Sunday, May 27, 2012

MIDI Dynamics: How to adjust the Velocity (for more realistic MIDI drums)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about how to adjust/edit the Velocity parameter on a MIDI track!
The first MIDI samplers used to have just one sample for every sound (e.g. the legendary Roland TR-808, a hardware drum sampler with just one snare sample, one kick sample...), but through the years we've seen the arrival of always more accurate samplers, so now we have available huge libraries of sounds, and the most recent drum sequencers (which today are almost completely VST based) have many samples for each drum piece, (talking about Virtual Drums, but the same is for any other virtual instrument), divided by how hard the "virtual hand" would hit them, in order to give a more realistic result. 

Velocity is the intensity, the strenght of the "virtual hand" that hit the drum piece, and today it's an editable parameter, created in order to give a better realism to the MIDI instruments. Some MIDI instruments according to the Velocity you choose will choose the right sample, while others (the ones with fewer samples, or with just one) will apply an Envelope Filter on the sample in order to make it sound quieter or louder; eventually many MIDI instruments will apply a combination of these two methods.

Today, most of the commercial DAWs features a Velocity Editor (for example, in the Cubase/Nuendo interface is located on the lower side of the Piano Roll editor window), so you can manually choose the intensity of each hit: just select the midi part you've created on the Piano Roll, and it will select automatically the Velocity on the lower window (on the side menu you can decide the parameter to edit: Velocity, or Volume, or any other); 
from here, using the Pencil Tool you can move up or down the bar, and the higher it will be set, the louder the Velocity will be.
If you keep the left button of the mouse pressed you can trim the Velocity of all the notes in the Piano Roll if you want (e.g. creating a "Fade In Effect"), or just choose some of them to adjust and leave the others untouched. Many MIDI instruments features also a "Humanize" control (e.g. you can find it on the Toontrack drum sequencers), which automatically randomizes for example the velocity of the drum hits in order to make them sound more natural.

- HOW TO SET A MINIMUM AND MAXIMUM VELOCITY FOR THE RANDOMIZER: If you have a randomic velocity on your drum sequencer (or any other VST instrument), but you wish to set a minimum and/or a maximum Velocity so that the hits won't be weaker and/or stronger than a certain threshold, select the MIDI track and go to the MIDI Modifiers section: from here on the Random menu, choose "Velocity" and you'll be able to set a Minimum and a Maximum (from -120 to +120), so that all the hits on that track will respect that threshold.

- HOW TO SET A FIXED VELOCITY: If you want a Fixed Velocity, instead, just select on the MIDI Modifiers section the amount you want on the Velocity section (from -126 to +126), now all the new notes you will write on the Piano Roll will have the selected Velocity, and to set it on the notes already written, just select them, Right Click->Functions->Fixed Velocity.

More info on how to randomize the Midi Velocity properly can be found HERE.

- Addictional Awesomeness: Some quick tip to make a sampled drum track more realistic, by adjusting the Velocity. First off visualize how to play the parts you are going to write: nobody wants to listen to drums played unnaturally, just because the guy who wrote the part is not a drummer and has no clue of how to play it :D 
Then when writing a drum roll, think of which hand does each single hit, and make the hits with the right hand slighly harder than the ones made with the left hand (assuming that the drummer is right-handed), plus make the drum roll start harder and then get progressively softer as it ends.
When making a press roll part, or a blast beat part, lower the velocity of the snare, and raise it just on the accents, plus raise it progressively when heading toward a Drum Roll, or to a Fill, and remember that a real drummer usually the faster he goes the lighter he hits, in order to control better the movement of the sticks, and to save his stamina ;)

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

How to use Automations and the Tempo Track (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about Automations in Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo.
An Automation is a system which will memorize and playback the whole variations we make, applied to the different parameters of the mixboard: volume, PanningEq, effect level, etc
Do you want the volume on your lead guitar to raise on a certain point of the song? 
Or the volume of lead vocals to raise a little during the chorus in order to make it stand out more?
Well it's not a difficult task, let's see how to do it :)

I'm using the Cubase/Nuendo interface as an example, but the same mechanism can be applied on most of the recent DAWs.
In each channel of our virtual mixer there are (among the others) two buttons: W (Write) and R (Read): 
we can press W, then playback the song and modify in real time any parameter of our song (for example the volume fader, or the settings of some plugin, e.g. an Equalizer), then we stop the song, and disable the W button, so that only the R button is on (this button must stay always enabled, if we disable it, the channel will ignore any automation set so far); 
now if we playback the same part, we will see the parameters modify automatically exactly as we did in the "writing" mode.

This is the way to set manually in real time the automation, but we can also just write it (or modify an automation already created in real time) pressing the "+" button on the channel: 
this way we will be able to see all the settings of the channel, automated and not automated.
Using the "Pencil" tool, we can now create new automations or modify/correct the ones we've already done, by creating points and moving around the lines between these points, for example if we create a "slope" line on the "Volume" parameter, we can create a Fade Out effect. 
Practice around to discover all the various parameters you can automate!

- Addictional Awesomess: Usually on a project the tempo is set to "Fixed" (you can see it on the Transport Bar), which means that the metronome is set for just one speed for the whole project, but what happens if we want to use one single project for more than one song, just using the same channels, and the two songs uses a different tempo? 
Or what happens if we just want to throw in a tempo change inside a single song? 
How can we tell the DAW to change the metronome tempo from a certain measure on? 
Well, there is an Automation for this too :)
Click on "Fixed" to change it to "Track", and press CTRL+T to open the "Tempo Track".
This will open a timeline where, using the Pencil tool, we can create points, in order to change the tempo on a certain point of the project, so ad example, once the song 1 is finished, for example, at the measure n.200, we can change the tempo here in order to have the right click for the song 2, from the measure n.201 on. 
We can also create "ramps" of metronome, in order to give a "speeding up" or "slowing down" effect, that will obviously affect all the other plugins and virtual instruments, especially the Delay speed and the Drum Sequencers!
If we want to change the tempo from 4/4 to another time signature (e.g. 7/8), instead, we must always use the pencil tool in our tempo track, clicking at the right measure in the grey bar right below the tempo meter, on the upper side of the screen, and we'll be able to type with our keyboard the time signature to be used from that measure on. 

Another interesting feature of Steinberg products it's the "Musical Note" icon featured on Midi tracks: if it is engaged, if we change metronome, all the notes in the piano roll will be quantized according to the new tempo, if it is disengaged instead (it becomes a grey clock icon), the grid will change, but the notes will remain where they were. 

Hope this article was helpful!

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Group Channel Tracks and FX Channel Tracks quick tutorial

Hello and welcome to this week's tutorial! Today we're going to talk about how to use Group channel tracks and FX Channel tracks on your DAW.
We'll use as example the standard Cubase / Nuendo interface (two of the most commonly used DAWs),  but the same mechanism can be applied to almost every other DAW.
The idea is to avoid applying the same effects to every channel we need, thus losing time, cpu and ram usage, and to have a cleaner and easier-to-mix interface, by creating groups of channels that shares the same effects chain, using just a single effect instance, applied to more than one channel.

- Group Channel Tracks: just click to Project->Add Channel->Group Channel Track (stereo, if you're not going to route on it just mono instruments, or you wish to use stereo effects like the "ping pong" delay, or you want to pan the single stereo instruments on different positions), name it as you want (for example "Rhythm Guitars", or "Lead Vocals") and then select on the Output Routing of each channel you want to route into this Group channel track, the name of the Group Channel Track we've just created.
Now that we have all the desired tracks routed on our Group Channel Track, we will notice that if we Mute or Solo the Group channel track, all the single routed tracks will be affected, and the same will happen moving the volume fader, or creating Automations. Obviously on the "insert" section of this Group Channel we'll be able to put any effect, for example a reverb or a compressor, and it will be applied to all the tracks passing through this channel.
You can also route a Channel Group (i.e. cymbals) into another Channel Group (i.e. Whole Drumset), but only if the last channel group (i.e. Whole Drumset) is created for last; for some reason in facts, if you create a new channel group and try to send it into an older one, on some DAWs this will not be possible.

- Fx Channel Tracks: these tracks are not whole channels, but just simple effect chains (or FX buss) that can be sent to the "effects loop" (send/return) of all the single tracks we want, choosing the amount of it to be sent to each track (which can't be done with a Group Channel track). Let's click to Project->Add Channel->Fx Channel Track (stereo, for the same reason explained above). Let's name the track the way we want (i.e. Vocals), and this will create another Channel called Fx Channel, with all of the classic inserts, where we can load all the effects we need, for example a Reverb (but obviously we can choose more than just one effect).
Now, if we open the tracks we need to be effected, in this case our vocal tracks, we can load in the "Fx Sends" section the FX Channel Track we've just created.
In order to choose the amount of effect to be applied on this track, we will move the volume fader just below the slot in the "Fx Sends" section of the track; the orange button above the slot selects if this FX buss is applied Pre Fader or Post Fader. If it's On, the effect is post fader, so the amount of effect applied in not modified by the track fader: the effect is sent as the fader is always set on 0db.
Now we must send this FX track on the "FX send" slot of all the tracks we want it to be applied, and we're done :)

If you want to learn how we can use the insert of an FX channel track, click here!

- Additional Awesomeness - Linking Channels: From the Mixer Interface (just press F3), hold the Ctrl button and select more than one channel to have them selected at the same time, then right click on one on those and choose "Link Channels": from now if you Mute, Solo or change the volume on one channel, this will affect all the linked ones. If you want to modify just one of the linked channels without removing the link between them, you can do it by holding the Alt button, this way the change will affect only the select channel. In order to remove the link, just right click on one of the linked channels and choose "Unlink Channels".

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Sunday, May 6, 2012


Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about how to copy the equalization of an instrument (for example an electric guitar) from a commercial song, and apply it on your mix.
First off you will need a dedicated plugin (there are many around, although not freeware; among the others: Voxengo Curve Eq, Izotope OzoneSteinberg Free Filter, or Elevayta FreeEq); these kind of plugins works more or less the same way (except for Ozone: this is a mastering suite, the spectrum copy section is just a small part of the whole package), so today we'll take a look to Voxengo CurveEq, but the same method can be applied to the others fellows too.

What do we need? A song that we like, from where it's possible to hear the single, isolated sound we want to copy, for example if we want to copy the curve of a guitar, first we import the song on a new track on our DAW, then it's important that we find the guitar alone, without bass or drums, because their sound will affect the curve; the ideal is to find the part and put it on loop, so that we can hear it repeatedly.
Once the part is selected, it's time to load the Plugin on the track, and press "Copy" (which is the "C" button on Voxengo CurveEq, or "Learn" on Steinberg Freefilter), and the plugin will copy the equalization of what's playing; remember: the more seconds this function will be active, the more accurate will be the capturing. Once the curve shown on the window is stable, we press "S" ("Save Captured Spectrum", on Voxengo CurveEq), and the spectrum is saved. Now we can save the preset naming it for example "Metallica Guitars".

Now we go on the track with our own sound, we open another instance of  the same plugin, load the preset we just saved and press "Match" (or equivalent, for the other plugins), and choose the 60 bands eq, if requested, in order to have the most accurate spectrum reproduction possible. We can also do some correction to the eq in this phase, if we feel that the sound could be improved. Once we played our track until the curve is stable (obviously we are talking about the same single instrument, played alone), we press "S" (save captured spectrum), and the program will apply the preset we sampled from the original song to our own track.
It is possible to use single instances of this kind of plugins for virtually every instrument on our mix, copying for example the equalization of the snare of an album, the guitars from another, and the vocals from another one; it is even possible to use it on the master buss in order to copy the curve of a whole mix, if you need it.

Have fun with the many creative uses this kind of plugins have to offer, and share with the community the curves that you sample!

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