Saturday, December 27, 2014

How to use a De-esser (or Deesser), with Free Vst Plugins!

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about de-essers!
A deesser is basically a compressor which is set to operate only on a very narrow range of frequences that corresponds to the sibilants of the human voice, which can be captured with high peaks of volume by the microphones.
Usually these sibilant "S" and "T" sounds are located in an area between the 9khz and the 15khz, and often the deessers have presets for male or female vocals, but the best ones sometimes features also a "learn" mode in which they automatically detects the right area to attenuate: the more the area is narrow, the more the deesser will be effective without processing unneeded areas of the mix.

There are also other, more creative ways to use a deesser: someone uses them on a cymbals track or on a distorted guitar track to tame the harsh frequences that sometimes can get a bit too prominent, giving a more smooth result, similar to the one you'd get from a Low-pass filter, but less invasive.

There are many Deessers on the market, and almost every DAW has one bundled, but if you want to try some free Vst, here are best ones the web has to offer:

Digitalfishphones Spitfish - Considered one of the best deesser ever made

Tonmann Deesser - One of the most transparent free deesser around

Sleepy-Time Lisp Deesser - A very good Deesser, available also in 64bit version

Antress Modern Deesser - An interesting rack-like deesser

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Review and Tutorial: Fabfilter PRO C

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about another Fabfilter product, the Pro C Compressor.
By now, after all the articles I've done, we all should know what a compressor is and how does it work: basically it's an automatic volume control that lowers the lowest peaks according to how we set it, and raises the quieter parts.

Plus it's an important tone shaping tool.

I have particularly liked this specific compressor because of its flexibility, which is similar to the Pro Q 2's: the interface is clean, easy, and at the same time there are tools to visually monitor what's going on that usually are not featured on other processors of this kind: I'm talking about the dual graph:

- the left one is pretty common on many compressors, and tells us when and how strong the compressor kicks in, and it is possible to choose between a soft and a hard knee.

- the right one is less common and it shows us 3 things: the original waveform, the amount of gain reduction we're applying, and the new waveform. This helps us a lot checking out if we're crushing the dynamics of our track too much, or on the contrary if the settings we're applying are uneffective.
The last part of the graph is a metering tool that tells us the level of our track and the gain reduction applied.

Beside the common controls that we can find on any other compressor (attack, release, ratio..), the Fabfilter Pro C features also some less common function:

- Automatic Release control, that changes adaptively according the part, and that is particularly useful if used on complex tracks

- Automatic Make up Gain to compensate the usual loss in volume due to the compression

- 3 Modes: Clean, Classic and Opto, which reacts differently, since they're modeled on different types of compressors.

- the A/B comparison function: we can set the compressor with two different settings and a/b compare them to choose the best one.

- the Parallel Compression function: we can experiment using some more extreme setting on our track, and then use the Dry Mix control to decide the amount of dry signal to blend with the processed one. This way we can add some body to the track leaving part of the transient to pass through uncompressed. This is particularly good with a snare drum, to keep the snap (the transient) intact, or with a whole drum buss.

- a Sidechain Function in which we can decide wether to use separated left and right gain control, or to use it Mid/side.

- a Midi Learn function to automate the settings: we need to push the Learn button, then move the knobs we want in real time while the song is playing, and the Pro C will record our movements and change the settings real time the same way we did, automatically.

There are even more functions to talk about (for example this plugin can be used as an effective Deesser too), and many presets to choose from, but it's already enough to say safely that this is the most complete Compressor ever made, and one of the most transparent sounding ones, too.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

How to record and mix clean guitar (with free Vst Plugins)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're back with our mixing tutorials, and we'll see how to record and mix a clean guitar.
There are many ways to record a clean guitar, and many definitions of a "clean" tone, for example we could define "clean" the sound of an acoustic guitar (click here for a tutorial about how to mix an acoustic guitar), but today we will focus on how to how to mix a clean tone from an electric one.

First off let's say that we can track a clean guitar tone both Microphoning an amp (click here for a tutorial about how to mic an amp) or going straight to the audio interface, and we can do this directly from the guitar to the interface, or we can go from the line out of an amplifier, so that we can use the preamp sound, to the send of the audio interface, bypassing the interface preamp.

If we're going straight to the audio interface, the idea is to record on a stereo track if our clean guitar track will not be double tracked and it will be set dead center;
if we are recording two different takes instead, one to be played on the left side and one on the right one, we should use two mono tracks.
Plus, if we're going straight from the guitar to the interface, we should use a Vst Amp simulator, for example the free Ignite NRR-1, which has a beautiful clean channel, and then we can choose wether to use a cabinet simulator or not: unlike what happens with distorted guitars, for clean guitars a cabinet simulator is not mandatory, the same way is not mandatory for D.I. Bass.

Once we have tracked a good tone (the better it is at the source, the less we will have to process it later), we can add some stereo widening (if we have recorded a single track in stereo), to make it sound a bit more large in the soundscape, then is time to use some equalization: the idea is to use a high pass filter, not too invasive, to get rid of the unnecessary lows (for example we can roll off from 60-to 100hz), then we can add some snap around 2500hz and sometimes, if needed, some "air" in the 7,5-12khz area.
Remember, though, that if a correction can be done with the real or virtual amp controls, is better to fix it that way instead of using the vst equalizer: the sound will mantain its realism much more.
Next step: Compression.
The settings of the compressor vary according to the music genre we're mixing: if we're mixing a song with just few notes resonating we won't need a lot of compression, a 2:1 to 4:1 ratio should do the trick, but if we're mixing fast strumming music, such as funky, the levels must be kept even all the time, so we can go up to a 12:1 ratio to keep the performance stable.
Last link of the chain: Reverb.
As for all effects, we should use them with taste, otherwise we would screw up all the work done until now.
The reverb should have a short tail, and we should carefully set the "wet/dry" ratio, in order to give weight and space to the sound without making it drown on it.

If needed, clean guitar accepts processing with modulation effects very well, so we can use a bit of Chorus to add a vibe similar to Metallica or Pink Floyd classic clean sound, a Delay to obtain a U2 sounding guitar, some Tremolo to add a bit of western mood, and so on.


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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Review and Tutorial: Fabfilter PRO Q 2

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about my to-go Eq Vst plugin, the Fabfilter Pro Q 2, which is basically nowadays the only Equalizer I use, both in the Mixing and in the Mastering phase.

Why do I think this Eq is better than the others?
Apart from the fact that it sounds good and it doesn't colour my source sounds too much (but this is a characteristic that many good quality Vsts have, for example some of the Waves ones), I love this Eq and I use it on every project because of its unique tools, that makes my job so much easier:

- Built in Spectrum Analizer: it lets you see the original curve and the Post Eq one, even at the same time, to see if there are peaks or resonances to tame.
I don't know of any other Equalizer that gives that much flexibility, so far I had to use at least a Spectrum analizer on each chain, and it has been a pleasure to take 'em out.

- The fact that if you're working on a stereo track (i.e. Mastering), you can have each band to work on the whole track or just on the left or right channel.

- It has an Eq Matching function, much like the Voxengo Curve Eq: you can make it analyze another track via the Sidechain Input, and it will apply the same curve to yours.

- Solo mode: this function allows you to isolate just one "slice" of the spectrum and hear it.
I find this function, which is quite rare, to be the most useful feature in the whole plugin, and it works by clicking and holding down the headophone icon that appears whenever you highlight a single band. You can move left and right to move the "slice" of the curve you're listening to, and use the mouse wheel to make the audible part more wide or more narrow.
This is the best and most precise way to point out a single area of the sound to intervene.

All in all, this plugin makes my tracks sound better and my signal chain shorter, which is very important since the more processors you need to stack on a track to make it sound good, the more problems you will have, and ultimately the more "unnatural" the final result will sound (plus the project will be heavier on the cpu).

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