Saturday, July 28, 2012

HOW TO USE REVERB WHEN MIXING (with free Vst Plugins Included) PART 2/2

After we've seen what is a Reverb and which are the different types of reverb available, it's time to take a look at the most common controls featured on the majority of the Vst reverbs, like the ones suggested on the First Part of our Reverb article.
There are LOTS of controls on the most recent Reverbs, allowing us to tweak any single detail of the effect, but the most important controls that will help us on our mixing phase are basically four:

- LENGHT: often called Decay, or Reverb time, or with other names, is basically the "Tail" of our effect. The longer this value is, the bigger the "room" will be, ranging from a "shower-like" ambience to a cathedral, up to the most psychedelic space effects. This will be the core control of our effect.

- PRE-DELAY: is the amount of time that will pass before the effect will be applied to the signal. I.e.: if the Pre-delay is 1 second long, the effect will begin affecting the audio track one second after it's started. This aspect is crucial to control the Transient of our sound: if the reverb start affecting a sound with a fast Transient such a Snare drum too early, it will smoothen it up and push it towards the background of the mix. Increasing the Pre-Delay value, instead, will give to the attack of our snare drum the time to leave its Transient unaffected, thus mantaining its place in the mix, and will give it a pleasant Reverb tail that will begin-some place in the middle of the wave.

- STEREO SPREAD: controls how the reverb will be reflected on our virtual room: the higher the value, the more the reverb will reflect widely on the soundstage, and it's used usually to spread the Upper-Mid frequencies. This control can be used in Mono tracks as well as in the stereo ones, just beware not to overdo with it, as it can create some weird resonance or Eq-Masking problems with the other tracks.

- EQUALIZATION - FILTERING: a solution for the above mentioned Eq-Masking problem is to Equalize the Reverb. Many producers tend to roll off or just High Pass the region from the Low Mids down, starting from around 300hz or less, to preserve headroom and avoid the Reverb Tail to mask the other instruments, since the Mid Lows, and Lows area is the "Mud Area", so the clearer the sound is, the better, unless we don't want a specifically dark sound.

Now that we have found the right setting for our Reverb (typically starting from a preset and tweaking the four basic parameters we have analyzed), we have created a "virtual room" where to put our single tracks in order to make them sound like the musicians are playing together in the same ambient. So like we've already seen on the First Part of this tutorial the idea is to create an FX track, load the Reverb there, Equalize the track, if we feel like we need it, and send it to the single instruments. Then, via the WET/DRY control of each track, we decide the amount of effect to be sent: for example, a little more on the Vocals and the Toms, a little less for the Snare, even less or none for the Guitars.

There is also a final use for our Reverb: the Mastering Reverb. This is to be used only in rare occasions, when our mix is too Dry and thin, and we need to add it a little bit of fullness or realism.  
It is used especially on electronic or pop songs, where almost every instrument is sampled, so everything may sound a little bit too artificial and harsh. The settings of the reverb should be low, the Wet/Dry ratio set low as well, and it's a good idea to add a high pass filter around 2000hz to avoid reverbering the vocals sibilance, and a low pass filter from 100hz down. Do some test bypassing the effect and turning it on again, to see if it's really useful, but be careful: it can really ruin the mix if overused!


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Friday, July 20, 2012

HOW TO USE REVERB WHEN MIXING (with free Vst Plugins Included) PART 1/2

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about how to use Reverb when mixing!

Everybody knows what reverb is, it's the persistence of a sound that we create, as it reflects into an ambient. Fewer knows how to use it properly, as in a mix reverb is one of devil's favourite tools to create mud and make details disappear.
It could take a whole book just to describe everything about Reverb and its various uses, but today we will see only its function in the mixing phase, which is to let the single tracks to sit better in the mix and to smoothen a bit the Transient, making it a bit less "In Your Face", letting it "breathe" a little more.

First off, there are different kinds of reverb, the most importants of which are:

- Hardware Reverbs: This kind of reverb, such as Plate Reverb or Spring Reverb, was used on the early studios, and are based on the physical reflection of the signal, sent on a resonant ambient and taken back with a magnet or microphone. Today, Spring Reverb, for example, is still featured as a built-in effect on some vintage guitar amplifier, and there are many Vst emulators, such as the free Spring Reverb Type 4. A good example of Spring reverb can be found on many songs played by Jimi Hendrix.

- Studio Reverbs: Those are digital or transistor reverbs, that have been increasingly used since the mid '80, with the advent of digital rack fx processors, and are known for their cleanliness and linearity. Today studio reverbs are still used because they do not colour the original sound too much and are very versatile: they can be used with very low settings too, for example to add some depht and room even in the Mastering Phase, after the Compressors, in the mastering chain. Some good free Vst of this kind are: DxReverb Light, Magnus AmbienceVoxengo OldSkoolVerb, EpicVerb.

- Ambience Reverbs: Those are the reverbs that tries to recreate a real ambient, and are used mainly on single instruments (especially with sampled drums, or guitar Amp Simulators, DI Bass, and all those situations where you don't have a microphoned sound, so there is no natural ambience on your mix), in order to have a more cohesive sound, as if all the instruments were played in the same room. Today, ambience reverbs are often Convolution Impulse reverbs, which are reverbs based on the real response of a reverb captured by a microphone. We have already seen them applied on Guitar Amp Simulators on This Article, but impulses can be successfully used for any instruments. A great free convolution impulse reverb plugin is SIR.

The ideal use of reverb when mixing is on a Fx Track, so we can use a single reverb instance with a sound that will be coherent through all the instruments of our mix: this will have the double positive side of giving to the listener the pleasant feeling that the instruments are played live on the same room at the same time, and will reduce the CPU load, since reverbs are some of the worst "CPU hogs" among all plugins. As we've seen of the Fx Tracks dedicated article, with a reverb loaded on this track we can send the effected signal to the single tracks, as many as we want, using the same effect instance and adjusting the amount of effect to be sent to the single tracks via the WET/DRY  control of each track: this way we can decide for example to send more reverb to the Vocals track, and less to the Toms tracks, or to the Snare100% Wet means that the track is completely effected, while the Dry percentage is the amount of signal unaffected by the reverb.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE PART 2/2 OF THIS ARTICLE, with the explaination of how to set the Reverb controls properly!!

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Sunday, July 15, 2012


The duty of a mix engineer is to do a better job with every single mix, improving, changing and experimenting new solutions every time, it's almost impossible to think about a perfectly stable way to work that will not be improved in the future...
...Nevertheless it's crucial, especially if we start mixing often and our schedule becomes more busy, to try to lose as less time as possible in the basic, repetitive tasks that has to be done on every mix, especially when it comes to organizing the project before starting the actual mix.
To create a template could be a time-saving idea, especially to create a complex template which already features the basic tracks organized the way we prefer, and routed on the right busses, with the basic plugins already loaded; this will help us focusing on the mixing task in a much faster and productive way.

Today most of commercial DAWs features some template with already some plugin loaded, in order to ease the workflow since the beginning (e.g. the latest versions of Cubase or Magix Samplitude lets you load a preset for a Rock project, with two guitar tracks with an amp simulator already loaded, a drum synth, a bass and a vocal track), but they are just for those who have no idea of how to begin a project from scratch, instead we need something a little more articulated and customized, so that's how we can arrange it:

1) by starting from a Minimal Project, that way we won't have to do tasks like create bunches of tracks just to get going, but we will need to decide which signal processors and instruments to add.


2) Starting from a template that has everything (virtual instruments, processors, fx busses), so we can choose from a huge number of options. We can then remove anything unneeded as the song progresses, which will also lighten the Cpu load.

Now, let's think about the Track Disposition: first off let's assign to every instrument a different colour in order to spot everything at glance; a common order for the tracks is: Drums, Bass, Guitars, Extra Instruments (such as Synths), Vocals. Name every track properly, for example "Rhythm Guitar Left", and so on, and if you feel you need it, you can also route some of these tracks on Group Tracks and FX busses.

Once we have loaded all the tracks we need, it's time for the last step: the Window Layouts. Almost all programs make it easy to create an arrangement of windows, then save that as a layout. This is particularly helpful with single-monitor setups, where it's impossible to put all the windows you want on screen at one time, thereby requiring some degree of “window-flipping”.
Creating the right layout is helpful especially in the mixing phase: when editing midi or recording  instruments, in facts, we need specific windows made for the task.
When mixing, instead, we can arrange a layout that incorporates on the same window the tracks and the mixer, which is crucial on the balancing phase, and very handy when it comes to loading-bypassing-editing effects. Once we have our layout on an optimal configuration, finally, it's time to save the project before importing and recording any track, in order to load it every time and spare ourself the loss of time of organizing the project, and to find a familiar layout that will make our workflow faster.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

HOW TO DO AUDIO EDITING (a guide for dummies) PART 2/2


- Parts that needs to be removed: At the opposite side of filling the gaps, there are times when to cut away the silent parts is suggested: especially for drums, is suggested to cut some silent parts, for example on toms, which are actually played just for few seconds every few bars, in order to eliminate the unwanted "Bleeds", which are the sounds of the other drum pieces, taken from the microphones (for example the hi-hat microphone will surely have a large amount of snare bleed). The hi-hat, snare and kick bleeds are best not to be removed, but the microphone bleed of drum parts that are not played continuously, such as the crash or toms can surely be cut/muted when the part is not playing, in order to reduce the bleed effect.

Another thing that is often cut out is the noise of electric guitars: often, especially with distorted and microphoned electric guitars, you can hear a strong background noise (or "hum"), which, if summed in many tracks, can become unbearable. This problem can be solved by using a Noise Gate, but this option often takes away from the guitar sound some good harmonic too, so many producers tends to solve this problem just by cutting away the silence parts, where only the hum is perceived.

- "Combing": This is an editing technique which is used used for Vocals and Guitar Solos, but it can be used on any other audio recording:
Combing consists into combining two or more takes in order to create the "perfect take".
There are two methods for combing:

The "Full Take Method": Some producer prefers to have the singer to perform numerous "from top to tail" recordings, taking note while the singer is performing of the parts of the recording to be kept, and what needs to be discarded, in order to take the best part of each version, in order to create the best take possible. This method is more fatiguing for the singer, but sometimes lets the music flow more naturally and gives the producer some interesting interpretation nuance that with the other method would be lost.

The "Patchwork" method: this one is less time consuming, and consists into singing the single part (for example a verse) again and again until it's satisfying, and then pass to the next one; this method lets the performer to focus on the single small part, and usually works better on amateur recordings.

There is also another use for Combing: if you feel that, when recordings are finished and can not be re-done, there are parts repeated more than once in the song (for example, a chorus), and some of these repetitions are not satisfying, we might as well take the best version and just copy-paste it in the place of the other repetitions too, and as long as there are not particlularly distinctive elements, the listener won't notice that, for example, the guitar under the second chorus is exactly the same take copied from the first one.

There are many Audio Editing Softwares around, some of them even Free and Vst Compatible. 

Among these we recommend: Wavepad, Wavosaur, Ocenaudio. Give'em a try!


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Sunday, July 1, 2012

HOW TO DO AUDIO EDITING (a guide for dummies) PART 1/2

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about audio editing!
Audio Editing is the single most important and time-consuming task to accomplish before starting mixing, in the Project Preparation Phase, and it consists in the correction of all the little mistakes that needs to be fixed on the audio tracks, in order to sound properly and not to draw attention.

Let's start by saying that not every small error needs to be fixed: sometimes some slight acceleration or deceleration made by the drummer may improve the groove, sometimes producers even speed up the metronome of a couple bpm on purpose on choruses, in order to make them even more energetic, on a subliminal level.
Also the interpretation nuances of Vocals or guitar solos should be left alone, what really needs to be edited are the macroscopic errors done especially on the rhythmic side, manily by Drums, but also by Bass, rhythm Guitars or some attacks of Vocals and the other audio recorded instruments.

Today there are different solutions in order to help us on our editing tasks, especially for drums, Pro Tools has a feature called "Elastic Audio" that helps editing by marking the audio peaks and quantizing or moving them automatically, also there are other plugins called Beat Detection Tools, which are capable of finding the bpm and help you modifying the track, but we will today focus on the "Slip Editing" which consists into slicing and dicing the audio tracks and moving them, and is the only Free option among these.

Click here for an article about the AUDIO BEND tool of Prestonus Studio One!

- Techniques:  Slip Editing consists into cutting the tracks at the "Zero Point", which is the last silence (0db) part of an audio track right before the start of a sound, and moving the part forward or backward of a few milliseconds, in order to set it on perfect time. To do this many DAWs offers the "Snap to Grid" option, which helps us finding the right place, where the bar starts, if we set the right metronome and quantization for our project: this is very important, since many details of our mix are driven by metronome and quantization, for example the Delay Repetitions, so set this carefully. The metronome and the quantization of our project are MIDI driven, so the "Snap to Grid" option will snap the audio parts on the MIDI grid, which can be divided in 1/8, 1/16, 1/32 and so on, in order to be more precise for the positioning. 

Click here for an article about the Marquee tool / Smart tool for a faster way to edit!

When editing, thus applying a change in the continuity of an audio track, there is the problem of how to fill the gaps at the beginning or the end of the track that we have moved: usually if our track slips below another track that starts at the right time there is no problem, since the new sound will take the place of the old one at the right moment, but if we create a gap of silence, this is going to be noticed, so we will need to solve this problem with Time Stretching:

Time Stretching tools (like the Cubase bundled "Audio Warp") are plugins that helps us in widening or shortening the lenght of a sound while mantaining the pitch unaltered; his can be a solution for filling the small silence parts that are generated when cutting an audio part.
Another tool we have in order to "blend in" two parts that were originally distant, in order to make them less feel like one is replacing another, is Cross Fading: this technique consists into creating a quick fade out on the first track and a fade in on the new one, in order to give the impression that there's perfect continuity between the two sounds.
Luckily all the new DAWs and Audio editing Softwares features a Fade In - Fade Out tools.


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