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 Continue reading The Art of Transient Shaping with the TS-64

Meet the Bakers: Craig Anderton

If you want to know about me, including multiple probably surprising facts, One Louder magazine did a pretty comprehensive interview just before I joined Gibson. In fact I’m surprised I was asked to participate in “Meet the Bakers,” because I’m really just an honorary baker…but apparently all these software guys need someone with hardware experience to change light bulbs and fix the microwave, and that would be me. So we’ll just cut to the chase, and deal with the bullet points. Oh, and don’t forget to check out my latest music videos at http://www.youtube.com/thecraiganderton. It’s an eclectic collection, to say the least…from cover versions to French Antilles dance music to EDM to hard rock to a live ambient performance written as a sleep aid for my daughter.

Doing a festival gig with Brian Hardgroove from Public Enemy, as the hard rock two-piece EV2. Eddie Kramer called us “The Black and White Stripes.” I’m quite sure he considers me the white one. Continue reading Meet the Bakers: Craig Anderton

DAW Best Practices: How to use metering in SONAR

[Originally posted as a daily tip on the SONAR forums and reposted for viewers here on the blog.]

The Overachieving Meters

by Craig Anderton

To change resolution for any audio meter, in any view, right-click on it and choose a range of 12, 24, 42, 60, 78, or 90 dB. Each meter can have its own range. With the Console view, I set the output bus meters to 12 dB to help gauge the approximate amount of loudness maximization that may be required. For example, if the meters make it to 0 but otherwise spend very little time in those upper 12 dB, then the track will probably need to be made “hotter” when mastering. For the Track View track meters, choosing the maximum resolution (90 dB) helps reveal if there’s noise at the lower range of an incoming signal.

Vertical or Horizontal Metering

In Track View, the meters can be vertical or horizontal. Choose Options > Meter Options and select the desired option. When vertical, the meters behave more like activity/clipping indicators, because when you collapse the track to a short height, you basically see only activity and clipping. If you use the Console for mixing, this is a good choice because you can see more track parameters in the Tracks Pane, as the vertical meters don’t take up space along the bottom.

If you generally mix using the Track View rather than the Console, then you can extend the width of the Track Pane, enable horizontal metering, set them to a fairly wide playback range, and enjoy high-resolution metering. Also under Options > Meter Options, you can specify the Record, Playback, and Bus meter characteristics. Choose from Peak, RMS, or Peak+RMS (my favorite choice) response, whether playback meters are pre- or post-fader, and whether bus meters are pre-fader, post-fader, or pre-fader and post-FX.


These settings are independent from equivalent meter settings for the Console view. You can also choose whether peaks are held or locked (I recommend checking both), as well as show Peak Markers. These indicate the highest point in the track and can be extremely useful when mastering.

This kind of flexibility allows the Track and Console views to be far more than just two ways to view the same type of material. For example, the Console meters are probably better set to post-fader, so you can see at a glance which tracks are contributing the most amount of level. But in Track view, a pre-fader setting lets you monitor track activity so you can check whether a Track has signal, regardless of the fader position. The metering options are just one more reason why I tend to mix in Console view, but track and edit in Track View.

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Craig’s Five Fave Studio Hardware Accessories

By Craig Anderton

Granted, it was hard to narrow it down to five. But these goodies have stood out over the past year as being essentials for my own studio, and they can contribute much to any studio makeover.

Uninterruptible Power Supply

 

I first became aware of the power of the UPS with ADATs. My ADATs used to do weird things, but stopped doing weird things after I bought a UPS. My friends with ADATs who didn’t have a UPS experienced weird things. Anecdotal evidence? Sure. But the first time a UPS keeps your project alive when some idiot drunk driver slams into a power pole and you lose your electricity, or you live where lightning is a frequent visitor, you’ll be glad you paid attention to this article and got a UPS. Just make sure you find one with sufficient power for your super-duper multi-core wonder box (and your monitor)—a lot of UPS devices in office supply stores are for little old ladies who use Pentium 4 computers only on Sundays to cruise the internet for recipes.

Pauly Superscreen Pop Filter

(Photo courtesy Las Vegas Pro Audio)

Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s worth it. I do a lot of narration and close-mic my vocals Continue reading Craig’s Five Fave Studio Hardware Accessories

7 Steps to Cleaning Up Your “ACT” with Hardware

by Craig Anderton

ACT (Active Controller Technology; in SONAR) is a powerful protocol, and its complexity can be sufficiently daunting that some people never take advantage of it. However, one of the rarely-considered advantages of a powerful protocol is that it’s often powerful enough to be used in a more basic way. So if you’ve wanted to take advantage of ACT without having to reach for the aspirin, you’re in the right place.

The conventional approach to ACT is using templates that let you apply hands-on control to various instruments and effects. This usually implies having a dedicated controller, spending some time setting up assignments and creating templates, and so on. However, you can also treat ACT more like a “controller scratch pad” that’s easy, efficient, and works with just about any MIDI controller. It’s the ideal solution for when you simply want some hands-on control without having to venture very far into left-brain territory.

Step 1: Choose Your Controller

One of my favorite ACT controllers is Native Instruments’ discontinued Kore 2 controller. The industrial design is first-class, it’s built solidly, and there’s enough functionality for what we need. Another advantage is that when NI stopped supporting Kore, the eBay prices took a major tumble. Although the examples in this article are based on Kore, please note that the same principles apply to virtually any MIDI controller.

Step 2: Grab Your Software

Many controllers have dedicated drivers, so if needed, make sure you have the latest. NI still offers the 32/64-bit Kore 2 Controller Driver 3.0.0 and the latest NI Controller Editor, which you can download for free from their site. Follow the instructions when installing, or you’ll wonder why the controller doesn’t work.

(Note: With the Kore 2 controller, you may first be greeted with an unusable bright red display. No worries: Hit Kore 2’s F2 button, navigate to Set, hit Enter, and use the navigation buttons and data wheel to control the Contrast and Backlight parameter values.)

The Controller Editor for NI’s Kore lets you specify various characteristics of the Kore 2 controller. In this picture, a button is being assigned to output a trigger when pushed down.

Various controllers may have options—such as assigning buttons to a latch, toggle, or trigger mode. Many of them have editors; Kore 2’s is somewhat more sophisticated than many others, but again, the principles are the same. In the case of Kore you open the Editor, select Kore Controller 2 from the drop-down menu, and use the Edit button in the Templates tab to choose New. This creates a general purpose MIDI control template. (While you’re at it, I recommend assigning the eight main buttons associated with the pots to Trigger, and action on Down. For a shift button, assign the monitor [speaker icon] button to Gate, again with action on down. Go to the file menu, and save the configuration as “Sonar ACT.ncc.”)

Step 3: Set Up SONAR

Your controller communicates with SONAR via MIDI, so go to the Continue reading 7 Steps to Cleaning Up Your “ACT” with Hardware

SONAR for Songwriters – By Craig Anderton

by Craig Anderton

Ask songwriters about writing on a computer, and many of them will tell you it’s a creativity killer—as they reach for an acoustic guitar or piano to get their ideas down. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Although DAWs are thought of traditionally as being all about recording, editing, and mixing, for reasons we’ll cover here I’d rather boot up Sonar for songwriting as well.

Approaches to songwriting vary considerably, from those who strum some chords on a guitar for ideas, to those who start with beats, to those who seem to draw inspiration out of nowhere, and want to record what they hear quickly—before the inspiration fades. As a result, this article isn’t about what you should do to write songs, but rather, describes some particular Sonar tools in depth—some (or all) of which might be very helpful if you’re into songwriting.

Although songwriting styles are very personal, I think we can nonetheless agree on a few general points: While songwriting, you want your tools to stay out of the way and be transparent. You want a smooth-flowing, efficient, simple process; songwriting isn’t about endlessly tweaking a synth bass patch, but about coming up with a great bass part—thanks to the fluid nature of digital recording, just about anything can be replaced or refined at a later date. You want an environment that can simplify turning your abstract ideas into something tangible, while losing as little as possible in the translation. So, let’s look at some Sonar techniques that can help you accomplish that goal.

THE MIDI QUICK START

Normally you need to arm a MIDI track before you can record on it, but it’s possible to defeat this so that recording starts on any selected MIDI track as soon as you click on the transport’s Record button. I realize the default setting is there to prevent accidental overwriting of MIDI tracks, but personally, I find not having to arm a track liberating—it saves time and makes the recording process flow faster. To do this:

  1. Go Edit > Preferences > MIDI > Playback and Recording.
  2. Check the box for “Allow MIDI Recording without an Armed Track” (the 1st box under Record).
  3. Click Apply then OK to close preferences.

It’s possible to record MIDI tracks without having to arm them first, which can be a real time-saver over the course of a song.

 

TEMPLATE FILES Continue reading SONAR for Songwriters – By Craig Anderton

Recording Virtual Synthesizers: The Art of Imperfection

Synths can make perfect sounds…but is that always a perfect solution?

by Craig Anderton

Recording a virtual instrument is simple…you just insert it, hit a few keys, and mix it in with the other tracks. Right?

Well…no. Synthesizers are musical instruments, and you wouldn’t mic a drum set by taking the first mic you found and pointing it the general direction of the drummer, nor would you record an electric guitar by just plugging it into a mixing console. A little extra effort spent on avoiding an unnatural sound when mixing synths with acoustic instruments, improving expressiveness, tightening timing inconsistencies, and other issues can help you get the most out of your virtual instruments.

But first, remember that “rules” were made to be broken. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to record, only ways that satisfy you to a greater or lesser degree. Sometimes doing the exact opposite of what’s expected gives the best results. So take the following as suggestions, not rules, that may be just what the doctor ordered when you want to spice up an otherwise ordinary synth sound.

THE SYNTHESIZER’S SECRET IDENTITY

The paramount aspect of recording a synth is to define the desired results as completely as possible. Using synths to reinforce guitars on a heavy metal track is a completely different musical task from creating a all-synthesized 30-second spot. Sometimes you want synths to sound warm and organic, but if you’re doing techno, you’ll probably want a robot, machine-like vibe (with trance music, you might want to combine both possibilities).

So, analyze your synth’s “sonic signature”—is it bright, dark, gritty, clean, warm, metallic, or…? Whereas some people attach value judgements to these different characteristics, veteran synthesists understand that different synthesizers have different general sound qualities, and choose the right sound for the right application. For example, although Cakewalk’s Z3TA+ is highly versatile, to my ears its natural “character” is defined, present, and detailed.

Regarding sonic signatures, perhaps one of the reasons for a resurgence in analog synths sounds is digital recording. Analog synths tended to use low-pass filters that lacked the “edgy” sound of digital sound generation. Recording the darker analog sounds on analog tape sometimes resulted in a muddy sound; but when recording on digital, analog sounded comparatively sweet. Digital also captured all the little hisses, grunts, and burps that characterized analog synths. This is a case where the “imperfections” of analog and the “perfection” of digital recording complemented each other.

Another thought: look at guitars, voices, pianos, etc. on a spectrum analyzer, and you’ll note there is little natural high end. If you’re trying to blend a virtual instrument in with physical instruments, remember that a virtual synth has no problems obtaining a solid high end. Using the ProChannel’s LP filter set to 48dB/octave and lowering the frequency just a little bit can introduce the “imperfection” that matches the spectral characteristics of “real” acoustic and electric instruments more closely, so the synth seems to blend in better with the other tracks (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: The ProChannel QuadCurve EQ’s lowpass filter can help digital synths sit better in tracks that use multiple physical or acoustic instruments. Continue reading Recording Virtual Synthesizers: The Art of Imperfection

The “Punch” Factor with Synthesizers

What exactly constitutes “punch”? Find out here

by Craig Anderton

We all know a punchy recorded sound when we hear it—but what exactly constitutes “punch”? It seems that perhaps punch is something that can not only be defined, but quantified.

This all started because years ago, I wondered why seemingly every musician agrees that the Minimoog has a punchy sound. Then, when I started playing a Peavey DPM3, several people commented that my bass patches had a punchy sound, “like a Minimoog.” Clearly, the technologies are totally different: one was analog, the other digital; one used voltage-controlled oscillators, the other sample playback. Yet to listeners, they both shared some common factor that was perceived as punchiness.

Analyzing a Minimoog bass line revealed something interesting: even with the sustain set to minimum, there was about 20-30 milliseconds where the sound stayed at maximum level before the decay began. There is no way to eliminate that short period of full volume sustain; it’s part of the Minimoog’s characteristic sound.

I then looked at the DPM3’s amplitude envelope and it exhibited the same characteristic—a 20-30 ms, maximum level period of sustain before the decay kicked in. Also, both instruments had virtually instantaneous attacks. Could this combination be the secret of punch?

For comparison, I then checked two synths that nobody considered punchy-sounding: an Oberheim OB-8, which is generally characterized as “warm” and/or “fat” but not punchy, and a Yamaha TG55. Both had fixed attack times, even with the attack control set to zero, that lasted a few milliseconds. I also recalled some experiments ex-Peter Gabriel keyboard player Larry Fast ran in the mid-70s, when he was curious how fast an attack had to be for a sound to be “punchy.” His research indicated that most listeners noticed a perceptible loss of punch with attack times as short as one or two milliseconds.

So it seems the secret of punch is that you need an extremely fast attack time, but you also need a bit of sustain time at maximum level. This sustain isn’t long enough to be perceived as sustain per se; it’s more of a psychoacoustic phenomenon.

Wondering if this same technique worked with other sounds, I took an unprocessed snare drum sound and tried to add punch by normalizing each cycle to the highest level possible for the first 20-30 milliseconds. Comparing the processed and unprocessed sounds left no doubt that the edited version had more punch.

When I designed the Minimoog Expansion Pack for Rapture, I made sure that where appropriate, the envelopes had that characteristic Moog attack (Fig. 1). Note that the second node sustains the sound for 27.5 ms. Rapture’s tight attack time and ability to create “high-resolution” envelopes made it easy to add punch.

Fig. 1: Adding the “punch” factor to a Rapture Minimoog patch. Continue reading The “Punch” Factor with Synthesizers

Vocal Month: Creating Vocal Harmonies with Melodyne Essential

Can’t quite hit the high or low notes? Melodyne usually can.

by Craig Anderton

If you don’t have a wide vocal range, you have to choose a vocal’s key very carefully—the low parts can’t go below your range, and if you’re going to hit the harmony notes, you have to pay attention to where the highest notes fall as well. Unfortunately the voice sometimes loses power when you start hitting your lower limits, but if you choose the best possible range for your lead vocal then you may have a hard time hitting the harmony’s high notes. What’s a singer to do?

My solution is to choose the optimum key for the lead vocal, then reach for Melodyne Essential to synthesize the harmonies. Most of the time I can hit the harmonies so I’ll sing them “for real” and bring in Melodyne as needed, but I’ve also found merit to using Melodyne to generate the harmony even if I can hit the notes—it gives a different character that works well in some musical contexts.

Creating Harmonies

Generating harmonies requires some manual effort, but it’s worth it.

1. Clone the lead vocal.

2. Create a Melodyne Region FX for the clone.

3. Solo the lead vocal and clone (Dim Solo can be useful for this application so you can hear the vocals in context).

4. Start adjusting the clone’s blob pitches to create the harmony (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Thanks to a paint program’s transparent layers, colorization, and cut and paste, this shows the harmony line (blue) superimposed on the lead vocal.

Usually the easiest way to do this is by ear, but if you’re theory-minded, you can always apply those rules to determine which pitches to use for the harmonies.

Additional Tips

I highly recommend choosing Edit > Pitch Grid > No Snap and adjusting the harmony pitch by ear. Snapping doesn’t always produce the most musical results.

Also, check out my article Easy Automatic Double Tracking with Melodyne Essential, which describes how to add slight timing and pitch variations to do automatic double tracking. Applying the same technique to the harmony line prevents it from “shadowing” the lead vocal, and helps the harmony establish itself as an independent entity.

There’s a video on my YouTube channel that uses Melodyne Essential for creating both ADT and the harmony effects described in this article. In fact, there’s only one vocal track in the entire song; all the others were derived from it using Melodyne.

Finally, I demoed this technique during the video I did at Berklee College of Music last March. You can see the video here.

Happy harmonizing!

BETTER TOGETHER: TRY SONAR X3 AND MELODYNE FOR FREE!

Vocal Month: Easy Automatic Double Tracking (ADT) with Melodyne Essential

There’s a great ADT program lurking within Melodyne Essential

by Craig Anderton

So is Celemony’s ADT (Automatic Double Tracking) program any good? If you have Melodyne Essential, you can find out for yourself—because it’s the same program. Yes, hidden within SONAR X3‘s Melodyne Essential is a very cool ADT effect that’s extremely effective with vocals.

Introduction

Double-tracking is the process of singing a second vocal on top of a main vocal to “thicken” the overall sound. It’s impossible to sing a vocal exactly the same, so there will be slight timing and pitch differences that add interest and depth. Automatic Double Tracking produces this effect electronically, which can give more control over the double-tracked vocal. While there are dedicated plug-ins to give the ADT effect, Melodyne has all the tools needed to do this. I’d go so far as to say Melodyne can produce one of the best electronically generated ADT effects I’ve heard.

The Melodyne ADT effect works best with vocals where you haven’t already added extensive pitch or timing correction. As an aside, I never do a “wholesale” quantization of notes; to my ears, removing the “incorrect” pitch variations in a vocal actually create a less compelling performance. Instead, I manually correct only those notes that actually sound “wrong.” Even then, I don’t always quantize exactly to pitch. Music is about tension and release, and subconsciously, you’ll often sing a little flat or sharp (tension) and end up on pitch (release). Making all the pitches “perfect” removes this emotional component.

As an analogy, conside B. B. King’s guitar playing. He often bends a flatted 7th not quite up to pitch. By not resolving the note, instead of completing the phrase it leads you into the next one. Timing and pitch variations are an essential part of music, so don’t overdo the correction.

Setup

It’s easy to set up the ADT effect with Melodyne.

1. Clone the vocal to which you want to add the ADT effect.

2. Right-click on the cloned click and create a Melodyne Region FX.

3. Select all the notes in the vocal.

4. Turn up Correct Pitch Center to about 60% (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Correcting pitch and  timing subtly on a cloned vocal track can produce an automatic double-tracking effect.

5. Turn up Quantize Time Intensity to about 60% (Fig. 1).

6. Evaluate the ADT effect, and tweak the pitch and timing correction amounts as appropriate.

Generally you don’t want too much pitch or timing correction—just enough to be different from the main vocal.

Mixing ADT Vocals

When mixing, centering the two vocals tends to maximize the similarities to chorusing; the vocals sound somewhat more diffused, which works well for “gentler” material. Panning them slightly oppositely (about 30% right and 30% left) can give a more spacious sound in stereo.

With sparser mixes, centered panning often fits best while the somewhat spread sound helps the vocals have more presence in dense material, like hard rock with lots of distorted guitar. However, these aren’t “rules” as ultimately, the song itself will dictate which works best in the final mix.

Give this technique a try—I think you’ll be as surprised as I was about how effectively it provides an authentic, convincing ADT effect.

BETTER TOGETHER: TRY SONAR X3 AND MELODYNE FOR FREE!

SONAR X3 QUICKTIP: MAKE YOUR VOICE THICKER (STUDIO & PRODUCER)