RECORDING & MUSIC PRODUCTION
YOUr sHOrtCUt GUIDe tO MAKInG & reCOrDInG MUsIC
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TWO BRANDS. ONE SOLUTION. RECORD
UR28M The UR28M USB audio interface features 2x ultra high-quality D-PRE microphone preamps, versatile 6-channel outputs with 3 independent volume controls and 192kHz recording resolution.
UR22 With 2x ultra high-quality D-PRE microphone preamps and 192kHz recording resolution, the UR22 is the USB audio interface of choice where superior sound quality is required. Other features include balanced stereo outputs, MIDI i/o and phantom power. With the included Cubase AI DAW software, the UR22 is a complete audio production solution.
The UR824 is a versatile USB audio interface with 8x industry acclaimed D-PRE microphone preamps, 8-channel outputs and DSP processing with Rev-X and Channel Strip effects.
HS Series The HS series studio monitors are the ultimate home or project studio choice. They deliver performance that will silence any doubts about such affordably priced monitors.
Rupert Neve Designs Portico The RND Portico 5033 EQ and 5043 compressor plug-ins bring the legendary Neve sound to your DAW. By combining the best in analogue and digital technology, these plug-ins represent a milestone in the history of sound modelling.
HS8 RRP $499.99
HS7 RRP $399.99
HS5 RRP $299.99
HS8S RRP $599.99
MSP Studio series For a beautifully refined and precise sound suited to the true professional, the MSP STUDIO series are exactly what you are listening for.
SW10 Studio RRP $1399.00 GG :: 4
MSP5 Studio RRP $399.99
MSP7 Studio RRP $799.99
RND-5033 RND-5043 RND-Bundle
RRP $289.99 RRP $289.99 RRP $449.99
Cubase 7 Used by star producers and musicians for composing, recording, mixing and editing music, Cubase combines outstanding audio quality and a collection of highly advanced audio and MIDI tools. Ideal for producers, film composers and musicians alike.
RRP $599.99 Student Edition RRP $399.99*
Nuendo Live Nuendo Live is a professional yet easy-to-use multi-track recording system designed specifically to capture live performances. Feature highlights include on-the-fly session setup, a 60-second pre-record buffer, auto-save and seamless integration with Yamaha CL-series digital mixing consoles.
Yamaha VCM Vintage Collection The Vintage Collection uses Yamahaâ€™s VCM technology to faithfully reproduce the sound of classic hardware units. Channel Strip features famous EQ and Compressors. Open Deck is a collection of vintage reel-to-reel models. Stomp Pack offers a selection of sough-after guitar effect pedals.
Vintage Channel Strip Vintage Open Deck Vintage Stomp Pack
RRP $399.99 RRP $199.99 RRP $199.99
MASTER Wavelab Wavelab is the industry-standard production environment for mastering, audio editing and restoration - perfectly tailored to meet the demands of todayâ€™s professionals. Employed in numerous facilities the world over by mastering engineers working on high quality CD and DVD productions as well as music aficionados looking to restore favourite recordings, Wavelab 8 takes your audio to perfection.
Wavelab 8 Wavelab 8 Student Edition Wavelab Elements 8 Wavelab Elements 8 Student Edition
RRP $549.99 RRP $379.99* RRP $109.99 RRP $74.99*
Terms and Conditions: The prices set out in this advertisement are recommended retail prices (RRP) only and there is no obligation for Yamaha dealers to comply with this recommendation. *Errors and omissions excepted. Proof of education eligibility (Student ID card or similar) is required at point-of-sale for all Steinberg Student Edition titles. GG :: 5
Chapter 1 — Getting Set up
Chapter 15 – Audio plug-ins
Chapter 2 – Software
Chapter 16 – Guitar amplifier simulators
Chapter 3 – Music hardware & setups
Chapter 17 – Keeping your CPU within limits
Chapter 4 – MIDI – where it all started
Chapter 18 – Mobile Apps
Chapter 5 – Digital audio
Chapter 19 – Recording vocals
Chapter 6 – Looping the loops
Chapter 20 – Mixing down
Chapter 7 – Windows & GUIs
Chapter 21 – Spending the extra dosh
Chapter 8 – The track list
Chapter 22 – Compressors
Chapter 9 – The mixer view
Chapter 23 – Monitor speakers & headphones
Chapter 10 – The edit views
Chapter 24 – Turning a room into a studio
Chapter 11 – Recording audio
Chapter 25 – Planning a recording session
Chapter 12 – Recording MIDI
Chapter 26 – Microphone placement
Chapter 13 – File management
Chapter 27 – Mastering
Chapter 14 – Virtual instruments, samplers & synths
Author Graeme Hague firstname.lastname@example.org Publisher Philip Spencer email@example.com Editorial Director Christopher Holder chris@alchemedia..com.au Design & Production Leigh Ericksen firstname.lastname@example.org Additional Design Dominic Carey email@example.com Advertising Paul Cunningham firstname.lastname@example.org Contributors Brad Watts, Cal Orr, Martin Walker, Christopher Holder, Mark Davie.
Distribution by: Network Distribution Company. AudioTechnology magazine (ISSN 1440-2432) is published by Alchemedia Publishing Pty Ltd (ABN 34 074 431 628). Contact (Advertising) T: +61 2 9986 1188 PO BOX 6216, Frenchs Forest NSW 2086, Australia.
Contact (Editorial) T: +61 3 5331 4949 PO Box 295, Ballarat VIC 3353, Australia.
Every year when we look at updating and republishing the Guerrilla Guide, the first questions always asked are, “How much has changed? What needs updating?” Our off-the-cuff answer is usually something like, “Hmm… not a lot. Surely not that much is different from the previous year, right?” After all, it wasn’t that long ago.
focus on established computer-based recording methods and includes chapters on demystifying those confusing DAW GUIs, using VSTs and where to plug in your XLRs. Sorry, suffering a little acronym overload already? Don’t worry, making this kind of stuff much easier to understand is what the Guerrilla Guide is all about.
Then we take a closer look at what’s been happening and soon realise – wrong answer. Making music is so driven by technology now and, as we all know, technology has a habit of changing pretty damned fast. Even over a short period of time there have emerged new systems, new software and even new thinking about the way we compose, record, produce and distribute music.
It doesn’t matter what kind of music you’re into. From straightforward, acoustic guitar and vocal performances, to cutting-edge, dancefloor shattering grooves, we’ve got them covered in the Guerrilla Guide. In fact, you might be surprised how many of the principles applied to creating awesome music are the same across every style. You don’t have to be a musician either. Some of the music industry’s best sound engineers and producers can’t play or sing a note to save their lives. It hasn’t stopped them from becoming sought-after specialists in the field. If your main ambition is to become a recognised studio engineer and you’re starting out with a small, project studio, you’ll find the Guerrilla Guide very handy indeed.
Okay, it’s not all new. Some of the basic – and very important – components of making music haven’t changed (and probably never will) like microphone placement, using compressors, song arrangements, good studio practices, how to prevent your DAW computer from blowing a gasket… any of the zillion things we’re covering in this Guerrilla Guide. At the same time those same fundamentals are often being influenced in a different way today by the latest technology. For example, 12 months ago we’d never have imagined using IK Multimedia’s Vocalive app on an iPad for sweetening up a vocal recording. By the way, that would be after we helped you choose the right microphone and set it up properly. Get the idea? The iDevice revolution is certainly here. In particular, the larger touch surface tablets and the many apps available put some great recording resources in the palm of your hand. We’ve become big fans here. However, a good computer, quality Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software and some careful choices in hardware such as your audio interface are still a far better way to create professional recordings. Your iDevice becomes an important tool included in the process, rather than the centre of your music-making universe. Many of the tried-and-true approaches to recording are still considered the best. It’s why a lot of software and plug-ins are designed to mimic ‘vintage’ equipment. A lot of the Guerrilla Guide continues to help explain and show you these old-school methods. It also keeps its strong
How you read and use the Guerrilla Guide is up to you. Soak up the whole thing from cover to cover in a single session, if you like. It’s also designed to be kept nearby for a quick refresher on whatever project or process you’re working on at the moment. Is that EQ plug-in not working for you? Maybe the vocalist in the band needs a little pitch-correction tweaking? We’ll be the first to agree that recording music in a DAW is a lot more complicated than you think, despite the blurb written on the side of that box your audio interface came in. Quickly re-reading a chapter in the Guerrilla Guide can work wonders. Nobody – and we mean nobody – becomes an expert overnight. It takes time and a lot of patience, and we definitely recommend a lot of crazy experimenting, too. Don’t forget, you’re not alone. If you get stuck, have a suggestion or just want to start a cool discussion, drop us a line at our website or a post on our Facebook page. We’re always happy to hear from our Guerrilla Guide readers. Good luck!
DAWs & Other TLAs The world of professional audio is rife with jargon, buzzwords, abbreviations and acronyms – and especially the TLA or Three Letter Acronym. Let’s see… there’s VST, DAT, DXi, MAS, WAV, RCA, XLR the list goes on and on. And, of course, there’s DAW — the Digital Audio Workstation. What is a DAW? It’s best we cover that here and now before going any further. A DAW is a term used to describe any of the recording/sequencing software packages on the market today. For a long time the term DAW was reserved for the super-expensive professional packages, mostly used to edit sound for film. But now, any of the popular Audio + MIDI programs like Cubase, Logic, Sonar and ProTools can be described as a DAW. Even some of the simplest apps for your tablet are essentially a DAW. MIDI? Ah. We’ll get to that a bit later. In the meantime feel free to head to our Glossary to remind yourself of any terms you’ve forgotten.
E: email@example.com W: www.guerrillaguide.com.au
All material in this magazine is copyright © 2013 Alchemedia Publishing Pty Ltd. Apart from any fair dealing permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process with out written permission. The publishers believe all information supplied in this magazine to be correct at the time of publication. They are not in a position to make a guarantee to this effect and accept no liability in the event of any information proving inaccurate. After investigation and to the best of our knowledge and belief, prices, addresses and phone numbers were up to date at the time of publication. It is not possible for the publishers to ensure that advertisements appearing in this publication comply with the Trade Practices Act, 1974. The responsibility is on the person, company or advertising agency submitting or directing the advertisement for publication. The publishers cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions, although every endeavour has been made to ensure complete accuracy.
Graeme Hague, Author
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“We just plug it in anywhere, and it just works. it sounds great too!” John Crossley – University of Derby
“Set up time is tiny, and the bottom line is that it works and it sounds great. They’re the only things that matter.” Matthew Weiner – Sound recordist
New flexible studio across an existing network SySTem DeTailS: 2 x RedNet 1 (8 Channel A-D / D-A) 1 x RedNet 2 (16 Channel A-D / D-A) 3 x RedNet 4 (8 Channel Mic Pre) 2 x RedNet 5 (32 Channel HD Bridge) 2 x RedNet PCIe Cards
RedNet’s rapid penetration into the audio industry has been far-reaching, and some of the earliest adopters have been educational facilities. The University of Derby, UK, chose RedNet in their impressive new recording studio facility. Using their existing Cat 6 networking infrastructure and a mixture of RedNet 1, 2, and 4 units, they’re able to record 24 channels of audio from anywhere within the Arts, Design and Technology building, straight into Pro Tools HD* with RedNet 5. From their ground-floor auditorium, for example, students can track a live concert from their fully-equipped control room on the second floor. All they need to do is to connect their microphones to the portable RedNet 4 preamp rack, and patch a single Ethernet cable to an RJ45 socket in the wall.
laptop concert recording 238 feet away SySTem DeTailS: 1 x RedNet 2 (16 Channel A-D / D-A) Dante Virtual Soundcard (Direct to laptop Ethernet)
It’s not just in large-scale applications that RedNet shines. Matthew Weiner is a freelance sound recordist from New Jersey, USA who records lots of jazz and classical concerts, and uses a RedNet 2 to capture high-quality audio on his laptop recording system. Matthew’s rig consists of a rolling rack case with some ADAT-enabled eight-channel mic preamps, a selection of mics, and a 238-foot reel of Cat 6 cable, enabling him to be a long distance from the stage if necessary. “The weight of that reel versus the 75-foot snake I used to rent is fractional, and it’s more than three times as long and has almost double the capacity!”
To get in touch with a RedNet specialist today, head to www.elfa.com.au GG :: 8
Pro Tools® is a trademark or registered trademark of Avid Technology, Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States and/or other countries.
The Focusrite Sound. Networked. For Focusrite, Sound is Everything. Over the past four decades, the Focusrite sound has influenced countless hit records. Focusrite mic preamplifiers and converters rest pride of place in many of the world’s finest audio facilities. A relentless pursuit for sound excellence has fuelled Focusrite to become the audio interface company of choice for discerning ears across the globe. RedNet continues this proud tradition of placing sound first – with one twist – RedNet is entirely networked. An Ethernet-based professional audio networking system, RedNet features a full range of remote-controlled, high-quality input/output devices for microphone, line-level analogue and digital audio signals. RedNet interfaces to any DAW and is entirely modular. You can expand the network as your needs demand, with a single system linking multiple workstations and multiple rooms with near-zero latency. Build a system today knowing it can grow for tomorrow. RedNet is based on industry-standard DanteTM ‘audio over IP’ architecture. This proven, robust system employs economical, standard Ethernet cabling and standard managed gigabit Ethernet switches – minimising costs and maximising flexibility. Eliminate the downsides of traditional audio wiring, while enjoying superb Focusrite quality sound anywhere you need it. Because it combines the best in sound with unmatched flexibility, Focusrite’s RedNet technology is being implemented in a diverse range of applications. From single-unit laptop recording setups to multi-room studio environments, RedNet is proving to be a hugely popular audio interface system.
“i was blown away. The preamp is flat, and the phase coherence is perfect.” Philip Reynolds – Systems Engineer
Optimising ‘The Killers’ sound, live
SySTem DeTailS: 1 x RedNet 4 (8 Channel Mic Pre) 1 x RedNet 1 (8 Channel A-D / D-A)
For the front of house rig of The Killers’ world tour, a RedNet 1 and RedNet 4 perform a number of duties for Systems Engineer Philip Reynolds. His key responsibility is to set up the tour’s state-ofthe-art sound system to perform as well as possible in venues across the globe. In order to do this, he uses audio analysis software coupled with a reference mic, to match the sound system response as closely as possible to the output of the front-of-house desk. RedNet handles all his inputs and outputs to facilitate that process, including the mic preamps for his highly sensitive audio test mic.
Whether you’re in the studio, an auditorium, school or out on the road, there’s a RedNet system for your application and a way to wire your future with RedNet.
POWereD by DaNTe
Focusrite is Distributed, Serviced & supported by Electric Factory Pty Ltd 188 Plenty Road Preston VIC 3072 Tel. (03) 9474 1000 GG :: 9
comes to music computer set-ups, the best option is going to be a little more expensive than any discount machines that leap out of the Sunday papers at you. The idea, though, is to save you a lot of stress and disappointment. Because that’s definitely what you’ll go through trying to get any ol’ computer to run DAW software properly. First of all, where do you go to buy a computer for your DAW? Who are the real experts?
For starters, don’t go to one of those discount chain computer stores — not to buy a music computer anyway. The chances of finding someone in these ‘Superstores’ who will understand what you’re after aren’t good. No offense to the legions of salespeople who do know their RAM from their ROM, but there are some pretty specific needs for a DAW that, if you don’t allow for them, will come back to haunt you. Your software will keep glitching and freezing, the computer will crash and lock up, and you’ll invent a whole bunch of new swear words until eventually you go back to the computer store and buy that better motherboard or the extra RAM you should have gotten in the first place. Even the specialists stores are generally owned or run by people who can make a spreadsheet for the New York Stock Exchange or simultaneously fly three attack helicopters in Battlefield 3 and never crash, but if you explain you want to record eight tracks of 24-bit, 48kHz audio through a Firewire interface, monitor them in real time and run plug-ins on each one... well, trust me, you’ll be very lucky to find someone who’ll know what the hell you’re talking about.
So the obvious place to buy a DAW computer is actually in a musician’s store where they sell musical gear. They might not have one actually in stock, but many music stores can arrange or recommend a local IT business that can build you a DAW that avoids the pitfalls of off-the-shelf PCs.
Getting set up It’s okay to be a ‘newbie’, or ‘noob’, as some forums like to say (and we certainly won’t make you feel bad in any of our Audio Technology forums–check them out at www.audiotechnology. com.au/forum/). We all have to start somewhere. But for the purposes of this guide we’re going to assume you’re not a complete novice when it comes to computers. Like, you know how they work... roughly and you understand what the various hardware components do and the role of software drivers. Let’s face it, if you’ve got a nice, shiny new machine sitting on a table, but you’ve got next to no idea how it works, it’s going to be tricky getting your head around how any DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software does its stuff. What Sort of Computer Do You Need? The truth is that if we could provide you right here, right now, the latest, greatest and most up-to-date advice on computers it would still be obsolete by the time you’ve walked down the street to try and buy it. The computer industry just moves that fast. When it GG :: 10
Mac or PC? Whatever… Mac or PC? We’re not going to tell you. It’s probably best to make up your own mind, based on the few facts that really matter and from then on, it’s up to you. For old time’s sake, let’s start by touching briefly on the ‘PC versus Mac’ pie fight that, despite everything, is a debate that refuses to go away. In the past, the PC versus Mac argument (which one had the best operating system and which had the better, more powerful hardware) has been fierce and spiteful. It was right up there with the best conspiracy theories like ‘who shot John F Kennedy?’, ‘do UFOs really exist?’ and whether Lady Gaga is really a bloke — it was a serious, passionate subject. The truth is, Mac computers were always better at multimedia applications, but seemed to be lacking in a lot of other software. Conversely, older Windows operating systems (OS for short) supported a vast amount of applications — which was appealing and useful — but only Microsoft’s Windows could spawn a whole new acronym of its own called BSOD, or ‘Blue Screen Of Death’, which is what happened when your PC collapsed under the strain and decided to have a quiet nap without asking you first. Nowadays under Windows 7 BSODs are rare and usually indicate something’s really gone wrong when they do happen – probably with your PC’s hardware. Right now Win7 is preferred by DAW PC users rather than Windows 8 mainly because Win 8 is a lot about touchscreen functions and other stuff that don’t have a whole lot to do with recording music. There isn’t a lot of benefit from switching up to Win 8 from a music point of view and besides, it’s always wise to let a new OS version settle in and shake out the bugs, before taking the leap. Mind you, since not a lot of audio-related components were changed for Win 8 many people are reporting that it’s stable and won’t give you any grief. Most of the software and hardware developers are switching over easily too, providing drivers and such. One thing we strongly suggest is that you get a 64-bit Windows 7 OS installed, instead of the more
NEW OPERATING SYSTEM RELEASES Twenty four hours after Microsoft releases a new operating system you’ll hear rumours of a better version in the pipeline. Apple will be hinting of another “cat” to be let out of the bag, too. It’s so tempting for people like us to get the latest and greatest OS and reap the rewards (yeah… right). The problem is all the software drivers and thirdparty applications need to upgrade their programs to any new OS as well and chances are they’ll be months, if not years, behind in development. Don’t get caught out by a lack of device drivers for your computer hardware, because you upgrade the OS. You’ll have to be a little more patient.
Antec Dark Fleet Case: This impressive-looking box is an Antec Dark Fleet PC case. It will again cost you more money than a standard PC case. There are good reasons. PC cases like this one provide extra room for more expansion cards, more hard drives... more everything really and they come standard with wiring looms inside to plug it all in. Another important feature in up-market cases is the ability to install advanced, quiet cooling systems. Wellfeatured computers generate a lot of heat and it can cause you performance problems on a hot day. What you don’t want are a bunch of high speed fans ventilating the PC, because they make too much noise. Instead, you can get a water-cooled system. Over time you might be making decisions like this and studio life is a lot easier, if you start off with a large, quality PC case that gives you options.
standard 32-bit. You’ll pay a little more money. The upside is that modern DAWs can be a lot more powerful and create better results running in 64-bit mode. Besides, 64-bit is quickly taking over and soon 32-bit will be obsolete and forgotten. Sad, but true.
THE ‘MUSIC COMPUTER’ QUESTION
so if you change your mind you’ll be starting all over again... for example, Logic Pro will only work on a Mac and Samplitude 11 will only work on a PC.
So what about Macs? Some people want their cake and try to eat it too by running Windows on Intel Macs via an Apple program called Bootcamp… while this is not exactly a practical approach for the use of DAW software it can be done.. More streamlined are Macs with their own OSX and remain the rock-solid multimedia machine they’ve always been.
PC System Basics For a few moments let’s just forget about Mac computers. They don’t present the multitude of hardware choices that PCs do. When it comes to a Windows PC you’ll have a few extra things to think about that Macs just deal with on their own. DAW applications can be fussy and there are issues that for Windows can be troublesome — it’s why you need that music store expert to help you.
To be truly pragmatic, it’d be fair to say that neither computer platform is significantly better than the other anymore — and yes, someone will still disagree and pick a fight. You just have to be aware that whatever you choose, it’s the beginning of a different journey. Meaning that a lot of software you may buy over the next few years won’t work on both systems,
In no order of importance: the core of any Windows PC system is in the motherboard with its chipset and the CPU. No one expects you to become an instant IT genius, but you should know that some chipsets aren’t as efficient as others at running large amounts of multimedia data — particularly audio — and some motherboards may not come with the right expansion
Rule No. 1 is always get the fastest Mac you can afford, and aim to replace it during the next three to four years. With this plan of attack you can take advantage of any new power hungry plug-ins, sample players etc or updates to your pre-existing software that might appear. However, by the time your machine is over four years old you’ll find operating system upgrades will usually outclass the machine, and you’ll experience worse rather than better performance. That is unless you wish to follow Rule No. 2. Rule No. 2 disallows upgrading your operating system and DAW software entirely. Set it up (or have a tech set it up) to do the recording work you’re intending to do. Then leave it that way. It’s a similar concept to using a standalone recorder, such as a tape machine or digital recorder. This way, you won’t have your main recording machine fail halfway during a session because you’ve installed a set of incompatible plug-ins, or system upgrade that doesn’t support your current software or hardware drivers. Make sure the machine doesn’t attempt to upgrade itself via the web by either disabling the Software Update preferences or, better still, don’t connect the Mac to the web at all. Always use a separate drive to record to, as recording multiple audio tracks to the same drive Invariably leads to glitching or, worse, a system crash. The OSX operating system is working hard behind the scenes looking after virtual memory caches and generally keeping the show on the road. Don’t confuse the computer by saving your audio recordings in among thousands of tiny system files. Equally as important, is using a separate drive for any sample libraries you may
use. Sample playback plug-ins reading directly from hard drives don’t like competing with your record drive for processing bandwidth. To aid your plug-in samplers (along with overall system performance), install as much RAM as possible in the machine. Modern desktop MacPros can take an incredible 128GB — which will cost you an arm and a leg. Kick things off with at least 4GB. Software samplers can take up scads of RAM nowadays and reading those samples from RAM rather than relying on the software manufacturers direct from disk technology, is a far quicker and more reliable method. Many DAW applications take advantage of 64-bit architecture, and can consequently access larger than 4GB chunks of RAM. This is especially useful when it comes to software-samplers. However, not all plug-ins are 64-bit compliant, so tread carefully here. Check with your plug-in manufacturer for 64-bit compatibility. Turn off any non-essential processes in the system such as file sharing and the firewall. These extra processes take up valuable processing cycles that are best directed toward recording, mixing, and power hungry plug-ins. OSX has a bunch of features that you really don’t need for audio functionality — especially if the Mac isn’t connected to the web or a local network. In the System Preferences panel go to Sharing and turn off all types of sharing. Do the same with the Firewall — again in the Sharing preferences section. If you have an Airport card installed, turn that off as well. Disable the FileVault feature. This is an Apple invention for encrypting your documents so their contents remain hidden from prying eyes — many audio applications don’t take kindly to
The Guerrilla Guide strongly recommends buying a PC that’s been configured for music recording. Why? Well, if you spend your first six musicrecording months hunting down glitches and gremlins it’ll drive you mad — you may even give the whole game away. Sure, you might need to spend a couple of hundred bucks more on getting a music computer that’ll do the job properly but it’ll be worth it — there will be far less down time and far less stress. Having a reliable, predictable hardware setup is one compelling reason why many people will opt for an Apple
Mac computer. When you go to get advice from a Mac expert they don’t need to ask what configuration you have because each model is the same, while in PC Land there are a million different hardware permutations. So go to your music store and ask them to recommend a music PC builder. If the store only sells guitars and doesn’t know, ring a music store that has a ‘hi-tech’ department. Don’t give up and keep asking. Still no luck? Email us at the Guerrilla Guide or jump on the Audio Technology forums at www.audiotechnology. com.au/forum/.
this being turned on. That’s found in the Security preferences. If you’re running ProTools software turn off the Spotlight key command ( Space). The ProTools installation will warn you of this conflict. If you’re trying to squeeze the last possible smidgeon of power from your Mac, turn off any graphic-intensive processes such as animating opening applications and icon magnification in the Dock. ‘Fast user switching’ is also a processor hog, so disable this in the Accounts preference pane. Set the screen-saver to ‘never’ in the Screensaver pane and in the Energy Saver pane set your hard drives to ‘never sleep’. Speaking of hard drives, never, ever let them become completely full. You should always allow at least 10 to 15% of free space on a drive. Failing to do this can result in a drive failing to mount, or worse still, complete data loss. Rule No. 3: Repair Permissions regularly. Install Applejack (http://applejack.sourceforge.net/). Applejack is a utility that will clear up most indiscretions within your system. It diagnoses the condition of your hard drive data, repairs the system permissions and eradicates damaged preference files. It will also clear the virtual memory caches from your system drive, allowing a new set of virtual RAM files to be created. If these invisible files become corrupt you’ll experience poor performance. So whenever your machine is acting strangely, or worse, won’t boot at all, you’ll still be able to run Applejack as it runs in what’s known as Single User Mode (start up the Mac while holding down -S). More than likely the process will get your show back on the road. — Brad Watts
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DONGLE/iLOK This is a typical USB ‘dongle’ (this one’s an iLok and is needed to run Avid ProTools software). The term “dongle” is disappearing in preference to fancier names like “eLicenser”, but they’re still dongles. Inside is tiny circuitry recognised by the software to confirm it’s genuine, not cracked. A lot of users hate the fact that if their dog eats the dongle or it just vanishes like an odd sock one day (it happens) then the software is inoperable until you get a replacement dongle, which can be a pain and costs money. Other
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users are annoyed to be sacrificing a USB port just for one of these things. The upside of a dongle is that you can move between two computers running your DAW without breaking any copyright laws — just install the DAW on the second computer, pop in your authorization dongle and away you go. If you can’t imagine yourself ever doing that the best thing to do is find a spare USB port on the back of your computer – somewhere you’ll never unplug it to make room temporarily for a camera, phone or thumbdrive – and leave it there. Forget all about it.
slots or the correct peripheral protocol for your chosen soundcard. This isn’t to say they’re bad, they were just designed with other things in mind. This is definitely where the experts should step up and give you good advice on what is currently available and what’s compatible with the DAW you’re intending to use. With every new motherboard (and chipset released to go with it) there’s always some that work better or worse with multimedia software. CPUs are the same. Different brands like AMD or Intel will offer better performance over various models compared to each other. Who knows why within the murky, magic soup of binary decoding that every product isn’t simply brilliant at everything, but let’s just say it’s worth investigating thoroughly. Bear in mind, by the way, that when we suggest that some software doesn’t work best with particular hardware this is under conditions where things are being pushed to the limits and it’s guaranteed, when making music on a DAW, it won’t be long before you are pushing the limits. The minimum system specification for Windows 7 is 1GB RAM – and that’s just to run the OS. A lot of DAW recording software will work with only 1GB of RAM installed, Don’t be fooled, as soon as you start using any of the various virtual instruments that come packaged with them like Sonar’s Dimension Pro or XPand2 in ProTools, then at least 2GB of RAM is a must and 4GB is even better. Windows 7 32-bit won’t recognise more than 4GB anyway and to use more you’ll need to have one of the Win 7 64-bit OS on your PC (different versions allow different amounts of RAM up to 192GB for Win 7 “Ultimate”). Macs don’t have any RAM restrictions at all...see? That’s the kind of thing Mac users are always smug about. We can dodge getting bogged down here by saying certainly never let anyone talk you into anything less than 4GB and make sure that whatever you have comes in a stick that still leaves RAM slots free for upgrades later. In other words: if you fill all four of your RAM slots with 1GB sticks to give you 4GB in total, you’ll have no room to put say a 2GB stick later. So, if your motherboard can handle it,
Microsoft’s Windows 7 works well with audio applications straight out of the box and there are only four essential adjustments that all the Windows OS still need that can each make an appreciable difference to overall performance. The first is to change Processor Scheduling to ‘Background Services’, which you do by navigating to the Advanced page of the System applet, clicking on the Performance ‘Settings’ button, selecting its Advanced tab, and then clicking on ‘Background Services’ for Processor Scheduling. For ASIO drivers, the bedrock of all audio interfaces, this is the most essential tweak of all, because ASIO drivers run as background services in Windows, and you may be able to run your audio interface at a significantly lower latency after this tweak. The second is to switch off Power Schemes. In the Power Options applet choose the ‘Always On’ power scheme, and change the settings for monitor and hard disk turn off and System standby to ‘Never’ so your PC doesn’t unexpectedly conk out during song playback. If you have the wrong setting here you can cripple the processing performance of many modern PCs because of over-clever schemes that throttle your processor to a slower clock speed to keep it cool and in the case of laptops keep the battery life as long as possible. In theory, such throttling schemes should let your CPU clock speed ramp up smoothly on demand, but in practice there’s a short time lag before this happens, sufficient to result in audio interruptions and therefore clicks and pops. The only safe way to prevent this happening is to make sure
your processor always runs at its top speed. The third is to disable System Sounds, which you do by selecting the ‘No Sounds’ scheme on the Sounds tab of the ‘Sounds and Audio Devices’ applet. The bleeps, clicks, and other sounds that Windows uses by default to accompany such events as startup, logon and logoff, new emails and the like can be helpful, but they can get in the way of your recordings and even ‘take over’ the system and ruin everything. If you like having a few system sounds you’re just going to have to get used to turning these on and off as you start a new DAW session. Finally, turn off any anti-virus software. Usually we wouldn’t recommend having your audio PC connected to the net, so anti-virus protection isn’t needed anyway – but a lot of software needs a web connection for authorisation. Virus software can constantly examine and ‘check’ new files you create or import (such as samples) stalling your system every time. Turn it off. There are a heap of other performance tweaks you can try – as always a quick search of the internet will bring you countless results – but if you need these in place to get your DAW up and running properly, then you’re getting desperate and either something else is wrong or your computer is drastically under-resourced. Apart from the four main ones above ‘tweaks’ only give you marginal improvement or maybe will fix a particular problem. Since a lot of tweaks involve turning off Windows Services and potentially causing problems with the day-to-day running of your computer it’s best to try leaving them alone first.
it is worth putting in larger capacity RAM modules /sticks to begin with. Hard drives are very important and you should have three — yes, three. This should remind you we’re already well beyond your usual brochure-in-the-letterbox type of computer here. Your first hard drive is for your ‘system drive’ alone. For a Macintosh or Windows machine this is where you install the Win 7 OS or Mac OSX and all the associated music-making programs. The second drive is dedicated to the recording/storing of audio files and the third drive takes care of storing your music samples. To elaborate, there are two major advantages in doing it this way. Firstly, if your OS drive carks it (and hard drives do sometimes fail for no good reason) you won’t lose all your audio data at the same time. Later we’ll look at file management, archiving and workflow ideas more closely, but suffice to say at the moment that there’s only one thing worse than your computer’s primary system drive spitting the dummy and that’s losing all your data files — your recordings — with it. The other big reason for having at least two hard drives is that it allows you to write your new files as they’re being recorded to a drive without any interruptions. Sure, most of the time your application is running from RAM, but there are still plenty of occasions when your system drive will need to be accessed. So when you’re recording anything, instead of just the one drive frantically trying to write new data and run an Operating System as well, it’s comfortably spreading the load. The third hard drive? Okay, virtual instruments like drums, pianos and the like, base their sounds on ‘samples’ (which are snippets of actual recordings… we’ll explain this some more later, too) and they have to be stored and pulled off a hard drive on demand at a very fast access rate. Again, it’s a great help to have a hard drive that’s dedicated to this task and not busy doing other things. The CPU spends a lot of time processing plug-ins and helping calculate/compute your audio information. So the best advice is to get the best CPU you can afford. Both AMD and Intel processors will do a reliable job, so it’s really up to personal preference as to which brand you head for and maybe what kind of deal you can hammer out on the day. Right, so you’ve got loads of RAM and multiple hard drives all connected to a compatible motherboard with a good CPU. What else? Make sure you have at least four — and preferably more — USB 2.0 ports. Six, really. These little suckers get used up quickly and it’s easy to run out. Most good motherboards will have four ports as a minimum, but don’t be tempted by a budget PC with just a couple. For instance a lot of software relies on a USB ‘dongle’ for copyright protection — the application won’t run without it being plugged in. Do a bit of web searching on dongles and you’ll find a fair amount of angst and teeth-gnashing about dongles and how they unnecessarily take up USB ports, bandwidth and can abruptly fail, rendering your software inoperable. Yes, they can be a right-royal pain, but dongles are (particularly if you run Cubase, Nuendo or Pro Tools) an unavoidable fact of life — which means you have to provide a port for it. That’s a port for the dongle, a mouse, maybe a printer, an external device like another hard drive or memory stick, a DAW control surface, an audio interface... see? Computers have a habit of collecting USB peripheral gadgets like this. Also very important, a lot of motherboards will offer USB 3.0 ports. Make sure you do have at least a couple of USB 3.0 ports. They’re not wasted, because these will work as USB 2.0 as well. In the meantime, the USB 3.0 revolution is gathering steam. Firewire connectivity is an alternative for some of these devices or can be used in conjunction with USB. Firewire 400 ports have been in use for several years and come as a four and a six-pin port. The latter uses the extra pins to provide DC voltage to power some outboard equipment which will otherwise otherwise need an external power supply to use it. While Firewire 800 is still standard on Macs it has stopped being issued on PC motherboards so if you need it, you’ll have to add an expansion PCI or PCIe card that has it. The other new kid on the block is Intel’s Thunderbolt, it can shuffle data in and out of your
Apple MacPro: Space for multiple hard drives and more RAM than you can shake a (128GB memory) stick at.
J ust to reiterate, an off-the-shelf ‘package’ computer won’t cut it — neither will gaming soundcards as an audio interface. ou’ll probably find the choice of Y motherboards, CPUs and RAM utterly bewildering — always get expert advice.
Okay, are you getting confused already? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s bad enough having the different protocols. Dealing with different types of the same protocols like Firewire 400 or 800, USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 will just give youa headache. But hang in there and do some homework. The main thing is to future-proof your new PC as much as you can. You’ll be glad you did. A good video card is important, especially if you’re hoping to work with any kind of film scoring and have to run a video window at the same time. Besides, any weak link in your system can hamper the speed of the rest of your computer’s components, creating data bottlenecks and, as a result, glitches in the audio signal, so it makes sense not to skimp on the video card. However, it doesn’t mean you should get something that gives you high-definition warts on the spooks in World of Warcraft. You can give your budget a bit of breathing space and buy something moderate like a 512MB card. It’s worth pointing out that a lot of motherboards have good in-built video processors on them. If you’re definitely not interested in hard-core gaming or video editing, the onboard video on these motherboards will cover the bases for audio (and you can always buy a video card later if you need to start scoring for film, video editing or gaming). Soundcards... well, now we’re getting serious, because a good soundcard (otherwise known as an audio interface) is at the heart of any DAW. Your choices range from simpler units of just two inputs and outputs right through to multi-connecting professional interfaces. We’ll deal with all of these in more detail in a separate chapter along with other dedicated bits of hardware gear you should have that will make for a great DAW. But listen up, there’s something you must get your head around and avoid a common misconception. The standard type of minijack-based audio interface that comes with many computer motherboards won’t do the job. Neither will many of the upmarket gamer soundcards. In particular, don’t mistake the 5.1 “Surround Sound” hype as having much to do with serious 5.1 audio. No one’s disputing onboard sound has its place, but they are not designed for DAW work and the accompanying cheapo soundcard utility software, in particular, can drive you crazy. That’s because the software is trying to add effects and change things to enhance the gaming
our computer is the most important Y and most complex bit of kit in your studio, so it’s important to get the right one. e recommend two alternatives: W a ‘made for music’ PC or an Apple computer. Ask your music store for the details of someone who builds music PCs; while Apple computers can be bought off the shelf.
The big focus for computers these days is increasingly becoming ‘multitasking’ … That’s fine, but don’t multitask when you want to record some music!
computer at 10 times the speed of Firewire 800 so like USB 3.0 it’s going to be handy to have.
basic requirement will be plenty of A USB ports including some USB 3.0.
experience. You want to record audio nice and clean, not there is no need for booming explosions, whizzing arrows and snapping bullets. Don’t argue. Get a proper audio interface. Tweaks & Tune Ups Everybody wants to multi-task. All at the same time you want to be able to check your emails, monitor for viruses, write a thesis on modern theology and keep track of a bargain on eBay. That’s fine, That’s fine, but don’t multitask when you want to record some music! DAW applications like to have your system’s resources all to themselves and don’t even care that the computer is still expecting to run Windows or a Mac OS as well, along with a lot of so-called services that Microsoft and Apple feel you just can’t survive without. So although you might think everything else has been turned off, computers usually have some sneaky little functions working in the background that can get in the way. Some are not easy to turn off and can interfere with your DAW at the worst possible time. You might be playing the lead solo of your life just as the screen saver cuts in and trashes everything. A lot of performance fixes are about turning off these unnecessary “background” programs. Be warned! Before you turn anything off make sure you know exactly what you’re doing. If you’re unsure, find out. A good practise is to turn things off one at a time, then if stuff goes crazy you’ll know why. Soundcard Specifics There will also be certain settings you need to configure that are specific to either your music software or your separate audio interface. Most soundcards and interfaces come with device drivers that install virtual mixers and control panels on your computer. These have settings that are very important and in some cases can automatically be changed by your DAW application as you make choices for each project. For example, start a recording session in Cubase and it will try and set your audio card parameters to suit. However, some programs and soundcard device drivers don’t communicate with each other so readily and you might have to check that your driver settings are matching your project setup via the software audio preference pane. Otherwise, things won’t go as smoothly as they can. We’ll look at these settings more closely in Chapter Five, which is about getting started with your first serious recordings and putting everything in place for a trouble-free session.
ou can apply ‘tweaks’ to a computer Y operating system to turn off unwanted applications and services running in the background. read carefully! Your decisions here, T with the choice of computer, operating system, and soundcard will be ones you’re likely to live with for a long time. So get it right.
LAPTOP V DESKTOP
Wait a second before you read on, have you read the whole chapter? Because if you have then you’ll figure out already that laptops can’t have a lot of the things we’ve recommended for the best, trouble-free DAW setup. Extra harddrives, more slots for RAM, heaps of USB or Firewire slots... laptops come as they are, you can’t add stuff. Laptop computers are powerful now and they come with large screens, large hard drives and hoards of RAM. It’s tempting to make for yourself a kind of portable DAW – and why not? Well you can, but making a lappy work as well as a desktop computer will be tricky and cost you a hell of a lot more money. Laptop RAM is more expensive because it’s compact and getting a fast hard drive (laptops are generally 5400rpm or, if you’re lucky 7200) will cost extra bucks, too. It’s worth knowing that budget laptops get their price down by using outdated and cheap components, particularly laptops aimed at students. DAWs hate that. And you’ll end up plugging in so many peripherals such as a mouse, your audio interface and an external drive that your ‘portable’ setup looks like a mobile phone dropped in a pot of spaghetti and meatballs. The theory is good, but in practise a good laptop-based DAW can be more trouble and money, than it’s worth. We say ‘good’, because a lot of audio developers market small interfaces as a mobile solution and that’s fine. What they’re really offering is a way to sketch out ideas, record guitar riffs and such on the road. When things get serious, it’s usually back to the main studio rig. Besides, iPads and other iOS devices with apps are taking over this portable role, too. So think carefully, before you go down this path. And by the way, yeah, we’re sure too that someone, one day, will claim the latest hit song was written and recorded entirely on their iPhone using a free app they downloaded. They’ll get their 15 minutes of fame on the internet. All we can say is that anyone can dig a large hole with a teaspoon, if they really want, but it’s bloody hard work. We recommend a proper shovel or, if you can afford it, a miniescavator!
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Software Surprisingly, there’s not a whole lot to choose from, considering how much choice the Internet will throw at you for most other things. That is to say, there’s not a lot in the way of fully-developed and properly supported applications with a solid reputation. Sure, there’s a thousand shareware and freeware programs that claim to give you just as much as the serious players in the market. There’s a very good reason why they’re shareware and freeware. I’m sure you can figure that out for yourself.
give you plenty of MIDI editing for creating music without getting into the really expert stuff. ProTools is similar in that it’s got plenty of MIDI features that will do the job for 99% of users. If you’re more of a sit-in-front-of-a-microphone type of musician and prefer playing the ‘real’ thing, then Studio One and ProTools are going to appeal to you. What MIDI are you missing out on? Cubase and Logic for example still have some seriously complex MIDI functions that possibly nobody really understands, but they’re there. We’re talking at the binary-ninja geek level of MIDI here.
The first thing you need to decide is exactly what you want to do with your DAW. It’s impossible to say that one DAW is ‘better’ than another — they all have different strengths in certain areas. But it’s safe to say most experts will agree some software is firmly aimed at a particular approach to music-making and would be better for you than the others.
Which brings us to another style of music creation based on cutting, pasting, gluing, slicing, dicing audio ‘loops’ into arrangements without ever actually playing a note yourself, either real (acoustic) or with MIDI (using a keyboard or controller). Programs like Sony’s Acid Pro and Ableton Live have taken the art far beyond what anyone imagined.
Software Differences What are the differences and how will they relate to what you want to do?
Do Your Homework Make up your mind about how you want to create music. Don’t forget to keep the more distant future in mind and the possible need to expand your skills further. Do a lot of research into the various software packages available, including the ones we’re going to use frequently as examples in this guide. Buy a few recording magazines, go down to your local store or get on the Internet and start surfing. It’s worth a word of caution here about this last approach, though. You may get puzzled by some raving opinions and nasty stuff on just about every application you can think of. The web is full of forums and help sites for all kinds of software and these can be a great source of information, but the downside is that there’s little regulation on who can say what, or how much expertise these commentators have behind
Okay, so the next big question is: which software is the best for you?
One way of composing and recording music is to use MIDI programming. This involves triggering sounds in external sound modules and/or internal or ‘native’ virtual instruments. MIDI is a powerful tool for creating great tracks. So if that’s how you’d like to work, you’re going to need an application like Cakewalk’s Sonar, Apple’s Logic Pro, MOTU’s Digital Performer, Avid’s ProTools or Steinberg’s Cubase or Nuendo. These have a reputation as excellent MIDI editors as well as having the ability to record audio very well — something you’ll need to do if your compositions contain anything acoustic, like vocals. Some programs like the new Presonus’ Studio One GG :: 14
Cross Platform? The best known DAWs aren’t necessarily written for both the PC and Mac. Don’t buy a PC and expect to run the latest version of Logic, for example — it’s an Apple-only program. Meanwhile, Sonar is PC-only, as is Samplitude and Acid. Of the programs that are truly ‘cross platform’ (they have separate versions developed for installing on either a PC or Mac) you’re looking at Steinberg’s Cubase or Nuendo programs, Ableton Live, Presonus’s Studio One, Cockos Reaper or Avid ProTools.
buying genuine software … means you’re serious about all this and you’ll be welcomed into the club of people who care ”
Apple Logic Studio
Sony Acid Music Studio
them. You’ll find a lot of grumbling and complaining, too. Ignore the rantings. The truth is that good software with a long and reliable reputation is exactly that — good software. Okay, occasionally you might see a forum posting like, ‘I don’t like the way such-and-such program handles file archiving’ and that might be a valid opinion worth noting. But if someone claims that a popular DAW toasted their computer, killed the dog and deleted all of their Brazilian Love Poetry from the hard drive, you can safely assume they had a little too much red cordial with their lunch… and the Brazilian stuff can make you go blind anyway. DAW Tribes DAW programs attract fierce brand loyalty and, as a result, some fairly trashy comments about alternative products. Many users are about as oneeyed as your average football fanatic. Put simply, the best software for you is the program you choose at the start and stick with for as long as it takes – which will probably be years. Some developers will hate those words being said out loud, because they always want to attract new customers away from competing DAWs, but they’ll also agree that brand loyalty is a good thing. From a user’s point of view, it makes sense to stay with the same program and learn it thoroughly regardless of how much someone wants to lure us away with new tricks and toys. If somebody has a bad experience with a certain type of software you can most likely blame it on any or all of the issues we looked at in the previous chapter such as incompatible motherboards, insufficient RAM and missing (or corrupted) device drivers. They can all contribute to a particular DAW application running very poorly in comparison to another. Computers and DAWs can be like that. One
program may happily tolerate a certain system’s configuration, while different software on exactly the same machine with exactly the same system settings goes haywire. If software is driving someone crazy with terrible performance it’s highly unlikely to be the program itself at fault. Which DAW? Back to that original question: which software is best for you? Programs that have great MIDI capabilities can give you an enormous range of possibilities in regards to making music. Mostly it’s about controlling samplers and virtual instruments to a fine degree with a piano keyboard and coming up with very realistic results. The amount of finesse you can apply to your programming is really only limited by how much time and patience you can give it — and only if you need it. In other words, if you ask Elton John to play a good virtual grand piano and record the MIDI data, then playing it back is going to sound like... well, Elton John playing a grand piano. He’s not going to need any help, right? But what if you’re a three-fingered piano player? Well, good MIDI software is excellent at letting you compensate for any shortcomings. For example, you can record every single note one by one and later add functions that ‘humanise’ the playback. Or you can leave it programmed with every note perfectly on the beat. The same principle can be applied to any virtual instrument including non-keyboard based sounds like drums, brass or even the bagpipes. In the attempts to close the gap on their opposition a lot of software developers have introduced more and more comprehensive MIDI features and it’s not easy to get away from. ProTools is a prime example. If MIDI isn’t your scene, then you’re going to leave a vast amount of the application untouched and
Hardware/Software Packages Sometimes the decision is made easy by buying a good audio interface. A lot of hardware will come packaged with ‘Lite’ versions of DAW software. It’s a good way to check products out and often the software isn’t so Lite at all — nothing ‘lite’ about Cubasis, for example. Studio One Free should keep you occupied for a while, too.
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If software is driving someone crazy with terrible performance it’s highly unlikely to be the program itself at fault “
maybe wasted. It’ll be like buying a full-enchilada cable TV connection and only watching the ABC. Don’t worry, that part of your new software that focuses on real-time recordings — like playing into a microphone or plugging a guitar into your interface — is still just as exciting. These are features that encourage musicianship and a traditional, more linear approach to recording despite being computerbased. And you never know when that MIDI programming will come in handy. Loop da Loop Looping programs like Acid Pro, Live or even Apple’s Garageband have come a long way in a short time. They tend to be associated with dance, rave and hip-hop music, because of the nature of these styles. But they don’t have to be used solely as loopbased compositional tools, indeed it’s only your own imagination and skill that defines the end result. There is a huge range of loops available in CD and DVD formats and through the Internet by download, plus some allow you to dissect an individual loop into ‘slices’ that can then be re-arranged into something entirely different. Using loops is the perfect way for non-musicians to manipulate sounds into tunes. With dedication and imagination you can create some amazing material. Acid and Live will still allow you to record in real-time over the top with vocals or real instruments and MIDI support is there, too. Demo You can get demonstration versions of some software, so we’re not always talking about an entirely sight-unseen decision before you buy anything. Some programs are so large and complex you’re going to need a decent monthly bandwidth limit to handle the download or know someone who does. An option is that a lot of big music retailers have software running in the store. You can play with it all day — well nearly! Cracked software or warez are not the way to go. We can’t say this often or loud enough. However, since probably every computer on the planet has some kind of illegal program installed we figure this isn’t an argument we’ll win easily. Instead of attempting to convince you to stay honest, let’s explain why purchasing legal software has so many advantages. The Real Thing First, you’re going to need help. Lots of it. And the product support offered by the software developers is always the best place to get it. Admittedly, some companies don’t have the best of reputations when
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it comes to technical support, but generally they are by far the best resource for sorting out tricky problems. Also, many of the unofficial website forums have taken a dislike to cracked users and now demand some kind of proof you have the genuine software. Doors are closing everywhere for those who don’t have a software registration key. Secondly, having a CD or DVD with the original installation program is a real advantage. You will, at some point, have to re-install your software — perhaps after a hardware crash or a serious computer upgrade — and having the proper data disc makes a big difference. You can be sure, too, that a lot of developers will have added material, maybe some loop libraries or a bonus plug-in or two on their genuine install discs and these will be well worth getting. Looking at the other extreme the latest Komplete VSTi, which is a software suite of virtual instruments and effects from Native Instruments, comes with 370GB of samples! It even comes on an external USB hard drive, not disks. You’re not going to find that on a cracked warez site. Another reason for going ‘real’ is that the software developers need the bucks to keep up the good work and implement new features. Have you ever had a computer virus? A serious one? They suck. They really, really ruin your day. Cracked software can have a virus embedded in it, often put there by people passing the program on – you’re an easy target for hackers who want to wreak havoc. What’s more likely is that the website you download any cracked material from will be riddled with viruses just waiting for your unsuspecting log-on. Not to mention dozens of impending email invitations for cheap drugs, Russian wives and stock market tips. Just avoiding the spam emails should be inducement enough to keep you away from hackers’ websites. One last thing — it’s likely the hacked component of the cracked software will cause it to run badly or be unstable. You won’t get an accurate picture of how well it can work. Let’s stop the horror stories and get back to the good news: buying genuine software will give you peace of mind, satisfaction, access to regular patches and freebie downloads, and cheap upgrades to future versions. It’s a worthwhile investment, it means you’re serious about all this and you’ll be welcomed into the club of people who care.
Summary arketing hype is M marketing hype and many software packages will claim to be great at everything. While the gaps are closing, most applications still specialise in certain methods of music creation. Choose carefully and try to pin-point how you mostly want to work. ow will you know which H to choose? One of the best ways is to have similar software to your heroes. Are you into hip-hop or breaks? Then a loop-based DAW will be best. Are you a fan of Indie rock? Then get yourself a package that’s not traditionally MIDIheavy, such as Studio One or ProTools, for example. lot of programs have A demonstration downloads to try. Never use cracked or warez software. Never. You’ll be giving much needed sales to software developers who need the money to continue the development of the software. i.e. keeping up the compatibility with operating systems and introducing new workflow features. Not to mention new plug-ins, softsynths and samples etc.
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Music Hardware & Setups There are lots of different kinds of studios. You’ve got the professional facilities that most of us can only dream about… but we couldn’t afford the coffee machine, let alone the millions of dollars worth of equipment used for recording. Then there are ‘project’ studios, which is often a pet ‘project’ of the owner — more about their own enthusiasm for making music rather than any business that’s seriously for hire. Project studios can be really well equipped with excellent and expensive gear and can be brilliant places to work in, because the owner doesn’t have to compromise their passion and therefore has only the best of everything.
Next down the line is what the rest of us can relate to: the ‘home’ studio. Home studios are totally focused on the needs of the owner… and normally stashed in a spare room or garage. People with home studios are successfully making their own releasequality CDs, YouTube uploads or just making demos — whatever their thing might be.
If you’re worried that ‘studio’ is a little too grand a term for your own modest setup, then go buy that shiny cappucino machine… Makes all the difference. ”
Digital Desks with DAW ports A lot of new, affordable digital mixing consoles like Presonus’s StudioLive or Phonic’s Summit are true digital desks that you can take out to any gig for mixing a band. But they also offer (sometimes as an option) a firewire or USB connection that routes all the signals directly to your DAW. They turn into fully-featured audio interfaces for your studio–you get the best of both
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worlds. With their in-built effects processors you hardly need any other outboard gear for your studio as well as live gigs. Awesome! One thing you need to understand, they’re not control surfaces. They won’t “obey” your DAW settings or follow automation from your software (unless you spend big bucks on something like a Digidesign Venue SC48). It’s a small, but important difference that will affect your workflow in the studio.
The point is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re recording music in Abbey Road, London, or in the corner of your bedroom in Goat Street, Woolloomooloo, you are using a kind of studio and that’s what we’re going to call it from now on, okay? It will make it easier for everyone. If you’re worried that ‘studio’ is a little too grand a term for your own modest setup, then go buy that shiny cappucino machine and put it in a corner somewhere, if it makes you feel better. But there are better things to spend your dollars on. We’ve already mentioned that you need a good quality soundcard or interface with your computer to make this whole DAW process work properly. There are some other essentials you’ll need, like microphones and a small analogue mixer, digital mixer or pre-amp (if you want to record vocals or guitar, for example) and a few neat gadgets that help your studio operate easily and more efficiently. But firstly, let’s look at the all-important soundcard in a little more depth. Soundcard Basics The device that gets your sound from the outside world into your computer (and vice versa) comes in many shapes and sizes. Traditionally these were called ‘soundcards’ because they resided in the PCI slot of your desktop computer. Now, many soundcards (or audio interfaces) plug into your computer via its USB or Firewire ports. It’s a more convenient way of going about things, but PCI Express-based soundcards (straightforward PCI slots are ancient history although you may see references
to them on the web) are still popular. Your soundcard or audio interface might also come in the guise of a mixer/controller (like a Digidesign/Avid 003 or an M-Audio ProjectMix I/O) or keyboard (like a Line6 Pod Studio KB37 or Novation 25 SL MkII). A basic soundcard is something like M-Audio’s Audiophile 192 (see right), which is a PCI-based card installed inside your desktop computer. Usually cards like these offer just two or four simultaneous analogue inputs, a single MIDI in and out and a digital connection — pretty simple. Don’t be tricked into thinking the quality of these cards is low just because they don’t have lots of connections. Quite the opposite; the quality can be very good and, since the manufacturers haven’t tried to cram all sorts of extra goodies onto the card, it can be very affordable. Installing them can be a little tricky if you’re easily daunted by the innards of a computer, plus issues like IRQ conflicts can drive you crazy (check the next page for more on IRQs). But once they’re up and running, a good PCI card will work without a hitch. What you need to bear in mind is that with a PCI card installed your set-up will — or should be — almost permanent. In other words, you don’t expect to be rummaging around at the back of your computer re-patching cables all the time. That gets really annoying… really annoying. More expensive PCI cards (like the Echo Layla or RME Multiface II) connect up to breakout boxes, which provide all the extra connectivity you need. It’s easy to leave your favourite microphones, synths, guitar pedals and iOS connectors all permanently plugged in and still have plenty of free inputs available for anything more.. An alternative to PCI cards are interfaces that connect via USB or Firewire. You just plug it in like you’d plug in a printer and they’re particularly handy if you have a laptop. There are many incarnations of these interfaces that operate with USB or Firewire,ranging from small 2-in/2-out boxes like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 to Roland’s Studio-Capture interface that will let you hook up an entire band and more. The Profire 2626 can run all the main DAWs that you would care to use. The easy connection of USB or Firewire soundcards is a real bonus, even if the data transfer rate isn’t quite as good as using a desktop’s PCI buss. However it’s fast enough for most applications. (read the box item about Firewire vs USB later this chapter.) The Whys & Wherefores of Pre-amps Almost all soundcards, unless you buy something like that basic Audiophile 192, will have at least one preamp – usually two, even in budget gear – and will make a big deal about how good the pre-amps are. For example, a DI’ed acoustic guitar will have a relatively low output that needs boosting, while
Schmick!: The Focusrite Forte 2 in, 4 out USB interface packs one of the nicest (oLED) interfaces going around.
UPS Really Delivers Damn! Another TLA — remember we warned you about these. UPS stands for Uninterrupted Power Supply and they are the best solution for powering up your PC. Not only can they filter out noisy power, their primary function can be a real deal-saver. UPSs contain batteries that last long enough to keep your PC running during a power blackout while you save all your work and shut down. Power outages always happen at the worst possible
time, causing you to lose hours of work. A UPS will prevent that. Here’s a tip: only power your computer, monitor screen and audio interface, and maybe your modem, from the UPS. Things like active monitor speakers, lights, and mixing desks all aren’t important for the process of saving your studio session and closing the PC down properly, and will only drain the battery power faster. Trust us, there will come a day when you’re very, very glad you decided to buy a UPS.
an electric bass guitar with active pickups will be very high and may even need to have the input padded — which many a pre-amp will cater for. At the very least a straightforward pre-amp is a device between your source sound and the PC’s soundcard converters used to adjust the signal strength. Pre-amps in interfaces that boast of being superior can sometimes offer a particular, characteristic sound such as having a vacuum tube in the signal path making for a vintage, analogue quality. Mostly you’ll read of pre-amps having a ‘British’ or simply ‘musical’ sound. It’s all about how the electronics and pre-amp’s design affect the signal. You might prefer just a very clean, transparent pre-amp, meaning the electronics don’t affect the sound at all. Some specialist pre-amps cost a lot of money, but promise a much sought-after effect that professional studios always want. We’ll talk about these speciality pre-amps in more depth later. Back in the real world of your first DAW, the number of pre-amps in an interface normally determines how expensive the audio interface will be, including extra digital connections. At this stage don’t get too caught up in the hype surrounding a pre-amp’s quality. More important, if your budget matters, don’t sell yourself too short choosing how many pre-amps you’ll need. It can be very frustrating running out of inputs. Spending a few extra bucks means you’ll never have the problem, even if it means many of those preamps sit unused most of the time. A small mixing console also has many advantages. Not only will the pre-amps be highly serviceable, but having a stand-alone mixer makes monitoring (hearing your recordings/playback) much easier as well. With a pair of speakers or headphones connected to the mixer you can have better control over the volume in the studio and is far more efficient than working with an on-screen software mixer for fader tweaks. You can avoid any latency problems with a hardware mixer, because you’re listening to the recording source in real-time before the converters. (‘Latency’ is the annoying delay between making a sound and hearing it. It’s caused by the sound going through the stages of conversion — from analogue audio to digital then digital to analogue — which takes a small but perceptible amount of time). An older analogue hardware mixer without a DAW link will still solve a lot of problems hooked up in front of the pre-amp for your soundcard or interface. The mixing desk will always give you even more options. One thing to beware of: the number of channels on any mixing desk with a DAW port (Firewire or USB) isn’t necessarily the same number of tracks you can simultaneous record on your computer. For example, an eight-channel might only record two tracks at a time into your PC.
Steinberg’s modular CMC controllers are as nifty as they look: pull together a custom control rig that best serves your work methods.
Thunderbolt is the new kind of interface connection introduced by Apple. It’s extremely fast, comparable with USB 3.0 and Firewire 800. The problem is you’ll struggle to find a Thunderbolt connection on just about anything except an Apple/ Mac device. If you’re planning to buy a shiny new Apple computer then a
Thunderbolt interface of some kind will likely be available. Unfortunately there aren’t many around and some are really just adapters to existing high-end gear. The hype around Thunderbolt is exciting. But in reality, it’ll probably take another year before we see widespread use in the DAW world.
Sexy Swede: Propellerhead’s Balance is a gorgeous piece of industrial design with a 24-bit USB2 interface, volume, input level and transport control (and more) thrown in. It comes with Reason’s little brother, the Essentials package. Yes, we want one too.
Speakers & Headphones It’s so important to have high quality speakers and headphones. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars, but your standard computer speakers won’t cut it. The idea is to hear your recordings accurately and not overly coloured by whatever you’re listening through. Think of this: you’re using crap, tinny speakers to mix down a song and it sounds like there’s not enough bass, so you crank up the bottom end. Then, after you burn a CD and listen to the mixdown in your car, the extra bass puts a crack in the windscreen and startles passing whales offshore. Why? Because the bass was always there in the first place, but you just couldn’t hear it and made adjustments to suit the speakers, not the recording. See the difference? Monitoring your music properly is a complicated thing. Even big studios have a variety of speakers that attempt to emulate different acoustic circumstances like a home hi-fi, a car stereo or a tiny radio chucked in the back of the plumber’s ute. There are ways you can do this yourself, but start from the beginning with one good pair of monitoring speakers or, if your budget doesn’t allow that, good headphones. The whole process of recording music and turning it into a track for others to enjoy is a tough proposition and if you can’t hear a good balance of sound, it’s nigh-on impossible. Microphone If you have any intentions of recording an acoustic instrument or voice, you’ll need to get at least one high-quality microphone and, thanks to the boom in Chinese manufacturing and a fiercely competitive market, this isn’t the enormously expensive task it used to be. Beware that many microphones are designed for specific jobs like miking up drums. You have to take care not to buy a ‘one-trick pony’ by accident. There are hundreds of entry-level studio microphones available now. Some companies sell packages of microphones designed to suit the needs of DAW users. The best advice here is to set yourself a budget and go visit your local professional music store. Not all microphones sound the same — and it’s not just the difference between cheap-versusexpensive. Some are purposely designed to add character and presence to recordings. Respected microphone manufacturers such as Rode, AKG or Sennheiser release budget-priced mics that can
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schematic of a typical, A PC-based home studio setup. The interface acts as your audio and MIDI hub. Still, it’s handy to have a baby mixing console for extra preamps and to easily control your monitor levels.
You get what you pay for It’s a truism that applies just as much to the worlds of audio, DAW and computer gear as it does to used cars or AA batteries. A dirt-cheap microphone will sound dirt-cheap, regardless of the impressive blurb that comes with it. There’s no substitute for quality and that always comes at a price. You don’t have to spend millions to get good gear — far from it. But never believe that the really budget stuff is as good as its reputable counterparts. The best rule-of-thumb is, as we keep saying, go to a professional music store and seek advice.
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be very impressive, so you can stick with a known brand-name and never go too far wrong. Don’t buy your mics from anywhere but a good music store. Stay well away from electronics retailers who claim their microphones are as good as the real thing — they’re not. Lastly, on the subject of microphones here, the Internet will sell you fake microphones in the blink of a credit card. These fakes are hard to distinguish from the real thing until you hear them in action. Don’t take the risk. Most big music outlets have an online presence, so you can search for good internet deals and still be dealing with the right experts. Really, the best way to buy music and recording gear is to walk into a store. Face-toface advice and actually getting your hands on the equipment can’t be beaten. DAW Controller By now, chances are your wallet is completely empty, so the last thing you need to read is that you should have a control surface or DAW controller. If you’ve got a few pennies left it’s well worth considering. Controllers put back into the virtual studio the real feel of faders and knobs. Some of the high-end controllers also include pre-amps and are actual digital desks in their own right. You can also get keyboards that have some controller functions as well. Novation do a few like this (see overleaf). They’re all designed to put your hands back on real controls instead of using a mouse, plus they can give you more precise control. Rumour has it that once you’ve used a controller, you’ll never return to fiddling around with a mouse. Music Keyboard Finally, and certainly not the least important, even if you’re not a piano player of any description, a keyboard is still a vastly better way of programming MIDI tracks than ‘painting’ them in with a mouse. You can buy MIDI keyboards like the one from Roland pictured on the next page that don’t make any noise themselves — they rely on VST instruments for sounds — or you can get a comparatively inexpensive synthesiser that also spits out MIDI. It’s up to you how much value you’ll get from a keyboard that can be played on its own. About the only thing to avoid are really cheap keyboards that don’t have velocity-
sensitive keys. Velocity-sensitive means that the volume/attack of the note can be controlled by how hard you press the keys and this is important when programming natural-sounding MIDI tracks. Wired for Sound Wiring all this stuff together into your DAW studio may look terrifying to some people. Don’t panic, it isn’t that hard so long as you obey a couple of simple rules. If you get your wiring wrong you’ll suffer from earth loops, buzzes, whistles and other gremlins. An earth loop usually rears its ugly head via a constant ‘buzz’ through your speakers and can find its way into your otherwise-perfect recorded takes. A bad earth loop can be annoyingly loud. By the way, guitarists shouldn’t confuse earth-loops with the kind of induced noise that a lot of pickups will create around other electronic equipment — that frying eggs sound that might disappear when you touch your strings. For this, you’ll have to resort to the time-honoured method of positioning yourself just right to minimise the noise. Like standing in the corner with one foot on the vacuum cleaner. Fixing Earth Loops The term ‘earth-loop’ gives you a clue about what’s happening. Your music equipment (including the computer) has more than one earth and the buzz is created by this. The simple solution is to make sure everything is powered from exactly the same source — the same power outlet. That way only one earth pin is involved. This will probably mean you’ll need a couple of large powerboards and it can cause a mess of plugs and adapters under your desk, if you’re not careful. Power boards with protection are a good investment. Power conditioning products are more expensive — but even better insurance. Trade electricians might argue about this one earth concept. They’ll tell you that Mother Earth is always Mother Earth courtesy of a metal spike driven into the ground near your fuse board and it doesn’t matter where in the house you plug something in. It all goes to the same earth anyway. This works well for refrigerators and washing machines, but not electronic equipment used in the production of music. Honestly, plug all your gear (and nothing else, obviously) into one power outlet. If you need
cho Layla 3G. Along with extra features you E get pre-amp level control at your fingertips, but it’s still a fast PCI connection.
Steinberg MR816CSX: Ideal hardware for your Cubase rig. Fully integrates with your software and adds some extra DSP grunt for mixing with high-spec plug-ins.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB interface: Pop a couple of Focusrite’s legendary mic preamps into your laptop bag. Not bad at all for less than $200.
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USB 2.0 vs Firewire
You don’t have to spend millions to get good gear. But never believe that the really budget stuff is as good as its reputable counterparts. ”
Which is best for an audio interface? It’s not clear cut. The cold, hard facts tell us that USB 2.0 is marginally faster than your regular Firewire 400 (480Mb/s vs 400Mb/s) — argument over, you’d expect. The great thing about Firewire devices is that they’re generally dedicated to their own port with nothing else connected. This is different to USB 2.0 interfaces that have to share the available resources with things
like your mouse, maybe a controller or a printer and a copyright protection dongle. Also, Firewire packages up its data in a more audio-friendly way to USB. Firewire 800 delivers at 800Mb/s and the new USB 3.0 screams along at 4800 Mb/s–yes, 10 times the speed of its predecessor. At these kinds of data transfer rates ‘speed’ is never going to be a problem and becomes a secondary issue to audio quality
and features. Things like preamps and connectivity. So worry about those first. One thing’s certain, though: You should split up any devices between the two types of ports. For example, if you buy a USB 2.0 audio interface and want to use an external hard drive, make sure it’s on a Firewire connection or vice versa. Audio hates data bottle necks and that’s what a hard drive is.
Summary to share the load around, separate your devices into normal and double-insulated plugs. Double-insulated electronics don’t have an earth-pin on their plugs anyway, so they’re safe from earth loops.
he M-Audio Axiom Air 32 Mini. This is a small, T well featured MIDI controller that can do a lot — except maybe let you play Beethoven with two hands. Portability is the idea here.
Hey, listen closely now. If you have earth loop problems don’t — and this is worth saying twice — don’t be tempted to cut the earth pin off any piece of equipment. Electricity will always find any available earth and without the earth pin, you might become the shortest path to the ground. In some states of the USA they use this theory for executing criminals. Get the idea? Some devices will have an ‘earth lift’ on the back. These are good and don’t be frightened to use them. They isolate the signal earth, not the mains voltage, and can sometimes get rid of that buzz, too. Balanced Wiring Which brings us to using balanced wiring wherever possible. Many audio products will have balanced and unbalanced connections and some have combo jacks that allow you to use either in the same ‘hole’. Let’s simplify what this is all about:
balanced line transmits two versions of the A signal — the normal signal and an identical polarityinverted version. At the other end of the cable the inverted signal is flipped back and combined with the other original signal. When they’re combined it phase cancels (nulls) the noise that was introduced along the way. Clever.
Balanced wiring involves three ‘cores’ for a positive or ‘hot’ signal, a negative or ‘cold’ connection and good ol’ earth (never confuse these with standard household electrical wiring of active, neutral and earth — apart from having three wires there’s no similarity). Okay, devices that have balanced
Unbalanced Line Original Signal
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Some cables, like guitar cables, are deliberately unbalanced, but as a rule of thumb, the best approach is to always use balanced cables that plug into balanced connections — things will work out a lot better. Microphone cables should always have balanced XLR connectors on both ends and likewise patch cables will usually be of the balanced tip-ringsleeve (TRS) jack variety. Use them every time you can, especially if you have longer cable runs. Sometimes you might have to think a little harder about where an earth-loop and/or the buzz is coming from. Perhaps your computer is connected to the Internet? Your modem is plugged into the telephone cable, which will have its own earth somewhere. Maybe you’ve run a cable to your home hi-fi to listen to your mixes through that? A good idea but, again, your stereo has its own power outlet and you’ve inadvertently created that second earthing point. Or you’ve got your television running through that stereo system and — guess what? — your TV has an antennae attached and that has its own earth making a loop in your studio. See? Tracking down that unwanted extra-elusive earthing point can be a challenge. Worth the Hassle Okay, so you’ve got a good computer and software that’s suited to DAW work, and you’ve bought at least the basic peripheral gear to start your studio. And, with a bit of thought and care, you’ve connected it all and things are operating without any nasty buzzes and crackles. This is a pretty good start, particularly when you’re getting really serious about good, clean recordings and having a trustworthy studio monitoring system.
connections make use of filters that will reject any signal that is identical in the hot and cold cores. For example, a microphone will only send its signal through the hot connection, so it gets past the filters no problems. If your microphone cable happens to be accidentally laying across a fluorescent light fixture, which are notoriously noisy, the electronic buzz this causes will be in both hot and cold cores, so the filters will block it. Cool! Using balanced connections will go a long way towards avoiding a lot of induced interference.
nce you’ve got your O computer sorted you need a decent ‘soundcard’ (or ‘audio interface’). CI (or PCIe)-based sound- C P cards are a better/faster way of getting sound in/out M of your computer, but aren’t Y as convenient as a USB- or Firewire-based device. CM MY I f you own a microphone you need a microphone preCY amp. Most interfaces have at least a couple of these. CMY K uying a baby analogue B mixer can be a cost-effective way of having extra pre-amps as well as a better way of monitoring your sound.
aders and knobs are a F good thing, so perhaps consider an interface which has them or a separate controller (if you can afford it). usic keyboards are not M just for piano players, they’re great for programming MIDI and are far more convenient than drawing musical/rhythmic info in with a mouse. arth loops are a pain. E Provided you’ve only got a powerboard’s worth of gear, use the one socket. It’ll help. ome small-format digital S consoles have DAW connectivity via Firewire or USB. Initially more expensive, they can mean you won’t need anything else for a long time.
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MIDI sound sources sound fantastic and some have even become ‘classic’: the likes of Roland, Korg, Yamaha and Nord make great synthesisers that can be ‘played’ by your DAW via the MIDI protocol.
MIDI — All Talk, No Audio The most critical point to understand here is: MIDI isn’t audio. MIDI is a binary language designed to instruct noise-making equipment/software what to do, like what to play, how and when — MIDI doesn’t actually make the sound itself. Think of it this way: the sound quality is dependent entirely on the instrument receiving the MIDI data. It’s kind of like a sophisticated On/Off button that ‘triggers’ the software or hardware sound module to play the sound you have selected within it.
MIDI — where it all started MIDI is amazing. It’s a very powerful tool in the right hands and MIDI is the protocol (or digital language) behind the control of nearly every piece of good studio software and hardware. MIDI has been around for about 25 years , so it’s not some brand new, whiz-bang innovation. You’ll hear some people bitch about it, but without MIDI life in the studio wouldn’t be as nearly as productive or fun. Embrace MIDI and it’ll love you back. Your DAW will be the heart of your MIDI setup. In fact, that’s how programs like Logic and Cubase got their start — as MIDI ‘sequencers’. The sequencing aspects of your DAW will allow you to trigger and control your software instruments, samplers and drum machines. Any and every parameter of these sound sources can be controlled and automated with MIDI — pitch, filter sweeps, LFOs, drawbars — every nuance… a whole world of sophisticated editing and control is possible in the MIDI pages of your DAW. Not only that, there are a number of hardware MIDI controllers that open up a whole new world of music-making possibilities like the standard MIDI keyboard, through to crazy stuff like MIDI guitars, breath controllers and drum pads. Some external
GG :: 24
For a while, MIDI sequencers and external sound sources ruled the world of computer music, because the computers didn’t have the CPU grunt or hard drive space to handle soft samplers or the storage of those samples. Now with the advent of large hard drives and super powerful CPUs, sound modules and samplers can reside ‘in the computer’. With your modern DAW the principle behind MIDI is still the same in that you’re still working with a sequencer for your MIDI tracks, just the level of editing capabilities has progressed enormously to complement the audio capability built around it. MIDI can also control things like volume, panning and automatic program changes and it’s the controller side of MIDI that has taken it beyond just the humble trigger device it once was. MIDI is not without its problems (latency, being the main one — ie. the time it takes between the program telling the synth to play a note and it actually doing it) but it’s the preferred protocol for communicating between all kinds of devices including the control surfaces mentioned in Chapter 3. MIDI — Let’s Get Technical A single MIDI connection provides 16 separate channels (or ‘voices’–or types of sounds). There’s nothing stopping you from using any instrument more than once as long as it has its own channel — for instance, you might like to have two or even three different pianos playing their own melodies. The MIDI Channel Assignment is the vital parameter to make sure that whatever instrument you want heard on that track is played only by its own data track and not one of the others as well. Depending on what you’re using as your MIDI sound source, such as a hardware synthesizer or soft-synth, you might have to set the ‘receive’ channel on that device to correspond with the sequencer. Most modern external synths will automatically figure it out for themselves, but some of the older keyboards will need some tinkering. As always, things are changing and many devices are now using a USB port and a software driver to emulate a MIDI cable. Otherwise, standard MIDI connections come in three flavours: ‘In’, ‘Out’ and ‘Thru’ (see the pic opposite). The first two are obvious, while Thru is a connection that repeats the MIDI signal input to the next device — a signal
Old Gear, Old Specs If you’ve got yourself a bargain or a classic synth from the secondhand store, chances are it may only pack ‘16-voice polyphony’, which was standard back in the Dark Ages of MIDI in the early/mid ‘80s. It will only play a maximum of 16 keys at once — actual notes remember, not different instruments. Sixteen seemed a lot and nobody thought they’d ever have a problem, but this was when 32MB of RAM in your computer was out of this world, too.
unaffected by that keyboard. Thru is like a direct line through that keyboard untouched to the next and it allows you to daisy chain MIDI instruments in the studio — by connecting one instrument to the next with MIDI cable. Sound Modules What’s a sound module? Well, it didn’t take long for keyboard manufacturers to figure out that if musicians wanted multiple synths piled around them for layered sounds, they wouldn’t necessarily need those confusing black-andwhite key things on every one. The whole idea, after all, was to only have to play one keyboard… not six. So they started releasing sound modules, which were basically keyboards without the keys! Some that were hybrids of workstations also missed out on all the programming ability. Put simply — and to state the bleeding obvious, I guess — sound modules are boxes filled with sounds.
MIDI Limitations One of MIDI’s limitations you need to be aware of isn’t in the protocol itself or how much you can program it, but in the polyphonic and voice capability of the instrument you’re playing. ‘Polyphony’ is the number of notes that can be played at exactly the same time, before your virtual instrument or module runs out of legs. Now, 64-note polyphony is generally the bare minimum and it’s hard to imagine how anyone would need more than 64 simultaneous notes, but a complex musical arrangement over many tracks certainly comes close. Polyphony limitations extend across all the sounds you’re using in the one ‘module’, such as in the one external keyboard or one virtual instrument in your DAW. It’s about notes, not sounds — meaning that a crescendo during a classical piece with the full, virtual orchestra going for broke might stretch your resources, if they’re all accessing sounds from a single instrument like, say, IK Multimedia’s SampleTank 2. Beware of sounds that have a lengthy decay time —they’re still using up polyphony long after your fingers have moved on. So if you hear your MIDI arrangement missing things or sounds being abruptly cut out, check it’s not the sound module or software instrument running out of polyphony. Some virtual instruments like Native
Stay out of Jail
And the courthouse, too. Even though any MIDI file of someone’s song is far removed from the original tune, copyright laws can still apply. Don’t assume, because you’re using a MIDI version of any music, that copyright laws don’t matter. Think websites,YouTube and blog sites here. It’s easy to forget, when you’re uploading something clever, you’re maybe illegally using someone else’s music.
a whole world of sophisticated editing and control is possible in the MIDI pages of your DAW. ”
MIDI Connections: Traditional MIDI cables use five pins — you can’t miss them. Some manufacturers don’t provide the Thru connection. Quite often you’ll now find MIDI is transmitted via USB.
When too many knobs is barely enough — even still, every knob can be remotely manipulated and/or recorded with your DAW via MIDI.
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MIDI Out normally refers to the audio interface connected to your PC and its five-pin MIDI Out connector, meaning your MIDI data output is being sent to this port. It might be “MBox2 MIDI” or “MAudio FW410 MIDI”. You can rename it like it is here to “Hardware MIDI Out”. If you’re sending the track’s MIDI data to a Virtual Instrument like Kontakt then that is what will appear in this section. Maybe “Kontakt Channel 1” or “Kontakt Piano”... it depends on the DAW and the Virtual Instrument.
MIDI Out Channels. Here are two Track Inspectors for Cubase (right) and Sonar (left). The MIDI Out selection on Cubase is highlighted and the drop-down box is shown for Sonar.
Instruments’ Battery have a ‘Steal Mode’, which lets you choose which notes get turned off if you do get into trouble (such as the ‘Last’, ‘First’, ‘Loudest’ or ‘Softest’ note, for example). Check to see if your setup or options gives you something like this.
MIDI Authors MIDI files are rarely more than 100kB, which is pretty incywincy. They get shared around the Internet a lot and plenty of sites offer thousands of downloads. Some sites are fussy about their content and can have a reliable quality, but if you find an excellent MIDI file it’s better to make a note of the author. Good MIDI programmers can’t stop themselves and take pride in doing things right. But they’re few and far between.
Daisy Chaining There’s something else worth knowing about MIDI, although this is kind of ‘expert’ at this point — so grab your propeller cap. MIDI data is transmitted in ‘serial’ format. If you have four keyboards, for example, hooked up in a daisy chain style, then the data passes through each instrument and on to the last in a line and, in fact, the last keyboard will get the sequenced programming later than the first — and the second or third. Again, depending on the instrument itself, there’s a chance that by the time any of the keyboards in the signal path have processed the MIDI for themselves and sent it on, you’ll hear an audible delay in the fourth instrument playing its sound. It might be tiny, but if you’re dead fussy about getting things in sync it can be the kind of thing that’ll have you scratching your head trying to figure out what’s going wrong. The answer is to use a MIDI splitter or multiple connector so that each device is connected directly and simultaneously, rather than in a daisy chain. Last, and definitely not least, remember that all MIDI programming is only as good as its programmer. There’s a million MIDI websites out there offering every song ever written as a MIDI file download. Some of them are good. Some of them are really
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bad. Some of them are too ambitious. Like, an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo will never, ever sound realistic programmed and played back via MIDI. Never. Ever. Aside from the musical side of things, many MIDI files can include — deliberately or not — a lot of controller information that will also drive you nuts. Program and Volume commands are common, so that no matter how you try to change anything, the original settings keep coming back whenever you play the file again. In Chapter 12 we’ll show you how to fix this along with lots of other tips and tricks to MIDI editing. Then in Chapter 14 we’ll deal with soft synths and samplers which is where some of your best MIDI programming will end up. MIDI: Maxi Possibilities MIDI’s ability to alter and massage sounds ‘after the fact’ (after a performance has been recorded in a sequencer) and the ease in which you can audition new sounds, makes it a very powerful and flexible studio tool. In fact, for many electronica genres there’s no other way of achieving the right sound and the sonic complexity/ density without MIDI. The musical ‘technicians’ amongst us will relish the hours spent fine tuning and programming MIDI — it can be extremely rewarding; while those more into the immediacy of performing will get a kick out of the sonic possibilities offered by MIDI. Are you a guitarist using a programmable effects pedal board? A singer with a switchable vocal effects pedal? Folks, it’s all MIDI, not magic.
General MIDI (GM)
General MIDI was designed as a means of being able to share MIDI files and have them sound the same regardless of the MIDI sound source. When I say “sound the same” I mean a piano channel is always a piano channel, strings are strings and so on. If you download a MIDI file off the net, chances are it’s written for a simple GM synth. Listen to it using Windows Media Player or Quicktime and things will sound very cheesy. Use one of the keyboard workstations mentioned elsewhere on this page and things should dramatically improve. Your soft synths will probably have a GM Bank to use, but these won’t necessarily be the best sounds it has available. You can tweak things and again get much better results — always depending on the programming quality, of course.
Not to be confused with Digital Audio Workstations like the ones we’re learning about in this guide, some keyboard manufacturers produce synthesizers that are also called ‘workstations’. This is because they have built-in MIDI sequencing. The current crop (like the Korg Kronos pictured above) are very sophisticated and allow you to record and edit any, or all, of your songs. Great for self-contained muso’s who can take their own arrangements with them without having to connect a laptop.
Summary IDI (Musical Instrument M Digital Interface) is a digital language or protocol for interconnecting all kinds of electronic instruments. o begin to understand MIDI T you need to understand one thing: it’s not audio, it’s control data telling the sound source what to do. he sound of MIDI programT ming depends on two things: firstly, the quality of the sound source receiving the data and, secondly, how well it was programmed. I f your musical genre of choice is based on synths, loops and samples then MIDI will be your thing — embrace it, love it… it’ll be your best friend.
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tape machines were (and still are) so expensive.
ones & zeros Recording audio on your computer is easy. So easy, in fact, that you’d be forgiven for thinking you didn’t really need to know what’s going on under the ‘bonnet’. Well, to continue the motor vehicle metaphor, it is very handy to have a basic understanding of how your car works. You may not replace your own spark plugs, but you’re at a serious disadvantage if you can’t check your tyre pressure and understand all the instruments and dials on the dash board. So let’s take some time to understand the miracle that is computer-based digital recording.
DOWNLOAD THE REAL DEAL There’s a new reason to record your music at high sampling and bits rates. A trend is growing to again listen to your music using good headphones, good stereos… you can just about hear studios all over the world breathing a sigh of relief, because iPods and MP3 compression make all their hard work almost pointless. Thanks to greater bandwidths and faster connection speeds a lot of music artists like Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and others allow you to purchase albums as FLAC files. FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec and is a format that preserves the original high-quality recording just as if you’d bought a compact disk. The files are much bigger than MP3s, but that doesn’t matter anymore. It means you’re hearing the music as it was meant to be heard, free of all the damage MP3 compression can do. That’s a very good thing.
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Keeping it Simple Let’s look at a simplified signal path and get an overall picture. You’ve got a microphone attached to your audio soundcard and using your DAW software you have recorded a vocal. The vocal has gone though the soundcard to be converted into binary language. The card has an analogue to digital converter (usually called an A/D converter, or simply a ‘converter’) and the analogue signal becomes lots of digital 1’s and 0’s somewhere on your hard drive. The software keeps it all under control and sends it back to your soundcard through a digital to analogue (or D/A) converter to become something you can actually hear again. All this takes place in an instant. An audio file was written inside your computer, which can then be chopped, changed, shifted... you name it. A small technological miracle has occurred, but like all modern electronics it’s like… meh, whatever. Advantages of Digital First we’ll try a basic explanation of why digital information is better to deal with than the old analogue way of doing things. Imagine a blackboard with ‘Bart Simpson’ written on it in chalk. Next, someone starts to partially erase the writing. This disappearing act represents what can occur in an analogue signal path. Little by little, piece by piece, the audio signal is lost — erased by the sheer act of passing through the circuitry or across a tape head. An analogue tape recorder will lose information as the tape wears repeatedly against the heads. You can hear it happening just like you can see chalk letters being rubbed away. The playback quality degrades according to how much of the signal is erased. To beat this problem, some of the most expensive analogue tape machines were built using high-grade electronic components that maintain the integrity of the signal — this is why those multitrack
However, a digital system will faithfully reproduce the information for as long as it can still read it. No matter how much is lost — how much is rubbed off the blackboard — a digital device will still say ‘No, I’m okay. I can read it. That says Bart Simpson’. That’s regardless of a few missing letters and strokes. Until it can’t read it at all and then things get nasty — a drawback of digital audio! The main difference to understand is that a digital signal doesn’t degrade gradually like an analogue recording. It will sound fine until, abruptly, the playback software or device can’t read the data at all. A good example of this is how a scratched CD plays okay until the damage gets too bad. Sample Rates Digital audio files are recorded in formats using ‘sample rates’ and ‘bits’. During the actual recording it’s a measure of how much and how often the system analyses and stores the input signal as a file. The lower the values in both, the worse the audible quality in playback (say, 8-bit/32kHz compared to 24-bit/96kHz) because low figures mean the system didn’t gather much information, or detail. The same principle is applied to reading data to play it back. There is an association between the sample rate and the frequencies (how high or low the notes are) that can be reproduced. Higher sample rates ‘see’ more frequencies. It was long ago agreed by all concerned that tracks on a commercial compact disc would be encoded at 44.1kHz (44,100 Hertz or ‘cycles’ per second) sample rate and 16-bit resolution. This was based on the idea that human hearing peaks around 20kHz and a 44.1kHz sample rate can reproduce 20kHz tones accurately. In other words, 44.1kHz can reproduce all the frequencies we need to actually hear everything clearly. Saying all that, not everyone continues to agree with this, as you’ll see on the next page. Bit Depth Okay, that was Sample Rates, next is the ‘bit’. The ‘bit’ resolution is a measure of how the binary language is processed and this also gets all a little confusing for us mere humans to comprehend. Larger values like 16, 24 or 32 bits produce much better results, because the resolution is finer... or, okay try this for an example. It’s similar — but not exactly the same — to the screen resolution of your computer. Probably the screen settings of your monitor are at 1024 x 768 or even 1920 x 1200 pixels. If you change the values back to something lower, such as 640 x 480 the picture becomes kind of blocky and unclear. There is less detail. Go back to the higher screen resolution and the picture returns to excellent quality. In the same way, larger bit resolutions in audio files allow for greater detail in the sound–larger meaning there are more bits, not that the bits are physically bigger... stick with us here. Another example to consider is how an 8 megapixel camera is better than a 5 megapixel camera — the quality of the lens aside, the 8 megapixel camera will be better because there’s more ‘resolution’ or detail in the photos it takes. By the way, all this digital clarity and accuracy is a bit much for some folks, who complain that things are just too good to the point of sounding unnatural. You might see a lot of engineers include a stage of analogue processing in their studios to bring back some of that signal and frequency loss and create ‘warmth’. Yes, some people are never satisfied. What Does It All Mean To Me? By now, you’ve probably given up, thrown your hands in the air and decided this is all too hard to get your head around. Don’t worry, because you’re definitely not alone. Probably about 90% of all audio engineers still don’t understand the theory behind sample rates, bit resolutions and how it
Sampling Explained This is a bit ‘Star Trek’, but give it a go: In the same way you can theoretically cut a piece of paper in half over and over and always have something left to slice, you can’t ‘look’ at an analogue signal and see ‘everything’. You can always look closer and see something more that you couldn’t before — you can zoom in to an infinite value, but there’s still always finer detail that a more powerful microscope will see. So when the analogue signal is examined by the digital system to be converted into binary data it also can’t see everything there is to see. Instead, it takes only a ‘sample’ (or microscopic slice) of the signal and assumes that the parts it misses won’t make a great deal of difference. That might strike you as a bit lazy, until you think about what a 44.1kHz ‘CD quality’ sampling rate means: it ‘looks’ at the audio 44,100 times per second… there’s not a lot left untouched. Higher rates look even closer. 48kHz is 48,000 samples per second and 96kHz is 96,000 per second — and so on. The more the converters see, the greater the accuracy in reproducing the original sound source. Although higher sample rates are capturing frequencies we theoretically can’t hear, they are capturing the harmonics (superhigh overtones) of the fundamental notes, providing the listener with a more detailed sound stage. Having said all that, present technology still isn’t able to examine the whole signal and in recognition of this, the process is called ‘sampling’ (or ‘dipping in and out’ for a look, if you like).
all works, even though, given a few beers, they can sound pretty knowledgeable. They do know how to apply the facts to their recording sessions and that’s all that matters. Here’s a few explanations that will help you out and make you appear an expert, too — maybe even without beer — and don’t worry, your computer will be taking care of the business end of things anyway.
Save As Options This is Sound Forge’s Save As dialogue which also acts as a file conversion facility. It offers all the various quality settings and formats for file resolutions. Some of the lower settings are almost obsolete now. Low values reduced the size of the file, which might be helpful, especially if the audio might be something simple that didn’t need high quality reproduction. Nowadays, compression algorithms like MP3 are used instead. Some of the conversions will let you open the files in programs that will otherwise not recognise them.
The ‘Right’ Sample Rate & Bit Depth Before you do any audio sessions you’ll need to either set the sample rate and bit depth you want or your DAW software will use the default values determined by your soundcard. A simple rule: the higher your sample rate and greater your bit depth, the better the quality of the recording, but it comes at a cost of using more CPU and RAM resources (see below). Since you’re probably going to ultimately make a CD (forget MP3 and iTunes download aspirations for the moment) then anything less than 16-bit/44.1kHz is pointless. It’s important to understand you can’t improve the quality of a recording after the fact by simply re-saving a file at a higher setting later — it’d be a bit like taking an old audio cassette out of the glove box and expecting it to sound better if you recorded it into the computer. You can certainly do better than 16-bit/44.1kHz and hear the difference. Settings of 24-bit/48kHz are good and even 32-bit/48kHz since some DAWs will process 24-bit recordings at 32-bit anyway without telling you. Most DAWs will allow you to record at 96kHz or even 192kHz. If you remember what we were saying earlier then you’ll know that a greater bit depth gives you more detail in your recording and a higher sample rate captures higher-frequency sound. Theoretically, with a 96 or 192kHz setting, you’ll be recording frequencies beyond human hearing and this is where the ‘thinking’ has changed, because the experts tell us that we can hear them — we just don’t know it. It turns into a discussion about unheard harmonics and frequencies that need to be there, even if we don’t hear them — how ultra-high frequencies subtly affect audible frequencies. Well, stop arguing, because there is a noticeable improve-
ment in quality, so there must be something in it. The Big Tradeoff Although there’s a whole swag of different possible settings to choose from, after the compact disk 44.1kHz 16 bit agreement, the next benchmark that studios wanted — and got — was 24-bit/96kHz. Most DAWs and soundcards give you this option. Now you’re talking seriously high quality recordings, but you have to ask yourself if your equipment can hack it or whether the project itself is worth the trouble. What trouble? Well, the cost of higher sample rates and bit depths is the increased size of the audio files created and the computer resources needed to record and play back the files. Better quality audio demands more CPU grunt, lots of RAM and plenty of storage space. A five-minute stereo recording at 16-bit/44.1kHz will write a file roughly 50MB in size. The same song at 24-bit/96kHz will be about three times the size — 165MB. These days with hard drives measured in hundreds of gigabytes and terabytes it doesn’t seem such a big deal, but you’re still talking about big chunks of data your DAW has to work with and plainly these larger ‘mouthfuls’ will need more chewing. While it may sit on your hard drive okay, they’ll possibly choke your RAM when they’re opened in a recording session. So you should compromise a little when it comes to choosing a sample and bit rate to work in and allow for what your computer can cope with. If you’re still a bit puzzled by the whole subject we’ll go out on a limb here and recommend you start by using a 24-bit/48kHz setting for your recordings. This quality is sonically high and from a view of digital data it supplies plenty of those pesky ones and zeroes for your computer to crunch. Later, as computers get more powerful to handle all that data and you can appreciate the advantages of higher settings, try increasing the sample rate to 96kHz or even 192kHz.
i Hear Sample Rates The following gives you some idea of the differences you’ll hear between sample rates. The lower values aren’t exactly standards, but you should get the idea. This is an indication of the audible quality. Sample rate 11,025: poor AM radio and low-end multimedia for streaming. Sample rate 22,050: nearly FM radio quality and good for high-end multimedia streaming. Sample rate 32,000: better than FM radio and the standard
broadcast rate. Sample rate 44,100: the agreed standard for compact disc production. Sample rate 48,000: standard for digital audio tape (DAT) — which died last century. Sample rate 96,000: standard for DVD production. By the way, you can use this info as a rough guide the next time you do any MP3 conversions or as an indication of the broadcast “quality” of any digital radio stations.
Summary igitising sound (turning D it into 1’s and 0’s) allows our computers to work with it. he quality of a digital T recording is measured in bit depth and sample rate. it depth describes the B resolution or detail in a recording. ample rate tells you S what frequency range you’re recording (the highest note it can record). Warming up those cold digits No, this isn’t about prising your fingers off the motorbike handles after riding home in the middle of winter. In the audio world there’s an almost indefinable quality to recordings
called ‘warmth’ that a lot of engineers and musicians want. You might say it’s a more ‘natural’ sound, but really it was a byproduct of the older analogue equipment and the way it gently shelved off higher frequencies (simply because its circuits
couldn’t handle them) and the subtle harmonic overtones it added (again, initially, because the electronics weren’t good enough to keep the signals untouched). The result was a pleasant, full sound or — to put it another way
— it wasn’t ‘photo realistic’ like digital recordings can be because they do reproduce mid-range and high tones so efficiently. It’s the reason why big-time music producers still use well-made gear from the ’60s and ’70s that are packed
full of tubes and transformers, because it all contributes to the sound. The good news is that software emulations of these super-expensive old-school gadgets are now really good and increasingly affordable.
4-bit/48kHz is a good 2 default setting. Any more and you’re really chewing up hard drive space and CPU juice, any less and you’re compromising the quality.
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Looping the Loops
Before we get too much further into how your DAW works or the best way to get great results from any of the software available, it’s best to mention a different type of music creation program which is still, in its own style, a type of Digital Audio Workstation. And a very popular one at that, which tends to stand apart from products like Logic, Cubase, Pro Tools, Sonar and the like. Loop-based applications are all about importing chunks of music that have already been recorded and then re-arranging them into new tunes. It’s not as crazy as you’d expect and it’s a production method that has become strongly accepted as a legitimate compositional tool. Sound tracks, entire film scores and a hell of a lot of chart-topping dance and hip hop tracks have been created using just loops.
One of the secrets to working with loops successfully is to have access to good ‘libraries’, and by good that usually means large. It can be very frustrating to have an idea in your head with a particular sound in mind, but you can’t find samples anywhere to suit it. Production houses that specialise in loop-style music will have piles of sample CDs and DVDs, plus membership to all the best download sites on the Internet. In fact, finding the right loop is often more time-consuming than any other aspect of the song-writing process. It’s not surprising that a lot of music created this way is inspired by the samples themselves in the first place, rather than the other way around.
No, it’s not an early Space Invaders machine. This is the Synclavier II, one of the first hardware samplers with a monitor screen and keyboard. It cost as much as a small house and some film score writers still use them!
Sampling... Another Sort There’s that word ‘sample’ again and it seems to refer to something entirely different than the technical jargon in Chapter 5... The meaning here is different as these types of samples are precise selections of a recording. The terms ‘loop’ and ‘sample’ mean the same thing, by the way, except the latter usually refers to a single instrument sound or sound-bite that isn’t suitable for looping, rather than a section of drums or melody that can be looped over and over, and stays in time with itself and sounds like continuous playing. Keepin’ it Real Back in the ‘80s people were hungry for realistic sounds from their synths, but they were difficult to produce with traditional methods — the attempts weren’t convincing at all. The answer was to use ‘samples’ of instruments instead. Rather than have a micro chip trying to emulate the tone of a piano note, the synth keyboard would trigger a small recording of a real piano playing that note. As soon as it started to work well, suddenly everyone was sampling everything. Famous drummers were recorded doing single hits on drums and cymbals, famous pianos were recorded in famous studios — you name it, whatever was considered famous (and therefore the best) was painstakingly recorded hit by hit, or note by note, and made available as samples. Each brief recording of an instrument being played, or to be more specific the audio files created, became known as a ‘sample’.
A big attraction is that people without a skerrick of musical prowess can now build complex, professional music arrangements and never have to pick up an instrument themselves GG :: 30
Ableton Live Ableton Live rules the loop-based roost. It’s especially favoured by DJs and dance producers for its live performance functions, but producers in other genres are also gravitating to Live for its innovative/ intuitive approach to arranging tracks and demo’ing sounds. Gotye uses Live, for example. Set up correctly and with the right hardware you can compile tunes using samples and loops to play while you also perform live over the top. You won’t figure it all out overnight, but it offers tremendous potential.
ass loop. This is a B loop of a four-bar bass riff. It is exactly the right length, so if you loop-play it the riff sounds seamless and continuous.
his is our bass loop T imported into Acid Pro and ‘Acidised’. Now we can drag it to create repeats. The small notches are where the loop begins and ends each cycle.
Such is the popularity of Ableton Live that it’s spawned its own range of top-notch hardware controllers from the likes of Novation (with the Launchpad) and more recently Ableton’s own Push – which it developed with Akai.
Native Instruments’ Kontakt Software Sampler Kontakt is a sampler that can achieve almost anything in wave file manipulation. It’s serious stuff. However the folks at NI have realised that not everyone is as clever as them and with the release of Kontakt 4 have simplified some of the controls. So don’t be scared – give it a try.
Companies like Akai and E-mu made excellent, stand-alone hardware samplers such as Akai’s S Series that were designed purely to play back samples instantaneously. You pressed a key on your MIDI keyboard, which in turn triggered a sound from the sampler that was loaded with sounds from a library (or recorded yourself). They were fantastic and took computerised music right into a new level of natural or real sounds. You needed these hardware samplers because keyboard workstations didn’t have the physical memory and computers didn’t have enough power… but, as we know, they soon caught up. Yes, things are different now and some hardware samplers that cost as much as a small car are offered on eBay today for prices that would make their original owners cry into their beer for days. That’s progress for you. Today the concept of sampling famous instruments is taken even further. For example, Native Instruments’ Kontakt 4 offers the Abbey Road 60’s Drums as an add-on extra. This is a faithful recording and sample reproduction of the “house” drum kit you’d find in Abbey Road studios. Every drum and every cymbal, hit every way possible. Load it into Kontakt and you can play drums just like Ringo Starr!... well, nearly.
Pro Tools Xpand2 Xpand2 is a good example of DAW developers including fully-featured software samplers in their software so you maybe don’t need something like Kontakt 4. Xpand2 sounds brilliant, but an important difference is it can’t import samples. You’re stuck with the standard sounds and it only has...oh, about 1 zillion to choose from.
Loop Advantage By now you’ve got the idea. While that sample rate explanation in the previous chapter is completely valid and correct, the word ‘sample’ when used in any studio environment usually refers to those tiny audio files used by samplers for instrument playback. Nowadays, hardware samplers have been replaced by software equivalents that either stand alone inside your computer or are integrated into your DAW software. As mentioned earlier, if you have the time and patience, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use samples to piece together some music note for note, sample by sample, but in that case it’s easier to use loops. A ‘loop’ is a ‘sample’ that when placed end to end sounds like the muso is playing the part in repetition. One of the most common loops is a drum loop — say, James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer’ — where a one-bar groove is repeated (hopefully) seamlessly.
Why a ‘Loop’? They are called loops because the start and end points of any loop are so precisely timed that you can play the file over and over (or repeat it in a series) and you’ll never hear the difference. It will sound like the muso played the part endlessly. Many loop-based DAWs like Acid Pro actually embed information in the file — things like the key and tempo at which the sample was recorded — and the sample rate and bit resolution. These are vital as a reference point for the DAW software to work its magic like stretching and squashing loops into different keys and tempos. This embedded data is everything it needs to ‘know’ where to begin. Acid & Live Loop-based music-making has exploded and there are now hundreds — if not thousands — of sources for loops of every kind imaginable. Not just individual instruments, but entire orchestras and bands. You name it and out there somewhere will be a loop for you. A big attraction is that people without a skerrick of musical prowess can now build complex, professional music arrangements and never have to pick up an instrument themselves. The early pacesetter in loop-based software was Sony’s Acid Pro. Other developers even go so far as to offer ‘Acidised’ loops, which means they are compatible with Sony’s Acid Pro and any other software that supports Acidised samples (with their embedded data), too. At present, Acid and Ableton Live — the other big-name loop-based software package — are still sufficiently more focused on their trademark loop approach to music creation that it’s worth treating them a little separately in this Guide. It’s their “thing” and the other programs are pretty much letting them keep it- within reason. Lastly, this chapter wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Apple’s Garageband. If you own a fairly recent Mac computer then chances are you’ve already scoped out what it’s capable of — dead easy, bang-a-song-together fun. Garageband is a great way of cutting your teeth in the world of loop-based production, and more and more third party loops are being marketed for it – worth a gander.
Summary I f hip hop and certain breakbeat-style electronica is your thing, then you need to look into loop-based programs like Acid Pro and Ableton Live. Even if you’re not, these programs are great tools to sketch out compositions really quickly. I f you’re a DJ or would like to jam live, then these programs are great for ‘improvising’ — cue up and play different loops onthe-fly. oop-based programs L rely on you having access to large and comprehensive libraries of loops and samples. ample libraries are S easily purchased, or you can record your own loops and samples — either from your own performances or from old records (be careful of copyright laws). oftware like Acid S and Live have made treasured hardware samplers of the past largely obsolete — although Akai’s MPC and Roland’s MV samplers still fly the flag.
Sony Acid Music Studio The program that started it all: Acid. Acid Music Studio comes packaged with a good library of loops and will get you well and truly started with loop-based music making.
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Windows & GUIs CH
Back in the opening chapter it was suggested that if you didn’t know much about computers, then tackling a DAW head-on was going to be tricky. In the following chapters we’re going to start looking closely at your software and what it can do, so it’s worth reminding you that if you’re not familiar with terms like ‘expanding menus’ or which button on your mouse is on the left or right, you really need to hone your computer skills before going too much further. It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of DAWs use Windows and Macintosh conventions for many functions. These are generic keystrokes that do a similar function across a range of different software. For example, if we were using Microsoft Word and wanted to copy this entire paragraph into another document we would select it, use Control-C to copy the contents, then Control-V to paste it somewhere else. In Windows-based DAW software these key combinations will also copy and paste audio data inside a project. Software designers of all persuasions try to use the same keys for similar functions, get it? This also applies to the Mac, just substitute the Control key for the Apple key. This is your last chance… okay, that’s it. From now on we’re assuming you can find your way around a computer and a keyboard to perform basic functions in your DAW. GUI-Centric Digital Audio Workstations are centred around a GUI, which stands for ‘Graphical User Interface’. It sounds hi-falutin’, but it really just refers to the windows that open where you do most of your work in the software. GUIs can be a subject of hot debate — how simple they are to understand, how easy to use and, importantly, how easy it is to see all the elements on
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ain Project or Arrange Window: This is the Arrange Window for ProTools 9. M The screen resolution for this particular PC is widescreen 1680 x 1050, which can make some things a little hard to work with. It’s a matter of preference and the hardware you have available. Of course, you can always zoom in and out of tracks, but the zoom controls don’t affect the size of menus or icons.
screen. At the same time there are many features to a DAW’s GUI which are common to all the different programs, but of course not all are called the same thing and they don’t quite work the same way. Even so, you’ll notice plenty of similarities. Main Window DAWs focus on five main windows or areas where the bulk of the studio work is done. First is the Main window, often called the Arrange Window or sometimes ‘Track’ or ‘Project’ window and it’s pretty well the centre of your DAW universe. This is where your music is recorded or inserted (you can import audio files into a DAW) along a Timeline. You can actually see the position of files in relation to one another and it’s where you re-arrange things, draw in automation, adjust tempos… it’s a busy place. It’s also the best workspace for displaying all the information about your project — what files you’re using, the time signature… almost everything you need to know. Mixer View Next is the Mixer View. This is a more traditionallooking window that emulates a real, hardware mixing desk and where you perform mixdowns of your tracks into two-track masters (or 5.1 surround sound, if you’re ambitious). This can be done via the Arrange window a single channel at a time, but the Mixer View gives you control over all the channels at once. The virtual console of the Mixer View gives you volume faders, pans, insert points, equalizers — let’s just say you’ll never run out of buttons to push or sliders to nudge.
Frame Rates In the world of video formats for film and television there are just as many different settings as there are in audio. If you’re scoring music to video the only really important thing you need is the correct Frame Rate so your music stays in sync with the vision. With the huge increase in popularity of digital video coming from competing manufacturers it’s become a minefield of conflicting standards. Whatever you do, just make sure you choose the correct one for your project!
Edit or Sample View Individual audio clips can be opened in an Edit View window. This is where you can fix a lot of problems
he Mixer Window: Cubase’s Arrange window with all the different sections T expanded out gets to be a busy place. To help you focus on what’s important, you can hide parts that aren’t needed and release more screen space.
his the Sampler Editor in T Cubase, a good example of how editing windows have gotten chockers with all kinds of features for creating loops or timestretching. If you’re not interested in that stuff maybe you don’t need this view at all. Check that you can’t do simpler tasks directly in the Arrange Window. Most DAWs can.
ProTools Track Inspector Actually, ProTools doesn’t have a Track Inspector. All the information is there and easily accessible in the Track Header, but there is no fader or “slice” of the Mixer view like the others. I guess ProTools is saying that if you want to Arrange, then arrange stuff in the Arrange Window. If you want to Mix, use the Mixer window. Fair enough.
with your recordings by making changes to the individual wave files. Any changes made to the file in the Edit View are often ‘destructive’ meaning they permanently alter the file. Some programs automatically create a new file and shove the original in the background. You need to figure out how your DAW handles audio edits before you go any further, because with destructive editing there is no going back. If you’re not sure, using ‘Save As’ is always a safe way of keeping the original recording intact. What sort of edits? Simple tasks can be cutting out or muting a singer’s accidental cough or perhaps you might want to increase/decrease the volume/ gain of words or musical parts rather than automate them in the Arrange window. The Edit window also allows you to add effects, reverse the file… things can get very creative/weird — as you’ll see later the possibilities are enormous. Mostly, you will be doing functions that change the recording’s structure for the better and let it play back inside the DAW to its best potential. Hopefully, you’ll never have to do too much, because you’ve done a great job of recording the track in the first place. Then again, you may be working on somebody else’s recordings and the Edit View will let you make some handy repairs! MIDI clips will also open up in various Edit windows — check out Chapter 10 on MIDI editing. Some Edit Views are more of a Sample View where you chop, slice and use various other tools to create loops. Functions like Beat Detection and time warping work better in a separate Sampler View. It means that you might open a wave file in an Edit view to perform a simple thing like cut out a small unwanted noise and find yourself confronted by a bunch of bewildering options. Don’t panic, it’ll be those sample/ looping tools. Dip into the Pool Another workspace that’s treated with varying degrees of importance by the different programs is the Audio Pool (Cubase and Studio One), the Project Folder (Sonar) or the Region List (ProTools). For now, we’ll call it the ‘Pool’. This is where all your project’s media is stored and managed. Some DAWs let you perform a lot of functions within the Pool, while others are more focused on keeping it well out of harm’s way. If you lose or corrupt any of the original files for your project, then all the processing power and DAW trickery in the world can’t help you so it’s worth making regular backups of the pool to either another hard drive or DVD. Software like Sony’s Acid Pro is very much centred around the concept of importing and manipulating large amounts of files and samples, so permanent access to all available media on your computer works well. In comparison, you’ll need to go looking for Sonar’s Project Audio Folder. The most significant task you’ll undertake in any of the DAW’s respective Pools will be cleaning up unwanted files — deleting media that’s wasting space on your hard drive.
Making Life Easy... or Not Daws have become so capable of many things, they also got a little crowded, too. In the efforts to simplify stuff some DAWs have a Media Bay or their own Browser (separate from Windows Explorer or Mac’s Finder Window). Everything in your DAW is categorised, indexed and even rated (by you). Your actual audio recordings are listed here too, but really that’s the Audio Pool’s job. In the Media Bay you can search your entire PC for samples, sounds, MIDI files and instruments–anything really. Instruments are a good example of how the Media/Browser can work. If you want a MIDI piano track, just search for “piano” and select something you like, then the Media/Browser will automatically create a track in your Arrange window, insert the appropriate VST instrument and route it to the Mixer. You can also search for certain types of loops or samples and the Media/Browser will import your selection into the Arrange window in whatever track format it needs... it sounds easy, but like any browser it depends on how clever you are with your search criteria. If you’re not specific enough you can get a huge amount of results which will just annoy you. Also, be careful what you wish for. Something like “Space Rock Piano” will give you a cool, groovy piano track except without realising it you’ve inserted a VST Instrument and four effects plug-ins to make the sound–and your CPU and RAM resources are stressing out. If you know what you want and how or where to get it, Media/Browser windows won’t get much of a run on your DAW. It’s when you don’t know that they can be really useful. Taking the Tour The Arrange window with its timeline and Track List looks a complicated place. Lots of buttons and icons, menus to select, the transport bar… but be reassured there is a lot of duplication and you’ve no need to go training for a pilot’s license any time soon. We’ll look at one section at a time. The Toolbar: Immediately below the main menu row is the Toolbar or maybe Tool bars if it has multiple rows. Many of the icons here represent the menu function choices along the top anyway and are shortcuts. When you develop your own workflow style you can unclutter the area by customising the toolbars and taking off the icons you don’t use. Tools are usually grouped into related functions. For example, all the selection tools are together, as are the Quantizing commands and different viewing options. Some of the icons are for specific commands on their own — again available under the normal drop-down menus. Things like turning the metronome on or off, the Scroll control and Snap function. As you learn more about recording audio and MIDI inside a DAW you’ll discover how useful these icons can be. With one click you’ll have made your changes, rather than by searching through multi-layered menus.
it helps to know there is a lot of duplication and you’ve no need to go training for a pilot’s license any time soon ”
The Timeline: At the top of the track pane itself, where the clips are placed, is the Time Line. It is the length of your project, but not necessarily the length of your song. Usually, you’ll have some time left over at the end of your recording and this is a great place to keep out-takes or even stereo files of songs that you want to reference your material to. If you’re smart, you should leave a bar or two at the beginning of the project for count-ins. The cursor, the point where your playback or recording will begin, uses the timeline for its point of reference. You can also specify regions in your timeline for different tasks such as a punch-in/punch-out recording, or to mix down just a part of your song. You can choose what format the timeline uses. It can be ‘minutes, seconds and frames’ or ‘Bars and Beats’. The latter is more common, because it interacts with quantizing functions best. The Arrange Pane: Each track and the clips (sometimes called ‘events’, or ‘regions’ in Pro Tools and Logic) recorded on it are seen in the Arrange pane–the actual workspace–plus on the left hand side there’s a Track List telling you information about each channel’s parameters — the track number, the inputs, the outputs and so on. A difficult concept to get straight about the clips in the Track pane is they’re not really your recordings themselves — they’re graphic representations of the recording on your hard drive. Confused? You’re allowed to be. Here’s an example that might explain best. Let’s say you’re Bruce Springsteen and you record a song called ‘Born in the USA’ that has the chorus ‘Born in the USA’ sung, say… about 60 times. Instead of actually recording that line for 60 different takes (which he would have done, by the way) you could record it just the once and copy that clip for the 59 other choruses. Those clips refer back to the original audio file on your hard drive for their sound. It looks like you did 60 different recordings, but you only did one. Which means, yes, all the choruses will sound exactly the same. It’s not worth going further into the ways and means of song arrangements here, but it’s important to understand how those clips in an Arrange window work. They refer back to data on your hard drive. The Track Inspector: This is a ‘front page’ view of a single channel strip where you can adjust all the parameters that are available via the mixer window. Basically, think of it like a close-up of each individual fader from the Mixer View (although not all DAWs show you the fader itself) without having to open the Mixer window. Another way to see this information with some DAWs is to zoom in vertically on the track or drag the borders outwards and, as it grows bigger, more settings will appear in the Track List. Not all of them do that. But the easy way, of course, is to always have the Track Inspector window open. That’s what it’s there for. There’s a more detailed GG :: 33
he Audio Pool in Cubase tells you what files are associated with the Project — if they’re being used and how many T times (a loop might be used more than once). You can also use this Pool to rename files and delete unwanted recordings. ProTool’s Region list has similar functions with a more stripped-back interface. Some DAWs won’t give you this much flexibility probably because the developers don’t want you deleting anything by accident. They also won’t let you cross the road on your own, talk to strangers or try to put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow.
onar Control Bar and Toolbar. Sonar uses the same Toolbar for all the different windows. You can customise S it by removing icons you don’t use or adding others you select frequently. With the release of Sonar there is a core Control Bar where all the transport controls and indicators are shown, then you can squeeze in anything else you like. There is no longer any floating Transport Bar, which has got a few Sonar die-hards muttering in their pea soup.
his is Cubase’s Media bay where T you can search for just about anything and preview most. Find something you like and it’s a simple drag-and-drop operation to import it into your project. A great idea, but with the sort of DAW computer we recommended earlier and multiple hard drives you need to fine-tune the Media Bay’s search area. Otherwise you’ll get a heap of results you don’t need.
look at the parameters available in the Track Inspector/Track List next chapter. Bottom Line: Some DAWs provide an extra line of information at the top or bottom of the Track Pane giving you details of things like the sample rate, bit depth, file position and the maximum allowable recording time, depending on your hard drive. Multiple Monitors If you can afford a good video card with multiple monitor outputs you can do some neat things, like have the Mixer View on one screen and your Arrange Window on the other. Luxury.
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As you can see from the screenshots, Arrange windows do vary from one software platform to another — not surprisingly — but the basic purpose is the same. It’s where you do the bulk of your recording and the arrangement of your songs. At the same time it can show you all the information about your project, including things like track volume, panning and effects that are traditionally more the domain of the Mixer View. Browser, Explorer and Pool Windows: As mentioned before, some DAWs don’t treat this section with quite the same reverence as others. Sony’s Acid Pro and Ableton Live assume you’ll be pulling media files in and out of your project all the time and that a permanently open Browser window is useful. Thankfully, with re-sizeable windows you’re in charge of how much screen ‘real estate’ you want the window to consume. There’s an important difference between your Audio Pool and any kind of Browser. The Audio Pool is media already in your project. Logic 9 sports a media tab that gives access to the ‘audio bin’.
Video Preview: Just about all DAWs support video files now. This is for people who want to compose music that’s synchronised to visuals. Be aware that running a video window can seriously affect your DAW’s performance, eating into CPU and RAM resources. If this is something you want to do on a regular basis, you might want to consider an even more specialist computer setup that shifts the video load elsewhere. More Pane More Gain? You should have noticed by now, as you try things for yourself, that all of the above sections don’t have to be at their default sizes. Many windows can be ‘docked’ or ‘undocked’, or squeezed down to just a corner of your screen if that helps. And that’s not just the different components of each main view such as the Arrange window. Other views like the Mixer and Editing views can all be open at the same time and scaled to a size that suits you. But like the Video Preview, remember that running all these windows at the same time uses up video card resources and might affect performance. Once you have everything to your liking, you can save the entire setup as a workspace or screensets and have things looking this way every time you launch the software.
r emember that running all these windows at the same time uses up valuable computer processing and might affect performance ”
Summary AWs all share a D common feature — separate windows for different functions such as arranging, editing and mixing. nclutter your U workspace by removing unused tools and resizing windows. I mprove your workflow by using the right window for the right job. That’s what they’re there for. on’t feel you need to D know every window back to front. Some windows may only become useful as you hone your chops.
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Over the next few chapters we’re going to be looking at many features of your DAW that depend on correctly routing a signal path. A simple example is the microphone you’ve got plugged into your audio interface — that’s a signal path. Back in the old days when an audio engineer was preparing for a recording session signal paths involved correctly plugging a lot of stuff in. A mess of cables ran everywhere.
The Track List
These days, that rat’s nest of cables is virtual — the signal is being moved around digitally inside your DAW. Virtual or not, DAWs direct and divert signals from one part of your software to another as though you’d plugged in a real cable yourself. Bear this in mind as we look at how channel strips, track inspectors and mixers can control your recordings.
Audio Channels Here we have three different channels as they’re shown in the Arrange Window. They’re all different, but not by much. Don’t forget, these are audio channels, not MIDI, and these are not a channel strip from the Mixer View although some DAWs will show you exactly the same information in a Track Inspector as their mixer strips. You’ll find some big differences between the various software products as to how they display these channels. Still, the terminology is pretty much the same across the board and you should be able to easily figure out how the explanations below relate to your own software. There might be a drop-down menu somewhere, too, which lets you configure what controls are shown. Most likely, you can choose what settings are visible. 1. Track Name: This is more important than you might think. It’s not just about putting the name of your instrument on the mixer, it’s about naming your track before you do anything, because your DAW will use it as a reference for naming any audio files recorded on that lane or track. So in these examples the software will call your recorded files something like ‘Vocal Take (1)’ and ‘Vocal Take (2)’ and so on. If you don’t name your track first, the software will use a default name, usually ‘Audio (track number)’ and what happens is that later, as you search through your Pool filled with files called ‘Audio 1 Take (1)’ or ‘Audio 1 Take (2)’, you’ve got little idea of what you’re working with. Obviously, naming your audio files correctly is very important, but naming your channel strip first is a great way to make that more of an automatic thing.
Propellerhead’s Reason software pioneered the ‘virtual modular’ approach to sound creation. ’Round the ‘back’ of Reason you can patch (or ‘connect’) different modules together with virtual patch cords (they even sway and dangle when you pull them out!). It’s a great way of visualising what’s going on — how the audio gets piped around, control signal movement etc. Of course, back in ‘the day’ all this happened with real leads and heavy hardware, but now it’s all within your computer.
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2. Trim or Gain Setting: A lot of people get this confused with the volume setting, or don’t understand the difference at all. Try this as a way of thinking about it: as a rule of thumb you want all the tracks in your project to be roughly the same volume before you do anything with them — like, before you do any mixing or adding effects, for instance. Here’s an example: You’ve got two singers in your studio doing backing vocals, one male and the other female. They’re an “item”, right? The guy has an excellent strong voice while the girl isn’t such a strong performer, but she’s his girlfriend and no one dares to say too much — so she still gets the gig. If you don’t make any allowances during the recording the female vocal ends up at a much lower volume. Okay, so to bring the girl’s track up to the level of her partner during playback you would use the Trim control. It’s a way of adjusting everything up or down to the same level at the very first input stage and having all your tracks on a par with each other. Another comparison would be a synthesiser and an acoustic guitar — they would have vastly different signal levels if it wasn’t for the trim control. Note: we say on playback, because on most DAWs the Trim/ Gain setting won’t affect your recording levels. Only playback. 3. Input: If you have a soundcard with multiple inputs, this is where you choose which one you’re , physically plugged into. Simple really, except for one
Cubase track inspector
small trap. If you have a stereo input as a default and want to only record in mono, some DAWs will assign every odd-numbered track to the Left Input and all the even-numbered tracks to the Right Input. So when you do a recording and create a new track to add a different melody, then can’t figure out why nothing’s working anymore, chances are the default mono input for that track is the other stereo side. It’s easily fixed with the click of a button or with some soundcards you might have to plug into the other input. But it’s one of those weird little quirks that might have you swapping guitars, resoldering leads and finally moving your entire studio two metres to the left… before you eventually figure out what’s wrong.
Audio Channel Track Lists: Here are three DAW channels as seen in the Track List. Look closely and you’ll see many similarities. Nobody’s trying to re-invent the wheel here.
4. Equalizers: The word ‘equalizer’ is a funny term. Originally, equalizers were used to equalize any poor tonal qualities in a PA system or in the acoustics of a room — get rid of any nasty frequencies or boost missing ones. Nowadays, they’re very much a creative means of adjusting tones, but the name ‘equalizer’ (or EQ for short) has stuck. EQ’s can work in lots of different ways — high-shelf, low-shelf, high-pass... (there’s more info in a box item next page) they can make an enormous impact on your music if you use them wisely. It’s well worth taking the time to understand them and it’s why DAWs have them available both in the Track Inspector and the Mixer View. You just never know when you’ll want to tweak a frequency or two.
DAWs direct and divert signals from one part of your software to another as though you’d plugged in a real cable yourself ”
Recording Levels This is something that will be repeated time and time again in this guide, but you’ll just have to cop it! Record something well and everything else will be much easier. Achieving the best quality, clarity and correct amplitude (volume) of a recording takes a bit of thought and practice, and getting good recording levels is very important. This is explained in Chapter 11. The point is, features like Trim or Gain settings can right a lot of wrongs and get you out of trouble, but nothing beats good levels in the first place.
5. Sends (Auxiliary Sends or Effects Sends): As you build up a mix you’ll want to put Effects, like delay or reverb, on many of your tracks — the main vocal, for example. One way to do this is to Insert an effect over a channel (see Inserts below), but this can be a waste of CPU power if you want to put the same effect over more than one channel. Every plugin you power up will take its share of resources. Let’s say you have five vocal tracks and you want the same reverb over all of them — generally a desirable thing to do. Instead of Inserting a separate reverb plug-in over each track, you can create a single Effects Return, insert one reverb plug-in over that and feed its signal from an Auxiliary Send on the five vocal channels. See? You’ve just used one instance of a reverb instead of five! Sends are not necessarily for effects, too. In a live situation Sends are used for foldback — the musicians hearing themselves on stage without interfering with the Front of House mix. Another example: a Send might be used to feed a live television broadcast. The name can simplify the explanation, if you like. It sends your channel signal somewhere else for you to do with as you will. It’s like splitting your television antennae to a second TV in another room. Sends can be Pre-Fade or Post-Fade. With Pre-Fade, the level of signal from the Send isn’t affected by the volume of the channel fader. This works for headphone feeds in a studio, because no matter what the sound engineer does with the channels in the mix they’re not going to upset the musician by
changing volume levels in their headphones (they can get really upset). With Post-Fade the channel fader volume does alter the amount of signal coming from the Auxiliary Send. This is good for effects like reverb, because if the vocal or instrument is too loud in the mix and the engineer turns it down, the level of reverb is lowered, too. Here’s a very practical application — even if it’s generally a live audio situation: when you’re running backing tracks or a dance track from a CD and you’re asked to fade out the music before the song ends, with Post Fade switched in, the foldback on stage will also fade out with your main PA (rather than blasting away while the house PA is turned down). Make sense? Experiment with an Auxiliary send and switch the Pre or Post-Fade in and out as you change the channel fader and you’ll get the idea. 6. Inserts: These are how you Insert an effect or a plug-in such as a compressor on a channel and the advantage to this approach is only that channel is affected. It’s an individual treatment for one channel — either stereo or mono depending on the effect or track it is inserted on. More importantly, whatever plug-in is Inserted, it becomes completely integrated into the signal path for that track — it’s merged into the channel and how that can affect the overall sound needs to be realised. It’s serious stuff. You can dramatically alter the entire sound of a recording with an Insert(s). Guitar amplifier simulators, for example, will change a clean guitar into whatever you like — but while that might be exactly what you’re after, you should remember that you’re sacrificing access to that original, clean recording. Inserts work brilliantly when you use them how they’re supposed to be used. Signal modifiers like compressors and EQs are great Inserted over a channel — and we should point out that, yes, a DAW channel’s own proprietary Equalizer (see above) is (just to set the record straight) Inserted. The hardest aspect of Inserts is probably understanding what can or can’t, or what should or shouldn’t, be inserted. It can be confusing. With DAWs you can Insert more than one effect over a channel — something that would require a bit of thought and some nifty daisychain cabling on a hardware mixer. The order in which you Insert things will change the resulting sounds. A good rule of thumb is: compressors, gates, and EQ are inserted; while reverb, delay and other effects are generally better off on an auxiliary — there are no hard and fast rules, however. 7. MSR & Icons: MSR is an acronym for Mute, Solo, Record, but it usually refers to more icon buttons than these. All channel strips have a group of buttons for quick selections. Some DAWs use symbols instead of plain labelling, so you might have to do a bit of deciphering. A Mute silences the channel altogether. ‘Solo’ turns on that channel exclusively — rather than muting everything else. ‘Record’ arms the channel for recording — a safety device. ‘Phase Invert’ comes into play when you’re mixing down. You can ‘flip’ the phase of a channel to help it sit in the mix better. (Changing the Phase of a
Different File Names The various DAWs use different, though similar, conventions for naming audio files. They may use a combination of the Project name (which might not be the song title — that’s your choice) the Track name, and what number Take it is. So your third attempt at a bass line for a song called ‘My Greatest Hit’ will make a file called something like ‘My Greatest Hit_Bass_ Take(3).wav’. This can be useful, because at a glance you see where the file belongs from its title, but a lot of engineers get annoyed at the long-winded label. Some programs assume you know which folder or Pool the file should be in and will just call it ‘Bass 03.wav’ or ‘Bass (Take 3).wav’. Much cleaner and simpler, but you can see the potential for disaster if a virus trashes your computer and you end up having to sort through your archives. You may end up asking, ‘Yeah, it’s a bass recording… but for what song?’. Take careful note of how your DAW labels audio files and don’t be too hasty renaming them.
Sonar Project Folder. This is the Project Audio folder for Cakewalk’s Sonar. Note how the audio files are named with all the information you need to identify the file’s origins even outside of Sonar, such as in Windows Explorer. It’s handy, sensible and clever — but some users just get kind of annoyed by the long and unnecessarily complicated file names.
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“ IDI Channel Strips: Some different M MIDI channels for comparison. Nothing radically dissimilar — and, again, Cubase (bottom) needs the Track Inspector opened to access all the settings.
Some DAWs use symbols instead of plain labelling, so you might have to do a bit of deciphering ” track won’t make it sound much different by itself — if at all. It’s how it interacts with other channels.)
And like Audio channels there will be a menu to let you customise just what you want available.
You’ll also have two Automation buttons for Read and Write. ‘Read’ means that any automation you have on the track will be obeyed — turn it off and it’s ignored. ‘Write’ lets you record automation on-the-fly. Things like fader moves and panning effects are common, but just about anything can be automated. The Panning slider adjusts your mono track’s position in the left/right spectrum or a stereo track’s left/right balance. There might be a Stereo/ Mono button that defines whether the track is — you guessed it — stereo or mono. Once you’ve made a recording this usually can’t be changed. So if you accidentally start, say, a bass guitar track in stereo and want to change it to mono, you’ll have to go through some complicated hoops or bounce the track. Sometimes it’s better to delete that channel.
1. Track Name: Like with audio tracks anything recorded will automatically have the track name applied to any MIDI clips. The connection between the track name and the patch you’re playing isn’t so strong. Under most circumstances altering the patch (the MIDI sound) won’t result in the track name reflecting that change — for example, if you apply a MIDI Grand Piano sound to it and later decide the programming works better with an Electric Piano, altering the patch won’t flow through to the Track name. Exceptions are some Instrument Tracks where you choose the patch with a browser instead of inside the virtual instrument itself. Check out the box item on the next page.
A very important button is the ‘Monitor’ or ‘Input Echo’ button. This allows you to hear what you’re recording in real-time through your soundcard and will be subject to any latency your audio driver and hardware setup causes. Without a mixing desk to monitor your playing or singing this is the only way you can hear yourself (unless your soundcard has ‘direct monitoring’ capabilities). Turn it on and you can listen to your recording as you play it. If you’re using speakers rather than headphones and have a live microphone, be careful when you switch this on because a live mic at high gain can create ear shredding feedback. By the way, this simple button is going to reveal just how well you made all those choices about your computer setup, your soundcard and the software drivers. Some software doesn’t offer this button. Instead, you’ll have a global function inside your Preferences that defines how your monitoring works when you arm a track for recording.
Cubase track inspector
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2. Input (Device): You can choose which MIDI device you want for an input, which is usually your soundcard interface. If you have more than one device, such as a piano and a drum pad, you’ll need to pick the right one. Possibly, if your computer has some kind of generic MIDI ability or there’s a soundcard included with your motherboard devices, these will also be available. When you set up your DAW software you can choose which MIDI drivers to recognise and get rid of all these unnecessary options. 3. Output (Channel): Possibly your MIDI device has a specific channel assigned for its output, especially if you do have more than one instrument, so you’ll have to choose the channel from 1 to 16 to suit. Otherwise, the ‘Omni’ setting, which is any or all channels, will always work.
8.Output: Like input, this is fairly simple… you’d think. But it will give you a choice of any hardware outputs (as many as your soundcard allows) and possibly a selection of soundcards, because any motherboard audio output your computer came with (apart from your DAW interface) will be listed, too (unless you turn off onboard sound via your BIOS). It will show any software outputs. These are output busses you’ve created yourself. We’ll explain them in the next chapter, the Mixer View.
4. Patch: This is a part of your Output settings. ‘Patch’ in MIDI lingo means which instrument, like a piano or organ — the sound you want. What patch you call up depends on whether you’re using General MIDI and on the complexity of the software driver for your MIDI device. Expanding the Patch will give you the choice of instruments for that device, or a Virtual Instrument. It’s easy to get confused though, because often the GM set of instruments will appear regardless of what is actually attached, either real or virtual. Like, the default patch list is the General MIDI list every time. Don’t assume that by simply checking ‘Flute’ in the Patch box that you’re going to get a flute sound. You’ll need to look harder and make sure your signal path is going to the right place.
MIDI Channels Audio and MIDI channels are like chalk and cheese — entirely different things. Still, some of the settings and icons on the MIDI channel strips are the same and perform the same function. The MSR and Automation buttons, for example, are duplicated in both; Volume and Panning too, but note that in some cases these use values between 0 and 127 because they’re based on binary bits and bytes values. Panning can be ±64 (half of 128 with 0 being centre), while some DAWs use a percentage value for panning instead.
5. Bank: If the Patch settings are working properly (thanks to a good software driver), chances are you’ve also got a choice of which Bank, too. Banks are sub-menus in your instrument settings. For example, Bank 0 is your standard GM instruments. Bank 1 will give you a different set of sounds as will Bank 3, and so on. If there are no extra Banks available you can possibly still pick a number, but the Instrument Patch will go blank, of course. Your software is allowing for the existence of extra Banks, but doesn’t recognise there aren’t any to acknowledge.
Otherwise, here is a brief description of the Track List settings you’ll find on a MIDI channel. Some of these might not appear in the Track Inspector, but are on the channel for the Track Pane. Things like the Scale setting are used so infrequently or only once that it’s not worth cluttering the Track Inspector with them.
6. Output: This is where you choose a real hardware MIDI output, possibly corresponding to the Input devices, or you might want a Virtual Instrument such as Native Instrument’s Battery or IK Multimedia’s SampleTank. DAWs see these virtual instruments as if they are real hardware. They pretend there’s a real
EQ Types The kitchen sink EQ for musicians and engineers has 31 bands, or frequencies, that can be boosted or cut by 12dB. The hardware versions were called ‘Graphic Equalisers’ because the sliders could make neat patterns, like a graph. On a channel strip for a DAW you’ll more likely use a combination of parametric EQs and high or low shelf settings. We say ‘most likely’, because you can choose for yourself how each frequency band of adjustment works. Parametrics are very, very neat and do some powerful magic. They’re fully explained in Chapter 20. DAWs and third-party plug-ins will offer three, four or even more separate bands to use. At first glance these EQs can be daunting. Don’t be scared, and use your ears.
VST, AU, AAX, RTAS & MAS… Huh?
Steinberg, the developers of Cubase, got the jump on a lot of its competition by developing Virtual Studio Technology or ‘VST’. VSTs can be effects plug-ins, such as delays, reverbs, choruses and the like, and the acronym is also used to describe virtual instruments (VSTi) like pianos, drums... you name it. VST is probably
best thought of as a programming format — a computer language for creating these plug-ins and instruments. There are a few other kids on the block now. Audio Unit (AU) is an Apple Logic format and RTAS/ AAX is the equivalent for ProTools… Oh, and MOTU’s Digital Performer also has a version, called MAS.
piano keyboard or drum kit at the end of the signal path. So they’re treated as an Output. 7. Effects: MIDI tracks can use a variety of effects, but they’re more a way of altering the data inside the clips. Things like arpeggiators, transposers and velocity ‘filters’ that change the note values, not the sounds — although GM settings provide a chorus and reverb effect and these can be available as parameters on your channel strip. Don’t be fooled, though. In the same way that Audio and MIDI channels are completely different, likewise Audio and MIDI effects are worlds apart and have nothing to do with each other. Don’t get them mixed up. Also important, MIDI effects are an effect after the data is processed. They don’t shift or change the data itself. 8. Key & Time sliders: General MIDI includes the ability to transpose the key of your MIDI up or down in semi-tones without having to re-record your playing. It’s a great way to shift the key signature of an instrument to find what’s best for a vocalist, before going any further with your recordings. The Time slider is for advancing or retarding the track slightly. It can make some nice effects in a mix down or let you compensate for any delay in an external device’s playback. 9. Scale (& Scale Settings): This is one of those settings that untalented musicians love! Some DAWs allow a ‘Snap to Scale’ function, which will reject and correct any notes you try to play that don’t belong in your chosen musical scale. So if your song is in D Major, Snap to Scale will fix any wrong notes your inexpert fumbling might hit. MIDI is filled with advanced features
ubase Short Track C Heights: When you try to see as many tracks as you can in one window you lose a lot of the Track List information. This is where the Track Inspector helps a lot.
All up, it’s a bit like the Playstation vs XBox vs Wii. Some DAWs will load and play either format, but it’s more the virtual instruments themselves that are designed from the ground up to work in one or the other environment. Most developers release their plug-ins in multiple formats. You can also get ‘wrappers’
that convert VSTs to RTAS and AU. There are hundreds of virtual instruments and effects plug-ins available these days. Some are free, some are cheap, and some are expensive (and deservedly so). If you decide to get any make sure you check which format — VST, AU, AAX, RTAS or MAS — your DAW prefers.
like this, but to start with, the Track needs to know the basic key with this setting. If you don’t know the key or you’re not interested in these types of functions, this setting won’t make any difference. It only comes into play when you use editing functions that rely on knowing the right key signature. 10. Input Quantize: Another great MIDI feature explained in Chapter 10. Some DAWs will automatically apply a quantize setting to your input — your playing. This button turns it on or off and lets you set the quantize values. Inspector Gadgets So it might seem a bit pointless that all these parameters and settings are duplicated everywhere, particular in the Track List beside the Arrange Pane and the Track Inspector. The reason is simple. Have a look at Cubase below and notice that the Arrange Pane is zoomed out enough to be able to see all 16 tracks in the project. You’ll work like this a lot. But to achieve it, the height of each track has been reduced so much that the Track Lists hardly show anything except the name and the MSR icons. Without the Track Inspector, if you want to make any adjustments you’d have to ‘grab’ the edges of the track, expand it so the settings you want appear... you get the idea. Instead, just select the track and make the changes in the Track Inspector. Obviously, someone’s been giving this whole DAW thing a bit of thought, right?
Instrument Tracks DAWs give you ‘Instrument Tracks’ which are MIDI tracks that have a virtual instrument directly inserted over them rather than using a separate rack for software synths and routing individual MIDI tracks to them... confused? Chapter 14 gives you all the nittygritty. The point here is that Apple’s Logic, for example, offers a patch browser to pick your sounds that will open the appropriate software synth for you. It’s kind of backwards to the way things have been done before. Anyway, if you always use the browser instead of changing patches inside the synth, then the MIDI track name will also automatically change. ProTools connects MIDI channels and virtual instruments a little differently. Instead of using a virtual rack for the instrument, you create an Instrument Track much like other DAWs offer and you send the output of individual MIDI channels to that Instrument Track with the appropriate channel number selected.
Summary Customising the different workspaces of the Track List, the Track Inspectors and the Mixer View will help to stop you getting confused by the repetition of settings for each track. lot of parameters A will either be setand-forget or will be automatically dealt with by your software drivers. The best idea is to familiarise yourself with those settings that do need constant and logical attention such as the Track Name and you’ll discover there’s not so many to stress over.
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The Mixer View CH
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Many of the options and settings in the Mixer View define what you can see and they’re duplicated to apply either to just one track or globally to the entire mixer. It can make for a confusing array of icons and buttons that would frighten an astronaut. Remember, a lot of the icons represent making certain track settings visible that you’ve probably already dealt with in your Arrange window or the Track Inspector — they’re set-and-forget things you don’t need in the Mixer, but you can access them if you want. Check them out with your mouse by hovering over the top of the icons and a pop-up balloon should tell you what they are (unless you have this option switched off). You’ll see things like Input and Output that you don’t want to change by now, so you can remove them from the Mixer and free up some space. Don’t worry, you can bring them back anytime! Hide ’n’ Seek A more practical — and very useful — function of this type is the ‘Hidden’, ‘Hide’ or ‘Can Hide’ button for tracks. The Mixer will automatically show every track that you created in the Arrange window, but
Here are four different audio channel strips 1) Cubase, 2) Sonar, 3) Pro Tools, 4) Studio One. The Cubase strip is showing EQ settings. Sonar’s new X1 strip is offering a clear access to any plug-ins you want with a very traditional hardware-console look (nice), Pro Tools has always gone for a no-nonsense, practical style; here it’s got a compressor inserted and a reverb send, and finally Presonus’s Studio One with a “channel strip” plug-in (just to confuse things) expanded within the mixer strip or you can double-click to open a full plug-in window (see below). For all four mixers it’s all about revealing what you want to see and use, and still keep that familiar mixing console appearance.
The Mixer View is where DAWs mimic a real mixing desk and they do a great job of it. The only problem is if you wanted to reproduce an entire 24-channel (or more) console on your computer screen it would end up so small you’d go blind trying to use it. Sure, one day we might all be able to afford an enormous plasma screen that displays everything, but at the moment (even with large widescreen monitors and high screen resolutions) it’s still better to focus only on what you’re working with at the time. You can expand out sections of the mixer when you need them. In this chapter we’re looking at how a virtual mixer works; the way different sections interact and deal with a signal path.
Groups & Sub-Groups Hardware consoles allow you to route selected channels to sub-mixes or sub-groups so you can batch all the drums together, all the vocals and so on. The term for these, ‘sub-group’ is popular and you may come across it in both the real and virtual worlds, but DAWs tend to call them just ‘groups’. Making life difficult, DAWs have another kind of ‘group’, too. This is a feature where you can link any selected faders to all work together as you adjust only one. However this kind of group doesn’t create an output buss on the mixer. It’s handy for MIDI channels for this reason, but it can be used on audio tracks as well — confusing the hell out of everyone. So there are Group Outputs that have their own buss on the mixer and there is creating ‘groups’ of channels, which is simply linking the faders to each other.
Click the “E” tab at the top of the Cubase channel strip and all the plug-ins and settings are expanded into a much larger view. Cool!
ProTools ‘Verb: This is the reverb dialog box for Pro Tool’s DVerb — like everything Pro Tools not much in the way of flashy threedimensional buttons and such. It works great though.
Presonus’s Studio One has a “Channel Strip” plug-in which offers a compressor, EQ, lowpass filter and Gain control all in one handy box. You can use this instead of opening separate instances of like-wise plug-ins. Of course, the individual plug-ins have a lot more to offer, but sometimes a simpler channel strip like this is all you need.
ogic has a clever L trick up its sleeve. It offers a default amount of empty slots for auxiliary sends and inserts, and every time you fill one it automatically creates a new slot (up to a max of 10) waiting for your next creative flash of inspiration. Apart from these single ‘spares’ you’re never losing screen space to unnecessary, unused slots. It keeps the mixer view compact and neat. However it is global — if you need five inserts on one track that’s how many you end up with on all tracks.
sometimes you don’t want to view all of them at mixdown. Here’s an example: you’ve got 12 tracks of MIDI for your drums (kick, snare, etc...) but you’ve since rendered them down to audio files for mixing (yes, yes... converting MIDI to audio — we’ll get to that later!). Those MIDI drum tracks are now redundant, but you don’t want to delete them. Believe me, you shouldn’t dump anything that’s still being used in a project, even if you’ve converted it to something else. Because you never know when you’ll need it again. Still, when you switch to the Mixer view to start mixing down your song, you’ve got these 12 MIDI tracks taking up valuable screen space and getting in the way. What you do is set these MIDI tracks to ‘Hide’, choose ‘OK’ and the tracks vanish! Don’t worry, they haven’t been deleted — just ‘hidden’. This leaves only the tracks you want to work with visible in the Mixer. The same approach is used for seeing different plug-ins, inserts and sends for the individual tracks. Check out the examples at the bottom of the previous page. Look at how Cubase deals with it and you’ll see that a large section of the channel strips can be switched between which parameters you want to view and use — or simply the ‘look’ you prefer. A drop-down box lets you choose. You can also use the icons on the left to view these parameters across all the channels, rather than just one. Pro Tools approaches this without icons. You use the Menu bar to select the features you want visible in each window. Apple’s Logic is the same using a drop-down menu to choose what is visible on each channel strip. However, it’s only a global function affecting all the tracks. Sonar does it slightly differently again. You can choose to fill the channel strip with all the different parameters (or leave areas blank, which most engineers will just find weird) and there are drop-down boxes to open the various sections for each — the frequency band for the EQ or which Effects Send, for example.
Missing the Buss With some larger analogue mixing consoles (rather than digital desks) you could be wiring up different physical outputs and assigning parts of the desk via buttons and DIP-switches to send signals all over the place, which meant that your signal path went to a separate electronic circuit board with its own buss or ‘buss-bar’. In the virtual world it doesn’t happen and with the larger digital consoles it’s usually just a different nano-cpu transistor thingy on a circuit board the size of a 10 cent piece. Still, like a lot of things, terms such as buss and sub-group have migrated into DAWs and digital mixers.
Mix Advantages We know it’s easy to tweak all these parameters — EQ, effects, yada yada — in the Arrange window using the channel strip or the Track Inspectors. So what makes the Mixer View so special? Those of us who have used hardware consoles for years can’t imagine mixing down a song in any other way, but if you’re new to music and recording, and DAWs are your introduction to both, then it’s maybe not so obvious. The Mixer View gives you a better visual interpretation of your project — it’s easier to see what’s happening in the mix at a glance. The volume and pan relationships between the channels is the bedrock of a good mix and can be seen more readily via the Mix window as opposed to one by one via the Arrange window. It’s a better, friendlier environment for adjusting Send levels and Inserts too. The Mixer View is also brilliant for ‘grouping’ or ‘sub-grouping’ tracks together — an important part of mixing. You create these groups and assign tracks to them. Groups This is touching on a much-misunderstood area of mixing, because there’s different terminology often used for the same process. An ‘output’, a ‘group’ and a ‘buss’ are all created the same way, but get their names from the various purpose they have. How did this happen? Again, it’s all about signal paths. To make things easier to explain we’ll say that your DAW soundcard has only one main stereo output — for now. This means that whatever you do, no matter how clever and tricky you get with your mixing, ultimately the signal path will end at that stereo output and will be input into some kind of amplifier, speakers or headphones.
Therefore this is a ‘Main Output’ and controlled by a pair of linked faders on your mixer. All the channels (to begin with) go to this stereo output which is also, by the way, a ‘buss’ in its own right. What’s a Group? Let’s say in your project you’ve got 12 drum tracks. The drummer played louder and louder as the recording session went on. What you have to do is slowly reduce the fader levels of the drums to compensate throughout the song, but grabbing all 12 faders at the same time isn’t simple (and we haven’t explained automation yet). What you can do is create a Group output, call it ‘Drums’ and change the drum tracks’ signal path away from the default stereo output and to the Drums stereo group instead. Now you’re controlling all 12 channels with just the two Group faders and you can also, if you want, insert an effect like a compressor over the top which would compress all the drums. The Drum group’s output goes to the stereo output, instead of the drum tracks individually being routed there. You can do this with any or all of your tracks. You can create a Group for your vocals, perhaps all your guitars... there are plenty of reasons you might want to collectively change the volume of several tracks at once. However, the ability to insert effects over groups will become more important and very useful as you learn more about it. Buss Definition What about a ‘buss’? A buss is almost the same thing except usually it’s an alternative hardware output for your tracks. A way of re-routing a signal somewhere different from your main stereo output for a special reason. Most DAWs achieve this by creating a Group in exactly the way described above, but having the output of the Group not being the stereo output, but some other hardware option. Why would you do this?
Save As Project files for the various DAWs are very small, unless you’ve got a setting in your Preferences to automatically copy all your audio data to a new location. You’re not going to cause too many hard drive space problems using the Save As command to create different versions of your project. So for example you could delete all your MIDI tracks and save the project as ‘My Song Audio Only’ if you’re confident they’re completely redundant, rather than setting the MIDI channels to ‘Hide’ in the mixer. In a crisis, you can get them back again by reloading the original project. ProTools takes the idea further with “Playlists” and other DAWs are now offering ways to save different versions without creating another whole new project. But if you’re not sure how these work, the Save As option is always a safe bet.
The small, but vital difference between creating Groups for drums and vocals for your mixing purposes and the ‘buss’ type of Group is that the latter doesn’t go into a final mix down. It’s a completely separate, individual signal path that goes to another output. You might send your drums to an output buss that has an expensive hardware compressor attached. You’ll process your drum
roTools Mixer with Effect Send P Here are a couple of ProTools channels in the mixer. The Bass channel has a reverb send which has been clicked on to open the popup box on the left. The slider will determine how much of the bass will be sent to the Reverb return channel on the right, which has a DVerb effect inserted over it (Pro Tools calls them Auxiliary Inputs). One way to think of it is that Auxiliary Sends create (send) a duplicate of the bass channel’s output so it can be repeated in another channel, which is called the ‘return’. Without anything Inserted over the Return you would hear exactly the same recording, but the idea is to make an effected or treated copy — something different-sounding to add to the mix, like with a reverb. So we use an Inserted effect on the buss to add the reverb (in this case DVerb). If you want to add that same reverb to lots of tracks, this is where Effects Sends and Returns work much better than inserting individual reverbs over each track. Still confused? Some DAWs have turned this process into a one-click operation, which is handy, but it’s kind of a shame because learning this type of signal routing for yourself is well worth doing.
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mix them in with your audio tracks in exactly the same way. MIDI tracks can also be ‘grouped’. Each group has their faders linked. Only the volumes are interconnected, not the panning, and there’s a choice of how the faders react to each other. ‘Absolute links’ mean the faders are all adjusted by exactly the same amount when you move the group fader up or down. ‘Relative links’ means that the faders are adjusting themselves on a percentage value based on their initial positions. This is a clever feature, but you’ll need to experiment a little to see exactly how it works.
tracks with this, before bringing the signal back into your main mix. Another example could be sending a mixdown of everything except the vocals to be recorded on a CD recorder, so a new singer can rehearse with it. In this situation the buss output won’t be brought back into the mixdown at all.
onar mixer with two-track buss: This mixer S setup illustrates how different output busses can work. The channels are on the left and the four subgroups for drums, chorus, vocals and guitars are on the right with these feeding the main two-track buss. Just in case you’re not sure, they put two really big arrows on the subgroups pointing right, which is >> that way. Got that yet? These subgroups, which you use for sub-mixing your groups of channels, are then sent to the Main outputs to your speakers — or headphones or a stereo amp, whatever your setup is. Don’t forget that the ‘0.00’ on various settings is unity, meaning the signal is neither boosted or attenuated. i.e. It doesn’t mean zero output — that is when the fader or dial is at the bottom or wound fully counter clockwise respectively.
it’s best not to get too hung up on what’s a ‘buss’, what’s a ‘group’ or stereo output at all ”
Why not just call it another stereo output? Some software will do that. The difference between an output buss and a stereo output can be very slight and is probably defined by what you want to do with it. For some engineers the fact that it goes to another physical output on your soundcard and isn’t a part of your final mix defines it as a Buss. Yes, it can be confusing. At the end of all this though it’s best not to get too hung up on what’s a ‘buss’, what’s a ‘group’ or stereo output at all. In the DAW world they’re often created with exactly the same process, re-routed virtually and named accordingly — a much simpler concept is behind it. They are all an alternative signal path for your tracks that can be hardware or software-based. To help you further, the illustration above shows an example of multiple tracks routed into Groups and with a ‘buss’ output as well. Sends & Returns Another subject that can confuse is how Effects Sends and Returns work. We looked at this in the previous chapter with Sends. In the Mixer View we have a chance to see it more clearly. In the Pro Tools illustration on the previous page there’s a much more straightforward mixer set up; six channels going directly to a stereo output with a single Effects Send on the two vocal tracks, one a reverb and the other a delay. This means there are two added stereo tracks (the effects are stereo), these being the return for the reverb and delay. For the normal six channels, their inputs are the original recordings. For the stereo effects returns, the inputs come from the Auxiliary (Effects) Sends and in this example only the two vocal channels are Sending anything. In a hardware situation real cables from the Send would physically run out of the mixing desk and into an outboard unit like a Lexicon Reverb or a Yamaha SPX 900, then more cables would come from this device back into the desk — thus the term ‘returning’ into the mixer. In a DAW all we have to do is Insert an Effect over the Return channel which emulates that hardware reverb unit. It’s much simpler. MIDI Channels MIDI Channels are handled pretty much the same way as Audio tracks in the Mixer View. They don’t have so many effects options and you can’t use any Auxiliary Sends, but there’s still volume, panning and the ability to adjust MIDI effects. You can
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Effects Returns As we explained above, Effects Returns are really normal input channels just like your recorded tracks. The track properties and everything they do are all the same, except they’re getting their input from assigned Effects Sends on whatever tracks you choose. The main purpose of the Effects Returns comes from the effect or plug-in you have inserted over the return channel. You can, if you like, insert more than one — if that creates the effect you want. You can also use the channel EQs to tweak the tone of the effects. For example, you might want to remove all the bass from a reverb. You can even — to keep the record straight — use an Effect Send on the Return to send it to another effect. In fact, you can send an Effects Return channel back to itself, which, if done carefully, can make a kind of looping effect. (Beware of this method, though, as it’s easy to create an endless feedback loop.) Another idea is to create a separate Group output for all your Effects Returns and alter the mix levels of those effects together. Group Outputs Now we’re looking at the outputs on your mixer. They appear very similar and yes, many of the features work the same way. You can insert plug-ins and effects, and some DAWs have a default EQ available. The MSR buttons are there — without the ‘R’ because you can’t record on an output. There’s panning, automation... everything you need to make fine-tuning adjustments to a group of instruments. Drums are a classic example. Many engineers will insert a Room Reverb over a drum group to give it more of a live vibe or a compressor to make the drums more ‘up front’ or to control the odd out-ofcontrol peak. When you’re working with multiple instances of similar types of tracks, like lots of drums or backing vocals — maybe you’ve even got up to 60 guitar tracks for one song like Queens of the Stone Age have been known to use — then using Groups will make your task a lot easier. You’ll have to assign their outputs to your Main Out unless the DAW has automatically done that. Main Outputs or Busses Just when you might have thought you’d run out of options to keep tweaking your mixdown, the Main Outputs on some DAWs also provide all the features of a Group. Again you can use inserts, EQs and automation to the very last stage of your signal path. But herein lies a small risk. ‘Mastering’ a mixdown is a very specialist task and if you do add effects on your Main Output they can’t be undone. If you intend to send your final mixes to a mastering engineer it is best not to fool around with plug-ins and effects at this point. Especially things like compressors and reverbs that can add a certain sonic character to your songs that can’t be removed. It’s why software like Sonar doesn’t let you do anything on the final output. The volume of your Main Output can determine the amplitude (volume) of any internal mixdown or Export of your song. Keep this in mind to control the final, overall volume of your song.
Unity You should have noticed on the mixer’s faders (and elsewhere) that ‘0.00’ isn’t at the bottom. In fact, it’s about three quarters of the way up. How come? This ‘0.00’ is called ‘unity’ and it means the fader is neither cutting nor boosting the signal. What you’ve got coming into the channel volume-wise (amplitude), is exactly what you’re hearing. You should have adjusted the Gain or Trim controls (if your DAW has them) to make unity close to what you want. Having most of your faders near or around unity is good for plenty of reasons. For a start your signal isn’t being choked by a fader at the bottom or run too hard by things set at maximum. The sound quality at unity will be better. Another neat trick is that by having your basic mix sounding good with all faders at unity you have a handy reference point to go back to — particularly if things go down the mix gurgler. That way you don’t have to remember where the faders were set. If you’ve tweaked anything else apart from the faders... well, you’re on your own there unless you’ve read the ‘Save As’ tip on the previous page.
Summary he Mixer View is by far T the best place to mix down your songs. ou can choose what Y you need to see, what you want to tweak and where your signal paths are all meant to go. I f you use the same window and track configuration a lot, you can save presets that instantly remove or restore particular channels and plug-ins with a single button. J ust about all the parameters for your channel strips in the Mixer View are predetermined by your choices made in the Main Project window or Track Inspector. You don’t have to rename or reset anything.
Stands Acoustic Drums
Steel StringGuitars Acoustics Acoustic
Acoustic Hardware Drums
Local Dealer Support
The Edit Views CH 10
Any of the audio clips in your Arrange Window can be opened in another window called the Edit View or you’ll be able to focus on a clip inside the timeline and apply specific, editing functions to the wave files. For MIDI you might have a choice of different editing windows depending on what you’re trying to do — see the section below for MIDI. The audio edit view is usually just the one window with some kind of audio processing menu — it’s a powerful tool. So it’s very important to remember that you’re now working with the actual recorded files until you use a ‘Save As’ function to ensure you’re leaving that precious, original session take well alone. Most DAWs will always put up a big warning dialog box, when you try to ‘Save’ an existing file.
Cubase is a DAW that opens an entirely different editing window, if you want to edit a clip. It’s called the Sample Editor. Here it also gives you all the tools for making loops. Note that Cubase (like other DAWs) automatically creates a copy of the wave file, leaving the original intact, as soon as you start editing.
TIP Cubase Freeze Edits: Cubase takes that ‘we don’t trust you’ idea a step further. Without asking you, it automatically makes copies of any audio files you edit and uses these instead. The downside is you might end up with countless ‘Edit Files’ on your hard drive for each project. The answer is to use the Freeze Edits function, which will then give you the choice of replacing the original file — a destructive edit — or creating a new file. Note: the Freeze Edits only applies to the file you’re working on, not all the files in your project.
These warnings aren’t much help, if it’s late at night, the coffee isn’t working anymore and the bass player’s broken a guitar string for the first time in his life (and doesn’t have spares), while that annoying lead guitarist keeps demanding another go at that solo in the first song from hours before... in these circumstances it’s very easy to hit the ‘OK’ button
without thinking. Still, there will be times when you do want to change the original file. Maybe the vocalist sneezed during the guitar solo? No damage was done and rather than put in some automation, like a volume duck or programmed Mute, it can be simpler to cut out the sneeze in a permanent edit and never have to worry about the singer’s hay fever again. TIP Autosave: Some DAWs have an Autosave setting that, you guessed it, automatically saves your project at certain intervals. Useful, but many engineers turn it off, because it’s bloody annoying to be fooling around with something radical like a crazy arrangement or a plug-in, when the Autosave suddenly activates and makes your radical experiment a permanent feature! It’s better to get into the habit of regularly saving your work yourself, rather than have it automated.
Wave File Manipulation There are two distinct types of audio editing to consider. The first involves various ways to manipulate the wave file itself, such as getting rid of that sneeze. Look at what your DAW offers. You might have a Scissors tool to cut out unwanted audio completely, which will actually remove a chunk from your recording, or an Eraser tool to ‘silence’ the audio, without changing the size or position of the file. Examples of these tools or menu options are explained below. The second method of audio editing can be to apply any of the audio plug-ins and effects you have included with your software permanently to the wave file. You might decide that some reverb sounds great on your acoustic guitar, but rather than load your CPU with the stress of inserting the reverb over the track during a mix down, processing the effect onto the acoustic recording instead will be fine (of course, you don’t Save the original acoustic recording with the reverb; you Save As the track calling it ‘Acoustic with Reverb’ and use that in your project instead — keeping that original recording intact). TIP Printing a track: Applying a plug-in effect permanently to a track is sometimes called ‘printing’ a track or old-school engineers will say ‘committing it to print’. It’s a hangover from the days of using analogue tape when using any precious track space wasn’t a decision taken lightly. Creating a mixdown is sometimes called this, too. If someone talks to you about printing tracks, just buy ‘em another beer and nod wisely about the good old days.
Silence vs Nothing
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This will make perfect sense or confuse the hell out of you for hours — so good luck. There’s no such thing as ‘nothing’ in a digital audio file. Let’s say your singer has recorded exactly one minute of vocals in mono at 44.1kHz and 16-bit. A formula tells us this makes a wave file that’s 5.5MB. Now, it doesn’t matter whether your singer
Plenty of other processes are available in the Edit menus too. Things like delays, chorus, flangers... in fact, similar to all the neat stuff you saw in the Mixer View to use as Inserts and Effects Sends. That’s right, in many ways they’re the same plug-ins you can use to apply to a wave file and change it completely. Often it will be exactly the same interface. But this is not like using your plug-ins as inserts or effects sends. You will be destructively editing the wave file. That’s the big deal to remember — there’s no going back (apart from using Undo from the File menu, of course). You might have gathered by now that those original recordings need protecting, which is the reason for those heavy hints like ‘permanently’ and ‘there’s no going back’ or ‘destructive’ when it comes to applying any editing or plug-ins to a wave file. At the same time, as it’s explained in Chapter 17, this can be a good way to give your CPU some breathing space. Don’t be scared off from processing effects onto your wave files and using the results in your project instead. As long as you’re making back-ups, you can experiment as much as you like. Okay, here are some of those standard Audio editing tools and what they do. Note that some will be sub-menus of others, like ‘Fade In’ might be a preset within a ‘Volume’ or ‘Dynamics’ function. These examples are just to get your brain ticking over. Envelope: Envelopes are explained fully in Chapter 20 where we look at mixing down songs and using automation. When it comes to individual audio clips you can also add their own unique envelope that works on just that clip regardless of any automation controlling the entire track. Have a look at the illustration (below) to get a good idea.
The blue line is a Volume Envelope inside the clip independent of the Track’s own volume settings and any envelopes you may apply in the Arrange Window.
Fade In (and Fade Out): It’s pretty obvious what this is, right? Fade Ins and Fade Outs are so commonly used in DAW’s that some programs give you a preset editing function — it avoids a lot of tedious repetition drawing in envelopes or automation. A preset box makes it much easier. But don’t forget!
whispered the whole 60 seconds or yelled loud enough to crack windows, it’s still going to take up 5.5MB of space. Even if the vocalist choked on nerves and didn’t utter a word — it’s still going to use 5.5MB of room on your hard drive. Think of it like a tape machine — remember tape? The tape keeps rolling and you still use that
tape, right? Things like volume and content don’t affect the size of a wave file and even true silence is 5.5MB of binary, digital data telling your DAW software not to make a sound. The next time someone says ‘you never get something for nothing’ tell ‘em they’re wrong.
In an Edit menu this might be permanently applying the Fade to your wave file. Double-check!
Making life easy for you, a Fade in/Out dialog box. Note the different curves available.
Undo Levels You can probably set the amount of Undo Levels in your system’s preferences. Undo is the ability to step backwards, if you change your mind about something. The number of times you can step backwards is useful up to maybe 6 or 10. More than that and you’re just being paranoid. The problem is, all those Undo steps are stored in your RAM, so it makes sense not to have too many and keep your RAM for what it does best — playing back samples and speeding up the computer.
Gain: Just say that despite your best efforts the recording level of your track isn’t right. Like the Gain or Trim control at the top of your Track Inspector this Gain will let you boost and cut the amplitude of your recording to something more usable, getting you out of trouble. There’s always a catch — increasing the Gain of a wave file is easy, but if you want to lower the amplitude of a recording that’s already ‘clipped’ it won’t solve the problem. In this case the volume will be reduced and the wave file appears smaller, but those clipped sections will be truncated and look chopped off. (To be honest, there’s not much you can do to save the recording. Some high-end wave editors have a function to rescue clipped files, but they’re really work-arounds and not a perfect solution. What is? Go back and record it again with a lower input level.) Normalise: This is another way of increasing the volume of a recording that’s too low. Normalise will raise the volume of a wave file to the maximum amplitude before clipping — very useful — but that is determined by the loudest part of the file. In other words, say you have a very quiet vocalist who suddenly starts belting out a loud chorus, then the Normalise function won’t lift the softer sections very much, because the big chorus part hits the amplitude ceiling first. Look at the examples below and see how only selecting the quiet parts might work better.
Clipping When everything was recorded on tape of any kind, even cassettes, people got into the habit of really pushing the red lines and occasionally lighting up the warning LEDs — all perfectly acceptable. No harm was done. Meanwhile, in digital recording that ‘0’ maximum level is sacred. You can’t push inputs beyond this into the red without overloading, losing data and doing what’s called ‘clipping’. It’s not even a remotely pleasant distortion like a valve preamp might provide. It sounds like crap. So don’t argue — don’t go over 0dBFS on your recording inputs.
An unedited wave file with eight hi-hat strokes, the first four quiet and the next four loud.
The same wave except we’ve applied Normalise to try and raise the volume of the softer hit. But see the highlighted stroke? It was already loud and reaches the amplitude ceiling first, stopping the rest of the file increasing in volume.
A better way to do it: Instead of Normalising the entire file, select only the parts that need processing.
Job done! Now the softer hi-hats are as loud — if not louder — than the last four. You don’t have to select full 100% normalisation if you don’t want them amplified so much.
Phase Reverse: Yep, surprise, surprise... this reverses the Phase of your wave file. You could fill this page and many more with reasons why you’d want to do this, but not now. Remove DC Offset: DC Offset is an electronic glitch — a mismatch, if you like — caused by some instruments or inputs suffering interference with your soundcard. The problems can be slight, but definitely audible. Yes, it’s technical and confusing. The kind of mumbo-jumbo we don’t really want to tackle. The good news is that DC Offset is getting rare these days as digital audio hardware improves. Chances are you won’t need to worry about it. But just in case, the option might be there in the audio Edit View or Menu.
We need to make a confession here. It’s difficult to know just how far to go in this guide into the world of MIDI editing. Some of the original DAWs like Cubase, Logic and Sonar started off years ago as MIDI sequencers and have continued to build on their enormous experience to the point that their MIDI capabilities are now enormously diverse and detailed. The best approach for us here is to broadly explain how the different editing functions work. From there, it’s a good idea for you to examine your own software and learn the various menus at a steady pace. Don’t try to take in everything at once. Some will be happily straightforward. Others, such as Cubase’s Logical Editor will probably stay in the ‘too hard basket’ for quite some time.
Reverse: This simply reverses the wave file. At last, we can find out what John Lennon says at the end of the Sergeant Peppers album! Is Paul McCartney really dead? You’d be surprised just how many modern-day songs have reversed recordings in them to add a different flavour.
Everything that MIDI sequencers can do has evolved from over 20-odd years of users saying, ‘I wish it could do that’. So every function, no matter how simple or involved or downright baffling it appears to be, has a good reason for being there… it just may be that you will never have a use for some of them.
Silence: Converting part of a wave file to Silence is how you would remove unwanted data in a recording without chopping out a similar amount of time. See the illustrations in Chapter 11 for a better view of how it’s done. Time, Pitch & Restoration Functions: Many DAWs will offer a bunch of modifying functions like Noise Reduction, Click Eliminators and similar restoration style menus. You might also see the option to apply time-shifting, pitch-shifting and the like. If you can’t see them, they may be integrated into the Loop Menus instead. Loop Menu: We mentioned in an earlier chapter that the gap is closing between programs like Sony’s Acid and Ableton’s Live and the traditional recordingbased software like ProTools and Logic. The latter are now providing a lot more functions for creating loops to use in your project, too. The point here is some DAWs will group these loop-creation features under the audio Editing menus, because you can transform any of your existing recordings into loops. The audio Edit Menus of DAWs are full of neat tricks. Still, it’s fair to say they’re designed primarily to fix problems in your recordings or to provide creative options. For serious wave editing, dedicated software like Adobe Audition, Sony’s Sound Forge and Steinberg’s Wavelab can provide superior processing and far more precise operations. Some DAWs freely admit this and will offer in their Preferences to automatically start and open the wave editor of your choice in a new window, rather than their own Edit View. These specialist wave editors will cost you extra dollars, but the enhanced capabilities can be invaluable. Especially the functions like Noise Reduction that can remove the background hiss of a guitar amp or maybe the hum of that air conditioner someone forgot to turn off. Get hold of the demos and check them out. You’ll see and hear the difference. MIDI Edit Views Select a MIDI clip in your DAW project and you’ll find several different ways to do editing. Each is best suited to perform particular tasks, but whatever you do the changes will be applied to the MIDI data and displayed in all the Windows — you don’t have to copy any editing you do in the Piano View over into the List View as well, for example. Each view uses a similar X-Y axis grid-style approach (apart from any Score View) that has a note value cross-referencing to a time-line. The notes are displayed on the grid where they’re played and provide extra visual information, too. For instance, the length of the note is plain to see and the colour might also denote the velocity (volume). In the illustrations following, you’ll get the idea.
The Edit Piano (Roll) View: It’s a pretty straight forward idea of the notes being determined by the piano keys on the left and their length by the timeline above. Select the notes individually (or collectively) and you can adjust velocity or shift them around to change pitch.
The Piano Roll or Key View is used for fixing a lot of things — poor playing not being the least of them. Many a two-fingered ‘chopsticks’ performer has been transformed into a virtual Beethoven thanks to the power of MIDI editing. A lot can be learned musically from studying how a MIDI function turns chaos into melodic order. Things like time signatures, tempos and identifying individual notes can suddenly make more sense when you see them arranged on the grid. It’s no surprise that MIDI sequencing this way has also produced the ability to generate Musical Scores as well (more on this later). In the Piano View you can pin-point individual notes or choose several by using the standard click-anddrag conventions. After that, it’s possible to do many things — delete the selections, give all the notes the same length or volume, or shift them together to a different octave or bar... The ability to shuffle the played notes around is unlimited. Cut and paste functions also work, with the Paste position usually located where you’ve placed the cursor. More technical operations like Quantize, explained below, are available from drop-down menus. You can even perform opposite kinds of editing — putting back a bit of that human ‘error’ into a perfect MIDI track to emulate a real person playing. Things like Random Values, Swing and Humanise deliberately re-introduce a certain amount of inconsistency. Nobody’s perfect, right? If fighting the keys of a piano just isn’t your thing, it’s possible to draw in notes one by one in the Piano View. It’s not the fastest way to program in your masterpieces, but, yes, theoretically it’s possible. What it can be good for, apart from painting the occasional missing note, is triggering long synthesiser pads and sound effects at the right moment. When you get right into MIDI editing and use it to its full potential, you’ll find yourself in the Piano View a lot. The Drum View (or Drum Map) This is a very similar window to the Piano View except that keys on the left are replaced with drum sounds corresponding to that note. The Note Length
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if you know you’ll be depending on the scoring and notation features, and that’s the way you prefer to work, then you’re far better off opting for one of the few notation thoroughbreds out there ”
appears fixed, since it is triggering a drum sample that shouldn’t change in duration, but velocity ‘tails’ can be edited for long cymbal sounds, for instance.
I Like to Score Most DAWs have some basic notation/ scoring features. You can view your song in a traditional way with dots and squiggles if you like. But if you know you’ll be depending on the scoring and notation features, and that’s the way you prefer to work, then you’re far better off opting for one of the few notation thoroughbreds out there. For example, a package like Sibelius has a whole cavalcade of specialist notation features, which make it a favourite, especially among teachers. So if you spend a lot of time viewing and reproducing scores then get the right tool for the job.
Not all MIDI events make a noise. A lot of MIDI information that’s transmitted does things like control the volume, panning and patch changes. This kind of data can be well buried under the playing and the best way to see it for editing is in the List View. Throw in a DAW control surface like the Mackie Controller (see Chapter 3) and this list can be chockers with all sorts of data that is editable here.
The Drum View: Very similar to the Piano View except the left-hand column has the different drums listed. Although, these may not match your drum’s sounds. You have to make sure you’ve got the correct Drum Map loaded. Notes on the grid don’t show any length, theoretically because you don’t hold down a drum stick to sustain the sound.
TIP List Edit: If you download a MIDI file from the Internet you might find it’s filled with all kinds of annoying instructions like program changes or volume and panning automation you don’t want. The List Edit View is a great place to get rid of them, because they really stand out as commands, not notes. Just highlight them and hit Delete.
The Drum View also provides for drum ‘maps’. While the General MIDI standard does have several kits where each drum always responds to a particular note, you’ll at some point probably want to construct your own ‘drum kit’, with a different ‘mapping’. Or you may want your sequencer to talk to an external drum machine — like a Korg Electribe or Roland Groovebox. Setting a map up yourself can be tedious, but fortunately many DAW’s come with pre-written maps to suit all the well-known modules and machines.
At first, you might find the List View offers a little too much information, but after a while it will offer some neat solutions to sticky problems.
Some software like Sonar also has preset drum patterns you can draw in, like snare rolls and fills, if you’re in the Drum View. Otherwise, some programmers don’t use the drum mapping or views at all, because they’ve learned all the editing tricks in the Piano Roll and the different interface is more of a distraction. You don’t have to use the Drum View to program drums. List or Event View
The List View: This displays not only any notes you’ve recorded, but also any extra MIDI data, like program changes, the velocity of each note (and more). Things like volume changes and even key signature changes won’t show up in your Piano Roll. If you’ve imported a MIDI file from the internet or somewhere else, these baffling changes in performance will be revealed in the List View and you can weed them out.
The Score View: Enables you to give your work to musicians who know their crotchets from their quavers.
The Score View isn’t available in all versions of many DAWs. It’s considered quite a specialist area and, let’s face it, anyone who does deal in all those squiggly dots and dashes deserves their own software! With DAWs that do give you a Score View it’s editable in much the same way as the Piano View. You can draw in individual notes, musical rests, hemi-demisemiquavers etc etc. To be serious, theoretically (there’s that word again) any musical note has a precise mathematical value based on its tone (a concert-pitch A is 440Hz for instance) position and length. As an example, a quarter note has a finite length because of the song’s tempo and time signature. It’s a concept that most of this whole DAW and sequencer business is based upon — that any sound or MIDI data can be turned into numbers for a computer to crunch. Certainly a MIDI note with its precise values should translate into an exact position on a musical staff and vice-versa. Therefore creating traditional scores from a MIDI arrangement must be simple. Not surprisingly it doesn’t quite work out that well. Making music also requires expression, emotion,
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inspiration, spontaneity plus lots of pizza and beer... all things that computers aren’t that good at recognising. While simple programming might look okay in the Score View, anything complex can quickly become hard to read if you’re not careful. For this reason here’s some advice: if your recording ambitions extend to distributing a printed score of your music, you need to study the Score capabilities of the various DAWs, before you commit to buying anything to avoid disappointment down the track. When it comes to proper Scores, there are dedicated programs for this sort of task, such as Finale and Sibelius, and even these don’t get things perfect. At this point in history what DAWs can do with Scores is pretty impressive, but there’s still work to be done. Quantize Insert a fanfare here… or at least the theme from Rocky because the Quantize function in MIDI (and, lately, audio) editing is the cornerstone of making all our untalented cacophonies into beautiful, perfectly-timed music. It’s how we all become expert musicians. This is why among all the other MIDI editing functions it’s Quantize that gets a special section all its own. Here’s how it works: Quantize will examine your MIDI programming and figure out exactly where all the notes are supposed to go according to the quantize value you specify. Just click on a command and the notes are shifted to the nearest correct place. Have a look at the simple example below. It shows a straightforward four-count to bring you into a song (the old ‘one, two, three, four...). It was played on a piano keyboard and goes to a General Midi drum map for a hi-hat. As you can see, the notes aren’t in the right place — piano players usually make for terrible drummers… just kidding.
Four hi-hat notes on a MIDI grid, but out of time.
By selecting the notes, choosing a quantize value of ‘quarter note’ and hitting the Okay button the count-in is now perfectly aligned and in time. What could be simpler?
Select Quantize with the right settings and the DAW shuffles everything to where it’s supposed to be. Brilliant! Who needs talent and any of that Conservatorium of Music malarkey?!
entertainment ry Training
1997 and industry training since sic mu ng eri off en be tainment We have in Australia. WSI Enter ies ilit fac st be the of boast some various areas courses specialising in offers a broad range of & Recording, on cti : Music Produ try us Ind t en nm tai ter siness and of the En d & Lighting, Music Bu un So e Liv , ce an rm rfo sic industry Music Pe ists of hand-picked mu ns co ff sta r Ou ts. Ar Performing e between them. of teaching experienc s de ca de th wi ls na professio A better question is: what can go wrong? Well, a lot — but nothing too drastic. One important factor is that Quantize will move those bad notes to the nearest correct position. If your programming is so poor that some notes are closer to the wrong quarter grid, that’s where they’ll go. More than 50% out will see the note taken in the opposite direction! If something is already there, the second note will be layered on top and seemingly disappear — don’t be fooled by this. So it helps enormously to play your programming fairly accurately in the first place. If you’re always going to be way off the mark, you might want to consider some music lessons… or take up knitting instead. Quantize comes into its own when you’re programming complicated pieces of drumming or music and no matter how hard you try, things don’t sound quite right. The secret lies in choosing the appropriate quantize value which usually takes a bit of experimentation to figure out. Perhaps you’re clever enough to work out the value yourself, but don’t be afraid to fool around with the settings and see if something you didn’t expect gets it right. For basic rock ’n’ roll, country music and slow ballads a quantize setting of 1/16 notes will work just about every time. At 1/32 you’re in danger of everything being moved to slightly the wrong place. Perfect MIDI programming can sometimes sound too good. Piano playing, in particular, can become too rigid and lose its character. A way to avoid this is look for an ‘accuracy’ or ‘strength’ setting in your Quantize menu. Usually it will be in a percentage value, which means how much the process is applied. For example a figure of 100% means the incorrect notes are shifted to exactly the right place. If it’s only 50%, then the difference between their present position and the right place is halved — the error is corrected only by 50%. It’s a good way to keep your playing more ‘human’ and less ‘robot’. And don’t forget: you can just select a few notes that are out of whack and quantize those rather than the whole piece. There are many Quantize settings you can try, some of them almost indecipherable in the musical value they’re supposed to represent. You can also create your own. Don’t let the numbers or the descriptions put you off, because you can always Undo, if it doesn’t work. Briefly, Quantize can also be applied to audio files that have been sliced into Hitpoints. The idea is the same, but the practice involves time-stretching if you decide to change the songs tempo and some judicious use of cross fading. You’ll see more about this in the chapters dealing with Looping.
Music ion & Product ng Recordi
Swing Swing is that loose, lazy feel you mostly hear in blues and jazz. MIDI sequencing programs think they’ve got it right with their ‘Swing’ parameter for Quantize, but the jury’s out on that. Technically, it’s achieved by slightly delaying every second beat. The reality is that Swing is a combination of technique, groove, feel and playing too late at night in downtown bars. A good tip is to apply Swing values only to your kick and snare beats. Leave the rest, particularly the hi-hats, alone.
nd Live Sou ng & Lighti
i Perform Arts
or audio editing you’ll F either see a dedicated Edit View appear with all the menu functions included, or the clip you’re working on — when highlighted — will activate an editing menu that’s otherwise greyed-out and unavailable. ith MIDI you may have W a choice of different Edit Views to use — Piano Roll, Drum View or Notation — or like ProTools it’s just a piano roll-style MIDI Edit window. If you can’t achieve what you want in one, most likely the function will be an option in another view. uantize is your secret Q weapon for fixing a whole bunch of programming stuff-ups. Take the time to find the right beat value and amount that works best.
Music s Busines
entertainment.wsi.tafensw.edu.au TAFE NSW - Western Sydney Institute
Eastern Road, Quakers Hill NSW (02) 9208 7029 or (02) 9208 7051 entertainment Nirimba College Quakers Hill
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Recording Audio CH 11
Recording is all about breaking rules, happy accidents, trying stuff, testing boundaries and doing something new. But you can’t do all that without getting the basics right. Experts — who’ve all broken every rule in the book and are famous for doing so — all agree that you’re nowhere without getting the sound right at the ‘source’. Everyone who’s been around studios a while has a horror story about how they didn’t ‘get it right at the source’. Here’s an example: You set out to record a bunch of songs for an album (let’s say 10) and you have a limited timeframe to complete them in. Instead of taking your time to get the sounds right because you are a bit rushed, you decide to let a few things slide with a view to ‘fixing it in the mix’. This is an old saying that describes a fix it later approach that — with audio — invariably doesn’t work. What happens is that instead of getting the sound of four or five songs to your liking, you end up with 10 songs that suffer demo-itis at best or are bin-able at worst. Strong Foundations So the golden rule of music production is to make sure the individual tracks are put down properly in the first place. The idea that you can ‘fix it in the mix’ will only lead you to tears and heavy drinking. If you have one moment of poor playing or a technical glitch in a recording, whenever you’re listening to that song I guarantee that’s all you’ll ever hear. It can drive you nuts. So spend the extra time it takes to get it right.
digital input meter A running just nicely, thank you. A slight orange tinge is hinting that clipping isn’t far away. Like traffic lights, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop. But don’t put your foot down.
he same meter T running into the red — bad news. Don’t even think about doing this at home, folks.
In this chapter we’ll look at a straightforward setup of you, the DAW operator, recording a vocalist through a microphone plugged into your soundcard — one that has a built-in pre-amplifier. Something like a Focusrite Scareltt 2i4 or a Digidesign MBox2. If you have a small mixing desk or pre-amp in between that’s fine, it doesn’t really change our approach here. Hands Dirty ‘About bloody time’, you’re saying. After all this annoying theory and insisting that you do irritating things like read instructions, do some research etc etc, we’re finally going to make some noise and record it. But wait... there’s more. Don’t start your DAW software just yet. Have you turned off any screen savers? Any power-saving schemes? Antivirus software? Any of those things that can still run in the background and apart from chewing into your CPU and RAM resources can come to life at all the wrong moments? Many a guitar lead break of a lifetime has been trashed by the infamous ‘aquarium’ screensaver bubbling and gurgling awake right in the middle of it. Ideally, you have a computer devoted to nothing except your DAW and you’ve dumped this crap off long ago, but let’s not kid ourselves. You’ve put something on, right? A game? A funny screen-saver? Turn all of these things off. Sometimes it’s good to get rid of those cute Windows and Mac ‘effects’,
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too. As much as they look cool, visual effects (like Window’s Aero theme) are a computer resource hog and should be turned off. Check back on Chapter 1 if you need more help with this. All right, now you can start your DAW software. Audio Path When you begin your recording session by opening a new project, the DAW will provide prompts as to where you want to store your files or the ‘audio path’, as well as the name of the project and maybe where you want to store that, and a selection of project ‘templates’. In all cases, chances are the software’s default settings are nothing like what you want. The audio path is very important. Check that your files will be written to the separate hard drive you’ve installed specifically for that purpose and to a new folder named properly for this project. Usually, the DAW’s session file to initiate the session might be saved in the same folder, but some operators prefer to keep them all in a separate location for safekeeping. These files are quite small, but they contain vital information about your session and need to be guarded closely. Project Templates The project templates are a selection of common session set-ups and are a good place to start. If you don’t select a template you’ll be presented with a session completely devoid of any tracks at all. TIP Some of the suggested templates might be a little out there, but a great thing about them is that you can make your own. If you are consistently starting any of your recording projects with, for example, a drum sampler track, a virtual piano, a stereo track for your guitar and a mono audio track for vocals, then you can save all these into a Project Template that opens automatically when you fire up your DAW. Very handy!
If this is the case, you have to Add or Create a track for your first recording. To keep things really simple let’s make this an a cappella song with no musical instruments at all. You only need a single, mono audio track. It’s going to kind of look lonely in your project, but never mind. By the way, some DAWs use the Add Track function to create Groups, Effects Sends and others, too. Don’t let these choices trick you into thinking you’re using the wrong menu. Once you’ve selected what you need and hit OK the track will be placed into your Arrange Window. Before you start pressing any record buttons and tracking the music, check that you’ve got all those Track List/Inspector things we talked about in Chapter 8 correct, too. The track name especially. In all the excitement of what you’re doing, don’t forget these little details. A little bit of house-keeping now goes a long way towards keeping things under control and you’ll be grateful. Okay, now it’s time to put down a track. Huzzah!
Different Meters The two meters you can choose from will display either ‘Peak’ or ‘RMS’ (root-meansquare). A Peak display is a fasterreacting meter that shows you spikes in your audio’s volume — which is handy for inputs — but isn’t so good for telling you an overall, average level. That’s where RMS comes in. This gives more of an average reading, but is a slower meter that might miss a quick, short peak that could cause clipping. Some DAWs give you a combination of both. Meters can be CPU-hungry and (if possible) turning them off, once you’ve set levels, is a way of improving performance.
Recording with a Click Track You might be surprised at how many inexperienced (and experienced!) musicians won’t like recording with a metronome to guide them. If you can convince them it’s a good thing, go for it. A constant tempo makes any additional tracking so much easier to record and edit, particularly in MIDI-based music. A good way of getting musos to accept a click is to ‘compose’ a more natural click in your DAW — try a shaker or tambourine sound, for example.
Input Level The first thing you need to get right are the recording levels — the input. Even in the digital world some things haven’t changed, and setting up a good, strong input signal to lessen the noise floor is still a must. The ‘noise floor’ is all the unwanted noise in the room with the instrument you’re recording. No place is completely silent, although in some good studios you would be excused for thinking so. An acoustically isolated and dampened sound booth is almost weird to be in, because of the lack of sound and reflections — usually we’re constantly surrounded by noise and echoes. Ever noticed how quiet things are in a power cut? That’s because all your white goods and household appliances aren’t grumbling and ticking away in the background. But given we can’t do any candle-powered recording, a strong input signal will help mask any ambient noise in the room. By the way, some instruments have a certain amount of inherent noise, too. Keyboards and sound modules can put out a hiss or electronic murmuring, if you don’t have them set correctly. This shouldn’t be confused with any rated signal-to-noise ratio, which is a more technical measurement of electronic devices. See the Signal to Noise box item later in the chapter . Next, you have to ask your vocalist to make some noise to be sure your signal path is working. This means ensuring you have the correct input setting on your chosen track and arming the track — almost always a button that turns alarmingly red when you press it — so that input meters start to work. TIP Stand Down: Wearing headphones and preparing yourself mentally for recording a good take can be tiring. Here’s a tip to keep your performer happy: when you’re checking signal paths and levels, suggest to the singer (or player) that they relax and save their energy for the real thing. Don’t have them hyped up and ready to record, when in fact you’re trying to work out a signal path or menu option.
Here’s a fact of studio recording life you need to know: No singer in the world ever, ever makes the same amount of noise in a soundcheck that they will when they’re actually singing — unless you tell them to... twice. Instead, they’ll mumble ‘check one, two...’ or whisper silly jokes. The last thing they do is belt out the kind of full-throated vocal they want
in a song’s chorus. All those careful input settings that you made with a lazy or timid soundcheck will suddenly start red-lining and clipping when the singer begins performing in earnest. Red lines and clipping are bad in digital, remember? Really bad. Really, really bad. Insist during your soundchecks that the vocalist makes some real noise and doesn’t have any nasty surprises in store for you. The Monitor button on your track, which lets you hear the input back in real-time, might need to be selected before any meters will activate — it depends what software you have. Beware of the dreaded feedback we warned you of in Chapter 8! Now, as your vocalist loudly says ‘Check one, two...’ an input meter on the track is reacting, telling you how much level you’re getting. The accuracy of any virtual meters in a DAW is a hotly-debated subject among the experts, many of whom will tell you that good, old-fashioned analogue VU meters are the only way to go — which isn’t very helpful since it’s unlikely you’ll have hardware VU meters available. Whether you use Peak or RMS (VU) metering the aim is to keep your inputs just under any clipping levels. As well as watching the meters carefully, most DAWs have a fail-safe alert mechanism that will register clipping at the input, so pay attention and reduce the input level accordingly. (See the meters on the previous page.) Gain Setting So how do you increase or reduce the level to get it exactly right? The DAW mixer may give you input Gain adjustments or you can use the similar hardware gain control on the soundcard’s interface. Another way, believe this craziness or not, is to simply move the microphone closer or further away from the singer. How’s that for getting technical? Any of these methods — or a combination of them all — will do the job. They will also change the sound of your recording in slightly different ways as different frequencies become accentuated — for example, if you stick a mic closer to the source it won’t just sound louder, it’ll sound different. But, in the end, the goal is to have a strong signal made by a comparatively loud source through a signal path with good gain structure. It’s not always going to be easy to achieve. Soft vocalists can be a nightmare for an engineer. This is the kind of stuff that sorts the wannabes from the achievers. If you can get a strong and clean recording every time, on every track
Extreme Cheating There was a time (and it’s still with us) when some record companies saw that modern recording techniques were a way of getting less talented, but popular, celebrities into the record charts. Before anyone could stop them, footballers, soap opera actors and weather presenters were releasing albums and singles — and topping the charts. You can blame Punch In recording mostly. Nobody had to sing an entire song in tune. Not even a whole line of lyrics. Just getting one word at a time did the trick. It was awful and extreme cheating... and it got some truly terrible singers into the Top 10, albeit briefly. It doesn’t happen anymore, though. They use pitchcorrection software instead!
the golden rule of music production is to make sure the individual tracks are put down properly in the first place “
his is a wave file image of a recording where the T input levels were too low, plus the background noise floor was quite high — a section is highlighted to show you.
he same wave file, but someone’s tried to get T around the problem by boosting the volume in a wave editor. Unfortunately, that method also increases the noise floor, as you can see. Another work-around might be to select only the sections of audio you need and increase their volume. However, be aware that will still boost the noise floor in the background. There’s no substitute for getting your gain settings and mic placement right in the first place. ow we’re looking good. The recorded audio is at N a nice, hot level while the background noise floor, visible in the gaps between, is low.
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T his is Audition with a punch-in region selected. The Region selected applies to the whole project, so it’s easy to punch into as many tracks as your hardware allows as long as they’re armed.
simple one-track A punch-in completed. See the new clip replacing the original take.
and overcome any obstacles, the benefits during mixdown are invaluable. Pre-Roll Metronome Finally, before you start recording, you should look at the metronome options and particularly a thing called ‘Pre-roll’. If you want to record at a specific tempo (and you should, generally), turning on the metronome will play a click in your headphones at the tempo you’ve set. Pre-roll is a set amount of time, measured in bars, that is a lead-in at the front of the recording before it actually starts. If you’re operating the DAW for someone else, it’s not a big deal. However, if you’re recording yourself, the Preroll is a useful option to give you time for putting down your coffee, scratching your nose, picking up the guitar... before the cursor starts moving (or it’s automatically positioned the required amount of bars before the punch-in point). Other drop-down boxes will let you choose different sounds for the metronome, if you’re not keen on the standard bleeping and blopping. Lane Takes & Comping Some DAWs will let you use Lanes (or a feature called something similar) that can eventually lead to “comping”. What? Okay, your vocalist is attempting to record a particularly tricky lyric that takes energy and practise to get right. One way of doing this is to loop-record, which means having the project looping at the required section of the song, punching in and out, recording all the time while the singer tries again and again to get it right. A risk is that they’ll get it perfect during one attempt only to have the song keep looping and erase that good take, before anyone can hit the Stop button. Damn! The solution is Lanes, where each separate pass over that part of the song
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is automatically recorded on a different lane (a different virtual track really). Let’s say it takes 20 attempts. Great! You just erase the other 19 bad ones and carry on. Alternatively, if the singer keeps getting some of it right, some of the time, but none of it right all of the time (feel free to read that twice) you can slice, dice and combine all those 20 takes to compile (“comp”) one good recording. It’s clever and a good way of getting those hard performances done, but you can quickly amass dozens of unwanted wave files in your Pool. So if you resort to comping, make sure that afterwards you convert the compilation into a single wave file and get rid of the junk.
Hit Record All right... with all the above in place, the singer primed and ready, you can now hit the ‘Record’ button and make your first take. The cursor should move smoothly across the Arrange Window and a wave file filling the track will be painted after it. Any jerkiness suggests your hardware setup isn’t right and the CPU is struggling. After singing a few lines — maybe a loud section first — listen back to check it. You might have to turn off the Monitor button to do this. If it sounds great, you’re on your way. You just made your first studio recording on a digital audio workstation. And it was so easy, right? In fact, why did it take 11 whole chapters to get here?! What was all the fuss about? Well, exactly… once you know the basics, things look pretty easy. Hopefully our tips will prevent you from spending all night on the Guerrilla Guide forums asking questions, but of course don’t be shy and log on, if you need help. So well done — any first recording that’s clean and clear is a real achievement. By the way, here at the Guerrilla Guide we do accept gratuitous gifts of booze and chocolate from grateful readers! Constant Vigilance! It’s wise to use this step-by-step careful approach to recording every track. Never assume that something will be okay without checking it. Definitely don’t expect the record input level for one track to be good enough for another, unless you’re doubling a vocal or doing something that’s like a duplication. When you’re confident that everything is working well, you and your performer can relax and concentrate on the creative side of things.
Record Dry Another good pointer about recording audio is be very careful about how much you’re tempted to ‘colour’ or effect a recording as it’s written to the hard drive. Meaning, how much you tweak the sound. Keeping your recordings as ‘dry’ or untreated as possible is always best, because you can make all kinds of changes later during the mixdown. Anything you do during the actual recording can’t be undone — you’re stuck with it. Think twice, before you make any changes. Is it really how you want it to sound? Can you do the same thing in the mixdown instead? On the one hand you want your basic recording to be exactly right — to sound perfect. If that means boosting the high frequencies on an otherwise dull microphone, that’s fine. Just remember: there’s no going back. Basic Audio Editing Despite all our best efforts to get a track right, sometimes you make a recording that does need fixing somehow. Maybe you played a near-perfect take that’s marred by only a small error? It might be better to get rid of that tiny mistake, rather than re-record the whole thing. Depending on what you’ve done wrong, there’s a couple of options available. Punch-in Recording Punching into a recording has been around a long time — it’s not a new thing initiated by DAWs. The idea is you only have to re-sing (or re-play) just the unwanted part of your track and have the DAW punch in, then out, of recording mode at the right places leaving the rest of a good take intact. The software overlays a new wave file on the top of the existing track without affecting the original recording (except if you choose a Punch-in mode that does). Punch-in recording has saved many a musician from having to re-record long tracks for the sake of fixing one small error — be it a glitch, timing stuff-up, wrong word etc. However, a bit of commonsense needs applying, too. If a track has so many errors that you’re punching in and out everywhere, you’re probably better off redoing the whole thing! How it’s Done First you have to identify the part you want to re-record and set the punch-in and punch-out points. This might mean zooming in on a wave file to find the right spot. After a while you’ll get good at actually seeing what’s been recorded. You can pick gaps where a singer took a breath, for instance. It’s likely you won’t be able to punch in and out exactly at the bad section without things sounding a little disjointed. For example, if a vocalist has sung a couple of wrong lyrics in a chorus, even if you can precisely isolate the offending words and replace
Zero Crossing Points Strap on your technical hat here: Wave files alternate between a positive and negative phase centred on a zero amplitude point in the middle. So if you need to cut into this sound wave, either with an edit or a punch-in, ideally you want to break-in where the wave is crossing this centre line — where there is for an infinitesimal fraction of a second, no volume. If you don’t, the wave file will abruptly change from one volume to another, which is like tripping over a step and can cause an audible click. To avoid it, your DAW can automatically find the zero crossing points for you — problem solved. However, it might mean you can’t have your editing or punch points exactly where you want. If you’re trying to select in and out points and your DAW isn’t being co-operative you should probably turn off the ‘search zero crossings’ function.
ere’s the vocal track in Edit H View with the offending telephone ring highlighted and Silence selected.
J ust like magic — except with a digital rabbit being pulled from the hat rather than an analogue one — the Silence function has converted the ring tone to nothing and preserved the length of the file.
A great consistent sound is always better than something with a zillion punch-ins and edits them, you’re probably better off re-recording the whole chorus. It will sound more natural. Still, these are choices you make in the session — it’s up to you. Some DAWs will have dedicated markers for selecting Punch In and Out Recording regions or you’ll use the normal Left and Right markers also for looping or repeating a section of the project. Before you attempt the punch-in, place the cursor several bars or more ahead of the section. Your vocalist needs to hear where they are in the song! You then might have to select some kind of Punch In Recording mode, before hitting the Play (or Record) button on your transport. Signal to Noise Ratio Audio equipment is rated with a ‘signal to noise ratio’ (SNR) and does, to be strictly correct, also have a noise floor. It measures the amount of the noise the device, like a preamp or a compressor, creates with its own circuitry. In other words, how noisy the equipment is itself. More expensive and well-designed devices normally have low SNR figures. But some devices such as tubedriven pre-amps can’t avoid higher ratings purely because of the circuitry required. Tubes are expected to be a bit noisy.
It’s best to be singing or playing the material well before the Punch In point and keep going until well after the Punch Out point. Don’t try to stop and start at the correct moments yourself — let the DAW worry about that. Once you’re beyond the Punch Out point you can stop the DAW and listen to the result. You’ll be surprised how seamless these punch-ins can be. With a bit of luck and talent, you’ll nail the problem first go. Here’s a big hint: You should do any Punch In recordings either immediately after you’ve done the main track or, at the very least, at a time when you haven’t changed any of the settings on your input channels. The reason is you need the new (punched in) material to sound exactly like the old. To illustrate, this would be the wrong way to do it. Let’s say you’ve done a vocal track. Next, you alter things to record a rhythm guitar line and then realise you made a mistake in that vocal. Not good. The chances of you reproducing the same settings you had for the original vocal tracking are unlikely. Even if you come close, the singer isn’t going to perform the same. Their energy and focus will have dropped. This means that any punch-ins are going to obviously sound different. Chapter 25 looks at planning a recording session more thoroughly and will help you organise things like this better. The main rule, though, is to do any Punch-Ins while all the settings for the recording are the same. TIP Monitoring Punch-ins with ASIO Only. If you’re not using a small mixing desk or something similar and relying on the soundcard to give you real-time monitoring of your recording, then punching in and out is possibly going to give you a new problem. If you don’t use “auto” (or smart) monitoring, then while you have Input Monitoring switched on you can hear what you’re recording, but not what you’ve already played. Alternatively, with it switched off you’ll hear your previous take, but not yourself when the punch-in activates. (We know you’ll be confused about this, but when you come across this issue at least a little light globe should go off inside your head, hopefully, and you’ll think, ‘Ah, that’s what they were talking about!’). Auto
monitoring automatically switches between the two. Otherwise, the answer is to temporarily make a duplicate of the track you’re punching into and listen to that (with the piece you are replacing cut out of it, of course so it doesn’t double with the new part and distract the singer/musician). Editing Audio Instead You might not have to use Punch In recording to fix your problems. Maybe someone coughed or knocked a microphone stand? Here’s where you can open the DAW’s Editing Menu to advantage. In the example above there’s a nasty noise in the main vocal track — the singer’s mobile phone started ringing and he took a few seconds to turn it off (don’t worry, the rest of the band beat him up later). Luckily, it happened while he was waiting for the guitar solo to finish, so it didn’t impact on any of his vocal sections. Using the Edit menu, we can select the sound of the phone and convert that part of the wave file to Silence — remember: deleting it will chop out that section of the wave and push anything recorded afterwards out of time. In the press of a few buttons the ring tone has vanished. You’ve recovered a good vocal take without having to re-record the whole track. Again, while this is a neat trick to save you a lot of time, you have to assess each recording on its own merits and decide which is the best option, if there are problems. The Edit menu can provide plenty of tools to smooth over the cracks of a bad performance, but if it takes you oodles of time to polish up a four-minute vocal... what’s the point? It’s quicker and easier to get the singer to re-record the track (without the mistakes or the mobile phone ringing). Keeping it Real With both Punch In recording and the Edit Menu at your fingertips it’s tempting for musicians to get this kind of ‘let’s get the material close and fix it later’ attitude towards recording. They accept lots of errors, rather than put down a track in one perfect take, because they know the sound engineer has got some tricks up their sleeve to smooth things over. The lesson is the same whether you’re in a small studio with professional equipment or balancing a laptop, synthesiser and a pair of headphones on your bunk bed. Strive to get the best recording you can, before resorting to punch-ins and editing. A great consistent sound is always better than something with a zillion punch-ins and edits.
Summary efore you start any B DAW software, make sure any extra applications that might be running in the background are turned off. hen your Project is W created, check all the folder and track name settings to ensure files are named and written where they should be. ake the time to careT fully check input levels — losing a great take to digital clipping is frustrating. ry to record tracks as T dry as you can — you can experiment with effects later. unch-in recording is P very good for fixing small mistakes, but if a bigger fix is required, think about re-recording the whole track. he same goes for T using audio editing — consider how much time you’ll need to do the edits as it might not be the best use of your time.
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Recording MIDI CH 12
Recording MIDI is easy. Where things can get confusing for many new studio operators is routing the recorded notes into the right instrument (virtual or hardware). Once that’s sorted you’re on your way to discovering a whole world of amazing sonic opportunities. Let’s cover the basics first. We’ll assume you’ve got some kind of MIDI piano keyboard attached to the MIDI In of your DAW. In your Project, create (or insert) a MIDI track. Your DAW will call this track something like ‘Track 1’ or whatever number is sequentially correct — it does the same with audio tracks, too. The track number isn’t important, but all the other numbers we’re about to tackle are.
You’re on your way to discovering a whole world of amazing sonic opportunities. “
MIDI Input Firstly, you have to choose an Input that will involve a MIDI channel number or ‘Omni’ (which means the track will listen to any channel coming from your keyboard). Most likely, your piano will transmit data on Channel 1 anyway, but not always. If you’re using something like a Korg workstation keyboard, which has myriad options as a stand-alone instrument, different patches might transmit MIDI data on other channels — but let’s not get into trouble-shooting yet. TIP 2nd Hand Synths: If you buy a second-hand synth or electronic piano, the first thing you should do is find a way to reset the instrument back to all the factory defaults. Usually, it’s an easy — but well protected — process. That way, if things aren’t working right for you, it’s a safe bet there isn’t any weirdness being caused by the previous owner.
or virtual instrument? Your own keyboard’s internal soundbank perhaps? In the case of the latter, you should choose your soundcard’s MIDI output and connect the DAW’s MIDI out to your keyboard’s input. Any data you record on your MIDI track will then be routed back out of the DAW to your keyboard to play the patch or sound you select in your keyboard, get it? And before we go any further, this is where this Guerilla Guide temporarily runs for cover yelling, ‘We know nothing, it’s not our fault!’ Because we have no way of knowing what sort of keyboard or sound module you’ve got and how it’s set up. You might have bought it second-hand from Brian Eno and the internal settings are all stuffed up. There are so many keyboards, synthesizers and modules on the market and they all have different methods of being set up and receiving MIDI data.
What is Multi-Timbral? It’s nothing to do with old-growth forests. A ‘multi-timbral’ synthesiser or sampler is capable of playing more than one instrument at the same time. With a standard MIDI connection the theoretical maximum would be 16 different instruments, because standard MIDI only transmits 16 channels.
A mystery output on your MIDI track might be something like ‘GM Wavetable’ or ‘Microsoft Wavetable’. What’s happening here is that your computer’s motherboard has an in-built soundcard with a basic FM chip providing General MIDI sounds. This is to let regular Joes who use their computers for regular things — like playing Solitaire and surfing the net — to play MIDI files downloaded from the Internet or attached to games. Your very clever DAW found the FM chip on the install and recognised it as a MIDI output option. It will work — and it will sound like cheesy elevator music.
More importantly, make sure the MIDI input device is correctly selected. It won’t be your piano. It will be your soundcard’s MIDI input. For example, the M-Audio Firewire 410 interface is listed in the inputs as ‘M-Audio FW MIDI Omni’. It doesn’t know or care what keyboard/trigger you’ve got attached to the other end of the MIDI cable. MIDI Output Next, you have to choose an Output — and this is where some people get confused. You might have several options, some of which you may not even recognise. The question is, where do you want to get your sounds from? A dedicated sound module GG :: 52
This is Sonar’s Synth Rack. We cover synths and VST instruments more in chapter 14. The point here is that your MIDI outputs recognise things like the Synth Rack or single instances of VST Instruments (such as in Cubase) as “real” outputs. As far as your DAW MIDI outs are concerned there is a real synthesiser sitting in a real rack next to your desk. Don’t try to tell it any different, you’ll only confuse the poor thing.
Another MIDI Output option will be to choose any VST Instrument (sometimes called VSTi’s — the small “I” for instrument) you’ve opened up in your DAW. We explain VSTs and samplers in more detail in Chapter 14. For the moment, you only need to understand that a MIDI track in a DAW sees any VST instrument as an output option. It believes that a real MIDI cable is attached to a real keyboard or module, but in fact it’s all virtual — thus the ‘V’ for ‘virtual’ in ‘VST’. MIDI Channel Okay, now the output channel number for any internal instruments such as VSTis is just as critical, because with a multi-timbral VST it denotes which sound to play on what channel. You’ll understand a bit more about this very soon.
ARE YOU GAME? Every modern computer game or video game is a great example of MIDI programming at its best. The soundtracks are written by experts who own a very wide variety of virtual instruments, sound modules and keyboards. There’s hardly a real instrument to be heard and the composers keep everything in check with precise MIDI routing and programming. If you fancy a career in writing soundtrack music for multimedia content such as computer games then a good understanding of MIDI is an absolute must. For the record, video game music composers are highly-regarded and much respected figures in the music industry and often move into filmscoring, too.
This is also where the ‘Patch’ selection comes in. You can choose a Patch (or sound) from the selection in your instrument. These will usually be organised in ‘Banks’ of 128 sounds. If you don’t choose a sound you’ll end up with the default Bank 1, Patch 1 sound, which is often a piano. But either way, don’t panic too much because the beauty of MIDI is that you can record a performance with the Piano sound and then change it to a searing synth lead, a Hammond B3 or marimba later. This chapter we’re concentrating on creating the data rather than fine-tuning it. Record Ready Right, so we’ve got a MIDI input and an output correctly selected and when you press a key on your piano some kind of sound will come out. This means you’re ready to record some MIDI music. MIDI tracks have to be armed, just like audio. Once you’ve selected the scary red button all you have to do is press ‘Record’ and start playing your keyboard. The Pre-roll and metronome options also apply to MIDI recording, by the way, so if you have any of these selected they will work. Like with audio the cursor should move smoothly across the Project Window and paint a track of your playing behind it. Some DAWs will create an empty clip that disappears, if you don’t actually play anything. Normally, it will draw a miniature version of the Piano Roll View and the amount of detail depends on how zoomed-in on the track you are. Once you’ve finished playing, stop the recording and play it back. It should sound exactly as you recorded. It does? Of course, it does. You’re being guided by the experts, right?! Let’s say you’re a two-fingered piano player and you’re keen on cheating — you want to re-record more notes over your first take and make it sound like you’re bigger than Missy Higgins and Tori Amos combined. One setting you have to be aware of is the ‘Record Mode’, which can either be something like ‘Sound on Sound’ or ‘Replace’. The difference is obvious. One mode will add the extra notes without affecting stuff you’ve already recorded, while the other will erase any previous material with each pass of the cursor and replace it with the new playing. Choose which one you need, in this case Sound on Sound, and repeat the recording process. The new notes will either be added into the clip or — just to alarm you for a moment — be placed inside a new clip obscuring the first. You’ll need to combine the two later, if your DAW does this. Quantize Another neat trick with some DAWs is automatically quantizing your playing as you record it. Quantize is explained back in Chapter 10 — remember the magic potion for making all terrible playing sound
perfect? Well, instead of editing your MIDI tracks after you’ve recorded them, some DAWs have an Auto-Input Quantize button that will shift any dodgy playing to where it should be as you play it. Very cool indeed. Real piano players should take note, though. Much of the natural sound of any piano comes from your fingers never hitting the keys at exactly the same time, even with a straightforward chord structure. Quantize will line up the notes perfectly. It’s this kind of perfection that can be achieved with MIDI options and editing that might rob your music of any natural feel and make it sound machine-like. Don’t be afraid to leave some ‘mistakes’ in! Particularly, if you’re recording multiple MIDI tracks, try not quantizing some of them. It’ll give your music more ‘feel’. With your MIDI clip recorded you don’t have to stick to the settings you started with. For instance, you can now change the Patch and listen to the same playing with different sounds. You can also alter the tempo, slowing things down or speeding them up (although any basic audio tracks won’t stay synchronised — that’s why it’s advisable to only commit to recording audio tracks once you’ve decided on the tempo).
ight-click in Cubase’s Piano Roll Edit and all R the various editing tools can be selected.
TIP Record at a slower tempo: Because Tempo isn’t so critical to MIDI recording, you can put down a tricky part more easily if you slow down the tempo, then increase it back to normal when you’ve done it. Cheating, cheating, cheating — but hey, it works.
Punch In recording & editing in MIDI The approach to Punch-In recording in MIDI tracks is almost exactly the same as audio. You select the region you want to re-record, set the In and Out markers and Punch-In Mode, then start the cursor some time before the In point so you know where in the song you are. But because MIDI is only data, you have some more options. For example, you can looprecord the track between your markers and attempt to get a difficult passage played correctly by going over it time and time again until you get it right. If things still don’t sound right, you can open an Edit Window and literally draw in the required notes instead. The Draw Tool is for putting in new notes one by one or editing individual notes for their volume, length and position. The Edit Piano Roll window is a great place to fix small mistakes — or even big ones. You can ‘grab’ any wrong note and shift it to where it’s supposed to be or select entire sections and move them. Maybe a certain chord will sound better an octave lower? That’s easy. Grab all those notes and drag them down. An Erase tool or the delete key even lets you rub out unwanted notes. Do yourself a favour and spend some decent amount of time experimenting with the record and edit capabilities in MIDI. The possibilities are endless and anything you learn will save you a bunch of hours later — guaranteed. It’s not until you’ve recorded some MIDI, then gone into the various Editing Windows that you’ll appreciate just how powerful DAWs and sequencers are. Combining this power with the kind of high-quality VSTis and samplers available now you can create entire orchestral movements without ever having to touch a trombone or a tuba. Hmm... trombones and tubas. Avoiding them can’t be a bad thing, can it? (Okay, each to their own, I guess.)
Summary IDI is a language, a M machine code, to get synths, virtual instruments, controllers etc talking. etting the result G you’re after involves knowing which MIDI channel your keyboard is on and ensuring the sound you want triggered is accepting on the right MIDI channel. IDI and quantizing M are inseparable, if you can’t play keyboards. Play in ‘Chopsticks’ like a hack and have it all fall on beat thanks to quantizing. ‘Polyphony’ describes how many notes your synth can play at once. ‘Multi-timbral’ describes how many different sounds it can play at once. ake friends with MIDI M and your sonic horizons will be virtually boundless… such is the variety of sounds that are on offer.
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File Management: Staying Organised Uh-oh, just when we’re starting to have a little fun it’s back down to earth with the dreaded words ‘file management’. Ripping out the best guitar solo of your life and getting it recorded doesn’t sound like it should have much to do with secretarial stuff. This is definitely one of those ‘well, think again’ kind of moments. We’re going to take a small detour here for a few minutes that might save you hours of despair later. DAWs can be fiercely protective of any recordings you make. They make it either very hard to get your hands on the original files or pop up endless WARNING messages. It makes good sense that they do this, because while you can re-arrange and re-mix any recording session to your heart’s content and even totally ruin everything in a few hours of inspired madness, as long as the original takes — the wave files — aren’t compromised, then you’re covered. Some DAWs automatically create ‘Edit Files’ when you do any changes. These are simply copies of the originals with your changes included. They just don’t want you destroying those precious first takes unless you know exactly what you’re doing. In fact, it’s hard to stop DAWs creating extra files when you’re not looking. This may sound a bit paranoid, so here’s an example: Let’s say you start a recording of a bass line and within just a few bars realise that one of the strings has dropped badly out of tune. You stop, ‘Undo’ the recording, which is only a few seconds long, and fix the problem. Here’s the thing. Your DAW made a small ‘take’ of that bad bass noise although it was very short and Undoing the recording possibly only removed the file from your Project, not the hard drive. It’s still in the audio pool folder along with all the files you want to keep on your hard drive — which can be an awful lot. This is what we’re talking about. During a busy recording session the amount of files written to your hard drive quickly mounts up. You have to make sure they all go where they’re supposed to, that you remove the ones that are crap, and more importantly you need to back the good ones up regularly and keep accurate records of the archives. It’s a boring part of any studio procedure and a long way from earning your first Grammy Award — but stop complaining, it has to be done. Even if you’ve got 10 billion gigabytes of storage on your hard drive it doesn’t matter. There’s no such thing as the perfect hard drive, power supply or neighbourhood. Hard drives can crash, or power spikes can fry your PC — fire, flood, theft, cane toads… who knows what might befall your precious data. You can try claiming ‘awesome guitar solo’ on your house & contents insurance policy, but that still won’t get it back. Cleaning out unwanted files avoids having important data buried under a pile of virtual rubbish. Backing up regularly will keep things easier, too. There’s nothing worse than sitting for hours on end, feeding an entire spool of blank DVDs into your burner as you archive 10 projects in one go. Try to make backing up your sessions as part of the project — the last thing you do, before turning off the PC.
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TIP Another good reason for regularly archiving your sessions is to reduce the amount of data on your hard drive, thereby making the time needed for defragmenting the HD or virus-checking much lower. The more files you have, the longer housekeeping tasks like this will take.
It’s all about keeping your recordings safe, getting rid of all the unnecessary files, freeing up the hard drive for new projects and — very important — if you do sessions for someone else and they return six months later to add a new vocal, you can quickly put your hand on that old session, load it on the computer and start work. Setting up your Hard Drive If the hard drive (HD) you installed for writing audio files is well organised in the first place, then archiving will be easy. It’s not only about making copies, though. With a good file structure and some extra care on the HD you reduce the risk of accidentally over-writing any recordings. For example, many operators are happy to generically name their recordings ‘Bass’ or ‘Rhythm Guitar’ as long as the files are saved in the right folder for that project. In other words, all your bass lines for every song are files called ‘Bass’, but your per-project folder method keeps them all separate and in the right composition. Okay, here’s how things might go wrong — your bass playing in a Cubase Project might have a bit of buzz or hiss in the background, right? So you dump the file into Sony’s Sound Forge, use its great Noise Reduction facility to clean up the buzz, save the file and go back to recording more of the session in Cubase. But what you didn’t notice was the default folder for saving in Sound Forge (as it does) was the previous session you worked on with that software. When you saved, you over-wrote the ‘Bass’ file from another song. If you think that sounds a bit far-fetched, believe me we’ve all done it! And it’s no use blaming Sony. It’s always one of those late-night brain fades that will catch you out, so make sure you’re saving into the correct folder and add a suffix to the file name. In this example you might call the denoised bass part BassNR (NR for noise reduction). If you’re worried that you will end up with many files named the same thing then it might be good to get in the habit of adding the session name to the individual files. Some programs like Sonar do this automatically. Most DAWs will also automatically create a new folder for your session too, but again if it doesn’t, it’s a good idea. Create a new folder, call it the same as your project (e.g. ‘My Best Song’ or ‘Voice-Over for Video’) and make sure all the associated wave files, any other media like samples or video files and the Project File itself are all saved in that folder. That way when you’re archiving, you can back-up the entire folder without having to worry you’re missing anything. Cleaning Out the Garbage This can be tricky, if you haven’t labeled your files properly from the start. Some DAWs will plainly show you which files are no longer in use inside the project and tag them as ‘unused’ or something. Most DAW audio pools have a menu
Even if you’ve got 10 billion gigabytes of storage on your hard drive it doesn’t matter. There’s no such thing as the perfect hard drive, power supply or neighbourhood. ”
item called Delete Unused. Usually, using this feature will prompt a dialog box asking ‘really?’ or similar. Once you’ve deleted the unused files they’re either erased from the hard drive or are put in a trash folder, in which case they’re still on the hard drive until you delete them. Other DAWs don’t make life so easy. They will remove a file from your Project, but not from your hard drive. You’ll have to go into the Project Folder yourself using Windows Explorer or Mac’s Finder and manually delete unwanted stuff — that’s the tricky bit, because we guarantee you’ll find your mouse hovering over a file or two while you wonder if it can be safely deleted or not. A way around this is to shift the files somewhere else first, not delete them, and re-open your DAW project again. The DAW will get quite rude about any files that are missing from the session, giving you their name and where it expected to find them (in your Project Folder) — and loudly demanding to know where you’ve put them. Take notes, move the required files back into the Project Folder, then you can safely delete the others later. Yes, it can be all a bit painful and time consuming, which is why features like Cubase’s Audio Pool with a Trash folder is very popular. TIP Here’s one trap you might fall into: DAW software often identifies ‘Trash’ files by the fact they’re not being used in your project. This isn’t always true. You might have done a mixdown and saved that file to your project folder too — a good idea. So always doublecheck that any files labeled ‘Trash’ are definitely not needed.
Backing Up DVD burners are cheap and easy to use. They’re also by far the best way to archive your recording sessions individually, especially if you need to hand them over to someone else like a client afterwards — unless you can afford to buy a new thumb drive each time. Otherwise,
for your own sessions you can get USB external drives for a bargain price, too. The idea is to move your data to a completely separate place, right?
A standard DVD will give you 4.3GB of storage which should be plenty or, if you’ve got a song of Innagadadavida proportions (a famous 1970’s ‘alternative rock’ track by Iron Butterfly that ran for 20 minutes — get those tracks down in one take!) you can use a dual-layer DVD that offers twice as much space. Either way, blank DVDs are so cheap there isn’t any excuse. However, don’t go too cheap. Blank disc media will not survive until the end of the Earth like you might think, even if you never play them. The materials used to manufacture them do eventually break down and the discs become unplayable. With the discount DVD brands it might be in 10 years — or two. Spend a few extra cents on reputable brands like TDK or Verbatim and this problem will go away.
lways find time to A regularly back up your audio data and DAW projects. Use good quality blank discs and a DVD burner or a second hard drive. If your DAW doesn’t offer a safe and reliable method of deleting unwanted files, familiarise yourself with a way of doing it yourself in a browser. Shift unwanted files first before deleting them completely.
Buy discs that can be clearly labeled, too. Inkjet print labels are best and you can use proper printing software to write the information neatly. (Many DVD writers now come with Lightscribe technology that writes labels directly on to lightscribe-able discs.) Not only is it easier to read, but professional-looking, too. If a studio client sees that you take care in archiving their sessions, it can only add to the overall impression that you know what you’re doing.
eep on top of your K archiving, otherwise you’ll get overloaded and get sloppy. ake sure files are M going where they’re supposed to, especially across multiple programs.
Always check the data on a written CD or DVD before deleting the session from your audio drive. You might be surprised, if you knew all the nitty-gritty details of the small technological miracle that takes place when you burn a disc — it is amazing stuff really. So don’t ever assume everything has gone to plan. Make sure you have at least two copies of your data at all times, that’s the best way to avoid data loss. Certainly, in this case, absence does not make the heart grow fonder!
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Now that you’ve mastered many of the tricks of recording and editing MIDI the next step is to start using some good virtual instruments. To begin with, it’ll help to have a close look at how virtual instruments work so you can understand them better. We touched on the subject in Chapter 6. By the way, virtual instruments are generally classified as both ‘samplers’ or ‘synthesizers’ — so that’s what we’re talking about when either of these are mentioned. You’ll see why in a moment.
Classic Keyboard Patches Some of the keyboards used in the past had such distinctive sounds that patches are listed by a product name. The Roland Juno series of synths is an example, so you might find patches called ‘Juno Strings’. Another is ‘OB Brass’, a popular sound from Oberheim synthesisers. It doesn’t mean they were particularly good at copying either strings or brass, but they were great sounds that everyone liked anyway.
Today’s computers are fast — real fast. In fact, they’re rooly, rooly fast. In the same instant that you type a key when you’re writing an email, a letter appears on the screen in front of you. In fact, if you’re chatting on the Internet, in a few milliseconds that letter can appear on someone’s monitor on the other side of the world. We all tend to forget just how incredibly fast electronic impulses move and how quickly circuitry on the other end can respond to them. Virtual instruments — samplers in particular — rely on that amazing speed of electronics to work properly. Ponder on that for a while… okay, time’s up. In the days of old, when the disco craze began a brief reign at the top of the charts and millions of people all over the world broke their ankles wearing silly platform shoes, synthesizers were mainly responsible — for the music that is. A type of synth, the famous MiniMoog Synthesizer [simply known as the ‘moooog’… although, those ‘in the know’ pronounce it ‘mogue’] even had musicians releasing cover versions of just about every classical masterpiece such as Bach’s entire back catalogue — and people actually bought the records. Odd, really. But who are we to judge?
Virtual Instruments, Samplers & Synthesisers Virtual instruments are brilliant. They’ve become complex, very capable and can sound fantastic. Modern music has a lot of VSTis. Which unfortunately causes a problem. Although everyone is using them, almost no two setups are the same. So if you get an opportunity to take your recording projects into another studio–maybe something much bigger and better than your own–or you’re simply collaborating with a friend with their own DAW, the chances of your groovy VST programming being faithfully reproduced in another computer or studio are slim. They might not even have that VST instrument. The answer is to export or render your VSTis into standard audio files. Sure, you won’t be able to tweak the programming afterwards, but you’ll be taking with you exactly the same sounds–which is what you want. A fairly cumbersome and out-dated method is explained in this chapter, and it’s still valid as a last resort. But VSTis and DAWs have lately recognised that exporting real audio files of their outputs is a handy feature and they offer a simpler process somewhere.
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Synthesizers Synthesisers artificially produce waveforms to create noise. To make a sound like a concert-pitch piano’s middle ‘A’ that waveform (or oscillator) needs to be freaking out 440 times a second (or 440Hz). Don’t worry too much about understanding why its 440 and not 442 or 1001, just think of it as a ‘Law of the Universe’ or Mother Nature at work. A bit like, blow air in a dog’s face and he’ll bite you. If you don’t take spare guitar strings to a gig, you will break one within the first few songs... and if you generate an electronic impulse at 440Hz it will be an ‘A’ note. Get the idea? So it didn’t take much to imagine that to double the speed of that oscillator will produce an ‘A’ an octave above etc. Boffins found that different types of waveforms produced different timbres or tones. The main varieties are Sine, Saw, Square and Triangle, and these could be ‘filtered’ for loads more sonic possibilities. Synthesisers today work on exactly the same principles and have many more filters, meaning other ways of altering the generated sounds, than their predecessors. They also have
aveforms: Just about every W synth sound is generated from these three waveform shapes (from top to bottom: Sine Wave, Saw Wave and the Square Wave) the other main building block waveforms are Triangle Wave and Noise (a chaotic, white noise-type ‘waveform’).
Sine Wave +
Saw Wave +
Square Wave +
his is the Export Stems T menu of Presonus’s Studio One. You can export selected tracks (the hidden tab) or you can choose the individual output channels of your VSTis. Here, Native Instrument’s Battery 3 has been configured with eight outputs to create Kick, Snare, etc channels in the mixer. Remember, this is a MIDI driven Virtual Instrument. Still, Studio One cleverly sorts out the wheat from the chaff and with the press of a button will render the eight MIDI data streams into standard audio files determined by the format dialogue on the right. You’re good to go!
multiple tone generators. The important point is that a true synthesizer uses an electronically generated tone as its basis for all the sounds it makes. It puts out all kinds of bleeps, blats, hums and buzzes, and in many configurations creates quite a musical tone. By sheer accident, synthesizers are good at emulating some ‘real’ noises like reed organs, flutes and other wind instruments, but don’t be tricked — it’s still all electronic noise.
of real people playing real instruments all chopped and sorted into samples for you to use. Amazing, really.
Samplers Samplers on the other hand use recordings of genuine instruments to make sounds. A piano patch in a sampler, for example, will load into its memory hundreds of separate recordings of a real piano and every time you press your piano keys, the correct sample (or recorded snippet) will play. Early samplers didn’t have a recording for every note. Instead, they had samples of every (perhaps) fourth or fifth note and bent the pitch of the samples to suit the tones between. It wasn’t brilliant, but it worked. Later, it was the same old story. Processing chips got faster, memory got bigger and keyboard designs got smarter. Eventually, multiple samples for each note (to mimic different volumes, etc) became standard.
Sophistication Getting back to where this chapter began, this all means that anyone can program MIDI tracks and have them trigger virtual instruments to create very realistic tracks — if, of course, realism is your thing.
This is where it might get a bit hard to believe. That you can press a key on your keyboard and in-built software will find and play the correct, tiny recording of the instrument you want so fast that it sounds like the real thing. Even drums! By loading in all the right samples someone could play real drums. We have to be joking, right? No, samplers do it easily, thanks to the speed of electricity. A toaster might need several minutes to burn your breakfast and hurl it onto the floor, but playing ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ like Billy Joel on a sampler is instantaneous.
The Freeze Function: This little button is supposed to represent a snowflake — the ‘Freeze’ function. Cute... You can also Freeze effects on a track like reverbs or delays. The same thing applies with the Freeze creating a temporary mixdown of the track in the background and shutting down the real-time effect process, giving your CPU a breather.
Attack of RAM With the evolution of Digital Audio Workstations it was inevitable software developers realised that computers with powerful CPUs and large amounts of RAM were far more capable than any keyboardbased synthesiser or sampler. Designing virtual versions of these instruments soon followed. Even better, the Graphic User Interfaces put all the various controls, knobs and sliders on one page. Some of the old keyboards had nightmarish buttons and menus to navigate through… all that has become a thing of the past. Some examples of virtual instrument synthesizers are Native instruments’ Massive, Reason’s NN-XT Advanced Sampler and ProTool’s Xpand2. You don’t have to be any kind of electronic nerd to make these synths work, because they come with hundreds of presets. They not only have their own sounds and technology, but emulate some of those classic synths of the 1970s responsible for... well, let’s not be harsh again about disco, right? Modern virtual samplers are IK Multimedia’s Sampletank 2, Native Instruments’ Kontakt and Steinberg’s Halion to mention just a few. These programs come with huge libraries of samples to get you started. At your fingertips are real pianos, basses, strings and entire orchestras. And they are real — it’s recordings
The Legendary Korg M1 There is some middle ground between the synthesizer and sampler – keyboards that start with a little sampled snippet and apply synth tricks to it. The Korg M1 keyboard was a seminal S+S (sampling + synthesis)
synthesiser with four tone generators, plus it had its own library of samples to trigger. It was so popular (because it was so good) that you can just about guarantee that any pop song between 1988 and about 1998 will have been touched by an M1! Even now, they’re fiercely guarded by
There are also dedicated drum samplers such as Battery, FXpansion’s BFD2 and XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums. These samplers work on exactly the same basics: they just concentrate on drums. Real drummers playing real drums, professionally recorded in real studios. Awesome stuff.
It should be pointed out that virtual instruments can be very greedy when it comes to CPU usage and RAM. Load in a few samplers and a drum program and suddenly your DAW is starting to bog down/ seize up. The answer to all your woes is a function called ‘Freeze’. Once you’ve done all your programming and the track sounds great, pressing the Freeze function inside your DAW creates a mixdown of your virtual instrument in the background and shuts down any other processing. It’s a good concept, but it does mean you can’t edit any of the MIDI programming unless you ‘unfreeze’ the track again — no big deal, although it can be a little time-consuming. Unfortunately ProTools stands alone in not providing a Freeze function. That’s because many of the versions of ProTools are integrated with DSP-based hardware, which makes Freezing a bit tricky. However, you can still manually bounce-down instrument tracks and achieve a similar thing. You can take this Freeze approach further and ‘Export’ your virtual instrument tracks instead, then Import them back into your song. By soloing the MIDI programming and choosing the Export menu, you can create a real audio track in your project. It needs care to get the format right. For example, most synths will need exporting as a stereo interleaved file or as a pair of stereo split wave files. With drum programming you can get really clever by separating all the different drums and cymbals by their notes (like, C1 for kick, E1 for snare and so on) into individual MIDI tracks and exporting/importing each one to make single wave files for mixing down just like miking up a real drum kit. Again, it’s time-consuming and labour intensive, but the purist sound engineers love the ability to fine-tune each drum track individually. Virtual instruments have come a long way in a comparatively short space of time. The level of realism in sounds, control and authenticity in reproducing the original instrument can be awesome. There are virtual instruments dedicated to grand pianos, vintage synthesizers, orchestral sections and even — the hardest of all — guitars. Ultimately, the only thing between you and a perfect, virtual recording is how much time and effort you put into the programming.
owners as serious pieces of vintage equipment. Of course, now you can buy the virtual version instead. Korg released the Legacy M1 in 2005 and, according to AudioTechnology Magazine, it’s actually better than the real thing.
Velocity Layering Velocity layering is a method for adding extra realism to a virtual instrument sampler. Normally, a sample is triggered by a MIDI note. Other information is passed on as well, like the required length and volume (velocity) the sample is to be played. With velocity layering, different samples are triggered by the same MIDI note depending on the velocity data sent. For instance Native Instruments’ drum sampler Battery can have up to 128 samples per drum sound. Yes, that’s a lot. Okay, imagine the snare drum. The sampled recordings range from the smallest tap of a drumstick tip through to a deafening, reverse-stick, skin-break slam — and everything between, get it? What velocity you determine with your MIDI note will trigger the appropriate sample. This is why velocity-sensitive keyboards can be such a huge advantage when you’re using them to program MIDI tracks. All instruments sound different with how hard or soft you play, blow or hit them. Drums, pianos... just about everything. Complex sample libraries that allow for velocity layering can makes things very real and/ or super-sophisticated indeed.
Summary V irtual instruments generally fall into two categories: either emulating synthesizers that use tone generators to create a wide range of electronic sounds, or software samplers that trigger real sampled instruments. Some samplers will offer a selection of both. Although a ‘technical marvel’ they can be CPU hungry. Try Freezing or exporting finished tracks to get back some of your computer resources. GG :: 57
Audio Plug-ins CH 15
The term ‘plug-in’ is misleading — you don’t actually plug anything in. In fact, having all your DAW’s effects, virtual instruments and signal processors collectively called ‘plug-ins’ was probably one of the silliest ideas going. In this, your computer-based virtual studio environment, one of the last things you do is actually plug something in. Sure, you attach a microphone or a guitar and some headphones, but when it comes to manipulating, sweetening and mangling your recordings into that ARIA Award-winning song, you’re more likely to reach for a mouse mat than an audio lead. The term ‘plug-in’ is doubly confusing because someone might be talking about a virtual instrument, a VST effect, VSTi synthesiser, a software sampler… the plug-in might be ‘native’ or ‘DSP-based’, even. Yikes! Relax, it’s not that complicated.
CROSSING THAT BRIDGE Way back in Chapter One we recommended you buy a computer with a 64-bit operating system. Yep, we still do. However, there might be a small snag. DAWs that are 64-bit and computers that are operating in 64-bit often won’t use older plug-ins (think freebies here) that are only 32-bit. We say ‘often’ because some DAWs like Sonar have what’s called a ‘bit bridge’ to let you use these older plug-ins. In the background and without even bothering to tell you, Sonar is doing a conversion on-the-fly. You can buy third-party bit bridge programs, if you like. Here’s the bottom line: if a software developer doesn’t believe that making a 64-bit version of its plug-in is worthwhile, then that should be a sign that you shouldn’t bother either. If you download a bunch of freebie plug-ins and get utterly confused why you can’t even see them in your DAW, let alone use them, chances are you’re running a 64-bit OS (as you should) and those plug-ins are 32 bit.
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There are different flavours of plug-in, for example: RTAS, AudioUnit, VST and DirectX — although it’s worth saying now that DirectX is fading away in the face of the VST format’s huge popularity. Each flavour is coded to work with different platforms: RTAS and AAX works with ProTools and ProTools HD systems, Audio Unit (AU) works with Logic, VST with Cubase and DXi originally with the likes of Sonar. Actually, there’s another, MAS, which you need to run on MOTU’s Digital Performer DAW. So it’s a little like buying a video game such as Grand Theft Auto — it’s no use buying the Playstation version if you have the XBox 360. But also, like Grand Theft Auto, most reputable plug-in developers will have a number of versions of their plugs — VST, RTAS and AU at the very least. Plug-ins will also often work in standalone mode as well… especially the soft synths. That way you can play the instrument without a DAW. Still confused? You’ll catch on. And with a bit of luck, by the end of this chapter you’ll better understand how plug-ins work and see where issues of different formats and compatibility came from. Check out the box item on Wrappers, too. Plug Me In, Turn Me On A plug-in is a signal-path modifier. It might be an effect, like a delay, reverb or chorus or an EQ, or a processor like a compressor or noise gate. Some plug-ins are harder to categorise, like those designed to convert the format of a wave file (for example, from 24-bit to 16-bit). There are virtual instruments like synthesizers that are put into the signal path of your MIDI data, and guitar amp simulators like Amplitube and Guitar Rig get inserted over the top of an audio track — still virtually plugged in — so they
also earn the name plug-in. Are there good plug-ins and bad plug-ins? What’s the difference in our digital environment? It comes back to how well the software was written and encoded. Expensive plug-ins are the result of long product research and development to achieve their ‘sound’. Cheaper or free plug-ins don’t have the backing of a big developer — some are really quite good, others so-so. For example, there’s no doubt you can hear the superior quality of a Sonitus Reverb compared to a freebie, freeware reverb (Freeverb, for example) — the complexity, the sophistication, the fine detail all shine through in the resulting sound you get. Mind you, beauty is in the ear of the beholder and plenty of music producers have spent years recording the perfect song only to finally run it through some horrible, cheap plug-in or hardware effects pedal, because it sounds ‘cool’. But, as a rule of thumb: plugs that tend to take up bigger chunks of your processing power (again, reverbs are the obvious example here) benefit from going with a ‘name’ brand developer; while the little ‘one percenter’ effects are more a matter of taste. High quality plug-ins don’t come cheap though and we’re not just talking about dollars spent. The better ones give you improved results, but as mentioned, they need more processing grunt from your CPU. To get around this, some are designed to run on their own Digital Signal Processor (DSP) chip(s) — such as the PCIe card-based UAD-2 from Universal Audio or the TC Powercore Compact, which connects via a Firewire port. Both these plug-in packages completely remove any hard work your computer’s CPU would otherwise do, but it needs mentioning they won’t host any other plug-ins. Products like these were first introduced when the CPU demands of good plug-ins were just too much for most computers. Since then, the new generation of dual and quad core CPUs and RAM have eased the squeeze. But DSP plug-ins are still in demand because the theory behind them is rock solid — if your computer isn’t flat out running plug-ins, it’s got the ‘brain space’ to host more tracks. Native or DSP? What needs explaining here are two terms briefly mentioned earlier. ‘DSP processing’ usually refers to something being driven by a dedicated device like the UAD-2. ‘Native processing’ means your computer’s own CPU will be crunching the numbers. Let’s stick with the native brand of processing for a
Third Party Waves is a developer renowned for making very high quality plugins like reverbs, EQs and restoration programs (noise reduction). Find their website (waves. com) and you’ll see the huge range of plug-ins they sell. But they’re all useless without a host DAW. Waves don’t make their own sequencer or recording software. The same thing goes for a lot of virtual instrument developers. So these companies are called ‘Third Party’ to segregate them from the DAW’s host software and their included plugins. Who’s the ‘Second Party’? Apparently that’s you.
pollo Landing: A Universal Audio’s Powered Plug-ins have always been right at the top of the heap. Apollo gives you the primo UA plugs and a full-spec interface. Not cheap, but the best stuff never is.
moment. It’s what comes with your DAW and, most likely, where a few problems might arise. Keeping Count Some plug-ins do a better job than your DAW’s basic built-in ones. The channel EQs for instance, while they sound pretty good, can be improved with something like the URS EQ Bundle, which emulates famous equalisers on classic mixing desks. Plug-ins like these don’t only mimic the operation of the EQs, but they sound like them, too — which is neat. Nobody is going to raise their eyebrows too much, if you use a plug-in like this a lot, but you always have to keep a close eye on your CPU usage and make sure your computer isn’t going to collapse under the strain. Compressors are another plug-in that can get used a lot. The more you use, the more your plug-in count (the number of plug-ins you’re using in a project) will always start to climb and put pressure on your PC resources. Don’t forget the Freeze Function explained in Chapter 14. This also works for plug-ins inserted over a channel and can effectively reduce the load on your CPU. But while Freezing tracks is handy, in the initial stages of putting together a session it can get annoying, because of the time required to process those files in the background and then ‘Unfreeze’ things again when you want to make changes. Managing your plug-ins and having them working economically without freezing is better in the beginning of a project.
he URS EQ Bundle. These plug-ins provide a T choice of classic EQs from legendary mixing consoles prized by big studios around the world. They may not offer all the bells and whistles of a 21st century EQ, but the sound and design are awesome.
MIDI Plug-ins Okay, just to expand further on the ‘You’re-not-reallyplugging-anything-in’ quip, MIDI plug-ins come across as almost bizarre. You’re pretending to plug in an effect over a data-only channel (no wave file) while sending the signal to a virtual instrument. So it’s not surprising people get puzzled by this plug-in title. All the same, many effects that can be applied to a MIDI track are called plug-ins.
Managing Resources If it’s an effect you’re after such as a reverb, then creating an Effects Send is the traditional — and still the best — method of applying the same plug-in to a large amount of tracks at the same time. For example, you’d use an Effect Send to add reverb to all the vocal tracks. For channels that need their dynamics reined in with compression, it might be worth thinking about Grouping your tracks and inserting the plug-in over the Group. For example, you have six female backing vocals that, because of their dynamics, refuse to sit in the mix. Instead of opening six separate compressor plug-ins for each vocalist, you can Group these singers together and insert a single stereo compressor over that Group. To be honest, you’re not going to get exactly the same result as individually compressing them, but you’ll use a lot less CPU for virtually the same result. Things will get complicated when you want to insert lots of different plug-ins over a wide selection of channels. An EQ here, a compressor there, maybe a Tube Warmer over an acoustic guitar. The possibilities are so mindboggling that you’ll run a risk of doing too much or suffering from ‘option paralysis’! Plug-ins that Don’t Export Which brings us to a problem with plug-ins. Thirdparty plug-ins themselves — the actual software — aren’t Exported with a project. So if you decide to get your song re-mixed in another studio where perhaps
there’s better monitor speakers or The Sound Engineer From Hell works (or they’ve got a vastly superior coffee machine) if you want to start your mix where you left it, then the plug-in software they use has to be exactly the same as that used in your session. The same applies if you simply swap projects with a friend. Unless they have an identical DAW to yours, all sorts of error messages will pop up when they try to open your project. Warnings like ‘Cannot Find Sonitus Reverb’ and ‘Cannot Find Sony Compressor’. The lesson here is that if you’re planning to take your project to another studio for any reason, you must keep your use of plug-ins to a minimum or bounce-down the files that have plug-ins. Sharing Plugs Across Platforms Plug-ins included with different DAW software can often be shared with other DAWs in the same computer, as long as they’re the same format. If you’ve got Sonar X1 installed on your PC and later add Acid Pro 7 for its looping facilities, you’ll probably see all the Sony plug-ins available for you in Sonar (Acid Pro is owned and developed by Sony). We’ll say ‘probably’, because nothing is ever certain in the world of compatibility between programs. TIP Wrappers: In the past, most third-party plugin developers would only make their products usable under one format or another — either DXi or VST, for example. This could catch a few studios out, if they’d done some kind of major shift in their setup. A studio that switches from Logic, which uses AU (Audio Unit) technology, to Cubase with its VST-based architecture might discover it can’t use any third-party plug-ins it previously bought for Logic. ‘Wrappers’ are small programs that can convert one protocol into another to get around this kind of problem. FXpansion makes a VST-to-RTAS wrapper, for example. They’re not really supported by the major software developers, so it’s a bit like making a square peg fit a round hole by slicing off the corners until it fits — no one makes any promises. But if you’re desperate, give them a go. Plug-in developers now tend to release separate versions of each and you purchase whatever suits you or, even better, they’re all included on the installation package and you choose what you need. The best idea, if you’re thinking of buying some plug-ins (and there are hundreds of developers and products out there) double-check that they come in a format your DAW will recognise.
Summary he term ‘Plug-in’ has T evolved to cover a lot of different devices — effects, processors, instruments, and other scrodgets. here are different T formats to suit various DAWs – VST, RTAS, AAX, AU, and MAS are the main ones. DXi is dead as a dodo. lug-ins that have their P own PCI-based cards or Firewire devices are usually called ‘DSP’ processing, while those that rely on your PC’s own CPU are called ‘Native’ processing. ou get what you pay Y for — look out for freeware gems, but you’ll hear the extra quality in more expensive products. op quality plug-ins, esT pecially some reverbs, are very CPU hungry — run a couple and your computer can choke. here might be a way of T being more economical with your CPU usage — use an effects send, or process group channels instead of individually. I f you want to Export a project, remember that third-party plug-ins aren’t included. So consider bouncing the individual track with their plug-in settings applied.
Some plug-ins come with a huge variety of settings and can confuse the hell out of you. Reverbs, delays and multi-band compressors come to mind. Other plug-ins can be subtle and sometimes it’s not clear what they do. Tape Saturation, for example. It’s like those MIDI editing functions we looked at in Chapter 12. Be assured that every plug-in has a proper use and someone developed it for a good reason. You might need to experiment a little to get the best out of it, that’s all. GG :: 59
Tuners Some software will have a built-in tuner. These can be both accurate and hypersensitive. Make sure you mute all the strings except for the one you’re tuning.
Guitar Amplifier Simulators Okay, hands up all of you who are absolute crap at playing a guitar unless you add a bit of delay, reverb, distortion, chorus or flange? Now you sound more like Jimi Hendrix and your friends are impressed, right? Yes, it’s cheating — but don’t worry, everybody does it. Fortunately, your DAW can do it for you. With an appropriate plug-in, of course. First, let’s revisit a bit of theory. Put those propeller caps back on. Dating a Model The digital music revolution means that just about any individual sound can be analysed, broken down into binary information and used in a DAW. This is why plug-ins are sometimes called ‘emulations’, whereby the actual sonic character and timbre of an instrument or a piece of equipment can be reproduced very closely and turned into a kind of template to apply to other sounds. This type of emulation is often called ‘modeling’. Here’s an example. A few years back you could purchase ‘microphone modeling’ software from Antares, which promised to turn any mic’s sonic character into any number of expensive studio microphones. Sometimes the results came close — as long as the original recording had some quality in the first place — but it never quite got it right and it rarely fooled the experts.
ome DAW developers like Cakewalk have opted to make a deal with existing S plug-in providers, so Sonar has a custom version of Overloud’s TH2 amplifier simulator included. Other DAWs like Studio One and Cubase have decided, “Hey, we can do this without any help”. Pro Tools has the Eleven Rack (pictured above) which has a Lite version that runs natively as a plug-in or needs the hardware processor to provide the full wall-of-Marshalls version. Studio One has Ampire, an amplifier and cabinet emulator that relies on the other Studio One plug-ins to provide delays and reverbs, etc. And Cubase comes with the VST Amp Rack, a fully-featured amp simulator which is pretty darn impressive.
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The same approach is used in creating realistic plug-ins of famous and renowned pieces of gear. For example, you can get a software plug-in of an SSL console’s channel strip, which is a piece of legendary hardware few of us could ever afford to purchase. The plug-in can make your DAW channel sound almost like it’s going through an SSL console — awesome. Almost, because the purists will never agree it’s exactly right and they’ve got a fair argument. The reason this kind of modeling is so successful is that the original manufacturers allow the software designers access to their technology and research, then license out the results. Which is vastly different to someone ripping off a company’s hardware circuit and reputation without asking.
Another area where modeling works very well is in copying the characteristics of things like speaker boxes, electronic equipment and even the sound of a particular environment (convolution reverbs use a form of modeling). In the case of a guitar simulator, all these elements are present: guitar amps and speaker boxes, stomp effect pedals, preamps and even microphone positions. With a combination of modeling and the ability to digitally recreate gear, software such as IK Multimedia’s Amplitube, Native Instrument’s Guitar Rig and Line 6’s GearBox mean that everyone can now play their guitar through some kind of monstrous rig that would have Eddy Van Halen green with envy. Plugging into the Plug-In These guitar amp plug-ins are best inserted like any other effect directly over an audio channel that you want as a guitar track (some products like Line 6 have an audio interface style, but they can be inserted as well). Alternatively you can create an Effects Send with the amp simulator as the effect, but this means you’ll get a mix of the original and affected signal returning into your mix unless you make the send pre-fade and turn the channel volume down to zero... ah, is this getting difficult? Just insert it over a channel, like we were talking about in the first place. Then you assign an input from your audio interface and plug a guitar into the interface’s Instrument input. This should work fine, but it can also cause a couple of problems. First, those Instrument inputs are designed to cater for a lot of things, including keyboards and bass guitars with active pick-ups, which have strong signals. You might find your electric guitar has a comparatively weak signal and will need plenty of added gain. As a workaround, if you don’t have enough clean gain at the input, insert a plug-in with gain controls over the channel but don’t engage any other parts of the plug-in and use this as a preamp simulator gain increase. Just be sure to set slow attack and fast release times on the compressor so it keeps all the nuances of your playing. It’s best to set up your amp simulator sounds with the monitor volume down because changing between presets can result in huge changes in volume. It might even be worth inserting a limiter plug-in after the amp simulator to protect your speakers and hearing. In other words, by emulating guitar amps, stomp pedals and different types of valve tubes this software can build up a tremendous amount of gain in your signal path. Be aware and take care.
ine 6 GearBox: L This is the GearBox GUI interface that comes with many of Line 6’s TonePort and Pod products. Like Amplitube, it can emulate a lot of traditional settings and uses old-style knobs and switches. But it also has a slick new look and a neat, on-line component for trading licks over the Internet.
underneath whatever Nine Inch Nails mayhem you’re playing is a clean, untouched recording “
Keep an Eye on your CPU Meters Something else to remember is that running amplifier simulators can be pretty CPU intensive. Complex patches can be using at least reverb, chorus, delay and several types of EQ all at the same time. If this is a channel that’s part of a large project with lots of channels already, sometimes it will be best to do a rough mixdown of your song and record your guitar lines to this, rather than running multiple channels. Mixing Down Guitar Tracks The beauty of programs like these is that they process the guitar on top of the original clean guitar signal. In other words, underneath whatever Nine Inch Nails mayhem you’re playing is a clean, untouched recording. If you like, you can completely change the amp simulator patch and get another sound altogether. Brilliant! However, depending on your system and the host DAW don’t be surprised if any software like this doesn’t like running more than one instance of the plug-in in the same project. Usually it’ll be okay, so you can run one instance of (say) Guitar Rig 4 for your rhythm track then a second for a lead break, but it’s basically dependent on the amount of ‘herbs’ your CPU can deliver. However If you’ve finished a mellow rhythm track and want to use the plug-in for a nasty lead break, what do you do? It’s easy. Just bounce a mixdown of your rhythm track only and put this to another channel, then remove the original, clean recording. Now you have a rhythm recording that sounds exactly the same and isn’t using hardly any CPU power at all — it’s a straight forward wave file. It leaves your channel with the amp simulator inserted over it free for your lead break. An important reminder, though! It’s a good idea to hang onto that unprocessed rhythm recording — and any other source files for your guitar tracks — in case you want to remix them with a different patch later. Make sure you do this in such a way that your DAW won’t regard it as an ‘Unused’ or ‘Deleted’ recording because it isn’t actually inside the Arrange Window anymore, thus lining it up for erasing from the hard drive, if you give it a chance. Make a separate folder for ‘Original Guitar files’ or place it to the far right in your Arrange page/Main view after the point where the song finishes. How do you get Really Famous Sounds? It’d be great if, at the press of a preset button, we could sound like Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. Why don’t these guitar amp programs do this? Well, they do... and they don’t. Just about everything is copyrighted to some degree including, of course, brand names, so you need to look hard to see the ‘hidden’ intent of some of the components. Amplitube has some ‘VIP Patches’ with rather too-obvious names like ‘Jimi and the Wind’ (Jimi Hendrix), ‘Carlos’ (Santana) or ‘Red and Hot’ (come on, figure it out!). In its Stomp effects Line 6’s GearBox offers a distortion pedal called the ‘Screamer’ in a nice, lime green colour. Never, ever to be confused with a certain Ibanez Tube Screamer pedal that was famously green and is regarded as a classic sound! In other words, you may get clear explanations that
ative Instrument’s Guitar Rig 5: N Guitar Rig has a different set-up. You can add as many components to a virtual ‘rack’ as you want, including multiple instances of the same device. Just like in the real world, your guitar sound can radically change depending on the order in which you arrange the effects. The possible combinations are almost endless and you can go completely bonkers arranging the ‘Guitar Rack From Hell’. You might want to warn the neighbours first.
mplitube Stomp Box section: A Here are the foot pedals. You might ask why they bother doing this, instead of just putting in effects dialog boxes. The answer is vibe. You want it to look cool, don’t you?
he Live view of Guitar Rig: T Guitar Rig encourages you to take the software on the road and wow live audiences. Of course, a real foot controller (called Foot Kontroller… they’re German) is available. You’re not expected to mash your size 12 Doc Martin onto the computer screen to change programs!
a particular patch is supposed to be a 4 x 12-inch speaker cabinet, but recognisable brands and names aren’t so obvious. It’s Not Just About Guitar & your Studio Ultimately, these simulators are still an inserted effect and you don’t have to use them for guitar. You can try vocals, keyboards... hey, anything you like. Either way, they do an excellent job of adding some amp ‘gnarl’ and tone. You can save your own presets for each and every sound, and some programs have foot controllers that will run in a ‘stand-alone’ mode so you can use them at live gigs (assuming you play at a venue where nobody will steal your laptop as soon as your back’s turned). In the studio you can not only use the foot controllers, but also the automation tracks in your DAW to record any patch changes and make things totally foot-free and twice as easy.
Good Guitars & Good Strings These simulators are clever… really clever. But they can’t make up for a cheap guitar or old, dull strings. You might not be able to afford the latest US-made Fender Stratocaster, but a set of new strings and a guitar setup to fix any intonation problems will always make a big difference.
uitar Amplifier and G Effect plug-ins use a form of modeling that digitally recreates the sounds and characteristics of real guitar rigs. hey should be used as T a plug-in inserted over an audio channel and you’re not restricted to just guitar tracks — use your imagination. ifferent patches can D have wildly different gain structures — be careful as it’s hard to turn something off with a mouse when your head’s been ripped clean off! GG :: 61
Keeping your CPU within Limits You might think that entry-level computers have so much processing power nowadays that being able to run complex software is no big deal. You’ve already gone one step further — the machine you have in front of you was especially built for DAW software, right? So it’s even better equipped to deal with high workloads. You’ve forgotten about the software developers trying to give you the best ‘bang for your bucks’ by including a zillion features. And there’s their existing user base who demand that every upgrade has more capability, faster performance and better quality. It’s like with every, additional GHz of performance that a new CPU offers, the developers come up with a software trick to gobble up the added grunt. If you look at the recommended — not minimum — RAM required for many programs, it’s up around 1GB these days. Five years ago 1GB of RAM would have run the New York Stock Exchange. Now you need it to play a decent piano sampler. It’s a bit scary how computer hardware is almost out of date before you get it out of the box, but obviously up-to-date software is designed to take advantage of up-to-date computers, so it doesn’t take much to max out the CPU or run out of RAM. Somewhere in your DAW will be an indicator of how much CPU power you’re using — probably as a percentage figure with 100% meaning HELP! Find it, and we’ll briefly look at a few ways to keep your computer running within its limits. Freezing Plug-ins & Virtual Instruments The previous chapters examined plug-ins and virtual instruments in more detail, so let’s summarise again what you should do with these. Freezing tracks that use lots of effects or has a virtual instrument on it can significantly reduce the load on a CPU. It might take a few minutes as the DAW writes a temporary wave file in the background, but once it’s done you’ll see a big improvement in performance. It isn’t a complete ‘Freeze’ in some DAWs anyway. You might still be able to adjust volumes and panning on locked audio tracks, so a large part of the mixdown process isn’t affected. As mentioned in Chapter 14, if you Freeze a virtual instrument track, then editing the MIDI data isn’t possible, but again mixing tweaks are still there. By the way, once you’ve frozen a virtual instrument channel you may still have to dig deeper and disable the synth or sampler it was running. The MIDI data has been converted to a wave file in the background, but the sampler is still in the DAW’s ‘Rack’ and taking up RAM with the samples. Obviously this whole track Freezing thing needs some thought to keep up a good workflow. Still, it works really well for freeing up computer resources and it’s worth getting a good understanding of it, and getting into the habit of using it.
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Mixing for a Quick Fix There’s a big difference between running 16 channels of audio (including plug-ins) and running 16 channels of audio and recording a new track at the same time. The processing grunt needed to record a wave file in a decent resolution — remember: 24-bit/48kHz is recommended — will suddenly take another big chunk of your computer’s resources. Depending on what you’ve included in the project and your hardware setup, it might seem almost odd that you can play back so many tracks, yet recording just one more track can hit the overload point, but recording is an entirely different workload. An easy solution is to Export a simple mixdown of the existing tracks and import it back into a fresh Project window that’s not laden with tracks and plug-ins. This imported mixdown then acts as a reference for your new recording so it doesn’t really matter how good the mixdown is — it’s only temporary, like a guide vocal. It’s a good idea to then save this session for any further overdubs you may need to do later on. The point is, this skeleton song file is only running a single, stereo channel without any plug-ins while you’re recording. Any CPU load will just about vanish. This can be a great advantage, if you’re recording something like a killer guitar track with amplifier simulator, effects and compressors all piled on to get your favourite sound. Is Anything Else Running? This goes way back to the opening chapters about setting up your computer and applying a few of those expert tweaks. Software developers can be sneaky, however, and they like to put their product up front without asking you. It always pays to regularly check if anything you’ve installed recently has also created a program that runs automatically in the background. Video drivers often include a Control Panel. If you use your PC for downloading images or movies from a digital camera, then sometimes the camera’s software will put an interface dozing quietly somewhere to awaken when you attach the unit again. Another major offender is anti-virus software. Make sure you turn Auto Update off!
crazy with heat well before any microscopic glass is broken and the virtual sprinklers start. Sluggish performance, lock-ups and even the dreaded blue screen can be indications that your CPU is getting too hot. It doesn’t need much to make a difference. A project that runs well one day might glitch and stall the next, because summer arrives. It goes hand-in-hand that as your CPU works harder — with extra tracks, lots of plug-ins and maybe some recording — that you need to consider keeping things cool. Make sure there’s plenty of fresh airflow around your computer. If you’re using a laptop, raise the computer slightly higher off the desk somehow to get more air underneath. By the way, an overheating CPU isn’t necessarily over worked. In a too-hot environment a sizzling processor will fail and go into meltdown even if you’re not pushing things too hard. If the CPU meter says only 50%, but you need to blink sweat out of your eyes to see it and your studio feels like an oven, you’re asking for trouble. In this situation, it’s worth investing in a quality CPU cooler, either of the fan and heatsink variety or a hi-tech water cooler. Take it to the Limit That’s what The Eagles sang about 20 times in just one song, but we don’t recommend it. Just what the limit of your computer will be is nearly impossible to know — they’re all different. Some machines will defy death and still function at 90-95% CPU without a hiccup. Others will begin to choke with only peaks above the 75% mark. We can only suggest that you experiment with your DAW and try to establish at what point the CPU performance meter starts to affect things — and never go that far again. Try the suggestions above to lower your CPU load. If you’re not sure what might be causing trouble, play a project and switch things off one by one to see what affects the CPU most. You’ll soon learn what kind of content — be it a plug-in, a synth or whatever — gives you hassles and you can work around it in the future.
Regardless of how big, small, harmless or unobtrusive these kinds of applications are, they shouldn’t be running when you’re using a DAW. They demand RAM and CPU time. Too Hot to Handle This is something many operators don’t think of — how hot their computer is running. Any CPU gets seriously warm when it processes all those zeros and ones. Without some kind of cooling system, your processor would melt into a puddle of silicon. The BIOS of most motherboards will include a safety cut-off, however some CPUs will start to go a little
Mute vs Disabled You might find that muting tracks isn’t having much effect on cutting back the CPU load. That’s because some Mutes just cut the sound while the track still silently plays or processes itself. Instead, you’ll have to Disable the track, if you can — an entirely different thing. See if your DAW has this option.
Overclocking Normally we wouldn’t mention over-clocking here, because only IT experts would do it and you’d expect they know how. Now, latestgeneration motherboards are coming with simple U-Over-Clockit software that tempts the untrained. If you want to play games or watch videos, sure– give it a try. But DAWs want a safe and stable environment. Over-clocking is like tipping a can of Red Bull and a handful of red jelly babies into your PC — not recommended, if you want to keep a steady hand. Whether you can ferret around deep in the innards of your BIOS or just hit the red “CPU On Steroids” button... don’t. Not for DAW stuff.
Summary he latest software is T hard on computers and greedy for processing power — always has been, always will. reezing tracks is a F good way to avoid CPU overload. Just figure out a good workflow to use with it. ry doing small, tempoT rary mixdowns to use as reference tracks for new recordings, instead of having the entire project chugging away in the background. heck that no extra C programs are running. emember to give your R CPU room to stay cool. stablish a safe, workE ing limit for your CPU and don’t push your luck!
Visit the Guerrilla Guide website for news of the latest apps released for audio and recording
You could get lost for days. The mobile app universe has exploded and it’s very easy to have your iPad, iPod Touch or Android tablet totally chockers with a million-and-one apps – some utter rubbish. The flipside of that is, there are plenty of gems out there – many for free! For example, in the Guerrilla Guide office we’ve been having great fun mucking around with the Animoog (an amazing sounding synth from Moog), or the Korg iKaossilator; while Paul – our Sales Manager here – has been getting some cool results with IK Multimedia’s Amplitube guitar amp emulator… and there are hundreds more worthy of your attention. Right off the bat, one thing to realise about your tablet is: it won’t replace your PC. Think of your tablet as a great sketchpad – a brilliant way to get ideas down – without needing any bulky hardware. Make high-quality music in the back of the car, in a plane, a hotel room, anytime when you’ve got a few spare moments and some inspiration. The latest version of GarageBand also demonstrates how an iPad audio app can also be great for collaboration. Increasingly, you’ll be able to easily jam and share ideas with your mates. And, this is when things start to get way more fun.
he Korg iMS20 system. Some of history’s T most influential synths in your iPad along with some tight hardware integration via the dock connector.
An iPad is built to be self-contained, but still, to play guitar or get proper vocals down you’ll need some kind of audio interface. Some will plug into the iPad’s headphone socket. How does that work?! The headphone socket allows for a stereo output along with a mono input – sneaky. You’ll then plug your cans into the interface (not the iPad itself) to monitor your performance. Other devices are now using the iPad’s dock connector for more sophisticated hardware/software integration, often needing the Apple Camera Connection kit. When we first saw the Korg iMS20 system, for example, it’s clear to see that we’re talking about exploiting the iPad to somewhere near its full potential as a musical instrument – this
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isn’t just another mobile app for some giggles. A lot of audio interface manufacturers are adding an iOS device connection along with the standard USB port. Avid’s Fast Track Solo and Duo boxes are simple enough USB interfaces and at the same time offer you a direct connection to any 30-pin dock connector, so you can use your iPad as well. This idea will be the norm for interfaces within a very short space of time. The clever concept is you use the iPad for mobile, thinking-on-the-run recordings, and transfer these files to your DAW later. Tablets and smartphones are everywhere, but don’t expect them to be just as good at making and recording music as they are at organising our lives, finding a bargain on eBay, Facebooking or, ahem, making a phone call. Alert: they’re not. The trade-off for being compact, mobile and multi-tasking is always in the quality. You simply can’t squeeze into a tablet the kind of awesome-sounding electronics and components that are the difference professional musicians and engineers always look for. Use your tablet for what it’s great at, and that’s its touch control and portability. Tablets are revolutionising the world’s approach to sound creation and performance as developers think laterally and explore the possibilities. However, despite all the hype you’ll read in the app store blurbs, that serious DAW computer in your studio is the only way to go. Your iPad is for fun, fast ideas and experimenting – that’s definitely a good thing. Start performing with your iPad and get radical! If you find a wild app that you think is brilliant, tell us about it on our GG website or Facebook. In the meantime here are a few reviews of some of the more prominent players’ app offerings. Most of these are priced well under twenty bucks and some are even free, if you buy one of the developer’s audio interfaces.
Multitrack DAW Multitrack DAW from Harmonicdog is an audio-only multitrack that might just be the thing for you. It has a simpler looking interface than any of the other apps in this chapter but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in functionality and ease of use. Hit the + symbol to create a new track, then tap the Record button on that track. A spring-loaded control box appears with functions for Arm (Record Ready), Mute, Solo and FX. The FX section has a simple EQ and compressor plus an FX send. Each track also has simple metering, volume and balance controls. Once you record a segment of audio, click and hold on it in the timeline and a floating dialogue box appears. Simply drag your finger to one of the options and let go. You can name, erase, copy, edit, slice and bin!? Bins is where you organise your song data, see what’s been shared and import from your iTunes song library. At the bottom of the Arrange screen, there are also options for Snap and Punch, Undo and Redo and the all-important Help/ Sharing/Upgrades tab. Under Sharing, you can select whether to email, upload to Soundcloud or mixdown onto your iPad. A nice feature here is the ability to choose between .wav, .ogg or .m4a formats. While Multitrack DAW will handle up to eight tracks, there is an option under the Upgrade tab to add 16 stereo tracks (for a total of 24) as an in-app purchase. – Cal Orr
StudioTrack If sequencing isn’t your thing and you just want to record your own audio parts, Sonoma Wireworks’ StudioTrack might be for you. It has a really nice interface and the ability to record up to eight tracks, bounce a mix and import it into a new project, or bounce it into the same project (which wipes your individual, old, tracks). There is no Arrange page, and no ability to name tracks but you can export the whole project and continue working on it in a DAW of your choice. Each track has controls for Gain, Pan, Mute, Solo and a reverb send. Also Sonoma has provided a simple insert effects section with a compressor, EQ and delay. It’s hard not to like this app with its good looks and ease of use. Simply arm a track and slide the Record button to the right and you’re away. When you have finished tracking your song you can choose to put master effects on the output bus before a bounce. Sonoma provides the Supertanker Reverb, Freakenzy EQ and the Slammer limiter. All of these sound pretty good and add a nice finishing touch to your mix. – Cal Orr
WaveMachine Labs Auria
Wavemachine Labs, the creators of a well-known soundreplacer program called Drumagog, has this 48-track DAW for iPad. Auria is able to record 24 tracks at once, with any compatible USB2 interface (something like RME’s UCX). For now, iOS limits the quality to 24-bit/44.1k, but it is capable of 96k playback with the right digital outputs.
Another must-have purchase for your musical iPad is Sampletank from Audio Software veterans IK Multimedia. It’s a simpler sequencer than Garageband, with the only way to edit your performance being to play it again. The interface is clean and no-nonsense. The Free version comes with basic sounds to get you going but I highly recommend you upgrade.
What’s amazing about Auria is it’s more like a full-blown DAW. We’re talking about 64-bit architecture, AAF export of the session to use on an external DAW, most major editing capabilities including automation, setting input levels and monitoring with effects, different record modes, two aux sends on every track as well as a PSP ChannelStrip that includes EQ, expansion, compression and gating. The effects engine is really where Auria is sticking its neck out, because Wavemachine Labs is attempting to port over VST plug-ins into the iOS format. Of course, this requires other manufacturers to jump on board, but Auria already provides pitch correction and a convolution reverb on top of the ChannelStrip and main output’s MasterStrip (EQ, compression, and brick-wall limiting), as well as the ability to make in-app plug-in purchases, like Drumagog, echoes, tube emulation and more. Head along to www.auriaapp.com for a demo. – Cal Orr
There are three main tabs labelled as Sounds, Keys and Pads. The Sounds tab is where you select an instrument to play and there are many on offer, ranging from the standard fare of drums, bass, guitars and pianos through to brass, synths and woodwinds. IK Multimedia has provided many patterns to get you going but, you probably find you’ll want to make your own to suit your style of music. Once you have selected the sound in the four available ‘Parts’ you then select either the Keys or Pads to play the selected sound. Hit Record when you’re ready and when satisfied that you’ve ‘nailed’ it, you move onto the next part. Unfortunately, there are only four parts (tracks) available and no way to bounce or import a mix. Furthermore, the export dialogue only let’s you export a mix of the song in .m4a format and there is no way to record audio of your own, so you can’t overlay vocals or introduce samples of your own into the project. I’m guessing these issues will be addressed in future updates or Sampletank will end up frustrating some users. To end on high, however, IK Multimedia has included a nice sounding reverb and filter from the computer-based version of Sampletank and there is the ability to transpose a part into other keys. – Cal Orr GG :: 65
Summary he mobile app T universe is huge – and there are plenty of world-class apps for less than $20. ou’ll need some hardY ware to plug in your guitar, mic, or line level source. uy a MIDI interface B to get the most out of your synths and to integrate the iPad into your DAW setup. our tablet or smartY phone is still currently at its best as a selfcontained sketchpad. xploit your tablet’s E strengths – portability and its touch interface – to turn it into an amazing performance instrument.
GarageBand After many a month of testing numerous apps, GarageBand is still one of my top five for getting ideas down. There are nine instrument sub groups to choose, each of which has variants within them. For instance, the Drums instrument varies from a Classic Studio Kit to a Hip Hop Drum Machine. While each of the Kits have a different sound, each of them also has a different look. For instance the Vintage Kit has white (worn) batter skins, while the Live kit has clear skins. For the three drum machines the 12-pad graphical layout doesn’t change, only the sounds do. The drum machines also have four controls: Resolution, Lo Fi, Low and Hi Cut. Hit the Record button and start tapping out the beat. GarageBand creates a region with MIDI notes, which you can then cut, copy and paste to your heart’s content. The only caveat here is that you can’t edit the MIDI notes to ‘fix’ a performance, forcing you to play the part again if you bungle it. While I found this initially frustrating because I am used to polishing a... um... performance, it does force you to become a better tapper. And, dare I say it, the performances maintain a human feel redolent with idiosyncrasies and timing errors, etc. Saying that, there are basic quantize functions of straight, triplet and swing, with multiple note divisions. Of course, this kind of shortcoming will have the electro and dance fraternities up in arms, but in Apple’s defence, GarageBand is really only trying to be a high quality sketchpad, leaving desktop/laptop systems to final production duties. There is no ability to insert plug-ins on the individual tracks or the master bus and — even though they are nice sounding — there is only reverb and echo effects available via sends to the master effects bus. Furthermore, a Project or ‘song’ can only have a total of eight tracks and there is no bounce function,
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however, you could export a mix in various low-res formats ranging from 64kbps through to 16-bit, 44.1k in iTunes and import it into a new song project. Other export options include sending a mix in .m4a via Apple Mail or you can export the project file into GarageBand on other Mac devices such as your iPhone, iPod or computer. I’ve been exporting my projects this way and opening them in Logic Pro 9 without any problems. Nice! Under the Keyboard section there are 48 variants to choose from. And all presets have a velocity slider and a pitch control except for the Pianos and Organs which only have velocity control. The sounds selected by Apple’s engineers get you in the ballpark quickly. You can’t always keep everyone happy when catering to a multitude of styles but for the most part they’ve chosen well. Probably the cream of the Garageband crop are the Guitar Amps. Users can choose from the presets sub-section of Clean, Crunchy, Distorted and Processed. And on saving a preset, another Custom category is created. All the usual suspects are there — Fender, Marshall, Vox, Mesa Boogie, even Orange — looking and sounding similar to their hardware counterparts aside from the Garageband branding. The variety of tones on offer is very welcome. Apple has also included a collection of 10 stomp boxes from the Pedalboard section in Logic Pro. The FX on offer include overdrive, fuzz, compression, delay reverb, flanger, chorus and auto funk. My beloved Monster Fuzz from Logic Pro’s Pedalboard is not in the bunch, however. The guitar section also sports a tuner that tunes to concert pitch only, an input section for configuring, well, the input levels and a welcome noise gate for those higain shredding settings.
The Sampler section of Garageband is suprisingly fullfeatured, with ADSR, Tune, Trim, Sample Reverse and Loop functions as well as Garageband’s standard controls of Pitch, Modulation, Velocity and Sustain. dare i say it, this is the easiest and fastest sampler i have used. Just stick the iPad in front of a sound, set the gain and hit the big red button. Drag the handles to trim and you’re done! Garageband has four ‘Smart’ instruments designed for novices, yet engineers and musicians will find these invaluable too. Coming in piano, guitar, bass and drums flavours, all will play pre-determined phrases or you can play them without fear of hitting a ‘bum note’ as only chords relative to each other and single notes in the given key are on offer. Before I sign off, I should discuss the Arrange page a little bit. On the left of the screen are the tracks in your project. Grab the tab and drag it to the right and you expose the volume slider and mute and solo buttons. Above this is an icon that looks like a jigsaw piece. This is where you can duplicate, add and delete sections in your project on a macro level (delete is the same as other iOS apps whereby you swipe to the right and hit delete). On a micro level, double tapping a region will give you the usual commands of cut, copy, delete, loop and split. You can also single click a region and resize it using the handles. If it is a MIDI region, the front of the region can only be resized to the left just as in Logic Pro or Garageband on the Mac. To get around this and remove the front of a region, place the cursor at the point where you want to remove the front portion and hit the split key. Scissors will appear on the region but to actually slice it you have to swipe downwards where the scissors are. Then simply double tap the unneeded region and hit delete.
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Pop filters: A good pop filter can help save a vocal take from ‘plosives’ like ‘B’ and ‘P’. The standard nylon fibre filter has been around a long time, but if you have different singers or maybe a heavy smoker and you want something that can be easily cleaned there’s now a range of metal mesh filters. Stedman does a good one, for example.
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No doubt, since you’re so interested in recording songs yourself, you also listen to a lot of music as well (if you don’t, you should!) and you’ve probably heard some crazy vocals. Voices that sound like they’ve been crushed, mangled and stretched into all manner of alien noises. You’d be excused for even thinking some vocals were phoned into the studio weeks after the event. Musicians and sound engineers can come up with some pretty strange ideas in the wee small hours of the morning, but generally speaking, no matter how weird a singer might sound on any song, that vocal track would have started out as a clean, clear recording. This secret to success applies to almost every recording. Get it down in crystal-clear perfection and if you want things to be mashed and dirty later, do it during the mixdown. The exceptions are instruments that aren’t expected to be ‘clean’ in the first place. Things like distorted guitars or a growling Leslie speaker cabinet are recorded the way you want them... you get the idea. Dynamic Range For many reasons, vocals can be the hardest thing to record well. One problem is the dynamics of any singing performance. Dynamics are best described as the range of different volumes that occur during any recording. So a vocalist who might whisper the first few verses of a song, but end up screaming the last chorus would be presenting you with a wide dynamic performance. Think of acts like Linkin Park, Nirvana, even Kelly Clarkson and the like. If you watch some of the ‘old hands’ at bashing out a big number, you’ll see them moving the microphone close for quiet passages, then further away for loud parts. It’s called ‘microphone technique’, a kind of manual volume control the vocalist employs to compensate for a dynamic performance (love him or hate him, John Farnham is a master of it). Singers with good microphone technique are generally held in high regard by audio engineers. In the studio where things are bit more predictable — rather than on a pub stage where things are far from predictable — good ‘microphone technique’ isn’t quite
so critical. Compressors — a device or plug-in that evens out the dynamic range — make the job easier for the recording engineer and the average singer only has to worry about singing. But before we look at recording with any kind of signal processor involved, let’s talk about the most important tool of the trade, microphones. Condenser or Dynamic? There are three main types of microphone: dynamic, condenser or ribbon types. (You’ll also occasionally come across a type of mic called a PZM, but don’t worry too much about that just now.) Actually, for the moment, don’t worry about ribbon microphones either, they’re a little left-of-field and quite specific in their application. They’re a great addition to a mic arsenal, but you’re first mic won’t normally be a ribbon mic… so we’re going to ignore them for a while. That leaves us with dynamic and condenser mikes of which there are hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from. The main point here is that while some dynamic microphones, such as the legendary Shure SM58, are fantastic for live performances they need extra thought, if you want to use them in a recording studio. Microphones designed for a live stage mostly have a tighter pick-up pattern and aren’t all that ‘sensitive’. They’re meant to amplify whatever is close — like the singer’s voice — and ignore everything else around it. A lot of performers just don’t get this important fact about microphone designs and they get grumpy when you try to explain. Your vocalist will claim to be able to ‘project’ their voice (it’s a pride thing for singers). They’ll be classically trained, and they’ve watched every episode of Australian Idol — they can yodel across four octaves. To demonstrate, they’ll stand at the opposite side of the room and sing at the top of their lungs, scaring the neighbour’s chickens. However, the recording will still sound thin and horrible, because your dynamic microphone isn’t really interested in anything that’s more than about 15cm away. Here’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Pavarotti or Pink, if you’re using a dynamic
microphone for recording vocals make sure the singer uses it close.
Proximity Effect Microphones have a ‘sweet spot’. A distance from the diaphragm where everything sounds pristine. Move too far away and you begin to lose bass tones. Get too close and things can sound ‘boomy’. In condenser and ribbon mics this is called the Proximity Effect and describes that extra bass when a singer gets too near the mic. Here’s one of those radical, techno-junky, electronic trickery solutions to fix this: tell the singer to move back a few inches. Saying that, sometimes it’s just what the vocals need. Use your ears.
itch-correction Eg.1: V-Vocal ships with Sonar P Producer edition. Interface-wise, it’s very similar to Antares Autotune, which pioneered pitch correction. These plug-ins can do more than fix a bad note — like create harmony tracks — so the interface is a little daunting for some. Take the time to learn all the features and it can be a powerful tool.
itch-correction Eg.2: Celemony’s Melodyne uses P a different approach to pitch correction with its interface, but it’s just as impressive with the results.
Another answer is to use a condenser microphone, which is designed to do exactly the opposite. Just about all good studio microphones used for vocals are condensers. They are far more sensitive and will naturally pick up a vocalist standing back from the mic. A condenser mic’s sensitivity does create another problem though. They suffer from ‘popping’ and it really is worthwhile investing in a pop-screen or pop-filter. (Failing that, try singing ‘across’ the mic and not directly into it.) Where to Record Vocals In Chapter 11 we got serious about setting input levels and doing a sound check, before attempting any recording. Nothing has changed here, but once you’re satisfied a good signal is coming into the DAW, the nicely-open microphone may reveal that the room you’re recording vocals in is far from ideal. You can hear all kinds of other stuff, like the fridge, traffic and even the rat in the ceiling. Yes, we’d all like a soundproof booth and a control room with that coffee machine, and an assistant running down to the shops to get beer and chocolate whenever we need it. The reality is you’re in a garage or a spare room. Maybe you’ve taken over the whole house for a weekend? So where is the best place to record vocals? Ideally an acoustically dead and isolated space will give you the least trouble, but if that’s too hard to arrange, don’t be afraid to use the sonic characteristics of some place to improve your recording. You’ll always hear stories of tracks being recorded in toilets, bathrooms and other ‘hard surface’ areas that create a natural reverb. If it works, why not? The lead vocal for one of the Corrs’ best ballads was apparently recorded inside Bono’s garden shed. When it comes to music no one is beyond a bit of improvisation and creative thinking. Certainly you have to avoid noisy environments — rooms filled with other electronic equipment or maybe closest to a busy road outside. Otherwise, experiment with your microphone in a corner or inside a walk-in wardrobe. Try it anywhere. You’re only restricted by your own imagination and... okay, the length of your headphones’ lead. Don’t get stressed by the idea your vocals have to be recorded somewhere lifeless and silent. Recording with Effects out of the Signal Chain A lot of vocalists will actually faint or have a nervous breakdown when they hear themselves singing for the first time in perfect 24-bit/48kHz digital clarity. The experience has shattered confidences and abruptly ended careers. Those who survive this first encounter with the truth about their vocal ability might know a way around the pain — they’ll ask you to put a reverb or delay over their singing to make it more natural. This isn’t a bad thing. Lots of guitar players get to disguise their finger-fumblings with distortion pedals and howling overdrive, so why shouldn’t the poor vocalist have a bit of help? The idea though is to still record the track cleanly and provide any helpful effects outside of the recording’s signal path — meaning you don’t record the reverb, but just send it to the singer’s headphones. If you have a separate mixing desk and an effects unit, like a Yamaha SPX90 or Lexicon MPX1, this is simple. But, if you’re monitoring directly from your DAW it needs a little more trickery. Importantly, it will put pressure on your CPU, too. The way to do it is by adding an Effects Send into your Project — not an insert over the vocal track — and returning it normally into the main mix that your singer can hear. Because it’s a Send you’re not adding it to the recording. This is explained fully in Chapter 20 since it is exactly the same process as adding an effect to your mixdown. But don’t get too carried away, particularly with any reverb. Reverb especially can really tax your computer’s resources and cause dropouts and glitches during
the recording. If you absolutely have to give the vocalist some kind of confidence-boosting effect on their singing and you don’t have an external desk or reverb unit to do it, try a very short delay — probably a preset called a ‘doubler’. It will likely do the job and is comparatively CPU friendly, or try a simple reverb, one without too many parameters that is light on the CPU. Recording with Effects in the Signal Chain Improvisation and creativity are just fine, so if you really want to record a ‘wet’ (effected) vocal track you have to make sure those effects are in your recording signal path. The best way is to insert them over the track or, if you have any external units, put them between the microphone pre-amp and the soundcard input. Beware, though, effects like reverb and delays have a way of sneaking up on you in levels. When you’re thinking it all sounds just right and it’s time to hit the record button, go for a walk around the garden or put the kettle on for a coffee. Then go back and check those effect levels again. Chances are it’s a bit more radical and ‘wet’ than you’ll want. Remember, recording this way means you won’t get an opportunity to remove any of the effect later on. You’re stuck with it. As mentioned previously, one thing to have in your signal chain that can come in really handy is a compressor to deal with those pesky dynamics. A light setting on a compressor can still keep the highs and lows of a performance intact, but put a cap on any sudden peaks in signal. Another useful tweak in your input path can be a touch of EQ. Some cheaper microphones might need a little help in the top end or a notch out around the 2.5kHz area. Again, don’t get too heavy-handed. There’s an old maxim in sound engineering worth repeating a few times: ‘a little is a lot’. Look very hard at your recording signal path and you should see that software (plug-in) effects like compressors and EQs won’t prevent any signal overload happening before your soundcard’s input. If you’re using an external pre-amp or a small mixing desk, and the vocalist is lighting up red lights everywhere, then some kinds of processing on your DAW might repair some of the damage, but a clip or spike will still get through as a nasty noise. So while it’s possible to record a vocal with a software compressor or EQ doing something good for you, remember they’re not part of the recording signal path outside your computer and won’t prevent any problems occurring there. Some old pros like to ride the output level of the preamp manually on the way in. This is a great option, but you need to know the song, the singer and the exact amount to reduce or increase. Pitch Alteration Plug-ins Occasionally you’ll find yourself trying to record a singer who can’t sing — it might even be you. Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean your dream of a Grammy is over. The Top 10 charts are heavily populated by acts who struggle to hit the right note, even on a good day. At the same time it’s not wise to believe the wonders of modern, digital recording can turn any screeching punk rocker into a new Celine Dion at the push of a button. Sure, a good sound engineer will have a few tricks up their sleeve, but don’t make any rash promises. In short, you can never make a crap vocalist sound amazing, but you
Comfort Stop Some studios can go to extraordinary lengths to make their vocalists comfortable and relaxed — as long as it doesn’t make any noise. Low lighting is common and some performers use candles to create the right mood. Legend has it that Jewel preferred to record her vocals completely naked. Nice work for any bloke behind the mixing desk, you might say, but a professional engineer would keep their eyes firmly on the DAW the whole time and be grateful it’s not Meatloaf or Marilyn Manson at the mic.
You can never make a crap vocalist sound amazing, but you can make them sound acceptable. Meanwhile, great performers don’t need much help at all. ” GG :: 69
Different Microphones Sometimes when a vocalist does their own backing vocals everything can start to sound a bit ‘samey’. A neat trick is to use a totally different kind of microphone for back-up vocals. The different, sonic characteristic of that second microphone can help the illusion that you’re hearing a lead singer with someone else doing the harmonies, rather than one person blatantly multi-tracking their own voice.
Summary ocals are just about V always the most important part of your recording. So try your darnedest to get it right. ‘She’ll be right’, just won’t cut it. lways try and record a A clean vocal, even if you intend on distorting the heck out of it later. can make them sound acceptable. Meanwhile, great performers don’t need much help at all. Pitch alteration plug-ins like Antares Autotune or Celemony’s Melodyne can perform some nearmiracles on a bad vocal, if the engineer is wellversed in how to use them properly. While these programs have general presets that might fix some pitch issues okay, they do work better if their parameters are more closely attuned to the wave file you’re working with. Selecting exactly the right key, for example, helps a lot. But really, pitch alteration works best on small problems. Maybe the singer had the flu or a sore throat and couldn’t quite hit a note? There might be a lot of reasons that a good singer has a bad day, or maybe they’ve had to leave and aren’t around to do a punch-in to fix a bad note you discover later? You can probably save the day by carefully using a pitch correction plug-in. They’re a very useful tool to have in your DAW toolbox. On the other hand, if you find yourself trying to fix every track on every song with pitch correction there is a better solution. Get yourself another singer.
Vocal Condensers for Under $500: The good news is, you can buy a fantastic vocal condenser mic for under $500. I know, it’s still a lot of dosh, but a good vocal mic will give you years and years of solid service – you won’t regret it. You can’t go too far wrong with anything from the likes of Rode, Sennheiser, Shure, Audio-Technica, MXL and SE Electronics.
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Punch In Recordings & Extra Sessions In an ideal studio setup, when it comes to recording vocals, you have a particular microphone and preamp arrangement that never changes. You’ve got the best signal path all sorted out. Which is great, because it means your singer can go out for a pizza or even take a few days off and it doesn’t matter — everything will sound the same. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case and the mic setup is constantly changing to record other instruments, such as guitars, bass, different singers... you name it. We looked at this earlier, but it’s worth a reminder. If you’re going to make alterations to your input signal path, it becomes very important that you record all the vocals you need either in a single session or without making any changes to your settings between separate sessions. It doesn’t matter how careful you are marking the desk with a felt pen or saving presets on your input channels — reproducing exactly the same sound for any extra recording is almost impossible. The same goes for any punch-in recordings. It’s best to do any ‘fixing’ on a track, before you move on to something different.
Otherwise you’ll hear the new sessions stand out (either better or worse!) from the original tracking every time. While this is all good in theory, the reality might fall to pieces when your singer lies gasping for breath on the studio floor after trying to hit an elusive high ‘C’ all day. You need to do something else for a while to let the vocalist recover. There are a lot of possibilities, depending on your studio gear, so the best advice we can give is to look hard at what you’ve got. Can you move the mic input to another channel on a mixing desk, leaving the vocal settings untouched? Does your audio interface have a second channel? The point is, move onto something else and leave that channel untouched. Doing anything to avoid changing the settings halfway through a session is better than trying to put things back the way they were. Making Compilations: ‘Comping’ Did you see the box item about “comping” in Chapter 11? It isn’t just for fixing a short loop-recorded vocal section. ‘Comping’ is putting together a compilation of lots of different takes of any recording to create one perfect track. But sticking with the vocal theme here, what’s happened is that the singer hasn’t quite nailed any one attempt at the vocal track, but over several recordings of the entire track they’ve sung the various bits and pieces well. Instead of trying to do a multitude of punch-ins, you can edit the good parts into a single track. This is done by either leaving all the recordings in the project and using automation to switch from one track to another, or you go into an edit window to cut-and-paste all the segments into one wave file. It depends on just how many fragments of different takes you want to glue together. If there’s a lot, using the editing functions is probably going to be quicker than programming in lots of automation. Either way, there is still the problem of consistency. It needs to sound like it was always one, perfect take and the vocalist is some kind of singing megastar. All those issues about making sure you don’t change the settings on the vocal input channel seriously apply, if you think you’ll be comping a track later.
good rule of thumb: A don’t record your vocals with effects. Add them later during mixdown. dedicated studio A vocal microphone is a great investment. ecord in an acoustiR cally dead, quiet room. Wardrobes are a good standby. Setting up mattresses to make a ‘booth’ can work as well. Experimenting with ‘live’ rooms, like bathrooms, can produce interesting results and may even sound great, but limits your options later. ocalists find it hard V hearing themselves ‘dry’ (with no effects) in their headphones. Set up a ‘comfort zone’ effect outside of your DAW entirely. Alternatively, create an Effects Send so the input signal path is still clean. emember: pitch-corR rection plug-ins are the last resort of a desperate sound engineer. ry to leave untouched T all the settings for a recording session until the tracking is completed. othing sounds better N than a great vocalist, singing a perfect take. Anything else is a compromise. Aim high.
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Mixing Down This is where sound engineers and musicians really start to have some fun. Mixing down all these tracks of (hopefully) perfect recordings and programmed instruments into a song that will set the music world on fire — or at least impress your mum. First we should quickly review what we’ve got to work with. Let’s stay with some traditional approaches to recording. (This means that if you’ve programmed any virtual instruments, you also exported them out to separate wave files such as we described in Chapter 14.) For the sake of example, let’s say your DAW project consists of eight channels of drums, a bass guitar, rhythm and lead guitar tracks, a stereo keyboard, one main vocal and two vocal harmony tracks. Each of your tracks is clean — there aren’t any coughs, splutters or burps you need to avoid during the mixdown. They’re all approximately the same amplitude (or volume) either from adjusting the Gain Trim or by careful attention to your input levels when you recorded (well done, by the way). Your computer is running fine and you’ve done all the necessary maintenance like defragging your hard drive to keep it that way. Nothing can stop you now. Except the question: ‘what does a good mix sound like?’ Mix Trix The definition of a good mix is one that allows the listener to hear the intended emotion, feel or groove of the song at its best. ‘Emotion’ is obvious, it’s the atmosphere of the song – is it up, down, danceable etc. Meanwhile, ‘feel’ is often a lot about the vocalist and the lyrics, so all the other ingredients of the song are built around it. But sometimes the strongest part of a song is a killer groove, like a bass line or a guitar melody (or ‘hook’), and that becomes the central focus of the mix. So, mixing isn’t about some formula that you apply to everything, it’s about getting to know the personality of the song and what drives it. The various ways in which you can mix a song can be heard when you compare musical genres. You’re not going to approach a folk tune the same way as a hip hop track. Even then, listen to several songs from one style of music and you’ll still hear plenty of GG :: 72
variation. Some will have a driving kick and a snare that cracks through everything. Others will have the bass or a guitar riff in your face and put the drums in the background. Decisions like these bring us into entirely different territory about the song’s arrangement and how – or why – it was composed. Personal choices are the strongest influence at work in the mix stage and it’s impossible to dictate what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’. So the best that can be done is put together a mix of some ‘standard’ rock ’n’ roll to show you the basics of mixing. Groups like Eskimo Joe, Coldplay and U2 for instance, have all recorded and mixed songs that break the rules, but usually they stick roughly to a formula of drums, bass and guitar providing a ‘rhythm section’, a lead guitar break somewhere, a main vocalist who wants to be heard (with harmonies) and the often unsung, underrated keyboard player filling a lot of holes and complementing the melody. What Comes First? Again, there aren’t any strict procedures. A lot of engineers will always start with drums, because they’re the basis of the song’s rhythm and groove, then move through the bass and melody instruments and finally ‘sit’ the vocals on top like a cherry on an icecream sundae. Others will argue that the vocals are the most important part of the mix and so should be worked on first, so that it’s easy to hear if any other channels start to interfere with them. No one said this was going to be easy. Headroom There is another thing to consider, a factor called ‘headroom’ at your main output buss, which is a little hard to explain – so please frown, chew a biro and concentrate for a moment. Imagine you need to bomb up the highway with three mates to spend the day at the beach. Outside you’ve got a Diahatsu Charade and a Commodore stationwagon. Which do you take? Do you take the buzzbox Charade or do you take the V8 Commodore (let’s just pretend the $200 petrol costs aren’t an issue here)? The smart money is on the Commodore. It’s got what you might call the ‘headroom’. Going 110kmh on the highway loaded with four blokes
and a couple of Eskys is not going to stress it to the point that the radiator will blow. The Charade will probably make it, but you’ll just need to be more careful. You won’t be able to push it too hard on the hills, and there won’t be as much room for your mates. The same applies to any music making/recording/ mixing system. There are limitations and you need to know how to work within them. Some setups are more like the V8 Commodore (more headroom, and you don’t see flashing red lights so much) while others max out pretty quickly. A big-arse SSL console is highly regarded for its extended headroom, whereas a cut-price ‘notepad’ mixer will have limited headroom, for instance. When it comes to mixing it’s worth knowing what’s going to ‘red-line’ your setup and how to control those elements. Instruments that make your meters go berserk are normally the ones that need close attention. Bass and drums are the main culprits and compressing them to control them allows you to make your mix, on average, more powerful. To return to our motor car metaphor: which would you rather? Going flat out through the city – stopping and starting at every traffic light, or cruising on the freeway. It’s the freeway every time, right? By ironing out those stop/starts (or ‘peaks’ and ‘troughs’), you’ve got a happier, healthier, more powerful thing going on. By not controlling those low-frequency elements, they can dictate your mix. How though? Power Versus Illusion The best mix engineers know that the most exciting, most sublime mixes are about tricking people’s ears. That’s why mix engineers are constantly tweaking levels – bringing things in and out, up and down. If you want something to sound like it’s hugely powerful – I mean, really big – you don’t just turn it up really, really loud, you make it seem like it’s really, really loud. What am I talking about!? Here’s an example: you might have an Audioslave track playing in the background at a very low volume on your hi-fi. You can clearly make out a distorted guitar. It’s very quiet, but your ears know it’s being played with the amps up to 11 – because of the texture of the sound. Here’s another example. Say
A Mono Mix Engineer for Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jim Scott, was quoted saying how he decided to mix their album Californication ‘almost completely mono’ because they simply decided it sounded best that way. It just goes to prove that nothing is sacred and rules are made to be broken. In this case, just because you have a stereo spectrum, it doesn’t mean you have to use it.
I’m behind a double glazed window trying to get your attention. I’m waving but you can’t hear me. I then start shouting, and you can only just hear me. But you know I’m ‘loud’ because I’m going red in the face bellowing. It’s the same with your mix. You don’t have to be the loudest thing in the mix to fool the listeners’ ears into thinking you’re the loudest thing in the mix. This is known as psychoacoustics. Practically, this means that if you want your bass guitar to drive the mix, for example, then perhaps introduce a little bit of amp distortion to the sound. That way you’re not turning the bass up (and eating up your headroom in the process) but it sounds grittier, meaner and more prominent. Panning & Separation A good idea is to listen to some award-winning music through headphones. You’ll be surprised how a tune that is a wall of sound coming out of your speakers actually has the instruments quite separate and in a space of their own. A guitar is panned well left, a piano is tinkling to the right and in the background, the backing vocals seem to be coming from another room entirely. More than anything, they each sound clear and separate from everything else, yet combine beautifully to make the ‘whole’ song. A good mix will have this effect. While nothing seems to particularly stand out, except maybe the vocals, you can easily listen to each individual instrument when you focus in on it.
Sitting in the Mix A bit of terminology for you. Whenever sound engineers talk about ‘mixing’ (both live and in a studio) they often talk about how each track or channel ‘sits’ in the mix. It’s nothing secretive like a Freemason Handshake or anything. ‘Sit’ is the same as ‘work’ — how a track ‘works in’ with the rest of the mix. Now ask someone about their lucky underwear [is that another Freemason’s joke? — Ed.].
Panning is one way to stop some tracks getting in the way of others. For example, a picked guitar melody might fight for attention with a right-hand piano line. So panning the guitar left and the piano to the right will help keep them both audible. Same applies when you have two competing guitar tracks – putting them on opposite sides of the stereo spectrum can let them complement each other, instead of clashing. When drums are panned, the separate sounds are often spread a little more creatively than reality would allow. In the real world all your drums would sound like they’re coming from roughly the same place, the centre of the stage – or wherever they might be set up. You’ll hear some engineers mix a song like this. The drums sound like they’re very mono and in a particular spot, like any other instrument. For a more stereo mixdown it can be an advantage to pan the drums as if you’re standing directly in front of them. So the hi-hats would be to your right, the ride cymbal to the left and the toms and other crash cymbals to either side depending on their ‘real’ placement. Only the kick and snare are kept in the centre. Just how extreme you want to do this panning is up to you. These are just suggestions. The bass guitar is normally put in the middle of the mix, too. Sitting in with the kick drum. Sometimes it’s about having something solid and dependable in the centre of your mix (especially low frequencies which our ears find hard to get a left/right fix on) — left and right can be meaningless, if you don’t have anything in the middle to refer to. Lead vocals also get to stay in the spotlight and centre stage. That’s definitely a very traditional approach, but it works. Anything else might be too distracting. However, harmonies are often panned to either side (unless you only have one). As you start to build your mix you might find some panning won’t work. An instrument or melody gets tangled up in another and you need to shift one of them. That’s okay. This is a work in progress. Equalising & Tone Control Before you bring any channel up in a partly established mix, you should Solo it first and check it
doesn’t need any tonal tweaking. Now theoretically nothing needs ‘tweaking’, right? Because of all that patience and planning you put into recording them in the first place… right? But sometimes you can’t avoid the odd gremlin or, more importantly, it was better to give yourself plenty of options during the mixdown. For example, a guitar amplifier might be too ‘honky’ in the mid-range. A percussion drum could have a pronounced booming noise which is fine for getting in touch with Tarzan across the Amazon (or whatever jungle he used to hang out in), but it’s going to drench your song with too much… well, booming. This kind of detail needs fixing with subtractive EQ (cutting), before you put the channel into the mix. A different approach to EQ is needed during mix downs. You have to consider where certain instruments belong in the frequency ranges. A hi-hat has no low frequencies naturally and never should, so don’t try to add any — that’s a pretty simple example. What about a rhythm guitar? On its own, the guitar might sound awesome: full-bodied and making the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Start mixing it in with a bass guitar and a kick drum, and things might begin to sound ‘muddy’. It’s because too many tracks are trying to compete for those low frequencies. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what seems like a great, individual sound to make an instrument sit in the mix. It’s pretty obvious which tracks are supposed to do particular jobs. Leave the bottom end to the bass and the kick drum. Let the hi-hats and other cymbals take care of the sizzling top end — don’t boost their low frequencies. In fact, cut them altogether. And when it comes to vocals, guitars and some keyboards, their job is the all-important mid-range. Keep their bass tones at a minimum, too. A great tool that has been used in mixing since it all began is the use of low — and high-pass filters. Get to know them, because they are economical in processing power and can help deliver the right kind of focus to an instrument. The mid-range is particularly difficult to keep open and clear, because so many tracks want that tonal ‘space’. This is where you might have to work hard at your EQ. Often, achieving the right balance in a mix isn’t just about getting the volumes right. Removing loud frequencies or boosting soft ones will give you a better result. If you’re getting frustrated trying to make something sit in the mix, look to the EQ and filters for an answer. Vocals get a special mention, not surprisingly. Few singers have any presence below about 100Hz (many high-pass filters are at this frequency so anything below that is removed). The tonal characteristics of an individual’s voice can vary enormously. The trouble is, vocals are frequently the last to be added and newbie engineers are getting either a little lazy by then or a bit impatient to hear the finished song. Make sure you spend plenty of time on any vocal tracks. Brightening the top end or the ‘air’ bands above 10kHz will sometimes help them cut through a busy song without having to make them too loud.
Removing Vocals When people find out you have a studio and a DAW someone will unfailingly, at some point, ask if you can ‘remove the vocals from a song’ so they can perform some kind of sick-o, karaoke thing. It’s all very sad. All we want to explain is that this magical, vocal-removing process (that can work in varying degrees of success) depends entirely on the vocal being mixed smack in the centre. Then a phase-cancellation trick will scrub much of it out — along with a lot of other centremixed stuff like bass and drums. Anything panned left or right can’t be removed, so backing vocals are usually left untouched as well as any stereo effects on the main vocals. The moral of the story is it never works very well. Honest.
mixing isn’t about some formula that you apply to everything, it’s about getting to know the personality of the song and what drives it ”
Balance & Volumes The best method for building a mix is to gradually work your way across the mixer, bringing up the fader of each track until it sounds just right. Could anything be easier? Yep, lots of things are easier, such as writing War & Peace or going over the Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel. This is when you really have to listen and no amount of digital trickery will replace those two devices on either side of your head — your ears. What you’re after is a precise balance of tracks. The perfect mix of being GG :: 73
the band member asks the monitor engineer to ‘make everything louder than everything else’. This is not a good mantra for any mixing job “
Deep Purple Hard rock legends Deep Purple created history with a double-live album called ‘Made In Japan’. It still sells today. In between songs one of the band members asks the monitor engineer to ‘make everything louder than everything else’. This is not a good mantra for any mixing job — but it lives forever in audio engineering folklore, a bit like the movie world’s Clint Eastwood saying ‘Make my day’.
able to hear each track clearly, having it exactly the right volume in relation to the other channels and it must be sitting in the mix according to its place in the song’s arrangement. Like, if it’s meant to be something subtle and in the background, mix it subtle and in the background. You may have to return to earlier channels that sounded fine at first, but then got overrun by something later. One of the best things you can do is regularly stop the playback, get out of your chair and take a walk around the house. Hearing fatigue can give you a lot of trouble (see Chapter 23). There is no secret formula to putting together a great mix. It needs patience, practice and a keen eye on those meters. Don’t let everything get too loud — protect your headroom. Above all, have a clear idea in your head what you want things to sound like. Reference Tracks A reference track is something you listen to for comparing your own mixing. They can be one of two things — either a song that is renowned for its exceptional engineering (whether you like the song or not) or one that you want your song to sound like. They also help overcome any deficiencies in your monitoring system (again, see Chapter 23) by reminding you what good music sounds like in your speakers. If you happen to have a song you’d like as a reference you can possibly Import it into the last channels on your DAW’s Arrange page/Main view, leave it Muted, but frequently Solo it to see how it shapes up against your own session. Automation Not all tracks are supposed to stay at the same volume. It’s all about the song and a good arrangement. Rhythm tracks will rise and fall in volume with a chorus and that all-important lead guitar solo needs to cut through at the right time.
utomation & Envelopes: A Here is a single track with three envelopes being displayed. The blue one is a volume fade in and out, the yellow a full pan from centre to left, all the way right, then back to centre again. The red is an on-offon envelope for an Effects Send. Old Chinese proverb: ‘Many envelopes make light work’.
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In the distant past, if there were a lot of fader moves to do and the engineer just didn’t have enough hands, it was kind of fun having the whole band gathered around the mixing console and making adjustments together. The worst problem was that you never did exactly the same thing twice. Later, hardware mixers had their own automation and you could program in fader moves (it was always a little freaky watching them move on their own). So the automation provided in DAWs is nothing new, but the degree of accuracy and editing is way superior to the good ol’ days. Automation comes in the shape of ‘Envelopes’ and you can assign an Envelope to just about any parameter. They can be switches, turning a button on or off, and they can be fader levels on your main volume, auxiliary sends and even panning. You can be very creative with Envelopes and Automation. In the beginning, use them to program any volume changes you need for your mixdown and when you’re comfortable with how they work, you’ll see how useful they can be. Envelopes can be drawn
in with a Draw Tool to be precise or you can record Automation on the fly, which is a lot of fun. Two things need remembering: any Envelopes will over-ride anything you’re trying to do. For example, a track’s volume is determined by any volume Envelope you create. You might be experimenting with volume later and puzzled by the level snapping back to something else — that’s the Envelope taking control again. And don’t forget to turn any Automation Recording off when you’re finished and put it back to ‘Read’ mode, otherwise you can end up with a nightmare of Envelope programming! TIP Automation & Prefade Sends: Remember how pre- and post-fade Effects Sends work? Take note that if you use a volume envelope to adjust a mix level on a track that any Pre-Fade send signal won’t be affected. For example, if you want to ‘duck’ a channel completely out with a volume envelope (instead of a mute) you’ll still hear any effects on the aux busses that are being fed from that channel’s Pre-Fade send. Post-Fade or automate the effect send the same as the volume envelope to fix this.
Different EQs Your EQ plug-ins will provide all manner of different types and parameters to play with. It gets quite tricky and you should take some time to learn how they work. The graphical representations are probably the best way to see what’s happening. Normally, you’ll be using ‘parametric’ EQs, which let you choose the exact frequency you want to work on, then how many of the adjacent frequencies you’d like to effect (the ‘Q’ setting) and finally whether you want to cut or boost the range. Narrow selections are called ‘notch filters’, because the graphic appearance is like a deep V-shaped notch — they can also be boosted. With a wider Q they’re called a ‘peak’ filter. Choosing all frequencies that are above or below a certain value can be done with a ‘shelf’ shape and are therefore called a ‘high shelf’ or a ‘low shelf’. These are still parametric EQs, but with a name tag to describe their action.
Adding Effects In earlier chapters we looked at how to add Effects to a track either with an Effects Send (or it may be called an Auxiliary Send) or by Inserting an Effect over a channel. It depended a lot on how many channels needed to access that effect or whether it was being applied to a single track. Here we’ll look at the mixdown mainstay Effects — Reverb and Delay. Sound engineering is a funny business in some ways. We go to a great effort to record some thing cleanly and professionally, then spend a huge chunk of the mix applying all kinds of reverb and distortion. This might seem like a silly way of going about things, but the point is: we have total control over how much we mess with that recording in the mix stage. Reverb is the most common effect applied to many tracks. The fact is, the world isn’t an acoustically perfect place and anything recorded in a good studio will sound quite unnatural unless we reinstate some of the ‘slap’ and echo we hear normally in our everyday surroundings. A good, natural reverb can sound brilliant and you might be surprised at how big a reverb can be. Some famous buildings, particularly large churches where their designers had an understanding of acoustics, have a fantastic sound that a lot of plug-ins try to copy. The reverb in these places goes on forever.
Notch filter for removing a problem frequency.
Peak filter to highlight the character of a sound.
Play any good CD and listen to how much reverb is applied to a lot of the instruments and especially the vocals — often it will be very ‘wet’ (meaning heavily effected). Reverb is kind of sneaky. A fair amount can be added, before it becomes really noticeable and there’s a fine line between re-introducing a natural sound and creating a full-on effect. Delay (or Echo) is another effect that was originally
Shelving filter boosts/cuts everything above/ below a selected frequency.
Roland Tape Echo This baby was an early delay machine that relied on a looping tape that recorded the original signal, then played it back with a second tape head behind the first. Today it seems like something Doctor Who might dream up on a dull day, but it was (and still is) a very popular device that lasted a long time. Now, of course, you can load up a Tape Delay plug-in.
Instruments that make your meters go berserk are normally the ones that need close attention ”
Summary designed to mimic a real room, but it was soon developed further to be a sound all its own. Short delays, often called ‘doublers’ give a similar result to reverb and add life to the original recording. Long delays can do something quite different. In the case of a vocal, with the delay repeating the lyrics in the background, there’s a perception that more than one person is singing. Guitarists use long delays to add sustain to their playing. Brian May of Queen used a very long delay to basically accompany himself during lead breaks in concerts. Be careful, though. Delays can make things sound sort of messy, too, if you use too much.
The Elvis Effect Elvis may well be dead (believe it or not), but his ‘slap back’ delay lives on... and on. Have a listen to his early recordings and you’ll hear how engineers back then got a liking for delay and seriously piled it on. To achieve this sound, as John Lennon did in his solo work, try a delay setting of between 100ms and 200ms. Instant Elvis y’all.
TIP Tempo-Synchronised Delay: A great way to make sure your delay/echo effects don’t mess up a mix is to sync them to the song’s tempo — the delays will repeat in time with the beat. The option to do this is included in most Delay plug-ins, but they may only have time signature settings like ¼ or ½ notes. If you prefer a millisecond value, just divide 60 (seconds) by the beat-per-minute tempo, then multiply by 1000. An easy example is 60 divided by 120bpm equals 0.5. By 1000 is now 500 milliseconds. That’s how long your delay needs to be for syncing with a tempo of 120. With slow tempos, feel free to halve the last figure again, if you want. And oh, all right… you can use a calculator.
Chorus is a way of adding extra ‘voices’ to a track by adding layers of a short delay with certain frequencies giving a sweeping effect. Used sparingly a nice chorus will ‘thicken’ a track’s sound. It can work really well on acoustic guitars and backing vocals. In extremes, a chorus begins to sound like a landing flying saucer or a cassette tape being chewed (for younger readers, cassette tapes were these little tapes we used for... never mind). A Flanger effect can sound similar to chorus, but it’s done an entirely different way. It uses a combination of phase shifting and again a short delay, too. Flanging is used a lot on heavy-metal vocals to give that wah-wah sound (a guitar ‘wah’ pedal is the same). Like chorus a nice Flange will do some neat things to a track. Get carried away and wacky stuff happens. All the above effects tend to get grouped together, because they each use a certain amount of delay and are therefore called ‘time-based’ effects. You’ll have many other effects available to you, such as distortions, overdrives… even octave doublers. Experiment with them all and get a good understanding of what they can do. Some will add a subtle body or character to a track, while others are designed to make things sound radical.
Mixing it All Together By the time you’ve added all these different components of a mix together and maybe sorted a lot of tricky bits out with automation, you’ll probably have a very busy Mixer Window in front of you. And it was a hoot, right? Here’s a word of advice you might not want to hear right now, but later you’ll hopefully agree. The thing is, it’s easy to do too much — to add too many effects, too many envelopes that make changes and even over-EQ tracks away from their original, good recording. But let’s not rain on the parade. Instead, use your Project Save As function to save different mixes as you go along (Project Files are small). Give the files names like ‘Dry Mix’ or ‘Bass & Drum Mix’ so you know what you were trying to do. Then you can easily backtrack to an earlier idea when you finally admit it’s late at night and too much caffeine has kicked in. If your project includes a lot of real recordings with microphones, rather than tracks created by virtual instruments, you might encounter a weird problem. First of all, understand this; two microphones that are placed exactly the same distance from the same sound source don’t double the signal–they cancel it out. Yep, theoretically if they were exactly the same, you wouldn’t hear anything! It’s called phase cancellation. So, microphones that are close to the same distance are “out of phase” and start cancelling each other out, usually beginning with the low frequencies. Miking up drum kits is a common problem. Here’s what can happen; a kick drum sounds great, a snare drum sounds awesome, tom 1 is cool, tom 2 is neat... but when you’ve turned on those tom mics the kick drum starts to sound thin and crappy. It’s because the tom microphones are roughly the same distance from the kick drum and with the spill they pick up they’re causing phase problems for the kick in your overall mix. It’s tricky stuff to get your head around and this is a simplified example, but still correct. One solution is to flip the “Phase Invert” switch on one of the tom channels. Now it’ll be “in” phase–but there’s a risk it’ll now interact poorly with something else. Another answer is just move one of the offending microphones slightly–easy! Also, you can shift the recorded tom track ever-so-slightly on the timeline and this mimics moving the microphone, however it is best to get the phase relationships right at the recording stage. The bottom line here is that if channels start disappearing or sounding strange when everything is turned on for mixing, chances are you’ve got a phase issue you’ll have to hunt down and fix. Are you putting two microphones on your rhythm guitar amp for a cool stereo sound, but it keeps sounding blah? It’s a phase problem - mute or flip the phase of one of the microphones.
ixing down a song is M very much a part of the creative process and there are few rules, but sticking with the original idea of the song is a good start. Eg. don’t mix a ballad like it’s punk rock. on’t run out of headD room by mixing the first tracks too loud.
Mixing Alone Sometimes it’s worth mixing alone. The old saying that ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ is never more true than in a mix situation. If you start letting all the band members have their way, you’ll end up with a non-cohesive pile of mush. By all means, involve them, but only when you’re really happy with the mix and you have made a ‘save as’ version before you try their ideas out.
aking something M sound like it’s the loudest thing in the mix isn’t always about turning it up the loudest. Think like a magician and fool the listener’s ears with fader moves, stereo placement and textures. sing panning and EQ U controls, keep a certain amount of separation between each track, then later you might need to employ filters and EQ on your channels to avoid similar frequencies clashing and confusing the mix. I f you have a commercial track that’s similar to what you’re trying to mix, have it handy as a reference track. utomation Envelopes A are a very handy tool — check them out. on’t be afraid to D tweak fader levels in automation… lots. It helps to create dynamics and focus. ffects can make a E song — and they can break it. Don’t get too carried away with effects without Saving As, so you can step backwards. GG :: 75
Spending the Extra Dosh
Take a look at these two microphones pictured. The one on the right is a brand name that might be the same mob that makes computer fans, or stuff you can only find at GoLo… You can buy this mic from any number of electronic stores or the web for 30 bucks. The blurb on the packaging will tell you it’s a fantastic product. It’ll be ‘full range’ and ‘dynamic’ with ‘custom’ features such as a switch and heavy-duty mesh grille. The truth is, this microphone works — you’ll get a sound out of it and you’ll get your 30 buck’s worth. The microphone on the left is a Neumann U87 — arguably the most famous microphone in the world. Every decent commercial studio in the world owns a U87 and thousands of the world’s best vocalists have sung into one. It’s a mic that’s been copied, ripped off, and envied for years. In fact, the U87 is now into its 40s — you don’t stay on the store shelves that long unless you have an awesome reputation. The price is just as impressive, by the way. It will cost you about $3500.
eumann U87: N 40-something and still going strong.
Demo Can Be Best A funny thing keeps happening over and over again. We hear it all the time. A lot of the big name “stars” have small home studio setups for writing songs and making demos. It saves money by wasting time composing songs in an inexpensive studio. They have a decent computer just like you, a few reasonable microphones just like you, a rough idea how the DAW works just like you, and a massive collection of really expensive guitars just like — okay... 3 out 4 ain’t bad. The point is, when they finally go into the big studio to make the real recordings, often they discover the demos they did at home are better than anything new they can record with all the expensive gear. It’s because spontaneity and inspiration are a huge factor in making great music. Having quality gear to capture those special moments is well worth it.
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Ouch! We just heard you scratching the U87 off your Christmas wish-list. The credit card will only take so much. What is the difference between these two microphones? Obviously, the U87 has vastly superior components, an excellent build quality and a reputation for magnificent performance — we’re running out of superlatives here, which is okay, because we don’t really need any for the mic on the right. The point isn’t just, ‘you get what you pay for’, but also to illustrate the fact that there are different levels of quality in audio equipment and you can benefit from investing some extra money. You will hear a difference. This is worth knowing because it’s flying in the face of a lot of evidence to the contrary. Music stores have piles reaching to the roof of comparatively inexpensive microphones, mixers and speakers — to name just a few. They’re made overseas (okay, let’s say it out loud — Made in China) where labour is cheap and the manufacturers are geared up for serious mass production. The apparent message is: you don’t have to spend a lot of cash. Hey, don’t get us wrong. A lot of this stuff is pretty good — great value for your money in some cases. And budget gear is a great way of learning the craft before you’re sure you want to blow some serious dough. So what do you get, if you do spend extra dollars? More Isn’t Always More Quality in audio equipment is rarely measured in how many knobs there are to tweak. A device’s internal
features might matter — like the ability to handle high sample rates, for instance. Usually though, it’s all about the sound something creates and often that superior sound will make it a lot easier for your recordings to sound better. Nobody really expects you to run out and buy a Neumann U87 tomorrow (although it would make some salesman very happy), but we can guarantee that if you did purchase a quality, professional microphone from the likes of Rode, AKG, Shure. Audio-Technica, Sennheiser etc, that your recording sessions will instantly improve. The same would apply, if you bought a high-end microphone preamplifier and began using that. A problem might have just occurred to you here. That any signal path is only as good as its weakest — or its cheapest — link. What’s the point in spending $1000 on a microphone and plugging it into a $200 USB interface? A fair comment. Yes, that good mic will still improve things, but you should do something about that interface, too. Which explains why many DAW and studio enthusiasts have shelves, cupboards and cardboard boxes filled with gear they no longer use — but will never throw out or sell. And before you ask — no, Guerrilla Guide does not own shares in any major music retailers. We don’t want you to mortgage the farm or sell a sibling just so you can afford an entire rack of Manley or Cranesong outboard gear. Okay, well, maybe that little brother is annoying you too often.. We do want you to appreciate there are advantages in owning better equipment. Advantages that can save you a lot of time and frustration — which are, admittedly, hard to put a dollar figure on. You might spend hours tweaking freeware EQ and compressor plug-ins trying to get a certain sound, when it would have been achieved without touching a single button on a decent tube-driven preamp. Again, it’s all about the sound. Sometimes it’s tricky to define just how a good piece of gear makes that difference. The improvement is sometimes hard to describe... it’s a ‘warmth’ or a ‘presence’ or extra definition. Spending a little extra can definitely lift the fidelity of your recordings to a whole new level. Listen Up As you learn more and more about your DAW, getting to know all its features — figuring out how to use the plug-ins and mixer functions — you may begin to think it doesn’t have all the answers. The perfection you can imagine in your head doesn’t quite come out of the speakers. But you know the digital environment is a pretty powerful place and it’s unlikely the software is causing the problem. This is a good thing, because it means you’re learning to listen properly.
Summary he moral of this T story is short and sweet — and only as expensive as you want it to be: you will hear a difference in quality gear. It’s true that a studio genius will pull a much better sound from a $50 portastudio than a novice will from a million dollar studio, but as you improve your techniques you’ll start to hanker for the improved sonics that good quality audio design can offer you. If you have some spare dough burning a hole in your pocket, start by investing in the sound of your source material — generally that means buying the best microphone and/or preamp you can afford.
You’ll figure this out for yourself. That sacred signal path we keep talking about is probably what needs some attention and this is where we suggest your next investment should be spent. You don’t have to spend a lot of cash — approach this gear upgrade sensibly. To get you thinking along the right tracks, there are a few truisms about audio investment that are worth knowing. Getting your sound right at the source is a great idea, and that’s why buying the best equipment you can afford will always be a good investment. Another truism is: pricey analogue gear is a far better investment that pricey digital gear. Products relying on old digital technology will always be superceded, while a good analogue mixer or compressor (for example) will always be a good thing to have around. So, here’s how to invest some spare dough: first you might want to think about a better microphone — a studio can never have too many microphones. If you haven’t already got one, a large diaphragm, side-address condenser microphone will definitely give you that ‘studio’ sound. And if you do own one, go and listen to something worth twice what you have. Don’t just look for something with better working specifications. Try and find a mic that sounds exactly like what you want to hear. Sing into it. How does it make you sound in your headphones?
The moral of this story is short and sweet – and only as expensive as you want it to be: you will hear a difference in quality gear ”
Next would be a new preamplifier or maybe a computer audio interface that has some. Preamps are really a personal-preference thing too, but maybe you can buy one with a good compressor and EQ built in? You might never need a vocal plug-in again. Read reviews on products and ask the experts at your music store what they think. Tell them what you’ve already got and their advice will make more sense. We’ll say it again, just to irritate you. It’s all about the sound, man — it’s all about the sound.
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Compressors Squash Anyone?
The compressor is potentially the most powerful (and the most misunderstood) device in your sonic arsenal.
Extra Reading Michael Stavrou in his book, Mixing With Your Mind, has a chapter called ‘Cracking Compressors’ which is possibly the best explanation of how to approach the controls of a compressor ever written. Once you’ve familiarised yourself with what compression does and you’re ready to graduate to a new level of proficiency, then you know where to go (www. mixingwithyourmind. com).
Good compression is a quiet achiever — if you hear it too much and too often, then you’re probably overusing it ”
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A compressor squashes the level peaks of a recording. This might not sound particularly glamorous, but it changes everything. By squashing the odd spike in volume you’re actually increasing the average level of the track. Or to think of it another way: by ironing out all the big peaks, you can turn that track up more (without fear of distorting something down the line). It means the quieter bits are more audible and louder bits are more manageable. It also means you don’t have to mess with the channel fader so much, bringing things up and down. It’s like an automatic volume control. Creative Compression But it’s more than just an automated volume knob, compressors are just as much a creative tool. How? Compressors can also introduce changes in tone or colour — both through the design of the (virtual) circuitry and how it’s squashing. Squash or compress hard and your recording will sound different. This is why some compressors are more desirable than others. Certain compressors offer totally ‘transparent’ gain control — they really are like an automatic volume controller and the quality of the recording stays precisely the same; while other compressors can really alter the tonal quality in a pleasing way, and people tend to want to push them harder and harder to see what they can do (SSL’s Listen Mic Compressor is a good example of that). So, much like effects and EQ, working a compressor and getting the ‘right’ sound is entirely in the ear of the listener — effectively there is no right or wrong. But compressors make the job of mixing a song far, far easier. Your compressors will allow your vocals to be more up front in your mix, they’ll keep your drums under control (and therefore more powerful overall), they’ll make your bass guitar more ballsy… you can’t do without compression. Right & Wrongs There may not be any rights or wrongs in the world of compression but knowing how a compressor works will help you to know how to approach the job. It’s amazing how many (sometimes experienced) people have no idea what the knobs on a compressor do and will randomly fiddle with them as
a result. This isn’t a smart approach. It’s also worth noting that, sure, your DAW’s compressor might have a ‘Vocal’ setting or a ‘Bass’ setting and it might be a great place to start, but to fine-tune what you’re doing — to really squeeze the best out of your tracks — you need to know which control to reach for.
On the menu are: Threshold, Ratio, Attack, Release and Output Gain. Some compressors might have an Input as well, which is simply to adjust your signal strength coming in, but most compressors assume you’ve already sorted that out with the Gain control of your channel. Also, you might find a Noise Gate and a Peak Limiter — we’ll get to those later. In a DAW a compressor plug-in should be Inserted over a track. If you’ve got a hardware compressor you might have the choice of inserting it somewhere in your signal chain (on a mixer for example) or you can have it in-line, meaning your microphone is plugged into a pre-amp and then directly into the compressor, which is then connected to your audio interface. Now let’s look at those settings. Threshold Most recordings don’t need the compressor to be working all the time. For example, we might have a vocalist with a great voice, with a good consistent level, but every now and again they have the nasty habit of screaming into the mic. It’s very uncool, sounds awful, but no one’s had the courage to point this out. As the diplomatic sound engineer you only want to ‘catch’ and compress that annoying screaming, right? The loud bits. The Threshold is the signal level where you want the compressor to start squashing the sound. In this case you’ll want a high threshold to work on those screams while not touching the singing that’s at a normal volume. By the way, if you get the Threshold setting ‘just right’ on our vocalist, it doesn’t mean it’ll be perfect for compressing bass, or another vocalist… or even the same vocalist with a different mic… Threshold depends on the amplitude (or volume) of the signal coming in, and that’s rarely going to be the same in two different signals. A good way to see how the threshold works is to choose a radical-sounding preset — don’t worry about the other settings — and slowly move the threshold level from one extreme to the other. You’ll see that at a certain point the
Soft Knee y
Hard Knee, Soft Knee, Over Easy Nope, nothing to do with any knee-slappin’, boot scootin’ barn dance moves or how to cook eggs. When a signal crosses a compression threshold and the other settings are quite severe, it can result in an abrupt change in the sound, which isn’t nice. To counter this many compressors have a ‘Soft Knee’ switch, which makes the transition a little gentler. Some designers, like dbx, call it ‘Over Easy’.
compressor will begin to work, because the signal strength is above the threshold, then it will compress harder and harder as your threshold setting is lowered.
he DBX160A is like the standard, classic workhorse T hardware compressor. It’s a simple, straightforward design that has worked so well and reliably that it’s been around more than 30 years.
So to sum up: the Threshold is the volume at which you want the compressor to kick in. Anything under it is left untouched. If you want the compressor to be working most of the time, you’ll need a low threshold. Ratio The Ratio is how much the signal is compressed once the Threshold is crossed. Some high school maths might help here (serious mathematicians avert your eyes now!). For example, a Ratio of 4:1 can be thought of (or re-expressed) as one quarter or 25 percent. And in the case of compression, every bit of audio that is louder than the Threshold setting is reduced down to one quarter of its volume — not the overall volume, just the peaks that sneak over the threshold point. So it follows that higher ratios will compress those peaks more severely. A 10:1 setting will squash the signal to 10 percent of its peak over the Threshold.
he Kjaerhus Audio Classic Compressor plug-in: This is T one of those great freebie downloads that offers a classic compressor, too. ‘Classic’ with its simple, traditional GUI. All the settings are quite standard except the variable soft/hard knee dial rather than a switch, which is handy.
Attack & Release Using the Attack control you can set the compressor to react quickly or slowly to an audio signal crossing the Threshold; and with the Release knob you can also set how long the compressor keeps working after it’s triggered. A loud acoustic guitar being plucked is a good example. With a low Threshold and a fast Attack time the musician’s playing will be compressed almost instantly. But what if you want to hear that definite click of the plectrum plucking
Sidechain Many compressors will have a sidechain, which allows an alternative audio source to trigger the compression. Generally the way this is used is to perform Frequency Conscious Compression. So if we wanted to compress a sibilant vocal, we can get the compressor to be more ‘conscious’ of — or sensitive to — the sibilant aspects by feeding the sidechain a duplicate of the vocal channel with those high frequencies superboosted. Hey presto, the compressor clamps down more when our singer starts to hiss like a snake.
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onitus Compressor: The Sonitus Compressor S plug-in shows how the traditional knobs have been translated into sliders and parameter boxes. Also you get a handy graph of how the signal will be processed. Notice how the ‘Knee’ setting creates a softer curve where the compressor cuts in… it’s like wrapping a sledgehammer with velvet.
compressors make the job of mixing a song far, far easier. ”
LP64 Multiband Mastering Compressor: Here’s the excellent LP64 Multiband Mastering compressor that comes with Cakewalk’s Sonar. You can use this over individual tracks if you want, but it’s really designed for mastering completed mixdowns. What you’re looking at is five individual compressors dedicated to their own frequency ranges. SSL LMC-1 Compressor: This kind of goes into the ‘weird fact file’. Solid State Logic (SSL) is renowned for its super-expensive mixing consoles which years ago included a simple talk-back microphone for communicating between the control room and the main studio. This mic had a very basic compressor on it to avoid overloading the signal. Then in the 1980s someone discovered this compressor was a neat way to ‘crunch’ or grunge-up drum tracks and it became the ‘drum sound’ of that era. Now you can download the software equivalent for free from SSL.
the strings? You can set a slower Attack time, which allows that plucking noise through before the compressor cuts in. Okay, now you want the compressor to turn itself off again in time to hear the next plectrum pluck. So you want a fast Release time to get that compressor out of the way. Otherwise with a slow Release time the compressor will still be on and affecting the following picking. Dynamics versus Compression One of the first casualties of compression is reduced dynamics — the expression of the performance by the musician deliberately playing alternatively loud or soft. If a lot of compression gives you that consistent, ‘average’ level on your tracking there is a danger of taking out all the dynamics as well and creating a flat, dull recording. Dynamics give a song life. Don’t squash ‘em with a compressor like you’d stomp on a cockroach.
Get it? Different situations call for other approaches. A fast Attack time will help remove ‘plosives’, such as microphone popping. If you get your Attack and Release settings wrong it can create a pumping effect as the compressor struggles with the signal and is working against itself. Output or Makeup Gain The Output Gain allows you to boost the volume back up to where it was in the first place before you compressed it, but obviously now nicely compressed and sounding sweet. It’s often called ‘Makeup’ Gain, which explains the concept in itself — you’re ‘making up’ or replacing the volume you lost through compression. Noise Gates Some compressors have a Gate or a Noise Gate. Again it will be a threshold setting and this time it’s the minimum volume at which any signal is let through. You can use it to cut out the hum and buzz of an electric guitar that isn’t being played. Engineers also love noise gates on tom toms, that way the tom mics aren’t in the mix until the toms are actually played. Peak Limiter A Peak Limiter works at the other end of the volume scale. They are used as a safety device to stop things getting loud enough to break stuff – like your monitors — or will stop digital clipping (‘overs’) when you go to record your two-track mix. The Peak Limiter level is a virtual brick wall. The signal is not allowed to get any bigger than your setting here.
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Classic Compressors Compressors have been around a long time and have a rich history of famous makes, models and distinctive audio qualities. UREI (pronounced: ‘Yoori’) is one example of a famous old compressor, as is the Teletronix LA-2A. These old-school compressors have now been re-issued and are still as popular among the pros as they’ve always been. So it’s no surprise that many software plug-ins try to emulate those classic compressors of old. Some of the pricier emulations do an amazing job — Bomb Factory, Waves and Universal Audio do some great retro compressor plug-ins.
Overcompression You might have caught wind of the expression ‘overcompression’, where some commercial tracks are so compressed, and so ‘loud’ that they give you a headache. Record company execs like ‘loud’ tracks (comparably louder than the next band’s) cos ‘loud’ is often mistaken for ‘exciting’ on the first listen. But how does compression (squashing levels) make something louder? The answer: by ironing out all the level peaks you can raise the whole track’s average level. The soft bits are louder.
For this reason compressors are sometimes called ‘compressor/limiters’. Multiband Compressors Multiband compressors take the whole idea of compression one step further by letting you apply your desired compression to a select range of frequencies. Like, instead of compressing the entire signal you only affect the bass tones or the high frequencies — whatever you want, really. Most popular multiband compressors have four separate ranges that you adjust. They’re a particularly powerful tool for mastering engineers. The principle is still exactly the same except the compression is applied to separate frequencies. Beware: multiband compression can squeeze a track to within an inch of its life, so go easy. Start Tweaking Theory is one thing, but you only really start to appreciate compression when you ‘get amongst it’ and start tweaking all the settings while you listen to a track. Call up a mix, turn up the vocal channel and get to work. Start by adjusting each parameter slowly, sweeping the Ratio, Attack and Release times while you listen to the results. Try the Threshold again, too. Dial up some severe compression and see how it drops away as you shift the Threshold point. When you have a clear concept in your mind what compression sounds like you’ll know how to use it — and you’ll use it all the time. While radical settings can be creative, often the best compression is subtle. Everything sounds perfect, because the compressor is doing its job without making a fuss. Good compression is a quiet achiever — if you hear it too much and too often, then you’re probably overusing it.
Summary compressor squashA es volume peaks. Ironing out those peaks allows a track to ‘sit’ better in a mix. nce a compressed O track is squashed you can raise its average level up with the Output Gain control. This is why compressed tracks can be louder than uncompressed ones. Limiter is a compresA sor that more severely squashes a track – effectively stopping any peaks sneaking through at all. hreshold — the level T at which your compressor will kick in and start squashing. atio — how much R your compressor will squash once above the threshold. ttack & Release — A controls how quickly the compressor reacts to peaks and stops squashing.
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Monitor Speakers & Headphones Role Monitor An expensive pair of studio monitors is a great asset, but don’t panic if you’re still saving to replace the crappy ol’ beatbox speakers you’ve currently got. No speaker is perfect and it’s just a matter of how imperfect they are. What’s more important is knowing how your music is going to sound in the ‘real world’ and becoming familiar with the character of the speakers you’ve got. So if you can get your tunes sounding good on your rubbish speakers then you’re laughing. In the meantime get a decent pair of headphones to hear the detail you might be missing from the cheap speakers.
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So far, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at how to record music well and you’re constantly being told to listen closely to the results, but not much has been said about doing that properly. How do you need to listen to your recordings? Is it loud, because you like heavy metal or grunge? Maybe softly, softly, to check the ambience of some mood music? Actually, there are lots of different ways you should test your recordings, but in the studio and during the vital recording stages the all-important word is accurately. You have to monitor your DAW through either speakers or headphones that aren’t colouring the sound — they can’t play with the ‘tonal balance’ so much that you get a wrong impression of the music. A good pair of studio monitor speakers will reproduce your recordings almost exactly as they are and should help you to avoid a lot of mistakes. Monitor Speakers Studio monitors aren’t particularly cheap. Anything decent will swallow quite a good chunk of your budget. This is because, as mentioned above, they’re very accurate and the components to achieve this accuracy don’t grow on trees (ah... apart from the plywood). Many monitors also come with in-built amplifiers as well, contributing to the cost, while those that don’t might be less expensive, but you will have to pay for an amplifier before you’ll hear anything. You should know up-front that desktop monitors aren’t really designed to run loud. Delicate components that can play back the slightest noise and every detail in the music aren’t too happy with volume settings of ‘11’. So don’t let your mates cane your monitors.
Nearfield Monitors Check out different studios and you’ll probably see a pair of speakers perched smack on top of the mixing console’s meter bridge. In a lot of project or home studios they’re on the same desk as the computer or on a shelf directly in front. Normally having a speaker in your face like this wouldn’t be good, but these are ‘nearfield’ monitors specifically designed to be close to the operator. Nearfields create a kind of close, personal space of sound around the mixing desk, almost like a big (external) pair of headphones. Your first pair of studio monitors should be nearfield ones. A bit of thought is needed regarding which way they face and how you mount them. Placing nearfield monitors is a little like carving a sculpture — get things close and then, as your ears are more attuned to what you’re hearing, you can make fine adjustments. For starters, monitoring is nothing like having a party — you’re not trying to fill the room with sound so you can jump on the bed playing air guitar with your tennis racquet. Nearfield monitoring is about placing the speakers close to you, so that you’re hearing the sound directly from the monitors and not what’s reflected from the walls or ceiling. Next, you want sound from both monitors to reach you at the same time. This point of intersection is called the sweetspot. Make sure the sweetspot is where your ears are. Thirdly, the next major consideration is what the speakers are sitting on. Place them on something solid, as this will give you a more accurate bass response and depth of field. The best way of understanding this concept is to understand what not to do. Imagine putting your speakers on top of a big box — like a tea chest or the top of an oldfashioned wardrobe. It’ll sound like a mess because of the hollowness. The sound you’re hearing is no longer accurate (spoiled by the box) and — here’s a tricky bit — is also robbing power and energy from your monitor speaker. A certain amount of the power is being transferred to vibrate the box, instead of working the speaker.
amaha NS10 Y There’s a famous speaker in studio monitor folklore called the NS10, that was manufactured by Yamaha, and you’ll often hear it being spoken about. One of the first mass-produced speakers, most engineers either loved or hated the sound of the NS10, but it was widely recognised that they reproduced the ‘sound’ of the average home stereo very well — get your mix right on an NS10 and things would sound fine everywhere else. They were also small, tough and comparatively cheap. Just about every studio had a pair of NS10 speakers, many still do.
Before you think we’ve suddenly wandered into a Star Trek episode or Stephen Hawking’s dropped by to visit, we’ll simplify things. It does matter how you mount your speakers. Magically suspending them in mid-air is best, but difficult (that’s a joke, by the way). Small feet that reduce the amount of contact between the speakers and the desktop help a lot — marbles work well, for example, but you can buy little conical feet if you prefer. Location Location Location
Hearing damage is irreversible. There are no pills available that will grow back the nerve endings in your inner ear. “
In cramped rooms, it’s often hard to put your speakers exactly where you want them. Not all desks are made the same, not all shelves are mounted at the same height... in other words it’s a bit of a lottery whether or not just plonking your speakers on either side of your computer screen will be the best place for them. Experiment to find out. Shift your speakers around and turn them in different directions. Find that sweet spot and rearrange things in your room until you’re sitting in it. It will make a big difference and the sound will be better, which is the reason you bought them in the first place. Midfield Monitors You shouldn’t need to be Einstein to figure out that Midfield monitors, compared to nearfield, are designed to be placed further away from the listener and played a bit louder. These speakers get plenty of use in studios that record a lot of loud material such as rock or metal. In other words, they generally keep the head-bangers almost happy. However, to achieve the extra size and volume capability, while still reproducing a highly accurate sound means that midfield monitors can be expensive and they need to be placed in (an even more expensive) acoustically treated room. Large or ‘Main’ Monitors The best-equipped studios will have additional monster speakers probably mounted in the wall (‘soffit’-mounted) of the control room or in a specially-designed space for listening. They’re very big, very accurate and very expensive. This is to give clients the choice of hearing their music under all kinds of conditions — simulating hearing the music through enormous cinema or nightclub speakers, for example. No one monitors for hours on monster speakers however, and it’s fair to say that nearfields are the norm. Making a Choice Quality is quality, right? The best monitors should all perform absolutely perfectly and brilliantly to the point where you can’t tell the difference between them.
Large or main monitor
Well, no, they don’t. It’s impossible to build monitor speakers that are 100 percent perfect — every speaker design involves a few compromises. Also, because studio monitors have to put up with the occasional splat, bang or pop, they’re built to not blow up at the slightest sign of trouble — this is another reason why they don’t sound 100 percent perfectomundo. This being the case, each brand of studio monitor has a ‘sound’ about them — a flavour they think their customers will like. Some monitors will have a softer top end or slightly tighter bass, for instance. Mixing engineers will have a preference for working with particular brands or designs of studio monitors, whether they be near, mid or soffit mounted. They’ll either just like the sound or believe certain speakers suit the job at hand better. What it means for you is the choice won’t be that simple. A lot of music stores will have a system where you can switch between different monitors to compare them. Take in your favourite CD and listen to them all. Even try products that are out of your budget to hear what you’re missing out on. In the end, monitors are a personal choice and you should buy according to your ears, not someone else’s. Perfection can be disappointing, if you don’t
understand what you’re hearing. Normally, just about all the music we hear in everyday life has the bass response increased. Every ghetto blaster built since 1980 had a ‘bass booster’ of some kind. Stereos at home and in the car have a Loudness switch. Today iPods have preset modes in them such as ‘Pop’, ‘Rock’ or ‘Dance’, which basically means the bass frequencies have been increased. We all like to hear extra bottom end. Most of the time the bass is increased by the playback device — it’s not in the recording itself. So when you listen to music through accurate studio monitors you’re hearing the raw recording, if you like. Untouched by any ‘mode’ or circuitry designed to colour the sound in a pleasing way. It can be almost... well, kind of boring. Don’t judge studio speakers by the fact they don’t sound as exciting as your car stereo. Instead, listen to how well you can hear everything. It’s all about the clarity of the instruments and vocals, and the mix. That’s what studio monitors are all about — they’re not the ultimate party boom-box.
Active vs Passive A lot of monitors are now ‘Active’ – where the speaker has its own amp(s) and crossover built into the box. In theory, this is a good thing: the manufacturer should have picked the components to match the speaker. You might already have an amp and think you should be able to save some money buying passive monitors. Yeah, maybe, but make sure your amp is up to the challenge.
Using Headphones If you can’t afford good monitors, then some professional headphones (often called ‘cans’) can be a great alternative. They sound fantastic, you’re not annoying the neighbours and you should have paid only $200-400 — much cheaper than a decent pair of studio speakers. There are different types of headphones for various uses and situations. Certain studio headphones are designed to handle high volume levels to counter-act a loud room such as a drum booth. To do this, the manufacturers might have traded off in other ways — high frequency response, perhaps. Other headphones are designed so there is no bleed (leaking sound) so your recorded tracks are clean without spill. Have a chat with the music store people about this. As always, choose carefully, before you buy anything. Types of Headphones Studio headphones almost always fully cover the ear — the fancy name for this is ‘circumaural’. There are two main varieties of headphone: open back and closed back. Open back headphones are generally viewed as sounding more accurate, but there are plenty of advantages in going with closed back. Let’s take a closer look at these and a couple of other variants: Open Back headphones are designed to let the wearer hear things around them as well — you’re not so isolated from the world. These are good for live engineers who need to keep in touch with everyone else while they’re wearing cans, such as when the lighting operator is trying to tell him the bass player is on fire… important stuff like that. They’re also better for wearing over long periods with more ventilation. But, being open back they let more sound in (if you’re in a noisy environment) and they let more sound out (which is not good if you’re trying to maintain a quiet environment). Don’t use open back headphones when you’re recording a vocalist — you’ll end up recording the ‘spill’ from the headphone. Closed Back headphones will cut you off from the outside a lot more. To do this they’re usually made of a solid shell and have some kind of insulation, too. The concept is fine and works well, but after a few hours on a hot day the greenhouse effect can grow potatoes in your ears. Bear this in mind. Closed-back shells let less noise out, too. This means cutting down on ‘headphone bleed’ during a recording session — bleed is where you can hear the music coming from the cans in the background of a recording. As mentioned, open back headphones are the worst for this. Extreme Isolation headphones speak for themselves. They take the closed-back design a step further and add a vice-like grip on your head to seal the muffs against your skull. It’s obvious how these cans might be handy, shutting out all the exterior noise and keeping in a loud headphone signal during recording sessions, too. They’re great when you’re GG :: 83
monitoring is nothing like having a party — you’re not trying to fill the room with sound so you can jump on the bed playing air guitar “
recording jazz drumming or very quiet instruments that require oodles of gain. You can tell which engineers use them — their heads are thinner. Okay, not really... but you get the point.
Monitor Speaker Supports You can get conical speaker mounts from your hi-fi store. They work by reducing the contact between the speaker and the surface below. This lessens the amount of energy lost and keeps it doing what it should — driving the speaker. Can’t find any speaker mounts? Then use regular marbles with some Blu-Tac to hold them in place.
Big vs Small You might think that big studio monitors will always be better than small ones — more bass, for starters. The truth is, in small rooms or rooms without professional acoustic treatment, small monitors are better. That way you can stick them close-in, almost like a big pair of headphones — you don’t hear the room, you just hear the monitors. On the flipside a big pair of boomy speakers sitting on the other side of the room that are shaking everything in your room not nailed down, isn’t going to provide you with anything like an accurate sonic picture.
Noise Cancelling headphones are all the rage at the moment — especially in the domestic market. They use a combination of listening sensors and phasecancelling circuitry to remove unwanted background sounds. Handy in noisy environments and on airplanes but haven’t yet ‘taken off’ in the studio. In-Ear Monitors or ‘IEM’ have come a long way in the last few years. Many sound engineers use them for everything, like in the studio and doing mixdowns — then in their iPod on the way home! The sound of IEMs has vastly improved. They need to be good quality, though, and be custom fit by an audiologist or they don’t work well at all. IEMs wouldn’t usually be a first choice for studio headphones, but maybe you’re in a band and can see a dual-purpose thing? Because the best IEMs require a custom-moulded earpiece it’s hard to try them out or listen to a set first, the advice here is research the products very well. Impedance & Headphones A small, but important thing to know. Some professional headphones have a higher impedance, because they’re used for loud signals, such as those straight from a mixing desk. It means they’ll sound quieter if you plug them into a normal stereo. It’s no big deal, you just turn the volume up. Problems arise when you buy extra sets of cans (we guarantee you’ll end up with two or three) and the impedances don’t match. With the same feed a comfortable volume for one person might be shatteringly loud for another. Most manufacturers have high and low impedance versions of their products. To be safe, stick with low. Then, if you have to drag in an extra set from someone’s home stereo, the volumes should roughly match. Hearing Fatigue This is serious, folks. Listen closely — so that you can listen closely for years to come. The human ear is a pretty amazing piece of gear. The medical world still doesn’t entirely understand it, which is why truly natural-sounding ‘bionic’ ears haven’t been achieved yet. The ear will take a lot of punishment and get back to work later, given time to recover. You might be familiar with ‘ringing’ ears after a big concert or an accident that subjected you to a very loud noise. Eventually the ringing goes away and your hearing is fine again — hopefully. If you want to be a musician or sound engineer, you’ll need your ears in good condition — things don’t come more obvious than that, really. All the common sense rules about avoiding continuous, loud sounds haven’t been made up by grumpy, old people who hate hip hop. Hearing damage is irreversible. There are no pills available that will grow back the tiny hairs and nerve endings in your inner ear. Okay, enough horror stories, you’ve got the point.
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Something that’s not so well known is how quickly your ears will shut down into ‘protection mode’. It varies between different individuals, but on average it only needs about 20 minutes of continuous, loud music before things start to happen. High frequencies are the first to go. If you ever listen to a mixdown on the day following a long session and think, ‘Damn, that’s way too bright’, most likely it’s because you did things too loud for too long and you actually ended up compensating for some temporary hearing loss, not a lack of top end in the recordings.
When you research headphones and studio monitors and read reviews, often you’ll see a reference to ‘hearing fatigue’. Every product is different and will produce hearing fatigue sooner, or later, depending on many things. This is what they’re talking about. For certain, everything will send you deaf if you listen to it long enough and loud enough.
decent set of monitor A speakers (or ‘monitors’) aren’t just about sounding good. Their accuracy will help enormously with your recording and mixing.
The answer is obvious, too. Keep volumes at a sensible level. If you have to listen to anything loud, do it for only very short periods. There have been many famous, deaf musicians in the past and playing today. But they don’t mix their own records, in fact, they can hardly hear them any more. And, I know I said I’d finished with the horror stories, but tinnitus (the ringing in the ears that comes from subjecting your ears to too much loud music) is nothing short of torture — people have taken their own lives because the constant ringing has driven them insane… no kidding.
on’t mistake their flat D frequency response as lacking power or character — they aren’t a boom-box!
Try Your Music Everywhere If you enjoy any commercial success with a song the last place it will be played is in a studio with expensive monitor speakers. People will be hearing it on home stereos, in cars, on their iPods — even in shopping aisles from speakers in the ceiling. This last one might be hard to replicate, but with the ease of which we can burn a CD these days the others can be tried as a ‘test’. When you think a mixdown is right, burn a disc and play the song in as many different environments as you can. Listen carefully and compare it to a ‘bought one’. Does it sound the same? If it doesn’t, why not? The process of hearing how your song sounds on other systems is called ‘translation’ — ie. “let’s hear how this mix translates”. This is why lots of studios have all kinds of monitor speakers available. The idea is to reproduce all the various conditions the music will be played in and check that nothing goes wrong. You can do the same with a CD and a bit of legwork — head out to the car or round to a friend’s place. Make sure you also try to hear your song from a mono source. This would be like a small radio blaring in the corner of a fish and chip shop or the back of a tradesman’s truck. Mono can do horrible things to a song, if you’re not careful. The best way to check is by using a program like Steinberg’s Wavelab that has a Mono button. On poor mixes, sometimes entire frequencies and even instruments can disappear! Don’t be surprised.
ake care where you T place them. The three key rules for placement are: 1) place them near enough so you’re hearing the speakers and not the sound bouncing around the room; 2) place them equidistant from your ears; and 3) place them on something solid, preferably with speaker spikes or marbles to help isolate them from the surface. here are plenty of T different types of headphones for various tasks, not just cheap or expensive. Explain to the music store person exactly what you want to do and they’ll narrow down the choice. earing fatigue is a seH rious issue. If you must listen to things loud, take regular breaks. ou shouldn’t rely on Y the studio monitors alone. Burn a disc of your music and listen to it through all kinds of monitors and under all kinds of conditions.
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your room. Actually, I’ll go again for good luck — keeping sound in or out (soundproofing) is very, very different to trying to make your room sound pleasing to record in (acoustically treating). Putting it another way still… putting egg cartons on your wall won’t soundproof your room, big slabs of concrete will. Soundproofing a room (keeping sound from escaping or entering) is very difficult. You can spend a small fortune trying to soundproof a room and still achieve very little. Unless the structure is some kind of thick, double-brick in the first place no amount of gaff’ing mattresses to the wall and blanketing windows will probably satisfy that grumpy neighbour. Bass frequencies in particular are extremely hard to contain… so there’s very little point in trying. If you have grumpy neighbours, then you’ll simply need to turn everything down, monitor on headphones for periods etc. So that’s soundproofing — you’re on a hiding to nothing. Once you close the doors and windows anything else won’t help much… short of spending thousands of dollars. Fortunately, acoustically treating your room isn’t nearly as difficult as soundproofing it, and can be done economically. The Bad Stuff When you’re converting a room into something acoustically good for recording, what’s going to give you the most trouble? For a practical demonstration of a room that’s acoustically ‘hostile’, go inside any squash court and clap your hands. Flat, hard and opposing surfaces are an audio nightmare — sound just bounces back and forth, echoing, and combining with each other — which is a shame, since your average room is sort of square with solid walls. You might even have a polished, wooden floor adding to your woes. The sound slaps around and back again with unwanted reverbs and echoes. Sometimes it might be something cool-sounding, but generally it’ll be the last thing you need.
Turning a Room into a Studio If you’ve learnt anything from this Guerrilla Guide so far, it’s that you don’t need a million-dollar studio to produce successful recordings. But let’s be honest. What we’d all really like is a perfectly isolated sound booth with an acoustically designed control room beside it, complete with a double-glazed window separating them. Hell, let’s throw in a grand piano in one corner and a Brady drum kit in the other, plus a cupboard chock-o-block full of expensive microphones. Okay, that was fun… but enough dreaming. Go back to the garage or spare room you have available and figure out how much can be done with what’s actually available. On the Outside Looking in Step back and look at your studio from a distance. Are you trying to keep sound in or out? Have you got a railway line next to the fence or an angry neighbour who starts bashing your door down the moment someone hits a snare drum? There is a big difference between making a space practical for recording music and trying to isolate a room from the rest of the world. Just to reiterate — coz this is important — soundproofing is different to acoustically treating GG :: 86
There are two things you can try to do. One is absorb the sound, removing it completely, and the other is to diffuse it, which means breaking the sound waves up and spreading them about. We’re going to assume here that you can’t afford to buy several dozen square metres of the real thing — acoustic foam, but before we start, let’s check it out anyway. It can’t hurt to know, can it? Hold the Foam Foam is good for soaking up sound. What happens is sound (acoustic energy) goes into the foam and can’t bounce its way out. All foam is pretty good at doing this, but stuff that’s branded as acoustic foam is just denser (the bubbles are smaller) so there are more ways in which the sound can get trapped in the foam. A product like Tontine (the material your pillow is made out of) is a good example of a natural acoustic absorber. You can buy it at places like Clark Rubber, in big sheets or as offcuts (cheaper). There are now plenty of off-the-peg acoustic absorbers you can buy from a music store. These are great because they’re tailor-made for certain applications and use high-grade foam. For example, there are bass traps that can slot into the corners of your room, neatly and effectively. (Bass frequencies love corners, they can bounce back on themselves and combine, turning your room into an acoustic train wreck.) It doesn’t mean that you can’t make your own bass traps (rolling up some foam and standing it up in the corner is a good start) but it may not look as good or perform as well. If you have a zero budget then there are still things you can do, to make your room sound better. Find items that are the equivalent of foam — thick and absorbent. At home this can mean heavy curtains or putting carpet on the walls. Curtains are easier, because you can attach rails at the top of the wall
Room within a Room So, maybe you’re thinking too big? Do you need to treat the entire room? Sometimes you can effectively manage one corner a lot easier and more cheaply than the whole space. Here’s one idea. The kind of polystyrene carpetcovered partitions they use in modular offices or as pin-up boards are good sound barriers. Make them sit on the floor and have one movable as a door, so you can completely enclose the recording space. You can make something similar yourself with plywood and thick carpet. Sheets of plywood are good, because they’re solid and you can get them cut tall enough to reach the ceiling. Lots of carpet stores have secondhand material going cheap or even free from refitted homes — don’t get fussy about the pattern. The heavier, the better. Two or three partitions like this used across a corner of the room can dampen a lot of sound. If you find these a bit expensive to make all at once, try making them over a couple of months to spread the cost. More than anything, be sensible. No one wants to mess with your dreams and ambitions here, but how often are you really going to be recording a super-loud drum kit? If most of your studio work is going to be soloists or duos, then you don’t need a large space — or the whole room — treated for sound.
Summary on’t panic, it is posD sible for your bedroom or garage to sound good. on’t confuse acoustiD cally treating your room (making it sound nice) with soundproofing your room (stopping sound from leaving/entering your room).
coustic panels, A made to absorb and diffuse sound.
I t’s fairly easy to acoustically treat your room to make it sound nicer. I t’s painfully hard to soundproof your room.
eird-shaped panels W on walls in studios are designed to break up the way sound bounces around — the more scattered and random those reflections are, the better.
putting egg cartons on your wall won’t soundproof your room, big slabs of concrete will. “
and simply hang the drapes from these. This might sound expensive too, but again there’s a million people every day who (oddly) decide that replacing their curtains is a good idea and that’s why the secondhand market is a great option. It’s not just the material of the curtains which are great for soaking up sound, but the gathered folds as well. Rather than covering the walls themselves you might want to hang several rugs or drapes throughout the room. This prevents the sound reaching the walls and bouncing off in the first place. This can be very effective, but unfortunately can make an awkward workspace where you’re always ducking and dodging the hangings. Other everyday items that help include, plush sofas because they’re good sound absorbers. If you have a wardrobe in your studio, open the doors, which will make the room less box-like, and the clothes inside will absorb some of the sound. Confusing Diffusion Diffusing the sound needs a different approach — but what exactly does it mean? Well, imagine an ocean swell running up against a sea wall. The waves slap against the flat concrete surface and bounce back out again causing a lot of turbulence. This is what happens when sound hits the walls of your room. Now think of the ocean running up against an outcrop of rocks instead. The waves are broken up and lose a lot of their force as the jutting rocks break the shape of the swell. The water still bounces back, but in many directions with much less force and the turbulence occurs much closer to the shore. If you can understand what is going on with this example, you’ll see why many studios have all kinds of odd shapes stuck to many of the flat surfaces — especially the walls — in the room. They’re designed to break down sound waves and diffuse their energy, plus redirect the echoes in harmless directions. The shapes you see in the studio might look incredibly scientific — and they are — but the object is to make the reflections as
random as possible, so in your home environment you can experiment with bizarro haphazard shapes and surfaces — no problem. Perhaps you can ask your psychiatrist if you can glue your teddy bear collection to the walls? The secret is to have all different shapes, sizes and materials. Stop the sound waves in your studio keeping their shape and strength and your soundstage is going to get a whole lot more accurate. Back to Reality Acoustics can seem like a total mystery, even the pros have a hard time working it out. But fortunately we have our ears, and it’s time to trust them. The question to ask is: does this space sound nice? Your brain immediately makes that judgement when it walks into a beautiful old cathedral (nice) or a noisy restaurant with concrete floor, scraping chairs and people shouting to be heard (nasty). So make those same judgments in your own room. Do you like the sound of your own voice? That’s a good start. And don’t forget to minimise all the other unwanted noises that creep into a studio. Silence your computer by using quieter fans or water cooling technology or put it in a cupboard if you can (make sure there’s enough ventilation though). Oil your squeaking chairs, fix the creaking floor boards and take another look at that squeaking kick drum pedal. These are sounds that can be so much a part of your everyday life that you don’t notice them until a studio microphone is live and reproducing them. Have a listen to your normal studio environment and track them down. The world is a pretty noisy place. Get rid of a particular sound and you’ll be able to hear another. It might seem an impossible task to create that completely quiet, acoustically perfect space. Don’t get too paranoid. A lot of low ambient sound is masked by good recording levels and the groove of a killer track will hide everything! The idea is to avoid a lot of obvious unwanted noise and sound reflections. Cutting these right back will help the quality of your recordings a lot.
here are two main T ways to make your room sound better: absorb sound to stop it bouncing around; diffuse (or break up) the reflections so they sound nicer. oam is a good acoustic F absorber. Expensive foam is better because it’s thicker/denser and with smaller bubbles (there are more ways for the sound to get lost in the foam). coustic foam prodA ucts look nice and use high-grade foam. They’re more expensive but do the trick. I f you don’t have any money, anything thick and soft will absorb sound — curtains and soft sofas are good. ommercial studio C sound diffusers look amazing and are a pain to build, but you can experiment — glue pebbles to a piece of MDF, for example. ffice dividers (or O baffles) are a good portable way of turning a corner of your room into something that sounds much better than the room as a whole. ry and minimise all T the everyday noises of your room — start with your computer. I n the meantime, good recording levels will mask a lot of low-level sounds.
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Planning a Recording Session If your idea of a home studio is all about recording yourself and using mostly virtual instruments, then you probably don’t think much in the way of planning a recording session. It will always be about the inspiration of the moment and doing your own thing. However, if you’re working with other people, particularly folks not used to recording in any kind of studio, it can help to do tasks a certain way.
aren’t always technical. So, here we go with a few practical pointers on how to keep the wheels of your session turning.
In this chapter we’ll look at planning a recording session for that ‘average’ four-piece band we mixed in Chapter 20 which has a living, breathing drummer, bass player, a rhythm guitarist (who also does the lead guitar parts) and a vocalist. Each player will record their tracks separately, rather than the whole band playing together. This is the kind of project you might start with friends over a weekend, perhaps to make two or three tunes for a demo CD.
Drummers take more time than anyone to get their equipment set in place, miked up and level-checked. A good idea is to invite the drummer to roll up earlier than everybody else and have most of the work done before the rest arrive. Drums are also infamous for having rattling hardware, squeaking pedals and ringing overtones that need dampening. It all takes time to sort out and having other people around, impatiently waiting for their turn at the microphone doesn’t help. Allow plenty of time to get the drums ready.
Be Realistic How long do you think it takes to record and mix a song? If the band’s really well rehearsed, say an hour? After all, it’s only a five-minute song. An hour? Not even close. By the time you’ve set up microphones, set sound levels (those ever-important good recording levels, remember?) and factored in at least half an hour for each player to track a single song, you’ll be lucky to record — let alone mix down — more than two or three songs in a day. It’s true the first song will be sonically inferior, because of the set-up period, but you shouldn’t underestimate the time needed to get a musical performance good enough to survive the scrutiny of a studio recording. Little things that players have been getting away with during a live gig will stand out as monumental stuff-ups in those nice studio monitors you bought. Tracking time for individual musicians will be way more than they expect.
eady to Rock: R Having key components of your system, like your DAW and outboard, ready to roll (like in this Gator rackcase) means that as a producer, you can go where the talent is.
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Make sure the goals for your recording session are realistic. If it’s just you and your friends having a fun weekend, it may not be such a big deal, but if you’re offering your studio to any kind of client — no matter how informal the arrangement — don’t let them expect too much. If they want to record a dozen songs in a single day, because ‘they know them all backwards’, start hosing down expectations straight away. The wheels will spectacularly fall off that kind of plan. The following tips aren’t always technical, but the things that can really slow down a session
First Things First One of the unfortunate things that happens in any recording session is having the rest of the band hanging around, waiting for someone else to finish their part of the song. At first, it can be exciting, but the novelty soon wears off.
When the rest of the band does turn up, find out straight away if they have new batteries, fresh guitar strings (an absolute must) and everything else they need to make their music. Get the new strings put on the guitars and played-in, so they hold tune. Recording Drums It’s usually best to record any drum tracks first as it’s what everyone else uses for keeping time when they’re tracking. However, it can be hard for the poor drummer to kick things off early in the day feeling ‘cold’ and without the kind of energy they need. A good way to give them a vibe is to have the guitarist or bass player (or both) playing along with them as you record the drum tracks. The trick is to not sweat over the guitar/bass sounds — down ‘n’ dirty will do it at this point. Forget about miking up the guitar cabinet. Ideally, some kind of amp simulator like a Line 6 Pod or a Sansamp will give you any basic tone template you need. It’s worth checking with the guitar players if they have anything like this for rehearsal purposes — they might not want to use them as a sound for the recording, but it will be useful for these guide tracks. If you’re going to give the drummer a click-track to keep a steady tempo, be prepared to feed them a loud signal — and I mean loud. It goes against the warnings given earlier about protecting someone’s ears, but the reality is, it can be difficult for drummers to clearly pick a click-track in their headphones while they’re playing. Your DAW’s
Common Sense Doesn’t Prevail A lot of musicians who come into a studio for the first time don’t think too straight. The excitement and novelty gets to them and common sense isn’t common at all. Don’t assume the guitar players have actually put the new strings on their instruments yet, or that the drummer has fitted the new snare skin. Singers won’t have bottles of water ready. The best plan is to expect everyone to be completely unprepared and be pleasantly surprised, when they prove otherwise.
eadphone splitter H A good headphone splitter lets you hook up extra sets properly. A small arrangement with several decent — but not necessarily expensive — headphones will save a lot of fighting over listening in on the action. Anyone can pick up a set of cans and hear what’s going on.
metronome may not make the grade or your headphone amplifier will run out of juice. Think about this early. Planning ahead, right? The answer might be to send the drummer’s headphone feed to a separate amplifier first, like a domestic stereo unit, so they can crank up the level as much as they want. Remember to give their eardrums regular breaks, if you do. Some drummers perform better when the click is built around a kick and snare or a groove. If you have time to program something with MIDI, this may be a better option.
ames Console G Yes, it’s an XBox or a Playstation wll do… a games console is one of the world’s most indispensable items of studio gear. What better way to help band members cool their heels when they’re not required?
A guide vocal is a way of reminding players of the arrangement of a song. Without a vocal, it’s not unusual for people to lose their place. Again, a way of doing this is to have the singer using an ordinary microphone and feeding the signal into the drummer’s headphones. The quality isn’t important and the vocalist shouldn’t exhaust themselves with an overly enthusiastic performance. It’s only a guide, remember. For example, we’ll say the band is doing four songs. No matter how many attempts you need for each one, record the drum tracks for all four, then go back and do the first one again (keeping the first take, too). Because the first song of any recording session always lacks the energy of people not being warmed up and feeling comfortable. Always. Recording Bass If your computer hardware allows it and you’re taking a direct signal from the bass guitar (rather than miking up a cabinet) then it’s possible to record the bass at the same time as the drums and let the drummer and bass player enjoy the interaction. Otherwise, it’s likely to be the bass player who steps up to the plate next.
Avoiding Mic Spill The whole idea of everyone recording their instruments separately is to prevent ‘microphone spill’, which is someone else’s playing spilling into another microphone channel. Some big studios have a complex arrangement of isolated booths where everyone can still play together without any spill, but on a smaller scale it’s hard to do. The more people you have recording together, the greater the chance of one person’s mistake spoiling an otherwise perfect band take. That process can get very frustrating, so sometimes it’s better to record the parts one at a time.
Bass is definitely one of those instruments that can sneak up on you and you’ll discover it’s a damned sight trickier to get right than you thought. How you like your bass is up to you or the band, but one thing you have to avoid is strings rattling against pick-ups. Don’t confuse this with any fret-slapping style. When the strings touch the guitar pick-ups you hear a very pronounced electronic crack that sends input level spikes through the roof and can even damage your gear. It’s a truly horrible sound and comes from a poor playing technique when a musician starts enthusiastically hacking at the strings too hard. There’s no easy answer to this other than to try explaining the problem and getting the bass player to change their style. Take the safe route and have a listen to the bass player, before you start feeding signals into your DAW. Make sure they play like they’re really going to play. Rhythm Guitars & Keyboards When you start recording rhythm parts like guitars and keyboards the songs suddenly begin to feel real — it’s all coming together. Keyboards don’t usually give you too much grief because they haven’t got the sort of problems you might experience with guitar pick-ups and effects pedals. It’s the dreaded guitar that might give you trouble. I’ll say it again — lots of stuff that the band have gotten away with on a live stage can be revealed to be blatantly bad in a studio. Guitar rigs always have issues of loud buzzes and hums, plus the ‘sound’ they’ve used on stage may not work for a recording. The lesson here is to be prepared for a lot of repatching and experimenting to get a decent guitar sound. You can swap microphones, try different positions and get radical, like putting the amplifier in another room. Don’t be scared to try anything, but expect to spend a fair amount of time doing it. Hmm… now it’s four o’clock in the afternoon and nobody has sung a note yet. If only the bass player didn’t thrash the strings and the guitarist didn’t have that dodgy effects pedal that refused to work properly... See how it can work? Time just slips away.
Guitar Solos It’s a sad fact, but often a good guitar solo is only appreciated by the guitarist playing it. By now, with drums, bass and rhythm parts tracked, everyone else is feeling a bit edgy (especially the drummer, because their job is well and truly over — they’re a bystander now). When you want to record guitar solos it’s probably a great time to send the rest of the band out for lunch. Often the solo isn’t a planned performance — i.e. the guitarist hasn’t rehearsed it to perfection. Which means you spend a lot of time recording different versions and agonising over what sounds best. Try not to fall into this trap. It can turn a recording session into a very long day. Vocal Support We’ve learned about how to record vocals in Chapter 18. Now we’re talking about when, and you’d think that with everything else for the song tracked into the session it’s a perfect time. Here’s something else to think about; the singer is more prone than anyone to fatigue, particularly if they have to perform for too long. A recording session is nothing like screaming into a microphone in a crowded hotel full of drunken punters. There isn’t the room for error. So above all, when it comes to recording the vocal tracks, you have to think about not letting the singer get worn out. Sometimes it’s a good idea to do the vocal throughout the day as each song’s music elements are finished rather than in a block at the end. Producer’s Hat No one’s saying you’re the boss just because it’s your studio, but you should have some kind of control. Set a few rules, like keeping drinks away from equipment and being generally careful. And here is one thing you can do as a ‘producer’. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with friends or it’s some kind of paid gig, one thing you should always do is take down accurate notes of when you hear a blatant mistake — because the performer might be oblivious. You can waste a lot of time doing complete re-takes of a song, when all you really had to do was go back and ‘drop-in’ on that otherwise perfect take. Which brings us to a serious subject in planning a recording session. Time Management Time management? It sounds like something out of a self-help book, not a home recording studio. Good management of everyone’s time and energy — not to mention patience — in a studio is very important for a successful recording session. You have to be flexible and practical at the same time. The idea is to make sure no one gets tired, burned-out or frustrated throughout the day — especially you! It can be hard, if you have limited time. It’s all about thinking ahead and coming up with another plan, when you have to. Maybe the guitarist needs to practice the next rhythm track? Can you record some bass or keyboards while that happens? And remember: you have to keep the singer fresh. Can you record someone else’s harmonies, while the main vocalist has a rest? If you’re familiar with the band and their music you should be able to come up with a plan for a day in the studio. It’s also useful to put some kind of limits on various tasks, so you can tell people they’re running out of time and need to rethink their goals. Importantly, if you’re planning to do mixdowns at the end of the session, declare a specific hour that these will start and stick to it. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself bleary-eyed and staring at the computer monitor at two o’clock in the morning still mixing down that same song — with the band comatose on the floor behind you. So now you know there is a lot more to a successful studio session than just running a DAW. Time management is vital. ‘People skills’ are equally handy. Egos need to be protected and, above all, hang on to your sense of humour.
im City S Guitar amp simulators like the Kemper Profiling Amp can provide some awesome sounds. Even better, they’re great for feeding guide tracks to another player, such as a drummer, without the mess and noise of miking up a guitar cabinet. Another plus: naughty guitarists who haven’t learned their licks can be banished to the laundry to rehearse (silently).
Hearing the Awful Truth For many performers who have never been in a studio environment before, it can also be an awful moment of truth when they hear themselves properly for the first time. Be prepared for tears, shattered egos and band arguments. Above all, don’t make any rash promises to ‘fix things in the mix’. Don’t. Really — just don’t do it.
Summary llow time for difficult A set-ups like drums and guitar rigs. lan a schedule for P recording tracks that’s both practical and also keeps everyone fresh — but still involved... not easy! ave a realistic goal for H how many songs will be recorded in the session. ake adequate notes M of blunders to avoid doing endless re-takes of entire songs. ave a definite start H and cut-off time for doing mix-downs. on’t put too much D pressure on people, but don’t let time get away from you either. Keep smiling.
GG :: 89
Guitar Amplifiers & Cabinets There are four places to put a microphone for guitar amps; In (or On) Axis, Off Axis, either behind or in front of the cabinet, and at various distances. The choice affects the sound you hear. Whether you like them is up to you. ‘On Axis’ means the microphone is placed exactly in front of the speaker cone. This gives you a hard in-your-face tone — not to mention loud! Off Axis has the microphone pointed at the edge of the speaker cone. This creates a more mellow tone. Some cabinets sound quite good miked up from the rear — it’s crazy but hey, if it works, don’t ask too many questions. Finally, the distance you set the microphone from the cabinet can put some ‘air’ around the sound. You really can hear the space between the microphone and the cabinet making a kind of natural effect.
Microphone Placement If you get the chance to check out a large, professional studio you’ll find a cupboard somewhere filled with all kinds of different microphones — some of which will be worth thousands. The owners of these studios will never, ever try and calculate how much money they’ve invested in this cupboard of goodies. It can make them weep and telephone their accountants late at night just to apologise.
If you’re dealing with a twin or quad box, unless you can set up a microphone at a distance and let the guitarist blast away, you’ll end up focusing on one of the speakers anyway. So be aware that no two drivers (speakers) suffer wear and tear at the same rate, so whatever miking method you decide on, experiment with different speakers in the box itself. You might find that one sounds better than all the others. Importantly, changing the microphone position for any cabinet is a far more effective way of getting different sounds than tweaking EQ plug-ins. The same applies to bass cabinets, if you want to mike one up (rather than use a DI from the guitar). Bass boxes are prone to one problem that guitars also have — except much worse. We’re talking about rattling. Loose grilles, voice coils bouncing and that missing screw inside the cab that no one’s ever bothered to get out. Placing your microphone to avoid these unwanted noises can often be more important than anything. The thing is, listen for them during tracking. Often you’re so involved in hearing the guitar sound that you don’t notice the rattles until it’s too late. For this reason, it pays to keep a screwdriver handy.
There’s a reason for these cupboards. Every microphone has a specific purpose and should be used in a particular way to get the best results. It can make all the difference.. The truth is that while microphone choice and placement certainly is an exact science, not everybody can afford the luxury of a vast collection. You can, however, improve your recordings by applying a few easy rules to how you mike up things in your studio. This chapter outlines some helpful miking hints. We’ll assume you’ve got a good condenser microphone or two and a decent dyamic mic.
GG :: 90
Shure SM57 If the Shure SM58 is the standard vocal microphone for all occasions, the SM57 is the instrument microphone for every... well, instrument. There isn’t much you can’t mike up with an SM57. Guitars, toms, snare drums — you name it, the SM57 does them all. There are plenty of other great instrument mics out there — Beyer, Sennheiser, AudioTechnica, Rode, AKG etc, all have them — but it’s amazing how often you’ll see the 57 in action. Beta versions of these mics and many other Shure standards, which are even higher quality, are also available. Plus you’ll find budget versions such as Shure’s PG series. Make sure you know which one’s you’re buying.
ass Drum B Put the mic in the shell for a more ‘clicky’ sound of the beater hitting the skin. Place the mic out of the hole for a deeper, subby kick sound.
Drums Recording drums can be tough and it’s one area where home studios find it very difficult to emulate the pros. Drums need a decent room to record in and (if you’re aiming for a big rock sound) lots of microphones. If you’re after a more relaxed drum sound then often it’s just a matter of finding a good-sounding space to set up in and sticking up a mic or two – effectively capturing the sound of the drums in the room. But let’s get back to the multi-miked approach: As you can imagine, setting up and simultaneously recording up to a dozen microphones requires a lot of audio firepower – lots of preamps, cables, mics etc. Not only that, but with so many mics set up, and with the drums being such a loud instrument, every mic is ‘hearing’ what every other mic is ‘hearing’ – this is called spill and can turn your recording into one big mess if you’re not careful.
i Hats H Changing the angle of the mic as it points at the hi-hats alters the tone of the sound. So experiment.
So, for starters, it’s best not to set your sights too high. Try three mics – one for the kick, the snare and another mic that catches a good overall balance of the kit.
AKG D12VR A large-diaphragm dynamic mic made for sitting in front of kick drums. Beyer’s M88 is another kick drum favourite.
The kick drum benefits from having its own mic – its sound underpins your mix and creates the groove with the bass guitar so it’s nice to have individual control of it in the mix. If the front skin has a hole for a mic then place it in the drum — it’ll give you a better defined, edgy sound, because you’re also picking up the click noise of the beater hitting the skin. A mic outside the hole can create a deeper whoof kind of sound made by the air being punched out of the drum through the hole. There are some good purpose-designed kick drum mics such as the AKG D12VR and the Audio-Technica AE2500. Other ‘normal’ microphones might struggle to reproduce the bass tones and cope with the high sound pressure levels (SPL, meaning volume). Snare drums are best close-miked from the top (pointing at the middle of the skin at around a 30° angle). Often you’ll see or read about an extra mic at the bottom of the snare which captures the snare wire sound nicely — but depending on the snare drum, you may or may not need it..
Snare Angle the mic to point at the middle of the skin. Have the rear ‘deaf’ end of the mic pointing at the hats if you don’t want them in your snare channel. Don’t get the mic too close, or the drummer will smack it.
Hi-hats are always useful on their own track. If you’re short on microphones and resources always mike the hi-hats rather than any toms. That other mic we mentioned, the one that captures a good overall balance of the kit, can be crucial. If you’ve only got a couple of mics then definitely don’t think of it as a cymbals mic, cos you’re also trying to capture the sound of the toms and probably the hi-hats as well. So experiment – put some headphones on and listen to what the mic is hearing. If your kit is set up well and you’ve got your room sounding nice then this mic can really make or break the overall sound of the drum recording. In pro studios mics can end up on the floor, in the corner… some really odd places that sound great — so don’t limit yourself by putting the mic somewhere conventional.
verheads O Overheads as we’re used to seeing them. But in the studio they can go anywhere, depending on how much of the room’s acoustics you want to hear. Stick your headphones on and listen to what these mics are hearing.
One last rule. Whatever position you settle on for a drum mic, keep it out of harm’s way. a) Because the drummer will be distracted by the mic — wondering if they’ll hit it; and b) mics aren’t cheap and they don’t like getting belted.
i mprove your recordings by applying a few easy rules ” GG :: 91
A coustic Guitars. Acoustic guitars will often have a great pick-up in them anyway, but nothing sounds quite so natural as a properly miked-up acoustic. You’ll need a condenser microphone for certain. The only, only way to mike up an acoustic is to place the microphone facing the soundhole to start with and then begin carefully moving it around while you listen to someone playing, finding the ‘sweet spot’. Every acoustic sounds different according to the instrument and the player’s technique. As a rule, towards the bridge brings a sharper sound while placing the mic higher or lower will emphasise the bass or highs, because of the strings it is closest to. Take your time and jot down notes! Getting a guitar microphone to sound the same way twice is almost impossible. The good news is it’s fun — which is what studios and music is all about, right?
The best place by far for any vocal microphone is behind a pop-screen. Which might sound a bit like a wise crack, but it’s true. Anything else hardly matters. Recording vocals without a pop-screen to avoid ‘plosives’ is a recipe for all sorts of frustration. And okay... there’s another trick. Often you’ll see microphones set slightly higher than they need to be so that the singer lifts their face to sing directly at it. The purpose is to open the vocalist’s throat and help their breathing. It also helps to sing across the mic to avoid plosives. If you do this, a singer always has a better sounding side to their face — serious! So find it!
If you ever have the opportunity to mike up a real piano be prepared to spend a bit of time experimenting, too. Be assured that no matter where you place the microphone, suddenly a dozen sound engineers will magically appear out of thin air and tell you, “that’s not where you put it”. How to mike up pianos with a single microphone is a hotly-debated subject. The best results are usually achieved with a condenser microphone set to pick up the whole room — including the piano in it. But this means a lot of discipline on the part of the player and everyone else in the house to prevent unwanted noise. Really, the answer was in the first sentence.
Piano Headphones A great sounding piano microphone usually isn’t the best for creating a monitor feed into the player’s headphones — if you need one. The tone probably won’t cut through everything else. So if you need to mike up a piano and send a headphone feed, use a separate channel with a not-so-fussy microphone setup for something a little harsher that the player will hear. And for goodness sake explain (several times, no doubt) that it’s not the sound being recorded.
GG :: 92
Summary The time you spend getting a microphone ‘just right’ is time well spent. Sometimes a centimetre here or there can make all the difference. Getting a mic placement ‘just right’ isn’t something you work out on a calculator. You need to use your ears. Training your ears takes practice. A good way of training your ears is to listen to a mic through headphones, while you’re in front of the instrument. Move the mic — listen. Aim to buy a good vocal mic, a good instrument mic, a pop shield, good cables and a couple of well-constructed mic stands . The more mics you have up and live in the room, the harder it is to pull a good overall sound. A drumkit is tough to mic up because of this.
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The mastering engineer is the one that has the experience and equipment to make your track sound like a ‘bought one’
Mastering Spit & Polish
Phew, you’ve survived the aural equivalent of walking the Kokoda Trail and your mixes are sounding as good as you can get ‘em... except they still don’t quite have the punch, open sound or volume of your favourite songs/reference material. What’s the secret? Here’s where Mastering comes into play. Why Mastering? A mastering engineer is the final link in the chain. They’re a fresh pair of professional ears with a bunch of very expensive and specialist gear. The mastering engineer is the one that has the experience and equipment to make your track sound like the real thing with that elusive, extra quality. Even if you’ve begged/borrowed/stolen everything up to this point, now is the time to spend a little bit of cash and get a pro to give your tracks that buff and polish. How to Choose You might not think you can afford the same mastering engineer as a successful signed band. Check them out and you might be surprised. Read the credits on your favourite local artists’ CD sleeves and look at some websites. Phone the mastering engineer. Ideally they’re within driving distance so you can have a quick chat, face to face. Most mastering engineers are more than happy to have a listen to your tracks before the main session to give you a ‘heads up’ on any major problems in the mixes, saving you money – because these people can’t do miracles and they won’t try and master a track that needs more work in the studio first. However, don’t abuse this generosity by expecting this favour more than once.
In a perfect world you’ve taken all our advice about mastering and you’re going to leave it up to the experts. In reality there are plenty of occasions when that’s not going to happen. Maybe you don’t have the time, rushing to get a song finished for a competition, or you’re creating a demo CD for a festival gig and the deadline is looming? Most DAWs offer a range of very good mastering plug-ins to let you try the process yourself. These are still not the equivalent of a professional mastering studio or, more importantly, an experienced mastering engineer. However, you can get some great results. Here are some examples:
SONY SOUND FORGE Sony’s Sound Forge is a dedicated wave editor that takes editing and mastering to a high level. It’s also used for very specific tasks like fixing film dialogue and sample-accurate editing, and preparing audio for DVD and CD authoring. Sound Forge can be a little overwhelming if you’re not an expert, because it’s so feature-rich.
Prepared for Mastering There are a few things you can do to prepare your mixes for mastering. First and foremost is: don’t squash your files into oblivion. Make sure you leave some dynamics (level swings) in the mixes. Over-compressed or slammed mixes are hard to master. Try to leave at least 6-10dB of headroom (that doesn’t mean slamming it in your DAW and then globally reducing the file to –6dB). Let the mix breathe a bit so the mastering engineer’s expensive compressors and EQs can work their magic. Secondly, keep your mix file in the original sample rate and bit depth — if you recorded in 24-bit/48kHz then leave it that way. A mastering engineer wants your mixes in high resolution because he can get the more out of them that way. Don’t worry about making your mixes loud. That’s exactly what a mastering engineer does (if you want). And never, ever deliver your mixes in MP3 format, not ever! That’s a good way to be shown the door super quick. DIY Mastering No one’s saying you can’t listen to your final mixes with some of your own ‘mastering’ compression applied to the mix buss. It’s a decent way of hearing the type of stuff mastering will do for your tracks. Just don’t slap on the mastering compression all the time, use it as a reference only. It can lead to all sorts of problems if you don’t have the ratio, attack and release times on your compressors and limiters set right. So again for now, leave the compression off your final bounces and leave that up to the mastering guy. A Rare Pleasure When your mastering engineer has completed his work, it’s one of life’s great pleasures to sit in a great mastering studio listening to your work (sounding amazing) on a great pair of expensive speakers. Enjoy the moment.
GG :: 94
STEINBERG CUBASE 31 BAND EQ Every DAW will offer you a 31-band EQ, the staple EQ for enhancing the overall tone of a mixdown. This is Cubase’s and it illustrates perfectly what a 31-band EQ can do – splitting the audio across 31 different frequencies that let you be very specific about which ones you need to cut or boost. You’ll discover plenty of presets that can create a classic sound for your song, but 31-band EQs are very good at isolating a particularly nasty frequency and fixing it without losing a whole chunk of the audio spectrum. Again, don’t get too carried away. Most EQs will give you ±12dB. That’s a lot. Settings of 3dB either way usually do the trick and 5dB is getting serious. Anything more than these and your mix may have problems that need to be addressed elsewhere – like back in the mixdown!
STEINBERG WAVELAB Wavelab is also produced by Steinberg, developers of Cubase, and it’s another specialist wave editor program. However, Wavelab makes good use of Steinberg’s experience in plug-in technology (Steinberg did, after all, invent VST) to make the features and effects in Wavelab more accessible to less experienced users. The GUIs and displays can help you make more sense of what you’re doing. Wavelab also branches out into other areas of audio production such as podcasting, speaker management and CD creation. If you’re always going to struggle with finding a professional mastering studio, then investing in a program like Wavelab is definitely worth considering. It’s like the next best thing and has a lot to offer in teaching you the nitty-gritty of audio editing, too.
CAKEWALK SONAR LP 64 Sonar has a Producer Edition which includes mastering plug-ins. Among them, the LP-64 Multiband compressor is a good example of a mastering compressor that can make an instant difference to your mixes just by choosing the various presets. The TL 64 Tube Leveller is designed to add some old-school, tube warmth to your mixes. Both can provide extreme settings, but that’s not what mastering is really about. Listen carefully to the effects and don’t be scared to tweak some knobs yourself.
PRESONUS STUDIO ONE PRO Presonus’ Studio One Pro takes a slightly different approach to mastering in that it has a Project window that lets you work on mastering all your tunes at the same time. This is a good way to ensure that all the tracks on an album have equal volumes, tonal quality and the rest. The Project Window will even update itself, should you remix a song, but beware that using it like this can be a bit taxing on your RAM and CPU. Studio One’s plug-ins are universal across its Song or Project windows. However, it will allow third-party mastering plug-ins like Waves, if you want something top-shelf. It also lets you burn CDs or publish music to the internet from inside the Project interface.
GG :: 95
Glossary This glossary is a compilation of terms you’ll find in the Guerilla Guide, plus a few we’ve added that you might encounter elsewhere. The explanations are meant as a quick reference only — a memory jog, if you like.
5.1: The most popular surround sound (multi-channel) ‘format’, where you mix down to five channels plus a ‘.1’ subwoofer channel. Dolby Digital and DTS are the most popular 5.1 formats.
Bandwidth: The amount of signal that can be passed by a digital connection is determined by the bandwidth available. Bit (resolution or depth):
Absorption: A word used when talking about room acoustics. Sound absorption is how sound gets soaked up. Foam is a good sound absorber, concrete is not. Acoustic foam is even better, because it’s denser. Acidized: Loops that have information embedded in the standard developed by Sony’s Acid software are popularly known as ‘Acidized’.
Buss (or Bus): Single or multi-channel path for audio. The main left/right outputs are a buss, for example. Cassette Tape: The best way of hearing your own music in the car before the advent of the CD and iPod. Class:
Acoustics: The black art of trying to predict how something will sound in a room. ADAT (Alesis Digital Audio Tape): A very successful eight-track digital tape recorder by the company Alesis. It pioneered an optical eightchannel digital interface called ADAT Lightpipe which is still used today long after the multitrackers have become landfill. AD/DA:
Audio to Digital/Digital to Audio converter.
AES/EBU (or AES3): A digital audio interface standard for stereo signals. The letters stand for Audio Engineering Society & European Broadcasting Union. Aliasing: Distortion in a digital audio signal, produced by input frequencies that exceed one half the sampling rate. Amplifier: A device that boosts an incoming signal. Amplifiers are everywhere and come in a number of different flavours: Class A, B, A/B, C, D & H are the main ones. Class D & H are becoming more popular because they use a ‘digital’ power supply, which means they’re far smaller and lighter. Class A amps are more old-school but much loved by expensive guitar heads. Analogue: How things work in the real world. Everything is infinitely divisible. Get a big enough microscope and you’ll see something smaller. Opposite to digital. Anti-Aliasing Filter: A filter in an analogue-to-digital converter which passes only that part of an analogue signal below one half of the sampling rate. ASIO (Audio Stream In/Out): Audio driver technology developed by Steinberg and licensed worldwide. Asynchronous: Two or more digital signals in which the clocks are not synchronised. Audio Interface: The hardware connection between your computer’s software and you. Audio Unit (AU):
Plug-in format for Apple’s Logic DAW.
Automation: How your DAW records and remembers your fader and knob adjustments. Great for recording real-time level tweaks in a mixdown. Auxiliary: A buss on the mixer that allows you to send a feed of that channel somewhere else. Comes in two flavours: pre-fade and post-fade. Pre-fade auxiliary levels aren’t impacted by fader moves and are good for headphone or foldback mixes, while post-fade auxiliary levels go up and down with the channel’s fader — good for sending to reverbs and delays. Background Noise: Best kept to a minimum in your studio. Do things like turn off the air con, external hard drives, close the doors/windows, take clunky jewellery off… do what you can before recording. Balanced/Unbalanced: Correctly wired cables using the hot/neutral/earth configuration are balanced. XLR leads are balanced, as are TRS jacks. Balanced cables are better at rejecting hums and buzzes. Unbalanced wiring doesn’t have the neutral core and more easily picks up noise.
GG :: 96
A bit is a single snippet of digital info. It’s also a measure of a digital signal’s resolution, e.g. ’16-bit’.
Clipping: Over-driving a digital signal results in clipping, where the signal is actually cut back or ‘clipped’. Clipping results in a thoroughly unpleasant series of digital splats. Clock Speed:
How fast your computer’s processor runs.
Compact Disc: The reason why everyone hocked their LPs in the ‘80s. Brought to market by Sony and Philips in 1981. They made a motza on every disc sold. Now going the way of the LP thanks to iTunes. Compressor: A device that raises the average level of a signal by reining in the peaks. Computer: Comes in two main flavours – PC & Mac. Get a PC that’s been designed as a music computer or get a Mac. Condenser (microphone): Condenser mics combine an ultra-thin diaphragm that induces a voltage in a backplate as it moves back ‘n’ forth. Condensers need a small amount of DC voltage to operate (see ‘Phantom Power’). Most studio mics are condensers. Controllers: A hardware device that interfaces with your DAW and/or virtual instruments via MIDI data. Might sometimes look like a ‘real’ mixing console but doesn’t actually ‘pass’ audio. Console:
Converter: A device that ‘converts’ analogue audio to digital so it can be manipulated in your DAW, then turned back into analogue so you can hear it in the real world. Convolution (Reverb): Convolution reverbs use samples of real echoes to reproduce a very realistic reverb effect. CPU: Central Processing Unit. Your computer’s ‘brain’. The faster the CPU or ‘clock speed’ the more easily your computer can chunk through data. D/A: Digital-to-Analogue. Converting digital info back into something the human ear can hear. Daisy-Chaining: Running devices one into the other. ‘Daisy chaining’ MIDI is seen to be a bad idea as it induces latency the more you add devices. The better alternative is a ‘star network’ where all the leads share one distribution hub. DAW: Digital Audio Workstation. Describes a program or hardware/software combo that records and edits audio as well as (normally) sequencing MIDI. Decibel (dB): The unit used to describe how loud a sound is. It’s not a simple unit like a metre or gram, it’s logarithmic and it’s comparative (needs a starting point to refer back to). Which means 0dB on a mixer doesn’t mean ‘no sound’ it means the mixer’s not turned the signal up or down. One of the most useful things to know about the dB: if something’s 6dB louder it’s twice as loud. Distortion: Crapping-out of an audio signal between the inputs and outputs of a device. Can be cool if intentional. Definitely a pain if it’s not.
Dither: Used when going down from 32- or 24-bit to 16-bit for CD. It’s a clever little technique that puts the noise that might normally be introduced out of human hearing. Apogee’s UV22 process is the most famous example of dither. Dongle: A hardware copy protection device — these days they’re almost always a USB key such as an iLok.
Impedance: Measurement of electronic resistance. Hi-Z inputs on your interface are for high impedance signals like electric guitars. Impedance is measured in Ohms (Ω). Insert: Something that gets put into a signal path, like a compressor or noise gate, prior to the auxilliary sends, pan control and channel fader. IRQ:
DSD (Direct Stream Digital): If PCM is the method of digital recording used to create a CD, then DSD is the method used to record SACD (Super Audio CD). It’s different in that it relies on a super-high sample rate for its fidelity rather than the bit depth. Widely recognised as offering a better audiophile sound. DSP (Digital Signal Processor): Normally describes a chip devoted to dealing with effects and processing. So, for example, a ‘DSPbased’ device uses its own processor and not the host computer’s CPU. DirectX (DX): Plug-in format most notably employed by Cakewalk Sonar. DXi is a DirectX virtual instrument. Dynamic (Microphone): A ‘moving coil and magnet’ microphone. Not as sensitive as a condenser microphone but usually more robust, which is why dynamic mics like a Shure SM58 are so popular on stage. Earth Loop: Conflicting earthing points in an electrical system. Results in an annoying hum. EQ:
Interrupt Request setting.
The software required to run audio interfaces. Jitter: Tiny little timing errors in digital recording or playback. It’s like a smearing of the digital ‘picture’, resulting in reduced detail. Loop: A precise-length audio grab that can be repeated seamlessly or ‘looped’. Like a drum loop, for example. Media: A generic description for all kinds of digital files. Cubase stores its recordings in a ‘Media Pool’. ‘Multimedia’ can mean just about anything. MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface): Digital lingo that allows MIDI-equipped gear to talk to each other, developed over the last 25 years and still very much alive. Mixer: A place (either real or virtual) where multiple signals are combined. Also where signals can be shunted around into effects and dynamics processors. The Mixer Page is the place to be for fine-tuning and/or automating your levels. Model (Physical Modelling): A way of realistically emulating a sound of an instrument or process.
Abbreviation for ‘equalizer’ — a tone control.
Firewire: Connection port for computers, properly called IEEE 1394. Currently comes in two speeds, Firewire 400 and 800. Frequency: How many times a sound wave oscillates (or goes up and down). The faster it oscillates, the higher the frequency and the higher the pitch of the note (see Hertz). FSD (Full Scale Digital): The analogue level at which an analogue-to-digital converter reaches the end of its number range. Also called 0dBFs. Go over 0dBFs and feel the pain. (See ‘Clipping’) Gain: Signal amplitude or volume; also the knob at the top of your channel strip. Engineers talk about getting their ‘gain structure’ right, which means making sure your signals are gained up or down to (normally) hover around 0dB. Gate (Noise Gate): A device that ducks an incoming sound once it drops below a certain threshold. Often used to stop the noise of lots of open microphones when they’re not being used, or for trancey stutter effects in pad sounds.
Multi-timbral: Devices that can reproduce more than one type of instrument at a time are called ‘multi-timbral’. Native: Data processing done by the computer’s own CPU is called ‘native’ processing. It used to be that any decent DAW was ‘DSP-based’ but now computers are powerful enough for native to be viable. Noise Shaping: A type of dither, using non-random noise, with certain frequency bands lower in volume. Gives an improved signal-to-noise ratio. NLE (Non Linear Editor): Common name for video editors such as Adobe Premier and Sony Vegas. Patch: Instrument sounds, usually on a synth, are referred to as ‘patches’. A traditional ‘patch’ in the studio is a combination of leads and sockets that result in a particular signal path. A ‘Patchbay’ is a bank of sockets that allow you to connect one thing in the studio to another without going to the back of the rack. PCM (Pulse Code Modulation): The most common technique for converting an analogue signal to digital. The other main method now is DSD.
GM (General MIDI): Allows a MIDI file to sound just about the same on any GM synth. A great idea in the mid ’80s, a bit naff now.
Phantom Power: Low DC voltage supplied to power condenser microphones and other ‘active’ devices like DIs. The standard is 48 Volts.
GUI (Graphical User Interface): Fancy term for what software looks like on the screen.
Phase: The way to describe the ups and downs of a sound wave, but is only of real interest when two sounds interact. Two sound waves are ‘in phase’ when they combine to be louder, and out of phase when they combine to cancel each other out.
Headroom: Range of signal levels between standard operating level and the level at which clipping or overload occurs. ‘Lotsa’ headroom is good, ‘limited’ headroom is bad. Hertz (Hz): Measurement of frequency. 100 Hertz equals 100 times a second. For our purposes Hertz describes audio frequencies. Human hearing, for example, is said to be within the ranges of 20 to 20,000Hz. iLok: A USB hardware copy protection device widely adopted by the DAW industry.
Phase Coherent (or Linear Phase): Often used to describe some of the better EQs going around, where tweaking the EQ doesn’t shift about the phase of the original signal. It results in a more solid hi-fi sound. Phase Reverse: A button on the mixer that ‘flips’ the sound ‘upside down’. It won’t sound different in itself but may stop unwanted phase cancellations with other sounds. Plug-in: Effects and instruments inserted over tracks are commonly called ‘plug-ins’.
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Polar Pattern: The pickup pattern of a microphone. Either a mic is omni [A], directional (cardioid [B] or hypercardioid [C]), or figure-eight [D]. Directional mics are most popular because you can point them at the source and they’re comparatively ‘deaf’ to other sounds.
Polyphony: Instruments (almost always keyboards) that can play more than one note at a time, e.g. a piano is ‘polyphonic’. Otherwise, ‘monophonic’ is only one note at a time. Preamp: Full name is microphone preamplifier. It’s a device that boosts the weak signal coming from a microphone into something usable. Like all electronics it introduces a sound of its own which might suit the mic or not. Buying a good quality preamp is always a good investment. Outboard mixers and some interfaces have preamps onboard. Quantisation: In a sequencer it describes whether your notes snap to a 1/4 beat or an 1/8 etc. It’s a way of automatically getting your playing ‘in time’. RAM (Random Access Memory): If you rely on samples for your music — say, if you’re a Live or Acid fiend — then buy as much RAM as you can afford. Random Access: The retrieval method used by non-linear data systems — basically means you don’t have to go though all the info to find what you want… like CD versus tape. Resolution: In digital recording, it’s the accuracy with which the original analogue audio signal is measured. More bits (ie. higher resolution) allow for a more faithful recording to be made. It’s like notches on a ruler, it determines what ‘number’ you come up with when you measure something. 8-bit is like only having centimetres on the ruler, while 24-bit is like having millimetres. RTAS (Real Time Audio Suite): Digidesign’s plug-in format forProTools plug-ins that use the computer’s CPU processing power. Sampler: Generic term for sample-based synthesizers. Used to be an expensive hardware device, now (apart from groove boxes) samplers are software-based. Sample Rate: The rate at which samples are generated or passed through a digital audio system — 48kHz, 44.1kHz and 96kHz are among the most commonly used rates. It means the converter is looking at or ‘sampling’ the incoming signal, say, 48,000 times a second. Samples: Small precise recordings for use with samplers or loop software. Sampling: A process in which a sound is turned into digital 1’s and 0’s by measuring or ‘sampling’ it thousands or millions of times a second. Sequencer: Device for programming MIDI data. Used to be in its own box now comes as part of your DAW. Signal to Noise (S/N): A ‘ratio’ measurement, normally quoted in dB, that tells you how much soft-to-loud range the device has. A large number is good.
Sound: A term Poms used in the ’70s to describe something cool. “What’s Barry’s new car like?” “Sound.” S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface): Digital audio interface very similar to AES/EBU. Carried via coaxial phono or optical connections. Stereo: Two-channel sound. Popular because we have two ears, although doesn’t simulate a believable ‘surround’ sound experience, hence the move to multi-channel formats like 5.1. Surround: A way of describing the multi-channel standards that use more speakers than stereo. Dolby Digital and DTS (5.1) are the most popular. Synch (Synchronise): Getting two systems to be in time. Wordclock helps digital systems sync up. Tape: An old-school way of recording. Still used today by some. Hard to come by though. Tape emulator plug-ins try and copy the way tape ‘saturates’ or pleasantly distorts when you hit it with a lot of level. Transport Controls: The Stop, Play, Fast Forward etc buttons on your DAW. So named because of real moving parts in the days of tape machines. Tube: Full name is Vacuum Tube, which is a component largely discarded when they invented the transistor. Now much prized for its sound qualities. There was a period when ‘tube = good’, but it ain’t necessarily so. Unity: A signal that isn’t boosted or cut is at ‘unity’ on a mixing console. Marked by a ‘0’. USB (Universal Serial Bus): Computer connection port. USB 2.0 is the most common, now becoming superceded by USB 3.0 which is faster. It’s worth investing in a USB hub to accommodate all your dongles etc. Velocity (Velocity Sensitive): How hard you hit a MIDI note expressed as a number between 1-128. Piano keys that respond in this way are called ‘velocity sensitive’. Virtual Instrument: All software instruments and samplers are generally grouped together under the name ‘virtual instrument’. VST (Virtual Studio Technology): A plug-in standard developed by Steinberg. VSTi is a term used for VST-based virtual instruments. VU (Volume Unit): VU meters measure the average power of your sound. A more useful way of determining how chunky your mixes are. Then keep an eye on your Peak meter to make sure you’re not going ‘over’. Watts (W):
The measurement used for audio power.
Waveform: The shape of a sound wave. In the world of sound synthesis waveforms come in five main categories: Sine, Square, Triangle, Sawtooth, and Noise. White Noise: A broadband, random ‘noise’. It’s that ‘snow storm’ sound you hear when you’re between AM stations on the radio. Woofer: The low-frequency driver in a speaker. Wordclock: A timing reference signal, shared and passed between digital devices – keeps them all in sync. Wordclock often has it’s own input or can be carried via AES3. It’s necessary as soon as you’re running more than a couple of digital devices.
Slices: Loops are manipulated by ‘slicing’ them into smaller sections. Propellerhead’s ReCycle program started it all. Slicing drum loop samples then allows you to use individual hits.
Workstation: Keyboard synthesizers with built-in sequencers are often called workstations. Korg’s M1 was a pioneer and is still the best selling workstation ever.
Sonic: Of sound/of Hedgehog.
XLR: A balanced, three-pin connector, sometimes called a ‘canon’ by old blokes. Hardly anyone knows it stands for ‘Xternal, Live, Return’.
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Published on Jul 29, 2013
The Guerrilla Guide to Recording and Music Production is a magazine for anyone and everyone who’s interested in recording music at home, in...