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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.
Do you ever wonder how a mixer is able to almost knock you over with the power of the snare drum, or how about a clap on a hip-hop track that just slaps you right in the face or maybe a client says just make it hit or make it slam? While acoustic instruments and vocals tend to be overly dynamic over the course of a group of notes or words, most percussive elements, especially electronic drums and percussion tend to have a dynamic range that's controlled fairly well note for note, but may lack that extra punch on each note or hit that will allow it to cut through a dense mix effectively.
I want to talk about why and how we compress drums, and it's generally not so much to even out but mostly to add punch. This is what I refer to as sort of envelope shaping method of using compression. How that we do something like this? So, for example, if we take the Snare Drum, I'm going to solo that up and we'll listen. (Music playing. Drum solo.) So, after processing that with the Gate here to cut out some of the Bleed, what I've got going on is a BF76.
That's going to give it a little extra punch. How we're doing this is by manipulating the Attack and Release, we are going to allow some of the transient to come through before the compressor grabs on to this signal. This is going to allow us to increase the size of the transient to the rest of the note, effectively making it spike just a little bit harder. The reason why we're going to do this is it is going to allow that sound to cut through a dense mix.
So, let's listen without. (Music playing) So, it's adding just a little extra snappiness. Now, let's listen to the whole mix in with both of our Snares, I'm going to switch to the second verse here and we'll listen with both our sampled and our real snare and we'll take the compressors on and off. (Music playing) (Male singing: We messed around. But as empty as we were, there was no love to be found.) (Music playing) So you can hear especially on the Snare sample, the BF76 is really spanking it, like really taking and changing the relationship between the transient and the decay of the rest of the Snare.
So it's really all about using this Attack time. Using the Attack time it's not too fast but not too slow. So, for example, if we look at the Compressor here on the Kick Drum, we can see that we're using a 10 millisecond Attack and an 80 millisecond Release. That 10 millisecond Attack is going to allow 10 milliseconds of that Kick Drum to come through before the compressor grabs hold. That's what's going to give us that little spike. What I like to do to kind of emphasize what's really going on here, and you can try this at home on your own mixes, is I'm actually going to take this compressor here and I'm going to AudioSuite it on to the waveform, right next to one that's unaffected, so I can really see what's going on in that waveform.
So I'm going to take this plug-in, I'm going to copy the preset. Then I'm going to switch over and I'm going to select a little Snare head here and pull up the AudioSuite version of the BF76. I'm going to paste my settings. Then I'm going to process that.
So what you can see here is I've really changed, let me increase the waveform display. If we compare this to that, I've really sort of given it that spike but reduced the overall volume of the rest of Snare. That's what's giving me that difference between the Attack and the Decay portion of that specific drum. If I do this again and I give it a little more output, there we can see that that's really coming out. Let me turn off the Region's name.
We can really see that transient coming out there. So that's a really good way to kind of see how your sounds are being affected in terms of an Attack and a Release time. The other thing that we can affect on the drums, specifically with the compressor's Attack and Release is the decay of a sound. So if we take the Release time and we make it really fast, what's happening is as soon as the compressor grabs hold of that transient, it lets go again and the makeup gain sort of inflates the sound, giving it a really long sustain.
So, let's listen again, on this Snare sample we'll listen to some different Release times. (Music playing. Drum solo.) So you can see especially at that Release of 7, it's really extending the sustain of that Snare. You definitely want to be careful about using really fast Release times, especially on things like Kick and Low frequency instruments. Because what will actually happen is if the Attack and Release is too fast, it's actually going to trace the low frequency waveform.
Low frequencies oscillate much slower than high frequencies. So if the compressor is working too fast, it's actually going to grab and let go according to the waveform cycle and this can actually create a lot of distortion in your compressor. And generally, it doesn't sound so great. So another considerations that you want to take into account when using dynamics processors to kind of shape the envelope of drum sounds is if you let too much of that sound through and you use too much makeup gain, you can easily clip the output of your compressor.
So because we're letting through that little bit of Attack time, if I crank the makeup gain up, what's happened is the compressor is not grabbing down on that signal for that first 10 milliseconds for that first 50 milliseconds. It's just clipping the output and this sometimes can sound cool on certain plug-ins that sort of have built-in limiting features like Overdrive and Saturate, whereas on other compressors, specifically like the DigiRack, you're definitely going to hear a lot of distortion when that happens.
Try to consider using a Gate before you do this kind of extreme processing with your drums. If you don't use the Gate, what often happens is you're going to bring up the level of the Bleed too much and it's going to kind of overpower the track. Now this can be kind of a cool sound as it pumps in and out, but generally, when we're working with the direct mikes we're sort of using those direct mikes for the impact, sort of that nice snappy sound, and we'll use the Overhead mikes and the Room mikes to kind of fill out the sustain and the overall character of a drum.
This is often why, in a lot times of Snare Drum, the direct mike doesn't sound so hard, but in the context of the whole kit and the overhead mike, it sounds fine. We're using that direct mike just to give it that snap with the compressor, and then we're using the other mikes, the Overhead and the Room to kind of fill out the sound. Some compressors are way better at doing the sort of envelope shaping or transient shaping than others. Some just don't work at all. Some are too slow. So, for example, a compressor that doesn't attack fast enough.
Maybe some of these slower opto compressors, they might miss the hit altogether. A Snare Drum hit, if we think about looking at one of these hits here, it's not very long. 80 milliseconds just during that transient phase and just that first little hit is under 50 milliseconds. So, if the compressor is missing that completely, it's going to be really hard to shape that. Now you can also use sort of this reverse psychology of the Attack and sort of letting some of that transient through.
If you need to soften a sound out, you can actually use a really fast attack, this can kind of soften the sound of a Drum or a Snare or a Kick or something like that. So, that's kind of a cool trick. There are special plug-ins, which I'll show you in another video called Transient Shapers, that can do this without compressing and you may ultimately end up using those tools to do really extreme envelope shaping rather than compressors. But definitely, if we think about a well mixed tune, it's generally characterized as having nice punchy drums in rhythm section.
Compression, especially using the Attack and Release is really the secret to getting those drums that sit really nice in the mix, but they punch through on the denser sections.
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