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Using gates and expanders


Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

with Brian Lee White

Video: Using gates and expanders

A Gate or its closest sibling the Expander are also very commonly used dynamics mixing tools. They are generally used to remove the underlying bleed or noise from a track. For example, drum tracks that are recorded with many mikes tend to have bleed in the direct mikes of the drums or headphone bleed when you are recording a vocal. Bleed from the headphones making its way into the vocal microphone. So we use an Expander or a Gate to give us a clean signal to further process.
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  1. 14m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 12s
    2. The past, present, and future of mixing
      6m 20s
    3. Strategies for mixing and mastering
      5m 38s
    4. Using the exercise files
      1m 40s
  2. 40m 24s
    1. Mixing "in the box"
      5m 9s
    2. Setting up the studio: Speakers and acoustics
      13m 12s
    3. Staying organized: Effectively prepping the mix
      10m 50s
    4. Managing system resources during mixdown
      11m 13s
  3. 41m 38s
    1. Introducing the Pro Tools Mixer
      2m 23s
    2. Understanding mixer signal flow
      3m 42s
    3. Using inserts and plug-ins
      7m 4s
    4. Working with plug-in settings
      5m 1s
    5. Using sends and creating FX returns
      6m 55s
    6. Submixing with aux tracks
      4m 30s
    7. Using groups while mixing
      3m 46s
    8. Using master faders effectively
      8m 17s
  4. 21m 12s
    1. Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan
      7m 45s
    2. Using volume and pan to balance the mix
      11m 18s
    3. Knowing when to process: Mix problems vs. mix solutions
      2m 9s
  5. 1h 3m
    1. Understanding the mechanics of sound
      3m 53s
    2. Learning the basics of EQ: Frequency-specific level control
      4m 29s
    3. Using DigiRack EQ III
      16m 3s
    4. EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative
      7m 18s
    5. EQ workflow example 1: Kick drum
      5m 39s
    6. EQ workflow example 2: Filtering loops
      5m 10s
    7. EQ workflow example 3: The "telephone" effect
      3m 7s
    8. Mixing tips and tricks for EQ
      17m 36s
  6. 1h 16m
    1. Understanding dynamics and dynamic range
      2m 1s
    2. Working with dynamics processors
      2m 57s
    3. Using the DigiRack Dyn III compressor/limiter
      10m 6s
    4. Balancing and shaping track dynamics
      3m 19s
    5. Using gates and expanders
      9m 23s
    6. Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance
      5m 47s
    7. Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals
      10m 0s
    8. Dynamics workflow example 2: Drums
      9m 29s
    9. Mixing tips and tricks: Dynamics
      11m 37s
    10. Building parallel or "upward" compression
      7m 53s
    11. Reviewing dynamics concerns: How much is too much?
      3m 28s
  7. 47m 49s
    1. Using time-based effects to add depth and width
      3m 23s
    2. Using DigiRack D-Verb
      14m 27s
    3. Using the DigiRack delays
      9m 18s
    4. Mixing with reverb
      7m 59s
    5. Mixing with delays
      6m 19s
    6. Mixing tips and tricks: Creating mix depth
      6m 23s
  8. 18m 8s
    1. Working with the Creative Collection
      9m 8s
    2. Building distortion and saturation
      9m 0s
  9. 37m 33s
    1. Understanding automation
      4m 10s
    2. Recording real-time automation moves
      7m 6s
    3. Viewing and editing automation
      10m 17s
    4. Automating plug-ins
      7m 36s
    5. Automation strategies for mixing
      8m 24s
  10. 29m 31s
    1. Understanding the characteristics of a great mix
      7m 2s
    2. Working to reference tracks
      4m 35s
    3. Avoiding some common pitfalls
      7m 50s
    4. Building healthy mixing habits
      3m 36s
    5. Crafting your mix from start to finish
      6m 28s
  11. 1h 5m
    1. Understanding mastering
      4m 15s
    2. Bouncing the mix
      7m 9s
    3. Working with general mastering strategies
      8m 50s
    4. Using limiting and compression to maximize track level
      10m 57s
    5. Working with multi-band compression
      7m 9s
    6. Understanding sample rate, bit depth, file formats, and dither
      7m 30s
    7. Using Pro Tools for CD track sequencing
      10m 11s
    8. Compressing audio for the web
      9m 41s
  12. 44m 51s
    1. Tips for evaluating plug-in processors
      6m 51s
    2. Using EQ plug-ins
      5m 35s
    3. Using dynamic compression plug-ins
      11m 3s
    4. Using reverb and delay plug-ins
      10m 46s
    5. Reviewing additional plug-ins
      10m 36s
  13. 57m 18s
    1. Effectively using saturation/analog style effects
      13m 40s
    2. Setting up side chains
      7m 5s
    3. Master buss processing
      5m 34s
    4. Creating and using mix templates
      6m 54s
    5. Surround mixing
      6m 22s
    6. Dealing with plug-in delay and latency
      6m 26s
    7. Drum sample replacing
      11m 17s
  14. 32s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools
9h 18m Intermediate Aug 20, 2009

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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.

Topics include:
  • Using the Pro Tools Creative Collection to add clarity, punch, width, and depth to a mix
  • Recording real-time automation moves for future replication
  • Building healthy and profitable mixing habits when putting a final mix together
  • Knowing when to process the audio of a track
  • Using saturation effects to capture that "analog" sound
  • Working with limiting and multiband compression during the mastering process
  • Dealing with plug-in delay and latency in a mix
Audio + Music
Pro Tools
Brian Lee White

Using gates and expanders

A Gate or its closest sibling the Expander are also very commonly used dynamics mixing tools. They are generally used to remove the underlying bleed or noise from a track. For example, drum tracks that are recorded with many mikes tend to have bleed in the direct mikes of the drums or headphone bleed when you are recording a vocal. Bleed from the headphones making its way into the vocal microphone. So we use an Expander or a Gate to give us a clean signal to further process.

So you can think of a gate sort of like the automatic door at a supermarket. So when you walk in front of it, it opens and let's you in. But then when no one's there, it closes down to keep out the cold air. So this is how we are going to use them in mixing. So when there is an actual significant sound that we want to hear, we want that gate to open up. When there is no sound or just sort of bleed or noise floor, we want to cut them down. Here is a perfect example of a gate on the kick bus, if I solo this up and we play this back.

(Music playing. Drum solo.) So in this context I'm using an Expander, which is just sort of a lighter version of a gate. It's not completely attenuating the signal. It's just sort of reducing it. The reason I'm going to do this is because when I want to go process this kick drum with EQ and compression, I don't want to add all that EQ and compression to the bleed also.

So I'm going to put the Gate or the Expander in this case in front of everything so that I have a cleaner signal to process with. Historically, when things were recorded to tape, tape tended to have a lot of hiss and so Gates were used a lot to reduce this tape hiss before processing tracks on the mix side of things. The hiss was so pronounced, a lot of engineers would like to track their effects to tape, like their compression in an EQ to avoid bringing up the tape hiss later on during mix down.

So again, let's look at this kick drum and see how I have set this Gate up. What I have got going on is a Threshold, which is similar to a Threshold in a compressor and that controls when the Gate is going to open and close. So if it's lower, softer sounds are going to trigger the Gate. If it's higher, only the loud kick spikes are going to allow that to open. In a Gate or an Expander, the ratio defines how the volume is attenuated below the Threshold. So it's a sense kind of like a reverse compressor, so anything below the Threshold actually gets turned down.

If the ratio is set to 100:1, it's effectively a Gate cutting out everything below the Threshold. Now the range control controls the range at which the Gate works around and the idea would be is I could significantly reduce the volume between to db ranges here, but then turn the Gate off right at this lower level. So I'm just looking to reduce the volume, but not completely kill it. But if I want to completely gate something out using the Expander/Gate III, I would set the range control all the way to the left.

So let's listen to this on the kick drum. (Music playing) So you see when I pulled that Threshold to the left a little bit, I reduce the Threshold. Some of the snare hits were triggering the Gate to open.

I generally don't want this to happen. Now the attack and the release are much like a compressor and that the attack is going to be how fast does that Gate open up, once that signal breaches the Threshold sort of like the door at the supermarket. How fast is that going to open if you were to run at it? Are you going to slam right into it, or is it going to open fast enough? And the release is how fast it closes back down after the signal has fallen below the Threshold. So again, after you go through the door, how long does it take to close behind you? Now the Hold parameter tells the Gate to stay open and the reason we have this is so that it doesn't close off prematurely once it just sees the transient of the kick and then cuts out any of the sustain.

So a lot of times we'll use the Hold parameter just to keep it open for a few more milliseconds so that we allow the whole note to get through. Now a lot of Gates and Expanders have Look Ahead options and what that's doing is actually sort of looking ahead the few samples in time, sort of anticipating when it should open or close. This can be really effective at not losing your transient when you are going into that gate, the one thing you want to really avoid when you are using gates is to ignore the Attack setting, because you see if we take the Attack, and even if I put this to like 5 milliseconds, and 5 milliseconds is not that long, it's really going to soften out the kick. Let's listen.

(Music playing. Drum solo.) So again, you really want to be careful, because it's that first between 1 and 5 milliseconds of that drum hit that really gives us that spike. If the Gate doesn't open fast enough, we can lose that. Now the same is true with the Release and the Hold. If these are too fast, we'll use the tail end of that kick. Let's listen.

(Music playing) So you could see that it was just two beep-beep, beep-beep. Notice the sustain lasted, but if I left it open too long, what I would hear is some of the bleed coming through. So it wasn't closing fast enough. So again, some tips for working with your Gates. Work with the Attack and Release controls, these are really going to go a long way towards the getting the Gate to work how you want it.

So listen and play with these. A lot of times what can happen is that if the Gate is triggering too fast, you get Gate Chatter. It kind of opens and closes as it kind of rides the waveform. Another option, because we are using Pro Tools, is to use editing as opposed to Gates. So this is something that I like to do, if I switch to the Edit window and if specifically look at the Toms in this session. The toms have had all their bleed edited out of them and if I switch to another playlist, I can see the original here and we can listen to all the bleed.

(Music playing. Drum solo.) And that's silence right there. So what I did is instead of using a Gate like on the kick, I actually edited out all the bleed in between. There is actually a tool in Pro Tools that does this for you a lot quicker than going through and actually just deleting the stuff out.

What you can do is you can select a range and you can use a tool under Edit > Strip Silence and this is kind of like what I like to call an Edit Gate. You have a Threshold so I can see there is those tom hits and then I have a start pad and an end pad. These are really cool. Because this kind of Gate, since it's an offline kind of region space process, you can really anticipate the sound so you are not losing any of the transient and it's kind of an optimal way to treat things like Toms, and kicks, and snares and stuff like that.

Now this brings up the point of when we talk about start pad, end pad you really want to be careful when you are using Gates with things like dialog or vocals. If you incorrectly use a Gate, you can obscure the beginning or ends of words. So if someone says tails and it sounds like tail, because you cut off that S because the Gate was acting too aggressively. You've now effectively changed the lyric and the message of this song. So you really want to be careful. A lot of times with my vocals I'll edit those by hand.

So because we can do this in a DAW, I find that Gates and Expanders are as necessary as they once were in the analog domain. Not only are we able to record with a lower noise floor, but we can actually visually edit the waveform. So we can edit out all the noise, but it is important to understand Gates and Expanders and how to use them in a mix. And there are some occasions where they really are the best tools for the job, especially when time is of the essence and editing every little piece of noise is impossible.

We are also going to see that Gates are really cool in the context of side chain processing, which we'll look at in another video.

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