Maximizing Cheap Daw F/X. A lesson from 2 challanging projects.
by, 04-08-2012 at 11:35 AM (1453 Views)
Challenging project 1
I finished a strange gig. A local theater company needed a pianist to record a very complex score and then play the vocal lines on a separate track so I could make a mix for the production and a mix for them to learn vocal lines. It was a total of 55minutes of recorded music. Piano only. I needed to be able to record quickly so I thought that using a keyboard rather then micing my piano was the right thing to do. I hired a piano player and asked him to bring his keyboard. A couple weeks later when it was time to do the session he shows up without the keyboard All I had was a cheap Yamaha keyboard (brutally entry level) from a client who left it there for a current project. I hooked it up and decided I could use some of my "big boy toys" to make it sound better. In other words it would end up sounding like a cheap keyboard with expensive f/x
At mix time when I realized that 55 minutes of music bounced 2 times in real time plus fades etc. was going to make a 4 hour nasty process I realized I needed to do this ITB to stay on budget. The first thing I did was fire up all the outboard F/X and get a nice sounding piano. In fact with my lexicons and eventide f/x it was pretty easy to get a nice lush not overly processed sounding piano in under 4 minutes. Now the challenge...... do this ITB.
Time to dig in
It took about 25 min but I got what I consider to be a pretty good sounding piano that was lush and natural enough and was 85% of what I had with my fancy toys. I was using stock logic plugs and this is what I learned.
-You can't use a much reverb when you are using crappy verbs. I had to get over this.
-Making a send and combining cheap f/x is highly effective.
On this project I made a stereo reverb send I eq'd it by rolling off some highs and lows plus pulling a little 300 ish out of it. I added an effect called ensemble which is like a chorus with some flange. I used a very small amount but this smooths the reverb gluing it to the source a little better. I also used a transient designer. This is a trick I learned on overheads as well. If you elongate the sustain it adds a little more excitement to the reverb.
Challenging project 2
I've had 3 clients who previously abandoned projects, because of funds running out, come back this year to finish up. One is from 4 years ago before I had good convertors and mic pre's. I had good mic's but that is about it. This was a country tune that needed a guitar solo and vocals added. In present day I hired a vocalist and recorded the solo's on my new rig. I didn't think about these facts until I got into the mix. I noticed I was struggling to get things to sit forward. It seemed mushy. When I realized why I immediately changed my tactic's which helped. Because the vocals and solo's sat forward naturally because they were recorded with higher fidelity I let the standing bass, rhythm guitar and drums(brushes) sit back. This meant that when I went to add f/x to the vocals that the F/X didn't sit in the mix. It was like have bass, drums and rhythm in the back, f/x in front of them and them vocals and solo's in front of that. What I needed was to get my f/x deeper into the sonic image while staying glued to the sources. On vocals I new I wanted a half note delay and a slap back delay so I made 2 aux's, one for each. I rolled off some top and bottom but then taking a lesson from my previous keyboard challenge I added a little chorus and reverb to my delays. This hid them a little and sat them closer to the bass, guitar and drums. Granted this time I was firing on all cylinders and not using cheap DAW f/x but the same would apply if I were.
I am using 7 aux sends PCM 70, PCM 90 LEFT, PCM 90 Right, Eventide left, Eventide right, Long delay, short delay. On my long delay channel I add a little of the PCM 70 and 90 as well as the eventide. This really hides the delays while gluing them to the source. It also means you can add more to increase the smoothing effect delay has. If a person had a stereo reverb like I described in the first challenge and made a delay using that reverb I think they would be pleasantly surprised.
Using a transient designer on the delay to lesson the attack really hides the delay. It is quite incredible.
Combining f/x really takes them to the next level. It gives a sense of a cohesive environment. It also stops the tendency where DAW reverbs tend to feel separate from the source you put them on.
Also add reverbs to your room mic's first. Then you'll need much less on the actual source.
With these methods you won't get super big lush reverbs out of your DAW that you'll love to listen to. I can get that with my Lexicons. What you will get is reverbs that are useable and don't muddy up your mix. You'll end up with a recording that doesn't feel dry and doesn't feel wet.
I am encouraged that I will be taking my high end F/X to the next level and achieving better sounds using these methods. These strategies answer some questions that were burning into my soul for years about F/X. I hope they help a couple of others.