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Using Sound Effects within music composition and production for increased overall effect

Using Sound Effects within music composition and production for increased overall effect

Excuse Me, You’ve Got Some Sound Effects in
My Music

About using sound effects in music production and how the line between sound effects and music is blurring

by Kole Hicks

The use of certain elements we consider “Sound Effects” in Music is much more common than we may think. Whether it’s nature ambiances heard lightly in the background of a New Age track or the aurally unpleasant bang of a trashcan lid in Industrial music, our perception of what purely differentiates the line between Sound Effects and Music is rapidly blurring.

 

 I recently became more aware of this progression earlier this year when tasked to compose an eerie / ethereal background track for a horror game. The piece most definitely had to set a mood and have direction, but never really intrude the player’s “consciousness” enough to have them recognize or become aware of “Oh hey there is music being played now.” So, in a way the music was to act in a role we may consider to be more common with sound design.

Now this practice in and of itself is not new, but the questions I asked myself while approaching this problem and the previously closed “doors” the answers opened up to me are new and unique enough to want to share my findings with you.

I. Approaching the Issue & Asking the Right Questions

Before I even attempted to do the traditional “sit down & start writing” phase, I tried to think of and answer all of the necessary questions that are unique with a piece like this. Should there be any thematic material… would it “get in the way”? How Dynamic can the piece be? Will I be using “traditional” instruments? What role will the mixing process play in this piece? Etc…

Asking and answering all of these questions were absolutely critical for taking an accurate first step towards fully expressing my intent with the piece. That is why I often take this step and recommend many others do as well (especially if you need to be very articulate with what you’re wanting to express).

 

II. Answering the Questions

Let’s go through the process of asking and answering a few questions unique to a piece of music like this.

First, lets look at “Will I be using traditional Instruments?”

Since there is no right or wrong answer to this question, I only felt compelled to organize/understand my instrumentation choices enough to justify their usage in the piece. So, I decided that my approach to this piece had to be one focused more on timbre/moods and that writing standard musical phrases easily identifiable as “music” by the human ear were off limits. At least initially, as I also decided that “sneaking in” the main theme from time to time would be okay (as long as it’s full introduction was gradual). However, for the most part, I “justified” the usage of some traditional musical instruments by challenging myself to use them in a unique way that wouldn’t immediately be perceived as a musical phrase by the listener. “Typical” sound design elements (impacts/crashes/scrapes/etc.) were also allowed, but must be organized in such a manner that they would have a perceived direction.

Which brings us to our next question… “What role will Form play in this piece?”

As I mentioned before, the line between what could only be considered Sound Effects and what could only be Music, is rapidly blurring. Impacts, soundscapes, and other “sound design elements” are being used so often in modern music that I believe the only clear distinction between the two is the way each one is structured.

This is not to say that Sound Effects can’t be organized in a way to tell a story, for they surely can, but rather the way in which we approach and organize our sounds for music is different. Repetition and imitation are two of the most common techniques used in music from almost anywhere in the world at anytime in history. When you’re lacking tonality, melody, and other “common” western musical constructs, more often than not we revert to repetition and imitation to structure our music (both for our sake and the listener’s ears). Often times, when your creating Sound Effects to picture, its not ideal to only use one punch/kick sound for an entire fight scene. However, I can also imagine the argument that the variety in those punch/kick sound effects, are the equivalent of musical imitation. So, perhaps the only real thing separating the difference between Sound Design and Music is our perception/preconceived notions of what each one “should” be.

With that said, I decided that the role of Form in this piece was to take these isolated sound ideas/motifs and repeat/imitate them in a manner that felt like it was going somewhere (The repetition/imitation itself not having to be structured, but perhaps more organic or improvised). Complex and strict forms like Sonata or even Pop wouldn’t accurately achieve this goal. So, it was determined that the form must be even more basic (remember we don’t want the listener to immediately recognize this as music). My solution was to introduce and eventually repeat/imitate these “themes/motifs” as they were applied throughout the changes in the dynamic curve.

Last but not least… “What role will the Mixing Process play in this piece?”

I feel very strongly about the role of Mixing in the Composition process, as it’s unavoidable in modern times. However, I’ll save the majority of what I have to say about this topic for a separate article.

As it applies to this question though, I determined that the subject
matter and piece itself needed “mixing forethought.” Simply
thinking about what pitches, rhythm, or articulation to use would not
be enough, so I went a step further and asked myself questions like…
“Is a High Pass Filter needed in this piece? If so, When and for
what Part(s)? How much distortion should be used on the guitar…
what pickup? Should I automate the reverb to the dynamic curve or keep
it consistent throughout the piece?

It’s through questions like these that some of my most creative
answers originated. When you become more aware of exactly what frequencies
you want expressed at a certain point in a piece of music or how you plan
to creatively pan each instrument, your music will immediately benefit
from the original answers you come up with.

I always like to say that if it affects the way your music sounds at
the end of the day then it’s a part of the Composition Process that
should be taken into consideration. That goes for Mixing and even your
state of mind prior to writing (make sure it matches the necessary mood
you want to express in the piece of music!)

III. Applying the Answers

Now that we have some unique answers to work with, it’s all about performing and capturing their essence. For instrumentation it was decided that everything is permitted, but most “standard” writing practices would not apply.

Bend a string of the guitar beyond its “comfortable point” and play your theme. Play the Piano with socks on your hands or breathe into the mic and apply massive reverse delay. Place a huge pillowcase over your mic/head and start to sing. Record your harp in the bathtub or pitch up/down kitchen pan impacts and organize them to build a triad.

The options available to you are only restrained by your ability to ignore the fear of “What will others think?” The Answer to “What is Music?” is growing every day with new ideas from creative composers willing to push the boundaries of sound and a more accepting audience that’s aching for something new/original. With that said, I’d like to wish all of you the best and keep composing fellow artists!

If you’d like to listen to piece of music I finished, click here and tell me where to send it.

About
the author: Kole Hicks is an Author, Instructor, and most prominently
an Audio Designer with a focus in Games. He’s had the pleasure of
scoring mobile hits like ‘Bag it!’, has provided audio for Indie PC
titles like ‘Kenshi’ and ‘Jeklynn Heights’, and was nominated for a 2012
GANG award for an article written exclusively for Shockwave-Sound.com
titled, “Mixing as Part of the Composing Process. Emotionally Evocative
Music & Visceral Sound Effects… Kole Audio Solutions.

Three Ways to Build a Sound Library

Three Ways to Build a Sound Library

by Paul Virostek

What’s the best way for a new field recordist to begin building a sound library? How can a sound designer grow a folders of scattered samples into a collection with heft and weight?

Huge sound clip libraries roam the Web. Some have tens of thousands of sound effects. New sound pros are easily intimidated. Perhaps you want to sell your sound clips on the Internet. Maybe you just want to grow your collection to use in your own projects. How can you grow a similar sound library? Most of us don’t have thousands of dollars to spend doing so.

I know the feeling. I began building my sound library of with only a handful of DAT tapes. Now it numbers over 20,000 samples. You can do this, too.

So, today I’ll share three ways to start building a sound library. I’ll explain the difficulties, how to avoid them, and the pros and cons of each method.
What You Need to Get Started

What do you need to start a sound collection?

A good library demands endless intangible qualities: ideas, creativity, flexibility, and originality. We’ll look at things more directly, though. What tools do you need to begin building a good collection?

  • Gear.
  • Sound isolation.
  • Original recordings and copyright.
  • Cash.
  • Time.

Your choice of the following three options depends on how much of these you have, and want to use.

1. Do It All Yourself

 

The simplest way to get started is to do everything yourself. This means you’ll provide the gear. You’ll shape the recording space (whether a sound booth, or a clean atmosphere outside). You’ll find the cash to fund everything, and the time to get things done.

The major benefit of this option is control. You can record in your home at two in the morning. There’s no need to schedule studio time, or rely on assistants to show up.

And, since you produce every clip, you’ll own all of them. You can twist them, remix them, or even give them away however you like. Your collection will be perfectly legal and 100% yours.

Many recordists on a budget are able to find free software and plug-ins to achieve the same effect as commercial options. You’re free to adapt your home for the best recordings: shut off the HVAC, unplug the fridge, and so on.

Just the same, the recording environment won’t be as pristine as a studio. That may mean you’ll have to alter what you record. For example, you may not be able to record quiet props. Loud, more prominent recordings will work well, however. You may wish to focus on exterior atmospheres, too. Just ensure a substandard recording space doesn’t sacrifice the quality of your recordings. Sound isolation and quality are extremely important for a high-quality collection.

Pros
• You learn a lot.
• You improve your craft.
• You have complete control.
• The only expense is time.

Cons
• Lack of sophisticated equipment.
• Possibly a noisy environment.
• Takes longer.

2. Record in a Studio

 

Major cities will have dozens of recording studios. They’ll feature the latest software, and plug-ins. They’ll stock a mixture of modern equipment and classic vintage gear. These studios will be soundproof, and acoustically treated. This allows you to capture delicate, quiet sounds. This is a good choice to ensure you have clean recordings. You also have access to superior microphones.

However, this benefit comes with a cost. Studios are expensive. Research options. Big studios charge $200 an hour. There are cheaper, smaller studios that charge as low as $50 an hour. Weekend rates are cheaper. Night rates are cheaper still.
If you decide to work this way, make sure that you are fully prepared. Make a list of everything you want to record. Gather all your props beforehand. This means you will need less time in the studio to record what you need. That makes it cheaper.

It’s a good idea to explain to the engineer that you must own all recordings. Most of the time they don’t care. They’re selling the space, not the artistic work. It’s critical to have this discussion, nonetheless.
Do you have your own recorder? Comfortable choosing and arranging microphones? Record everything yourself. Inform the facility you don’t need an engineer. This will save a bit more in studio costs.

Remember to bring your own hard drive. Don’t use theirs. Others may use the studio later, and mistakenly use sound effects you own.
This option resolves the fragile recording process itself. Once the recordings are captured you can return to your home studio and master all the final clips yourself.

Pros
• Professional, modern equipment.
• Pristine recording space.
• Engineer’s expertise with acoustics, microphone quality, and so on.
• Creative advice from a sound pro. Collaboration.

Cons
• Need to pay whenever you want to record.
• Dependent on others.
• Must ensure ownership of files with studio.

3. Hire an Artist.

 

A third option is to pay someone else to build a sound library for you. There are hundreds of sound pros that are happy to record or design sound effects for your collection. These pros are highly-talented people that will deliver superior recordings.

In this case, you’ll send them a list of tracks you need. You may choose from a selection of existing tracks and “buy out” the rights to own them yourself. The fee for this will be based on an hourly rate, a bulk package, or a price based on quantity.

This is a quick, effortless way to build your sound library. An appealing side effect of hiring others is that they’ll provide a fresh take on sound recording.

There are two issues, however.

First, this is usually expensive. The cost of labour makes it a bit too pricey. You may never make up the costs of two days of artist labour in sound effect sales. You may find someone cheaply, though. That is key. Perhaps you can hire a talented film school student and a lower rate. The second issue is that your freelancer must sign a contract transferring ownership of the work to you. This is called work-for-hire. This ensures you own the creations, can use them in your own projects, and resell them if you like.

It’s important to realize that you’re working with creators, just like you. You have worked hard to create your own tracks, and they are precious to you. The freelancers you hire will feel the same. Most artists are reluctant to give up ownership of their creations. They’re usually emotionally invested in them. It’s completely understandable.

This arrangement certainly can work, however, you just need to make the issue of ownership clear. Tell them you are buying out the sounds, and that you plan to sell them later. Mention this before you begin the work. This ensures everyone is beginning the project with the same understanding.

Pros
• Fast.
• High-quality, professional work.
• Fresh recordings.

Cons
• Expensive.
• Creative ownership must be guaranteed.
• Must ensure freelancers own the copyright of the clips they are selling you.

Which Do You Choose?

No single option is better than the other. Instead, your best choice is the balance of cash, time, and availability to sound isolation and gear that works for you. Your choice may be influenced by people, too. Are you more comfortable working alone, or do you like bouncing ideas off of others? Perhaps you feel it’s easier to let someone else do all the work instead. Involving others can be inspiring. It adds expense, but saves time.

Be aware that beginning a sound library is a long journey. It takes time to record and polish sound effects. The initial up-front investment in time and cash is real, however it will pay off handsomely over the years of your sound career. Use these three options to begin your sound library now. Why?

A strong collection represents your skill and inspiration in every clip you record, master, and publish. As your sound library grows, it will become involved in every project you join, amplify it, and share your creativity with all that hear your work.

About the author: Paul Virostek travels worldwide recording the sounds of cities and cultures. He shares his collection at airbornesound.com, and writes about his experiences field recording, and sharing sound effects at jetstreaming.org. He is also the author of “Field Recording: from Research to Wrap – An Introduction to Gathering Sound Effects“, which was published in 2012.

Working with audio in Sony Vegas® – Part Two – Adding FX, Mixing & Rendering Audio Files

Working with audio in Sony Vegas® – Part Two – Adding FX, Mixing & Rendering Audio Files

by Simon Power

 

In this series of articles we will be offering fundamental help and advice to amateur and semi-pro audio/visual producers who use Sony Vegas and want to incorporate music, voice overs and SFX in their productions.

Introduction

In part one of this tutorial, we looked at importing and timestretching audio files in Sony Vegas Pro 8 ®. In this exercise we continue with our project to produce a 35 second promo ad for a garden centre, by examining ways to mix, add FX and then render our finished project.

Our voice over is 30 seconds long, while thanks to timestretching, the music is now 35 seconds in duration. This gives us 2.5 seconds of music to use at the start and end of the promo to wrap around the voice. So with the music at 00:00:00, we now place the voice over at 00:00:02.500. Now we should get a nice couple of seconds of music before the voice over kicks in. OK, great. So let’s give it a listen.

We click shift + spacebar to play from the start of the project and the music plays in nicely. But what’s this? When it hits the voice over, our limiter is working overtime, peaks are in the red and the voice over is completely lost in amongst a muddy dirge of frequencies. Yes, of course, we need to dip the music under the ‘Voice Over’ file so that both elements mix together in perfect harmony.

Again, there are a few optional ways we can do this. First of all let’s try the manual way.

Highlight the music track (‘Music Bed’) by clicking in the ‘track header’. Then hit ‘V’ on your keyboard (That’s ‘V’ for volume.). A blue line will appear along the entire length of the track dissecting the stereo channels of our music file. Approach this blue line with your mouse curser. The curser changes from an arrow into a pointing finger. Take that pointed finger along the line until it is directly under the start of the ‘Voice Over’ file on the track above. Double click, and a square block will appear on the line (see illustration). A box attached to this square should read 0.0db. If you now grab the box with your curser and pull it downwards you will notice that the volume alters. (reset it to 0.0db).

Using a number of these square blocks on the volume line, we can accurately alter the gain on an individual track and mix it with the other elements accordingly. Let’s begin a fade at 2 seconds into the music file. Create a volume block at 00:00:02 and one at 00:00:02.500. Pull the second block down and note the reduction in gain at that point. You may be surprised just how much you need to dip the volume so that the voice over takes precedent over the music. It may be as much as 10db. You’ll need to use your ears to judge when a mix is right. Take into account we may be compressing the audio at a later time, which will bring the hidden frequencies forward. So a little compensation may be needed there.

When you’re happy with the introduction, do the same at the end of the voice over to bring the volume of the music back up to 0.00db. A gradual fade in of the music over the last 2.5 seconds of the voice over may be effective, but be aware that every syllable of the spoken word has to be clear and audible before bringing the music back in to reclaim those frequencies.

Mix Automation in Sony Vegas

OK, so creating all those square blocks and laboriously altering each one is no fun? Well, there is another way. In Vegas you can automate both the volume and pan functions on each individual audio track.

First, go to the ‘track header’ and highlight the ‘Music Bed’ track. Hit ‘V’ as before to insert our volume line.

Next, go to the ‘track name’ box in the ‘track header’ there are 6 icons. ‘arm for record’/’invert track phase’/’track FX’/’automation settings’/’mute’ and ‘solo’. Click on the ‘automation settings’ sun shaped icon (actually it’s a machine cog for ‘Automation’). This will reveal a drop down menu. Currently it may be set to ‘automation off’. Move it to ‘automation write (touch)’ and tick the ‘show automation controls’ box.

Now we hit shift + spacebar to play the music from the top. Below the 6 icons, you will note that all the audio tracks have a separate volume and pan control. Grab the volume control and move it around. You’ll notice that those square boxes are back on the volume line, but this time they are appearing automatically in conjunction with your movements on the volume control. Likewise, if we play with the pan control, an orange line appears alongside the blue one on the audio track, and the music pans from left to right as we alter the control. All this happens in realtime, so you get the effect of live mixing.

But there’s an art to this ‘automation’ process. It may take you a few goes before you get the mix exactly right. Of course you can do a rough automated mix and then alter the volume line manually afterwards. This will be quicker than doing the entire mix manually and may help save some time in the long run.

So, We have timestretched our music and mixed our voice track over the top. We are now well on the way to finishing our project. But we still have a number of processes available to us before we can wrap things up and present our finished promo to the folks at the garden centre.


Volume edit points appear as squares.

FX processing and Plug-ins

We have already put a limiter set to 0.00db across the entire project, which we accessed through the effects icon on the master volume control. But for individual FX processing, we are instead going to access the FX bank via the FX icon situated on the track header. Remember the 6 icons next to the ‘rename’ box? This is where we look for our individual track FX icon. It’s the third one. Between ‘invert track phase’ and ‘automation settings’ (see illustration).

Let’s say, for this exercise that the ‘Voice Over’ track needs compression, as even after mixing, the original recording was getting a little lost when the music bed was added. Compression may help add some ‘thrust’.

Click on the FX icon on the ‘Voice Over’ track and you will see a display called ‘audio plug in’. On Vegas version 8, the audio tracks already have 3 default FX: Noise Gate, EQ and compression. These are pretty standard Sony FX. You may have a favourite Waves compressor that you want to use instead. So first, highlight the Sony compressor plug-in. In the top right hand corner of the box there are 3 FX icons. Hover over the one that displays a cross over it (‘X’). This removes that particular plug-in. Click this and the plug-in disappears leaving you with just the Noise Gate & EQ. To add your favourite Waves plug-in, click the icon next to the one you have just used. This will display a box ‘plug-in chooser’ and the name of the track ‘Voice Over’ (see illustration). There you will see all your familiar FX as Vegas supports both VST and DirectX plug-ins and will have accessed them all during the installation process. Highlight your Waves compressor, click ‘add’ and then ‘OK’. If you just click ‘OK’ the effect doesn’t load into your project. You have to ‘add’ it to the effects chain. Your compressor will now appear alongside the Noise Gate & EQ.

Let’s say you adjust the expander by a few db to smooth out the dynamics, you can then save those setting by renaming the compressor (‘Garden Centre Voice Over’) and clicking on the floppy disk icon next to the name box. Already the voice over is sounding better and maybe it will benefit from some added EQ as well. Click the EQ plug-in and you will notice there are a number of presets in the drop down menu. One of these is called ‘(Ultimate S) Female Voice Over’. Perfect! Add that. Similarly, you may have other more defined EQ that you wish to use from your own FX bank. You can of course access these as you did the Waves compressor.

As for the voice over, it’s now showing a marked improvement, holding its own nicely against the music. You can now exit the audio plug-ins box.

Just like volume and pan, you can automate all the FX plug-ins and have them running in realtime with automated FX. But for this project, we just need a single effect over the entire track, so we’ll leave the automation to a later tutorial.


The FX icon is the third icon along in the track header.

Overall FX processing

As for our project, the music was sounding just fine, so no need to add any external FX or processing. The voice over is now punching through nicely courtesy of some added compression and EQ.

Now, I may be temped to add a touch of compression over the entire project,
But compression can be an unruly beast if it’s over used. You have to consider every possible scenario in which your piece will be heard. It’s OK for broadcast through a public address system at a garden centre. They probably don’t use any compression on their broadcasts. It’s simply a CD player attached to a mixing desk. A touch of light compression over the entire mix will be fine here. But what if they decide to broadcast our finished promo on local FM radio? They compress like crazy! If I add too much compression now, it may sound awful. The best thing to do is to make all your decisions ‘moderate’. Adding a pinch of compression over the entire mix will add life and buoyancy to the over all sound. With moderate use of compression, we’ve created a robust mix that will suit a number of different circumstances.


Select an effect using the plug-ins choser

Rendering in Sony Vegas

Listening through to the mix a number of times, I am now happy that I don’t wish to make any further changes. It has a nice introduction, the voice is sparkling with its added compression and EQ. And a moderate amount of compression over the entire project has made it bounce along nicely. It’s a job well done and I’m ready to render the file to our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder.

To do this I go, ‘file’/’render as’. Previously, you may have been rendering a video project, so the ‘Save as type’ setting could be set to .avi, .wmv or .mov etc. We are making an audio file and we wish to render as a .wav. Look in the ‘Save as file’ drop down menu for the ‘Wave (Microsoft) *.wav’ setting. This will ensure that our project is rendered as the correct type. The description should be 44.1kHz at 16 Bit as per our project settings. Rename the file garden_centre_promo_1, browse for the folder, click ‘save’ and away we go.

Within seconds the file will be rendered and ready to be transferred to CD or memory stick, or an FTP site that can be accessed by your customer.
Burn to CD

Once you have rendered the track as a WAV file, you may wish to burn a CD directly from the project. This couldn’t be simpler. Put a blank media you’re your CD burner drive, Click on ‘tools’ and ‘burn disc’. Choose an option from the drop down menu (‘track at once’ audio CD or ‘disc at once’ audio CD) and click ‘start’. The entire project will be rendered as one track onto the CD. (You may also want to refer to this article about choosing the right burning speed when burning audio-CD’s. Ed.)
Conclusion

With our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ project rendered as a WAV file and burned to CD, it’s now ready to present to the folks down at the garden centre. At 35 seconds and with pleasant music and a sparkling voice over I reckon it’s well within their brief. It won’t be long before we hear our production being broadcast between instrumental cover versions of well known hits, while newly wed couples scour the shelves on their quest for the perfect potted plants for their new home!

It’s not what you quite imagined doing for a living when you set up your multi media audio/visual production business, but, hey. Work is work. Whatever pays the bills! All you can do is make it sound as good as it can possibly be and build up a reputation for quality work at a competitive price. And hope that eventually Jay-Z returns your call!

Resources:

Vegas Pro product page at Sony Media Software
Royalty-Free Music by Pierre Langer at Shockwave-Sound.com
More in this series:

You may also want to read Part One of this series.

About
the author: Simon Power has made over 50 short films and documentaries
for the music technology website Sonic State. He has also removed &
replaced copyrighted music on a number of commercial BBC releases. In
these articles he offers advice and tips about using music in your low
budget film and audio/visual projects. You can learn more about Simon
and his projects at his website, http://www.meonsound.com/
Working with audio in Sony Vegas® – Part One – Importing & Timestretching audio files

Working with audio in Sony Vegas® – Part One – Importing & Timestretching audio files

By Simon Power

In this series of articles we will be offering fundamental help and advice to amateur and semi-pro audio/visual producers who use Sony Vegas and want to incorporate music, voice overs and SFX in their productions.

Introduction

Sony’s Vegas Pro® is an excellent creative tool for audio/visual work. It’s intuitive and powerful, and especially good when it comes to adding those extra touches that will make your presentation stand out from the rest.

Vegas 8.1 ramps up the 64 bit & Surround capabilities, but for these tutorials we’ll stick to something a little less involved. Vegas Pro 8 gives perfectly good results. You can access an unlimited number of 24bit/192kHz audio tracks as well as 30 real time effects including support for VST and DirectX. So that’s more than enough for any low budget audio promo job like the one I have in mind for this tutorial.

Getting Started

Because we’re concentrating on music and audio capabilities of Vegas, let’s say we’ve been commissioned to produce a short audio promo ad. It will be broadcasted at regular intervals between the music over the P.A. system at a ‘garden centre’ to advertise their “credit crunch” deals. Sure, we’d all love to be doing the next Jay-Z album promo for Radio Urban 248, but this is the real world and Jay-Z just ain’t returning your calls. So in the meantime, it’s down to the garden centre to earn a few bucks!

We’ve already been given a 30 second voice over WAV file recorded at a local studio, which we’ve saved to a folder called ‘Garden Centre Promo’. And now it’s time to open Vegas Pro 8 and get to work on the project.

Click on ‘File’/‘new’ and check that the audio properties are set to 44.1kHz with a bit depth of 16. Set the resample and stretch quality to ‘best’ as we may have to play around with the duration of the audio files. Click OK and let’s move on.

Jay-Z just won’t answer your calls. 

Choosing some music

You preview the V.O. file and they’ve done a pretty good job. It’s a female artist, good diction, clear, accurate and appealing. What it needs is a great sounding music bed that’s not too obtrusive and sits nicely with this pleasant sounding voice.

One good place to look for music that you can legally use would be the Stock Music collection at Shockwave-Sound. They’ve never let you down when you’ve needed quick and easy royalty free music solutions and whaddaya know? This time is no exception. Within minutes of searching you’ve got a whole ream of quality tracks that may just be suitable for the garden centre promo ad.

The track that really stands out is called ‘Rain Or Shine’ by Pierre Langer. It’s a kind of light and airy acoustic piece that has quite a wholesome feel. The track description uses the terms ‘outdoors’, ‘nature’ and ‘uplifting’, which certainly fits the bill for our garden centre clientele. What’s more, at only 38 seconds it’s a great length for a short promo. It resolves too, so we won’t have use a fade out, so that’s a bonus.

Importing the music into Vegas

Initially, there’s no need to commit to buying the track before we’ve tested it alongside the voice over.

We can listen to the track using Shockwave’s preview facilities. And play the V.O. file alongside at the same time. At least it will give a rough idea of whether the two elements work well together.

Once we’re happy that we’ve made the right choice, it’s time to purchase the track, download it to our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder and import it into Vegas.

Vegas can read any number of different audio formats, WAV, MP3, WMA, PCA, AIF, MPEG audio and AC-3. I’ve chosen to download the track from Shockwave as a WAV file.

To import into your project, first create an audio track in your ‘track header’ by either going ‘insert’ and ‘audio track’, or by right clicking in the track window and choosing ‘insert audio track’. Highlight the track and go to ‘file’/’open’. The ‘open’ box offers the option ‘Files of type’. Make sure this is set to ‘All Project & Media Files’ so that Vegas will recognise all associated files. Alternatively, you could use the drop down menu to go to ‘Wave (Microsoft) *wav’ so that it will specifically recognise that format. But best left to the default ‘All Project & Media Files’. Browse to find the ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder, highlight the WAV file and open it. The WAV will appear on the designated audio track in the timeline next to the cursor.

Now double click on ‘track name’ in the ‘track header’ and rename the track ‘Music Bed’.

Put the file at 00:00:00 in the project window. If you wish to move it, simply grab it by holding down your left mouse button.

As soon as you’ve imported an audio file it’s a good practise to make sure there is a good sturdy limiter plug-in on the output level. Most professional music files will peak at 0.00db, but to be sure that your project never exceeds this, Vegas provides a number of plug-ins with limiting in mind.

Go to your master mixer and click the master effects icon. Choose a limiter or peak master plug-in and set it to 0.00db (they normally default at this setting). Doing this will avoid any nasty clipping or peaks later on.

Preview the music using Shockwave-Sound’s media player.

Importing the voice over into Vegas

At this point, let me mention Vegas’s Project Media function. It’s a way of grouping together all your media making it available at your fingertips for immediate use. You can drag and drop files from the ‘media bins’ into your project window easily and efficiently. And this can often cut down on time spent on project management. It may be something we will refer to in greater depth in later tutorials. For this simple exercise, its use is limited.

Check it out by clicking on the ‘Project Media’ tab above the project window.

Now that we’ve got our music bed lined up, we can import our voice over into the project window. We do this in the same way that we imported the music bed, but onto a separate audio track that we can name ‘Voice Over’.

Our project now consists of two audio tracks. The ‘Music Bed’ and the ‘Voice Over’. These are the only files we require for this project. Once we have saved the project as a .veg file to our ‘Garden Centre Promo’ folder we can begin work on the project.

Preparing the ‘Voice Over’ file

By clicking on the exclamation mark in the ‘track header’ of the ‘Voice Over’ track, I can solo the voice and play it without hearing the music bed as well.

I notice from doing this and also looking at the waveform, that there’s a few seconds of dead air at the start of the voice over file that need removing.

There’s a number of ways to do this. You can right mouse click on the file to reveal the drop down menu. Here you will see the options, ‘open in trimmer’ or ‘open in Sound Forge’ (this is dependant on you having Sony’s Sound Forge designated as your assigned audio editor). These options are perhaps better for more detailed editing. For a simple thing like this, it’s easiest to remove the dead air from the audio file whilst it’s still in the timeline. Do this by grabbing the start of the file in the ‘square icon’ zone (see illustration) and pulling it towards the right until the edge matches up with the very start of the waveform.

If need be, you are also able to ‘scrub’ in Vegas by grabbing the curser and pulling it back and forth. For those who may be used to analog editing (fairly unlikely these days!), this is a useful and familiar method. But the accuracy of the timeline really out weighs the necessity for such things. (But it sure makes a nice sound, don’t it?). OK, we’ve done a quick snip, so now we’ve got a voice over that begins immediately at the start of the file.

Now the voice over file no longer starts at 00:00:00, so we need to drag it back to the start in the project window. Here’s a tip while dragging files around in the Vegas project window. Make sure the ‘auto-ripple’ function is disabled first. (That’s ‘ctrl+L’ on a PC. Or you can click on the ‘auto-ripple’ icon on the toolbar.) It’s a great function, because it means you can shift all your media around in one go, just by grabbing one file. But if you leave it on, you can displace everything in your project unintentionally, which is a real pain!

So with ‘auto-ripple’ disabled, we can drag the shortened ‘Voice Over’ file back to 00:00:00.

 Grab the start of the file in the ‘square icon’ zone.

Deciding on duration

OK, things are looking good for our garden centre promo ad. We have a project set up that includes a voice over and a music bed and we’re ready to mix and match the elements so they sound good together.

We’ve established that our voice over is 30 seconds in length, while the duration of the music bed is 38 seconds. Unlike radio or TV, where duration is of paramount importance, the broadcasts produced for this garden centre are fairly loose and the brief was to make the promo somewhere between 30 and 40 seconds in length.

So, for this exercise, let’s say that we’ve decided that the promo will be 35 seconds in length. This means, of course, that we will need to reduce the length of the music by 3 seconds from 38 to 35 seconds. For this we will need to rely on Vegas’s timestretching abilities.

Timestretching in Sony Vegas

Timestretching is a way of compressing or stretching out the audio without altering the pitch. A key use for this might be strict radio or TV commercials where the duration has to be exact. Or a remix where you want to alter the tempo of the vocal but keep the same key. There are lots of different applications for timestretching and in Vegas it couldn’t be simpler. For minor adjustments to duration, tempo or for BPM matching it’s perfect. And you can stretch audio on-the-fly in real time, so you can hear the results instantly and adjust accordingly.

So let’s alter the duration of the music from 38 seconds to 35 seconds without altering the pitch.

First highlight the music file.You can set the timestretch attributes on each separate audio file by right mouse clicking on the file and highlighting ‘properties’. Here you will notice a tab for ‘audio events’. Set the timestretch/pitch shift to ‘classic’, then take a look at the stretch attributes. There are 19 attributes that you may be familiar with if you have used Sony or Sonic Foundry timestretch plug-ins before. Each algorithm has a different overall effect on the way the timestretching behaves and consequently how it sounds. But generally for music, the ‘A03 Music 3 (less echo)’ attribute will be the best one to use. Certainly in this case, where we are stretching (or rather, compressing) an entire mixed track. Experiment with each attribute when you have time. It may help you make decisions about timestretching in the future. Once you’ve set the attributes, you can move on with the timestretching process.

 
 Press control and a wavy line appears under the icon

Here’s how you do it. First, highlight the audio file and magnify to a reasonable size using the zoom tools in the bottom right hand corner of the project window. Then position your mouse curser at the end of the file and run it up and down the far edge. You’ll notice the attached icon displays 2 different modes. When you are close to the top right angle (where there’s a blue triangle), the curser displays a curved icon. This is the ‘fade’ function. To alter the fade offset you would need to grab that blue triangle and push it backwards. But for timestretching, you need to move your mouse curser out of that zone and down the vertical edge of the file. You’ll notice that the icon alters to a square shape. This is the area we’re interested in. Hover the curser about midway down the vertical edge and press the ‘control (Ctrl)’ key on your PC keyboard. You’ll notice a wavy line has appeared under the square icon (see illustration). Now you’re in timestretch mode. Keep that control button down and grab the edge of the file (a blue line will appear signifying your start point). Drag the vertical edge backwards (to make the duration shorter), or forwards (to make it longer).

Yep, it’s that simple. If you preview the track while altering the duration you will hear the effect instantly with no processing time. You’ll also notice that a yellow box has appeared in your timeline. The numbers in the box signify the amount that you are stretching in seconds, frames, samples, measures or beats. Whatever mode your timeline is set to, in fact. If you wish to alter this mode, right mouse click on the timeline to reveal a drop down menu displaying your options and alter accordingly.

Of course, there are limits to just how much timestretching is acceptable. For a start, the composer will have chosen the tempo of the music for specific reasons. Stretch it too much either way and it may alter the mood. Also, there’s the technical aspect to consider. Listen carefully to the track once you have stretched it. Although the algorithm is exceptionally good in Vegas, there will be degradation of the sound. Most algorithms will work well up to 130%. Vegas goes way beyond that and still sounds good. But it’s a personal choice depending on your project and the acceptable levels of sound manipulation.

For this exercise, I simply grab the end of the music bed file, press ‘control’ and drag the file duration back from 38 to 35 seconds.

In the next part of the tutorial we will be looking at how to mix audio files using manual and automated mixing. We’ll also be checking out FX processing and plug-in applications. As well as the rendering process and CD burning facilities. That’s in part two of this ‘Working with audio in Sony Vegas tutorial’.

Resources:  

Vegas Pro product page at Sony Media Software
Royalty-Free Music by Pierre Langer at Shockwave-Sound.com

More in this series:

You may proceed to Part Two of this series

About the author: Simon Power has made over 50 short films and documentaries for the music technology website Sonic State. He has also removed & replaced copyrighted music on a number of commercial BBC releases. In these articles he offers advice and tips about using music in your low budget film and audio/visual projects. You can learn more about Simon and his projects at his website, http://www.meonsound.com/
Using Reverb to enhance your productions

Using Reverb to enhance your productions

by John Radford

Reverb in productions is probably for most composers the first ‘go to’ plug in and after effect, yet just as reverb can add a great professional quality and depth to your music, and can just as quickly ruin the production and make it sound ‘over produced’ and unprofessional. Reverb can often make or break a song, too much fills it with too much space and you can’t hear what it’s all about and too little just kills the emotion of it. So you have to take particular care in your appliance of reverb, and also be open to a lot of experimentation. In this article, we are going to look at some great tips for when using reverb and also take a look at some great reverb plug ins.

What is reverb?

Reverb, short for reverberation is the persistence of sound in a particular space after the original sound is removed. Unlike a delay, the original sound is not replicated, rather it is created when the sound is echoed in a confined space and the reflections are absorbed by the walls and air. In real terms, this is defined by the sounds being produced bouncing of nearby objects and refracting to cause the reverb. This is why in plug ins, there are many factory settings that allow the recreation of certain situations and places such as a church, or a cave or a small room. So in effect, a reverb used in productions is essentially a room simulator. What this does when added in a skilful way is enhance your production and give a more real sound to your music. There are quite a few different types of reverb. You can call them reverb modes, or room types. Some of the more common types include; Room, Hall, Chamber, Spring, Plate, and Convolution. In our age, we have access to digital reverb simulators which can simulate, quite realistically, all of these programmed room or reverb modes. Compositions that sound flat and one dimensional can often be lifted and given more depth just by the use of reverb. We are now going to look into differing types of reverb and how you can use these to enhance your production music.

Adding reverb: Tips and Tricks

Adding reverb properly takes a delicate touch and caution must be used not to get too carried away when using it.

Know your instruments: Reverb when applied to certain instruments can have a great effect, however when applied to others, can ruin the sound. Some instruments sound better with little or no reverb. For instance, I always think it best to use a short room ambience to dry electric signals such as synths and guitars. This to an effect can simulate the effect or recording a room. Usually, bass and reverb don’t mix too well, unless you’re specifically after a warehouse sound. Unfortunately, this effect results in a loss of definition among the bass regions. Run your reverb returns into a couple of spare channels in your mixer and back off the bass EQ, or add a high-pass plug-in EQ.

What kind of track: Obviously the overall kind of track you are going for will indeed play a part in what kind of reverb you are going to use. Ambient music is a popular format for composers of production music. Often in this type of production, composers like to make the piece of music sound ‘bigger’ and more ethereal. Using a large reverb with a long tail can be a very effective way of creating this effect. It can be particularly effective when used on the drums in a way similar to that of Sigur Ros. This leads onto another point about getting the balance and level right. An often asked question when referring to reverb is ‘how much?’ A simple answer to this would be to turn it up till you hear it and then turn it down again. This method however, only works if the decay time is right in the first place. If for instance the decay time is too short in the first place, then simply turning it up won’t help. The length of the reverb and its amount needs to be balanced against each other and needs to vary for each element of the mix. A nice simple way around this is to run 2 reverbs over separate buses both with varying decays. You can then adjust the amount you want to add for each one.

Reverse: Continuing on the electronic music theme, a classic technique used with reverb is the reverse reverb technique. This is employed particularly regularly in trance music, often in vocals where it sounds like the main vocal is ‘coming in’ when beginning a phrase. Trance music and vocals is not the only use for reverse reverb and it can work equally well on pads or a string section. To create the reverse reverb effect, reverse your sample, add reverb, then reverse your sample complete with reverb back around the right way again. This way, the reverb trail leads up into the sample, instead of trailing away from it. If you want to get really creative with your reverse reverb, follow these instructions: Have the reverb trail panned left on a separate track, then the original sample centre-stage (i.e. mono), followed by a regular reverb trail on another track panned right. The result is a reverb that leads up into the sample and trails away afterwards, while panning across the stage, left to right.

Less is sometimes more: Don’t use any reverb. Sometimes in a mix, there may be no need for reverb. If for instance you are recording instruments live and already have a great room with great acoustics then it may not be necessary to add reverb to that element of the track. Simply add a couple of extra mics to the recording and try to capture the natural reverb. Similarly, some things just sound better dry. Vocals are a good example of an element of the mix that can often work better with a delay rather than a reverb.

In summary, it’s important to recognize the power of reverb and its ability to make or break a mix. Next time you are mixing a track or adding an effect, maybe don’t just go for the factory preset on your favourite plug in and spend some time trying different things and experimenting with the amount, attack and decay time and types of reverb. You may just surprise yourself. We are now going to look at a couple of the leading software reverb plug ins.

Lexicon PCM Native Reverb

Lexicon hardware units take pride of place in many pro studios, and over the company’s 39-year history it’s become the gold standard in digital reverberation.

The PCM Bundle utilises the algorithms and presets from the Lexicon PCM96 hardware reverb. Buying one of these units will set you back over $2000, so thinking logically, the PCM Bundle offers better value for money at around half that. The reverb plug in comes as part of a bundle of plug ins.

The PCM Bundle plug-ins are easy to get a handle on, taking a direct and professional approach to the controls, with functionality being the key.

From times gone by, plug in reverbs used to be very poor conversions from their hardware counterparts, however recently vast improvements have been made and the PCM bundles and no exception to this rule. In fact, they are a superb conversion and fully justify their price tag. Admittedly this is right at the high end of plug ins, however what you are paying for with the PCM Bundle is the fact that it’s unarguably the ‘real thing’ rather than merely an attempt at a Lexicon-style reverb – it goes without saying, then, that it sounds incredible.

Logic Space Designer

Space designer is a high end reverb now shipping with Apples Logic sequencer software. Personally this is my plug in of choice and it has excellent presets available to get you started and begin tweaking from.

The principle behind the convolution process – the key to achieving the most realistic reverbs – is that an impulse response is captured by recording the total reflections that occur after an initial signal spike in a given acoustic space, be it cathedral or cave. This recording can then be merged with your song’s audio files, so effectively the audio sounds like it was actually recorded within the selected space.

Space Designer comes with 1000 professional-quality impulse responses (IRs), covering all manner of indoor and outdoor spaces (everything from bathrooms and large halls to pine forests), as well as hundreds of responses from legendary hardware reverb and delay units that would otherwise cost thousands of pounds.

Criticisms are that the plug in can only be used with Logic and that it can be a drain of CPU resources. However in my experience this is a small sacrifice to make for such an excellent plug in.

Whatever plug in you choose, be sure to experiment all the time and don’t just settle for the first preset you come across. You may just surprise yourself.

About the author: John is the founder and primary writer for 1underproductions. John studied music technology at Rose Bruford College (London). After graduating, John persued the traditional route, making tea at Ascent Media and then Grand Central Recording studios. Once his tea-making skills were honed, John went to work for the Boiler House boys in Chelsea. There he worked with several artists, including Shazney Lewis, Harmar Superstar and Joss Stone. John also worked on films including the Calcium Kid (Orlando Bloom) and Trauma (Colin Firth). Since leaving the Boiler House, John set up 1underproductions. John is able to compose in many different styles and can write to specific briefs.