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In this first installment of the Foundations of Audio series, author Brian Lee White shows how to improve the sound of a mix with compressors, limiters, gates, de-essers, and other dynamic processors. The course explains the fundamentals of sound waves, and amplitude, explores common compressor controls, and shows how to eliminate unwanted noise using gates and expanders. The course also demonstrates best practices in compression and limiting in a variety of audio applications and covers sculpting the attack and decay of individual notes with transient shapers and applying frequency specific dynamics control with multiband compressors. Exercise files accompany the course and include special Get in the Mix session files.
We now know that de-essing is frequency specific compression. Let's put a de-esser to work on a vocal track. Take a listen to this vocal passage, paying particular attention to the ess sounds. >> Tonight I feel asleep at the wheel. I woke up just in time with chills darting down my spine. >> Because these ess sounds will likely get a bit crispy as we add some top end EQ to the mix, especially on the words asleep, chills, and spine, we can use a de-esser to tame that sibilance.
I like to use my de-essers before applying compression in EQ. So I can get the bad stuff out of the way before it hits my other processors. Now listen again as I activate the de-esser. >> Tonight I feel asleep at the wheel. I woke up just in time with chills darting down my spine. >> It's subtle, but effective.
Using a high frequency only de-esser, all I'm doing here is just taking a bit of the edge off those particularly sibilant words. Many de-essers allow you to preview the side chain signal and tune the frequency band to match the track. So you might trying selecting a particularly sibilant passage to play back in a loop and sweep through the frequencies until you here it get really nasty and resonant. Setting up the target frequency is key because you don't want the de-esser to react to non-sibilant passages of the vocal. In this case, I've set my target frequency to 6k, a good starting point for a male vocalist.
By dialing down the threshold, I can choose the amount of gain reduction or overall de-essing that I want to achieve. I want to pay particular attention during this stage as too much de-essing will create a lisp in the performance. I find that on vocals, I like to use split band de-essing so that only the high frequencies are compressed during the sibilant sections. This helps the de-esser sound more transparent to my ears, and I can get away with more gain reduction, without introducing a lisp. Take a listen to this passage as I dial in too much full range de-essing, giving the singer a lisp.
>> Tonight I feel asleep at the wheel. I woke up just in time with chills darting down my spine. >> Now, unless I'm playing a cruel trick on the vocalist, I hope you could hear that I don't want to abuse the de-esser like this. Ultimately, you may find that no matter how well you set your target frequency, other non-sibilant material will trigger the de-esser too.
This is normal, so use your ears and find a sweet spot that does the best job without triggering significant compression on the non-sibilant passages. One trick I like to use to evaluate my sibilance is to listen to the mix on smaller speakers, as they tend to exhibit harsh sibilant sounds in a more pronounced way. On particularly tough sections, I might also use volume automation to reduce the specific sections of extreme sibilance. If you're constantly struggling with overwhelming sibilance in your vocal tracks You might try re-recording the track with a different mic as certain voices do not work well with certain models of mics.
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