Tips & Techniques:Drums - Cutting drums using Pro Tools LE and Elastic Audio: Tutorial and Tips
I recently recorded a four-song EP for a technical metal band using Pro Tools M-Powered 7.4. I used eight mics on the drums, and an amp/DI each for the lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and bass guitar. I recently upgraded to PT 7.4, and wanted to experiment with Elastic Audio to determine the best combination of settings, and to compare it to standard Beat Detective style editing. I recently finished an Indie Rock project with roughly the same setup using Beat Detective for all time correction, so the comparison was relatively easy. I will list some tips and things that I picked up from trial and error along the way, that will hopefully save anyone that reads this a considerable amount of time. This tutorial assumes that all of the instruments were recorded in one session, rather than separate sessions. If the latter is the case, complete all time correction and quantization of the current instrument before recording other instruments on top.
If there are any beginners out there, in most cases music has to be recorded to a 'click track' or 'metronome' if it is to be time corrected. Create a click track in Pro Tools, (or Reason), and insert any tempo or time signature changes into Pro Tools tempo map. Print your click to an audio track, and have the musicians listen to it while recording, so that their playing stays to tempo.
The method I would suggest using:
1) Record your tracks and group them together (Drums, LeadGuitarAmp/DI, RhyGuitarAmp/DI, BassGuitarAmp/DI) as you usually would.
2) Duplicate these unedited tracks and hide/make inactive the new copies to create a backup of the original recordings. Now, do any and all initial editing, prior to inserting an Elastic Audio plugin onto the tracks. If you've used multiple playlists for comping or cutting and pasting, assemble the BEST comped take of each instrument that you can. Use fades to make region transitions seamless, and leave any major fade ins or outs until later on. There will be good and bad sections based on the skill of the player, if the song contains identical sections, entire parts can be cut and pasted if necessary. Assemble the BEST overall take you can, and make the editing transparent. (no clicks, gaps, etc)
3) Consolidate these edited and comped regions. This renders the changes you've made and produces a single, continuous audio file for all of the tracks. Check them over, and then duplicate the tracks, and hide/make inactive the comped copies.
4) Starting with the drums, use location markers throughout the song to indicate changes in necessary drum quantization. Listen to the sections and determine whether you'll be quantizing to 16ths, 8ths, 8th triplets, etc. Write this information in the Marker Name section. This can be done for the instrument parts as well before you begin time correcting them.
5) Insert an Elastic Audio plugin onto all of the audio tracks you wish to time correct. (Drums, Both Amp and DI of Lead, Rhythm, and Bass Guitar, etc). Use the Rhythmic setting for drums, and the Polyphonic setting for all others. Use real-time analysis during the editing process, rather than rendered. Pro Tools will analyze these regions and create 'event' markers.
6) Using Grid mode and the cursor in Analysis view, start with the drums, and select from the beginning of the drum take until the bar at which the necessary quantization changes. In some songs, this will not be needed, if for example the drummer stuck to straight 16ths, you would select the entire song. (The drum tracks are grouped, so you are selecting event markers in all eight tracks for the duration).
Note: Initially, I cut the drum take into separate regions depending on tempo changes, quantization changes, etc. This proved to be a mistake later on, so leave the instrument takes as a single, continuous region, and just select sections in Grid Mode for quantization while in Analysis view. It seems to confuse Elastic audio when there are region boundaries involved, which creates a ton of work later on.
It's not completely necessary to go through your tracks and adjust each event marker as they suggest in the tutorials. After quantizing the region, manually move any incorrect quantization markers in grid mode. Another thing to keep in mind - in a bass track for example, where event markers will be placed in both tracks, first slide the Amped track so that it is in phase with the DI'd track (prior to inserting elastic audio plugins). The easiest way to do this is to have the bassist plug in his/her instrument as you're recording, so you can line up the voltage spike in both of the tracks. Then look at the tracks to determine which track has the most correct event markers. This will usually be the DI'd track. Ungroup the regions, and use the cursor to select all of the event markers in the Amp'd region. Delete these using the Delete key. Even though elastic audio will occur in the same manner on both the Amp and DI tracks, it will trigger using the event markers on the DI track, which should be pretty accurate.
Note: My initial approach was to separate the takes into regions for each section of quantization, quantize the sections, and then with Elastic Audio plugins enabled, change to waveform view and tweak/comp the takes, moving sections, creating fades, etc. I felt that this offered more flexibility, because I was able to hear the sections after they had been quantized, and when cutting and pasting a two bar section, I could evaluate which two bar section was closest not only dynamically, but timing-wise to the area into which I planned to paste it. This was a massive mistake, and cost me hours of time later on. Digidesign has introduced a nice feature called 'Micro-Fades', which eliminates a lot of the clicking that occurs at un-faded region boundaries. The problem is that these are temporary, and are not rendered into the audio file during consolidation. I created perfect-sounding takes, quantized, cut and pasted, crossfaded and seamless. I consolidated the regions after I was happy, and to my horror, at every single region boundary, regardless of whether I had placed a crossfade there or not, a massive click existed in the rendered file. My options were to pencil out each one of these clicks, which were numerous, or cut and paste from the 'Original Recorded Tracks' on top of the click, manually quantize the piece and crossfade both sides, which is what I chose to do.
When consolidating or 'committing' Elastic Audio, Pro Tools seems to ignore any fades you have created, and massive clicks result at every region boundary. This is why it's extremely important to do all of your comping and initial editing before Elastic Audio is used, consolidate the tracks into single regions, and leave them that way. You will save a ton of time and potential headaches, at the cost of a bit of flexibility.
7) Use Option + 0 to bring up the Quantization window, select the settings you'd like to use to create the desired 'feel', and the note value to quantize to, and quantize the section. Check the result, and move on to the next section, changing the note value setting if the drum pattern requires, or the strength setting if you'd like to leave the part more 'loose'.
8) Once all of the sections of each instrument have been quantized, go through each instrument individually and check that the quantization markers have been put in the right places by the computer. Remove any incorrect ones by double clicking. Shift a number of markers at the same time by selecting them and dragging them right or left (useful if the musician had a tendency to wander from the click). Hold Command to fine adjust the position of a marker when in Grid Mode. If the computer forgot a marker, zoom in to find the transient, and double click on it, which will create a new marker. Slide it to the desired spot on the grid.
9) Once these settings have been perfected, and your song sounds tight, select all of the tracks with elastic audio enabled, hold Option + Shift to mirror your action across all of the tracks, and duplicate. You can add 'Corrected' or 'Quantized' to the name of these tracks, and then hide them and make them inactive. Note: This is very important, because for some reason, X-Form makes mistakes here and there. Snare hits sometimes sound very wrong, or the ring of a drum gets completely truncated. In one of my songs, an entire four minute section was off-beat, and seemed to get worse as it progressed. It sounded fine with the Rhythmic setting, but X-Form seemed to subtly shift the markers by accident. Luckily I had these backup tracks, which I used to render that section using 'Rhythmic', which was my only choice. I am confident that this wouldn't have happened had my regions been continuous and without boundaries and fades.
Select the quantized elastic audio tracks you worked on, and while holding Option + Shift, click the elastic audio plugin insert, and change to 'X-Form' (Rendered Only). Depending on the speed of your computer and the length of your song, this process could take an entire night, so it's best to do it after you're finished for the day. X-Form is the absolute best algorithm you can use for realistic sound, and to make the 'stretching' as transparent as possible. From my experience, the resulting sound from the real-time algorithms is not acceptable enough for it to be used instead of Beat Detective. You will notice that in the Elastic Audio plugin settings window for X-Form, the only option is 'Formant Enabled'. I experimented with this setting with all of the drum tracks, as well as guitar and bass tracks. Here are my findings:
Kick - Formant Enabled. Offers more accurate 'talk' and improves the consistency of the sound of the kick, especially in fast sections. Makes the sound 'fatter' and more driven.
Snare - Formant Disabled. Takes away the 'power' and low end of the snare very slightly, and causes the top end to sound processed
Snare Bottom - Formant Disabled. With both snare mics, the formant option removes the 'realism' and ambience ever so slightly.
Hat - Formant control adds a touch of super high end, slightly more than the unprocessed audio file. With formant disabled, high end is missing by a touch, but realism and depth seem to improve over the enabled version. Toss-up.
Toms will be gated, not a big deal, preferred the sound of 'disabled'
Overheads sounded more 'real' and 'deep' disabled.
The Kick is the only drum track that benefited from the 'formant' setting being enabled.
Guitar tracks - formant enabled. Improved the sharpness of the sound subtly, and made the sound of the guitar slightly more 'musical'.
Bass guitar Amp - formant disabled. Setting seemed to remove a bit of low end and thickness from the sound.
Bass Guitar DI - formant disabled. Added artificial thickness.
10) Use Option + ' to view the progress of the X-Form rendering. Click on the X-Form plugin on the Kick track, as well as the Guitar tracks, and enable 'Formant'. This task is added to the list and will be rendered after the X-Form analysis and rendering are complete. When you return in the morning you will have crisp sounding, time-corrected X-Form rendered tracks.
11) Review the result. Don't bother fixing any problems that occurred. This forces the entire track to be rendered again, which takes a very long time. Consolidate the tracks and remove the X-Form plugins. If you've consolidated properly, it won't prompt you to 'Commit' or 'Revert' when you remove the plugins.
12) If you're lucky, X-Form will have done its job properly, and the editing will sound transparent. If you're not, there will be a drum hit here and there that sounds weird, and some places where the editing is noticeable. Go through your track and place a marker in each of these areas. Then make visible and active the original instrument tracks, prior to the editing. Cut and paste spots from this track into the rendered track, using fades, manual quantization and editing to make them transparent. Once they sound seamless, consolidate once again, and create backup Pro Tools sessions into which you import all of the backup instrument tracks. Now remove these from your edit session.
Elastic Audio is great for recording amateur bands. It saves a lot of time, it sounds relatively transparent and comparable to the standard beat detective method, and the editing is slightly more 'enjoyable' if that word can be used for fixing shoddy instrument takes. Using beat detective on an amateur band works as well, because sometimes a less skilled musician will 'wander' from the click track, and when using Beat Detective, badly timed drum hits can only be moved so far before the quality of sound becomes choppy and unrealistic, and you begin having to 'hide' and 'mask' edit points, etc. Elastic audio allows you to move poor drum hits substantially further without distracting artifacts, sacrificing only slightly the sound of the drum hit itself. The Beat Detective method is proven, the sound is left relatively unaltered, and this method will probably still reign for drum cutting when recording top-level acts and bands where minimal tightening and sweetening are required. There's no real reason to stretch audio and change drum sounds when at the expense of a bit of added time, the original sounds can be preserved. In a small to midsized studio application however, elastic audio is a great tool, as it saves a good deal of time and most of the bands recording in these facilities will be mid-level at best anyway, and likely won't have the golden ears necessary to hear the minimal effects that X-Form has on the timbre of drum and instrument sounds.
Hope that was helpful, have fun and experiment.
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