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Holy Bot

Bedroom music production, gaming and random shit

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music tips

Split Frequency, Split

I’ve written about the perks of putting side-chain compression on only the low frequencies of a bass earlier.

To do so, three copies of the sound are needed. Or, as this post will show, you could split the frequency into three bands (high, mid and low). By doing this, it is possible to apply different signal processing on each band.

Now I usually try to write about music production on a more abstract level, and not about a specific DAW or instrument, but this time I going to illustrate with Ableton Live on Mac. The theory is the same though, you just need to figure out how it works in your particular environment.

So I’m using the stock effect Multiband Dynamics to split frequency. The device has noticeable affect and coloration on the signal, even when the intensity amount if set to zero, but it should be transparent enough for now.

  1. Drop a Multiband Dynamics in the Device View.
  2. Set the Amount control to 0.0 % to neutralize compression or gain adjustments to the signal.
  3. Group the Multiband Dynamics in an Audio Effect Rack (select the device and press CMD + G).
  4. Show the Chain List of the rack.
  5. Dictate the crossover points on High and Low (the Mid consists of what is left in between, so remember to also change the crossover points in the mid chain if you make adjustments on the others), e.g. set the bottom of the frequency range of the high band to 1.00 kHz.
  6. Duplicate the selected chain two times.
  7. Rename all of the chains High, Mid and Low, from top to bottom.
  8. Solo each band respectively on the Split Freq, i.e. solo Low on the low chain.

Now process each band individually. Use a Utility device on the low chain and set Width to 0.0 % to direct the low frequencies to mono. Also, on this band, set up a side-chain compression triggered by the kick drum. Try a stereo widening effect and some reverb on the mid chain. And perhaps a little saturation to add some crunch on the high chain, I dunno, it’s up to you.

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Envelope, Basics

In sound design, an ADSR envelope modulates the sound and sculpts its timbre thus changing its sonic character. ADSR is an acronym that stands for its four stages Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. The contour of the ADSR envelope is specified by three time-parameters and one level-parameter like this:

(A) Attack time is the time it takes for the signal to go from minimum to maximum when the key is pressed.
(D) Decay time is the time for the signal to drop to the designated sustain level (if it is not set to maximum, then decay time has no meaning).
(S) Sustain level is the level of the signal while the key is hold.
® Release time is the time taken for the signal to fade out after the key is released.

Note that the signal will jump to the release stage when the key is released no matter where it is in the envelope. Hence if a short note is played, the signal might not had time to rise to the maximum in the envelope, therefore release will be relative to the level reached in the envelope.

Envelopes can be applied not only to volume, but also to filter frequencies or oscillator pitches.

To correctly tune the pitch envelope modulation range:

  1. First turn the modulation/envelope amount knob down.
  2. Press the key and set the desired minimum with the pitch knob (offset for modulation).
  3. Turn sustain level all the way up, press the key and let the signal reach maximum.
  4. While on sustain, dial the modulation knob to the maximum pitch.

About cutoff modulation, the cutoff knob is the starting point of the modulation, that means that the sound will not be altered if cutoff is set to maximum.

Moreover, it is sometimes possible to inverted the envelope and reverse its behavior.

Envelopes, Basics

In sound design, an ADSR envelope modulates the sound and sculpts its timbre thus changing its sonic character. ADSR is an acronym that stands for its four stages Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. The contour of the ADSR envelope is specified by three time-parameters and one level-parameter like this:

(A) Attack time is the time it takes for the signal to go from minimum to maximum when the key is pressed.
(D) Decay time is the time for the signal to drop to the designated sustain level (if it is not set to maximum, then decay time has no meaning).
(S) Sustain level is the level of the signal while the key is hold.
® Release time is the time taken for the signal to fade out after the key is released.

Note that the signal will jump to the release stage when the key is released no matter where it is in the envelope. Hence if a short note is played, the signal might not had time to rise to the maximum in the envelope, therefore release will be relative to the level reached in the envelope.

Envelopes can be applied not only to volume, but also to filter frequencies or oscillator pitches.

To correctly tune the pitch envelope modulation range:

  1. First turn the modulation/envelope amount knob down.
  2. Press the key and set the desired minimum with the pitch knob (offset for modulation).
  3. Turn sustain level all the way up, press the key and let the signal reach maximum.
  4. While on sustain, dial the modulation knob to the maximum pitch.

About cutoff modulation, the cutoff knob is the starting point of the modulation, that means that the sound will not be altered if cutoff is set to maximum.

Moreover, it is sometimes possible to inverted the envelope and reverse its behavior.

Mixing with Pink Noise

Setting basic level and pan are usually the first things to do in the process of mixing. Choose a sound/channel, e.g. kick drum, to act as your main level reference, and balance all the other instruments tracks against it. So establish the initial gains and then refine with dynamics processing and stuff. That’s what I usually do.

But – here’s a neat trick to help you get the balance right: use pink noise as level reference and balance each sound/channel to it.

Generate or play pink noise at the stereo bus. Calibrate the noise to a sensible reference level that allow ample headroom on your master bus when mixing. Use an averaging meter, a RMS-type meter, to establish the level of the noise.

Start with soloing the first instrument and play it alongside the pink noise, and balance it directly against the noise by ear. That is, try to find the level at which the instrument is just audible above the noise, but not hidden. Now mute that instrument and solo the next one. Repeat. Kill the noise and voilà!

Mixing this way won’t make it perfect, but accurate enough for a start and then some.

Another (general) tip is to listen to and learn by mixers that are much better than you, and that you admire.

Note: Pink noise is a random signal, filtered to have equal energy per octave.

Compression Time Again

Compression is an invaluable tool that can be applied to almost any sound. Therefore, here’s a friendly reminder about compression and the settings of attack and release on a compressor.

Most times compression is used to control dynamics and taming peaks to get a smooth, consistent signal. Other times compression is used to add punch, impact, proximity or for tonal control.

Four Settings

There are four settings on most compressors. The threshold controls the point at which compression begins. The ratio is the setting for how much compression is being applied. (A so called limiter is a compressor with a high ratio, e.g. inf:1, that will stop the signal at the set threshold.) Then there are attack and release settings. Attack sets how long it takes to reach maximum compression once the signal exceeds the threshold. And release sets how long it takes for compression to stop after the signal gets below the threshold. (Some compressors feature an auto release, which automatically adjusts the release time based on the incoming signal.)

Attack

Attack controls how much initial impact gets through.

A fast attack time shaves off the initial transient impact, and can make it sound more consistent and controlled. But when gone too far, the sound will lose vibrance and seem more further away.

A slow attack time is letting a lot of transient formation through. The initial impact will come through and the compressor will start to work after that. This can make it sound punchy, big and aggressive, but not very consistent dynamically.

Release

For release time, again there are two options: fast and slow. In general, fast release can render a more aggressive, gritty sound – the initial sustain is sort of brought up, meaning more perceived loudness. But when the release time is too fast, it can sound exaggerated, distorted and bad, and there can also occur some pumping artifacts.

A slow release time will give more dynamic control, more smoothness, but also sound a bit distant. And if overdone with a slower release, the compressor will not release in time for the next hit to come through, and that can suck the life out of the initial impact and sound flat.

Stack Compressors

An effective way to stack compressors is to put the compressor with the fast attack time first and the compressor with the slow attack time second. The first compressor will smooth out those transients and make the initial hits more consistent, while the second compressor, fed by the dynamically controlled signal, will accentuate the initial hits.

Add Life to Your Mix

Sometimes when I read about music production and audio engineering stuff I come across ideas that I personally wouldn’t use in my music, but nevertheless could be interesting – at least in theory – and perhaps someone else dare to try.

Here’s one: record your “as is” mix from your monitor speakers, using a couple of microphones, and then blend the recording with your final mix.

This could add vibrance and “realism”. It could of course also clutter your mix if you overdo it. If needed, try to poke the recording to play with the phase relationship.

Recording your mix like this can add some analog imperfection by revealing a little of the studio’s ambient, and the colors of the mics, preamps and monitors would also print this sound layer. And you need not to record in the studio, you could put the monitors in a (non-acoustic treated) reverbant room, or record with an opened window… You get the drift.

FM à la Analog Four

One of my favorite synths is the Analog Four, and with the OS update 1.22 a while back, Elektron added new LFO synchronization modes and destinations and made this synth even more awesome. (If I only could take one of my synths to a deserted island, it would be the Analog Four.) Anyway, in short that means I’m now able to apply pitch tracked LFO FM behavior.

Here’s a way to start (not rules):

  1. Set triangle (as a substitute for sinus) waveform on an oscillator.
  2. Open up both filters.
  3. Set the LFO speed to any multiples of 16.
  4. Set the LFO multiplier to over 512 and synchronize it to the oscillator you’re working with.
  5. Let the LFO restart when a note is played on Trig Mode.
  6. Choose sinus as the LFO waveform.
  7. Set frequency or pitch modulation to the oscillator as LFO destination. (Also try different destinations later, like the filter frequency.)
  8. Set depth of the LFO modulation (or, if you’re using the first oscillator, let the second assignable envelope control this).
  9. If you use Depth A in the step above, then try to fade in or fade out the modulation.

Also, there’s a few videos on YouTube describing these methods, like this, which is a good walkthrough, even though it’s a bit unfocused and lengthy.

Happy New Bass

If you’re reading and following this blog you ought to be interested in bass. And because of that, I’m giving you two – not so obvious – techniques on how to accentuate your synth bass sound.

Using the high-pass filter to boost bass

Okay, so you know what a high-pass filter is right, and that its cutoff frequency is the point at where the filter limits the low frequencies and lets the high pass.

You also know about resonance, and that it’s generally used to give a brighter/thinner sound. (And when the resonant setting is cranked to max, some filters go into self-oscillation and which make them scream.) But when high-pass resonance is added, the note and overtones near the cutoff are boosted – in other words, this is lifting the bass.

Just use keyboard tracking to make the resonant peak follow the pitch of the note and cutoff to follow the keyboard. The fundamental note will now be boosted while the surrounding spectrum is unaffected.

Use two filters in series if possible, set the other to low-pass filter and reduce harsh elements of the sound.

Get bigger bass by focusing on midrange

To get louder bass it’s not always necessary to pump up the level or to boost the lower frequencies, no you could just draw more attention to the bass element. Add midrange to it – it’s almost a mindtrick, and it shouldn’t make the bass any muddier.

So saturate the overtones of the bass or sculpt the thud of the kick drum. This is also valuable when there are several sounds competing for room in the low end.

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