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How to "humanize" or add very slight time drift to a sound made on the grid? Saturation Plugins
Old 24th January 2016
  #1
How to "humanize" or add very slight time drift to a sound made on the grid?

I've been thinking, is there any way to process a sound to cause some form of timing drift? As in a pleasant way.

Say that there's a programmed synth rhythm or line, or a drum part arranged on a grid. Is there a way to process these sounds that would cause a little "swing" to happen and knock it off the grid somewhat, all the while keeping the main groove and pulse?

Basically, I want to take a sound that sounds too on-the-grid and add a little human into it. And yes I feel like this sounds ridiculous as I type this.

I've had great results experimenting with sending tracks into a tape deck and back into pro tools but the pitch and warble is just way too much and with too many artifacts.

Please educate me if there is proper terminology for this, I searched to no avail.
Old 24th January 2016
  #2
If it's midi you can use the randomize function under the quantize menu and set some tight parameters. I've done it many times.

If it's midi and its real time properties have been maintained you can restore the performance and then re-quantize to a lesser extent.
Old 24th January 2016
  #3
Gear Addict
 
who?'s Avatar
 

Does the "humanize" knob in autotune actually do anything to heavily corrected vocals?
Old 24th January 2016
  #4
Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrick Norton View Post
If it's midi you can use the randomize function under the quantize menu and set some tight parameters. I've done it many times.

If it's midi and its real time properties have been maintained you can restore the performance and then re-quantize to a lesser extent.
Randomize isn't really what you want to do. A drummer with great feel isn't randomly a bit ahead or behind the beat, they're deliberately late or early.

Groove quantising is the answer - MAYBE with a bit of randomization there - but so you're pulling certain things consistently early or late, but by slightly varying amounts.
Old 24th January 2016
  #5
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brianellefson's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
Randomize isn't really what you want to do. A drummer with great feel isn't randomly a bit ahead or behind the beat, they're deliberately late or early.

Groove quantising is the answer - MAYBE with a bit of randomization there - but so you're pulling certain things consistently early or late, but by slightly varying amounts.
This is so true. A good drummer can drag or push the beat in such a subtle.
Old 24th January 2016
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by D34d_Ledger View Post
I've been thinking, is there any way to process a sound to cause some form of timing drift? As in a pleasant way.

Say that there's a programmed synth rhythm or line, or a drum part arranged on a grid. Is there a way to process these sounds that would cause a little "swing" to happen and knock it off the grid somewhat, all the while keeping the main groove and pulse?

Basically, I want to take a sound that sounds too on-the-grid and add a little human into it. And yes I feel like this sounds ridiculous as I type this.

I've had great results experimenting with sending tracks into a tape deck and back into pro tools but the pitch and warble is just way too much and with too many artifacts.

Please educate me if there is proper terminology for this, I searched to no avail.
well... (if you're lazy) use some modulation effects. tremolo (with a somewhat slow rate and depth, maybe somewhat in time with the music), flanger(same rules as tremolo), etc. very very lightly. try em together, alone. swap one before the other in the chain, see how it sounds.

or what is always the best is to take the pencil tool and sort of draw the volume and vary the volume slightly throughout the entire track.

or something i havent tried, but it might be fun. play the isolated track through your monitors and run it back into your daw through a mic. hold the mic and move it around a little bit to the music, back and forth, side to side, circles, up and down. (it will add some real reverb and change other variables)

hope that helps!
Old 24th January 2016
  #7
Thanks for the ideas so far. Humanizing midi sounds great when using say, Vienna orchestra or East West samples.

But I am indeed talking about audio files.

And the reason is because it drives me nuts when you a live performance on any instrument, especially drums is completely gridded. I mean it works for dance music, metal and a lot of genres but for like indie rock, or folk or other non Top 40 genres. It just sounds wrong to my ears.

**** I mean is this maybe a new plugin idea? Do I have to program new software for this? I'm not that good at coding signal processors but I have gotten strange jobs done in the past doing so.

Even without samples I think fully quantized drums lose all the mojo and sound...unreal and not in a good way
Old 24th January 2016
  #8
Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
Randomize isn't really what you want to do. A drummer with great feel isn't randomly a bit ahead or behind the beat, they're deliberately late or early.

Groove quantising is the answer - MAYBE with a bit of randomization there - but so you're pulling certain things consistently early or late, but by slightly varying amounts.
Totally, for drums that is the best option. Forgot to mention it as I thought he was talking mostly about keys and synth lines.

However, if used carefully randomize can impart a more human feel to any on the grid tracks.
Old 25th January 2016
  #9
Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrick Norton View Post
Totally, for drums that is the best option. Forgot to mention it as I thought he was talking mostly about keys and synth lines.

However, if used carefully randomize can impart a more human feel to any on the grid tracks.
Fair enough. I would still say "controlled randomization" though if that's not too much of an oxymoron. Pulling things slightly around the beat might feel human, but it might not be particularly good. Pulling things towards a groove by varying amounts hopefully feels like a groovy human!

Quote:
Originally Posted by D34d_Ledger View Post
Thanks for the ideas so far. Humanizing midi sounds great when using say, Vienna orchestra or East West samples.

But I am indeed talking about audio files.

And the reason is because it drives me nuts when you a live performance on any instrument, especially drums is completely gridded. I mean it works for dance music, metal and a lot of genres but for like indie rock, or folk or other non Top 40 genres. It just sounds wrong to my ears.

**** I mean is this maybe a new plugin idea? Do I have to program new software for this? I'm not that good at coding signal processors but I have gotten strange jobs done in the past doing so.

Even without samples I think fully quantized drums lose all the mojo and sound...unreal and not in a good way
If something is intrusive, it's wrong. If live drums flamming against loops pulls you out of the song so you're listening for it, that means you need to be tighter. Likewise if the drums are so rigid you're listening to that instead of just feeling the best, it's intrusive.

At the same time, stuff that's so out of time can't be discounted as "human" or "feel" if it's just sloppy playing.

With quantising real drums, at least there's still variation in the sound of the drums. But how tight is too tight is personal I think - I've certainly heard tracks where they could have been more precise!
Old 25th January 2016
  #10
Registered User
I like Tape emulation, or Wow & Flutter plugins for this reason ... very slow vibrato can help too (like 4 bars per cycle if you can get it - or automate a pitch shifter or formant shifter).

I find that random is often too random ... a slow cycle that is sync'd to the grid allows things to get a little loose but still come back to the one when you need it.

For one-shot drum samples - i've always loved the humanizing feature of Linplug RM products - the default settings are brilliant and takes away the sterile robot thing. Also, if you accidentally double up a midi note, you hear flamming so easier to spot. I guess other sample players might have something just as good, but this has always worked for me.
Old 25th January 2016
  #11
I once had to mix a backing track for TV performance where the tracks I was given were (badly) programmed and disturbingly static.

I started experimenting a bit to see what I could do to improve things.
I did print the drum bus onto an audio track and applied distortion, some filtering and a triplet delay.
I then nudged the track while listening to the original drums as well and looked for a spot where it improved the groove.
I found a volume sweet spot where you could not clearly hear the filter/dist/delay track but when I muted it you would miss it.
I applied the delay technique on almost every track to try and create some movement and groove.
The final result was really cool.

One other Time I had some programmed drums that needed some love so I patched in some guitar pedals and did something similar but this time with a phased delay on snare and a heavily fuzzed tremolo on parallel drums.
I played with the delay feedback and mix in real time while I printed the effected snare track to try and enchance various parts in the song.
That was a so much fun!

You usually don't need tons of delay repetitions. Play with different delay times to see which best improves the groove. Most times with this technique I found that non-synced delays sound nicer.

Hope that helps!
Peace
Andy
Old 25th January 2016
  #12
In the case of midi, just shift notes around until you hit the spot....
And it's not just the timing that makes the groove, it's the accents and dynamics....
Old 25th January 2016
  #13
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kafka's Avatar
I manually create drum grooves all the time. It's important to turn the grid off. A grid is fine as a general reference, but grid based rhythms have a very particular feel to them that stands out. Everything else is shifted around. When you have more than one hit at a time, think about which comes down first, and then figure out whether it needs to move forward, or the other notes need to move back. Think about how the sounds combine. Triplets? Well, nobody really plays them straight. They're almost always a little rushed. And it's far from random or imperfect. It's the grid based rhythm that tends to sound arbitrary and out-of-place, in comparison.

Rhythm is also very related to dynamics. There are countless ways to play just closed hi-hats on the 8th notes. When you start to push and pull the beat, you realize that it's all very fluid. The dynamics aren't separable from the rhythm. There's a reason why the rushed note is a little louder, and why the accented note is a little rushed. The two aren't separable. If you drag the accented note, it doesn't mean the same thing. It's no longer the 'same' rhythm.

Try it. Spend a couple of days just working on this concept by moving some notes off the grid and changing their levels. Learn how rushing one note causes the next one to drag. It's impossible to miss.


And if you really want to nail this concept, do a study of the Afro-Cuban clave or bell pattern. Get some recordings of this from around the world, and see how the triplet/dotted-eighth is reinterpreted. It's the 'same' note, but it's reinterpreted as a rushed or dragged note, depending on the culture around it.
Old 25th January 2016
  #14
Quote:
Originally Posted by psycho_monkey View Post
Randomize isn't really what you want to do. A drummer with great feel isn't randomly a bit ahead or behind the beat, they're deliberately late or early.

Groove quantising is the answer - MAYBE with a bit of randomization there - but so you're pulling certain things consistently early or late, but by slightly varying amounts.
Also -- for some reason a lot of folks miss the heavy role dynamics have in feel!

I've heard drum tracks that were smack on the grid that I would have sworn were MIDI-tracked live, they had such great feel. But then I looked and the dynamics were all very 'fluid' but the timing was 'robotic.' Yet it sounded great.

That said, real drummers do perform all sorts of little tricks (that they may not even consciously realize they're doing) that pull the timing one way or another. I've often used various swing controls to induce just the tiniest bit of laziness on backbeats. One trick I learned a couple decades ago for fill breaks was to advance the timing of the beats just before the open space just a wee bit -- when done right, it can create just the tiniest touch of extra tension going into the break -- building anticipation for the downbeat in the next section -- which, of course, comes in on the money.


PS... kafka has some solid suggestions/ideas up above.^^
Old 26th January 2016
  #15
Registered User
Quote:
Originally Posted by theblue1 View Post
Also -- for some reason a lot of folks miss the heavy role dynamics have in feel!

I've heard drum tracks that were smack on the grid that I would have sworn were MIDI-tracked live, they had such great feel. But then I looked and the dynamics were all very 'fluid' but the timing was 'robotic.' Yet it sounded great.

That said, real drummers do perform all sorts of little tricks (that they may not even consciously realize they're doing) that pull the timing one way or another. I've often used various swing controls to induce just the tiniest bit of laziness on backbeats. One trick I learned a couple decades ago for fill breaks was to advance the timing of the beats just before the open space just a wee bit -- when done right, it can create just the tiniest touch of extra tension going into the break -- building anticipation for the downbeat in the next section -- which, of course, comes in on the money.


PS... kafka has some solid suggestions/ideas up above.^^

OP is talking about audio tracks, but yes, if you are creating the midi tracks in the first place, dynamics are more important than the fact that the timing is gridded. Whether using drum machines or software, I like to have one-shot samples responding to velocity for subtle pitch and filter changes. Simple level changes are not enough ... especially if smashing with a compressor ...

I'm not a huge fan of multi-samples and round-robin etc ... works for some people but I like my samples to change only slightly, and mostly I hate the extreme variations that most sample developers give you.

Automating pitch and filter changes can help - although slow tempo sync'd LFO stuff can be fine and not necessarily the lazy option.

There are more extreme things you can do ... for example, extract midi notes out of the static audio file and trigger replacement samples (possibly take samples from the audio file) and then you can mess with midi tricks ..
Old 26th January 2016
  #16
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Robbiehouston's Avatar
 

I play guitar. I don't play drums. If I need to program a drum beat, it's super rigid, on the grid. Then I DI my guitar and play along with one note or one chord or ghost notes or whatever playing the same pattern as the drums. I get the "vibe" or "feel" happening on the guitar. After that I turn the grid off and start shifting the drum hits in time and dynamics to match my guitar playing.

Sometimes I set up slate trigger with my guitar as the input so I can hear drum samples when I play guitar. Latency gets weird sometimes but it works for fills and stuff.

Then I delete or mute the guitar.

Last edited by Robbiehouston; 26th January 2016 at 07:05 AM.. Reason: Forgot.
Old 26th January 2016
  #17
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by D34d_Ledger View Post
Basically, I want to take a sound that sounds too on-the-grid and add a little human into it.
Have you tried using Pro Tools' Elastic Audio?
Old 26th January 2016
  #18
Quote:
Originally Posted by original_min View Post
Have you tried using Pro Tools' Elastic Audio?
All the time, but I use it for electronic stuff where I want hand claps or snaps or all kinds of percussion to snap intently onto the grid.

When I've experimented with stretching it around, I've gotten interesting results but not something I'd want for a clean, realistic sound.

I dig the posts in here so far, what I've been doing as of late is to run the stereo drums or other sounds in question through Impulses, then blending it in or maybe just sticking to the Post-Impulse 100% wet recording.

It definitely helps, for sure. I'm getting closer but I hate how sometimes being an engineer feels like I have to monkey around a plane cockpit to figure out how to stop it from crashing.
Old 26th January 2016
  #19
007
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007's Avatar
 

I also imagine Elastic Audio being the strong contender here.

I'm on Logic and have used Flex for this purpose in the past, where I can have an audio loop swing by x amount on 8th, 16th, 24th notes, and so on, with varying degrees or randomization. Should I want to take the guessing game out, I would just put the audio in flex mode and go about manually, essentially mirco-nudging my transients - by a few ms - forward or back.

Once done I can then separate said transients, however big or small, and change some gain settings here and there, bring one down by a half or full db here and there, etc.
I can then do the same with pitch, just a few 'cents + or -' here and there on the occasional hi-hat or snare can really breathe some life into an otherwise static drum loop.

Good luck.
Old 26th January 2016
  #20
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by D34d_Ledger View Post
I'm getting closer but I hate how sometimes being an engineer feels like I have to monkey around a plane cockpit to figure out how to stop it from crashing.
Oh really, that's the bit I love!

I'm most likely a million miles off base here but something that comes to mind is perhaps Waves Reel ADT or similar.
So basically tape varispeed, but with an LFO that you can sync to different parts of the bar or cycle for rushing and dragging the feel. There are a few shapes, (sadly no square) so not just sine.
Something similar might be automating a gentle doppler effect with very small changes to the speed where you wanted it.

GRM Tools have Fusion, as with most things GRM the defaults are pretty radical. but it can do small increments of time shift, with select-able frequency bandwidth. You can switch between different settings. You could try sequencing a bunch of micro 'Time Adjusters' in something like that...

Is there something like a Rex file editor plugin, that works in real time stretching and contracting different parts of the bar? Come to think of it I could use that myself! hehe.

Awesome stuff, can't wait to see what you do.
Old 26th January 2016
  #21
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The human aspect of drumming is a really interesting area of scientific and mathematical research. Apparently the "random" drift of human playing is not at all random, but rather follows a fractal pattern.
This paper is a fascinating analysis of Porcaro's hihat patterns.
PLOS ONE: Fluctuations of Hi-Hat Timing and Dynamics in a Virtuoso Drum Track of a Popular Music Recording

I've been waiting for someone to use this as a basis for a plugin, but as far as I know, no one has done it. It would be an amazing feature to add to one of the drum VSTs.
Old 26th January 2016
  #22
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The answers are well articulated in this thread already:
1. Even if it is not a drummer with a pushing or dragging feel, the degree that things are 'off ' will make sense when they are played by someone with good rhythm - I will often look at something I've played in midi (that works) and see that some notes are early and others late, but it sounds right because there is an ebb and flow to it. It is as if the position of each note sets up an expectation for the position of the following one - they can really be all over the place if it makes sense. Randomize has none of this common sense - no ebb and flow - not good. It is the same reason that jitter in sequencers doesn't sound human, just bad.
2. Dynamics - robotic on grid quantizing with really good accents and ghost notes doesn't sound mechanical at all - add a liite canned swing and it can feel great. This is pretty much the standard for electronic music.
3. Track delay (+/-) - particularly for the 2 and 4 - putting a clap or snare a good bit early or late (if it is a drum track) does wonders.
In my experience there is nothing wrong with mechanical and heavily quantized unless it is the result of a lazy operator - time is required to massage it with dynamics, swing, track delay, and complimentary live feeling parts that all contribute to pull the totality of the impression into convincing as opposed to canned.
I hope this helps.
Old 26th January 2016
  #23
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Well this is such a signpost that humans are no longer in control of what is defined as music........

Wow, so sad......I have to say that while I am sure we are all dedicated to great music recording, I don't have a kinship with most posters on this thread

Why do we fell it's so important to mechanize the rhythm of a song? The best have have had is an elastic quality to them, a humaness, in other words, recorded performances.
Old 26th January 2016
  #24
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I'd suggest just getting a MIDI controller with pads and playing the pads. I really think that's the best way to "humanize" components. Hell, you don't even need pads if you've got a keyboard - just play it on the keyboard.

You can also use groove pools if you use Live or Swing in your DAW.

But, there's something very freeing about just playing the rhythmic components yourself - at least there is for me.
Old 26th January 2016
  #25
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by D34d_Ledger
Is there a way to process these sounds that would cause a little "swing" to happen and knock it off the grid somewhat, all the while keeping the main groove and pulse?
Well, you could play around with nudging note-value delays early or late, that sometimes has an effect, but processing the sound is a bit too late to introduce "swing", IMO. I suppose you could chop up the sound a la Beat Detective, or stretch it with Elastic time, but really you should get it before it's sound.

you should be processing the sequence.

as others have said, the swing is a function of pulling and pushing the time - not randomly - but in the way that human musicians do

Functions that merely 'randomize' are the worst of both worlds - they do not sound like a human and they aren't even tight to the grid either.

Most MIDI editors have swing and groove quantize or groove templates. Instead of perfectly putting your notes on the grid, they shift them, not randomly, but with method. Many of these templates were derived by analyzing the actual playing of world-class drummers.

I think of a mechanically quantized part as a perfect circle, and a swinging, grooving part is often somewhat "egg-shaped" by comparison. It is not randomly deformed like an amoeba, it is 'stretched' into a slight oval if that makes any sense.

many years ago, I attended a workshop with Marvin "Smitty" Smith - an amazing drummer. The whole workshop was focused on the concept of putting certain parts of the beat microscopically 'ahead' or 'behind' the exact grid coordinate. He would start up a simple click and then jam to it. It was a revelation on how different the "exact same" beat could feel if he played the kick on "1" a tiny bit early, or the snare on "4" a tiny bit late.

Quote:
And yes I feel like this sounds ridiculous as I type this.
not at all ridiculous! The human feel is a 'holy grail' and every major editor has features that work towards this.
Old 28th January 2016
  #26
Whilst monkeying around some more ( in the cockpit of a crashing plane) I've found a few things.

For those who mentioned pitch/doppler variance, there is some weight in these approaches. Also those that mentioned certain dynamics or disparities with amplitude when it comes to the specific source sounds and how many there are together in the track(s)

Out of curiosity I flipped to a scratch vocal that was done post-editing. With the monitors on, no headphones.

Funny because I heard edits and cuts and weird ****e, just like my vocals because I prefer to sing with the monitors.

When I sculpted the vocal a bit and compressed it, I played this back with the drum and synth tracks in question and some lost "mojo" that I had been seeking suddenly appeared. The song sounded live in the context of the rest of the mix with bass, guitars and everything else. The bleed from the vocal, which included the quantized drum track, seemed to throw in some altogether glue that didn't seem artificial. It had a familiar and natural sound to it. Meaning nothing jumped out as odd or fake.

I say this because I record vocals all the time with the monitors on, but never really to music that is super on the grid so I was surprised when suddenly this song sounded to me like the way I do things. I like that familiarity.

I'm happy with this result so far and I'm going to continue working with this as it comes along.

I realise now that every time I run into problems in recording, mixing or live, I always get closer and closer to finding what the best solutions are and will be next time as long as I stop to think and use my head.

And with all that said, I actually have decided to program a plugin that will add a little bit of every approach I had. Non-randomized time drift using a set ratio that will build exponentially and yet be synced to the clock. Or maybe not, that will probably be a switchable parameter. Pipe dreams? Also, maybe doppler will be optional. But as I'm testing what I've got so far it seems to be pretty bad ass. Maybe The doppler or any pitch effect will be second in the chain. I partially thought of the idea based on the Moog Moogerfinger Low Pass-filter and the RingMod. I don't know exactly where I'm gonna go with it but I'm sort of eager to try it out on ambient and non rhythmic sounds.



Anywho, I've entirely underestimated the power of bleed. I used to detest it. But with each project, more and more I seem to be adding bleed. Even micing clean sounds into the room or far away and sending it back into PT to create depth and living, moving sound. Somewhere, somehow.

Thanks guys for you time and input.
Old 28th January 2016
  #27
Whilst monkeying around some more ( in the cockpit of a crashing plane) I've found a few things.

For those who mentioned pitch/doppler variance, there is some weight in these approaches. Also those that mentioned certain dynamics or disparities with amplitude when it comes to the specific source sounds and how many there are together in the track(s)

Out of curiosity I flipped to a scratch vocal that was done post-editing. With the monitors on, no headphones.

Funny because I heard edits and cuts and weird ****e, just like my vocals because I prefer to sing with the monitors.

When I sculpted the vocal a bit and compressed it, I played this back with the drum and synth tracks in question and some lost "mojo" that I had been seeking suddenly appeared. The song sounded live in the context of the rest of the mix with bass, guitars and everything else. The bleed from the vocal, which included the quantized drum track, seemed to throw in some altogether glue that didn't seem artificial. It had a familiar and natural sound to it. Meaning nothing jumped out as odd or fake.

I say this because I record vocals all the time with the monitors on, but never really to music that is super on the grid so I was surprised when suddenly this song sounded to me like the way I do things. I like that familiarity.

I'm happy with this result so far and I'm going to continue working with this as it comes along.

I realise now that every time I run into problems in recording, mixing or live, I always get closer and closer to finding what the best solutions are and will be next time as long as I stop to think and use my head.

And with all that said, I actually have decided to program a plugin that will add a little bit of every approach I had. Non-randomized time drift using a set ratio that will build exponentially and yet be synced to the clock. Or maybe not, that will probably be a switchable parameter. Pipe dreams? Also, maybe doppler will be optional. But as I'm testing what I've got so far it seems to be pretty bad ass. Maybe The doppler or any pitch effect will be second in the chain. I partially thought of the idea based on the Moog Moogerfinger Low Pass-filter and the RingMod. I don't know exactly where I'm gonna go with it but I'm sort of eager to try it out on ambient and non rhythmic sounds.



Anywho, I've entirely underestimated the power of bleed. I used to detest it. But with each project, more and more I seem to be adding bleed. Even micing clean sounds into the room or far away and sending it back into PT to create depth and living, moving sound. Somewhere, somehow.

Thanks guys for you time and input.
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