Vocals are the most direct form of communication with your audience—so of course, you want your vocal to be a kind of tractor beam that draws people in. Many engineers give a more intimate feel to vocals by using dynamics control, like limiting or compression. While that has its uses, the downside is often tell-tale artifacts that sound unnatural.
The following technique of phrase-by-phrase gain edits can provide much of the intimacy and presence associated with compression—but with a natural, artifact-free sound. Furthermore, if you do want to compress the vocal further, you won’t need to use very much dynamics control because the phrase-by-phrase gain edits will have done the majority of the work the compressor would have needed to do.
The top track shows the original vocal. In the second track, I used the split tool to isolate sections of the vocal with varying levels (snap to grid needs to be off for this). The next step was clicking on the volume box in the center of the envelope, and dragging up to increase the level on the sections with lower levels. Although you can make a rough adjustment visually, it’s crucial to listen to the edited event in context with what comes before and after to make sure there aren’t any continuity issues—sometimes soft parts are supposed to be soft.
The third track shows the finished vocal after bouncing all the bits back together. Compared to the top track, it’s clear that the vocal levels are much more consistent.
There are a few more tricks involved in using this technique. For example, suppose there’s a fairly loud inhale before a word. A compressor would bring up the inhale, but by splitting and changing gain, you can split just after the inhale and bring up the word or phrase without bringing up the inhale. Also, I found that it was often possible to raise the level on one side of a split but not on the other, and not hear a click from the level change. Whether this was because of being careful to split on zero crossings, dumb luck, or Studio One having some special automatic crossfading mojo, I don’t know…but it just works and if it doesn’t, you can always add crossfades.
That’s all there is to it. If you want to hear this technique in action, here’s a link to a song on my YouTube channel that uses this vocal normalization technique.
Studio One comes with keyboard shortcut mappings for Cubase, Logic, and Pro Tools, so those switching to Studio One can use the keyboard shortcuts with which they’re familiar—as well as navigate the trial version without having to learn a lot of new shortcuts. To add to that list, I mapped Sonar’s shortcuts to Studio One; these mappings are included as an alternate key scheme in the most recent update. What I learned in the process might be useful if you want to create mappings for a program you were using prior to migrating to Studio One.
Spoiler alert: Ultimately I think it’s best to learn Studio One’s keyboard shortcuts unless you use multiple DAWs and don’t want your brain to explode learning all the variations. Many of Sonar’s shortcuts are based on the traditional Windows approach of using control keys to navigate quickly through menus rather than calling up functions directly. Also, many functions for which Sonar has few or no keyboard shortcuts (e.g., automation) have shortcuts in Studio One, and assigning some shortcuts to Sonar can overwrite useful Studio One shortcuts, so you need to create a new shortcut for any you remove. For example, Studio One’s reverse audio shortcut is Ctrl+R—the same as Sonar’s shortcut to refresh the Media Browser. A Sonar user will more likely want the refresh function, although that means creating a new shortcut for reverse audio.
Another example is for Sonar users who miss its ProChannel. Yet Studio One has a functionally similar Console feature when you open the channel—you see what effects are inserted, and a thumbnail of their settings. So I mapped Studio One’s Open Channel to Ctrl+I (the screenshot shows assigning this in the process of creating the key scheme), Sonar’s shortcut for opening the ProChannel. Although this overwrote Studio One’s shortcut for Invert Selection, I think Sonar users will be willing to sacrifice Invert Selection for having something similar to opening up the ProChannel. The shortcut I is another conflict, which opens Sonar’s Inspector. In Studio One, I enables auto-punch, which you can also enable by clicking on a transport button—but since Sonar users have always enabled auto-punch via a Control Bar button anyway, it made sense to give up I for the Inspector.
Then there are the design differences. For inserting effects in clips (Events), Sonar includes an FX rack that behaves like the one in its Track or Console view. In Studio One, the equivalent appears in the Event’s Inspector. However, having already mapped a Sonar shortcut to open the Inspector, I assigned Studio One’s Insert Event FX to Sonar’s Open Clip FX Rack shortcut. Sonar users can use that to insert an Event FX quickly, and hopefully they’ll realize they can open up the Inspector to see all the options for Event FX.
Nudge is another example of accommodating a common Sonar function. In Studio One, the number keypad is more for navigation and marker recall and with Sonar, nudge operations. So I assigned Sonar’s “greatest hits” nudge functions to the keypad.
Then again, sometimes you get lucky. For example, Studio One’s Audio Bend panel relates to what Sonar’s AudioSnap does, so I just assigned the AudioSnap shortcut to it. And while there’s a shortcut to hide selected tracks in Studio One, I find Studio One’s Track List the most convenient way to manage track hide/show. Sonar’s Track Manager handles show/hide well, so I used its shortcut to open the Track List. Another sneaky trick is that
Studio One doesn’t have a dedicated Navigator pane like Sonar, but if you reduce the track heights to the absolute minimum, the visual representation of a song is very similar.
Studio One doesn’t have screensets per se, but the five Console Scenes for which shortcuts exist are similar, so I assigned number keys 1-5 (which Sonar uses for screensets) to the scenes. Only problem is the tool shortcuts also use number keys, so I changed them to Ctrl+Shift+[function key] because Sonar users are familiar with using function keys to call up tools.
Finally, note that Sonar has many functions that aren’t assigned to default keyboard shortcuts, yet some of these functions do have default keyboard shortcuts in Studio One. So if you’ve created your own custom shortcuts in Sonar or another DAW, if Studio One has a similar function it may already have a default shortcut. If not, you can create similar (if not identical) custom shortcuts in Studio One. Another nice touch: When you open the list of keyboard shortcuts from Help, they reflect whichever mapping you’ve chosen—not just the Studio One defaults. And don’t forget you can create Macros to re-create another DAW’s workflow in Studio One, and then assign the Macro to a shortcut.
Still, after spending way too many hours going over the similarities and differences between Sonar’s and Studio One’s keyboard shortcuts, I have to say that I’ll be learning Studio One’s shortcuts. It’s clear a lot of thought went into choosing and assigning them, so I believe a little effort spent now will save a lot of time overall. My recommendation for learning shortcuts is to print out the list, and learn a new one every few days—you won’t regret it.
Creating tempo changes can add a significant amount of emotional impact to a piece of music, and you can create these changes with the Tempo Track. MIDI will follow tempo variations, as will Audio Tracks in Timestretch mode and also, Acidized WAV clips. To open the Tempo Track, click the Clock icon in the Track Column.
It’s important to remember that tempo changes remain in effect until any subsequent tempo changes, and the Transport tempo indicator always reflects the current tempo. Note that unlike other programs where the timeline doesn’t change, a very useful Studio One feature is that the timeline reflects tempo changes. For example if you change two measures to half the original tempo, those two measures will last twice as long graphically as the other measures in the timeline. This also means that if you draw a linear series of tempo changes (see below), they will appear to have a curve but the changes themselves are still linear—it’s just that the timeline display reflects whether the tempo is speeding up or slowing down. That’s pretty cool.
I was hoping you’d ask…
I mainly use three types of tempo changes, because each has their use.
Short changes. These happen over a short range, like slowing down the tempo slightly during the measure before going into the big chorus, or speeding up a little during a couple measures before a solo comes to an end.
Long-range changes. Here’s a good example of why tempo changes can be really handy. For a particular set, there was a song at 127 bpm followed by one at 133.33 bpm (locked groove tempo). I started a linear tempo change about 2/3 of the way through the first song, slowly increasing the tempo to 133.33. It took long enough that you didn’t really notice the tempo was changing, but it added a feeling of anticipation and segued perfectly into the second song.
It’s easy to create a linear series of tempo changes. Choose the tempo change resolution with the Quantize parameter (it doesn’t matter if Snap to grid is on or off). Hold [Option/Mac] or [Alt/Windows], click, and draw the line. While still holding down the modifier key, you can drag up or down to change the final tempo. Holding the shift key gives 0.1 BPM resolution. For finer resolution, place the cursor in the section containing the tempo change, and enter the number in the Tempo Track field. (Note that the screen shot doesn’t show the fine resolution of the tempo changes, but they’re there.)
“Time Traps.” Suppose you want to add a short, almost subliminal “dramatic pause” at some point, like just before some booming snare drum hit signals the start of the chorus. Although you could shift your tracks over a bit or insert some space, it’s much easier just to do a radical tempo drop (e.g., from 120 to 50 bpm) for a fraction of a beat where you want the dramatic pause. This sloooooows everything down enough to add the pause. (Ideally, you’d want something that sustains over the pause—silence, a pad, held note, etc. but that’s commonly what will be happening anyway.)
Studio One has a neat trick for doing these: you can edit non-consecutive tempo changes simultaneously. This is important because the amount of tempo change is pretty crucial to get the desired effect, so if you want to add more than one time trap in a song, adjusting one can adjust them all. Simply use the Arrow tool to click and drag over the tempo change you want to edit, then hold down Shift and use the Arrow tool to click and drag over any additional tempo changes you want to edit. Editing one edits them all.
Modifying the tempo track can allow a song to “breathe,” like what happens when musicians play together. If you haven’t experimented with subtle (or even dramatic) tempo changes, you’re in for a treat when you do.
In the previous Friday Tip of the Week, we covered how recording soft synths and amp sims at higher sample rates (like 96 kHz) can give higher sound quality in some situations. However, we also discussed some issues involved with recording at higher sample rates that aren’t so wonderful.
So this week, it’s time for a solution. Offline upsampling to higher sample rates can let you retain the CPU efficiencies of running at a lower sample rate, while reaping the sonic benefits of recording at higher sample rates… and you can do this in Studio One by upsampling in a separate project, rendering the file, and then importing the rendered file back into your original project.
But wait—wouldn’t you lose the benefits of upsampling when you later convert the sample rate back down to 44.1 kHz? The answer is no: Rendering at the higher sample rate eliminates any foldover distortion in the audio range, sample-rate converters include an anti-alias filter to avoid this problem, and 44.1 kHz has no problem playing back sounds in the audio range.
However, note that upsampling can’t fix audio that already has aliasing distortion; upsampling audio to 96 kHz that already contains foldover distortion will simply reproduce the existing distortion. This technique applies only to audio created in the computer. Similarly, it’s unlikely that upsampling something recorded via a computer’s audio interface will yield any benefits, because the audio interface itself will have already band-limited the signal’s frequency range so there will be no harmonics that interfere with the clock frequency.
UPSAMPLING IN STUDIO ONE
We’ll assume a 44.1 kHz project sampling rate, and that the virtual instrument’s MIDI track has been finalized but you haven’t transformed it to audio yet. Here’s how to upsample virtual instruments.
That’s all there is to it. If you want to upsample an amp sim, the process is similar: export the (presumably guitar) track, save the amp sim preset, render at 96 kHz, then import the rendered file into the 44.1 kHz project.
Listen to the audio example “Upsampling with Amp Sim,” which plays the sound of an amp sim at 44.1 kHz and then after upsampling to 96 kHz. The difference isn’t as dramatic as last week’s synth example, but you’ll still hear that the upsampled version is clearer, with more presence.
Do bear in mind you may not want the difference caused by upsampling. When I did an upsampling demo at a seminar with a particular synthesizer, most people preferred the sound with the aliasing because the upsampled sound was brighter than what they expected. However when I did upsampling with an amp sim, and with a different synth, the consensus was that the upsampled version sounded much better. Regardless, the point is now you have a choice—hear the instrument the way it’s supposed to be heard to decide if you like that better, or leave it as is. After all, distortion isn’t necessarily that horrible—think of how many guitar players wouldn’t have a career without it!
Although upsampling isn’t a panacea, don’t dismiss it either. Even with synths that don’t oversample, upsampling may make no audible difference. However, sometimes synths that do oversample still benefit from upsampling; with some sounds, it can take 4x or even 8x oversampling to reproduce the sound accurately. As always, use your ears to decide which sound works best in your music.
The controversy about whether people can tell the difference on playback between audio recorded at 96 kHz that’s played back at 44.1 kHz or a higher sample rate (such as 96 kHz) has never really been resolved. However, under some circumstances, recording at a higher sample rate can give an obvious, audible improvement in sound quality. In this week’s tip we’ll investigate why this happens, and in next week’s tip, tell how to obtain the benefits of recording at a higher sample rate in Studio One with 44.1 and 48 kHz projects.
REALLY? CONVINCE ME!
A Song’s sample rate can make a difference with sounds generated “in the box,” for instance using a virtual instrument plug-in that synthesizes a sound, or distortion created by an amp simulator. Any improvement heard with high sample rates comes from eliminating foldover distortion, also known as aliasing.
Theory time: A digital system can accurately represent audio at frequencies lower than half the sampling rate (e.g., 22.05 kHz in a 44.1 kHz project). If an algorithm within a plug-in generates harmonic content above this Nyquist limit—say, at 40 kHz—then you won’t hear a 40 kHz tone, but you will hear the aliasing created when this tone “folds down” below the Nyquist limit (to 4.1 kHz, in this case). Aliasing thus appears within the audible range, but is harmonically unrelated to the original signal, and generally sounds pretty ugly.
Foldover distortion can happen with synthesized waveforms that are rich in harmonics, like pulse waves with sharp rise and fall times. (Amp sims can also be problematic; although their harmonics may be weak, if you’re applying 60 dB of gain to create overdrive or distortion, the harmonics can be strong enough to cause audible aliasing).
SO IS IT A PROBLEM, OR NOT?
Not all plug-ins will exhibit these problems, for one of four reasons:
Many modern virtual instruments and amp sims oversample, and DAWs can handle higher sample rates, so you’d think that might be the end of it. Unfortunately, there can be limitations with oversampling and higher project sample rates.
Furthermore, with plug-ins that oversample, the sound quality will be influenced by the quality of the sample-rate conversion algorithms. It’s not necessarily easy to perform high-quality sample-rate conversion: check out comparisons for various DAWs at http://src.infinitewave.ca (where, incidentally, Studio One rates as one of the best), and remember that the conversion algorithms for a plug-in might be more “relaxed” than what’s used in a DAW.
So what’s a musician to do? In next week’s Friday Tip of the Week, we’ll cover how to do upsampling in Studio One to reap the benefits of high-sample-rate recording at lower sample rates. Meanwhile, if you still need to be convinced recording at different sample rates makes a difference, check out this audio example of a synthesizer recorded in Studio One first at 44.1 kHz, and then at 96 kHz:
The mighty mighty Craig Anderton took the time to put the PreSonus Cheifs in the honchos in his signature style: no advance questions! All responses you see here are given on-the-fly and not prepared ahead of time.
Join us at PreSonuSphere next year to be there in person!
Presenting in the Hartley Vey Workshop Theatre on Friday, Oct 25 at 1:30 p.m.
and in the Main Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 11:00 a.m.
We don’t need to tell you Craig Anderton is an authority on all things music tech, but did you know one of his primary passions has always been guitar? The author of 21st Century Guitar digs into the nitty-gritty details of getting a killer guitar tone on your recordings. Like a master class for recording guitar, Craig will take you through it all using Studio One, covering both acoustic and electric guitar. Topics will include miking techniques vs. going direct, layering, EQ, utilizing multi-band chorus, advanced amp simulation, and much more. Space is limited, get there early!
As a top-tier authority on music and technology, Craig’s resume is too darn big to even fit on our website… but we do have room to say this: He has played on, produced, or mastered more than 20 major label recordings; and played guitar and keyboards on many pop-music sessions in New York. He founded HarmonyCentral.com, has written for Electronic Musician, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), Rolling Stone, and Guitar Player, as well as for himself—26 books and counting.