PreSonus Blog

Category Archives: Friday Tip of the Week


Track Matching with the Project Page

Okay, this is an unusual one. Please fasten your seat belts, and set your tray tables to the upright and locked positions.

 

Personal bias alert: With pop and rock music, for me it’s all about vocals, drums, and bass. Vocals tell the story, drums handle the rhythm, and bass holds down the low end. For a given collection of songs (formerly known as an “album”), I want all three elements to be relatively consistent from one song to the next—and that’s what this week’s tip is all about. Then the other instruments can weave in and out within the mix.

 

It’s fantastic that you can flip back and forth between the Project page and a Song that’s been added to the Project page, make tweaks to the Song, then migrate the updated Song back to the Project page. But it’s even better when you can make the most important changes earlier in the process, before you start down the final road of mastering.

 

Here’s a way to match bass and vocal levels in a collection of songs. This takes advantage of the Project page, but isn’t part of the mastering process itself. Instead, you’ll deploy this technique when the mix is in good shape—it has all the needed processing, automation, etc.—but you want a reality check before you begin mastering.

 

We’ll cover how to match vocal levels for the songs; bass works similarly, and in some ways, more effectively. Don’t worry, I’m not advocating robo-mixing. A mathematically correct level is not the same thing as an artistically correct level. So, you may still need to change levels later in the process—but this technique lets the voice and bass start from a “level” playing field. If you then need to go back and tweak a mix, you can keep the voice and bass where they are, and work the mix around them.

 

(Note that it’s important to know what the LUFS and LRA metering in the Project page represent. Rather than make this tip longer, for a complete explanation of LUFS and LRA, please check out this article I wrote for inSync magazine.)

 

  1. Create a test folder, and copy all your album’s Songs into it. Because this tip is about a diagnostic technique, you don’t want to overwrite your work-in-progress songs.
  2. Create a new test Project.
  3. Open a copied Song, remove any master bus processing, and Choose Add to Project for the test project. Add all the other songs on the album to the test project. Do not normalize the songs within the test project.
  4. Open the Loudness Information section for each song, and select the Post FX tab. Adjust each song’s individual level fader (not the master fader) so all songs have the same LUFS reading, then save the Project. The absolute LUFS value doesn’t matter; choose a target, like -20 LUFS. (When adjusting levels, 1 dB of level change alters the LUFS reading by 1. For example, if a song registers at -18.4 dB, decrease the level by 1.6 dB to reach -20 LUFS. Check and re-check by clicking on Update Loudness as needed until the LUFS readings are the same.)
  5. Choose a Song to edit (click on the wrench next to the song title). When the Song opens, solo only the vocal track. Then choose Song > Update Mastering File. Note: If a dialog box says the mastering file is already up to date, just change a fader on one of the non-soloed tracks, and try again. After updating, choose View > Projects to return to the test project.
  6. Repeat step 5 for each of the remaining Songs.
  7. Select all the tracks in the Project page, then click on Update Loudness.
  8. Check the Loudness Information for each song, which now consists of only the vocal (Fig. 1). For example, suppose the readings for six songs are (1) -24.7, (2) -23.8, (3) -24.5, (4) -22.7, (5) -23.1, and (6) -24.3. Those are all pretty close; we’ll consider -24.5 an average reading. The vocals on songs (1), (3), and (6) have consistent levels. (2) and (5) are a tad high, but song (4) is quite a bit higher. This doesn’t mean there’s a problem, but when you go back to using the original (not the copied) Songs and Project, try lowering the vocal on that song by 1 or 2 dB, and decide whether it fits in better with the other songs.

Figure 1: The songs in an album have had only their vocal tracks bounced over to the Project page, so they can be analyzed by the Project page’s analytics.

 

The waveforms won’t provide any kind of visual confirmation, because you adjusted the levels to make sure the songs themselves had a consistent LUFS reading. For example, if you had to attenuate one of the songs by quite a bit, visually the vocal might seem louder but remember, it’s being attenuated because it was part of a song that was louder.

 

Also try this technique with bass. Bass will naturally vary from song to song, but again, you may see a lager-than-expected difference, and it may be worth finding out why. In my most recent album, all the bass parts were played with keyboard bass and generated pretty much the same level, so it was easy to use this technique to match the bass levels in all the songs. Drums are a little dicier because they vary more anyway, but if the drum parts are generally similar from song to song, give it a try.

 

…But There’s More to the Story than LUFS

 

LRA is another important reading, because it indicates dynamic range—and this is where it gets really educational. After analyzing vocals on an album, I noticed that some of them had a wider dynamic range than others, which influences how loudness is perceived. So, you need to take both LUFS and LRA readings into account when looking for consistency.

 

For my projects, I collect all the songs I’ve worked on during a year, and release the completed project toward the end of the year. So it’s not too surprising that something mixed in February is going to sound different compared to something mixed in November, and doing something as simple as going back to song and taking a little compression off a vocal (or adding some in) is sometimes all that’s needed for a more consistent sound.

 

But let me emphasize this isn’t about looking for rules, but looking for clues. Your ears will be the final arbiter, because the context for a part within a song matters. If a level sounds right, it is right. It doesn’t matter what numbers say, because numbers can’t make subjective judgments.

 

However, don’t minimize the value of this technique, either. The reason I stumbled on it was because one particular song in my next album never seemed quite “right,” and I couldn’t figure out why. After checking it with this technique, the vocal was low compared to the other songs, so the overall mix was lower as well. Even though I could use dynamics processing to make the song reach the same LUFS reading as the other songs, this affected the dynamics within the song itself. After going back into the song, raising the vocal level, and re-focusing the mix around it, everything fell into place.

 

How to Use FX Chain Transition Curves

FX Chains are a powerful Studio One feature, yet I can’t help but notice that when I write tips about FX Chains, some people are lost without a download…so I get the impression people might think that making FX chains is difficult. But it isn’t really, and your reward for creating one is a multi-effects processor that you can call up whenever you want, as well as assign controls that allow tweaking parameters without having to open up the effect GUIs themselves.

One of the most important aspects of mapping parameters to knobs is choosing the right Transition settings, so let’s delve deeper into how to make them do your bidding.

Transition Settings Explained

A great aspect of FX Chains is being able to map Macro knobs to multiple parameters and control them all simultaneously. For example, in the EZ Squeez tip for a one-knob compressor, a single Macro knob varied the Compressor Ratio, Release, Threshold, Knee, Attack, and Gain controls simultaneously. Because of this, when changes in the Ratio or Threshold parameter reduced the output, the Gain control could increase automatically to compensate.

When you map a parameter to a Macro knob, the default is for the knob to alter the parameter over its full range. But, you often don’t want to vary the parameter over its full range. For example, if you were creating a wah pedal effect with the Pro EQ, you wouldn’t want the filter to go from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. A more realistic range would be around 300 Hz to 2 kHz.

The Transition setting allows restricting the parameter range covered by a control. When you click on the small Transition graphic, a bigger view opens up where you can set the parameter’s upper and lower limits (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Click on the small graphic window (outlined in orange) to open up a bigger view (outlined in red).

However, the calibrations are sometimes difficult to read, so it can be challenging to create a precise change. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution.

Suppose you want to change the Pro EQ LMF frequency from exactly 150 Hz to 2.4 kHz (five octave range) by turning one of the Macro knobs. To do this:

  1. Open the Pro EQ GUI so you can see the LMF Freq knob, and “pin” the Pro EQ so that it remains visible.
  2. Click on the Knob icon in the Pro EQ’s upper left. The Macro Controls panel will appear (or the Macro Control Mappings window if it was opened up last). Since we want to use the Macro Control Mappings window, if the Macro Controls panel appears, click on its little wrench icon toward the upper left.
  3. Turn the knob at the bottom of the Macro Controls Mapping window fully counter-clockwise.
  4. Open the larger transition window for the LMF – Frequency parameter.
  5. Click on the transition line’s left node, and drag it while observing the LMF Freq knob in the Pro EQ. Stop dragging when it hits 150 Hz; you’ve now adjusted the knob’s lower limit. Note that it’s sometimes difficult to obtain a precise setting; you can’t, for example, type in direct value. You may want to temporarily slow down your mouse pointer speed (in the mouse section of your system properties) to make this easier.
  6. Now we need to set the upper-frequency limit. Turn the knob at the bottom of the Macro Controls Mapping window fully clockwise.
  7. Re-open the larger transition window for the LMF – Frequency parameter.
  8. Click on the transition line’s right node, and drag it while observing the LMF Freq knob in the Pro EQ. This time, stop dragging when the knob’s frequency readout shows 2.4 kHz. Note that you won’t be able to reach exactly 2.4 kHz; the closest I could come was 2.38 kHz…close enough. It’s not always possible to hit a value exactly, but most of the time, this doesn’t matter.

This kind of precision came in handy when creating the Imaging Phaser, where I wanted each frequency band in the Pro EQ to cover five octaves, and the bands had to be offset an octave from each other.

Bend Me, Shape Me

The Transition setting has another very useful feature—you can click the node in the middle to bend the curve into different shapes. For example, the Gain parameter in the EZ Squeez compressor needed to increase in level as the settings became more extreme, which squashed the signal more and brought down the level. Dragging the midpoint down a bit accelerated the amount of Gain as the single knob was turned higher (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Bending the Transition line alters the “feel” of controls.

Where the Heck Are FX Chains Stored, Anyway?

Whenever a FX Chain tip provides a download link, there’s an inevitable comment in the Comments section along the lines of “Where do I store this after I download it”? The easiest way to find out is to go to the Browser, expand the FX Chains folder, expand a sub-folder if necessary, right-click on an FX Chain, and choose Show in Explorer (Windows) or Show in Finder (Mac). Now you’ll know where your FX Chains live. Note that you can also specify the location for your presets in Studio One > Options > Locations > User Data.

Sound Design? “Commitment” Recording? Say What?

Maybe it’s not a well-known feature, but Studio One allows inserting effects or FX Chains before a track, not just in a track. Open up the Input section, and you’ll see a place to insert effects. The only significant limitation compared to inserting an effect in a track is that Input section effects can’t expose their sidechain inputs.

This feature has multiple uses, but first, let’s touch on how it allows for “commitment” recording. Consider recording electric guitar. In the days before tape recorders had enough tracks to do re-amping, you had to commit to recording the final sound on a track. If you decided you should have used a different amp, you had to re-record the part because the track already had that amp sound, and it was unchangeable.

Amp sims (and re-amping) changed all that. You could record a dry guitar track and change the sound at any time, even up to the final mix. While that certainly offers possibilities, it can also cause “analysis paralysis” because some folks can’t just leave a track alone—so they tweak constantly in the hopes of finding something “better.” I’ve spoken with quite a few musicians who are nostalgic for the days when you had to commit to a part because not being tempted by endless tweaking accelerated the songwriting or recording process. Ultimately, some of them felt that the benefits of spontaneity outweighed the benefits of flexibility.

It’s easy to do commitment recording with your amp sim: put the amp sim in Studio One’s input section, not the track. You can also use the Input section’s Input Controls to adjust the gain and phase going in. Record-enable the track, and you’ll record the processed guitar sound into the track (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Click on Inputs (outlined in red) to see the input sections prior to the tracks. In this example, a Helix Native amp sim has been inserted into the L+R input. Track 1 is set to record from Input L+R (outlined in yellow), so it will record the processed sound.

 

This has other uses, like inserting the Virtual Pop Filter into the input section when recording vocal tracks. Of course, you can always insert the virtual pop filter in the track itself after recording, and render the changes. But it can save time and effort to nuke those stoopid pops before they’re recorded.

RE-AMPING MEETS TRACK-TO-TRACK RECORDING

Some amp sims use a lot of CPU, which can be problematic with projects that include tons of tracks. Of course, with Studio One you can always bounce or transform a track, which saves CPU—and you even have the option to revert and re-edit. However, an alternative technique, track-to-track (TTT) recording, allows one track to record the output of another track. For example, in Fig. 2 the guitar is going through AMR/Peavey’s ReValver amp sim in track 1, while track 2 is recording the processed output from track 1.

Figure 2: The dry and processed guitar sounds are being recorded simultaneously with this setup.

So, after doing your recording, track 2 will have recorded the sound of the guitar going through ReValver, not the dry sound. Meanwhile, track 1 will have recorded the dry sound. You can simply bypass the amp sim in track 1 to save CPU (instead of bouncing or transforming), and listen to the amp sim sound from track 2 instead of the dry sound from track 1.

If you want to experiment with different amp sounds in track 1, you know that you always have the recorded sound in track 2 as a fallback. Or, try a different amp sim, pan tracks 1 and 2 somewhat off-center with respect to each other, and now you’ll have a “stack” with a bigger stereo image.

INSTRUMENT TRACKS WITH TTT RECORDING

Here’s perhaps an even more important application for the TTT approach. Some synths have randomizing functions; you can also wire up a modular synth-like Voltage to do all kinds of randomized and sequenced effects. And of course, it’s possible to apply randomized modulation effects to almost any synth. By recording the instrument track’s output, you can capture the randomization of that moment in a track. If you don’t like the randomized effects, then just try again by re-recording the track.

SOUND DESIGN WITH TTT RECORDING

Sound design is all about creating novel, unusual sounds, and you often want real-time control over these sounds while you create them, especially if you’re using external hardware. This is another use for TTT recording. For example, I create a lot of FX sounds and sweeps for transitions and emphasis. Many of them involve the Tone Generator effect generating white or pink noise, followed by plug-in processing, and sometimes hardware effects inserted via Pipeline.

The workflow is simple: insert the white noise generator and plug-ins in the input section, as described above for commitment recording, and record the results in a track. Or, insert the white noise in a track, and use the TTT recording technique—the results are the same, except that TTT creates two tracks instead of one.

But wait—there’s more! The Tone Generator isn’t the only effect capable of making sounds you can record into a track. Several effects, when properly abused, can generate sounds. The internal noise and artifacts generated by these effects are often very low-level, but you can always add a maxed-out Compressor and a few Mixtools after the effect to boost their outputs. And of course, once you’ve recorded the effect on a track, you can normalize it to bring up the level.

 

  • Flanger. Turn up the resonance, and boost the output level, for a variety of cool sci-fi effects.
  • Rotor. Turn all the controls to maximum, and turn the power on and off for strange psycho-acoustic panning FX.
  • Redlight Dist. This is the most versatile noise generator in Studio One. Oceans, rain, torrential storms…you got it.
  • Tone Generator. We mentioned using this for noise, but super-low and super-high frequencies can have merit for sound design, especially when followed by other effects. I’ve gotten some great engine sounds with this and X-Trem.
  • Bitcrusher. Think of this as a white noise generator currently serving multiple life sentences. It’s even nastier if you max out a couple Mixtools afterwards, and overdrive them.

 

 

 

 

 

The VoxTool FX Chain

Y’all seem to like FX Chains, so here’s one of my favorites—the VoxTool, a toolchest for bringing out the best in vocals and narration as quickly as possible. You’ll still need to add any desired time-based effects (doublers, reverbs, or whatever), or perhaps some compression, but this will help take care of pops, EQ, peaks/transients, and vibrato during the songwriting process. In fact, this FX Chain may even do the job all the way to the final mix.

You can download the FX Chain from the link at the end of this tip; but let’s cover how the various modules affect the sound, so that (if needed) you can tweak this FX Chain for your particular voice.


1. PRO EQ

This stage uses the Low Cut Filter, set to 48 dB/octave, with the cutoff frequency controlled by the Pop Filter control. Turning up this control attenuates the low frequencies where pops occur. The Steeper button adds a bit more low-frequency attenuation, aimed specifically at subsonics, by enabling the LF stage.


2.  LIMITER

 

Now that the p-pops are reduced, we can add some limiting to tame any vocal peaks or transients. The Limiting control in the Macro Controls panel turns up the Limiter’s input control to increase the amount of gain reduction. 


3. PRO EQ

 

 

 

This link in the FX Chain uses four filter stages. Like the first Pro EQ, the Low Cut stage ties to the Pop Filter control for further attenuation of sub-vocal low frequencies, while the Steeper switch enables the LF stage for additional pop filtering. The LMF section provides the VOG effect (what narrators call “Voice of God”). This adds fullness to the bass, like an FM late-night DJ, which can also help restore some low-end depth in the vocal range if removing pops extends a bit into the vocal range. The HMF stage is the engine for the Clarity Gain and Clarity Frequency controls. Increasing Clarity Gain adds intelligibility and articulation to the vocals; vary the Clarity Frequency control to find what works best with your voice.


4. ANALOG DELAY

 

This provides a vibrato effect, with Vibrato Depth and Vibrato Frequency controls applied to the Analog Delay module. You likely won’t want to leave Vibrato Depth up, but instead, control it with automation, a footpedal, mod wheel, or whatever to add vibrato when needed.

 

That’s all there is to it! So download the VoxTool FX Chain, and bring your vocals up to speed—fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tighten Mixes with the “Tightener” FX Chain

 

Sometimes when you’re mixing, sounds conflict because they have too much energy in the same part of the spectrum. The usual solutions are to lower the level of the sound deemed less important, or use EQ to try to ensure that each sound carves out its own part of the spectrum. This week’s tip presents an entirely different solution. It’s the kind of tip where people will likely go “yeah, whatever…” until they run into this problem, try the tip, and find that amazingly enough, it works.

But we’ll also take advantage of this tip to describe how to make a simple FX Chain. FX Chains are an extremely powerful Studio One feature, so if you haven’t gotten into creating your own yet, this is a good project for getting started.

HOW IT WORKS

The Tightener creates four sharp, narrow notches in a Pro EQ, at frequencies related to the musical key. For example in the key of A, the notches are at 110 Hz, 220 Hz, 440 Hz, and 880 Hz. If you have, for example, a song in the key of A where the guitar conflicts with the piano, to have less piano and more guitar, insert the Tightener FX Chain for the key of A into the piano track, and increase the depth of the notches. Here’s how to create a Tightener FX Chain.

  1. Insert a Pro EQ into a track, and open its interface.
  2. We’ll be using the LF, LMF, MF, and HMF stages. Set the Q for each stage to 24.00.
  3. Referring to the chart at the end, type a filter frequency into each filter stage. For example, with the key of A, choose 110 Hz for the LF stage, 220 Hz for the LMF stage, 440 Hz for the MF stage, and 880 Hz for the HMF stage (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: The filter settings for the key of A Tightener, with the notches set to maximum depth.

  1. Click on the knob icon in the effect’s upper left corner (just above the enable/bypass “power” button; it’s circled in red in Fig. 1). This opens the FX Chain Macro Controls interface. Then, click on the interface’s Wrench icon to open the Macro Controls editor.
  2. In the right-hand pane, unfold the Pro EQ folder, then unfold the Low Frequency, Low-Mid Frequency, Mid Frequency, and High-Mid Frequency folders.

6. Ctrl+click on LF-Gain, LMF-Gain, MF-Gain, and HMF-Gain to select all four parameters. The FX Chain Editor should now look like Fig.

Figure 2: The FX Chain Editor shows the Pro EQ parameters used for the tightener.

  1. Now click on Add Targets. The Gain control parameters will appear in the middle pane. They’ll all be controlled by the one knob at the bottom.
  2. I wanted the knobs to work so that when the control is full up, there’s no notch and the EQ works normally. Then to reduce the energy at a particular key, turning down the control increases the notch depth, producing more of a cut. However, if you turn the Macro control at the bottom of the window and watch the filter response, you’ll see it goes from full notch at minimum, to full boost when turned up. We don’t want the boost.
  3. Click on one of the Trans graphs, and drag the node in the upper-right-hand corner down to 0. This ensures that when the knob is up all the way, its filter gain is zero. Then, click on Copy (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: Adjust one of the graphs so that the maximum value is 0, then copy and paste to the other graphs.

 

  1. Click on the other three graphs, and choose Paste. Now all the Gain controls will track each other.
  2. Look at the filter, and vary the knob at the bottom of the FX Chain Editor. All the notches will go from maximum notch with the control fully counter-clockwise, to minimum notch with the control clockwise.
  3. Now double-click on the knob label, and type a name like “Tightener A” or “Tightener C#” or whatever, depending on the filter frequencies.
  4. Click on the wrench to close the Editor. To save the FX Chain, click the downward arrow in the Macro Control panel’s upper left, and choose where to store your preset (Fig. 4).

 

 

Figure 4: Don’t forget to store your FX Chains, so you can use them again.

 

And now you have a Tightener FX Chain! But you’ll want one for each key. It’s easy enough to do—type new frequencies into the four EQ bands, rename the control for the appropriate key, and then save the FX Chain under the name of the new key. For example, if you change the frequencies to 147 Hz, 294 Hz, 587 Hz, and 1175 Hz, you now have a key of D tightener. Here are the frequencies for all the keys (Fig. 5).

 

 

Figure 5: Frequencies for an octave’s worth of tighteners.

You need to be a little strategic about applying this FX Chain; it’s needed only when you want to help keep instruments from stepping on each other.

So that you can get started experimenting with this as easily as possible, all the Tightener FX Chains are available for download. After downloading, place them in the folder Studio One Songs and Projects\Presets\PreSonus\FX Chains\Tighteners, or wherever you specified the location for presets in Studio One > Options > Locations > User Data.

But even if you download them, try your hand at creating an FX Chain if you haven’t done so already. They’re really handy.

Download ALL 12 Tighteners Here! 

 

Double Guitar with “Faux Bass”

This technique dates back to when I was doing live gigs with Brian Hardgroove from Public Enemy—me on guitar, him on drums. Since there was no bass player, we needed a way to fill out the bottom end. I’ve come up with a bunch of ways to do that over the years, but the technique presented here is the easiest one yet to implement. We’ll extract a bass line from an existing guitar track, without using MIDI or virtual instruments—here’s how.

Start by copying the guitar’s audio to a new track, which will become our faux bass track. Call up the Inspector, and transpose the faux bass track down by -12 semitones (Fig. 1). This technique works best with relatively articulated guitar notes, not rhythm guitar chords.

Figure 1: Start by transposing the Faux Bass track down an octave.

 

Now, it may seem like transposing down an octave is enough, and we can all go home now. No! The faux bass track needs three processors to sound right (Fig. 2).

 

  • Pro EQ. This takes off the high end. If you transpose the high frequencies down by ‑12 semitones, you end up with midrange frequencies, and that’s not what we want. We want to transpose the low frequencies, to make them lower.
  • Saturation Knob. If you’ve ever played bass, and pushed the sound through a vintage 1964 Ampeg B-15 bass amp, then you know why we need a bit of saturation. The object is to give the bass some “growl,” not only so it stands out a bit compared to the guitar, but also so it has a somewhat aggressive edge.
  • People tend to limit or compress bass…who am I to argue? Again, this helps differentiate the faux bass track from the guitar and provides a more solid low end.

But as they always say, the proof is in the pudding. However, since we’re not providing a recipe about how to make pudding, check out the audio example instead.

 

 

The first two measures are the guitar by itself, while the second two measures have the faux bass playing along. Pretty cool, eh? Oh…and if you’re in a Cream tribute band, this will definitely come in handy for “Sunshine of Your Love.” Have a great weekend!

Friday Tip: Percussion Part Generator

Just as we can use plug-ins to process audio, Studio One’s Note FX are plug-ins for MIDI data. They tend to be overshadowed by our shiny audio plug-ins, but have a lot of uses…like generating cool percussion parts.

This may sound like a stretch (“c’mon, can it really generate a musical percussion part?”), but the audio example will convince you. The first four measures are a percussion part created by the Arpeggiator NoteFX, the second four measures combine the percussion part with a house drum loop, and the final four measures are the house drum loop by itself—so you can hear how boring the loop sounds without the added percussion part.

 

This part was created with three conga and two bongo samples, each assigned to its own MIDI note. The initial “part” was just those five notes, each with a duration of four measures. It doesn’t really matter how long the notes are, you just want them to be continuous for the duration of the drum part. I then added the Note FX Arpeggiator plug-in to arpeggiate the notes (Fig. 1).

 

Figure 1: The Note FX Arpeggiator, set up to play different drums at different velocities.

By themselves, the standard up/down and down/up patterns tend to sound overly repetitive. The Random option (outlined in red above) helps, but then you have a random percussion part, which doesn’t relate to the music. So let’s introduce the secret sauce: automation (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: The automation lanes control Note FX parameters.

The key here is automating the Play Mode and Rate. The Play Mode automation starts with up/down for a measure, then down/up, then random for a bit more than a measure, and then down/up again. This adds variety to the part, and when it repeats, the random section creates additional variations so that all the parts don’t sound the same.

But what really adds the human element is varying the Rate. It starts off as 1/16th, but then just before the third measure starts, does one beat that starts with 1/32nd notes and ramps down over the beat to 16th-note triplets. The last three beats of the four measures uses a 32nd-note Rate so that the “robot percussion” adds some tasty, faster fills to lead into the next measure. I used down/up during these faster parts, but random can sound good too.

The final touch is Swing, which is set to around 70% in the audio example. Note how even though the drum loop is metronomically correct, adding swing to the percussion part lets it “dance” on top of the drums.

Now, here’s a very important consideration: You may look at the above and think “this sounds too easy,” or maybe “but what are the exact settings I should use?” The answers are yes, it really is that easy; and the exact settings really don’t matter all that much—feel free to experiment. Studio One’s little robot percussionist is full of surprises, and the way to uncover those is to play around with the settings, and automate them to create variations.

Finally, I’d like to mention that I have a new eBook out! At 258 pages, “How to Create Compelling Mixes in Studio One” is considerably longer than my two previous Studio One books. I’ve been working on it for the past year, and it’s finally available in the eBook section of the PreSonus shop. Check it out—I sincerely hope it helps you make better mixes.

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Tip: EZ Multiband Processing

The February 1, 2019 tip covered a multiband processing “development system.” Instead of using the Splitter’s frequency split option, it added sends and buses to make everything accessible in the Mix view. The Multiband Dynamics processor created the bands, which made it easy to add compression or expansion to some of the bands. After creating the desired sound with this development system, I’d port it over to an FX Chain, use the Splitter, and bring out the controls to a macro.

Reader Sagi Sinai came up with a brilliant application for mixing that showed the value of the “development system” approach. But I realized that the Friday Tip has never covered a basic multiband processing application with the Splitter, which can split at up to four different frequencies to create five different bands. So, let’s correct that oversight.

Multiband processing is particularly effective with guitar distortion when you want a more defined, articulated sound, with the potential for a wide stereo image. Of course, that’s not always the desired result—sometimes a spawling, dirty sound is what you want. But a track processed with the multiband distortion can sound more focused, and often, fit better into a mix. The audio example plays through single-band distortion, then through multiband distortion. Both use the same post-distortion effects (Pro EQ, Binaural Pan, Open Air) with the same settings. Note the difference in the stereo imaging and articulation.

 

 

Let’s look at the Splitter-based FX Chain setup (Fig. 1).

 

 

Figure 1  The Splitter is set up to do multiband processing.

 

The Splitter is using its Frequency Split superpowers to create five bands; each band feeds an Ampire (using the Crunch Boutique amp, no stomps, and the 1 x 12 American cabinet). The Mixtool at the beginning gives about 10 dB of gain—because we’re filtering out so much sound in each band going into each Ampire, the extra gain helps hit the amp a little harder. The Pro EQ at the end (Fig. 2) produces one of my favorite amp sim curves: Rolling off the lows tightens up the sound (like going through an open-back cabinet), while shaving off the extreme highs produces a sweeter sound. The upper midrange lift adds some definition.

 

Figure 2: Mixtool and Pro EQ settings.

One of the Splitter’s cool features is that you can mute splits. This makes it easy to focus on, and optimize, one split at a time. For the audio example, I used the same Ampire sound for each split so you could hear the “raw” contrast between the single-band and multiband versions. You can always take this further, and optimize each band for its specific frequency range. The Dual Pans on the mids help create the stereo image; the highs and lows are centered to “anchor” the part.

Of course,  it’s possible to apply multiband processing to any effect. For example, with delay you might not want to delay all frequencies—delaying low frequencies can add “mud” that doesn’t happen when you delay only the upper mids and treble. Also, long delays on the higher frequency bands and shorter, slapback-type delays on low-frequency bands may create a delay effect that fits better in a track. And splitting an instrument into multiple bands, then chorusing each one separately, can give gorgeous, lush chorusing effects.

So give multiband processing a try—the Splitter makes it easy, and there’s a ton of potential.

10 Presence XT Techniques

September is winding down, but we still have one week left to celebrate Studio One’s 10th anniversary—so it’s time for another Friday Tip with 10 Tips! Let’s take a look at some practical, convenient techniques you can do with Presence XT. And yes, there’s a fun downloadable preset at the end.

  1. “Tighten” and “Loosen” Drum Kits

The Artist Instruments folder has a bunch of drum kits. However, I like to fine-tune drum pitches—higher pitches for a tighter, more beatbox/analog drum sound, or lower for a big rock vibe. Although the Sample Shift control can change pitch, it also changes where the drum appears on the keyboard. For example, if you Sample Shift a snare on the F key by +3, then the drum is lower in pitch, but it now plays back on D instead of F.

There’s a simpler way to tune your drums. Set Env 2 to Full Sustain, and modulate Pitch with it. Turn the modulation amount up to tighten the sound, or down to loosen.

  1. Control Presence Effects with the Mod Wheel

According to Presence, you can’t control effects parameters with the mod wheel—but there are a lot of useful techniques you can do with a mod wheel, other than control vibrato. Here’s one way to control the effects with your keyboard controller’s mod wheel.

  1. Choose Studio One > Options, and click on External Devices.
  2. Click on Add, and choose New Control Surface. Set Receive from your keyboard. You’ll get a scary message warning you “This port is already in use,” but just ignore it and click OK.
  3. Click OK on the Add Device menu, and now Studio One thinks your keyboard is a control surface.
  4. In the Mix view, click on the External button toward the left. When the External Devices column appears, double-click on New Control Surface.
  5. Click on MIDI Learn, and move your mod wheel. Name it to make it feel welcome, and then disable MIDI Learn.

Now you can link anything you want with the mod wheel, including effects. For example…

  1. Control Distortion Drive with the Mod Wheel

Adding distortion to bass is a beautiful thing, and it’s even more beautiful when you can control the distortion amount with the mod wheel.

 

  1. Click on the Edit Mapping button in Presence’s upper right (the somewhat inscrutable gear symbol). Now you can see the control mapping in Presence—which is really important if your monitor isn’t wide enough to show the Edit Mapping option in the toolbar.
  2. Contrary to the help, which assumes you’re rational and using a separate hardware control surface, move the Mod wheel and it should show up in the right side of the Edit Mapping section.
  3. Move the Distortion Drive control, which will show up on the left side of the Edit Mapping section.
  4. Click the “assign” triangle in the middle of the Edit Mapping section, and now the Mod Wheel will control the Drive control. (Another tip: distortion gourmets recommend “Bad Tube” as the best choice for bass distortion.)

 

  1. More Expressiveness

The Sample Start Mod control can add major expressiveness because it lets you control the attack’s character via velocity. Here’s how it works: when Sample Start Mod turned counter-clockwise off-center,  with low velocities playback starts further into the sample, past the initial attack. But higher velocities trigger the full attack sound. For example, with an instrument like Slap Bass, this technique can emphasize the slap component with high velocities, while lower velocities bypass the slap. However, Sample Start Mod can affect any instrument with a defined attack.

Because a sample may not start at a zero-crossing, you may hear a click with some velocity values. Adding a little bit of Amp Env attack (usually only a millisecond or two) fixes this.

  1. Change the Female Choir into Monks

 

Call up the Vox > Choir > Choir Full preset. Set Transpose to -12, and Sample Shift to Semi-Tone: 12. You might also want to slather on some more reverb by turning up the Size and Mix, but regardless, you’re ready for your next moody movie soundtrack, or Gregorian chants dance remix.

  1. Get Saxy

Let’s face it, John Coltrane fans—a sampler will never replace a sax player. However, the Winds > Baritone Sax >  Baritone Sax Full preset is pretty good, so it seemed like a useful starting point for something a little more expressive. There are several treaks, but the main action is with the modulation.

 

  1. Set Sample Start Mod to -7000. If you play softly, this starts playback further into the sample, so you don’t hear the attack. However, as mentioned previously, modulating sample start can produce clicks because playback may not start on a zero crossing, so…
  2. Set the Amp Env Attack to 83 ms. This gets rid of any clicks. However, we want a fast attack with high velocities, so…
  3. In the Mod section, use Velocity to apply negative modulation to the Amp Env attack (you don’t need much) so that hitting the keys harder gives a faster attack.
  4. We also want to have notes bend up to pitch somewhat, so set the Decay for Env 2 to 153 ms. Again in the Mod section, use it to apply negative modulation to pitch. This causes the pitch to start off somewhat flat, then slide up to the correct pitch.

 

The penultimate touch is some vibrato by modulating Pitch. I used LFO set to about 4.5 Hz, with 680 ms of Delay time, controlled by the Mod Wheel (although I think Aftertouch is an even better choice, if your controller supports it). And of course, we want some reverb. The existing reverb is okay, but push the Size to 2.45 seconds, and Mix to 45%. Yeah, that’s the ticket! You might also want to choose Mono, unless you know any saxes that play chords. And yes, I’ve provided a downloadable preset for your playing pleasure—scroll down to the end.

  1. Foolproof Bass Slides

Set the bend to +7 for bend up, and 0 for bend down. Now when you want to slide down to a note, start at the top of the mod wheel, and then bring it down at whatever rate you want. It’s impossible to “overshoot” the target note, even when using the virtual mod wheel on the instrument GUI, with bend down set to 0.

  1. Add Analog Synth “Drift”

The pitch of analog synths drifts over time. Although Presence XT has a random LFO waveform, it’s stepped, and there’s no way you can “round off” the corners to create smooth variations. But there’s a solution (isn’t there always…). Use the sine waveform for LFO 1 and set it to a low rate, like 0.1 Hz. Select the random waveform for LFO 2, set to a slightly faster rate (like 0.4 Hz), and use it to modulate LFO 1. Meanwhile, use LFO 1 to modulate pitch; you don’t need to use much modulation to obtain a useful effect. Try this with Artist Instruments > Synths > Analog Fifths—you’ll be impressed.

  1. The Presence XT Editor Is Worth It

There might be a tendency to overlook the editor because Presence XT does enough on its own. And yes, I know the editor is $79.99. But, it’s cheaper than getting another sampler, and the capabilities are impressive. It’s easy to figure out, and it doesn’t take long to add samples—for example, you can specify the root note, high note, and low note by hitting keys. When using per-note samples, you can do fine-tuning, as well as add expressive features like sample start. Presence XT Editor is also a development system, so if you come up with some amazing presets, you can put them into a saleable bundle, and even password-protect it. If you’re into sound design and creating sample-based instruments, I highly recommend unlocking Presence XT’s Editor page.

  1. But Wait—There’s More!

 

Presence XT can load sounds from other formats—EXS, Giga, Kontakt version 4 (and below), and Sound Fonts. Finally, check out Tip 1 in the September 13 Friday Tip on using ATOM as an auxiliary keyboard. This makes it easy to access the keyswitching in Presence XT presets that contain this feature, even if you have only a four-octave keyboard.

I hope y’all enjoyed this month’s special editions of the Friday Tip. Happy birthday, Studio One!

 

Download the saxy sax preset, CA Baritone Sax Full

10 Mai Tai Percussion Presets

We’re still in September, it’s still Studio One’s 10th anniversary, and so once again the Friday Tip is 10 Tips! This week, the accent is on percussion—which is an essential part of any decent mix. We’re going to get down and dirty in percussion-land, so load the Mai Tai synthesizer, and let’s get started.

If you just can’t stand the suspense, then scroll to the end and download the 10 presets (put them in a Drum folder under Studio One Songs and Projects\Presets\PreSonus\Mai Tai). I still recommend that you look at the text and images, and play around with the sounds—those with an adventuresome spirit will find that there are a lot of variations available in these presets.

Note: To save graphics space and make the concepts clearer, the screenshots include only the relevant modules. We’ll be starting from the Default preset for each tip, however for a clean slate, click on Mod A and de-assign all the mod sources (choose [–] for the source from the pop-up menu, or turn off the numbered modulation strip). Also, note that the default includes Reverb and Delay enabled in FX A—bypass or leave-in, according to taste.

  1. The Virtual High-Hat

Real drummers work the high-hat from open to closed, and we can do that too.

Adjust the Noise Color control for the desired timbre. Make sure you experiment with the filter; I prefer the HP mode, with some Drive and Punch…but tailor to suit. The only relevant Amp Env control is Decay. Adjust the decay time to give the closed hi-hat sound; turn up Velocity for more dynamics.

The key to getting the most out of this preset is modulation. Click on Mod A, and for modulation source, select Mod Wheel. For the modulation destination, choose the ENV Main – Decay parameter. Turn the Mod Wheel  up full, hit some keys, and set the ENV Main – Decay slider in the modulation sectoin for the open hi-hat decay time.

Now you can use the Mod wheel to open and close the high-hat—just remember to “open” the high-hat before you hit the note. Bonus: There’s an additional amount of expressiveness based on how long you hold your finger down on the key.

  1. Disco Drums

 

 

 

Doooo-doooo-dooo! I probably can’t use the drum company’s name without getting lawyers on my case, but if you like persimmons, you’ll know the drums I’m talking about. For this tip, we only need one oscillator. Set the Amp Env and Env 3 parameters to no Attack, Sustain, or Release and no Delay for Env 3. The Decay controls are all that matter, and they should be identical.

For the modulation, Env 3 controls OSC 1 – Pitch. Set the modulation slider for the desired frequency range covered by the dooo-dooo-dooo.

 

  1. Shaker

This is something you’ll probably want to use with 1/8 note-based rhythmic patterns.

Load the default, then turn off both oscillators, Filter, and Character…all we want is Noise. For the Amp Env, set an Attack time around 40 to 100 ms, and the Decay around 125 ms, but adjust to taste.

 

  1. Talking Drums

After loading the default preset and resetting the modulators, nuke every module except Osc 1. For this effect, although velocity is tied to pitch to make life easier, you’ll need some manual dexterity: the only way to emulate the true talking drum effect is by working the pitch bend wheel after you hit the drum.

 

  1. Ode to Kraftwerk

 

Let’s face it, Kraftwerk is one of the most influential bands ever. They jettisoned guitars and drums in favor of drum machines and synths long before it was fashionable. Bowie, Depeche Mode, and Aphex Twin were influenced by them. Electro and several variants of club music wouldn’t even exist without them. U2 recorded a version of “Neon Lights” and so did Simple Minds. They’ve been sampled by R.E.M., Coldplay, and Jay-Z. The sound they created is the sound of pop 30 years ago…and today.

Okay, enough about the awesomely amazing and innovative Kraftwerk. They made a lot of their own instruments, and had some cool percussive sounds. This is a tribute to one of those sounds, and it’s also a little more complex than the previous ones.

Load the default preset, and after de-assigning the modulation sources, turn off everything except Osc 1 and Filter. Env 2 influences the Osc 1  pitch, while Velocity controls Filter Cutoff.

  1. Electronic Snare

 

Mai Tai’s Character option is a gold mine for electronic snares, from the 80s and beyond. Pump some noise into the filter with its controls as shown, give the Amp Env a short decay, turn up the Character section’s Sound and Amount controls all the way, and then try out the different characters from the Character drop-down menu. Expect to be surprised—and also experiment with turning up Punch.

  1. Hum Drum Kick

And here’s the sound that makes sure you don’t fall asleep when you’re stopped at an intersection: the infamous hum drum kick, as immortalized in hip-hop and dance music.

It’s very simple: a low-frequency sine wave oscillator with a Filter and Amp Env. The Filter settings are the crucial ones here, because they determine the attack’s aggressiveness. Experiment with the Drive and Punch control for the best results…a little distortion probably won’t hurt, either.

 

  1. Clave

It’s ironic that the simplest sound gets the most complicated preset, but life is full of twists and turns, isn’t it? Also, this one wants a fairly specific pitch: hit C4 for the most clave-like sound using the downloaded preset. However, once you get a feel for this preset, there’s much room for experimentation. Perhaps surprisingly, altering the LFO control parameters, or enabling/disabling them, has a major effect on the sound.

  1. Giant Thud Explosion

 

This gives the sound of distant cannon fire, an explosion, impressionistic thunder, or other low, large sounds. It’s based on using white noise with the filter pulled way back, and there are two articulations: hold a key down to have the sound run through the more percussive decay envelope, or tap a key to trigger the longer release time. Use this as a cinematic-type effect sound when transitioning from one song section to another—and you want to start the next section off with a bang. Or a thud. 

  1. Ethic Percussion

 

This is kind of a tuned, log, bongo kind of thing. Both oscillators and noise are in play, and the filter settings are somewhat crucial because they depend on Drive, Punch, and Res for their sound. Only the Amp Env is needed, and there are no modulation sources—velocity for the filter does all the needed modulation.

 

Download the 10 presets here!