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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!

 

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

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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

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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.

Snare Drum: EQ & Compression

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The snare drum is the star of your drum mix and deserves some special attention. Engineers and producers have for years obsessed over the perfect snare sound so today we going to look at some common snare drum eq and compression settings for getting you there.

Snare Drum Eq

I typically high pass filter the snare at around 100hz, this tightens up the low end and removes any low level rumble or mic bleed that’s not really helpful when mixing.

Body: The body of the snare is usually found in the 150- 400Hz range. A little boost here can help a underweight snare. If you find the snare is overly resonant or conflicting with the kick or bass cutting this area can increase clarity. I typically used a standard peaking band with a Q setting of about 1.

Crack: The majority of the snares smack or crack can be found around 1-2k range. A boost here can help to get your snare cutting through the mix.

Stick Impact: If your looking for a little more stick in the snare sound or for that matter if your looking to cut some it can usually be found in the 5k range.

Wire Rattle: The wires or snares on the underside of a snare drum are what gives it it’s distinctive sound. I usually start my search for snare rattle around 8k.

Snare Drum Compression

Too many new engineers as a matter of course slap a compressor on the snare drum without even thinking but as with eq you should have a clear idea in your mind what you are trying to achieve instead of just searching in the dark. That being said in modern rock or pop consistent dynamics is desirable on the snare drum and a little bit of compression can keep the snare sitting just where you want it. Over do the compression or get the attack and release settings wrong and you can stifle or flatten the sound.

Often we want to emphasize the attack of the snare and give it a little extra punch. Longer/slower attack times around 10ms allow the initial snare attack transient to sneak through the compressor without being squashed, the compressor then wakes up and starts to act on the rest signal squashing the decay. The overall volume will probably have to be increased with the make-up gain or output control.

If you are having difficulties hearing the subtleties of compression try setting the ratio for about 6:1 and bringing the threshold way down till your getting massive gain reduction. You will have to increase the make up gain or output to”make up” for the drop in volume. Set the attack to the fastest it will go and the release to a medium setting. Now slowly start decreasing the attack control, sure enough the attack transient will start to pop through right at it’s sweet spot. Unfortunately the snare will now sound awful so start returning the threshold to a more sensible setting.

A typical setting for some light Snare compression  may be as follows, bear in mind this is just a guideline and it’s more important to understand how and when to compress then to be just randomly applying recommended settings.

  • Ratio: 4:1
  • Attack: 5-10ms
  • Release: 200ms
  • Threshold: 3-6dB gain reduction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bass Guitar Processing: EQ & Compression

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The bass guitar can often pose the biggest problem when mixing audio. Along with the drums it provides the bedrock of a song and can make or break a mix. Today I’m going to take a look at a few key elements that can get your bass sounding great.

Panning

We’ve all heard them old Beatles tracks with the vocals on one side and the music on the other but they were different times and they were doing the best with what they had. In modern pop, rock or any other style of music 99% of the time the bass is panned dead center and thats what we are going to stick to.

Bass Guitar EQ

In most situations you can probably add a high pass filter at around 35hz to the bass guitar, too much sub-bass can eat up the head room on your track and there usually isn’t very much happening down there anyway.

Bottom: Bass guitars get the majority of their low energy weight in the 80-100 Hz region. Too much boost here could result in a muddy mix. Pay attention to how the bass interacts with other low end elements of the track, for example if both the bass guitar and the kick drum are peaking at 80Hz  it may be wise to cut one by a few db in that area to better compliment each other. A warmer bass tone may be found in the 100-300Hz area.

Attack/Character: The 500Hz-1.5k region typically defines the overall sound of the bass, a boost here can provide more attack but overdoing it doing could introduce a boxy sound to the track.

Notes/Snap: A more snappy string sound typical of the Red Hot Chili Peppers can be found in the 2.5-5k region.

An important point that a lot of home studio owners overlook is that the bass guitar isn’t all about low end and you would be surprised by how much top you may have to dial in to get the bass sounding right. Remember, it might not sound too hot when it’s soloed but when it’s mixed into your track it can be just the ticket.

Bass Guitar Compression

In modern rock and pop music, compression is used on the bass guitar to lock in the low end by limiting it’s dynamic range. It’s important that the bass is solid from note to note otherwise some notes will blow your ears off and others will disappear altogether, unfortunately even good players can be a little uneven at times.

Setting the compressor on bass guitar is all about experimentation, particularly with regards to the attack and release settings. Firstly dial in a ratio of about 4:1 and then adjust the threshold till the meter is showing about 7-8Db of gain reduction at the loudest parts. Set the attack time so the initial transient of the bass passes through without getting compressed (around 50ms), then set the release as fast as it will go with out the compressor pumping too much, this will give a punchy sound to the track.

Experiment with the attack and release times, this is where you can really shape your sound, if your after a smoother bass dynamic try setting the attack time faster and the release time slower. You have to judge this on a case by case basis and ask yourself what each song calls for.

 

 

Killer Kick Drum Processing: EQ & Compression

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A wimpy kick drum sound can really suck the life out of an otherwise good mix. If your want your mix to stand up to today’s modern rock and pop songs it’s important your have a killer kick drum driving your track.

EQ Shaping

First off , what you can do in most situations is high pass filter the extreme low end somewhere around 20Hz  with a fairly steep slope. The majority of home studio systems are not going to reproduce these low frequencies yet this subsonic energy will still rob your track of important head room.

There are a few primary areas that we should look at when eqing a kick drum. Although I should say at this point there are no strict formulas for eqing anything but some of these suggested settings should get you in the ballpark.

  • Thud: This is the low end thump or boom of the kick drum and the part you can feel as much as hear. I will usually use a peaking band for this area boosting somewhere around 50-60Hz for that modern sound, a more traditional or natural sound can be found a little higher in the 100Hz region. A low shelving band may be worth experimenting with if your kick is feeling particularly puny but try not to overdo it, the frequencies in this area can get smeared really fast.

    Kick Drum EQ
    Kick Drum EQ
  • Smack: this describes the attack portion of the kick and can be found in the 3-5kHz range. It’s this area that contributes most to the character of the kick drum. I typically use a peaking band with a Q of about 1 to 1.5.
  • Click: does exactly what you might expect. You may not think it’s a sound quality desired in a kick drum but just listen to today’s modern rock songs and you’ll be surprised at just how “clicky” the kick drum is.  The click of a kick drum usually hides out in the 6-8K range, a peaking band with a Q of about 1.5 is a good starting point but experiment with a shelving band if want to get a bit more of the snare wires into the mix.
  • Mud: this is the enemy of kick drums and clouds up our mix. Cutting with a wide Q peaking band in the 250Hz-300Hz range can really clean up your kick drum sound.


Kick Drum Compression

OK so you’ve got your equalization under control now lets try and get some punch into our kick. Insert your compressor on your kicks channel, any bundled DAW compressor will do fine. I will usually set the ratio about 3:1 and adjust the threshold for just a few dbs of gain reduction. The important controls here are the attack and release.

Ren Compression Kick Drum

If the attack control is set at zero for default increase it to about 5ms otherwise the compressor is going to be squashing the attack portion of the kick before it has a chance to poke through. If you are having trouble hearing how adjusting the attack is affecting the sound pull the threshold way down and then set the attack, the setting at which the kicks transient is loudest should really pop out .

When you have the attack where you want it return the threshold to a more sensible level. It’s vital that you experiment here using your ears as too short attack time can suck some of the body or weight out of the kick drum. Set the release so gain reduction has returned to zero or close to before the next kick hit arrives. If you can time the release control just right you can create a kind of pumping effect that can sound great in certain genres.

I hope you enjoyed this article and remember the most important thing is to use your ears, experiment, spin them dials around see and what happens.

 

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