Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio - Additional Resources

Chapter 6: Timing & Tuning

Workflow Demonstration Video

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Audio Files

(To download all WAV examples at once: 44MB ZIP)

  • Matched-waveform Audio Edits: Here’s an example of the kind of mid-note slice point that can benefit from a matched-waveform edit Ex06.03: WAV/MP3play_arrow. At the moment the waveform is mis-aligned and without any crossfade, so you hear a big click. Sliding the waveforms fractionally to line up their repeating cycles dramatically reduces the click, even without any crossfade Ex06.04: WAV/MP3play_arrow. Adding a short equal-gain crossfade over just a couple of waveform cycles smooths the result even further Ex06.05: WAV/MP3play_arrow. Although the edit is still not completely inaudible in this case while the vocal is soloed, it’ll be more than good enough to pass muster when set against even the most basic backing arrangement.

  • Masked Audio Edits: An often-overlooked method of concealing audio edits is to hide them behind other masking events in the production, as demonstrated by the following audio examples. Here’s a truly blood-curdling audio edit Ex06.06: WAV/MP3play_arrow, causing a big lump right in the middle of a vocal line. Now listen to that same edit within the context of the mix, and notice how the strong masking action of the drum loop’s kick/hat downbeat completely conceals even such horribly clunky discontinuity in the vocal line Ex06.07: WAV/MP3play_arrow.

  • Pitch Correction Side-effects: Although state-of-the-art pitch-correction engines such as Celemony’s MelodyneMac logoWindows logo now offer enormous potential for pitch-correction, they still tend to produce unwanted processing side-effects when presented with transient, noisy, or polyphonic audio. To show what I mean, here’s an out-of-tune acoustic guitar recording Ex06.10: WAV/MP3play_arrow, and the same file which I have corrected as carefully as I can in Celemony’s Melodyne Editor Ex06.11: WAV/MP3play_arrow. Note the chorus-like artefacts during note sustains (particularly bad at 0:03) and the softening of the picking transients.

  • Improving Automatic Pitch Correction: Automatic real-time pitch-correctors will usually give unmusical results with their default settings. Take this untuned vocal Ex06.12: WAV/MP3play_arrow, for example, and hear how GVST’s GSnapMac logoWindows logo plug-in responds unmusically if left with its default settings Ex06.13: WAV/MP3play_arrow. Using automation or MIDI data to tell GSnap what notes are being sung improves the musicality somewhat Ex06.14: WAV/MP3play_arrow, but it’s only once the correction speed is adjusted in real time using automation Ex06.15: WAV/MP3play_arrow that the correction begins to feel more transparent.

  • Time-stretching Versus Beat-slicing For Tempo Adjustment: Although modern time-stretching algorithms can be very effective on some sounds, they tend to struggle with noisy or percussive tracks. Take this 95bpm drum loop Ex06.18: WAV/MP3play_arrow, for example, which I’ve slowed down to 85bpm with two different algorithms: the bundled Elastique 2.1 Pro routine in Cockos ReaperMac logoWindows logo Ex06.19: WAV/MP3play_arrow and the specialised third-party Celemony Melodyne software Ex06.20: WAV/MP3play_arrow. Notice in particular how the tone of the drum sustains takes on a slightly chorus-like quality in the first example, but how the amplitude envelope of each drum hit is also extended unnaturally by the processing even in the less chorusey second example. By contrast, slicing up the loop into its component hits and crossfading over the gaps Ex06.21: WAV/MP3play_arrow gives a more natural-sounding result.

  • Timing & Pitch Correction In Context: Here’s an example I did for my Mix Rescue December 2009 remix which demonstrates how timing correction can subtly tighten up the sound of a mix. Here’s a section of the remixed backing track, first without any timing correction Ex06.01: WAV/MP3play_arrow, and then with extensive timing edits to the bass and guitar parts Ex06.02: WAV/MP3play_arrow. In Mix Rescue November 2010, on the other hand, I illustrate the impact of tuning correction on the blend of a track. Here’s a section of the remixed backing track, first without any tuning correction Ex06.08: WAV/MP3play_arrow, and then with extensive off-line tuning edits to the guitar and synth parts Ex06.09: WAV/MP3play_arrow. A final combined timing/tuning-correction example comes from Mix Rescue August 2011, where you can compare the sound of a section of the final remix with all the corrections Ex06.16: WAV/MP3play_arrow and without them Ex06.17: WAV/MP3play_arrow.

  • Some Plug-in Tuners: If you can head off tuning problems at source, you can save yourself a lot of problems. Here are a couple of freeware tuner utilities in case there’s nothing suitable already built into your DAW software: GVST’s GTuneMac logoWindows logo and Melda’s MTunerMac logoWindows logo.

  • Third-party Pitch/Time-manipulation Software: There are a number of well-established developers of real-time pitch/time-manipulation software, including Antares (with Auto-TuneMac logoWindows logo), Celemony (with MelodyneMac logoWindows logo), and Waves (with TuneMac logoWindows logo). Serato also have a good reputation for off-line processing with their Pitch 'N TimeMac logoWindows logo software, and Synchro Arts RevoiceMac logoWindows logo or VocalignMac logoWindows logo may prove useful if you find yourself with lots of multitrack layers to synchronise. Although I use Melodyne myself (not least because of its ability to work more flexibly with polyphonic audio), any of these options will deliver professional results. If you’re working on a tight budget and your DAW doesn’t include real-time pitch-correction as standard, then check out the freeware Auburn Sounds GraillonMac logoWindows logo, GVST GSnapMac logoWindows logo, or Melda MAutoPitchMac logoWindows logo. Alternatively, try out the low-cost Cockos ReaperMac logoWindows logo DAW, which includes the ReaTuneWindows logo plug-in as standard.

Further Reading

  • Tuning & Timing In Practice: Tuning and timing so regularly cause problems for home-brew mixes that I often talk about them in Mix Rescue. In Mix Rescue October 2008, for example, there’s a case-study of tuning a lead vocal in Melodyne, while Mix Rescue December 2009 and Mix Rescue February 2010 both talk about practical aspects of timing/groove adjustment.