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Once recording and editing are finished, audio engineers can take advantage of the training in Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools to punch up the final output. Digidesign Certified Expert Brian Lee White covers all the basic mixing tools that every producer and engineer should know, from using EQ to add clarity and focus to using compression and limiting to maximize track levels within a mix. Brian stresses the importance of setting up a solid mixing plan prior to any work in Pro Tools, and gives advice on the best plug-ins for each stage of the process. Exercise files accompany the course.
I always like to have a Distortion or Saturation plug-in handy come mix time. Not only does it allow me to achieve a specific aesthetic with my mix, in the age of digital recording it's almost a necessity to have something a little gritty in your mix toolkit. So what are our options that come stocked with Pro Tools? Well, as part of the Creative Collection, you got a few more plug-ins when Pro Tools 8 came out, especially in the Distortion and Saturation realm. If I look here, one of my favorites that's been around for a while is the SansAmp plug-in and this now comes with Pro Tools and I'm actually using it on the bass here.
What I did is I just duplicated the bass guitar track and then created a bass distortion track, and then I automated in and out. So it kind of comes in for the choruses or the grittier sections, and then it will back down a little bit in the verses. So let's go ahead and listen to what this sounds like. Let me just bring up the chorus. (Music playing) (Male singing: ...like I always do. I'll keep my feet on the ground.) As our goal is just to kind of give a little bit of grittiness to the bass and just kind of help it sit in the chorus a little bit better and make it a little bit more aggressive.
And so this is kind of a cool trick that you can do. It's the same audio, if I look here, it's just the same audio region. However, I'm processing one differently and this is a technique that I'll use a lot. It's kind of similar to parallel processing with compression but I'm kind of parallel processing with other effects. So I'll do this with a vocal, maybe if I want to add a little bit of grit but I don't want to put distortion on the lead vocal let's say. I'll duplicate it and then I'll add some effects to it.
I've actually done that in the breakdown section with the lead vocal. I kind of did a little parallel processing trick. So here I'm going to double the sound here if we listen. (Music playing) (Male singing: Let me trick you away, let me trick you away.) (Male singing: The harder I try, the more that I seem to beg.) (Male singing: And I don't want to be like this.) So sometimes it can be a cool effect to combine the original dry signal and you know process that however you're going to process it and then create a duplicate and add things like Distortion.
The SansAmp is great for doing that. It was originally designed as kind of a Guitar Amp Simulator but I feel that it has a better job just as a general distortion and some of the presets are really cool. You can go through the Bomb Factory or these other presets. And I just like kind of clicking through the presets until I get something that's right around what I'm looking for and then I'll adjust the Crunch and Drive and maybe some of the EQ to kind of shape it to the tone that I want. Don't be afraid to add EQ afterwards to shape that exactly how you want.
Like I want to bring out more of that aggressive pick and take away some of the mud that the Distortion was adding. I'm getting a lot of my low end from the original bass track but I just want to add a bit of character or grit to this doubled or parallel bass track. Now we've some other plug-ins that give us Distortion or Saturation that come with Pro Tools. If I look here and I go down to my Harmonic here, I can bring the Air Distortion in.
Now the Air Distortion, it's not so much sort of an amp simulation as it is just sort of a pure Distortion. Now the cool thing about this is that it does have a Mix parameter. So if you want to do those parallel processing tricks, you can apply this directly to a track and then blend it to taste. So let's listen to this one as opposed to the SansAmp. (Music playing) And you can hear that's more of just sort of a total destruction kind of plug-in.
This is really the kind of Distortion that could be cool or that kind of just destroys a drum loop or makes something really gritty. You know take a vocal really over the top, not so much of Saturation but just pure overdrive. Now if you're looking for more of sort of guitar amp simulation, now if we go down here we've Eleven Free in the Harmonic category. And what Eleven is it's a true Guitar Amp Simulator and so it's simulating the amp circuitry and all of its characteristics as well as a cabinet.
So we've Amp Type and Cabinet Type. Now Eleven Free just gives you two amp types. You get the Modern Overdrive and the Vintage Crunch, whereas the full version of Eleven you get much more in the Amp Type category. And in the Cabinet Type, again with Eleven Free we just get two cabinets, Classic 4x12 and then the 4x12 Green, which would be sort of green backed speakers. And that it is going to lend a little bit different quality. The cool thing about this is unlike SansAmp, which just is purely an amp simulator, this is also simulating the cabinet.
So it's going to simulate the air pushing through the cabinet and give you some of that sense of an amp being in a room. So let's listen to this on the bass here. (Music playing) So again, this is really cool.
You know if you're looking to track guitar at 2 in the morning on headphones, amp simulators are really great as far as giving you the real amp sound but the flexibility of a plug-in, so you can always change out that sound later. Now there are some considerations when using Saturation plug-ins especially Guitar Amp Simulators. So a lot of people will say, well, I really like a real amp to record with. I really like a real speaker pushing air and there's nothing that can replace that.
While other people will say, you know what, these amp simulators sound great. I'm just going to use these. You know I really amp simulators. I think they sound great and I also like real guitar amps. And I think what it comes down to is your specific recording situation. A lot of times miking up a real amp and turning it up as loud as you need to, to get those really great tones, is just not possible in your recording environment. And so the Amp Simulation gives you like 99% of what you're getting there and there are some really good options.
However, if I can give you a tip for using Amp Simulators, don't record your guitar as clean and then apply the Amp Simulation. A guitar player will perform to the amp. So they will actually change their playing style or the technique based on what they're hearing through the speakers or through their amp. So as the amp changes their tone, they're going to make changes in their playing technique. Now if you just record guitars clean, sort of DI it into Pro Tools, and then you apply or you switch the amp sound later, it's sort of that performance aspect that is going to be missing.
And so when I track with Guitar Amp Simulators, I tend to pick the sound that I want or that I'm going for and then I'll have the guitar player play into that. And so they can respond to those unique changes that are being added to their tone. Now because this song Take Me Down was recorded with all real instruments, all the guitar parts were tracked with real Guitar Amps. The organ is a real B3 Organ. The drums are real drums. I don't need a lot of Saturation in this specific mix, as opposed to if I was doing a mix that was created entirely with virtual instruments and samples and loops all in the box, I'd use a lot more Saturation to kind of give them a bit of a human feel.
So really it's something that you have to consider your source material and where you want to go with that material in your mix when you're thinking about Distortion and Saturation, Amp Simulation and bit crushers and stuff like that. So consider that and play around with these different effects and see how they can kind of take your mix where you want.
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