever.

Now ask yourself this: 

Why would you spend your time listening or watching or reading some poorly produced thing?

There are plenty of good quality pieces of art or content that the bad ones don’t deserve anyone’s attention.

Now, don’t get me wrong – the story will always win. If you have the most expensive show with a bad story, the production quality won’t save you.

But if you have a great story with so and so audio quality, you can still get people interested.

However, to scale up and win in the long run you need both – great stories and great quality.

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Let’s start with recording.

Ideally, you have a nice microphone and a quiet set up. You also keep it in the same position and always use the same settings. It’s worth reading and watching basic recording tutorials and techniques. The way you speak to the microphone matters but the choice of the microphone matters even more! You don’t need a professional studio or a microphone worth thousands of pounds, but don’t think you can get away with a $20 one.

The second step is production. Audio production is not easy. The basics are not super difficult either but don’t think you can record and upload. 

What about editing, the volume levels, EQa and compression? 

You want your listeners to understand at least what is being said. If you want to add music on top of the dialogues, then at least you need basic mixing techniques.

You don’t need an expensive set up as everything can be done on your computer with a nice pair of headphones.

But production takes time and it’s slow work, so many people just skim it.

You wouldn’t believe the number of expensive shoes that I check and think to myself – did no one listened to this before the release? 

And that leads to my last point and that is consistency. As you learn you will upgrade your set up and make your show sound better but you should always strive for consistency. In volume levels, in recording settings, in your production template.

You want the listener to go from one episode to the next seamlessly and you don’t want them to adjust the volume during listening. You want people to have a smooth listening experience every time they click play!

TEAMWORK

The third leg of podcasting success, in my opinion, is teamwork. To grow and sustain a popular show, you will need a team of people who will support you and work together on bringing the episodes out.

It’s easy to start alone, but it’s rare, and I would argue, impossible, to achieve something great by yourself. 

A dedicated team of people makes it easier when times get tough.

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To have the right team, you got to have the right people – but once you gather them around your show, you also need to work on the team from within.

One is feedback – there needs to be an open feedback platform to give their opinion – good and bad. Feedback needs to be discussed by the rest, and if necessary, the changes implemented straight away. When team members feel like they don’t have a voice, they will grow in resentment and sabotage everything from the centre: feedback, even most trivial, needs to be heard.

The same goes for ideas. To stop growing is to die. You have to keep moving, keep experimenting to some degree and try out new things. It’s a fine balance between doing what is working and still improving and evolving. It doesn’t matter if a person is a senior or new to the team – ideas just like feedback need to be heard and discussed calmly.

Some will be good, some will be bad but don’t even think you found a winning formula and can now coast and relax. The thing that is winning at this moment may not be the best strategy in the future. Keep the team talking and brainstorming, and don’t criticise anyone for their ideas.

The last thing when it comes to right teamwork is dedication. You want people to care about the show and their work. To do so you need to learn what motivates each individual as it won’t be the same. For some is money, for others, flexibility and freedom, someone else thrives on getting the credit and so on. Once you discover the right incentive it will be much easier to get people pumped up to care about the work. Personally, I think that money is only the first and most obvious one, but once that is covered you still need to dig deeper and discover the why.

Those are the three elements that I think are needed for a successful podcast. However, there is something else that I value, and it is necessary to talk about.

LUCK

I’m a big proponent of randomness and luck. I do agree with the saying – the harder you work, the luckier you get. However, most of the things are outside of our control and are driven by random events. You can have the best team, work hard, produce awesome content – and still, no luck.

Or you can start a podcast from your bedroom and straight away grow and gain a huge audience.

Sometimes we get lucky or unlucky, and remembering that, in my opinion, will keep you humble.

Because if you do get success and attribute some of it to luck – you know that you shouldn’t be boasting or thinking you are the best in the world.

Same if you get unlucky even though you worked hard – it doesn’t mean you suck, it doesn’t mean you are stupid, it just means that this time it didn’t work out.

As the ancient saying goes, sometimes Lady Luck gives, sometimes she takes it away!

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FetHead Gain Booster for SM7B

FetHead Gain Booster for SM7B

fethead_header

22 MARCH 2021

written by Mike

FetHead Gain Booster

for SM7B

Beginner podcasters are best off with a simple USB microphone. One that you connect to your computer and are ready to go.

That’s not just my opinion; many people who were starting their streaming channels or podcasts grabbed a Blue Mic (Yeti or Snowball) or a similar USB microphone.

There was one problem, though – these are condenser microphones.

Let’s back up a little bit.

There are two main types of microphones – condensers and dynamics and the difference is how these microphones capture sound.

Dynamic uses a voice coil and magnet, and it is a plug and play microphone; they don’t need external power to run.

Condenser microphones use capacitors, a thin membrane and a diaphragm that vibrate.

Condensers need external power such as batteries or phantom power to work supplied by an audio interface, 48V.

What we have to understand about condenser microphones is that usually, these are sensitive mics. They will pick up every little detail around you.

They are awesome for studio recording, but for home – well, a lot of people vented their frustrations about how everything from neighbours, cars or whatever was picked up by the microphone.

Hence why I always recommended dynamic microphones, even as USB. These are less sensitive, usually have cardioid polar pattern and overall are best for voice recording at home.

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Stop!

What does it have to do with the FetHead gain booster?

We’ll get to it in a second.

With time, podcasters, YouTubers and online personalities started to upgrade their gear and moved from USB mics to standard XLR microphones, the ones that need an audio interface to work.

Of course, the winner and the most popular mic was Shure SM7B – the legendary vocal microphone used by broadcasters and studios around the world.

I’m sure if you watch any YT vids, you are familiar with the microphone, from Joe Rogan to anyone.

And there is a reason for it – the microphone sounds great, it is relatively cheap, you don’t need a pop shield because the capsule is a safe distance from the top. It’s versatile, and it can take a lot of volume without distorting the sound.

However! 

There is an issue with it, and that’s its gain level. 

It is a quiet microphone, and it needs a lot of gain on input. When I record on it, I need to have my iD4 interface on 9, almost full 10, to have a decent volume. And I still had to boost it in post-production.

I had this microphone for years, and it served me well. I didn’t record much in the past, so I was okay with boosting the volume afterwards. However, as I started my Youtube channel and used the microphone more, the gain started to get annoying.

When we record from the camera, we use Rode boom, a condenser, then switch to SM7B, and the volume would be much lower. After recording a few vids like that, I knew I needed a gain booster.

What’s a gain booster? 

It’s a device that boosts your microphone gain with a clean signal, making it much louder at the source.

When it comes to boosters, the one that I always recommended for people was, of course, CL1 Cloudlifter. Which is a classic.

I went online. I put the Cloudlifter into the basket. However, I have to warn you, CL1 is quite pricy, over £100, leaning towards £150 in some stores.

I’m always on the lookout for a bargain and a discount, so I thought to myself ‘I’m sure there are alternatives,’ but the thing is, I’ve never checked and always defaulted to Cloudlifter.

I emptied the basket and started looking online – low and behold, and there are many cheaper alternatives.

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I looked at Sub Zero, SE DM1 Dynamite, Klark Teknik CT 1 and FetHead.

These ranged in price, but one thing was sure, they were much cheaper than the original Cloudlifter!

All of them had good reviews and what I also noticed was that some of them were directly connecting to the microphone, which means that I wouldn’t need extra XLR cable like with Cloudlifter, which is an external box.

After doing a bit of research, I ordered FetHead from TritonAudio, which was £65 from Studiospares online shop.

Let’s look at specs:

TritonAudio products are made in Holland, and FetHead is advertised as a low noise gain booster or mic preamp with extra 27dB amplification.

One thing to remember is that these gain boosters need phantom power, just like condenser microphones. Even though your SM7B doesn’t need extra power, you need your phantom power when you connect it to FetHead.

FetHead arrived in a small cardboard tube, hidden in a pouch inside. It was much smaller than expected, which was fantastic as I was worried it wouldn’t fit at the end of my SM7B, sitting on the arm.

It did fit without any issues.

If you want to listen to my recording without Fethead and with it, you can view my video review on Youtube.

In short, Fethead does what it supposed to do. It boosts SM7B gain without affecting the sound, allowing for the mic gain on my iD4 interface to stay on the good lever.

And I don’t need to boost anything in post-production anymore!

Would I recommend it?

If you have SM7B or another dynamic (or ribbon) microphone and you find yourself lacking gains – then of course. Especially if you are podcasting or recording YT videos.

It boosts the signal transparently and cleanly, and you don’t have to drive your input gain to the top.

There are even cheaper alternatives. I didn’t want to go with the cheapest option, which had a few negative reviews, but FetHead definitely worth the money, and it is more than twice cheaper as the original Cloudlifter. Plus, you don’t need extra XLR cable!

Thumbs up from me, and you will hear the FetHead working hard on the future videos!

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Small Podcast Studio & Sonarworks Reference 4

Small Podcast Studio & Sonarworks Reference 4

Sonarworks

23 FEBRUARY 2021

written by Mike

Small Podcast Studio & Sonarworks Reference 4

Recently I’ve moved to a new house, and the big difference was – that this time it’s ours!

(A bank technically owns the house, but we got a mortgage and moved in November 2020.)

I migrated to the UK in 2006 and always rented. Renting is excellent because it offers flexibility and freedom, but it is a pain if a person wants to set up a sound production room.

There are always issues with the landlord, moving the stuff around amongst other hassles.

This time is different!

We got a lovely, three-bedroom house, and I could get one (albeit the smallest) room for my studio and set it up the way I wanted.

As I said, the room is small. It is a one bed/office space, with more weight on the office function as it would be a tiny bedroom. From the get-go, I understood that with that size comes a lot of problems.

Small rooms are notorious for bad acoustics. Sound waves (especially low frequencies) don’t have space to develop. They are bouncing around the walls; we get phase cancellations and that sort of thing.

Before ordering acoustics, I wanted to know what sound issues I’m facing, and I needed a special measurement microphone. I used to have a Behringer ECM8000 in the past and was inclined to get the same mic, but I also looked at other options online.

And that’s how I stumbled upon Sonarwoks XREF 20.

The microphone costs £50, and it came with a trial version of Reference 4 software. It looks like a standard measurement microphone, and it came without a clip mic. I was a bit disappointed – at first!

The way that measurement works are – you hold the microphone and move around the room with it. 

I’ve done some studio measurements and how you did it back then was to set up the microphone on a stand, in the listening position and run the sine waves. Sonarworks is a bit different and very smart, which took me by surprise. That’s why there is no clip in the box – you don’t need it for the measurements!

I measured the room, and as predicted, the space had many issues, mainly in the low-end area. Not only that – the low-end frequencies were also masking higher frequencies making the room impossible to work in.

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I knew I had to treat the space, and after going back and forth with GIK Acoustics – I made the order.

After setting up side panels, ceiling panes and corner bass traps, I measured the room again with Sonarworks XREF 20.

You could see (and hear) the difference. Acoustic panels tamed some of the omnipresent low frequencies but not enough to have a good neutral mixing room.

That’s the problem with small spaces – I’ve run out of room to put up more panels!

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And here where we start talking about Sonarworks Reference 4. Like I mentioned before, the microphone came with a trial version of the software.

It helped measure the room; however, that’s only a small fraction of what the plugin can do.

After the measurement is complete, Sonarworks software takes the frequency curve and flattens it with EQ so that your system’s output is entirely neutral.

At first, I couldn’t get used to it – especially on headphones. I was so accustomed to my cans and how they sound that Sonarworks processing sounded weird.

I gave it a couple of days, and now I can’t imagine working without it!

But first things first.

Reference 4 comes in different flavours – Headphone and Studio.

The headphone version is cheaper and offers help to headphone users only, and there are a few ways Sonarworks presents here.

You can find your pair of headphones in the long list of their presets called ‘average‘ for starters. 

What they did is they took a few pairs of the same headphones, measured their frequency curve and come up with an average image from all of them. It’s not a perfect measurement; however, I find it useful enough for my work.

Second, you can buy calibrated headphones from Sonarworks that will come with a custom profile.

And the third option is to send them your headphones for calibration.

These two options will cost you extra.

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Studio edition will also work on your studio monitors – and that’s where you ideally need the microphone from Sonarworks (that comes with a personal profile) and measure your room.

Within the software itself, you do have some options.

Of course, the main one is bypassing the processing; we also have a frequency response curve and various additional displays available. You can use a bass boost, predefined curve and some latency settings. You can also check how the sound is in mono.

The more critical functions are dry/wet, which will allow you to get used to the new flat sound and the safe headroom option.

Safe headroom locks the gain fader. Because the software will boost some frequencies, it will have to adjust the gain accordingly. Safe headroom makes it impossible to go above the gain reduction – unless you switch it off.

It is also worth noting that bypassing the processing won’t change the gain, and it will always match.

This is important as you won’t get hit by a few extra decibels of sound each time you bypass the Sonarworks plugins – only if you completely switch it off.

Sonarworks Reference 4 also comes as two plugins – systemwide and standard DAW plugin. Systemwide works outside of your audio sequencer, meaning that any audio going out of your system will be processed.

DAW plugin version is only for use in your software, but they are precisely the same. When you run your audio software, the systemwide version is automatically inactive.

However, the most helpful thing is the Sonarworks prompts you when you are bouncing your session with the plugin still on!

The plugin needs to sit on your master at the very end; however, when you are bouncing the audio down – you don’t want Reference 4 to flatten your mix!

You only use it for listening, and thankfully people at Sonarworks thought of warning you when you forget to bypass, which I do all the time.

As far as the pricing goes – there are plenty of deals around. You can also lookup Educational discount for students and teachers. It is not the cheapest plugin, but it is definitely worth its price – I’m kicking myself for not discovering it earlier!

Would I recommend it for podcast producers?

If you are starting, more than likely, you will be working on headphones. In that case, I recommend getting a nice pair and trying out the Sonarworks headphones edition.

Even if you want to get studio monitors, it will be tough to mix on them if your room is not acoustically treated.

I also wouldn’t use Sonarworks Studio in an untreated room and hope for the best. It’s not a solution for lousy acoustics. It is another tool to help you get the acoustics to improve them, not fix them.

However, if you are producing on excellent studio monitors, you have a treated room, but you reckon it could be improved, then absolutely try Sonarworks Studio; it’s a no brainer.

I am glad that I can now improve this room, far from perfect even though it is comfortable and mine!

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Social Media (Forever?) Vacation

Social Media (Forever?) Vacation

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02 JANUARY 2021

written by Mike

 Social Media

(FOREVER?) Vacation

NOTE

I initially wrote this post on June 16th 2020, and there is a January 2021 update at the end of the post.

 

Anyone with an internet connection (or TV) must be aware that a few last months were crazier than usual.

A global pandemic, economic downturn, protests made sure that 24/7 news was hectic to bring us the latest updates on what is going on in the world.

I like to understand the situation and am keen to read and follow various channels. Like many people on the internet, I also have social media accounts that give me a direct link to worldwide events, and for a generally curious person, it seems like a great thing to have.

No more propaganda, biased news and gatekeepers. It’s the ultimate people’s tool.

Or is it?

I don’t know if it was because of the lockdown or not, but lately, I found myself being affected by what is happening in the world and the conversations people have online. I saw a lot of raw emotions, anger, hate and insults. It didn’t matter where I looked; it seemed that everywhere pictures and videos were made to stoke emotional responses from the user (that’s me).  

It seemed that because of the overwhelming amount of content out there, the line between truth and fiction became blurred. I had conversations with friends and family about the latest news, I clicked on various Reddit topics and Twitter hashtags and read the comments. 

I found myself thinking about these issues late into the night. It also started to distract me from work.

Luckily, I understand that it’s best to step back and look at the bigger picture if something gets too much. 

I thought to myself, ‘hold on a minute, why am I getting so affected by these things online? I’m not even in the situation. What is going on?’

I looked at Facebook first and read a book called Zucked by Roger McNamee, which describes the platform’s inner workings. It prompted me to dive deeper into group polarization theory and filter bubbles – a term coined by internet activist Eli Pariser.

You can watch his TED talk here.

A picture of online manipulation by a few giants emerged, I learned more about privacy, lack of regulation and what it means for my and future generations. I had a basic understanding of how it all works before, but events of 2020 made me think about my habits.

I don’t want to go into the ethics of how social media and internet browsers work in detail, as I don’t know that much about it (yet), but I want to reveal the decisions I made.

I know that I can’t change how the internet currently works; I can’t make people nicer or worldwide events to stop. However, I can change how I react to all of these things.

The main issue was the rabbit holes of the internet and that the majority of the media I consumed was negative. It was wasting my time, energy and I didn’t control what I was often looking at.

I know that going cold turkey works for me from past experiences with bad habits, and I’ve decided to do just that. I grabbed my smartphone and deleted all my social media apps, not the accounts but the apps.

I’ve also blocked Reddit, leaving me just Whatsapp, Messenger and Email. That’s it.

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The first step to my detox.

Straight away, I found myself grabbing my phone, unlocking it, to find nothing there.

It was almost involuntary action, a muscle memory, a habit like breathing or swallowing.

It scared me how ingrained it was.

But, that’s not all.

When I switch on my computer in the morning, my browser opens with several tabs that I always have on. Some are for work, but others are your standard social media, Reddit and news channels. They are in the background, and I had it on launch for years.

In my work, podcast production, I deal with a lot of rendering and audio processing. Not counting the big renders of full episodes, I usually have small renders throughout the day that can take a few minutes at the time.

During that time, I’d usually grab my phone or hit CMD+Tab, switch to my browser and quickly scan over what’s on social media and news.

More often than I would admit, the render finished, and I stayed on an article, hashtag or Reddit topic for a few minutes longer, reading comments and getting deeper into the rabbit hole.

Not only that, but my work also involves a lot of QCing which stands for Quality Control.

In short, QC means that I would passively listen to an episode just before the final master, checking if it all sounds good, making tiny tweaks. This is mostly a passive task which meant that my hands and eyes were free to look at the phone, social media or other channels.

Therefore, I knew that deleting the apps from my phone will free me in the evenings, after work, but I can easily cheat when I am at the computer. I’ve made another drastic action, and I’ve closed all of the tabs and completely switched off the browser.

The first couple of days were weird.

I found myself grabbing the phone, hitting CMD+Tab, opening the browser and typing the first few letters of the usual channels to switch it off.

This is crazy’ I thought to myself.

I felt restless and agitated, which reminded me of when I quit smoking a few years ago.

A classic withdrawal.

It also meant that this wasn’t just fun and the curious thing I did but an actual addiction that affected me without even realising it. Something that brought a lot of negativity into my life and to be honest, not that much upside.  

So, what is the feeling now and the action plan?

It’s only been a week, but I’m feeling lighter, more balanced and present. It’s still early days, and I will continue to read into social media and internet players and how it affects people.

If I can get so easily addicted and manipulated, I can only imagine how it affects school kids and children. I also understand that social media and the internet is crucial to my business, so, for now, I made a few rules and recommendations.

One – I will only look at the news and social media in the morning. 

Two – I will use social media professionally and keep it business-oriented.

Three – It’s challenging to sit there when tracks are rendering, or I’m doing my QC passes. Whenever I’d feel like I need something to do, I will have my Kindle nearby.

I don’t want to bash social media or sit on my couch in a tinfoil hat; however, I think that when something starts affecting us negatively, it’s best to tackle it head-on.

More than often, cut it out from our lives completely.

PS.

I intend to follow these rules for at least a few months, and it will be interesting to see if I relapse sooner though!

 

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JANUARY 2021 UPDATE

I wrote this post on June 16th 2020, and it has been an exciting experiment.

For the first few weeks, I went cold turkey and stopped myself from checking any social media, Reddit or news. As time went by I became a little bit more lenient.

I started checking social media on a browser a bit more often during working hours, go on Reddit here and there, read the news. However, the initial ‘detox’ made me more mindful when surfing the internet. I stopped spending as much time on there and often just after a couple of minutes of scrolling I start being conscious about what I’m doing and switch the site off.

A few times, I had an urge to reinstall Instagram on my phone, but it goes away, and I can always check what’s going on from my wife’s phone. I still haven’t got any social media accounts on my phone.

As of January 2021, I barely check social media at all and if so, I do it for business purposes.

I stayed on Reddit for a bit longer, but at some point, I realised how unhelpful reading the negative comments is and lately I’ve stopped going onto the site.

I still check the news in the morning, but throughout the day when I have a minute or two during audio renders, I look at memes or funny stuff, which makes me smile. I’m also focused on my Youtube channel that doesn’t leave me a lot of spare time for internet surfing.

I can honestly say that it is liberating to not jump between various accounts and something that I thought was crucial to my daily life, is not as important as I was made to believe.

It’s been over six months since my initial decision to remove the social media apps from my phone and cut it out almost completely has changed my daily life for the better, and it was one of the best decisions I made in 2020.

I think that in the end, it’s about being mindful how we spend our time. Is the time we spend doing the thing beneficial to us or making our days worse?

I don’t want to be a hater, and I don’t dismiss social media totally, however being stricter about how I use it and more aware of how and what I ‘consume’ was the right thing to do, for me.

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Icon M+ Platform Control Surface for Podcast Production

Icon M+ Platform Control Surface for Podcast Production

m+_header

19 DECEMBER 2020

written by Mike

Icon M+

Control Surface for

Podcast Production

Are you looking for a control surface for your DAW but you are not sure which one to choose?

There are plenty to choose from; however, in this post, I wanted to talk about Icon M+ platform and Pro ToolsA control surface lets you control what is happening in your audio sequencer but with physical knobs and faders and buttons.

Is it necessary to produce podcasts? 

No. 

You can work with just a keyboard and mouse, and that’s what I’ve done for years.

However, as you progress and develop your skills, the longing for physical faders may start to grow – especially if you worked on proper consoles before. A simple control surface will be more than enough for podcasting, and there are plenty on the market!

Before I start, I want to mention that I upgraded my control hardware to Avid S1, but I wanted to make a review-post about Platform M+ as I used it for a long time.

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I mentioned it before, I started on mouse and keyboard and worked purely in the box when I began working on Casefile podcast. After a while though, I missed having something physical to be able to control automation during a mix – I worked on consoles in the past, but I didn’t want to spend money (as I didn’t have any) just yet.

So for a little while, I used a control wheel on iD4 interface that let me control a single automation parameter.

After some time, I decided to move up a bit and get a proper control surface with eight faders.

As I work in Pro Tools, my choice was limited. Pro Tools works on EuCon, and it’s a closed system, meaning 3rd party hardware can’t manufacture for it – only Avid can.

Of course, their hardware is costly – at that time the eight fader surface they had was Avid Artist Mix, cost around 900 pounds.

I didn’t want to spend that much money on my first control surface plus Artist Mix was quite old already, and they were gossips that they would stop supporting the system. It’s now officially up to 2024 that they will keep this control surface.

So looking for something more budget but still with motorised faders I found Icon M+ platform which is a modular control surface and works with many audio sequencers.

It works in Pro Tools too, but it uses the HUI system, which is quite limited.

For my work, I only wanted faders, knob pans and transport. M+ was less than 300 pounds, so I got it a couple of years back. 

I haven’t tested it on other software – only Pro Tools, so my view and my experience are limited.

The first issue was that the control surface didn’t work straight out of the box. I downloaded the software, updated the firmware and I remember that I had to spend quite some time online looking for a solution.

I did find it eventually; also, there is a document on their website that helps to set it all up. It’s not plug-and-play, definitely not with Pro Tools.

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But, let’s start with what I liked about the control surface first!

The Price

The Icon M+ surface is cheaper than some and cheaper than anything from Avid. The big selling points are the motorised faders  that move with the automation.

The Build

It’s a sturdy build, and it fits perfectly on the shelf under the desk, I also like the colours on all the buttons and how it lights up when you switch it on.

Motorised Faders

Faders are why I went for the system. It makes all the difference and gives you the feel of working on the proper console. They are touch-sensitive and are decent to track automation.

Let’s now get to the shortcomings of Icon M+.

HUI and set up

It wasn’t easy to set it up, definitely not plug-and-play. Also, HUI connectivity with Pro Tools is minimal. Master fader doesn’t work at all. Pan knobs also don’t work correctly, and it’s just not very intuitive with Pro Tools system. It feels restrictive.

Motorised Faders

The faders are touch-sensitive and motorised; however, sometimes they jump up or down when recording automation, they get stuck or block you from writing automation.

It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens, and I reckon that’s also because of HUI connectivity.

Apart from all that, the transport buttons work fine. It’s easy to move through channels, and at its core, the control surface does what it needs to do. I used it for a couple of years and got past the limitations, but it also put me off digging more into the system. Setting my shortcuts felt like too much hassle.

So I just used the essential functions of the surface.

The Select, Mute and Solo buttons worked fine, but knobs not working correctly with the pan is a big drawback. They let you pan to one side on a stereo track, but I didn’t know how to switch the knob to the other pan. I guess it would be ok for Mono or linked pans.

Again – all of it is because of Pro Tools and HUI connectivity. M+ may work much better with other software, but I haven’t tested it.

I said that I’m upgrading. Last year Avid released the successor to Artist Mix – S1 control surface. It’s a modular, eight fader system that works flawlessly with Pro Tools it’s a EuCon system. It also works with a tablet on top and their Control App – so a proper next-generation control surface.

I knew that I wanted to upgrade and I felt that I should still go for Artist Mix, but after a bit of research, it became clear that S1 is a superior system and Artist Mix now outdated.

Of course, there is a price tag with S1, I got for 1060 pounds, and that’s without a tablet! I did get an Amazon Fire 10 inch tablet and that works well with S1.

M+ served me well, but it was time to say the final goodbyes.

And of course, I will record video and post a review on S1 console once I spend a bit more time with it,

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