PreSonus Blog

Get Better Vocals with Gain Envelopes

Several of the comments have mentioned wanting me to do some video tips, and this week’s tip is well-suited to a video treatment—so here you go.

Gain envelopes have many uses, but one of my favorites is using them to bring down peaks with vocal and narration to allow boosting the overall level. This is a further refinement of the phrase-by-phrase normalization technique I’ve mentioned in the past, which is basically like compressing without a compressor. As a result there are none of the artifacts associated with compression or limiting, so the resulting sound is totally natural.

Showing this with a video makes it easy to see how placing nodes strategically simplifies taming peaks, and how clicking and dragging on a single node can control your dynamics, quickly and efficiently.

 

 

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If you like the video, let me know in the comments section, and I’ll do more videos in the future if I think they can convey a concept better or more efficiently than text.

And while we’re on the subject of videos…if you’re not aware of Gregor Beyerle’s playlist of Studio One video tips, they’re well worth watching. Unlike so many YouTube “tips” videos, after watching his videos you’ll feel you learned useful techniques that will help you use Studio One more efficiently—not wasted several minutes of your life you’ll never get back 😊. Even when I’ve known much of what he covers, there are always some little gems I hadn’t discovered before.

Polyphonic Glide with Any Synth

Before getting into this week’s tip, here’s some news.

First, thank you for your continued support of the Studio One eBooks. The goal was to make sure that the books remain current—so there are revisions, as well as new editions.

Revisions are like software “point” updates. They’re free to registered users of the original book, and also make sure new buyers get the latest information. A revision for “How to Make Compelling Mixes with Studio One” will be available next week. New editions expand substantially on the original (like how software advances from one version to the next). The latest is More than Compressors: The Complete Guide to Dynamics in Studio One – 2nd Edition, available now in the PreSonus shop (available to owners of the first edition for half-price).

Second, remember that if you have any questions, comments, corrections, or additional ideas about the books, there’s a support thread where you can ask questions and I’ll answer them. The thread also announces when revisions and new editions are available.

And now…on to the tip!

Why Polyphonic Glide is Cool

Creating steel or slide guitar sounds with keyboards is difficult, because few soft synths have polyphonic glide. If they do, sometimes the results are unpredictable.

For my first, admittedly pathetic attempt at “steel synth,” I tried setting the synth bend range to 12 semitones and using the pitch bend wheel to slide entire chords up or down in pitch. However, hitting an exact pitch with the wheel is really difficult. I tried editing the parts to have correct tuning…but that took forever.

Fortunately, there’s a simple answer. It’s not a real-time solution (you’ll need to use the note data edit view), but it works really well—check out the audio example.

 

A Studio One Pitch Bend “Secret”

The basic idea for slide emulations is you sustain a note, and then use pitch bend to slide the sustained note(s) up (or down). In Fig. 1, a C major chord is gliding up to F and then G, to create the ever-popular I-IV-V progression.

Figure 1: A C major chord is sliding up to an F major, and then a G major.

To ensure correct tuning, create a pitch bend node where you want the new pitch to begin. Right-click on it, and then enter a number that corresponds to the number of semitones you want to “glide” (see the table below). This assumes the synth’s pitch bend range is set to 12 semitones. If you want to bend down by a certain number of semitones, use the same pitch bend amount—just make it negative.

Remember that pitch bend is based on a percentage scale, so in Fig. 1, the first pitch bend node (circled in white to make it more obvious) is set to 0.417 (5 semitones). The second node for the fifth is 0.583 semitones. Lines from one node to the next create the actual glide.

When you right-click on a node to enter a number, the resolution appears to be only two digits to the right of the decimal point, which isn’t good enough for accurate tuning. However, you can enter a three-digit number, as shown above. Even though it won’t be displayed, if you enter that third digit, the dialog box accepts it and Studio One will remember it—so now, you can glide to the exact right pitch.

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The Ultimate TremPan

I never lost faith in the potential of tremolo, even after those opto-based amplitude processors in guitar amps had become quaint. X-Trem rewarded my faith—and it’s about time tremolo joined the 21st century, given that we’re a fifth of the way through it already.

This FX Chain does dual-band standard tremolo, harmonic tremolo, and panning—and because it’s dual-band, the high and low frequencies are processed independently. You can download the Ultimate TremPan FX Chain if you can’t wait, but because of the flexibility, let’s go through the control panel before covering how it works.

Download the Ultimate TremPan FX Chain!

The control panel (Fig. 1) gives multiple ways to configure the effect. The low- and high-frequency bands have identical switches.

 

Figure 1: The TremPan control panel.

  • Trem/Pan – chooses tremolo or panning mode
  • Sync – Syncs to tempo
  • Flip – Reverses the LFO phase, e.g., from positive-going to negative-going sawtooth
  • Bypass – Bypasses a band, so you hear the effect on only the non-bypassed band

Let’s look at the controls. The low- and high-frequency bands have three controls in common.

  • Speed – The sync switch determines whether the LFO speed syncs to tempo or runs free. When running free, the Speed control calibration still shows rhythmic values, but it’s actually continuously variable.
  • Depth – Controls how much the tremolo or panning affects the signal.
  • Shape – Available LFO waveforms are Triangle, Sine, Sawtooth, or Square.

The Hi/Lo Mix control determines the balance of the low- and high-frequency bands. Imaging spreads the low and high bands; when centered, the low and high bands are centered too, and if a band is in panning mode, it pans the full stereo field. Turning this control counter-clockwise moves the low band toward the left and the high band toward the right, while de-emphasizing panning so that when fully counter-clockwise, both bands are acting as tremolos in their respective channels. Turning this control clockwise reverse the action, i.e., when fully clockwise, the high band sounds like a tremolo in the left channel, while the low band sounds like a tremolo in the right channel.

How It Works

 Figure 2 shows the block diagram.

Figure 2: The processors inside the Ultimate TremPan FX Chain.

The Splitter does two splits based on frequency, with a split around 800 Hz. This seems to work well for guitar, but feel free to play around with it (I hope that in some future update, Splitter parameters will be assignable to control panel Macro knobs).

The Mixtools have their gains varied oppositely by the Lo/Hi Mix control to set the proportions of the high and low bands. The Dual pans in the Splits have their Input Balance controlled oppositely by the Imaging knob.

Applications

You have a lot of options, but here are some of my favorites.

  • Different tremolo speeds and waveforms avoid the stereotyped tremolo sound.
  • For EDM tremolo, try two negative-going sawtooths (i.e., don’t enable Flip) with the low band set to 1/8th notes and the high band set to 16th This gives a cool percussive effect.
  • You can do the “harmonic tremolo” effect, as found in some old Fender amps, by setting both modes to tremolo and the same speed, but choosing Flip for one of the bands.
  • Panning the low band back and forth slowly while setting a fairly fast tremolo for the high band gives a wide, interesting imaging effect.

The rhythmically synched effects can make one instrument almost sound like two instruments, working together as a team. This FX Chain can also animate hand percussion tracks by varying where the percussion happens in the stereo field. Have fun with this sucker—it’s time to re-discover amplitude modulation.

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StudioLive Interface Mode has Arrived!

Get the Interface mode Addendum!

StudioLive Interface Mode is here—plus WDM support! 

Universal Control 3.4 has arrived, adding WDM support and Interface Mode to StudioLive Series III mixers! (This update also adds support for Revelator and AVB-D16; Click here for the full release notes) 

Interface Mode is designed to allow the inputs and outputs of your StudioLive mixer to be used like a traditional USB interface, instead of as a mixer with a USB interface that draws from the mixer’s channels and buses. In this configuration, the StudioLive’s USB Returns bypass the mix engine, and instead run directly to the physical, analog outputs on the mixer.

It’s for this reason that Interface Mode makes for a streamlined, DAW-based approach to common tasks like:
  • Re-amping guitars and synths
  • External hardware processing with Studio One’s Pipeline
  • Creating and routing cue mixes from your DAW rather than from the mixer

While this streamlined configuration does not work with a mixer that is in Stage Box or Monitor Mixer Mode, you will still be able to utilize your PreSonus AVB Ecosystem products with Interface Mode. You can still create personal monitor mixes via EarMix16M and connect different rooms with NSB Stage Boxes.

Note that Interface Mode will only affect the USB routing and the analog output sources. It won’t make any changes to the operation of your AVB routing.

Before using Interface Mode or Enhanced WDM Support on your StudioLive Series III, you’ll need to update two things:

  • PreSonus Universal Control 3.4 or later on your Mac or PC. (To get it, Launch Universal Control and choose File  >>  Check for Updates. ) 
  • Your StudioLive Series III mixer’s firmware (to version 2.4 or later. Click here to learn how to do that.)

Interface Mode Quick Start:

To turn on Interface Mode for your mixer from the touch screen of the console mixers

  1. Press the Home button.
  2. Select the System icon.
  3. Then tap the Interface Mode toggle button.
  4. You’ll receive a warning about disabling FlexMixes. Tap OK to continue.

Your FlexMixes will still be there if and when you choose to turn off Interface Mode, or turn an individual mix back on which I’ll go through a little later.

Setting Up Interface Mode Quick Start for UC Surface:

To turn on Interface Mode from UC Surface

  1. Select the gear icon to open the settings menu.
  2. Select Interface Mode.
  3. Just like with the console, you’ll receive a warning about disabling FlexMixes. Tap OK to continue.

That’s it! You’re now in interface mode. To turn Interface Mode off and go back to the default mixer setup just repeat these same steps.

For a deeper dive on Interface Mode and WDM support, download the new Interface Mode Addendum now!

Poly Aftertouch: Ready for Prime Time

 

One of the complaints about electronic music instruments and controllers is that they lack the expressiveness of acoustic instruments. Although future instruments will take advantage of MIDI 2.0’s enhanced expressiveness, two options are available right now: polyphonic pressure, and MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression). Studio One 5 can record/edit both, and ATOM SQ generates polyphonic pressure…so let’s dig deeper.

Language Lesson

 First, there’s some confusion because people call the same function by different names. Channel Aftertouch = Channel Pressure = Mono Aftertouch = Mono Pressure. Polyphonic Aftertouch = Polyphonic Pressure = Poly AT = Poly Aftertouch = Poly Pressure.  Okay! Now we’ve cleared that up.

Aftertouch: Two Flavors

 Aftertouch generates a control signal when you press down on a keyboard key after it’s down, or continue pressing on a percussion pad after striking it. Aftertouch is a variable message, like a mod wheel or footpedal—not a switch. A typical application would be changing filter cutoff, adding modulation, or doing guitar-like pitch bends by pressing on a key.

There are two aftertouch flavors. Mono pressure has been around since the days of the Yamaha DX7, and sends the highest controller value of all keys that are currently being pressed. Polyphonic pressure sends individual pressure messages for each key. For example, when holding down a chord for a brass section, by assigning poly pressure to filter cutoff, you can make just one note brighter by pressing down on its associated key. The other chord notes remain unaffected unless they’re also pressed.

Controllers with polyphonic aftertouch used to be fairly expensive and rare, but that’s changing—as evidenced by ATOM SQ.

Synth Requirements

As expected, you need a synth that responds to poly pressure. Many hardware synths respond to it, even if they don’t generate it. As to soft synths, although I haven’t tested all of the following, they reportedly support poly pressure: several Korg Collection synths, Kontakt, Reaktor, all Arturia instruments, all U-He instruments, XILS-Lab synths, TAL-Sampler, AAS synths, Albino 3, impOSCar2, Mach5, and Omnisphere. If you know of others, feel free to mention them in the comments section below. (Currently, Studio One’s bundled instruments don’t respond to polyphonic aftertouch.)

The Controller

Figure 1: ATOM SQ being set up to generate Poly Pressure messages.

With ATOM SQ, press the Setup button. Hit the lower-left “pressure” button below the display, then spin the dial to choose Poly (Fig. 1). Note that if ATOM SQ outputs poly pressure, most instruments that respond only to channel (mono) aftertouch will ignore these messages.

Recording and Editing

Record poly pressure in Studio One 5 as you would any MIDI controller. To edit pressure messages, use the Edit window’s Note Controller tab. Select Pressure for the Type, and then the Pitch of the note you want to edit. Or, click on a note to select its corresponding note Pitch automatically. You can then edit that note’s poly pressure controller as you would any other controller (Fig. 2).

 

Figure 2: The selected Note’s data is white; unselected notes of the same pitch are blue. The gray lines in the background show the poly pressure controller messages for notes with other pitches.

It may seem that editing data for individual notes would be tedious, and it can be. However, because poly pressure allows for more expressive real-time playing, you might not feel the need to do as much editing anyway—you won’t need to use editing to add expressiveness that you couldn’t add while playing.

A fine point is that it’s currently not possible to copy Note Controller data from one note, then paste it to a note of a different pitch (probably because the whole point of poly AT is for different notes to have different controller data). However, if you copy the note itself to a different pitch, the Note Controller data will go along with it.

Although ATOM SQ can adopt a layout that resembles a keyboard, it would be a mistake to see it as a stripped-down version of a standard keyboard. Controllers with polyphonic pressure tend to think outside the usual keyboard box, by incorporating pads or other transducers that are designed for predictable pressure sensitivity. Poly pressure has been around for a while, but a new generation of MIDI controllers (like ATOM SQ) are making the technology—and the resulting expressiveness—far more accessible for those who want to wring more soul out of their synths.

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Streaming: Limiter2 to the Rescue

 

The How to Make Spotify Happy blog post picked up a lot of interest, so let’s take the concept a bit further. Even if you’re not dealing with a streaming service, having consistent listening levels in your music makes sense—especially with a collection of songs. But what happens if a song is compressed for artistic reasons, yet you still want to aim for a standard listening level (streaming or otherwise)?

The beauty of the LUFS specification is that it avoids penalizing those who want to take advantage of dynamic range in their music (jazz, classical, etc.). But not everyone creates music that requires maximum dynamic range. I add about 4 to 6 dB of gain reduction when mastering my music, and aim for -13.0 LUFS, because I like what a little compression does to glue the tracks together. However, I do want the music to be streaming-friendly—and the whole point of this post is that Limiter2 makes it easy to hit both LUFS and True Peak settings recommended by various streaming services.

Fig. 1 shows the screen shot for an exported, pre-mastered song. It has a -18.0 LUFS reading. My goal is -13.0 LUFS, with a true peak value below 0.0.

Figure 1: The initial raw export.

 

To get closer to -13.0 LUFS, let’s start with a Limiter2 Threshold of -5.00, because applying -5.00 dB of gain reduction to -18.00 LUFS should put us somewhere around -13 dB LUFS. To control True Peak, we’ll use Mode A, Fast Attack (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Preliminary Limiter2 settings to reach -13.0 dB LUFS.

 

 

 

We’ve come close to -13.0, but the true peak is well above 0.0. Bringing down the Ceiling by -2 dB puts that 1.6 dB True Peak reading under 0.0 (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: The True Peak is now under 0.0, but the LUFS is a bit lower than desired.

 

We’ve brought down the peaks, but because the output is lower, the perceived level is lower too (-13.5 LUFS). Dropping the threshold by ‑0.7 dB brought the LUFS to -13.0, while maintaining a TP value under 0.0 (Fig. 4).

Figure 4: Bringing the Threshold down to -5.70 gave -13.0 LUFS, and true peak under 0.

 

We can also make streaming services (like Spotify) happy, with -14.0 LUFS and -1.0 TP values (Fig. 5).

Figure 5: Now we’ve met Spotify’s recommended spec, simply by re-adjusting the Threshold and Ceiling.

But suppose you really like to compress stuff, not because you want to win the loudness wars per se, but just because you like that sound. Fair enough—let’s give listeners music with -9.0 LUFS, and not worry about True Peak (Fig. 6).

Figure 6: If you like the sound of compression… go for it!

 

 

But What About the Loudness Wars?

I’m glad you asked. If your music doesn’t meet a streaming service’s specs, they’ll turn it down to an equal perceived level. But what does that sound like?

In the audio example, the first part is of an unmastered song at -9.0 LUFS. It’s fairly loud, and could win at least a skirmish in the loudness wars. The second part is the same unmastered song at -14.0 LUFS, which sounds much quieter.

The third part turns down the -9.0 LUFS section to -14.0 LUFS. Although it has the same overall perceived level as the second part, it sounds compressed, so it has a different character. Bottom line: If you like the sound of compression, a streaming service will not change that sound; it will simply turn down the volume to match material that’s not as compressed. So feel free to use a rational amount of compression—the sound you want will still be there, just at a lower level.

And if you want a higher level…well, that’s why the volume control was invented… right?