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how to use dynamic processing for each instrument (or track) already recorded?

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  • how to use dynamic processing for each instrument (or track) already recorded?

    I would think it's best to use specific dynamic processors for each instrument (or track) while tracking/recording rather than after (which is the mixing phase)? Is there not a way to use specific dynamic processors for each instrument (or track) after they were all recorded already or this becomes complicated? If running the whole song through the processor all tracks would get the effect when I only want specific instrument (or track) to get the effect. My multi tracker is an old BOSS BR-8 which is primitive. I would assume what I'm describing is very possible with the latest multi track recorders and or virtual studios.

    Let's say all tracks have been recorded and a full song is done; how do I use a bass enhancer just for the bass alone? Would it better if I had ran the bass through the processor while tracking rather than coming back to try to add it later? Because running the entire song through the processor would be affected by the effect of the bass enhancer. It would give the effect on the drums, vocals, guitars, etc. as well something I do not want. Or let's say I want to use de esser to the vocal track (already recorded); running the whole song through the de esser processor would affect other instruments (or tracks) as well. Is there a way around this?

  • #2
    I suggest you first import the tracks into a DAW program and do this kind of stuff on a computer. A stand alone recorder is OK for tracking but they are awful for mixing because the effects buried in the pages of a manual you have to follow to get anything worthwhile done.

    I'm sure the manual has some method of applying compression to individual tracks. It may even be necessary to bounce track through a main compressor to render that compression to the track. Truthfully I'd have to read the manual to give you specifics and I'm not motivated to do so.

    On a computer you rarely if ever have to crack a manual or read a help file. The graphics make it as simple as using an actual hardware compressor and all the knobs for tweaking things is right there in front of you. You can right click on each track and put a separate compressor, EQ or any other effect you need. Same thing with the auxiliary sends and main buss. I believe the BR8 will work as an interface too so its essentially a matter of getting the unit connected to the computer and downloading a DAW program.

    Something like Reaper is fully functional Demo and cheap to buy. There are many others too. These programs come with a full array of plugins and you can download hundreds of others for free. You'll have a little learning curve in the beginning but after a month or so, you'll ask yourself why you were dorking around trying to get decent mixes on that cracker box.

    Now as far as using Comps and limiters. You have to know where When and Why to use them before you can learn how to use them.
    I can easily throw a comp on every track compress the crap out of all the instruments to get a mix. What I'd wind up with is a lifeless two dimensional mix that has zero emotional content. Comps are simply volume automation tools, the same as you volume knobs. The difference is they can be set to ride peaks and respond to transients quickly, much faster then you can pull the volume control down on a track then push it back up.

    You can also set how quickly it engages and releases and at what point you want it to kick in. you may only need to prevent certain peaks from pinning the meters or you may want to abuse the hell out of it to give an instrument a heavy pumping sound.

    They can be incredibly useful tools if you have the ability to finely tweak them. Many plugins come with general presets too so as you become more experienced you can use these preset settings as a launching point, fine tweak it to your particular instrument then simply give that preset a new name and save it for another project.

    Next is to identify which instruments really need it. Vocals, Drums and Bass are the main instruments that can usually benefit. Driven electric guitar is already compressed. the peaks are clipped by the process of distortion. Clean guitar can be overly dynamic and benefit by compression in many cases.

    The trade off is when you use compression the instrument looses its bigness. Its like a Preacher in church who may talk in soft tones then all of a sudden jump to a loud yelling which wakes everyone up. A comp over used will give everything a soft voice no matter how hard the performer was trying to make it jump out at people. Comps also tend to color the tone as it levels the peaks, especially if those peaks contained allot of treble. In the flip side it can limit bass peaks making the mids and treble heard more easily.

    Lets assume the guitars are driven and therefore compressed. The notes only get to a specific loudness and no more. We can use that as a baseline for maximum loudness for other instruments when mixing.

    Vocals ten to have allot of dynamics. They may have one word much louder then the guitars then another word so weak the guitar track masks it from being heard. If you use a short compressor attack, the loud words get clamped down quickly - then you raise the overall volume so its closer to the guitar track on the soft words.

    Drums same thing. If the snare is much louder then say the kick, you can compress it so its transient matches the guitar and the rest of the parts can easily be heard. If they are real drum tracks, if the drummer gets too quiet say during a verse because he's straining to hear the vocals and eases off on how hard he plays you can strengthen those drum hits a bit with compression and even things up. It wont make up for the tone of a light hit vs a hard hit but it can make the lighter hits stand out and get that intimate close up sound happening.

    Bass too. If the player doesn't have highly consistent picking techniques, his not volume may not be even with the drummers kick. he may have some strings louder then others too and compression can really fatten the bass up and give you a solid foundation to use.

    All will need specific settings designed to make that instrument within that song at that tempo sound good. Keep in mind, a compressor isn't very smart. It does everything off a fixed timing so you'll need to tweak those setting when the tempo of a song changes. A slower song may sound choppy with fast settings and may need a slower attack and release. You can even use math to figure out how quickly you need to set things. You could use a special tool that scans the wave file and gives you your beats per minute then take that tempo, divide it down and if you wanted that compressor to cut on a half beat then its something that could be done. Most just learn to use their ears. (this kind of mathematical system can be used for reverb, echo, chorus, tremolo etc too)

    Main goal is to even up track dynamics but not overdo it. The best setting are those where you cant even hear the compressor working. If you can identify it with your ears, its likely you're using way too much.

    You have to realize a mix is not a finished recording. you shouldn't expect to slap some compression on some tracks and bingo magico, you have a hit record. Instead, think of it as being a series of baby steps that are barely detectable.

    Example. You may have an amp miced. The guitarists uses a little drive which compresses the signal. The tubes in the head compress a little, the speaker and output transformer compress a little. The Air between the speaker and microphone compresses a little. When you mix you may add a little compression, You may use a master compressor on the main buss to glue the tracks together. Then after all of that you send it off to be mastered and that's where all the red flags and alarms go off. The mix gets sent back to you because you have too much collective compression for the mastering engineer to get his high end high quality tools to work.

    There has to be some dynamic head room left for his tools to work and put that icing on the cake that makes your recording a hit record. Oh and he'll probably make you drop the gain on everything so it's overall loudness is between -14~-16db in loudness. Its during the mastering process that use limiters to bring the music up to commercial levels which play back loud on Radio or CD's.

    You can mix a recording and have it loud as a mix down for your own listening but you are leaving out that step the mastering engineers do which really make that recording sound loud and professional.

    In summary, a mix is just meat and potatoes. If the tracking was exceptional it may be good enough to release without allot of mastering but nearly all recordings can benefit.

    This is another reason why missing in that little cracker box is never going to get you a hit recording. The ability to run Multiband limiters, EQ's that selectively target offending frequencies and high quality brick wall limiting to give you the hit song impact just isn't going to happen. You cant even learn how to use those tools within that environment because they simply don't exist. Maybe a highly experienced engineer who knew the gear could get the absolute best possible results from it that will make you think he was a God when it comes to mixing, but I've messed with one of those Boss units and they simply don't come close to having what you need. Maybe if you used it to record a highly professional band playing live you could salvage something from it, but dumping those tracks into a DAW program is essential in being able to get the best from them.


    • #3
      I realize I'm long winded here. The topic is deep and there's so much more to it I haven't even touched on. But I should note there are many different types of compression available. Your boss only has a simple general purpose comp that has minimal adjustments that can do some jobs well if the tracks are well recorded, but it will be the same compressor for everything and it may not suit the uniqueness of individual instrument needs.

      In a DAW you can select different comps/limiters/expanders/gates for different instruments requiring different jobs.
      A hardware compressor for example cannot look ahead and see what peaks are coming up. It can only respond to what's actually occurring as it occurs and you can only set them to take care of the bulk of the transients. If you set it to take care of every possible peak and you only have 1% that are really bad, you may wind up over compressing the other 99% just to take care of that 1%.

      In a DAW you can use compressors that look ahead and will adapt to those changes before they ever occur.
      You also have expanders which work just the opposite of a compressor. If a part was tracked with too much compression you can give the track more dynamics. In my previous example of a driven guitar it was the lowest common denominator. Instead of compressing all the other tracks down to the guitar you may be able to expand the guitar up so less compression or maybe no compression is needed on the other tracks.

      Gates are important too. As you compress things any noise which is quiet in the background increases to the point where the collective hiss can cause a breathing sound heard between the notes. A gate can be set so the noise between words in a vocal Words, or snare hits are silenced.

      Next you have plugins with Multiple compressors in series or parallel which can perform those baby steps I mentioned. I use a real handy Plugin for Vocals made by Voxengo called Voxformer. It has a basic comp on the Input. A parametric EQ which I can use to shape the overall response. Its also got a moving graph that shows me the peak frequencies so when I use the EQ I can target those specific peaks with high accuracy.

      It then has a dual band Comp and a sweepable crossover point. I can separately compress the bass frequencies differently then the high frequencies. If the voice has allot of bass boom, I can compress those frequencies and leave the upper frequencies alone.
      On top of that its got a gate to remove noise between words, a De Esser that actively removes sibilance from words which can be tuned to a specific voice or mics, then its got two types of saturation which hype the voice up so its really in your face if it needs it.

      That one plugin saves me from using at least 5 others in a chain to get the same kinds of results. Again, I can set it up then save all those settings for another project which is very handy when doing an entire CD and you want the voice to sound similar between tracks.

      Limiters are fantastic tools too. Limiters only take the peaks down. They don't bring the soft notes up so they tend to be less noisy. They are always used as the very last effect before the recording can be distributed. It insure the peaks never go above 0dB because anything above that causes playback failures and produces pops, click and static or down right ripping distortion of the worst kind. you set the limiter to just less then 0db then you can increase the makeup and bring that mix right up to commercial levels. Different limiters will put a different polish on songs too. Its a key element that gives all your albums their own signature sound.

      Another most amazing tool is the multiband compressor/limiter. This secret weapon can be used in place of you using separate compressors on individual tracks which goes right to the heart of your post.

      Instead of comping each track, a multiband compressor can be used on the main buss. What it does is split your frequencies up then runs them through separate compressors running in parallel. You bass and kick being mostly low frequencies will be compressed by the low band comp. The mids like guitar and snare will be compressed by lower and mid bands, the cymbals and air of the vocals will be compressed by the upper bands.

      The cool part is you can shift these bands in frequency and width to target the instruments in a mix and set each differently. The bass frequencies often need the most taming so you often clamp those down hard, and the guitars may already be compressed so you don't need much fro them. Cymbals that may have been harsh and overly annoying can be smoothed out smooth as silk.

      The best part is the comps all work together to glues the parts together. Trying to do this using 8 or 16 individual compressors on tracks can not only take forever but that may wind up still sounding like 16 individual compressors all triggering at different times causing some highly unnatural artifacts. There may be good reasons for that approach too, but many times you can have highly superior results just skipping that approach or combining the two.

      Another cool item is called Ducking. Ever hear a radio announcer talk over the music going on. You hear the music dip when he speaks so his voice is always up front. This technique cant be done in your Boss unit. In a DAW you can for example copy a vocal track and tell it to send its signal to the compressor on the guitar track. Then when the singer sings hos parts the guitar dips in volume when his singing then it comes back up to normal when the singer stops. You can use this on other instruments too. If the kick drum is masking the bass or vice versa, you can have the one instrument ducked by the other so the one instrument can remain up front and be clearly heard.

      There are many other cool tricks you can use too. The ease and speed is amazing too. Copying a track takes 4 clicks of a mouse. Its like copying a word you type on the internet. Click, Highlight, Click and Paste. I could then put a compressor on the one track and compress the crap out of it. The other track I put some really deep plate reverb. I then adjust my two sliders and I got what's called the Exciting Compressor, a technique used on nearly every Motown recording made.

      I could go on for hours but like I said, I get too long winded. Get those tracks off there into a computer DAW program and within no time you'll quickly discover how, why and where you can use comps so much more effectively.

      I do suggest this site as reading material if you haven't been there already. Most of the basics for recording are all written out. Then if you need to get specific, myself and others can give you other sites to guide you.

      You can also google up how compressors work and find a hundred or more descriptions from simple to highly technical on how they work and the different types available. Even hardware manufacturers have some great manuals for their products that can be very useful because the virtual comps work exactly the same way. Some can be very simple with a single knob and some have a dozen of more knobs that lest you tweak every aspect of the too.

      Lastly - remember, a comp is just a tool. Just like an artist uses a brush it takes the skill of the artist holding that brush to produce a masterpiece. Don't get suckered into thinking things are so high tech these tools do everything for you. you have to put in the hours, days, years, decades and actually forcing the results you want from them and you can only do that by knowing their limitations through trial and error. I can tell you what tools I've mastered using and gotten great results for the music I've mixed. I always keep and open mind for finding better tools and techniques,

      A good engineer is rarely satisfied with is final work. Most of the time its simply he's exhausted the limitations of his tools and hit the ceiling on how far he can take things. (or he gets so sick of it he'd rather rip his teeth out then hear that song again). This is why many compressor plugins are so valuable. It gives the engineer artistic expression when mixing when he's able to mix and match different tools, just like an artist has different brushes of different sizes and paints of different colors.