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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.
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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