So…you want some huge drum sounds? Here you go. This is super well-suited to hip-hop and EDM, but can also give a monster drum sound for rock. The star of this show is the Softube Saturation Knob and FX Chain Splitter.
Drums lend themselves well to a little crunch, but there are limitations. If you apply a bitcrusher or distortion effect, the sound will become indistinct—which may be what you want, but I prefer a monster low end and a more defined high end. This usually requires a couple tracks with a crossover (or a track/bus combo with filtering), but the Splitter module makes it easy to do this in a single FX Chain.
Here’s the overall view of the FX Chain.
The first effect is a limiter, which is optional—but it can add a nice bit of squashing. The signal then proceeds to a Splitter set for a Frequency Split, with a crossover point around 220 Hz. The low-frequency split (to the left) goes to the Saturation Knob. You have some choices here; the Keep Low setting gives a boomier bass (hip-hop fans take note), while the Neutral and Keep High settings give a tighter sound—good for rock and dance, where you’ll often want the kick to make room for the bass part.
Meanwhile, the high frequencies split off to a Pro EQ and Mixverb. The Pro EQ helps compensate for the low-frequency split’s hugeness by boosting the highs with a broad peak. The Mixverb is a cheap ’n’ cheerful reverb that’s happy to provide a bit of room ambiance.
Finally, the Mixtool at the end provides a Trim control so you can match the enabled level to the bypassed one.
The Channel Editor brings out the crucial controls and is pretty self-explanatory. There are controls for the Saturation Knob’s two parameters, Frequency/Q/Gain controls for the high-frequency EQ stage, a Squash control to push the limiter, Room level, and Trim to adjust the final output.
So is it worth the effort to construct this FX Chain? Yes! But you don’t have to…
And you probably want to hear what it sounds like, so check out the audio example. The first half is a straight acoustic drum loop from Studio One’s library, while the second half has been converted into a Bigness of Huge drum loop. They’ve been normalized to the same peak level for a fair comparison.
Plug-ins have changed my life, and probably yours. Yet some hardware effects have no software equivalent—like boutique guitar effects, or tube-based equalizers. And there are even unique digital effects, too, like Roger Linn’s AdrenaLinn.
I wanted to use these with Studio One’s Pipeline XT plug-in and the Studio 192 interface, but never got the combo working properly. There were feedback problems, leakage into other channels, and various issues. After hours of trying different mixer settings, and searching the net, I couldn’t find an answer.
Then it dawned on me: PreSonus support! They had the answer, so hopefully this tip will not only inspire people to take a look at Pipeline XT, but help those who haven’t quite figured out how to use it in the PreSonus mixer ecosystem.
PREPPING THE STUDIO 192
Universal Control allows using Studio 192 (with a computer and enough I/O) as a digital mixer, but that’s not necessarily what we want with Studio One. To optimize the Studio 192 for Pipeline XT:
PREPPING SONG SETUP FOR EXTERNAL HARDWARE
We’ll use the AdrenaLinn as the example. It’s a mono in/stereo out device, but you can choose a mono or stereo output to feed it (I chose stereo because AdrenaLinn isn’t the only hardware device I use with Pipeline XT).
Note that you can name these inputs and outputs you just added. Save this Song Setup by clicking on Make Default if you plan to interface Studio One with this same setup hardware in the future. Otherwise, you’ll need to go through the assignment process again. If the setup is saved as a default, when you want to use a hardware effect, Studio One will know where to find it.
TIME FOR PIPELINE XT
This part’s pretty easy. Insert Pipeline Stereo as if it was a regular plug-in. Pipeline XT compensates automatically for the latency that accumulates from sending audio through the outputs, through an effect, then back into Studio One’s interface inputs. What’s more, it’s easy to assign the inputs and outputs in Pipeline XT, because you named them in Song Setup (Fig. 5). Pipeline XT will now divert the channel output to your hardware, and bring the hardware output back again into your channel.
In my experience, Pipeline XT compensates for latency without having to anything further. However, you can click on the wrench and have Pipeline XT compensate automatically, or do so manually. You can also tune out delays by ear. For example, load a drum loop, and copy it to the track with Pipeline XT. Listen to both tracks together, and adjust the Pipeline Offset parameter until the two tracks sound synched. (Note that if you try automatic compensation, it’s best to bypass the effect. With time-based effects, Pipeline XT won’t know which is the “real” signal for which it should compensate.)
Once Pipeline XT has been configured for a particular piece of hardware, you can store the setting as a preset for later recall—just like any effects preset. For me, 90% of the time I’m using external hardware for guitar effects. They operate similarly to AdrenaLinn, so I can just recall that preset.
There are a few other considerations unique to using external hardware.
The June 22, 2018 tip covered how to make mastered songs better with tempo changes, but there was some pushback because it wasn’t easy to make these kinds of changes in Studio One. Fortunately, it seems like the developers were listening, because it’s now far easier to change tempo. I’ve been refining various tempo-changing techniques over the past year (and had a chance to gauge reactions to songs using tempo changes compared to those that didn’t), so it seemed like the time is right to re-visit this topic.
WHY TEMPO CHANGES?
In the days before click tracks, music had tempo changes. However, with good musicians, these weren’t random. After analyzing dozens of songs, many (actually, most) of them would speed up slightly during the end of a chorus or verse, or during a solo, and then drop back down again.
For example, many people feel James Brown had one of the tightest rhythm sections ever—which is true, but not because they were a metronome. There were premeditated, conscious tempo changes throughout the song (e.g., speeding up during the run up to the phrase “papa’s got a brand new bag,” in the song of the same name, then dropping back down again—only to speed up to the next climax). Furthermore, the entire song sped up linearly over the course of the song.
Note that you didn’t hear these kinds of changes as something obvious, you felt them. They added to the “tension and release” inherent in any music, which is a key element (along with dynamics) in eliciting an emotional response from listeners.
THE PROBLEM WITH TEMPO CHANGES
It was easy to have natural tempo changes when musicians played together in a room. These days, it’s difficult for solo artists to plan out in advance when changes are going to happen. Also, if you use effects with tempo sync, not all of them follow tempo changes elegantly (and some can’t follow tempo changes at all). Let’s face it—it’s a lot easier to record to a click track, and have a constant tempo. However…
THE STUDIO ONE SOLUTION
Fortunately, Studio One makes it easy to add tempo changes to a finished mix—so you can complete your song, and then add subtle tempo changes where appropriate. This also lets you compare a version without tempo changes, and one with tempo changes. You may not hear a difference, but you’ll feel it.
As mentioned in last year’s tip, for the highest possible fidelity choose Options > Advanced > Audio, and check “Use cache for timestretched audio files.” Next, open a new project, and bring in the mixed file. Important: you need to embed a tempo, otherwise it’s not possible to change the tempo. So, open the Inspector, and enter a tempo under File Tempo. It doesn’t have to match the original song tempo because we’re making relative, not absolute, changes. Also choose Tempo = Timestretch, and Timestretch = Sound – Elastique Pro Formant.
MANIPULATING THE TEMPO TRACK
Working with the tempo track is now as easy as working with automation: click and drag to create ramps, and bend straight lines into curves if desired. You can set high and low tempo limits within the tempo track; the minimum difference between high and low Tempo Track values is 20 BPM, however you can change the tempo track height to increase the resolution. The bottom lines it that it’s possible to create very detailed tempo changes, quickly and easily.
So what does it sound like? Here are two examples. The first is a hard-rock cover version of “Walking on the Moon” (originally recorded by The Police, and written by Sting).
The differences are fairly significant, starting with a low of 135 BPM, going up to 141 BPM, and dropping down as low as 134 BPM.
Here’s another example, a slower song called “My Butterfly.” It covers an even greater relative range, because it goes from a low of 90 to a high of 96 BPM. You may be able to hear the speedup in the solo, not just feel it, now that you know it’s there.
Note that when possible, there’s a constant tempo at the beginning and end. It doesn’t matter so much with songs, but with dance mixes, I can add tempo changes in the track as long as there’s a constant tempo on the intro and outro so DJs don’t go crazy when they’re trying to do beat-matching.
So is it worth making these kinds of changes? All I know is that the songs I do with tempo changes get a better response than songs without tempo changes. Maybe it’s coincidence…but I don’t think so.
With the ideal mix, the balance among instruments is perfect, and you can hear every instrument (or instrument section) clearly and distinctly. However, getting there can take a while, with a lot of trial and error. Fortunately, there’s a simple trick you can use when setting up a mix to accelerate the process: Start your mix with all channel pan sliders set to center (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: All the pan sliders (outlined in white) are set to center for a reason.
With stereo tracks, changing the track interleave to mono isn’t adequate, because it will throw off the channel’s level in the mix. Instead, temporarily add a Dual Pan set for the -6dB Linear Pan Law, and center both the Left and Right panpots (fig. 2). Now your stereo track will appear in the mix as mono.
Figure 2: Use the Dual Pan, set to the -6dB Linear pan law, to convert stereo channels temporarily to mono when setting up for a mix.
Now listen carefully to your mix. Are all the instruments distinct? Monitoring in mono will reveal places where one instrument might mask or interfere with another, like kick and bass, or piano and guitar (depending on the note range).
The solution is to use EQ to carve out each instrument’s rightful place in the frequency spectrum. For example, if you want to prioritize the guitar part, you may need to reduce some of the piano’s midrange, and boost the regions above and below the guitar. For the guitar, boost a bit in the region where you cut the piano. With those tweaks in place, you’ll find it easier to differentiate between the two.
For kick/bass issues, the usual solution is to increase treble on one of them—with kick, this brings out the beater sound and with bass, string “zings” and pick noises. Another option is to add saturation to the bass, while leaving the kick drum alone. If the bass is playing relatively high notes, then perhaps a boost to the kick around 50-70 Hz will help separate the two.
Keep carving away, and adjusting the EQ until all the instruments are clear and distinct. Now when you start doing stereo placement, the sound will be open, with a huge soundstage and a level of clarity you might not obtain otherwise—or which might take a lot of tweaking to achieve.
We’re Not Done with Mono Just Yet…
Okay, now you have a great stereo mix. But it’s also important to make sure your mix collapses well to mono, because you have no control over the playback system. It might play from someone’s smartphone, and sounds mostly mono…or play back over speakers that are close to each other, so there’s not real good stereo separation. Radio is another possibility where the stereo might not be wonderful.
Some processors, especially ones that control stereo imaging with mid-side processing, may have phase or other issues when collapsed to mono. Short, stereo delays can also have problems collapsing to mono, and produce comb-filtering-type effects. So, hop on over to the main bus, and click the Channel Mode button to convert the output to mono (Fig. 3).
Figure 3: The Channel Mode button (circled in yellow) can switch the output between mono and stereo.
Hopefully, everything will sound correct—just collapsed to mono. But if not, start soloing channels and comparing what they sound like with the Channel Mode button in stereo and mono, until you chase down the culprit. Make the appropriate tweaks (which may be as simple as tweaking the delay time in one channel of a stereo delay processor), make sure the mix still sounds good in stereo, and you’re done.
A sampled drum sound can get pretty boring. There’s even a name for triggering the same sound repeatedly—“the machine gun effect.” Sometimes you want this, but often, it’s preferable to have a sound that responds to velocity and is more expressive.
There are two ways to address this with Impact XT, depending on whether you have multiple samples recorded at different intensities (i.e., softer and harder hits), or only one sample, which then means you have to “fake” it sounds like it was recorded with different intensities.
Multiple Drum Samples
This is the most common way to create expressive drum parts. Drum sample libraries often include multiple versions of the same drum sound—like soft, medium, and hard hits. The technique we’ll describe here works for more than three samples, but limiting it to three is helpful for the sake of illustration.
Impact XT makes it super-simple to take advantage of sounds recorded at different intensities because you can load multiple samples on a single pad. However, note that if a pad already contains a sample and you drag a new sample to a pad, it will replace, not supplement, the existing sample. So, you need to use a different approach.
Figure 1: Click on the + sign to load another sample on to a pad.
Figure 2: The splitter bar between samples can alter the velocity range to which a sample responds.
Now you’ll trigger different drum samples, depending on the velocity.
How to Fake Multiple Drum Samples
If you have a single drum sample with a hard hit, then you can use Impact XT’s sample start parameter to fake softer hits by changing the sample start time. (Starting sample playback later in the sample cuts off part of the attack, which sounds like a drum that’s hit softer.)
Figure 3: Click on the sample start line, and drag right to start sample playback past the initial attack. The readout toward the lower right shows the amount of offset, in samples.
Play the drum at different velocities. Tweak sample start times, and/or velocities, to obtain a smooth change from lower to higher velocities.
But Wait…There’s More!
Let’s add two more elements to emphasize the dynamics. These parameters affect all samples loaded on the pad, and are also effective with pads that have only a single sample.
Figure 4: Assigning velocity to Pitch and Filter Cutoff can enhance dynamics even further.
At the Pitch module, turn up the Velocity to Pitch parameter by around 0.26 semitones (Fig. 4). This raises the pitch slightly when you hit the drum harder, which emulates acoustic drums (the initial strike raises the tension on the head, which increases pitch slightly, depending on how hard you hit the drum).
Similarly, back off on the Filter Cutoff slightly, and turn up the Filter’s Vel parameter a little bit (e.g., 10%). This will make the sound brighter with higher velocities.
Done! Now go forth, and give your music more expressive drum sounds.
I sometimes record acoustic rhythm guitars with one mic for two main reasons: no issues with phase cancellations among multiple mics, and faster setup time. Besides, rhythm guitar parts often sit in the background, so some ambiance with electronic delay and reverb can give a somewhat bigger sound. However, on an album project with the late classical guitarist Linda Cohen, the solo guitar needed to be upfront, and the lack of a stereo image due to using a single mic was problematic.
Rather than experiment with multiple mics and deal with phase issues, I decided to go for the most accurate sound possible from one high-quality, condenser mic. This was successful, in the sense that moving from the control room to the studio sounded virtually identical; but the sound lacked realism. Thinking about what you hear when sitting close to a classical guitar provided clues on how to obtain the desired sound.
If you’re facing a guitarist, your right ear picks up on some of the finger squeaks and string noise from the guitarist’s fretting hand. Meanwhile, your left ear picks up some of the body’s “bass boom.” Although not as directional as the high-frequency finger noise, it still shifts the lower part of the frequency spectrum somewhat to the left. Meanwhile, the main guitar sound fills the room, providing the acoustic equivalent of a center channel.
Sending the guitar track into two additional buses solved the imaging problem by giving one bus a drastic treble cut and panning it somewhat left. The other bus had a drastic bass cut and was panned toward the right (Fig. 1).
Figure 1: The main track (toward the left) splits into three pre-fader buses, each with its own EQ.
One send goes to bus 1. The EQ is set to around 400 Hz (but also try lower frequencies), with a 24 dB/octave slope to focus on the guitar body’s “boom.” Another send goes to bus 2, which emphasizes finger noises and high frequencies. Its EQ has a highpass filter response with a 24dB/octave slope and frequency around 1 kHz. Pan bus 1 toward the left and bus 2 toward the right, because if you’re facing a guitarist the body boom will be toward the listener’s left, and the finger and neck noises will be toward the listener’s right.
The send to bus 3 goes to the main guitar sound bus. Offset its highpass and lowpass filters a little more than an octave from the other two buses, e.g., 160 Hz for the highpass and 2.4 kHz for the lowpass (Fig. 2). This isn’t “technically correct,” but I felt it gave the best sound.
Figure 2: The top curve trims the response of the main guitar sound, the middle curve isolates the high frequencies, and the lower curve isolates the low frequencies. EQ controls that aren’t relevant are grayed out.
Monitor the first two buses, and set a good balance of the low and high frequencies. Then bring up the third send’s level, with its pan centered. The result should be a big guitar sound with a stereo image, but we’re not done quite yet.
The balance of the three tracks is crucial to obtaining the most realistic sound, as are the EQ frequencies. Experiment with the EQ settings, and consider reducing the frequency range of the bus with the main guitar sound. If the image is too wide, pan the low and high-frequency buses more to center. It helps to monitor the output in mono as well as stereo for a reality check.
Once you nail the right settings, you may be taken aback to hear the sound of a stereo acoustic guitar with no phase issues. The sound is stronger, more consistent, and the stereo image is rock-solid.
Spoiler alert: We’ll get into some rocket science stuff here, which probably doesn’t affect your projects much anyway…so if you prefer something with a more musical vibe, come back next week. But to dispel some of the confusion regarding an oft-misunderstood concept, keep reading.
You pan a mono signal from left to right. Simple, right? Actually, no. In the center, there’s a 3 dB RMS volume buildup because the same signal is in both channels. Ideally, you want the signal’s average level—its power—to have the same perceived volume, whether the sound is panned left, right, or center. Dropping the level when centered by 3 dB RMS accomplishes this. As a result, traditional hardware mixers tapered the response as you turned a panpot to create this 3 dB dip.
However, there are other panning protocols. (Before your head explodes, please note you don’t need to learn all this stuff—it’s just to give you an idea of the complexity of pan laws, because all we really need to do is understand how things work in Studio One.) For example, some engineers preferred more of a drop in the center, so that audio panned to the sides would “pop” more due to the higher level, and open up more space in the center for vocals, kick, and bass. You could accomplish the same result by adjusting the channel level and pan, but the additional drop was sort of like having a preference you didn’t need to think about. To complicate matters further, some mixers lowered the center signal compared to the sides, while others raised the side signals compared to the center. If a DAW does the latter, when you import a normalized file and pan it hard left or hard right, it will go above 0 and clip.
But wait! There’s more. Some engineers didn’t want equal power over the panpot’s entire travel, but a slightly different curve. Others wanted a linear change that didn’t dip the signal at all.
Fortunately, Studio One has a rational approach to pan laws, namely…
THE “WHAT-THE-HECK-DO-PAN-LAWS-DO” TEST SETUP
To see how the different panning laws affect signal levels, I created a test setup (Fig. 1) with a mono track fed by the Tone Generator set to a sine wave. Two pre-fader sends went to two buses, each with a Dual Pan inserted and linked for mono. That way, one bus’s Dual Pan could be set for hard pan and the other bus’s Dual Pan for center, to compare what happens to the signal level.
Figure 1: Test setup to determine how different pan laws affect signal levels.
In all the following test result images, Track 1 shows the mono sine wave at 0 dB, Bus 1 shows the result of panning the Dual Pan full left, and Bus 2 shows the result of panning the Dual Pan to center.
Fig. 2 uses the -3dB Constant Power Sin/Cos setting for the Dual Pans. Note that the centered version in Bus 2 is 3 dB below the same signal panned full left. This is the same setting as the default for the channel panpots. However, if you collapse the output signal to mono, you’ll get a 3 dB center-channel buildup. (A fine point: setting the Main bus mode to mono affects signals leaving the main bus; the meters still show the incoming signal. To see what’s happening when you collapse the Main out to mono, you need to insert a Dual Pan in the Main bus, click on Link, and set all controls to center.)
Figure 2: -3dB Constant Power Sin/Cos pan law.
Fig. 3 uses the -6 dB linear curve. Here, the centered signal is -6 dB below the signal panned hard left. Use this curve if the signal is going to be collapsed to mono after the main bus, because it keeps the gain constant when you collapse stereo to mono by eliminating the +3 dB increase that would happen otherwise.
Figure 3: The -6 dB linear curve is often preferable if you’re mixing in stereo, but also anticipate that the final result will end up being collapsed to mono.
Fig. 4 shows the resulting signal from the 0dB Balanced Sin/Cos setting. There’s no bump or decrease compared to the centered signal, so this acts like a balance control with a constant amount of gain as you pan from left to right.
Figure 4: 0dB Balanced Sin/Cos acts like a balance control.
Sharp-eyed readers who haven’t dozed off yet may have noticed we haven’t covered two variations on the curves described so far. -3dB Constant Power Sqrt (Fig. 5; Sqrt stands for Square Root) is like the ‑3 dB Constant Power Sin/Cos, but the curve is subtly different.
Figure 5: -3dB Constant Power Sqrt bends the curve shape slightly compared to the other Constant Power curve.
In this example, the panpot is set to 75% left instead of full left. Bus 1 shows what happens with -3dB Constant Power Sin/Cos, while Bus 2 is the Sqrt version. The Sqrt version is in less of a hurry to attenuate the right channel as you pan toward the left. Some engineers feel this more closely the situation in a space that’s not acoustically treated, so there’s a natural acoustic center buildup.
Finally, Fig. 6 compares the 0 dB Balance variations, sin/cos and linear.
Figure 6: Comparing the two 0 dB Balance pan law options.
The difference is similar to the Constant Power examples, in that the basic idea is the same, but again, the linear version doesn’t attenuate the right channel as rapidly when you pan left.
I HAVEN’T FALLEN ASLEEP YET, SO PLEASE, JUST TELL ME WHAT I SHOULD USE!
The bottom line is when using the channel panpot with a mono track, if you live in a stereo mixdown world the above is mostly of academic interest. But if you’re mixing in stereo and know that your mix will be collapsed to mono (e.g., for broadcast), consider using the Dual Pan in mono channels, and set it to the -6 dB Linear pan law.
For stereo audio, again, a channel panpot works as it should—it acts like a balance control. However if the output is going to be collapsed into mono, you might want to leave the channel panpot centered, and insert a Dual Pan control to do the panning. It should be set to -6 dB Linear, controls unlinked, and then you move both controls equally to pan (e.g., if you want the sound slightly right of center, set both the left and right panpots to 66% right). Now when you pan, the mono levels in the main bus will be constant.
ONE MORE TAKEAWAY…
And finally…I’m sure you’ve seen people on the net who swear that DAW “A” sounds better than DAW “B” because they exported the tracks from one DAW, brought them into a second DAW, set the channel faders and panpots the same, and then were shocked that the two DAWs didn’t sound identical. And for further proof, they note that after mixing down the outputs and doing a null test, the outputs didn’t null. Well, maybe that proves that DAWs are different…but maybe what it really proves is that different programs default to different pan laws, so of course, there are bound to be differences in the mixes.
Well…maybe it actually is, and we’ll cover both positive and negative flanging (there’s a link to download multipresets for both options). Both do true, through-zero flanging, which sounds like the vintage, tape-based flanging sound from the late 60s.
The basis of this is—surprise!—our old friend the Autofilter (see the Friday Tip for June 17, Studio One’s Secret Equalizer, for information on using its unusual filter responses for sound design). The more I use that sucker, the more uses I find for it. I’m hoping there’s a dishwashing module in there somewhere…meanwhile, for this tip we’ll use the Comb filter.
Flanging depended on two signals playing against each other, with the time delay of one varying while the other stayed constant. Positive flanging was the result of the two signals being in phase. This gave a zinging, resonant type of flanging sound.
Fig. 1 shows the control settings for positive flanging. Turn Auto Gain off, Mix to 100%, and set both pairs of Env and LFO sliders to 0. Adding Drive gives a little saturation for more of a vintage tape sound (or follow the May 31 tip, In Praise of Saturation, for an alternate tape sound option). Resonance is to taste, but the setting shown above is a good place to start. The Gain control setting of 3 dB isn’t essential, but compensates for a volume loss when enabling/bypassing the FX Chain.
Varying the Cutoff controls the flanging effect. We won’t use the Autofilter’s LFO, because real tape flanging didn’t use an LFO—you controlled it by hand. Controlling the flanging process was always inexact due to tape recorder motor inertia, so a better strategy is to automate the Cutoff parameter, and create an automation curve that approximates the way flanging really varied (Fig. 2)—which was most definitely not a sine or triangle wave. A major advantage of creating an automation curve is that we can make sure that the flanging follows the music in the most fitting way.
Throwing one of the two signals used to create flanging out of phase gave negative flanging, which had a hollower, “sucking” kind of sound. Also, when the variable speed tape caught up with and matched the reference tape, the signal canceled briefly due to being out of phase. It’s a little more difficult to create negative flanging, but here’s how to do it.
So is this the best flanger plug-in ever? Well if not, it’s pretty close…listen to the audio examples, and see what you think.
Both examples are adapted/excerpted from the song All Over Again (Every Day).
If you like what you hear, download the multipresets. There are individual ones for Positive Flanging and Negative Flanging. To automate the Flange Freq knob, right-click on it and choose Edit Knob 1 Automation. This overlays an automation envelope on the track that you can edit as desired to control the flanging.
And here’s a fine point for the rocket scientists in the crowd. Although most flangers do flanging by delaying one signal compared to another, most delays can’t go all the way up to 0 ms of delay, which is crucial for through-zero flanging where the two signals cancel at the negative flanging’s peak. The usual workaround is to delay the dry signal somewhat, for example by 1 ms, so if the minimum delay time for the processed signal is 1 ms, the two will be identical and cancel. The advantage of using the comb filter approach is that there’s no need to add any delay to the dry signal, yet they can still cancel at the peak of the flanging.
Finally, I’d like to mention my latest eBook—More Than Compressors – The Complete Guide to Dynamics in Studio One. It’s the follow-up to the book How to Record and Mix Great Vocals in Studio One. The new book is 146 pages, covers all aspects of dynamics (not just the signal processors), and is available as a download for $9.99.
Shakers, tambourines, eggs, maracas, and the like can add life and interest to a song by complementing the drum track. But it’s not always easy to play this kind of part. It has to be consistent, but not busy; humble enough to stay in the background, but strong enough to add impact…and this sounds like a job for version 4.5’s new MIDI features.
We’ll go through the process of creating a cool, 16th-note-based percussion part, but bear in mind that this is just one approach. Although it works well, there are many ways you can modify this process (which we’ll touch on at the end).
First, Choose Your Sound
Ideally, you’ll have a couple different samples of the percussion instrument you want to use. But if you don’t, there’s a simple workaround. I use Impact for these kinds of parts, and if there’s only one sample of something like a shaker, I’ll drag it to two pads, and detune one of the pads by -1 semitone so they sound different. In the following example, we’ll call the original sample Sound 1, and detuned sample, Sound 2.
Let’s create a two-bar percussion loop to start. Grab the Draw tool, and set the Quantize value to 1/4. Drag across the two measures to create a hit at every quarter note for Sound 1 (Fig. 1).
Next, set the Quantize value to 1/16. Drag across the two measures to create a hit at every 16th note for Sound 2 (Fig. 2). Hit Play, so you can marvel at how totally unmusical it sounds.
Now let’s make the part sound good. The key here is not to alter the 1/4 note hits—we want them rock solid, so that the rhythm won’t get pulled too far astray when we start adding variations to the 16th notes.
Select only the 16th notes for Sound 2, and let’s use version 4.5’s new Thin Out Notes command. I’m a fan of Delete notes randomly, and we’ll delete 40% of the notes. Choose the 1/16 grid, since that matches the part. Click OK, and now the part isn’t quite so annoyingly constant (Fig. 3).
But we still need to do something about the velocity, which is way too consistent—the real world doesn’t work that way. Select the string of 16th notes again, and this time, choose Humanize. Set a Velocity range and Note start range (like -40/40% and -.0015/0.0015 respectively), and then click OK (Fig. 4). Now look at the velocity strip: it’s a lot more interesting. The timing changes are also helpful, but they don’t have the “drunken percussion player” quality that you get a lot with randomized timings, because those rock-solid quarter note hits are still establishing the beat.
So now we have an interesting two-measure loop, but let’s not loop it—instead, we’ll create a part that lasts as long as we want, and it will still be interesting. Here’s how.
Duplicate the two measures for as long as you want. Select all the notes in the Sound B row, and choose Randomize notes. Uncheck everything except Shuffle Notes. Click on OK. All the notes will stay in the same position, and because there are no other candidate notes for shuffling, the timing won’t change. What will Shuffle is velocity. If you created a Shuffle Macro for the May 24 tip on End Boring MIDI Drum Parts, it will come in handy here—keep hitting that macro until the pattern is the way you want. After you de-select the notes, if you’ve chosen Velocity for note color, you’ll have a pretty colorful velocity strip (Fig. 5).
Now you have a part that sounds pretty good, and once you become familiar with the process, you’ll find it takes less time to generate a part than it does to read this. Here are some options to this technique.
The bottom line: there are a lot of possibilities!
Sometimes when you get inspired, you don’t have time to wait before laying down some tracks. But then you want a compressor, and maybe a bit of dirt for an amp sound, some EQ, and a little doubling for flavor…maybe a touch of funk…and by the time you’ve inserted and tweaked everything, you’ve forgotten what you were going to play. No more! The Bass QuickStrip FX Chain is here to help you dial up a sound in seconds.
Rather than go through all the backstory on how it’s done, just download the FX Chain, and reverse-engineer it to your heart’s content. Here are the highlights, along with crucial controls you can customize to make the chain your own.
Dirt Control: This is the Mix control for the RedLightDist processor, whose settings have been optimized for bass. For more highs, turn up the processor’s High Freq control, or turn down for a bassier growl. This stage has an associated enable/bypass button.
Funk Cutoff, Funk Res, and Funk Mix: These are the essential Autofilter controls for when you want to lay some funk on your bass. Cutoff covers the general range to match your playing, Res is the filter resonance, and because envelope filters are best for bass when placed in the parallel, Mix controls the dry/filter balance. It has an associated enable/bypass switch.
Note that the RedLightDist and Autofilter are fed off a split, so they do parallel processing. This is in addition to the parallel processing done within the processors themselves.
Bass, Mid, and Treble: This “tone stack” for the Bass QuickStrip controls parameters in the Pro EQ. They don’t cover the full boost/cut range, but if you want to get more extreme, be my guest.
Compressor: The compression is optimized for bass, so the single control is a dry/compressed mix, paired with an enable/bypass switch. Any customization would be to taste—for example, a lower Threshold, or higher Ratio, for a more compressed sound. But if you want more variation and the ability to change the compression from light to heavy, another option is to use the settings for the EZ Squeez one-knob compressor, which was the subject of the Friday tip for August 24, 2018.
Doubler: This switch brings in a doubling effect, courtesy of the Analog Delay. It also bumps up the gain a bit using the Mixtool, so that the doubled and dry sounds have the same apparent level.
So download away—and lay down the low.