The Shepard Tone (aka Barberpole) is an audio illusion where a tone always seems to keep rising (or falling). You may have heard it before—to build tension in music by Swedish House Mafia, Beatsystem, Data Life, and Franz Ferdinand, as the sound effect for the endless staircase in Super Mario 64, for the sound of constant acceleration for the Batpod in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, at the end of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” from the Meddle album, or in the soundtrack for the film Dunkirk in sections where the goal was to produce a vibe of increasing intensity. Check out the audio example, and you’ll hear how the tone just goes on forever.
Thanks to Studio One’s Tone Generator, it’s easy to produce a Shepard Tone loop—just follow the step-by-step instructions, in a song with the tempo set to 120 BPM.
This tip is for those who won’t sign off on a mix until they’ve heard it in a car. There may be a scientific reason why this is beneficial: Noise tends to mask sounds, so if one instrument you want to hear gets lost in the noise and another jumps out, try a mix that raises and lowers those levels, respectively.
The ear doesn’t discriminate level differences as accurately as pitch differences, so without noise masking a sound, the level may seem okay. But as soon as you mix in noise, an important sound may disappear. If you increase the level just a bit so you can hear it, when you remove the noise there’s a very good chance you’ll like the new level setting better. Think of this as doing something similar to compression, but without applying any actual dynamics. You’re just making sure that the levels needing parity, have parity.
Of course this doesn’t mean you want everything jumping out of the noise—those tambourine and shaker parts are probably just fine as they are. The main sounds to listen to here are vocals, leads, drums, and bass, as well as their relationship to each other.
This also doesn’t mean you should mix consistently with noise, as it will bias your hearing (and besides, it’s truly annoying). I add noise in with a mix as a last diagnostic step. If the mix has sounded fine up until then and passes this final test, I consider it ready to master. And I don’t need to go driving anywhere, either.
Just follow the steps, and you’ll be good to go.
One very cool aspect of the Tone Generator’s noise is that it’s true stereo where the left and right channels don’t correlate, so you don’t get any center channel buildup (as would happen with a mono noise signal).
As to how much noise to add, it’s kind of like maximizing. Set it 6 dB below the mix’s peaks, and you’ll hear what occupies the upper 6 dB of dynamic range. Set it 12 dB below the mix’s peaks, and you’ll hear what’s in the upper 12 dB of dynamic range. This isn’t an exact spec per se, but it provides a rough standard of comparison.
As crazy as this idea sounds, try it sometime and tweak your mix. Then turn off the noise, take a short break so your ears get acclimated back to normal hearing, and then check the mix again. I won’t be surprised if you hear an improvement!
This tip is for those of you who didn’t see my Studio One workshop at Sweetwater GearFest 2018, were turned away because of that pesky fire marshal’s rules about crowds, or who didn’t realize Studio One 4 has some pretty advanced looping capabilities—as well as the ability to trigger pitch transpositions for loops.
With Impact XT, you can load loops on pads, and then trigger them (on and off) in real time via MIDI notes. Assign each output from an Impact XT pad to a track input (in the screen shot, Track 5 is recording the output of Impact XT M4), set all the tracks to record, and you can record the results of your improvisations.
The following screen shot shows the results of recording the first part of a potential song. Note how some tracks have sounds that extend the length of the recording, while other tracks had their sounds brought in at specific times by triggering an Impact XT pad.
This by itself is pretty cool, because you can weave loops in and out to create an arrangement. The song goes longer than this, but the above shows what you’re hearing in the following audio example. Granted, it’s not much of a song—it just kinda drones on and on. But keep reading…this is just the start.
The process becomes far more interesting when you bring the chord track into play, because you can transpose the loops to create a chord progression that becomes the basis for a song. All the tracks, even the drums, were set to follow the chord track. Listen to how although some of the original loops added a fourth to the tonic, when this was synched to the chord track, all of the loops followed a tonic-to-fourth chord progression. In other words, it wasn’t just one loop adding a fourth, but the entire song transposing to the fourth. We also gained an intro; here’s the chord progression that was used.
And here’s what the chord progression sounded like after harmonic editing. The major difference is in the intro, and transposing to D to kick off the second half of each verse.
Working this way can be very inspirational because you can create a basic arrangement with loops, and then use the Chord Track to create a chord progression. Although PreSonus is careful to point out that Harmonic Editing is more for “prototyping” songs and they expect that you’ll want to replace the “scratch” parts, I’ve found that many times the scratch parts end up being keepers—and I gotta say, I love what happens when you tell drums to follow the chord track!
Hate to break it to you, but it’s time to get back to school!
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Offer good on…
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If you’re thinking of upgrading to a project-studio setup and want a bundle that does everything, do consider StudioLive and these new Series IIIs. Just add speakers and a DAW (or not, if you don’t want to!) and you’re away.
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This offer expires October 31, 2018 and is available worldwide.