Music Production

PROCESSING

PLUG-INS:

A plug-in is either a software instrument or a tool for processing, such as EQ, Compression, Delay, Reverb, Distortion and all other audio manipulation tool that can be used within a software DAW.

Plug-ins come in a variety of formats including: VST, VSTi (Instrument), RTAS, DX, (Direct X), DXI (Instrument) amongst others. some programmes recognise some or all of the different formats of plug-ins whereas others may only feature a few fundamental formats.

Within each of the software DAWs available there are a range of plug-ins included. Much of the plug-ins provided work well and provide good results. There are however many third party plug-ins available. Some good quality Plug-ins include: Waves bundles, Sonalksis, Sonnox, IK Multimedia and Sonitus FX amongst others. Each pack features a good range of different Processing plug-ins.

There are also a range of Plug-in Instruments available as mentioned in the editing section of the knowledge archive.

USE OF EFFECT:

When using effects to manipulate the recorded sound it is good practice to first have a good idea of the sound you are trying to achieve.

By experimenting accordingly with the settings on the various plug-ins, the sound can be shaped in an unlimited number of ways. It is always a must when processing different parts within a mix to frequently listen to how the processed part sounds in context to the entire mix. When one aspect of a mix is changed, it can affect the rest of the mix exponentially. This applies particularly when using EQ to shape the sound of something in the mix.

Any change in one aspect of the mix can affect the overall sound and feel of a track.

When using any plug-in it is often common practice to first boost the effect in order to hear and accordingly shape it however intended; it can then be reduced to the desired amount.

It is often better to be subtle (particularly when using effects like delay and reverb), rather than swamping something in it. A little touch goes a long way though whatever rules stand in a production process; they are only intended as a guideline and are there to be broken, if it sounds good.

Plug-ins can be used as an insert on any channel of the mixer or one or more channels can be sent to an bus channel via auxiliaries on which an effect can be applied

ENVOLOPES:

Attack , Decay, Sustain & Release are a common feature to many plug-ins and plug-in instruments. Attack is the rate at which the plug-in acts after the sound source surpasses the threshold or in the case of a plug-in instrument, how quickly the plug-in acts when the key is pressed/triggered.

Decay is the rate the plug-in reduces after the initial attack to the sustain level, Sustain is the amplitude to which the signal maintains before the key is released (so long as the key is held) and the release defines how long the plug-in continues to work after the sound signal level falls below the set threshold or in the case of a software instrument, when the key is released or the triggering note ends.

REVERB:

There are two different types of reverb; convolution (Real) and non-convolution (Fake).

Convolution reverb is created by capturing an impulse response of an environment, such as a balloon popping by using a stereo microphone technique (for a stereo reverb). Once recorded the impulse response can be used as a reverb setting within a convolution reverb plug-in such as Logic Space Designer or Audioease Altiverb. 

Non-convolution is a purely digital based plug-in. All of the reverb settings within are generated by a series of algorithms.

When using reverb it is good to use a combination of convolution and non-convolution reverbs. When defining the overall environment to send each instrument by a desired amount it might be a good idea to use a organic natural sounding convolution reverb. Non-convolution reverb could then be used to tweak the overall amounts on specific channels, where necessary.

Above: Sony Oxford (Sonnox - non-convolution) Reverb Plug-in

The main settings on a reverb plug in include: reverb mix, early reflections, reverb time/RT60, size of environment, diffusion, high and low pass filters and sometimes EQ.

EQUALISATION (EQ):

Equalization is one of the main plug-ins used within a recording/editing/mixing process. It can be used to manipulate the sound of anything throughout a project.

Our ears are more susceptible to boost rather than cut, meaning that it will be more obvious to you if a frequency has been boosted, than if it is cut by the same amount. Therefore it always better to cut rather than boost. Therefore when initially using EQ on something it is common practice to first take away what is immediately bad about the sound.

The best way to accurately find the offensive frequencies is to first boost a band and then cycle through the spectrum until you hear the frequency you are looking for. The frequency can then be reduced by the desired amount. As with any plug-in and particularly when using EQ it is important to bypass what you have done and listen to it before and after as well as in context with the overall mix. By following these steps you can accurately define each part within an overall mix to achieve the overall sound you are looking for. If something is not right you can always go back and edit it, or sometimes its best to delete what you have done and try again.

EQs can also be use as high and low pass filters; to either get rid of the lower unwanted frequencies - high PASS or to get rid of the higher frequencies low PASS.

Through practicing the use of EQ you can gain a good knowledge and understanding of the frequency spectrum.

Above is a Sonitus 4 Band (Paragraphic) EQ

The main settings within a EQ plug in include the Gain (Boost/Cut amount), Frequency, Q (Band Width), Filter Type (High-Pass, Low-Pass, Peak/Dip and Shelf). Different EQ plug-ins often have varying amounts of bands usually around 6 for which you can adjust all the covered settings.

EQ can be used on absolutely anything throughout a production process.

COMPRESSION:

A compressor is used mainly to control the overall dynamic of the audio on which it is used. It can also be used to accent the attack or initial impact of a sound source (such as a snare or kick or to accent the quieter aspects of the sound source/recorded audio.

The compressor is based around the threshold. Once the threshold is set accordingly; any audio that passes above it will be compressed by the set ratio. If the ratio is 2:1 this means for every 2 dB the audio passes above the threshold it will be compressed to 1dB above. therefore the ratio indicates the input and output signals of the compressor.

By adjusting the attack, Knee, release and various other settings on the compressor you can adjust the overall severity of the compression.

When applying compression it is important to avoid over compression. when something has been over compressed it can lose dynamic and sound squashed and over processed. It is a good idea to always try to use just enough compression rather than too much and again bypassing frequently to hear the changes in context with the overall mix.

Above: Logic Pro 9 Compressor Plug-in

Other settings: Threshold, Attack, Release, Knee, Circuit Type, Limiter, Gain/Output

GATING

A gate can be used on an audio signal to reduce or cut out unwanted sound when the sound source is not in action. For example by using a gate on a vocal, you can cut out any unwanted sound picked up when they are not singing. By adjusting the gate settings accordingly you can make it sound as natural as possible. This can help to clean up a signal. The function of the gate is mainly based around the threshold as with the compressor. When the input signal passes over the threshold, the gate opens up allowing the sound through. When the sound input signal drops below the threshold the sound signal is cut off or reduced by the set amount.

Above: Sonalksis SV-719 Gate Plug-in

Other features of a gate include: dB Range (how much it reduces the sound source by), Attack, Hold, Release and filters (to further define the frequencies it doesn't allow through)

DELAY:

Delays can be used in various different ways to help shape and define the sound of parts within a track as well as to help create movement in the overall mix. A delay can be set to delay by a note value or by a manually set time. Tight delays can help to define more width in the applied sound source and using a stereo delay such as the one below give the user the option of setting different delays left and right in different proportions and settings; means that they can be an effective way of creating movement around the sound source in a potentially rhythmical way.

Another common feature of a delay plug-in is a filter. This can be used to adjust the frequency range of the delayed signals to find the right blend with the original signal.

Above: Sonitus (Stereo) Delay Plug-in

Other features of a delay plug-in include: Feedback, Crossfeed and diffusion.