This blog continues a series of blogs on Mixing (Page 2014).
As a mix engineer I guess you will receive a tracking session at some point in which you will appraise the instrumental elements of the session as being in need of some work: perhaps some subtle work, or perhaps some extensive work. Options are available to do this by the spadeful with the very large range of accessible resources available to the practitioner.
However, what you need to do as the mix engineer at that point in time, is to make a quick decision: what extent of post-production instrumental editing or processing is required in order to achieve the desired musical or sonic effect for this production project? In this example I will focus on one of the essential instruments in contemporary music – the central element of the rhythm section – the drums. However, most of the options I cover below can be applied to other instrumental elements of a session, al be it with different sonic hardware and/or virtual applications.
Sound repair, sound reinforcement, sound supplementation and sound replacement are terms that I have found aspiring audiophiles use interchangeably. However, they are different, offering different levels of solutions to different production problems at different times. I will introduce the essential differences between each, and outline a particular production scenario where each may be employed.
1. The entry level of post-production drum processing is known as repair. The term sound repair is usually restricted to minor editing using either manual or DAW-based editing functions. In Pro Tools, minor editing to drum tracks can be done using a combination of Beat Detective, Elastic Audio or manual editing using the standard editing tools provided, your eye and most importantly, your ear. Elastic Pitch can also be used for minor editing of melodic or harmonic instruments when they are found to be slightly out of tune to the other instrumentation in the session. Whilst the term editing is primarily associated with cutting and moving audio files regarding timing issues, I include applying audio processing under the category of repair. This can include manipulating the sonic qualities of the audio file in terms of spectral (equalisation, filters), dynamic (compression, limiters, gates and expanders) and time-domain (reverberation, echo, delay, flanging, chorus, etc) qualities via audio processing.
2. The next level of post-production drum processing is known as sound reinforcement. This solution uses various methods to ‘reinforce the original sound – usually a tone underneath the original signal to reinforce the lack of tone within the original signal. This production solution became very popular in the 1980’s with disco music, which led into the early stages of EDM. In the 1990’s digital reinforcement was used via devices such as a dbx 120A sub-harmonic synthesiser to reinforce the sub-harmonic frequencies of the production.
In the current era, external devices are still used such as the dbx 510 sub-harmonic synthesiser as a means to reinforce the sub-harmonic frequencies (as shown below on right-hand side of 500 series rack). This option can be used for both corrective or creative purposes.
(AE Project Studio 2015)
These days this style of processing – sound reinforcement – is usual in many forms of music to use virtual reinforcement devices, such as layering an in-the-box oscillator under the original signal to reinforce the original tone.
3. The next level of post-production drum processing is known as sound supplementation. Products such as Wavemachine Lab’s Drumagog and Steven Slate’s Trigger were developed to allow the engineer/producer to add sonic texture to the original recording to supplement it/boost it in terms of sonic qualities that were considered to be deficient. These qualities could include timbre, frequency or dynamic envelope. This situation could be due to one of several reasons: due to an imperfect recording technique overall. For example: due to poor microphone placement; poor or ineffective microphone technique for the desired effect; poor or ineffective live room for the desired effect, to name a few reasons; imperfect or ineffective microphones used for the desired effect. This could be the actual quality of the microphone, the condition of the microphone – a suitable microphone type, or polar pattern a suitable type; an imperfect quality instrument or tuning; or even an imperfect instrumentalist technique in the original recording. This option of post-production drum processing is usually used as a corrective measure, but not always, just to bring the original tone home somewhat more. It would be quite unusual in this era for most productions to have some form of sound supplementation incorporated.
4. The final level of post-production drum processing is known as sound replacement. Sound replacement involves – as it sounds – the replacement of the original sound source for an alternative sound source. There are so many options available in this era in terms of post-production drum processing options. Drum replacement options such as: Steven Slate’s SSD, Toontrack’s EZ Drummer, AIR Technology’s Strike, and Native Instruments many and varied drum instruments could be useful and suitable for your particular project solution. All of these listed virtual instruments use a sample system to replace the original track’s audio file. The underlying reason to replace the original audio track could be due to: an imperfect recording technique overall. For example: a poor microphone placement; a poor or ineffective microphone technique for the desired effect; a poor or ineffective live room for the desired effect, to name a few reasons; an imperfect or ineffective microphones used for the desired effect. This could be the actual quality of the microphone, the condition of the microphone – a suitable microphone type, or polar pattern choice for the desired effect; an imperfect quality instrument or tuning; or even an imperfect instrumentalist technique in the original recording. This option of post-production drum processing is primarily used as a corrective measure. it is essentially radical surgery, used in an emergency salvation when all has gone wrong, and no options exist, including time to re-record it in the instance of an urgent project. or used to create ‘demos’ prior to actual tracking. alternatively, with time on your side as a producer, you may choose for the best option: to re-record the original sound source. Whilst this is the most obvious option, there may be external factors that prevent this obvious choice from being a valid option.
I expect as a mix engineer you will receive a tracking session at some point in your careers in which you will appraise the drum elements as being in need of some work – perhaps some very subtle repair work, some subtle reinforcement, or perhaps the session will be in need of some extensive work. With the options available in this era, you will need to make a quick decision: what extent of post-production drum processing is required in order to achieve the desired musical or sonic effect? You will have different options avaialble, offering different levels of solutions to different production problems at the different stages of production. Whether sound reinforcement, sound supplementation or sound replacement – each level of post-production drum processing offers different levels of solutions to different production problems at different times. It is up to you as the mix engineer or produce to understand the different stages of production, the needs of the particular mixing session, and employ the most appropriate level of post-production drum processing in which to realise the desired effect.
With over 20 years experience in the arts & post-compulsory education, David has lived, studied and worked Internationally including Japan, India, Fiji, the US and NZ.
David has extensive interests as per the extensive blogs hosted on his site (see below).
Additionally, David has published in both lay texts and academic (peer-review) publications.