Cubase Pro Mixdown – Part 1: faders

23 05 2012

OK, in the previous tutorials we have recorded the basic audio tracks. Now, it is time to do some mixing. That’s what we’re here for, that’s what we do, brother. Mixing the song in Cubase, that is our mission. Are you ready?

During the mixing phase you try to blend everything together so that the whole song sounds like a unity, rather than many individual tracks that don’t really belong together. For most people this is harder than it sounds. I often have to remind myself of the fact, that not everyone is a seasoned pro with years of experience under his belt. It is easy to forget sometimes that most people have no clue as to how mixing is done correctly. Some people have a hard time learning even the most basic mixing skills. They struggle to get a grasp, but to no avail. These people will never make it to the top!

First of all, we have to set the faders just right. The faders are sliders that serve as the volume control FOR EACH INDIVIDUAL TRACK! Are you with me? If you move a fader, the volume of the track that the fader is pointing to will go up or down, depending on the direction you move the fader. Up means louder and down means the opposite.

Example:
You have just imported a drum loop and recorded a bass guitar. Upon listening to the tracks you find that you can barely hear the drums. The volume is too low. Now you have two options, or actually three options: you can either grab the fader of the drum track and move it up, or you could grab the fader of the bass track and move it down. The third option would be a compromise, kind of a best-of-both-worlds approach. You can both move the fader for the drum track up and the fader for the bass track down, but not as much as you would have if you had only adjusted one fader. That’s an absolute pro-tip right here. But you should be careful. If you overdo it, you can end with the drum track being way too loud and the bass track being inaudible.You would then have to reverse the fader positions and start all over again. You would be back to square one!

 

There are other ways to make something louder as well. With a compressor for example you can raise the average loudness of a track considerably. Many youngsters this approach, but they fail. Because it is easy to fire up a compressor and turn a couple of knobs. But it is much harder to do it correctly. Check out my compressor tutorial for the no-frills approach to using the compressor correctly.

My mentor, legendary recording engineer Herb Bjornsen, once told me: ‘a recording engineer rides the faders, and he rides ’em hard!’ I learned this leson very well. When people came to my studio and saw the faders of my Neve console they could barely contain themselves. The faders showed the signs of years of hard labour. They told a story. Each fader was like a person – with it’s own history. That’s something you can’t get with digital sequencers like Cubase or Pro Tools. Or any other software for that matter. The experience of touching a knob, gripping it so hard that your knuckles show, and then start riding that thing like it was never ridden before!

A software will always be the same. No matter how often you change the levels, the fader will never look any different that it did when you first installed the host software.

See you…

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Using Plugins (Part 1)

7 12 2011

Cubase already comes with a huge selection of plugins. Most of the plugins will be installed automatically. There are, however, also plugins that do not get installed as a default, but in fact have to be copied off the Cubase-CD. These plugins are mainly older models which are still shipped in case you have old projects that use them. If Steinberg didn’t ship these plugins, you would get an error-message when opening an older project that uses one of those plugins.

Cubase Reverence Plugin

Cubase Reverence Plugin

What happens here is that the old project (it does not have to be that old, actually)¬† would browse through a list of plugins that it needs to open, and when it comes to the legacy¬† plugin, it cannot find it and therefore shows an error message. This is easily avoided, though, by simply copying the plugins from the specific folder on your Cubase-CD into the plugin folder on your hard drive. If you can’t find the folder, refer to the pro tips in part 1 on finding something. If you use that knowledge, it will be easy to find the folder you are looking for. The information in part 1 is based on years of experience, but is, of course, provided as is. This is the valuable lesson I would like you to learn: if a pro recording engineer is prepared to share an information snippet, don’t hesitate. Make it your own and use it to the fullest.

But wait a minute. What is a plugin, actually? Let’s take a look…a plugin is a piece of software that you literally plug-in to your sequencer software, much like other things that are plugged in.
It is then ready to be used from within the host software, in our case Cubase. It becomes part of the software! In order for the plugin to be able to communicate with the host software, and give the impression as if it was actually one single piece of software, it needs what is called a protocol. A protocol is kind of a language that both the host software (Cubase) and the plugin agree to speak.

There are two basic protocols that are employed in the Windows world: one is called VST and the other is Direct X. Most of you probably know Direct X as something that has to do with graphics, but it also provides an interface for audio applications. But it is rarely used these days – Direct X has several disadvantages, that make it less desirable to be used in a professional recording environment. I won’t go into the details right now, because it’s such a wide and complicated topic and, honestly, it would be a little bit too much for a newbie to understand. As a beginner it is good to be eager to learn new things, but at the same time, you also have to know your limits, or you will get burned!

As I already said, most plugins use the VST protocol. This is an old protocol that was first introduced by the Steinberg company in the early 90s. Today it is the de-facto standard of plugin protocols, and every plugin manufacturer is better off using the VST protocol as opposed to other protocols, that are not supported by the big 6 of sequencer software. How could they hope to ever sell their product, if it can’t be used in any host software? The manufacturers know this damn well, and so they abandoned other protocols, that weren’t supported, and went straight to VST and Direct X.

VST standardizes the way the sound travels within the system and what the user interface of the plugin looks like. It is a whole language that only serves one purpose: to allow communication between the host software and the client software. It also does allow for some nifty routing tricks, that are not possible with Direct X. I will go into the details of side-chaining and other super-pro-tricks in a later tutorial.