Delays and other inconveniences

It may seem more like playtime when I am practicing, writing or recording tracks but I will assure anyone that asks, being able to record using any modern technology is not something that most people would be willing to do given the learning curve of even one piece of gear.

Add together a half-dozen or more pieces of modern audio gear to the equation and the required knowledge jumps exponentially. Add the skill (and practice time) required to play guitar (lead / rhythm), bass guitar and other miscellaneous instruments on top of that, well, let’s just say that the “10,000 hour axiom” was passed many years back. If I were to feel the need to waste time and do the calculations, it would probably be well north of 30,000 hours as of this writing.

The worst part of recording is the down time required to master, not simply become proficient in, the operation of a new piece of gear. Even something as simple (ha!) as a preamp can involve a great deal of time spent reading the manual and then applying real world application to learn how it responds in different situations.

The mindset of learning is not often compatible with the creative process. I am well past the point where a new guitar can inspire me to create a new riff or other such burst of insight or creativity. I rely on more mundane things. Things some would call obstacles. I prefer to think of them as challenges… such as “How to get those tracks in sync without a time-code” (where was that little tidbit of detail in the manual???). The learning and experience gleaned from that one little “oops!” made for a creative work session.

For the record, in the above scenario I found several different – and very useful – things that could be done with multiple tracks in the digital domain… and happened on some simple ways to align tracks with no time or reference tone. This process led to a spurious thought… what is delay other than the echo of the sound being played again when heard bouncing back from an obstruction in the area we are playing? This led to an hour (or three) of intense trials and errors and a few interesting ways to manipulate the tracks to achieve different things.

Here is one: to fatten up a thin sounding vocal; first create a duplicate the track (be sure to make a safety copy before proceeding and/or enable undo for all edits).  Then adjust the EQ of the new track so that it has a large scoop in the low mid frequencies and boost the upper HF above 7-8.5kHtz. Create another duplicate of the vocal and add to the mids that were scooped out in the first duplicate. Then duplicate the original again and this time set the EQ to roll off everything except the highs above 10,000 Htz.

OK, now you have four tracks (1 plus three copies that have been EQ altered).

Now it is time (pardon the pun) to warp the vocals. Take each of the three new tracks and shift them so that they are between .04 and .07 seconds behind the original and add a bit of panning to them. Listen to the results to fine tune both timing, pan and the EQs of each track. This will fatten up the vocal. Your ears will be the proof of this. By only using shorter times (~ <.075 sec), it will not create an obvious delay in the vocal part when played in a full mix. An added bonus is that the overall changes in the EQ and start times causes the listener to hear “walls” that were not really there in the recording space on the original cut.

The differing EQ curves will replicate the acoustic property of various materials and the way they bounce the sound back to our ears. Of course if you wish to add a true echo, adjust the duplicated parts with longer offset intervals – adjusting the EQs of the duplicated tracks is optional but it is a nice touch and adds more realism and depth to the part. These ideas also work with other instrumental tracks but be ready to do many A / B comparisons. The wider the frequency span of the material, the easier this approach can make the mix full of mud and unexpected phase problems.

Another editing session was almost ruined when I realized that the master mix was missing about .075 seconds of the front end mix due to a small offset in the auto start on the mixdown recording unit. It was a new unit to me and I did not spend enough time going through the manual to see exactly what the latency was when using the auto-start function (ouch!).

Many who are not that familiar with the small time intervals involved in music will say, “So what?” Well, at the tempo this song was being played, it amounted to a half beat off the front end. Tried various fixes (and no, the mix was far to laborious to consider a do-over). Everything else was great except the first pulse of the tune. Drove me nuts each time I listened to the playback. So, I decided to try something different using the ideas I’d worked on while fixing the timecode problem the month before. I have an option on my editing software that will take a track and reverse it – note for note – and to allow correction of pitch and speed. I decided to take the last few seconds of the tail end of the song, the fadeout, and copy it reversed into a new track. I then time shifted the original stereo tracks out about ten seconds and pasted the reversed last six or seven seconds of the fadeout before the missing three-quarter seconds. I held my breath and closed my eyes as I started playback on combined part.

Wow! I was pleasantly surprised and pleased at how the “new intro” now sounded. The vibe it added blended very well with the rest of the track. A bit of final adjustment to match levels, trimmed a few portions of a second off the new section and sat back and laughed at the result. The track and mix session was fixed – and finished. You can listen to the result here. Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Always be willing to tackle a challenge and don’t be afraid to try something you’ve not tried before. You might be able to save a session from going down in flames and learn a new trick or two to use in the next session in the process.

When recording, take a few moments to delve into the specs before using that neat new feature on that new piece of gear. The time you save might be your own!

Good luck with your own sonic creations!

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