Using templates when recording makes a big difference in streamlining your workflow, and will leave you more time to get creative.
Hello and welcome to another Dojo! This time I’d like to focus on the benefits of using templates in your recording and mixing process. I’ll also show you some ways in which you can increase your productivity by using customized templates for your particular workflow regardless of what DAW(s) you use. Whether you’re recording a live band or a solo artist, you can create templates that include the necessary tracks, processing, and routing setups to meet your unique requirements. Tighten up, the Dojo is now open.
Over the last 30 years, digital audio workstations (DAWs) have revolutionized the way music is produced and recorded, making it easier to create high-quality recordings from the comfort of your own home. With so many options now available, it can be challenging to streamline the recording process and maintain consistency across multiple sessions. This is where templates—pre-configured session setups that can be customized and reused to simplify the recording process—come in.
The main point here is to create a template that works for you. I have found that the more specialized the template, the less flexible it becomes for use in other scenarios. For example, a 48-channel mixing template with specific plugins, buses, and other routing assignments won’t be a first choice when recording a power trio. I think the important thing is to recognize the type(s) of work you do and make different levels of templates accordingly. By creating various kinds of templates that include all the necessary tracks, plugins, and settings, you can ensure that each recording or mix session starts with a consistent foundation, allowing you to focus on the creative process rather than technical setup.
“By sharing templates, you can ensure that everyone is working with the same setup and settings, making it easier to collaborate and share ideas.”
Creating a new tracking session in your DAW from scratch can be a time-consuming process, especially if you’re working with a large number of tracks or complex routing setups. Using templates allows you to quickly set up your session and get to work, without having to waste time configuring settings or searching for the right plugins. I find this particularly useful when starting a new project that involves recording multiple songs with the same artist or band.
Typically, I create the session’s tracks and buses, assign, route, and organize my signal flow, in-the-box or outboard (Fig. 1), and get sound levels from each musician by making adjustments at the mic first, then add EQ and compression as needed. Once all that is done, I save the session as a “tracking template” with the artist/band name and date. When we’re ready to move on to the next song, I pull up the “tracking template” and save it as a “new session”! Now I have the same organization of track count, routing, etc., and I am able to repeat the process for each song moving forward.
Mixing It Up
The same logic applies when moving to the mixing stage. I’ll create a new template focused on advanced signal routing and incorporate things like console and tape emulation (if it wasn’t tracked through a console), side-chain options, routing folders, and instrument groups specific to that project. I found that using one-size-fits-all, highly specialized mixing templates end up being overbuilt and I waste time parsing out only what is necessary, as well as making sure that it is not draining my RAM and CPU resources.
Using templates can also be beneficial when collaborating with other musicians or engineers. By sharing templates, you can ensure that everyone is working with the same setup and settings, making it easier to share ideas and tracks. This can be especially important when working remotely, as it can help ensure that everyone is on the same page, even if they are not in the same physical location.
Creating templates can also help future-proof your recording process, ensuring that your recordings remain consistent and of high quality as your needs change over time. By creating templates that can be easily updated or modified, you can adapt to new recording technologies or workflows without having to start from scratch. This can help you stay ahead of the curve and ensure that your recordings are always of the highest quality.
Finally, you can create templates that use console emulation on every channel, aux, and mix bus. There’s Universal Audio’s LUNA API Vision Console Emulation Bundle ($559 street), Neve and API summing plugins ($149 street) and many other possibilities from Waves NLS, and Slate Digital’s Virtual Console Collection ($149).
Regardless of the DAW you use, taking the time to create some different types of templates will save you time and help keep you and everyone involved in the creative state of mind. Until next time, keep creating! Namaste.
Want to surgically fix that "ice pick in the forehead tone?" Check into dynamic EQ.
Greetings everyone, and welcome to another Dojo installment. For my next two columns, we're going to be examining the differences between using a dynamic EQ or a multiband compressor. This month, I'm going to discuss the benefits of using a dynamic EQ in your recordings.
First, let me define what a dynamic EQ is, since it's often confused with a multiband compressor. Essentially, a dynamic EQ is an EQ (with all of the normal attributes: HPF, LPF, notch, and band-pass filters) that also has the added ability to compress a frequency band much like a standard multiband compressor.
On the surface, you might think there's not much different between the two, but I'm going to advocate for you to not be fooled by this generality. If you're not sure what a compressor is or need a refresher, I invite you to review my previous Dojo articles, in the June and July 2020 issues, discussing that very subject. You can also visit my website, bryanclarkmusic.com, for more info. With that said, the Dojo is now open, so let's begin.
"Wouldn't it be nice to have something that would only go to work when those ice-pick frequencies are happening and leave everything else alone?"
I love using dynamic EQs to tame intermittent problem frequencies and pesky gremlin-like spikes on individual tracks within a session (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, vocals, snare, synths, etc.), and I have found they can do this with much more transparency than using a multiband compressor. Izotope's Dynamic EQ (in Ozone) and Fab Filter's Q3 are excellent examples of dynamic EQs (Fig.1 and Fig. 2).
Let's say, for example, your latest and greatest guitar solo has significant parts that sound abrasive, it's making your ears get fatigued, and has that kind of "ice pick in the forehead" tone (to quote Frank Zappa). Usually you're going to want to examine the 2.5 kHz to 3.5 kHz part of the frequency spectrum and start subtracting some of that harshness. However, if you do that using a standard EQ, you're also subtracting those frequencies from the entire solo—even the parts that don't have those annoying artifacts—and thus you could be changing the overall tone of your guitar solo. Wouldn't it be nice to have something that would only go to work when those ice-pick frequencies are happening and leave everything else alone?
Unlike most multiband compressors, Waves C4 offers expansion, but it also limits the audio spectrum to just four bands.
Here's why I prefer using a dynamic EQ in this scenario: It's more surgical and more transparent. Most multiband compressors generally divide the audio spectrum into three or four bands (Fig.3). You simply set the crossover points to bookend the frequency area(s) of sonic annoyance, and then, by using ratio (4:1, etc.), reduce the aural offenses when they cross over the threshold of the compressor. Dynamic EQs, on the other hand, also do this, but with much more flexibility by increasing the standard three or four bands (or points) to eight or 10, and you can insert the point directly on the offending frequency(s) rather than having to bookend like a multiband compressor. This can be handy if your track has multiple low-end, midrange, and high-end peaks that you need to wrangle. Pro tip: If you have a plethora of frequencies that you're trying to "fix," it's a good sign that you might not have recorded it as best as possible.
Generally, traditional multiband compressors only reduce audio signal once they start working and don't offer the ability to expand or boost the frequencies if you ever have the need. Although, to be fair, a few—like Waves C4 and C6—do offer expansion capabilities. Dynamic EQs, however, are just as capable of boosting the frequencies as reducing them, thus giving you more options to bring out little details that might normally get buried in a traditional multiband compressor.
Finally, and most importantly for me, dynamic EQs use the actual level (or gain) of the frequencies in question rather than using ratios (4:1, 8:1, 12:1, etc.) like compressors do. Because of this design, dynamic EQs are much more transparent and can either reduce or expand frequencies with much less coloration, to get the closest to an ideal recording of your track.
Until next time, be well, be curious, and have fun.
Recording Dojo: A High Five for the Low-Pass Filter
How to use an indispensable DAW tool to focus tracks, find space in a mix, create vintage-style sounds, and more.
Hello everyone, and welcome to another Recording Dojo installment. You may recall that back in November 2020 I introduced you to the mighty HPF (high-pass filter) and how to employ its power. This time, I'm going to focus on the other side of the spectrum: the LPF (low-pass filter). A DAW's LPF does exactly what its name implies: It allows low-frequency information to pass and attenuates the high frequencies. Strategic use of an LPF can really help clean up your recordings and mixes by allowing you to control where and how much high-frequency information you want—especially on groups of tracks where there might be a lot of high-frequency overlap.
Like its cousin the HPF, the LPF also has many of the same parameters and controls—most importantly, the slope of the filter. The slope of the filter is represented by dBs per octave, and the higher the value, the steeper the slope. Typically ranges include -12 dB to -48 dB per octave, but sometimes higher values can be really effective, as we will see.
Here are three scenarios to try that will help you learn how to use a LPF in your mixes.
Scenario 1: acoustic guitar and vocal (or second guitar).
In this situation, you should record your acoustic guitar and your vocal separately, on two different tracks, and not at the same time. If you don't sing, then just play a solo to go along with your acoustic guitar track. First, in your DAW, instantiate and EQ on your acoustic guitar track with an LPF and set it for a -24dB/octave with a center frequency somewhere around 2800 kHz (Fig.1). Next, sweep the frequency to the left and the right and notice how the guitar track will lose its top end (“air") and begin to sound warm. It should immediately start sounding a bit more lo-fi, or like an old recording from last century. Find a frequency range that sounds good to you but is still cutting out a significant amount of the high frequencies and transients of the acoustic guitar. For the vocal track (or your solo track), don't use any EQ at all. Just let it be au naturel. Now listen to both tracks at the same time while toggling the acoustic track's LPF on and off. What you should immediately notice is the vocal track (solo track) will be much more in focus and really have some distance and dimension from the acoustic track when the LPF is active. Season to taste.
Scenario 2: finding more “space" between the drums and the lead guitar tracks.
Especially in rock music, a significant amount of the drums' energy can come from those cymbals that the drummer is bashing on relentlessly. Cymbals can kill a mix faster than Kryptonite, and they can obscure the subtle pick attacks of lead guitar parts and solos. In this situation, try putting an LPF on the drum overhead tracks, or the main drum track if you are playing with loops, or software instruments, etc. Start around 6,500 kHz (Fig. 2) with -48 dB/octave and sweep around until the drums start to sound warm and the cymbals aren't stepping all over the guitar parts. There are many complex ways to achieve this result, but we have to start somewhere and we want to keep it as simple as possible while putting you in the right territory. For a good reference, listen to U2's “Beautiful Day," and notice how the cymbals don't fatigue your ears or take over the mix.
Scenario 3: using an LPF to make room for a vocal in a mix.
Have a look at Fig. 3 and pay attention to the far right side of the audio spectrum. Notice how the aggressive LPF is literally cutting off high frequency information above 20 kHz. This brick wall (greater than -96 dB/octave) setting can be used to your advantage—especially if your voice (or your singer) has a lot of breathiness and air, but it's getting lost in the mix within the rest of the band. Or perhaps you want to make the mix sound more vintage.
What we want to do here is sum all of the band tracks except the vocal to a new bus (or track), and then put an LPF on the newly summed track. Here is where you'll want to play around and move quickly to see if you can find that sweet spot between having the band track sounding too dull and giving the vocals the right amount of air or breathiness. Once you dial it in, you can toggle the LPF on and off to hear how the vocals can come in and out of focus.
Don't get frustrated when trying these techniques. It might take some time to really start hearing the differences, and to find ways to use LPFs to your advantage.
Until next time.