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electronic MUSICIAN

Cool Tip of the Month

April 1, 2003

Once you've achieved your basic blend in a mix, time-based effects such as a delay can help you further position the parts. If you aren't careful, though, overusing such effects can simply clutter up the soundstage. A great place to start is to base the timing of the effects on song tempo, because it lets you easily produce a delay that is in time with the song.

Almost all multitrack DAW programs provide some type of mono-to-stereo delay plug-in. In this example, I'll use Waves SuperTap delay, which is available as a third-party add-on for most audio programs. SuperTap has multitap capabilities, providing the option of playing several delayed signals along with the original. Here I'll apply a multitap mono-to-stereo delay on a lead vocal track.

  1. First, insert a mono-to-stereo delay plug-in on the track to which you'd like to apply the effect.

  2. Next, confirm the tempo of the song and the duration of a quarter note in milliseconds. Modern DAWs offer many ways to determine timing data, from reading tempo maps to simply tapping the tempo in the plug-in or identifying beats and viewing the length of a quarter note in milliseconds on the timeline. In this example, SuperTap includes a Tap Tempo button in its window. Play the song with SuperTap open and tap the button to confirm the tempo.

  3. Now that you know the tempo in milliseconds, adjust the delay time to a multiple of that number. Dividing by two will produce an eighth-note delay; by four, a 16th-note delay; and so on. SuperTap makes the process very easy — its graphic interface lets you adjust multiple delay taps on a grid, and they can snap to an exact note duration.

  4. Adjust the Feedback control to the number of repeats you desire.

  5. Adjust the delay signal's gain so that its level is lower than the direct signal's.

Note that additional routing and plug-ins could delay the source signals and thus affect timing. Depending on your rig, you might need to shift tracks in time to compensate.
Steve Albanese

The Other Analog Tape

There are three types of tape — the sticky kind, not the stuff you record on — that I find indispensable in my studio. First is masking tape, which is handy primarily for laying out instrument assignation strips on the mixing console. I buy the kind watercolorists use (available at artist-supply stores) because it's a bit less sticky and easier to remove than ordinary masking tape.

Plastic tape also gets a lot of use in my studio. I keep several colors on hand. The lighter colors — gray, yellow, and white — are great for making identification labels for the ends of insert cables that are “permanently” attached to dynamics processors, for example. (Use a felt-tip pen with permanent ink, and be sure to allow time for the ink to dry before use.) I've also used plastic label tape to mark DAT and ADAT tapes, hard-to-read I/O on rackmounted gear, and even specific faders and knobs I had to reach for during complicated (analog) mixes. The darker colors — red, orange, green, blue, and brown — are excellent for general cable identification. A piece of the same-color tape around both ends of a mic cable makes for quick and easy tracing.

I also keep a couple rolls of duct tape handy — one close to me and the other close to the musicians. Duct tape is great not only for securing cable runs in high-foot-traffic areas, but also for marking the artists' feet positions after you've positioned mics. Of course, it's also unparalleled as a quick fix to temporarily secure a broken mic clip, hang some baffling blankets, or whatever.

In general, no matter which type of tape you're using or for what purpose, it's smart to first fashion a small “handle” by folding a half inch or so of one end of the tape strip over onto itself. The handle will allow for easy removal of the tape at a later time.
Brian Knave

Plug-in Consolidation

One of the best things about plug-ins is that they enable you to create a fully integrated workstation inside your computer. But that benefit can quickly lead to problems if you're not careful how you apply your effects. You'll get the best results if you avoid draining your computer's processing capabilities with unnecessary plug-in instantiations.

Inserting a copy of your favorite reverb on every track, for example, will surely overburden your CPU, and it's probably unnecessary if the settings are roughly the same anyway. Instead, try adding the reverb to just the master faders. Better yet, insert the reverb in an aux track, and bus the appropriate tracks to that fader. Consolidating effects with a few aux tracks can save processing overhead and make it easier to set parameters consistently.

Reducing the number of plug-in copies can also help you avoid clipping. Many effects, such as EQ, can significantly boost the output of a track, as can effects with output gain controls. Having plug-ins on every track makes it harder to pinpoint the source of a problem when the master signal goes into the red. Consolidating your EQ, compression, and other effects into a few dedicated aux tracks makes it easier to control the levels feeding the master outputs.
David Rubin

Synth Pads: An Aesthetic Exercise

The most intriguing synthesizer pads make extensive use of complex envelopes and multiple oscillators to generate subtle, evolving sounds. It can be useful to compare these sounds with the subtle changes to the taste of a fine wine over time.

Taste your favorite wine and isolate at least three elements of its flavor. What emerges first: the flavor of the oak barrel? Apricot overtones? A hint of chocolate? Choose a 3-oscillator synth and, for each characteristic, use a different waveform per oscillator. Trace the rise and fall of each of the wine's flavor elements with the envelope generators. To focus on the development of each tone, solo each oscillator in turn.

Sample the wine again and trace the development of a flavor element over time; then, with envelope generator rates and levels, approximate the rise and fall of that element. Again, compare with another taste of wine and refine your envelope generator values for each rate and level. Tweak values and scale the strength of both filter and amplitude envelopes.

Perform this exercise for each of three oscillators. When you've completed your programming, enable the output of all three oscillators. Route the LFOs to control pan position, simulating the sounds spinning around the room. (By the time you finish the exercise, however, that may be unnecessary.)
Marty Cutler

Bass Recording Basics

Combining an amp and direct sound can give life to your bass guitar tracks. Plug the bass in to the ¼-inch instrument jack of a direct box (DI) and connect a balanced XLR cable from the DI to your mixer. Then, run a ¼-inch cable from the DI's amp jack to your bass amp's input jack. Position a mic in front of the amp's speaker cabinet and route the mic cable to another input on your mixer. You can submix the two sounds to one track on your recorder, give each its own track and postpone sonic decisions until the final mix, or mix the two tracks in a stereo spread. For a thicker sound, put up a room mix and combine it with the other two sources.
Gino Robair

Be sure to check out the streaming movie tutorial of this tip for an overview of SuperTap and to check out this procedure in action. Log on to to take part in this online adventure. Also, if you dare, take the quiz to review what you've learned!

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