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Audio Production Tutorials

Vocal Processing: Eq & Compression

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The vocals are undoubtedly the most important element of your mix. You may have captured the greatest guitar tone known to man but if the vocal sucks then no one is even going to notice.

Vocal EQ

In broad terms vocal eq or any eq for that matter falls into two categories, creative and corrective. The creative side is where you ensure the vocal fits with the tone and vibe of your song while corrective issues may involve high passing the vocal, notching out any annoying frequencies or dealing with sibilance.

The image below shows some typical areas of interest when eqing a vocal. I usually start out by high passing the vocal in the 80 – 100Hz region a free plugin like  Brainworx’s bx_cleansweep makes for a great dedicated high/low pass filter.

Vocal Compression

The first question you should ask yourself before reaching for a compressor is, does this track really need to be  compressed at all and if so how do i want it to affect the sound. If you find yourself constantly adjusting the vocal level on different sections and vocal lines then that would be a strong indication that compression is going to be necessary.

Setting the compressor is done on a case by case basis no two tracks are the same but common problems do surface so these can be addressed with common solutions.

Threshold: For example ( Starting with a mild 2:1 ratio) if  I am only interested in taming the peaks of my vocal and feel the majority of the track is sitting well in the mix then I will set the compressors threshold to only catch the loudest parts leaving the rest of the vocal untouched. If I was interested in a more in your face sound then I would set the threshold lower so the compressor is always acting on the signal and not just the peaks.

Ratio: Once I have the threshold set I now turn to the ratio. I may be happy with what part of the signal the compressor is acting on but I might want more compression, in that case I will increase the ratio while listening to the effect it is having on the track. It is important to recognize how the threshold and ratio settings affect each, experiment with different ratios while watching the gain reduction meter.

Attack: When I am dialing in the attack time on my vocal I like to think about it in a musical way rather than just numbers on a dial. For example a fast attack time on the vocal may “blunt” or soften the impact of the words  and remove some of the presence. This may be perfect if I want to sit the vocal back in the mix but in in other situations I might prefer a slower attack so my vocal transients are not getting squashed by the compressor and are popping out a little more.

Release: With respect to the vocal, different release times can either keep you vocal steady and upfront or it may undo any settings you have made to the other parameters. For example, you set the threshold and ratio to keep the vocal sitting just right, all the lyrics are perfectly clear and no words are too loud or too quiet. But then you dial in a really fast release time, what then starts to happen is the compressor effectively starts engaging on and off too fast or unmusically resulting in the vocal dynamic becoming unsteady again.

What’s important to understand is how the different controls interact with each other and how that are not independent of one another.

Huge Guitars With Waves Doubler

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Here’s a really cool trick you can try out with Waves Doubler. If your looking for bigger wider guitars a la Linkin Park this will get you there in a hurry.

  • OK first off take your guitar track and pan it to about 10 o clock so we can give a little room for the vocals in the center.
  • Then set up a mono effects send,  buss or aux channel (whatever it’s called in your DAW) and pan that to 2 o clock
  • Route your guitar to the aux channel.
  • Insert waves Doubler on the aux channel.
  • Uncheck the direct signal in Waves Doubler, also uncheck the second voice as well.
  • Set the delay for somewhere between 15-20 ms and feedback to zero

What you are left with is basically a copy of your guitar that is slightly delayed and very slightly de-tuned and panned to opposite side, giving a full lush sound to your guitar

Second Method

Of course this effect can be carried out without Waves Doubler.

  • Duplicate your guitar track
  • Using your DAW’s pitch-shifting capabilities de-tune the duplicate track by about 6 cent.
  • Next, insert a delay on the duplicate track with the wet/dry blend set to 100% wet.
  • Set the delay set to about 15-20ms and with no feedback or repeats.
  • Pan the original and duplicate guitar track to about 10 and 2 o’clock respectively.

Voila instant hugeness!

 

Music Production Books

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Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio by Mike Senior

is a down-to-earth primer for small-studio enthusiasts who want chart-ready sonics in a hurry. Drawing on the back-room strategies of more than 100 famous names, this entertaining guide leads you step-by-step through the entire mixing process. On the way, you’ll unravel the mysteries of every type of mix processing, from simple EQ and compression through to advanced spectral dynamics and “fairy dust” effects. User-friendly explanations introduce technical concepts on a strictly need-to-know basis, while chapter summaries and assignments are perfect for school and college use

Mixing Audio by Roey Izhaki

Mixing remains one of the most illusive arts of recording practice and can take a life time to master. Looking at practices, concepts, tools and mixing instruments the author provides a comprehensive insight to the art and science of mixing.

Whether a hobbyist of professional this book covers basic concepts to advanced techniques as well as tips and tricks and is a vital read for anyone wanting to succeed in the field of mixing.

The book is accompanied by the website www.mixingaudio.com, featuring a sample chapter, illustrations, audio and a user forum.

* Rounded, extensive and complete coverage of music mixing
* Includes a DVD with over 700 audio samples and 4 sample mixes
* Covers new topics and mixing trends such as computer centred mixing

Beginner’s Guide to Compression

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There are few audio processing techniques that mange to confuse the home studio owner more than compression. So let us try and take the mystery out of it and shed some light on its basic applications.

Simply put, compression is the process of decreasing the difference in level between the loudest and quietest parts (the dynamic range) of an audio signal. So why might we need to do this? Lets consider the example of a vocal recording where the vocalist sings some of the words noticeably quieter than others. If you where to set the vocal level where the majority of the words sit nicely in your mix, the quieter words are going to disappear behind the music. Conversely if you fade the vocal up to where the quieter words can be heard, then the rest of the vocal is going to blow your ears off.

Compressors were invented to provide a solution to this problem. By reducing the dynamic range between the loudest and quietest words in our vocal example it becomes easier to set a vocal level that works for the vocal as a whole.

Compressor Controls

Lets take a look at some common compressor controls.

  • Threshold – sets what level the signal must be before the compressor starts working (kicks in).
  • Ratio – sets how much compression is applied. E.g. if the compression ratio is set for 2:1, the input signal will have to cross the threshold by 2 dB for the output level to increase by 1dB.
  • Attack – how quickly the compressor kicks in after the signal exceeds the threshold.
  • Release – how fast after the signal dips below the threshold the compressor resets.
  • Knee – sets how the compressor reacts to signals once the threshold is passed. Hard Knee settings mean it acts on the signal the moment it exceeds the the compression threshold, and Soft Knee means the compression kicks in more gently as the signal reaches the threshold. Soft knee settings are typically more musical although hard knee settings can be desirable for certain applications.
  • Make-Up Gain –lets you Boosts the resultant audio after compression, as compression can reduce the signal significantly.
  • Output – allows you to boost or cut the level of the signal output from the compressor.

How To Set Up a Compressor

1. Whether you are using a hardware or software compressor the settings are going to remain the same. So grab your compressor of choice and insert on the channel you want to compress.

2. Set the threshold until the signal is pushing over the threshold and triggering the compressor. Look for something like 6 dbs of gain reduction so we can really hear whats going on .

3. Set the Ratio according to the material. Bass guitars sound good at 4:1, drums at 2:1, vocals also at 2:1 and electric guitars anywhere from 2:1 to 6:1.

4. The Ratio and Threshold work in unison. Adjust them together and see how they affect the output.

5. The attack and release controls decide how the compressor will react. E.g. slow attack, slow release would be useful for a snare drum by allowing some of the drums transient past before the compressor starts to act on the signal.

6. If available, choose between Hard and Soft Knee. Hard Knee can work well on drums where as Soft Knee can be better suited for vocals or more melodic instruments.

7. Adjust the Make up gain to compensate for the decrease in signal level.

All suggested settings should be taken with a pinch of salt, no two audio signals are the same so some experimentation is necessary.

Compression Audio Sample

Lets take a snare sample a loop and apply different attack times so we can hear what it sounds like in practice.

Snare Uncompressed: In the following samples I have set the threshold to -13db, ratio at 6:1 and release at 200ms.

Snare 1ms: With an attack time of 1ms the compressor is reacting very fast and blunting or softening the initial attack transient.

Snare 10ms: With 10ms attack the compressor is allowing the initial attack through uncompressed which accentuates this portion of the sound (it sounds more clicky!).

Snare 50ms: A greater portion of the attack is now passing through the compressor before it reacts which results in gain reduction that mostly affects the decay.

Snare 100ms: At 100ms the majority of the signal has passed through the compressor before it reacts, resulting in just a subtle reduction in level on the signals decay.

 

Easy Parrallel Compression

in Mixing & Mastering by
H-Comp Parallel Compression

Parallel or New York compression has long been a favorite of studio engineers. Usually deployed to “fatten” up  tracks it can sound great on drums or vocals.

Parallel compression is achieved by mixing an unprocessed dry signal with compressed (usually heavily compressed)  version of the same signal.The advantage of parallel compression is the dynamics of the dry signal are left intact while your free to add as much or as little body, character and all that other good stuff heavy compression can bring to the party.

Setting this up in your DAW typically involves either duplication of tracks or the creation of an effect send or buss, which can be a bit of a hassle. Fortunately there are a few compressor plugins out there that incorporate a mix or wet/dry knob. A mix function more commonly seen on a reverb or delay makes it a cinch to set up parallel compression. Two such plugins that are up to the job are Waves H-Comp and Fab Filter Pro-C

H-Comp Parallel Compression

 

Fab Filter Pro C

Setting The Compressor

When it comes to setting a compressor for parallel compression you can afford to really hammer the signal, high ratio and threshold settings are the order of the day. Next you want to set the mix knob to 100% dry and slowly turn the dial to introduce the compressed signal, somewhere around 20-30% sounds good but adjust to taste.

Lets hear what it sounds like on this drum loop.

Drums No Processing

Drums Parallel Compression

Now if only more plugins had mix knobs!

Cubase: Side Chaining & Ducking Tutorial

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In this tutorial we are going to cover side-chaining and ducking in Cubase 5. In this example I am going to demonstrate a technique that is commonly used in techno or dance music to tighten up the low end and increase the impact of the kick drum, or even to create cool pumping effects.

When mixing your kick and bass sounds together you may find that some frequencies are overlapping and conflicting with each other causing a muddy low end. A great way to solve this problem and build a solid low end is to “duck” the bass in response to the kick drum with side chain compression. Essentially what this does is decrease the volume or amplitude of the bass on every kick drum hit.

Step 1

Insert the Steinberg compressor on the bass channel and activate the side-chain input by clicking the button to the left of the preset pane.

Side chain Compression

Step 2

Next open up the kick drum channel settings and click on send slot one. You should now see the side-chain bass compressor as a send option. Select this and turn the send level up.

Side Chain Kick Send

Step 3

Return to the compressor on the bass channel and adjust the threshold so you are getting gain reduction on each kick drum hit. Set the ratio to about 3:1 with a fast attack setting and adjust the release so gain reduction returns to zero before the next kick drum hit arrives.

After Ducking Compresion

In most situations you just need a couple of db’s of gain reduction to get your kick drum punching through better. But experimenting with different compressors settings can produce some really cool pumping effects. Check out the samples below to hear it in action.

In sample 2 I have switched the Kicks drums send to pre-fader, that way I could reduce the volume of the kick and still hear the pumping effect on the bass sample, a sound that I’m sure you are familiar with.

 

Reverse Reverb Effect

in Mixing & Mastering/Tutorials/Videos by

Today we are going to take a look at the classic reverse reverb effect. I will be using Cubase 5 for this tutorial but a similar method can used in most DAW’s. Check out the video below.

Transcript Reverse Reverb Video

Step 1: Duplicate the vocal track.

Step 2: Using the scissors isolate the first few words from the two phrases in the vocal sample.

Step 3: Select these two parts and in your DAW use the reverse part function to process the parts.

Step 4: Insert a reverb of this channel, set the delay time to pretty long and the mix to 100.

Step 5: Next we need to record the output of this channel to another track.

Step 6: Now we have just the reverb but it is going in the wrong direction, so use the reverse function again.

Step 7: All that’s left to do is line up the parts so the reverse reverb flows seamlessly into the original track.

The T-Pain Vocal Effect With Auto-Tune

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For years now the ubiquitous Auto-Tune has been coming to the rescue of many a dodgy vocal track saving an engineer’s ass and making Joe Schmo sound like a star (well almost). For good or for bad we all know how much Auto-Tune is used these days and people often question the merits of any vocal tuning but lets leave that argument for another day.

Yet Auto-Tune can be used for more creative purposes too. Everyone remembers “Believe” by Cher or more recently the T-Pain robotic vocal effect. Creating that effect is a breeze in with Auto-Tune.

Step 1

Insert  Antares Auto-tune on your vocal track and set the input type (in my case I choose soprano).

Step 2

Set the tracking to relaxed and the retune speed to fast.

Step 3

Set the scale from the default chromatic to either major or minor. This reduces the number of notes the software tries to re-tune the vocal to which in turn emphasizes the effect.

Step 4

Experiment with different scales and tracking parameters to produce different effects.

Check the before and after effect on this vocal.

BBC Studio Recording Masterclass

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The BBC Musicians’ Masterclass continues at Maida Vale studio with an insightful engineering session hosted by Huw Stephens.

BBC Drums Masterclass with Andy Gangadeen

in Music Production/Videos by
BBC Introducing Drum Masterclass

The BBC Introducing Musicians Masterclass

Filmed at Abbey Road and Maida Vale studios the BBC’s Introducing Musicians Masterclass, gave 250 new musicians a chance to hear from some of the biggest names in the music industry – including established artists, renowned session musicians, record labels, managers, and many more.

Check out the brilliant session drummer Andy Gangadeen.

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