Some people think colorization is frivolous—but I don’t. I started using colorization when writing articles, because it was easy to identify elements in the illustrations (e.g., “the white audio is the unprocessed sound, the blue audio is compressed”). But the more I used colorization, the more I realized how useful it could be.
Customizing the “Dark” and “Light” Looks
Although a program’s look is usually personal preference, sometimes it’s utilitarian. When working in a video suite, the ambient lighting is often low, so that the eye’s persistence of vision doesn’t influence how you perceive the video. For this situation, a dark view is preferable. Conversely, those with weak or failing vision need a bright look. If you’re new to Studio One, you might want the labels to really “pop” but later on, as you become more familiar with the program, darken them somewhat. You may want a brighter look when working during daytime, and a more muted look at night. Fortunately, you can save presets for various looks, and call up the right look for the right conditions (although note that there are no keyboard shortcuts for choosing color presets).
You’ll find these edits under Options > General > Appearance. For a dark look, move the Background Luminance slider to the left and for a light look, to the right (Fig. 1). I like -50% for dark, and +1 for light. For the dark look, setting the Background Contrast at -100% means that the lettering won’t jump out at you. For the brightest possible look, bump the Background Contrast to 100% so that the lettering is clearly visible against the other light colors, and set Saturation to 100% to brighten the colors. Conversely, to tone down the light look, set Background Contrast and Saturation to 0%.
Hue Shift customizes the background of menu bars, empty fields that are normally gray, and the like. The higher the Saturation slider, the more pronounced the colorization.
The Arrangement sliders control the Arrangement and Edit view backgrounds (i.e., what’s behind the Events). I like to see the vertical lines in the Arrangement view, but also keep the background dark. So Arrangement Contrast is at 100%, and Luminance is the darkest possible value (around 10%) that still makes it easy to see horizontal lines in the Edit view (Fig. 2).
Streamlining Workflow with Color
With a song containing dozens of tracks, it can be difficult to identify which Console channel strip controls which instrument, particularly with the Narrow console view. The text at the bottom of each channel strip helps, but you often need to rename tracks to fit in the allotted space. Even then, the way the brain works, it’s easier to identify based on color (as deciphered by your right brain) than text (as deciphered by your left brain). Without getting too much into how the brain’s hemispheres work, the right brain is associated more with creative tasks like making music, so you want to stay in that mode as much as possible; switching between the two hemispheres can interrupt the creative flow.
I’ve developed standard color schemes for various types of projects. Of course, choose whatever colors work for you; for example, if you’re doing orchestral work, you’d have a different roster of instruments and colors. With my scheme for rock/pop, lead instruments use a brighter version of a color (e.g., lead guitar bright blue, rhythm guitar dark blue).
Furthermore, similar instruments are grouped together in the mixer. So for vocals, you’ll see a block of green strips, for guitar a block of blue strips, etc. (Fig. 3)
To colorize channel strips, choose Options > Advanced tab > Console tab (or click the Console’s wrench icon) and check “Colorize Channel Strips.” This colorizes the entire strip. However, if you find colorized strips too distracting, the name labels at the bottom (and the waveforms in the arrange view) are always colored according to your choices. Still, when the Console faders are extended to a higher-than-usual height, I find it easier to grab the correct fader with colored console strips.
In the Arrange view, you can colorize the track controls as well—click on the wrench icon, and click on “Colorize Track Controls.” Although sometimes this feels like too much color, nonetheless, it makes identifying tracks easier (especially with the track height set to a narrow height, like Overview).
Color isn’t really a trivial subject, once you get into it. It has helped my workflow, so I hope these tips serve you as well.
This isn’t a joke—there really is an envelope-controlled flanger hidden inside Melodyne Essential that sounds particularly good with drums, but also works well with program material. The flanging is not your basic, boring “whoosh-whoosh-whoosh” LFO-driven flanging, but follows the amplitude envelope of the track being flanged. It’s all done with Melodyne Essential, although of course you can also do this with more advanced Melodyne versions. Here’s how simple it is to do envelope-followed flanging in Studio One.
As with any flanging effect, you can regulate the mix of the flanged and dry sounds by altering the balance of the two tracks.
Note that altering the Pitch Deviation parameter indicates an offset from the current Pitch Deviation, not an absolute value. For example if you drag down to -10 cents, release the mouse button, and click on the parameter again, the display will show 0 instead of -10. So if you drag up by +4 cents, the pitch deviation will now be at -6 cents, not +4. If you get too lost, just select all the blobs, choose the Percussion algorithm again, and Melodyne will set everything back to 0 cents after re-detecting the blobs.
And of course, I don’t expect you to believe that something this seemingly odd actually works, so check out the audio example. The first part is envelope-flanged drums, and the second part applies envelope flanging to program material from my [shameless plug] Joie de Vivre album. So next time you need envelope-controlled flanging, don’t reach for a stompbox—edit with Melodyne.
The previous tip on creating a dual-band reverb generated a fair amount of interest, so let’s do one more reverb-oriented tip before moving on to another topic.
Studio One has three different reverbs—Mixverb, Room Reverb, and OpenAIR—all of which have different attributes and personalities. I particularly like the Room Reverb for its sophisticated early reflections engine, and the OpenAIR’s wide selection of decay impulses (as well as the ability to load custom impulses I’ve made).
Until now, it never occurred to me how easy it is to create a “hybrid” reverb with the best of both worlds: using the Room Reverb solely as an early reflections engine, and the OpenAIR solely for the reverb decay. To review, reverb is a continuum—it starts with silence during the pre-delay phase when the sound first travels to hit a room’s surfaces, then morphs into early reflections as these sounds bounce around and create echoes, and finally, transforms into the reverb decay—the most complex component. Each one of these components affects the sound differently. In Studio One, these components don’t all have to be from the same reverb.
THE EARLY REFLECTIONS ENGINE
Start by inserting the Room Reverb into an FX Channel, and calling up the Default preset. Then set the Reverb Mix to 0.00 and the Dry/Wet Mix to 100%. The early reflections appear as discrete vertical lines. They’re outlined in red in the screen shot below.
If you haven’t experimented with using the Room Reverb as a reflections engine, before proceeding now would be a good time to use the following evaluation procedure and familiarize yourself with its talents.
Now that you know how to set up different early reflections sounds, let’s create the other half of our hybrid reverb.
THE REVERB DECAY
To provide the reverb decay, insert the OpenAIR reverb after the Room Reverb. Whenever you call up a new OpenAIR preset, do the following.
There are two ways to make a space for the early reflections so that they occur before the reverb tail: set an Envelope Fade-in time, an Envelope ER/LR-Xover time, or both. Because the ER/LR control is set to 1.00 there are no early reflections in the Open AIR preset, so if you set the ER/LR-Xover time to (for example) 25 ms, that basically acts like a 25 ms pre-delay for the reverb decay. This opens up a space for you to hear the early reflections before the reverb decay kicks in. If you prefer a smoother transition into the decay, increase the Envelope Fade-in time, or combine it with some ER/LR-Xover time to create a pre-delay along with a fade-in.
The OpenAIR Mix control sets the balance of the early reflections contributed by the Room Reverb and the longer decay tail contributed by the OpenAIR reverb. Choose 0% for reflections only, 100% for decay only.
There are other advantages of the hybrid reverb approach. In the OpenAIR, you can include its early reflections to supplement the ones contributed by the Room Reverb. When you call up a new preset, instead of setting the ER/LR, Predelay, Envelope Fade-In, and Envelope ER/LR-Xover to the defaults mentioned above, bypass the Room Reverb and set the Open AIR’s early reflections as desired. Then, enable the Room Reverb to add its early reflections, and tweak as necessary.
It does take a little effort to edit your sound to perfection, so save it as an FX Chain and you’ll have it any time you want it.
It’s convenient that Studio One has three significantly different reverbs, but none of them has separate decay times for high and low frequencies. This is one of my favorite reverb features, because (for example) you can have a tight kick ambiance, but let the hats and cymbals fade out in a diaphanous haze…or have a huge kick that sounds like it was recorded in a gothic castle, with tight snare and cymbals on top. Also with highly percussive drums, sometimes I’d like a little more diffusion than what’s available so that reflections aren’t perceived as discrete echoes, but rather, as a smooth wash of sound.
So let’s build the ideal Room Reverb for drums (other instruments, too). There’s a downloadable FX Chain that provides a big drum sound template, but note that the preset control settings cover only one sound out of a cornucopia of possible effects. Once you start modifying the reverb sounds themselves, as well as some of the parameters in the Routing window itself, anything’s possible.
ROUTING AND MACRO CONTROLS
Here’s the FX Chain routing.
Splitter 2 provides a Normal split. One split handles the dry signal, while the other goes to the reverbs. Splitter 1 does a Frequency split, with one split going to a single Room Reverb dedicated to the low frequencies, and the other split going to two Room Reverbs in series for the high frequencies. The Split point (crossover frequency) is set around 620 Hz, but varying this parameter provides a wide variety of sounds.
You might wonder “why not just feed two reverbs, and EQ their output?” EQing before going into the reverb gives each reverb more clarity, because the low and high frequencies don’t interact with each other in the process of being reverberated.
The three Mixtool modules provide mixing for the dry, low reverb, and high reverb sounds, as represented by the first three Macro controls. The other controls modify reverb parameters, but of course, these are only some of the editable parameters available for adjustment within the Room Reverb.
HOW TO USE IT
Here’s one option, although I don’t claim that it’s necessarily “best practices” (suggestions are welcome in the Comments section!).
Start with the Dry, Low Verb, and High Verb controls at minimum. Bring up the Low Verb, and adjust Low Verb Balance and Low Decay for desired low end. Then turn down Low Verb, bring up High Verb, and adjust its associated controls (Hi Verb Balance, Hi Verb Decay, and Hi Verb Damping). With both Low Verb and High Verb set more or less the same, go into the Routing section and vary Splitter 1’s crossover frequency (the slider below Frequency Split). After finding the optimum crossover point, re-tweak the mix if necessary.
Finally, choose a balance of all three levels, and you’re good to go.
WHAT ABOUT THE REVERBS THEMSELVES?
For the default FX Chain preset, the Low Verb has a shorter delay than the High Verbs, but still gives a big kick sound.
The reason for using two Room Reverbs in series for the high reverb component is to increase the amount of diffusion, and provide a smoother sound.
You want fairly different settings for the two reverbs so that they blend, thus giving the feel of more diffusion. There’s not really a lot of thought behind the above settings; I just copied one of the reverbs and changed a few parameters until the sound was smooth.
Incidentally, three Room Reverbs requires a decent amount of CPU, so there are switches at the bottom of the Macro Controls to enable the “eco” mode for each reverb. Choosing eco for the low frequency reverb impacts the sound less than choosing eco for the two high frequency reverbs.
IT’S A WRAP
Download the FX Chain and check out what this FX Chain can do—I think you’ll find that when it comes to reverbs, third time’s a charm.
Unless you have exceptional vocal control, some vocal or narration phrases will likely be softer than others—not intentionally due to natural dynamics, but as a result of sketchy mic technique, running out of breath, or not being able to hit a note as strongly as other notes. Using compression or limiting to even out a vocal’s peaks has its place, but the low-level sections might not be brought up enough, whereas the high-level ones may sound “squashed.”
A more natural-sounding solution is to edit the vocal to a consistent level first, before applying any compression or limiting, by using phrase-by-phrase gain changes that even out variations. The advantage of adjusting each phrase’s level for consistency is that you haven’t added any of the artifacts associated with compression, or interfered with a phrase’s inherent dynamics. Furthermore if you do add compression or limiting while mixing, you won’t need to use as much as you normally would to obtain the same perceived volume and intimacy. A side benefit of phrase-by-phase normalization is that you can define an event that starts just after an inhale, so the inhale isn’t brought up with the rest of the phrase.
Ready to tweak that vocal to perfection? Let’s go.
Note that if audio continues before and after the Bend Marker so the Bend Marker can’t land on silence, Studio One generally handles this well if you place the Bend Marker on a zero-crossing. But if an abrupt level change causes a click at a transition, simply crossfade over it by dragging the end of one event and the beginning of the next event over the transition, and type X to create a crossfade. Adjust the curve for the most natural sound. In extreme cases, fading out just before the click and fading in just after the click can solve any issues.
So why not just do this kind of operation in the Arrange View? Several reasons. First of all, the Edit view is a more comfortable editing environment. But also, sometimes detecting transients will place the Bend Markers accurately enough that all you need to do is split and change levels—it’s much easier than doing a series of splits in the Arrange view. And if you count keystrokes, clicking to drop Bend Markers that define where to split and doing all the splits at once is easier than clicking and splitting at each split. Finally, while in Edit view, you can take advantage of the Bend Markers to adjust phrasing.
While this is a highly effective technique (especially for narration), be careful not to get so involved in this process that you start normalizing, say, individual words. Within any given phrase there will be some dynamics that you’ll want to retain—never lose the human element.
As the quest for expressive electronic instruments continues, many virtual instruments incorporate keyswitching to provide different articulations. A keyswitch doesn’t play an actual note, but alters what you’re playing in some manner—for example, Presence’s Viola preset dedicates the lowest five white keys (Fig. 1) to articulations like pizzicato, tremolo, and martelé.
This is very helpful—as long as you have a keyboard with enough keys. Articulations typically are on the lowest keys, so if you have a 49-key keyboard (or even a 61-note keyboard) and want to play over its full range (or use something like a two-octave keyboard for mobile applications), the only way to add articulations are as overdubs. Since the point of articulations is to allow for spontaneous expressiveness, this isn’t the best solution. An 88-note keyboard is ideal, but it may not fit in your budget, and it also might not fit physically in your studio.
Fortunately, there’s a convenient alternative: a mini-keyboard like the Korg nanoKEY2 or Akai LPK25. These typically have a street price around $60-$70, so they won’t make too big a dent in your wallet. You really don’t care about the feel or action, because all you want is switches.
Regarding setup, just make sure that both your main keyboard and the mini-keyboard are set up under External Devices—this “just works” because the instrument will listen to whatever controllers are sending in data via USB (note that keyboards with 5-pin DIN MIDI connectors require a way to merge the two outputs into a single data stream, or merging capabilities within the MIDI interface you’re using). You’ll need to drop the mini-keyboard down a few octaves to reach the keyswitch range, but aside from that, you’re covered.
To dedicate a separate track to keyswitching, call up the Add Track menu, specify the desired input, and give it a suitable name (Fig. 2). I find it more convenient not to mix articulation notes in with the musical notes because if I cut, copy, or move a passage of notes, I may accidentally edit an articulation that wasn’t supposed to be edited.
So until you have that 88-note, semi-weighted, hammer-action keyboard you’ve always dreamed about, now you have an easy way take full advantage of Presence’s built-in expressiveness—as well as any other instrument with keyswitching.
If you’ve heard people talking about adding “glue” to a mix, this usually involves a bus compressor. But you can also “glue” tracks together in a subtle way by placing two standard compressors in series with high thresholds and low ratios. The result is dynamics control that’s so gentle, you won’t really hear that a compressor is working—but you will hear the benefits.
Start by inserting two Compressors in series. I also like adding the Level meter plug-in afterward so it’s easy to compare peak and RMS levels when enabling/bypassing the Glue Compressor. Set the controls that aren’t affected by the FX Chains as follows:
Program the FX Chain controls that affect both compressors as follows:
Program the remaining controls as follows:
As to choosing the optimum settings, this one is easy to get wrong. It’s designed for subtle effects, so keep the Input at 0.00 dB unless the incoming signal is very low or high. With an input signal that’s close to maximum, a threshold of -3.0 (as indicated by the Threshold control, because the threshold will differ for the two compressors) and a low ratio (like 1.3:1) are good starting points, with Mix set to 100%.
Adjust Attack (minimum attack clamps down harder on the signal), Knee, and Release based on the input signal characteristics and desired result. Use Gain to match peaks between the bypassed and enabled states. Bypassing and enabling is a good way to hear the difference the Glue Compressor contributes to the sound.
The Glue Compressor is not intended to work like a conventional compressor that flattens an input with a highly variable level, although you can always increase or lower the ratio or threshold for the best sound. Set the controls to give a mild, subtle lift that… well, “glues” the tracks together. You won’t hear a huge difference…and you shouldn’t. But you will hear an improvement that gives the mix a welcome “lift.”
This signal processing setup is optimized for single-string guitar solos where you want a lot of sustain—but it has a secret ingredient that puts it ahead of typical guitar stompbox sustainers.
The compression aspect is pretty straightforward. A sustainer is all about a high compression ratio and low threshold, which are set to 20:1 and -35 dB, respectively. The sharp knee keeps the sustain going as long as possible, and a short attack time clamps down the attack. The release time isn’t too critical, although this depends on your playing style; a relatively long one (300-500 ms) usually works best.
This is one of those rare instances where you don’t want to enable the compressor’s Auto or Adaptive feature, because the goal here isn’t the most natural sound—it’s an effect. However, enable Lookahead because it helps to tame the attack.
Because of the extreme amount of compression, you’ll need about 30 dB of makeup gain to compensate for the gain reduction due to compression.
And now, the secret ingredient! With most sustainers, after the release time ends, if there’s a pause between notes you’ll hear a loud “pop” when you play a new note because of the compression kicking back in. A fast attack and lookahead helps, but it’s almost impossible to avoid some kind of nasty transient. If you follow the compressor with an amp sim, the distortion will hide the pop somewhat but it can still lead to an ugly attack.
Enter the noise gate. This doesn’t just remove hum, noise, and other low-level signals from being sustained, but the 55 ms attack time (coupled with the enabled lookahead button) means that when you hit a note after a pause, the note attack ramps up more slowly, so the compressor can “grab” the note without creating a pop (or if it does, the pop will be greatly reduced). If there’s an amp sim involved, you’ll hear a cleaner attack, and better overall sound. Note that depending on how fast you play and the compressor’s release time, you may need to shorten the Noise Gate’s Release and Hold times. In any event, when you want serious ssssssuuuuussssstttttaaaaaiiiiinnnnn for your single-note guitar solos, this is the ticket.
As with so many aspects of audio, the subject of compression presets polarizes people. The purists say there’s no point in having presets, because every signal is different, and the same compressor settings will sound very different on different sources. On the other hand, software comes with presets, and there are plenty of recording blogs on the web that dispense advice about typical preset settings. So who’s right?
And as with so many aspects of audio, they all are. If a preset works “out of the box,” that’s just plain luck. However, there are certain ranges of settings that work well in many cases for particular types of signals. In any case, the effects of compression are totally dependent on the input signal level anyway—if the threshold is set to -10, then signals that peak at 0 will sound very different compared to signals that peak at -10.
The most effective way to approach compression is to decide what effect you want the compression to accomplish, then adjust the compression settings accordingly. It’s also important to remember that compression isn’t just some monolithic effect that “squashes things.” For example, with kick and snare, compression can act just like a transient/decay shaper due to a drum’s rapid decay.
The usual goal for compressing kick is an even sound, yet one that doesn’t reduce punch. However, you have a great deal of latitude in deciding how to implement that goal.
The preset in Fig. 1 uses a fairly high ratio, and hard knee, to even out the highest levels. You want the compression to take hold relatively rapidly, but not take away from the punch. The best option is to start with the attack time at 0, and increase it until you hear the initial hit clearly (but don’t go past that point). Because a kick decays fast, release can be fast as well.
For transient shaping, slowing the attack time softens the attack. Raising the ratio increases the sustain somewhat, while making space for the attack (assuming an appropriate attack time). Between the attack and ratio controls, you can pretty much tailor the kick drum’s attack and sustain characteristics, as well as even out the overall sound. A higher threshold is another way to emphasize the attack, by letting the decay occur naturally. Lowering the threshold reduces the level difference between the attack and decay.
Snare responds similarly to kick, however with an acoustic drum kit, the kick is more isolated physically than the snare. As a result, compressing the snare has the potential to emphasize leakage. Fortunately, the snare is often the focus of a drum part. As a result, you can simply compress the snare, and accept that leakage is part of the deal. With individual, multitracked drums (including electronic drums) where leakage is not a problem, it’s still usually the snare and kick that get compression.
With snare, you may want to use a lower ratio (2:1 – 3:1) for a fuller snare sound. Or, increase the ratio to emphasize the attack more. Again, use the attack time to dial in the desired attack characteristics.
With both kick and snare, you’ll usually want a hard knee. However, the knee control is a fantastic way to fine-tune the attack—and once you have that dialed in, you’ll be good to go.
Summer may be over in the northern hemisphere, but we can still splash around. This is one of those “hiding in plain sight” kind of tips, but it’s pretty cool.
The premise: Sometimes you don’t want reverb all the time, so you kick up the send control to push something like a snare hit into the reverb for a quick reverb “splash” (anyone who’s listened to my music knows this is one of my favorite techniques). The reverb adds a dramatic emphasis to the rhythm, but is short enough that it doesn’t wear out its welcome—listen to the audio example, which demos this technique with Studio One’s Crowish Acoustic Chorus 1 drum loop.
However, although this technique is great with drums, it also works well with rhythm guitar, hand percussion, synths, you name it… even kick works well in some songs. I’m not convinced about bass, but aside from that, this has a lot of uses.
Studio One offers an easy way to produce regular splashes automatically (like on the second and fourth beats of a measure, where an emphasizing element hits). Insert X-Trem before the reverb, select 16 Steps as the “waveform,” click Sync, and choose your rhythm. The screenshot shows Beats set to 1/2 so that the reverb splash happens on 2 and 4, which in the case of the audio example, adds reverb to the snare on 2, and to the closed high-hat on 4.
And that’s pretty much it. Because the reverb is in a bus, set Mix to 100%. The 480 Hall from Halls > Medium Halls is one of my faves for this application, but hey… use whatever ’verb puts a smile on your face.