C6

Need more music AND dialog in your mix?

Ducking with Waves C6

Today, I’m going to discuss how to use a ducker in any post production audio mix and specifically ducking music with dialog using Waves C6 Multi-Band Compressor with a side-chain.  I use duckers in virtually every mix, with a slight variation on how much gain reduction I allow them depending on the program and mix aesthetic.  I have developed a really nice technique for getting best results without ever even noticing that anything is happening (which is exactly what you want).  If you’re comfortable with the concepts of ducking and side-chaining, feel free to skip down to the “Technique” section.  This article does assume a basic understanding of compression and even multi-band compression to some degree.

Quick Summary of Ducking

Goal:  Whenever there is speech, we want to decrease the music ever-so-slightly to make room for the speech.  How do we do this?  One way is with a ducker.  A “ducker” is just a compressor that “ducks” one source when another source triggers it.  What we do is put a compressor on the music track or submix with a side-chain (see below) input from the dialog.

Basic Ducker Settings

The threshold control will be set low (around -35dB or -40dB) so that whenever there is actual speech, the compressor is triggered.  The ratio is set extremely low (in the range of 1.1:1), in order to have a gain reduction during speech of between 1dB and 6dB, depending on mix taste.  Some compressors use Range controls instead of ratio – this makes ducking even easier, since controlling gain reduction is the goal.

What is a side-chain?

Side-Chain

A side-chain is simply a signal (in our case, dialog), which is sent into the “side” of the compressor (or key) to cause gain reduction on another signal.  In our case the signal passing through the compressor is the music (goes in, comes out processed), and the dialog is simply used to determine when the gain reduction should happen (keying).

Technique

Until today, I would use two instances of the Renaissance Compressor for ducking music with dialog or voice-over.  The first would be set to a quick release (5ms) and would give the impression of increasing the level of the dialog without actually raising anything.  It does this by making imperceptible gain reductions in the music whenever speech was present.  The fast release time allows more aggressive gain reduction when needed.  The second ducker has a slower release time (400ms) which makes the music feel a little softer during the speech, but is still able to do it without any noticeable change in music level.

Another common effect for the music bus might be an EQ to reduce upper-midrange frequencies in the music to make room for the voice.  The EQ would, of course, be in effect at all times.  I have thought about sending a feature request to Waves to add a side-chain to the C4 Multiband Compressor so that I could set it to reduce only the upper-midrange band  when the voice was present.  This would eliminate my need for the EQ as well as one or both of the RComp duckers.  They must have read my mind and then went way above and beyond with the C6!

Waves C6 Multiband Compressor

The C6 is set up like the C4, or most 4-band compressors, but then they added two floating bands with separate parametric control, which you can place anywhere along the spectrum over top of the original four bands.  That’s pretty cool in and of itself!  Then they added the side-chain with more control than you ever imagined you might need.

You can choose to trigger each band separately from either “Internal” (in our case, the music) or “External”, which is the SideChain (in our case, the dialog).  I had no idea!  So what I ended up doing was using the regular four bands like I might use the C4, to gently balance the various tracks of music and increase overall continuity.  For example, if one piece of music has a strong shaker or high hat, the high band compression can help keep that in check (speed up attack and release on that band), or the low band might keep a heavy bass in check.  Then, I put the two floating bands in “External” mode to key them from the dialog.  I put one band around 2kHz, wide Q and 6dB of gain reduction.  The other band, more narrow with 2dB of gain reduction down lower in the voice spectrum.

In the end, I didn’t use any EQ on the music sub, but I did keep my fast-release RComp ducker, because I just really like the performance of it.  I could have done the whole job with just the C6.

Recently I was asked to pick one audio plugin as a “desert island” plugin.  I now have one.  If you’re looking for easy-to-use plugins that sound great, I still recommend the Renaissance bundle from Waves, but if you’re ready to step up to an incredibly versatile audio processor, give the C6 Multiband Compressor a spin.

Check out more Waves plugins and save 10% with this referral link:  http://refer.waves.com/OZry

Comments?  Find me on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/MichaelAudio

Best Reverb plugin I’ve ever heard!

Have you ever tried to get realistic sounds from a digital reverb, and been disappointed at how granular or “digital” they can sound?  Well, I want to introduce you to the reverb that changed all that for me!  It’s called Altiverb, from a European company called Audio Ease.

It’s not just any reverb, it’s a convolution reverb, which means that the reverb algorithms are based on actual sample recordings of real spaces.  These guys travel the world to bring you real world spaces in which you can place your audio.  In addition, they’ve given you the ability to record your own IRs (Impulse Responses) so that you can recreate the room sound from anywhere to use with audio recorded somewhere else.  <<I will DEFINITELY post more detail on this topic in the future, but for today I will focus simply on the incredible effect that one of its presets can have on a piece of music.>>

Reverb 101:  Quite often the way you use a reverb, like many time-based effects, is to send the dry (original signal) to the input of the reverb and bring the “wet” or reverberated signal back to be mixed with the original (“dry”).  You essentially control the “wet/dry” mix by deciding how much of the reverberated signal you want to mix with the original.  This determines the amount of the effect and the perceived distance between the source and the listener.

How is Altiverb different?  Well, Altiverb is different in many ways, but today I’m focused on how you might use it.  Altiverb sounds so good, that most of the time, I use Altiverb as an insert (entire signal passes through the device and wet/dry is controlled in the plugin) on either an individual track or a submix.

I was working on a piece of music with Tanya Ostrovsky, an amazing musician and composer, where we needed to come up with a pirate theme.  Her music was perfect, but I wanted to make  it sound as if we had hired musicians and played in an incredible concert hall.

I routed all my strings to a submix and inserted Altiverb.  I chose the Concertgebouw Concert Hall in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  I adjusted the wet/dry mix to taste, and… amazing!  It sounded so good, I sent the percussion and flute to the same sub and renamed it “orchestra” instead of “strings”.  It’s essentially my entire mix running through this reverb.  If you’ve ever used reverb this way (which, typically you shouldn’t), you may have used a wet/dry mix of anywhere from 6% to 20%, but in this case I am using over 30% wet/dry.  It would be extremely rare that I would use that much reverb in this type of application with any other plugin.  Listen to my example below.

Comments?  Find me on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/MichaelAudio

Plugin of the week – Vitamin

My newest plugin is something I can’t help but rave about.  It’s called Vitamin from Waves and once you try it, you’ll discover how essential it is.  This particular review (and plugin) should appeal to anyone who mixes music (live or in studio) or audio post for TV/film as well as sound effects designers.

I have a ton of Waves plugins, and I use them every day.  I was thrilled when I discovered that their newest plugin was part of my Diamond bundle, and I was able to install it free of charge!

Vitamin is a multiband harmonic enhancer.  Think about that.  Imagine an aural exciter or sonic enhancer all “multiband”!  But it’s way more than that.  That just changes B-12 to B Complex or something.  This thing is like all the vitamins and minerals you can swallow!  Okay, enough of that.  Let’s use it.

I first used Vitamin on a male voice-over, thinking it could use a little shine like you’d get from the Aphex Aural Exciter.  <<Adds harmonics which were not present in the original signal and helps a track pop through the mix>>  Typically, you add this type of effect at the end of a mix when the levels and EQ are right where you want them.  The great thing about Vitamin is that it might even change the way you look at using EQ.  You’ll still need subtractive equalization, as this plugin is completely additive, but you may consider thinking about tone-shaping with Vitamin depending on what you need.  Sometimes we add high frequencies, or upper-mids (even lower frequencies) in an attempt to bring out harmonics which may or may not even be present.  Vitamin rocks for that!

So I instantiated the plugin and (unlike with some plugins) didn’t even look at the presets.  I started moving up the faders and immediately smiled.  I found that you could raise the HI MID band pretty high without the harshness that sometimes comes with exciters and enhancers.  I loved the ability to control the HI band separately, and moving the crossover points pushed it over the top.  At this point I had controlled two bands and one crossover point, and that would have been good enough… but there’s WAY more.  I worked each band while listening closely, and decided that adding LO band harmonics could be way more effective on male voice than just EQ.

Then I tried the plugin to help bring out a particular sound effect that couldn’t cut through the mix.  The sound was a sail being raised quickly (similar to a heavy flag flap) and it had to be noticed through music, voice and the sound of waves.  The sound I had was good, but a little too much high frequency content and not strong enough in the bass, so I did a little subtractive high shelf EQ and a slight boost around 80 or 100Hz.  It didn’t do what I needed, so I thought I would try LoAir.  That plugin is awesome, and really helped the sound to get closer to what I imagined, but didn’t get it to cut through the mix.  Then, I was ready to reach for R-Bass or MaxxBass, when I thought to try Vitamin here as well.  I cranked the LO band, raised the LO MID, and even raised the HI band a little.  Every touch made it better.  I increased the PUNCH control to bring out the transients a little, and then decided to widen the stereo in the HI band.  (I played with the width of the lower bands, and preferred leaving them alone for this particular sound.)  I had to lower the OUTPUT, as it started to clip.  The end result was amazing.

After using this plugin for less than a week, I discovered that aside from being a great multiband spectral enhancer, there is some pretty powerful dynamics processing and other amazing tools under the hood.  I’ve barely tapped its potential, but I have to say that this plugin has surpassed my expectations.  I look forward to using this plugin on a regular basis.

Update – I DO use this plugin on a regular basis!

Comments?  Find me on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/MichaelAudio