Essentials – March 2016
Add some real vocals to your compositions, spice them with some exotic wind lines and finally, master everything with some good software. That is our recipe for this issue – all ingredients included.
by A. Arsov, March 2016
SOFTUBE Drawmer S73
I enjoy making music, less so mixing that music, and most of the time I’m on the thin edge of trying not to ruin all my efforts with mastering. Playing with a multi-band compressor is a game that you can’t win, at least if you are not an old, skilled pro engineer. Dreaming that someone will notice your song even if it is not mastered is a bit unrealistic these days. All production is on steroids today, being loud and crisp, wide and in your face without sounding too aggressive. I have some of the best mastering tools available, and over the years I’ve learned how to get decent results. But it’s still challenging and I never know if I’ve overdone it or not.
Given that, I was delighted when I received some info about the Softube intelligent mastering multi-band compressor, advertised as a final mastering solution that can recognize the main problems in your mix, automatically adopting the best settings for it.
Softube Drawmer is not just a multi-band compressor; it hides some mid-side processing under the hood along with crossover filters. Actually, I heard that no less than 40 different parameters are tweaked for every preset. That’s the theory, let’s see how this works in practice. I added Drawmer S73 to my master slot, at first in the old Balkan way, busting everything up to 100% getting not-so-pleasant, hard-as-nails results. But after a few more cultivated approaches, using just 30 to 40% compression (actually decreasing the threshold), setting the wet/dry ratio to 50% (using parallel compression) realizing that it really solved most of the issues that I noticed in some of my percussion-heavy arrangements containing much in the way of orchestral drums and heavy guitars. The only problem is that you can only use one style at a time. To be honest, my mix lacked a bit clarity (style 1 in the Clean preset category), punch (first style in the Bass Control category) and most of my mixes could be a bit wider (again, the first style, this time in the Spatial section).
Style represents a collection of ready-made processing techniques that skilled mastering engineers would use under such circumstances. It proved to be fantastic tool, but at the same time, like a golden blanket, a bit too short. Cover your legs and the upper part of the body will remain uncovered, pull the blanket up to your neck and your legs will be bare. Thankfully, product specialists from Softube pointed me to one video where some fellow analyzed the plug-in showing how we can achieve great results by putting three instances of Drawmer S73 in a row, using every instance for a different style. Five minutes later I find my ideal, idiot-proof mastering solution. Even if you are a total mastering novice (to use this term politely) you can get quite professional results just by setting compression ratio to around 35% and setting the wet/dry ratio to around 50%, using the first instance to add Punch, the second one using Wide Mix style, adding Air to the same instance. At least for my mixes Clarity 1 style works best on the third instance. The end result is quite impressive, not exactly as I can achieve with my fancy top notch more expensive pro mastering bundle, but nevertheless it gives you great results even if you are totally unfamiliar with mastering (which is not exactly the case with other advanced mastering tools).
If there will be many details, then this piece of software would definitely not fit in Essentials. First we can see Amount, a knob for applying compression. It is some sort of threshold control. Air switch for adding some high end. Style section divided into three basic groups. Clean, Bass control and Spatial. In Clean you have various ready-made presets for adding more high end or just taming the perfect mix, adding a touch of compression or more air. Bass Control contains two presets, to add some punch on your low end or to remove some bass if it happens that your mix is too boomy. The last section, Spatial allow you to add some width and ambience if your mix is too dry, and enhance vocals. Of course, Drawmer works perfectly on any buss. You can put it on your drums, vocals or any other group of sounds. There are two more knobs at the bottom. The first one is a dry/wet knob for implementing the parallel compression to your mix and second one is a gain knob for adding extra gain. Be careful, Drawmer S73 does not contain a limiter, so setting some additional clip limiter at the end catching all unwanted peaks is quite important.
It Is …
Drawmer S73 is so simple to use that it is really hard to set it wrong. It will not put your song on total screaming steroids, winning the loudness war, but that is something that no skilled mastering engineer will do. Drawmer S73 adds clarity, punch and width to my mixes, increasing the level and setting compression across the frequency range in a such way, that my song will sound quite good on any system. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a main goal of all mastering. And the price? $99 USD, currently even $77 USD.
Could this be better? Drawmer S73 is nearly perfect as it is, but there is always room for some improvements. I hope that version 2 will allow us to choose more than one style. At least one per every section. Also would like to see two parallel compressors inside, for implementing a lower compression level on every instance instead of squeezing just one compressor (OK, using three in a row definitely gives that non-compressed compressed result). And of course, some optional limiter at the end wouldn’t hurt.
ESSENTIAL for: offering good mastering results without any effort at a very affordable price, and it doesn’t require any additional knowledge or experience in the mastering field.
REALITONE Realvox Ladies 2
This was totally unknown to me until I saw the video on Youtube representing Ladies 2 library. It is quite a simple thing – a library containing short vocal phrases/articulations distributed over the keyboard from five different lady vocalists. Simple, but so effective that I was totally impressed when I tried it for the first time. Every lady comes with quite an impressive number of articulations, 58 to be precise. You can use chords, building complicated staccato lines, or you can use the Legato function that will turn all articulations into legato, jointing notes in a very natural way. The main advantage of this library is that almost all lines will sounds very authentic, like a real vocalist, and there is almost no way to recognize that it is played with a keyboard, triggering samples. I have reviewed plenty of vocal libraries, always judging them in the context of the current batch of vocal sampling possibilities, knowing how far voice emulation can go, but this one is a bit out of that range. I don’t know what sort of magic they use at Realitone, and I don’t even care. You can’t compile sentences from these articulations, but otherwise, it really does the job. Absolutely the most authentic vocal library that I have ever heard (and I have quite an impressive number of voice libraries).
You can even combine various ladies from libraries to sing in choir, but don’t mix the conceptions, this is not Choir library, it is a library mainly compiled for backing vocals. You can make great background vocals with Ladies 2, or you can even make some main non verbal line, but you can’t use it as a big choir substitute.
Five included ladies cover the full range of vocal styles. One has a classical soprano voice, the others are more jazzy, ethno, soulful R&B, rock sounding. Some articulations work better in legato, some as a phrase. Also, there are plenty of controllers to fine tune or even to quite drastically change the voice timbre, even so much that you can make a mini child choir combining two or three voices by pushing the Timbre control in the main page of the graphical interface.
What Can Be Done
Ladies library comes with four different windows that can be reached through the menu at the bottom of the graphical interface. In the first Main Page window we can chose our vocalist, apply reverb, delay, attack, change the timbre, choose an articulation (between those that you have implemented on the Articulation Page) and set play mode choosing between Legato, Phrase or Poly.
The next window, Mixer, contains up to ten slots to fill with various combinations of those five vocalists, building a choir that will sing the selected articulation. For every vocalist you can set timbre, volume, pan, offset delay and tune.
On the Articulation page you can choose between various articulations or even build a new one, combining the existing one.
The last settings page allows us to tame details, like choosing between various attacks, a few release shapes, the setting time and amount for delay and reverb, two options for Legato key-switch behavior, two additional vibrato controllers, octave shift options and an option for changing general graphic from red to a more chic, fancy color.
More or less, that’s all there is to it. Actually, the whole thing is not rocket science: chose vocalist, or even a combination of them, chose articulation and bang your keyboard. Can’t be more simple and more authentic. A very simple, but genius plug-in. Absolutely essential, no matter which genre you are in.
Price $310 USD or $150 USD for the Lite version, both working with free Kontakt Player.
ESSENTIAL for: Very authentic and realistic sounding backing vocals, or even lead (non verbal) vocals, a library that gives you great freedom when composing and doesn’t require any additional programming to achieve the best results.
BESTSERVICE Desert Winds
I’m not sure if it ever crossed your mind that you may need such specific instruments as are presented in this small boutique library, but those four ethno winds sound absolutely divine. Even if you are miles away from any ethno music production, those winds can give an extra dimension to your production. Just imagine some ambient, electro, Trop House or even classic pop ballad where all of a sudden appears some mystical, beautifully sounding instrument playing the line that would otherwise be played by a synthesizer or maybe even a guitar in the case of pop song.
Eduardo Tarilonte is an award-winning sample library developer, making many unique libraries covering all sorts of sounds. The whole library contains only four instruments along with some additional drones and various micro-tuned versions of the same instruments covering most of the Arabic and Turkish scales. This would be almost nothing to write home about if those American Duduk, Persian Ney, Turkish Ney and Zourna didn’t sound so good. All four instrument have a quite limited playable range, sometimes even smaller than two octaves, so you need to be careful making your wind line. Also an interesting thing is that all additional articulations, mostly some double notes, vibrato or even staccato with pitch bend, are programmed such that the articulation is active only when the key is pressed. I’m not big fan of this method, but in the case of those winds it even has some advantages, as you can really implement those changes on the fly during a performance. As this is not quite a new library, to say it politely, the whole graphical interface is a bit old school, but still containing all the controllers you need for adapting anything to your need. Included are buttons for Speed, Expression and Legato type for some of the instruments, for others Release knobs along with Reverb, EQ Color, Volume, Pan and Pitch that are presented in all four instruments.
Maybe all this doesn’t look much to you, maybe you have a large number of various wind instruments. But such a breathy one, with so much character, you could even say soul, is nearly impossible to find. So, that’s why this one is essential. It’s not for every taste, but it’s so unique that at least you should listen to the demo clips and decide for yourself.
Price €159 EUR, more info at http://www.bestservice.de/en/desert_winds.html
ESSENTIAL for: those boutique old libraries offer a small quantity of divine sounding, breathy, exotic winds full of unique character, even if not for all occasions.