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Making It Sing, The Finale

The final installment from Pooch Van Druten on completing an effective vocal plug-in chain...

By Ken-Pooch-Van-Druten- January 13, 2014

This is the conclusion of a 3-part series from Greg Price and I sharing our knowledge of the vocal chain. (Read parts 1 and 2)

Specifically, we’ve described the use of Waves plug-ins to help achieve the optimum out of individual inputs. Compression, parallel compression, and equalization are vital tools to attaining the ultimate goal of a solid mix, but what about EFX? 

The vocal is the real key to success in creating mixes that soar above others. Part of it is creating space. We spend a great deal of time placing microphones close to sound sources on stage. This allows us to gain control of the individual inputs, but takes away space. 

Even if we’re vigilant, setting gain structure correctly, and every instrument placed in it’s own EQ stereo spectrum space, there is something missing. Standing in front of any instrument, there is the source, but there are also reflections and naturally occurring reverb that help to shape the sound.

In large-budget studios, they spend hours getting that “just right” drum sound by incorporating close mics as well as “room mics” to capture the nuances of the room. This is important to note. In a live situation, control is important, and often it just isn’t possible to get the right balance using far-away mic techniques. So we turn to artificial means in order to get the right sense of space.

At Your Fingertips
I turn to the IR-Live convolution reverb plug-in a lot. Convolution reverbs are digital simulations of a physical or virtual space. They use a pre-recorded audio sample of the impulse response that is stored in a DSP system. Then the incoming audio signal is convolved with the impulse response recording, and the process of convolution multiplies each sample of the audio to be processed. In layman’s terms, you can basically have any space, real or imagined, at your fingertips. 


There are many great presets in the load menu of the IR-Live menu. Traditionally, convolution reverbs use a lot of DSP and have massive latency. That’s not the case with IR-Live, which has very low latency as well as great-sounding reverbs.

I also use the Renaissance Reverb and TrueVerb on a regular basis. The Renaissance Reverb sounds excellent on my drum tracks. It has a really advanced early reflection system and great damping controls. I use less reverb time and more pre-delay, or early reflection. In particular, it helps in attaining that explosive drum sound without clouding the player’s definition of strikes on the drums.

Renaissance Reverb

As noted earlier, creating space is important. To prove it, pull up a mix and get a great balance without the use of any effects processing. Then add some, and you’ll immediately understand the need for effects and why they’re important. 

But how much is too much? I tend to use effects sparingly. Most of the time we find ourselves in giant spaces that already have lots of reflection and reverb time that gets added to our entire mix. So there’s a fine line between adding too much space, losing definition, and having enough space to enhance your mix.

A lot of this comes with experience. I tend to use shorter reverb times and more pre-delay to create the sense of space. Although as loudspeaker technology becomes better, and the delivery of your mix to every seat in the house becomes more intelligible, the use of better sounding effects is integral to your success as a mixer.

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