One of my favorite techniques for larger-than-life sounds is layering a synthesizer waveform behind a sampled sound. For example, layering a sine wave along with piano or acoustic guitar, then mixing the sine wave subtly in the background, reinforces the fundamental. With either instrument, this can give a powerful low end. Layering a triangle wave with harp imparts more presence to sampled harps, and layering a triangle wave an octave lower with a female choir sounds like you’ve added a bunch of guys singing along.
Another favorite, which we’ll cover in detail with this week’s tip, is layering a sawtooth or pulse wave with strings. I like those syrupy, synthesized string sounds that were so popular back in the 70s, although I don’t like the lack of realism. On the other hand, sampled strings are realistic, but aren’t lush enough for my tastes. Combine the two, though, and you get lush realism. Here’s how.
That’s all there is to it. Listen to the audio example—first you’ll hear only the Presence sound, then the two layers for a lusher, more synthetic vibe that also incorporates some of the realism of sampling. Happy orchestrating!
When Harmonic Editing was announced, I was interested. When I used it for the first time, I was intrigued. When I discovered what it could do for songwriting…I became addicted.
Everyone creates songs differently, but for me, speed is the priority—I record scratch tracks as fast as possible to capture a song’s essence while it’s hot. But if the tracks aren’t any good, they don’t inspire the songwriting process. Sure, they’ll get replaced with final versions later, but you don’t want boring tracks while writing.
For scratch drums on rock projects, I have a good collection of loops. Guitar is my primary instrument, so the rhythm and lead parts will be at least okay. I also drag the rhythm guitar part up to the Chord Track to create the song’s “chord chart.”
Then things slow down…or at least they did before Harmonic Editing came along. Although I double on keyboards, I’m not as proficient as on guitar but also, prefer keyboard bass over electric bass—because I’ve sampled a ton of basses, I can find the sound I want instantly. And that’s where Harmonic Editing comes in.
The following is going to sound ridiculously easy…because it is. Here’s how to put Studio One’s Robot Bassist to work. This assumes you’ve set the key (use the Key button in the transport, or select an Instrument part and choose Event > Detect Key Signature), and have a Chord Track that defines the song’s chord progression.
Figure 1: Choose the Bass option to create a bass part when following chords.
The bottom line: with one take, a few clicks, and (maybe) a couple quick edits—instant bass part (Fig. 2).
Figure 2: The top image is the original part, and yes, it sounds as bad as it looks. The lower image is what happened after it got robotized via Harmonic Editing, and amazingly, it sounds pretty good.
Don’t believe me? Well, listen to the following.
You’ll hear the bass part shown in Fig. 2, which was generated in the early stages of writing my latest music video (I mixed the bass up a little on the demo so you can hear it easily). Note how the part works equally well for the sustained notes toward the beginning, and well as the staccato parts at the end. To hear the final bass part, click the link for Puzzle of Love [https://youtu.be/HgMF-HBMrks]. You’ll hear I didn’t need to do much to tweak what Harmonic Editing did.
But Wait! There’s More!
Not only that, but most of the backing keyboard parts for Puzzle of Love (yes, including the piano intro) were generated in essentially the same way. That requires a somewhat different skill set than robotizing the bass, and a bit more editing. If you want to know more (use the Comments section), we’ll cover Studio One’s Robot Keyboardist in a future Friday Tip.
Limiters are common mastering tools, so they’re the last processor in a signal chain. Because of this, it’s important to know as much as possible about its output signal, and Studio One’s Limiter offers several metering options.
The four buttons under the meter’s lower left choose the type of meter scale. PkRMS, the traditional metering option, shows the peak level as a horizontal blue bar, with the average (RMS) level as a white line superimposed on the blue bar (Fig. 1). The average level corresponds more closely to how we perceive musical loudness, while the bar indicates peaks, which is helpful when we want to avoid clipping.
The TP Button
Enabling the True Peak button takes the possibility of intersample distortion into account. This type of distortion can occur on playback if some peaks use up the maximum available headroom in a digital recording, and then these same peaks pass through the digital-to-analog converter’s output smoothing filter to reconstruct the original waveform. This reconstructed waveform might have a higher amplitude than the peak level of the samples, which means the waveform now exceeds the maximum available headroom (Fig. 2).
Figure 2: How intersample distortion occurs.
For example, you might think your audio isn’t clipping because without TP enabled, the output peak meter shows -0.1 dB. However, enabling True Peak metering may reveal that the output is as much as +3 dB over 0 when reconstructed. The difference between standard peak metering and true peak metering depends on the program material.
The other metering options—K-12, K-14, and K-20 metering—are based on a metering system developed by Bob Katz, a well-respected mastering engineer. One of the issues any mix or mastering engineer has to resolve is how loud to make the output level. This has been complicated by the “loudness wars,” where mixes are intended to be as “hot” as possible, with minimal dynamic range. Mastering engineers have started to push back against this not just to retain musical dynamics, but because hot recordings cause listener fatigue. Among other things, the K-System provides a way to judge a mix’s perceived loudness.
A key K-System feature is an emphasis on average (not just peak) levels, because they correlate more closely to how we perceive loudness. A difference compared to conventional meters is that K-System meters use a linear scale, where each dB occupies the same width (Fig. 3). A logarithmic scale increases the width of each dB as the level gets louder, which although it corresponds more closely to human hearing, is a more ambiguous way to show dynamic range.
Figure 3: The K-14 scale has been selected for the Limiter’s output meter.
Some people question whether the K-System, which was introduced two decades ago, is still relevant. This is because there’s now an international standard (based on a recommendation by the International Telecommunications Union) that defines perceived average levels, based on reference levels expressed in LUFS (Loudness Units referenced to digital Full Scale). As an example of a practical application, when listening to a streaming service, you don’t want massive level changes from one song to the next. The streaming service can regulate the level of the music it receives so that all the songs conform to the same level of perceived loudness. Because of this, there’s no real point in creating a hot master—it will just be turned down to bring it in line with songs that retain dynamic range; and the latter will be turned up if needed to give the same perceived volume.
Nonetheless, the K-System remains valid, particularly when mixing. When you mix, it’s best to have a standardized, consistent monitoring level because human hearing has a different frequency response at different levels (Fig. 4).
Figure 4: The Fletcher-Munson curve shows that different parts of the audio spectrum need to be at different levels to be perceived as having the same volume. Low frequencies have to be substantially louder at lower levels to be perceived as having equal volume.
The K-System links monitoring levels with meter readings, so you can be assured that music reaching the same levels will sound like they’re at the same levels. This requires calibrating your monitor levels to the meter readings with a sound level meter. If you don’t have a sound level meter, many smartphones can run sound level meter apps that are accurate enough.
Note that in the K-System, 0 dB does not represent the maximum possible level. Instead, the 0 dB point is shifted “down” from the top of the scale to either -12, -14, or -20 dB, depending on the scale. These numbers represent the amount of headroom above 0, and therefore, the available dynamic range. You choose a scale based on the music you’re mixing or mastering—like -12 for music with less dynamic range (e.g., dance music), -14 for typical pop music, and -20 dB for acoustic ensembles and classical music. You then aim for having the average level hover around the 0 dB point. Peaks that go above this point will take advantage of the available headroom, while quieter passages will go below this point. Like conventional meters, the K-Systems meters have green, yellow, and red color-coding to indicate levels. Levels above 0 dB trigger the red, but this doesn’t mean there’s clipping—observe the peak meter for that.
Calibrating Your Monitors
The K-System borrows film industry best practices. At 0 dB, your monitors should be putting out 85 dBSPL for stereo material. Therefore, you’ll need a separate calibration for the three scales to make sure that 0 dB on any scale has the same perceived loudness. The simplest way to calibrate is to send pink noise through your system until the chosen K-System meter reads 0 dB (you can download pink noise samples from the web, or use the noise generator in the Mai Tai virtual instrument). Then, using the sound level meter set to C weighting and a slow response, adjust the monitor level for an 85 dB reading. You can put labels next to the level control on the back of your speaker to show the settings that produce the desired output for each K-Scale.
But Wait! There’s More
We’ve discussed the K-System in the context of the Limiter, but if you’re instead using the Compressor or some other dynamics processor that doesn’t have K-System metering, you’re still covered. There’s a separate metering plug-in that shows the K-System scale (Fig. 5).
Figure 5: The Level meter plug-in shows K-System as well as the R128 spec that reads out the levels in LUFS. Enabling TP converts the meter to PkRMS, and shows the True Peak in the two numeric fields.
Finally, the Project Page also includes K-System Metering along with a Spectrum Analyzer, Correlation Meter, and LUFS metering with True Peak (Fig. 6).
Figure 6: The Project Page metering tells you pretty much all you need to need to know what’s going on with your output signal when mastering.
If you’ve heard blues harmonica greats like Junior Wells, James Cotton, Jimmy Reed, and Paul Butterfield, you know there’s nothing quite like that big, brash sound. They all manage to transform the harmonica’s reedy timbre into something that seems more like a member of the horn family.
To find out more about the techniques of blues harmonica, check out the article Rediscovering Blues Harmonica. It covers why you don’t play blues harp in its default key (e.g., you typically use a harmonica in the key of A for songs in E), how to mic a harmonica, and more. However, the secret to that big sound is playing through the distortion provided by an amp, or in our software-based world, an amp sim. I don’t really find the Ampire amps suitable for this application, but we can put together an FX Chain that does the job.
Check out the demo to hear the desired goal. The first 12 bars are unprocessed harmonica (other than limiting). The second 12 bars use the FX Chain described in this week’s tip, and which you can download for your own use.
The chain starts with a Limiter to provide a more sustained, consistent sound.
Next up: A Pro EQ to take out all the lows and highs, which tightens up the sound and reduces intermodulation distortion. (When using an amp sim, blues harmonica is also a good candidate for multiband processing, as described in the February 1 Friday Tip.)
Now it’s time for the Redlight Dist to provide the distortion. For the cabinet, this FX Chain uses the Ampire solely for its 4 x 10 American cabinet—no amp or stomps.
After the distortion/cabinet combo, a little midrange “honk” makes the harmonica stand out more in the mix.
For a final touch, blues harp often plays through an amp with reverb—so a good spring reverb effect adds a vintage vibe.
You can download the Blues Harp.multipreset and use it as it, but I encourage playing around with it—try different types of distortion and amps, mess with the EQ a bit, and so on. For an example of a finished song with amp sim blues harmonica in context, check out I’ll Take You Higher on YouTube.
Although vinyl represents a tiny fraction of the media people use to listen to music, you, or a client, may want to do a vinyl release someday. Conventional wisdom is split between “you don’t dare master for vinyl” and “sure, you can master for vinyl if you know certain rules.”
Both miss the point that the engineer using the lathe to do the cutting will make the ultimate decisions. You can provide something mastered for CD, and the engineer will do what’s possible to make it vinyl-friendly—but then the vinyl version may sound very different from the CD, because of the compromises needed to accommodate vinyl. Conversely, you can “prep for vinyl” and if you do a good job, the engineer running the cutting lathe will have an easier time, and there won’t be as much difference between the vinyl and CD release.
But before going any further, let’s explore why vinyl is different.
A stylus moves side to side, and up and down, to create stereo. Louder levels mean wide and deeper grooves; if too loud, the needle can jump out of the groove. Lower frequencies hog “groove space” more than high frequencies, but also, a stylus has a difficult time moving fast enough to track high frequencies, which leads to distortion.
To compensate, the RIAA initiated an EQ curve that cuts bass up to -20 dB at low frequencies before the audio gets turned into a master lacquer, and boosts highs by an equally dramatic amount to help overcome surface noise. On playback, an inverse curve boosts the bass to restore its original level; cutting highs restores the proper high-frequency balance to reduce surface noise and encourage better tracking (Fig. 1).
PREPARATION IN THE SONG PAGE
There are four main ways to make more vinyl-friendly mixes in the Song Page.
You can take matters only so far in the Project Page before taking your mixes to a mastering engineer who knows how to prep for, and cut, vinyl. But there are steps you should take to assist the process of creating a vinyl-friendly master for duplication.
Yes. Properly mastered vinyl releases didn’t have harsh high frequencies, they had dynamic range because you couldn’t limit the crap out of them without having them sound distorted, and the bass coalesced around the stereo image’s center, where it belongs. In fact, if you master with vinyl in mind, you just might find that those masters make CDs sound a whole lot better as well!
I’m a big fan of multiband processing. This technique divides a signal into bands (I generally choose lows, low mids, mids, and high mids), processes each band independently, then sums the bands’ outputs back together again.
I first used multiband processing in the early 80s, with the Quadrafuzz distortion unit (later virtualized by both Steinberg and MOTU). This produces a “cleaner” distortion sound because you didn’t have the intermodulation distortion caused by low strings and high strings interacting with each other. However, multiband processing is also useful with delay, like using shorter delays on lower frequencies, and longer delays on higher frequencies…or chorus, if you want a super-lush sound. But there are other cool surprises, like using different effects in the different bands, or using envelope filters.
So for Studio One, I’ve created a multiband processing “development system” for creating new multiband effects—and that’s the subject of this tip.When I find an effect I like, it gets turned into a fixed FX chain that uses the Splitter module’s multi-band capabilities instead of buses to create four parallel signal paths.
Start by creating four pre-fader sends to feed four buses (fig. 1). Each bus handles a specific frequency range. The simplest way to create splits is with the Multiband Dynamics set to no compression, so it can serve as a crossover.
To create the bands, insert a Multiband Dynamics processor in one of the buses, open it, and set the compression Ratio for all Multiband Dynamics bands to 1:1. This prevents any compression from occurring.
Referring to fig. 2, as you play your instrument (or other signal source you want to process), solo the Low band. Then adjust the Low / Low-Mid X-Over Frequency control to set the dividing frequency between the low- and low-mid band.
Next, solo the Low Mid band and adjust its frequency control. Use a similar procedure on each band until you’ve chosen the frequencies you want each band to cover. For guitar, having more than four bands isn’t all that necessary, so I normally set the frequency splits to around 250 Hz, 500 Hz, and 1 kHz. The resulting bands are:
Setting the Mid-High / High X-Over Frequency to Max essentially removes the Multiband Dynamics’ top band.
After choosing the frequency bands, copy the Multiband Dynamics processor to the other three buses. Solo the Low band for one bus, the Low Mid in the next bus, the Mid in the next bus, and finally, the High Mids in the fourth bus. Now each bus covers its assigned frequency range.
At this point, all that’s left is to insert your processor(s) of choice into each band. Don’t forget that you can experiment with panning the different bands, changing levels, altering sends to the buses to affect distortion drive, and more. This type of setup allows for a ton of options…so get creative!
I was never a big fan of MIDI guitar, but that changed when I discovered two guitar-like controllers—the YRG1000 You Rock Guitar and Zivix Jamstik. Admittedly, the YRG1000 looks like it escaped from Guitar Hero to seek a better life, but even my guitar-playing “tubes and Telecasters forever!” compatriots are shocked by how well it works. And Jamstik, although it started as a learn-to-play guitar product for the Mac, can also serve as a MIDI guitar controller. Either one has more consistent tracking than MIDI guitar retrofits, and no detectable latency.
The tradeoff is that they’re not actual guitars, which is why they track well. So, think of them as alternate controllers that take advantage of your guitar-playing muscle memory. If you want a true guitar feel, with attributes like actual string-bending, there are MIDI retrofits like Fishman’s clever TriplePlay, and Roland’s GR-55 guitar synthesizer.
In any case, you’ll want to set up your MIDI guitar for best results in Studio One—here’s how.
Poly vs. Mono Mode
MIDI guitars usually offer Poly or Mono mode operation. With Poly mode, all data played on all strings appears over one MIDI channel. With Mono mode, each string generates data over its own channel—typically channel 1 for the high E, channel 2 for B, channel 3 for G, and so on. Mono mode’s main advantage is you can bend notes on individual strings and not bend other strings. The main advantage of Poly mode is you need only one sound generator instead of a multi-timbral instrument, or a stack of six synths.
In terms of playing, Poly mode works fine for pads and rhythm guitar, while Mono mode is best for solos, or when you want different strings to trigger different sounds (e.g., the bottom two strings trigger bass synths, and the upper four a synth pad). Here’s how to set up for both options in Studio One.
Note that you can change these settings any time in the Options > External Devices dialog box by selecting your controller and choosing Edit.
Choose Your Channels
For Poly mode, you probably won’t have to do anything—just start playing. With Mono mode, you’ll need to use a multitimbral synth like SampleTank or Kontakt, or six individual synths. For example, suppose you want to use Mai Tai. Create a Mai Tai Instrument track, choose your MIDI controller, and then choose one of the six MIDI channels (Fig. 2). If Split Channels wasn’t selected, you won’t see an option to choose the MIDI channel.
Next, after choosing the desired Mai Tai sound, duplicate the Instrument track five more times, and choose the correct MIDI channel for each string. I like to Group the tracks because this simplifies removing layers, turning off record enable, and quantizing. Now record-enable all tracks, and start recording. Fig. 3 shows a recorded Mono guitar part—note how each string’s notes are in their own channel.
To close out, here are three more MIDI guitar tips.
MIDI guitar got a bad rap when it first came out, and not without reason. But the technology continues to improve, dedicated controllers overcome some of the limitations of retrofitting a standard guitar, and if you set up Studio One properly, MIDI guitar can open up voicings that are difficult to obtain with keyboards.
In Mono mode with Mai Tai (or whatever synth you use), set the number of Voices to 1 for two reasons. First, this is how a real guitar works—you can play only one note at a time on a string. Second, this will often improve tracking in MIDI guitars that are picky about your picking.
Hate those p-pops and breath noises? So do I, especially when I’m being paid the big bucks for voiceovers and have to edit the pops out by hand. Granted, the Pauly pop filter is a fantastic solution—it’s the best pop filter I’ve ever tried—but its $300 price tag is pretty daunting. And no matter how hard you try to control pops at the source, sometimes those pesky, problematic pops work their way into a track anyway. So, it’s time for a do-it-yourself pop filter project. And because it’s virtual, this one doesn’t involve taking panty hose and stretching it over a hanger. Instead, we’ll stretch the Pro EQ into being a virtual pop filter.
The key is creating an ultra-steep cutoff frequency that kills the low frequencies, but lives below the range of the voice so it doesn’t thin out the vocal. The easiest way to create a steep cutoff is with multiple sharp notches (Fig. 1). There are four notches, all with a Q of 12 and a gain of -24 dB. Frequencies are 130, 140, 150, and 160 Hz.
Figure 1: Use notch filters to create a super-steep low frequency slope.
Now we need to get rid of the low frequencies. Enabling the Low Cut filter helps, but if we turn it up too far, it starts rounding off the slope, which makes it not as steep. A slope of 48 dB/octave, with a frequency around 90 Hz seems about right (Fig. 2).
Figure 2: Adding a Low Cut filter starts carving away at the low frequencies.
That’s better, so it’s time for the coup de grâce—the Low Frequency Shelf stage. This gets rid of the remaining low frequencies, while still keeping the insanely steep slope (Fig. 3).
Figure 3: The Low Frequency Shelf completes the virtual pop filter.
However, note that the Low Frequency Shelf is also the key to versatility. By increasing the Q, you can add a low-frequency “bump” that’s just above the cutoff frequency. This adds extra depth, and a deep kind of vocal resonance that still keeps the p-pops under control.
Of course, every voice and mic is different, so you may want to edit the parameters somewhat. To preserve more bass, drop the frequency of all filter stages by 10 Hz and see if that helps. Conversely, if the p-pops are still too prominent, raise the frequency of all filter stages by 10 Hz until you hit the desired response…or if you’re impatient, use 20 to 30 Hz jumps.
In any event, you now have a super-steep low cut filter that can remove plosives, wind noises, most breath noises, earthquake sounds, and even the rumble from those pesky UFO flyovers—you might be surprised at just how effective this little project can be in banishing pops from your life.
Studio One doesn’t have a transient shaper plug-in…in theory. In practice, there’s a zero-latency, artifact-free transient shaper that’s ideal for emphasizing the attack in drum parts (and other percussive sounds as well, from bass to funky rhythm guitar). Here’s how to do it.
The copy now has the transients isolated from the rest of the loop. Vary the mix of the copied track and the original track to set the balance of the emphasized attack with the loop’s “body.” (Studio One programmer Arnd Kaiser suggests this process might be a good candidate for a macro—that’s an excellent point.)
This technique is particularly effective with acoustic drum loops, because the drums tend to ring longer—so creating a copy as described makes for a super-percussive sound compared to the original loop.
Try this, and you’ll be shocked at how this can make drum parts become more vibrant and “alive.” However, there is one unfortunate side effect: now I wish I could go back and remix all my songs that have drum tracks!
As the quest for expressive electronic instruments continues, many virtual instruments incorporate keyswitching to provide different articulations. A keyswitch doesn’t play an actual note, but alters what you’re playing in some manner—for example, Presence’s Viola preset dedicates the lowest five white keys (Fig. 1) to articulations like pizzicato, tremolo, and martelé.
This is very helpful—as long as you have a keyboard with enough keys. Articulations typically are on the lowest keys, so if you have a 49-key keyboard (or even a 61-note keyboard) and want to play over its full range (or use something like a two-octave keyboard for mobile applications), the only way to add articulations are as overdubs. Since the point of articulations is to allow for spontaneous expressiveness, this isn’t the best solution. An 88-note keyboard is ideal, but it may not fit in your budget, and it also might not fit physically in your studio.
Fortunately, there’s a convenient alternative: a mini-keyboard like the Korg nanoKEY2 or Akai LPK25. These typically have a street price around $60-$70, so they won’t make too big a dent in your wallet. You really don’t care about the feel or action, because all you want is switches.
Regarding setup, just make sure that both your main keyboard and the mini-keyboard are set up under External Devices—this “just works” because the instrument will listen to whatever controllers are sending in data via USB (note that keyboards with 5-pin DIN MIDI connectors require a way to merge the two outputs into a single data stream, or merging capabilities within the MIDI interface you’re using). You’ll need to drop the mini-keyboard down a few octaves to reach the keyswitch range, but aside from that, you’re covered.
To dedicate a separate track to keyswitching, call up the Add Track menu, specify the desired input, and give it a suitable name (Fig. 2). I find it more convenient not to mix articulation notes in with the musical notes because if I cut, copy, or move a passage of notes, I may accidentally edit an articulation that wasn’t supposed to be edited.
So until you have that 88-note, semi-weighted, hammer-action keyboard you’ve always dreamed about, now you have an easy way take full advantage of Presence’s built-in expressiveness—as well as any other instrument with keyswitching.