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Music Production - #3 The Dynamics - Music Gateway

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock

5.9.2016

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This is the next in series of guides on how to record and produce tracks for those who are new to working with audio. Specifically, this series will walk you through recording and mixing a track on Logic Pro X, as it’s the most commonly used audio workstation. There will be weekly additions to this blog, each concentrating on a new part of the process. Don’t worry if there’s a word you don’t understand, I’ve included a glossary with an explanation at the end to explain what any uncommon word means.

Contents

  1. Noise Gating

  2. Limiting

  3. Compression

  4. Parallel Compression

  5. Sidechain

Similarly to most industries, a gate in the music industry is a device that opens or closes depending on certain parameters. For example, you can programme the gate only to open and allow audio to pass through it once the signal is above a certain level or loudness, or you can programme it to close if it goes above a certain level.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 16.23.55.png

This is your standard noise gate for Logic. The ‘threshold’ will be the level that the gate will open or close. You can switch between whether you want the gate to open over when that threshold is surpassed, or closed by switching between ‘gate’ and ‘ducker’. The ‘attack’, ‘hold’ and ‘release’ all affect the gate opening speed. ‘Attack’ will affect how quickly the gate opens, ‘hold’ affects how long it will stay open for once the audio has returned below the threshold and ‘release’ affects how quickly the gate will close again. You can also filter out ranges of frequencies if you want to, but you don’t have to worry about that.

Gates are super useful on audio such as vocals or drums where they may be a large amount of background noise or unwanted sounds in between performances or drum hits. You can also use them to get rid of hum on guitar tracks.

Limiting

A limiter is a bit similar to a gate. A limiter will set a limit of the maximum dB level the audio is allowed to reach, not letting it exceed the limit. This is usually set to 0dB but some limiter devices will allow you to change the limit. You can also often adjust the input and output signals of the limiter, either boosting or reducing the signal before it reaches the limit, or after. It’s the most commonly used tool if there’s a piece of audio in the mix that’s far too loud or quiet before faders are used to balance everything.Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 17.21.47.png

Here’s the stock limiter on Logic. You can adjust the input signal (gain) and output signal. The ‘release’ changes the time taken for the audio to stop being reduced in signal and return to its true signal after it has receded below the limit.

As you can see I’ve boosted the input of the limiter by 10dB. This is because my vocal audio is particularly quiet.

Compression

A compressor is similar to a limiter in the way it works, but instead of stopping the audio from passing a certain level, it will instead reduce the signal level by a ratio. In other words rather than cutting off the top and bottom of a sound wave, it ‘squashes’ it instead, decreasing the dynamic range.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 09.07.53.png

This is the stock compressor plugin for logic. The ‘threshold’ sets a limit which audio will be compressed if the signal passes the level. The ‘ratio’ is the ratio by which the audio is compressed by. The ‘knee’ knob is slightly complicated, it will essentially extend the area of the threshold by compressing the audio as it approaches the threshold instead of surpassing it. The size of the knee related to how close to the threshold the audio will begin to be compressed.

There are several different layouts/views for the plugin listed in this bar:

You won’t need to worry about what all the different types and names are as we will stick with Platinum Digital for now, but it’s worth knowing there are different types of compressor.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 09.17.01.png

So for vocals, a type of audio you want to keep very consistent, your compressor controls may look something like this:

With a low threshold and high ratio. But honestly it’s best to play around for the settings to get used to them, then shape the vocal or instrument to sound how you’d like them, as your style may not be the same as mine or anyone else’s.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 16.17.08.png

Parallel Compression

Parallel Compression is a technique used to give audio a boost or more punch, without creating a compressed sound. It’s quite simply done, all it takes is duplicating the audio track you want to parallel compress, then really aggressively compressing the duplicate audio – by which i mean turning the threshold way down and the ratio way up. Then the trick is to blend the parallel audio into the original audio using the faders, until it sounds the way you want it.

Sidechain

Sidechaining is something very common and almost essential in dance or electronic music. It’s still technically compressing a piece of audio, but it compresses one piece of audio, based on the dynamics of another. For example you can add a sidechain compressor to your bass audio track and programme it to compress that audio based upon the dynamics of the kick drum. Essentially meaning when the kick drum or whatever piece of audio, exceeds the threshold, it will compress the bass instead.

You should now have be able to tailor the dynamics of your audio to however you want.

Thank you very much for reading, I hope you were able to learn something and will be mastering the studio in no time. The next addition will cover equalisation and the control of frequencies in your audio.

Glossary

[1] Parameter – Measurable factor that defines a system



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