Optimizing Vocals with DSP

Optimizing tracks with DSP, then adding some judicious use of the DSP-laden VX-64 Vocal Strip, offers very flexible vocal processing. 

By Craig Anderton 

This is kind of a “twofer” article about DSP—first we’ll look at some DSP menu items, then apply some signal processing courtesy of the VX64—all with the intention of creating some great vocal sounds. 

PREPPING A VOCAL WITH “MENU” DSP 

“Prepping” a vocal with DSP before processing can make the processing more effective. For example, if you want to compress your vocal and there are significant level variations, you may end up adding lots of compression to accommodate quiet parts. But then when loud parts kick in, the compression starts pumping. 

Here’s another example. A lot of people use low-cut filters to banish rogue plosives (e.g., a popping “b” or “p” sound). However, it’s often better to add a fade-in to get rid of the plosive; this retains some of the plosive sound, and avoids affecting frequency response. 

Adding a fade-in to a plosive can get rid of the objectionable section while leaving the vocal timbre untouched. 

Also check if any levels need to be evened out, because there will usually be some places where the peaks are considerably higher than the rest of the vocal, and you don’t want these pumping the compressor either. The easiest fix is to select a track, drag in the timeline above the area you want to edit, then go Process > Apply Effect > Gain and drop the level by a dB or two. 

This peak is considerably louder than the rest of the vocal, but reducing it a few dB will bring it into line. 

Also note that if you have Melodyne Editor, you can use the Percussive algorithm with the volume tool to level out words visually. This is really fast and effective. 

While you’re playing around with DSP, this is also a good time to cut out silences, then add fadeouts into silence, and fadeins up from silence. Do this with the vocal soloed, so you can hear any little issues that might come back to haunt you later. Also, sometimes it’s a good idea to normalize individual vocal clips up to –3dB or so (leave some headroom) so that the compressor sees a more consistent signal. 

The clip on the left has been normalized and faded out. The silence between clips has been cut away. The clip on the right fades in, but has not been normalized. 

With DSP processing, it’s good practice to work on a copy of the vocal, and make the changes permanent as you do them. The simplest way to apply (more…)

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The Art of Transient Shaping with the TS-64

Understand this often-misunderstood processor, and your tracks will benefit greatly 

By Craig Anderton 

Transient Shapers are interesting plug-ins. I don’t see them mentioned a lot, but that might be because they’re not necessarily intuitive to use. Nor are they bundled with a lot of DAWs, although SONAR is a welcome exception. 

I’ve used transient shaping on everything from a tom-based drum part to make each hit “pop” a little more, to bass to bring out the attacks and also add “weight” to the decay, to acoustic guitar to tame overly-aggressive attacks. The TS-64 has some pretty sophisticated DSP, so let’s find out how to take advantage of its talents.

But first, a warning: transient shaping requires a “look-ahead” function, as it has to know when transients are coming, analyze them, filter them, and then calculate when and how to apply particular amounts of gain so it can act on the transients as soon as they occur. As a result, simply inserting the TS-64 will increase latency. If this is a problem, either leave it bypassed until it’s time to mix, or render the audio track once you get the sound you want. Keep an original of the audio track in case you end up deciding to change the shaping later on. 

TS-64 TRANSIENT SHAPER BASICS

A Transient Shaper is a dynamics processor that modifies only a signal’s attack characteristics. If there’s no defined transient the TS-64 won’t do much, or worse yet, add unpleasant effects. 

Transient shapers are not just for drums—guitars, electric pianos, bass, and even some program material are all suitable for TS-64 processing if they have sharp, defined transients. And it’s not just about making transient more percussive; you can also use the TS-64 to “soften” transients, which gives a less percussive effect so a sound can sit further back in a track. 

There are two main elements to transient shaping. The first is (more…)

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Choosing the right compressor in SONAR X3 (Producer & Studio)

What is Compression?

Compression is a massively useful tool for pro audio applications. As a simultaneous corrective and creative utility suitable for both tonal shaping and controlling levels,  a compressor is one of the most important pieces of gear in your sonic toolbox.

Instead of explaining the history and value of knowing all the different types of compressors that exist, we’re just going to dive in and show you how to get results. Once you understand this you’ll be able to grasp the larger picture of compression and the many different circuits and types. SONAR X3 Studio & Producer come packed with quite a few different types of compressors, so let’s open them up and take a look.

PC76 U-Type

Modeled after one of the most classic leveling amplifiers in history, the PC76 U-Type is a go-to compressor for (more…)

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How SONAR user Bobbi Tammaro won a SESAC award over many Major Label Artists

Respect and credibility

A few weeks ago SESAC announced their 2013 Jazz Award recipients, and SONAR X3 user Bobbi “Funkeeboy” Tommaro was one of the well-deserved artists on the list.  I have been fortunate to get to know Bobbi in the last few years on and off the SONAR playing-field, and the first word that comes to mind is “respect.”  These days considering the state of the music industry, the word respect has more meaning than ever and Bobbi has earned it from his music peers along with just about everyone else that hears his story.  Besides respect, he has earned much credibility in the Smooth Jazz world from being a repeat-offender on the Billboard charts as an independent artist.

Bobbi who is also PKA “Funkee Boy” has amassed an impressive amount of credits throughout his music career. At the young age of 15 he was already making a name for himself winning the Connecticut State Organ Championship and also opening for national acts such as Spyro Gyra.  As he progressed he scored numerous chart hits across multiple music genres, as well as, several top Billboard chart hits/Top 5 Smooth Jazz hits, and licensing deals on television networks such as ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS, SHOWTIME, VH1, etc.

Before making his own records his music has [and continues to in terms of residuals] appear on some of the most popular and well respected shows ever such as Beverly Hills 90210, General Hospital, All My Children, Sunset Beach, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Love Boat, One Life To Live, Young & The Restless, They Call Me Sirr, Soul Food.  Stepping out from behind the scenes as a songwriter/producer & into the forefront as a Smooth Jazz Artist, Bobbi’s track record progressed and continued to impress.

Most recently, starting off 2014 by releasing his 3rd CD “Soul Purpose”, the smooth jazz keyboardist/producer combined his talents with assembling a stellar line up of A-List recording artists. The newest award-winning record “Soul Purpose” features guest appearances from Warren Hill, Najee, Bob Baldwin, Cindy Bradley, Nick Colionne, LEILA, Surface, Lamone, Timmy Maia, Tevin Michael and more!!!

Chalk one up for the hard working jugglers. 

A few key elements set Bobbi apart from the pack that keeps him successful.  The obvious one is the raw talent of songwriting and performing his instrument, but if you go a few levels deeper, you will find a multi-instrumentalist, producer, mixing and mastering engineer.  Peeling back a few more layers exposes an organized machine who literally “does not need a label” to hit the Billboard Top 5 Smooth Jazz Chart.  In fact Bobbi has had many labels approach him and has respectfully declined any offers to do business.  Why?… because he has cracked the code and found a formula that works for himself as an independent artist competing in the major leagues.

It’s not easy

Hitting the Top 5 on any Billboard Chart is not an easy thing to do.  Besides the songs and production alone (which he does ALL in SONAR INCLUDING Mastering), Bobbi also has to oversee the efforts for Radio Promotion, Publicity, Social Media, Sales and Marketing.  If you ask me, this is a very rare skill-set to have as an artist considering just the time it takes alone to write and record a [great] full length record.  Bobbi does have help from his wife Leila who is also a very credible artist, and the two of them seem to have a great formula for getting the music out to the masses as if they were a Major Label.

Cakewalk:          It’s pretty amazing that you do so much to get your music out, can you describe the short-form version of a typical record release?

Bobbi Tammaro:            Sure, it’s hard to keep it short form because so much goes into it… So here goes (more…)

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A SONAR/GIBSON CELEBRATION FOR SHAWN CLEMENT AT GIBSON BEVERLY HILLS

Have you ever been to a show and seen someone on stage that makes you never want to pick up your instrument again? Enter… Shawn Clement.  Hollywood Composer/Producer Shawn Clement graciously unleashed his new composition at the Beverly Hills Gibson Showroom tonight to a warm, yet star-studded group of industry folks from all walks of life.  Billed in half as a pre-AES party, many folks were in town to celebrate Shawn’s new work Raw Fungus, Cakewalk’s new path at Gibson, and hard working music-makers in general.

If you don’t know Shawn, his story is unique.  It stems from a long path of crazy influences, crazy talent, and crazy work ethic which has made him one of the most sought after composers in Hollywood. We would like to think he owes it all to SONAR, but we know that is not the case ;) (more…)

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The Sound of Console Emulation in SONAR X3

The age of hybrid studios

The day has come where digital audio has caught up to the analog trends of the pre-xyz age. Hybrid (digital/analog) home-studios are more common and the need for more analog flavored plugins is a must. Cakewalk has harnessed these trends in some of the latest software additions to the X-series with their track by track Console Emulation ProChannel plugin.

At a glance

Simplicity is one of the key ingredients in the world of plugin interfaces and the Console Emulator is no stranger to that. It’s an easy tool to use, just turn up the Drive! Each algorithm has the same 3 parameters for locking in the sound, Drive, Tolerance, and Trim. Each version of the plugin reflects the circuitry of 3 classic large format console from the past 30 years. Every board has it’s own sound because each circuit is completely different than the other.

Let’s take a closer listen 

For most part, Console Emulation is about subtle character. If you apply subtle changes to your entire mix it will collectively sound different. One track may not sound all that different in the final mix, but if you apply this effect to the entirety of your session, well then you’ll probably start to hear some differences. These DSP algorithms are tuned (more…)

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Meet the Bakers: Jimmy L

The direction I received for this blog article was “anything goes” and “keep it fun,” so my background story will knock off 2 birds with 1 stone: a blog post that hopefully will not bore readers to death, and a therapeutic time-lapse review for me… ;) Sorry it’s a bit long, but I am 105 years old…

My weird music industry story:

My name is Jimmy Landry and I am a functioning work-aholic, wait, wait… I mean I am Head of Artist and Public Relations for Cakewalk.  I have thankfully been working for Cakewalk for almost 6 years now (hard to believe).  I have had an interesting career up to this point where I have toggled back in forth from being an artist (signing with EMI back in 2000) to actually working for Major Labels in Radio Promotion, Marketing, A&R and Staff Production (Elektra, Virgin and Capitol Records). I have been a musician since the age of 5 when I picked up my sister’s purple-flowered acoustic guitar she left behind while attending college (– thankfully there are no pictures I know of playing THAT thing ;) (more…)

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Meet the Bakers: Mike L

I began playing Drums when I was 8 years old after my Dad set up his old kit from the 70′s. I played for a few years until I picked up my first guitar at a second hand music shop in New Hampshire. I played for hours everyday until the noise I was making started to sound like a melody. My friends and I started a punk band at the age of 13. We weren’t the best in my neighborhood, but definitely the loudest. At this point I knew I wanted to play music everyday for the rest of my life.

When I got to high school, I tried to find every music class I could. My first class freshman year was an electronic music class. In this class we used a version of Cakewalk Music Creator. I started becoming extremely interested in music production and wanted to learn everything I possibly could. I started to listen to my favorite albums and try to recreate the sounds I was hearing. To gain some experience, I started recording local bands in my basement by hanging mic cables over pipes for overheads. I remember listening to the album ‘Revolver’ over and over trying to copy what I was hearing.  (more…)

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Meet the Bakers: Lars W

Music is something I’ve always loved since I was very young. I played a few different instruments throughout school. In third grade I picked up the Baritone horn in grade school and played that through my senior year or high school in the concert band. As I got older my passion for music and different styles of music grew. In high school I started going to local rock shows which is what made me want to be in a band.

Being on stage and connecting with an audience was something I really wanted to do. That’s when I decided to start playing guitar. Not long after that I ended up switching to the bass after the bassist in my first band quit and that quickly became my primary instrument. The more I played shows the more I started to take music more seriously. What started as a hobby quickly became my life. In my junior year of high school I went to a 4 week workshop on Recording Studio Technology at the New England institute of Art. After spending a few weeks in the studio’s there I was hooked. Going into my senior year I decided I wanted to pursue a career in music production and engineering. So I made that my focus and took just about every music elective I could and then I applied to the New England institute of Art for Audio & Media Technology and got in.

While I was in school I studied with lots of inspiring teachers and made a bunch of great connection through doing internships and going to the AES Convetions and local AES events. About half way through college I started freelancing as an audio engineer working for various different audio companies in the Boston area doing live sound, studio recording and location recording. I graduated from the New England institute of Art in 2007 and not long after graduating I landed my gig at cakewalk as a customer service representative. Since then I’ve expanded into tech support as well. (more…)

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Meet the Bakers: Joey A

How did you get started with music?
When I was about 10 years old, my dad bought this acoustic guitar for himself for $20 or so. I thought it was so cool that my dad knew how to play AC/DC and Kiss songs (correctly or not made no real difference to me at the time), so I asked him to show me everything he knew. I picked up the basic chords pretty quickly and started sneaking into his room while he was at work to play the guitar unsupervised. One day he came home earlier than usual and heard me in my room playing the guitar. He was too shocked at how quickly I surpassed his skill level to scold me, and he said I could keep the guitar. Around the same time, two of my cousins were getting into guitar and I HAD to get as good as they were, so I put in as many hours of practice as I could.

Fast-forward about two years, I was starting to get into electric guitar more and more, and for Christmas I got this multi-fx pedal, and I was quickly obsessed with tone and all the neat things you could alter about a guitar’s sound. This naturally evolved into a passion for the field of audio engineering, and I decided that’s what I wanted to study after high school.

I managed to hone my musicianship enough to get accepted to Berklee College of Music right out of high school, and I took on a Music Business major, a Music Production and Engineering major, and an Acoustics & Electronics minor. During summers I interned for various music-related companies, not the least of which was the world-famous Blackbird Studio in Nashville, TN. It was throughout these college years and internships that I learned a lot about myself, particularly that I knew I wanted to work in the music industry to some degree, but I wanted audio engineering to remain entirely fun for me; I wanted to keep it around as a serious hobby but not make it my full-time profession. (more…)

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