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Thanks for making us part of your process—software sale extended… again!

Strange days have been upon us for a while now. We wanted to take a minute to let you, as a creator, know something: we see you. In fact, the world sees you. And hears you. How do we know?

Because in a time when many businesses have had to close—temporarily or even permanently—dealers of musical instruments and associated accouterments are, frankly, kickin’ ass. So much so, in fact, that Rolling Stone ran an article on the matter. And when was the last time you read a Rolling Stone article on something as thrilling as audio interface sales trends?

 

Look, the day’s going to come when this is all over. And we know that as a musician or a creator, you’re going to come out of this thing with something priceless. Because you’re a creative, and you know what to do with idle hands—you get some art made. Make some music. Jumpstart that podcast idea. You get to work during this weird time, and create… not just for yourself, but for the people around you who need to know they’re not alone.

In ten years, people are going to be telling stories about that time when I am Legend almost happened for real back in 2020, and how it kept us from our friends and families. And some of them will most certainly remember the songs you wrote about it. They’ll remember the socially-distant concerts performed to passersby from front porches. They’ll recall the Skype/Zoom/Google Hangout/FaceTime/live-streamed online collaborations and performances; family members huddled around tablets like some sort of digital 21st-century e-campfire.They might even be listening to the 500th episode of that podcast you launched three weeks ago.

This too shall pass. But when we look back on the moments that were made a little more tolerable, a little brighter—and daresay even fun—it’s going to be because we had creators like you to chronicle the experience and immortalize your unique experience of it your art of choice: song, podcast, vlog, or something in between.

What you’re doing as an artist is as important to our history as this pandemic itself, and PreSonus wants you to know that we’re honored to have some small part in your process. Thanks for choosing us, and if Studio One or Notion or your AudioBox has helped you realize your creative vision.. well, that helps us sleep at night, and it’s why we’re all working from our kitchens and spare bedrooms to keep PreSonus running… to support you.

Because what you’re doing is so important, we’re gonna keep Studio One and Notion at 30% off, for another month.  

Keep safe, keep creating. Thank you for keeping us inspired.

 

The De-Stresser FX Chain

Feeling a little bit stressed?

I’m not surprised. Or do you ever have one of those days? Of course you do! Wouldn’t it be great to go down to the beach, listen to the waves for a while, and chill to those soothing sounds? The only problem for me is that going to the beach would involve a 7-hour drive.

Hence the De-Stresser FX Chain, which doesn’t sound exactly like the ocean—but emulates its desirable sonic effects. If you’re already stressed out, then you probably don’t want to take the time to assemble this chain, so feel free to go to the download link. Load the FX Chain into a channel, but note that you must enable input monitoring, because the sound source is the plug-in Tone Generator’s white noise option.

About the FX Chain

Figure 1: Effects used to create the De-Stresser’s virtual ocean.

Fig. 1 shows the FX Chain’s “block diagram.” The Splitter adds variety to the overall sound by feeding dual asynchronous “waves,” as generated by the X-Trems (set for tremolo mode). The X-Trem LFO’s lowest rate is 0.10 Hz; this should be slow enough, but for even slower waves, you can sync to tempo with a long note value, and set a really slow tempo.

Waves also have a little filtering as they break on the beach, which the Autofilters provide. The Pro EQs tailor the low- and high-frequency content to alter the waves’ apparent size and distance.

And of course, there’s the ever-popular Binaural Pan at the end. This helps create a more realistic stereo image when listening on headphones.

Macro Controls

Figure 2: The Macro Controls panel.

Regarding the Macro Controls panel (Fig. 2), the two Timbre controls alter the filter type for the two Autofilters. This provides additional variety, so choose whichever filter type combination you prefer. Crest alters the X-Trem depth, so higher values increase the difference between the waves’ peaks and troughs.

The Sci-Fi Ocean control adds resonance to the filtering. This isn’t designed to enhance the realism, but it’s kinda fun. Another subtle sci-fi sound involves setting the two Timbre controls to the Comb response.

As you move further away from real waves, the sound has fewer high frequencies. So, Distance controls the Pro EQ HC (High Cut) filters. Similarly, Wave Size controls the LC filter, because bigger waves have more of a low-frequency component. The Calmer control varies the Autofilter mix; turning it up gives smaller, shallower waves.

When you want to relax, this makes a soothing background. Put on good headphones, and you can lose yourself in the sound. It also makes a relaxing environmental sound when played over speakers at a low level. If your computer has Bluetooth, and you have Bluetooth speakers, try playing this in the background at the end of a long day.

Son of the Beach

This is just one example of the kind of environmental sounds and effects you can make with Studio One, so let me know if this type of tip interests you. I’ve also done rain, rocket engines, howling gales, the engine room of an interstellar cargo ship, cosmic thuds, various soundscapes, and even backgrounds designed to encourage theta and delta brain waves. I made the last one originally for a friend of mine whose children had a hard time going to sleep, and burned it to CD. When I asked what he thought, he said “no one has ever heard how it ends.” So I guess it worked! Chalk up another unusual Studio One application.

 

Download the De-Stresser FX Chain here!

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Into the Archives, Part 2

After last week’s thrilling cliff-hanger about how to preserve your WAV files for future generations, let’s look at how to export all your stereo audio tracks and have them incorporate effects processing, automation, level, and panning. There are several ways to do this; although you can drag files into a Browser folder, and choose Wave File with rendered Insert FX, Studio One’s feature to save stems is much easier and also includes any effects added by effects in Bus and FX Channels. (We’ll also look at how to archive Instrument tracks.)

Saving as stems, where you choose individual Tracks or Channels, makes archiving processed files a breeze. For archiving, I choose Tracks because they’re what I’ll want to bring in for a remix. For example, if you’re using an instrument where multiple outputs feed into a stereo mix, Channels will save the mix, but Tracks will render the individual Instrument sounds into their own tracks.

When you export everything as stems, and bring them back into an empty Song, playback will sound exactly like the Song whose stems you exported. However, note that saving as stems does not necessarily preserve the Song’s organization; for example, tracks inside a folder track are rendered as individual tracks, not as part of a folder. I find this preferable anyway. Also, if you just drag the tracks back into an empty song, they’ll be alphabetized by track name. If this is an issue, number each track in the desired order before exporting.

SAVING STEMS

Select Song > Export Stems. Choose whether you want to export what’s represented by Tracks in the Arrange view, or by Channels in the Console. Again, for archiving, I recommend Tracks (Fig. 1).

 

Figure 1: The Song > Export Stems option is your friend.

If there’s anything you don’t want to save, uncheck the box next to the track name. Muted tracks are unchecked by default, but if you check them, the tracks are exported properly, and open unmuted.

Note that if an audio track is being sent to effects in a Bus or FX Channel, the exported track will include any added effects. Basically, you’ll save whatever you would hear with Solo enabled. In the Arrange view, each track is soloed as it’s rendered, so you can monitor the archiving progress as it occurs.

In Part 1 on saving raw WAV files, we noted that different approaches required different amounts of storage space. Saving stems requires the most amount of storage space because it saves all tracks from start to end (or whatever area in the timeline you select), even if a track-only has a few seconds of audio in it. However, this also means that the tracks are suitable for importing into programs that don’t recognize Broadcast WAV Files. Start all tracks from the beginning of a song, or at least from the same start point, and they’ll all sync up properly.

WHAT ABOUT THE MAIN FADER SETTINGS?

Note that the tracks will be affected by your Main fader inserts and processing, including any volume automation that creates a fadeout. I don’t use processors in the Main channel inserts, because I reserve any stereo 2-track processing for the Project page (hey, it’s Studio One—we have the technology!). I’d recommend bypassing any Main channel effects, because if you’re going to use archived files for a remix, you probably don’t want to be locked in to any processing applied to the stereo mix. I also prefer to disable automation Read for volume levels, because the fade may need to last longer with a remix. Keep your options open.

However, the Main fader is useful if you try to save the stems and get an indication that clipping has occurred. Reduce the Main fader by slightly more than the amount of clipping (e.g., if the warning says a file was 1 dB over, lower the Main channel fader by -1.1 dB). Another option would be to isolate the track(s) causing the clipping and reduce their levels; but reducing the Main channel fader maintains the proportional level of the mixed tracks.

SAVING INSTRUMENT AUDIO

Saving an Instrument track as a stem automatically renders it into audio. While that’s very convenient, you have other options.

When you drag an Instrument track’s Event to the Browser, you can save it as a Standard MIDI File (.mid) or as a Musicloop feature (press Shift to select between the two). Think of a Musicloop, a unique Studio One feature, as an Instrument track “channel strip”—when you bring it back into a project, it creates a Channel in the mixer, includes any Insert effects, zeroes the Channel fader, and incorporates the soft synth so you can edit it. Of course, if you’re collaborating with someone who doesn’t have the same soft synth or insert effects, they won’t be available (that’s another reason to stay in the Studio One ecosystem when collaborating if at all possible). But, you’ll still have the note events in a track.

There are three cautions when exporting Instrument track Parts as Musicloops or MIDI files.

  • The Instrument track Parts are exported as MIDI files, which aren’t (yet) time-stamped similarly to Broadcast WAV Files. Therefore, the first event starts at the song’s beginning, regardless of where it occurs in the Song.
  • Mutes aren’t recognized, so the file you bring back will include any muted notes.
  • If there are multiple Instrument Parts in a track, you can drag them into the Browser and save them as a Musicloop. However, this will save a Musicloop for each Part. You can bring them all into the same track, one a time, but then you have to place them properly. If you bring them all in at once, they’ll create as many Channels/Tracks as there are Instrument Parts, and all Parts will start at the Song’s beginning…not very friendly.

The bottom line: Before exporting an Instrument track as a Musicloop or MIDI file, I recommend deleting any muted Parts, selecting all Instrument Parts by typing G to create a single Part, then extending the Part’s start to the Song’s beginning (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: The bottom track has prepped the top track to make it stem-export-friendly.

You can make sure that Instrument tracks import into the Song in the desired placement, by using Transform to Audio Track. As mentioned above, it’s best to delete unmuted sections, and type G to make multiple Parts into a single Part. However, you don’t need to extend the track’s beginning.

  1. Right-click in the track’s header, and select Transform to Audio Track.
  2. Drag the resulting audio file into the Browser. Now, the file is a standard Broadcast WAV Format file.
  3. When you drag the file into a Song, select it and choose Edit > Move to Origin to place it properly on the timeline.

However, unlike a Musicloop, this is only an audio file. When you bring it into a song, the resulting Channel does not include the soft synth, insert effects, etc.

Finally…it’s a good idea to save any presets used in your various virtual instruments into the same folder as your archived tracks. You never know…right?

And now you know how to archive your Songs. Next week, we’ll get back to Fun Stuff.

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Safety First: Into the Archives, Part 1

I admit it. This is a truly boring topic.

You’re forgiven if you scoot down to something more interesting in this blog, but here’s the deal. I always archive finished projects, because remixing older projects can sometimes give them a second life—for example, I’ve stripped vocals from some songs, and remixed the instrument tracks for video backgrounds. Some have been remixed for other purposes. Some really ancient songs have been remixed because I know more than I did when I mixed them originally.

You can archive to hard drives, SSDs, the cloud…your choice. I prefer Blu-Ray optical media, because it’s more robust than conventional DVDs, has a rated minimum shelf life that will outlive me (at which point my kid can use the discs as coasters), and can be stored in a bank’s safe deposit box.

Superficially, archiving may seem to be the same process as collaboration, because you’re exporting tracks. However, collaboration often occurs during the recording process, and may involve exporting stems—a single track that contains a submix of drums, background vocals, or whatever. Archiving occurs after a song is complete, finished, and mixed. This matters for dealing with details like Event FX and instruments with multiple outputs. By the time I’m doing a final mix, Event FX (and Melodyne pitch correction, which is treated like an Event FX) have been rendered into a file, because I want those edits to be permanent. When collaborating, you might want to not render these edits, in case your collaborator has different ideas of how a track should sound.

With multiple-output instruments, while recording I’m fine with having all the outputs appear over a single channel—but for the final mix, I want each output to be on its own channel for individual processing. Similarly, I want tracks in a Folder track to be exposed and archived individually, not submixed.

So, it’s important to consider why you want to archive, and what you will need in the future. My biggest problem when trying to open really old songs is that some plug-ins may no longer be functional, due to OS incompatibilities, not being installed, being replaced with an update that doesn’t load automatically in place of an older version, different preset formats, etc. Another problem may be some glitch or issue in the audio itself, at which point I need a raw, unprocessed file for fixing the issue before re-applying the processing.

Because I can’t predict exactly what I’ll need years into the future, I have three different archives.

  • Save the Studio One Song using Save To a New Folder. This saves only what’s actually used in the Song, not the extraneous files accumulated during the recording process, which will likely trim quite a bit of storage space compared to the original recording. This will be all that many people need, and hopefully, when you open the Song in the future everything will load and sound exactly as it did when it was finished. That means you won’t need to delve into the next two archive options.
  • Save each track as a rendered audio WAV file with all the processing added by Studio One (effects, levels, and automation). I put these into a folder called Processed Tracks. Bringing them back into a Song sounds just like the original. They’re useful if in the future, the Song used third-party plug-ins that are no longer compatible or installed—you’ll still have the original track’s sound available.
  • Save each track as a raw WAV file. These go into a folder named Raw Tracks. When remixing, you need raw tracks if different processing, fixes, or automation is required. You can also mix and match these with the rendered files—for example, maybe all the rendered virtual instruments are great, but you want different vocal processing.

Exporting Raw Wave Files

In this week’s tip, we’ll look at exporting raw WAV files. We’ll cover exporting files with processing (effects and automation), and exporting virtual instruments as audio, in next week’s tip.

Studio One’s audio files use the Broadcast Wave Format. This format time-stamps a file with its location on the timeline. When using any of the options we’ll describe, raw (unprocessed) audio files are saved with the following characteristics:

  • No fader position or panning (files are pre-fader)
  • No processing or automation
  • Raw files incorporate Event envelopes (i.e., Event gain and fades) as well as any unrendered Event FX, including Melodyne
  • Muted Events are saved as silence

Important: When you drag Broadcast WAV Files back into an empty Song, they won’t be aligned to their time stamp. You need to select them all, and choose Edit > Move to Origin.

The easiest way to save files is by dragging them into a Browser folder. When the files hover over the Browser folder (Fig. 1), select one of three options—Wave File, Wave File with rendered Insert FX, or Audioloop—by cycling through the three options with the QWERTY keyboard’s Shift key. We’ll be archiving raw WAV files, so choose Wave File for the options we’re covering.

 

Figure 1: The three file options available when dragging to a folder in the Browser are Wave File, Wave File with rendered Insert FX, or Audioloop.

As an example, Fig. 2 shows the basic Song we’ll be archiving. Note that there are multiple Events, and they’re non-contiguous—they’ve been split, muted, etc.

Figure 2: This shows the Events in the Song being archived, for comparison with how they look when saving, or reloading into an empty Song.

Option 1: Fast to prepare, takes up the least storage space, but is a hassle to re-load into an empty Song.

Select all the audio Events in your Song, and then drag them into the Browser’s Raw Tracks folder you created (or whatever you named it). The files take up minimal storage space, because nothing is saved that isn’t data in a Song. However, I don’t recommend this option, because when you drag the stored Events back into a Song, each Event ends up on its own track (Fig. 3). So if a Song has 60 different Events, you’ll have 60 tracks. It takes time to consolidate all the original track Events into their original tracks, and then delete the empty tracks that result from moving so many Events into individual tracks.

Figure 3: These files have all been moved to their origin, so they line up properly on the timeline. However, exporting all audio Events as WAV files makes it time-consuming to reconstruct a Song, especially if the tracks were named ambiguously.

Option 2: Takes more time to prepare, takes up more storage space, but is much easier to load into an empty Song.

  1. Select the Events in one audio track, and type Ctrl+B to join them together into a single Event in the track. If this causes clipping, you’ll need to reduce the Event gain by the amount that the level is over 0. Repeat this for the other audio tracks.
  2. Joining each track creates Events that start at the first Event’s start, and end at the last Event’s end. This uses more memory than Option 1 because if two Events are separated by an empty space of several measures, converting them into a single Event now includes the formerly empty space as track data (Fig. 4).

Figure 4: Before archiving, the Events in individual tracks have now been joined into a single track Event by selecting the track’s Events, and typing Ctrl+B.

  1. Select all the files, and drag them to your “Raw Tracks” folder with the Wave File option selected.

After dragging the files back into an empty Song, select all the files, and then after choosing Edit > Move to Origin, all the files will line up according to their time stamps, and look like they did in Fig. 4. Compare this to Fig. 3, where the individual, non-bounced Events were exported.

Option 3: Universal, fast to prepare, but takes up the most storage space.

When collaborating with someone whose program can’t read Broadcast WAV Files, all imported audio files need to start at the beginning of the Song so that after importing, they’re synched on the timeline. For collaborations it’s more likely you’ll export Stems, as we’ll cover in Part 2, but sometimes the following file type is handy to have around.

  1. Make sure that at least one audio Event starts at the beginning of the song. If there isn’t one, use the Pencil tool to draw in a blank Event (of any length) that starts at the beginning of any track.

Figure 5: All tracks now consist of a single Event, which starts at the Song’s beginning.

  1. Select all the Events in all audio tracks, and type Ctrl+B. This bounces all the Events within a track into a single track, extends each track’s beginning to the beginning of the first audio Event, and extends each track’s end to the end of the longest track (Fig. 5). Because the first Event is at the Song’s beginning, all tracks start at the Song’s beginning.
  2. Select all the Events, and drag them into the Browser’s Raw Tracks folder (again, using the Wave File option).

When you bring them back into an empty Song, they look like Fig. 5. Extending all audio tracks to the beginning and end is why they take up more memory than the previous options. Note that you will probably need to include the tempo when exchanging files with someone using a different program.

To give a rough idea of the memory differences among the three options, here are the results based on a typical song.

Option 1: 302 MB

Option 2: 407 MB

Option 3: 656 MB

You’re not asleep yet? Cool!! In Part 2, we’ll take this further, and conclude the archiving process.

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Four VCA Channel Applications

A VCA Channel has a fader, but it doesn’t pass audio. Instead, the fader acts like a gain control for other channels, or groups of channels. In some ways, you can think of a VCA Channel as “remote control” for other channels. If you assign a VCA to control a channel, you can adjust the channel gain, without having to move the associated channel’s fader. The VCA Channel fader does it for you.

Inserting a VCA channel works the same way as inserting any other kind of channel or bus. (However, there’s a convenient shortcut for grouping, as described later.) To place a channel’s gain under VCA control, choose the VCA Channel from the drop-down menu just below a channel’s fader…and let’s get started with the applications.

APPLICATION #1: EASY AUTOMATION TRIM

Sometimes when mixing, you’ll create detailed level automation where all the moves and changes are perfect. But as the mix develops, you may find you want to increase or decrease the overall level. There are several ways to do this, like inserting a Mixtool and adjusting the level independently of the automation, or using the automation’s Trim control. However, a VCA control is sometimes easier, and besides, it can control several channels at once if desired, without having to feed them to a bus. The VCA fader can even offset automation for multiple tracks that are located within a Folder Track (Fig. 1)

  • Figure 1: Note how the label below each fader says VCA 1. This means each channel’s gain is being controlled by the VCA 1 fader on the right. If all these tracks have their own automation, VCA 1 can bring the overall level up or down, without altering the automation shape, and without needing to send all their outputs to the same bus.

 

If the automation changes are exactly as desired, but the overall level needs to increase or decrease, offset the gain by adjusting the VCA Channel’s fader. This can be simpler and faster than trying to raise or lower an entire automation curve using the automation Trim control. Furthermore, after making the appropriate adjustments, you can hide the VCA Channel to reduce mixer clutter, and show it only if future adjustments are necessary.

APPLICATION #2: NESTED GROUPING

One of the most common grouping applications involves drums—when you group a drum kit’s individual drums, once you get the right balance, you can bring their collective levels up or down without upsetting the balance. Studio One offers multiple ways to group channels. The traditional option is to feed all the outputs you want to group to a bus, and vary the level with the bus fader. For quick changes, a more modern option is to select the channels you want to group, so that moving one fader moves all the faders.

But VCAs take this further, because VCA groups can be nested. This means groups can be subsets of other groups.

A classic example of why this is useful involves orchestral scoring. The first violins could be assigned to VCA group 1st Violins, the second violins to VCA group 2nd Violins, violas to VCA group Violas, and cellos and double basses to VCA group Cellos+Basses.

You could assign the 1st Violins and 2nd Violins VCA groups to a Violins Group, and then assign the Violins group, Violas group, and Cellos+Basses group to a Strings group. Now you can vary the level of the first violins, the second violins, both violin sections (with the Violins Group), the violas, the cellos and double basses, and/or the entire string section (Fig. 2). This kind of nested grouping is also useful with choirs, percussion ensembles, drum machines with multiple outputs, background singers, multitracked drum libraries, and more.

 

Figure 2: The 1st Violins and 2nd Violins have their own group, which are in turn controlled by the Violins group. Furthermore, the Violins, Violas, and Cellos+Basses groups are all controlled by the Strings group.

Although it may seem traditional grouping with buses would offer the same functionality, note that all the channel outputs would need to go through the same audio bus. Because VCA faders don’t pass audio, any audio output assignments for the channels controlled by the VCA remain independent. You’re “busing” gain, not audio outputs—that’s significant.

If you create a group, then all the faders within that group remain independent. Although with Studio One you can temporarily exclude a fader from a group to adjust it, that’s not necessary with VCA grouping—you can move a fader independently that’s controlled by a VCA, and it will still be linked to the other members of a VCA group when you move the VCA fader.

Bottom line: The easiest way to work with large numbers of groups is with VCA faders.

APPLICATION #3: GROUPS AND SEND EFFECTS

A classic reason for using a VCA fader involves send effects. Suppose several channels (e.g., individual drums) go to a submix bus fader, and the channels also have post-fader Send controls going to an effect, such as reverb. With a conventional submix bus, as you pull down the bus fader, the faders for the individual tracks haven’t changed—so the post-fader send from those tracks is still sending a signal to the reverb bus. Even with the bus fader down all the way, you’ll still hear the reverb.

A VCA Channel solves this because it controls the gain of the individual channels. Less gain means less signal going into the channel’s Send control, regardless of the channel fader’s position. So with the VCA fader all the way down, there’s no signal going to the reverb (Fig. 3)

 

 

  • Figure 3: The VCA Channel controls the amount of post-fader Send going to a reverb, because the VCA fader affects the gain regardless of fader position. If the drum channels went to a conventional bus, reducing the bus volume would have no effect on the post-fader Sends.

APPLICATION #4: BUS VS. VCA

There’s a fine point of using VCAs to control channel faders. Suppose individual drums feed a bus with a compressor or saturation effect. As you change the channel gain, the input to the compression or saturation changes, which alters the effect. If this is a problem, then you’re better off sending the channels to a standard bus. But this can also be an advantage, because pushing the levels could create a more intense sound by increasing the amount of compression or saturation. The VCA fader would determine the group’s “character,” while the bus control acts like a master volume control for the overall group level.

And because a VCA fader can control bus levels, some drums could go to an audio bus with a compressor, and some drums to a bus without compression. Then you could use the VCA fader to control the levels of both buses. This allows for tricks like raising the level of the drums and compressing the high-hats, cymbals, and toms more, while leaving the kick and snare uncompressed…or increasing saturation on the kick and snare, while leaving other drum sounds untouched.

Granted, VCA Channels may not be essential to all workflows. But if you know what they can do, a VCA Channel may be able to solve a problem that would otherwise require a complex workaround with any other option.

 

How to Use a Game Controller as a MIDI Device In Studio One!

Most of us who work here at PreSonus are musicians 🎤🎹🎸🎺🎷🎻🥁or audio engineers 🎧.

And some of us are also gamers 🎮in addition to that.

For those of you who can relate, check out this interesting and fun video that PreSonus Artist/Endorser Nik Jeremić just created and shared with us recently. He’s using an Xbox One game controller to trigger samples in Studio One:

[Nik’s Official Website]

The “Double-Decker” Pre-Main Bus

This Friday tip has multiple applications—consider the following scenarios.

You like to mix with mastering processors in the Main bus to approximate the eventual mastered sound, but ultimately, you want to add (or update) an unprocessed file for serious mastering in the Project page. However, reality checks are tough. When you disable the master bus processors so you can hear the unprocessed sound you’ll be exporting, the level will usually change. So then you have to re-balance the levels, but you might not get them quite to where they were. And unfortunately, one of the biggest enemies of consistent mixing and mastering is varying monitoring levels. (Shameless plug alert: my book How to Create Compelling Mixes in Studio One, which is also available in Spanish, tells how to obtain consistent levels when mixing.)

Or, suppose you want to use the Tricomp or a similar “maximizing” program in the master bus. Although these can make a mix “pop,” there may be an unfair advantage if they make the music louder—after all, our brains tend to think that “louder is better.” The only way to get a realistic idea of how much difference the processor really makes is if you balance the processed and unprocessed levels so they’re the same.

Or, maybe you use the cool Sonarworks program to flatten your headphone or speaker’s response, so you can do more translatable mixes. But Sonarworks should be enabled only when monitoring; you don’t want to export a file with a correction curve applied. Bypassing the Sonarworks plug-in when updating the Project page, or exporting a master file, is essential. But in the heat of the creative moment, you might forget to do that, and then need to re-export.

THE “DOUBLE-DECKER,” PRE-MAIN BUS SOLUTION

The Pre-Main bus essentially doubles up the Main bus, to create an alternate destination for all your channels. The Pre-Main bus, whose output feeds the Main bus, serves as a “sandbox” for the Main bus. You can insert whatever processors you want into the Pre-Main bus for monitoring, without affecting what’s ultimately exported from the Main bus.

Here’s how it works.

 

  1. Create a bus, and call it the Pre-Main bus.
  2. In the Pre-Main bus’s output field just above the pan slider, assign the bus output to the Main bus. If you don’t see the output field, raise the channel’s height until the output field appears.
  3. Insert the Level Meter plug-in in the Main bus. We’ll use this for LUFS level comparisons (check out the blog post Easy Level Matching, or the section on LUFS in my mixing book, as to why this matters).

Figure 1: The Pre-Main bus, outlined in white, has the Tricomp and Sonarworks plug-ins inserted. Note that all the channels have their outputs assigned to the Pre-Main bus.

  1. Insert the mastering processors in the Pre-Main bus that you want to use while monitoring. Fig. 1 shows the Pre-Main bus with the Tricomp and Sonarworks plug-ins inserted.
  2. Select all your channels. An easy way to do this is to click on the first channel in the Channel List, then shift+click on the last channel in the list. Or, click on the channel to the immediate left of the Main channel, and then shift+click on the first mixer channel.

With all channels selected, changing the output field for one channel changes the output field for all channels. Assign the outputs to the Main bus, play some music, and look at the Level Meter to check the LUFS reading.

Now assign the channel outputs to the Pre-Main bus. Again, observe the Level Meter in the Master bus. Adjust the Pre-Main bus’s level for the best level match when switching the output fields between the Main and Pre-Main bus. By matching the levels, you can be sure you’re listening to a fair comparison of the processed audio (the Pre-Main bus) and the unprocessed audio that will be exported from the Main bus.

The only caution is that when all your channels are selected, if you change a channel’s fader, the faders for all the channels will change. Sometimes, this is a good thing—if you experience “fader level creep” while mixing, instead of lowering the master fader, you can lower the channel levels. But you also need to be careful not to reflexively adjust a channel’s level, and end up adjusting all of them by mistake. Remember to click on the channel whose fader you want to adjust, before doing any editing.

Doubling up the Main bus can be really convenient when mixing—check it out when you want to audition processors in the master bus, but also, be able to do a quick reality check with the unprocessed sound to find out the difference any processors really make to the overall output.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Steve Cook, who devised a similar technique to accommodate using Sonarworks in Cakewalk, for providing the inspiration for this post.

Starpoint Gemini 3 With Nikola Jeremić

For those of you who are not familiar with Nikola (Nik) Jeremić’s work on the previous iteration of the Starpoint Gemini videogame soundtrack, you can find out about that here.

This will be a “deep dive” into how Nik used Studio One Professional along with the ATOM and our Studio 1824c interface to route audio and MIDI data to and from external hardware synths… his own words!

 

ATOM Controller

The most important thing about ATOM in this production is that it is used both as a playable instrument, as well as editing and mixing controller.

The layout was very simple in terms that it already integrates itself perfectly with Studio One, and I didn’t have to do much with tweaking it.

So far it completely replaced my old Classic FaderPort (which I still own and use it from time to time) in regards to transport commands, writing automation for track levels, panning, and the amount of signal being sent to FX tracks. I will surely upgrade myself with the current FaderPort pretty soon because I have worn out the buttons on the old one from years of usage. 

I used small sticky tags in order to label the four knobs, so I always know which knob controls which parameter.

After the transport tab buttons, the ones I used the most are Song Setup, Editor and instrument Show/Hide. It really speeds up my workflow, and it was especially helpful on this game. Since 80% of the game’s soundtrack was done in the box, browsing through instruments and editing their MIDI data was really easy and fast. 

One of the things that really amazed me regarding ATOM was the fact that every pad is labeled with the corresponding default control in Studio One Editor. I rarely touched my computer keyboard for editing.

Whenever I wanted to make a quick edit of my parameters in Impact, or any other instrument that matter, I just hit that Show/Hide instrument button, and… voila! Everything is right there at my fingertips! I will talk more about ATOM and Impact XT later.

 

Studio 1824c Interface

I used FireStudio Project for over eight years, and it has been a solid workhorse of an interface for me throughout my career. It worked flawlessly until I had a power surge at my home, which fried some of my gear, including the interface, so THAT was the only reason I had to replace it.

It actually happened in the middle of my work on Starpoint Gemini 3, so I researched a little and decided to go with Studio 1824c as an upgrade. To be honest, it’s as if I never replaced my old interface, because PreSonus hardware is really great when it comes to communication with Studio One, so the only thing I had to do was to plug it in my PC and install the latest drivers, and that was it. My production of this soundtrack hasn’t stopped at all, because everything was so compatible, so I just had to re-connect a few audio cables. It took me only minutes and I was back on track.

Since 20% of the soundtrack to Starpoint Gemini 3 is done on hardware synths and instruments, Studio 1824C is a Godsend for connecting all four of my hardware synths:

My Yamaha DX7 was connected via splitter cable as a stereo unit to my inputs 5 and 6.

I also used my three analogue KORG synths: (Volca Bass, Volca Keys, Volca Kick) in stereo via another splitter cable which was connected to inputs 1 and 2, because these Volcas were used the most for this soundtrack. 

All of the synths received their MIDI data via MIDI In/Out from Studio 1824c, and I am really happy I didn’t have to buy an external MIDI interface for this. The only thing I had to do was to plug and unplug the midi cables from one synth to another, depending which one I was using at that time, but it’s not a mood killer.

My inputs 3 and 4 were set up as mono. Input 3 has an external 1073 clone mic preamp attached to it, and Input 4 has an external DI for recording and re-amping guitars and bass.

Inputs 7&8 together with Outputs 7&8 were used as stereo FX loop send/return for my FX pedal chain with Pipeline Stereo plugin:

I also used sticky tags to label my front panel of Studio 1824C, and I mapped out my ins and outs inside song setup window, so I could save it as a default setting for all of my tracks for this game.

Regarding my FX chain loop, I used delay, chorus and shimmer reverb pedals in series, and I set them up to be used with Pipeline XT stereo plugin (which comes bundled with Studio One Pro) on an FX track. The reason I opted for this approach instead of connecting my synth output directly to pedals, is because I wanted to have an overall control of the amount of synth signal I am sending to any FX chain. Sometimes I wanted to automate the amount of signal being sent, and that is where those mapped knobs from ATOM came in handy.

I am pretty amazed by the build quality of Studio 1824c, having in mind the price of the unit. I absolutely love the front panel metering and big level knob for main out. Having two headphone outputs is really handy when I invite a session musician to record, because I don’t have a booth, then we both use headphones in the same room. Studio 1824c is a workhorse of an interface and it has improved my workflow ten times better than before.

I amhave yet to build my own Eurorack modular synth, so I can send CV signals via Studio 1824c outs to my synth. That is an AMAZING feature, and I am really looking forward to using it in the future.

 

Impact XT

Impact XT was an essential part of my beats and percussive materials for both action and exploration tracks, and the way ATOM integrates with Impact XT has been really helpful to my workflow throughout the course of this entire soundtrack.

I used two instances of Impact XT:

One was for triggering 80s synth drums and transition fills that you can hear in synthwave all the time. The first bank (BLUE) was for elements of the drum kit, and the second bank (GREEN) was for triggering drum fills for transitions between parts.

I love the fact I can trigger loops and audio clips inside Impact XT and sync them to the BPM of my track. All you have to do is to quantize each trigger pad to Follow Tempo and Beats, and no matter what tempo you’re in, it will work flawlessly.

One more thing I like about Impact XT and ATOM is that all the pads can be color-coded the way you like for each bank, because it really helps during the performance to know which pad corresponds to which sound or loop. The bank button on the ATOM itself responds to the bank color of Impact XT, which is really cool.

My second instance of Impact XT was for deep ambient hits and various atonal noises and synth FX for background. I mean, you can’t have a space exploration soundtrack without some weird alien sounds in the background, right?😊

 

I love the option of multiple stereo and mono outputs in Impact, so that was really helpful for me to have different FX chains for various drum sounds.

 

SampleOne XT

SampleOne XT is featuring my main piano sounds for the entire Starpoint Gemini 3 soundtrack. I haven’t recorded actual piano samples, instead I re-sampled a piano VST I am using most of the time for my work. The thing is that this sampled piano uses up a lot of RAM and CPU, so I couldn’t use it in real-time with my other instruments inside my template, because the piano was processed with a lot of plugins, and then it was introducing latency after I had to increase the buffer size.

In order to use the sounds that I wanted, I re-sampled this piano in two octaves note by note with the processing included. It was more convenient for me, and it saved me a lot of loading time of the template itself.

SampleOne XT proved to be a great choice because it’s really user-friendly and convenient.

First, I had to edit and cut all of the individual notes and label them. That is the only tedious work I had to do here.

After that, all I had to do was to drag the sampled notes to their corresponding key inside Sample One XT. But… I opted for the faster and better solution of sample recording inside SampleOne XT.

Basically what I did was to place all of the samples on the grid, select the audio input inside Sample One XT, choose the starting note and Play, Stop, and Record buttons in order to tell the engine to separate notes. After that, I only renamed the files, and that was it.

After that was done, I was able to play my piano instantly. I saved the patch as a preset, so I could recall it any time.

It doesn’t get any simpler than that, and this is the reason I love Studio One.

 

Pattern Editor

As I said, ATOM and Impact XT are all over my percussive tracks and beats on this soundtrack, but I also used another drum VST plug-in here in order to make things sound a little bit organic, and I used my 80s synth drum kit as a layer on top of those organic drum parts. Call it some sort of a kick and snare drum sample trigger like you have in metal production.

The option that really inspired me and got my creative juices flowing is the pattern editor in Studio One 4.6.

The way I sequenced my drums and percussion was to play them in at first, and get the most humanization out of them based on velocity, sample offset etc… But then I took those performances and improved them inside Pattern Editor, changed a hit here and there, modify the rhythm, etc… 

Basically, I had a drum performance on a midi piano roll with all the notes labeled properly, and then I right-clicked on the midi clip to select the option to convert it to drum pattern for editing.

Editing note data inside Pattern Editor is a breeze.

I could easily replace notes, create new performances, shift the beats and add some swing to them in order to make them sound more natural. The option for half-lane resolution is a really cool feature to add triplets and some odd hits, but it allows me to follow the pattern with precision. This is just one example of a pre-chorus pattern inside the action track, and you can clearly see the name of all the notes properly, and I love the way it integrates properly with third party drum VSTs.

It really is a beatmaking workhorse for electronic music. I have yet to test in on cinematic percussion with big drums and more elements.

 

MIDI FX

MIDI FX in Studio One (the arpeggiator especially) can come in handy if you don’t like the fuss of setting up some complex sequences.

I used arpeggiator mostly on action cues where I wanted to create running sequences in order to have that sense of tension going on during combat. It was mostly set up in 8th or 16th notes, and then I played wide chords on percussive synths in order to get them running and the results were stunning! The arpeggiator is really easy to use, and it was my go-to MIDI effect on this soundtrack.

Repeater is a whole different beast, and this one is for people who actually like working with complex sequences of scales and melodies. I used Repeater also mostly on action cues for the same reason as the Arpeggiator, but I programmed it to play some aggressive melodies that would counter the chords of the Arpeggiator. I actually have a hardware analogue sequencer, but this was easier and faster to use.

The real fun starts when you place a Chorder in front of Repeater!

What I did with Chorder was to make it play intervals like fifths or octaves, and then sequence those with either Repeater or Arpeggiator.

The results I got were some really complex action sequences which made the game developers smile from ear to ear! I highly recommend trying this approach.

Play Starpoint Gemini 3 here on Steam!

 

[ Nik’s Official Website | Starpoint Gemini 3 Soundtrack (Bandcamp) ]

Melodic Percussion

This week’s tip shows how to augment percussion parts by making them melodic—courtesy of Harmonic Editing.

The basic idea is that setting a white or pink noise track to follow the chord track gives the noise a sense of pitch. Although having a long track of noise isn’t very interesting, if we gate it with a percussion part, then now we’ve layered the percussion part’s rhythm with the tonality of the noise. Add a little dotted 8th note echo, and it can sound pretty cool.

Step 1: Bring on the Noise

Noise needs to be recorded in a track to be affected by harmonic editing, so open up the mixer’s Input section, and insert a Tone Generator effect in tracks 1 and 2. Set the Tone Generator to Pink Noise, and trim the level so it’s not slamming up against 0 (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: We need noise in each channel to implement this technique.

Record-enable both tracks (set them to Mono channel mode), enable Input Monitor, and start recording noise into the tracks. The reason for recording into two tracks is we want to end up with stereo noise, so the tracks can’t be identical.

Step 2: Make the Noise Stereo

Now that the noise is recorded, you can remove the Tone Generator effects from the track inputs. At the mixer, pan one channel of noise left, and one right. In each track’s Inspector, choose Universal Mode for Follow Chords, and Strings for Tune mode (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: How to set up the tracks for stereo noise. The crucial Inspector settings are outlined in yellow.

 

Set each track’s output to a Bus, and now we have stereo noise at the Bus output. Insert a Gate in the Bus, and any other effects you want to use (I insert a Pro EQ to trim the highs and lows somewhat, and a Beat Delay for a more EDM-like vibe—but use your imagination).

Step 3: Control the Gate’s Sidechain

Choose the percussion sound with which you want to control the Gate sidechain, insert a pre-fader send in the percussion track, assign the send to the Gate, and then adjust the Gate parameters so that the percussion track modulates the noise percussively. Fig. 3 shows the track setup.

Figure 3: Track layout used in the audio example.

Tracks 1 and 2 are the mono noise tracks that follow the Chord Track, and feed the Bus. Tracks 4 and 5 both have pre-fader sends to control the Gate, so that for the first 7 measures only the cowbell controls the gate, but at measure 8, a tambourine part also modulates the Gate.

Track 6 has the cowbell and tambourine audio, which is mixed in with the pitched noise, while the folder track has the kick, snare, and hi-hat loops. (The reason for not using post-fader sends on the percussion tracks is so that the tracks controlling the Gate are independent of the audio, which you might want to process differently.)

But Wait…There’s More!

With a longer gate, the sound is almost like the rave organ sound that was so big at the turn of the century. And there are options other than gating, like using X-Trem…or following the Gate with X-Trem. Or draw a periodic automation level waveform for the bus, and use the Transform function to make everything even weirder. In any case, now you have a new, and unusual tool, for percussive accents.