Having worked on several classical and piano-oriented sessions, I’ve had the opportunity to hear gorgeous grand pianos in their native habitat. But it spoiled me. When I had to use sampled pianos in other types of productions, it always seemed something was missing.
This tip puts some of the low-end mojo back into sampled pianos. Sure, it’s done with smoke and mirrors, not by having wood interact with a room—but check out the audio example at the end, and you’ll hear what Beethoven has to say about it.
How It Works
The bass enhancement occurs by mixing a sine wave behind the main piano sound, but only in the lower octaves, and very subtly. This adds bass reinforcement that you won’t find in samples.
Set up a Multi-Instrument (sorry Artist users, this is a Pro version-only feature) that combines the piano of your choice, like the Presence Acoustic Full, and Mai Tai (fig. 1).
For Mai Tai, you want the simplest sound possible—one sine wave oscillator, no modulation except for an amplitude envelope, no random phase, and no effects other than EQ. By turning the Filter cutoff down to around 100 Hz or so, turning Key tracking all the way down, and using the EQ (in the bass range) to take out all the highs, we now have the sine wave tracking your playing on only the lowest notes (fig. 2).
The Mai Tai’s level setting is crucial. You want an almost subliminal effect—something you don’t notice unless you mute the Mai Tai. Check out this audio example, but note that I’ve mixed the Mai Tai up higher than I normally would, so you can hear what the sine wave adds to the piano sound. Also note that even with the extra emphasis on the lower octaves, you can’t hear an added sine wave on the higher notes. This is important for a realistic sound.
Finally, although I’ve emphasized using this with piano, the same technique can add a commanding low end to other sampled instruments, like acoustic guitar—yes, you can change your parlor guitar’s body into a jumbo—no woodworking required!
The Attack Delay effect, used primarily with guitar, fades in a note or chord over the initial attack to give a more pad-like sound. The effect feeds audio into a gate with an attack time, and triggers the gate when a note or chord hits.
However, you need a brief silence between notes or chords (I prefer using this with chords), so the gate can reset prior to initiating the next attack. It’s kind of annoying to have to modify your playing style to accommodate this pause. Also, if the gate threshold is too high, you won’t hear any note—and if it’s too low, you might lose the attack effect. Attack Delay stompboxes can be iffy, which may be one reason why you don’t see one on every pedalboard.
Nonetheless, this can be a beautiful effect when done right…and as the audio example shows, Studio One can do it right.
Attack Delay Setup
The key is to insert the Gate in the track you want to process, but not trigger the Gate from that track. Instead, you create a copy of the original track, and optimize it for triggering the Gate. The copy then controls the Gate through its sidechain (you don’t listen to the copied track).
(Optionally, before setting this up, consider compressing or limiting the original guitar track so that it has a longer sustain. You don’t want the guitar to fade too much before the attack fades in.)
Fig. 1 shows the mixer setup. The GtrPadTrig track’s pre-fader send goes to the Gate’s sidechain. Turn down this track’s channel fader, because we don’t want to hear the copied track. The guitar track in the audio example inserts Ampire before the Gate, and reverb after the Gate. The reverb adds an ethereal quality as the guitar fades into the chord.
Next, prep the control track in the Edit window. Open the Audio Bend panel (to the right of the speaker icon in the Edit window toolbar), right-click on the Event, and choose Detect Transients. If necessary, adjust the Bend Marker Threshold (or remove and add Bend Markers) so that Bend Markers appear only at the beginning of chords or notes (fig. 2).
Mind the Gap
Right-click on the Event, and choose Split at Bend Markers. All the Events will be separate and selected. Click on the right edge of any Event, and drag to the left. Because all the Events are selected, this opens up a gap before all the chord attacks (fig. 3).
Now start playback, and adjust the Gate parameters. This is a little tricky at first, because you want the Threshold set so that triggers coming in from the sidechain open the Gate, coupled with a Release time that’s short enough so that the Gate doesn’t shut off immediately. I usually leave about a 100 ms gap between chord attacks, and set the Gate release time to 60 ms. Your mileage may vary.
If the triggering isn’t reliable, adjust the Threshold, gap length, or Release. To edit the gap, select all the events and vary the right edge of one of them—they’ll all move together. Sometimes, there might be one obstinate note that doesn’t trigger correctly, in which case you can select only the Event before it, and vary its gap for reliable triggering with the next chord.
Yes, this takes a little effort to set up, but it’s cool. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with exploring an effect that remains somewhat rare, because it’s hard to get right—fortunately, Studio One can get it right.
The problem: I was using one of Chris McHugh’s acoustic drum loops from the (sadly, no longer available) Discrete Drums sample library. However, it had been recorded at a slower tempo, and when sped up, it was a bit too “busy” in places.
The solution: Drum Replacement with Studio One, Pro EQ, Gate, and Melodyne, so I could edit Note data into the part I wanted.
Getting Started: Step by Step
Prepping the Note Data
The note data length will vary. To tidy up the part, set all the drums to 16th or 32nd notes with Action > Length (fig. 4).
Note that Melodyne picked up on some low-velocity kick hits too (pretty cool). You could assign these to a different sample of a kick hit softly. Fortunately, the Discrete Drums library includes samples of the individual drums. So, I could load the samples into Impact XT, and this way the sound would work with other loops from the same collection. Since the drums are multi-sampled at different velocities, I selected all the notes, and used Studio One’s Transpose function to set them to the same pitch as the kick samples.
Hi-hat was the most difficult to convert to Note data, because snare hits can produce transients that extend into the hi-hat range. A 48 dB/octave low-cut combined with a major high-frequency peak did a decent job of isolating the hi-hat, but the frequency was extremely high and Melodyne wasn’t too happy about that. Transposing the Event down an octave or so before applying the gate made the hits more Melodyne-friendly.
I was taken aback at how well this technique was able to translate the acoustic drum loop into Note data. The best aspects were that it preserved the human timing of a real drummer, and Melodyne did a good job of preserving the dynamics. The only needed fix was removing a few notes caused by loud snare hits that came through on the hi-hat track, and of course, editing the data to create the part I wanted—done!
Ampire has a User cab that can load impulse responses. You knew that, right? What you may not know is that you can load stereo cab impulses, and they magically make the User cab stereo. If you’re thinking “but creating impulses is such a hassle,” it’s not—let’s get started.
How It Works: Overview
Start by downloading the 44.1, 48, and 96 kHz stereo impulses. These are 1-sample spikes, so if you listen to them, don’t expect a thrilling audio experience. To create the impulse response, load a stereo impulse into an audio track, but no other audio—just the impulse. Send the audio to two cabs, set up in stereo (e.g., using two FX Channels, panned as desired). Don’t include any amps or effects—only the cabs. Bounce or otherwise mix/export the result. This is the stereo impulse response.
For the sake of example, we’ll assume you want a 4×12 M65 and a 2×12 VC 30 as your stereo cabs, but you can use any cabs you want, including cabs from other amp sims. Referring to fig. 1, this setup works for Artist or Pro.
Create the Impulse
Create an audio track, load Ampire, plug in your guitar, and select an amp. Choose the User cab, and then click on the + symbol in the Mic A: field. Navigate to where you saved the impulse response, load it, and kick back with your cool stereo cab.
To get you started, the folder you downloaded with the impulse also has stereo Impulse Responses for the M65+VC30 and 4x10American+2x12Boutique stereo cabs. Try them with the new High Gain and Painapple amps…you’re gonna love ‘em.
You can record most hands-on control changes as automation by using Control Link, which has always been one of my favorite Studio One features. However, not everything exposes its parameters to automation—so let’s explore track-to-track recording, and embed your hands-on control changes as audio.
How to Set It Up
With track-to-track recording, you record the output from a Source track into a Target track. Set the Target track’s input to the Source track (fig. 1). You’ll monitor the Source track, not the Target track. So, turn the Target track’s fader down (the input monitoring setting doesn’t matter). Select record mode for the Target track. Note that track-to-track recording is inherently a real-time process.
Of course, you’re not limited to recording the output from another track—you can record any Output, Aux Track, or Bus (but not FX Channels). As to why this is useful, I’ve found four main applications.
Hands-on control for external hardware. Although you can automate some external hardware effects parameters with MIDI, that’s not always the case. Older effects, stompboxes, and analog hardware that was intended to be set-and-forget (e.g., tube preamps whose saturation you might want to vary over time) can’t be automated. Insert Pipeline in the Source track, set up Pipeline to bring the hardware’s ins and outs into the Source track, and then you can manipulate the effect’s controls while recording the results into the Target track. If you need to make changes, re-do the recording (although you may only need to punch a section).
Capture random effects processes. Several effects have randomized functions, so they never play back audio quite the same way twice. Recording audio from a Source track with this kind of effect inserted captures the resulting randomization. If you don’t like the results, try re-recording until you have something you prefer. Note that this can also record the output from an Instrument track that includes a randomizing insert effect.
Capture touchscreen control gestures. Studio One’s multitouch effects are very touch-friendly, and touchscreen gestures can connect with automation. But sometimes, it’s great having that palette of controls right in front of you, where you can change control settings on the fly while you get into the improvisational heat of the moment. When these effects are inserted in the Source track, you can record the audio caused by the real-time touchscreen changes into the Target track.
Accommodate what you can’t automate. This is a weird use case, but it’s another example of why track-to-track recording is useful. To compare the different cab sounds in the Line 6 Helix, I wanted to record an audio example of a guitar riff while I changed the amp sim cabs. But you can’t automate cab selection, and with 41 cabs, I didn’t want to have to stop, change the cab, and re-record the next example. So, I just looped the guitar riff, recorded into the Target track, and clicked on a different cab when I wanted to record it.
There are probably other applications I haven’t considered—so if you think of any, please mention them in the Comments section!
Many people think Melodyne Essential works only with monophonic tracks. That’s true for editing notes, but it can transform polyphonic guitar playing to MIDI note data. Granted, there’s a tradeoff: no pitch bend. But for laying down pads, power chords, and the like with electric guitar, then playing them back on virtual instruments—no problem.
Finally, let’s listen to the original guitar part, and the MIDI cello part it produced. Cool, eh?
Nothing is more bothersome to me than a 16th note hi-hat pattern with a constant velocity—like the following.
Audio Example 1
“Humanizing,” which usually introduces random changes, attempts to add more interest. But human drummers don’t really randomize (unless they’ve had too many beers). Even if the beats are off a little bit, there’s usually some conscious thought behind the overall timing.
So, what works for me is a mix of deliberate tweaking and what I call “successive humanization,” which applies humanization more than once, in an incremental way. With hi-hats, my goal is rock solid downbeats to maintain the timing, slightly humanized offbeats, and the most humanizing on everything that’s not the downbeat or offbeat. This adds variety without negatively impacting the rhythm.
Let’s fix that obnoxious 16th-note pattern. To start, select all the notes, and bring them down to just below 30% (fig. 1).
Next, we’ll use Macros to select specific notes for editing. Select all the notes, click on the Macro View button (between Q and Action), click Action in the Macro Edit menu, and choose Note Selection > Select Notes Downbeat. Raise all the downbeats to just below 95% or so. Then, choose Note Selection again, but this time select Offbeat, and raise the offbeats to just below 50%. Now your notes look like fig. 2.
The part sounds like this…we’re on our way.
Audio Example 2
Close the Macro view. Now we’ll humanize the lowest-velocity notes a little bit. Select all the notes. Click on Action, and under Global, choose Select Notes. Choose Range, set Velocity from 1% to 30%, and click OK (fig. 3). This is why we wanted to set the notes slightly below 30%—to make sure we caught all of them in this step.
Choose Action > Humanize. We’re going to Humanize the notes downward a bit, so set Add Velocity Range to -10% and 0% (fig. 4).
Let’s introduce some successive humanization. Click on Action, and again, Select Notes. Choose Range, set Velocity from 1% to 50%, and click OK. Now we’ll humanize velocity for the notes that were originally under 50% and also those that were under 30%. Humanize again to -10%, as done in the previous step. There’s a little more variety in the following audio example.
Audio Example 3
Now let’s humanize the start times a bit, but only for the notes below 50%—we want rock-solid downbeats. Select the notes under 50% as you did in the previous step, but this time, for the Humanize menu don’t alter velocity. Just humanize the start time between -0.00.10% and 0.00.10% (fig. 5).
Now our notes look like fig. 6. Look closely to see the changes caused by humanization.
And it sounds like…
Audio Example 4
At this point, the Macros and humanization options have added some much-needed variations. Although I feel drum parts always need at least a little of the human touch, thanks to Studio One doing most of the work, at this point only a few small changes are needed. Also, a little filtering can make the harder hits brighter. (Tip: When editing the filter parameters, turning the Resonance way up temporarily makes the range that’s being covered far more obvious.) Fig. 7 shows the final sequence.
The point of the filter was to give a more subdued hi-hat sound, as you’ll hear in the next audio example. If you want a more metronomic effect, you’d probably prefer the previous audio example…but of course, it all depends on context.
Audio Example 5
You can even try one final humanize on everything—a little velocity, and little start time—and see what happens. If you don’t like it…well, that’s why “undo” exists!
I never liked patch bays. I certainly didn’t like wiring them, and I didn’t like having to interrupt my creative flow to patch various connections. In my perfect world, everything would patch to its own input and be ready to go, so that you never had to re-patch anything—just assign a track to an input, and hit record.
With enough audio interface inputs, you can do that. But many audio interfaces seem to default to 8 line/mic ins. This makes it easy to run out of inputs, especially as synth fanatics gravitate toward re-introducing hardware to their setups (and want to take advantage of Studio One 5’s Aux Channels). We’ll assume you don’t actually want to get rid of your interface with 8 mic/line ins…you just want more. There are three main solutions:
Why ADAT Optical Is Cool
I started with a PreSonus Studio 192 interface, graduated to a PreSonus 1824c, but kept the Studio 192 as an analog input expander. The 192 has two ADAT optical ports, so it can send/receive 16 channels at 44.1 or 48 kHz over a digital audio “light pipe” connection. The 1824c has one ADAT port for input and one for output, so patching one of the Studio 192’s optical outs to the 1824c’s optical in gave a total of 16 analog inputs. This accommodates my gear without having to re-patch.
Another advantage is that the Studio 192 has +48V available for individual mic inputs, whereas the 1824c’s +48V option is global for all inputs. So, I can easily use a mix of ribbon, dynamic, and condenser mics with the 192, while leaving +48V off for the 1824c.
The interface being used as an “expander” doesn’t require a permanent USB connection to your computer (although you may need a temporary connection to change the interface’s default settings, if you can’t do that from the front panel). And, you don’t need an interface with lots of bells and whistles—just 8 inputs, and an ADAT out. A quick look at the used market shows plenty of ways to add another 8 channels to your audio interface for a few hundred dollars, although this could also be a good reason to upgrade to a better interface, and use the older one as an expander.
Because the 1824c has an ADAT input, both interfaces show up in the Song Setup menu. The inputs from the ADAT light pipe look, act, and are assigned like any other inputs (Fig. 1).
Time for a Caution…
…and that caution involves timing. Always set the ADAT expander as the master clock, so that it’s transmitting clock signals to the main interface, which is set to receive the clock (Fig. 2). If the main interface is the master, then the expander will be free-running and unsynchronized. The audio will seem to work, but you’ll get occasional pops and clicks when the units drift out of sync (which they will do over time).
Patch bays? Who needs ’em? I like virtual patch bays a lot more.
Add the cabs from the 3rd gen Ampire with the ones from the High-Density expansion pack, and you have 19 cabs.
Surprise! You actually have 342 cabs. Not all of them sound fabulous, but some do—especially if you throw a Pro EQ into the mix. What’s more, with clean sounds, the new cabs give “varitone”-like filtering effects that almost sound like you have an infinite supply of different bodies and pickups. We’ll show how to take advantage of these new cabs with Studio One’s Pro and Artist versions.
How It Works (Pro Version)
With Pro, the Splitter is the star (fig. 1). The Ampire at the top provides your amp sound (optionally with effects), but don’t load a cabinet. Split the amp’s output into two parallel paths, each with an Ampire that has only a cabinet (no amps or effects). Insert a Mixtool in one of the parallel paths, and click its Invert button.
If you select the same cab for both parallel paths, you won’t hear anything, because they cancel. But with two different cabs, what they have in common cancels, while their various modeled resonances remain. This creates the sound of a different, distinctive cab. Of course, you can also play with the cab mic positions to generate even more possible sounds…the mind boggles.
Finally, add another Mixtool at the output so you can increase the gain. This compensates for the reduced level due to one path being out of phase. If you want to add a Pro EQ (recommended), insert it before the Mixtool.
How It Works (Artist Version)
Fig. 2 shows how to set up busing to do this in Artist, although Pro users might prefer this option because the editable elements are more exposed.
Note that if you choose the same cab for the Ampires in Bus 1 and Bus 2, and your original channel’s fader (in this case, PRS Green) is all the way down, you should hear nothing due to the cancellation. If you hear something, either the sends to the buses, the bus levels, Ampire output controls, or mic settings are not identical for the two channels.
But Wait—There’s More!
The composite cab sound in the FX3 bus can often benefit from adding a Pro EQ before the final Mixtool. Typically you’ll roll off the bass, or make the treble less bright, depending on the cabs. And again, let me remind you to try this with clean sounds—it’s sort of like out-of-phase pickup wiring, but with hundreds of options.
One limitation is that there’s no way to change cabs with a control panel knob or with automation. To explore the various sounds, choose a cab for the Ampire in one of the buses, then run through the cabs in the other bus’s Ampire. Some sounds won’t be all that useful, others will be distinct and novel, and some that don’t appear to be useful at first come into their own with just a touch of EQ.
Want an audio example? Sure. This combines the VC 20 and with an out-of-phase British II, with a little low-frequency rolloff. The Open Air reverb uses an impulse from my Surreal Reverb Impulse Responses pack. You’re on your own for checking out the other 341 combinations!
When you find a combination of cabs that works, write it down—with this many cabs to choose from, you might not find it again.
But first: free stuff news! The eBook How to Create Compelling Mixes in Studio One Version 2.0 is now available as a free update to anyone who bought the original version (for new buyers, it’s $14.95)—just go to your PreSonus account, and download it. There’s new material on mix referencing and LCR mixing, numerous tweaks, additional tips, and a new layout that’s more smartphone- and tablet-friendly.
Okay…back to reverb. The blog post Mid-Side Meets Reverb used the Splitter, which is included only in Studio One Pro. However, when the post got comments like “OMG! Just did this for a simple guitar and vocal demo, and now it sounds massive and super-professional. This technique really gives space and depth to the mix!,” I thought I’d better come up with an Artist-friendly version. Pro users might even prefer this bus-oriented implementation. And because the tip is dedicated to reverb, it’s simpler than the more general-purpose blog post on Mid-Side Processing with Artist (which includes a refresher course on mid-side processing, if you need more background).
How It Works
It’s common practice to use a track send to feed audio to a reverb bus. But with this mid-side technique, there are two sends, which feed two reverb buses. One bus has reverb for the Mid (centered) audio (like bass, kick, snare, etc.), while the other reverb processes the Sides (what’s panned more toward the left and right, like hi-hat, doubled guitars, background vocalists, room mics, etc.). This can give an outstanding stereo image, more flexible editing, and you can use different reverbs for the mid and sides. Also, for those who like to use a dedicated vocal reverb, if the vocal is mixed to center it won’t be influenced by the reverb used on other instruments.
Fig. 1 applies this technique to processing a mixed drum loop.
The mid audio is just the sum of the left and right channels, so all we need is a Dual Pan before the mid reverb, with both controls panned to center (Fig. 2).
Fig. 3 shows the effects used in the Sides reverb bus.
When a signal enters the Sides bus, the first Mixtool encodes the audio. The sides end up on what would usually be a stereo signal’s right channel, while the mids occupy what would normally be the left channel. By setting the Dual Pan Input Balance to right, only the sides go to your reverb of choice (it doesn’t have to be Room Reverb). Then, the processed sides go to the bottom Mixtool, which decodes the sides back into standard stereo.
Now you’re ready to choose your balance of the Mid and Sides reverb. Note that bringing up the sides widens the stereo image. The audio example plays a 4-measure drum loop without reverb, then only the mid reverb, then only the sides, then both together, then fades out on the dry drums.
For the reverbs, my go-to is the Open Air reverb, with impulses from the Surreal Reverb Impulse Responses pack. The Sides reverb uses the 4.00s Bright impulse, while the Mid uses the 2.00s Thinner impulse. The “Thinner” impulse reduces the bass response, so instruments like kick and bass don’t clutter up the reverb, but snare and other midrange instruments panned to center get reverb.