Posted tagged ‘Pro Tools’

TCM MASTERING HOME MUSIC STUDIO BLOG: TIPS & INFORMATION

May 21, 2012

TCM Mastering Home Music Studio Blog: Tips and Information

The TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series of blogs covers everything from setting up a room at home and choosing gear, to recording and mixing various instruments as well as MIDI and final mastering. It’s packed with useful tips and essential information for the home musician.

Pro Tools – A Great Choice For Home Studios.

To find what you’re looking for, either use the Tags on the right hand side of the page, or click on some of the links below. You’ll also find links within the blogs that will take you to other Parts that will be of interest.

Part 56 – Mastering

MIDI Setup With Keyboards & Computer.

Part 52 – Intro To MIDI

Part 45 – Mixing Drums

Vocal ‘Comping’.

Part 39 – Mixing Vocals

Part 35 – Editing Music

Part 29 – Multitrack Recording

Drawmer Dynamic Plug-In For Pro Tools.

Part 24 – Signal Processing

Part 19 – Recording Drums

Part 11 – Recording Acoustic Stringed Instruments

Various Mics On Upright Piano.

Part 8 – Recording Piano

Home Music Studio Setup.

Part 1 – Your Room

TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group owned and run by Ted Carfrae, have been offering a professional, fast and affordable service to the music community for over thirty years, having worked with most of the major record labels. Their clients range from new, up and coming artists to established international musicians.

TCM are experts in audio restoration and have done extensive work for the BBC and Sky Satellite Radio as well as smaller independent music houses.

Take a look at some of the clients TCM has worked with recently.

If you’d like more information on what Ted and the TCM team can do for you and your music, give us a call or drop us a line. Our contact details can be found by clicking here.

West 1 Entertainment News

In 2011, Ted Carfrae formed West 1 Entertainment with business partner James Baker, to handle artist management and promotion. One of their acts that continues to stun and excite audiences is…..

Ben – The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Act.

Ben – The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Act is currently touring the UK. The act is 100% live, with a talented band of musicians, dancers and a professional sound and lighting crew.

If you’re a Michael Jackson fan, you will want to see Ben – The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute Act. It’s the closest you will ever get to experience Michael Jackson live in concert.

It’s not just another tribute act, but a sincere and totally professional musical tribute to the incredible Michael Jackson. Check out the website for more information, by clicking here.

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TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 44 – MIXING DRUMS

January 2, 2012

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 44 Mixing Drums

Happy New Year from all of us at TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group. We hope 2012 will be a great year for all our clients and readers alike.

Drum Kit Showing Hi-Hat & Various Cymbals From The Drummer’s POV – Hi-Hat Left, Lowest Tom Right.

Continuing with our look at drums in the mix, this week it’s the turn of  the Cymbals and the Hi-Hat.

Consider when placing your mics that, the cymbals produce most of their sound above and below the metal plate in a figure-8 pattern (if you were to look edge on). The hi-hat produces lots of high-end transients and most of its sound is generated horizontally.

The height you position cymbals above the toms will alter their sound which in turn affects what is picked up by mics.

There are also cymbals which work better for recording than live work.

Using An AKG 452 Under The Cymbal.

If you have used specific mics for the cymbals (see this blog for tips on recording), you can often get rid of frequencies below the 150-200 Hz range, by using a shelf EQ. This removes rumble picked up by the mics. If the cymbals come across as ‘cheap’ and clunky you may be able to improve their sound by cutting a few dB at 1-2 kHz. To give them that ‘ring’, try adding a shelf EQ above 10 kHz.

We’ll discuss the use of the overheads in the mix next week. But bear in mind these mics (if you used them) will pick up so much of your drum and cymbal sound, you may decide that certain specific mikes are redundant when it comes to determining the overall sound of the kit in the final mix.

Hi-Hat & Snare Miked.

The hi-hat sound is characterised by the ‘ring’ between 7-10 kHz. The stick noise is around 5 kHz and the ‘clang’ between 500 Hz to 1 kHz.

The hi-hat may well be picked up by other mics in the kit, especially the snare mic. But assuming you have used a good quality mic and it was optimally placed, you could use a shelf EQ above 10 kHz to boost the brightness of the hi-hat. To remove rumble picked up by the mic, use a similar EQ setting to the one used for cymbals. To give it that high, crisp ‘tssshh’ use a wide bandwidth (or low Q setting) around 15-16 kHz.

The quality and sound of cymbals and hi-hats can vary enormously from different manufacturers and price ranges. So the application of EQ should be approached carefully in isolation of the cymbal sound and in comparison with the whole kit submix and all the other instruments, especially the rhythm section.

It’s essential to listen to instruments in the setting of the overall mix. As all the instruments are interdependent upon each other.

Toms Panned From Just Right Of Centre (Highest Pitch) Over To The Left (Lowest Pitch). Hi-Hat Panned Right Or Centre, Cymbals Right & Left. The Kick And Snare Are Normally Down The Middle. Centre Double Kicks, Or You Could Try Splitting The Kicks Evenly Off Centre Left & Right Slightly.

With regards to panning the cymbals, there are two perspectives used. Either from the point of view of the drummer or the POV of the listener. So as we mentioned last week, if we were to take the listener’s POV, the toms would be panned with the highest pitched just right of centre, moving left as we go down in pitch to the biggest floor tom. Cymbals can be placed right and left depending on the spread width and effect you want. The hi-hat is usually panned right or centre, depending on the genre of music.

Alternatively, if you intend to use the overheads in the drum submix, you will want the individually miked components to be placed in the same position in the stereo field as you hear in the OHs. For example, solo the OHs and listen to where the hi-hat appears. Let’s say it sounds like it’s at 2 on the clock. Match the hi-hat close mic track to the same position in the OH’s stereo picture.

The cymbals and hi-hat rarely, if ever, benefit from gating. Cymbals especially, have such a relatively long decay that it’s impossible to gate them effectively. Far better to clean up the cymbal and hi-hat track in the editing stage if necessary.

Many DAWs Offer A Non-Destructive ‘Strip Silence’ Option. Setup The Parameters So That Only Unwanted Audio (Below A Specified Level) Is Removed.

One method is to use the non-destructive ‘Strip Silence’ feature offered in many DAWs. But you have to be very careful in setting up the parameters so that you don’t strip away any of the sound you want to keep. If you do remove wanted material accidentally, you can hit ‘Undo’ and try again.

Or better still, simply edit out unwanted drum sounds from the cymbals and hi-hat tracks and apply fades in and out, so that the sounds you do want to keep don’t jump out at the listener. This method will give more control than a global gate setting any day.

If you do end up gating cymbals (not recommended, unless for a special effect), a little reverb added can restore the decay sound that inevitably gets cut off by the gate.

Pro Tools Automation.

You could also use automation to clean up tracks, but this will use up processing power in your computer’s CPU.

With any clean up procedure, you should always do a before and after comparison though, to make sure you’re actually improving the sound.

Spill from one drum mic to another is unavoidable with a multiple mic setup and is often the very thing that gives drums that real sound. So gating the hi-hat is really best reserved for ‘fixing’ the sound e.g. making it tighter.

If you notice serious problems with your drum sound in the mix stage…..you may have to re-record them…..not an easy or popular option.

However, if the session is finished and the drummer is no longer available, you may have no choice but to resort to some or all of the above suggestions to get your tracks in shape.

Tama Rock Kit With 14” Hi-Hat, 16” Crash & 20” Ride.

It’s therefore vital that you get the best drum sound you can, the first time. As trying to make a badly recorded drum kit sound good is always going to be an uphill struggle. So, take the time to tune and set up the drums and cymbals properly; place the best mics correctly and get the drummer to play the kit for you prior to hitting the record button, so that you can make sure everything is as good as can be.

If you only have a few problems with a specific cymbal and/or drum in the mix stage, you could always try triggering a sample to replace the offending hit(s). Or alternatively, record a wild hit then place it at the right sync point in the track.

I think it’s always worth sampling all the individual drums and cymbals from a kit, separately, just before you start recording the kit as a whole, for ‘backup’ purposes. You never know when you’ll need a clean snare, tom or crash cymbal hit. Make sure you label each drum and cymbal sample as accurately as possible, including size and make. Then add them to your music library for future use.

Check out our drum posts starting with tuning, by clicking here.

As I said in an earlier blog, if you can achieve a great recording of the drum kit, it usually yields an easy mix.

Next week we’ll conclude our look at mixing drums by considering the use of the Overheads and Ambience tracks.

TCM Music Group have access to many great session musicians, including Troy Luccketta (drummer with Tesla). If you’re interested in finding out more about our recording packages, or simply have a question about recording, mixing or mastering – please click here.

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 38 – MUSIC MIXING

November 21, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 38 Mixing

Last week we embarked on the mix stage of the multitrack process, by briefly looking at mixer and monitoring considerations, automation and the importance of resting your ears prior to a mix as well as saving and backing up your work.

This week we’ll look at a few different types of mixing consoles and mention a few more mixing tips. Then get into setting levels, adding signal processing and consider where to place the various instruments in the stereo field, next week.

Allen & Heath GS-R24 Analog Mixer.

For most Home Music Studios, space is often limited. So the favourite options for mixers are compact analog or digital consoles; a Studio-In-A-Box (SIAB) type system, sometimes called a Portastudio; or software mixers which are controlled by your computer mouse and keyboard.

Tascam DP-03 8 Track Digital Portastudio And Boss BR800.

The facilities provided by SIABs can vary considerably, from basic to reasonably sophisticated. Most provide the facility to record, overdub, edit and mix. There are a few manufacturers who provide various models on the market…..Tascam and Boss are popular makes.

Remember, you only get what you pay for. It’s an awful lot to ask for in a small portable unit, so if you are aiming for the best possible recordings and mixes, you need to consider consoles, DAWs and programmes that can handle the highest quality and complexity.

Software mixers can be extremely sophisticated, but controlling that degree of sophistication with a mouse and keyboard is challenging when you have a complicated mix.

3 Control Surfaces By Mackie, Behringer & Digidesign (Avid).

A good alternative is to connect a ‘control surface’, which interfaces with your software and allows you to mix with real faders and control knobs for adjusting various parameters of your mix. Mackie, Behringer and Digidesign (Avid) produce popular units.

Some include an audio interface too, which allows I/O options. Certain control surfaces work better with Pro Tools others work better with Logic or other software programmes. Use the  hyperlinks above but also do your own research! 🙂

Analog Behringer SX3282 – 32 Channel Mixer For Approximately $1000.

The stand alone mixing consoles often provide the most comprehensive facilities. Digital mixers have the advantage of being able to perform the same tasks as analog mixers, but often take up much less space. For example, the fader sliders can often be switched to handle tracks 1-8, 9-16 or 17-24 etc, very quickly. Therefore, you don’t need a dedicated fader for each of your tracks.

Digital PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2 – 16 Channel Mixer For Approximately $2000.

Combining automation with a quality digital mixer or control surface gives you immense power when mixing…..from providing a huge number of I/O options, send and bus configurations to remembering the smallest fader or EQ adjustment. Mixing your music is under your total control.

Before we get into discussing an actual mix, considering specific EQs for instruments and looking at the uses of other signal processing, I’d like to suggest a few more generic tips in addition to the ones I offered at the end of the last Home Music Studio blog. But remember, these are just suggestions based on many years of mixing. They’re not rules.

  • Set your mixer to neutral…..trim pots to unity, faders at 0dB, EQ flat, aux sends down, routing to left/right etc. Mute any tracks/channels that are not in use.
  • Initially, listen through to your mix without looking at or being influenced by the meters for each track, so that you can concentrate on the overall balance between the instruments. Get a rough level setting for all the tracks, then pull levels down if tracks are peaking too much.

 

Labelled Tracks In Pro Tools.

  • Before you start mixing, label your tracks…..this can be done directly on the track in a software programme. Or if you are using an analog console, place a strip of artist’s tape across the base of all the channels in use and label them with a felt tip pen.

Label Your Music Tracks On An Analog Console.

  • Subgroup tracks that naturally work together e.g. the drums. Get relative levels and EQ sorted on the kick, snare, hi-hat and overheads then subgroup them to a single or a stereo pair of faders. Make sure any effects (e.g. reverb) are routed to the same subgroup.
  • Use commercially released recordings as a reference. Pick a song that you like, are familiar with or that inspires you. It’s arrangement or production values may help steer you towards your goal or it may simply sound the way you want your song to end up. Your ears don’t always tell you the truth. So a reference CD can help to bring you back towards the sound you’re aiming for.

An Array Of Effects Plug-Ins.

  • It’s hard to resist all those effects processors, but don’t overuse them, especially reverb. Too much reverb will just confuse and muddy the mix. Instruments and vocals will lack clarity. In general, reverb or echo will distance an instrument, whilst a drier sound will place the instrument more upfront. Except for those ‘special effect’ moments, most effects you add should only be noticed when they’re removed. You can test the validity of an effect and how much of it should be used, by muting and unmuting the effect.
  • Try to EQ instruments while the full mix is playing. If you apply EQ to an instrument in isolation, it may lead you to make an adjustment to that instrument, which does not work when it’s played in the whole mix. This suggestion also holds true for applying other types of signal processing e.g. chorus, flange or reverb.
  • And remember compressors are for controlling dynamics, not for increasing volume.

Cutting Frequencies Can Often Produce Better Results Than Boosting.

  •  If you hear a problem that is frequency related, try to fix it by cutting EQ rather than boosting it. The ear is less sensitive to cuts. Plus, cuts are less noticeable if you are having to use cheaper EQ units.
  • Panning and EQ…..in most cases the kick drum and bass guitar will sound best, placed in the centre of the stereo image, where they will reinforce each other giving plenty of punch. Natural dynamics in the performance are good, but don’t alter the levels of drums or bass.
  • Certain instruments can find it difficult to establish their presence in a mix, if there’s a lot going on in the same frequency range and/or stereo position. For example, acoustic guitars can often get lost or confuse the low-mid in a big rock mix. Reducing the emphasis on the low-end will usually produce more definition and remove any muddiness.

Command 8 Close Up – Showing Control Room Monitoring Section.

  • At various times during the mix process, monitor your mix in mono. Most mixers will have a mono switch which if depressed will sum all the channels together, placing the sounds in the centre. You may find that instruments which sounded clear and loud enough in stereo, become lost in mono. The reason could be a phasing problem or simply a level issue.
  • Check your mix on headphones. You will hear things that just don’t register when monitoring on speakers. I’m not suggesting actually mixing with headphones, they are unpredictable at low frequencies. Just use them to focus on a problem or catch a mistake e.g. an out of tune vocal. Another useful trick is to listen to your mix from outside your room. Putting distance between you and the speakers will sometimes show up level imbalances, that you don’t hear when you are right in front of your monitors.
  • You may find the best mix is produced in the first hour or so of mixing, so save regularly. As you spend more time on the mix, making finer and more subtle adjustments, you and your ears get tired, often producing no discernible improvement in the mix. Leaving the mix and coming back to it later, gives you more objectivity towards your own work. But always, always, always save everything and back up your mix sessions, including all effects settings. You may want to do a remix in a week, a month or a year.

Next, we’ll look at vocals and specific instruments and how to best treat them in the mix. We’ll also consider the use of automation.

TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering provide full recording, mixing, mastering and production services from their facilities in the UK and Nashville, USA. For more information, click here.

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 37 – MUSIC MIXING

November 14, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 37 Mixing

Last week in the TCM Mastering Home Music Studio blog, we completed our discussions on Editing by looking at how some signal processing can be used to edit your tracks. We also demonstrated how editing can quickly form a base for a song with the use of loops; change the structure and form of a song by moving around verses/choruses and make use of composite tracks.

Once your song has…..

  • all the tracks recorded,
  • the necessary overdubs in the right place,
  • been edited and cleaned up as much as possible,

…..then it’s time to set up for the Mixing stage.

Setting up, recording, overdubbing and editing are time-consuming processes. Not to mention the hours spent rehearsing and perfecting the music before you even hit that red record light.

Mixing in a Home Music Studio, should be a relaxing time. The performances are recorded. It’s now just a matter of getting a cup of your favourite beverage and producing a ‘song’.

This is where you bring all the separate elements together. Levels of instruments and vocals are adjusted, EQ can be added along with other types of signal processing and the stereo ‘picture’ built up.

Yamaha N12 Digital Firewire Mixer – Cost Approximately £1000 – Works Seamlessly With Steinberg’s Cubase.

Let’s be quite clear, mixing is a very subjective exercise. Give 24 tracks of instruments to twenty different mixing engineers and you will end up with twenty different mixes.

All you have to do, is aim for the result you want and try your best to achieve it. Trust your ears, work slowly, methodically and don’t be afraid to experiment with all the tools at your disposal.

The Affordable Command 8 Control Surface For Pro Tools.

The mixing process is very tiring on the ears, especially as a lot of musicians tend to monitor too loud. So it helps to take a break from your music, before starting the mix, to gain a fresh perspective. You may also find it useful to enlist the help of others who have a vested interest in the music, e.g. other band members.

Just remember, mixing by committee rarely ever works. Listen to other people’s ideas or suggestions, but ultimately there should be one person who has the final word on how the final mix will sound.

Solid State logic 4048E/G+ Analog Mixing Console.

The main tool you’ll be using is the mixer…..obviously, but they come in many shapes, sizes and forms. The great sounding analog mixing consoles like AMS Neve, Harrison and SSL cost a small fortune and few home studios would have the room to accommodate one of these consoles anyway. Fortunately, improvements in digital technology have brought prices (and size) down dramatically for the home musician.

Icon D-Command ES Powered By Pro Tools HD.

However, a top quality Icon D-Command ES console will still set you back several thousand pounds/dollars. Whilst the more modest Yamaha N12 Digital firewire mixer costs around £1000 or the Command 8 around £500 (at the time of going to press).

Logic Studio Mix Page, Showing The Different Channels With Various Plug-Ins, Sends Etc.

You could always try mixing straight from the mix page in whatever software package you’re using, but it’s a much slower process moving faders and making all the other adjustments you need to make in a mix, using a mouse and keyboard.

A Compact Home Studio Setup Using KRK Monitoring.

You will also need a good pair of studio monitors. These are essential for referencing the audio output of your studio setup and ideally should have as flat a response as possible. In a mix you will be adding EQ to various instruments but you do not want the speakers to colour the sound further, by either making your mix bright or dull.

Some speakers will accentuate the bottom end, whilst some will emphasise high frequencies. So it’s imperative that you test out a few different studio monitors before buying.

Personal taste and price will play an important part in choosing all equipment, as you will like some more than others. But, it’s worth mentioning that your sound will only be as good as the weakest link in your sound chain. So go for the best you can afford. Having a pair of small speakers is useful too (Auratones used to be the standard), to compare the sound of the mix and how well it translates for the majority of listeners.

Make Notes Of Changes You want To Apply To Your Mix.

Before you start mixing, get an old-fashioned pencil and paper. As you go through the process of mixing your tracks, you will find it useful to jot down notes on where instruments should come in or go out, fixes that need to be made, EQ settings you want to apply, where you want to pan instruments etc, etc.

A good DAW will provide automation on mixing, allowing your fader movements and other adjustments to be ‘recorded’, but a good set of notes will simplify the process and save you time.

Pro Tools – Showing Mix Automation.

With regards to automation…..the degree of complexity and sophistication of the automation will depend on the system you have. Popular systems like Pro Tools allow you to not only capture fader and panning movements, but real-time EQ changes or other adjustments made to signal processor plug-ins.

More basic systems may only ‘record’ fader movements. So, if being able to control the finest nuance of your mix is important, choose a system that can handle the most complex of mixes.

Saving and backing up is as important now as it was when you were recording, overdubbing and editing. Ideally, you should back up your mix sessions with associated files, to an external hard drive. That way, if your main hard drive crashes and burns, all your hard work is still saved.

In the process of mixing your song, you may end up with several mixes which are quite different but equally good. Depending on your system, as well as saving your mix as a session file on your hard drive, you can usually save your different mix versions (if you have enough tracks in your system), by recording the mixes to a stereo pair of tracks, within the session. If time permits, leave them for a few days before coming back to them. When you return to them with fresh and rested ears, you can listen to them more objectively.

MOTU Digital Performer Automation.

If you’re using a system that has mix automation with total recall, then returning to your mixes is a simple task…..all fader movements and adjustments will have been saved, so that when you open up the mix session, all the subtleties and nuances of the mix will be recalled.

However, if you have multiple mixes but are using a system with no automation, you will have to take very detailed notes so that you can come back later and replicate the various mixes. If you don’t have the aid of automation, you may need an extra pair of hands to help out.

This is the way it was done before automation. The 24 tracks (or however many there were in the session) were mixed down and recorded to a stereo pair, usually onto a 1/4 inch machine.  Faders were manually moved and any adjustments to EQ, for example, were made as the multitrack tape rolled. This often involved several pairs of hands.

If a change in level or EQ, for example, was not achieved correctly, the multitrack tape was rewound prior to the change point. The multitrack tape was played, levels or EQ adjusted until another change required the multitrack tape to be stopped and rewound. This way, you eventually ended up with several recorded sections of 1/4 inch tape with the correct mix. The 1/4 inch tape then had to be edited together using a razor and edit block to produce a complete mix from beginning to end.

When you have a finished mix, burn it to a CD then play it back over different speakers big and small, including small radio or TV speakers. Ask friends if you can play it back on their systems. By playing it on different speakers you will hear if that bass guitar is punching through, or if the vocal is high enough in the mix.

Mixing is the part of the multitrack process that brings all the efforts of your hard work together to produce a finished song.

Points to bear in mind are…..

  • You will want every track that has been recorded to be heard. However, just because you recorded it, does not mean it justifies a place in your mix. Once you hear all the tracks together, don’t be afraid to get rid of a track that doesn’t ‘fit’ in your mix. Maybe that continuous guitar lick you played throughout the whole length of the song works best just in the choruses or the outro!
  • Make sure the instruments that provide the best emotional impact to the song are heard.
  • Find suitable volume levels for all your tracks. Then start to pull down instruments that stand out too much or push up the levels of instruments that need to be heard more prominently. Remember, everything has to work together as a whole.
  • The careful use of EQ allows you to emphasise specific instruments whilst leaving space in the mix for the other parts. EQ also enables you to reduce or completely get rid of frequencies that may clash with other instruments.
  • The use and degree of signal processing like reverb, echo and delay can help to position instruments at the front of your mix or more in the background. Other effects like chorus, flange and distortion can be used to produce specific soundscapes.
  • Panning allows you to position instruments in the stereo ‘picture’ so that each one has its own space. It enables you to place the sound in its natural position (in terms of where you’d expect to hear it) or place it for effect.
  • In the digital domain, if at some point during the mixing stage you feel the song needs another overdub, it’s easy enough to pause the mix and add an instrument or vocal then continue mixing.

Next week, continuing with the mix stage we’ll briefly consider different mixing consoles, then start at the beginning setting levels, adding EQ and other plug-ins and positioning instruments in the stereo field.

TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering provide full recording, mixing, mastering and production services from their facilities in the UK and Nashville, USA. For more information, click here.

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 36 – MUSIC EDITING

November 7, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 36 Music Editing

TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series continues looking at the Editing stage of the multitrack process.

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve discussed music editing in some detail. This week we’ll finish looking at the editing stage by considering the use of some signal processing as edit tools. We’ll also discuss how editing can create a performance that was never recorded or considered at the beginning of a recording session…..it’s not just for fixing mistakes.

Not really regarded as editing in the purest sense, some types of signal processing can alter the sound, effectively performing an edit on the audio file. You can alter the pitch of a sound, stretch or shrink the length of it and reverse it to produce some great effects.

Legendary Voice Over Artist & Man Of A Thousand Voices – Mel Blanc.

Altering the pitch of some sound files e.g. vocals, can only be done by a relatively small amount before the file starts to sound a little odd – think of Alvin & The Chipmunks or some of the many voices the legendary Mel Blanc created for cartoon characters! He did many cartoon voices without the use of effects, but sometimes even the great Mel Blanc needed help with a little pitch change.

Having said that, there will be times when the vocalist has gone and you are left with a vocal track that is out of tune in places and needs fixing with pitch correction.

Prior to the wonders of digital technology and pitch correction plug-ins, many vocalists ‘got away’ with certain vocal imperfections – I’ll let you decide on whether that was a good or bad thing.

The fact is, today’s commercially released music very often employs an auto tune and/or pitch correction to vocals or specific instruments before it is released.

Before attempting a reverse modification, pitch or time correction fix, I would recommend making a copy of the file you want to work on. It’s just more convenient to keep a version of the unmodified file, so that you can make fresh copies for each attempt at a modification or fix.

There are plenty of plug-ins on the market that can help to fix pitch problems. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Some, like the DPP-1 (below), come free with Pro Tools 6.0 TDM or higher.

Stereo Or Mono Pitch Change Plug-In.

To fix the pitch problem, choose the note or notes that need correcting then open your pitch correction plug-in. Pitch can often be changed by a ratio, percentage, or fractions of semi-tones, although you may need to try a few times before you get the desired result.

By pitch shifting a vocal or instrument, you can sometimes add harmonies to words or musical phrases, without having to re-record them at the new pitches.

Antares Auto-Tune 7.

Some plug-ins like Antares Auto-Tune claim to be able to alter the pitch of a voice or instrument in real-time without distortion or artefacts, whilst preserving the nuances of the original performance. Most good plug-ins can achieve this providing you don’t push them too far to their limits.

Logic’s Pitch Correction Plug-In Allows You To Modify Scales.

With Logic’s Pitch Correction plug-in you can modify scales by selecting or deselecting notes from the music type keyboard in the centre of the window. Just be careful when setting the response time. If it’s set too fast you’re likely to get a robotic feel to the vocal.

Time Shift Plug-In.

Audio can also be stretched or shrunk. Let’s say that you are producing a piece of music for a commercial. Unfortunately, the finished track runs one second too long. To cut a second out of the track would be difficult or impossible, whilst still making the track sound natural and complete.

The answer could be to shrink the running time by one second using a plug-in like the one above. It allows you to dial in a time length that you want a piece to last, whilst keeping the pitch of the piece the same. It will also handle pitch shifting.

When I first started producing my own music and playing all the instruments myself, there was a little more effort involved in getting certain special effects with analog multitrack technology.

Reverse Guitar Parts Recorded Digitally – With A Characteristic Slow Attack & Quick Decay.

I remember for one song, I’d recorded half a dozen or so instruments in the normal way, by overdubbing them. But on the next track I decided, I wanted to try out a reversed acoustic guitar. So in order to achieve this I had to remove the multitrack tape from the tape machine, turn it over so that it was now upside down and then place it back on the machine.

When I pressed play, all the previously recorded tracks were now in reverse. I then played and recorded a guitar track over the backward sounding tracks, then turned the tape over again.

Now the latest guitar track was in reverse, whilst all the other earlier tracks were back to normal. It produced a very interesting, creative effect – not immediately recognizable as a guitar.

Pro Tools Includes A Reverse Effect In The Audiosuite Plug-Ins.

Today, the process of reversing audio is much simpler with digital technology. There are numerous plug-ins that will reverse your audio. It’s useful to make a copy of the file you want to reverse first. Then apply the reverse effect to the copy.

The Left Audio File Is The Reversed Cymbal. The Right Shows The Original Forward Cymbal.

The picture above shows 2 stereo cymbal crashes. The one on the right is the original, forward cymbal. And the reversed cymbal is on the left. Once you have the reversed audio, you can then place it in the correct position in your song, trim the length if necessary and add other effects like reverb.

As with all ‘effects’ less is usually more. Try not to overdo a particular pitch change or reverse effect, otherwise it can become cheap and tacky.

For the one-man-band who is recording at home, it’s often useful to get a good, solid backing or rhythm track down as quickly as possible, so that you can then take your time overdubbing, content in the knowledge that the tempo is sorted, allowing you to add or replace tracks at your convenience.

This is where digital editing becomes a useful and creative tool. You can easily put together a song from small loops…..copy whole sections, like a verse or chorus and then paste them elsewhere…..create a composite take of a lead vocal or guitar solo.

Let’s consider some examples…..

#1 Loops – allow you to quickly build a basic drum track, for example. Play or programme a couple of bars with kick, snare and hi-hat. Record them into your DAW, then copy/paste or loop them to give you a drum track that lasts the length of the song.

Two Bars Of A Drum Loop – Sliced By Propellerhead Recycle Software.

Make sure the tempo of the loop is accurate when repeated. If you use beat 1 on the kick as your first edit point, choose beat 1 on the kick as your second edit point too. If you’re out by even a small amount it will affect the timing. You don’t want it to sound like you’re missing a beat at the beginning of each measure or changing time signatures. This will sound disturbing and make it impossible to overdub.

Once you have a drum loop with the correct tempo, you can record a guide vocal and overdub the other instruments. Then using the basic drum loop and a few other instruments as a click track, re-record (overdub) a fuller more interesting set of drum tracks with a real drummer.

Logic Studio – Edit Page.

You may then want to re-record some of the other instruments again. A fuller drum sound with fills, may inspire you to play another instrument part different/better…..it can be an organic process.

Finally, add your vocals…..see point #3 below with the video, which explains how to assemble a great vocal track.

#2 Song Assembly – it’s always useful to plan out the number and order of verses and choruses in a song. The first example below shows a simple song structure.

Intro-Verse-Chorus-Middle 8-Chorus-Outro.

So let’s say all the basic parts are recorded for this example. But you then get inspired to write another verse. And whilst you’re at it, you decide it needs another chorus or two. The final structure could look like this…

Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Middle 8-Chorus-Chorus-Outro.

Example Of A Song Structure – Showing Various Tracks For The Intro, Verse & Chorus. The Solid, Thin, Vertical Line Shows The Position Of The Cursor At The Beginning Of The Verse.

Left-Verse Section. Right Chorus.

By simply copying just the tracks in the verse section, you can paste them to the new position for the added verse. Do the same for the chorus; paste it once after the newly added verse and again after the third chorus but before the outro.

BEFORE

Intro-Verse-Chorus-Middle 8-Chorus-Outro.

AFTER

Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Middle 8-ChorusChorus-Outro.

Once you have placed the new sections, you may need to move them slightly to fit the tempo of the song. Slight adjustments of some tracks may be needed, but it’s still quicker than re-recording a complete new verse and two choruses.

When the basic tracks forming the song are in the order and structure that you want, you can then add your lead vocals and any other finishing touches to the song.

#3 Composite Tracks – if you have multiple takes/performances of a particular instrument or vocal, by using the best parts of a few performances you can often piece together the perfect track. This technique is used to great effect for lead vocals and guitar solos, for example.

Ted Carfrae owner and founder of the TCM Music Group, speaking from the TCM Mastering Studios, describes how to achieve the perfect vocal performance in the video below.

Next week we move onto the Mixing stage.

If you’re looking for help, putting those finishing touches to a music track or would like more information on our affordable studio packages, please contact us by clicking here.

If you would like more information about recording at home, why not subscribe to the TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio series of blogs. You can do this by filling out your e-mail address in the e-mail subscription box on the right. We respect your privacy. We hate spam and will never rent, sell or trade your information with anyone for any reason.

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 35 – MUSIC EDITING

October 31, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 35 Music Editing

So far the TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series has covered room setup,  gear purchase, microphone techniques, how to record various instruments, signal processing and has now reached the multitrack process itself, which today is at the heart of many music recordings. We’ve discussed the recording and overdubbing stages. Last week we considered the different editing functions…..copy, paste, cut, delete, erase and insert. This week we’ll look at the ‘how to’ of editing, using digital technology.

Multitrack Tape Being Lined Up for Editing.

If you still use analog tape, you’ll know that it takes time to acquire the skills of editing. Partly because the physical act of handling and cutting the tape will eventually result in the degradation of the audio if lots of edits are made. So getting it right first time is important.

If any of you are interested in how tape was edited, click here for an article which explains the process. The only thing I’d add to this article is that multitrack tape was indeed edited, despite what the article says. Other than that it explains the technique very well.

Whilst we’re on the subject of tape editing…..those of you who are Doctor Who fans (and I know there are many, both here in the UK and in the USA), may find this video of interest.

As a music editor in my first job, even if I made a great sounding edit, a client could ask me to try an alternative edit. Which meant pulling apart the tape at the splice, re-inserting the edited out section and cutting the tape again. It could get quite messy!

Digital editing allows you to make several attempts to get an edit right without harming the original audio. Consequently, you can experiment and try different versions of songs until you get the desired result.

Most systems have an ‘Undo’ function. Some early or basic systems may only provide you with one level of undoing an edit. But today’s top programmes usually give you several levels of undo. Which means you can try a complicated sequence of edits to achieve the desired result and if you don’t like what you hear, you can undo your edits to the position prior to editing. It’s also worth mentioning that if you used the Undo function by mistake, you can ‘Redo’ to reverse the Undo.

Some digital systems allow you to edit either aurally or visually. That is by either listening to the audio or looking at the waveform of the audio. I recommend systems that use a combination of both.

When editing an analog tape, the editor ‘rocks’ the tape back and forth over the playback head of the tape machine, so that he/she can hear and determine the exact point to mark and cut the tape. A similar technique has been adopted in many digital systems.

Pro Tools Scrubber Tool – Loudspeaker Icon.

For example, Pro Tools uses this technique and employs a tool which allows you to rock back and forth (or ‘scrub’ as it is termed) over the audio section you want to edit.

With the waveform visible on the edit page – as you scrub, you will hear the audio. Moving the scrubber tool from left to right will play the audio forward, from right to left will play it in reverse. The speed with which you drag your mouse will determine how fast and at what pitch the audio is delivered.You can also zoom into the waveform graphic which allows greater accuracy when trying to find a specific point in the audio.

With practice, you’ll identify the correct point to edit. It will take a little time, but eventually you will be able to listen to a piece of audio and look at a waveform and know exactly where a particular sound starts and ends.

Pro Tools Scrubber Tool – Scrubbed Left To Right Plays Audio Forward, Right To Left Reverse.

Once you have found the right point in your audio, you can either trim the audio from the front or the end to the edit point. Or you can make a ‘cut’ at the edit point. Then find your next cut or edit point which then allows you to remove the unwanted section or region (as it is termed in Pro Tools), or copy it to paste somewhere else in your song.

And remember, in Pro Tools and most other top systems this editing process is non-destructive. You can always go back to your original audio file and start again.

Reminder: We use Pro Tools in a lot of our examples because it is a very sophisticated system, reasonably priced and popular with many world-class studios and musicians.

Logic Pro – The Scissor Tool Allows You To Scrub Then Cut Audio.

Scrubbing works slightly different in other systems, but the principle is basically the same. And in some Studio-In-A-Box systems, editing functions can be quite basic or non-existent. So, if you think editing is an important feature for you, choose your system carefully.

If you are still deciding on which system to buy, these features and others are worth playing with, before you purchase.

Pro Tools is very popular for obvious reasons, but it’s not for everyone.

Let’s look at a couple of examples where editing is useful…..

Pro Tools Edit Page – Showing 8 Drum Hits.

Example #1 – The picture above shows 8 kick drum hits. Note how each hit is quite distinct from the next. If, for example, one of the drum hits had an annoying squeak from the pedal, it would be easy to edit out the offending hit and replace it with a good hit.

A Closer Look At The Drum Hits, With One Good Hit Highlighted.

All we’d have to do is isolate/highlight a good drum hit. Copy it and paste it over the bad hit in the right position.

We’d do this by scrubbing  to find the very beginning of a good hit. Then make an edit point. Scrub to find the end of the good drum hit. Make another edit point. Highlight/select the edited, good region (see the picture above). Copy it – this places the good drum hit in the clipboard. Then find the exact start point of the bad hit. Make an edit point and paste the good hit at that point. This would cover the bad hit with the good whilst also leaving the good hit in its original position.

Of course, after you have finished an edit, always listen to it. If the timing is not quite right, you can nudge the region earlier or later until it sounds like it’s placed in the right position for the song’s tempo.

Pro Tools Smart Tool (In Blue) Consists Of The Trimmer, Cursor And Grabber Tools. To The Left Of The Smart Tool Is The Zoom Tool, To The Right Are The Scrubber And Pencil Tools.

You may still hear a portion of the bad drum hit, if its physical length is greater than the good hit. If that’s the case, in Pro Tools you can extend the good hit to cover the bad hit by pulling out the front or end of the copy/pasted file until the bad hit is completely covered, using the trimmer in the smart tool.

Example #2 – When vocals are recorded, an explosive pop can sometimes be heard on some hard consonants like ‘P’ or ‘B’. You could re-record the vocal in the hope that the singer would correct the problem.

Alternatively, if the mistake is noticed after the singer has left the session, you may have to try to fix the pop by editing it out or using signal processing.

The first picture below shows a magnified, waveform graphic of a ‘P’ popping at the beginning of the word PIECE. Pictures two and three, show the ‘pop’ part of the ‘P’ highlighted. It can then be edited out and a very quick fade-in applied to the remaining word. Or, gain reduction can be applied to minimize the audible pop to acceptable limits.

The High, Narrow Peak At The Left Of The Waveform Is An Explosive ‘P’ At The Beginning Of The Word PIECE.

The Picture On The Left Shows The Pop Of The ‘P’ Highlighted. This Can Be Cut Out And A Quick Fade-In Applied To The Remaining Word. Or The ‘P’ Can Have Gain Reduction Applied (Shown On The Right), Which Should Lessen The Audible Pop To Acceptable Limits.

With digital editing technology, you can literally perform microsurgery on your music – editing out the smallest click or ‘pop’.

Next week we’ll conclude our look at the editing stage by considering the use of some signal processors as editing tools. And we’ll discuss how editing can be much more than a tool for fixing problems.

We’ve been getting some great comments and feedback for the blog series, so thanks to those of you who contact us. If there’s a topic which you’d like us to cover, have any questions about the blog series so far, or any queries about the whole recording/mixing process – get in touch, by clicking here.

Do you have a project that needs a session musician, producing, mixing or mastering? – TCM Music Group are offering some really incredible recording and online mastering packages.

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 34 – MUSIC EDITING

October 24, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 34 Music Editing

We started looking at the multitrack process in detail in TCM’s Home Music Studio Part 29. Over the last few weeks we’ve considered multitrack setups, signal paths, recording and last week – overdubbing.

This week and next we will continue looking at the multitrack process by discussing Editing.

When I started in this fantastic business, my first job was as a runner/teaboy. But within weeks I was promoted to Chief Editor (the only music editor as it turned out).  The company I worked for was very small, so somebody had to do it!

Cutting Tape Was The Method Of Editing Until Digital Came Along.

I had no idea how to edit music but I learnt very quickly. Analog reel to reel tape was the format. You edited the tape with a razor blade and stuck the edited sections back together with adhesive tape. If you made a mistake or the edit didn’t work, you had to retrieve the edited out section from the floor, stick it back in and try again.

Of course as I became more skilled, I made fewer mistakes and took on more complex projects. However, there were always going to be downsides to editing tape. The more you handled the tape, the more likely it could get damaged. Also handling tape with your fingers left behind oils which could lead to sound degradation.

24 Track 2 Inch Wide Tape Moving At High Speed. Editing Multitrack Tape Required Great Skill And Sometimes A Large Dose Of Luck!

If you only wanted to edit a single track of a multitrack tape – it got worse. You had to cut a hole or scrape the oxide off the back of the tape in the area of the track that needed editing.

Frank Zappa…..An Early User Of Digital Technology, With His Synclavier. It Was Not The Most User Friendly System, But Extremely Powerful (And Very Expensive).

Flash forward to the present day…..we now have digital editing. Some systems offer quite basic editing functions. Whilst the likes of Pro Tools, Logic Studio and other top systems offer facilities to manipulate your tracks in many ways.

Powerful Apple Logic Studio 9, Running On A Laptop.

As we have mentioned in earlier blogs, sound can now be edited much like the written word in an MS Word document. It can be copied, pasted, cut, deleted, moved, erased and inserted. If you include effects processing, you can also stretch or reverse it as well as a whole bunch of other things too. And any changes you make to the audio can be undone, because the original recording is not altered.

This is termed non-destructive editing. The various different audio parts (or regions as they’re known in Pro Tools) are accessed rapidly on the hard drive to produce the sequence of audio that is required. So this approach allows you to try out multiple edits without harming the original audio.

Pro Tools’ Smart Tool Combines Three Separate Tools.

In Pro Tools you select and edit audio using the ‘smart tool’. This combination tool allows you to grab audio and move it, trim the fronts and ends of regions (making the regions shorter or longer) or simply select a point in the audio to play from or highlight a region.

When you record sound into a digital system like Pro Tools, it gets stored as an audio file on the hard drive…..there are various file formats (.Wav, .Aiff, .SD2). It also gets drawn as a waveform in the edit page.

Audio Waveform & MIDI Displayed In Edit Page.

When you trim or edit the audio file in the edit page, you are basically telling Pro Tools to only look at and playback the part of the audio file that is on the page. The unedited version of the file still exists in its entirety on the hard drive.

Below, I describe the various common editing functions, first in summary then below the diagram, in more detail.

The 9 bars to the left represent a track of audio, that has been edited in different ways.

#1 Is the track before editing. The grey shaded area is the section to be edited.

#2 This shows the track after using Cut, leaving a blank hole (some systems).

#3 Cut on some other systems.

#4 Track after Delete.

#5 Track after Erase.

#6 Shows the audio track before editing, showing Insert point.

#7 Track after Insert.

#8 Track with edit point prior to using Paste.

#9 The Paste function places the Copied audio from your clipboard over existing audio.

Now the various editing functions in more detail…..

Cut, Delete and Erase – these three functions all do the same thing to a selected piece of audio. They make it disappear…..but, they differ in how they treat the audio once it’s gone.

Cut removes the audio section and places it in your clipboard for further use. Some systems leave behind a hole where the audio resided. Others, may close the gap by moving forward, everything that’s later in the timeline, so that the hole is filled. Some systems allow you to choose one or the other.

Delete gets rid of the selected audio on the edit page and does not allow the placement of it anywhere else. The audio still exists on the hard drive, just not on the page. The later audio material is usually moved earlier to fill the hole. Again, some systems may give you options.

Erase is similar to Delete, except that the audio after the removed segment, stays put.

MIDI Editing – Many Of The Functions Used For Audio Editing Can Be Applied To MIDI Data Too.

Insert – effectively allows you to squeeze a section of audio between edit points. Let’s say you’ve finished recording a song. It’s got an intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, a middle 8 or bridge, and end chorus. But you feel it would sound better with a longer bridge or another verse. You could copy the backing tracks for the bridge or verse and insert them into the appropriate point in the song. Then play an extended guitar solo over the longer bridge or sing the newly written vocals over the added verse.

This technique can be used for single tracks or multiple tracks, as long as care is taken to make sure the tempos are the same, you are copying the correct number of bars and placing them at exactly the right point in the song…..and again, this saves you having to set up mics and instruments to make a new recording.

Copy and Paste – these two functions are often used together, just like in a Word document. Copy does what it says, it makes a copy of whatever you select and (usually) puts it in your clipboard. It leaves the original where it is. But then allows you to paste the copy somewhere else.

Shaded Area Shows Section or Region To Be Edited.

So let’s say the above picture represents a region of a guitar track. Later in the song the same guitar chords are played but there’s a mistake. Editing could allow you to copy the good section of guitar chords and paste them over the bad section. Providing you placed them in the correct position (sync), nobody would know you’d done an edit. It saves getting the guitarist back, besides he may be on tour in Japan by now!

Next week we’ll get into editing aurally and visually, fixing bad notes or phrases and discuss some effects which are used in editing eg. pitch change, stretching and reversing.

If you have any questions so far, our contact details are here. We love to hear from you.

And don’t forget, TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group provide a professional, fast and affordable service to musicians of all genres.

So if you have some songs that need producing, recording, mixing or mastering contact us for details on our rates and some incredible recording packages.