Reader’s Choice: Most Popular Vocal Production Articles in 2014

by Dan Gonzalez

Optimizing vocals with DSP

Craig Anderton brings you on a DSP-inspired journey through all the different ways in which you can get your vocals processed and finalized. Various topics involving the VX-64, EQ, Compression, Expansion, and much more. Check out the article here.

How to use a vocal double to enhance lead vocals

One of the toughest things about working with a lead vocal track is getting it to pop out, while allowing it to still sit in the track nicely in context with its surroundings [other tracks].  Every mixing engineer has her/his bag of tricks, but here are a few ideas to utilize a “vocal-double” which may help support and embellish the lead vocal track. Cakewalk guru Jimmy Landry shows you how he worked on the vocals for his Javier Colon demo track. Check out the article here.

Make your voice sound thicker (studio & producer)

Vocal production can lead to many different types of processing. Sometimes subtle enhancements to your vocals can make all the difference in the final mix. SONAR X3 Studio and Producer introduces Melodyne Essential as a fully integrated and pitch correction editor. This easy to use software allows users to access their Melodyne right from the Multi-Dock without needing to perform any special tricks within the software – including fattening up your vocals. Check out this highly-read article here.

Make your voice sound like Daft Punk with Melodyne Editor and SONAR X3 Producer

Certain effects have defined generations of music. The decade of the 80’s for example was a major era for reverb. In today’s pop music, the use of pitch correction software seems to be an effect that many artists and producers are utilizing creatively. Daft Punk has been using this effect for a number of years now, making them one of the first to bring this vocal style to the level of popularity it is today. Check out the article here.

Hum a melody and convert it to MIDI using ARA

As a musician, inspiration can hit you on the train, during dinner, or even while you’re driving somewhere. Many musicians carry some sort of recorder around with them. I know sound designers who always have a device ready for taking samples, and guitarists that hum melodies to themselves when they feel they’ve come up with something original that they want to remember. Now you can import your melodies right into SONAR and convert them to MIDI using the innovative ARA integration. Check out the articles here.


Reader’s Choice: Most Popular Drum Production articles in 2014

by Dan Gonzalez

Free Quick Kit Project Templates for SONAR X3 Users


Yes, we’re bringing back the freebie post from last December. Our Free Quick Kit Project Templates made a big splash with the community as one of our top posts over the last 12 months. These pre-mixed project templates load right from quick start menu in all three versions of SONAR X3 without any assembly required. Open a quick kit, drop in your sequence, and you’re ready to rock with great sounding drums. Now we’re opening it up to anyone who has Session Drummer 3 in their arsenal.  Download the free pack here.

9 Microphone Techniques for Recording a Snare Drum

Ever wanted to know how to mic up a snare drum? Well we wrote a comprehensive article about 9 different ways to do it. This article is brought to you by the community of Cakewalk readers that follow the blog and read it regularly. Check out the article here.

What’s New in Addictive Drums 2?

2014 brought us more than just content, it brought us Addictive Drums 2. Ever since we’ve posted our extensive video about XLN Audio’s new instrument we’ve heard nothing but great reviews. Here’s our most popular video chosen by the readers of The Cakewalk Blog. Check it out here.

Subtractive EQ Part 1: Snare Drum

Here’s one of our most popular posts this past year in case you missed it the first time around. There are a ton parts to this series, but the first part has seemed to win over the rest. Here’s a nice thick article about how to apply subtractive EQ to a snare drum. Check it out here.

Setting up your Addictive Drums

Check out how you can easily setup Addictive Drums (1 & 2) to accommodate multiple different working environments within SONAR X3 Studio and Producer. This one of kind drum synth is the best of the best. Check out the article here.

How to use Compression on Snare Drum in SONAR X3

Using compression is one of those tools that is tricky to understand if you’re not familiar with how the different audio signals in your mix. Check out our most viewed video from the extensive video series about using the CA-2A Leveling Amp on snare drum. Check out the video here.

How to Compress Drum Reverb in SONAR X3

Another popular drum related video from the Compression video series is #6 where I give some tips on using compression on drum reverb. You can see the video here.

Producing Drum Samples in SONAR X3

Last but not least we’ve seen that our community has really enjoyed our Producing Drum Samples video series. This video series is available to watch here and guides you through some awesome ways to mix and EQ drum samples to your liking.

If you’re looking for more Drum Production tips check out the tag for this on our blog here.


Multi-track Drum Editing – Crossfading and Critical Listening

by Dan Gonzalez

In the past 3 articles we have looked at basic tools for drum editing as well as identifying, splitting, cropping, and aligning clips. All of these techniques can be followed pretty accurately by reading along and performing the functions as I’ve written them. This portion of the blog series will require that you listen intently to what you’re doing as we work through it.

Make sure to wear headphones and get your critical listening ears on so that your drum edits are clean and not full of pops. Previously I mentioned that we would need to monitor our drums as we edit them and that erroneous edits come through the most in the cymbal microphones. In order to make this possible we’re going to mute the tom tracks and lower the volume for the kick and snare tracks. This exposes mostly high hat, ride, and overhead microphone signals. Also, make sure to pan the overhead microphone signals hard left and right too.

STEP 14: Turn on Auto Crossfade

SONAR is known for it’s streamlined feel and quick functions. One of the best examples of this is SONAR’s auto cross-fade functionality. Since we’re  putting this drum pattern back together we’ll need some speedy way of making sure the clips do not pop when overlapping.

Within the track view click on the Options > Auto Crossfade. This feature allows you to crop one clip into another and automatically yield a cross fade. (more…)


Basics: Five Questions about Effects Placement

By Craig Anderton

There are plenty of places in SONAR where you can process the audio signal, but you need to know how to choose the right one.

What’s an “insert” effect? Don’t you always “insert” an effect? You indeed “insert” effects, but there’s a specific effect type usually called an Insert effect that inserts into an individual mixer channel. In SONAR, this inserts into a channel’s FX Bin or the ProChannel (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: The FX bin for two channels have insert effects, as does the ProChannel for the Vocals channel.

Insert effects affect only the channel into which they are inserted. Typical insert effects include dynamics processors, distortion, EQ (because of EQ’s importance, it’s a permanent ProChannel insert effect), flanging, and other effects that apply to a specific sound in a specific channel.

Then what’s a “send” effect? Also called an (more…)


Basics: Five Questions About Panning Laws

By Craig Anderton

It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law…panning law, that is. Let’s dispel the confusion surrounding this sometimes confusing topic.

What does a panning law govern? When a mono input feeds a stereo bus, the panning law determines the apparent and actual sound level as you sweep from one side of the stereo field to the other.

But why is a “law” needed? Doesn’t the level just stay the same as you pan? Not necessarily. Panning laws date back to analog consoles. If a pan control had a linear taper (in other words, a constant rate of resistance change as you turned it), then the sound was louder when panned to center. To compensate, hardware mixers used non-linear resistance tapers to drop the level, typically by -3 dB RMS, at the center. This gave an apparent level that was constant as you panned across the stereo soundstage. If that doesn’t make sense…just take my word for it, and keep reading.

Okay, then there’s a law. Isn’t that the end of it? Well, it wasn’t really a “law,” or a standard. Come to think of it, it wasn’t a specification or even a “recommendation.” Some engineers dropped the center level a little more to let the sides “pop” more, or to have mixes seem less “monoized” and therefore create more space for vocalists who were panned to center. Some didn’t drop the center level at all, and some did custom tweaks.

Why does this matter to a DAW like SONAR, which doesn’t have a hardware mixer? Different DAWs default to different panning laws. This is why duplicating a mix on different DAWs can yield different results, and lead to foolish online discussions about how one DAW sounds “punchier” or “wimpier” than another if someone brings in straight audio files and sets the panning and faders identically.

A mono signal of the same level feeds each fader pair, and each pair is subject to different SONAR panning laws. Note the difference in levels with the panpot panned to one side or centered. The tracks are in the same order as the descriptions in SONAR’s panning laws documentation and the listing in preferences. Although the sin/cos and square root versions may seem to produce the same results, the taper differs across the soundstage between the hard pans and center.

This sounds complicated, and is making my head explode—can you just tell me what I need to do so I can go back to making music? SONAR provides six different panning law options under Preferences, so not only can you choose the law you want, the odds of being able to match a different DAW’s law are excellent. The online help describes how the panning laws affect the sound. So there are really only two crucial concepts:

  • The pan law you choose can affect a mix’s overall sound if you have a lot of mono sound sources (panpots with stereo channels are balance controls, which is a whole other topic). So try mixes with different laws, choose a law you like, and stick with it. I prefer -3 dB center, sin/cos taper, and constant power; the signal level stays at 0dB when panned right or left, but drops by -3 dB in each channel when centered. This is how I built hardware mixers, so it’s familiar territory. It’s also available in many DAWs. But use what you like…after all, I’m not choosing what’s “right,” I’m simply choosing what I like.
  • If you import an OMF file from another DAW or need to duplicate a mix from another DAW, ask what panning law was used in creating the file. One of SONAR’s many cool features is that it will likely be able to match it.

There, that wasn’t so bad. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and now you have answers to five questions about panning laws.



Basics: Five Questions About Using Stompboxes with SONAR

by Craig Anderton

Plug-in signal processors are a great feature of computer-based recording programs like SONAR, but you may have some favorite stompboxes with no plug-in equivalents—like that cool fuzz pedal you love, or the ancient analog delay you scored on eBay. Fortunately, with just a little bit of effort you can make SONAR think external hardware effects are actually plug-ins.

1. What do I need to interface stompboxes with SONAR? You’ll need a low-latency audio interface with an unusd analog output and unused analog input (or two of each for stereo effects), and cords to patch these audio interface connections to the stompbox. We’ll use the TASCAM US-4×4 interface because it has extra I/O and low latency, but the same principles apply to other audio interfaces.

2. How do I hook up the effect and the interface? SONAR’s External Insert plug-in inserts in an FX bin, and diverts the signal to the assigned audio interface output. You patch the audio interface output to a hardware effect’s input, then patch the hardware effect’s output to the assigned audio interface input. This input returns to the External Effect plug-in, and continues on its way through the mixer. For this example, we’ll assume a stompbox with a mono input and stereo output.

3. What are correct settings for the External Insert plug-in parameters? When you insert the External Insert into the FX bin, a window appears that provides all the controls needed to set up the external hardware.

  • Send. This section’s drop-down menu assigns the send output to the audio interface. In this example, the send feeds the US-4×4’s output 3. Patch this audio interface output to your effect’s input. (Note that if an output is already assigned, it won’t appear in the drop-down menu.)
  • Output level control. The level coming out of the computer will be much higher than what most stompboxes want, so in this example the output level control is cutting the signal down by about -12 dB to avoid overloading the effect.
  • Return. Assign this section’s drop-down menu to the audio interface input through which the stompbox signal returns (in this example, the US-4×4’s stereo inputs 3 and 4). Patch the hardware effect output(s) to this input or inputs.
  • Return level control. Because the stompbox will usually have a low-level output, this slider brings the gain back up for compatibility with the rest of the system. In this example, the slider shows about +10 dB of gain. (Note: You can invert the signal phase in the Return section if needed.)

4. Is it necessary to compensate for the delay caused (more…)


Mixing Heavy Metal with the ProChannel & Softube Mix Bundle

The Softube Mix Bundle is a strong and creative addition to SONAR’s ProChannel strip.  This bundle adds 5 solid effects, great for any mix, to the Softube Saturation Knob already in SONAR X3 Producer.

For this article I’ve mixed a Heavy Metal track from the group Dark Ride using mostly Softube ProChannel effects. You can download the project here and follow along if you have the Softube Mix Bundle. If not then the screenshots in this article should suffice.

Setting up the Mix

Listen & add Markers

At first listen I put in Markers throughout the entire project to make navigation and looping sections much easier. Using the shortcut M – it’s pretty easy to drop in a Marker wherever your Now Time Marker resides. After that, you can name them accordingly. This paticular song was relatively short and included an introduction, two verses, 3 choruses, bridge, solo section, and breakdown.

Routing, grouping, and track folders

While you’re mixing it’s easy to become slightly overwhelmed by larger projects. What I do in this instance is make a stereo bus for every group of instruments that I have in the project. This allows me to apply mixing effects to the instrument groups as whole before they hit my main mix bus. The tracks route directly to the buses and then the buses route directly to the 2 bus. For each instrument group I also assigned them a color category and a track folder to make things a bit easier to manage within the Track View.

Levels & panning

Metal in general consists of abrasive-wide rhythm guitars, huge-punchy drums, (more…)


DAW Best Practices: How to get a bigger drum sound with reverb

The Biggest, Baddest Drum Reverb Sound Ever

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

by Craig Anderton

You want big-sounding drums? Want your metal drum tracks to sound like the Drums of Doom? Keep reading. This technique transposes a copy of the reverb and pans the two reverb tracks oppositely. It works best with unpitched sounds like percussion.

1. Insert a reverb send.

Insert a send in your drum track, then insert your reverb of choice in the Send bus.


2. Render the reverb, isolated from the drum track. (more…)


Basics: Five Questions about Filter Response

By Craig Anderton 

You can think of filters as combining amplification and attenuation—they make some frequencies louder, and some frequencies softer. Filters are the primary elements in equalizers, the most common signal processors used in recording. Equalization can make dull sounds bright, tighten up “muddy” sounds by reducing the bass frequencies, reduce vocal or instrument resonances, and more. 

Too many people adjust equalization with their eyes, not their ears. For example, once after doing a mix I noticed the client writing down all the EQ settings I’d done. When I asked why, he said it was because he liked the EQ and wanted to use the same settings on these instruments in future mixes. 

While certain EQ settings can certainly be a good point of departure, EQ is a part of the mixing process. Just as levels, panning, and reverb are different for each mix, EQ should be custom-tailored for each mix as well. Part of this involves knowing how to find the magic EQ frequencies for particular types of musical material, and that requires knowing the various types of filter responses used in equalizers. 

What’s a lowpass response? A filter with a lowpass response passes all frequencies below a certain frequency (called the cutoff or rolloff frequency), while rejecting frequencies above the cutoff frequency (Fig. 1). In real world filters, this rejection is not total. Instead, past the cutoff frequency, the high frequency response rolls off gently. The rate at which it rolls off is called the slope. The slope’s spec represents how much the response drops per octave; higher slopes mean a steeper drop past the cutoff. Sometimes a lowpass filter is called a high cut filter.

 Fig. 1: This lowpass filter response has a cutoff of 1100 Hz, and a moderate 24/dB per octave slope.

What’s a highpass response? This is the inverse of a lowpass response. It passes frequencies above the cutoff frequency, while rejecting frequencies below the cutoff (Fig. 2). It also (more…)


Basics: Five Questions about Audio Specs

By Craig Anderton 

Specifications don’t have to be the domain of geeks—they’re not that hard to understand, and can guide you when choosing audio gear. Let’s look at five important specs, and provide a real-world context by referencing them to TASCAM’s new US-2×2 and US-4×4 audio interfaces. 

First, we need to understand the decibel (dB). This is a unit of measurement for audio levels (like an inch or meter is a unit of measurement for length). A 1 dB change is approximately the smallest audio level difference a human can hear. A dB spec can also have a – or + sign. For example, a signal with a level of -20 dB sounds softer than one with a level of -10 dB, but both are softer than one with a level of +2 dB. 

1. What’s frequency response? Ideally, audio gear designed for maximum accuracy should reproduce all audible frequencies equally—bass shouldn’t be louder than treble, or vice-versa. A frequency response graph measures what happens if you feed test frequencies with the same level into a device’s input, then measure the output to see if there are any variations. You want a response that’s flat (even) from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, because that’s the audible range for humans with good hearing. Here’s the frequency response graph for TASCAM’s US-2×2 interface (in all examples, the US-4×4 has the same specs).

This shows the response is essentially “flat” from 50 Hz to 20 kHz, and down 1 dB at 20 Hz. Response typically goes down even further below 20 Hz; this is deliberate, because there’s no need to reproduce signals we can’t really hear. The bottom line is this graph shows that the interface reproduces everything from the lowest note on a bass guitar to a cymbal’s high frequencies equally well. 

2. What’s Signal-to-Noise Ratio? All electronic circuits generate (more…)