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In this installment of Foundations of Audio, author Alex U. Case explains the fundamentals of delay and modulation effects and how to apply these effects, technically and creatively, to improve the sound of a mix. The course covers adjusting individual parameters such as delay time, level, and feedback; working with long delays to create echoes, enhance groove, and add support; using delay modulation for chorus and doubling effects; and dialing-in spectral effects from delay, such as flanging. This course also includes Get in the Mix (GITM) sessions for both Avid Pro Tools and Apple Logic Pro. Exercise files are also included with the course.
Pro Tools, Logic and all DAWs make it easy to add delay to your session. Pro Tools provides a representative example. Seek out the Essential Training title for your particular DAW in the lynda.com Online Training Library for a deeper exploration of this process as it applies to you. Pro Tools provides two signal flow structures for introducing effects to your session, and both the signal flow and the nomenclature are borrowed directly from large-format analog consoles. So if you happen to recorded Led Zeppelin in the 70s, Tears for Fears in the 80s, or Pearl Jam in the 90s, then you already know what to expect.
The two approaches are inserts and sends. Inserts locate the plug-in directly in the signal flow of the track, the entire track feeds the plug-in, and the plug- in output feeds right back to the track, making its way to the fader and into your mix. Inserts are an all or nothing sort of approach, you either have the effect or you don't. Insert and activate an effect on the track and you only hear the affected track. None of the unaffected signal gets through unless the effect has a wet/dry mix parameter allowing you to mix together the desired amount of effect; that's the wet part, and original signal, the dry part.
For effects like EQ and compression, inserts are perfect. The effect fixes and improves the track and there's no desire to hear the original, unprocessed, still broken unimproved track. If you're using EQ to tame unwanted shrillness and add needed low-end power, it does our mix no good to hear the EQ'd signal and still hear the shrill low-end wimpy signal. Inserting an EQ allows us to hear the EQ track and none of that un-EQ'd disappointment. Sends offer an important signal processing alternative, one more appropriate to using the delay effects we discuss in this course.
It's a bit more complicated at first, but bear with me, because it's an essential skill in audio. The sends structure begins with a source track which itself is of course routed to the mix. The source track is also made to feed a bus, any one of the hundreds of internal buses available for exactly this purpose in Pro Tools. This mix window is a good place to view this, though you'll find that the same functionality appears in the edit window as well. This electric guitar track labeled EGT has its output assigned to the mix, otherwise we won't hear the electric guitar.
Up above we have an insert section, with a send section just below. Inserts A-E offer us the chance to insert five different effects using the insert structure. The View menu reveals Inserts F-J exist, offering another five when you're feeling greedy. To keep the workspace clear, I only turn on this view of the additional Inserts when I need them. Below the inserts are the Sends A-E, five opportunities for using sends. Well, no, wait, as is so often the case in our DAWs, there's additional capability when we need it.
The View menu shows we can see Sends F-J if we wish. Let's choose an available Send. Some people start at the top, Send A, and work their way down as they need more effects later in the mix; a nice, neat logical approach. Some people start at the bottom, Send E, and work their way up as they mix. The ones closest to you, lower on the screen, near the fader, mute, and solo buttons are used first, perhaps making mousing around the DAW a little easier. I sometimes start in the middle, thinking of it as a primary effect, and I add supporting effects above and below as needed in the course of a mix session.
The decision of which send to choose first is all about ergonomics and feeling comfortable with your own personal workflow. Sonically and logically, all ten sends are equal. So click a send and we observe a few choices. Up top we have no send, that's our current status, but if we ever want to delete a send we're using, clicking here turns it off. The next choice is output. Grabbing an output lets you route your audio out of your DAW through any available input/output hardware you might have to access outboard gear for an effects loop. To use a plug-in, we select the bus submenu and choose any of the more than 100 available buses.
Let's grab Bus 1. A Send level control opens where we raise a fader to determine how much of this guitar track will feed the bus. We'll fine-tune it as needed to suit our mix later, but for now, let's raise the fader to 0 DB, so the feed to the bus is the same level as the track's fader setting in the mix, Option + Click the fader to do this instantly. Okay, with some guitar feeding and effects in on Bus 1, we now need to insert an effect on that bus. To do this we need an auxiliary input. Insert a new track by clicking Track > New, you'll do this so often that the keyboard shortcut, Shift + Command + N will prove useful.
And notice the choices in the dialog that opens. Highlighted when the menu opens is the number of new tracks. You can imagine that if you're recording drums, you'd pop open a dozen or more tracks at once, but here we only need one aux input. Next we see a menu currently at Mono that lets us choose Mono or Stereo. Mono will do for now. Next we see Audio Track is selected. If you needed a new Audio Track, you've come to the right place, but notice there are other choices; Aux Input, which we will select. Master Fader, if you want a fader to conveniently ride gain across the entire mix or some specified subset.
Or you can choose a MIDI or Instrument Track for software synths and MIDI data instead of audio. Clicking Create places an aux input next to our electric guitar track. The aux input provides the full DAW functionality for not an audio track, but any live input we choose. Set its input to the bus we chose for our insert, Bus 1. To get a delay going, we simply insert a Delay on the Aux Input. Now you've got unprocessed guitar on the first fader and whatever delay effect you desire on the Aux Input.
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